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Archive for the ‘Growing’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: Goats Will Be Kids

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN LifeAs a farmer, one thing I’ve come to terms with is that goats will always have the upper hand. The sooner you accept this fact, the easier your life will be.

Take my Frannie, for instance. (Please, take her!)

No, not really. But sometimes, when I forget that goats are quicker, smarter, and have much more of a sense of humor than me, it feels like it would be a good idea to have a time-out space for Frannie. Last week I decided I’d take a day and bear down on goat foot care. Just trimming hooves, really. So, I grabbed my tool bucket and filled it with my trimmers, brushes, knives, iodine spray, tube of zinc ointment (something I swear by to keep things healthy), and a wad of paper towels. The herd was already out in the pasture for the day. It was sunny, a bit of a breeze—another perfect Maine end-of-summer day.

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Dollie was first in line. She was already lying down, and she’s such an easy girl to work with, I decided to just crouch down next to her and do the job. Dollie is what I would call the perfect goat. She has the most docile disposition, never argues with anybody, isn’t a food hog, is always gentle with the little ones, and chews with her mouth closed. (Not that I mind Frannie’s chewing, even though it’s “Katie bar the door!” on things flying out of her mouth in all directions while she munches away on her daily ration of grain. But I digress.)

Dollie came to me when she was a year and a half old from a herd where she had been bullied. I think having been on the receiving end is what makes her such a nice girl. I worked with her for four months when she first came, as she hadn’t been handled much and wasn’t interested in being touched. Now, she can’t get enough of it. Not in a demanding way. She’s just always so happy to have an extra pat or kiss on the top of her head or nose.

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We began the job with her front feet, with her lying calmly next to me while I worked. I had finished the major part of the trimming and was checking things over, getting out the iodine spray to give her a quick dusting, when I pulled the tube of zinc from the bucket. I keep the paper towels in the bucket so that when I finish with the zinc, I have something to wipe my hands on before moving on to the next hoof.

Suddenly, Frannie, who had—dare I say—sneaked up behind me, snatched the wad of towels and took off. She didn’t go far. Just out of reach. I yelled her name (yes, sometimes I do that in the case of Frannie) to no avail. She was munching as fast as she could, and by the time I got up off of my knees and started towards her, I realized it was hopeless. “Oh, well. It’s only paper,” I laughed to myself. At least, I think I was laughing.

I watch these girls chomp their way through brush and piles of hay every day, but I swear I’ve never seen a wad of paper towels inhaled before. I’ve never seen anything disappear so quickly. What was even more remarkable was the expression on Frannie’s face. She was grinning—or maybe it was a smirk.

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Since I still had 59 more feet to go, I decided to proceed without paper towels. I guess you could say, “Why didn’t you just take the goat you were working outside the fence and do the job?” But for me, the lesson is in taking things as they come. If I try to outsmart the girls, I usually end up with the short end of the stick. But I sure am having a lot of fun in the process. Goats are like human kids: Every one is an individual.

I like that. Most days.

HOMEGROWN-life-dyanDyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Her farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

ALL PHOTOS: DYAN REDICK

HOMEGROWN Life: Growing, Curing & Storing Onions

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENAround here, we go through half a dozen onions a week because we’re slightly nuts, but they add so much flavor to meals, how could we not? There’s no possible way we could grow enough onions to provide for all year long unless we severely cut back, but who would want to do that? We do, however, try to grow as much as we can to meet at least some of our onion needs. There are several different types of onions: Bunching, walking, multiplier, and bulb are the most common. Here, I’ll be talking mostly about bulbing onions.

Once you figure out what works best for you, growing onions can be very rewarding. If taken care of in the beginning, they’re kind of a set-it-and-forget-it crop until harvest.

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Choosing Onions

Growing onions can be very rewarding but it can also be a bit confusing. When you look up onions in your seed catalog, the description will read “Long Day,” “Short Day,” or “Day Neutral/Intermediate.” These descriptions refer to how and where, geographically, the onion grows best. When you plant onions, they’ll start out looking like scallions. When the day length reaches a certain point, the onion will start to bulb. The trick is to get the most greens on the plant before it does this. More and bigger greens = a bigger bulb. But you don’t want it to take so long that it will bolt too early before harvest and before you have a bulb.

  • Short day varieties require 12 hours of daylight to start bulbing.
  • Long day varieties require 14 to 16 hours of daylight to start bulbing.

The general rule is, if you live above the 35th parallel (draw a line from San Francisco to Washington, DC) you’ll want to grow long day onions because you will get longer days to encourage bulbing. Growing a short day variety in the north will cause your onion to bulb too early and end up being too small. Below the 35th parallel, you’ll want to stick with short day varieties. Growing a long day variety in the south will result in an onion that bolts before it ever bulbs because the days never got long enough. If you’re pretty close to the 35th parallel, you can do either type pretty successfully. Our most successful onion variety at our house is Yellow of Parma, which is a long day variety. Day neutral, also called intermediate, can be grown anywhere.

Next you’ll need to figure out what types of onions you want to grow. A good rule of thumb is the sweeter and milder the onion, the shorter the shelf life, or about two months. If you have a bumper crop of red onions, you can preserve them by pickling, or even caramelizing and then freezing them for future use. Onion varieties like Vidalia, Maui, most red types, and Grano are going to have a short shelf life and are best eaten fresh. The more pungent yellow and white onions, such as Yellow of Parma, Ailsa Craig, Copra, and Cortland, can be stored for as long as 12 months. We usually grow one-third red onions and one-third yellow onions.

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Growing Onions

There are several ways you can plant onions. You can use seeds, transplants, or sets. Sets are basically miniature onions that you plant out. Sets are 1-year-old onions, so they can sometimes be more prone to bolting early, as onions are biennials and flower in their second year. Onions transplant very well, so you can start with transplants to get a jump on the season. I usually start with seed but have found that onions are a bit finicky about direct sowing, so I start them indoors and then transplant them out. I like to use seed mostly because there are many more varieties available that way than in any other form.

You can plant your onions en masse. When you do, just tease them apart. I start them in flats in the greenhouse and once they are about 3 inches tall, I transplant them in a well-amended, loose bed of soil. Don’t use a high nitrogen fertilizer for onions, although you do want to offer them some nitrogen. What you want is more phosphorus to encourage root growth. A good amendment would be a combination of poultry and steer (or goat) manures.

There are two very important things to know about growing onions. They need a good amount of water, especially when they’re young, and they really dislike competition from weeds. You can mulch around them with straw after they’re big enough to help with both of these issues.

Onions curing

Harvesting Onions, Curing Onions & Storing Onions

When the tops of the onions start to fall over, you are nearing harvest time. We usually wait until almost all of the tops are down and most are beginning to dry up before harvesting. We harvest in August, when it’s bone dry here, but if you live somewhere that rains, make sure to wait until you have a nice break in the rain and the ground has a chance to dry out some before harvesting. Don’t pull the onions out by their tops. Instead, use a shovel or a fork to gently lift them out of the ground. You want to keep the top on through the curing process to avoid opening the onion up to pathogens that could cause their early demise.

Other things to watch out for are bruising and onions that have bolted. The bolted onions will have a stiff stem coming up through the center. It is safe to assume that any onions that have dropped on the ground are bruised. These we set aside to be used first. The rest of the onions we lay out on a table in a single layer in a warm area with good circulation but out of direct sun. We have a metal patio table with a mesh top that works well for this but we also use a wood table with just as much luck. Don’t wash them or peel off any layers.

Allow your onions to cure for about 2 weeks. The tops and roots of the plant will dry down to nothing. Once they are completely dry, the curing process is done and you can trim the top and the roots. Store them in a cool, dark place. We store them in small burlap bags in our water tower and garage. I prefer the smaller bags because it allows all of the onions to get plenty of air circulation. The larger, coffee-bean-sized burlap bags always end up causing the onions in the center to rot first.

A proper curing will ensure that your onions keep for a good, long time. I do find as they age they become more pungent and oh, boy, can they leave you in tears! Just throw them in the freezer for about 10 minutes prior to cutting to avoid crying all over your cutting board.

Some resources for onion seed:

Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

HOMEGROWN Life: From September Rains to Holiday Radishes, Farmer Bryce Traces How Marginal Land Could Furnish America’s Christmas Dinner

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150Ah, yes. A rainy September morning.

It’s one of the glories of the annual cycle of seasons on the farm. Here in western Missouri, fall planting has commenced. Lettuce and spinach and radishes and other leafy and rooting plants are in the ground. But right now they’re just sitting there, waiting for calming temperatures and moisture. After a burning August (I’m not complaining; 2014 had some good and timely rains), we’re hoping for the heat to break and the fall crops to take off.

They need to get going soon if we’re to have a harvest in the next few weeks. The sun is rapidly retreating. The soil is still pretty dry. And yet, even knowing those conditions, we hope things will work out. Maybe the fall will be long and mild. Maybe the temperature will be in that magic 65-degree high, 45-degree low range until Christmas. Maybe.

HOMEGROWNsubmitthanksgivingphotosIt’s all relative, though. I count myself lucky. I live on fairly marginal farmland for specialty crop growing, specifically vegetable production. For the most part, that’s due to our occasional super-high winds and wild temperature fluctuations. And then there’s bug damage and disease and wilt—the latter thanks to our spotty but sometimes incredibly heavy rains. But this is only “marginality” in comparison with other places where veggies are the specialty, such as the mountain-protected regions of the American West. I’m talking about you, California. And you, Colorado River Basin.

I pick on the Colorado River watershed a lot in my head, for a very simple reason: Geography and environmental destruction are my nagging worries. I’m a guy who really struggles with water. The Colorado River has water worries in piles and piles. That sucker doesn’t even make it to its delta, on the southeast California-Baja California coast.

And this retreating river is only part of the issue. A lot of the problem has to do with agriculture. The Imperial Valley supplies an estimated 80 percent of US-produced winter vegetables. As the writer and photographer Pete McBride tells it, we might not realize it, but we Americans “eat the Colorado River” during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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That’s because the majority of fresh produce in grocery stores has a Colorado River pedigree during the holidays. The microclimate there and the farmers in the region have developed a serious agribusiness based on the area’s “economic competitiveness,” or giant monocultures of industrial vegetables that get shipped out to the highest bidder.

I woke up to this reality while I was enjoying this morning’s rainstorm. Mother Jones blogger Tom Philpott laid it out clearly: The highly veggie-productive Colorado River region could be facing an absolute lack of water very soon.

So what does that mean for Midwestern, Southern, and Eastern veggie growers like me? We better get our acts together. We better embrace our advantages of fall and winter production, construct hoop houses and greenhouses, and try to build on the beginnings of a nonsummer production season.

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Because those of us with experience know a longer season is ripe for the picking. We’re not trying to steal the market from our farmer friends in the Southwest. Rather, we know two things:

  1. Local food is fresher and can have a much smaller carbon footprint than industrial produce.
  2. People want a more transparent food system that aligns ecological practices with healthy meals.

So, get ready, veggie growers. Whether we like it or not, somebody needs to provide the greens and radishes and carrots for all those holiday meals. Entire industries are built upon such societal shifts. The question is whether, through agricultural policy and funding, we, as produce growers, and we, as a society, can make the transition away from desert-based veggie production in a manner that limits harm while providing maximum local economic development.

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Maybe it’s time we quit listening to all of those economists who keep nay-saying “government picking winners and losers.” If we can transition the fall and winter veggie system in our country from the desert Southwest to the Midwest, South, and East, everybody can win. Yes, everybody: farmers, consumers, and the environment.

Who knows? Maybe that broader geographic distribution of farm laborers who follow the produce would help us fix immigration policy, as well. Maybe not. But it’s worth pursuing.

HOMEGROWN-life-Bryce-OatesBryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multigenerational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: to wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig some potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

PHOTOS: (HOLIDAY PLATE) JENNIFER; (ROOTS AND GREENS) ANDREA DiMAURO; (HIGH TUNNEL) RICHARD MAXWELL; (FENNEL APRICOT STUFFING) PENNY V.