growing garlic

New web and blog location!!

Hey all,

The loonatics blog has moved to a very convenient and centrally located spot: our new website on Wordpress! We're already blogging over there and loving it. So come on over and check out the website while you are there. We added some great new photos of the farm from last season, and in general it is just a spiffy upgrade.

growing garlic

Winter is blowing in

But you would never know it from our greenhouse...

We are doing a trial of growing fall/winter spinach and tatsoi in our unheated greenhouse. This was planted the Monday of Labor Day weekend...I think that was the 1st week of September. Normally, the baby spinach maturation time is around 35-40 days. Due to the decreased fall heat units and significant loss of sunlight hours, it took nearly three times as long to mature. It was not big enough to harvest while our regular CSA was still going on, and was still quite miniature sized on November 7th for our farm "Thanksgiving" CSA box. With the warm and sunny November we had though, it quickly sized up and we harvested for our winter CSA box on November 21. Fresh greens are a wonderful treat right now and we're lucky we get to daily sample our "investigation". It will be interesting to see how the greens hold over in the coming colder months.

Last minute outdoor winterizing projects are nearly completed. Nearly every machine on the farm is getting a fall tune-up and oil change. Here's the downside (and cost) of having so many machines and tractors. Lots of repairs and maintenance. Believe it or not, Adam has a docket of projects and repairs to last many a winter. The "farming" continues, just in a behind-the-scenes way.

We're in a good spot for Spring preparations though. Much better compared to last year, when we missed the fall plowing window and were just getting acquainted with our surroundings. The planning for next season has already begun--most of the seed catalogs have already arrived and we're poring over them. There's a couple new varieties of golden beets that we're really excited about--golden beets are very popular at our farmers market and with some CSA members, due to their color and less intense "beety" flavor. Unfortunately, previous varieties have been horrible germinators with poor yields of high-quality beets. We take beets pretty seriously, so some new golden beet options is a cause for celebration indeed! We grew a Lutz golden beet last year that was generally better, but it got ridiculously huge. Although the texture and flavor was still good, it was a freak of a beet. I mean that in the most glorious way. But a little unwieldy for CSA boxes. Our workshare, Kevin, shows off one of the bigger ones.

growing garlic

In the shadow of machines

Finally the weather we have been waiting for all October! Sunshine, moderately warm temperatures, a little wind, and no rain for over a week! It helped dry out the fields, at least most of them, and we were able to get all the garlic in yesterday! We used the electric tractor home-made transplantor and it, again, saved us so much time and back aches. $100 for the transplanter parts was never so well-spent. A little chain dragged behind the transplantor, evening out the soil and covering the cloves with inches of soil. We approximated that 5,000 cloves were planted. Sounds like a ridiculous amount, but considering that we are growing our own "seed" to re-plant next fall we need all the garlic we can get.

The wet soil conditions here (I believe we are one of the wettest regions of the state) have not allowed us to use our bed lifter or potato digger to get the last of the fall crops out of the field. We ended up digging all the rest of our potatoes by hand (500 pounds), along with several hundred pounds of rutabagas, celeriac, and there are still hundreds of pounds of carrots to go, as well as a hundred or so pounds of beets. Some of this will go into an additional CSA "Thanksgiving" box being delivered to Minneapolis on Nov. 21. Some will go in our root cellar to get us through the winter.

The neighboring row crop farmers have finally gotten in their fields surrounding us this week, and we are glad for them. There are surreal moments though: to be hand-pulling carrots, hear the loud engine of a 300-HP engine merely 20 feet behind you on the road pulling the largest chisel plow you've ever seen. So big are these machines that they barely fit on the road. The combines actually don't fit and they have a truck and trailer behind with the combine arms. Semis follow suit to carry all the thousands upon thousands of tons of soybeans. Surely they are GMO seeds, surely they are Monsanto's. One big monopoly playing out on the landscape. We sit in the carrot bed, in awe of the "other side" of agriculture. You can hear the whir of the tractor engines coming from every direction and in every turn of the head, there is another tractor out of the corner of your eye. Sometimes with a bit of anhydrous ammonia smoke coming up from where the chisel blades meet the soil. We're really on opposite sides of the agricultural spectrum. And yet, we are both called "farmers" and we wave every time they drive pass with a rueful smile. It's an illustrative reminder of how different we do things. We see the bobbing lights moving in the field as we go to bed and wake up with the field freshly plowed across the street. We didn't even see it happen.

If you are belong to the Facebook universe, you can now be a "fan" of Loon Organics! Just search for Loon Organics Farm and you'll find us, complete with photos of the farm. It's a great forum for customers, friends, and CSA members to talk about all things food, recipe, and agriculture related!
growing garlic

Waiting Patiently, Eating our Brussels Sprouts

Just over a month ago, in mid-September, we were still living the sunlit, summer splendor of green cover crops and green vegetable crops.  In this field, we had a fall buckwheat cover crop to help us squelch out some of the insistent weed populations.  Between the buckwheat, we grew a trial of fall head lettuce.  Fall head lettuce was a new one for us--we usually do several big successions in Spring and early Summer, but it is such a popular crop that we felt like we should at least try in the fall. 

Transplants were started in early August in the greenhouse (shading flats that were seeded otherwise the lettuce seed won't germinate if the soil temps are much above 80 degrees).  Transplants were placed in the field in late August.  Cool weather and rain in August certainly helped the crop along.  We did notice though that the Romaine and Butter varieties of lettuce performed much better than Leaf lettuce and some of the heirloom varieties, such as Deer Tongue.

Now the buckwheat is mowed (before it went to seed), the lettuce is gone, the hoophouse is sitting empty on the edge of this field, and we too sit waiting to get into wet, saturated fields.  Hopefully garlic will be in the soil by Thanksgiving and the remaining potatoes, carrots, beets, rutabagas, brussels are out of the soil! 

Brussels on the Stem:

growing garlic

Snow in Early October!

This is early even for Minnesota.  First dusting was on 10/10, then we got this snow on 10/12.  3 inches total.  Digging carrots in the snow for our Monday CSA boxes was a first.

This wasn't even the worst though. Earlier that weekend it got down to 19 degrees on Friday night.  We still had quite a bit of product in the field and were unsure what prolonged freezing would do to even the hearty crops, such as kale, brussels sprouts, leeks and spinach.  We also had a lot of cauliflower and a fair amount of broccoli left too.  We harvested as much as we could fit in our cooler and hoped for the best.  All the winter squash got out, the big leeks, some brussels sprouts (just in case), peppers, herbs, greentop beets, and romanesco.

A week or so later, the mature broccoli was too damaged to harvest and the small broccoli looked ok, but had somewhat of a mealy texture.  That all got disced.  Some tiny little heads of cauliflower, although frozen solid for over 24 hours, still look and taste fine.  They are just ridiculously tiny.  The texture may be a little off too--it's hard for me to tell as I'm being super critical knowing what it went through.  It's a shame to lose perfectly fine product to a very early cold snap, especially when our August was so cool and the crops weren't ripening as fast as expected.  Such is farming.  This year in particular, the weather threw us some crazy curveballs.  Most certainly the weather is our most formidable challenge as farmers and I suspect that these challenges will only heighten in the future.  Diversity of crops and hoophouses proved extremely useful to us this year, although the hoophouse didn't help keep our tomatoes alive after the outside temp dropped below 28 degrees last Thursday.  Darn.  Having very healthy plants (due to healthy soil) also seems to help mitigate some weather-related stress: namely drought and frost this year.

Now we get back to our inside farm lives a bit.  Time to re-organize the office, hit the bookkeeping, evaluate, analyze, plan and market.  Oh yeah, and the harvest season isn't over yet either.  We still have the majority of our root crops in the ground, hoping it will dry out enough next week to get in and mechanically harvest.  There is also still a fair amount of field clean-up to do too--again, whenever it is dry enough to do fieldwork.  Not looking like it will dry out anytime soon--another spat of rain on the way for the rest of this week.  It will be Thanksgiving before we probably have everything wrapped up, and hopefully get our garlic planted too!!! 

All in all though, we had a successful year.  We were very pleased with the quality and quantity of our crops, especially once the drought broke in August.  It is always splendid to end the year on a good note, even if that note comes a bit earlier and colder than expected.  We built a great base to move forward on in the coming years.  Here's one thing we found: we can grow really great Brassicas on this farm.  Perfect since we came from a Brassica-loving farm and we too have special fondness for them.  Our cauliflowers were so big and beautiful it almost made me cry (especially when the frost got some of them...).  It was truly a pleasure to grow food for everyone this season.  If you contributed either through support, labor, eating, or just by reading here, thank ya very much.  We're looking forward to next season already (and some naps in between).  Beyond anything else, I've learned that to stay in this business, farmers must be optimists.  And we think next year will be our best one yet!

As one CSA member coined it: Cauliflowerzilla

growing garlic

CSA Box 14 & Wicked Press

Our week 14 box contents above.  This time of year we can barely fit all the produce in the boxes.  Chalkboard is not included with share.  That is our harvest guide for each day.  Monday is our 2nd busiest day of the week (after Friday).  We harvest 65+ CSA boxes and basically we need to have them done and packed by 3 p.m. when the farm members show up. 

We've gotten great press this year from a variety of people and places.  Young farmers are really hot right now.  I guess we got into this business at a good time.  If you want to hop on over to, you can read Loon Organics: A Youth Movement by Barth Anderson.  barthanderson is on livejournal too!  He also mentioned us in a great article called The Locavore's Dilemma in the Twin Cities co-op newspaper.  Gracias por todo Barth!

Do you want more?  All right.  How about edible flowers with descriptions of my favorite way to eat them, plus photos of the flowers themselves that were plucked from our own front-yard flower garden.  Pretty, tasty in Metro Magazine. 

Enough with the self-promotion.  That's all for tonight!

growing garlic

Plowing through August

I remarked in an e-mail to a farmer friend that I felt like August had swallowed me up and was slowly spitting me back out, little by little.  It happens every year.  I get to the end of August and I can barely remember what happened--it is a blur of harvests, of good eating, and exhaustion.  This time of the season can be when we reach our peak of tiredness as farmers.  Spring and early summer brings adrenaline and lots of daylight.  July bring anticipation of summer tomatoes, watermelons, corn and general enjoyment of summer.  Oh, and lots of hoeing, lest I forget.  August is harvest, harvest, harvest.  August is always insane at every farm I have worked at, including here.  The work is just constant and becomes repititive--many crops need daily harvesting in order to keep up.  The excitement of Sungold tomatoes has worn off and now become a dreaded job to do in a muggy, hot hoophouse with millions of mosquitoes.  Plus, we begin preserving for our own home use.  (See cuke pickles below!). 

By the time September hits, we take a big sigh of relief and then realize right about now, that we are not done yet!!!   There are still 217 watermelons to harvest on Tuesday morning and another 100 on Thursday.  The purple broccoli is coming in like gangbusters and we haven't even touched nearly 3 acres of other fall crops that have yet to be harvested, washed and packed.  Two interns are going back to school one day a week and we lost a couple Friday workshares.  It's too late in the season to train and hire more, so we all work longer and harder.  Ay yay yay.  It feels like the summer is going on for eternity, even though next week it could be 30 degrees.  The tiredness at this time of year is closer to exhaustion.  Even if we get 10 hours of sleep every night, we still wake up feeling tired.  It is a tiredness that you feel in your bones.  This is the peak of the season and it is an economically necessary time of the year, but we are looking forward to the end of September.  At least we are now able to take Sundays off, or at least most Sundays.   

Sounds grim, eh?  Then there is the other side.  The side of farming that keeps you happy, fulfilled, and sane.  Of gorgeous fog-filled mornings in the broccoli field watching the sunrise with a hot cup of coffee and a harvest tote at your side.  The overflowing panoply of rainbow colored tomatoes that please the eye and palate.  Testing (i.e. eating) too many watermelons while picking and doubling over in laughter nearly (I said nearly) peeing your pants at the face your co-worker is making.  Customers sending you thoughtful and heartfelt e-mails about their children eating kale or broccoli from our farm and loving it.  A teenage girl happily muching on a handful of chives in one hand and raspberries in the other.  A family struggling with illness that is grateful they found local, fresh and organic food that you grew!  This is the side of farming that is addictive.  The food, the outdoors, the people.  These are the things that make you think, "Why would we want to do anything else?" 

We've had a good run and it's not over yet.  Another four weeks of CSA boxes and then we truly will be in the homestretch.  Granted there is much to do after it is all over too.  I haven't touched my accounting books in well over a month, and we will start in on our seed order right away in November.  But, the pace will have relaxed and we will be shifting into a whole other mode.  What a difference a month will make!

Just take a gander to see what happens over the course of a few months in the hoophouse:

Winter early 2009

May 2009

Irrigating Greens May 2009

July 11 2009, Tomatoes (kudos to Emily Taylor for photo)

August 2009 photo, long view of hoophouse and field

And those cucumber pickles....

growing garlic

On the verge

All the summer crops are on the verge of ripening for us.  We are just waiting (like harvesting all the onions while we are waiting).  It is an interesting time in the maturity of the toms, melons, corn.  We are curious how long it will take for the hundreds of green tomatoes to start blushing.  They are getting a lighter green, and a hint of pink is below the skin on some.  Tried a watermelon last Sunday and it needed more time, but I think it is close.  The seeds were just turning from white to brown before getting their coating.  The insides were sweet, but needed more color and a bit more sugar.  The corn is filled out, but the kernels haven't turned color yet.  The peppers are beginning to get loaded, but they are still green green green.  We are thinking everything will begin to pop on Saturday.  If only it would happen Thursday night, then we could start the real harvest for market and for the Garlic Festival being held in Hutchinson on Saturday.

With 5 inches of rain last weekend (yes, the drought has broken!!) and 90 degree temps now, we are being reminded of what summer really feels like.  And also realizing that our long days are just beginning.  Now it will be a race of the calendar and the first frost.  If we have an early frost, we may have only a few weeks of tomato sales.  Even now, we are around three weeks behind on the tomatoes (even the tomatoes in our hoophouse were 3 weeks late!)  and sales at market have reflected that absence.  This is when the benefits of being primarily a CSA farmer really shines through.  If we were solely wholesale/farmers market farmer, a large chunk of our income would be reliant on the tomato sales that should have been coming in the last three weeks.  We would be financially hurting and very worried.  But with the CSA model, we have flexibility in what we give people since it is seasonal eating.  Sure technically this is the season that tomatoes are ripe, but with the 3rd coldest July on record this year, our season isn't quite ready to give us tomatoes.  Certainly our members may be disappointed (along with us) but we make it up by having really nice salad mixes, broccoli, potatoes, cukes, beans and other crops that are doing well in this weather, and finally in another week or so, we all will experience the tomato deluge.  Just another reminder why the CSA model is such a sustainable business model for small-scale organic vegetable farmers.  When some crops are late or paltry, many others are abundant and everyone is happy (we hope).  

Sometimes those crops are too abundant.  It's not a bad problem to have, but we've been picking cucumbers twice and three times a week and can't keep up.  Nearly 600 pounds of cukes per week off of around 600 feet of cukes.  We are all very tired of picking cucumbers.  They are starting to peter out, so we may get a break before the 2nd planting comes in.  In the meantime, anyone have any good cuke recipes?  We've done refrigerator pickles, cuke salsa, cuke salads with onion, tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic, and now juicing them.  Chilled cucumber soup is also on my list.  Cucumber mint popsicles maybe?       
growing garlic

(no subject)

I'm looking back on my last post 5 weeks ago, and noticing even then I was commenting on the drought and the cool weather.  The pattern has stuck and stuck bad.  Cool and dry.  It maybe saving us actually, rather than cool and wet or dry and hot.  At least, that's how I got to look at it to keep a good perspective.  So much happens on the farm now that it's hard to know even where to start or to finish.  We're now mainly into production and harvesting mode and Adam knocked out thousands of weeds the last few weeks through diligent tractor cultivation.  Irrigating is always on the top of the list.  The last significant rainfall may have been 5 weeks ago, or we could have gotten one rain in between there, but not more than a 1/2 inch.  I think we got a 1/4 inch last night, so it can still rain here, but I've not yet seen a summer thunderstorm on this farm and I am yearning hard for it!  No doubt it would release a lot of tension for us, to take a break from irrigating for a day, and also just to experience the deep earthy smell of rain and the sounds and sights of the sky.  The big line of thunderstorms passed just miles north of us today--we could see the lightning so close and feel a few spare raindrops fall.  But apparently, not yet.  Like I said, the cool weather is saving us, although not propelling crop growth forward like we would expect and desire.  But, the broccoli and head lettuce is still gorgeous, sweet, and tender!  We're still picking sugar snaps and we've had Asian and English cukes from the greenhouse for well over a month.  We also ate the first Sungold tomatoes from the hoophouse--Shhh! We may not have money, but we sure get to eat well. 

We are growing our own kale for the first time in our farming career and it's beautiful.  Coming from a farm that produced acres and acres of absolutely gorgeous and tasty kale, one of our personal measures of success is by the kind of kale we can grow.  And we're growing pretty nice kale, considering drought and cabbage loopers!  I don't think most of our CSA members give a hoot about kale, but we sure try to convince them of its charms.  Eventually, I say, you will be won over by its earthy, deep flavor, bountiful nutrients, and robust texture.  For us kale is maybe number 3 on our top five favorite foods, along with beets, fennel and blue cheese a close fourth.  We fiercely love eating kale and we may love growing it even more.  Those are closely intwined.  We just got an Eat More Kale bumper sticker for our car.  I am not ashamed of our kale love affair, in fact I relish it!  We prefer the Emerald Sesame Kale recipe with a dash of toasted sesame oil, some tamari, garlic on steamed kale.  But really, I'll take my kale anyway. 

Kale a few weeks back.  Lacinato variety.  My favorite.

growing garlic

(no subject)

The farm is a dynamic place right now.  Every day feels like we need multiple before and after photos since so much is getting done.  Having 5 people working here full-time (and 2 of those people working almost every waking hour) makes for lots of tangible results.  All of our main transplanting is done, with the exception of the winter squash (that'll be transplanted Tuesday) and a 2nd round of melons, cukes, brassicas.  Lots of successive direct seeding to be also done.

Finally a week ago we got rain.  Over an inch.  Now we are ready for some more!  We need rain like that at least every week or two to re-hydrate the soil and our irrigation pond. 

A workshare from last year took some photos last August, and I finally happened upon the disc of photos several months later.  There are some beautiful photos of our little market garden in Farmington, and made me miss that place and the feeling of that place.  Farming is so much about place.  We are so rooted in this little place of land, all day every day working, living, sweating, and yes, sometimes swearing.  Luckily, it's a beautiful little place here and where we were before as well.  We hope the past few weeks have been the busiest and most stressful of the whole season, even more so than August.  A snapshot of the myraid tasks: transplanting everything, tending to crops in 2 hoophouses, going to market for 12 hours on Saturdays, training new employees, building a new packshed, irrigating constantly, learning how to do payroll, doing that payroll, and yadda yadda yadda.  First CSA box harvested and packed yesterday and another 100 boxes to be packed and picked up this week.  We have a box heavy on greens, lettuces, and herbs, but it is nearly full and we feel like it's pretty good for the first box on a new farm in a droughty cold Spring.  

I intend to take some updated photos soon.  Most notably of the cucumbers in the greenhouse, flowering and producing 4 inch fruits already!  We will be eating English cukes on the farm next week and will hopefully plop them in the 2nd CSA box next week.  It's awesome to see them climb inches daily up the trellis.  

In the photo meantime, I leave you with some beautiful and nostalgic photos from last August.