Old Plank Farm

Stephanie's Farm Blog

Posted 8/17/2017 4:31pm by Stephanie Bartel.

The Old Plank Farm Family, or Farmily, is everyone who works each year at the farm in order to grow your weekly boxes of vegetables. This year’s Farmily is largely the same as last season’s, except for a couple new faces (and one new birth!). Here’s a brief overview of all of us:  

Stephanie Bartel. That’s me. Yep, I’m still here, nine years after starting Old Plank back in 2008. What more can I say?  

Angelica Immel. Back after four seasons, Angelica’s experience and intuitive understanding of our way of farming makes her help here indispensable! She is often the one in communication with you all through our weekly newsletter. She also coordinates the packing and delivery of your shares, and does our Kohler delivery route. But most of her time (and everyone else’s time, too) is spent in the field, tirelessly working at planting, weeding and harvesting. She’s the best bean picker and carrot weeder east of the Mississippi.  

The Laswells. Sammi used to work here more often in past years. This year she was pregnant with her second child. Sammi helped off and on throughout the summer, as her pregnancy allowed. This past Monday, August 14th, she gave birth to a baby girl, Elowen. We are all excited for this addition to her family! Sammi’s husband Ryan works full-time at NOURISH in Sheboygan, but also helps out here occasionally. He usually leads tours during our open house/pizza nights. Their 4-yr old daughter Finnleigh has recently been helping with these tours and is, apparently, quite good at it!  

Scott and Laura Bailey. The Bailey’s are Sammi’s parents, and they are the farm’s most behind-the-scenes awesome workers. Scott fixes everything I break (which is a lot!), and Laura takes care of the animals and does all our yard upkeep, among other things. Before Scott and Laura came to the farm three years ago, we had 8’ tall burdock growing around the yard, among other problems. Not anymore, thanks to the both of them.  

Jake Menzynski is here as a first-year intern this season. He’s also Angelica’s boyfriend, and has been a great addition to the farm so far. He’s able and willing to do anything that needs to be done. Our farm dog, Max, especially loves his presence here. Jake’s been training Max to eat vegetables, which is always amusing to watch during our lunch breaks. Angelica and I are happy that he’ll be working with us at least through the end of the season.  

Joe Drewry spent his summer here as a first-year intern this season, too. He heads back to college in Michigan next week, to finish up his senior year of environmental studies. After a summer of hard work out in the field, he should have no trouble lifting a pen! He’ll be missed especially when we are picking tomatoes; he is the only one of us not afraid of the huge tomato spiders that we find in the field.  

Cassandra Marthaler is our neighbor who spends her summers working with us. When she started here three years ago Cassandra didn’t know what kale was. Now she’s trying it out in green smoothies. We all love having her as part of the crew, and she will be missed when she heads off to her senior year of high school in a couple of weeks. She wants to go on to be a large-animal vet. But we look forward to one more summer with her next season before starting college.  

Nichole Kloss. Nichole spent her second summer here with us this year. She only works occasionally, when we need an extra hand, because she is busy on her own homestead, establishing an orchard there, and—as of this fall—teaching first grade in Milwaukee.  

That’s our core Farmily. Extended Farmily includes several other volunteers and worker-shares who help make everything run more smoothly during our busiest times. These people include:  

Bing Drewry. We grow a few things over at Bing’s homestead just outside of town. He turned 90 years old this past May, but continues to do much of the tractor work in his gardens for us. His favorite crops to grow are sweet corn and peppers. We have our potato crop down by him this year too, and it is looking like it will be a good one.  

Dan and Chris Drewry. The Drewry’s often bag up various items like salad mix and carrots on Mondays for us. They also do a lot of the work in their family’s woods, helping to bring us Drewry Farms maple syrup in your second CSA box.  

Jessica Gallipeau. Jessica has been helping pack shares on Tuesday mornings for many years! She also delivers our Sheboygan CSA shares, which helps keep our delivery routes manageable.  

The Immels. Angelica’s two sisters, Emma and Natalie Immel, come Tuesday mornings to pack your shares during their summer vacation. They start 6th and 9th grade in a couple of weeks, and we will miss them! Angelica’s mom Christine writes your kitchen blog, “A People’s Pantry” each week. Angelica’s dad Jason isn’t around the farm as much as the rest of the Immels, but you may find him helping make pizzas during some of the upcoming open houses…! Angelica’s one-year old brother Abe just entertains us with cuteness when he is around the farm. Next year he’ll be weeding for us. Just kidding.  

It is nothing less than humbling for me to share this farm with all these wonderful people. Without each of them, our farm would be missing a piece of the puzzle that sustainable farming inevitably is. I hope that as you unpack, wash, prep, and eat your veggies each week, you remember that your support of Old Plank Farm is so appreciated by all of us.      

Posted 8/10/2017 2:31pm by Stephanie Bartel.

Last week we dug leeks and scallions. It went great, except that you couldn’t hardly tell them apart. Our scallions are some of the biggest and most beautiful that we’ve ever grown, and they were a joy to harvest. Our leeks were some of the smallest that we’ve ever grown, and were kind of a pain to harvest. In the end, they were basically the same size. Which isn’t really a problem, except that I generally expect my leeks to achieve bigger size than they did this time around.  

Both leeks and scallions were planted in the same part of the field and were exposed to virtually the same weather, weed pressure, and care from us farmers. So why did these scallions have their best season ever and these leeks have their worst? I can speculate, but can’t say exactly why this is the case. What interests me more is to look at how this situation sheds light on the idea of a perfect growing season.  

On a diversified vegetable farm, there is no such thing as a perfect growing season. This is because various crops thrive under various conditions. Though it isn’t a perfect growing season, I would say this year has been generally very good weather. Working around frequent rains has been a challenge, but not needing to irrigate has been a blessing. However, our leeks and scallions remind me that there is no such thing as a “perfect” season on a farm. Even when one variable—like weather—works in our favor, there are many other variables that can affect the final harvest (deer pressure comes to mind in what would have otherwise been a great summer for lettuce!).  

Rather than strive for perfection—an unrealistic ideal that could easily lead to frustration and burn-out—we strive to simply make the best of the conditions that Old Plank Farm is faced with. My perspective here is not meant to sound passive towards my role as a farmer, nor carry any hint of resignation to uncontrollable forces. Instead, I see my role is like being on a bridge between the natural world that governs all things and the cultivated world that I help govern on this farm. I’m always on the bridge, trying to stay in tune with what nature is doing for the farm and in tune with what I can do for the farm. Staying on this bridge is a fundamental part of Old Plank Farm’s growing practices. Making the best of what nature offers is a key to maintaining a sustainable farm.  

So much of commercial agriculture is largely out-of-touch with nature these days. Modern scientific methods strive more and more toward perfection in the field…uniform, large and early crops at nearly any cost has been a trend on farms, both organic and conventional. That sort of perfection may be desirable to humans, but not always to nature.  

So no, we aren’t having a perfect season. My leeks can tell you that. But we are having a good season, and I am still on my bridge, working with nature as best as I can.

Posted 7/27/2017 4:21pm by Stephanie Bartel.

Last Friday around 11:00 in the morning I was out in the field prepping a bed for planting rutabagas later that day. As I walked down along the bed, moving the drip tape out of the way, I saw that there was a section that still had some nice head lettuce in it. A few weeks earlier we had cut most of the head lettuce from the bed. Actually, we had cut what the deer hadn’t already eaten, which was most of it. Deer have been a regular problem this season. They take one big bite out of the center of a head of lettuce and then they move on to a new one. In this way we have seen hundreds of heads of lettuce be demolished just a night or two before we are ready to harvest for our CSA.  

Anyway, in the bed I was walking last Friday there was a hundred or so good heads that both the deer and I had missed. So I left them, prepped the bed around the heads, and planned to cut them this Monday for the week’s CSA boxes.  

Later Friday afternoon we went out to plant. It was about 4pm when we came to the bed where I had found the lettuce earlier in the day. To my dismay I saw that the deer had eaten every single head from the bed.  

Our main vegetable field is a thirty-acre garden with lettuce and other vegetables planted all throughout it. How did the deer find that one little spot where I had been earlier in the day? How did they decide to go eat from it before we got back out to plant? How come they didn’t take anything but those hundred heads? I imagined them watching me from the woods with binoculars, planning their lunch. Though I don’t appreciate that they eat the lettuce (more often they eat the clover and that is perfectly ok!), it is interesting to be reminded of the presence of other lives all around my farm. If not binoculars, there was some other connection the deer had with me that day, even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time.  

Other than about 30% of our lettuce being ravaged by deer, we are generally having a good start to our harvest season. Carrots are the highlight right now, and members will receive a hearty helping in next week’s box, and in some August boxes too.  

Some of our fruiting crops, like zucchini and cucumbers, are struggling from a lack of pollination (I think). We see honeybees in our field, and know that they are attracted to our gardens because of the clover we plant and because we don’t spray anything harmful to them. That said, something is amiss with our zucchini and cucumber fruits, which are not developing properly. We have a few right now, and hope for better fruits on the later plantings that will mature in a few weeks.  

Fall brassicas that were recently planted are off to a good start. This includes the rutabagas, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and others that we look forward to in late September and October. Planting season is finally winding down. It’s been a long one, and a good one.

Posted 6/29/2017 8:11am by Stephanie Bartel.

To spray, or not to spray: that is the question.

No, actually that is not the question to be asking if you want to get to the bottom of how your crops are being raised.

The question "Do you spray?" often comes to me loaded with the assumption that every spray a farmer may use is a non-organic, petroleum-based chemical in the form of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. It's true that this is one type of spraying, generally used in conventional and/or commercial agriculture. This type of spraying is not a part of organic and sustainable agriculture and so, in this sense, at Old Plank Farm we do not spray our crops.

However, there are other types of water-soluble, organic materials that a farmer may want to spray for any number of reasons. For example, at Old Plank Farm we are using compost teas this season. These and other Biodynamic solutions are perhaps some of the most sustainable and organic ways to help maintain a farm field. If you're interested in compost teas, Biodynamics, or any of Rudolph Steiner's teachings, here's one place to start reading.

So a question that will get you a more enlightened answer about a farm's practices may be, "What do you spray on your fields?" If nothing else, most vegetable farmers are spraying water at some point during their season! These past two weeks we have not had to water anything--except in the greenhouses-- as the regular rains are taking care of that for us. And in between the rains we continue to plant more and more crops, which will provide us with our fall harvests of cabbages, broccoli, carrots, and much, much more.

Posted 6/22/2017 9:00am by Stephanie Bartel.

I tend to agree with Calvin's dad in this great comic strip, that there are often too many choices for things like peanut butter at your average grocery store. On the other side of the spectrum, the average CSA box offers the consumer virtually no choice at all but to eat what the farmer's put in their box every week. So if grocery stores are paralyzing with too much choice and CSAs are stifling with too little choice, what am I to do about that?

Well, in the big picture, not a lot. But for our little CSA at Old Plank Farm, we have come up with a way to mitigate member preferences while still maintaining the pre-packed box distribution model. We trialed it a bit last year, and we're using it every week this year. It's called the Choice Box. We are packing variety boxes to send along to each pick-up site this year. Taking 1-3 items from these boxes is what completes a CSA members' share each week.

The basic CSA box is still packed here at the farm and distributed to each member. But the choice boxes are then filled with more unusual vegetables, or contentious vegetables (like kale and parsley), or the things we have a surplus of. While one member may never want parsley--crazy, right?!--, another member may want it every week--crazy, right?!. By strategically packing the choice boxes, we are doing our best to get every CSA member more variety of the things they like most.

CSA members, please give us feedback on the choice boxes. While we can't respond to a request for watermelon in next week's choice box (because melons aren't ripe this time of year), we can likely adjust the ratio of salad greens to parsley in the coming week's choice boxes.

Well, I'm off to have a parsley smoothie. It's a good thing I live at Old Plank Farm, because the CSA boxes never have enough parsley in them for my tastes!

Happy Salad-Eating Season, Old Plank Farm CSA members. I hope it's a good one for you.

Posted 6/15/2017 1:15pm by Stephanie Bartel.

My world seemed to green up overnight, as it always does. Our fields that were brown and bare just a month or so ago are now a shimmering sea of green clover interspersed with strips of vegetable seedlings. The rains this week came at a great time. We had a dry stretch of weather last week for transplanting and seeding more crops, and now the warm, wet weather will help most of these get off to a good start.

Crops we've planted over the last month include melons, kohlrabi, peppers, broccoli, lettuce, sweet potatoes, scallions, leeks, eggplant, tomatoes, beets, carrots, salad mix, cilantro, basil, watermelons, cucumbers, potatoes, Swiss chard, pumpkins, pie pumpkins, zucchini, yellow zucchini, yellow squash, winter squash, fennel, celery, okra, and probably a couple other things that aren't at the top of my head. But most of the time all my vegetables are at the top of my head, especially during planting season. It's been a busy one. And now we are looking forward to starting harvest season, too.

Of course, most of those crops that were just planted are not yet ready for harvest. But other crops from early spring plantings are ready to go out in our first box next week. We expect to have salad mix, spinach, snap peas, garlic scapes, basil, lettuce, and parsley to harvest. Angelica's weekly newsletter will offer CSA members more details about the first pick-up. If you are a CSA member and do not receive her weekly newsletter, please let us know. That is our main way of communicating delivery information to you in a timely manner!

A few of our spring crops are not looking very good. Turnips and the very first broccoli transplants come to mind. Temperature stress and flea beetles have taken their toll, but we will still try to get some harvest out of them. Both these crops we will plant again, several times, and they often do better for us later in the season.

As planting season overlaps harvest season, we are at our busiest right now. Thankfully, weed pressure is not as bad this year as in past years,which lightens our load just a bit. We are using clover out in the vegetable gardens to help suppress weeds. Clover is a low growing, nitrogen fixing, non-threatening crop to plant alongside vegetables, and is something of an unsung hero in a sustainable vegetable garden. With more than 20 acres in vegetable/clover gardens at Old Plank Farm this year, perhaps it's time I write a song about clover! 

Posted 5/16/2017 11:22am by Stephanie Bartel.
One of my favorite things to grow is tomato plants. I especially love watching them during their early life in the seeding greenhouse, when they grow and change every day. Because they grow so quickly, they require us to keep a close eye on them and to pot them into larger containers two times before finally sending them out to the field. It is tedious work, re-potting tomatoes, but the tomatoes are the most gracious recipients of their new pots. They don't mind being handled by us several times (unlike cucumbers, for example, who don't appreciate when we disturb them). And after each time we handle them they have a big growth spurt. During the growth spurt our tomatoes get bigger leaves and stronger stems and roots. This kind of growth makes for a healthy plant. And a healthy plant has the best potential for excellent fruit production.

This year's main tomato crop is looking good. We seeded them a little later than in past years, because we are getting better at maintaining rapid growth in our greenhouse, and I didn't want the plants to be ready too early. When tomatoes sit in their pots too long they get tall, spindly, and start putting on flowers. All these things are signs of stress. I remember looking at my tomato plants on April 14th. They had just germinated and were little more than tiny pairs of leaves poking out of the soil. Can you really be ready to go outside by Memorial Day? I had asked them. It seemed hard to imagine so much growth in such a short time. But here we are, one week away from the beginning of transplanting, and they are among the strongest, healthiest looking plants we've ever grown.
 

Because I love growing tomato plants so much, I started extra ones to sell to anyone else who loves growing tomatoes, too! We have over 20 different varieties including slicers, paste types, and cherries. We also have an assortment of specialty colored varieties like pinks, oranges, yellows, and Green Zebras. Come out to the farm Thurs-Sat, May 25-27 to buy some of our lovely plants!

Posted 5/10/2017 11:00am by Stephanie Bartel.

As we head into the height of our busy planting season, I am less likely to sit down and write much here on a weekly basis. My attention goes increasingly to the care of our vegetable plants. This time of year feels sort of like being under water. Once submerged in water, my senses are far less in tune with anything going on above water. There is always an awareness of what's up there, such as the sun and wind and maybe a distant sound of voices from people nearby. But when my head is under water, my focus is on swimming and everything else is somewhat dulled.

And when I dive into the vegetable growing season, my focus is on our plants and all the logistics of life at the farm. Even when we are not working, my mind is in tune with our crops and the things that need to be done on the farm. And so it is that when I sit down to write a note here, I find I can think of nothing else except what needs to be done today! A to-do list doesn't make for very interesting writing. So I'll just sign-off now and get back outside. Til next time -

Posted 4/26/2017 2:04pm by Stephanie Bartel.
Our busy planting season is upon us, and it is off to a good start. While parts of our fields are too wet to work, we have plenty of areas that we can plant in between the weekly rainstorms. Over the past couple of weeks we planted all the onions for our entire season. Onions require a long growing season and maximum daylight during their bulbing phase. This means we want them to reach their bulbing phase around late June when the days are longest. That's a tall order when our growing season barely starts two months before that. Nonetheless, our entire crop is in the ground as of yesterday, and the start of the showers today is most welcome at Old Plank Farm.
 
Planting onions is done by hand here. Our tractors help tremendously with field prep, but putting the young seedlings in the ground means we spend our days crawling around in the dirt. I wish we could teach Angelica's one-year-old brother how to transplant, because he sure enjoys crawling right now! I enjoy it too, but onion planting can be especially exhausting. It's early in the season so I am a little out of shape. Plus, each plant we put out produces only one onion. This is very different than putting out a zucchini plant, for instance, which generally produces much more than one zucchini. The sheer volume of onion plants makes for some very long planting days. And since onions are a staple cooking vegetable, we want to make sure we have enough for everyone for the entire CSA season, plus some to store all winter. So putting out 30,000 onion plants is what we've been up to here, lately.
 
As I was stretching out a couple of evenings ago, sore as ever but generally feeling good, I was reminded of training runs my high school cross country team used to do at Pike Lake State Park. We would go there a few times during the season, on the weekends, and run the hilly trails of the park until we were wiped out. The steep hills and rough terrain seemed like torture while we were running, but after the workout we'd hang out by the water and eat bagels and generally enjoy the rest of the morning. The trick to enjoying Pike Lake runs was to forget the pain of the workout. Your mind can't know what's coming, we used to say. Since we went there infrequently, this worked for me.
 
Much like the hills of Pike Lake, I tend to forget the aches and pains of onion transplanting shortly after the season. So by next year, when the ground first starts to dry out and warm up, I expect I'll be as eager as ever to start crawling around with handfuls of onion plants again. And now that I'm thinking of it, maybe I will go for a run at Pike Lake this weekend. I haven't been there in more than a decade. How hard could it be?
Posted 4/11/2017 11:07am by Stephanie Bartel.
One of the best parts about Spring on the farm is that it is the season for trying things again. When we fail at something, we are usually taught to try it again, until we succeed. That said, when it comes to planting things at the farm, there is usually a limited amount of time within one season that we can try failed plantings again. For instance, if our pea seeds don't germinate in spring, we wouldn't try seeding them again during the summer, because peas generally don't taste good during the hot weather later in the season. Likewise, if tomatoes would fail, we don't just try planting them again in October!

Seasons limit a lot of our work on the farm, to be sure. But each Spring offers us a fresh start. So yesterday I was excited that we had the opportunity to get an early start out in the field, planting the first peas and onions of this season. The ground was just dry enough to prep some beds for these two crops, which are usually first off the starting blocks each year. This time around we pre-soaked our pea seed to improve germination. The plump, green seeds went into the ground just before the rains came on again. The early start this year also gives us a few more chances during the next few weeks to seed more peas.

Another crop I'm excited about trying again this year is celery. We've never grown a good celery crop, so it's not one we ever promise to give out to our CSA members. But that doesn't mean we don't try it every year. The trouble for me last year was because it had never done well I found myself assuming that it never would do well. This mindset, which I noticed in myself last year when yet another crop of celery failed to germinate, is something I now think of as "celery brain." Last year I remember watering the flats of celery in the greenhouse and thinking about how they probably wouldn't germinate. And so they didn't. This year I've been intentionally combating celery brain. So far so good, as our first celery crop came up in the greenhouse with about 90% germination rate. It seems to me that it is important to be persistent when we are trying to accomplish something that we've failed at before; but it is equally important to not fall prey to celery brain each time we try again. If we don't change up our methods as well as our attitudes, then it's just plain crazy to try something over and over again.

I read a funny quote somewhere awhile back: "If at first you don't succeed...sky-diving is not for you." That's probably good advice. But farming may be!

 

CSA Sign-Up

Our 2017 CSA sign-up season is closed.  To be put on our mailing list for the 2018 season, please email us at csa@oldplankfarm.com

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