Friday, January 4, 2008


It has been so cold here for the past three nights, there was frost on the ground by 7pm, soon as the sun went down. Two out of those three nights, the temps were around 14 degrees, which is pretty darned cold. Believe it or not, there is a patch of lettuce in our small kitchen garden that is still as green as it was last week. I imagine it will turn brown in a day or two, but it is still amazing to see something that appears to be as fragile as lettuce withstand such extreme temps.

When it is this cold, there isn't much to do outside without bundling up like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" so we tried to do stuff in and around the house. Mostly we sat by the fire and relaxed which is almost unheard of for so much of the rest of our time that we just decided it was worth as much to get in a little R&R as it was to work. The chores that had to be done got done and those that could wait are still waiting. It is supposed to warm up considerably over the next couple of days and we will have to make up for lost time.

The well diggers will be here in a couple of weeks and we will have that project done in time for our first spring crop to go in. Construction of the new greenhouse may have to wait a couple more weeks. Until we decide exactly where the well is going, we can't place the house and we won't know where the well is going until the dowser comes. If you don't know what a dowser is, it is the person that locates the best place to dig a well. While it may seem a little like mumbo-jumbo to use a dowser remember that water, especially large concentrations, has magnetic properties and the dowser simply locates the strongest pull, which should indicate water that is either closer to the surface or in larger quantities.

I have been pouring over seed catalogs for a couple of weeks now, trying to decide on which new varieties we will trial this year and trying to locate organic sources for our seeds. Since our farm is certified, we have to follow strict guidelines. To ensure that no GMO (genetically altered) seed is used in a certified organic operation, one of the rules involves the use of only certified organic seed wherever possible. We are not restricted to which varieties we can grow because of this rule, but rather have to make and document a concerted effort to locate seeds from an organic source. No treated seeds are allowed and conventional seed has to be the last resort, which is not a big deal for us. We are a little over the top with how we do things here anyway. GMO's are one of my soapbox topics (I will save that for another post, soon) so you would never find one on this farm anyway, even if there was no rule about it.

Since we grow a lot of heirlooms, we save a good many of our own seeds. We make our own seed potatoes, sweet potato slips, etc. which saves us a ton of money. Last year we planted over 3000 sweet tater plants and we grew the starts ourselves. Since organic sweet potato plants run about $25/12 and are extremely hard to locate, you can see why we are motivated to grow our own. Certified organic seed potatoes are not nearly as expensive and you can get a lot of potato plants from one potato (the potato eyes are actually sprouts and we cut the potatoes in many pieces and plant those, which turn into potato plants). 50# of certified organic potatoes run anywhere from $50-100 but the shipping doubles this price. Last year alone, we planted about 2500-2800 potato plants, from the eyes cut from potatoes that we saved from the year before. If you do the math on the potential cost of sweet potato slips and seed potatoes, you can see that we save a great deal of money by growing our own plant stock this way.

The same is true for some of the other crops we grow. We can save the seed from varieties that we only grow one kind of or that we can isolate so that no accidental crossbreeding takes place, to keep the strain true. For example if we grow red and green okra, the green okra is grown at one end of the farm and the red is grown at the other, which is about 1/2 mile apart, which is an acceptable distance to keep them from crossing up.

It is very easy to have varieties cross, especially peppers, when they are planted in close proximity. If you aren't saving seed, it is not such a big deal. Having a green zucchini cross with a yellow one doesn't mean much as far as flavor, etc. but there are cases where it becomes a big deal. Several years ago, before we expanded the farm to the size that it is now, we had only one very small plot (about 1/2 acre). We were growing green bell peppers and jalapenos that year and for some reason, I planted them side by side, not even remotely thinking that this would affect the fruits. I was wrong, however, and occasionally we would get a green bell pepper that was as hot as a firecracker and many of the jalapenos didn't have any heat at all.

Problem with that was you couldn't tell by looking at them, only by tasting them, so we had to take a little taste of each one to see if they were hot or not. At that time, we were only growing for our own families, so it was not big deal, but it was a valuable lesson learned by me. But we did have a lot of fun with those hot bell peppers.....