Late Summer Update

Greetings! August has come and gone and we are in full produce production season! This is an exciting and busy time on the farm. In this post you will hear about our current produce as well as some new plantings we have done in preparation for the fall season.

Below is a photo I took last week while out gathering produce. In the far rows you can see where our cover crop Buckwheat has matured. This will soon be tilled down as we plant our fall cover crops, tillage radish, Sudan grass, and clover. We were able to make space for this as we finished harvesting lettuce, carrots, radishes, broccoli, potatoes, and onions.

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It may sound like there are many vegetables you can’t get anymore, but that’s just not true. Tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, cucumber, squash, beets, carrots, and kale are all producing well! Melons should ripen in the next week or so! They have been delayed due to this unusual August with cooler than normal temperatures. Overall it’s also been just too wet. As with any season we have had our challenges and joys. One joy this year has been hiring help with our CSA. Lindsey has been working with us Mondays and half day Fridays to pick and prepare produce. She had limited experiencing working for a produce farm and was often delighted with the produce as she watched it grow! We are so grateful for her help. In the photo below Lindsey and I were able to enjoy time at Chankaska Creek Winery with our other job; Lindsey works at Number 4 & I work at 3rd Street Tavern. We won our dessert sales contest and so got to enjoy a lovely afternoon sipping wine. Lindsey will be greatly missed next season as she graduates from MSU in December and pursues her career as a dietitian.

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Looking forward we have planted crops for fall that have a short enough germination period to mature before the first frost (fingers crossed). This past Monday Dan planted spinach, lettuce mix, and radishes. These plants find summer temperatures to be too hot - with September approaching cooler weather will allow these plants to flourish.

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Mid summer progress

Our produce continues to grow at an ever increasing rate. We figure our sweet corn has grown over 2 feet taller in the past 2 weeks! We have been busy trying to keep ahead of the weeds but they sure are persistent.

A couple highlights for the past few weeks:

  • Our sweet corn has begun to tassel meaning that our delicious sweet corn is just around the corner. We estimate about 3 weeks.
  • Our green beans are blossoming so we should have beans in a few weeks.
  • Our tomatoes are blossoming and several already have fruit forming!
  • Our chickens continue to grow as well, we think they are about 5 or 6 times as big as they were as babies! 

Enjoy this weeks photos!

Pardon the weeds...

It's been a busy but exciting week here at Cedar Crate Farm - we had our first Farmers Market of the season and we delivered out first week of produce for our Subscription Produce CSA members. On top of that we've been spending a lot of time working on keeping the weeds down. We've made good progress but you'll notice in this weeks pictures that there are a bunch of weeds still out there.

Enjoy this weeks photos folks!

Chickens!

Our biggest project so far this year has been building the chicken coop. I'm happy to say that what began as 5 carts loaded with lumber and supplies has become a fully functional chicken coop that is home to 20, week-old Australorp chickens. We finished in the nick of time too - our chickens came 2 days after the final coat of paint went on!

Our chickens are a laying breed of chicken that's acclimated to our colder winter climate while being more docile than average and also producing well. We figure when they are at peak egg production the flock will lay around 15 eggs per day! You might be thinking, "What do they plan to do with all these eggs?" We intend on selling them as an add-on to our CSA, through the Mankato Farmers' Market, and through our website in the off-season as well as eating a bunch of them ourselves.

There's a lot of jargon and terminology that comes with chickens and eggs: pasture-raised, cage free, free range, organic, non-GMO fed, etc. Instead of blasting you with jargon we're just going to tell you up front how they're raised and fed. We built the coop so that it can move around our property by pulling it with our tractor. We intend to move the coop, and thus the chickens, around our yard in a large electric net fence that keeps the would-be predators out. The chickens will have access to the outdoors and grass so that they can eat bugs and things they find in the yard. We will be supplementing their diet of bugs and things with a mix of grain specifically for poultry. We hope that the majority of their diet will come from what they forage from our yard. We also intend to use them in our large garden at homes off season to clean up bugs and fertilize our soil. Our chickens will NOT be pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones and will NOT be confined to cages when they lay or ever. They will be able to fully express their chicken-ness as Joel Salatin would say. 

We expect to start getting eggs sometime next spring. We can't wait!

Sunny weather transplants

It's been wet, rainy and cold the past few weeks but in the past few days things have really turned around. We've been busy getting caught up on planting and transplanting the past few days and we couldn't have asked for a better day this past Saturday. A cool breeze, warm but comfortable temperatures and no bugs! We worked hard and transplanted 250 pepper and tomato plants, weeded, and planted squash, watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe and cucumbers.

We're trying out some new things with our tomatoes this year. Tomatoes generally require some kind of support system since their fruits tend to weigh too much for the plant to support. We could just leave them on the ground but that's a vector for disease to infect our plants so we add support. This year we have several types of support. The first, tomato cages, are probably the most common but it's basically a wire cage that surrounds the tomato plant offering support. Second, we have stakes which tie the tomatoes to as they grow. Third, we have cattle panel fencing which is low gauge wire supported by posts that act as a trellis. Finally, we have a wire trellis system where we string a wire along steel posts and drop down a string attached to the wire for each plant to grow on. We will keep you updated on how each of these methods work.

We are on track for a June 12 or June 19 start date for our Subscription Produce CSA offering. We will keep you updated on how things progress.

Enjoy the photos!

The first seeds are up!

This time of year always gets me excited more than any other when the seeds we planted have germinated and have begun breaking through the soil. I think it's because of all of the potential that's inherent to a seed. Some seeds are as small as a grain of sand and seem equally inanimate yet are able to create a plant that sustains us. It's really quite incredible. When they finally poke through the ground it's an affirmation of their potential. With enough care, reasonable weather, and time they will produce abundant, beautiful food!

Planting continued this past week and we have continued to work on our chicken coop. We've got the walls framed up, the frame is on skids, and the flooring is in. There's a lot left to be done including installing the sheathing, siding, roof, shingles and painting but we have made good progress. Our first baby chicks should arrive in early June! 

April showers bring...more April showers

April has been warm and wet. Not exactly ideal conditions but farmers rarely get ideal conditions. That said, we have still been able to plant most of what needs to be in the ground. The ground isn't as dry as we like so planting conditions aren't ideal. Damp ground means our tiller makes a lot of mud balls and our garden seeder doesn't work as well in mud balls. It works best in soil that's light and fluffy but that you don't sink down more than an inch when you step on it. 

Fun fact that you might not know: we don't plant everything all at once. On our farm we plant roughly every two weeks from early April through mid-June! Different types of produce fair differently in spring weather. Things like potatoes and peas can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked. Other things like melons and beans require warmer conditions - a late spring frost would kill these plants. 

Have a look at the photos below that capture some of the planting progress:

Spring Has Sprung!

It finally feels like spring is here! There are lots of things happening on the farm in preparation. We have a indoor seed-starting system setup in the basement of my house. It's composed of several components. First is a heat mat below the trays that helps warm the starting mix. Above is fluorescent lighting that helps simulate natural sunlight conditions. The lights are held up by racks made out of PVC tubing with chains to adjust the height at the plants grow. Unfortunately, it works a little too well. My plants have grown more quickly than I anticipated (the broccoli in particular) and are already the right size to plant outdoors. It's just a little too early! 

We're gearing up to plant and hoping this weekend we can get in some of the early things like potatoes and peas. Weather pending of course. There will be plenty more pictures so stay tuned!

Reflecting on 2016 and Looking Forward to 2017

Hi Folks! It's been quite some time since I've added a Photo Blog Post. I tested out using Instagram and found out that while I really enjoy the feedback I received and adding pictures to social media so easily, I really missed out on an opportunity to give more context to what was happening at the farm. Thus, I'm aiming to bring the photoblog back! Anyway onto this blog post which will be a little more word heavy than the usual post!

Looking back on this season the first thing that comes to mind is how challenging this season was. The weather, in particular, was a tremendous challenge and the plot I rented this year didn't work out nearly as well as I had hoped. Overall, yields were generally lower though some crops flourished (cherry tomatoes, kale, thyme, cucumbers). On the positive side of things the walk-in cooler I constructed earlier this spring greatly exceeded my expectations. It ran on less electricity than the fridge I used last year and kept produce cooler and has a lot more space. Also, I made a lot of progress on improving the workflow from harvest to packing the crates for the Subscription Produce Share drop offs. I also ran several experiments which provided some valuable insight for ways to improve things for next year. In particular, I used a homemade tomato cage constructed from cattle panel fencing which offered superior stability for my tomatoes!

Looking onto next year I'm looking to focus on the crops that I currently grow. I especially want to focus on growing better and more tomatoes and want to extend the sweet corn season by successive planting. I'm only planning on adding one or two new crops. One of which is garlic which I am very excited to be adding to the Subscription Produce Shares. In addition, I'm moving back to the plot of land I used in the 2015 season. This land has higher fertility, has a very low dormant weed seed population, and has been well managed. I plan to focus on being able to deliver multiple weeks of key crops such as carrots, peas, watermelon, broccoli and sweet corn as well as reducing the amount of kale. There were several crops that didn't make it in the crates this year that I planted that I'm planning to include next year. Yellow beans, yellow watermelon, parsley, mint, and also hoping to have more roma and table tomatoes. Finally, my dad and I are in the process of figuring out how to legally sell beef in a Subscription Produce Share format. We have many of the hurdles figured out and are looking forward to being able to sell Cedar Crate Beef as an add-on to your Subscription Produce Share.

To conclude this post I'm going to add a few of my favorite pictures from the 2016 season. I hope you enjoy:

 

Cucurbits and growth!

Cucurbits are a large family of plants that include anything melon-like. Cucumbers, gourds, pumpkins, watermelon, honeydew melon, and squash are all cucurbrits. I planted my cucubrits a little over a week ago and they're beginning to emerge from the ground. This marks the close to the end of the planting season for Cedar Crate Farm and I'll move onto some heavy weeding as some of the pictures will show. Enjoy the photos folks!

 

Planting, frost, and recovery.

The past few weeks have been ups and downs... of temperature. There were two nights in a row where it was below freezing which affected some of my plants. The sweet corn and potatoes leaves were wilted and damaged but both will recover. The basil, on the other hand, was nearly a complete loss. Fortunately, it's still early enough that it can be replanted so I will still have basil later this season.

Planting has continued the past few weeks along with some starts at weeding. Everything seems to be recovering from the frost and rainfall has been more than adequate. In a few weeks the early crops such as lettuce, spinach and radishes will be ready and I'll soon be delivering Subscription Produce boxes and attending the Mankato Farmers Market.

Enjoy the photos!

Spring is in full swing!

Enjoy a few pictures of the progress made the past few weeks at Cedar Crate Farm! The strawberries are in bloom, peas are fully up and getting ready to attach to their trellis and even the early sweet corn is up!

Included this week is a picture of me and a hops trellis I build and installed with the help of some very close friends. I'm a bit of a plant geek so I like to try to grow new things; I've never grown hops before and it sounded like a fun and interesting plant to grow. The hops plants are long vines which can grow around 20 feet tall. I will attach strings to the trellis and the hops will climb the trellis and should look really cool this summer. I can't wait!

Sprouting begins :)

With timely rain and perfect weather the 2016 season is off to a fantastic start. Peas, lettuce, kohlrabi and kale are emerging from the soil!

A busy 2016 early Spring

It's been a VERY busy early spring at Cedar Crate Farm. Apart from researching seed varieties and ordering seeds I was able to attend the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse Wisconsin in late February. I was able to bring home a lot of valuable information especially regarding cover crop management and planning as well as strategies for growing herbs.

I also built a seed starting rack and began construction of a walk-in cooler for produce storage. It's important to keep most produce as cool as possible for the best flavor and to increase shelf life for produce that you receive from the farmers market or Subscription Produce Shares.

Enjoy the photos and look for more posts in the near future!

It's been awhile.... Sorry!

Well the season is officially over. It ended in a resounding success and I am already planning for next season. Here's some photos taken since the last post (back in July!) through the end of the season.

Watermelon and the return of Cedar Crate Lake

Baby berries, brocoli and peppers

It's been a hot and muggy past few days, fortunately most of the plants are loving it!

Looking good in July

The zucchini are only a few days away, the green beans are about a week out, there's peppers and squash forming on the vines. Cucumbers are flowering and there's even some decent sized potatoes. Everything looks great!

The difference a week makes

After a week of sun and minimal rain the wind damage is nearly unnoticeable. Very little sweet corn was lost (less than 5%). The buckwheat and hairy vetch cover crops are looking really nice and filling gaps between produce very well. Zucchini are very close to ready - I expect to begin harvesting zucchini in 1-2 weeks.

I thought there may be some interest in the setup for packing the CSA shares. There's a few photos showing the setup. Please notice the old Philco refrigerator in the corn; nicknamed 'old shocky' due to it randomly shocking me.

Wind and rain

This week was tough, in particular Monday morning when the most recent storm system rolled through leaving the plot with 3.5 inches of rain and wind with gusts as high as 45mph. While most of the crops will pull through the sweet corn was heavily damaged. Most was laying flat on the ground around noon on Monday morning. I expect that some of it (maybe 50%) will "grow out of it." Meaning it will straighten back out and then continue to grow like normal.

The photos this week will show the damage done to the corn. Thankfully plants are very versatile and resilient and with a few weeks of sun things will be back to normal. I still expect to get a lot of sweet corn come July but it's always hard to see it struggle.

In addition to the wind the rain left some large puddles in the plot. Some of the pumpkin plants are under water but not all of them (maybe around 20%). At any rate, there should still be plenty of pumpkins for pie and carving this fall!