Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Harvest Newsletter

Greetings from the Garden!  This week's CSA box has potatoes, winter tomatoes, onions, garlic, parsnips, carrots, radishes, squash, and greens!

Field Notes.  Neither Ken nor I can remember a fall so warm.  Ken just kept working outside.  Many tasks that usually have to wait until spring are done!  Ken got the compost out to the field and into the medium tunnel, for example.  

 He has been cleaning and clearing sheds, so he can take down the old garden shed , knock down some trees, and build a new and improved garden shed.

Unlike Ken I moved indoors and got bookkeeping caught up and seed inventory and orders done.  

I used to do this in January, but many varieties of organic seeds are sold out by January.  The new seeds are arriving and will get sorted so they will be ready to plant - starting in January with onions and celery.

Ken is planting as I type - he keeps planting for the winter salad mixes.

Underside of the red mustard leaf
From the Kitchen.  With the long nights, the greens are growing more slowly, but the weather has been warm enough for a good selection for this time of year.  The red mustard, tatsoi, and arugula are doing well.  I add them to sprouts for salad.  I tend to cut the large red mustard leaves into ribbons - they not only look nice but it also evens out the zippiness.  Ken preserved some lemons in salt and I have been adding them to salad dressings for the sour and the salt. 

I made a creamy dressing with feta cheese for a spinach tatsoi salad combo a few weeks back and this week I did a classic French (not sweet) dressing with the minced preserved lemon, minced garlic, lots of paprika, pepper and olive oil.  It was nice on raw or cooked greens.

With cooler weather I am using the oven for roasts and baked and roasted vegetables.  Delicious!

Best wishes for the Holiday season from all of us here at Keppers!  Next box in January on the 13th.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Chickens Growing Up - Nearly adults!

Even with cool temperatures and sort days the chicks are growing - and growing!

Soon we will separate the surplus male cockerels from the female pullets.  We will grow them out and butcher them for our use.  

Cruel?  No, I don't see it that way.  Most birds are sexed as they hatch, ad most males are composted when a day old!  They live a full life here until they are full grown. 

Compost to the Green house in the Field

Part of having a greenhouse is maintenance.  There is the frame, the plastic skin and there is the soil in the green house.  When we had the option of obtaining a grant for a greenhouse Ken knew two things: he wanted to "beef up" the structure with some of our own money, and he wanted a long narrow tunnel that, once the grant was concluded and the plastic needed to be replaced, could become multiple smaller greenhouses.  Why?

Well, each crop thrives under slightly different conditions.  Multiple green houses would improve yields.  And even more importantly we could rotate and leave frames open so soil could rejuvenate.  Soil inside a green house often gets stale and needs fresh air and amendments.  

This fall has been unseasonably warm and wet.  Ken wanted to get compost in the greenhouse, but he also wanted the soil dry enough so he did not tear up and compact soil.  Today was as good as it was going to get!  Rain is forecast and the roads and soil would be a soupy mess.

So Ken loaded compost.  Hes uses a front end loader these days.  He loads into buckets so he can haul them into the greenhouse easily - bucket by bucket.  Automation is a relative term.  It has been wonderful to move up from digging and lifting each bucket to a front end loader!

Any way I just caught the loading.  I had other inside tasks that kept me from going out to the field to document the unloading

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ken Makes Compost and Potting Soil

Ken is one of few farmers who make their own compost and potting soil.  Often people ask him why he does it - it is so cheap to buy. When I over hear this question I explain that years ago I overhear two young farmers comparing notes on new weeds that came in with their purchased compost!  

Ken acquired a front end loader and manure spreader to save is elbows!


Compost is only as good as the elements that went into making it.  with our fully mineralized soil's culls and garden waste the compost is truly black gold.  And Ken's biodynamic leanings make us look at the farm as an ecosystem that should go full cycle - those lower cabbage leaves should go to the pigs or geese, and their manure should be composted and brought back to the soil - he ultimate in full cycle dynamic.

Potting soil is the medium to bring seeds to plants.  How can the plants be any healthier than the soil where they start life?  The nutrients must be available to the seeds for the plants.

Seed Inventory

Each fall I go through all the seeds we have.  Some older ones did not germinate well (Ken marks the packets as he plants), some packets are empty, some are nearly empty and some have good looking seed.  I make a list of what we have and note what we need to buy.

Then I hit the seed catalogs.  Each year they start to arrive earlier than the prior year.  It is a delicate balance as I want to order before organic seed is sold out or back ordered, but I want to order after old seed is sold out.  Two years ago the germination rate on red onions was under 25 percent!  As seed costs go up (our favorite eggplant is 13 cents per seed) seed viability is crucial.  When see germinates poorly, the seed companies only reimburse seed cost, not our labor or lost time in crop growth.

And all the catalogs offer seed in different increments - grams, ounces or lots of 1,000.  It is a test of math skills to translate so I can compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Harvest Newsletter

Greetings from the Garden!  This week's CSA box has greens, baby carrots, turnips and radishes, winter tomatoes, potatoes, squash, onions, garlic, and cabbage.

Field Notes.  Well, winter seems to be here.  It was a long, warm, wet fall with lots of opportunity to do things out of doors.  I am getting the last of the roots in the root cellar.

People often ask what we do after the season '
"ends" and I have to laugh!  There is still planting, and harvest.  I have been doing the bookkeeping and now I move on to seed orders.  I want to get this done as the organic seed often runs out, but I also want to hold off as I don't want to get old seed that doesn't germinate!   We are doing more open pollinated varieties and saving seed as seed prices go up and seed germination goes down!  

Ken has been making compost, potting soil, moving animals to their winter quarters, cleaning out sheds and working on new designs for winter seed germination and plant growth.  During our less sunny winter last year we had really slow growth for our salad mixes and Ken is working on a solution!

This is also the time of year we assess how last season worked and decide where we want to make changes to improve.  We welcome input.

From the Kitchen.  With cooler weather I do more baking and roasting and soups and stews.  When I get our pork from the meat locker I put the summer cuts in the bottom and the soup bones and roasts on top of the freezer.  I did a shank with beans, onions and garlic with some canned tomato juice to go with squash and cornbread.  Ken has baked squash and made some squash soup.  I made some squash cookies with raisins and dates from Jane Broady's Good Food Cookbook.  

Now that organic lemons are in season I have been making jam with our fruit: raspberry, strawberry and plum.  

'Til December 16th, Judith and Ken

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Big Chicks - 'Tweens

We usually order chicks in August.  We feed them six months and they start to lay eggs in their normal cycle - as the days lengthen in February.  Spring chicks lay briefly when six months old in October or November, but once the days shorten and grow cold they take a break.  There really is a season for eggs and it is from early February to June.  Chickens do not lay as many eggs once it gets hot - July.

This year I ordered chicks late - they are shipped the day they hatch and the egg yolk has given them enough food for three days.  When we get them home from the post office, we open the box and teach them to drink as we put them in a warm lighted box.  As they grow we move them to a stock tank and then out to a shed.

We give them hay and kitchen scraps of greens - carrot tops, Brussels sprouts trimmings, etc.  This year I tried a variety that I have wanted for years - previously they were too pricey for my budget, but this year (maybe as a late season bargain) they were cheaper than usual.  I also got some aracaunas for the green eggs
We get straight run - that means as they hatch male and female chicks.  Once the males start to harass the females and fight for pecking order.  if we separate them from the females the males can live as a unit in harmony instead of as competitors for six months.   So our males have had a full life.  When people order only females, the chicks are sexed and male chicks are killed immediately or they go to places like a raptor center where they are eaten by predator birds.

Here are photos from a couple weeks ago - the birds are about a month old.  Chicks grow quickly

Monday, November 16, 2015

Harvest Newsletter

Greetings from the Garden!  This week's CSA box has potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter tomatoes, celery root, daikon radish, onions, and garlic, greens, sage and a pie pumpkin.

Field Notes.  Ken has gotten his compost done before it became too wet.  He has a new to him manure spreader that mixes all his components together.  He will need potting soil to start winter micro greens.  Once the weather is too cold for the full size greens under layers of plastic and fiber, we move on to what we can do with limited space and heat and light - micro greens.

Ken has also been cleaning up old plastic and fiber and sheds - organizing.  There is little time for this during the growing season.  And I move on to paper work that has piled up.  Now is when we are planning for next season.  We welcome your input!

From the Kitchen.  Thanksgiving!  Everyone has different traditions.  We include a pie pumpkin and some sage for the traditionalists, and some daikon radish for the less traditional.  

My suggestion is mix it up.  If everyone wants potatoes, do that, but consider adding a rutabaga dish for the type two diabetics or sweet potatoes. Add some extra vegetable hors d'oeuvres like grated daikon with tamari or soy sauce. 

In any event we are deeply grateful for all we have and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.  'Tl December 2nd. Judith and Ken

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Harvest Newsletter

Greetings from the Garden!  This week's CSA box has lettuce and other greens for salad and braising, potatoes, winter tomatoes, peppers, celery root, onions or leeks, daikon or black radishes, sweet potatoes or squash, and herbs


Field Notes.  Ken has been making compost and potting soil.  He uses our poultry bedding and leaves and hay that has been in a pile for months.  He loads it into a manure spreader and then spreads or piles it.  Most went to a pile by the mobile high tunnel, but he put some on one mobile tunnel location where the chickens are currently located.  They will stir it and it will amend the soil for next season.  Ken also purchased gypsum.  Just as calcium makes strong bones, calcium in gypsum is necessary for sturdy healthy plants

I have been working in the root cellar.  Ken has been harvesting roots and cabbage and I have been boxing and burying in sand.  Soon he will harvest more and the root cellar will be pretty full - always a good feeling.

From the Kitchen. Last week I made some scalloped sweet potatoes.  They were a nice side dish to some barbecue chicken wings.I also peel, boil and slice sweet potatoes and warm in butter for a quick side dish as well.

Daikon radishes and black radishes are so good in fall.  Here is our friend Jenny with a daikon. Many people grate them and add to slaw or salad.  Daikon is also added to soups and in Japan Ken had boiled daikon on a stick with mustard.  May be a while before we see that at the state fair in Minnesota!

'Til Next Week
Judith and Ken

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Squash - a Primer

We grow several types of squash and pie pumpkins.  They are from different branches of the curcurbit family that includes not only winter squash, but also cucumbers, melons, and gourds.

Winter squash and pie pumpkins usually fall into one of three branches of the curcurbit family.  First there are acorn - pepo.  Pie pumpkins are also in this branch.  Acorn and pie pumpkins have more moisture and fiber.  Acorn squash ripen first and are best eaten soon after harvest.

Sweet dumpling, another pepo, is a cross between the small, sweet delicata and acorn.  They have firmer texture, sweeter flavor and keep for a longer time

Buttercup are in the maxima branch of the family.   Theirs is the driest flesh, less sweet, but great flavor 

Hubbards are also maxima.  They have hard shells and keep the longest, but usually are too large for most of our CSA and on line members

Finally in the moshata branch are the beige butternut squash.  these good keepers have the smoothest flesh and are my first choice for squash soup.

And for many baked goods like squash breads and cookies my first choice is pie pumpkins.  Of course as the name implies, they are also most people's first choice for pie.

No matter which you choose, squash are a nutritional powerhouse and a great seasonal treat!

Root Cellaring

When Ken built his dwelling and studio, he set aside a part for root cellar.  Little did we know we would be storing produce for our CSA!  Each season I experiment with how and what and how much we store. 

Potatoes are boxed so they do not turn green from sunlight. 

Other root vegetables like celeriac, beets, carrots, rutabagas, winter radishes and such go in barrels of sand. 

I used to use taller 33 gallon barrels, but getting to the bottom became a challenge for my back! 

This year I am trying larger cut off barrels.

And some vegetables are going in re-used waxed boxes from a couple of natural food stores.  These boxes cannot be recycled so we feel good that they are getting a second life before entering the waste stream!

Here is a photo of my progress so far - still more to do!