Precoce d’Argenteuil Asparagus: 1st Repotting!

When last we left the Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus seedlings, they were ferning out in their Jiffy-7 pellets like this:

asparagus%20Feb516[1].jpg

It was time to take them downstairs and put them in newspaper pots so that their roots would have room to branch out.   Here are what they looked like as I repotted them in my basement potting room:​

asparagus%20repotting[1].jpg

It’s too cold in the basement for the seedlings, so I lug the trays back up to the guest room where they are placed under lights.  We adapted the African Violet table I purchased at the local auction for $25 in the late 80s so that we could move the lights up as the plants grow.  So far, they are ferming out, rather than getting taller, so I haven’t moved the lights up yet.

With seedlings, one should always keep the lights just above the top of the plant so that the plant puts its effort into growing a sturdy stem and a robust root system, rather than putting all its energy into growing the stem to reach the light and becoming “leggy.”  A “leggy” plant will have a weak stem that can be blown over in the wind when transplanted outside.
Right now we have 5 trays of asparagus seedlings in newspaper pots, 2 trays in pellets and 1/2 tray still on the heat mat.  Since there is room on the heat mat, I added onion and leek seeds which haven’t germinated yet.  When all the asparagus seeds are off the heat mat, I’ll put this year’s hot and sweet pepper seed on it.

asparagus%20repotted%20under%20lights[1].jpg

We are well onto our goal of having 200 Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus ​plants to transplant into the asparagus field in May.  With the heat mat going 24/7 and the African Violet table on 16 hours a day, plus the Eastern sun exposure from the windows, the guest room is warm and comfy — the dogs come running to enjoy napping in the heat when I open the door to work on my computer.

 

 

Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus: Take 2!

All but 17 of the original 156 Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus have germinated and are under the lights.
As we need 200 plants to put in the field in May (and our first pass worked!), today I planted 102 seeds in the pellets and put them on the heat mat.
Take 1 had an 88% germination rate when the packet said to expect a 70% rate.  Hopefully, Take 2, using the same techniques, will achieve a similar outcome.
Here are all the seeds, sitting on the heat mat (no room for Galen, now!)

asparagus%20seeding,%20take%202[1].jpg

Once a good number of these pellets have germinated and are placed under the lights, it will be time to germinate leeks and onions on the heat mat.  Planting season is here!

 

 

Galen Discovers The Heat Mat

We started out with 2 trays of 156 Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus on the heat mat.  However, with germination, we now have 1 tray on the heat mat and 2 trays under the lights.
This means that there is extra space on the heat mat until next week when I start the next round of Precoce D’Argenteuil asparagus.
Well, there used to be space on the heat mat. . .

Galen%20Heat%20Mat[1].jpg

Last night, Galen discovered that the spot next to the computer is WARM and like most cats in winter, decided that WARM is GOOD.  He’s left the area only to eat (he may only be 8 pounds, but he’s a big eater!).
Meanwhile, here’s what the Precoce D’Argenteuil asparagus seedlings look like after a week or so under the lights:

PA%20asparagus%20growing%20lights[1].jpg

These seedlings are healthy, but tiny.  One can see why it’s suggested to start asparagus seed in January so that one has decent sized plants to put out in May.
For the first round of trays, the seedlings took about 14 days to germinate.  The packet suggested a 70% germination rate and so far, we have an 81% germination rate.  Next week’s trays should put us at about 225 seedlings for a goal of 200 seedlings to plant after frost in May.
Galen has the weekend to enjoy the heat mat — Monday, the next round of aparagus seeded trays go on the heat mat and there won’t be room for him!​

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Precoce d’Argenteuil Asparagus Planted!

Asparagus is one of our primary crops, so we’re always thinking about varieties to add.

Precoce d’Argenteuil is a French heirloom asparagus from the 1700s that gets rave reviews on the Internet (just google it!).  It’s pretty (green spears with lavender buds), early bearing and produces thick, delicious spears that taste wonderful steamed.  Since it’s not as productive as the “all male” modern hybrids, it’s only available as seeds, not crowns, which means 3 years, rather than 2 years to a harvestable yield.

Being a farm that showcases heirlooms, I decided to give in to the Internet hype and give this variety a try.  I ordered my seed from here,as most of the reputable US seed companies said their seed was from Italy.

Growing asparagus from seed takes patience (up to 3 weeks to germinate!) and space.  Rather than start the seeds in flats, as I usually do, I instead ordered Jiffy 7 Peat Pellets so that I could place one seed in each pellet, then when that pellet germinated, put it under the grow lights while the other seeds could slumber until they were ready to germinate.  It would also prevent the roots from each seed from entangling with each other.

Here’s how the pellets look when purchased:

 

jiffy%20pots%20dry%202016[1].jpg

Asparagus seed has a hard seed coat so recommendations range from a soak of two hours to 2 days in water before planting.  I gave mine at least two hours to soak while I readied the pellets for planting.  Use enough water to generously cover the seed.

asparagus%20seeds%20soaking%202016[1].jpg

As a child, I loved Jiffy 7 Peat Pellets because it was so much fun to soak them in water and watch them plump up.  It’s not cost-effective to use them on a large scale unless you are planting perennials with delicate root systems that could be damaged while trying to untangle them, so I hadn’t used the pellets in years.  A friend advised me to use hot water which swells up the pellets in minutes.  (Don’t use cold water — that bucket took 2 1/2 hours to swell up to a usable size!)

jiffy%20pots%20beginning%20soak%202016[1].jpg

After two hours, both asparagus seed and pellets were ready for planting.  I borrowed my dogs’ tick removal tweezers (which has the handy magnifying glass for finding tick mouth parts embedded in one’s dog) to pluck out an asparagus seed from the cup and plant it about 1/2 an inch into the rehydrated pellet.

asparagus%20seeds%20tweezer%202016[1].jpg

78 pellets fit in a standard plant tray, which I then put on the heat mat.

asparagus%202016%20tray%20P[1].jpg

I covered the tray with plastic wrap (like most seed savers, most of the household plastic wrap is used for seed germination, rather than food storage!)  I have two trays for a total of 156 aparagus seeds planted

asparagus%202016%20filled%20covered[1].jpg

Now we wait for germination!  I keep my germinating trays next to my computer so I can keep an eye on them during the day and add water or place baby plants under lights as needed.  With bottom heat, the asparagus seeds could germinate in as little as 5 days or as long as 3 weeks.  I’d like to have 200 plants to set out in the Spring, so if this techinque works,  I’ll add another tray once these trays begin germinating.
In just 3 years, we’ll have an interesting (and tasty!) asparagus variety for sale!  Stay tuned to watch these plants grow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Fence, New Rooster

As we have slowly fixed up the barn, our goals have been for it to be a useful storage place and a shelter for livestock.
Since Hill Creek Farm is primarily a produce farm, the livestock needs to be fenced so that they don’t eat the produce (and plants!) we’re growing to sell.
Over the fall, Chris of Sandy Hill Construction, LLC, who has done most of our outbuilding work had some time, so we had him finish the third bay for goats.
Readers of this blog will remember that we have 8 chickens — which can be destructive enough to produce if they free-range, but nothing is as hungry of fresh, green growth as a few goats (never have just one goat — they are herd animals that need at least one buddy).  So, if we are going to get goats and have them share the barnyard with poultry, we needed a good fence.
Chris did some research and came up with a fence that should keep in chickens, turkeys and goats (the livestock we’d like to house in the barn).  There’s no point in doing a fence multiple times, so in November, Chris and his father, Tom, came out and put together this fence:

fence%20gate[1].jpg

Note that there is no latch on the gate.  It’s held together by chains that wrap around the gate so that escape artist goats (and all goats are escape artists!) can’t undo the latch and help themselves to the herb garden beside the house!
Here’s how the fence looks from the front:

fence%20front[1].jpg

Experienced goat keepers will note that we’re not completely ready for goats yet.  The oak posts have to dry and get cut even, then a single wire electric fence line will be strung along the top of the fence and stone wall to keep the goats from climbing out and heading for the herb garden, front field, neighbor’s bushes, etc.  Chris will come back and do all that in the Spring, plus we’ll be taking out the random stones in the barnyard and grading it so that heavy rains don’t turn the area into a mud pit.

If you’d like Sandy Hill Construction to fix up your farm outbuildings or build a multi-purpose fence for livestock, you can contact them at  sandyhill_llc AT comcast.net​

However, the fence is sufficient to take down the green fencing outside the second bay where we keep the chickens.  Since we have more space, we could get a rooster so that the most productive of our 8 hens can experience motherhood.

After Pilgrim, our lead chicken, put up a personal ad on various Facebook groups, we found another small farmer here in East Coventry Township ​who had 5 roosters to choose from.  My cousin Ed and I decided we wanted one of the white-spattered ​Ameraucana roosters, so all four of us ran after those two roosters until we caught one.  This is what he looks like:

Londo%20stump%20Dec%202015[1].jpg

Continuing the tradition of naming livestock after characters from the Babylon-5 TV series​, I named him Londo, since the Centauri have multiple wives.

Londo was purchased in August as a chick from the Pughtown Agway​, so at only 4 months, technically, he’s a cockerel, rather than a rooster.  He’s thinking about crowing, but hasn’t done it yet.  He and Original Leghorn​ are becoming friends, but, Pilgrim, a Barred Rock, after a week and a half, is still suspicious of him.​  This is Pilgrim:

Pilgrim%20Nov2015[1].jpg

Hopefully, these crazy kids will one day (soon!) fall in love, or at least lust and we’ll have some cute little baby chicks in the Spring.
Meanwhile, Londo has decided to spend his nights on the tallest roost in the coop.  Here he is, keeping an eye on the flock in the morning:

Londo%20roost[1].jpg

Chicken politics keeps us all amused, but hopefully, we’ll have our own chicks in 2016 that will lay a variety of colored eggs.  Stay tuned for more chicken photos!

 

 

 

Limited Edition Antique Black Walnut Cracker Works!

On Tuesday night, we tried out the “W. O. Weber Black Walnut Cracker.”  It looks like this:

full%20view%20walnut%20cracker[1].jpg

A senior citizen at our church heard that we were having difficulty cracking the black walnuts on the farm, so he offered to lend us this cracker.   His father, who worked on the railroad, bought it from the Webers who made them specifically for black walnuts.
These crackers were a popular item among the railroad workers, but a Google search didn’t find much about the Webers or the cracker.  I looked up the information on the cracker which you can see here:

serial%20number%20walnut%20cracker[1].jpg

Zillow says the address pictured still exists.  A “W. O. Weber & Sons” company in Pennsylvania, which used to be a machine shop, is still a registered business name here in PA.  But even though this is Serial No. 401, I didn’t find any other images of this cracker on Google.
Our biggest concern, however, was if it would crack black walnuts better than Frank’s vise, which is bolted to his workbench in the basement.  Tina bravely put a nut in the holder and cranked away, as Vir cheered her on from his chair:

Tina%20Vir%20walnut%20cracking[1].jpg

It works!  You need to pull the handle with some arm strength, but it crushes the shell around the nutmeat nicely and doesn’t take nearly the strength that the vise requires.  The cracker is also more portable than a vise.  You want a sturdy base under it (which is why we used the kitchen island instead of the kitchen table), but it produces cracked black walnuts with only moderate effort.  Every once in awhile, a nut explodes, so you want to put the cracker somewhere where the fragments can be easily found.
Tina managed to crack a container full of walnuts relatively quickly so that my cousin Ed, pick at the ready, had a pile of jumbled shell fragments and nutmeats to sort through.

Ed%20walnut%20cracking[1].jpg

With this device, we’ve got the cracking part of black walnut processing down.  Now, we need to develop a technique that separates the “break a tooth” hard shells from the “lots of great recipes for edible” nutmeats.  If you’ve got suggestions, put them in the comments.

We’ll be taking good care of the W.O. Weber Limited Edition Antique Black Walnut Cracker this November until the black walnuts are processed, then it will go back to its owner.  But we’ll definately be bribing him to borrow it for next year’s black walnut processing because it makes the cracking step that much easier.  If you’ve come here through Google Images because you found one of the other 400 of these devices,  hang on to it because it works and makes your black walnut life easier.

To finish, here’s another picture of Tina (with Vir still on his chair) strong-arming an especially tough nut (which she was able to crack without having to run downstairs to the vise!)

Tina%20Vir%20strong%20arm%20cracking[1].jpg

Bring on the black walnut recipes!  We’ve got the trees and now we’ve got a working cracker!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seventeen Garlic Varieties Planted for 2016

We spent the last half of October getting the garlic in the ground.  Usually, the weather cools off, which encourages the garlic to grow its root system (which can extend up to 8 feet under the ground!), rather then sent shoots above.  So, there is time to make shredded leaf mulch (the best mulch for garlic) as the leaves fall.
This year has been unusually warm.  Saturday morning, I took Luke for his early morning relief walk in the back field and saw that much of the garlic had sprouted in neat rows down the two beds we had created for them.
Panic!  Frost was coming yet again, so we spent the weekend gathering and shredding leaves, then putting the mulch over the tender garlic shoots.

garlic%202015%20beds[1].jpg

We finished covering the beds before the frost came on Sunday night.  As you can see from the photo, we had been covering the beds with odd bits of straw and the cowpea residue we had cut into the cover crop to make the garlic beds.
Each variety is marked with two wooden stakes (in case one stake gets lost over the winter).  We put trenches down each outer side of the beds so that water drains off the beds.  This is critical because in winter, the ground will be too frozen to absorb any moisture.   If we have wood chips, we put them in the trenches to prevent erosion.
This year’s 17 varieties are a mix of 1) varieties we want to continue to grow, 2) varieties we are still trialing to see if they will grow well in Southeastern Pennsylvania and 3) new varieties from The Experimental Farm Network​, via USDA, which are beginning their 3 year trial to see if they should be grown in Southeastern Pennsylvania.  They are:
German Extra Hardy
German Red
Georgia Fire
Metechi
Music
Kettle River​
Carpathian
Italian Arctic
Leningrad
Montana Zemo
Thuringer
Chef Chet’s Italian Red
and numbered varieties from USDA from the following countries:
Uzbekistan​
Tajikistan
Belarus
Bulgaria
USSR
Even with stakes, we can’t remember where all the varieties are planted, so each year, I make up a map that lists all the varieties and where they are planted.  In the past, I’ve made several copies of the map and put them in various locations around the house so I have at least one map that didn’t get lost over the holidays when I’m ready to harvest in late June/early July.  This year, I also scanned the map and put a copy in the Farm folder on the computer, which is backed up to the cloud.  Losing the map is not an option!
If you’d like to talk garlic, drop us a line!  There’s time now that the garlic is planted and mulch!

 

 

Seed Production 2015

There’s several gaps in the blog posts this year, mostly because we were so busy cleaning and processing seed that I didn’t have time to actually write the blog posts!
I did take photos, so since it’s raining today, I thought I’d put them all together in one post and show you what we’ve been doing.
The Workshop has turned into a premium seed production facility.   Here, we have 3 types of tomato seeds fermenting and drying, plus leek seed (in the bags) and radish seed (in the pods on the pallet) drying.

Seed%20production%20Luke%20Aug%202015[1].jpg

In this photo, Shanlee spreads out fermented tomato seeds to dry on ceramic or glass places (so they don’t stick and can be gathered easily when dry) with a canape knife.  Most seed processing equipment is made for laboratories (for testing) or for farms that grow acres of one type of seed.  Most small-scale heirloom seed processors have assorted “make do” repurposed items to help them clean and process the seed they grow.

Shanlee%20RU%20seeds[1].jpg

Here are Tina, Libby and Shanlee processing radish seed in the evening in the doorway of the Workshop. It’s a very pleasant place to be on summer/early fall evenings, but radish seed, it turns out, is one of the most difficult seeds to process.

TinaShanleeLibby%20Workshop[1].jpg

Next year, we are hoping to have less hand-work and better equipment to help us clean seed in a more timely manner.  One of my winter reading projects is to learn more about how to efficiently clean and process the different types of seed we want to grow.  If you have any tips, leave them in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

Planting a Pawpaw Patch

It’s been a busy month with adding 33 rhubarb transplants, planting 17 varieties of garlic (about 3,000 cloves) and cleaning up the annual gardens for winter.

However, the most exciting development at the farm this fall has been putting together a pawpaw patch.  A friend discovered a neglected pawpaw patch near Barto and received permission to take fruit.  We tasted a few and the flavor was outstanding.

October is the tail end of pawpaw season, so many of the fruits were beyond their prime.  However, Purdue University Extensionsuggests that one plant the entire fruits, so we took 15 fruits and the seeds left over from the pawpaws we ate and planted 18 holes worth of pawpaw patch.

Right now, the pawpaw patch looks like this:

pawpawpatch%20Oct%202015[1].jpg

As the pawpaws won’t send up shoots until mid July to late August, each fruit has to be marked with a stake so we don’t mow anything down in the Spring.  We’ll weed the areas around the stakes by hand until the trees are large enough to be easily seen.  Pawpaws are an understory tree, but once mature, they bear more fruit in full sun.  We’ll put shade cloth over the shoots for their first two years above the ground.​​

If you’ve never heard of pawpaws, the Wikipedia entry is here​.  The ones we planted had yellow flesh and tasted like a banana with mango and apple overtones.
Kentucky State University has studied pawpaws more than anyone else; their information is here.
It will probably be about 5 years before our pawpaw patch produces saleable fruit, but we’re excited to add this native fruit to the farm.  ​​