At the end of last week and the beginning of this week, we were very busy getting our spring transplants into the ground. Usually we're not the best at growing transplants, but this round of plant babies looks amazing. I think we're finally settling on a good system to create healthy transplants. This spring we're planting tons of broccoli, broccolini, fennel, kale, swiss chard, cabbage, cauliflower and asian greens. Planting is a two to three person job on the farm. We use a Hatfield transplanter when planting. Click here to see a cool video of it in action. The great thing about using the Hatfield planter is that it puts the plant in its "home" in the row without the planter having to bend over. It's also a lot faster than making holes with a stick and then placing all the plants in the holes and covering them up. In one afternoon, we were able to plant 300 heads of lettuce, 650 kohlrabi plants and 1300 broccoli plants! This week will be more transplanting, prepping the beds for rainbow carrots and weeding the fall planted strawberries.
This Sunday, we were excited to get a visit from our sweet nephew Forrest. My sister brings Forrest to the farm from time to time to run around and burn off some of his crazy toddler energy. Forrest helped Ross set up the irrigation system we will be using for the season. Setting up irrigation on the farm is a total brain buster! Some of our crops (broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, etc.) are watered using drip tape that is placed at the base of the plants while other crops (like salad mix and radishes) are watered using an overhead sprinkler system. We have to accommodate for both set ups in addition to our crop rotations when we're planning for the year. Ross is usually in charge of doing work like this in addition to taking care of most of the tractor work. I generally focus on planting in the greenhouse and the field and harvesting. I work on farm full time while Ross works off farm full time. Often Ross is up working early in the morning doing chores before he heads into work and then comes home to continue working at night. This picture is a perfect example of how he spends most of his weekends, doing chores and working on big projects to help me get through the upcoming week. Ross is the hardest work man I know. He's also the kindest, sweetest man I know and does everything with great energy and positivity. The farm would certainly be lost without him!
This past week I was excited to see some other colors on the farm besides for white. The snow thawed but things were too wet to really do anything in the field.
Most of my week including seeding in the greenhouse. As usual, I'm really late on planting flowers. I love growing flowers but they can be a bit more challenging them some of the produce we grow. It seems like their germinate requirements are all over the place; some need light, some need darkness, so need high temps, some need low temps, etc.
So far this week, I've been able to direct seed some beds and do a small amount of tractor work. Hopefully the rain will hold off and we can do some more field work and lay some plastic. Once we get some plastic down we'll be ready to plant.
Dang. I've missed a few weeks of posting! The cold, snowy weather is making my brain numb and time is melding together. I think everyone, especially farmers, are completely done with winter. Though we've only been farming for three years, it does seem like the weather has been extreme this year compared to previous seasons. Generally, we have a few nights that are super chilly but this year we've seen whole weeks of nightly temperatures in the lower teens. It even got down to zero degrees last week! We're constantly battling frozen water pipes and keeping the greenhouse warm for transplants and microgreens.
With our field crops done, we're busy with tending to spring transplants in the greenhouse. We have tons of kale, chard, cauliflower, broccoli and asian greens happily growing in their toasty home. As always, we have microgreens growing too despite the cold. It's been great to be able to sell them at market all winter.
We're hoping that there will be a break in the weather soon so we can get the fields prepped for spring planting. We need to lay soil amendments including fertilizers and lime in the plots. We also need to get our irrigation system up and running and start installing our cold storage. There's definitely a lot to do but I'm glad to get busier after a sleepy winter. I'm also can wait for warmer, drier weather!
"They're microgreens not sprouts". I think I say that sentence at least a hundred times a week (ok maybe 20 time, but I say it a lot). Customers often confuse microgreens with sprouts. This doesn't surprise/bother me at all! I mean... I never saw a microgreen in the flesh until I grew one. You rarely see them in grocery stores and most people definitely don't know how they're grown. It makes sense that a customer would think that microgreens are sprouts.
One weekend at market I wrote a little sign to display at my stall that said "They're not sprouts! They're microgreens!" All the other vendors we're laughing at my (unintentional) bitchy sign. So let me take a stab and explaining the difference in a non-bitchy fashion.
Let's first talk about how sprouts are grown. Seeds are placed in a wet environment in jars (home-grown) or incubation chambers (commercially grown). Light exposure is usually limited until the end of growing to allow for the seed to open, revealing the seed leaves, stem and root. This process can take several days to complete. During this time the grower will have to frequently change the water to prevent the seedling from rotting. Once the seeds are fully sprouted they are packaged and sold as sprouts. Some common sprouts you see are alfalfa, mung bean, radish, etc.
Unlike sprouts, microgreens are started like any other plants that we grow - they are planted in SOIL. Once they germinate, they are watered and are given ample sunlight. We plant the seeds very densely in greenhouse tray since they will be harvested soon after they are planted and do not need a lot of room to grow. You can think of this dense planting as being similar to how salad mixes or baby greens are seeded densely and harvested when they are small.
After about 10 to 20 days of growing the microgreens are ready to harvest. We harvest them by cutting the stems just above the soil line in the planting trays. Harvesting is a bit tedious but we're pretty quick at this point after doing it for two years.
So why grow and eat microgreens? Why cut down these tender young plants as soon as they are getting started? Well, for just that reason: they are tender, super loaded with flavor and nutrients that are in a convenient form that we can easily digest. In fact, there is research that shows that microgreens can be 4 to 40 times more nutrient dense than their adult counterpart (check out the research article here).
Please forgive us for being picky about the name. We just want to make sure that you know what you're buying and how they are grown. So remember, dear customer, that they are not sprouts but microgreens and they are delicious and YES, we love them too! And we also love answering your questions about how we grow them and how to use them in your weekly meals so please don't be afraid to ask!
Things have been really slow around the farm these days. We're less than patiently waiting for the weather to clear up so that we can do some field work. I tried to do some field work early last week and immediately got stuck which is no surprise. Things are just too wet to get the tractor into the field.
We took time this weekend to catch up on paperwork, relax and wander around our property. It's kinda funny, but we've never walked the 8 or so acres that are behind our house! That land is so grown over we just never had a chance to go back there.
It's likely that we're gonna let this area be reclaimed by nature. We don't need it for crop production and it will be fun to see it grow back into forest over time. Ross and I are major bird nerds and carry our binoculars with us whenever we go walking. We saw a Northern Flicker woodpecker which was really exciting (seriously, we're giant bird nerds). We also explored the old tobacco barns tucked in the woods.
Through there's not much we can do outside right now, we have been busy planning for the upcoming season. We are also steadily growing microgreens and shoots in the greenhouse and selling them at market. Come visit us on Saturdays at the Chapel Hill Farmers Market and Western Wake Farmers Market and pick up a box (or two) of our yummy microgreens!
Whenever I get stressed out about all the stuff we need to do on the farm, Ross always says "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time". And my response is always "Well, I'm choking on elephant meat".
The to-do list on the farm is never ending is quite overwhelming. Our major focus right now is getting the fields prepped and ready to go so that we can start planting as soon as possible. We will start working on transplants this week. There's a lot to plant including spring greens like kale and pak choy and brassicas like broccoli and cauliflower. We finished up some greenhouse tables this weekend so that we have a nice warm place for the transplants to grow.
We also spent a big chunk of time this weekend clearing trees off our driveway. As previously mentioned the farm was abandoned for a long time before we bought the land so everything is overgrown. The road needs light and air circulation to it keep it from turning into a bumpy mud hole. After cutting trees for a couple of weekends now, we're about half done with the driveway.
I'm really happy with the progress we're made thus far on the farm. Ross is totally right that we just have to take each day one step at a time because the chore list is endless. If you ever get caught up on the farm there's definitely something you forgot about. So I'm taking a chill pill and happily eating my elephant meat.
As is the case with most well meaning, tech savvy farmers who want to share their farm with the world... I will admit that I am terrible at keeping up with our blog. Our to-do lists are too long and we're always crunched for time. However, we've had a very eventful year and I'd like to have a record of some sort to see our progress over the years. So I'm going to try and update our blog at least once a week (hold me to it).
For the past couple of months we have been working really hard to clear our largest field to prep land for spring planting. All our pastures are filled with 6ft-10ft tall saplings that have to be removed before we can plow. We cut the saplings in the late Fall and have been pulling the left over stumps with a box blade. Not the easiest or best way to do it but it's all we can manage on our tight budget with limited equipment.
We've been slow to get this work done because it's difficult for me to pull stumps alone during the day. It's really a two man job and it's pretty dangerous to do it alone so we have to find time to work on it when Ross isn't at work. It took about a month but we finally got about 2 acres of stumps pulled with 0.5 acres to go. With a large area of stumps cleared, we started plowing!
At this point we have 2 acres plowed! We're very satisfied with what we've got done so far especially considering how much work we had to do just to get to the point of were we could plow. Hopefully the weather we cooperate and can get in as early as possible to disc and amend the beds to start planting.
On another note: the super cold temps this week have basically wiped out of field crops. We're not too sad though. We were pretty surprised how well the plants have done this far. At this point, we'll be taking mostly microgreens and shoots that we grow in the greenhouse to market for the rest of the winter.
I've been getting a lot of emails asking why we haven't been at market. Folks are saying they LOVE our microgreens and miss them and want them back! It's so exciting and uplifting to know people are missing us and love our product.
So why are we still not at market? Well... Installing the greenhouse has turned out to be a much bigger project than expected. Working on the greenhouse is a two man job at least and since Ross has a full time job, we can't really make much progress during the week. Working alone on the greenhouse proves to be frustrating and occasionally impossible.
Having to deal with the greenhouse makes us more painfully aware of how difficult it is to manage the farm with Ross working a full time job. I'm frustrated because I can't do the work by myself and Ross is frustrated because he's not available to help. If this year had a theme it would be "Growing Pains." We want to expand our business but are limited because I can only do so much on my own during the day. And we need Ross to keep working so we can afford to live. We certainly have a lot to discuss, debate, hash out and think about heading into the winter and the 2015 season.
Some good news is we are making progress on cleaning up the pastures on the farm. The pastures were heavily grown over with thick brush and briars and saplings from being abandoned for years. For the past two weeks, I've been bush hogging for about 3 to 4 hours a day. I had no idea briars could grow to 9 feet tall! Mowing is absolutely cathartic, empowering and makes me feel like I'm making some progress. Our land is turning out to be more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
Again thank you for all the kind emails asking about our return to market! Please check our website and Facebook page for updates on our progress. We'll be back as soon as possible!
I thought I'd used our abandoned blog to let everyone know why we haven't been growing microgreens to sell at market. For the past few months our farm (and lives) have been in major transition.
As many of your know, we farm at the Breeze Incubator Farm in Orange County. We started farming there in 2011 and have been there for 3 years. Being at the incubator has allowed us to learn more about farming, establish markets and not spend money on infrastructure. However, we knew that we wanted to own land and started looking for properties the moment we stepped foot on Breeze. It took almost 2.5 years but we finally found and purchased some land in Fall 2013.
The land is a 43 acre tract with about 20 acres or so in pasture. There are wonderful wooded areas and a 2.5 acre pond. It was an old family tobacco farm but seems to have been used for cows and hay since the 1970s. How could we afford sure a wonderful place?! Well... The place is a hot mess! The 1/4 mile driveway into the property had potholes the size of small ponds, the pastures are mostly saplings and there are ancient garbage piles littered throughout the property. It may be in rough shape but has so much potential and we're excited to get started on cleaning up the place.
The land also had an old farm house on the property. The home was essentially a "free with purchase" deal and was in terrible condition. However it was in good enough condition to be renovated within our budget. We began renovating in January and finally completed the job last Friday. We just moved in this Sunday!
So where are the microgreens? Needless to say we've been crazy busy getting the house finished and managing the farm. Ross works full time off farm so it's generally just me working on our two acre vegetable plot at the Breeze Farm and growing microgreens. Around June, it was all just too much and we had stop growing microgreens until we were finished with the move. Also, the greenhouse we've been using to grow microgreens was getting too small for our needs and didn't have adequate ventilation and heating in the winter. So we're in the process of putting up a super nice, big girl greenhouse. The new greenhouse will have proper fans and heating and so much additional space. We're hoping to have the greenhouse up by the end of this week and will get microgreens growing as soon as possible.
Again we can't express how excited (and relieved) we are to be finally be living on our own land!!! We're heading outside right now to work on the greenhouse so be on the lookout for microgreens at all our markets soon.
Ross and Jillian Mickens are the owners and operators of Open Door Farm located in the North Carolina Piedmont.