Peas are coming along nicely!

Is it dirt or is it soil??

I remember as a kid always getting these funny looks from my mom when I’d wander back inside after playing in the dirt with the bugs, but these days I can’t help but get a little more than excited to be back in the fields and getting dirty again! Except now, as an adult, I am always corrected in that it’s called soil NOT dirt…sorry but it will never be just soil to me. There is something special about getting dirty out in the field and coming back in the house coated in “soil” and exhausted.

Thankfully Mother Nature has been a little more cooperative lately and the “soil” has dried out enough that we can finish getting our transplants into the dirt without looking like Swamp Thing :) The Mankato Farmer’s Market has been underway and now we’re just anxiously waiting for more green things to come out of the dirt and be ready for the table. We even have the asparagus (started from seed) now in the field!

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A new year…a new look…

As we begin our 2014 season, we are going to roll out our new logo and look! Thanks to a graphic design class project we were introduced to some students at MSU-Mankato and gained a great, new look for our farm! With many thanks to Professor David Rodgers and Nicole Lindbloom (our designer), Ed and I would like to introduce our new logo!

Back_40_acres_logoThere has once again been a transformation in our living room as Ed has begun to plant onions, leeks, and asparagus for this coming season. It was out with the Christmas tree and decorations after New Year’s Day and in with the grow lights and soil mix! The fun part about having the start up in the living room is that although it may be white and wintery outside, inside there is a glimmer of hope that spring is just around the corner!

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As Ed has been busy playing in the dirt, I’ve been having fun with my sewing machine creating & re-purposing old T-Shirts into market bags. Said market bags will actually be given as a gift to those that decide to purchase $400 worth of coupons or shares for the 2014/2015 market season(s). Remember that the coupons are good for two (2) years and can be used for anything we have available at market…this includes canned goods, all the produce you can handle, eggs, and canning or preserving quantities of produce and herbs (just let us know ahead of time and we’ll set a bushel aside for you)!

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2014 Shares are Now Available

We are excited to announce that shares for the 2014 season are now available! We will be doing this a bit different from what a “normal” CSA does. Instead of bringing produce to you that is already preselected and bagged, we will be giving coupons that you can use to buy any of our goods your heart desires!

The breakdown is as follows:

1) All coupons are bought in $50 increments. The value of the coupon itself is $55 (so an extra 10% for investing early).

2) If you purchase at least $400 in “shares”/coupons, an additional $55 coupon will be given to you. That means that if you invest $400, you will actually receive $490 worth of coupons/value to use. (This offer is only good until May 1st. You can still purchase shares/coupons after that date, but the special for this investment will be over.)

3) The best thing of all is that all coupons are good for both the 2012 and 2013 seasons! So if you don’t use all of them this coming season, no worries! You can use it the next year as well!

The coupons are used as cash with Back40 Acres and are redeemable at the farmers market or at the farm. Basically if you select to have a bundle of carrots and the price at the market is $3 then we will subtract $3 off your coupon. If you choose to come to the farm to select your produce the price will be the same as if it were purchased at the farmers market.

Be at the market early!!! While we will try to bring enough for our share holders and other customers, but we can not guarantee what will be available at the end of the market day. If we notice shortage is a regular problem for many shareholders we will look at options for hosting a shareholder only day at a central location. (Probably in Nicollet or at the farm.)

If you have any questions about how this will work please feel free to contact us by email at back40acresfarm@gmail.com or by calling Ed at (507) 317-0314.

The best part is being able to buy fresh lobster right off the boat!

Rhode Trip!

As some of you may know from seeing our posts on Facebook last week, Ed and I enjoyed our first vacation together in 6 years this past week! We went on a road trip to Rhode Island to see his youngest brother get married and spend a week with the Hohenstein and Bakke clan. Some may think us a little crazy for driving straight through after market, but hey…that’s how we roll :) As soon as we arrived at the house in RI, we were shown our room which we thought had to be a joke (his family is known for pulling jokes on on another) …it had bunk beds…we were told no…this is your room but hey at least there was a good view and it was a real bed!

IMG_0058There were two really big items on Ed’s wish list of things to do while we were out on the east coast…first – find peaches!!! and second – go fishing :) We were successful on both items of our list. On Monday after some much needed rest, we toured the Four Corners of Tiverton, RI and then went to see the home where the wedding was to be held later that week. On the way to the wedding location we spotted it…a sign on a roadside market that said fresh peaches! We knew we had to stop …and boy did we find peaches! Young Family Farm in Little Compton, RI has the best peaches we ever tasted. They have yellow and white varieties, nectarines, berries, herbs and more. We even learned that one of the owners is originally from MN.

The interesting thing about RI and MA is that things change rapidly…one minute you’re driving in an urban area and in the next you’re in the country among corn fields and dairy cattle. The other thing that really threw us for a loop was how long it’d take to go 15 miles. Here in MN…you say oh…it’s only 15 miles away and we know instantly it will take about 15 mins to get to your destination. In RI, it’s a completely different story…you say it’s 15 miles away and it will take almost 45 mins to get to the destination. Ed discovered this on our first day there. He went to go check out the fishing in Narraganset Bay. Our iPhone app told us it was 15 to 20 miles to get there…he got on the road and instantly I get a text saying opps! it’ll be an hour before we get there. Who knew!

After spending some time looking over all of the fishing options with his older brother Bill and our long time family friend Ed Bakke…they found it….our fishing excursion for the RI trip! After much discussion among the Hohenstein brothers, the groom included :), it was decided to go with the Seven B’s V fishing and to go from 7pm to 1am after the illusive striped sea bass. Since we got such a great deal there were 11 of us hardy Minnesotan’s that went fishing in the middle of the night. Ironically, the two who weren’t as interested were the ones that caught the fish but all in all we had a great time and I’d love to go again!

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Along with being by the ocean and the fishing trip, we also went and enjoyed some tastings at a few of the local wineries. I discovered that there is a coastal wine trail with the majority of the wineries being located just 15 miles from where we were staying in Tiverton! Our favorite vineyard that we saw was Greenvale Winery. The setting for this winery is amazing…you drive down this long gravel road and when you come to the end you see the vines over looking the ocean! They also had the best Chardonnay of all three wineries we enjoyed tastings at. The best wine though, in our opinion, came from Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard located in Little Compton. Our favorite was the winter wine (we brought home 2 bottles!) This vineyard grows all of their grapes onsite and doesn’t bring anything in. They had a number of white and reds, the best tasting champagne I’ve ever had, and 3 dessert wines.

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We did have one rainy day during our week in RI…so we did what anyone else would…went and picked up lobster and little neck clams from the local fishermen! We then did what our parents always told us not to…played with our food :) I even named the lobsters Chuck and Bob…they were mighty tasty. We washed it down with a bottle of vidal blanc from Sakonnet Winery.

Chuck and Bob face off before becoming dinner

Chuck and Bob face off before becoming dinner

All in all it was an amazing trip. When we did get back home we found the garden overflowing with vegetables…including patty pan squash the size of my head! Thank goodness for family and summer vacation :) Ed’s sister and her two sons came and helped out with harvest yesterday so we could get caught back up before the week was over. Since this is getting long I’ll just end this post with more pictures from our vacation in RI as my mind still hasn’t left the beach.

Schemes and Dreams become Reality!

Canning season, especially salsa making reminds me of how we got started in this crazy life they call farming. Ed grew up on a traditional corn/bean family farm here in MN, while I grew up in San Jose and San Diego. So how did this CA gal end up in MN you might ask…well the answer is quite simple ….I met and married a MN farm boy :) Ed always loved being in the country,¬† but didn’t like the traditional form of crop farming (corn and beans).¬† In college, we both focused on biology …mine was aquatic and his was wildlife and ecology.

After I graduated college, we ended up moving to Muscatine, Iowa. Ok…now I know some of you may not be fans, but I still have to say GO HAWKS!! Now that’s out of my system I can once again focus on how we went from a container garden that was so aptly named “the salsa factory” to our 1.8 acre produce farm. When living in town we were very limited in yard space and really didn’t have an area for a traditional garden, so Ed created the salsa factory out of whiskey barrels that were cut in half and using them to raise tomatoes and peppers.

The Salsa Factory and Rose Garden

The Salsa Factory and Rose Garden

While Ed tended to the salsa factory, I focused on my rose garden with Rosemary and Lavender…it also had a strawberry boarder. Even though our neighbors gave us funny looks for killing the grass, I think in the end the appreciated what it became.

As much as we liked living in Iowa, we knew that at some point we’d want to be closer to family and to live on a few acres of our own. It may have taken some time, but once we did find our country home Ed was already scheming on how to layout the garden that first spring and what he’d like to grow. We ended up with an area three times the size of the rose garden that was full of veggies…they ranged from potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers to even growing large sunflowers that we could give as treats to our chickens.

While I love the views and watching the chickens roam under the apple trees…I was not a fan of all the additional weeding that came with such large gardens. It also took me a while to get used to the idea of eating seasonally and just going out to the garden to get dinner. As I started to think up new ways to use up our veggies from the garden, Ed continued to ponder on different ways to make the same area provide even more vegetables. He worked with companion plants so that he could keep pests out of the tomatoes or try to use the nitrification boost of beans for growing sweet corn as well as square foot gardening. More and more veggies poured out of the garden and even with the freezing and preserving we just had too much food!

In all his planning, tinkering and working in the garden Ed found his true calling…he found his way of being able to use the farm in a way that benefited us and allowed him the opportunity to do what he had always wanted…Farm! Now, three years later, we continue to learn and think up new ideas to try for the next season.

Some of Ed’s favorite gardening books:

  1. The Backyard Homestead edited by Carleen Madigan
  2. Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte
  3. Myceloium Running by Paul Stamets
  4. All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

In other news, we will be heading to Rhode Island after market on Aug 11th for a family wedding and won’t be back to market in Mankato until after Aug 20th. Pictures to follow!

Zydeco Beans and Pickled Beets

What’s that noise again?!?

Yep…you read that correctly! Every time I walk into the greenhouse it sounds like it’s raining outside…I look up and all I see are the bugs hitting the clear plastic that covers what we now refer to as the jungle. Last year we didn’t really have a method or plan for what was going to be in the raised beds inside the greenhouse…up came melons, pumpkins, squash, cherry tomatoes and more. Basically, whatever had seeds in it when we threw it into the compost …up came the plants. So for this season Ed came up with a plan…cucumbers on the outside and tomatoes on the inside of the beds…

IMG_0036At least we can see where the raised beds were constructed so we have a general idea of where to walk :) It may look a little crazy, or seem a bit overwhelming initially but it has made harvest quite easy…just don’t forget the bug spray! I’ve counted 4 new bites since walking out to update the blog. (It’s a good thing I have an aloe plant!)

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The garden has been busting at the seems with produce which means it’s time to transition the kitchen from baking and into canning. I’ve been busy building up our stock of pickled beets, zydeco beans, bread ‘n butter zucchini pickles and Grandma’s famous dill pickles! I never know what will be on the agenda for preserving on Sunday until after we get home from Saturday’s market…can’t let all that produce go to waste and the chickens are getting a little picky at the moment. I have found that even if I blanch and freeze snow peas or green beans it’s worth the work to have them in January when it’s hard to find good, fresh veggies.

Over the years, Ed and I have discovered that there are some items from the garden we prefer frozen, others canned and yet others get dehydrated. A few years ago we had items on the Christmas list for our preferred food preservation techniques (our families just got use to the crazy Ed and Des that wanted a meat grinder or a food dehydrator instead of iTunes for a gift). Without a doubt though, our go-to method has been canning.

Zydeco Beans and Pickled Beets

Zydeco Beans and Pickled Beets

The one thing to keep in mind if you are interested in canning is to follow the directions carefully! It may sound odd to add lemon or orange juice to your homemade applesauce, but it’s necessary in order to maintain the correct pH so that it’s preserved and doesn’t go bad. Also, keep in mind that if the lid makes a noise when pushed down…the jar isn’t sealed and the contents should be stored in the fridge and eaten first. From jams & jellies, to homemade pie filling, salsa, and even chicken…canning has been a great way to store our food and have it readily available at a moments notice! Need something for game night at a friends house…no problem…grab a can of salsa and some chips, or use that apple pie filling to make a quick crisp!

As some of you may know, I love to knit as well as work in the kitchen and have found the Baby Cocktails website a great place to go. Thea Colman is one of my favorite knit wear designers and many of her designs also feature a beverage that was/is part of her inspiration. (Examples would be Rolling Rock – the sweater, Vodka Lemonade, and more!) Now I know that it may not strictly be a recipe for the produce…but it’s nice after a long day in the field to kick back on the porch with a delicious cold beverage in hand! Enjoy! Link: http://babycocktails.blogspot.com/p/home.html

Pepper helping herself to the snow peas!

Bug Patrol

As Ed noted earlier on our Facebook page we’ve been combatting the notorious Striped ¬†Cucumber Beetle…and so far it’s been winning :(

More information and pictures of this insidious little insect can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Striped_cucumber_beetle. After having war over the hot pepper plants with Cut Worms it’s been a trying summer so far for the vegetables out in the field…

Our decimated cucumber patch

Our decimated cucumber patch

However, help is on the way! That’s right…the war isn’t over yet….enter Diatomaceous Earth (DE)! DE is a naturally occurring, fossilized organism that we will be using on the cucumbers, watermelons and melon plants. Basically it’s the casings of an aquatic creature that is made of silica (sand). It’s used to spray the plants, is food grade (some people even add it to their food to deal with bacterial parasites in their bodies) and lacerates the bug so it will dehydrate and die. Wikipedia has some great info on DE which can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diatomaceous_earth. The best part of DE is that it is entirely sustainable and a natural product!

Although the cucumbers haven’t been doing as good out in the field as we’d hoped…we did find a few surprises when walking the garden last night! Check out the roma tomato and peppers! Also, beets and green beans will be ready for market this coming Saturday!

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I’m still baking away in the kitchen concocting more ideas for cheesecakes, cookies and thinking about adding cupcakes to the list…only draw back is that my canning projects are about to commence as well. How to determine what to do with my time?!? I just wish I had more hours in the day…

Beets

Beyond the Salad Bowl…

Well our wishes were finally granted! We got some much needed sunshine and warmer weather…and the plants doubled and in some cases tripled in size! The weather has been so good to us that we had 2 coolers full of green leaf and romaine lettuce with us at the Mankato Market yesterday…I still have a fridge full of lettuce and had to start thinking of what I can do with it other than eat more salad.

June 16 Garden Walk 002Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a California Girl and love my salads with all sorts of crazy things like fruit, nuts, stinky cheese and more but one can only have salad so many times in a day. Ed found a wonderful solution to our dilemma…aside from giving it to the chickens who love it too…he treated it much like spinach and sauteed some romaine with walnuts, balsamic vinaigrette and bacon. Loved it!

But the best part of all is that the garden has started to explode with produce…we will be adding Thursday markets in Mankato starting this week! I just love that Mother Nature has pushed the clouds away, allowed the rain to come as needed but has the sunshine right behind it. Here are some photos from the garden walk today…the tomatoes are flowering, we have some of the spicy peppers starting to produce and the peas are soon to be on their way as well!

Today I spent the day working on a new idea for the markets…how about individually sized cheesecakes? Yep, you heard me right…soon from our kitchen to you we will be selling personal size cheesecakes! Of course there will be New York Style (with fresh berry topping), but how about Turtle, White Chocolate Raspberry or maybe even Triple Berry…what are your favorite flavors/varieties of cheesecake?

Snap Peas

Is it summer yet?!?

I’m sure you’re all wondering just as much as I am…when will the heat turn on? Although by August we’re ready to see fall, at this point in time I’m anxiously awaiting “normal” summer days. I’m tired of the cold spurts, cloudy & rainy days…bring on that sunshine!! At least this time I’m not the only one asking for mother nature to turn up the heat…the plants are in need of it too. Due to this slow starting spring and the cold/wet bouts of weather we’ve had the plants are taking their time to mature…as can be seen in the photos below. Hopefully, we’ll have something more than eggs, rhubarb, canned goods and cookies to bring to Mankato for market on Saturday!

The one good thing about a later spring and cooler weather is that there is still plenty of rhubarb and asparagus to be had. Perhaps you’re even tired of eating all that rhubarb by now and trying to pawn it off on neighbors, coworkers and friends…well here is another something you can do in order to enjoy it later in the season and even at Christmas time: my vote is to cut up the rhubarb and toss it into a Ziploc freezer bag or if you feel really daring…make your favorite pie filling and can it :) Yep you heard me right…the wonderful thing about rhubarb is there are just so many options out there…pies, bars, cookies, jams or jellies and it’s good on it’s own or mixed with a sweeter fruit!

Until next time…this is Des, your friendly neighborhood rhubarb fanatic signing off :)

Why did the duck cross the yard?? To get to the giant puddle in the driveway!

To Market to market…to sell some veggies!

Even though Mother Nature has been a bit fickle this spring…we are starting up our Market season this weekend, June 1, at the Mankato Farmer’s Market! Things may be a bit slow in the garden still, but will will be there with smiling faces, farm fresh eggs, canned goods, homemade cookies and fresh baked scones for breakfast!

It’s hard for us to ask Mother Nature to turn down the water works, especially when our soil is still dry, but we have plants ready to move from the greenhouse into the garden soil…I mean the peppers are starting to flower!!

Why did the duck cross the yard?? To get to the giant puddle in the driveway!

Why did the duck cross the yard?? To get to the giant puddle in the driveway!

Using the raised beds in the green house for some tomatoes, cucumbers and early season peppers!

Using the raised beds in the green house for some tomatoes, cucumbers and early season peppers!

Flowering Pepper Plant

Flowering Pepper Plant

Flowering Tomato Plant

Flowering Tomato Plant

An eggplant caught in a tray of peppers fully grown and producing already!

An eggplant caught in a tray of peppers fully grown and producing already!

The duck and chicken barrier to the greenhouse...no more feasting on the veggies waiting to move to the field!

The duck and chicken barrier to the greenhouse…no more feasting on the veggies waiting to move to the field!

The chickens out for an evening stroll. They're always quick to come thinking they might get some treats from the table ...extra lettuce or squash anyone!

The chickens out for an evening stroll. They’re always quick to come thinking they might get some treats from the table …extra lettuce or squash anyone!

For some wonderful recipes please check out Helena’s blog at the website linked to the bottom of this post. One of my favorites so far has been her Pork Loin stuffed with Cranberries and Walnuts (I used Pecans as that’s what I had on hand). She has a very diverse and health listing of recipes that range from main dishes to desserts to “the perfect cup of tea.” The best thing I’ve found about her blog though is that you can sort her recipes by season or simply look for a main ingredient. As we move through the season I’ll be highlighting either a different recipe of the week, a blog or some sort of other useful tips or tricks to use up that wonderful produce and make it last the whole year!

Here is the link to Helena’s food blog: http://www.clearlydeliciousfoodblog.com/