Heading to May

You always know summer is getting close when the lilacs bloom. They’re just starting to open up and to share that amazing lilac perfume across the farm. Lilacs herald the morel mushroom season as well, but one needs to find or make time to get out into the woods and hunt them! No luck so far.

Meanwhile, it’s planting time! Hoop #3 is almost complete. Low tunnels are protecting our broccoli and kale plants from insects and rabbit damage. Rhubarb is growing well. Our allium field is full, with leeks and shallots having been planted in the last two rows alongside eight varieties of onions.

Onions, and more onions!

Potatoes are in. We’re prepping the tomato- pepper patch for planting as soon as the danger of frost is in the rear view mirror. Garden peas and the first round of carrots are in, snap peas and beans are next. And we are already feasting on spring salad greens. It’s the best time of the year for freshness!

Hoop #3 soon to be completed and ready for cucumbers and other goodies.

This year is such a change from the last few seasons. Last year at the end of May we were debating whether we could get into the field with equipment to plant sorghum, and decided no. It was so wet and cold! This year is a dry and relatively warm season, at least now at the start! Last week’s cold spell, snow and rain, put a quick stop to asparagus production and harvest, but didn’t seem to bother the fruit blossoms. A few more days and we should be able to resume harvesting. It’s definitely dry for Spring and we can use the rain that is in the forecast this week. We will have to see how this growing season unfolds and keep our fingers crossed.

Thought for the day: don’t put all your eggs in one basket!

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Spring 2021: Turning the Page

So here we are in mid-April already and we’ve experienced everything from snow and ice to temperatures nearing 80 degrees. It’s a wild ride this spring. And as the country attempts to open up after Covid shut-down, we are probably safe to expect a few more bumps in the road. Keep vigilant, mask up and use common sense. We can do this!

Although we don’t have regular store hours this spring, our products are available by special order. Email us at oldloonfarm@gmail.com to check on what’s currently available or for special bakery orders. Our products are also available through Decamp Gardens in Albion and Wise Farms LLC farm stand on the west side of Old Lake.

On Old Loon Farm, asparagus harvest began last week, but low temperatures and snow are predicted for this week and that will likely affect production. Rhubarb is growing nicely; we’ve covered our patch to protect it from the cold and frost.

Third hoop house going up. Our original hoop needs some TLC after many years of hard work!

This season we’ve added two new field plots in order to increase production and effectively rotate our main crops. So far month we’ve planted 15 lbs of seed potatoes and nearly 1,000 onion sets, eight different varieties. Over the next couple of weeks we will plant shallots and leeks. Garlic that we planted last fall is growing well. Spring carrots have been mostly harvested – they’re generally on the smallish side but nice and sweet. New carrots will be planted every couple weeks over the next couple of months to keep the summer harvest going. And of course, salad greens of all kinds are being planted in the hoops and outdoors often to provide consistent harvest.

And in the kitchen, the last of the spring horseradish production is complete – what we have now will have to last till September. It’s quite delicious!

Starting from seed

After taking a break last year, we’ve once again started some of our own plants. Due to limited space, we don’t have a lot of varieties, but enough to round out a nice selection of heirloom tomatoes, tomatillos, and cucumbers. We’re also attempting to grow Georgia candy roaster squash this year – a very large, delicious and sweet yellow squash we enjoyed so much last fall and winter.

So keep your eye on all those good things available at your local food production centers and outlets – farms and farm stores – and don’t hesitate to support those who support good nutrition for you and your family. Your health is worth the investment!

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Welcome to 2021!

Just like everyone, we are raring to get “back to normal,” but we’re not quite there yet! Uncertainty still rules, but either we’ve adjusted to the insecurity or we are just looking on the bright side now that Covid 19 vaccinations are available. In any event, there seems to be a change in the wind. And it couldn’t be more welcome!

After spending the winter with family further north, we arrived back on the farm just in time to tap the maple trees and start cooking. This year’s syrup should be good after such a cold and snowy winter. And spending so much time indoors and isolated this year, we are so ready for gardening, even though snow remains on the ground. Spring chores – pruning, shoveling, trimming, scouting fields, cleaning- anything and everything we can do outdoors is welcome!

Our mini hoop houses stood strong through the winter, and this past week we harvested some beautiful and very sweet winter spinach. Also flourishing in the hoop: tat soi, garlic, and mesclun. The temperature inside on a sunny day this week was 95 degrees! Soon we will seed carrots and beets in our second hoop, and we are planning to build two additional hoops this spring. They are so great for extending your harvest!

Looking forward, our fresh asparagus will be available in late April and May. May also brings rhubarb and salad greens. For summer crops, our plans include planting lots of tomatoes, peppers, onions, potatoes, peas and beans, along with herbs and greens. It’ll be an exciting and delicious summer we hope to share with you!

Until next we meet, stay well, eat well, and extend a helping hand to your neighbor.

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Changes on the Farm for Summer 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed life around the world for many people, and we don’t expect “back to normal” for most people will come anytime soon. What is “normal” on a small farm? Normal is fairly quiet here.

Isolation seems simpler here on Old Loon Farm than in a big city. We always have more work than we can handle to keep us occupied, and “going to work” generally consists of walking outside to the gardens or fields or barn, sitting in front of a computer checking mail, paying bills, ordering supplies, bookkeeping, or spending the day in the farm kitchen baking. It’s all right here. Since we don’t have hired workers, social isolation is easy. No gym needed. Much of our food grows here. Trips to town for supplies and necessary groceries are not daily or even weekly occurrences.

Of course, we have neighbors and family. We live near a lake community. We have friends and neighbors, many of whom are not so young and are also serious about their health. So we have tried to keep our social distance and add even more healthy practices to our routine. Life changes.

This spring we were blessed to have one of our daughters and her family “visit” for seven weeks, during which time we welcomed a new baby granddaughter, our 12th grandchild. Coming from the populous East Coast urban area, the farm was a welcome respite for them. For our daughter and her husband, working from home on our rural internet was a challenge. For us, their company, as always, was fun and welcomed. Caring for an exuberant 3-year old was both a challenge and a great source of joy for us. Blessings come in so many packages!

Our farm has seen many changes over the years as we adjust to life’s realities, and 2020 is no different. So here are some adjustments we’re making for this season:

We are no longer raising a large flock of laying hens, so do not have farm-fresh eggs for you this year.

We will not have regular store hours. Our store is effectively closed except by appointment or special order for bakery items, sorghum syrup, jams and seasonal veggies. Contact us oldloonfarm@gmail.com. Our Jane’s Grains artisan breads, granola, cakes and other bakery items are also available through the DeCamp Gardens Farm Store in Albion, IN.

We are growing vegetables, including asparagus, garlic, horseradish, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, onions, potatoes and beans for the wholesale market – some are already contracted. Some will be available by the bushel later in the season. Some will be donated to local food banks.

We are still keeping bees and may have local honey for sale later in the summer.

And, we are hoping for more R&R time this year on Old and Loon lakes, as well as spending lots of time with our families. We hope you get quality time with your loved ones as well. Thanks. And be safe and well.

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Welcome, Spring!

After possibly the shortest, warmest winter on record, we are back on the farm, and along with everyone else in the country, practicing social distancing due to the novel coronavirus.  Living on a small farm in a rural community that is fairly self-sufficient, it’s easy to forget the world outside. But we are welcoming Spring, planting our victory garden, helping neighbors, doing what we can to stay healthy and to help keep others around us healthy.

We traveled to the East Coast for most of this past winter, specifically New England and DC, spending a lot of time with kids and grandkids, and experiencing some early American history firsthand. For the time being, we are without any animals here on the farm (excepting the abundant wildlife, and our dog, Diamond) but plan to add chickens and lambs again later in the spring.

maple syrupOur 2020 maple season was successful, and that beautiful amber syrup is now processed and ready to see us though until next winter.  We had a fine sorghum harvest last fall, and all our bee colonies made it though the winter, so the local sugar outlook is good.  

Our Jane’s Grains breads are in demand and available once again, both here on the farm and from the DeCamp Gardens farm store in Albion.  Check out what a difference fresh, healthful, whole grain breads make in your diet. We also make a variety of cookies, cakes and scones, as well as home-made jellies and jams.  There’s good eating on this farm, year round!DSCN0014

Since we planted seeds in our hoop house last October and November, we have been able to harvest fresh salad greens in March. Carrots came up and are ready to thin. Parsley, cilantro and chives are thriving.  Our fall garlic crop is popping through the straw in the kitchen garden, and we’ve added spring garlic plantings in the hoop house.  Not quite time to plant  yet outside, but pea, radish, and beet seeds are waiting and ready to go in as soon as the rain stops and the soil warms a bit.  Today we started our tomatoes, onions and peppers indoors. We plan to grow lots of carrots, potatoes, beets and squash this year in the fields we fallowed last season.  And in a month, we’ll be harvesting asparagus again. Spring is such a hopeful time of year!

Our hope is that you are staying healthy, eating healthy and keeping a hopeful outlook this spring.  Be well, help your neighbor, know your farmer, and enjoy your family time!

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Slowly, Fall Arrived

October arrived with temperatures still close to 80. Some rain and cooler temperatures later in the week brought on the autumn, slowly, but without a hard frost until Halloween night arrived with snow and nighttime temps in the 20s. That gave us plenty of time to harvest what was left of the garden and put it to bed for the oncoming winter.

We love our small unheated hoop houses. Here we are in early November, harvesting carrots and parsley, planting salad greens and watching snow peas grow tall. Will they produce? Don’t know, but at least they’ll fix nitrogen for next year’s crops. The cold took out the last of the green peppers and the San Marzano tomatoes, but we had a good crop of each, along with a bumper crop of cucumbers from one little hoop house.

The main garden is still producing arugula, leeks, celery, lettuce, Swiss chard and horseradish, and there are still a few potatoes left to be dug. Our 2020 garlic crop was planted in early October and covered with straw. We sowed cover crops on last year’s garlic plot. All things considered, it’s been a good year. We canned and preserved a lot of goodies for the winter and shared with friends and family – the best part of gardening! Share the love!

Enjoy this lovely fall season and watch for our sorghum updates, coming soon.

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Drowning in Cherry Tomatoes

Seems like cherry tomatoes are the first to ripen when we’re craving those big, round slicing fruits, and then they keep us busy picking all summer long. What to do with baskets of cherry tomatoes when you’ve snacked on as many as your tummy can tolerate?

I often prep winter meals at the end of summer by roasting the cherry tomatoes and freezing them. It’s such a simple task to thaw a bag of roasted tomatoes and toss them with some freshly boiled pasta, perhaps some olives, topped with grated cheese. And it’s so delicious to taste that summer goodness in the depths of winter!

Here’s how: Wash tomatoes, halve with a sharp knife and arrange on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment baking paper. Sprinkle the tomatoes with a bit of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, shaved fresh garlic, snipped fresh basil (also readily available this time of year) and top with a few generous squirts of extra virgin olive oil. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about an hour. The tomatoes will shrivel a bit, caramelize, and smell heavenly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before scooping it all into a quart freezer bag.

That’s it. So simple and so delicious! Preserve this lovely fruit at the height of the season. You’ll be glad you did!

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Aronia Berries Top Pick on the Farm in August

June speaks of strawberries here in the Midwest. August speaks of aronia berries here on the farm.  Never heard of aronia berries?  Here’s the scoop:

aronia berries.jpgAronia berries, also called chokeberries, are native to North America but grown in many other countries.  They grow on a tall bush that sports beautiful white flowers in the spring.  They’re high in nutrition and antioxidants.  But don’t think you can put them on your ice cream or make a cobbler – they’re much too astringent; besides being hard and solid, like a cranberry, they leave a dry taste in your mouth.  BUT, they’re great for good health!

So how do you eat them? Here on the farm, I wash and freeze the berries in quart bags. Easy!  Then I toss a handful of frozen berries into my fruit smoothie every morning to boost nutrition: every ounce of aronia berries provides 2 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, 12 grams of carbohydrate, 10% of daily value vitamin C, 9% of daily manganese, and 5% of daily value Vitamin K, as well as supplying folate, and vitamins A and E.

We also make juice for jelly: In a heavy saucepan, add the berries, cover with water and boil gently until they soften or burst.  It’s similar to the way you cook cranberries.  Press the cooked berries through a food mill and add the pulp to your compost pile.  You can further clairfy the juice by filtering it through a jelly bag or tea towel (it will stain the towel!).  One of our favorite winter jellies is a crystal clear, beautifully red aronia berry-cranberrry combination.  Amazing flavor!

If you’ve tried acai bowls, why not go local and simply substitute your frozen aronia berries for acai powder or puree – you’ll get the same beautiful purple color and the flavor is similar.  Great nutrition with low calorie count. And, it’s locally grown on small farms!

Check the internet for aronia berry recipes, and stop by our store for a bag of frozen whole berries.  You’ll be glad you did!

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It’s a Good Week

The sun is shining, it’s finally summer, what’s not to love?  It’s a good week.

Although some ground is still puddled with stagnant water, the excessive rain that we’ve endured since April is drying up, leaving soil cracked and hard, but nonetheless dry.  We’re grateful.  In every growing season, there’s good and less good. The heavy rains and cool spring this year provided a great asparagus crop; we’re seeing few pests so far in the potatoes, cabbage and brassicas; the onions, rhubarb, and peas are growing well, strawberries liked the chill weather, and so far, tomatoes are looking pretty good.

Our sorghum crop was planted on June 6 – we had a few days of no rain and were able to get it in the ground and it’s growing well.  We rotate crops – one of the plots planted to sorghum last year is full of bell peppers and squash this season.  Last year was tough for all our peppers and our squash was destroyed early by insects,  so we’ll be watching carefully to see if a new neighborhood is good for growth.

filone

Crusty Italian bread, fresh from the oven.

Old Loon Farm’s store is open on Fridays only this season, and that seems to be working well for us and for the neighbors that stop in to buy eggs, frozen chicken, jams, fresh breads, cakes, syrups and whatever is seasonally ready from the garden.  Last month it was asparagus, strawberries and lettuce; this month garden peas, Swiss chard, salad greens, celery, rhubarb and various other vegetables are fresh and tasty.  Seasonal is the way to eat!

Also this week on Old Loon Farm we start to welcome kids, grand kids and other relatives and friends. It’s a joy to have a full house and activities in the yard and on the lake.  It’s a good week!

 

 

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It’s All About That Sweet Sweet Sorghum!

This has been a busy week here at Old Loon Farm.  Asparagus is in full growth mode, although the heavy rains we’ve had this month, coupled with the saturated soil, have made harvesting a bit of an extra chore.  We’re still working on a remodel of our summer screen porch where we gather as family during the warm months.  We’ve got some Frozen broilerlovely salad greens, herbs, and strawberries coming to maturity in the hoop houses, along with seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, okra, onions and cucumbers. Although potatoes, radishes and garlic and doing fairly well in the garden outside, and peas, beets and carrots are beginning to push through, most beds are empty – too wet to work, too chilly to plant.  Every season is a challenge; patience with Mother Nature the necessary virtue of the farmer.  Meanwhile, our chicks are growing, layers are producing fine eggs, and we took our first batch of pastured broilers to the butcher this week; they’re safely in the freezer waiting for sales.  IN STORE FOR YOU THIS WEEK:  Fresh asparagus, free range eggs, frozen pastured broilers, sorghum and maple syrups, and fresh bakery items (Friday only).

sorghum 2018 But today we want to talk a bit about our sweet sorghum.  Have you tried our Indiana Natural* pure cane sorghum syrup yet?  It’s a local sugar, like honey and maple syrup.  It’s pressed from the cane of the sorghum plant, evaporated at a ratio of about 7:1, and bottled.  We plant the variety Honey Drip in early June, tend it for about 100 days with hand weeding and cultivation – no pesticides.  Sorghum is drought-tolerant and will grow in marginal soils, so is quite a flexible crop.

Come harvest time, the cane is cut at ground level, the seed head at the top is chopped off (can be used as feed for the animals), and the cane is put through a chopper/press. The juice is boiled in an evaporater and turns into a beautiful amber syrup.

So what’s so great about sorghum?  It can be grown in small plots – one-quarter to one acres is a manageable plot.  Small farmers can work cooperatively to share planting, tending, harvest and transport to the processing facility; or a small press and evaporator can be set up on a small farm.  It’s a great local product to sell at farmers markets, add to gift baskets, and use at home in cooking and baking.

And best of all, unlike white sugar, sorghum has high nutritional value.  One tablespoon of sorghum provides 32 mg. calcium, 21 mg. magnesium, 210 mg. potassium (about the same as half a banana), and 12 mg phosphorus. In addition, sorghum contains iron, zinc, and B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and B-6. (USDA National Nutrient Database Report 2017). Check the nutritional label on sugar: empty calories!

What about flavor?  Sorghum speaks of the earth – grains, sweetness, fruit.  It pairs well with apples, pears, peaches, raisins and dates.  It enhances oats, barley and other whole grains.  It brings a richness to pumpkin, sweet potatoes and winter squash.  You can dream of it with vanilla and caramel on ice cream, popcorn, and other snacks.  Anything made with buttermilk tastes even better sweetened with sorghum. Barbeque sauce, salad dressing, iced coffee, even your favorite cocktail – experiment with this versatile ingredient!

Cheers to a better diet and a more healthy YOU!

DID YOU KNOW?  Do you sweeten your yogurt with honey or jam?  Try a spoonful of sorghum! It pairs so well with plain yogurt.  Add a piece of banana or a few blueberries and you’ve got a breakfast or snack that is delicious AND nutritious!

*Indiana Natural Pure Cane Sorghum is produced by a cooperative of local small farms. Look for each farm’s name on the label. Indiana Natural also produces value-added sorghum products such as caramel corn, cakes, cookies and barbeque sauce.

 

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