Seed Season Pt. 2

Golden Beet Seed

Forget love and romance. Forget chocolate dipped berries and delicate, lacy things. This year, our Valentines Day was about dirt, seeds and early onset exhaustion. In short, it was about the farm. Valentines was the day we’d set to begin our farm season. Sure we’d been building, planning and doing farm projects since New Year’s. But as of the 14th we’re putting all those things on hold. From now through November we’re in full production mode.

Early season is about seeds and long hours in the seed room (which has tripled in size since last year). Over the next couple weeks we’ll be seeding out all the plants for our first succession. Things like kale, rapini, broccoli, onions, leeks and chard all get seeded early, either to be grown for the May markets (kale and rapini) or because they have very long seasons (onions and leeks).

Continue reading Seed Season Pt. 2

On New Land and Canada Thistle

First for our biggest news ever: Last month we agreed to at least a four year lease on four acres of Boulder County Open Space land. It’s about 20 minutes from our urban, home garden (which we’ll continue to work) and comes complete with a retention pond and good ditch rights. We’re shooting to use a total of two acres this season, up from a 1/4 acre last year. Next year, if everything goes according to plan, we’ll use it all, bringing us up to 4 1/4 acres. We’ll still be a tiny farm by any sane definition, but hopefully we’ll then be big enough to be sustainable.

We’re over the moon with our news. We’ve been debating how to expand for over a year and farmland isn’t easy to find around here. It’s next to impossible to buy. In Boulder County ag land sells for at least $100k/acre, often without water. That’s way too much to ever make the nut farming. Fortunately for us, the county manages 95,000 acres of open space, much of which it leases back to local growers. This is how we got our land; through a county lease. It’s extremely affordable, has water rights and the county is there to support us through its extension office. It’s a great way to start growing on a larger scale.

All that being said, standing on the land this morning, in the freezing cold, ankle deep in snow and mud carrying a full load of t-bars was more than a bit intimidating. Four acres is a lot of dirt.  The methods and tools we used on our urban 1/4 acre aren’t up to this challenge. We need to update our system.

Continue reading On New Land and Canada Thistle

Seed Season Pt. 1

Red Leaf Lettuce

We’re deep in December and I’m dreaming of seeds. Not a feet-up, coffee, waste the morning sort of dream. Because I’m still really busy, and because I also work in a natural foods grocery, and because the holiday business there is exhausting and consuming, I’m dreaming in fits. Yesterday, with the sun beaming in on yet another unseasonably warm morning, I contemplated lettuce over a hurried oatmeal breakfast. Today I considered carrots and fed peanut butter to the boy. Lately, shower time has been for tomatoes, broccoli and herbs.

The seed order is easily one of the most enjoyable tasks on a tiny farm. Seen from the middle of winter, next year is fresh and plump with potential. Last year’s mistakes are faded and all but forgotten. Next year’s disasters are no more than a twinkle in my bumbling eye. Looking forward everything is rosy and the seed order captures that. The seed order is our chance for an unblemished start, to get organized, to finally realize our potential.

Mache - My favorite winter green

Continue reading Seed Season Pt. 1

Brussels Sprout Washout

Brussels_stalk

We failed with brussels sprouts this year. We failed bad; like a teamster trying to squeak his 19-ft trailer under a 17-ft viaduct. It was a total disaster. Brussels were supposed to be our primary fall crop but now it’s mid-November and I don’t expect to harvest a single one. It’s a huge disappointment. And we aren’t alone. Almost everyone around here struggled with brussels this year. For most folks, us included, the problem was aphids. October was unusually warm, allowing aphids to survive later than normal. At the same time it was cold enough to chase off all the wasps and ladybugs – the aphids’ primary predators. Unconstrained, the aphids quickly overwhelmed our brussels. There was little we could do.

I love brussels, whether I can grow them or not. Luckily, a couple local growers were able to bring in a crop. (Need I mention they were the most experienced growers at our market?) They were successful while we were not, because they grew their brussels for an earlier harvest date. Like most local growers we shot for an October/November harvest, transplanting our starts in late July. This left us in the field for the October aphid apocalypse. The two successful and experienced growers harvested in September, missing the aphids completely. Well, live and learn. Fortunately, I was able to buy several pounds of fantastic, local brussels from them.

Brussels_cooking Continue reading Brussels Sprout Washout

Garlic Time Again

Garlic_Kettle_River_Giant

It’s fall again and we’re planting garlic again. Work like a metronome ticks out my life. Repetitive tasks set the rhythm and mark the time, blurring everything in between. We’re closing the poultry coop at night – that means another day is over. I’m loading the trailer for market- it must be Saturday, a week has passed. Gheda’s paying our taxes – a fiscal quarter is done, three more months down. And now, Adam is planting garlic. We’re planting garlic yet again – this time a whole year’s gone by.  We’re right back where we started. Are we any smarter? Any wiser? I’d like to think so. But who can tell?

It was Autumn a year ago, during garlic planting, that we decided to make a go of the farm. That’s when we decided to take it from a hobby garden to a business. The intervening year has been productive; we incorporated a business, got insurance, grew a lot of food, sold a lot of food, made a busload of new friends, earned some money, paid some bills, preached the good news of local, sustainable agriculture and went more or less sleep deprived for months. I hesitate to draw any conclusions about the year. Did we do any good? Did we waste a lot of time and energy? I avoid questions like that. All I know is that we’re setting up for another year, wholeheartedly believing we can do better than we’ve done up to now. There’s redemption to be found in looking forward.

Garlic_cloves Continue reading Garlic Time Again

Fennel Pollen

Fenel_patch

This year I let all our fennel go to seed, never harvesting more than a few bulbs. I know, it looks bad for me. Still more evidence of my fundamental sloth and incompetence, some might say. Fortunately, it’s different this time, because this time I had a plan. And my plan was this: I was going to let them bolt. Yep. That’s it. I was going to let them bolt. You see, this year I wasn’t in it for the fennel bulbs. Instead, I wanted to harvest fennel pollen. Unfortunately, after harvesting the pollen, I’m not sure what to do with it. Of course we’re going to eat a bunch. And there is a good market for fennel pollen. It’s a big market and can be quite lucrative (the pollen brings $20-$40/oz). But despite harvesting the entire patch, I only have a few ounces, too much to eat but nowhere near enough to make it pay.

Probably because of the glaringly, half-baked nature of my fennel plan, our farm partner, Adam, was… I’ll say… skeptical. Every week he wanted to cut some plants for market. “People are begging for bulbs,” he’d plead. But like a desperate, degenerate junkie, I couldn’t deviate from the plan. I wouldn’t. I was on the verge of a huge pollen score. I couldn’t just quit.

Fennel_Flower

Continue reading Fennel Pollen

Fall Planting

Fall-Spinach3

It’s the middle of September but it feels like springtime all over again. The days have been warm, the nights have been cold, the grow room is full of plants and once again, lamentably, we have a lot of work to do. Thankfully, fall planting should be our last big push of the year, then we can rest. I’m looking forward to the rest. But before we get there, we still have to put in a few thousand transplants, plant the alliums, direct seed carrots and mache, build some hoops, frame out the ends of our tall hoops, get everything protected against the winter cold and prep our dormant beds for next year. It’ll be a lot of work but it’ll be over soon enough. One last big push.

Fall-Spinach2-2

Continue reading Fall Planting

The Tomato System, V1.0

Tomatos_green

Things are nervous on our tiny farm. The first hard frost is lurking like a vandal. The season is ending. I can smell it. It’ll be Armageddon for cucumbers and catastrophe for peppers. The zucchini blossoms will all turn black and crunchy. No more basil. No more melons. No more pansies for our salad mix. Fortunately, our tomatoes are protected. They’ll survive awhile longer. But even their end is near. The time has come to take account.

It’s been a long year for us on the farm. And to be totally honest, the amount of energy (and the number of hours) I’ve been able to put in has been waning for a while. I’ve been getting by on good intentions and the grace of my friends. Fortunately, all the hard work we’d done earlier in the year laid a solid foundation and allowed us to coast a bit. Otherwise we’d have augured a long time ago.

With that in mind, looking back on the year, I focus on the positive. I focus on our  plant / soil block sales. I focus on our greens. And I focus on tomatoes.

This was our year to finally learn to grow tomatoes. And while we still have a lot to learn, we’ve come a long way. Our system allowed us to be among the very first growers to have ripe tomatoes at market. We’ll likely also be among the last. Our yields were great and our quality was very good. Of everything we’ve done around here, I might be most proud of the tomatoes. We’ve struggled mightily in the past. It’s good to have turned at least one corner, at least temporarily.

Tomatos_Gheda1 Continue reading The Tomato System, V1.0

Summer Kale Part 3 and Citrus Kale Salad

Lacinato_top

Three months ago I decided to do a short series of posts about summer kale. The thought was that while people are becoming okay with kale in the winter, it still gets overlooked in the summer. That’s a shame. Kale is one of very few veggies that can be grown all year long. It’s always in season. My plan was to argue the case for summertime kale. This is the third and final post in that series.

We grow three varieties of kale on our tiny farm; Curly, Red Russian and Lacinato. In many ways, they’re all quite similar, sharing a basic, earthy kale-ishness. At the same time, they’re unique and distinct enough to more than justify our offering all three varieties. Here’s a quick rundown of how they differ and how we use them: Continue reading Summer Kale Part 3 and Citrus Kale Salad

The Big Corn Paradox

Corn_field

Taken at just another huge, local corn field

This might be the best summer recipe ever:

Grilled Summer Corn

ingredients

  • Fresh picked corn, still in the husks
  • Sea Salt

method

Pick them. Grill them, ASAP, still in the husks. Eat them, maybe with a pinch of salt.

There’s nothing better than fresh corn. I absolutely love it, and I’m not alone. Everyone I know loves it. This time of year it’s one of the best selling item in the produce world. Peaches, cherries and corn; in the summer everything else is an also-ran.

I love corn but I don’t grow any. I need to grow corn but I can’t grow corn. Thinking about it hurts my brain.

Imagine a small town with a single male barber. Let’s say all the men are close shaven. Let’s also say this barber shaves all and only the men who don’t shave themselves. The question then becomes: Does this barber shave himself?

Alternatively, can an omnipotent being create a stone too heavy for her to lift?

On a tiny farm growing corn is a lot like that. It’s a paradox. People love corn. They crave it. And few things drive more foot traffic. We don’t have it and, as a result, half the people walk right past our stand. On the other hand, it takes a lot of land to grow and it has almost no economic value. In my day job I work at a large natural foods grocery. Right now we are selling corn 4 for $1. At the farmers’ market, the guys across the isle from us have gone as low as 50 ears for $5. We could conceivably plant our entire 1/8th acre farm to corn (we’d yield about 2,000 ears), wait an entire season, harvest it all at once, sell out in a day and generate less than $500. Corn is brutal! We gotta have it to drive traffic but if we do it’ll break us. Pure Paradox. This paradox is even harsher for organic corn. That’s why it’s so hard to find. What’s the best way to become a million dollar organic corn grower? Start with $10-million and a dream.

Continue reading The Big Corn Paradox