Category Archives: Turkey Foot Farm

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.

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.

Introducing Turkey Foot Farm

In previous posts I mentioned our Derby Home.  This post introduces our new home and describes our expanded farming activities there.  We purchased the property and  home in May 2010.  The property consists of 11 acres and is located just east of Derby Kansas.  We moved in at the end of May and over the past 10 months we have done a number of small farm related improvements and feel it is time to give the new place a name and an introduction.  The name is Turkey Foot Farm or TFF for short.  Turkey Foot has a triple meaning for our farm since we are raising turkeys, have wild turkeys on the property and have pastures with big bluestem grass.  The folk name for big bluestem is Turkey Foot. 

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) - you can see from the seed heads how big bluestem got its alternate name - turkey foot.

I have listed some of the urban farming features of TFF below with photos. 

1)  360 square feet of raised beds.  The first thing we did at TFF was to construct raised beds using cinder blocks.  The beds were filled with dirt and compost.  The compost was obtained from Evergreen Recycling in Park City Kansas.  A lot of the harvested vegetables described in the previous post “Fall Garden Wrap Up” came from the first of our three beds.  I have included some photos from last summer and from today.

This is one of our 8 x 10 beds. The photo is from last summer when the winter squash plants were getting going. Later these butternut squash plants covered all the grass in this photo.

Three raised beds - this is a shot of our three raised beds looking from the south. The nearest bed is the largest at 25 x 8 and behind it are the two 8 x 10 beds. The red tubs in the forefront are being used to grow potatoes.


Asparagus Bed - In addition to our raised beds we have dug or rototilled another 6 or 7 beds. This photo shows our newly emerged "Mary Washington" asparagus. We planted 50 two-year-old crowns about a month previous to this photo. The bed has a good deal of compost worked into it. We expect to harvest asparagus in spring 2013.

2)   A 16 square foot cold frame. 

The cold frame is used to extend the growing season.  This spring we used it to start radishes, spinach, chard, collards and mustard greens.  

Cold Frame - Here is a shot of our 16 sq. ft cold frame on April 14 2011. The windows were removed a few weeks ago and will go back on in the fall. Growing inside is swiss chard, spinach, radishes, collards, arugula and mustard greens. We have been harvesting spinach and radishes for a couple of weeks at this point.

3) A chicken coop with external runs and solar-powered lighting.   This was a pretty big time and money investment.  The chicken coop was built from an existing three-sided shed.  We poured a concrete foundation in one half of the shed, added a front wall and other improvements.  There was no electricity so we installed a solar battery charger and some 12 volt lighting.  So far we have raised 2 dozen Cornish x rock chickens which are now all in our freezer or tummies along with a mixed flock of layers and one rooster that are shown in the photos below.

Chicken Coop. The space inside the coop is divided in half so that two sets of poultry can be separately raised. There is a run on each side and this photo shows the smaller south run. The north run is not visible and is still under construction. So far we have raised over 30 chickens in this coop. On the roof above the wreath you may be able to make out the small solar collector that powers the lights inside.

Here is our current egg-laying flock. They produce 4-6 eggs per day. Most of the eggs are fertile because we have a rooster housed with the hens. He is named Lexi is on the left behind the black chicken. We have incubated some of the eggs and currently have three chicks in a separate brooder in our garage.

4)  A large pile-based composting operation.  I forgot to take a photo of our compost operation but will try to do so later.  It consists of two large (8′  x 8′ x4′) side-by-side bins where we throw kitchen, yard and chicken waste to help us recycle and enrich the soil at TFF.

5)  Web site.  We also established a web site for TFF to help us establish ownership of the name and to provide a place to conduct online commerce should we decide to go in that direction.  The web site can be viewed at:

We are still growing vegetables at the Coe Farm in Wichita and will continue to report on our progress there.