Posts Tagged ‘red wheat’

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,


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.