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Agrarian Harvest

Wholesome. Organic. Experience. All about our farm, food, and small farm life.

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green beans

Down on the Farm

Not up as early as I should be to get the work done before it gets hot. I should be getting up around 5 in the morning, but who wants to get up that early, then be tired in the afternoon and have to take a nap. Not me, I’m not the napping type. Nothing annoys me more than having to delay my day by having to lay down in the middle of the day to nap or be sluggish because I got up too early and I don’t like to go to bed early either. So I roll with the natural rhythm and routine my mind and body wants to take. Up around 7:30, cup of coffee to wake up with, computer time with my coffee to check email and to keep up on the book work for the farm. Breakfast and then I head outside to get work done and see what the farmer needs help with; whether it is weeding, harvesting, mowing or bitching about something (I’m really good at this one). Some may say that I have already wasted half my day, but for me my day and the warmth of the day is just getting started.

 

Meanwhile, the farmer was up at 5 am and started his day by making the coffee. Then headed straight out the door with yesterday’s leftover cold coffee to get things done while it is cool, but is always out there all day no matter what time he starts his day. There are always kinks in the day’s plan and we never get enough done so we try to just roll with it.

 

The farmer starts the day with irrigating the green beans. As he is setting water, he is wondering how the bean picker is going to handle picking with all the weeds. There seems to be more weeds than beans this year. There is definitely more weeds than last year he thinks. This means a lot of hand sorting. He walks down a few rows to check them. The plants just aren’t setting beans on, this means a very, very poor yield for the first planting. Over 8 rows he checks the second planting, the top of this planting was flooded with one of the early summer storms when we had a huge downpour and the canal ran over. The rest of the planting didn’t germinate well. On to check the third planting, it looks better but this means there won’t be beans to sell until the middle of August.

 

Shaking his head in disgust, he walks to the other side of the field and he checks the peas. He would like to pick peas today and get just one more picking from them. But nope, they have gotten too big, the heat has gotten to them. He’ll have to tell the farm wife to email our customers and let them know they are done for the season.

 

Next, he is off to the small plots by the house to pick basil while it is still cool. There he finds the weeds between the rows are taller than the basil. So it necessary to mow between the rows before you can successfully pick the basil. The mowing will take a few hours, so now the basil will have to be picked this evening when the mosquitoes are thick so he’ll be feeding them while the basil is being picked.

 

Now it has warmed up for the day, so the harvesting has to be focused on items that don’t wilt. The leafy greens can’t be harvested in the heat. The farmer heads out to harvest summer squash, with boxes in hand, he find the plants wilting. So is because of the heat or the squash bugs? Don’t know, possibly both, so the farmer turns the drip irrigation on them and then plants another planting of summer squash. He’ll go back to check those plants and harvest them later so he leaves the boxes out there. The farmer has a constant battle with squash bugs every summer. And the bugs always seem to win.

 

On to dig potatoes, that can be done in the heat. Luckily, we have a one row potato digger now so that helps takes some of the labor out it since we always seem to be digging in the heat of the day. The digger digs them, takes them up a short chain and drops them on top the ground. The farmer, farm wife and sometimes the farm kids go behind the digger with buckets to pick up the potatoes. We haul them back to the house with the tractor to be sorted and boxed up for orders and market. Finally, something that goes smoothly.

 

And when we think we have a schedule and have figured out how to get it all done, there is a steer in the sweet corn having a feast. 

. . . . Or the pigs are rooting up the neighbor’s pasture and he jumps the fence and hunts us down not happy about it.

. . . . Or the county sheriff is knocking on our door asking if we own pigs because there are pigs on the highway and no one else in the neighborhood is claiming them  . . . and the farm wife get to deal with this on her own because for some reason the farmer is suddenly no where around. Next time this scenario happens . . . I’m going tell him, “No, officer. Not anymore. My pigs got into my garden one too many times. They are now in my freezer. Would you like to see them?” These scenarios seems to happen every year. And this year there are way more things going wrong than right.

 

Life isn’t always fun on the farm. Most often, it is stress and sweat happening on the farm. Some days, it is unbearable to work your ass off day and night, put everything you have . . . financially, physically and emotionally . . . into what we are doing and have almost all of it fail.  And the misery of seeing your partner in life, marriage and farm dealing with all this, is just way too hard on a person. Sometimes . . . we can look back and laugh at our days. But usually not until the season is over and we are sitting on a beach hundreds of miles away from the farm, which doesn’t happen if there are too many crop failures for the year.

Heat of the Season

The weather is heating up and so is our growing and market season. We are going to three markets a week (Twin Falls, Ketchum, & Hailey). The foot traffic at the markets is also increasing, which is good. That means less produce waste from market that is fed to the animals, which we like, the less waste the better.  We also have CSA pick-up and delivery three days a week. If you are doing the math, that means three harvest days a week, sometimes four which only leaves us with one day of rest. But most weeks we can’t even call it a day of rest because there is still work to be done: animals fed, irrigation water to change, and lots of projects that need to be done, which usually take priority over resting. That’s the life of a farmer, there are no days off or at least not very many of them.

We are busy . . . and about to be in the middle of the busiest part of our season and the heaviest harvesting; when the majority of our produce varieties are ripe and ready for harvest and market. Which means lots of heavy totes and boxes to be carrying, loading then unloading and lots of phones calls doing wholesale sales and customer relations. In the next couple of weeks, we expect to start harvesting cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, okra, fennel and new potatoes. Then soon after that: green beans. This is the heat of the season for us, when the real work begins. We start our days at dawn, we are going all day, and we don’t stop until dark. We are still tired when we get up in the mornings. We just get up and keep moving.

So if we don’t return a call, text or e-mail promptly, know that we will get back you. We don’t have hours to sit and chat or answer phone calls at all hours like in the off-season, but we do have minutes here and there. You are important to us. You are the reason why we do what we do. It is important to us that you eat wholesome, real food.  You keep us motivated to keep moving when our days are long and we are feeling weary. So do your shopping from your local farms. Just by showing up with your smiling face, you are motivating a farmer to keep up the hard work that he/she is doing.

We may have a lot to do, but we really do love this time of year. The sunshine, the smell of the great outdoors, the produce and all the meals we get from it, the sunsets, sounds of all the animals and insects, and people we get to interact with all week long. We hope you are eating wholesome, real food. If not, come see us, we can change that!

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!

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!

 

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!

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.

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