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Agrarian Harvest

Wholesome, Organic, Experience. Our small farm, food, and simple life.

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Summer Heat: Thrive or Hide?

The summer heat has arrived and has been good and bad for the farm and the farmers. The lettuce has just about stopped growing. It’s  like it is saying, “This heat is just too much for me.” The same thing that the farmer says when he goes in search of shade. On the other hand, the corn, tomatoes,  eggplant, and melons are thriving. I image them saying the same thing that I say when the summer heat has finally arrived, “Aaawww, now I’m comfortable, let’s get to work!” So the corn has jumped in height and is making ears, the tomatoes are ripening, the eggplant are getting ready to produce, and the melons are spreading and growing large beautiful melons. The cucumbers are doing well in the heat too. They are covered in blooms and starting to make little cucumbers. This is the part of summer that this farmer’s wife loves: the heat, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, corn, peppers, eggplants and melons. All my favorite things of summer!

In other farm news, the green beans are ready to be picked. The picking begins this week. The peppers were producing well, but were getting sun burnt. So we covered them with a shade cloth and will be able to offer higher quality peppers rest of the summer.

We also have a little experiment going on. The broccoli was so infested with aphids it was either mow it all the way to the ground, till it in and prepare the ground to plant something for fall or mow the tops of the plants off to try to get rid of the aphids and get the broccoli to grow more heads. We decided to mow the tops and wait a week or two to see what happens. So if mowing the tops of the plants off doesn’t take care of our aphid problem or if the broccoli doesn’t grow anymore heads, then we will be mowing it off to prepare the bed for a fall planting.  Either way it’s a win/win situation for us.

As we harvest the garlic, onions and radishes and end their growing season, we are preparing the beds for fall planting. We plan to plant a fall crop of greens, broccoli, cabbage and any other cool season plants we can and cover with them low tunnels to extend our growing season ( or maybe I should  say to extend our working season). We hope to offer produce as long into the fall and possible winter as we can.

I don’t want to think of the cold yet though, the heat just arrived! So the farmer is planning for fall and I’m headed back out into the summer sun!

 

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.

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.

Summer Balancing Act

How does a person balance work, play and rest when you farm? On the farm there is always work to be done. A farmer works from sun up to sun down and lots of times in between in the dark. I know that is true on our farm. We are getting pretty talented at working in the dark while holding flashlights in our mouths.

So the fourth of July is upon us, the summer is flying by and what have we done all summer long? Any guesses? You got it! We have worked, worked, worked!!! I am convinced that life is too short to work so hard and summer is for fun. So I’m trying to convince the Other Half that we need scheduled hours for work and scheduled hours for play and rest. The crops will grow even if there are weeds growing among them. Would they have produced better if we pulled every weed within a foot diameter around every plant? At this point, I don’t care. They are producing, there is a crop to harvest, now let’s enjoy life! Life, fun and memories will pass us by if we insist on getting all the work done before we take a break. Farmers need to observe holidays too. In fact, farmers should have a holiday just for them. They, of all people, deserve a break. Yes, I do think highly of farmers. We grew up in agricultural communities and on farms so we have experienced the “farm life” all of our  lives. Farmers work almost everyday of the year no matter what the weather does; there is always water to change or animals to feed or care for. Farmers work, work darn hard, and feed a lot of people without ever hearing a simple, “Thank You.”. No, your food didn’t grow on a grocery store shelf, it all started on the farm. Well, at least all the food that is not in a box started on a farm. To all the farmers out there, listen up, take a day off. It’s okay! Oh, but you may still need to irrigate and feed the animals unless you can get someone else to fill in for you.

We are starting by taking a couple of hours a week to take the kids fishing at a local lake. Maybe we or should I say the Other Half  and a lot of other farmers I know can work up to taking whole days off as a family. As for this weekend, I’m ready to have some fun and enjoy these wonderful summer days. I’m taking the weekend off and I’m positive the farm and weeds will still be here when I get up Monday morning. Happy Independence Day! And don’t let the summer pass you by!

Update: We were able to enjoy a day of fun, local festivities together as a family.  Not a full day off from most people’s  opinion because there was irrigation water to change and animals to feed so just a little bit of work. Or as a farmer views it, this part of farming is not work, it’s just a normal function of everyday life like breathing and feeding yourself breakfast. So we officially called this a “day off.” And the weeds are still here! We will get to work on those today.

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