Posts Tagged ‘Market Farming’

South Dakota Local Foods Conference & GAPs Training Nov. 11-12

The South Dakota Department of Agriculture, Dakota Rural Action, Buy Fresh Buy Local SD, and the SD Cooperative Extension are all teaming up to hold a South Dakota Local Foods Conference, November 11th and 12th at the Huron Events Center in Huron, SD.

Friday break-out sessions include discussions on farmers markets, high tunnels, value-added, food safety, farm to school, and Buy Fresh Buy Local. Saturday focuses on GAPs (Good Agricultural Practices) training–good for all producers, but especially important for producers looking to sell to institutions or through distributors.

Contact Alison Kiesz at the SD Dept. of Ag for more information or to register: (605) 626-3272 or

A Tale of Two Tomatoes

I am trying an experiment this year–one variety of tomato; two methods of training.  The variety is called Santorini, and it was passed along to me by the kind folks at Skyfire Garden Seeds out of Kanopolis, Kansas.

The experiment is utterly unscientific, of course–one of the plants is staked up in the home gardens and the other is unstaked and growing on landscape fabric in the field.  That means the soil, light, moisture, and heat conditions are utterly dissimilar.  But the results are still of interest to me.

Santorini in the field

I only ended up with only two plants of this variety from my tomato-starting this spring, and one ended up fitting at the end of a row in the field–the other was destined to be the singular tomato plant I grow in the home gardens (you know, besides all those volunteers I keep hoeing down).

The one in the field is healthy and bushy and starting to sprawl.  There are flower clusters, but no real fruit formation yet.  The possible issue I see with the field-grown plant is that the weight of the vines coming out of the main stem may cause some breakage–I’ve seen that in one or two of the other field-grown tomato varieties already–mostly the thick-stemmed slicing varieties so far.

I’ve got a little over eighty tomato plants in the field this year–I usually shoot for one hundred plants, but with all of the other crops I’ve got out there (something like 35-40 at last count), I decided that the number of tomato plants I could reasonably fit in the space I had allotted would be enough.  I wasn’t going to tear my hair out about it.

That said, it’s kind of nice to have just one tomato plant at home.  It allows me to keep a closer eye on it–to really pay attention and see what kind of a harvest I can get.  It also allows me to prune it in the fashion that many greenhouse and hoophouse growers do.

Santorini at home

I tend to have way too many tomato plants in the field to prune and stake them methodically, as I am doing with this one.  Instead, I end up lashing their bounteous limbs to vertical trellises (that restricts airflow a bit, which can lead to disease issues) or letting them sprawl on their mulch bed.

I’ll admit I like the sprawl–I like things a little bit wild and uncontained.  Only the cherry tomatoes are being lashed to trellises this year because they’re easier to pick that way.

I like my back too much to crawl along the ground picking hundreds of tiny tomatoes–and with an indeterminate cherry tomato plant, hacking off a few renegade vines doesn’t cut into overall production noticeably.

The home-planted Santorini is pruned to two vines–many greenhouse growers prune to just one vine and wrap twine around the stem to secure the plant to the rafters as it grows (cage-free tomatoes!), but I wanted a little extra foliage to keep sunscald to a minimum–seeing that there’s no plastic “roof” to filter the light.

Pruning the extra vines

See that shoot coming out of the joint between the main vine (stem) and the leaf-stem?  Right between them?  Those are the ones that are pinched out–they will make another vine.

You should only do this kind of pruning with indeterminate tomato varieties–the determinate or “bush” varieties will grow only to their genetically pre-determined size, stop, and then ripen their fruit in a relatively short span of time. You don’t want to prune them because you’ll get fewer fruits.

The indeterminate varieties will just keep growing and forming more vines, more foliage, more flower clusters and fruit until frost or disease kills them.  If you prune them, they’ll put more energy into growing the vine or vines they have left.  That’s going to end up being the problem with my home-staked Santorini plant.

It’s almost to the top of the four-foot cage, so I’m going to have to lash another cage to the top of this one and then figure out how to buttress the whole thing, so it doesn’t fall over.

It’s only July, and this plant is growing an inch or more a day.  We have close to three more months of prime tomato-growing weather–I’m beginning to look at the roof to see if there’s a way to lash the vines to the gutter.  Then I’ll need a ladder to pinch out the extra vines.

And this is the reason greenhouse growers use twine to wrap their indeterminate plants–when their tomatoes get too tall to manage, they can loosen the twine from the rafters and coil the bottom of the stem on the ground–effectively shortening the vine for picking and pruning purposes.

I might be able to figure out a way to remove the cage and rethink my strategy at this point, but it is, after all, an experiment–I can just let it grow beyond the top and flop down the sides if I want to.  Or lash it to the roof and let the extra vines come as they will.  Or I can hack off the top and force it to ripen what fruit it has formed.

In any case, it’ll be worthwhile to measure the timing of fruit formation and ripening, and the amount of fruit each plant forms.  Comparing which one ends up being a better producer and/or more disease resistant might give me some ideas about what to do with future plantings, and that’s the whole point.

Well, that–and the eating!

The June Rise

We’ve had our massive snowmelt; we’ve made it through those early, chilly gray days of spring and the first glorious sunshine-and-blue-sky epiphanies.  We’ve even had our hot spell in May that drove everyone out to the garden centers and the river shouting, It’s here! Summer!

Now, we have our monsoon.

Old timers call these rainy weeks just before the summer solstice the June Rise–the river comes up, there’s flooding in low-lying areas, the toads hatch and the peonies get their pretty dresses muddy, and it’s all a big, sloppy mess.  It rains nearly every day, and the clear spells aren’t long enough to dry out the fields for hoeing or planting.

This is when the weeds get ahead–even if you’ve managed to keep on top of them before the rains hit.  Besides ripping them out of the mud by their roots, one at a time, there’s little you can do to stop their growth except wait ’til the rain stops.

And even ripping them out doesn’t always work. It’s so wet, their roots don’t dry out enough for the plant to wither.  They just kind of lie there all green and smug, and maybe a little root hair works its way back down into the mud and they come back.

This morning, I harvested for the farmers market in the rain.  It started off with just a few drops as I was loading the truck to head out, and by the time I was in the field, it was a full-on lightning-and-thunderstorm, which isn’t very comforting while picking peas off a metal trellis in an open field.

Luckily, I decided to wear my river sandals this morning.  Usually if it’s damp out, I’ll go for the shearling-lined clogs that keep my feet warm even if they’re not dry.

This morning, seeing that at least the temperature was balmy and that the rain wasn’t likely to let up, I went for the easier-to-hose-off option, so I didn’t end up six feet tall with six inches of mud on my shoes, sliding all over in the glop.  I guess that’s like a farmer’s platform heels?

Sometime between the bunching and packing the turnips and clipping the kale, the thunderstorm let up, and then it really started to rain.  Total downpour.

At the end of the harvest, I was standing there chuckling to myself, wringing wet with rain pouring off the brim of my hat into the five-gallon salad spinner I was stooping over, attempting to wring the excess water out of my lettuce in order to pack it into the bags.

A conventional farming neighbor drove by and slowed down a bit as they saw me coming up from the field, grinning like a crazy woman, streaming water, and carrying as many bags of lettuce as I could manage.  Had I been able to make them out through my spattered glasses, I’d likely have seen a head shaking in disbelief.

Harvesting for a market in the rain is a double-whammy: not only do you get soaked and muddy in the process, but if the weather doesn’t clear off, sales aren’t likely to be good.

And, let’s face it: market customers can often be fair-weather friends, especially in places without pavilions like lovely St. Paul’s.  If you harvest a load and bad weather keeps the customers away, you end up with a bunch of compost.  If you decide to cut your losses with a light harvest, and the weather clears off, your customers will be disappointed.

Still, we do have die-hards, and one of my favorite young customers, a Miss Lucy, actually loves rainy market days because she gets to wear (and show off) her fancy tie-dye pattern wellies.  I’d like some boots like that.

The coolers packed and the fence electrified, I headed back to town with the heater turned up high on my wet feet and hopes turned up high that even if the sun won’t come out, at least the rain will let up for the sake of this afternoon’s sales.

Back at home, after peeling off my sopping clothes and hanging them on the shower rod, I grabbed a couple of the not-so-nice-looking turnips I stashed away from this morning’s harvest, and started them going with some carrots and garlic scapes in a little chicken fat.

Along with some meat peeled off the frame of last night’s roast chicken dinner, the end result will be a quick chicken soup to rekindle my body’s warmth before packing up the table and tent, and seeing what this afternoon’s market–rain or shine–will bring.

Good Weed; Bad Design

Lots of stuff going on at Flying Tomato Farms–both town and farm places.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon on the farm getting onions transplanted, dill planted, the hilltop garden sort of cleaned up and under a little control (didn’t manage to get the wire in to support the black raspberry canes–this weekend, I hope).

I also took a look at my big marine coolers and again cursed the crappy one I bought last year.  While the first two Rubbermaid coolers have sailed through the winter in fine shape, the Igloo I bought last year was three-quarters full of water thanks to a lid design that wicks water directly to the interior.

Bad Design

Hello?  What kind of designer ignores the huge issue like this?  It basically means that even though I sterilize the coolers throughout the season, this one has to constantly be sheltered because it sucks in crap from the outside.  Dumb.  I’m honestly thinking of giving it to the Civic Council and looking for another couple of Rubbermaids.

Good Design

The reason for checking on them (other than to make sure they can be used for produce hauling again this year) is because we have a whole small hog coming back from the processor today, and H was going to use them for transport.

And the pork project has also spawned a series of other projects: the upstairs fridge has been leaking water, which I think is an issue with the evaporator line caused by cramming the freezer full and blocking the vents.  Or something.  What do I know of the inner workings of my own fridge?  Not a lot, I’m afraid.

In order to clear that up, I’ve had to empty the contents of the upstairs freezer into the downstairs one and then empty all the refrigerated stuff into yet another cooler, so I can thaw the whole thing out and wipe it down.

I’m honestly hoping it takes H a little while to get back with that pig because everything’s got to come back upstairs in order for the downstairs freezer to take what will likely be at least 100 lbs. of meat.  *Sigh*  I don’t think I’ll be unplugging the chest freezer this year.

What else?  Oh–there’s likely a segment of my blog readership anxiously awaiting explanation of the “Good Weed” part of the post title.  That was supper last night: the stinging nettles were finally big enough to harvest, so we had a big bunch of them sautéed alongside some antelope sausage we got from a friend this winter.

Good Weed

I’m going to try to bring some nettles (and maybe a little yellow dock) and some of the immense amount of green onions I’ve got ready at the farm to the Valiant Vineyards Earth Day Open House event I blogged on earlier today.

Oh, and I FINALLY got my tomatoes (all twenty-three varieties) started this morning–much later than I planned, but it should be just fine.  It never really computes how many kinds I’m growing until I have all the packets laid out on the kitchen table and am wondering how I’m going to cram them all in that germinator flat.

Also while waiting for the fridge to thaw, I hung out on a Specialty Crop Block Grant conference call.  A regional group is looking at a processing/storage/distribution facility for local foods, and I’m thinking if we could get something together in the next two weeks, we might be able to get some good funding through that.

AND, I ran out to the farm to check on the new electric fence set-up, scout for deer tracks, re-set mole traps, water new crops, finish planting the rest of the onions plus a little bronze fennel as well.  Whew!

But, back to that fridge.  Maybe a cup of coffee would help.

“Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t…Uh-Oh”

Headed out to the farm this morning to see how the thaw is coming along and to get an idea of how soon I’ll be able to get out planting.  Right now, I’m guessing may two–two and a half weeks.

As I turned onto University Road, the familiar sign of spring greeted me.  The sign said, “ROAD CLOSED AHEAD.”  It never says how far ahead, but the Vermillion River has to be up to 500-year proportions to flood the first bridge heading north, so I kept going and made it across and up to the farm safely.

Although the river is not seriously flooded this far south, we have a long way to go and a lot of snow yet to melt–not to mention the rain and snow forecast in the coming days.

I’ll likely be getting the first crops seeded right at the tail end of March, which is about par.  It’d worry me if our weather changed so dramatically that I was able to plant on St. Patrick’s day two years in a row.

But I should be able to get out and do some more cleaning and clearing in the middle of this coming week if the weather does what it says it’ll do.  Heck, I might be stripped down to a single layer if it gets into the fifties like projected.

With the recent above-freezing weather, there are various signs of spring in the gardens as well, from a brave (and dirty) little wooly-bear:

To thawed out compost and manure piles:

To green onions just starting to re-emerge after a long, cold, snow-buried winter:

There’s still plenty of snow on the ground to track the comings and goings of the various farm creatures.  Raccoons pretty much run the old house, and their tracks are most prevalent in that area of the farm:

Nearer the main gardens, some critter has been using a hole in the garden shed as ingress and egress, and has created a regular trail back to a pile of grass clippings (with lots of seed attached) dumped beneath a mulberry tree last fall.

Can’t say what critter it might be–maybe our resident woodchuck has woken from his long slumber, or maybe it’s a feral cat I’ve not yet seen around the farm, using the darkness of the shed as a stalking place for mice rooting around for seeds.

Germ-testing Bean Seed

Not as in, “do they have germs,” but as in, “will they germinate?”

I have a number of containers of this borlotto pole bean seed (“Bingo” from Territorial Seed) saved for both eating and planting in this year’s gardens.  They are well-dried and stored in air-tight containers.

However, I read in Suzanne Ashworth’s Seed to Seed that if you’re going to save and re-plant bean seed, you should put it in a deep freeze for five days to kill any weevils present.

When I read that, I suddenly realized what had happened with some other pole snap beans I’d saved and planted last year–they were covered with little beetles I’d not seen in such numbers in my garden before.  They’d probably overwintered in my seed and hatched out–lowering germination and turning some of my pole bean plants to lace.

So, making sure my containers (I’m using honey jars with screw-on plastic lids) of beans were well-sealed, I put them down in the basement chest freezer for the prescribed amount of time, then took them out and allowed them to come to room temperature without opening the jars (which can cause condensation to form on the inside, ruining the seed).

Great–but then this year’s seed orders were due to be made, and I kept wondering if the beans I’d frozen would still germinate–what if I didn’t order any and then none came up, either?

You can see what I did by the image at the top of the post–simply selected 20 or so beans, put them on a paper towel on a plate, folded the towel over them, and moistened it with warm water.  I put the plate on top of the fridge (where it’s warm) and checked it every couple of days–re-moistening if the towel got dry.

Most of the beans had germinated by yesterday–the few off to the right side hadn’t, so I separated them to make it easy to see when and if they would.  By this morning, all 21 beans had sprouted–maybe five or six days after I started the germination test.

Now I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with not re-ordering these beans, and I’m also confident of the bean-saving and freezing techniques I’ve learned!

Getting in Gear for a CSA Year

Last year was a research and development year–a year to take a little breather, take a break from the CSA (with only one member), and recuperate from a couple of particularly stressful seasons.

Farm income went down, as expected, but it was still a very productive year–great farmers market sales, great stores of produce squirreled away for my own family as well.  I’m actually looking at a year where the tomato sauce might make it all the way to when I start canning again in August.

This year, although there’s plenty of stress to go around (when is there not?), I’ve got enough of the farm under better management that I’m ready to bring back the CSA portion of my marketing toolbox.  It really tickles me when members get excited in the middle of January for produce that won’t start showing up until May.  I get excited, too!

My seed orders are coming together and getting sent off, phoned in, or placed over the internet.  Greens are, of course, high on the list, along with some great new tomato varieties (add Cherry Roma and Kellogg’s Breakfast to the list I made in my recent blog post).

Other new fun things: I’m doing a few different kinds of radish this year–a white and a red and a yellow for spring, a black and a daikon for fall.  I’m going all open pollinated on my peppers for the first time, having found a great bell-like variety from Seed Savers last year to replace my hybrid Ace Bell.

I’m also bringing back the Nardello peppers plus an Italian bull horn type.  Hot peppers will be my usual Hungarian Hot Wax, plus the pretty Fish pepper that I’ve wanted to try forever.  I’m not sure if I’ll throw another one in there or not at this point.

Tomatillos are out, but my fellow farmer last year turned me onto a new crop I can’t not grow now that I’ve tried it–ground cherries.  They look like a tomatillo, but they taste like a honeyed pineapple–fantastic!  Another of her choice of crops that I’ll likely try–a golden beet to go along with the red.

I’ll be doing the Goddess Salad Mix as always, but I also want to do some more head lettuce–butterhead in particular, which I’ll do a better job of protecting from the deer.  There’ll also be some romaine in there as well as a crisphead.  The garlic’s already in the ground.

What else?  Three kinds of kale, the wild garden mustards, some fun new kinds of summer squash too.  Fingerling potatoes will be on the menu, and carrots, and parnsips.  I’m not sure if I’ll do celeriac again this year, but I still have some seed, so I might.

It’s all very exciting, and I can hardly wait to begin assembling the seed-starting mix next month.  I’m capping the shares at only six, so I won’t be too overwhelmed, even if my son ends up coming down to live with me this summer or fall.  Maybe this year, he’ll help me weed the carrots!