Winter Garden Vegetables

Growing vegetables outside in the winter isn’t as absurd as it sounds.  There are several root vegetables that can be left in the winter for harvest and actually get better with the cold winter.  Two of these that we like are salsify (oyster root) and parsnips.  Another is Jerusalem artichokes.  Salsify tastes and smells a little like cooked oysters when it is steamed or fried in oil.  Parsnips smell and taste a lot like carrots.  Jerusalem artichokes are delicious sauteed and taste a lot like an artichoke heart.

Salsify and parsnips are planted as seed in the spring but Jerusalem artichokes are sunflower-like plants that grow from roots collected the previous year.  Actually, if you start a patch of Jerusalem artichokes, they will just come back each year unless you are very thorough at digging up all of the bits and pieces of the previous year’s roots.   The photo below was taken in November 2012 and shows some of these root crops that were dug from our garden for Thanksgiving dinner.


Shallot, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, salsify and turnips in November.

Shallot, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, salsify and turnips in November.

The root crops mentioned above don’t really “grow” much in the winter but there are some that do.  For instance, corn salad is a green that will continue to grow through the winter in areas that are relatively mild.  But if you really want to cash in on winter greens a cold frame is the way to go.

It’s great to get fresh lettuce from your own garden in the dead of winter.  A cold frame can provide you with fresh lettuce.   It’s possible to get lettuce all winter long if you plant in the fall and stagger your plantings so some lettuce is always maturing.

So far, the best crop for our cold frame has been the butter crunch lettuce variety.  It seems to thrive in the short days and cool temperatures and does not succumb to the very cold nights when the temperature in the cold frame can drop below freezing.

The cold frame shown below is built from outdoor plywood.  The door frames are made from strips of plywood and the the transparent door material is plastic that was scavenged from a big plastic bag that a mattress was shipped in.  The doors face south and the sun really warms things up in there.  It is even possible to germinate lettuce and spinach during the winter.

I’ve seen other people build cold frames that are made from glass doors sitting on some bricks or cinder blocks and those work just fine.  Of course you can buy a kit too but building a cold frame from scavenged materials is much cheaper.

Cold Frame - February 2013

Fresh lettuce in winter. At TFF we have a small home-built cold frame that we use to raise lettuce and spinach in the winter.  These photos were taken in the middle of February 2013.


Green Beans

Favorite Varieties:  Jade and Blue Lake for bush and Kentucky Wonder for pole.

Green beans are one of my favorite vegetables to grow.  They are pretty reliable, relatively pest free and everyone likes them.  Of all the vegetables, I think green beans are the one with the fewest detractors. Lots of people hate spinach or broccoli, but I’ve never heard anybody say, “ugh I can’t stand green beans.”

Another reason I like growing green beans is you can get in at least two good crops in the midwest.  You can plant one in the spring and harvest in June or you can plant in the summer and harvest in the fall.  I have harvested beans all the way up until Halloween.

There are times when they fail, however.  In 2011 we were unable to produce more than a few shriveled beans due to the extreme summer heat.  The summer crop had lots of blooms but only a few produced small pods and the fall crop would not germinate and thrive in the intense summer heat.  So in summers with extreme heat beans may let you down.

In the Midwest we haven’t had any serious problems with pests.  Rabbits will eat the young plants but can be discouraged with fencing.  We don’t use pesticides so some of the later crop cans have dark spots or holes from grasshoppers and worms but the first beans are usually very nice in appearance and excellent for canning.

My favorite varieties are Blue Lake and Jade for bush beans.  Both are stringless hybrid varieties and yield in about 60 days.  They will continue to produce for up to a month or so.  During drought and hot weather our best yields have come from fall gardens.  The photo below shows three pounds of Jade variety beans that were picked on June 27, 2012 from seeds that were sowed in late April.  For pole beans, Kentucky Wonder is the old stand-by variety and yields pretty well in Kansas.  Kentucky Wonder is also an heirloom variety from which the seeds can be saved, unlike the hybrids.

On the left is three pounds of Jade variety green beans. This variety yields very well in our area, better than Blue Lake. Incidentally this is the variety that they grow at the White House kitchen garden. What do you do with three pounds of beans? Well you can give some to your friends or you can can them and have your friends over for a nice garden treat in the middle of winter.

Turkey Foot Farm – Home of the 2011 “Best Continental” State Fair Cockerel!

State Fair Birds:  The 2011 Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson Kansas took place on Sept 9 -18.  We try to go each year and this year we decided to have some entries.  The state fair is a great place to exhibit all types of crops, livestock, crafts, foods and many other items.  We decided to enter three of our chickens.  We entered two Ameraucana pullets, Elizabeth and Ellie May and a Silver Spangled Hamburg cockerel named David Spade.  The photo below shows the three chickens we entered in the cages that were provided by the fair.

Our prize winning trio. Ellie May, Elizabeth and David Spade. These are the cages they spent 10 days in at the State Fair.

Big Winnings:  Our three chickens exceeded our greatest expectations.  I used to show horses and rabbits in 4-H and never did very well so I was not too optimistic about winning in the open class at the State Fair.  However, I did not count on my partner, Farmer Girls, prowess as a judge of quality poultry.  She picked out the three birds from our flock of about 30 adult birds.  She used the American Poultry Association Standards of Perfection to select her entrants.  All three birds were awarded prizes.  Ellie May won 5th place in her class and Elizabeth won Best of Breed and Best of Variety.  David Spade, however, was the real champ.  He won Best of Breed and Best of Variety along with Best Continental!!!!

Best Continental is a prize for the best European style bird in the whole Fair!

Left to right: David, Elizabeth and Ellie May's entry cards and ribbons.

Farmer Girl gets all the credit along with monetary reward – $12.00.  Not only did she choose the birds, she washed them and cared for them prior to judging.  On the morning of judging she visited them and cleaned their legs and put Vaseline on their faces and combs.  They looked great.  The birds had to stay at the fair for 10 days and when they returned they were quarantined at Turkey Foot Farm to ensure they did not bring any contagion back to the main flock.  Here is a photo of Elizabeth and David Spade back home playing near the mobile coop which we used for isolation.

David and Elizabeth near mobile coop.

David is a very hyper bird and a photo does not do him justice.  You can see a video of him at

Spring Garden 2011 – Synopsis

This is my spring garden wrap up for 2011.  It has been a fun spring with some booming successes, a few minor failures and a lot of weird and challenging weather.

The Big Winners:  The big winners this spring were the butter crunch lettuce, Cincinnati Market radishes and Colorado onions.  All three produced phenomenally providing many healthy meals.  Also, I harvested over three pounds of garden (snap) peas which was certainly more than I’d ever had before, due mainly to the large areas I planted with peas at TFF.

The Big Losers:  A couple of notable failures this year were several spring plantings that did not germinate.  They include habanero peppers that were sown indoors in heated beds – zero germination – and salsify (or oyster root) which was sowed outdoors and had a less than one percent germination rate.

Weather  We had both hot and cold extremes this spring.  A late cold snap crushed our hopes for apples and peaches but also helped us by quelling the early grasshopper hatch, according to my friends at Hillside Seed and Feed.  The biggest weather challenge was rain.  In May we got a total of 1.5″ at Turkey Foot Farm and at the beginning of June we were 5″ below average for the year.  Hot/cold, windy and mostly dry is the weather synopsis for spring farming 2011.  We were saved to some extent by 4.5 inches of rain that fell in the latter weeks of May.

Harvest  Despite the weird weather, the harvest was not bad.  The table below shows planting dates and harvest amounts.  The harvest amounts may be low estimates since not everything was weighted, but the numbers are a pretty good approximation.

Notes on Varieties

Collards:  these seeds were given to me by my Uncle Tub.  I think they were supposed to form heads but mine did not. However, they formed a lot of nice leaves.  I both transplanted from early indoor plantings and direct sowed.  The indoor plantings worked well and yielded the best.  In late June I harvested the remaining leaves and froze about a pound of them.   I left several of their “stumps” in the garden and as of July 1, they are beginning to leaf back out nicely.

Mustard:  I planted Red Giant from Morgan County Seeds.  I started them indoors and then moved them outside in late May or early April.  The variety lived up to its name, producing a large number or very big leaves and did not bolt until very late in the spring.  We had some early hot spells where the mustard would wilt terribly.  This is definitely a cool-weather, early-season crop.

A fresh garden salad featuring sugar snap peas. When peas are fresh, young and tender it is hard to bring yourself to cook them so a salad provides a good alternative.

Swiss Chard:  We planted Burpee Ruby Red variety.  Unlike mustard greens, chard thrives well in both cool and hot weather as do collard greens to a lesser extent.  As of July 1, our chard is still going strong with the earliest plantings giving us a second yield.

Spinach:  This year I again planted the Burpee Salad Fresh spinach.  The seed was at least two years old but germinated fine.  Yields were good but most was gone by early June due to hot spells and bolting.  I used up the seed and have now switched to a different variety that was suggested by my friends at Hillside Seed and Feed.

Arugula:  The variety was Oriental Greens from Morgan County Seeds.  I started these indoors and only planted three or four in the garden.  They are nice to have in salads mixed in with spinach/lettuce to provide some zest.  They are heat tolerant but bolt very early.  I find you can continue to harvest good leaves even as they bolt.

Radishes:  This year we planted three types of radishes.  Burpee Crimson Crisp Hybrid, along with two heirloom varieties from the Seed Savers Exchange – French Breakfast and Cincinnati Market.  The Burpee hybrids were the first to go in the ground and were ready in a remarkably short time – 28 days.  The heirloom varieties went in later and took a little longer to mature.  My new favorite variety is the Cincinnati Market.  This heirloom variety grows long like a carrot but has the traditional radish flavor.  It is much better than conventional globe radishes for slicing.  I made two big jars of refrigerator pickles with them.  After I ate the radishes, I made pickled hard-boiled eggs in the  remaining red brine – delicious.

Picked on May 25th, here are some garden fresh onions and Cincinnati Market radishes ready to cut up for a salad. These are my new favorite radishes.

 Salad Onions:  I planted the Colorado variety which I got from Hillside Seed and Feed.  They were a HUGE success, maturing quickly and growing very large.  We ate a lot of these in spring salads and continued harvesting them into the heat of the summer.

Butter Crunch Lettuce:  I’m uncertain of the specific variety, but I bought the seed at Hillside Seed and Feed.  This lettuce did terrific in our raised bed, producing lush delicious heads that made great salad.  We only had a short double row 2-3 feet long but it fed us salads for over a month.  We hated to see it go.

Garden Peas:  We planted several varieties – two were hybrids Burpee Sugar Snap and Shumway’s Experimetnal Lot 10-F-A.   We also planted an heirloom variety, Amish Snap Pea from SSE.  We had a pretty good harvest but did not put any by due to the fun of eating them fresh.

 Potatoes:  We planted three varieties of potatoes Kennebec, Bison and Yukon Gold.  The only ones harvested in the spring were the Kennebec and that was only a single vine.  These are delicious white potatoes that did fairly well at the Coe farm.  We’ll write more about this year’s potato harvest when all the results are in.

Garlic:  Last fall we planted two varieties of garlic, Georgia Fire and Ajo Rajo.  Both were mail-ordered from the Potato Patch.  We harvested 15 bulbs from the plants that made it to maturity.  Most were on the small side but some were rather large and all are delicious.  Both varieties did well.

Tomatoes:  I started a lot of tomatoes inside at the beginning of February.  We had one vine that produced two spring tomatoes.  The two tomatoes had set when the plants were still indoors.  The same plant now has a lot of green toms but the two early ones were clearly an anomaly.  The variety that set early was Shumway’s Experimental Lot 11-F-A.

Adventure Farm Participates in St. Louis Sustainable Backyard Tour

In May I wrote about visiting my sister’s urban farmstead, Adventure Farm. Her backyard was featured in an NPR report on the St. Louis Sustainable Backyard Tour.  You can read about the tour and see the slideshow which features her place.  In the slide show, her urban homestead is shown in slides 5-14.  Way to go Sis.

On the Road 2011 – My Visit to Mansfield Missouri and St. Louis Urban Farming

After school is out and the spring planting is done, late May is a great time for a journey.  This year I took a week off and I set my sights on Mansfield Missouri and points east. I can not recommend Mansfield highly enough as a destination for Ozark travelers.  While there, I stayed at a family camp ground named Mansfield Woods.  This campground is run by three local sisters and they were terrific as were the grounds and accommodations.

Mansfield is the final home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the famous “Little House” series author.  She lived near Mansfield on Rocky Ridge Farm from 1894 until her death in 1957.  I visited Rocky Ridge Farm and took the guided tours and also visited the museum.  The museum contains many treasures including the actual fiddle that Pa Ingalls played in Laura’s books along with hand written versions of Laura’s manuscripts.  There are two homes at Rocky Ridge, one is the original farm-house and the other is the “Rock House” which was a gift from Laura’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane, a famous journalist and author even before her mother began to write the Little House books.  The Rock House was meant to be a retirement home for Laura and her husband Almanzo.  The homes have been beautifully preserved and look much as they did when the Wilders lived  there during the first half of the 20th century.  An interesting thing I learned during my visit is that Laura wrote a column for a periodical called the “Missouri Ruralist” from about 1911-1924.  Her writings have been collected in a book entitled Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist:  Writings from the Ozarks and are quite interesting – revealing a side of Laura that does not come through in her autobiographical works.   In short, you can’t go wrong by visiting Rocky Ridge Farm if you are vacationing or live in the Ozarks of Missouri.  Also, I highly recommend the book mentioned above which is available at the Rocky Ridge gift shop or on line from Amazon.

 Mansfield is also the home of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is a fabulous family-owned business venture that welcomes visitors (read more about Baker Creek below). 

Laura and Almanzo Wilder’s Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield Missouri. Rocky Ridge Farm is a must-see for any fan of the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books. This is the place where they were all written. Counter clockwise from upper left. My 2003 Triumph Bonneville at the front gate of the farm after 300 miles of which 150 were in rain. The main farmhouse was expanded through the years and is open for tours. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside. The Rock House is also on Rocky Ridge Farm and it was a gift to Laura and Almanzo from their daughter, Rose. This is the house where “Little House in the Big Woods” and “Little House on the Prairie” and possibly some others were written.

The reason I was originally drawn to Mansfield Missouri was to visit Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. They are located just outside of Mansfield. Their seed warehouse, store and mail order operation are located here.  It’s a bustling family business with a lot to see and they welcome visitors.  Additionally, I saw a lot of folks working there which must be a terrific boon for the local economy.  I arrived there around lunch time and was able to eat at their restaurant which is only open for lunch.  While there I walked through their “Frontier Village” and visited their seed store.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds – At Baker Creek the operation is set up to resemble a frontier village that features stores, stages and rustic demonstrations. Some of the out-front workers dress in period clothing and some appear as if they may be Amish or Mennonites. The photo at top is of the main entrance and hotel. The lower left shows a cute little shanty and the lower right is the door to the hotel and restaurant. If you are lucky enough to get there around noon, you can get a home cooked vegan meal for the price of a voluntary donation. I had a salad and some lemonade.

At Baker Creek the seed company was in full swing but the Frontier Village was dead.  I think the best time to visit for interactive activities is on the first Sunday of each month when they have special events.  For me, I enjoyed browsing in the seed store and seeing the rows and rows of seeds.  Actually quite a few were sold out due to the business of their mail order operation.  If you want an online peek into the Baker Creek Inventory, visit their web site which you can reach from this page (see links on right).

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Store. The seed store is the center of activity at Baker Creek. Stepping inside is like entering their fantastic seed catalog (which is available free from the web site). I purchased several packs of seeds and had a nice time chatting with the women that work there.

After departing Mansfield I traveled east, crossing the Mississippi at Ste. Genevieve.  After motoring around southwestern Illinois for a few days, I went to St. Louis to visit two of the local urban farmers who also happen to be my brother and sister.  My sister runs Adventure Farms which is headquartered at her home in the Richmond Heights area of St. Louis.  You can visit her blog by following the link on the right hand side of this page.  She is actively involved in urban farming, bee keeping and permaculture.  My brother lives near Forest Park and has carved out some beautiful gardening spots in his small urban backyard.  Visiting them was a treat that included a tour of their gardens, a birdwatching trip to Forest Park and a home cooked meal of fresh garden greens and a farm-fresh egg omelet flavored with locally gathered chicken mushroom.

Urban Farming in St. Louis. The photos in the left column were taken at Adventure Farm in Richmond Heights. The photos in the right column are from my brother’s home in University City.

These photos were taken at my brother’s and sister’s homes.  The left column shows the backyard of Adventure Farm where my sister Deanna raises a wide range of vegetables to help feed her family.  The middle photo shows her clever use of cattle panels as trellises for vine crops.  In a small yard like this – going up is a great option for optimizing crop yields.  The lower left panel shows her new bee hive which was successfully launched this spring.  While I was there the bees were busily flying in and out.  She tells me that the bees not only work in her own yard but can be seen flying off to other parts of the neighborhood – thus benefitting surrounding yards with their pollinating efforts.  The right hand column shows photos from my brother’s back yard.  He lives in an upper scale older neighborhood near Washington University.  This is not the kind of neighborhood where you can get away with a lot of messy farming, but he has tailored his yard well for food production while maintaining a nice appearance.  The top panel shows some raised beds that includes a covered sandbox for his kids.   The middle panel shows his use of a hinged cover to protect his beds from the local bunnies. In the bottom panel he has used a south-facing fence to support trellises for growing beans, peas and squash.

Overall, it was a fun trip.  Nothing beats hitting the road and visiting cool places except returning back home.   It’s always fun to return to the farm and see how things have grown and changed, even during a short time away. 

Homegrown Eating Diary or My 2011 New Year’s Resolution

Tanya Tandoc is the foodie-in-residence at KMUW, the NPR station in Wichita.  Recently she gave a little rant about the hardships of eating local in Wichita in which she stated, “eating seasonally in this area is challenging, since for eight months we have nothing at all and for four months we have too much of everything.”   This is where I tend to disagree so in this running post I will attempt to dispell Tandoc’s misconceptions by testing my ability to eat local and in fact I will attempt to eat self-grown for as many weeks as possible.  For the complete transcript of Tanya’s portrayal of eating local in Wichita please see:

This brings me to my New Year’s resolution for 2011 in which I decided to eat something homegrown in every meal that I prepared.  However, I have not kept rigorous records and that is what I plan to do here.  The growing season in Kansas is lengthy and when you include things like winter squash, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes and the use of cold-frames along with canning and drying – I believe one can provide some food for themselves all 52 weeks of the year in Wichita.  So here I begin my 52 week tally.  The running list below will itemize the homegrown foods (including eggs and meat) I eat each week in 2011-2012 and I will make special note of things that were put away and eaten later, i.e. things that are canned, dried, or frozen.

Week 1 May 30 –  Spinach, radishes, Swiss chard, mustard greens, salad onions, green peas (snap and shell types), potatoes,  eggs. All were fresh picked.

Week 2, June 6 – Radishes (pickled), salad onions, garden peas (sugar snap), butter crunch lettuce, collard greens, turnip greens, garlic, eggs, chicken (grilled and  chicken salad).

Week 3, June 13 – Collard greens, turnip greens, Swiss chard, spinach, garlic, salad onions, butter crunch lettuce, radishes (pickled), garden peas, eggs (pickled and hard boiled), chicken (baked).

Week 4, June 20 – butter crunch lettuce, tomatoes (1st two of the season), garden peas, salad onions, potatoes, radishes (pickled)chicken (baked), eggs (salad and pickled)

Week 5, June 27 – butter crunch lettuce, Swiss chard, turnip greens and turnips, zucchini, cucumbers, salad onions, sweet onions, garlic,  potatoes, radishes (pickled)chicken (baked), eggs (boiled).

Week 6, July 4 – green beans, okra, Swiss chard, turnips, potatoes, sweet onions, salad onions, garlic, jalapenos, cucumbers, squash (yellow and zucchini), radishes (pickled), chicken (smoked), eggs (all sorts of ways).

Week 7, July 11 – turnips, okra, butter crunch lettuce, Swiss chard, jalapenos, cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes (cherry and Roma), salad onions, eggs(scrambled and boiled).

 July 18 – Out of the country.

Week 8, July 25 – Cucumbers (fresh and pickles), sweet corn, okra, tomatoes (many types), green beans, lima beans, squash (yellow and zucchini), turnips, sweet onions,  salad onions, jalapenos, bell peppers, chicken(smoked/grilled) eggs (all sorts of ways).

Week 9, August 1– Apples (frozen from 2010 ), sweet corn, okra, tomatoes (many types),  squash (yellow and zucchini), potatoes, sweet onions, garlic,   jalapenos, Scotch bonnets, bell peppers, chicken(smoked/grilled) eggs (all sorts of ways).

Week 10, August 8–   Squash (yellow and zucchini), potatoes, sweet onions, salad onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, bell peppers, eggs.

Week 11, August 15 – Tomatoes, squash, potatoes, leeks, okra, sweet onions, garlic, bell peppers, Scotch Bonnet peppers, cabbage (from 2010 harvest), peaches (from 2010 harvest), duck, chicken, eggs.

Week 12, August 22 – Potatoes, leeks, garlic, bell peppers, Scotch Bonnet peppers, cabbage (from 2010 harvest), peaches (from 2010 harvest), duck, chicken, eggs.

Week 13, August 29 Lima beans, green beans, okra, potatoes, leeks, garlic, bell peppers, cabbage (from 2010 harvest), chicken, eggs.

Week 14, September 5 – Okra, zucchini and yellow squash, potatoes, leeks, sweet onions, garlic, bell and Habanero peppers,  chicken, eggs.

Week 15, September 12 –  Yellow and zucchini squash, leeks, sweet onions, bell peppers, eggs.

Week 16, September 19 –  Yellow and zucchini squash, sweet onions, bell peppers.

Week 17, September 26 – Sweet onions, okra, bell peppers, green beans, Jalapeno an d Habanero peppers, chicken, goose, eggs.

Week 18, October 3 –  Sweet onions, okra, bell peppers, cucumbers (pickled), zucchini, chicken.

Week 19, October 10 –  Okra, green beans, green tomatoes, zucchini and yellow squash, leeks, bell peppers, jalapenos and habaneros, chicken and eggs.

Week 20, October 17 –  leeks, bell peppers, jalapenos, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, habaneros,  and eggs.

Week 21, October 24 – basil, yellow, zuchini and butternut squash, sweet onions, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, turnip greens, leeks, arugula, duck eggs.

Week 22, October 31 – potatoes, tomatoes, basil, arugula, beet greens, beets, michihili (Napa cabbage), sweet onions, leeks, garlic, bell peppers (from freezer), chicken stock (from freezer), chicken, eggs.

Week 23, November 7 – Leeks, michihili (Napa cabbage), sweet onions,  turnip greens, bell peppers, zucchini, chicken stock (last three from freezer), chicken, eggs.

Week 24, November 14 – Leeks, michihili (Napa cabbage), arugula, butter crunch lettuce, spinach,  sweet onions,  turnip greens, turnips, butternut squash, pumpkin, bell peppers, summer squash, chicken stock (last four from freezer), chicken, eggs.

Week 25, November 21 – Salad onions, sweet onions, leeks, arugula, spinach, turnip greens, michihili, turnips, winter squash, sweet potatoes,  pumpkin (from freezer), bell peppers (from freezer), sweet and dill pickles, pickled peppers, turkey, and eggs.

Week 26, November 28 – Leeks, Swiss chard, michihili, turmips, winter squash, pumpkin (from freezer), pickled peppers, pickles (sweet and dill),  turkey, chicken, eggs.
Week 27, December 5 – Leeks, Swiss chard, michihili, turmips, pumpkin (from freezer), pickled peppers, chicken, eggs (duck and chicken).
Week 28, December 12 – Turnips,  pickled peppers and dill pickles, winter
Week 29, December 19 – Turnips,  sweet onions, pickled peppers and dill pickles, winter squash, bell peppers and okra from freezer, chicken and  eggs.
Week 30, December 26 – Turnips, leeks, salad onions, arugula, butter crunch lettuce, spinach, sweet pickles,  goose, chicken and  eggs.  From freezer:  peaches,  pumpkin, peppers, okra.
Week 31, January 2 – Leeks, goose, chicken and  eggs.  From freezer:  peppers, okra, zucchini.
Week 32, January 9 – Leeks, turnips, goose, chicken.  From freezer:  peppers,  zucchini.
Week 33, January 16 – Leeks.  From freezer:  peppers,  zucchini.
Week 34, January 23 – Leeks, dill pickles, bean sprouts, chicken, eggs.  From freezer:  peppers,  zucchini.
Week 35, January 30 – Leeks, salad onions, chicken, eggs.  From cold frame: arugula, cilantro and spinach.
Week 36, February 6 –  Salad onions, eggs.  From cold frame: arugula, cilantro and spinach.  From freezer:  yellow squash and zucchini.
Week 37, February 13 –  Chicken, turkey, eggs.  From cold frame: arugula, buttercrunch lettuce and spinach.  From freezer: bell peppers and okra.
Week 38, February 20 –  eggs.  From freezer: bell peppers and okra.
Week 39, February 27 –  Leeks, eggs.  From freezer: bell peppers.
Week 40, March 5-  Leeks, Jerusalem artichokes,  chicken, eggs.  From cold frame:  spinach and buttercrunch lettuce.  From freezer and pantry:  chicken, sweet peppers and sweet pickles.
Week 41, March 12-  Chicken, eggs.  From cold frame:  spinach and buttercrunch lettuce.  From freezer:  chicken and sweet peppers.
March 19-  out of town.
Week 42, March 26-  From cold frame:  spinach and buttercrunch lettuce.
Week 43, April 2 – Salad onions, spinach, buttercrunch lettuce, cilantro, chicken, eggs and pickled peppers.  From Freezer:  Okra, turnip greens and habaneros.
Week 44, April 2 – Buttercrunch lettuce, chicken, pickled peppers.
Week 45, April 9 – Buttercrunch lettuce, spinach, radishes, salad onions, chicken, pickled peppers.
Week 46, April 16 – Buttercrunch lettuce, spinach, radishes, salad onions, chicken, eggs,  pickled peppers.  From freezer:  Okra, peppers, squash.
Week 47, April 23 – Lettuce, salad onions, chicken,  pickled peppers, fish from pond.  From freezer:  Okra.
Week 48, April 30 – Lettuce, salad onions, chicken,  pickled peppers, eggs, radishes, pak choi, fish from pond.  From freezer:  Okra, peppers.
Week 49, May 7 – Salad onions,  pak choi.
Week 50, May 14 – 
Week 51, May 21- 
Week 52, May 28-

Big Eyes/Small Mouth Plus a Visit from Bambi.

Black rat snake at Turkey Foot Farm April 15, 2011.

A fun thing about working outside and raising food and animals is the close contact with nature.  So much depends on the weather and the soil and insects – both good and bad and subtle and obvious.  Sometimes the encounters with nature are very obvious and thrilling like finding a bird’s nest or catching a snake.  We are lucky to have a large black rat snake at TFF.  I have seen it three times this year and have handled and measured it.  The rat snake is about 5.5 feet long and looks very healthy.  The first time I saw him he was coming out of the main chicken coop.  The chickens were in a pasture and I just assumed he was drawn to the coop by the presence of birds.  I figured the most he could do was eat an egg and would not tangle with a full-grown chicken.  At the time we had chicks but they were in a brooder in the garage.  The best thing about having a snake around the place is that the snake does a good job of keeping mice and rats at bay.  As you can see from the photo, this is a beautiful snake and we enjoy seeing him from time to time.

About a month after the photo above was taken we moved the feathered-out poults from the brooder to the main coop where they integrated well with a few older poults and a young cockerel.  All was well until two days ago when we found a dead poult.  She was lying on the floor all stretched out in an odd way.  Upon closer inspection we could see that her head and neck were coated with a crusty material which I now believe was dried snake saliva.

This is the poult after being constricted by a black rat snake. The snake tried to eat the bird but could not get past the neck. You can see the ruffled feathers and dried saliva on the neck and head of the poult. The poult is stretched out like that because the snake constricted it before trying to eat it head first.

   So it appears that the snake did decide to have a go at the poults and that the snake’s eyes were bigger than its mouth.  It seems the snake constricted the poult and then tried to eat it head first but gave up when it reached the end of the neck and encountered the wings and breast.  This didn’t bother me as it was one chicken out of 25 and I knew the snake would not come back for more since it is not in the nature of a predator to expend valuable energy on something it can not eat.  This morning we found the snake buried under some litter in the coop and farmer girl caught it and decided to relocate it by taking it to the other side of the farm.  We’ll see if the snake makes it back to the farm yard.

Not all encounters with wildlife are as gruesome as the last one.   A day after finding the dead bird we were paid a visit by one of Bambi’s ilk.  Here is a photo of my mother-in-law with a fawn that was hiding in our back field.  The mother was hiding out of sight.  The stark comparison of new life and recent death is a big part of farm life and food production.

 Updated September 9, 2011.  This summer was extremely hot and dry.  During the last week of August I captured three rat snakes.  One very large one was in the main coop after dark suspended above some full grown hens as if he were considering giving it a try.  I moved him to another area of the farm.  A day later I had some small Cornish X poults inside a wire fence and a different rat snake killed one.  I found the snake and bird just as the snake was starting to try to eat the poult.  Once again the snake had to give up when he got to the birds body.  A few days later a rat snake came in our garage, into the brooder and killed another Cornish X poult.  I found this chain of events somewhat surprising.  I wonder if the extremely hot and dry weather has made hunting difficult for these snakes and if these were acts of desperation on the part of hungry snakes.   Hard to say but it does shoot holes in my theory that snake  predation of poultry is limited to late spring and early summer.

Fawn and mother-in-law in the back pasture.

Spring Greens and Geese

French Breakfast and Cincinnati Market radishes. These are heirloom radishes that were planted on April 1, 2011 and pulled on May 8 (37 days). The long one in my hand is the Cincinnati Market. After topped and pared - they weighed in at 8 oz.

Spring is no time for regrets, but this year I have a few mild regrets.  First,  I wish I had not started my tomatoes indoors so early and I wish I had planted more radishes and mustard greens.  Weather-wise, it’s been one weird spring.  We had frost warnings during the last week of April when it reached down to 34 F at TFF.  Then 10 days later we hit the 90’s.  Add to this the fact that we have had less than an inch of rain in the last three weeks and it’s fair to say that vegetable gardening has been challenging.  “Dry with hugely fluctuating temperature extremes” is how I would classify what is supposed to be the peak spring growing season around Wichita Kansas.  Despite the unconventional weather, we have had some good growing successes at TFF and Coe Farm.  Potatoes are looking great (more on that when we start to harvest) and we have had some decent, though not outstanding, luck with greens and radishes.  I’ll have to reevaluate again in a month or so but so far the top performers in the garden have been the mustard greens and radishes.   I planted two types of heirloom radishes, Cincinnati Market (aka Long Scarlet) and French Breakfast.  Both of these came from Seed Savers Exchange – see link to right.  These  heirloom varieties have been extraordinary and I can’t recommend them highly enough to radish lovers (like me). 

One fun thing about spring farming this spring has been the addition of geese and ducks.  We have a pair of geese and ducks that follow us around like puppies.  It’s fun to take a break with them now and then.  Not sure about their breeds yet but here is a photo of me resting under a tree with one of our geese.


Taking a break with our geese and ducks.

Just in Time Chicken Tractor

Side view of finished chicken tractor. You can see Sexi Lexi standing in the door of the roost box. You can click on images to see a larger version.

Farmer girl, farmer boy and I just finished the chicken tractor, also called a movable coop, last weekend. It is the newest addition to TFF.  We have a new flock of 14 poults in the brooder who are almost ready to move to the permanent coop so we had to move our rooster and six layers to make room for the new ones.  We moved the layers and the rooster, Sexi Lexi, into the tractor on Sunday.  The plan is that they will spend the rest of their lives living in the tractor when they are not free ranging.  They have spent two nights inside and are doing fine.  The tractor is moved by tilting it up onto wheels mounted at one end.  It’s difficult, but not impossible, to move by yourself.  It helps to have two people.  The lower level is a floorless run that allows the chickens access to dirt, grass, weeds and bugs.  The upper level is the roost that they stay in at night.  The floor of the roost box slides out for easy cleaning and there are two nest boxes with an exterior door for collecting each day’s eggs.  Right now we have 6 hens in there with Lexi and they don’t seem crowded.

Here is the right side view. Lexi is on the outdoor perch. You can also see the rear wheels and the steel pipe we slide into place to lock the door each night.

The coop also boasts a skylight, interior ventilation and easy-access perches both inside and out.

Rear view shows the exterior access to the nest boxes. The visible roof material is corrugated translucent plastic. It sits atop 1/8 inch plywood and there is a hole in the top half to act as a skylight.