Wild Things Farm

  (Crab Orchard, Tennessee)
Farm life adventures of the Happy Hoer
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New veggie varieties this year

Each year I like to try new varieties of the crop menagerie at the farm, and this year is no exception.  It is so hard to resist buying one of everything in the seed catalogs when it is stark, naked, winter, but better judgement must take over because there are only so many garden beds to be filled (although there are quite a few).  New varieties that will hopefully find their way into the members' boxes this year include:

  • Cauliflower, variety 'Amazing' from Johnny's Selected Seeds
  • Several new varieties of beans, including 'Christmas' heirloom seed passed along from a couple who have been long-time members of the farm; 'Dragon Langerie' from Pinetree; 'Provider', from Johnny's; 'Royal Burgundy' from Pinetree
  • 'Red Ace' Beets from Johnny's
  • 'Nelson' Carrots from Johnny's
  • Eggplant, varieties 'Fairy Tale', 'Orient Express' from Johnny's
  • Melons 'Tasty Bites' and 'Sun Jewel' from Johnny's
  • Snow peas, 'Oregon Giant' from Johnny's
  • Peppers 'Lipstick', 'Sahuaro', 'Aconcagua', 'Marconi Red' from Pinetree and Johnny's
  • Squash 'Ambassador', 'Metro Butternut', 'Kabocha', 'Horn of Plenty', 'Cashflow'
  • Tomatoes 'Yellow Pear mini', 'Matt's Wild Cherry', 'New Girl', 'Black Cherry'
  • Rutabaga

Last year I attempted to grow Artichokes but our winter was just too cold and wet; it was one of those experiments anyway. 

The tried and true varieties are the staples of the gardens on the farm but it's always fun to try new things each year. 

 
 

Rockin' Right Along!

Things are rocking right along on the farm, ahead of schedule according to my notes!  No time to celebrate though, Mother (Nature, that is) could change everything in a second!  It takes a lot of courage and discipline to be a farmer for a living.  I think diversification is the key to success though. 

Today is REALLY WINDY!  I mean, like really windy.....I have "fixed" the so-called "floating" row covers twice already, and they keep floating....

 

The covers aren't really for anything more than heating up the space around the seeds to speed things up a little.  In these beds are planted peas, carrots, beets, spinach, lettuce, swiss chard, kale, arugula, and radishes.  Some of them are germinating; others are still asleep.  The pile of garbage bags in the picture is not garbage, it's leaves for mulching!  These black bags have found their way all over the farm, both placed on purpose, and collected from fence wire, tree trunks, in the pond.  I'm learning how to control them better though.  A local community brought a portion of their leaves to the farm to both save them time and help me out--win-win!

In the greenhouse there are flats of broccoli, cabbage, various lettuces, swiss chard, more arugula, kohlrabi, chinese cabbage, chives, onions, about 15 varieties of tomatoes, about 8 varieties of peppers.  Speaking of peppers, I just got seeds for a variety of sweet pepper called "Sweet Diablo".  It is a longhorn-type pepper that gets up to 10" long and 2" wide and turns red when fully mature.  They are supposed to be great for stuffing.  I'm excited about these....also the "Fooled You" jalapeno pepper that's not hot.  This year I was fortunate enough to get seeds for 11 different heirloom tomatoes that I'm anxious to share with the members. 

A new garden was plowed recently and tilled yesterday.  When you're growing veggies on a schedule you have to push the limits sometimes.  Parts of the garden were a little wet (clayey streaks in the soil) but most of it tilled up very nicely.  Now to spread manure and till again.  This will be the home for most of the tomato plants. 

The corn/potato/sweet potato/winter squash field was plowed yesterday.  This field is on a gentle southward slope so it dries quicker than the other gardens on the farm.  This field can rest for a few weeks before time to "dig in" there.

When do CSA farmers plant?  Well, I would say every day--it takes every day planting to have a continuous harvest all season.  This time of year I watch the propagation mats with an eagle eye---every time a flat germinates it goes off into the greenhouse and another flat of "I need heat to germinate" seeds goes on.

Today is also rainy.  I made a batch of peppermint/oatmeal soap, tie-dyed a few shirts, fed all the critters, potted up two flats of tomatoes and sowed more lettuce, herbs, and a few flower seeds in the greenhouse.  Gotta keep "rockin on" no matter the weather!

 

 
 

How to prevent "damping off"

Anyone who has ever started seedlings in the house or in a greenhouse has looked in on their seedlings at one time or another and found them laying face down on the soil.  The stem is wilted at the soil line.  This condition is called "damping off" and is caused by a fungus.

Several years ago I learned a trick to thwart the damping off fungus:  After you get your seeds sown in the flat (of new potting mix), sprinkle a thin layer of milled peat moss over the entire surface of the flat.  Also, water them from the bottom by soaking the flat in a larger container of water, rather than sprinkling from the top. 

I keep an oscillating fan in the greenhouse also, which keeps air circulating when it gets really humid and "stuffy" in there.

Knock on wood, no one's been laying face down in the dirt since I've done this.  With all the seed starting going on right now, I thought someone might benefit from this trick!

Happy seeding from Wild Things :)

 
 

The Quest for the Homegrown Artichoke (Part II)

We have germination!  It's been 8 days since the artichoke seeds hit the dirt and yesterday there were slight hints of green and today, voila!  We have fresh-born artichokes--well, that may be stretching it a little far. 

I'm currently reading "The Four-Season Harvest" by Eliot Coleman and he has artichokes in his appendix with instructions included.  His comments were that we needed to fool the artichokes into believing that they've been in the garden for 2 seasons since they are biennial, so the first 6-8 weeks they need to be kept warm (their first summer) and then a cool spell, then real summer.  I have ideas on how that can happen, now if I can get Mother to cooperate.......

 
 

The Quest for the Homegrown Artichoke

Each year I add new veggies to the crop cornucopia here on the farm, and one of the newbies this season is artichokes.  I remember the first time I ever ate an artichoke--that was an experience!  First off, it looked like a monster-size of something I surely would have pulled out of the garden weeks before.......

Okay, boil it for 20 minutes and then what?  Pull the leaves off and scrape the end of it with your teeth?  Hmmmmm, tastes great, but not filling.  With the leaves all gone, my next question was "is that all?"  Oh no, now you pull it apart, BE SURE to scrape all the nasty-tasting hairs out, then savor the heart of this member of the thistle family.....ooooh, savor I did!

Never thought they would grow in Tennessee, but while perusing the mountains of seed catalogs I receive each year, I came across a variety that is bred to be grown as an annual.  In the warmer areas of the country where artichokes are grown commercially, they are grown as perennials or biennials, but they won't withstand our temperatures around here. 

Anyway, in the Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog I saw "Imperial Star" artichoke seeds.  The info on the packet is that they will mature in 85 days and the narrative in the catalog suggests that they can be grown in most any part of the country, with a little extra care. 

Yesterday a spot on the propagation mat came open so I sowed 2 packets of seed into 1 flat.  Each packet contains "a minimum of 50 seeds", and actually there were 57 seeds in each pack :)  The seeds look like shelled sunflower seeds, and the whole time I was meticulously placing the seeds in the neat little rows in the flat I was thinking to myself that I bet mice sure would love to eat these seeds.......

The next morning, sure enough, there were a few telltale holes in the soil mix, but they didn't get too many---glad there were 57 seeds in each pack!

Yet another use for duct tape:

I took a flat with smaller holes in the bottom of it, flipped it upside down over the flat of vulnerable artichoke seeds, duct-taped it securely, and voila!  Mouse-proof seedling tray.

The saga goes on though.....seed packet instructs that artichoke seeds germinate best under alternating temperatures; huh?  8 hours at 80-85 degrees, then 16 hours at 68-75 degrees.  Okay, I'm doing my best, but I'm beginning to understand why they cost $2.00 each at the store.

As soon as anything exciting happens, the next article in the series will appear on the blog......meanwhile, I think it's time to go adjust the thermostat on the propagation mat (jk)!

 
 

Mid-winter in the Holler

I subscribe to the Old Farmer's Almanac newsletter and today's newsletter was on the subject of Groundhog Day.  The newsletter stated that this day traditionally marked the midpoint of harsh winter weather......yuk!  I was sure hoping we were over halfway by now.  Mr. Groundhog isn't going to see his shadow here today because we're just coming out from under several inches of snow, then enough frozen rain to make it nice and "almost" crunchy enough to walk on--that means it's really hard to get around the farm on foot  to feed critters.  It's a really good aerobic workout though!   I did snap a few really cool pictures of the water frozen on the trees though.

wintry scene

Even though the temps outside are in the teens and 20's at night and 30's during the day, the greenhouse gets a toasty 80 degrees during a sunny episode.  I may move a chair in there for some vitamin D during these short days.  I can tend the onion seedlings while I'm at it!  A couple of weeks ago I started onions, swiss chard and lettuce just "playing in the dirt".  Everybody seems to be doing fine even though they're not being babied at all.   As soon as the ground is suitable, these babies will be out under the hoops!  Meanwhile I go back to my quilting project......Happy Groundhog Day, y'all!

 
 

Cabin Fever/Spring Fever? Help!

Wow, everything around here FINALLY thawed out after 2 weeks of frigid temps.  I've been doing as many outside chores as can be done with the volumes of mud around the farm; the blackberries are are finally mulched--all I lack is getting the wire support fencing complete.  The weatherman is predicting "warm" weather for the next couple of weeks, and during my seed inventory I thought to myself, what the heck, I've got seeds left from last year, why not?

I found myself in the greenhouse this morning with my hands in the dirt AGAIN!  My nails were just beginning to look like a woman's hands again!  I potted up 7 flats of onion seed (the scallion-type), 1 flat of Mr. Stripey tomatoes, 1 flat of Roma tomatoes, and 5 flats of assorted letttuces, oh, and 2 flats of Swiss Chard.  I drug out the heat mat and a frost blanket because I know I'm going to need it, even in the greenhouse, which I don't heat.  If it's a failure, I still win--I enjoyed a little while in my sunny, 80 degree favorite wintertime place on the farm!

Maybe, just maybe, that will take care of the fever I have, whether it be cabin or spring--at least it's not the flu :)

 
 

My Favorite Wintertime Place

Inside greenhouse April 09

Wintertime sure is hard on us CSA gardeners.  Sure, there are lots of chores to be done around the farm and there is a little extra time to rest and recuperate from the insanity of "the season", but there's nothing like the smell of fresh earth or tomato vines once they're brushed against.

This year I tried something in the greenhouse that I hadn't done before.  I potted up 6 tomato plants in really big pots later in the season so that they were blooming by cool weather in the greenhouse.  So far, without heat, I've harvested 8 tomatoes, with the last 3 being harvested yesterday! 

On really cold, windy wintry days the greenhouse soars above 80 degrees and it's a really neat feeling to be inside and warm, but still outside, well sort of.  It's connected to the shop, so I can stay warm while working on projects in the shop.  Maybe next year I'll have some other crops in there with the tomatoes.....that's one thing I love about gardening; there's always next year (good Lord willing and the creek don't rise anyway).

Happy New Year, Everybody!

 
 
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