Winter Catch-Up: 2012 year in review

True Farmer Confessions: My camera stopped working last May or so, and as equipment repair goes, well, I guess it wasn’t a priority. The phone cameras just don’t do the farm justice and I’m not as excited to share those photos, so I’ve been procrastinating…excuses, excuses.

The good news is that things HAVE been happening on the farm! To get you up to speed, here’s an overview of Breslin Farms happenings in 2012:

Crop Report: lots of stuff planted and harvested

In early 2012, we realized that our winter wheat acreage wouldn’t yield enough to satisfy our customers, so we make a quick-change and decided to try out some hard red spring wheat.

loading spring wheat seed
Molly loading spring wheat into the grain drill.

The weeds were harder to control in the spring wheat than in the winter wheat, and it didn’t yield as well as the winter wheat. Because of the drawbacks, and because some of our baking customers prefer the flavor and “behavior” (I don’t know how else to describe it) of the winter wheat, we will probably try to stick with winter small grains in the future. Overall, though, we decided that we made the right decision at the time. Without those extra 3 acres, we would have been plumb out of wheat by now!

In addition to our little plot of sweet corn, 2012 saw our first crop of field corn, plain ol’ #2 yellow.

morning light
John, planting corn in the early morning light.

Most of the corn ended up as organic layer feed…meaning, as eggs! Some was sold to local farmer friends as a feed or feed supplement for their animals. We’re planning to eat some of that corn as pork this fall.

We significantly increased our acreage of our heirloom dry beans, especially the Tiger’s Eye (2 acres) and Black Turtle (4.5 acres).

checking out the beans
Molly, checking out newly-emerged Tiger’s Eye beans and ignoring the ironweeds.

We thought that was a lot! (We started with just 1/4 acre of each of those varieties a few years ago.) But now, 6 months after harvest, beans are almost out of stock.

Another new experiment for us this year was a food-grade soybean.

soybeansLike corn, most of the soybeans we see in the fields as we drive around Illinois aren’t eaten by humans. The bean we grew this year was a tofu-grade bean, a larger bean with a higher protein content than a standard soybean, and a clear hilum. The clear hilum (the belly-button where it connects to the plant) is important because the normal dark hilum would lead to black-flecked tofu or soymilk.

The dark hilum is visible on the standard feed-grade soybeans in the photo to the left.

We got lucky with the soybeans: the family-owned organic seed company who had developed the seed, Blue River Hybrids, called us in the fall to ask whether they could buy back our crop to use as seed for next year. The seeds had to go through a 7-day battery of tests, including very rigorous testing to make sure they were GMO-free, and they passed! That success went to our heads, and we’re planning to grow more of these beans in 2013.

Almost 5,000 heads of hard-necked garlic were harvested in July, after we’d picked and sold off the scapes (garlic flower stems, a delicacy if you ask me) in June.

early morning garlic harvest
Garlic power!

Weird Weather and Drought

If you live in the midwest, you may remember that it was really warm last March. Folks were at the beach in Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day. The cold weather that followed in April may have been less memorable. It turned out to be devastating for the apple farmers, as the apple trees bloomed early and then had most of their blossoms killed off by later frosts. We had our own scare with the wheat, which could have the heads killed by a frost too late in its development. To find out if our wheat was okay, we had to slice open the stems and look to see whether the heads were still alive and growing.

baby wheat_cropped
Tiny wheat seed heads still in formation inside the stalks, green and healthy.

Luckily for us, our wheat survived. The ensuing drought lowered our yields on the wheat a bit, but the wheat was past its major moisture needs by the time the drought really got bad in July. Our corn wasn’t as lucky – it didn’t pollinate well because of the high overnight temperatures, and our sweet corn yields were about 10% of expected. Rain began again in mid-August, in time to save the soybeans and dry beans.

We were visited by a reporter and a camera man from Al Jazeera English in September to see how we were coping with the drought. Click on the photo below to watch the piece that featured Molly’s interview.

al jazeera piece

Organic Certification!

USDA Certified Organic logo

After keeping careful records for 3 years, several phone consultations with the good folks at MOSA, and a couple of winter days locked in a room together with a computer, we put in our initial application for organic certification in March of 2012. In July, an inspector came to our farm to inspect the farm, equipment, and our records. More documentation flew from Ottawa to Wisconsin by email. Then on August 4th, exactly 36 months and one day after the day we could certify that no further prohibited substances were applied to the fields, we officially became a USDA National Organic Program Certified Organic farm.


New Equipment

We got some new stuff! Scale-appropriate equipment is always an issue for us. And equipment in general – organic grains require a lot of different pieces of equipment, because we use steel tools to do the things that other folks use chemicals to do. Some highlights from the year:

Molly cultivates her first field.

Molly cultivated her first field with our “new” (1976) tractor in June. It has a cab, which means less dust and noise…and climate control. Fancy.

plough discussion

We had some help from one uncle figuring out how to use a little two-bottom moldboard plow that we got from another uncle. (Also got a much larger, 5-bottom plow for turning in green manure crops in larger fields.)

new forklift

A new (again, used) forklift allows us to store and deal with large pallets and hoppers of grain. Moving 2,000 pounds of wheat no longer means lifting 40 bags, one after the other, and shifting them by hand.

We later figured out that this kind of forklift only works on gravel that has been packed down by years of use, so we got really good at pulling it out of holes with the tractor. Later on, we put in concrete in part of the shed so that we could avoid that extra step.

Visitors & Volunteers

We had several distinguished visitors to the farm last year. A few we caught on camera:

wilderness adventurers visit the farm!

Molly’s friends Amy & Dave Freeman from the Wilderness Classroom came to visit and buy some local food while on a break from their North American Odyssey adventure, during which they crossed the whole continent under their own power. (Teachers should check them out – classroom materials about their adventures are available for free.)

seeding soil blocks

Our friend Clyde (above) helped us start our vegetables in the garage, and then he came back later to help plant them out in our garden test plots.

Later in the spring, the Green City Market‘s Junior Board welcomed us as new vendors to the market with a friendly “crop mob.”

tree-planting day

The hard-working crew planted dozens of trees in our low-lying native wetland rehabilitation area.

That’s most of the excitement from last year. I promise to try to get my trusty Canon fixed before the 2013 planting season really kicks into high gear!

farm sunrise

– Molly

One response to “Winter Catch-Up: 2012 year in review

  1. Awesome!

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