Archive for the ‘Agriculture’ Category

I am back in the heirloom tomato plant business.  Years ago, when I had my farm, I grew about 50 varieties of tomato plants and fruit for the farmers market.

Even since selling my farm, I always seem to start too many plants for myself.  Also, this year, Prairie Farm won’t be selling heirlooms as she has closed her business.  Hopefully, this will fill a gap for some of the Goshenites that love a good heirloom.

The plants are off to a good start, and I’ve been doing a lot of transplanting.  Some of the varieties are very limited quantities.  I may even have a few pepper, broccoli, and brussel sprout plants as well.

I’m taking pre-orders.  Some of the varieties I have fewer than 20 plants.  So if you want to make sure to get what you want, you’ll want to pre-order by April 15th.  The cost is $2.50 per tomato plant.  If you buy 10 or more, it’s $2.00 each.  The other veggies will be $2.00 per 3 pack.

To pre-order, send me a message jennyfrech at gmail dot com.  You can either specify what type you want or send me your qualifications for plants (ie. 2 cherry plants for pots, 3 yellow slicers, and 5 good sauce tomatoes) and I’ll pick out some yummy ones for you.  I’ll transplant your order for you, and it should be ready by the first week in May.  You can pay when you pick up.  I am also open to bartering if you have an idea for a trade, let me know.

Here are the varieties I have this year.  All of them have information online if you need more information.  ** means that these are in very limited quantities.

Heirloom tomatoes

Just a few of my tomatoes from my farmer's market days.


Bonny’s Best


Cour di Bue

Polish linguisa**


Cherry Tomato


Yellow Riesentraube

Jaune Flame (big orange cherry)**

Isis Candy**

green grape

grapoli di inverno (winter keeper)


Japanese Black Trifele

Rio Grande

Cherokee Purple

Gold Medal (yellow)

Green Zebra**

Aunt Ruby’s German Green**

Fantom du Laos (white)

orange minsk**

Amana Orange**

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The bag of potatoes artfully dumped on the front lawn. You can tell it's June because the grass is green.

I grow a lot of my own produce.  But for whatever reason, I don’t grow lettuce anymore.  That seems really weird to me because back when I took my own produce to the farmer’s market, I sold a lot of salad mixes.

So, most Saturdays I try to make it to the Goshen Farmer’s Market.  I stop by the Sustainable Greens booth and get either baby spinach, tatsoi, or spicy salad mix.  All of them are fantastic, but I could eat a whole bag of spinach or tatsoi by myself.

Last fall, while making our farmer’s market rounds, we noticed a box of free fingerling potatoes.  The sign said that they weren’t really good for eating, but that they would be good seed potatoes for next spring.

I do raise potatoes.  Last year, we didn’t raise nearly enough.

So we took home a small bag of our better than bargain potatoes, and put them in the bottom of the pantry, and didn’t give them another thought until spring.

When we took them out, we had a crazy sculpture of growths.

I can’t believe that I forgot to share these photos of the potatoes before we planted them.  We got about an hours worth of chuckles out of artfully posing potatoes with mad eyes.

This is better than any sculpture I've seen lately.

Jeremy either pretending to smoke a pipe, or actually trying to clear his sinus cavities.

This dramatic image is brought to you by Bullwinkle.

This one is so long it goes out of focus. Could I crank up the drama anymore?

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My favorite hen, Goldie, is a Buff Orpington. The white hen is mentioned below. This is a view from inside our chicken ark. We move it daily so the chickens always have fresh grass. © Jenny Frech 2011

My friend, Kathy, gave us the three silky hens because she was downsizing her flock.  The hens were getting a bit long in the tooth, if chickens did indeed have teeth.

When we picked up the chickens, we put them in a crate in the back of the van.  On the trip home, the kids listened to Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies”, while the hens clucked away.  They only clucked during this particular song.  I’m not sure if they were trying to sing along, or if they were screaming from fright.

Because of their musical tendencies, we named the hens: Flutter, Poochie, and The GoGo.  Flutter and Poochie were two small black silkies.  The GoGo is gray.  Silkies are funny looking  because they only have downy feathers, hence the name silky.  They also have puffs on the top of their heads, that make them look like they are wearing royal wedding hats.

Poochie didn’t make it to her first winter with us, and Flutter too looks like she’s on her last chickeny legs.  The GoGo is still going strong.  She is quite the character.

Since we got her, she has tried to peck our arms off nearly every day while we gather eggs.  We tried keeping her back with long sticks, by wearing padded sweatshirts, and by trying to grab the eggs really fast.  She was a broody hen and golly dern it, she was not going to move.

We don’t have a rooster, so her attempts to incubate the eggs were futile.

Finally, I landed fertilized eggs for her to sit on.

I bought a dozen and put all but three on the nest.  Within the hour, one of the hens had cracked them all open.  The GoGo had to be moved into isolation if she was going to bring a baby to term.

We put her in a big plastic tub with food, water, straw, and the remaining three eggs.  The GoGo sat, barely moving for food or water for three weeks.  She looked thinner, but happy.  She still tried to take our arms off, but there was something a bit more tender in the way she tore at our flesh.

Three weeks later, one of the eggs hatched.  The other two sloshed around when shaken.  Gross.

The chick is a Rhode Island Red which will eventually be about three times her size.  The kids named the chick, Peachy.  The GoGo stayed in isolation with Peachy for another week.

Last weekend, The GoGo and her chick went into our movable chicken ark with the other hens.  The white Aracauna hen tried to grab her (definitely not in a motherly way), but The GoGo chased her away.  Peachy follows her around all day, ducking underneath her mama when trouble approaches.

It’s bizarre to look outside and see The GoGo out on the green grass.  We are so used to seeing her inside the dark shed huddled in the nesting corner.

She’s a lot happier now, and one heck of a mama.

Way to Go, GoGo!

The GoGo and her chick, Peachy: after all that talk about being proud of The GoGo being outside in the green grass, even strawberries wouldn't coax her out to get herself photographed. © Jenny Frech 2011

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Planting tomatoes is pretty easy , but there are a few tips to learn to make your planting experience successful.

  • Choosing your plants:  Look for plants that are sturdy without discoloration or spots.  I look for plants that are between six inches and 12 inches tall.  The plant in the following photos is generally bigger than the ones I usualy plant.  But our weather was nasty so it had to stay in the pot longer than I would have liked.  Also, try to avoid plants that already have blooms on them.  If they already have blooms, you will want to pinch them off so the plant can use it’s energy to grow the plant bigger and adjust to its new surroundings.
  • My plants go into raised beds, but you can also plant them directly into the ground or in pots.  If you choose to go the pot route, it should be a very big pot with a minimum of 5 gallons for the determinate plants (the ones that stop growing at a maximum size).  Other, like many of the heirlooms, will require very large pots.
  • If you are short on garden space, consider planting them right in with your flowers.  Tomatoes can add a lot of nice color to your flower beds.
  • Do not plant before your last frost date.  I usually wait about a week longer than that.  Putting your tomatoes out into the cold ground or at risk to frost won’t get you ahead.  I live in Northern Indiana, and I usually plant around May 15th.
  • Plan to plant the tomatoes about 3-4 feet apart. (I am a terrible example.  I always try to squeeze in too many, but I think I pay for it with lower fruit production.)

How to Do the Planting

Step 1: Start with making sure the plants are watered thoroughly before planting.

Step 2: Dig a hole deeper than the plant sat in the pot.

Step 3: Clean up the plant.  Pinch the lower leaves and any that are dried up or otherwise discolored. I always go quite a bit up the stem.

Step 4:  Turn the plant over and push on the bottom of the pot to remove. Very gently tug on the stem if it’s stuck. Also, if you are having any difficulty removing the plant, check the bottom. It could be root bound. If you see little white roots sticking out of the bottom, pinch them off with your fingers.

Step 5: If the roots are at all root bound, gently break them apart a bit before planting.

Step 6: Place the tomato into the hole. The hole should be deeper than the tomato was in the pot. All the fuzzy hairs on the stem are root hairs. Essentially, by planting your tomato deeper, you will be giving your plant a deep tap root. Also, the little hairs will develop into bigger roots.

Step 7:  Fill the hole back in with dirt.

Step 8: Water the plant thoroughly. You can give it a bit of fertilizer or compost. But, don’t overdo it or you will end up with lovely giant plants without a lot of fruit.

A very special thank you to my cooperative hand model, Jeremy.

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This week while planting tomatoes and digging in the dirt, I’ve also been digging up old feelings, dreams, and disappointments.

Tomatoes are a running theme in my life.

And I don’t even like tomatoes.

I hate the texture. They taste tart and plain. And to swallow one, gross.

But I love to grow them. At least I think I do. I grow them every year, so I must, right?

For the last 6 years I’ve grown colorful heirloom tomatoes from seed.

There are some bittersweet memories that my new friends and family don’t yet know.   Let’s back up this story.

On June 1, 2005, my thirty-first birthday, my ex-husband and I purchased 22 acres of farm land at an auction. The place was further out from our jobs than we had been looking, but the land was absolutely beautiful. It had rolling hills, some trees, lots of room for pastures and gardens, a nice spot for building a house, and a wetland full of frogs across the road.

I dreamed of being a farmer.

In second grade, I surprised myself with a drawing of a farmer, to the age-old question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Since then, it’s been a dream of mine.

Immediately after the auction. I set out to plan how I could make enough money to live off the land and stay home with my daughter full-time.

I planned the crops that I could grow, and where to market my produce.

I had a goal of setting up a CSA (customer supported agriculture) where customers would come out to the farm to pick up produce once a week. I planned for sheep that we would put on the land, and I started making contacts.

The first year, as our new house was being built, I started about 500 tomato plants in the windows of my downtown house. I rotated the plants several times a day so they would all get enough light. About 300 of the plants made it into the field. By the end of July, I was going to the farmer’s markets with 50 varieties of tomatoes.

On a good day at the market, I would make about $100-$150. That seems pretty good, until you figure the actual time that goes into the whole process. Between weeding, tying up plants, tilling, picking, sorting, sitting at the market, and paying for supplies and market fees, I probably made about $3.50-$5.00 per hour.

The next year, I began selling tomato plants.

The tomatoes grew in little pots, which required lots more time, space, and energy. It’s not easy to fill little plastic pots with dirt and shove a plant in each one. (Okay, so it’s kind of easy, it just takes a lot of time).

It extended my season, and I probably increased my income by about $300 for the year.

While I transplanted baby tomatoes, my daughter played Polly Pockets.

When I weeded in the garden, she made dolls from weeds, and played Marco Polo in the corn. She hated waiting for me to finish my work. And I was too tired and busy to play.

Finally one day I woke up and realized that this dream of mine wasn’t working.

If it was just me, it would be okay to keep trying.

But it wasn’t just me. The main goal of trying to get this farm off the ground and running was so I could spend more time with my daughter. Except that I was spending less time.

My dream isn”t just to be a farmer anymore. My new dream is to be the best mom I can be.

So that final summer before my divorce I let the tomatoes rot in the field.

I planted them.

But I didn’t weed them

I didn’t try to sell any.

The plants just withered away.

The tomatoes rotted, but I didn’t care.

I didn’t care, because the relationship with my daughter didn’t rot.

I dug into finding a job that paid well enough to support her, giving up on my dream of being home with her full-time. A few hours a day with her was better than no time with her.   Any of the farm stuff would be hobby only, and I would only do the parts of it that we liked to do together.

The dream of spending more time with her is still alive.

In fact, I can see myself on the other side of busyness, being able work for myself inside the home, and maybe part-time for others.

The problem is that to get to that point, I have to spend extra energy and time away from her after work to make it happen. It’s really a catch 22.

There are business ideas rattling around in my head and dreamer’s heart.

But I still have a really hard time trusting my judgment. I feel like I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way.  Some of them have felt like bad decisions. But without those mistakes, I suppose I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Being distrustful of my judgement,  doesn’t make the decision process any easier.

I grew tomatoes again this year. I lazily planted them in trays, and kind of neglected them.   I never transplanted them (transplanted plants become sturdier from the stress- another metaphor I suppose.) Some of this year’s tomato plants are wimpy. Some of the didn’t get hardened off enough. I didn’t plant all of my favorite varieties.   To grow tomatoes properly would have required missing out on The Muppet Show with Ellie, or playing that game of Othello, drawing fairies together, or helping her clean her room.

If any of those wimpy tomatoes grow, we’ll take a Saturday to make Salsa as a family.

This summer is shaping up to be a crazy one. If the going gets too tough, I am not opposed to letting the tomatoes rot.

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Two Guernsey girls, Jenny Frech 2010

This week I was saddened to learn that Genetically Engineered Alfalfa was approved.

Why do I care?  It’s not like I’m making an alfalfa salad for lunch.

But I’ll be eating and drinking that alfalfa when I drink organic milk, or eat an organic hamburger.

It matters because we are quickly losing our rights as humans to eat clean, unadulterated food.

There are several huge problems with GE crops.

1. The seeds are owned by very few agribusinesses – many of which started out in the chemical business-not the food business.

2. Those companies own the seed because they have patented the life (DNA) in that seed, and the offspring from their seeds.

We eat seeds like corn, soy, and canola in one form or another.  Farmers save seeds to plant the following year.  If they don’t, or can’t, save the seeds, then they have to buy it from the seed company year after year.

3. Plants are living organisms.

As a living organism, they have means of reproduction.  How do they reproduce?  In the case of corn, by pollen from one plant, blowing in the wind to fertilize another. Other plants are pollinated by pollinators – at least the ones that are left, but that’s another story.  For genes to be passed on from one generation to the next, they cross pollinate with other plants.  Very few people are growing their corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, alfalfa, etc. in isolation (isolation=greenhouses).  So, the plants from one field WILL cross pollinate with plants from another field.  Folks that seed save for particular corn varieties try to keep their corn a mile from other varieties in order to keep the line pure.

So, GE corn will cross pollinate with traditional corn.  The farmer that grows the traditional corn has no say in this.  Once the GE genes enter his crop, the big Ag corporation owns the offspring (the seeds he was going to save).  The traditional farmer had no say in this cross pollination.  This farmer will now have to buy pure seeds from year-to-year.  Big Ag WILL sue the little guy to make sure that this patent law is enforced.  In the movie, “The Future of Food,” one of the producers says that if he had cattle, he would be expected to fence them in to keep them from doing damage to others’ crops.  It is impossible to “fence in” these genes, and it is wrong to hold the innocent farmer accountable.

4. Genetically modified organisms are a form of pollution.

Once those genes enter our food system, the traditional genes will be lost.  We’ve already lost over 75% of the genetic diversity of our crops.  Ninety percent of the world’s food comes from only 12 types of plants.  If someone came to your house and dumped a barrel of toxic waste into your yard, contaminating your water supply, you would demand compensation and it would be awarded.  In the case of the farmer’s crops being polluted with GE genes, you would be paying the offender because you had possession of the hazardous waste.

5. GE crops will become resistant to pesticides, and it will take stronger and stronger pesticides to kill insects and weeds.

It doesn’t take long for insects and weeds to develop a resistance to pesticides.  It only takes a couple of individuals with a genetic code to give them some resistance to the pesticide.  Those few individuals reproduce and now your whole weed or insect population is resistant.  This is the same principle of antibiotic resistance.  Your doctor doesn’t want you to take too many antibiotics because it can create superbugs that have to be treated with stronger and stronger antibiotics.

In the case of GE crops, they will have to be treated with stronger and stronger pesticides.  Insecticides kill all insects even the good ones like bees, butterflies, lady bugs, and praying mantises.

6.  We WILL lose the choice of organics.

If organic farmers, and farmers that choose not to use pesticides and GE varieties,  are unable to keep the GE genes out of their crops, we will not have organic anything available to us.  Obviously, organic vegetables and grains must use approved pesticides and fertilizers-generally this means avoiding chemicals.  But this also means that GE varieties are not allowed in this system.  If you are raising organic chickens, you would have to feed those chickens organic grains.  If you are an organic dairy farmer, selling organic milk, your animals are treated with certain standards, including feeding them organic hay (organic ALFALFA!) and organic grains.

7.  Organic, transitional, and sustainable farmers have made huge investments in their farms to bring them to organic standards, and to go through the certification process.

There are a lot of additional costs that go into bringing an organic product to market.

8. Genetically Engineered organisms have not been fully tested.  We don’t know what they do to our bodies and ecosystems long term.

I care about farmers.

I care about consumer choice.

I care about the human right to eat healthy, unadulterated food.  As much as I love a good chocolate bar, I do care about what foods I’m putting in my body, and I don’t want Genetically Modified crap shoved down my gullet.

I’m feeling discouraged.  I try to stay optimistic, but lately it seems that the laws are favoring big corporations more than us consumers.  It feels like the changes that are happening are detrimental to our food system and food disaster is imminent.  I feel like there are people screaming that this isn’t right, but we’re in a bad dream and no one can hear the scream.

The way our food system has shifted is like a frog being slowly boiled to death in water.   Big agribusiness (seed, chemical, and food processors) have slowly changed our system to a new normal.

Americans, and most of the Western world for that matter, are so far removed from real food, and the process of agriculture, that they don’t understand or seem to care what’s happening.  I wish we could somehow educate our country on real food.  If everyone had the chance to eat real food for a month, it would be difficult to go back to a diet of corn chips and soda.  Our current and future food choices are becoming less and less like real food.

It is manufactured.

Remember the food pill from the Jetsons? It may taste like chicken, but it ain’t chicken.

On a related note, I found this blog post from civileats.com interesting.  I need to explore this site more, it deals with sustainable food issues.

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Becoming a full-fledged treehugger is not as difficult as you would think.

Today I went to a meeting of sustainable minded folks in Goshen called “Green Drinks”.  The point of the group is to have a very brief (like 5 minutes brief) presentation, and then network with other like-minded folk.

I am a complete introvert.  Networking, mingling, and meeting new people gives me cold sweats.

Tonight I didn’t pass out or anything.

The folks at my table got to talking about why we are interested in the sustainable movement.  For one, it was the way her family grew up – you just didn’t waste.  For another, each little step to be more gentle on the Earth just seemed to make sense.

I asked one woman what she thought her biggest change toward sustainability had been in the last two years.  She couldn’t pinpoint any one thing.  When the rest of the table really thought about that question, it was difficult for any of us to identify one major life habit change.

The bottom line we decided is that becoming “green”, or more importantly, becoming “aware” and changing our habits is a continuum.  It’s little bitty, teeny tiny steps toward living a more intentional life that eventually become habit.  Little things that once you learn about their impact you just can’t go back to the way things used to be.

You don’t have to sell your car, throw out all the food in your fridge, wear hemp shawls, and eat only beans.  You can start by carrying a water bottle, combining errands into one trip, flipping off the lights when you leave a room, or taking shorter showers.

Just one step at a time.

The folks at our table had lots of insights tonight about their journey.  Here is a snippet of some of the simple things we noticed about our lives:

  • Disposable plastic packaging is much more prevalent, and almost impossible to avoid.
  • People stopped carrying their own water or relying on water fountains, with the invention of the plastic water bottle, leading to more trash.
  • We can learn to simplify, or make our own to avoid packaging (in this case there was a desire to learn to make yogurt).
  • Sustainable practices can be incorporated into a business plan as an expense to limit waste.
  • In the media, sustainability is treated as a “special interest” story, when really it should just be a normal part of our lives.

I’ve reposted a blog post from early last fall before anyone but my mom was reading my blog.  It follows this post and is about how my friends dragged me kicking and screaming into this intentional lifestyle.  I think it fits today’s thought.

It’s easier not knowing the truth sometimes, but definitely not better.

We have one planet, finite resources, and a fragile ecosystem on this Earth.

And that’s why I bother.

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