Produce, weeds and water

Put the Brookside Farmers Market on your To-Do List.  Saturdays, 8am-1pm at the corner of 63rd and Wornall. 

I know it’s hot, but I had the most pleasant day at the farm yesterday- optimism abounds!  Summer crops are coming along great, and a few vegetables are really starting to wake up.  Cucumbers are multiplying, tomatoes are ripening, squash is squashing.  We’ve been pulling onions of all sizes, garlic is curing, kale is putting on new leaves overnight, and grean beans are just about ready to pick.  I plan to pick more blackberries this week, but that tends to be an evening project- as the sun is going down, and the temperatures start to dip, I love to be at the farm.  I’ve been babying the broccoli, so it should hang in there with some delicious side-shoots.  Thank you Brookside for purchasing our flowers- we’ve sold out of bouquets 3 weeks in a row.  We’ll see what is out there for this week’s color display- definitely more sunflowers and a few zinnias.  We’ll bring more of those new potatoes on Saturday- just perfect for grilling.  We’ll have several ‘small quantity’ items as some crops finish up and others begin.  Come early and beat the heat.  See you Saturday. 

We’ve also been pulling weeds and planting new crops.  Planting new crops??!!  Really?  Yep.  We plant every week of the season, in order to have a steady stream of produce.  In the last week, I’ve planted another couple hundred tomato plants (they will hopefully flourish for fall tomatoes, when our earlier plantings are tired), 200′ of sweet potatoes, 400′ of regular potatoes, 3 kinds of beans, herbs, extra eggplant and husk tomatoes.  Still on the list for this week:  more herbs, flowers, fall broccoli and cauliflower, more sweet potatoes, and hopefully some fall onion sets. 

It seems odd- but I actually hate pulling weeds out of some of these rows in order to plant.  As I’m prepping beds for planting, the rows with weed cover have soil moisture and the rows we’ve tilled are bone-dry.  Bare soil requires so much more water then rows with cover.  Doesn’t make for a pretty farm- but makes for a PRODUCTIVE farm.  Kind of counter-intuitive, don’t you think?  As we allow more and more of our weeds to linger, we notice we have more produce and less need to water.   Now granted, baby transplants and seedlings need open space- and that’s why we pull weeds.  But once they are established, we let the weeds go, and, because we have worked so hard on our soil fertility, the veggies can compete nicely for nutrition, and the weeds are actually beneficial.  I have to keep reminding myself of that, as I look out at our farm, but we are pulling more produce than ever out of the same space.  One step better, would be to replace those weeds with a seeding of ‘green manure’- plants sown intentionally to improve the soil, but for now, we can afford weeds!

As another example, our strawberry beds are so high with weeds, you could bale it.  We are starting to weed them, so the small runners have a place to put down roots.  As I clear each row, I notice the exposed plants get so much drier and need a lot more water then the rows with cover.  Once we get everything exposed, and the runners go nuts, we will have to mulch to replace the benefit the weeds were giving!  Go figure. 

Speaking of water- our pond is miraculous indeed!  Or more accurately, perhaps I should say, God continues to provide.  Our little pond continues to have enough water to keep our plants going.  We seem to get a good rain just about when my water-stress meter goes off. I have a good discussion with God about the state of the pond, He laughs at me, and says, “Ye of little faith”, and then he brings a good rain.  We are investigating the possibility of digging a well- but that requires deep pockets, which we don’t seem to have.  But for now, the little pond with the deep hole is doing a great job of keeping up. 

Hey everyone- thanks for reading and have a great day!  -Ami

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It’s Grilling Time!

I’m sorry I don’t have pictures to offer… but time seems to get away from me for photographing… you’ll have to use your imagination…

BUT!  You must grill some spring veggies!  We tend to think of summer produce for grilling- peppers, squash, eggplant, etc, but we have created a gourmet grilling blend of spring crops that is delightful.  If you are a member of our CSA program, this week you will receive a sampling of the blend.  If not, then head on down to Brookside Farmer’s Market this Saturday to pick some up for your Memorial Weekend Grill.

The blend includes;  onions, potatoes, beets, peas, turnips, radishes, garlic, and carrots.  We prepared this mix for our Mother’s Day feast to rave reviews.  Just wash, dice, steam to soften, season, and grill.  We used an Italian dressing to season, and then yesterday I repeated it as a ‘roast’ in the oven with a honey-mustard vinaigrette.  You could very simply use a little olive oil and sea salt also.

You may be saying, “What?  You can grill all those veggies?  Are you kidding?  Radishes?”  Yep.  Someone let us in on the ‘secret’ of cooking radishes last year, when we had a particularly huge bumper crop all at once, and we love them!  My Dad is not so crazy about cooked radishes- he would prefer them raw, so you’ll have to try it once and decide for yourself.  I’ve added the m to crockpot roasts, saute’s, and aluminum foil pocket meals.  They totally lose their heat once cooked, but retain their radishy flavor.  Try it!

Keeping Price in Perspective

Now that the Brookside Farmer’s Market has started, I’ve been thinking about how we price things and how to justify what we charge. It’s a slippery slope. As farmers who receive NO subsidies from the government, we have to charge our customers the REAL price of growing a particular crop, while buffering that cost with what folks will actually pay. It’s an interesting topic, and one that is pretty difficult to analyze, at least for me. This year, I am keeping more records than ever. I’ve always tracked dates: when to order seed by (so seeds aren’t sold out), when to plant in the greenhouse, when to transplant, when to plant in the field, when to direct seed into the soil, etc. This year, I’m trying to track volume picked, and how much is purchased, donated, and composted. Not an easy task. But, necessary, in order to determine which crops are profitable, which crops are sought after, and which crops need to be eliminated for next year. There’s no need to grow 475 different varieties (LOTS OF WORK) if 325 or even 200 would be just as successful. Do we really need 100 varieties of tomatoes in order for our tomatoes to look wonderful? Actually, less would probably be best- concentrate on the best of each color, cooking, and flavor classification, and ditch the rest. Streamline. But I digress. Let’s get back to the pricing issue.

We charge what we need to stay afloat. We’ve had the oh-so-humorous experience at the farmer’s market where a couple will walk up, see $4/pound on potatoes, and say something like, ‘Geez, I should be a farmer- I’d be rich’. How do we respond to that? Usually we laugh- or try to hide the laugh, and explain that our farm has yet to have a profitable year.  Or explain the whole government subsidy dilemma. Or that stores like Wal-Mart often offer produce as a complete loss, because those cheap prices drive the sales on laundry soap, diapers, or vacuum cleaners. Check out the graph below.

(Thx: Fast Food News)

Interesting, isn’t it? Those things we need to eat in order to be healthy, productive members of society aren’t supported. Those things that we should avoid (sugar), get more than 10% of the funds.  I would also love to see a graph showing government dollars going towards conventional food vs. organic food, but that’s for another day.

When I ordered seed this winter, prices were up. Seeds that cost $3 last year cost $4 or more. Seeds that cost $28/pound were more like $35/pound or more. Fertilizer has also gone up. Fuel surcharges are now on most everything we need shipped in. But even with that, we are trying to hold prices steady. We charged $4 for kale, chard, and arugula the last 2 years, and $5 a bag for lettuce and spinach. This year, we are trying to do the same. Others have gone up $.75 a bag, because of the increases in expenses.

Strawberry season? I saw them at the grocery store for $1.98 a quart. Conventional and sprayed, but cheap! Ours? $5 a pint, and we sell out. I know, ouch. But, we’ve been hand working those strawberries all winter. We doubled the size of the patch by transplanting the runners. We mulched them with hay to winterize them. We fed them. Three times. I’ve weeded them. Shannen has weeded them. Shannen has weeded them again. I pick daily, so they are picked right, and don’t have to ripen with chemicals applied.  We applied peat moss, because they love it. And we hope to keep this patch healthy and productive for the next 30 years. Did you know conventional, thousand acre strawberry farms tear out their strawberry plants every year, pick up and throw away last year’s plastic, put down more plastic, sterilize the soil, and replant with a machine while also spraying with a fungicide and pesticide? And then spray them all season long, whether there are any problems or not? And then sell them to grocery stores, who then turn around and sell them for the same price or less, because they are such a ‘happy fruit’ that when a shopper picks them up, because “they’re so cheap!” -they then purchase even more (but look how much we saved on the strawberries, honey!). Strawberries have a prominent spot on the dirty dozen list- if you eat nothing else organic- eat organic strawberries.

Well, obviously this is a tender subject to me. And we are trying to hold prices down as much as we can. But, by golly, I would love to make minimum wage this year! And THAT is my goal. As always, thanks for listening!  And yes!  We’re picking strawberries!

Free Vitamin D! All you can use!

Well, as my Dad says, nothing in life is free.  And I think he’s probably right.  It was a catchy title, and I had to run with it.  We’d love to see a few volunteers around the farm- learn a little farming, get a little dirt under your nails, soak up some sun, listen to the birds chirp, pull a weed- or a thousand… any takers?  I can give you a sitting job, a squatting task, and walking errand, a data entry position, a veggie washing degree, or even a lesson in the fine art of flower picking.  You could be a seed poker, a weed puller, a transplant planter, a hay mulcher, or a radish plucker.

Speaking of radishes, I pulled 800 yesterday.  That should be enough.  They’re really good right now- crisp, flavorful, but not hot, and the perfect size.

All CSA’s kick in this week- and Saturday is Brookside Market, so of course something has to happen put a wrinkle in the schedule.  The water line broke.  Jim started digging, and the kids were so excited that we would have a ‘fountain’ in the backyard, but no fountain- just bubbling mud.  Tomorrow he will rent a backhoe gizmo (that’s a technical term) to dig up the backyard.  We suspect the huge-a-mongous elm with the gigantic root system that is shading the backyard may be the culprit, and therefore may lose a few of its roots.  The horticulturist in me crindges, but there may be no other option.  We shall see.  When I worked in Virginia, I knew of a historically-significant magnolia tree that was in the way of the electric company.  The tree had its own caretaker.  He hand dug a path under the roots of the tree, laying wet burlap on the roots to protect it, and immediately covering it all back up when they were done.  The tree died 7 years later, which is about the time it takes for root trauma to have an effect on large trees.  My huge elm may not even care- elms are just that cantankerous and stubborn.

Speaking of cantankerous… well that’s another subject, for another day.  Market members- see you Saturday- CSA members- see you Wed/Thur/Sat.  If you are viewing this page and pondering joining our great veggie adventure- I wouldn’t wait toooooo much longer….

 

Still a few CSA Openings… BUT Filling up Fast…

Just a quick blog today… planted 600 head of lettuce yesterday AFTER the rain passed through- one little poke into the soggy soil and then the next… and then the next… thank goodness for raised beds and pathways with mulch.  Also planted broccoli and cabbage outside, finally. Maybe today I’ll take a break from office stuff to go plant a few thousand more…

LOTS of interest about the farm at the Expo in Shawnee last weekend.  Oh-my-goodnes-couldn’t-keep-up-with-the-questions-kind-of-crowd!  Sold out of asparagus in the first hour, went home with extra bags of spinach to munch on this week… yum yum.  We gained new CSA members also!  Great day. 

Is anyone available to help us set up at the Expo this Saturday at Penn Valley?  Anyone coming to the event?  We need a few people to help carry in plants and veggies- apparently, all the vendors have to use a 4×6 elevator, or the stairs to get in.  Yikes!  Setup is 8:30-9:30. 

Have a great day- Ami

EAT Local & Organic- it’s Expo Season once again!

Please make room in your calendar for one or both of the 14th Annual Exhibition of Farmers.  We will be there.. and hope to sign up a handful of CSA customers at each event- if you know someone who may be interested, and would like to come talk to us, forward the info to them, or please post these events on your Facebook.

We will be bringing some luscious food for you to purchase, as well.  I started picking a few things yesterday, and will get the rest picked today… bag it, weigh it, band it, label it, pack it, and chill it.  Got the walk-in cooler going again… ahhh… now it’s market season for sure!

The first event, this saturday, we hope to bring..asparagus, beets, turnips, carrots, wild garlic, spring green garlic, onions, arugula, pac choi, head lettuce, cut lettuce, swiss chard, kale, tulips, radishes, saute mix, spinach, salad mix with edible flowers & buds, and microgreens.  We also will bring a smattering of transplants for your garden including herbs, veggies and flowers.  More produce this year, and fewer transplants- it’s all got to fit on the truck!

**Saturday, March 31st, at the Shawnee (KS) Civic Center, 9am-2pm Johnson Dr and Pflumm Rd (13817 Johnson Drive), just North of Shawnee Mission Parkway
**Saturday, April 7th, at MCC Penn Valley Gymnasium (KCMO) 9:30-2:30 at 3201 Southwest Traficway (no left turn East from Southbound SW Trfwy- use Broadway from Southbound I-35.  Use the visitor parking lot. 

Hope to see you there! 

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Aphids Attack!

So, everyone has been saying, ‘aren’t you afraid this warm winter and early spring is going to make the bugs a really big issue?” 

Let me just say, THE BUGS ARE A REALLY BIG ISSUE.  Ahem.  Sorry for yelling.  Actually, I should amend that by saying, THE BUGS ARE A REALLY BIG ISSUE, ESPECIALLY IF YOU GROW CONVENTIONALLY. 

We live in a world of bugs.  Sorry about that, you bug-a-phobes.  But, rest assured, most of them are good guys.  Somewhere between 2% and 10% of the bugs out there are pests to humans, or the food we eat (I’ve heard several numbers- not sure who is right).  That leaves 90-98% as the good guys.  Insects fighting in OUR corner.  I am adamently opposed to spraying stuff that kills all those good guys. 

Can I tell you a story?

Let’s suppose we see bad bugs in the garden- oh say a zillion billion quadrillion aphids descending on a high tunnel filled with ready-to-pick greens at Red Ridge Farms.  First of all, Farmer Ami was a little slow to respond.  That was a mistake that cost her a couple of days.  But then SHE SPRUNG INTO ACTION!  First, she cut off all the harvestable greens, gave them a good wash and sent them off to St. Andrews (thank you volunteers!  You were amazing! 160 pounds of delicious produce saved in the nick of time and fed to the hungry!).  Then she blasts the plants with a good jet of water, washing a lot of the little soft bodied insects away.    Next is a good honest feeding of Emerald Earth microorganisms and fish emulsion (farmer Ami needs a shower).  And lastly, a wonderful package comes in the mail, filled with ladybugs, green lace wings, and praying mantis eggs.  Voila!  Clean produce, ready for market one week later!  Not a toxic chemical in site.  And the beauty of it all, the beneficial bugs will stick around and keep munching on the bad guys – all summer long.  Now that’s a systemic program, where the good guys do all the work.  Farmer Ami can kick back, catch some rays, play tag in the sun, and drink something cool in the shade… oh wait… sorry-  Farmer Ami’s gotta go plant the broccoli…

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Another great member of the bug patrol

 

Need a nap? Go eat some lettuce!

Now that's a really big salad!

How much lettuce do you eat during a year?  You might be surprised.  How does 36 pounds sound?  That’s a lot of salads!  The picture above, shows about 15 pounds of lettuce.  We grow 32 varieties of lettuce and plant them a total of 57 times to account for weather conditions and to spread the harvest out over as long of a season as possible.

Have you ever noticed that milky latex sap in lettuce?  That sap contains a mild analgesic and sedative called lactucarium.  Lactucarium, while NOT a narcotic, delivers a mild opium like feeling and can help you fall asleep, or even relieve pain.  So remember the humble salad when you need to relax or fall asleep!

We grow one variety of iceberg lettuce, and 31 varieties of other 4 other types:  Romaine or cos, loose-leaf, butterhead and crisphead.  There is another type, called stem lettuce, but it is bitter, and we don’t grow it.  I have met very few people who desire the bitter types of lettuce!

I used to work at Powell Gardens, and we would use lettuce decoratively in amongst our spring annuals, such as violas, pansies, and snapdragons.  The different colored foliage really set off the flower colors, and helped us create unique patterns.  You can do this in your own home garden by planting your favorite spring flowers, and sprinkling lettuce seed around them to enhance the design you have created.  A very cheap (and delicious!) way to fill the front flower garden!  You can eat those pansy blossoms also- as long as they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides.

I am thinking about lettuce today, because I was just munching on the little baby lettuce transplants in the greenhouse (oh- the perks of having a greenhouse in your back yard!).  Not sure if I can trust Mother Nature enough to plant them outside yet- that little snow storm this morning reminds me to slow down and let spring happen in its own time.  I’ve planted a lot of seed outside, but the plants in the greenhouse have had a ‘Rolls Royce’ start to the season, and can’t handle huge temperature swings.  It was 72 degrees outside yesterday, 99 degrees in the high tunnel (had to open it up to get that heat out of there) and today it’s snowing.  Gotta love Missouri!

It’s been so warm in the high tunnels that my first crops of spinach and arugula are trying to bolt (go to seed).  So, St. Andrews is coming out Monday to ‘glean’ these early crops for donating to food kitchens.  I’m hoping there’s at least 50 pounds of greens for them- we’ll see.

Back to lettuce- we sow a lot of seed directly outside- especially if we are going to cut it for leaf lettuce.  There are about 25,000 seeds per ounce, so the seed is tiny- and we tend to sow it thickly when we direct sow.  If I want individual heads, then I usually start it in the greenhouse so I can transplant out the little baby lettuce plants one at a time and give them more spacing.

I guess I should go take the soils’ temperature before I start planting- the soil needs to be at least 40 degrees F for lettuce.  With as warm as it has been- it might be there.  And with a little row cover, the lettuce may take off just fine.

On another note- we’ve been featured in a local paper here in Oak Grove- the Focus.  We have already gotten enough calls that we are looking at adding 2 new delivery points- one in Oak Grove, and another in Bates City.  That is exciting- we really want to feed our local community, and it looks like that may begin to happen.  They wrote a really nice article about us- but it isn’t available online, I’m going to check and see if I can get an online copy to post on this website, otherwise, I’ll show you all a copy when we start pickups in April  Have a great day and enjoy the snow… ooops- it’s already gone! As always, thanks for reading- and go eat a bowl of lettuce! -Ami

Spinach… Super Food or Super Bad?

We all know spinach is good for us, right? Well… it depends.

• Spinach is rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It has very few calories (7 calories and 0 g of fat per cup), provides few carbs, and 1 gram of fiber.

• Baby spinach and mature spinach provide the same benefits, and both are readily available in most grocery stores.

• Even more benefits abound: a serving of raw spinach provides 56% of your vitamin A, and contains good amounts of vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, folate, vitamin E, potassium, vitamin B6 and B12. Spinach provides 14 percent of the RDA for vitamin C, 3 percent of calcium and 5 percent of iron.

• It also offers the trace minerals selenium, copper and zinc.

• Would you like me to continue? Okay, spinach is full of phytonutrients (stuff that fights against inflammation) such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which help with eyesight and protecting your body from illness and chronic disease.

This is where it gets interesting. Spinach is one of the “dirty dozen” listed by the Environmental Working Group. These are the items with the heaviest toxic chemical load. Please search out organic versions of ANYTHING on this list. How much contamination do you think is okay?

• The EWG found nine different chemicals present in conventional spinach. Eighth on the list out of 12, it was found to be one of the most commonly tainted crops. Some of the pesticides used on spinach are the most powerful toxins available or approved in the United States for food crops.

• The FDA has conducted similar tests and has found that 83% of conventionally grown spinach tested positive for dangerous levels of some of the 36 chemical pesticides commonly used to grow it. If the spinach comes from other countries- the number goes up- 57 pesticides have been found.

• Many of these chemicals are carcinogens. Dr. Sears (www.askdrsears.com) emphasis the benefits of spinach- calling a salad that includes it an ‘anti-cancer’ salad. Does anyone see the irony here? Spray cancer fighting spinach with cancer causing chemicals, wait for the rain and time to dissipate the levels to ‘acceptable’ and then feed it to the masses?

• And then they wash it. And contamination spreads. And they add sanitizers to the water to prevent contamination from spreading. And mostly it works. Except for the stories you hear on the news about bacteria outbreaks.

Okay, I’ll get off that soap box. I just want people to know what they are putting on the dinner table in the name of health.

And now for the GOOD NEWS! Red Ridge Farms spinach … JUST PLAIN GOOD FOR YOU.

• zero pesticides,

• zero chemical fertilizers,

• and zero chemicals in our wash water, wait… what wash water?

We grow our spinach in thick rows 36” wide. Plants are so tight, we don’t have to worry about weeds (ergo- no need for herbicides). We cover our spinach with a light weight blanket that allows sun and moisture through (ergo- most bugs can’t find the spinach- no need for insecticides). We harvest when temperatures are cool to preserve the crisp foliage, and immediately bag it for you. We do not wash it (no sanitizers, and no spreading of any contaminants). Our eaters (that means you) wash it right before eating, and the leaves stay crisp and fresh. Our spinach usually lasts 2 weeks in the fridge BECAUSE we don’t wash it ahead of time.

Please folks, take responsibility for what you feed those you love. We buckle our seat belts, right? We put fire detectors in our houses, right? How important is the food that fuels our lives? Don’t take my word for it, though. Do your own research, and take responsibility for your health. As always, thanks for reading- have a great and BLESSED day.

Snow Dreams of Spring Veggies

…veggie stuff at the bottom of the post… first is kid stuff… scroll down if you want to skip the kid stuff…

Do you have cabin fever?  Ha.  First snow day of the year.  Andrew is so excited.  And not for the reasons you would think.  We bought a bunch of discounted fireworks last summer after July 4th, and because of the drought, we weren’t able to shoot them off- much to Andrew’s dismay.  He woke up this morning, saw the snow, and announced “Fireworks today!”  Snowman AND fireworks- doesn’t get much better than that.

Andrew helped me make cookies yesterday while his sister made a wood carving.  I found her at her desk poking at a stick with a bobby pin.  I watched her for a little while, and she said she wanted to make the stick beautiful- was trying to get the bark off.    I found a handful of non-sharp tools that might be better then a hair accessory, and she got to work with a butter knife, and a handful of screw drivers of different sizes.  Her dad contributed a piece of sand paper, and she was happy as can be for 90 minutes, making that stick beautiful.  And it was.  Now we need to find a fitting way to display this latest gallery piece.

I asked Anna last night at dinner what she wanted to be when she grew up.  Without a thought she said, “I want my own farm and I’m going to plant stuff”.  What a kid.  Warms the heart right up.  Of course, she also mentioned being a doctor, pet vet and a chef (so that when you eat out, Mom, you can come to my ‘resta-not’).

According to recent surveys, farmers are less than 1% of the population, but 1/3 of them are women.  Huh.  Go ladies go.

Back to the cabin fever.  Do you want some fresh veggies?  We will be at Waldo’s indoor market (www.wholesomewaldowednesdays.org) Wednesday from 2-6pm.  Come on out!  We will have spinach, kale, chard, arugula, sweet potatoes, green onions, perhaps some cabbage, lettuce and microgreens.  Come pick up some veggies and then peruse our recipes for a new dish or two.  My faithful web sidekick Shannen has been very busy entering mouth watering recipes on our website, and now the produce is kicking in so you can sample them.  She’s working her way down the alphabet, so not everything has a recipe option yet, but they are coming!

Next, and last for today, please come find us at the Badseed Market this Saturday for the CSA Open House.  If you, or someone you know, is looking for more information on CSA’s, or want to check out some of the other producers (i.e. meat, cheese, and egg venders), come visit Saturday from 10-2pm.  There will probably be some incentives for those signing up that day… I hope to bring some fresh veggies to share with anyone who leaves a contract with us.  There will also be a raffle- winner gets a discount off a CSA membership.  More info?  www.kc-csac.org.  This is a great event- lots of conversations happening all around the room, lots of local eaters finding great local farmers.

CSA count… we are up to 20- which is FABULOUS for this early in the game.  We may just fill up!  Have a great day and thanks for reading.  -Ami

Spring Production is underway in the greenhouse