Early Winter News

Riverbend Farm Early Winter 2016 Newsletter                             December 14, 2016

I’m sitting here watching the chickadees and cardinals hunting for sunflower seeds outside my office window. It is easy to identify the pairs of cardinals, chickadees and juncos, not so much. The bluejays will be along in a bit.

When I sat down to write this a few days ago there is no snow to speak of and the temperatures were just a little colder than normal. Now it looks and feels like serious winter.  If you have been up in the middle of the night you must have seen the spectacular full moon on the fresh snow.  The moon always amazes me, a planet that is 1/3 larger than Pluto and close enough to clearly see surface features.

This was a transition year for me and I learned a lot. I think the decision to quit doing the bunched greens and radishes was a good one.  One thing that I had not counted on was the big knock on effects on sales. There must be an inertia to buying and when we are not in the market early it takes a long time for  buyers to switch to our produce.

Overall, I think the year will be a little less than average but the reduced labor cost will almost make up for the difference in the lost sales.  The greatest effect of the smaller crew was that I didn’t need to spend as much time managing people as usual.  We were a little short handed, but over all, my blood pressure was down an average of 12 points.

The weather continues to confound.  We had a warm wet summer and fall, but we were lucky. When farms west or south of us were getting 6” of rain we got 2”.  It was still really wet but our sandy soil drains well and usually things got done in a timely manner.  Irrigation was never needed once we were past the transplant stage.  Drip irrigation that was put down in the tomatoes and peppers never even got hooked up to the headers. I think the warm wet soils all fall allowed the soil bacteria to remain close to the surface and that causes some problems with squash and pumpkins rotting.

In the last installment of this newsletter I had mentioned that  Mark and I had just finished putting the combine motor back together.  August is the time I should be using my combine, not reassembling it. With any complicated piece of used equipment there are issues that come up and repairs that should be made as long as it is all apart.

By the time the combine was back together and all set up, the wind and rain had caused all the small grain to lodge.  Some of the rye had been so wet for so long that it had sprouted in the head.  That is not too surprising since it was October when it was being harvested, a more typical time to be planting cover crops.

I could have bought  replacement seed but there are a few new varieties that I had only grown for a couple years and I didn’t want to loose the adaption that had taken place.  After it was all dried and cleaned the yield was about one quarter of what I had expected.  Not good by any means but more than enough to try it again next year.

Jerry Ford decided to quit growing onions so I’m going to have to take that up again.  Onions are always a problem. We can weed them a dozen times and still need a mower to find them at harvest. Jimmy and Heather set out onion seedlings in late fall and over winter them. I tried direct seeding some this fall to see if they  will 1) come up and 20 be ahead of the weeds. I also have a roll of weed block that I’m going to burn holes in and plant the onions through the holes.

At this point the field work side of farming operations are well and truely done for the year. Our winter’s fire wood got cut and split before the snow and big freeze up.  I have already packaged up most of the seeds I’m saving and sorted the peanuts.  We roasted the immature peanuts for a few minutes in a moderate oven.  They were great. Hopefully we can save enough seed to plants in the spring.

Now is the time for indoor projects. A couple big projects at the top of the list are a powered sifter and a small, stand alone thresher.  When it warms a up a little there are a few semi indoor equipment maintenance jobs that need to be done too.

Our neighbor Greg just delivered a semi load of potting mix  on the last day the temperature was above freezing. If it is too cold the material freezes to the walls of the trailer and has to chipped out.  After Gardens of Eagan folded last year I have been growing a lot more vegetable garden starter plants in the spring.  Thousands of 3½”  pots take a lot of potting mix.

One thing that needs to be worked out is how to label each pot. Since I’m not growing Big Beef and all the other standard varieties there are no preprinted pot stakes. A basic printer for pot stakes is about $2000. Hand writing each marker is a real chore. Printing the variety name on a mailing label and sticking it to a popsicle stick is better but still very inefficient.  What I need you to do is to come up with a convenient, inexpensive, fast way to print on a 1” X 5” pot stake. Pot stakes are perforated   plastic, and come 5000 on a roll.

One of the real successes this year has been sharing deliveries with Jimmy and Heather over at Farm Farm.  The bulk of their business is CSA and farmers markets with a little wholesale on the side. They work really hard and grow some beautiful stuff.  Sharing deliveries lets us cut down the number of vehicles on the road and we both get an extra day on the farm.  Their list is a nice compliment to ours and t makes our ‘cart’ a little fuller.

Another success was remodeling our CSA.  Having all the shares picked up at the farm was great.  We could meet all of our members,  see what they liked and didn’t like, and persuade some dedicated eggplant haters to try some new things.  Lacto fermented and dried ‘chips’ took eggplant in an unexpected direction for me, and I like eggplant.  Mmm  Steaming hot eggplant parmesan sounds good right now…

Our current CSA members should send me their list of improvements for next year. It can go beyond brussel sprouts and more fennel to the logistical side of the pick up.  I had threatened to do you-pick, but never pulled it off.  I’d say that is still an option that needs some work.  Sign ups for next year will start in a few weeks.

Thanks for making this another good year. See you in the spring.