Agropraxis Farm

  (Scotts, Michigan)
A Ultra-Low Carbon input farm using Eco-Bio methods.
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Family Traditions

Our family has typically cut a live tree for Christmas each year. With the oldest home from College for Thanksgiving and being a child that loves our simple family traditions she was all in for cutting now rather than waiting for a week and miss out. So we loaded up and headed to our favorite Tree Farm. We visit the same farm because of the horse drawn wagons that deliver and pick-up the guests and their trees from the different tree lots. A team of big Belgians draw a tandem set of wagons. The first with padded bench seats and the second for a load of fresh cut trees. You can choose from the popular Scotch Pine, Spruce, White Pine (Our beloved state tree), or the now popular Fraser Fir. Our refined process requires looking over all the likely trees, having someone reject it (selected on a unanimous vote) then moving on. Eventually we return to reconsider every tree. After much tromping, joke making, “Do you remember when…” and wearing down all collective resistance a final selection is made. Often the first tree that the youngest member of the group first considered.

 

The cut tree and selection team is returned to the farmstead. In the old tool shed a wood stove helps return normal blood flow to the toes and fingers. Candy canes are offered. Trees are shaken of their loose needles and bird nests, then wrapped and loaded for the trip home. Conversation comes easily with the farm folk that run the tree farm. They shared a concern for the coming years. The drought impacted their tree planting. It also stressed the 2-6 year old trees severely. Only time will tell what true impact the drought will have.  “We’ll know for sure in 6-7 years”, they said.

 

The teamster on our wagon was happy to talk when I shared my connection to working animals. The big mare on our team was 13 years old and had been a help in training a lot of her offspring. They keep  a dozen animals. They started with Amish trained stock but now breed, train and sell their own. The animals do a long day when it’s their turn. Working from 8 am till after 6 pm. The worst are the warm and muddy days. It really makes them work hard. 

 

At home the tree was decorated and is now the beautiful focal point of a continuing family tradition. After the holidays it will be placed near the kitchen garden and bird feeders for animal habitat. Eventually it will be chopped down and added to the compost pile.   
Farmer Pete

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Seed Catalogs!

The seed catalogs have begun to arrive. Time to consider “new” varieties for demos , check prices, and complete orders.  Orders are in before the New Year. Over time I’ve learned to evaluate seed costs carefully. One seed supplier may pack small volumes at what appears to be good prices. When broken down to a cost per seed there may be notable differences in prices. Calculating the amount of seed and the cost (including shipping…) is a late fall job. When done well costs are minimized and planning for the season follows.

My preferred suppliers provide ample information to make clear evaluations. For example Johnny’s has a cost chart for Bush Beans. It makes easy reference. Jade beans are $3.45 for a packet (175 seeds) of .0197 cents/seed and .0066/seed if 1000 are purchased. 175 seeds plants ~25’ . If you plan 400’ you’d need 16 packets and cost $55.20. Or by bulk you’d need 2.28 pounds and you’d pay $25.00 with some left over at a cost per seed of .0058. Comparing between seed suppliers often shows dramatic cost differences. One supplier may have the best prices in pepper seeds then be dramatically different in carrot seeds. All fun with numbers! 

One point that often makes evaluation a bit cumbersome is when suppliers mix grams and ounces of seed within a catalog. Seed sellers must copy into their catalogs the information from sources. Many suppliers probably use the metric measurements while domestic ones are in ounces.  The cost per seed calculation remains similar but a few more steps to accurately order the correct quantity. 

Some catalogs are fun to leaf through and enjoy the pictures and side bar information. The pictures of ideal and beautiful crops is nice eye candy. Some catalogs I read. Like Fedco’s always enjoyable catalog. Social commentary and realistic descriptions. No pictures in their catalog. I usually end up ordering from a handful of reliable suppliers that carry the varieties I trust and have the customer support needed . 

Farmer Pete

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All the Little Things

There remain a lot of little jobs and tasks to do at the end of a season. They are not the physically demanding ones or dependent on appropriate weather. Rather they are little ones like sorting and cleaning saved seed or working through the seed storage to inventory what’s on hand and what I need to buy, or seek from other seed savers. It seems this transition of one year to the next is a perfect time to do simple tasks and reflect on the past growing season.
I buy a lot of seed and I save a lot of seed. I’m an enthusiastic seed saver. I’ve found that many seeds are so much more vigorous with hardy plants when they are from my own farm. I had some overwintered Russian Red Kale that I let bolt and mature a seed crop. The task of saving the seed was a fairly simple one. Letting the seed pods mature, collecting and drying the pods, then cleaning and storing the seed. I have so much that we often sprout some to add to salads. 
As the seasons have added up, the efforts to save and select quality seed has increased. I like to use  “open pollinated” varieties whenever I can. This season offers a classic example of selecting and cultivating open pollinated tomatoes. I demoed a variety of round red tomatoes (Bobcat) for market. It was an F1 hybrid. It developed plenty of fruit on a short compact plant. They were round, red and sold well. They excelled in appearance but lacked flavor; rather bland. The wet, humid August and early Sept. saw the Hybrid succumb to leaf diseases first among all the tomato varieties. It’s supposed resistance and vigor not matching the open pollinated heirlooms that thrived into October. It’s not the first time that “superior” hybrids conked out before trusted heirlooms. 
I’m by no means a super saver. I save seed from easy seed producing crops. This season I saved brassicas like Pac choi , radishes and kales. Lots of tomato, legumes, and squash varieties as well. Some seed like my favorite carrots and lettuces I buy.  The beds for these crops are often planned for 2-3 crops in a season and setting a portion aside to raise seed isn’t always practical. In some years the crop fails to thrive and saving seed is not realistic. The last several years have been tough on a pea crops. So letting them mature a seed crop has been neglected. 
The vigor and adaptation of Open Pollinated vegetable crops  is my reason for saving the seed. It is why I spend time to raise and save seed. And why there are still little tasks left as the season concludes. 
Farmer Pete

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First crop planting for 2013

The first crop was planted for the 2013 season this past week. I put in two varieties of hardneck garlic. On the day I did it I expected to get it in with little trouble. Of course the ground was frozen from a hard frost and I had to wait several hours for it to warm. Our light friable soil usually allows easy work but I had trouble with my standard methods and had to resort to using a dibble. It took a bit of time but no way would I resort to compacting the soil with other machine work methods. 
It was such a beautiful fall day. A bit of sun, light winds and eventually temperatures in the mid 40’s. While the temperatures were slowly working up I went about the fall harvest. The broccoli and other cole crops have been heavy producers. I quickly filled all of the harvest containers and had to scrounge around for more. Radicchio, lettuces, kale, leeks, napa cabbage, bull’s blood beets, rutabegas and some dry beans were all beautiful. I was pleased to see decent spinach. I love cooking the spinach with some garlic, onions and tomatoes to make a sauce for spinach pizza. I had the harvest done and took time to have lunch before I started in on the garlic.
The opportunity to watch the natural activity on the farm is what a lunch break is for me. This day I saw the energetic activity of finches and bluebirds. The sandhill cranes that raised their young in the pastures were not around. They probably moved on to the big collecting areas that the cranes seem to use before moving south for the bitter portion of winter.  I have noticed groups of 70-100 cranes collecting to feed. Kind of like other animals that gather and gossip or spread news of the past few months. 
The air was scented with ruminant manures. The Tiller’s staff and interns had windrowed all of the seasons manures adjacent to the vegetable field. They’ll cook and decompose to a beautiful compost for application through-out the farm. With addition of field waste, we are able to return to the soil a lot of what began here. Part of feeding and supporting our soil and building fertility. Ruminant manures may be nasty to some. To farmers that feed our soils, they are food for the microbes and valued for what they contribute to the farm. The mild odor is nothing like the noxious swine or poultry manures that can make your eyes water. I just have to be careful to keep it out of the house…
Farmer Pete

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