Early Summer Newsletter

Riverbend Farm Early Summer Newsletter

CSA started this week so I suppose I should get busy and write a newsletter.

First of course is the mosquito report. We have had 3.36” of rain in the past two weeks.  The warm weather last week brought out all the mosquitoes that had been hanging back since the first of May.  They are thick.  The good news is that they have sucked all the juice out of the wood ticks and slowed them down.

As is usual for these days, it has been a bit of an up and down sort of season.  Early on it was very warm. May was cool and we had some flat out hot humid weather in early June.  The cool weather kept things from growing and the hot  weather made them bolt to seed.  I have lots of arugula and radish flowers.  Rapini had about 3 leaves when it flowered.

Cutting back on the bunched greens and radishes looks like a good move at this point.  We have a much smaller crew this year. Right now our crew consists of Nikki and Gwen, who work Mondays and Thursdays. Margaret was a great help with all the transplants, but the commute was killing her. Not spending 3-4 days per week  bunching and delivering opened up a lot of time to keep up on primary tillage, planting and cultivating. Cultivation is a little behind right now due to the regular rain. Our on-farm pick up only CSA is also much smaller but we did a ton of veggie transplant business  this spring (since Gardens of Eagan closed). That has helped a lot with cash flow. And we learned a lot about growing thousands of starter plants.  Next year…

All in all, it has been a  typically busy spring but we have had an absolute  whirlwind of activity here in the past few weeks.  Since Memorial Day we have had a crop mob, visitors and have been plowing, planting, planting, cultivating, plowing, and more planting.

Usually crop mobs are the last Saturday of the month, but we had  about 2½” of rain the last  week of May. It was too wet to do any field work to get ready to plant.  A couple dry days and Monday was just about perfect, also, being Memorial day, there was a chance that some of the people who signed up for Saturday could still make it.

Monday is a regular work day for us, so Nikki and Gwen were here early to get things ready. It was nice to have help organizing the crop mob. The crop mobs consist of a mix of people who show up for almost every one and new people who sometimes come back for a second or third go round. Something like 20 people showed up and we planted a little over 5000 tomatoes in a few hours. Many thanks to everyone who came by to help.

That Tuesday was another rainy day, perfect for getting the seed potatoes out of the root cellar. That way they would get a chance to warm up and get a little moisture. The lack of sun let the little sprouts start to harden off without drying out. Dave Rieder showed up to show me a new sign he is making for the bistro in town and wistfully remark about working on the farm.  I immediately took him up on his offer and invited him to help plant potatoes on Thursday.

On Wednesday, June 1st we had company for lunch, Magnus Nilssen and a few of the local James Beard Award winners.

It all started innocently enough, a few months ago Paul sent me an email asking  if I would be willing to do a farm tour for Magnus Nilssen. The proposed date was months away on a Wednesday, so of course it fit into my schedule.

As it got closer Paul checked in to see if we were still up for it and I started to look up who was this Magnus Nilssen guy. It turns out he runs a little place (16 seats) called Fäviken  in the middle of nowhere Sweden. Seriously nowhere, a couple hundred miles from the Arctic Circle.  The population density is about 3 people per square mile.  Fäviken is ranked as one of the top 20 restaurants in the world and very focused on local food.

The idea was to do a short farm tour, chat about local food, and have a little lunch.

The farm tour consisted mostly of a short walk and retreating to the greenhouse to get out of the wind. It was chilly.  Besides the chefs and writers a bunch of people from the Swedish Institute in Minneapolis dropped by. There was even a lady from the Swedish Embassy in Washington.

Mary suggested fried sunfish for lunch. They are biting over at Lake Sarah and are about as local as you can get. Mary called our friend Leroy and asked if he would be willing to go fishing.  Leroy may live to fish. They were delicious. Panfish are at least as good as walleyes. Too bad northerns have all those little Y bones.

We called on some of our friends, Mary Jane and Gina,  to help pull off the lunch. It is great to have an understanding wife and friends to take the pressure off hosting a group like this. Lunch was quite wonderful and Mary Jane made a  buttermilk custard corncake with rhubarb topping that was so good. Mary Jane says it was more fun than cooking for the King and Queen of Sweden.

The Bachelor Farmer sent Ian and Harper to help out. I spotted them out in the field looking at Mary’s caterpillar tunnel experiment. They had not been exactly kicked out of the kitchen, but they would step up later to make sure that the second round of fish was hot and ready , keep the serving plates full, and make sure the people from the Swedish Institute got something to eat. It was very nice of them to take care of the behind the scenes stuff so we could have a great lunch.

Magnus is a pretty intense guy. Besides running a top notch restaurant he is trying to grow a lot of the produce they use at Fäviken. He is trying to develop a tomato that will mature outdoors there.  They get 90-100 days worth of growing season and may have frost in August, depending on the (east) wind.  I think that  Amber or a selection out of Early Girl will make it.

They are very much into local food there. Fäviken bought a local sausage maker to keep them from folding and contracted with the local pig farmer to keep him form going out of business. He raises an old Swedish pig that isn’t as profitable as the new fatless ( and tasteless) confinement  hogs. Add in shipping and he needed twice the going price to make it. So that’s what they paid.

Fäviken also gets their beef from old Holstein dairy cows and buys fish on the honor system. Local fishermen have access to a locker where they can put their fish and an invoice when they catch it. The restaurant pays them and uses the fish as it is available. Magnus would be an interesting neighbor.

The ASI comped us some tickets for the opening of the photo exhibit at the Swedish Institute.  By the time we cleaned up, it was time to close up shop and leave. Mary Jane ran home, stuck her cooler in the fridge, changed clothes, zoomed back. We picked up Gina on the way through town.

It was a great day thanks to the help of family and friends. It was a pretty magical day. Thursday was like waking up the day after vacation and having to go right back to work.


Just about 10 days ago we had lows down in the mid 40s, a little cool for peppers and eggplant but perfect for potatoes. Nikki and Gwen showed up for work as usual. Dave dropped by as promised. I asked Jean Peterson if she would come over and help too. Jean arrived promptly at 10 and set to work with the tractor marking out rows  and making the furrows for the potato seed pieces.  By 4 pm we had a ton of  potatoes planted,

Towards the end of last week you may have noticed that it has warmed up nicely, just right for eggplant and peppers. They went in on Thursday and Friday. Now I’m a few days behind on finishing up planting winter squash and a few more beans. Cultivation is right at the point where it needs to be done, but the next few days should be dry and warm. Perfect for killing little weeds.  It everything goes according to plan I’ll get another round of seeding done and it will rain Sunday night.


On the mechanical front, the F150 developed a bad habit of draining the battery over the winter. The battery checked out fine, but unless I disconnected it, the battery would be dead in a couple days. The fuel pump relay was energizing as soon as I hooked up the battery cable. Reading the manual made it sound like the relay got its ground through the Engine Control Unit (ECU). Unless the ECU was powered it shouldn’t be active. Power for the ECU comes from the ignition switch. That lead me to replace the electrical part of the ignition switch.  It turned out that was not the problem but it did fix the issue with the wonky tach.  Working up the line, the fuel pump relay had failed in the closed position. Replacing it solved the problem. I do not know where it is finding a ground, but it works fine now.

It was evident that the old white Volvo needed a valve job after our trip out west last summer.  It took a lot longer to get the head back than I expected, but that rainy Memorial Day weekend was the perfect time to put it back together.

It turns out that the original 1.8 L motor had been overbored to 2 L (3 5/16” to 3.5”, i.e. a lot) some time in the past 48 years. The B18 head gasket would not work, but a B20 gasket would.

As a further complication the cam was from a very early B18 (pokey) and the lifters were worn. Replacing the lifters would require regrinding the cam. It was less expensive to buy a new cam and lifters than to have the old cam remastered and a little livelier cam is always more fun. I went with a replica of a Volvo D cam. They were used in the 140 series with early fuel injection.

Head is either from a later model (B18 type 2 or 3) which is thinner than the head that originally came with the car. Volvo basically machined a quarter inch off the old heads to bump up the compression ratio. A thinner head means that the valves will come closer to the pistons when they open and close. The D cam has higher lift and longer duration than the old A cam ( see Wikipedia for an explanation of valve overlap).

The combination of the bigger bore and the thinner head means that the compression ratio would be much higher than stock (10.4:1 vs 8.5:1). The larger swept volume of the cylinders were trying to compress more fuel and air into a smaller cylinder head volume.  Add in the hotter cam and I went with a thicker B20 head gasket to keep the compression ratio down to what would work with premium gas and keep the valves from crashing into the tops of the pistons.  If you have ever broken a timing belt, you know that is a bad thing.

After all that it started right up. I have not driven it yet (not enough rainy days in a row) because I want to retorque the head,  readjust the valves, and reset the timing. ‘They’ say not more the 34 to 38° total advance. Maybe Sunday afternoon will be rainy…

Other than that, there have been the usual flat tires and loose bolts, but nothing big. One project on the near horizon is putting the motor for the combine back together. It has taken even longer for the machine shop to get that done.  The rye and vetch are going to need to be harvested before too long.

Today we transplanted the melons and a few variety trials for University of Wisconsin, covered the seed potatoes that were peeking out after the rain, and removed the cover from the 2nd greenhouse. This year it is getting in floor heat.

That’s enough for tonight.




Riverbend Farm Early Spring Newsletter

Riverbend Farm Early Spring Newsletter                           March 1, 2016

It is the first day of meteorological spring. The coldest 3 months of the year are behind us and it sure looks like spring is here. Has anyone got any snow left in their yard ? It is a serious understatement to say this has been one weird winter.

The river didn’t freeze over until early January (typically mid November) and just before this dip back to historical normal temperatures the ice was starting to break up. If the frost has not gone out, it is pretty rotten. The water that collects in the two low spots in the spring has drained. That usually doesn’t happen until late March. The National Weather Service is forecasting a good chance that this summer will be warmer than normal.

It has been a little dry lately but the marshes and sloughs are still full of water so the soil must have held onto the rains that fell last fall.  The long term forecast is for  an equal chance of above or below normal precipitation. I could go for a warm summer with normal precipitation.

Last week was the MOSES Organic Conference so it is now time to fire up the greenhouse and get some seeds started.  Most of the seeds are inhand,  potting soil is in the greenhouse, it is time. This year I’m going to try several seed starter mixes. In the past I have just used potting mix and had variable results. In early trials with potting mix, Beautiful Land #12, and straight sphagnum peat moss, the Beautiful Land starter mix looks the best.

At the Organic Conference I did a presentation as my last official act as 2015 Farmer of the Year. I talked about Adapting and Selecting Vegetable Seeds. It is a big complicated subject  but people have been selecting and saving seeds for 10,000 years. They did not have advanced degrees, but it is hard to argue that they didn’t know what they were doing.  Until about 50 years ago it was very common for farmers to save their best crops for replanting.  Now it is unheard of.

There is something very wrong with having chemical companies decide what varieties we can plant. As evidenced by the rise of patented and Genetically Engineered commodity crops,  they are mostly interested in selling chemicals.  They also appear to have a strong interest in controlling the vegetable seed market.  If you look at the graphic in this link https://msu.edu/~howardp/seedindustry.html , you will see the consolidation that has happened in the past 20 years.

Every time a buyout or merger occurs about 1/3 of the varieties get dropped.  The dropped varieties tend to be older open pollinated or public seed varieties.  Hybrids and GE seeds have a much narrower genetic base than OP seeds.  With our erratic climate we need seeds that are able to adapt to changing conditions.  Not that all hybrids are bad, but they may not be bred to deal with less than ideal conditions.  Hybrids are usually based on two very inbred parental lines and obviously not selected for genetic resilience.

If you are planting a garden, save some of your own seeds. The Organic Seed Alliance  http://seedalliance.org/publications#publication_category_title_12  has online instructions on saving most types of seed. They are based in Port Townsend,  Washington so they have a Pacific Northwest bias, but their techniques are widely applicable. If you are in the mood to buy books, the Seed Savers Exchange has a new book on seed production “The Seed Garden”. It is a great general purpose reference.

By the way, I’ll be selling locally produced organic veggie transplants at the Birchwood Cafe  May 7th & 8th and the 15th & 16th.  A lot of the plants will be from seeds that were grown right here. The recent weird weather has made for several great years for selecting seeds for adaptability.  There will also be some outstanding hybrids like Sungold cherry and Granadero  roma type tomatoes, and their OP counterparts.  None of these plants will be stunted with growth regulators or poisoned with systemic insecticides like you may find at the big box stores.  Since Gardens of Eagan went out of business, a couple of the co-ops will be carrying our veggie transplants also.

The sun is out. The greenhouse has warmed up. I gotta go get some onions started.  See you soon.





Reply to pro GMO op-ed

In today’s Strib there was an article in the Opnion Exchange about the slippery slope of GMO labeling.  It is part of a campaign to redefine GMOs as the same as traditional plant breeding. I wrote a response that you will never see in the paper. Here it is –

I would thought that you would have been too embarrassed to provide space in your newspaper to a piece so clearly written to deceive as the opinion piece on the slippery slope of GMO labeling.  The claim that  traditional breeding is  the same as genetic engineering is absurd. Selecting and crossing compatible species is not the same as shooting foreign genes into a cell.

Trying to redefining GMOs is a word game. That is not going to help the companies supplying Genetically Engineered ( if you prefer) food avoid the direction the market is moving.  Ask General Mills how their sales in the middle of grocery stores are doing.

GMOs in our food supply have been a very well kept secret since the 1990s. Today word is leaking out and no one likes it.  People are not stupid. They read these articles and see they are being told a lie.  That convinces them that the chemical companies behind GMOs (or Genetic Engineering…)  are trying to hide something.

Not to mention the Strib looks less and less like an unbiased provider of information. Yeah, yeah, I know that not all the copy on the Editorial pages reflects the views of the paper, but any reader paying the least bit of attention can’t help but notice what is selected for publication.

Lets get rid of the corporate speak and the verbal sleight of hand and have some real data. I’m  sure (well, at least hopeful) that long term (more than 90 days)  feeding trials were done to assess the safety of the novel proteins in Genetically Engineered food.  Lets see it.  I have looked for it, talked to a bunch of GMO supporters, and no one has ever seen it.  It is interesting that any research  using GE crops is tightly controlled by the chemical companies  who produce the seed.

I’m not interested in inferences from arguments that ‘people have been eating it for 20 years’… Besides being a totally uncontrolled ( unscientific)  feeding experiment, it is easy to find data that show an increase in the rates of  immunological disease, autism, etc. in the past 20 years.

No more word games, lets see the data.

Greg Reynolds



Riverbend Farm Winter Newletter

Riverbend Farm Winter Newsletter

Winter has finally arrived. The long warm fall made it easy wrap up the season and get a little caught up on things I should have been doing last summer.  We had a tremendous crop of potatoes. I was able to finish digging, washing, and store them before the ground froze. It was the best potato crop that I have ever had.  Pole beans that were looking like they would be abandoned did get harvested. Cover crops were planted. Potting soil was delivered and stored in the greenhouse. All the tractors got an oil change, battery charge, and were parked in the shed. I had time to go get a combine engine to replace the one that had blown up last summer.

All this wildly variable weather makes me wonder how the weather will play out next year.  It is kind of remarkable to think that 20 years ago we had very predictable summers.  About 10 years ago things started to get a little wonky and now  every year is completely different than the year before.  These few below zero days are comforting in a way.

Over all, last year turned out to be about average.  And truth be told, I would just as soon have a string of average years rather than surf the waves of boom and bust.  Last summer was generally cool and wet. Just about the only time we used irrigation was in late May. After that we had very nicely timed rain all summer.  June was cool and we never had the big heat in July and August.  Very comfortable. But the heat loving crops got off to a slow start and never had time to catch up.  Around here, vine crops almost universally suffered from rot.  Cucumbers had soft spots on the bottom and one half to one third of the winter squash rotted in the field.  Pole beans started flowing like mad in late August, usually much too late for them to make it, but they did.

On the mechanical side,  you may recall, the engine on my Massey Harris combine broke a piston last summer  and the piston pin gouged  the cylinder wall.  Finding a replacement engine has been difficult. A guy a few miles away has one that would work, but  he couldn’t  quite bring himself to sell it or something. I did find an engine down in Iowa  that had been sitting for ages and was seized up. After finally melting the pistons out, the block was junk.  The exhaust pipe was off and a couple of the valves were open.  Sitting for so long, the exhaust manifold, ports and one cylinder were full of sand. The amount of corrosion was phenomenal.

Just before it started getting cold I pulled the blown motor out of the combine. Now it is all apart and the block is up at John’s Precision Machine in Buffalo to be cleaned up and have all the cracks located.  John is confident that he can bore the bad cylinder and drive in a new sleeve.  After all that it will get reworked for new pistons, a valve job, and rebuild.  It is a lot of fooling around for an old small combine, but it does a great job on small grains and I am looking to expand the amount of grain that I grow.

Besides regular maintenance, the other big project has been to revive a ’92 240 series Volvo station wagon. This car was given to our daughter as a parts car  (a very thoughtful gift…)  but she didn’t have a real need for it. After sitting in the grove for a couple years it was better than the one I was driving so I pulled it out and started working through all the problems that caused the previous owners to junk the car.

I already know that next summer will bring some big changes around here. I have been growing the same amount of stuff for several years and have not found a happy medium between production and overhead. Everything that was on my to do list in May was still there this fall. That does not work.

I have decided to scale back our vegetable production to just a few acres.  There are several factors driving this decision.  One is that the physical demands of the work are taking their toll. If I want to be able to close my hands in five years I have to quit bunching radishes and greens. I can still feel the ache just going through the motions of making a bunch. Probably not a good sign.

Another issue is that even if I hire people, I still don’t have time to keep up on maintenance much less make progress on any of the myriad of projects around here. It seems I spend more time managing people than I do farming.  I’m not under the illusion that doing a greater proportion of the work by myself is going to be any easier,  but I won’t have the overhead of a bunch of workers to keep busy.

Perhaps the biggest reason to scale back is that a friend of ours died suddenly. He was only a few years older, active, and seemed in fairly good health.  It was kind of a wake up call.  Maybe Mary and I should do some of the things we have wanted to do now, before we are so old and beat up that it is no longer possible.

Scaling back will have a big impact on all of our markets.  Our farm has been known for all our bunched greens and radishes.  When we started out, they were our way into the co-ops. The bunched items opened the door for a lot of our other products. Without them our sales to the co-ops will be less, greens and radishes are still the bulk of what some stores buy from us.  I expect the number of co-ops we sell to will shrink as well as the volume of sales.

To keep the CSA in proportion with the new size of the vegetable production, it will be much smaller too. This year CSA shares will only be available for pick up on the farm in Delano. I’m going to start by limiting the shares to current CSA members with a maximum number of about 20 shares.

Additionally, this year’s CSA will be in a farmers market style rather than picking up a prepacked box. On pick up day there will be a display of veggies in bins and crates with instructions like: One of these, three of those, etc. You will pick out the items for your share like you were shopping at a farmers market. There will be a swap box at the end so if you don’t like broccoli, you can put yours in the box and take out some tomatoes or something.

I don’t have all the details worked out but there are a couple new things I would like to try. One would be a garden share in the spring where you can pick up your starter plants like tomato, peppers, cucumbers, etc. Another would be some pick your own for larger quantities for canning and freezing. Crops like peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes  would be in that mix.

If you are interested, please let me know in the next few weeks. Like I said, I’m still working out the details and could use your input.

For CSA members who can’t pick up their share at the farm, our friends and neighbors have CSAs that drop off at the same locations as we did or nearby. They all do a great job and without reservation I can recommend:

Heather and Jimmy Bauman at Farm Farm


Nick and Amelia Neaton at Sweet Beet


Red and Nina Kirkman at Fox and Fawn Farm


All the best in the New Year





Early Spring Newsletter

April 6, 2015

Riverbend Farm Newsletter Early Spring

It is the first week of April. Snow is long gone and the ice went out on the river two weeks ago. The birds are back and staking out their territories. The fields are starting to green up. Much different than last year. Spring is certainly on its way.

The recent warm weather has been good for getting head start on field work. Before last Wednesday’s rain I was able to plow up several beds in the field that was always too wet all last summer. There is still a wet spot where I almost got stuck. See the two grass strips that are wider than the others? On the far end of the near strip, by the tree line there is a spot where the frost had not completely gone out. The frost doesn’t let the water soak in and keep that area wet.


I also plowed under all the old cabbage and kale plants to help with the number of cabbage moths this summer. In the fall the mature cabbage worms drop to the ground and pupate just below the soil surface. Plowing buries them too deep for the moths to dig themselves out. I’m sure more will blow in, but when it comes to pests every little bit helps.


The greenhouse is filling up again. Yesterday was a good day to put up the plant sale tomatoes. The onions, first kale and lettuce are up. I don’t know if the weather will be warm enough to set them out when they are big enough to go into the field, but if we do get an early spring, they will be ready. If not, they will be salad mix.



On the subject of plants, I am growing peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and some various kale, cucumbers, etc. for home gardens. If you would like some locally grown certified organic transplants for your garden, let me know.  Most of the plants will be from locally grown and adapted seed.

I have had it with voles getting into the greenhouse and eating the baby kale or the tender squash. I found a couple thousand square feet of discontinued random pavers to make a hard floor in the greenhouse. The floor will still be porous so the water will drain away but impervious to rodents.



A little over half of our CSA shares are sold at this point so if you were a member last year and would like to continue, please get in touch and I will reserve a share for you.

One last thing,  Mary and I were named MOSES Organic Farmers of the Year at the MOSES Organic Conference in LaCrosse.  It was a great honor and a bit of a surprise too.                                                                                                  


More GMO Nonsense

March 1, 2015

On February 8th 2015 the Washington Post ran an editorial by the Opinion page Editor Fred Hiatt titled  ‘Science That is Hard to Swallow’ . His premise is that the science on GMO safety is settled. You can find the entire piece here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fred-hiatt-genetically-modified-foods-prove-hard-for-americans-to-stomach/2015/02/08/3ae7902c-ad60-11e4-9c91-e9d2f9fde644_story.html  .

On February 10th the STrib reprinted the Washington Post Editorial on their opinion page. I wrote the following in response.  They thanked me for my work and asked for 10 days to print it. Time’s up.

February, 10, 2015

I am writing thank Mr Editor Hiatt for settling the debate about GMO labeling once and for all.  The only thing missing from his call to scientific reasoning was any data.

A quick google search for climate change temperature data and finds 100 millions hits from universities, NASA, NOAA. There are all manner of charts, data points, graphs, etc. Easily accessible data is all over the place. A similar search for GMO food safety data does not bring up much in the way of easily accessible results, making Mr Editor Hiatt’s claim of settled science hard to verify.

The GENERA website has lots of interesting scholarly articles concerning GMOs. Many of the articles deal with feeding GMO diets to livestock and report finding no trace of GMO protein in their blood or tissues. GENERA also lists a Canadian study finds traces of GMO corn proteins in the blood of pregnant and non pregnant women in eastern townships of Quebec. That seems rather contradictory for settled science. Or are they saying the GMOs interact with humans differently than livestock ? Unsettling.

The magazine Scientific American has noted that the companies that produce genetically modified seed control the use of the seed for research and have a say over what data gets released. You can find a contract stating that on the back of any bag of GMO seed.  That sure makes it seem like those companies don’t want just any researcher testing the safety of their products and publishing the results. That lack of open access has the appearance of hiding something.

Anecdotally there are hundreds or thousands of studies purporting to show that GMOs are safe. Unfortunately, toxicology studies only show whether the substance in question will or won’t kill all the rats in 90 days. And all of those studies are approved by the owners of the GMO seeds. Not completely reassuring for a lifetime of eating, especially coming from companies that produced products like Agent Orange, DDT, PCBs. Not that they would lie, but they may not showing us all their cards either.

To dig a little deeper, there is the issue of the approval of GM products and crops in the ‘90s. The revolving door between the FDA and Monsanto was spinning pretty fast back then. I’m not saying anything untoward was happening, but it certainly looked fishy.

We all know that corporations are all about making money. An obviously egregious example is the financial industry and the collapse of the housing bubble. Big pharmaceutical and chemical companies don’t have  a better set of values and ethics. They are not bad people or even breaking the law, they just have a responsibility to their shareholders. I would be more trusting of the claims of settled science if the whole process was more open and accessible.

And then there is the increase in immunological illnesses that has occurred in the past 20 years. Our immune system reacts to novel proteins, things that we have not seen before.  Many of the diseases have to do with digestion and diet, which would at least appear to be related to what we are eating. The big change that happened in the food in the last 20 years was the introduction of novel GM proteins. A 90 day toxicology study does not say much about effects that take years to manifest. Not labeling GMOs in foods makes for a very large uncontrolled long term feeding experiment, which is not at all scientific.

When I talk about organic agriculture to college students I like to ask them a few questions to see where they are at, what they are interested in.  When I ask ‘Who eats genetically modified foods ?’ One girl timidly raises her hand. When I ask ‘Who eats a mostly organic diet ?’ The same girl raises her hand. Consumer’s (when did we go from being citizens to consumers ?) level awareness of GMOs in their diet is abysmal, but surveys show that upwards of 90% of people think GMO foods should be labeled.

If GMO crops had some advantage besides selling herbicides wouldn’t every box of cornflakes have a banner that proclaimed NOW WITH MORE GMOs!  ? They don’t. One of the arguments against labeling GMOs in food is that the Invisible Hand of the Free Market would reject them. But, science be damned,  isn’t that the way the market is supposed to work ?

In his call to science Mr Editor Hiatt also trots out the victims of starvation. He fails to mention that there is more than enough food produced today to feed the world’s billion plus hungry people. The problem is that people living on less than $1 per day can’t afford to buy food. If exponential population growth continues until 2050 even more of the world’s population will be trying to live on pennies a day. GMOs are no solution to abject poverty.

Mr Editor Hiatt mentions some of the other promises of GMOs.  Observation shows  that so far GMO crops have been a failure when it comes to dealing with pests and weeds. Corn root worms developed resistance to Bt corn in a few short years.  Weeds developed resistance to GMO crops’ companion herbicides in less than 20 years.

The chemical companies recognized this problem and their solution is to introduce new GMO seeds that are also resistant to older more toxic herbicides like dicamba and 2,4-d.  Except that weeds are already resistant to dicamba and 2,4-d. Not exactly a long lasting solution.

Just like reduced pesticide use, higher yields, drought resistance, more nutrients,  etc. the claims of benefits are simply vaporware deployed to enhance a corporate bottom line.

So, let’s settle the science once and for all. How about if we trade GMO labeling for free and independent access to all GMO seeds and crops for all researchers  interested in testing them in food safety, long term feeding, immunology, etc. studies ?  Until that happens, labeling GMO foods makes a lot of sense.

Greg Reynolds

Riverbend Farm



2015 MOSES Keynote – Locally Adapted Seeds

Locally Adapted Seeds

This is mostly  about vegetables but the ideas apply to just about any seed bearing plant.

Why Bother

Are your favorite varieties of Kale, Cauliflower, Onions, Peas, or Zucchini hard to find this year ? Are all those seeds, are all your seeds coming from someplace else ? Do you ever wonder why that is ?

Farmers have been selecting and saving seeds since the dawn of Agriculture. Why aren’t we doing that anymore ? There used to be 100s of regional seed companies, with dozens in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Now, three corporations control more than half of the worldwide seed business and none of them are located here.

I had been resistant to saving vegetable seeds for years. I didn’t want to wait until harvest time to find out that I had a seed crop failure. If two thirds of your  purchased Delicata seed doesn’t emerge you know you have a problem, but you might have time to do something. If your Delicata  crop matures to be some weird zucchini – spaghetti squash hybrid, you have seen them in your compost pile, it is more than a little too late to do anything about it.

There are several reasons that I have changed my mind. A big one is Quality.

As a matter of fact, I have had two thirds of my purchased Delicata seed fail to emerge. The seed may have germed in some lab somewhere, but they were not vigorous enough to emerge when planted in real dirt. I don’t want my money back for that seed. I want a truck load of Delicatas.  Now I’m three weeks behind, One week for them to come up, a week of wondering ‘Are they coming up?’, and a week to get new seed. I don’t know where you are from, but I can’t afford to give up one sixth of my growing season on a tender hundred day crop.

In general I have been finding that overall seed quality has been decreasing.

Another reason is Availability. Good varieties disappear. And when a hybrid goes, it is gone.

I trialed red slicing tomatoes for three or four years, evaluated dozens of varieties, and came up with two organic hybrids that worked for me. Primetime and Paragon. They were both good tasting, solid, productive uniform varieties that worked in our low input conditions. One year only 25 seed packets of Primetime were available. That’s odd, but… The next year there was no seed available. Now what ? Another three or four years of trials for five or six years of production ? No way. I started trialing open pollinated tomatoes.

Reason number three – disease resistance.

In those trials I found that a lot of promising sounding open pollinated tomato varieties blighted out right away. It looked like someone had flame weeded out tomato field.  You’ve seen it, heirlooms with these little wobbly stems with a little tuft of leaves on the tips. My experience has been that tomato plants without leaves are not  very productive.

Along the same line is the issue is seed borne disease. A lot of arugula seed has a bacterial spot that causes watery looking spots that spread to cover most of the leaf. The disease spreads through rain splash and will infect most, If not all, the greens in the mustard family.  The seed bags don’t come with a little warning label that says These seed are disease infested and will not produce a saleable crop’. We went from selling 15,000 bunches of arugula per year to under 2000 due to the disease. That’s not quite the result that I was looking for.

An even larger issue is Global Climate Chaos. In 20 years we have gone from not needing irrigation to having ten weeks in a season with out rain. not to mention that it does not rain in the summer anymore. When I was a kid, it would cloud up and rain straight down for a day or two. Not so much that it would run off, but a nice steady gentle rain. We don’t get that anymore. We get storms that dump two inches of rain in a couple hours, with winds that break off the trees. Last year we had three inches of rain every other week in June. Bad timing and a little more than we needed.

Looking back just a  few years, in 2012 we had a very warm March, a freeze that the apple growers will not forget anytime soon, a hot July and a very dry summer. The spring of 2013 was cool and wet. There was a deh-REY-cho, a huge wind storm in June, July was hot. 2014 we had four months of January, lots of snow, the soil temperature did not get above 55° until mid June. There was so much rain last year that between 500,000 and 600,000 acres were not planted in Minnesota. Then we had a freeze on September 13th. This winter started off with a bang, but lately we have been in a drought. If this were summer people would be watering their trees. We have had weeks long stretches of record warm and record cold weather so far. How does this spring look ? Any guesses for this Summer ?

You could say that our climate is not very stable anymore. Seeds that are bred in moderate climates don’t do well here. The Olympic Peninsula is the world’s best place to grow brassica seed. It gets down to 25º in the winter and stays under 70° in the summer. Broccoli plants bred to a place like that don’t know what to do when the temperature hits 80°one week and falls into the 40°s the next week. Actually, it does, it buttons and bolts.

As I was wandering around the country last summer I found that the climate in seed growing areas is changing too. The Olympic Peninsula had record cold last winter and record heat in the summer. Remember all that missing kale seed ? The cold was hard on their overwintering brassicas. Their rainfall patterns are shifting too. It used to be dry until October, now it is raining in September. One grower I visited with had $200,000 worth of beet seed ready to harvest when it started to rain. They harvested maybe ¼ of it.

Back at home, plants on our farm are busy dealing with weeds. I know you are shocked, but we have weeds on our farm. Seeds grown in cushy, clean conditions may not have the competitive nature that gets them out of the ground and ready to go root to root with weeds to grab the nutrients they need. Weeds are not an ideal condition, but they are a fact of life.

Seeds grown in places where it never rains don’t express foliar diseases. Organic seed grown in input substitution systems don’t do well in cover crop based rotations. We need seeds that do well in cold, dry, hot, wet, all kinds of crummy conditions.

Access to productive, locally adapted seeds is important to me and I suspect they will be important to all of us in the next few years. It will be too late to start adapting seeds once the need is apparent. It takes time to adapt seeds to all the various conditions they will face in the future.

How to do it ?

There are three main steps in local seed production Adaption, Selection, and Saving. The seeds themselves take care of the adaption part. Most varieties have genes that they are not expressing. Our pro GMO friends are saying that farmers have been doing genetic modification for centuries. Remember Calgene’s Flavr Savr Tomato ™?  Apparently the Calgene guys were clever enough to select for tomatoes had fish genes. Nonsense. Besides, everyone knows they should have been selecting for tomatoes with bacon and lettuce genes.

Plants do have enormous ability to adapt to their surroundings. They have to since migration is not really an option. If they couldn’t adapt, they would die out right away. Besides adaption there are a few lucky mutations, but they are rare. It is up to us to select the adaptions that are most beneficial. Selecting and saving seeds for even a year or two makes a huge difference in how well they do.

For example, we grew out some Misato Rose Radishes for seed in the spring. In the fall we planted them along side two rows of the same purchased seed. We only harvested radishes from the saved seed row. The purchased seed radish leaves were all yellow and spotty. The saved seed radish tops  were bright green, they looked like new growth. The smallest saved seed radishes were the size of the largest purchased seed roots.

Years ago, I bought a bag of conventional Winter wheat seed, planted it and it got about a foot tall and yielded 9 bushels per acre. Norman Borlaug would have been so proud. Planting that seed in the fall produced a normal crop of three foot tall plants and about 30 bushels per acre under no input conditions.

Back to the tomato trials – I want a lot of big, good tasting, non cracking tomatoes on disease resistant plants. I started with a few open pollinated varieties that seemed like likely candidates – Peron Sprayless, Martian Giant, ORLST,  and saved seed from the plants that weren’t all blighted out at the end of the season. After a few years of selecting and saving seeds I have productive tomato plants that look pretty good at the end of the season.

Another characteristic to select for is weed competition. Sometimes unintentionally, and more often that not our seed garden is neglected and, yes, more than a little weedy. If a crop is not going to thrive in less than perfect conditions, it has no place on our farm.

My latest disaster, selection experiment, was with emmer and einkorn, both ancient grains. Last spring was miserable, cold, wet, and went on forever. No weeds would germinate in stale bedded ground. The wheat started to come up and was completely overtaken by foxtail. In no time the bed looked like the most beautiful lawn. The grain matured and ripened. I forced my crew to hand harvest it, head by head. They were good sports about it and we got several pounds of seed. Those seeds are competitors.

That’s not the way it is supposed to happen, but what are the chances that we will have less than perfect planting conditions in the future ? This spring I’ll look to see if any of the grain self seeded. If it did, I’ll be sure to get back there and harvest it. It the mean time, I’m going to increase the seed stock that I have. It does well in tough conditions.

Open pollinated varieties are a good place to start, but hybrids are a great source of genetic material. They have some outstanding characteristics, but need to be selected and stabilized. Sometimes it takes years. Other times, I’m not so sure they were so hybrid in the first place. A fair number  of the F2 pepper and eggplant varieties have around 15% off types.

I suppose that I should have told you this at the beginning, but I have no background or training in plant breeding and plan to trample all over the correct nomenclature. Defining a couple terms  will make the rest of this easier to follow. F1s are the hybrids. They are the result of crossing two, typically inbred, parental lines. F2s are the seeds saved from hybrids. F3 seeds are saved from F2 plants and so on. At some point I suppose the new variety should be given a new name.

Like I said eggplant and peppers seems to be fairly true to type. Tomatoes are a little wilder.  I really like Early Girl. Early Girl is an old Hybrid, a 1962 All American Selection winner. It has the right balance of sweet and acid flavors, and is reliably early. Saving the seeds of the Early Girl hybrid produces F2 plants that are very non uniform. F2 seeds from other hybrid tomatoes act about the same.

Some interesting things happened . The F2 Early Girl seed produced almost exactly two thirds normal tomato leaf plants and one third potato leaf plants. Usually you would expect 25 or 50% using basic genetics. In any case, there was an heirloom in the parent lines somewhere. We divided the plants by leaf type and created two populations. Plain leaf and potato leaf. Both types of the F2 plants had a variety of sizes, shapes, maturity, disease resistance. The next thing we noticed was that some of the plants were much earlier than the rest. They provided the seed for our F3 generations.

Both F3 generations produced the earliest ripe tomatoes last year (remember, it was a cold, wet season). The fruit was more uniform, but there was still a fair amount of variation in the size of the tomatoes. This time we let the plants sprawl and selected for disease resistance in addition to earliness. Some of the ‘reject’ plants had larger than normal fruit. It still tasted like an Early Girl, but bigger. There weren’t a lot of those so we mixed the fruit from the plain leaf and the potato leaf varieties to get a big enough sample. This will be the start of a third line of early tomatoes.

I should also say that some of these selections take place in our production areas. I’m not stuck on seed preservation. That’s where the Seed Savers Exchange excels. They do a great job. I want seeds that are better adapted to our conditions. you know that the heirloom seeds that your great grandmother saved ? It came out of her regular garden and she was selecting the best she had.

When you are saving tomato seed  you should save it from at least 25 individuals to get a good genetic base. The number of individuals you need to form a good base varies with species and is not perfectly straight forward. In general, if the plants self pollinate like peas and lettuce, you don’t need as many, maybe as few as five individuals for a viable gene pool. If they are pollinated by insects, like kale, you need more and if they are wind pollinated you need a lot more, something like a couple hundred. Don’t get too hung up on this right away, you are probably not growing the only Lacinato kale seed on the planet.

When we plant tomatoes for seed selection I like to see 200 plants in the bed. That way we can reject three fourths of them and still have a bigger population than we need. It lets us be really selective. A lot of the tomatoes that we rejected for seed saving went into our CSA or to our restaurant accounts. Just because they ripened a little later does not make them bad tomatoes.

One thing that does need some attention is isolation. Every variety of kale will cross with any other variety of cabbage or kale, except Red Russian, which is a different species, closer to a rutabaga than a cabbage. Maybe this isn’t the best example, or maybe it is, but anyway unless you are breeding a new variety,  you will be disappointed when next year’s Lacinato comes out looking like  a kohlrabi.

In general plants in the same species will cross with each other. For example Brassica Oleracea contains Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collards, Kale, and Kohlrabi. They will all cross with each other. Red Russian is Brassica Napus and won’t cross with them.

Isolation distances depend on whether the plants self pollinate or are pollinated by insects or wind. If you are growing seeds for your own use it may not matter if a few of your hubbard cross with a buttercup. The result could be delicious. I know that Miami crossed with hubbard tastes good. But if you are selling produce, your customers could be put off by a 40 pound buttercup.

Mistakes happen and there are ways to fix them. Miami is an old variety of winter squash from the Miami people who live over in Illinois or Indiana. Somewhere along the line it got crossed with a hubbard. The original squash is three feet long and six inches in diameter. The miami-hubbard crosses may be a little football shaped or they may look like a pink hubbard.

I received some of the crossed up seed and was asked to see if I could straighten it out. There are a couple ways to do this. You know how squash have a tiny fruit under the female flower ? We are going to plant a block of this mixed up seed and look at the fruit under the female flowers. If they look like an off type we will pull out the whole plant. Once we have those cleaned out we will go through the bed and pick off all the pollinated female flowers and small squash even if they look perfect. The next day’s flush of flowers can only be pollinated by pollen from plants with the right looking squash.

As a back up we will hand pollinate several flowers to produce what should be purer seed. I’m sure that it will take several years to clean up this variety.

Messing with seeds is fascinating stuff. So a word of warning. Selecting and saving seed is a vicious cycle. The more you get into it, the more it pulls you in. The next thing you know, you have big tubs full of hundreds of bags of different kinds of seeds. It is not quite as bad as cat hording, but you know….

If you are finding yourself needing to know more, there are some very good books on the subject. To mention just a few that I have used:  Seed to Seed by Susan Ashworth and The Organic Seed Grower by John Navazio  both are very good and available at the MOSES bookstore. A book that is available for free on line is Return to Resistance by Raoul Robinson. It is less technical and more inspirational.

So then what ?

And finally, My vision is for local seed company that produces and distributes well adapted, resilient, productive vegetable varieties. I have no idea how this would work. It could be a producers co-op or a straight ahead seed company. I do know that it will be a collaboration of several farms due to the need to produce more than one kind of kale, cabbage, and onion seed. Lets start now.

Thank you.


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 www.righttoknowMN.org  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




Early December

Riverbend Farm Early Winter Newsletter                                       Dec. 3, 2014 

It’s been awhile since I sat down to write a newsletter and a lot has happened.

If you are living in Hawaii or Costa Rica, in the second week November it  suddenly turned to winter.  One day we got about 6-8 inches of snow. Daytime temps dropped to  the 20s. Night time temps are 0, +/- a degree or two.  A very dramatic change in the weather. The first week of the month there was no snow and it was not getting below freezing at night.

It seems like it has been winter forever now, but the two day reprieves the few couple weekends have sure been nice.  And we are less than a month away from the solstice. Before long, the days will be getting longer. Winter is almost over…

Back in the middle of October Mary and I took our ’67 Volvo station wagon up to the North Shore for a few days. We were only gone for three nights but it was great. The first day was sunny and warm so we hiked to several waterfalls in State Parks up the shore from Grand Marais. The next day was rainy and cool. Perfect for bumming around Grand Marais and sitting by the fire at the cabin.  It was a great little get away. Since then it has been pretty busy.

Noelle minded the farm while we were gone. Andrew was over in South Dakota planting 20,000 (or some such number) bulbs of garlic. And then they were off to the North Shore and helping Bud at the meat market  for deer season.

With the sudden snow cleaning up and putting away all my toys made for a few hectic days. Batteries got charged, oil got changed, equipment was shuffled around to fit  in the shed. Besides the snow, the bottom was falling out of the thermometer so the well and waterlines needed to be blown out, hoses drained, potatoes, carrots, and other root crops moved into the root cellar.

Not everything got done. It was close, but I did not get any collards harvested for us and did not get any of the kale or collards dug up for seed production next year. The collard seed may be an issue. It is a several years old and the germination is starting to drop off. Other than the Lacinato, the kale produces seed like some giant weed so there is plenty of that.

Deliveries for the season just wrapped up with the last few pumpkins going to our restaurant and co-op accounts.  Now I can get started on my winter to-do list.

Everyone wants to know what I do all winter, well, here is my project list:

Tidy up the Satoh: 1)Check low compression on #1 cylinder 2)Fix hydraulic leaks 3)   Change transmission oil, hydraulic oil 4)Fix sticky shift linkage 5)Keep front wheel from falling off 6)Replace belts and hoses

Replace Dodge window motor. Part of getting a pretty clean ’83 Ramcharger ready to sell

Wire the root cellar. I have pulled the wires through 35 feet of conduit already and installed a temperature and humidity sensor. It is really interesting to see what happens to the humidity when we get below zero temperatures. The temperature changes very slowly. I need to finish the wiring for lights, a fan, and possibly a heater.

Reassemble the Norton. This bike (1970 Norton Commando) was take apart a couple years ago to straighten a bent frame. The frame was straightened last winter and now I need to reassemble the parts.

Build bean roller. This is a machine that consists of two inclined cloth covered rollers that clean broken beans, twigs, unthreshed beans, etc. out of dry beans. The rough edges on the bean trash get caught on the fabric and are thrown over the side. The smooth beans travel down the incline and off the end of the rollers.

Build barrel washer. I have a small barrel washer that needs to be replaced. A barrel washer is a rotating inclined barrel that is make of closely spaced wooden slats. Root vegetables are dumped in the high end of the washer, sprayed with water, and tumbled to clean them. They gradually work their way down the incline on drop out the low end.

Spread compost (not going to happen…). The wet spring prevented me from getting the second phase of my green manure program planted. Not to mention that the winter squash went into part of that field also on account of the wet conditions. I bought 200 cubic yards of compost to replace the nutrients and organic matter that would have been produced by the green manure.  Unless we get a big warm up the compost will not get spread until next spring.

Thresh beans and sunflowers. Part of getting ready for snow was to pull up the beans that will be saved for seed or used for dry beans and store them in the greenhouse. They are still in there, leaves, vines and all. For small quantities like this I usually spread them on a tarp and drive over them.  With the snow on the ground it is a little harder to thresh them and keep them dry.  The sunflowers are a link in the process of experimenting with growing pole beans on a large scale.

Package saved vegetable seeds. All the tomato, pepper, eggplant, and squash seeds that were collected in the fall need to cleaned and packaged for storage.

’67 Volvo wagon. This car needs all new rubber gaskets around the doors.  The cargo area window gaskets are leaking but the word is that the ones currently being made don’t fit. I’m also going to pull the cylinder head off and see why one cylinder has higher than normal compression. There are a lot of minor things that need doing as well.

’92 Volvo wagon. My ’87 wagon is rusting away at an alarming rate. This ’92 is fairly clean, but was given to our daughter as a parts car for her sedan. She needs a parts car like we need another winter like last year. Needless to say it will require more than a little attention before it is a reliable daily driver.

Radiant heat. Our kitchen floor is always cold and using the wood stove fools the thermostat for the furnace into thinking the house is warm. That saves a lot (25% or more) of energy but leads to a cold kitchen. Radiant heat is also energy efficient and keeps your feet warm. The floor joists below the kitchen and downstairs bathroom are exposed so it will be relatively easy to install.

Of course there is wood to split, snow to plow, customer meetings, conferences and all those regular things that take place in winter too.

Stay warm


Early October

Riverbend Farm Newsletter                                     October 5, 2014

It has been chilly the past few days, but weren’t the last two weeks just spectacular ? Weather like that is why people live here. Friday was rainy and raw, but since the wind has died down it has not been too bad, a lot like October.

The forecast is for temperatures to be a little below average for the next few days, a reminder that winter is coming and it is time to get busy cutting wood.  It has been nice to have a fire in the woodstove for the past few days.  The growing season is obviously coming to an end.

Last weekend about 15 people showed up for the final crop mob of the season and harvested a couple  wagon loads of winter squash and pumpkins. We unloaded the wagons in the greenhouse before lunch.  It was very warm which made working outside pretty enjoyable.

After lunch (provided by the Birchwood, thanks Tracy) everybody was beat and went home. Ginger and Mark made it as far as the gas station, turned around and came back.  They thought there was just too much squash lying on the ground and offered to help pick it up. We filled another wagon with pumpkins and then called it a day.

We harvested the rest of the winter squash on Wednesday. With a little careful stacking it all fit in the greenhouse. It was good to get it out of the field. The forecast had dire predictions for lows in the high 20s to very low 30s for this weekend. If the temperature drop below 28º squash in the field would be  damaged.  As it turned out it has not been as cold as predicted, but it was not worth taking the chance.

On Friday the forecast was still calling for a freeze so the crew ( Zach was back for a few days between jobs) harvested peppers and eggplant  to keep them from being ruined by the expected freeze.  I hear it was a miserable morning, rainy, windy, and cold. We have only had frost the past few nights (lows up by the house around 32º) but it would have been enough to ruin the peppers that were exposed to the sky.

In the afternoon we pulled up all the tomato stakes.  It was much easier pulling them out than putting them in. Yesterday afternoon I mowed all the tomato vines and weeds in the winter squash.

I had an odd mechanical failure while mowing. The tractor quit, just like it had been shut off. That usually indicated an electrical problem. It turns out that the spring for the ignition points snapped.  The spring is the electrical connection between the coil and ground. No ground = no collapsing magnetic field = no spark.  Replacing the moving half of the points fixed the problem and the tractor fired right up.

Today I disked the winter squash and the heirlooms. Andrew had broadcast rye and vetch over the tomatoes and squash a couple weeks ago. Only the rye in the mulched tomatoes has come up yet.  In the unmulched tomatoes and squash the seed is mostly just lying there.  Disking those areas will get the overseeded rye into the soil and get it to sprout.

The neighbor has been hauling in loads of composted cow manure from the SMSC Compost facility. It looks and smells like black dirt. The compost will be spread in the field that should have been in the second green manure phase this year. It doesn’t completely replace the green manure, but it certainly helps.  We will start spreading it this week and keep seeding cover crops.

The days are getting short and winter is coming.

Don’t forget about our fall potluck on this Saturday October 11th. We will gather around 2 and plan on eating about 4:30-5:00.  We are planning to do pumpkin carving and a hay ride.  We’ll have cider available, but if you want something else to drink  feel free to bring it.