Busy beaver spring greetings!
Things are going full tilt here on the farm and that’s part of the reason why there hasn’t been any farm updates coming forth in quite a while. There seems to always be a time-sensitive job needing done and I’ve allowed the updates to fall down on the priority list in order to keep up out in the garden! We’ve been able to keep up better this season (although in some areas we’re still getting behind) and while there are many reasons for that, we’ll just thank the Lord first of all. He’s blessed us with a few working share members this year which has helped us keep up with the spring rush. A few of our great helpers this year are pictured below: Rachel in the yellow rain coat, Marisa in the purple sweater and Mary in the red jacket. We’ve missed getting pictures of Curtis so will try to have photo proof of him helping in the next update!
One reason for this quick update (a full length novel would be needed to actually catch everyone up on what’s been going on around the farm) is we have strawberry season coming up soon! Current CSA members have been given first chance to reserve additional berries to their share and now I’m opening up the list to non-CSA members. I’m not positive we’ll have berries above and beyond the needs of the CSA and CSA member’s orders because of weather fluctuations which varies ripening speed, but as loaded as the berry vines are this year there should be quite a few berries available for purchase. Strawberry prices are $2.50 per pint or $4 per quart. Here’s a picture of a few early strawberries we harvested!
Mint is also available for purchase at $2.00 per oz. or $6.00 for 4 oz. See the delicious mint muffin recipe at the end of the update!
All produce is available first come first served. If you would like to reserve strawberries or mint please specify how much you’d like and if you’d like to place a weekly order as long as they’re available. You may see if there’s produce available for purchase each week on our website at:
As I mentioned above, projects have been flying at high speeds around here since the last update. I started writing an update several weeks back, but so much was outdated by the time I finally got back around to it (most of this update was written on a rainy day) that I decided to just about start over with a blank page! CSA shares have now been filled four weeks with a diverse mix of greens and we’re looking forward to some other crops starting to kick in soon so there will be even more variety. Indoor seeding is now done, most of the outdoor planting is finished except for a few more spring crops and fall crops which will be planted later and transplanting is nearly complete as well. Here is a picture of one of our first CSA shares.
Both hoop houses are starting to look pretty empty now since we’ve harvested around 75 bushels from them since the CSA began. There was bok choi and tatsoi harvested early on from the hoop houses as both those types of produce started to bolting soon after the CSA began. Spinach, kale, arugula, radishes, parsley and nine different varieties of lettuce have all been harvested from the hoop houses this spring to fill the CSA shares. Our asparagus has done well this year and there have been several times we’ve had enough to divide among all the CSA shares.
In order to prepare for the planting season Bell and Blaze helped me quite a bit by pulling a drag to help break up clods and level the ground along with harrowing and pulling the disc hiller/ ridger. We used the ridger to cover this year’s potato plantings and weed them once by throwing more soil over the potato ridge to smother out some of the early weeds. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, broccoli, cabbage, leeks and onions are all planted on ridges which the horses helped me put in. Sweet potato slips arrived about the time we started getting our last rains, so we haven’t been able to plant them yet, but the ridges are made for them. If possible I’d like to form a little larger ridge so the sweet potatoes have more room to spread out under ground.
A view from the "teamster’s" perspective.
It seems like sometimes Bell, Blaze and I can just "click" and work together really well and other times it seems I can’t communicate with them well at all! My learning curve is so steep right now I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong when things don’t work properly. Occasionally we can be working along well and then all of a sudden after taking a breather, things don’t work so well starting up again. Lord willing, I’ll get my end figured out so we can work together as a "team" of three! Blaze is the one with the most problems as Bell usually works very good. I’m wondering if Blaze has had some teeth problems, so I just had a vet out to do some equine dental work on her. There are also some pieces of her tack I’d like to change a little and see if it’d help.
After our initial very wet and cloudy winter and early spring the Lord has blessed us with perfect timing of rains and sunshine so we haven’t needed to irrigate and could still get into the garden to cultivate, plant, transplant and do other garden work. Over all the Lord has really blessed the garden this year and we’re looking forward to a continued bountiful harvest throughout the remainder of this growing season.
Not everything has been perfect this year though as aphids and caterpillars have been enjoying some of the hoop house produce, rolly pollies and other little critters have chewed a few holes in strawberries, flea beetles have loved munching eggplant and cucumber beetles enjoyed riddling some of the squash. The good side to all that is we’ve started seeing more and more lady bugs and lacewings which, especially in their larval stages, love eating aphids! I was intending to experiment using row cover over the eggplant, squash and cucumbers this year directly after planting them to help ward off a few of the worst pests for a while, but I didn’t get them covered. At this time I’m unsure it’s worth covering them since I could very possibly just seal in the little pests instead of keeping them out. To keep the leaf riddling from progressing completely out of control I had to use a certified organic pyrethrum spray to help control the cucumber beetles and flea beetles. The rolly polly and other little critter problem of chewing on strawberries had to be addressed as well so a certified organic bait with an active ingredient of Iron Phosphate (an element said to be derived from soil) was applied.
About three succession plantings of radishes and carrots are up and growing…oh yeah, a couple of those plantings are missing the radishes now since we harvested them already! Okra is coming up and the green, purple, yellow wax and Romano type beans are growing well. I tried experimenting with a little corn again this year, and we’ll have to see if we discover a way to "hide" it from the corn ear worms this year. Thankfully the potatoes are looking excellent this year and we’re looking forward to a wonderful harvest. The Colorado potato beetles aren’t munching on the potato vines too bad this year! Those snow peas we’d just gotten planted before the last update are now up and blooming!
Radishes and carrots being planted then a picture of a snow pea blossom.
There was quite a bit of winter kill on most of the blackberries this year, but our one row of Navaho blackberries that we experimented with pruning short really didn’t have any problems whatsoever. Most of the short pruned plants are loaded with buds and just a few blossoms so we’re anticipating a good harvest from them. While we don’t have a huge number of raspberries planted the summer bearing varieties are setting on heavily.
In case you’ve been wondering, spring really has arrived and everything is growing! The Lord has been faithful in bringing forth the spring season once again. Taking a walk through the pasture one Sunday before spring was fully underway I noticed many signs of spring coming along. The frogs had started singing and their chorus rose and fell in beautiful harmony as I leisurely walked along, taking time to observe the creek rippling across a moss covered rock, zipping through a narrow strait only to slow as it dumped into a larger pool. Trickling along through a tree’s roots down stream it created a small waterfall as it plummeted down to the next series of small pools. Looking up slightly I noticed a sand plum had tiny green specks showing from the leaf buds and a tinge of white revealing where blossoms would soon appear. Wild rose bush’s delicate leaves were showing amongst their hedge of thorns and then a couple trees showed signs where a beaver had come up stream to test the flavor of a tree or two as he scouted around. All the cool season grasses had taken off miraculously changing the landscape into a variety of beautiful green hues. Robins appeared from their migrant travels and squirrels scurried about as songbirds sounded their harmonies praising the creator, Lord of heaven and earth.
Now? Well, now the sand plums are done blooming along with the beautifully laden redbud trees which had huge masses of flowers! Most of the spring bulbs have finished flowering, several of the other perennial spring flowers are blooming now and many annual flowers will soon be blooming!
Unfortunately our "old" (it was only 5 years old) John Deere mower went kaput and gave up. It was going to cost so much to either rebuild or get a brand new engine that it was decided a new mower would probably be a better choice. Especially since we’ve had problems with the deck for several years. While the idea of a horse drawn mower was put out for discussion we decided against it for now since Granddad and G-Jean have been doing most of the mowing and the horses are needing touched up on manners an such right now. Also, several places in our yards are not set up to be mowed with horses as there isn’t room to turn around. Maybe one of these days a horse drawn mower will be a feasible option, but not at this time. We decided to purchase a zero-turning radius Hustler mower.
Worth mentioning might be some interesting spring weather observations! Friday, March 19th was sunny with a high of 65 degrees and then that evening the breeze changed and it dropped 20 degrees in one hour! By morning it had started to snow and it snowed all day with an accumulation of approximately 8"! If I recall correctly our temperatures stayed around 26 to 32 degrees for about 36 hours and then Sunday afternoon the cloud cover started breaking up a little and the temperature warmed up. By Monday evening it had melted most of the snow and the high Tuesday was back up around the mid 60’s mark again!
Having the snow day was a blessing really as it allowed Dad and I a little discussion time and we even watched a few DVD’s that Dad got as a birthday present. The DVD’s are from a well known teamster ("Doc" Hammill) who promotes the driving of horses naturally. Everything from proper fitting of harness and collars to driving safety tips and many technique hints to help communicate with horses is covered in his DVDs. The snow helped protect the snow peas which had just started popping through the ground a day or two before!
Several of our young orchard trees bloomed for the first time this year!
Our latest interesting weather, besides the blessing of rain this past week, was a frost May 8th! I’ve talked with folks further north around Emporia, Chanute and Parsons, Kansas, but none of them received frost that morning! I suppose we were just in a little micro climate as we saw a low of 36 degrees and got frost that no one else I’ve talked with had gotten. Nearly all the garden was planted at that time too and I was very thankful the Lord protected the tomatoes from the frost. Most places where there was grass or mulch a good bit of frost covered everything, although it was soft since the temperature was at the upper end of the frost range. Apparently anywhere there was bare soil our sunny warm days had warmed the soil enough to radiate heat back up and keep the garden plants from frosting. Praise the Lord!
Before all our garden planting Dad helped me move the pigs into their new pasture pen. Their new area is located around a Johnson grass patch which they’re helping me get rid of by digging up the roots and eating them! The mama and (then) baby pigs hadn’t cleaned all the Johnson grass roots out of their old pen, but had helped some. They did however, manage to pack all the fall plowed, loose soil down very hard for the top few inches. Since the soil was still wet beneath I plowed fairly shallow. It was a blessing to have a three point, two bottom plow given to me this winter and that was the first time I’d used it. This new plow worked well although the little Kubota said that was a hard pull. Dad recommended I scoop up about 1/2 bucket of compost to help weight the Kubota down a little and discovered that it did help some. After the newly plowed soil had dried a little (about one day I think) I disced it and let it lay until the next morning and then disced it again. The sunshine (it actually peaked out from behind the clouds which was amazing at that time) and wind dried the top of the soil out very quickly and caused there to be a major clod problem since the inside of many clods were still a little muddy while the outside had baked hard.
Once the discing was done I harrowed it with Bell and Blaze, but while the harrow helped level everything the clods still stubbornly stayed. Our 8" snow came and went, then came a two inch rain, but both times the clods would dry hard on the outside before the ground beneath would dry well enough to get on to break up the clods. Although we did eventually break up most of the clods I’m still figuring out how to handle these problem clods. A simple method is to not plow when it’s too wet, but it was a little late by the time I was done plowing! In high organic matter soils there’s usually not as much problem with clodding so I’m striving to improve the soil’s organic matter which in turn improves the soil (and plant’s) health.
With Dad and Granddad’s help we built a drag from some old scrap pieces of two by tens and twelves. After nailing and bolting them together we put a clevis type setup on the front so we could run a chain through and hook it up. Bell and Blaze used it several times and if the clods are not too dry or wet it works very well at pulverizing them! Since the lumber was so old and sections of it are rotten I will need to build another one to last, but I wanted to make sure it would work in our soil before buying good materials.
One day Dad was using the Kubota with either the spring tooth harrow or disc depending on the section of garden he was working and then I’d come along behind with Bell and Blaze using the drag. It was pretty neat how much we could get accomplished with the two power sources! Poor Blaze was getting tired by later in the afternoon though and I had to quit before I really wanted to so she wouldn’t be over worked.
Mom and Dad "ran me off" for three days so I could visit my friend, Jakob, of Rich Hill Missouri before CSA started. I had a good time while visiting and learned several things. There was even an opportunity for me to run a two-man cross cut saw for a little bit which is something I’ve wanted to try for a long time! While we didn’t use the saw much at least it was a taste of how it works. While I was visiting, Jakob’s soil was just dry enough to plow (still a little on the wet side) so he had to plow while the weather was fitting. We still had a chance to visit some and he introduced me to a few other families in his community.
Jakob gave me a praying mantis egg case while I was at his place and I got to see a few of the little guys after they hatched a few weeks later!
An interesting side note to visiting Jakob is that his community has an auction each year with lots of horse drawn machinery, tack, harness, etc. and we had received a notice of when it’d be. We wrote the date down on the calendar and I took off so I could be there for the first of the two day sale. However, when I drove up the area was empty! Calling Dad from my cell phone I had him double check to make sure I was at the correct place in the community…yep, sure was, but was exactly a week early! Jakob was home so I spent some time with him and had the opportunity to use a hand crank drill press and cut off a big limb of a walnut tree with the two man cross cut saw. That’ll get you warmed up in a hurry!
Before I left Jakob’s place he told me a gentleman in the community could probably answer some of my questions about the auction so I took off down the road. It was pretty muddy and pulling the trailer behind the truck made it a little interesting. Doubling back after talking with the gentleman about the following week’s auction I didn’t quite make it up one last hill before Jakob’s place! The mud wasn’t all that deep, but the truck’s wheels were just spinning and getting me nowhere! Never fear, Jakob’s neighbor, Noah, was home and pulled me up the hill with his teams of Belgians. That was enough fun for one day by the time I got back home.
One last slightly humorous story… Mom has a milk cow for our family and has milked some goats as well. After milking a cow for a year or two she decided there was no need to milk the goats so made plans to sell them this spring. In an earlier update you may recall seeing that we had a bottle baby, "Pain", and he ended up being a ornery little guy! At one point Mom became very concerned about him as the little guy just wasn’t all that hungry and his tummy looked full, like he wasn’t digesting the milk very well. As Mom kept tabs on him we discovered he’d be hungry for one feeding and then looking like an overstuffed sausage and not hungry at all the next time he should have been ready for a bottle!
Just before our spring grass started greening up really good Mom was concerned that her milk cow, Belle, was drying up as she just kept giving less and less milk as a few days went by. Finally one day we saw it…Pain was nursing on Belle and she was contentedly letting him! Not long after that, we discovered it wasn’t just Pain who’d discovered a new mama with lots of milk free for the eating – there were six goat kids nursing Belle! We’ve since sold all the goat kids and discovered Belle’s milk production was much higher than we’d thought before catching onto the milk snitching that had been going on.
I’m out of time now and must get back to work, but maybe that’ll give you a hint of what’s been happening here on the farm!
Farmer Josh and the Mitchell crew
Cilantro- beneficial insects love the blossoms as a pollen and nectar source so I allow it to bolt and then the stand reseeds itself and has been volunteer for about two years now.
Beautiful iris- from dark purple to delicate Japanese to vivid Dutch iris!
From the Favorite Recipes with Herbs cookbook
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached flour
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1 cup milk
Cream together sugar and butter. Add eggs. Mix well.
Mix together baking powder, salt, wheat flour, unbleached flour and mint leaves. Stir
into creamed mixture alternately with milk.
Pour into greased muffin tins. Sprinkle tops with a little sugar.
Bake at 375° for 20 minutes.
Makes 12 muffins.