Bay Branch Farm

a microfarm in lakewood, oh | we grow food


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Beets!

I’m not entirely sure what we did right this season, but the beets have been amazing. Somehow we got our succession planting down with this crop and have had a steady supply for markets since 4th of July.

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Red Ace – each of these weigh close to 2 pounds!

I’ve never been a huge fan of beets (I do love the greens, though), but this year we’ve experimented with some different recipes beyond just roasting them. One – beet burgers – came from a customer and these are absolutely delicious. We made extra and put the extra patties in the freezer for a future tasty meal.

We also made beet steaks. Here’s the recipe:

  • 2 large beets
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Chop onion and garlic. Cut the beets into 1/2 inch thick slices. Make an aluminum foil bag and place the beets, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper inside. Place aluminum foil bag on the grill for 30 minutes at around 350 degrees. Remove the beets from the bag and grill on high for about 10 minutes on each side. Continue to cook the bag and serve the onions and garlic with the beets.

What’s your favorite way to prepare and eat beets?


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Hugelkultur and 3 Sisters

A couple years ago we put a hugelkultur bed in our backyard and last year we added another one. Hugelkultur is a raised bed made of wooden branches, logs, rotted wood, grass clippings, leaves and other natural debris. We covered ours with soil and planted right in it. So far so good! We usually plant squash in these beds since they are big and have ample room for running plants. Hugelkultur beds retain water well due to the makeup of the beds and they have a lot of nutrients within the decaying materials.

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Two hugel beds full of squash and pumpkins. Wood chip mulch is around the base of the beds to keep weeds down.

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Close up of the pumpkin patch.

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Squash bed.

Another permaculture technique we tried this year is to plant an area with the three sisters – corn, beans and squash. This is a Native American agricultural practice of interplanting crops that support each other. The beans fix nitrogen, the corn gives the beans something to climb, and the squash provides ground cover for weeds and keeps pests off the corn. We are growing Kentucky Wonder pole beans, a variety of squash, and Oaxacan green corn. It’s the first time we’ve grown corn. Some of it has grown quite well, though the outside bed has been a bit stunted.

Corn on the stalk

Corn on the stalk

 

This photo shows the full planting. The corn on the edge is stunted.

This photo shows the full planting. The corn on the outside is stunted.


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Summer update at the plot

It’s been a hot and dry summer so far. June registered about an inch of rain all month and July so far has about the same with the average temperature being in the low 80s. That has meant a lot of watering and shade cloth over our lettuce. The jury is still out on this shade cloth, but the bed that wasn’t covered bolted, so I guess covered is better than not right now. We’ve also lost a bed of kale to a combination of flea beetles, aphids and some sort of fungus (I think). Otherwise, the farm is looking pretty darn good and the work that was put in early in the season has really paid off. We feel like we’re in a rhythm with succession planting and seasonal planting with summer crops coming in nicely right now. Check out the pics from the past week below:

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Purple pole beans flowering. Purple beans are easier to see when harvesting!

 

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We’re only growing cherry tomatoes for market this season. Lots on the vines. These are full on ripe now.

 

Shade cloth over 2 lettuce beds. View from the back of the plot.

Shade cloth over 2 lettuce beds. View from the back of the plot.


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Spring update

After a couple weeks of high 70s to low 80s, we’re back to spring-like weather and I’m loving it! The farm looks really super after a recent rain. Everything, including the weeds, is growing. The weeds are more out of control than I’d have hoped and certainly more than I like, but my new part-time work schedule allows me to stay on top of them. Some of the beds on one end seem to be full of tiny shoots of purslane, which is a pernicious, albeit edible, weed that once it takes hold is really hard to eliminate. Our strategy is to prevent it from getting too big and to certainly prevent it from going to seed. We’ll also refine our soil occultation process (prepping beds, watering them and covering with black silage tarps for several weeks/months) to try to eliminate and prevent stirring up these weed seeds.

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The small weeds around the celery are purslane. I’ve been using a collinear hoe to remove and cultivate around transplants. 

Some recent farm investments have been really worthwhile, including insect netting (Proteknet Biothrips from Johnny’s) to protect against leaf miners, cabbage worms, and flea beetles. It’s pricey, but worth it and I think we can make it last by careful handling practices.

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Biothrips insect netting over beets. 

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Tiny plot of SPIN beds with most in full production.


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Farm Robots

This isn’t the first article I’ve read about the future of farm mechanization using smaller specialized robot systems, but I’m torn about the idea of robots on the farm. I’m encouraged by the smashing of the idea of “go big or go home” (or whatever Earl Lauer Butz said). My personal experience with farming leads me to believe many, many more small farms are the real future of food production and so it seems robotizing our farms will really help with labor. But perhaps figuring out ways to get more humans on our farms doing meaningful work is better than replacing the current crop of farm workers (which we treat like robots).

Giving my career choices I do consider myself a technologist and therefore my first reaction to this idea is “robot === good”. Yet my limited experience with farming leads me to the conclusion that having a human involved with the living plants is not something we can so easily mechanize. Farmers should be in the business of growing living soils and in turn, living plants. We are not building an SUV; we are growing food.

But ultimately I don’t know exactly what to think about this.

Rise of robots a boost to small, diverse farms


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Spring bed prep

Despite snow last weekend, it is indeed spring and that can only mean one thing on the farm – time for bed prep! Last year we read The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier. One of the tips in that book involves covering the beds with black tarps to kill the weeds while maintaining all the beneficial microorganisms in the soil. After growing a cover crop last season, we covered the majority of our tiny farm with a silage tarp (about 40′ x 100′). We were excited when we removed the tarp from the first few beds to find lovely, friable soil and no weeds (plus a few snakes)! This makes bed prep so much easier. These are the steps and tools we use for prepping our beds for direct seeding and transplanting:

  1. Apply compost – we add three 5 gallon buckets of compost to each 33′ bed.
  2. Broadfork to aerate the soil.
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  3. Create a fine tilth using the Fire Fly hand plow. This lightly crumbles the top couple inches of soil to make a nice seed bed. The goal is not to turn the soil over or disturb the soil microbes too much.
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  4. Smooth with the finishing rake.
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  5. Plant!

I’m thrilled to see how these permanent raised beds are shaping up. Can’t wait to get some seeds in the ground and have these beauties teeming with life soon.


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35 Block – Stand up soil blocker

We do most of our propagation in soil blocks. Planting kale, spinach, lettuce, green onions, chard, and beets – the 20-block stand up soil blocker from Ladbrooke has been our go to tool. But we were ready to abandon this tool and change to plastic propagation trays. While we were attending the Young Farmers Conference this past December, Jack Alger, who runs the greenhouse at Stone Barns, expressed the same problems I have with our 20-block tool. My two major concerns are that it doesn’t fit properly into a 1020 propagation tray so there is a good deal of monkey business filling a tray and I feel the blocks are slightly too large for the application we are using. This tool makes 20 blocks that are 1 3/8″ x 1 3/8″ x 1 5/8″ high. If we were going to plant out some squash or beans, the 20 blocker block size seems appropriate, but for all the veggies mentioned earlier, the blocks seem too large and we are wasting potting mix and space. He had Ladbrooke make him a custom 35-block stand up blocker that addresses both of these problems. It creates 35 soil blocks at a go that are approximately an inch and a quarter by an inch and 1/8. I contacted them and had them make us one also. Three times using the 35-block tool fit into a standard 1020 tray making 105 blocks, which is a nice round number. We made our first trays today planting kale, chard, and spinach. There are a still a few minor refinements I’d make to the tool, but over the season we will evaluate how closely this new size meets our needs.

Ready to make some soil blocks.

Ready to make some soil blocks.

 

7 x 5 = 35 blocks

7 x 5 = 35 blocks

 

Here is the 1st set of blocks. 2 more and the standard 1020 tray is full.

Here is the 1st set of blocks. 2 more and the standard 1020 tray is full.

 

A full tray with 105 blocks.

A full tray with 105 blocks.

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