Depths of Winter

Depths of Winter Newsletter                                                            January 19, 2015

The days are almost half an hour longer now. The holidays are over. We still have about 10 weeks of winter left to go.  It will be over before we know it. This has been a seriously weird winter.  It started with 8” of snow and a month of subzero nights (at least it seemed that way), then all the snow melted and we had a week of warm dreary air pollution. Now we have a few inches of snow and are past the coldest weeks of winter. Not that it won’t get cold again, but on average…

Six inches of seed catalogs have drifted in. I have all my accounting and tax stuff done for last year so it is time to look ahead to next season.

Some of the long range forecasts say that it looks like cool wet springs and warm dry summers could a new trend of this part of the country. The National Weather Service says there is an equal chance that we will have above or below normal temperatures and precipitation.  They don’t say what those chances are.  I’ll bet they have no idea. The real trend appears to be more volatility in the weather. Less all day soaking rain. More big storms. If  I could figure out a way to thrive on uncertainty, I’d be set.

The uncertainty makes it hard to come up with concrete plans.  For example, I’m looking out the window at the snow covered fields wondering which ones will flood and when.  Last year flooding in June was the problem. Small seeded crops that are direct seeded are the most at risk from stormy weather. Transplants and large seeded crops (beans, corn) hold up better to erratic weather, but I have had some of those wash out too.  I’m not at all excited to farm by the seat of my pants and deciding what goes where and how that all fits in my crop rotation on a moments notice. The volatile weather is likely to continue and the only good options for planting in July after the flooded ground dries out are winter cereals like rye and wheat. Less land in vegetables translates pretty directly into less vegetables.

To deal with some of the uncertainty I have been working on adapting seeds to our local conditions.  Plants that can grow in cool wet conditions and produce in a short season have the best chance to thrive. Seeds grown in Washington, Oregon, California, Peru, or China don’t have the characteristics we need.  There does not seem to be much attention paid to disease resistance either. How many of you have had your tomatoes blight out just before they should start to pump out the tomatoes ? I have been selecting for disease resistance for a few years and we have noticeably better results with saved seed than purchased seed. It is not perfect and probably won’t ever be, but it is a start. I have applied for and received a Minnesota Seed Dealers license and plan to offer a few local seeds this spring. This year will be a low key effort so I can learn the ins and outs of the business.

The larger movement afoot is people relearning cooking skills and how to move away from packaged, processed food.  The next step is  that people know how to garden, and grow some of their own food to feed themselves. We don’t grow all our own food, but we do produce nearly all the vegetables we eat. Most, but not all, because tzatziki is not the same with frozen or pickled cucumbers.

Part of this year’s plan is to grow more garden starts and offer complete garden packages.  So far the ideas for garden themes are Heirloom, Preservation (canning and freezing), Salsa, Salad, Summer Cooking, and Kids gardens.  Working out all the details is a bit of a challenge and the gardens won’t be a good fit for everyone. I’m sure some people interested in the preservation will want to have more than 60 pounds. Some people might not want tomatoes at all (heresy!). Individual plant sales will provide some ability to customize the varieties offered, hopefully without making it a hugely complicated mess.

Our CSA focus will move a little closer to home. The farthest flung CSA pick up sites are getting dropped and I’m going to make an effort to have more people pick up at the farm. My CSA plan is to keep the CSA as 25% or less of the farm business.  The idea is to have plenty for the CSA no matter what kind of year we have.

Bigger picture, the legislature is back in session and there will be another push to label GMOs. It think that it is inevitable that either they will be labeled or they will be removed from our food. Right now it is a very uphill battle since there are some very big vested interests who want people to eat what ever they are given without thinking about what the chemicals in the plants is doing to them.

The good news is that more and more people are becoming aware that there are novel proteins and pesticides in conventional food that their bodies react to over a period of time. They are also realizing that some of the chemicals are endocrine disrupters and really bad for little kids. The big chemical, agribusiness, and food(like substance) companies say that there are hundreds of studied that ‘prove’ GMOs are safe. The problem is that Toxicology studies only say that the product won’t kill you within 90 days. Beyond that who cares. Right ?

There will be a GMO Label Day at the state capitol on January 27th.  If you are interested in this issue go to  to learn how you can get involved. If you are interested in the Lobby Day you should sign up in the next few days.

Less urgent, but still important is a move to change Minnesota’s Seed Law. Currently it is illegal to give away or share seeds in Minnesota. Did you know that? I was sure surprised. This outlaws Seed Libraries,  Seed Swaps, and sharing seeds with your neighbor. No kidding. I wonder what problem they were trying to fix with that one ?

That’s the view from here today. See you in the spring