Potatoes, Potatoes, Potatoes

IMG_0073We finished planting potatoes! 30 varieties. 227 pounds.

Pam cut the potatoes into pieces, each with one or more eyes. (That’s the part of the potato from which a sprout will grow.) Isaiah tilled the soil, and then used a special tool attached to the tractor to open trenches into which Bethany, with a little help from Faith, placed all the potato pieces. Soil was then raked over the potatoes by Pam, Isaiah, Jonathan and Bethany.

Today, Therese and Elena came to the farm to help with mulching: spreading old hay over the top of the entire potato field to prevent weeds, keep the soil moisture levels more even and build organic matter in the soil as it decomposes.

We are late finishing the potato planting. Ideally, we do that in late April or early May. But considering that we still had snow on the ground with frozen soil underneath until the first of May, we are actually quite timely.

IMG_0078Over the years, Isaiah has carefully selected potato varieties that are uniquely flavorful and have incredible eye-appeal. While he does grow some of the standards like russets and red norlands, his main focus is on heirlooms that have unique characteristics like the King Edwards that have a thin, yellow skin with pink splashes around the eyes and the Purple Peruvians that are darkly purple all the way through. Their skin almost looks black and their dense purple flesh has an exquisite flavor while being very high in anti-oxidants. He usually tries one or two new flavors a year, sometimes to replace a variety that doesn’t perform well in our heavy soil but more frequently to add a new twist to our current selections.

As our customers know very well, all potatoes are not created equal. Different textures and subtle variations in flavor can make the difference in serving perfect mashed potatoes or in having just the right texture in your potato salad. And then there are all the other dishes which use potatoes! Roasted, sautéed, hash browns, fries, steamed and the list goes on! Do you need a potato that holds its shape in your stew or one that crumbles to add texture to your soup? It is all about choosing the right potato for the job.

Of course, we make sure to plant plenty of our customers’ favorites like Kerr’s Pink, Red Gold, Purple Majesty and Mountain Rose. In any growing year, some potatoes will do better than others, some appreciate drought years and others like to keep their roots wet all season. By growing so many different kinds, we increase our chances of having at least a few varieties that produce abundantly.

So how many potatoes will that 227 pounds produce? If it is a good year, we should be digging about 4,000 pounds in September and October.

Granddaughters helping in the Greenhouse

Therese

A few weeks ago, Pam and I (Bethany) had to watch Faith all week. Faith is the four year old daughter of Pam’s son Jonathan. We had a lot to get done that week in the greenhouses. So on Monday, Pam asked her daughter, Aleesha, if she could borrow Aleesha’s daughter Isabel, who is six and a half years old, to play with Faith. In the afternoon before putting Faith down for a nap, I asked Isabel, “What are you going to do while Faith is napping?” She pointed to the pile of toys she had been playing with. I said, “Grandma is going to the greenhouse to pick spinach. Would you like to go to the greenhouse to help Grandma?”

Greenhouse and Snow 027“Yes!” Isabel was more than eager to help Grandma with picking spinach. Later, she was delighted to show off all the spinach she helped pick. “We picked in greenhouse C first but there wasn’t very much spinach in there so then we picked in greenhouse A.”

Grandma Pam added, “She is a really good spinach picker. She’s not fast but she does a good job.”

Greenhouse and Snow 033On Wednesday we had a lot we wanted to accomplish in the greenhouses but figured with babysitting Faith we wouldn’t get a lot done. Right away in the morning, Pam called Aleesha, “We want to work in the greenhouse today cleaning up all the dead stuff. Do any of your girls want to come over and help with it? I have three seats in the van so I can take up to three girls.” Aleesha was fine with three of her girls coming over to help but it wasn’t until Pam got there that it was decided who would come. (Sylvia is only two so she wasn’t given an option to come, staying home with mommy and taking a nap in the afternoon was more important. And since Isabel had spent all day on Monday here she had to give someone else a turn.) Just a little while before Pam came back with Aleesha’s girls, I told Faith, “Grandma is going to pick up some of your cousins to bring them over and then we’re going to the greenhouse.” Shouting and jumping up and down, clapping her hands, Faith replied, “COUSINS! Geenhouse! YAY!” Pam returned about 11:45 am with Therese (12), Lexie (8), and Bernadette (4 and a half). Lexie informed me, “Elena wanted to come but she decided to stay home to let Bernadette and me come because we both wanted to come. But she gets to come tomorrow.” I loved how when the girls were asked if they wanted to work in the greenhouses they all wanted to. Greenhouse and Snow 046Being in the greenhouses in the winter is a special treat for the kids; they just love playing in the dirt in the middle of winter. Since it was so close to noon, we decided to have lunch before going out to the greenhouses. Therese helped Grandma with preparing the meal and Lexie and Bernadette played with Faith, keeping her out of the kitchen until the food was ready. After lunch, we bundled the little two up and we all piled in the van to drive to greenhouse B so the girls didn’t get too cold walking out there, since the wind chill was -15F. Isaiah joined us, driving the skid loader out to fill it up. As soon as we stepped into the greenhouse, coats, snow pants, hats and sweatshirts came off. It didn’t take very long for the boots and socks to come off too. The girls take after their grandma Pam that way, they prefer to garden barefoot. As do I. In fact, my favorite thing about the greenhouses in winter is taking my boots and socks off and feeling the cool dirt beneath my bare feet. And I believe Aleesha’s girls and Pam feel the same way. It was the first time Faith had taken her boots and socks off in the greenhouse, and throughout the afternoon she was in various stages of dress. Sometimes she was barefoot but had her snow pants and coat on. Then she’d take all the winter clothes off and be barefoot, and then a little bit later she had her coat on or just her snow pants on or she’d be without both of them but wearing her boots. The other girls didn’t put any of their layers back on until it was time to leave. Isaiah was going in and out of the greenhouse hauling stuff so he only took his coat off but left his insulated coveralls on.

Greenhouse and Snow 037Pam untied the dead, dried tomato vines from the fence. Bernadette, Lexie and Faith helped pull them off. Isaiah picked them up and dumped them in the skid loader bucket. Therese was pulling out the dead lettuce and gently pulling off dead leaves from the plants that were still alive. She did an excellent job, going along at a good pace. I pulled out the dead pac choi plants and lettuce in another bed. I was going slowly because I was also photographing the cuteness of our helpers. Pam and the younger girls finished the tomatoes quickly and moved on to cleaning up the arugula and mustard greens. Lexie ran up and down the length of the greenhouse many times. Bernadette and Faith did a little running too. Then they all went near the door and played with tractors and a dump truck in the dirt, which allowed Pam and I to work without worrying about what Faith was getting into. But Faith and Bernadette helped Grandma pull the arugula, chickweed and mustard greens. For awhile, Faith was being Grandma’s courier, taking handfuls of dead vegetation to fill a tote that Isaiah hauled out in the skid loader to dump to the pigs. Bernadette was quite a determined little helper and for being so young she was incredible help; she loves weeding. I was so delighted Bernadette came; she is just so sweet. Therese and Pam finished their beds before I did, so Pam and the younger three helped with the pac choi/ lettuce bed awhile Therese pulled out the turnips along the south wall that hadn’t survived. We finished all that in only about an hour’s time so we decided we had time to switch over to greenhouse C.

Greenhouse and Snow 066Hardly more than just boots were put back on to get to C since the greenhouses are right next to each other. In only an hour we were able to get four beds cleaned up with so many helping hands. Pam was impressed how quickly we cleaned up both greenhouses; she wasn’t expecting that we’d get that far. The girls, especially Therese, were very pleased with themselves for accomplishing so much in only two hours. With many hands to do the work and some very silly conversations we all enjoyed our afternoon.

Greenhouse and Snow 086On Thursday, Pam picked up Therese and Elena (10) in the morning around 11:00 am after they had completed their school work. I took Therese, Elena and Faith the greenhouse A. We got  started cleaning up in A while Pam did some other work and made lunch. The girls immediately were down to t-shirts and bare feet. We each took a bed, except for Faith who played with various items she found at the front of the greenhouse. Elena brought two tractors down from greenhouse B for Faith to play with but she ignored those in favor of a stick. Digging in the dirt with it she said, “I’m digging tatoes.” As always she was lost in her own world of make believe carrying on a two-sided conversation. Elena and I were quite entertained by it. Both she and I had more difficult beds to clean up so Therese was able to clear out two whole beds by herself  by the time Elena and I each finished one. But we were fast enough to finish all of what Pam wanted us to do in greenhouse A; she was pleasantly surprised by our speed. After lunch we were joined by Pam in greenhouse B. Greenhouse and Snow 079With the girls’ help we planted lettuce, swiss chard, radishes, beets, mustard greens, arugula, and pac choi. Therese dropped the radish seeds in the trench Pam made. Faith found it fascinating so she wanted to try too. Therese put some seeds in her hand and helped her sprinkle them. Elena came to help Faith as well until Pam had the trench made for the swiss chard seed, then Elena very carefully spaced the seeds a few inches apart. Both of the older girls planted the beets too while Faith played with the toy dump truck. I sprinkled in the smaller seeds. We were all pleased that we were able to do all of the planting in B in just a couple hours. Therese was excited that she’s now old enough and tall enough to help uncover and cover the plants with the row cover fabric.

Greenhouse and Snow 093The next week, we didn’t have Faith here but Pam still asked Aleesha for Therese and Elena’s help for an afternoon to help Isaiah plant garlic in greenhouse C. Pam and I planted spinach, lettuce, mustard greens, turnips, radishes, pac choi, and carrots. Elena and Therese took turns breaking apart the bulbs of garlic and placing the cloves into the trenches Isaiah made.

On a different day, Pam and I planted beets, kohlrabi, cabbage, and broccoli in greenhouse A. And then on yet another day, Pam cleaned up the Kale; picking all the dead leaves off and pulling out a few dead plants, hoping what’s left will make a comeback. I began pulling dead leaves off a few of the spinach plants but didn’t get very far with it before it was time to cover the beds for the evening. Isaiah planted some more garlic but this time in greenhouse A. Now that round of planting is done and we are waiting and watching for the new plants. The lettuces and radishes are up already.Greenhouse and Snow 096

Piglets

Canoeing and Piglets 188We had talked about farrowing pigs sometime down the road, but didn’t think we’d give it a try any time soon. That changed in May when our neighbor pulled in one day to talk to Pam. He had four pregnant sows (female pigs), which he no longer wanted and was willing to sell them to us for a reasonable price. So we decided to go for it. Isaiah had some preparation to do to make room for the sows since once they had their piglets they needed to be kept separate. He moved the other pigs out of the shed back to their pasture area and cleaned out the shed. Getting the shed ready for the mama pigs was rushed since one had reached her due date. Given the urgency, I was hoping the piglets would be born the night they arrived.

Canoeing and Piglets 192Years and years ago, we had a sow and raised piglets. I, Bethany, was a very small child at the time; probably barely more than a toddler. My memory of it is a bit fuzzy. I don’t remember piglets at all, just the sow. The sow was very large, huge and terrifying; that’s all I remember.

Canoeing and Piglets 197It was a couple of weeks after the sows came before the first one had piglets; her piglets were born on May 27th. Faith’s eyes lit up when I lifted a piglet up for her to see. Faith is three this summer, one of Pam’s many granddaughters. She has always taken an interest in the pigs; even last summer she would play near their pen, including the pigs in her play. As soon as she could talk she would tell the pigs to shut up whenever they got to loud. So when the first sow had her piglets we took Faith into the shed to see them.Canoeing and Piglets 202 If Jonathan, her daddy, hadn’t been holding on to her she would have climbed right into the pen with the sow and piglets, I think. I handed the piglet to Jonathan so I could climb out of the pen and so we could take pictures with it. Nate, Mariya, and Xavier, more of Pam’s grandkids, were there, also, to see the piglets and have their pictures taken with them. All the kids were as excited about the piglets as was I.

Canoeing and Piglets 198Another sow had her piglets at the end of June or the beginning of July and another in the middle of July. Even by the third time, I stood in wonder watching the tiny baby piglets. I can’t believe how small and how cute pigs start out. I love looking at their tiny snouts and noses, tiny hooves, tiny tails, and tiny ears. The ears are rather large in comparison to the rest of the piglet’s body. I just can’t get over how little they are. I told my friends about the piglets, told them they needed to come see the piglets. Everyone who came to see the piglets were also awed by them and intrigued, standing for several minutes watching them. The piglets grow really fast; they aren’t so little anymore. We’re still waiting for the last sow to have her piglets, I look forward to seeing new born piglets once again.Canoeing and Piglets 208

Planting Season

The outdoor planting season has begun with all its craziness. The frequent rain has made it difficult to get the planting done but we planted spinach, onions, leeks and barley two weeks ago and radishes last week. Prairie with Jesse 106

First, Pam tilled the garden before planting. Prairie with Jesse 107

Onions after being planted. Prairie with Jesse 109

Bundles of leeks waiting to be planted. Prairie with Jesse 114

Isaiah poking the onions into the dirt. Canoeing, Planting Trees 133

In addition to planting in the gardens, Isaiah has been adding to his orchard, planting apple trees. Canoeing, Planting Trees 144

Pruning Apple Trees

IMG_0731It is necessary to prune apple trees to open them up for air circulation and to promote better fruit growth. Japanese and Europeans aren’t afraid to prune rigorously. However, Americans are slowly catching on to the idea. Proper pruning conserves a tree’s strength for a longer, healthier life. A tree’s appearance is enhanced by pruning. Some people believe pruning is contrary to nature. That is not the case. Nature has its own ways of pruning such as snow, ice, and high winds, getting rid of dead or surplus limbs. There are many reasons to prune. Pruning removes broken branches or any suffering from injury, disease, or insects. It instructs a tree to grow into a good shape, strong enough to hold up its load of fruit. It removes crossed limbs; if limbs rub against each other it can cause wounds that can allow disease to infect the tree. Pruning also helps to keep the tree a manageable size. It also opens up the tree allowing more sunlight to reach the inner branches. An open tree promotes fruit growth by allowing fruit to ripen evenly in the interior. It decreases the amount of bearing surface of the tree, which makes for larger fruit. Also, the tree will be more likely to bear fruit every year. Pruning also removes any extra tops that can form bad crotches that may split when the tree is laden with fruit. Lastly, pruning renews bearing wood. Most of the bearing surface can be completely renewed every few years by removing a few of the older limbs, which will be replaced by new and healthy limbs.

IMG_0735It is fun asking Pam about the history of this orchard. She gets a twinkle in her eye when she remembers her dad and grandpa. The orchard was originally planted by her grandpa in the mid 1940’s. Our orchard includes one of the original Fireside apple trees from the University of Minnesota planted in our orchard before the U of M named it. We also have an unnamed variety which was just given a number, Minnesota 972; this variety was never made available to the public. We happen to have these apples because we had relatives working in the horticulture department at the U of M. We also have a Beacon tree that was planted in the 1950’s. We have a Honey gold that was planted six years before Honey gold was made available to the public. They will be replaced with heirloom varieties. We have other small orchards started in a couple of places on the farm. They include plums, pears and cherries, in addition to apples.

Pruning the apple trees is usually a family event in March, Aleesha and her kids come to help us. This year, I, Bethany, started pruning the big fireside tree by myself. I only had an hour to work on it so I didn’t get very far on that tree. I was enjoying being in the tree; it was great that I could climb a tree as part of my work. The next day my hands ached from gripping the pruners. However, I got back into the tree to keep going. Jonathan came out to help me; he also wanted an excuse to climb a tree for work. As always when we get together to work, we joked around and laughed a lot. I told Jonathan that all that tree climbing as kids came in handy; we’re quite good at climbing trees. We had a blast. We finished the one fireside tree that morning, then in the afternoon I pruned the Minnesota , zestar and started in on the honey gold. Aleesha came to help me finish pruning. Her girls played nearby. Again, there was a lot of silliness as Aleesha and I worked on the trees together; she said to a tree, “Sorry, but you’re dying anyway,” which had us laughing. We managed to finish the rest of the trees in just a couple of hours. Pam pruned all the young fruit trees planted here and there on the farm.

The Last Few Weeks On the Farm

Other than routine things there hasn’t been much happening on the farm to share, but here’s what’s been filling up our days the last few weeks!
McCarthy Walks 107

Picking spinach for many hours every week; in December and through the middle of January it was only two hours every week, then three, four and last week seven hours! With the heat and sun it’s been growing like crazy!McCarthy Walks 114 It has been a challenge to keep enough moisture in the ground for the plants this winter, we’ve been watering each greenhouse about once every week. It is a tedious, two person job in the winter. McCarthy Walks 116 On cold days, with temperatures around twenty degrees but sunny, it is awesome to step in the greenhouse and shed layers. And it’s especially fantastic to work barefoot! Pant legs rolled up and a tank top, when it’s only twenty degrees outside, wind howling, and it’s at least eighty degrees inside and I’m toasting! McCarthy Walks 117This past month we have been working on pulling stuff out to make room for planting new stuff. Pam has done a lot of planting the past couple of weeks. And what’s left in the greenhouse is finally looking awesome, so there should be more greens available at the next markets!

Ice Storm

Fence. Halfmoon, Ice 463

An ice storm, like many things, is both very beautiful and very dangerous. Last week’s ice storm made walking outside perilous on our farm. The driveway was an ice rink. Fence. Halfmoon, Ice 474 The day after the storm, I walked around the yard to photograph the beauty of the ice. The apple orchard glistened with ice. Fence. Halfmoon, Ice 496 The tall plants around our house were bent over with the load of ice; they almost looked to be plastered to the snow. Fence. Halfmoon, Ice 503 The temperature was warm, melting the ice. The sound of falling ice off the trees was like heavy rain; I almost expected to be soaked. Fence. Halfmoon, Ice 509 -1 The wire fences were lined with tiny icicles. Fence. Halfmoon, Ice 523 Some of the trees in the yard lost branches. Fence. Halfmoon, Ice 546 The fallen ice of the trees sparkled in the sunlight, two days later. Fence. Halfmoon, Ice 551 Cian was the only one on the farm that enjoyed everything being covered in ice. He enjoyed playing on it. (The cows were not happy at all.) Fence. Halfmoon, Ice 576Two days after the storm, the trees  shimmered in the sunlight. Beauty attempting to mask the possible danger of ice.

Honey!

canoeing-and-fire-003On June 3rd, my brother in-law, Jason and I checked on my bees. We noted that the two survivor hives from last year already had lots of honey. Jason said I should harvest it soon, by doing so they’d be encouraged to make more honey. We didn’t have the time to harvest the honey that day, nor were we prepared to do so.  On June 10, around 11:45 am, mom and I went to the bee yard to harvest the honey – with a cart with a box that had a bottom and lid for the frames of honey, empty frames to replace the ones we were taking, smoker and fuel, brush, and hive tool. (The hives shouldn’t be opened more than once a week.) I parked the van some distance away.

honey-and-canoeing-071Although there were two supers on the first hive, we only pulled about one super worth off because some frames weren’t completely drawn out. It was very exciting to finally be harvesting honey! We took even less off the other hive (though again it had two supers on), only about six or seven frames, not quite a super full. The bees buzzed around us but didn’t seem too angry; there weren’t really any threatening us, though the bees in the second one were buzzing around us more.) honey-and-canoeing-070Using the hive tool to separate the frames, then pry them loose and lift one end up to get a hold of it, then prying up the other end, I pulled the frames  filled with honey out one by one. Then I shook the bees off the best I could; Mom brushed the remaining bees off and then opened the box for me to put the frame into it. Once we were done and had the hives closed back up, I pulled the heavy cart to the van. I lifted the boxes into the van and drove them across the yard to the cheese shop. About five or seven frames at a time, I uncapped the honey comb, letting the honey drip out of the comb, through a hardware clothe to strain it, into a collecting container. They sat dripping for many days. The uncapping was very slow – maybe someday I’ll be better at it after I get used to doing it.

honey-and-canoeing-079On July 6th, Mom and I collected honey again – this time it was reversed which hive produced more honey. We got a little over two supers full of honey. I put the frames we’d pulled out in June and dripped back into the hives to replace some of the ones we took out. Again the bees weren’t too upset with us. It was fun and exciting to finally be able to harvest honey! And it was really fun to watch the container fill with honey! I got an extractor for my birthday – it was so fun to spin the honey frames and watch the honey fly out! Then I poured it from the extractor over the hardware clothe (to strain it) into the collecting container. I filled two quart jars for our use. Mom and I poured the honey from the container into a five-gallon pail and once the one pail was filled, we filled a third of a second pail! It was so thrilling to see all of that honey!

canoeing-and-fire-099On September 8th, Mom and I went to harvest honey again – only this time we had to take the supers off completely so the bees could focus on filling the deeps for winter. So frame by frame, came out and we emptied the supers and  put the frames in another box. Once a super was empty, I pulled it off the hive and then closed up the hive. The first hive we did was extremely calm. The second one was less than pleased that we were stealing its honey (we were also getting later in the afternoon) – we both got stung a few times. Actually, I’m not sure exactly how many times I got stung in the one finger – but at least three times. So it took longer to do that hive. There were only a couple of frames to pull from the new hives. And one hive had died (they were very docile and hadn’t been doing well in July). We collected two frames shy of four supers full! (We sorted out the empty frames from the full ones on the spot.) Once extracted, I continued filling the pail of honey and filled another one too – and there is still a gallon or so left! So I finally have enough honey, for our own use between now and June, plus some to sell!honey-and-canoeing-093

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

lettuce-077You try to go to farmer’s market every week but sometimes you can’t make it or you arrive near the close of market. There’s about an hour left at market once you finally arrive, you browse the different vendors especially your favorites, you wanted spinach or perhaps lettuce, what’s left on the tables doesn’t look great and the vendors you prefer to buy from are all out. You were hoping to make pie this weekend; you were having company over and wanted to make a salad. Your schedule won’t allow you to get to market sooner. If only there was a way to guarantee you’ll be able to purchase fresh carrots from your favorite vendor.

ducks-and-more-144Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is a relatively new model of farming and food distribution. A CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. CSA’s focus is usually on a system of weekly delivery or pick-up of vegetables and fruit, sometimes dairy products and meat. The term CSA is mostly used in the USA, but a variety of similar production and economic sub-systems are in use worldwide.

ducks-and-more-145At Prairie Hollow Farm, we offer various options so you can choose the items that suit your eating tastes. CSA is an innovative approach to the relationship between farmers and those who enjoy good food. With a preseason payment, members purchase a “share” of our season’s harvest. Each week during the summer and every other week in the winter, members receive a box of the best and freshest produce available from our farm. (Our CSA customers get first choice, sometimes in the winter we won’t have enough greens for markets but just enough for our CSA customers; it’s the perfect way to ensure you’ll get the best!) When you sign up, you become our customer for a six month growing season, either summer or winter, providing us with an annual, loyal customer base. In return, we dedicate ourselves to providing you with a varied and nutritious supply of fresh vegetables. You can eat your way through over eighty sweet and flavorful gourmet and heirloom varieties of vegetables and fruits. You will get to try new veggies that you might never try otherwise. Discover how diverse and interesting your meals can become.

Bread 036Your share is designed to provide for a household of two adults and two children, although this varies with family eating habits. Many CSA members have found themselves eating more healthy vegetables with less fuss from the children because of the freshness, cleanliness, and flavor of their produce compared to that available in local markets. And because we take pride in the quality of our vegetables, it is simple to go from the box to the table.

Farm 5 039A CSA share is an excellent investment in the health of your family and your community, giving you a voice for positive change and great food on your table. With a mutual commitment to great food and sustainable farming, together we can engage the simple but incredibly important work of good farming and feeding our families well.

At Prairie Hollow Farm a CSA share can be more than just vegetables. We also offer bread, cheese, and egg and beef shares. (Around Christmas, we’ll offer honey as an add on.) Also, some fruit will come with the vegetable share. We also offer an option for those of you who grow some of your own veggies or are only looking for particular items.  Our market share allows you to choose items from a list emailed to you weekly.  You choose the items you want and we will put your order together and bill you.

honey-and-canoeing-019With either option, you can choose to pick up your box at the farmer’s market, at one of our drop sites or, if you live near the farm, you can pick up your box at the farm on Thursdays. For information on prices and drop sites, visit our website or email us at info@prairiehollow.com .