Our Biggest Challenge

Today I saw a woman carrying a reusable shopping bag with the phrase “Locally Grown” on the outside.  As I watched her purchase her produce from a competitor and fill her bag, I realized my challenge. Our biggest challenge is not fighting the unseasonably cool weather, the need to water, finding the time to get chores done (weeding, watering, harvest, packaging).  Our biggest challenge is educating the customers on local food.

The market that we are selling at this year has several other produce vendors.  Most of these vendors do not grow their own produce.  Others grow some of what they sell, but bring in other produce to round out their offerings.  As I look at some of their booths, I see “grocery store produce.”  A lot of customers probably see beautiful colors and great variety.  But I see perfection gained through chemicals and pesticides, I see out of season produce that was shipped in from other states.  Unfortunately, a large number of customers at the farmer’s market think that because a vendor is there, he must be farming it himself, or that the produce is somehow fresher than the grocery store.

There are customers that we have gained at the market through our story.  They understand the difference and once you know the difference between the mass market grocery store produce and locally grown, you can tell the difference.  Everything on our table was produced by us.  Another competitor who does grow his own has a sign that says, “Where was it grown?  Who grew it?”  Those are important questions.  If the guy behind the table can’t tell you he grew it himself and where he is growing it, then what’s the difference between that tomato and one at the grocery store?

We’ve been able to gain some regular customers, and I would say that the regulars that buy from us know the importance of buying local, and they know what local means.

Update

So much has been going on, much that I want to post about, but I’ve been almost too busy to post it.  I have noticed a similar trend with many of the other agrarian blogs that I follow.  But this is the time of year that one must make haste.  When the weather is right, you’ve got to be taking advantage of it.  Make hay while the sun shines!

I have gotten my spud barrel constructed (drilling holes in the bottom of a trash can only takes about 5 minutes – and half of that is getting the drill and bit).  The spuds have been planted and I am awaiting emergence.  This year I will be growing Yukon Gold potatoes.  As I mentioned before, I’ve never used the spud barrel approach, so I am looking forward to reporting on how well it works.  Interestingly, I haven’t really seen much in the way of how many potato pieces one should plant in there.  I went with four good ones.

I got one of these mini-greenhouse kitson clearance at my local farm store.  I think it will work well for my seed starts.  It is kind of unstable though, so I used pieces of 3/4″ pvc pipe to seat the legs in.  I marked the ground with the assembled greenhouse, then drove the pvc into the ground, and replaced the greenhouse, setting the legs inside the pvc.  This allowed me to get the bottom shelf off the ground and be a little more stable.

Saturday was the first day I could direct seed.  I had opportunity to try out my new (well, new to me – I bought it used) BCS tiller.  It worked like a dream!  I love it!  I also got a great new rake this year.  It is similar to one that is available at Johnny’s, but like the greenhouse, I got it cheap at the farm store.  Between the BCS and the rake, my seed beds were a dream for my (also new) Earthway seeder.  Planting went so well compared to previous years.  I am looking forward to more planting, which should happen tomorrow and Saturday.  The new tools are doing their job.

I have lined up a Saturday farmer’s market for sure.  We also have a friend that may add our produce to his stand at another market, so we expect to have good market exposure.  There is additionally a Sunday market that we can do on an as needed basis if we have produce to move.  Now, Lord willing, our growing will keep up with demand and vice versa.

That’s all for now.

Weather set-backs, and other updates

The crazy weather has been frustrating this year.  We went from working outside in short sleeves, to 4 inches of snow, to just plain cold and wet.  I have been trying to get some outside projects done and some planting started, but weather and available time have not been too cooperative.

Last weekend, I managed to complete a new planter for my strawberries.  The planter (I’ll post photos soon) is a design I had been wanting to try for some time.  It is essentially a pyramid shaped planter.  I had seen it in a book I checked out from my local library a year ago called Classic Garden Structures : 18 Elegant Projects to Enhance Your Garden.  (There are a lot of great projects in this book, by the way.  I highly recommend it.  Check your library if you are frugal like me, or get it from Amazon.com.)  The basic design was also in a newsletter from RunnerDuck.com.  (You can view the planter and project here.)  The root stock for my strawberries is waiting patiently (I hope) to be planted.  Hopefully I will have some cooperative weather.

Last night I planted rootstock for raspberries.  I am hoping these will take and do well.  I had planned on getting raspberries the last two seasons, but somehow never got around to it.  This year we are starting with 1 year canes.

Seed starting has been a little slow this year as well.  But with planting time right around the corner, I feel I had better get cracking!  Weather permiting, we will be able to access the first of our garden plots April 15th so I expect to begin direct seeding soon as well.

A Major Loss

If you read agrarian blogs at all, no doubt you are familiar with Herrick Kimball.  For the past few years, Herrick has published a blog called “The Deliberate Agrarian.”

On April 2, Herrick posted that he will no longer be updating his blog.  This is a big loss for me, and no doubt for many others like me.  I thoroughly enjoyed Herrick’s blog.  He is an excellent writer, but an even better story-teller.  His essays would teach and entertain, and would provoke one to ponder many things – economics, theology, faith, and life.

I had suspected for some time that Herrick would draw things to a close.  Over the past year, he had posted a few times that he was taking a break from blogging.  This is quite understandable as there are other things that take precedence, such as raising a family, tending your land, and work.

If you enjoyed Herrick’s blog and have not purchased his book, “Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian” I would strongly suggest that you do.  You can buy it from Amazon, and other places, but why not buy it directly from the author.  Herrick signs every book (at least he used to), and frankly I felt more connected to the man by contacting him directly for my purchase.  When I bought and read the book, I enjoyed it so much that I returned to buy more copies to loan out to friends.  It says a lot about a book when you have trouble getting those copies back.

I have most of his other books as well.  Check out his Whizbang Books site for his other books.  I definitely recommend the Whizbang Garden Cart plan book.  Not everyone needs a chicken plucker or wants to grow garlic, but EVERYONE can use a Whizbang Garden Cart.

Herrick, I want you to know that I have been richly blessed by your blog and I will miss your regular updates and essays.  I enjoyed your real-world wisdom and your homespun humor.  I learned a lot about you, about faith and agrarianism, and I also learned much about myself.  My heartfelt thanks to you for taking the time to share a slice of your life with so many of us.  May God richly bless you and your family as you continue on your agrarian journey.

Earthway Precision Seeder

My Earthway seeder arrived today.  I was excited to assemble it.  However, the ground is still to cold to be direct seeding yet, so I will have to wait (patiently) to try it out.

Homesteading

If you are anything like me, you have aspirations of moving to fully sustainable living on your homestead.  Perhaps you are there already.  As I have written elsewhere, even if you are not at that point, you don’t need to wait to begin adjusting your lifestyle appropriately.  You can start today with adjusting your financial decisions, changing what you eat (and where you get it), growing and storing more of your own food, and countless other ways.

There are some very good resources on the Internet to give you some ideas to assist in your transition (or if you are already living sustainably, you might also find some new ideas).

Get Rich Slowly – a blog by J.D. Roth, noted by Money Magazine as most inspiring money blog, is a blog that I read regularly.  With lots of ideas about frugal living, Mr. Roth also has a great article titled An Introduction to Homesteading.  He has some great ideas you can implement.

Homesteading isn’t something that can be done only in rural areas; even urban dwellers can benefit from simple self-sufficient activities:

  • Buy food stuff in bulk or on sale and preserve them by canning, freezing or drying.
  • Purchase a layer (standard-size chicken or bantam) for eggs and/or meat. Many cities allow you to have a chicken or two.
  • Container garden and create a neighborhood co-op, bartering different vegetables with one another.

The Modern Homestead – a blog by Harvey Ussery.  Excellent articles on homesteading!

Growing Potatoes in a Spud Barrel

This year, I plan to test out the “Spud Barrel” method of growing potatoes.  If you have never heard of a spud barrel, this is essentially a process of growing potatoes in a barrel (or trash can, a stack of old tires, or some other type of cylindrical object) and filling it with new soil as the potato plant grows higher.  Once the growing process is complete, you tip it over and – VOILA! – you are rewarded for your efforts with pound upon pound of potatoes.  Or so I’m told.

I haven’t tried this method before, but I have considered it.  I seems entirely reasonable and considering my limited growing space, I like the idea of using containers that I can place pretty much anywhere.

If you have limited space, don’t want to give up garden area for potatoes, or if you just like trying new ideas, the “Spud Barrel” might be something you’d like to try, too.

An excellent description of the process can be found here: http://www.weidners.com/spud_Barrel.htm

Mother Earth News has a good article on how to grow potates in a barrel as well: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/1980-03-01/Taters-in-a-Barrel.aspx

I’ll report on the spud barrel as the project progresses.

Planning Ahead for Preserving

It seems like it would be putting the cart before the horse to think about canning already.  Really, there is still some snow on the ground around here.  However, I want to be “putting food by” this year so I need to be planning ahead of planting.  If I put some thought into what we would like to be eating next winter and how we will preserve that food, I should plan what that food will be (and how much) so I can plant appropriately.

I expect to improve my skills at freezing and dehydrating this year.  As for canning, I have never canned, so I can’t really improve skills I don’t have.  But we will be canning this year.  I didn’t put up any tomatoes last year even though I had a huge crop – and by huge, I mean WAY more than we could consume.  I regret not canning all of those tomatoes, especially in the middle of winter.

If you haven’t thought about canning, you should.  I think it is an important part of self-sufficiency.  It should help you reduce your reliance on the grocery store and what you spend there.  It is also a dying art.  I recall both of my grandmothers and my mother canning every year.  My parents had an enormous garden and we ate its bounty throughout the year.  But my wife does not can, nor was she taught this art by her mother; something that previous generations had passed on.  In fact, most of the women I know do not can, nor do they know how.  And why should they?  Food is plentiful at the store.

But what happens when the day comes that food is not plentiful at the store, or money is tight, or both?  Should you be relying on outside systems for your daily nutritional needs?  I would argue that it is just plain foolhardy to put off learning any longer.

I will be picking up a copy of the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, considered the Bible of preserving by some (or most?).  I was also considering a copy of Putting Food By by Janet Greene.

If you are looking for more information on preserving, canning, freezing, and dehydrating, definitely check out Ball’s site freshpreserving.com.  It has a lot of information, resources, recipes, ideas, and also some crafts.

And if you intend to can this year, start thinking about what you will be preserving.  You’ll need to plan your planting accordingly.

Jerry Apps

I recently discovered author Jerry Apps. 

I very much enjoy reading stories of rural life and agrarian living such as “The Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian” by Herrick Kimball.  I also follow Herrick’s blog on a regular basis.  Both of these are highly recommended, if you haven’t already read them, but that is getting away from the subject of my post.

Herrick recently posted a review of Jerry’s book “Every Farm Tells a Story.” What really caught my eye was that Apps grew up on a farm in Central Wisconsin.  Doing a little research, I found that to be just west of where I grew up.

Being somewhat frugal, my first inclination was to see what the library had.  Neither of the two libraries to which I belong had “Every Farm Tells a Story.”  But they did have his new fiction novel, “In a Pickle.”  That was an enjoyable read.

Set in the mid 1950s, the conflict centers on the struggle of the small, diversified family farm trying to stay afloat at a time that farmers were told to “get big, or get out.”  It’s not a perfect story, but nonetheless, it is a worthwhile read with a significant message about the death of the family farm.

Deciding on a precision seeder

Earthway Precision Seeder

This year, I intend to use a garden seeder to assist with planting.  I have spent a great deal of time deciding on what seeder to use.  In fact, I’ve put this decision off for at least the past year as I could not make a decision.  Since the cost of even the simplest seeder is a decent size outlay, I wanted to be sure that I would be satisfied with my purchase.

I have finally settled on the Earthway 1001-B Precision Garden Seeder
(pictured at right).  I have heard both good and bad about this seeder, but one thing seems certain – that even people using other seeders have an Earthway as well.  For around a hundred bucks, I thought even if I don’t like it, I’m not out a huge pile of cash.  I like the versatility of the various seed plates and I think that even if I don’t continue using it for planting things with smaller seeds, I probably will continue to use it for larger seeds like beans or peas.

Some of the other seeders under consideration were quite a bit more expensive, so I thought that the Earthway was a good place to start.  I may try one of the others at a later time.

One was Johnny’s Seeds Six-Row Seeder.  I expect to increase my leafy green production and I thought this would work well.  The biggest problem was two-fold.  First, there are mixed reviews on the web.  Some people love it, others absolutely hate it.  At $549, I just don’t want to work with the possibility that I might hate it.

The other type that I considered was like the European Push Seeder (also available from Johnny’s).  There are others available that work on the same principle, such as the Planet Jr.  This type seems to be the most reliable.  However, it’s principle is similar to the Earthway with a bigger outlay.

I think I am going to work with the Earthway for now and consider one (or both) of these other types next year.  If you have any personal experience with any of these units, feel free to comment.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on these.