Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Special Video Blog for you!

So this time I decided to try something new - a video blog!  I buy all kinds of kitchen gadgets and up until now I have not found one that was worth the money but this one has me so excited I went out and bought three more!  If you cooking, herbs, kitchen gadgets or just don't have anything else to do for about 5 minutes, please watch!

And as always, Live Life Well Seasoned!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Why Buy gardendwellers FARM Herbs?

So here it is, the post about how gardendwellers FARM herbs are better than others.

I could spend a lot of space and words to tell you the benefits of buying local.  To explain why buying local supports small farms and farming communities, keeps farmland farming and productive and how it boosts local economies, but when it comes down to it - it's your money and you want a good product for your money.  I've never heard anyone sit down to a good meal and say, "My, this tastes like it boosted our economy by $100!"  Nope, never heard that!

What you want to know is "Am I getting my money's worth"?  So, let's take a look.
To conduct random quality tests, I regularly buy back a package or two of our herbs when we make deliveries to our customers.  By that time, our herbs have been on their shelves for a week.  I also regularly purchase herbs from our competitors.  Since the package I bought yesterday was dill, today we'll just take a look at dill but in future posts hope to also cover basil and mint, our two other biggest sellers.

This is the package of gardendwellers FARM dill I purchased yesterday in Minot:


These are photos of our competitors product.

Because we hand pick every piece we can ensure that our customers are not paying for a lot of stem that is not useable in their dishes.  Nothing against this particular competitor, but I was pretty flabbergasted when I opened up this package.  Let me assure you - like any consumer, I take a pretty good look at what I am buying and I TRY to buy the best of what is on the grocers shelf, even for this comparison testing.

You'll see that in our package not only was there a lot more useable product, but also the quality is better.  That's why we want you to buy gardendwellers FARM fresh herbs - because the quality is better.  And you deserve the best.

If you have recently purchased our herbs, especially mint or basil or thyme - please send us photos.  We'd love to compare your results with our product to our competitors photos.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Quiet Day

There are some days here on the farm where it is just quiet.  It might be environmental factors, like air pressure or humidity, but some days are just quiet.  Maybe it’s the blanket of clouds in the sky, holding the noise to a minimum and allowing the Earth to nap.  All I know is that it is quiet.  No people asking me questions about what to harvest or when.  No dogs barking, frogs croaking or chickens cackling.  No trucks or tractors on the road.  No sounds of distant combines.  Just quiet.
And birds.  I can hear the little twitter of birds but even they are soft background whispers.  Not like the loud honking of geese in the spring and fall or the shrill cries of crows in mid-summer as their young get old enough to fly; just the occasional flutter of wings and soft chirps as they go about the business of finding food – be it bug or nectar. 

Even the ever-present North Dakota wind is quiet today, preferring to keep things to a small breeze, just barely enough to move the leaves on the top of the trees. Not even a sound from the softly fluttering wind sock.  Usually you can hear the trees moving and swaying, the leaves rustling together and the branches waving.  But not today.  Today is quiet. 

The outside world has all but disappeared today.  I can feel it.  No phone calls, no IM Yahoo’s, no pings from the email.  Just quiet.

I have struggled to maintain the quiet.  I turned off the fans in the bedrooms.  I turned off the fan on the furnace – no need for air conditioning today and the temperature has stayed a comfortable one so need to move more air.  I have left all devices on stand-by for later use – no radio, no television.  Just quiet.

This is a day for a book.  This is a day for a nap.  This is a day for drawing or painting a picture as the world sits quietly to be immortalized in charcoal or ink.  This is a day for prayer and silent reflection or meditation. 

This is a day.  A quiet day.  For tomorrow we shall resume our regularly scheduled chaos and clatter.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Chaos Town edition.

Many of you are farmers or producers, so many of you will know when I say this is the time of year when we all live in Chaos Town.  It's this time of year that always gets to me.  The stress level gets high and that one little extra thing always threatens to push me over the edge into either a trip to an insane asylum or alcoholism - which ever I can achieve faster. The kind of chaos that makes me think my best friend is Curios George

 This week has been full of those moments. 

The looming disaster as our well decides whether or not it wants to continue to work this hard in dry times is top of the list.

The health inspection that happened yesterday and then had to go through two separate health districts for approval - two who each have their own ideas about how we should do things - so we end up trying our best to do it all.  This time around it is the need for an 'approved food grade' hose with approved 'food grade' fittings on the end for filling our wash tubs - which by the way get filled with the same water we drink, water that is tested two to three times per year and is treated with a sanitizer to ensure food safety and filled from the garden hose that I drink out of all the time.  Haven't died yet but then again maybe I just have a phenomenal immune system. 

Or how about the fact that the Health Dept. insists that we need a 1,000 gallon septic tank on our little restroom in the barn?  Yes, the little sink and toilet that will use a total of about 3 gallons per visit and that will only be used when and if we have tours or classes.  Maybe a total of 100 times per year.  And guess what?  The usual box stores and home improvement places are not allowed to sell 1,000 gallon plastic holding tanks in ND.  I could go concrete but then how would I get it in the hole?  Guess we'll be sneaking one in across the state border - right after I blow my project budget and fork over the extra $400 for it.

Or how about the fact that we have grown so fast this year in our number of customers that we're short on a few things.  Yeah, that would push me over the edge.  I've found a grower with large plants in the varieties I need however he's 162 miles one way away.  Our new dependable vehicle is tied up two days a week running deliveries and we are tied up two other days a week harvesting and maintaining - leaving very limited time to go get these little gems - especially when we need them NOW!

Today my issue is GreenSource Windows out of Minnesota.  They very kindly came and put in four new windows last year - did a good job from what we could see and were good at customer service at the time.  However in the -28 degree cold snap of January, one of the windows snapped.  Just snapped.  No one touched it, it just broke.  Getting a replacement on their warranty has been grueling.  Contacting them has been a nightmare and although after many many phone calls they did say they would be here today to install a new one - it's late afternoon and not so much as a phone call.  I think I can feel myself drooling and talking to myself as I slip into a  psychotic break. 

These are the kind of things that make me put the running suit on the dog because I shouldn't be the only one who's miserable.

Things aren't ALL bad.  A few things that were threatening to give me the proverbial shove off the cliff this week have been fixed - woohoo! 

The rat that I've been trying to catch in the barn for almost a month is now deceased.  On Sunday I proclaimed to the whole family that it had now become a family mission to rid the barn of the rat.  It was a battle I could no longer fight alone.  The guys went 'hunting' on Sunday with no luck.  However - our barn dog Millie was listening to my 'this is a team effort' speech and Monday night she took it upon herself to rid the farm of the vermin.  She was awfully proud and I was awfully relieved.  PS - the rat was a male - we checked.  We're hoping we was a lone bachelor but we (Millie and I) are keeping a watchful eye - and ear - out just in case. 

We did get the Carmine Jewel cherries picked - beat those birds out and that's good.  They are now gently soaking in a nice rum.  It's turned a delightful shade of red and when they're done soaking they are headed for a coat of dark chocolate.  MMMMM, can't wait.  They make me happy.

We also picked a bucket load of fresh raspberries.  Got them all in the freezer for later eating  pleasures - later when we're not in Chaos Town and we can really enjoy them. 

I also got invited to a wine tasting event tomorrow.  Sounds like great fun and maybe a little relaxing is just what I need.

The third succession of dill and basil are up and the zinnias are starting to bloom. Maybe its time to do another recreation of a famous painting...

And of course, I have my family - Tall Dark and Handsome and the Boy stand beside me daily, hold me up, pour me another drink and some days the fact that I love them more than anything in the world is all I really know for sure. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Kickin' It Into Gear With Diversity.

Things are really moving right along here at gardendwellers FARM.

The cover crop we put in of winter wheat is coming along nicely and received a mowing this weekend so that the weeds, which are also in there and doing well, don't get too tall and go to seed. 
This cover crop will grow a bit more and then be cultivated in to add organic matter and help build the soil.

The perennial flower bed - a simple pleasure of mine as it does not contribute to anything but beauty here on the farm, is in its third season and starting to really look like something.  The yellow iris and peonies, gas plant and chives are combining to make a lovely show along the driveway.

We've had several pans of rhubarb bars and you can see that the rhubarb is in full flower.  I just love rhubarb in a flower bed, it anchors the ends so well.  Soon this bed will be filled with daylily blooms, coneflower and a variety of others followed in fall by the asters and Joe Pye Weed.  Season long color.  The zinnias are planted on the other side of the driveway and the two will make the perfect entrance to our little farm.

I'm just giddy about the orchard this year.  We finally have the weeds under control, all the straw on the beds and just about every fruit or nut in the orchard bloomed this spring so we're hoping for at least a tasting of everything this year.  The first to give us that is the honeyberries.

Honeyberries are in the honeysuckle family, look like a football shaped blueberry and kind of taste like a blueberry.  They are full of antioxidants and are very good for you.  Ours have quite a few berries this year and Sunday we got the bird netting out and so far have successfully kept both the birds AND the vegetarian barn dog Millie out of them!

I got a new toy this winter and have been having fun trying it out.  I got a Brix meter.  A Brix meter measures the sugars of things - like fruit - and can help you determine when it has reached its peak of ripeness.  It is also a good indicator of plant and soil health.  So far, the honeyberries I've tested are ranging from 12 to 15.  A reading of 12 would be an average fruit but 15 is very good and ready to eat.

Last week we were informed that we have received a North Dakota Division of Tourism Expansion grant.  We will use these funds to complete the restroom facility in the barn.  This will allow gardendwellers FARM to host larger tours once again.  We're very excited to be inviting guests back to our operation and hosting events.  The guys have been working hard on building walls and insulating the new restroom and last night they had a major step forward when they got the water line in from the well to the barn.  The good news is that the existing old line - that used to water cattle in the barn - still works as does the hydrant.  No need to trench in new or to buy a new hydrant!  WOOOHOOO!  Now all that is needed is a trip to a big town to get the necessary holding tank, systems and a little more wiring.  Can't wait!  A big thank you to the Division of Tourism for helping with this project.

Another major hurdle this summer will be completing the rest of the irrigation system that will take water directly to the field.  We have an NRCS contract to assist with the technical expertise and funding and hopefully soon will have water spigots right at the edge of the field.  Up to now, we have had to run a garden hose from the house all the way to the field - it's slow, it's tedious, and by the time you finish watering everything you need to start all over again.  What a time saver that will be!

Last but not least, we finally got the hops in.  After years of putting things in the ground in a hurry and most often not doing it quite right, I have decided that taking extra time and doing it the way it should be done is the wisest choice. (With Age, Comes Wisdom, as Uncle Jim Wilkie used to say.) So they got put on teepee's.  Hops grow up from the ground each year.  They can grow to 25 feet in one year.  The best and easiest way to harvest them is to have them on a single ling and cut them off at the ground each fall.  With the teepee system is it easy to do just that.

We have started with just 8 plants, four Willamette and four Nugget.  We have some Cascade hops on the hill - not planted as neatly as this of course.  Hops form rhizomes and once established it is easy to multiply the number of plants you have simply by harvesting those rhizomes.  Each teepee now holds 4 plants but can hold up to 8 or 10 and we have plenty of room to add more poles if need be.  Each set of hops was mulched with newspaper and then straw to keep the weeds down, hold soil moisture and still allow us access to dig rhizomes in the future.  Since the hops die back to the ground each year, we're hoping we will not have winter mouse trouble with the hops the way we do with our other woody plants.  Eventually we hope to sell our hops to North Dakota breweries and home brewers.

So you see, even though we are a culinary herb farm, and we will ALWAYS be a culinary herb farm, we believe in diversity.  Diversity makes for a healthier eco-system, business, and world.  Having fruit and hops and bittersweet and mushrooms and nuts keeps us from being totally wiped out by any strange new disease or pest that might come along and have a hankering for only one species.  It gives our business a back up plan in case Mother Nature decides its just not the year for herbs to grow well - something to tide us over in rough times.  It gives the birds and bees and other living things places to live and things to eat and makes the soil richer than if we were cultivating a mono-culture.  Diversity is key and that's what we strive for.  Herbs will always be who we are and what we do - but we have a back up plan just in case!
Until next time - keep on weedin'!

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Small Equipment for a small Farm

I think spring is finally here.  The barn dog is beginning to blow her coat and the fields, ours and those around us have begun filling with equipment on the move.

So what type of equipment does a small farm like ours use to plant an acre or two?  That's a question I get a lot through my work at Dakota College ECH.  At gardendwellers FARM we wondered the same thing when we first moved to this fabulous place in 2011.  We were unsure of what type of equipment to best manage all that we needed to do without spending thousands upon thousands of dollars for many different pieces of equipment.  We also didn't want to use our John Deere garden tractor and tiller for all of the weeding and maintenance required.  So we put the question out to our Facebook followers and we soon had the answer.

A Plotmaster.

Yes, folks, that's's called a Plotmaster.

This handy little piece of machinery pulls behind our ATV and does many jobs - all at once or by themselves.  As you can see, it has two sets of disks, a drag, a roller, a seeder and we have another attachment that will plow when we need it.

We've used this wonderful contraption for two years and we love it.  By using the disks and drag we can keep our fields weed free and looking good with minimal effort and in a small amount of time.  The plow has helped to break into hard or cold ground and this weekend we used it for the first time to seed.

We grow sustainably.  That means we need to care for our soil in the best way possible.  For us, that means no chemical fertilizers so instead we use green manure and compost to ensure a healthy soil environment.  This year we have chosen to green manure winter wheat.  By planting winter wheat in the spring instead of the fall, the wheat will stay shorter and not head out.  We will let the wheat grow to a desired height then disk and drag it back into the soil where it will decompose that add tilth to the soil and a fertile place for worms to romp - if worms can romp.

The Plotmaster works well for seeding.
It has a seed hopper that fits most sizes of seed and works well with the wheat.

 It took a little bit of adjusting to get it worked out so the seed was laying down correctly and covering up abut very soon the Boy got it right and finished the seeding of our green manure in no time.

Then Barry went in with the John Deere and the tiller and made a great new spot for the chives.  

Together we replanted the chives that accidentally got dug up last fall and with the dividing we did on them we ended up with over a wheelbarrow of chive plants leftover!
Then it was time for a little fun break and a few kisses between the Boy and his favorite girl.