Monday, December 29, 2008

Winter seed orders

Wow, do I love winter! Finally, the last farmers market for the year done, miss it already and yet so nice to move on to winter projects. Finishing our LLC and land trust documents, office cleaning, filing and planning for next year. AND my all time favorite, ordering seeds. The catalogs have been coming in since just before Thanksgiving, glossy colored pics, and the desciptions! (no spell check, arg), 'brick red overlaying a bright green' red boston lettuce or the new personal size melon, 'suger cube', a dealer told me tasted one in the growers field and it was so good!, but wait, the grower treated the whole seed crop with Thiram fungicide, idiot, will try again next year. The small melons are so hard to find, there are only a half dozen varieties out there and we have only been able to get two untreated, maybe three this year. No wonder that we are on a fast track to learn seed breeding. Would you want one melon the size of a basketball that takes 4 days to eat or 4 small melons to eat one each day? I know the answer to that one! And can you imagine trying to pack a basketball into a csa box? Varieties are so important.
What's new this year? We are planning on trying the red striped horticultural bean 'red dragon', a very tasty snap bean or let dry for a bright red dry bean. Maybe some ground cherry will make a comeback here, eat fresh or make a salsa with tomatoes!
Any good suggestions that you have seen?? Richard

Ice is broken! Terri, pics, please?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What's in the Box

I haven't posted photos of our beautiful CSA boxes for weeks now! We're really in the busy part of the season, both in the field & the office. I think it's busy here all the time, but I'm told it's really going to start getting hectic now. So much food is ready for harvest but the weather really isn't cooperating. It was cool & rainy much of today & while the moisture is welcome, we could still use some more heat. I mean, I still have so many popsicles to hand out! Paletas, anyone?

August 28 box (above) September 4 (below)

September 11 delivery

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

All About Tomatoes

This week's newsletter essay, by Farmer Richard:

Tomatoes are a bit of a challenge in our normally moist valley. The moisture favors the leaf diseases that cause leaves to spot, brown and die before they can put full flavor into the fruit. After some years of tomato failures, we have developed a dependable production system and we search for varieties that are suitable for our region, with great flavor and disease resistance. Many conventional and commercial tomato varieties bred for consistent size and shape are suitable for mechanical picking and long distance shipping, but to the detriment of flavor.

We plant two crops of tomatoes in our greenhouses on March 20 and April 20. In mid-May, we transplant the first crop into a green plastic covered raised bed, which helps to trap heat and promote growth. We put down mulch between the beds for weed control and for a dry picking path. The tomatoes are planted only 12 inches apart. We put a wooden stake between every three plants and every sixth stake is a stronger steel post with steel at the ends. There are steel “gates” every 150’ for picking access. Three weeks after planting, we prune all suckers except the one below the first flower cluster. That gives us two main stems per plant. When the plants are about 12 inches high we weave the first string between the stakes to hold the rapidly growing tomato plants upright.

Rapid growth is somewhat dependent on hot days, but also on good moisture. Every raised plastic covered bed has a drip irrigation line under it. Every week we give the tomatoes’ root zone a good drink of water with liquid fish and kelp nutrients added. This produces rapid growth and many large tomatoes. Every week we add a string to both sides of the vines, looped tightly around each stake. This process includes a ball of twine on the string-tiers waist, with the twine threaded through a small oak stake to give the person tying a longer reach over and around the stakes. Fast tying involves great skill and results in a beautiful wall of tomatoes off the ground, high and dry for minimizing disease. Picking is much easier and faster with this system as well.

Tomatoes are categorized as either determinate (one crop all at once, topping off at a specific height) or indeterminate (plants that produce vines that don’t top off and will continue to produce until the first frost). When indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow above the 5’ stakes, we cut the tops off as a way of staying “stop & ripen” to the many tomatoes already set on the plant.

Good, rich, fertile soil and lots of water are essential, but so is the genetics of the seed. There are thousands of tomato varieties, but they vary greatly in resistance to disease, color, flavor, sugars, and acid balance. High acid is required for canning. A nice balance of flavor, sugars and acid may be the best for fresh eating, but does it also have resistance to disease and cracking?

Our all around favorite tomato is the “Japanese Pink.” The Japanese value great tasting food, but have added disease resistance and crack resistance to a very great tasting tomato. It appears pink because it has a thin clear skin, unlike American bred tomatoes with their thick orange-red skin. We also like color, so we’ve thrown in some yellow-red striped German, a gold tomato, a few green and red striped zebra, and a black for a beautiful tomato plate. Tomatoes are self-pollinating, so it is fairly easy to save seed. Family and regional heirloom varieties abound the world over. Although good seed saving involves fermenting the pulp and the seeds to kill seed borne diseases, we also hot water treat seeds to kill disease just before we plant.
The optimal storage temperature for tomatoes is about 50-55°F. If stored in a cold environment (34-38°F), they will get soft and lose flavor if stored for longer than a couple of days. We often pick tomatoes a little on the green side so you have a longer window of opportunity to enjoy them, before they over ripen. Tomatoes will ripen on your counter, but when they are ripe, either eat them or store them in a cool pantry or the warmest part of your refrigerator.

Sadly, our early crop of tomatoes was flooded after mulching, pruning and staking. Only a few survived. Our friends at Driftless Organics are supplementing our tomato harvest until our beautiful late crop ripens – or will it? Where is global warming when you need it?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mystery Items

Last week's newsletter dealt with this issue quite well, but this is a picture of some of the "Mystery Items" you might find in your CSA box this week.

Because of the devastation of some crops with the rains in June, we haven't been able to harvest enough of single items to put in all our CSA boxes. For much of this season, we've had quite a few either/or items on our What's in the Box lists (sauté mix or arugula, cucumbers or summer squash, melon or raspberries, etc). This week we decided to call one of those either/ors our "Mystery Item". For our Twin Cities deliveries, you'll either get okra, tomatoes or raspberries. You'll also get leeks, petite green beans, edamame, Yukina savoy, two kinds of eggplant, two kinds of melon, cucumbers, summer squash or zucchini, salad mix, two kinds of peppers, sauté mix or arugula, and garlic.

Here are some photos from my walk through the field across the road. The okra flowers are so beautiful! I'm amazed with all these plants. Each bloom could (and probably will) become something delicious to eat.

We are waiting anxiously for our second plantings of so many crops to produce. This has been another weird growing season. Not that it's near over, but the days are getting noticibly shorter and I'm starting to plan a winter getaway.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Safety First

This week's newsletter:
Guess who came to lunch? by Andrea
We always extend an invitation to any guest at the farm to join us for lunch…even the sanitation inspector! Last week we had our annual sanitation inspection and received a Superior rating! We take pride in the vegetables we grow, from keeping clean weeded fields to washing off field dirt to reveal the beautiful colors of the vegetables in your CSA box and eventually on your table. With the recent food warnings and recalls including salmonella on jalapeños and tomatoes, and e.coli on spinach, being aware of food handling procedures is very important to ensuring you have a clean and safe food supply.

Our goal is to grow tasty, nutritious vegetables, but we also don’t want to overlook the importance of our handling practices in making sure you and your family can enjoy our vegetables with confidence.Last year we earned our GAP/GHP (Good Agriculture Practices/Good Handling Practices) certification, a voluntary food safety certification. We were encouraged to pursue this certification by Whole Foods Market, one of our major wholesale buyers. While obtaining the certification is additional work for us, we have encouraged other growers to go through the process. Why? Because as part of this program employees are required to wear very stylish blue or green bouffant caps (like Cullen sports in these photos). No, the real reason is that knowledge gives you the power to prevent potentially dangerous situations before they occur. We have learned to see our farm, from field to packing shed to shop, with a new set of eyes. The inspector we work with is from the American Food Safety Institute International. We spent seven hours going over the farm with a fine toothed comb and here are just a few of the highlights.

With threats of rain hanging overhead, we decided to check out the fields first. The inspector had seen our fields last year, but we have acquired some new farmland this year and he wanted to look at it. As we cruised onto the property, his eyes scanned the landscape looking for trash, brush piles, and traces of animal activity. We encourage biodiversity in our fields as part of our organic farming practices. We know we can’t keep out every bird, deer, raccoon, etc, and in fact we put bird houses near the fields to encourage their presence. However, we do need to manage the wildlife and animal activity in and around the fields. We keep trash picked up and remove large brush piles from the fields since these make nice homes for some critters. Our crew is trained to look for signs of animal presence; specifically we are concerned with scat (aka feces or doody). If they spot an area that is contaminated, they will flag it to prevent harvest of that product.

After looking at the fields, we went back and went through the packing shed. We have learned that food safety and sanitation encompasses aspects ranging from personnel practices to facilities management, pest control, as well as written procedures, documentation, training and accountability. With all of these aspects in the back of our minds, we looked at nearly every surface, inside and out. He was looking for signs of pests (mice, insects, spiders, etc), microbial growth (mold, mildew and bacteria), and any structural problems that might create a food safety related problem.

After looking at all of the greenhouses, storage areas, the packing areas and the shop, we went back to the office to review what he had seen. While most people get nervous when an inspector is coming, I learned that he is not to be feared. He was very helpful and spent time showing us other resources that will help guide us as we refine our cleaning schedules, log books, pest control program, personnel training program and updating our employee manual.

Eating locally gives you an advantage you don’t have when you buy products sourced from large farms all around the world. It’s hard to go check out your farmer’s field in China or Mexico (that is if you can ever figure out who the farmer is), but it is possible to visit your farmer who is about 2-3 hours from your home. We are located in an isolated valley and our farm and fields are not located near any large feedlots that could contaminate our fields with run-off, wind drift or transfer of contaminates via animals. Still, we choose to practice the Precautionary Principle and do what we can to prevent any possibilities of contamination. Unfortunately, the world and its organisms are not the same as they were 50-100 years ago. Modern industrial farming practices, large feed lots, grain fed animals and overuse of antibiotics have resulted in dangerous bacteria we didn’t worry about previously. Even if we think we are safe from direct contact, we still must practice due diligence since these bacteria can be transferred via birds, vehicles or other means of cross-contamination. We acknowledge that we don’t live in a sterile environment (shit happens), but we do what we can to educate and train ourselves and our employees so we can send vegetables to you with peace of mind. We encourage you to handle your produce properly once it makes it into your hands as well. Aside from ready-to-eat, bagged greens (salad mix, sauté mix, arugula), you should wash your vegetables before eating them. Take care to avoid cross-contamination with meats and other potentially hazardous foods when preparing your vegetables.

Next time you are in the area, we hope you’ll stop in and check us out. Be sure to remove your jewelry (a food safety hazard in the packing shed) and I’d recommend wearing something that will go with the green or blue bouffant cap we will ask you to wear in the packing shed area. We hope you will continue to enjoy the vegetables we grow for many years to come. We will continue to do what we can to better ourselves and offer you the highest level of consumer confidence in our product that we can achieve. If you’ll excuse me now….time to check the cooler temps.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Potatoes and What's in the Box

This is the prettiest photo from this week's CSA box (manna from heaven?).

A mighty fine box, all in all:
Yukina Savoy, Cucumber (or Summer Squash or Zucchini), Sweet Spanish Onions, Italian Garlic, Red or Rainbow Kale, Dill, Red Norland Potatoes, Broccoli or Cauliflower, Carrots, Red or Gold Beets, Green or Sweetheart or Savoy Cabbage. Lots of "ors", since we're still dealing with the ramifications of June's heavy rains. The first plantings of some crops have suffered and we don't always have enough of any one item to go into every CSA box. Soon, my friend, soon. We've replanted and anticipate great big juicy harvests with something of everything for every single one of you.

Plus a lovely fruit share delivery this week with lemons, Flame seedless grapes, Lapin cherries, blueberries, Dapple Dandy pluots, Elegant Lady peaches (from Mas Masumoto - I just started reading his Four Seasons in Five Senses), and Flavortop yellow nectarines.
I'm feeling inspired. More again soon.

Monday, July 28, 2008


As Anna, our field/harvest coordinator said, this is an awesome bean picking crew. They're not half bad cutting salad either! If only you could meet Nestor (Pollo), José (Chepe), Benji, Jesus, Gerardo, Daniel (Chilango), Miguel, Vicente (Buckethead), René, and Claudio. Good workers, good people, good times!

Glove Nest

This spring I noticed that a house wren had built a nest under the eaves of my little cabin. I didn't mind at all, they have a lovely song and were pretty friendly. Since the nest was right by my front door, I didn't want a bird who would swoop at me and try to scare me away from her eggs or anything.

I have a clothesline strung across my porch for drying my bathtowels in the morning or my socks after a tramp through the creek. Lately, as I've been hanging my towels in the morning, I've been startled by a little birdy flying away from the porch. I've thought to myself "Oh my gosh - am I that sleepy and unobservant that I didn't even notice the little wren on the line?"

Then yesterday I was enjoying a lazy Sunday, finishing "The Milagro Beanfield War" on a chair on the porch, occasionally snoozing in the sun. I was taking a break from all that and enjoying the view of my overgrown garden and maybe watching the goat drama unfold in the pasture on the hill (a couple kids jumped the fence and couldn't figure out how to get back in where everybody else was - what an unholy racket those goats make when separated!), when I finally saw the secret. The wrens had a Glove Nest (get it?) in my gardening gloves, also hung on the line. Obviously, my garden has been a bit neglected if I've given wrens enough time to build a nest in my gloves. There were four eggs in there today!
I did get out to the fields on Saturday, in an effort to tire out the rambunctious, teenage puppy, Captain Jack. Richard was at Market and Andrea was visiting a cabin up north, so it was just me, the dog, and pretty much a full crew at work in the fields. I usually try to stick pretty close to home on Saturdays so I can check on messages from the Madison CSA deliveries. It's been going really well, though! No calls or emails on Saturday about missing boxes or CSA members who can't find the pick up site. Very awesome.

Out in the fields, we found some lovely melons, jalapeño and Italia peppers, and eggplant blooms. We actually got to try some of the melons today, at lunch. Yum.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

July - Pictures from the farm

Oh if only there was smell-o-vision!

Even though it's down wind from the newly turned compost piles, the nasturtium flower tunnel smells amazing!

Also quite fragrant are the two, count them two, greenhouse buildings that are quickly filling with freshly harvested garlic. They will dry out in the dry heat for 2-3 weeks, then the Italian hardneck & Porcelain varieties will be cleaned & trimmed for the familiar garlic bulbs, while the Nooksa Rose will be cleaned and then braided.

My most favorite smell today was the fennel field. It smelled like candy - like licorice. And it is so lovely and soft looking!
Now on to more mouthwatering pictures - can't you just taste the chard,

cabbage, kale,



tomatillos, watermelon, sweet corn,and celeriac? I can't even believe how much I miss celeriac!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Rainy Weekend Update

We wanted to update you on our situation here at Harmony Valley Farm following the storms we experienced this past weekend. We have received several calls from the media and preferred that you hear firsthand from us before reading about it in the newspaper. We received significant rainfall starting Saturday around 11:30 am and continuing through yesterday evening. Total rainfall was about 12.5” by Sunday night. We also experienced high winds and some hail. The rain came hard and fast, and despite an afternoon reprieve yesterday, the rate of rainfall was faster than the ground’s ability to absorb or the capacity of some of the drainage ditches to move the water off the fields.

The water levels in the fields subsided some overnight and today we were able to get a better look at the damage. A field of recently transplanted tomatoes, okra and peppers was hit hard with excess rain. Most of the peppers and all the okra and tomatoes will not be viable. We will need several days to determine the effect the rainfall had on other crops including melons, watermelons, summer squash, sweet potatoes, and cucumbers. These plants were covered with row covers before the rainfall. Today the crew is removing the wet and muddy covers so the plants can get more sunshine and air. We are hopeful that they are still viable and can recover and continue to grow. Three-fourths of the sweet corn field was washed out as well as a portion of the head lettuces in the adjacent field. The onion field had water standing in the wheel tracks yesterday evening, but is draining better today and the onions looked good this morning. There was hail damage on some of the greens, but overall the current planting fared well and we are hoping to harvest them this week. The next 2-3 plantings of salad, arugula and spinach are likely lost.

There was significant erosion by the creek that runs on the home farm. The creek bank was cut back significantly by fast moving water and the new fences that were built in that area for the cattle were washed away. We also have significant erosion in some fields caused by draining water. On the bench fields, we had a significant amount of rocks that were relocated into our fields by water draining out of the adjacent woods. We will have to remove these so we can continue to farm these fields without damaging equipment.

So what is going on today? Well, all employees are back at work today, safe and sound. Many crops still look good and the crew is out harvesting as usual. This morning they harvested radishes, asparagus and pea vine. This afternoon they are picking the first strawberries as well as broccoli. Tomorrow we plan to harvest beautiful baby white turnips and bok choi. Alejandro, Hector and Simon are filling trays in the greenhouse to plant more peppers, okra and tomatillos. We still have some extra sweet potato plants in the cooler that we will use to replace any sweet potato plants that don’t survive.

We are thankful to still have a second planting of tomatoes and melons in the greenhouse along with fall cauliflower, broccoli, romanesco, kale and collards. Pending any further rainfall, we are hoping to plant more salad, arugula and spinach this week. As soon as we are able, we will continue to work ground, lay plastic, transplant the remaining greenhouse plants, direct-seed more crops as planned, rebuild drainage ditches and fences, and cut and bale the rye cover crop.

If you are concerned about our ability to continue delivering CSA boxes, rest assured that we will continue to pack boxes for you. Coming up in the next couple of weeks, you can look forward to cabbages (including Napa, Green Savoy, and a new salad cabbage), kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli, fennel, scallions, garlic scapes, and strawberries. There is a nice field of beets as well as carrots and potatoes. As soon as the ground is dry and we are able, we will plant the second plantings of tomatoes, melons, and the new peppers we are starting in the greenhouse. The garlic and celeriac fields look good and we will continue with planting fall crops. We have been about 2 weeks behind this spring due to cooler weather, so you may still see the effects of that as well as an absence of salad mix, arugula, and spinach for about 4 weeks while the next crop is planted and matures.

We appreciate your thoughts and encourage you to read our newsletter later this week for more updates from the farm as well as what it means to “share the risk” as a CSA member, both for you and for us.

Have a good week and we hope you enjoy your vegetables this week!

Richard and the HVF Crew

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

This Week's Box

For the Twin Cities this week, we will send:

Green Garlic; Pea Vine; Arugula, Saute Mix or Spinach; Broccoli; Hon Tsai Tai; Rhubarb; Asparagus; Radishes; Salad Mix & Burdock (the Choice Item).

Our Wisconsin CSA members will get much the same, but I think we'll substitute Green Bok Choi for the Hon Tsai Tai. Either way, you can still use this week's newsletter recipe!

Spicy Stir Fried Chicken and Greens with Peanuts
Serves 4
2 Tbsp soy sauce, divided
2 Tbsp dry Sherry, divided
3 tsp Asian sesame oil, divided
2 tsp honey, divided
1 1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-wide strips

3 Tbsp peanut oil, divided

4 green onions or 2 green garlic, white parts and green parts chopped separately

2 tsp chopped dried chiles

1 large bunch greens (such as spinach, hon tsai tai, bok choi, mustard greens, kale), spinach left whole, other greens cut into 1-inch strips

1 cup broccoli florets

1 cup asparagus

1/4 cup chopped roasted salted peanuts
--Whisk 1-tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon Sherry, 1-teaspoon sesame oil, and 1-teaspoon honey in medium bowl. Add chicken; marinate 20 to 30 minutes.

--Whisk remaining 1-tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon Sherry, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, and 1-teaspoon honey in small bowl and reserve.

--Heat 2 tablespoons peanut oil in large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add white parts of onions and garlic and chile flakes; stir 30 seconds. Add chicken; stir-fry just until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer chicken mixture to bowl. Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil to same skillet; heat over high heat. Add broccoli, asparagus and greens by large handfuls; stir just until beginning to wilt before adding more. Sauté just until tender, 1 to 6 minutes, depending on type of greens.

--Return chicken to skillet. Add reserved soy sauce mixture; stir until heated through, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl; sprinkle with green parts of onions and peanuts.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

New Arrivals

We're still waiting on La Chiba Blanca to give birth to her kids (and I wish it would happen soon - she looks so big & uncomfortable!), but baby goat #3 was born last Friday. He has beautiful grey eyes and is very adventurous.

Today, five new pigs were introduced to the pasture. The goats seem to be sticking to their corner & the pigs theirs, but I think they'll get integrated soon enough. And they definitely have enough space, with all the fencing that 's been done this spring!

Our fourth CSA box went out this week:

Sweet overwintered parsnips (last week for them)
Green Garlic
Chives with Blossoms
Hon Tsai Tai (a tasty & nutritious cooking green)
Red Bok Choy
Spinach, Arugula, or Sauté Mix

Plus it was coffee & cheese share deliveries this week. The cheeses this week were Colby, Blue Cheese, and Monterey Jack. Yum. Try this recipe:

Arugula Salad with Lavender Blue Cheese Vinaigrette
Serves 4 (with a little dressing left over)

1 green onion, minced
2 tsp dried lavender
1/3 cup white balsamic or white wine vinegar
1 ½ tsp honey
2 oz crumbled blue cheese
2 Tbsp fresh thyme (optional, but highly recommended when available)
Salt & ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup sunflower oil
4 oz arugula
4 oz mixed greens (spinach, lettuce, sorrel, etc)

-In a small bowl, combine shallot, lavender, vinegar, honey, blue cheese and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
-Slowly drizzle in oil while whisking continuously. Refrigerate for several hours before serving. Just before serving, taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Combine greens in a bowl, drizzle about ¼ cup of dressing on greens (or enough to lightly dress the greens) and toss to combine. Garnish the salad with sliced almonds or slices of radishes.

Field report this weekend, I promise. With lots of photos of all the good growing green things!