Spring 2018 Newsletter

2018 Early Spring Newsletter

Most of the snow has melted off the fields. The only places where there is much left is where it drifted in by the fencerows. Compared to the past few years spring seems really slow in coming but this is more like what used to be normal.

The birds are starting to show up. I had been hearing cardinals in the morning and today I see one in the lilac bush outside my window. Mary saw a robin a week ago and we have been hearing sandhill cranes. Yesterday I saw them down in the neighbor’s field. I have no idea what they are doing here at this time of year. Even our retired chickens have also decided that it is spring. They have laid a total of 8 eggs so far this year.

There has been a lot going on.

When I sat down to start writing this newsletter we had been out of water for a little over a day. The underground line from the well to the house broke again. There is never a good time for that but when there is four feet of frost in the ground it is particularly troublesome. Jim, the well guy pulled the pump up so he could test the pressure and the flow, and it was fine. The problem was in the pipe between the house and the well.

When we had the pump replaced a few years ago the real problem was a broken pipe between the house and the well. The pump was 25 years old and we had it out, it made sense to replace it. Last fall, just before freeze up the water line that feeds the yard hydrant, packing shed and greenhouses broke. This time it is between the well and the house.

Now we have a ¾” garden hose that runs from the top of the well around the house to an outside faucet and supplies water for the house. The hose runs inside 2” PVC conduit with a heat tape. Of course the length of the hose and the heat tapes don’t match up so there is a little insulated ‘doghouse’ to keep the end of the hose and the outside faucet from freezing. So far it was worked down to about +5°. Hopefully we don’t have any more below zero weather coming.

I have been busy in the greenhouse getting seeds started. Onions and herbs are the first things planted since they take so long to come up and grow very slowly. The onion seeds are starting to poke out of the potting mix already.

Most of the first wave of peppers has been seeded along with the eggplant. A lot of these seedlings will go to garden veggie transplant sales. They get an early start since big plants in 3½ pots sell so much better.

And there are a couple trays of 2012 tomatoes seeds that were planted early to check their viability. I’m out of the Peron Sprayless seed due to the problems with late blight last year. These tomato seeds were grown early in my selection process but some resistance to early blight and septoria leaf spot is better than any seed that I can buy. It looks like close to 100% of the seeds germinated and emerged so I won’t have to go back to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and start over.

There may be a bright spot in the late blight story. As part of my seed production program I had several varieties of tomatoes that were being grown for seed. They were infected with late blight and most of them died, but there were a few plants that recovered and produced normal green leaves by the end of the season. They even ripened a few small fruit.

Of course I saved the seeds out of those tomatoes. The results from the germ chamber show that those fruit produced viable seed. Nearly all of them have emerged. With any luck they should have some resistance to late blight. I’m going to grow them out to see what the tomatoes are like.

In all my messing around with saving and selecting seeds I have run into a fair number of people from various universities who are involved in plant breeding. The University of Wisconsin – Madison has a big horticulture program and one of the plant breeders there, Julie Dawson was interested to get some of the late blight resistant tomato seeds. She is going to send them to her friend at Purdue who always gets late blight. We should know by the end of the summer how much, if any, resistance these seeds carry.

One of the things I discovered ordering seeds this year was that hybrid pepper seeds pepper seeds are hard to find. At the Organic Conference I talked to Adrienne from Vitalis Seeds and she said that hybrid pepper seed are difficult to produce for several reasons: 1) both parent lines have to flower at the same time, 2) the plants need to be hand pollinated, 3) it tales a long time to mature the fruits so the seeds are viable, 4) doing all that organically is even harder due to the lack of useful insecticides and fungicides to protect the seed crop.

Adrienne also said that some pepper seeds are grown in greenhouses in the Netherlands but most of them are field grown in Thailand and India. The weather there has been alternating between drought and floods. Not good for seed production. Virtually no hybrid bell pepper seeds are produced in the US. I can tell there is a bell pepper breeding project in my future.

This summer we are taking part in a kale trial. Besides peppers, kale seeds have been hard to come by. The goal of the trial is to find organic replacements for Redbor and Winterbor. Redbor and Winterbor have suffered seed crop failures the past couple years, not to mention that they have the flavor and texture of a Brillo pad. I think the problem in this case is at the cold, stormy weather and flooding that they have been having in Europe in the winter.

I just read that spinach seed crops are being hurt by Fusarium Wilt in the Pacific Northwest. Fusarium is a soil borne disease that can persist in the soil for over 10 years. They grow a lot of seeds out there and are running out of infected land, not to mention that their climate is changing too. Look for baby spinach prices to rise.

Suddenly we are involved in buying building in Delano. Gina, the owner of the long gone Three Crows has been resisting opening another restaurant but couldn’t shake the good feeling of community that grew out of that place. A group of former patrons would meet occasionally to dream about what could be. Mary was part of a small group that looked at spaces in Delano to see what was available. One thing quickly lead to another and we’re buying a vacant building.

It won’t be Three Crows 2.0 but there will be gathering space for community events, maybe music, movies, discussions, artist studios, and a commercial kitchen. The one catch with having this building is that the various functions have to generate enough income to pay the bills. We are not exactly sure what it will be but the mention of kitchen space has a lot of people interested. I’m sure we will be learning a lot about local food production and value added grants.

On top of all of that, we have been getting my folk’s house ready to sell. It has been .a huge project. My parents were children of the depression. They kept everything. It has taken forever to just get the house and garage cleaned out and then there are the updates. Lets just say that things we never really noticed before are not big selling features. It is a huge project.

And people wonder what farmers do in the winter…

There is an up coming event is an organic gardening workshop on Saturday April 7th at Otten Brothers in Long Lake. The workshop is sponsored by Otten Bros and Harvest Moon Co-op. We will be talking about everything from seed starting and garden basics to pollinator and organic lawns. More information will be available shortly.