Posts Tagged ‘quinoa’

September Farm Update

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

A couple weeks ago I cut down the quinoa stalks with a couple helpers and spread them on tarps to dry. Last week before I left for a quick bicycle trip I picked it all up and stuffed it into a shipping container in case of rain. It drys down to fraction of its green weight, but the process is still very labor intensive. I have to finish restoring my antique harvester before I can thresh it and that will be done by hand too. I’m not really sure it’s a feasible crop at this scale. Unfortunately, mechanical harvesting doesn’t seem very possible because of major seed loss. It’s easy to grow, doesn’t need much fertilizer, doesn’t need much water—just hard to harvest. We may be getting it at the store courtesy of low-paid labor in South America. We’ll see how much my experiment works out.

corn stalks blown over from the storm

Storm damage

The corn is still very green. It got planted nearly a month late and the cool summer has delayed maturity. As long as it stays reasonably warm and we don’t get any bad blowing storms it can be harvested into November. Back in the Midwest corn harvest in the snow isn’t unusual. The yield may be affected by the late start but there will still be plenty for the CSA. When it comes time to pick I’d love to have some help for a day. We can make a party of it. I’ll keep you posted.

We pulled what was left of the beans a couple weeks ago and piled them to dry. Mice ate most of the black turtle beans, Red Mexican beans, and Jacob’s cattle. We’ll get some for seed but not to give out. Most of the black eye peas did survive. Fortunately, I can buy organic black beans and kidneys from a neighbor for those of you who want them.

partially tilled field with the yellow tiller waiting to work on the restAll this may sound like downbeat news, but that’s just the way farming is. You get different conditions every year, sometimes too much rain, sometimes to little. Sometimes the mice are bad, sometimes not. I learn from every failure. The risk does make farmers cautious about trying new things, at least on a large scale. I’m confident we’ll get beans next year.

Right now I’m getting ready to order my cover crop seed because the forecasts are for a wet fall. I want to be all staged for planting if we get early rain. I need to test the soil that had a cover crop last winter to see how much nitrogen it provided. Red wheat especially needs good nitrogen to get high protein and thence make good bread. Whatever I don’t get from the cover crop I need to get through organic fertilizer, which is very expensive.

If you’re a CSA member I’m hoping you are enjoying the rolled oats. I took a long time deciding to by the machine but it is really fast and makes oats much more useful. I find also that if I roll the wheat before making flour the mill doesn’t work as hard and stays cooler. If you run out of rolled oats, the Briarpatch Market in Grass Valley carries them now. You can also find my wheat and rye berries, white teff, and whole wheat flour in the bulk section. The deli also makes a nice whole wheat baguette from my flour. Ike’s Quarter Cafe and the Flour Garden are also major customers.

Enjoy this fine fall weather while it lasts,


July Farm Update

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Somehow I imagine every year that there will be this lull after I finish planting and harvesting. Just gotta irrigate and cultivate, right? Not really. Every year I seem to be figuring out some new irrigation scheme and never getting it quite right. That’s why Chris Bierwagen, my host in Chicago Park, says he sticks to the old, laborious method of moving aluminum sprinkler pipe every day. He knows they work, what kind of coverage they get, and how long he has to water for different parts of the farm.

reed on the green tractor preparing to plant on currently empty soilThis year I decided not to spend $700 on plastic drip tape that would only last a year, and try the pipe. Drip tape seems simple but you have to check it regularly for leaks and you have to lay it all out and then pick it all up, plus turning it on and off. I was able to borrow a trailer full of pipe but then I needed new gaskets and some new tips and sort out the various styles to find compatible ones. All in all, I was late getting started on irrigation even though I got the timing of planting just right. I was sure happy to see that the sprinklers were covering 60 ft. wide at a time. I figured I could go out three times a week and water everything. Then Chris pointed out that I wasn’t getting water on everything because high pressure tips on the sprinkler heads put all the water out at the end of the radius so you have to overlap 150% or more to get everything watered. The result was highly variable plant growth through the field. Meanwhile, with everything else and getting a new cultivator set up I only got to the weeds when the corn was so high that I will only get one cultivation. With great relief I thank the interns from Living Lands and Riverhill farms for coming out for a tour and hoeing all the quinoa while they were there.

As I was scratching my head over the irrigation the other day, Chris’s nephew Kevin suggested they might manage the irrigation for me. I jumped at the offer because they are on the farm all the time and can see what needs water when and are moving pipe all the time. I’m paying them whatever they think it’s worth because I was driving a 24 mile round trip four or five times a week and not even doing a good job of irrigating, never mind the weeds. The commuting issue has troubled me from the beginning because it eats up time, pollutes the air, and makes it very expensive to grow crops if you don’t live where you farm. Clearly, if you are farming full time and spend every day there it’s not as big a problem but most farmers have off-farm jobs to make ends meet and few young farmers can afford to buy land in this area. This arrangement, if it works out for both me and the Bierwagens, will solve the whole thing. Of course, it may turn out to be too expensive for the value of the product but it was getting that way when I was doing the irrigating too.

Another upside this year is that I did get the corn and quinoa planted just at the right time, late though it seemed, and the weeds were behind the crops in getting going. I plan to go out and hoe everything now that I have more time and will have a relatively clean field. I got my four row corn planter going this year so I was able to use the tractor to cultivate since the rows were even. We had to replant some of the red corn, either because the seed was old or because the plates in the planter that regulate the seed flow were not the right kind for that corn. The replants came up pretty well though and are catching up with the older plants. Quinoa, a relative of beets, spinach, and lambsquarter, is proving to be hardy stuff. For whatever reason, some of the seeds germinated within a couple days of planting and others didn’t come up for a week or more. With many crops the field will never even out, but once up, that quinoa just shoots up. It’s also pretty drought hardy so the uneven irrigation doesn’t seem to have harmed it. The beans I planted in Wheatland are being irrigated by my friend Jim Muck. I don’t know if we’ll get any garbanzos, but the other beans look strong, if weedy. Same problem with timing on cultivating down there. For those that want them we’ll have at least Black Turtle beans, Red Mexican beans, Jacob’s Cattle beans, and some black eye peas.

lots of harvested wheat sitting in a big brown pileIn the upcoming weeks I need to go bring back the wheat, rye, oats, and barley from Wheatland and start running it through the cleaner. Weed seed is as bad as ever in the red wheat and barley but the extended rains in May caused the white wheat, oats, and rye to get so tall I was able to cut them mostly above the weeds. I’m going to get more screens for my cleaner and figure out how to get more of the weed seed out. The yield on the red wheat was down but was up on the other stuff. I don’t think the cost per pound to produce has changed much as a result so it’s still expensive to grow on a small scale, but I keep honing the operation to reduce costs. I bought a larger used flour mill that came up for sale this winter, gambling that someday I will need the extra capacity. It will do an easy 100 lbs an hour of wheat flour and makes it finer, so it has reduced my labor cost somewhat.

There were some glitches in the first CSA shares as you all know. I hope that next time I am organized enough to get it all right. I hope that you all remembered to get your shares. When I was in Nevada City last week there was still flour and grains in the box. Meantime, Riverhill Farm is generously selling my products at the Nevada City farmers market for no reason other than kindness. My online store at will be up this week. Please note that if you are local and want to order other things that you should email your order to me so you don’t pay shipping.

I’m going off next week for a quick four day backpack trip since I’m liberated from irrigating. Shortly after that we have to move my son back to school at Humboldt State. Harvest won’t come until October because of the late planting, but the next CSA share will be in September.

Enjoy your summer,


May Farm Update

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

As you will all have noticed, it has been a very cold spring with lots of rain. That has done the winter grains lots of good because they were very late developing. As of early April the red wheat and barley were well headed out but the white wheat and oats had lots of stalk but no heads. The rye was barely a foot-and-a-half tall and no heads. Two weeks later the white wheat, and oats were fully headed with a bumper crop and the rye was double in size. As of last week the rye was about half headed. Unfortunately, the heirloom white Sonoran wheat had been knocked down a lot by the wind since the stalks are so tall. Modern wheat varieties tend to be short-strawed for that reason. Late rain also really helps the weeds, particularly wild radish, so there will be the usual long cleaning job this year.

flowering mustard cover crop with a blue sky above it

The rain also really worked for the oats, bell beans, peas, vetch cover crop I put on half the fallow ground. I finally disked it down when it was chest high on me at 6’4″. I am hoping that the crop will provide enough nitrogen for the grains I plant this fall. It would save a considerable amount of money and time, but there is a time lag before using it, I’m not sure how that will turn out. The purple vetch, triticale mixture I planted at the Bierwagen farm in Chicago Park also was nearly the tallest Chris Bierwagen had ever seen there.

Planting of dry beans in Wheatland is a month behind schedule. The soil has just been too wet and cold and now rain is predicted for Monday night. This crop is a joint venture between me and my host there, Jim Muck. It isn’t a disaster if we plant by June as long as rain doesn’t come too early in the fall. I had hoped to plant quinoa first in Chicago Park, then amaranth, then corn but that soil was still too wet to work on Thursday. In the meantime I’m working on my corn planter swapping various used parts, and my antique harvester that I plan to use for the amaranth and quinoa. I’d like to test it on the small plantings of oats, barley, and rye in June as well.

My son who works in the social networking world is helping me set up my website for online sales of products. You can already sign up for the CSA there. He is also setting it up for me to blog. This is a new world for me, but most small farmers are seeing the value of these electronic connections in marketing so I’m grateful for his help.

For those of you who have been receiving my emails over the last couple years where I have documented my difficulties in making a small grain operation work, I want to report that I am currently in the black. A fair amount of that money should be counted towards my loss and labor last year, but there is still some left over. If I don’t have too many expensive repairs this year I expect to make a small profit. This is good in the short term and the long because someday I hope to hand this over to somebody younger. Sorting out what works for CSA share members and for me is an ongoing project and the CSA is the lynchpin for profitability. Let me know what you like or dislike about what’s in your shares and how the whole thing works. Recruit your friends too.