Opening New Garden Ground

So last year we didn’t get to put in a garden, instead I watched progress on another that I pass on my drive to work. We changed our plans as to where the garden was going to go so nothing was planted. The year before I was too excited to get planting and things didn’t turn out well. You can bet I am itching to get back out there. I’ve got my seed list ordered. I cut way back from the initial list I had planned. It was a little disappointing but I just added them to the 2017 garden plans (yes, I have already started those too.)

With none of my own planting to tend last year I got my “gardening fix” as best I could through reading all sorts of farm and garden books. It’s always a good time to learn something new! All that reading has both complicated and simplified my garden planning. I now have spreadsheet upon spreadsheet that I used to put my garden map together. It started with planning the CSA gardens. Everything I have read about running a successful CSA comes back to precise planning and lots of record keeping. My plan is to have CSA shares available for the summer of 2017, for that to happen I needed to start some serious planning in the fall of 2015. I know it seems like a long ways off but seeing the binder of spreadsheets I’ve got started, well, it’s a good thing I started when I did!

Those spreadsheets and maps will only take me so far. There comes a time when I just need to get out there and plant. That is what this summer is for. Planning this summer’s garden wasn’t quite as challenging as the one for next year for a few reasons: there is less to plant, the growing season will be shorter and there is less successional planting to do for our family garden.

My focus for the family garden is some vegetables for fresh eating but the majority for preserving for winter. The focus for the CSA is the opposite, all for fresh eating and weekly harvests achieved through successional planting. Even with different purposes I will still get the missing information I will need this year to complete my plans for next year.

This year’s growing season will be shorter only because we moved the plot (twice now) since last year. Plowing new ground takes some time… and a tractor with a plow. We can make the time but will need to borrow a tractor. The family garden will be planted as soon as the ground is tilled- not the smartest plan, but I can only be so patient. The CSA plots will get tended and maintained for the summer to encourage soil health for optimum vegetable growth next year- the more correct way to go about a new garden plot.

Then there’s more fencing to do as well! The garden space is going to need a fence. A good one. There is plenty of wildlife that would love the opportunity to graze fresh vegetable as soon as they come available. That’s not okay. So a fencing we will go. It really is never ending when it comes to fencing.

But first things first, we still have some cleanup to do from the previous owners. That’s where we’ve started. We measured and flagged where the garden is going to go. Then started taking down the old garden fences that look to have been abandoned long ago. The grass has overtaken the garden mesh. Half the posts are rotted off and the others are “well-planted” and will need a bit more force to remove.

Every time we are up there good progress is made and at this point that’s all we can hope for. Just keep working on it. I can envision the end result and it’s going to be worth it!

One of many grown-in garden fences to remove
One of many grown-in garden fences to remove
The little miss "helping" during nap time.
The little miss “helping” during nap time. (and a 28 week pregnant mama)
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Creamed, Steamed and Marinated

Turnip Green Tart
Filling the Turnip Green Tarte

In my quest for more magnesium in my diet, without using a supplemental pill, I have turned my attention to the dark leafy greens of winter. I am a fan of the hearty greens year-round. Seasonably speaking and eating, these are put into the cold weather crop variety. Swiss Chard, Spinach, Kale, Turnip Greens to name a few. These can all be eaten raw, but in all honesty, they are a tougher green. Rather than the “rabbit-type nibble” one may use for tender lettuce, greens of the hearty type can render a “cow-cud chewing method”. Although effective, no one is going to want to join you at the table while you’re chewing your cud so to speak. As a firm believer that meals should not be eaten alone, these greens are best eaten prepared in one way or another.

I mentioned magnesium above, it’s a rather important mineral responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in our body and it’s estimated 90% of the population is deficient. I have found that when I don’t have enough my headaches turn to migraines  and I get both more often. Low magnesium can also result in morning sickness for expecting mamas. Magnesium affects more than just that. Low magnesium cause or increase anxiety and depression, cause muscle cramps, high blood pressure, hormone imbalances and more.

A side note Soapbox: All these farmers that are using chemical fertilizer are not helping the situation. Chemical fertilizer depletes the soil of many naturally occurring minerals causing the food grown in them to be less nutritious. God bless them for growing food for the masses but large scale is not always the answer. For more on soil depletion dig into how composting works and the effects of chemical fertilizer on the naturally occurring organisms do the dirty work of breaking down that leaf pile into black gold that contains multitude of nutrition when used to grow your vegetables. Done.

Turnip Greens Tarte
Turnip Greens Tarte
Turnip Green Tarte
Print Recipe
My version of a traditional Croatian Pie. This works just as well with Chard too.
Turnip Green Tarte
Print Recipe
My version of a traditional Croatian Pie. This works just as well with Chard too.
Ingredients
Crust
  • 2 cup Whole Wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 2/3 cup Lard
  • 1 each Egg
  • 2 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 3-4 tbsp Cold Water
Filling
  • 4 cup Greens (Chard, Turnip or both) chopped
  • 3 each Garlic cloves minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • to taste Salt and Pepper
Servings:
Instructions
Crust
  1. In a bread bowl combine the flour and salt
  2. Add the lard and mix with stiff fingers until it resembles heavy corn meal.
  3. In a small bowl combine the egg, vinegar and 3 tbsp. of water.
  4. Add the liquid to the flour and mix again just until it holds together. (an additional tablespoon of water may be needed.)
  5. Divide the dough into two ball and roll each on a lightly floured surface a little thicker than a thin pie crust. (1/3-1/4 in maybe?) -One for the bottom crust and one for the top.
Filling
  1. Toss everything in a bowl just until the greens are evenly coated with oil.
  2. Place the filling on the bottom crust and carefully cover with the top crust. Roll the edges and pinch together.
  3. Bake at 425 degrees for 25 min or until lightly browned.
  4. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle a little extra minced garlic clove
Recipe Notes

**That is the traditional preparation. I like it, my family finds it a little boring. To spice it up for them I add some browned pork sausage, sautéed mushrooms  and chevre cheese.**

 

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Creamed Brussels Sprouts
Print Recipe
This recipe is my favorite with steamed Brussels Sprouts. Spinach can be substituted for part or all the sprouts.
Creamed Brussels Sprouts
Print Recipe
This recipe is my favorite with steamed Brussels Sprouts. Spinach can be substituted for part or all the sprouts.
Ingredients
  • 12 oz Brussels Sprouts, quartered or 2 bunches of Fresh Spinach
  • 1 1/4 cup Heavy Cream
  • 4 oz Cream Cheese
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese shredded
  • 1 each Garlic clove minced
  • to taste Salt and Pepper
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Mix everything together in a baking dish.
  2. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes with sprouts (or 20 with spinach).
  3. Top with a little extra parmesan cheese.
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Balsamic Kale Salad
Print Recipe
If this is left to marinade for 12-24 hours the "cud-chewing" aspect is reduced considerably.
Balsamic Kale Salad
Print Recipe
If this is left to marinade for 12-24 hours the "cud-chewing" aspect is reduced considerably.
Ingredients
Salad
  • Kale roughly chopped
  • 1 each Apple roughly chopped
  • 1 handful Toasted Pecans
  • 1/2 handful Dried Cranberries
Dressing
  • 1 each Garlic clove
  • 1 tsp Spicy Mustard
  • 1 tbsp Honey
  • 1 each Juice from Lemon
  • 1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • to taste Salt and Pepper
Servings:
Instructions
Dressing
  1. Place everything but the Oil in a blender or food processor. Process until the garlic is super finely minced.
  2. While machine is running slowly stream in the oil.
Assembly
  1. Toss the salad pieces with the dressing (enough to lightly coat everything, it doesn't need to swim) and let it sit in the fridge over night.
  2. Top with some crumbled blue cheese before serving.
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Gardening Vicariously Out the Car Window

“…and apologizes for her hands, which are covered with flour and dough. I show her my own hands, still stained with island soils, and tell her never to apologize for dirty hands. I am reassured when someone offers me a rough, callous mitt.”- “Fields of Plenty” by Michael Ableman

My hands are usually something that could use a apology. The constant kitchen work leaves them quite dry and rough from the constantly washing off whatever it is I am baking. The deep cold of winter and extra “work” during the holidays leaves me with a bit of carpel tunnel or early stages of arthritis. The aching feeling in my hands and wrists usually subsides late January assuming I wear mittens every time I’m outside.

Spring, summer and fall means my hands (and feet) stained a rather unpleasant shade of brownish-green. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I scrub. The callouses, though there year-round, are much more noticeable during the “non-snow” months. Between shovels, pitch forks and garden weeds there is no rest for my hands.

I appreciate someone with hands like mine. I can see the common ground between us without having to speak. For someone like me who struggles with conversation, garden stained hands gives an opening for pleasant small talk that isn’t weather based. The conversation will inevitably end up there, as talking about the weather is a true Minnesota pastime.

Driving home the other night I was temped to stop by and talk to a family that was planting a garden along the road. I didn’t of course, that would mean I would have to actually speak, but I thought about it. Over the years I have watched that garden plot thrive with vegetables for a few years, then taken over by weeds for a few and back with new owners. Last I heard, it is a father and couple sons that have it.

Last year was weeds. This year I saw they tilled it so nicely and then laid sheets of black garden plastic over the whole thing. That in itself must have been quite a task, this is not small plot. Over the next few nights I could see they were planting through the plastic and carefully marking the plants and rows with flags. They also appear to have a fence up to keep the deer out. Probably the reason for the weeds last year; gardening can be very discouraging when all you do is unwillingly feed deer.

I am curious what they have planted, how they plan to keep it watered if needed and what they are using to keep the plastic down. It’s not the first time I’ve seen this method. It’s also not the most common method in the area, so it would be nice to hear what they have to say about it at the beginning of the season and again after harvest. Over the years I have tried all sorts of things that at the beginning of the season sound like a great idea and by harvest I would never do again.

… A few weeks have gone by now (I have been slacking on finishing this post). I see them planting almost every night on my way home from work. It’s starting to look like quite the garden. I still have no idea what they have planted but it’s looking good.

The flowers I planted in the front bed must have from been too old seed. I have a lovely patch of weeds in there and no flowers that I can see. I learned years ago to not weed the flower beds until they are big enough to tell the difference between weeds and flowers. By now everything that was going to grow should be up. This late in the year I am not going to bother trying again. I will just pull the weeds and leave it empty for now.

Our vegetable garden plot in looking great so far. Our neighbor plowed up a big area between the two of us. We helped pick some rock and then he took the disc to it. Some of this will get some fresh grass seed and the rest will be vegetables next spring. I can’t wait to get some seeds in the ground next spring. The soil there is beautiful, rich, black and alive. I’m tempted to try the black plastic method next year. Maybe for half of it… I haven’t yet decided.

This no vegetable garden is a tough one for me but I am surviving. I just gawk at everyone else’s.

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Keeping Records on the Farm

Downloadable Record Keeping Sheets
Free Printable Record Keeping Sheets

I have a touch of OCD every now and then and record keeping is one of my issues I suppose. It’s important to keep certain records especially when dealing with livestock. Knowing breed, birthdays, registration numbers, breeding records, any veterinary work that was done and so on. I go the extra few miles and like to record the amount of eggs laid each day, the amount of milk collected each day, birds hatched or purchased from who and when, what feed was bought from who for what, what was planted in the garden, how many plants, started indoors or not, season notes, harvest yields, how many jars of beans I canned. The recording goes on and on. I admit not all of it is necessary but I still like to be able to look at years past and see what was done.

I find spring to be the start of the year on the farm rather than January. It is typically when all the new life begins; babies born, chicks hatched, plants sprouting. But for the sake of my need to record I tend to start new sheets in January. This year was the first year with new land and I was quite unorganized. I had record sheets here and there, online and in notebooks, tucked in seed catalogues and on the fridge. It was a mess; almost enough to give me a permanent twitch. I have since “cleaned up” the records. I scraped a few and added a bunch. The super exciting part is that I now have everything in one well labeled binder.

I didn’t go back and organize this years garden records. Most of them would say “Sprouted. Drowned. No Harvest”. Last winter I put together a Vegetable Gardening 101 series. In it I made mention that records should be kept. It’s true. To keep your soil healthy it is good to know what was planted where in the last couple years so that crops, even small garden crops, can be rotated properly. It is also nice to know if you added compost to any garden plot, what type and when. The same goes for field management it’s just a larger plot. Next year I will be ready, I have my sheets printed and in the binder.

Record Keeping Binder

I have already received the first few seeds catalogues for the season and at this point I would usually have started making my lists of what I have and what I need to order so I can start drawing my garden plan for the year. This season we are not going to plant a full garden (or even half as of now). I didn’t take the time last year to properly prepare the garden plot. Between my impatience and the cold, wet weather, the garden was a huge waste last year. So this year we are going to do things right. Condition the soil with manure and work it a few times through out the summer. Just liven it back up. Which is exciting and disappointing all at the same time. I can’t wait for the following summer when I can get back to planting as usual. It’s just a whole growing season away and that’s a long time!

I did go back to last spring and record all the birds that were brought home, price, number, breed etc. Then the cows. Everybody has a sheet so I can keep track of what goes on with who. I put the egg records that I had on the fridge onto a nice sheet in the binder and am all caught up.

Below you can find a link to each of my record sheets and they are Free!
They are all pretty basic, easy to use and not calendar specific so you can start recording during any month with wasting pages! If there is a page that I don’t have but would be useful please let me know!

FREE RECORDS SHEET DOWNLOAD includes:
Animal Records- I use these for the 4 legged animals
Breeding Records – Again 4 legged animals
Poultry Record- Breed, amount, layer, butcher etc.
Egg Production- Number of eggs collected each day
Milk Production- Amount of Milk collected each day
Feed Purchase Records- From, For, Amount, Cost
Standing Egg Orders – Here I can keep track of people that have set up regular egg orders
Butcher Bird Orders- Keeps track of who purchased butcher poultry
Big Project To Do List – For projects like dig a well by the barn and such
Wish List – So I’ve got a list of things to save for besides the Big Projects
Next Year Don’t Forget To…
Field Records – Harvest Yield, Crop, Amendments and so on
Garden Records- What was planted, how much, harvest date
Seed Records- Seeds saved, Seeds to order, Amount
Canning Records- What was harvested, how much and how was it preserved
Season Notes – For things that seem to need to be recorded about the growing season
Notes- I have one of these after almost every category there is always some extra I need to record

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I Kept the Manual

Wildflowerfarm.org

This year my garden was less than successful. It was pitiful really. All the “know how” I have about how to properly prepare a garden plot went right out the window last spring. I am impatient when it comes to planting seeds, usually it turns out ok, but sometimes it’s just a waste of space (and time and energy and money). I put the garden in what used to be a horse corral. The ground is hard packed and filled with deeply rooted nettles and wild raspberries; both of which when tilled, will turn each chopped up piece into yet another plant. It was a loosing battle right out of the gate.

We tilled the ground a couple times with the tractor which worked ok but the threat of unknown rocks kept us from running it deep enough. I tilled with our walk-behind tiller. That about killed me! I had one foot on the ground and one foot on the tiller to push it through the hard packed ground. By the time I was doing the splits it was time to take another step. I went over the whole garden in this fashion…once. It should have been done a few more times but, well, “good enough for this year” I thought. I was not going through that torture again. My poke-a-dot mud boots were caked with muck and my lemon apron was black from me cleaning my hands after digging the mud off the tires.

Seeds were planted and straw put down in a feeble attempt to reduce the weeds. I think at least half the seeds washed away in the rainy spring and a good portion of seed potatoes rotted in the ground too.

I’ve decided our garden is done for the year; after a hand full of green beans, a couple golden beets and one cucumber that looked like a small, green, baseball.

Done.

That whole part of the property we want to remove the weeds and rocks, till, smooth and make usable ground for vegetable garden, orchard and lawn. Next year is planned to be the year of landscaping. I have been dreading the tilling.

As I was pulling weeds in the raspberry patch one afternoon I heard a very enthusiastic squeal from the other end of the barn and it wasn’t the little boy. It was my husband. After two years for pushing that heavy, hard to move, rear tine tiller he discovered
IT’S SELF PROPELLED!!
Are you flipping kidding me?!! Ahh!

I still get excited just thinking about. Do you know how much easier working the gardens will be?! And how dumb I feel for not figuring that out two years ago?! I kept the manual, I guess I should have read it too.

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