Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Deal of the Week!

For the high tunnel greenhouse we are erecting next weekend we need plastic lumber, to secure the hoops at the base. Treated lumber would work but is not allowed for organic growing.  We have been steeling ourselves for this expense and  fruitlessly checking Craigslist in case somebody has some to sell.

Last night, when Rog stopped at Menards he wandered out into the "deal" area of the yard on the off chance there was some plastic lumber. Fortuitously, there was an entire plastic lumber deck somebody had returned!  Rog was told he could have it for $100, but he had to take the whole thing.

He drove home with the load of small pieces - mostly railings and steps, then returned with a saw to cut the 20-foot lengths in half, but the Menards guys persuaded him to leave them whole. A nice thing about plastic lumber --it is flexible enough to sort of drape over the truck.

A short time later I got a call for assistance. While driving along the frontage road, the slippery boards had slid sideways off the truck (a police car was following behind, but the officer didn't give Rog a ticket for  the crazy load.)  I came to the rescue with a roll of stretchy plastic wrapping film, we  re-stacked and secured the load and made it home on the back roads without incident.

For $100 we got 20 20-foot boards, 20 10-foot boards, and lots of shorter pieces, plus the railings and steps which may be very useful for the future pond!

Still Life with Feather

Bethany observed that we often have intriguing still life arrangements around our house. For instance,  yesterday on the corner of our dining room table was this odd juxtaposition: the cash box (used at the Farmers Market), a 1950'svintage ballerina (a Profound Object destined for the farm store), a bander (used to stretch rubberbands for turning a bull calf into a steer), and a chicken feather.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

LaFonda Quilt

The amazing quilt my friend Enid made featuring my cow LaFonda just won three ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair, including the sweepstakes award (that big, fancy ribbon in the bottom corner of the photo.)
Unfortunately, you probably can't see all the incredible details in this quilt even if you click on the photo to enlarge it.  For instance, the whorl of fur on LaFonda's forehead is depicted in stitching.  Her spots are made of a variety of small black and white prints and the barn boards were hand- dyed and the aged wood texture created with  bleach brushstrokes.
This shot taken at the State Fair gives you a sense of how big the quilt is.  Apparently, the quilted LaFonda has had many admirers.

Congratulations, Enid!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Wrapping up the Week

The past two weeks,  one of our intrepid interns, Bethany, has been on vacation with her family (a road trip east covering 4300 miles, two countries, 1 province and 13 states!) We all missed her, but especially Brendan, I suspect, and not just because he had to cover some of her chores! She arrived back at the farm yesterday, and within an hour got to work feeding the poultry and milking the cow before we headed out  on our evening adventure...
going to Suncrest Gardens Farm, a pizza farm near Cochrane Wisconsin, about an hour away.  Rog and I have been toying with idea of establishing a pizza farm ever since we moved here, so we love going to other pizza farms and seeing how they run things. Suncrest Gardens Farm has developed a lot since we last ate there a few years ago, with lovely perennial gardens, baby animals, and great playground  equipment for children. They grow many of the ingredients for their pizzas and are lucky to be located next door to Great River Organic Milling, so even their flour is about as local as it gets.
The pizza was delicious, but the real draw was Jen, the wonderful intern who stayed with us briefly a few weeks ago. This is her last week at this farm before heading on to her next adventure. It was delightful to catch up with her, although she was kept too busy taking orders and making pizzas  to talk much.
We did get a "farm family" portrait with our summer interns snapped before we left.  Good luck, Jen, and keep in touch!
This morning, Brendan and Bethany got up early to harvest  pears. Our neighbors had given us permission to harvest from their two huge tress down the road.
Why do most of the pears grow on the highest branches?  (click photo to see pears!) The plan was to use some of the pears in tarts for this weekend's Farmers Market baking, but they are still a bit too green.
Instead, Bethany made our tantalizing tomato tarts, with caramelized onions, gruyere cheese,  colorful little garden tomatoes and  kalamata olives.
I have been meaning to post about the four special new chicks we acquired last week: two Black Jersey Giants and two Silkies.  The Silkies are fluffy, look like muppets and are banty-sized; the Jersey giants will be huge when full-grown, so this little sub-flock is kind of an odd group of buddies.
We are handling these chicks a lot so they will be tame enough to allow visitors to our farm to pet them.
Final big news of the week: a couple hours ago, our high tunnel greenhouse arrived!!  It's hard to believe that in a week or so this pile o' pipes and plastic will be transformed into 26 x 48 greenhouse!  We have our work cut out for us.

P.S. Our  Farm store is going great and will be open weekends through September. Visit the Squash Blossom Farm Facebook page to get a 20% discount coupon for a Profound Object.  The Nodding Wild Onions will play this Sunday from 2:30-5:00.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pizza and Pickles

Nearly every Sunday evening, after the band plays during the afternoon, we have wood-fired pizza potluck for the band members. Everyone brings  a favorite topping or two and assembles their dream pizza. This week, the families of Blue Monk joined us, including the keyboardist's children, Max and Katrina.  They seemed to really enjoy the farm (even the  huge garden spider in the tomato patch)  and the pizza.
Max and Katrina's family contributed ingredients for a dessert pizza, perhaps our craziest concoction yet. The crust was spread with Nutella, sprinkled with macadamia nuts and covered with miniature marshmallows.  The result was sort of a gourmet S'more pizza -- absolutely yummy!
We had many fabulous and creative pizza options last night - including one featuring Dawn's homemade feta cheese (made from her goats' milk) and artichokes, one with roasted eggplant, and a very simple, delicious pizza with just homemade mozzarella, slices of a gigantic garden tomato, and fresh basil.
Yesterday it was Pizza, today it is pickles. Our neighbor Frank brought us several bushels of cucumbers for making pickles. They are especially nice for handling--smooth, with none of those sharp little prickles that have to be removed.
Brendan was eager to expand upon his new pickle-making expertise and dove right in,  making several varieties of canned and fermented pickles. Our kitchen is a regular pickle factory tonight.
Brendan was in tears from cutting so many onions until he  donned his safety goggles!

The LowDown on the High Tunnel

Last spring we were awarded a matching grant for a high tunnel greenhouse through the NationalResources Conservation Service.  
Our original idea was to extend it from the south side of our barn, straddling the concrete silo foundation. We would put a pond liner in the foundation and raise fish (for eating) inside. The fertilized water would nourish our plants and the  mass of the pond would help hold the heat inside the greenhouse during the winter.
Well, this wacky plan is not an NRCS authorized use of the high tunnel, so instead we are siting it outside the foundation and will use it in the traditional hoophouse growing manner. Perhaps next year we will build an extension and pursue our aquaponics concept.
Nevertheless, we had to clean up a heckuva lot of wood from the  humongous silver maple that had been growing inside the foundation.

Plus, the ground slope s about a foot and a half in the 36-foot length of the high tunnel site.  Fortuitously, I stopped by a neighbors garage sale last week and noticed a cute little bobcat parked by the garage.  I inquired, and yes, John does bobcat work for people!  He came this weekend to level the ground for us. First, he nudged the tree trunk over the edge of the foundation, then attached a chain and pulled it out with his big pickup.
Then, he flattened and smoothed the 26 x 36 site for the  high tunnel.
He created a broad, gentle swale to direct the barn roof runoff around the greenhouse so we don't end up with a pond inside. This corner of the pasture was rife with burdock and thistle, so this will be a good opportunity to reseed with desirable pasture grasses. We will put an electric fence wire around the high tunnel so curious cows do not mess with it.
John spread the  small mountain of aged compost that used to be in this spot by the loafing shed over the site. Next week he will  come over with his tiller and till over the site to  break up and mix the old soil and new compost. It is pretty heavy and hard-packed  clay soil, so we will mix in some peat and sand.
While John was hard at work, the turkeys inspected his trailer.  John is a great guy.  He charged us less that it probably  would have cost to rent a bobcat. It has been so delightful how our farm projects have helped us meet our neighbors!  

Our high tunnel is now being manufactured and will arrive in 9 days. We are planning our second annual Labor Day Laboring Party to erect it. If you want to help set up the high tunnel (or remove buckthorn or paint barn windows...) and feast on wood-fired pizza afterward, you are invited! 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Salamander Sighting

When I dumped out the duck pool to refill it this afternoon I was delighted to discover a tiger salamander underneath it! He is medium-sized, about 8 inches long. I scooped him up and put him in a bowl for a brief photo session before letting him go in a safer place away from the poultry.
It has been a wonderful year for amphibians, probably thanks to the deluge of rain earlier this summer. The prairie is absolutely hopping with frogs and we have three darling toads living in various corners of our patio.  I am happy to see so many amphibians--it must be a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

Plus, I love the sweet smiling face that salamanders have.


After a long morning of vending at the Farmers Market yesterday, Brendan got home, unloaded everything and then relaxed by...making pickles.
For his first foray into pickling, he made classic dill pickles.
The cucumbers, dill and garlic came from our garden. After brining the pickles, they were packed into mason jars,
then processed in a hot water bath.  We ate the first pickles with supper last night, but we were so enjoying them I forgot to take a photo. They tasted great and looked picture-perfect -- exactly like the photo in the cookbook above.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Garden Goodies- and Baddies

When we named our place Squash Blossom Farm, we had no idea that squash blossoms would actually become one of the crops we sell.  We use them on pizza, salads, fritattas, and as appetizers, usually stuffed with cream cheese and pesto, dipped in a beer batter and fried (Yum!)  That is, we eat them when we have them--we also sell them at the Farmers market and to a restaurant, and we can't keep up.
As you are plucking the squash blossoms, there is always a honeybee working inside every flower.  After Rog harvested this morning,  there were only a few blossoms left  and each one was crowded with 6 or 7 bees.   The squash blossom harvest is slowing down--this may be the last week.  Next year,  I am planting more squash for the flowers.

We are sort of between harvests right now.  The early crops are done; the onions and garlic are curing in the barn.
We planted beans late and they are coming on now - these are dragon tongue beans.
Scarlet runner beans --we planted these more for the flowers but we also eat them.
The tomatoes are finally starting to  ripen!  Last night we picked these wonderful yellow pear, sungold and Early Girl tomatoes.
Unfortunately, our large tomatoes have become the victim of something that  raids in the night.  Raccoon? Opossum? Wood chuck?
Whatever it is, it eats about half of each beautiful  tomato just as it gets ripe. It has only taken the ones close to the ground. Is that because it is as high as it can reach, or is it just because those are the ones to ripen first?
This critter has devoured most of our large tomatoes so far,  so we have to take action. I tried picking them while they are still a bit green and letting them finish ripening in the house, but now it is eating the less ripe tomatoes.  I might try leaving Cocoa, our panic attack dog, out in the garden tonight. (She really wants to stay outside and be on guard at night, but I always make her come in.)  If I figure out what it is, I might try a live trap.
Right in the middle of our tomato patch is a gigantic garden spider.  Based on her coloring, size and the zigzag reinforcement down the middle of her web, I identified her as a Black and Yellow Argiope Spider. She is beautiful and HUGE and her impressive web stretches across two rows of tomatoes. The zigzag in the web is effective in preventing birds from flying through the web and destroying her handiwork.  I don't regard her as a pest - I love spiders and know they are great insect controllers - but none of us want to accidentally back into her web while working out there and end up with her down our shirts!
She is pretty amazing.  Perhaps she will capture whatever is destroying our tomatoes in her web (Check out this video!)

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!

It's another glorious August morning on the farm!
Rog, looking sort of like a bridesmaid with his bouquet.  He was up early to start the bread dough for market, then harvested squash blossoms for a restaurant customer and discovered a big yellow zucchini hiding.
While LaFonda was being milked, the other cows chomped a bit of hay for breakfast, glowing in the sun.
Jitterbug and Lindyhop helped themselves to my treat bucket.  (Lariat probably would have but her muzzle is too big.)
Ducks take their first bath of the day.
The chore wagon casts long morning shadows.  This trusty little cart has gotten a lot of miles on it this summer, merely hauling stuff between the barn, garden and house.

The chickens are fed in several feeding stations. While most of them crowded by jostling hens, turkeys and guineas, this little chick gets to dine without competition because a buff orpington hen has adopted him and fiercely protects him.
A week ago we discovered the chick with an injured leg, peeping and limping badly. We confined him to the coop so he wouldn't get trampled but didn't hold out much hope that he would mend. A couple days later we discovered he had been taken under the wing of a broody hen, sleeping beneath her at night. Ever since, she has been fussing over him as if he is her own spoiled baby. And his leg has healed!
Everything exudes joy and vitality. We must savor every moment of these magical summer mornings.