Friday, June 26, 2015

Bees, Garlic, and Other Happenings on Our Tiny Farm

Oh. I live with such an interesting family. This is what I saw when I came home the other day. Here, let me give you a closer view.
Yup. That is a bee hive. And yes, it is on the roof on the front porch, near the front door of our house. "Don't worry", I was told, "it is strapped down.". Oh, that's good. Then no problem. Something about a swarm way up in the tree nearby. Oh these crazy beekeepers.
Because there is also an active hive sitting on the porch in front of the workshop. I thought those hives were just there to be repaired, but obviously a colony has moved right in. I am happy to do my part to help pollinators, but its kind of "bees, bees, everywhere bees", on Our Tiny Farm right now.
The garlic harvest started this evening. The Spanish Roja were the furthest along, so they were the first to come out of the ground.
We have had perfect growing conditions for garlic and the crop looks great. Like usual the Spanish Roja are small, but we love their fiery taste. Tomorrow the guys will prep the curing area under one of the open sheds.
The Black Angus cattle are looking good. Guess we need to think about harvesting them soon, too, but we want to get a good size on them this time. We tried the smaller quarters last time because a few customers asked for them, but that is not the way to go. You get fewer roasts and steaks and they are smaller than I like them to be. So, back to the larger quarters and people can split them with someone if that is too much meat for them. That said, we have held our vacuum sealed beef in a freezer for 2.5 years and it tasted as fresh as it did a month after harvest

The donkeys and horse are doing fine, too. I have posted a few more pics and a video on the donkey page. We have some yummy blackberries and raspberries right now, but not enough to sell. Sorry. Other crops are looking good, too.
We have had many spectacular storms come through the past few weeks, so thought I would close with a photo of one that scooted by the other day. Hope you are having a great summer!

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Short Discussion about Shade for Your Forest Medicinal Herb Garden

Many gardeners are interested in planting shade gardens, especially to grow native forest botanicals such as ginseng, goldenseal, and black cohosh. Many questions arise about how to provide that shade, how much there should be, and what to do if there is no natural shade on the property. That topic is covered in detail in the new home gardener section of my book, Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals. Here is a small excerpt: "Do you have a naturally shaded area to plant your garden in? The ideal site has a hardwood canopy with trees such as poplar, sugar maple, white ash, oak, beech, maple, and birch, and an understory of trees and shrubs such as dogwoods, elderberry, and witch hazel. Is it all deep shade? Are there open areas? Are there different degrees of shade, e.g., dense, light, or partial shade? Partial shade means the area has direct sunlight for three to six hours each day. Pay attention to when the area gets that sun. Three hours of direct late afternoon sun can be hot and damaging to shade plants. Light shade or dappled light is filtered light that works it way through the canopy of deciduous trees. There are patches of direct sunlight that get through at different times of the day, but they are small. This is a preferred state for many of the plants covered in this book. Areas of dense or full shade get less than three hours of direct sunlight each day, with filtered light the rest of the day. Dense shade is not totally dark. Few plants grow on the forest floor under dense shade. If you have full shade, you will probably have to open up the tree canopy a bit through some judicious pruning or tree removal. If your canopy is very open and there is too much light, now is the time to think about planting some trees that will add more shade in the coming years.
     "If you don't have any shade right now, you can create some that is temporary until the trees you plant fill in, or it can be the permanent shade. Construct an arbor or pergola and let vines cover it to simulate the natural opening and closing of a tree canopy that occurs when leaves come out in the spring and fall off in autumn. Use lattice fencing to protect an area from late afternoon sun or put up a shade sail or canopy made of woven polypropylene shade cloth. If you can't afford to build shade right now, consider planting on the north or east side of your house."

Monday, May 11, 2015

Collecting and Germinating Ramp Seeds

Depending on where you are located, ramps are starting to yellow or soon will be. If you look closely at a patch of ramps, you will probably see flower buds just beginning to show on some of them. Now is the time to plan for seed collection. When ramp seeds are mature, the leaves of the plant are usually gone and the base of the plant is often covered up by the foliage of other plants. It is not uncommon for the only evidence of the ramps to be the seed heads. They can be REALLY difficult to find unless you know exactly where to look.

So, if you want to collect and sow ramp seeds, I suggest that mark your ramp patches now. This can be done with flagging, rock formations, or you could just get a GPS coordinate for the location. Then, in late August to early September, you can return to collect the mature seed. Be sure to wait until the seeds are black.

There are several methods for germinating ramp seeds, and a number of them are described in my book. But here is the easiest procedure that has worked for me. As quoted in the book, "Collect the mature, black seed from the plants in late August before the seeds fall to the ground; then, either immediately plant the seeds in a nursery bed or store the seeds in paper envelopes in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant them in a moist site. Little seedlings should emerge after exposure to one warm season and one cold season in the soil. This usually means after 18 months. If you planted the fresh seed early enough in the season for the seeds to get a long period of warm temperatures before the soil cooled down for the winter, you should obtain good emergence the first spring after sowing-in about seven months."

There is a whole section devoted to ramps in the book Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals.. You can order a lead author signed copy of the book by clicking on one of the options in the right sidebar.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Let's Grow Ramps!!

My first ramp research plots.
"In 1998, when I first started growing ramps, there were only a few individuals in North America producing ramps for commercial purposes. I relied heavily on their experiences to initiate my own successful ramp cultivation efforts and studies. Since that time we have learned a great deal about them, and people are successfuly growing ramps all over North America." That is the opening paragraph in Chapter 15: Ramp Growing Instructions: Methods, Care, Protection, Harvesting and Marketing in our book "Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals". This is ramps season and this is the perfect time to start growing your own ramps. The way I got my first ramp patch started was to buy ramps at a ramps festival and plant them out.

As described in that same chapter, "Choose an appropriate planting site, as described earlier [in the chapter]. Rake off the leaf litter, till the soil, add any needed amendments, and work them in. Make raised beds if you plan to do so. To plant your bulbs or transplants, dig little trenches 4-5" deep across your beds or planting areas. Spacing these trenches 4-6" apart gives the plants some room to multiply. I make trenches by simply dragging a hand trowel across the bed. Set dormant bulbs approximately 3" apart and 3" deep, with the growing point facing up. Cover with soil so just the very tip of the bulb shows above the soil surface. Transplant leafed-out plants the same depth they had been growing. Finally, cover both bulbs and transplants with several inches of mulch. Transplants will usually reach harvestable size in four to six years."

The chapter includes two growers' stories. The first one is about the Smoky Mountain Native Plants Association. Here is a short video (link) of them explaining how to sustainably harvest ramps. The second story is about Glen Facemire of Ramp Farm Specialities in West Virginia. In 2008, Glen wrote and published a wonderful little book on ramps called "Having Your Ramps and Eating Them, Too." You can order it through his website (link) and I highly recommend it.

All this information and so much more is available in my book "Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals". You can order it now by clicking on one of the shopping cart buttons on the right.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

End of February on Our Tiny Farm

February has been a wintery month for us and one where I have been immensely grateful for large amount of high-quality hay that we put up for the season. I am also thankful for heated water tanks, frost-free faucets, and waterlines buried deep in the soil. Even with multiple days below 10 degrees, we had water flowing at all the outside faucets.
Our animals have all come through the high winds, single digit temperatures, and snowy days without issue. They all have thick, fluffy winter coats and good shelters to get out of the wind. With the windward side doors closed, the barn is a cozy place. When we check on the animals late at night, we often find the horse and both donkeys curled up in the barn together. Sweet. The donkeys don't care for snow very much, but after awhile they did wander out in it.
The snow is pretty This was a very early morning shot from earlier this week. We were expecting a dusting overnight and woke up to about five inches. We have been fortunate to have power and water throughout these storms and all family members manuvered their cars and trucks safely across the roads. We did have two trees fall on fences in the cattle pastures. Just discovered one today. But that is a minor inconvenience (says the person who does not have to repair the fencing!).
Inside we are all cozy and warm. The woodstove has been a blessing with the very cold temperatures. I still don't want to see the oil bill, but I know that without the woodstove it would be worse. Sitting in front of a roaring fire, we are planning for the spring planting season and trying to decide which crops to concentrate on for the 2015 growing season. The garlic looks like it came through the very cold temperatures just fine. Potatoes, a variety of winter squash, popcorn, and kohlrabi are on my list as commercial crops. Of course we will grow all the standard vegetables for the family including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, snow peas, beans, summer squash, green onions, and broccoli.
So here is to the coming of spring. The early signs are there. The daffodils are poking through the snow and the dog is shedding like crazy! I hope my next farm post will have pictures of green grass, crocus blooms, and sunshine.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Ginseng Life Cycle: From Two Years Old to Mature Plants with Berries

                                                  Two year old ginseng plants
In our book, Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals (2014), Scott Persons describes how the ginseng plant develops from two years of age on:
     "In its second year, under optimal growing conditions, the plant can reach five or more inches in height and produce two prongs branching from the central stem, each prong being a single leaf composed of three to five leaflets. If conditions are friendly and fertile, the number of prongs will increase with age, and the plant may eventually reach a height exceeding two feet. In cultivated shade gardens, ginseng typically produces three prongs in its third growing season and often four prongs in its fourth. However, in the wild, plants are usually five to nine years old before they add a third prong and begin to produce berries (with seeds) in any quantity. In later years, particularly healthy and vigorous specimens can have as many as five prongs radiating from the top of the stem, with each prong typically having five leaflets (occasionally as many as eight).
                                Four-prong ginseng plant
     "The species name, quinquefolius, means five-leafed. The two smallest leaflets on a prong are less than two inches long and the other three larger leaflets are three or four inches in length. The shape of the leaflets is lanceolate, with saw-toothed edges ending in a sharp point.
                                                                  Ginseng berry cluster    
"From the center of the whorl of prongs, a delicate cluster of small, nondescript blossoms arises in early summer, usually on plants that are at least three years old. Each blossom has five greenish white petals only a few millimeters in width. A ginseng plant is capable of self-pollination, but reproductive success is greater when sweat bees and other insects cross-pollinate the flower clusters. By July or August, as few as two or three green berries or (on large, older plants) as many as 50 berries follow the blossoms. These kidney-shaped berries about the size of bloated black-eyed peas turn a beautiful   bright crimson color as they ripen. Each ripe berry usually contains two slightly wrinkled, hard whitish seeds about the size and shape of a children's aspirin tablet. Young plants sometimes produce berries containing only one seed, and vigorous older plants often have berries with three seeds in them. Under normal conditions, the seeds do not germinate and sprout until 18 to 20 months after they fall from the plant in August or September."

To learn more about how the ginseng plant develops and how you can grow your "Green Gold", order a copy of our book "Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals". If you order through this website, you will get a lead author signed copy. Then watch for when Scott Persons might be giving a presentation in your area and bring the book along to get his signature, too. I always get a kick out of it when I give a talk and someone comes up afterwards with a well-worn, dog-eared book and asks for me to sign it and I open it up to find Scott's autograph already there.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

What happens when a ginseng seed sprouts? The first year ginseng seedling.

Many of us planted ginseng seeds last fall and are anxiously awaiting the first signs of germination this spring. How does a ginseng seed germinate and what does a ginseng seedling look like?

Ginseng expert, Scott Persons, explains in our book, Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Botanicals:
"The First-year Seedling: When it sprouts between late April and early June, a ginseng seedling has a small, short stem supporting three tiny furled leaflets. Within four or five weeks of sprouting, the herb is about three inches tall and leaflets are unfurled and fully developed. At this point, the seedling looks something like a wild strawberry plant. No further foliar growth occurs after midsummer, even if leaflets are damaged or lost. This is true in subsequent growing seasons as well. In autumn, the foliage turns a rich yellow ocher and soon dies off, often hastened by the frost.
"When the ginseng seed germinates in the spring, it is the young root, or radicle, that first emerges through the seed husk. However, the root does not develop to any appreciable extent until mid-summer, after the leaflets have unfurled and completed their season's growth. The small skinny root then grows from midsummer through the fall and develops a solitary bud at its top, below the ground. The root survives the winter, freezing as the ground freezes. It is from the bud that the single stem and leaves will grow and unfurl the following spring. Interestingly, examination of the bud under magnification reveals the configuration of the next year's foliar top (that is, the number of prongs and leaflets)."

Learn about the entire ginseng life cycle in chapter one of the book Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals. You can order the book from this blog, from all the big online booksellers, at many local bookstores, and on Ebay.