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Agrarian Harvest

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Flurry of August

August has to be the busiest month of the whole summer. I can’t remember ever having a calendar that had a blank day in August.  I have heard it said that August is the month of timelessness. The produce is producing at max, so there is more harvest than normal, more varieties of produce are producing and needed harvested in August, and everything  from apricots, peaches, tomatoes, green beans to pickles needs to be canned, jammed, dried or froze. It is also the time of year when we need to start to think and plan for the school year and then there are all the birthdays and BBQs planned in August. There are so many days in August when my head is spinning and I scream, ” Aaahhh, really, how do we do it all?” On those days, I take a few deep breaths, start with one task at a time and drink a few beers. Everything gets done in long run and all is okay . . . . .. or the produce I was suppose to be canning for winter starts to go bad and I feed it to the pigs or chickens, I have enough canned from last year to last the winter. Right? ? ?

Here is what has been keeping us busy on the farm in August:

We have a wide variety of producDSCN7728e that is producing well: seeded watermelons, muskmelons, cantaloupe, green beans, swiss chard, kale, bell peppers, serrano peppers, chile peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, slicing tomatoes, Sun Gold tomatoes. The san marzano and roma tomatoes are slower to come on but are slowly starting to produce. Our carrots are doing amazingly well this year and we are happy to have baby carrots with or without tops available. The garlic and onions have been harvested and cured, we have  been cleaning and getting it ready to sale.

Last year, our melons grew and produced well. We also had request for melons that we didn’t have so this year we decided to plant many more melons. It has been incredibly surprising how many melons the plants are producing and we have harvested the last tDSCN7722wo weeks. We have had a mountain of melons to sell at the farmers’ markets. They have such a sweet aroma and can be smelled from several feet away. And the smell is nothing compared to the taste. Yummmmm!

Unfortunetly, our eggplants are not producing yet. The plants are big and beautiful, but there are only a few blooms and they aren’t making eggplants. This is very unfortunate since my mouth is watering for eggplant parmesan and baba ghanoush. We are hoping they will start producing abundantly before frost. They better hurry, I’m thinking we are going to have an early frost this year. And our beets rotted in the ground so no beets this year.

I know this season will wind down all too soon. Then it will be cold and I will be dreaming of summer again. In all the busyiness there is lots of joy to be had.  I really do love summer and all that goes along with it. I even enjoy canning, and yes, I do get enough canned, jammed, dried or froze to last us the winter. And at the end of an exhausting day, there is nothing like having a beer while sitting on the porch gazing at the moon and stars and listening to the insects. Cheers!

Managing & Thrashing

It felt kind-of like a “normal” farm around here this week. We had our wheat thrashed with an actual combine, no harvesting by hand (with market garden farming everything except our peas and beans are harvested by hand). Getting the wheat thrashed takes a little pressure off, but kept the farmer busy with “normal” farm work instead of the market gardening type of work. It feels good to check a harvest off of the to do list and have it be done for the year. Now to swath the straw, bale and stack it, water the stubble and let the pigs out in the field.

Speaking of pigs, we are having issues with pigs. We have not been able to keep them in this week. Apparently the old saying is true, it’s greener on the other side of the fence. We have spent a lot of time putting the pigs in and fixing fence. Some say that pigs respect a hot wire. Well, ours don’t! They go right through the hot wire, lift the panels up, destroy the woven wire (they will go through and destroy three fences in 30 seconds flat!) and go where they please. . . .  which has been into the squash and corn patch. So we will have very little corn and winter squash this year thanks to the pigs.

So that leaves us thinking: what to do now? What to do differently around here? And most importantly, how to manage pigs that don’t want to be managed?

For the market garden farming, the ladybugs have arrived! The kale is not on20160725_111740ly covered with aphids now. It is also covered with ladybugs that are feasting on aphids. The ladybugs are not as abundant as the aphid population, but the ladybugs are plentiful and busy feasting. It is a beautiful site to see from our point of view.

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In this picture, there is another insect (middle of photo) on the kale along with the aphids and ladybugs. We don’t what kind of insect it is and have not taken the time to research it or its identity. If you know what it is, please let me know.

And the apricots are ripe and plentiful! The sweet taste of fruit in the summer is so pleasing and such an easy snack. When we get hungry when we are out working, we simply stop by the apricot tree to have feast of apricots. And now to think of recipes to use apricots.

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Are We Farmers or Gamblers?

There was a devastating storm that went through the Magic Valley this week. We are blessed to not have suffered any damage from the storm. The opposite end of valley was not as lucky. Several farmers lost their crops to hail. If the hail would of hit our farm, we most likely would of lost our wheat harvest and all our produce; along with our income for rest of the year. It would of been a devastating loss. I believe this is one way that God shows us He is in control. When you choose farming as a living you have to rely on praying or maybe just gambling as to if you will have any income for the year. There are so many days that it feels like a waiting game . . .  a very long game of DSCN7425waiting and having no control of what happens next . . .  .  we are at the mercy of someone else or a higher power and we have no idea how the day, weeks, months or even the year will turn out. From my experience with the farming life, it is like riding a roller coaster with the faith that you will make it to the end of the ride. There are lots of ups and downs
and you had better enjoy the ups while you are up and find a way to manage when you are in the downs. Focus on the positives because if you focus on the negatives you are not going to enjoy anything in this life.

Honestly, I think  anyone that is crazy enough to choose farming as a living is a risk-taker, probably enjoys gambling once in awhile and likes to be spontaneous. In this farming duo, the farmer is a spontaneous risk taker. I like routine and everything planned in advance, but also like to gamble once in awhile, just a little bit. So I believe we are both,  farmers & gamblers. And it doesn’t matter if you call yourself a farmer or gambler or both, you need to have something to believe in and to keep you grounded.

For the not-so-good-but-to-be-expected-news of the farm, we have aphids in our broccoli, cauliflower and kale, and grasshoppers are eating the collard greens like crazy. So we are waiting or gambling that the ladybugs will move in to have an aphid feast! The zucchini is slow to grow this year, but is producing a little. Maybe that is just God telling us to stop talking about the abundance of zucchini and actually treasure this vegetable.

For the good news, the peppers have started to produce. The wheat has turned and looks like a beautiful crop with lots of straw. And we finally started to process chickens this week. They are ranging in weight from 4 to 6.5 pounds.  We are starting to get pork back from the butcher. And the beef will be back soon too. So we have lots of meat in-stock. This farm wife is excited to have a few less animals on the farm. An abundance of animals (especially chickens and pigs, my least favorite farm animals) gets to be too much for me and my yard to handle.

May we all have a blessed week to come with lots of positives to rejoice in!

Sweet Potato Project

Recently, we watched the movie Faith Like Potatoes and it made me think a lot about our sweet potato project. You can’t see what is growing beneath the ground, you just have to have faith. I try to look at the positive in all things, which I have a hard time doing. Sweet potatoes aren’t suppose do well or even grow at all in our area . . . . .  they grow in warm climates and are of tropic origin, our climate is far from tropical . . . . . .  so we set out to do the impossible once again, to grow sweet potatoes. We had to see for ourselves what would happen when we planted those unusual sweet potato slips. Honestly, we expected the project to be a failure. But, I guess, deep down we had to have a little faith and just not realize it or we wouldn’t of even bought the slips and planted them to begin with.

We expected a crop failure, but honestly it wasn’t that bad. Harvest is much different than regular potatoes, aka Irish potatoes that Idaho is famous for growing, which takes getting used to. Sweet potatoes are a root and not a tuber like Irish potatoes. The root is about 20 inches long with a swollen part in the middle that is the actual sweet potato. There were some that had two swollen parts or sweet potatoes on one root. The whole root thing makes them harder to dig and get out of the ground. You have to start digging 18 inches away from the plant, being careful not to poke or scratch the roots. They bruise easily.

We have learned they need lots of room to grow. The ones that were planted 24” apart as recommended had all small tubers, but the one that we planted 36” apart had larger tubers under them. And the vines spread and cover several rows and any plants that are growing near by. To make digging a little easier, we mowed the tops of the plants off before digging. And as with most task around here, we did it the hard way; we did all the digging by hand with a digging fork. Though we had a couple of nice sized potatoes per plant, there are a lot of small tubers. But, hey, they grew and we have sweet potatoes!

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Sweet potatoes are not very sweet when they are first dug. They have to sit and cure at a warm temperature (80 degree F) for 10 days to get their sweetness and set their skin. After they have cured, they need to be stored in a cool, dry location that stays above 50 degrees, ideally between 55 – 60 degrees, and should never be refrigerated (until after they are cooked, of course).

After digging those large sweet potato roots that never should’ve grown in our soil, it makes a person think and believe. It was amazing to see those large tubers come out of our soil. This project has taught me to have faith no matter how impossible the task, project or plant may seem. Have faith no matter how impossible things may seem or how many times you are told it can’t be done.

October Anticipations

October is one our favorite months of the year! The leaf colors are changing, there is brisk morning air, warm afternoons, and everything starts to slow down. October brings with it the anticipation and worry of the first frost. We are ready for life to slow down, but not ready to be done with all the fresh produce. But we have lots of produce canned and ready for winter. So if you are going to can produce to eat this winter, you had better hurry. It is too late to can green beans, but is a great time to can tomatoes, peppers, plums, make sauerkraut and blanch and freeze broccoli.

The beans have been thrashed. Most of the produce is still producing, although, the plants are looking tired and have slowed. But not the plum trees! The plums are ready to be picked and are abundant. The house smells like sweet, juicy sugar plums dancing in the air from all the canning, drying, jamming and juicing of the plums.

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This coming week brings the rush to get the “Experiment Sweet Potatoes Project” out of the ground before that first frost. Sweet potatoes don’t handle frost at all. If the vine is frosted, it goes straight down to the tuber or potato and ruins them. So one last push before we can really slow down for the season. We dug a few plants this week and if what we dug is any indicator of what is out there. Then it may be a good harvest. More on sweet potatoes next week!

Produce Has Slowed, But Life Has Not

The days have cooled and are shorter. It’s been raining off and on most of the week which seems to slow us down. It’s now too cool to sleep with windows open at night, at least it is for us. The house is chilly in the mornings causing us to start our days a little slower. The kids like to start their day curled up in a blanket on the couch doing their reading lesson before breakfast. After breakfast, I busy myself with a baking project or canning to warm the house and take the chill off. It’s the start of another busy September day of harvesting, canning and homeschooling.

While the produce is slowing down getting ready to die off and be done for the year, our lives are still very busy in this season. There is the harvest of the red beans to be done. They have been cut and are waiting to be thrashed when the rain stops and they dry out. There is still the major harvest of the pumpkins, winter squash, daikon radishes, turnips and beets to be done. Most of the late season produce is slowing down except the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. They are still growing and producing strong. We are about done with picking beans for the season, the sweet corn, kohlrabi and cabbage are about gone, and the cucumbers, zuchinni, summer squash have slow their production significantly. The broccoli is about done for the season due to an aphid infestation.

September starts our fall juggling act as I like to call it. We are still harvesting and selling, there is more canning to be done, all the regular inside work and laundry needs to be kept up with along with all the yardwork. Then we add another year of homeschooling into the mix. The Other Half takes on most of the harvesting duties as of September. And I focus on getting the canning done and the family back into our fall and winter routine.

Although, September is busy it feels like life and tasks are slowing down. We are getting settled down for the year and getting ready for the cooler weather. It feels good to be settled! Although, I wish it would stay warm all year, but instead, we are forced to prepare for cooler temperatures and fall.

Turning A Shed Into A Walk-In Cooler (Refrigerator)

Now that we are picking hundreds of pounds of green beans at a time we needed someplace to put them. It was fine with the neighbor to allow us room in his walk in cooler when we didn’t have that many pounds of green beans or produce that needed to be refrigerated when it is picked. But with having so many pounds of green beans and other produce we felt the need to have our own place to put them . The neighbor (he is a very generous and helpful man) didn’t say we couldn’t use his walk-in anymore, but we felt bad using so much room in his walk-in cooler. And the other half has been dreaming of building a walk-in-cooler, saying it’s simple, I can do this!

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So we cleaned out a small shed we were using for storage, ordered an air conditioner and cool bot, bought insulation and went to work. The shed was insulated. Then the hole was cut for the air conditioner. It was installed and the cool bot had to be hooked to the air conditioner. A cool bot hooks into the air conditioner to control the temperature allowing it to go below 60 degrees. We had to do a little work and insulating of the door since it was an old screen door with no latch. Next, turn the air conditioner and cool bot on, program it to proper temperature and we have a walk-in cooler.

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I’m the skeptic about everything. So, of course, I had my doubts about trying this method of making a walk-in cooler. And every day is so busy I didn’t know when the other half would have time to make it happen. But he did and I’m impressed. It is really an easy, cheap way to have a walk-in cooler vs buying an actually walk-in cooler or refrigerator.

Green Bean Picker

One of our new ventures this year has been buying a green bean picker and growing three acres of green beans. The thought and talk of it was crazy to me when the idea came up. The picker saves a lot of work and back ache, but when it picks the beans the plants are done. It leaves the plant in the ground but strips the plant of most of its leaves. So you get one picking off a plant instead of one picking every week on all the plants from July to freezing. I honestly didn’t think it would be profitable to pick the plant just once. I’ve always loved hard work and have always been willing to work. So my thought was to just get out there and pick the beans by hand to get the most out of every plant, the old-fashion way. I’m not sure about new technology. But with picking by hand we can’t raise several acres or even one acre of beans, it was more like ⅛ acre of beans and then it took both of us several hours every week to pick the beans. I could average picking about 30 pounds of beans in an hour, the other half is slower so the pounds of beans added up slowing with hand picking. Then your back would start aching, we would stand up and stretch looking toward the end of the row and it seemed so far away.  Hand picking beans would get old in hurry every year, but in my mind that is the only way to do it. So I just buckled down and got it done, even if my back ached and it looked like I would never make it to the end of the row.

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The other half was not sold that hand picking is best for us. There is also the fact that we are growing acres of a large variety of produce that needs to be harvested on a weekly or even every other day basis. The other half starts doing calculations, throw numbers out there about profitability and how good this piece of equipment can be. And it will save me lots of time since I won’t have to pick the beans this year. Well, that was an enticing thought. So we bought the Pixall BH100.

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The plan was to start planting as early in the spring as possible and plant 4 to 12 rows every week. That way we would have beans ready every week from July to freezing just like if we were hand picking the same rows all season long. Except with the beans picker we have a lot more beans to sell every week. With the picker, we (it takes two people to run it) can pick around 1000 pounds of beans in an hour instead of the 50 pounds or less that the same two people would of picked by hand.

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It is very exciting to pick so many beans in a short amount of time. We are able to fill more orders and that is very satisfying. The downside is that I still have to be involved with the bean picking and boxing. Since it takes two people, the other half drives the tractor and I ride on the picker picking out the few leaves, stems or weeds that make their way through with the beans. I also switch the handle from one shoot to the other and stack the crates of beans as we go through the field.

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Another downside, or maybe it’s a learning curve, is timing the picking just right. We go out to check the beans and there are too many pin beans on the plants which means we need to wait for them to mature to a good sized bean or if we pick them then there is lots of sorting the pin beans out. And if you pick the beans too small like pin beans then we are losing beans and money. Wait four days and then there are too many overly mature beans on the plants, which also means lots of sorting to get them out. Or the beans are so far gone that we have to just leave rows of beans in the field to disk under. That is very discouraging and disheartening to do when you are trying so very hard and working so hard to make a living at small organic farming.  We are still working on mastering the art of timing the pick to that perfect time and praying we can perfect it before we have to leave any more rows of beans in the field.

Since our bean picking season won’t be over until it freezes, we don’t know how profitable it is yet. We have to sell enough beans to cover the cost of the picker, our time, expenses of regular maintenance and then have money left over. We are not sure that is going to happen this year, but the picker has been nice to have. My back doesn’t hurt and I don’t look at those rows like they are never ending anymore.The discouraging part now is having to clean, sort and box hundreds of pounds of beans every time we pick, which has been three days a week. That is still better than having to pick beans by hand for three days straight every week.

Garlic Harvest, Part 2

Three weeks after our first garlic harvest, it is absolute crunch time to get the remaining quarter or so acres of garlic out of the ground. This time there were not near as many caring, hardworking souls willing to volunteer their time to work their behinds off to help us harvest garlic. I can’t say as I blame them either, if I had a choice or someone to go do something with I would have willing to do anything too as long as it didn’t involve garlic.

Any guesses how we got the garlic out of the ground; the easy way (mechanically) or the hard way (by hand)? The other half refused to try using the tractor and renovator or cultivator to get it out of the ground. So, of course, that left us with the hard way, the way we do most things and learn on this farm . . . .  hand pulling all that garlic one plant at a time. Part of the ground was so hard and crusty the garlic would break off or just stay stuck in the cement like ground. We got out the hose and started running water on the garlic in front of us as we hand pulled it. That made it a bit of a mess to trudge up the rows and irritated the arms a bit to have the wet weeds rubbing against our arms and legs.

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After garlic harvest, part 1, the other half went out with the hedge trimmers cutting off all the garlic scapes. Trying at the last minute trying get a little bit bigger heads. It has been three weeks since our first harvest so the garlic is dried down completely, with sharp jagged tops, now that they have been cut, that snag and scratch the crap out of my arms. I know I could avoid that if I would wear long sleeves, but when it is 100 degrees outside there is no way I will wear anything more than a tank top and shorts. Since I had shorts on the weeds and garlic also scratched and injured my legs. Even with wearing gloves I still ended up with four blisters on my fingers. On the plus side, I discovered that my homemade coffee soap works very good at scrubbing the rough skin off and deodorizing. It gets rid of the garlic smell with one shower.

After two full, long days of hand pulling garlic in 100 degree weather, I have blistered hurting fingers, a tired back, scratched up arms and legs and a body that is just plain exhausted and sore.I am so sick of garlic and all the work and heartache that garlic has cost our family.  I will not plant another clove of garlic to sell unless the price significantly increases. If the other half decides to plant more garlic, he is on his own. I’m done planting, growing, and harvesting garlic to sell. There is just too much labor involved and there is no way to make money growing garlic without doing it mechanically. Whoever else in world does grow garlic doing the work by hand, my hat is off to you. I’ll leave garlic production to farmers with more money to hire the work done or have a way to do part of it with tractor and machinery.

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And now it’s time to handle everyone of those individual heads of garlic again . . . . .   to cut the head head off and bag the garlic.

Needless to say next time I need to buy garlic, I will be more than willing pay an absorbent price for it. I now know the work, sweat, and unpleasantness that goes into planting, growing, harvesting, cutting, and bagging of garlic. It is worth way more than what is sold for, that’s for sure. All organic produce that is grown and harvested by hand is worth more than what is charged for it. Maybe I’ll go into that next week.

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