Past Blogs 4/13/2018-10/4/2018

The Five Senses of Fall

Posted 10/4/2018 1:44pm by Stephanie Bartel.


All my favorite sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings seem to come around in the fall in Wisconsin. I love the colors of the leaves changing on our trees that surround the farm fields. My favorite sounds are the geese calls overhead; we listen to them fly by on their way south when we are out in the field each day. The best feeling of all is warm sun on my face in the morning while picking the last of the summer fruits. The sun's warmth takes the chill out of my body from the early morning cold better than any number of sweaters and hats can do.

And who can argue with the delicious smells and tastes that come from the kitchen on a dark fall evening? Hot apple sauce on the stove top and delicata squash roasting in the oven (don't forget to roast the seeds, too!). Yes, nothing beats fall in Wisconsin. And nothing beats working in the vegetable fields in the fall. Of course, it's not without it's challenges, the cold and damp weather being the main test of our strength!

It's been a pretty good season at Old Plank Farm, and we are nearly to the end of the outdoor harvests. Our last three CSA deliveries will likely consist of storage staples like potatoes and squash, along with fall brassicas like cabbage and brussels sprouts, and a few other treats like arugula, leeks and maybe some salad mix finally. Other than a shortage of carrots, garlic, and salad mix, we've been happy with the end-of-season deliveries. My hope is to share the best parts of fall with all our Old Plank Farm CSA members. We'll provide the squash for roasting; we hope it adds to the joys that fall brings to you! Best wishes for a beautiful and productive October.


Posted 8/23/2018 5:57pm by Stephanie Bartel.

While I do believe that Mother nature is the ultimate mathematician (there are lots of great books out there on the subject of math in nature!),  I can't help but feel that Mother Nature's veggie-plant math doesn't always add up.

I'm thinking about our sungold cherry tomatoes, which are a highlight of our CSA boxes this month. When we planted the cherry tomatoes this year, we decided to put out almost twice as many as we planted last year. Last year's crop wasn't super, and we didn't give out as much as we hoped to. I wanted this year to be different. It sure is. We've already given out 3-4 times as much as we gave out the entire season last year. And they keep on producing more. We expect another double ration in the boxes next week. Sometimes I wonder if it is too much. I know for some people it is. But I think for most people it's been enjoyable to have a lot of these. I hope you can eat or share all your sungold cherries this season. They take a tremendous amount of time to pick, but we hope they are enjoyed by you, which makes it all worth it to us.

Another math puzzle for us this year is our cucumbers and zucchini. We actually planted a little bit less than last season of these staple crops...but have delivered much more this season than last season.

Mother Nature's math doesn't always work in our favor, either. We planted more carrots than last year, because we know they are farm member favorite. And yet, we've had hardly any to share with you so far. So it goes. I'll spend less time worrying about math and more time picking cherry tomatoes. And a few carrots, this week...hooray! 

August Crop Notes

Posted 8/2/2018 10:47am by Stephanie Bartel.

I want to tell you the story of the deer, the woodchuck, and the missing tractor pin, but no one would believe it anyway. So here's a more important story, a crop update! I won't dig into all the crops, but here's a few notes on some of the bigger ones.

Today we are going to dig the first of our potato crop. Despite a late start and a dry season, it looks like we may have a pretty good crop. But we won't know until we dig down and find the potatoes. (I test-dug a few plants last Saturday and they were excellent!) It's like digging for gold, and is such a delight to find these treasures hidden among the dirt and rocks. 

Our cucumber crop was the highlight of the first half of the season. Mostly what you received came from our cucumber greenhouse. It is still producing, and likely will for another week or two. But expect less of these in the coming weeks. The field ones have produced some too, and we have a later planting which includes a lemon cucumber variety. But they aren't likely to produce more than one or two per member to try out. Other late cucumbers may give us a nice harvest, but we shouldn't expect quite the same as we've been having in the past weeks.

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes are just starting to come in. They are a bright spot in the field. They are ripe when they are orange, and very sweet. A member favorite that we hope to have regularly until fall.

Our Greenhouse Tomatoe plants aren't doing well at all, stricken by early blight or something of the sort. They seem to be fading already, rather than producing into September like usual. We think that our field tomatoes will produce enough so you won't notice the shortage of greenhouse ones too much. But our favorite farm-bred variety, Goldie (the big orange/yellow tomato) isn't likely to reach you too often.

Summer staples like zucchini, yellow squash, peppers and eggplant are doing well. Yellow squash is about finished, but then we have a later planting of a patty-pan yellow squash to take it's place. 

Cantalopes look great, and should be ready to start harvesting in a week or two.  I think we'll have enough to go around this year, unlike last year. 

Garlic is a crop failure this year, one of the biggest disappointments we've seen. Most of it just didn't make it up this spring, and what did was weak to begin with. Along with a waaay to dry eight weeks in late May through early July adds up to virtually no crop at all. We'll try to give a bulb or two out next week. And we will buy-in bulbs to plant for next year's seed (normally we save our own, but in doing so we'd have absoultely no bulbs to give you this year).

Fall brassicas like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli look healthy. They usually mature for the last of our boxes in late September through October. They taste best after going through some cool days and even frosty nights.

We started planting our fall greens, including spinach, arugula, salad mix, and salad turnips and radishes. These, along with winter squash (which looks great out in the field now! Small fruits are already on most of the varieties, including acorn, delicata, pie pumpkin, and more).

Sometimes early August boxes are a little small, since we don't have many spring greens, and we don't have any fall brassicas (but our red spring cabbage looks good for next week's harvest!). But if our melons, corn, potatoes, and tomatoes do alright, it will at least be a tasty month of in-season, farm-fresh eating!

I saw some geese fly overhead this morning while we were picking the cherry tomatoes. The sound of geese makes me think of fall on it's way. But wait! I called up to them, First we want melon season, then we want fall!! 

Pizza Season is Here-What to Expect

Posted 7/12/2018 6:00pm by Stephanie Bartel.

It's Pizza Season at Old Plank Farm! We're celebrating our 10th Anniversary growing season with Friday Night Pizza open to the public every week from July 20th through September 21st, 4:30-8pm. Pizzas are cooked to order in our outdoor wood-fired oven. We use organic, non-gmo flour from Wisconsin, organic pizza sauce, local cheese, and our own organic vegetables. We aren't licensed to sell meat on our pizza, but you are welcome to bring your own pre-cooked meat topping if you want us to add it to any pizza you order. All pizzas are approximately 14" (hand-rolled) for $15. Cash or check only.

Pizza Night at Old Plank Farm is a great way to meet your farmers, visit your farm, enjoy farm vegetables, and have some outdoor family fun! You can bring picnic blankets (some picnic tables available too), any other picnic food you want with your meal, and any beverages. Water will be available.

We are full time vegetable farmers, and we're in the middle of a very dry season. When you come to the farm, expect to see both the challenges and the successes that the season brings us. Even in times of difficulty we want to share our farm with you, and celebrate the successes that come despite difficult conditions. We are grateful for every crop that our dry dry soil is able to give, and we look forward to a time when rain comes to us (maybe this weekend!! But maybe not...gotta love Wisconsin.). 

Check our Facebook page for weekly menu and other updates!

The Rain Key Game

Posted 7/3/2018 7:27pm by Stephanie Bartel.

Whenever rain seems imminent (something I usually am very happy for during the growing season!), I like to play a game I call The Rain Key Game. When the gray clouds roll in, I start to think about what I am supposed to do to help the farm before the rain sets in. What I'm looking for is the key action from me that will bring on the rain. Sometimes the game is easy and I find the key right away. It'll be an open window on our delivery vehicle. I better close the window so rain doesn't get in I'll think to myself, then off I go to do it, and as soon as it's done...BOOM...rain! That's the Rain Key Game. Sometimes the game is harder. After closing open windows and still no rain, I dig a little deeper. Maybe I am supposed to plant one more bed of salad. So I'll plant a bed of salad and as I'm finishing....BOOM...rain! Another win at the Rain Key Game.

Some days I'll play the game all day long, accomplishing one task after another that ought to be done before rain, and still no rain comes. Close windows, close doors, disc a field, pre-make next week's planting beds, plant some salad, mow here, weed there, plant some more salad, put away tools left outside...and on and on. At the end of those days, I figure I lost the game but at least I got a lot done!

While Milwaukee and most other parts of the state have had ample rains in the last five weeks, Plymouth has been under a very dry spell. In the last five weeks we've only had one soaker rain and a couple of drizzles that don't soak in to the soil or reach the plants' roots. This is somewhat difficult for us, since June is planting month, and new plants need rain! Lawns all around here are browning, fields are dry, even some weeds are wilting.

So we are spending a lot of time and energy irrigating to keep healthy as many crops as we can. Most things at Old Plank Farm look really good right now. The warm weather coupled with some irrigation has helped us to have some great early summer crops! Meanwhile, we are facing the reality of what a dry spring means. Some lost greens, slowed growth when irrigation just isn't enough, and a risk of running the well dry. Even Beetie is a little wilty right now, but he and I are confident that we'll find a rain key sometime soon and everything will perk up!!

Crop by Crop update

Posted 6/21/2018 2:46pm by Stephanie Bartel.

What's up in the fields of Old Plank Farm? A lot is "up", but not much is ready to eat yet. Today is the first day of summer, and just eight weeks ago we did our first plantings shortly after the last snow fall of the spring. Time flies, the crops are growing, but it is still early to be harvesting too much. We stress this again, for the new folks who aren't yet used to eating seasonally. Curious about what is to come this season? Read on... Need a bed time story that will put your kids right to sleep? Read on...!

Our greenhouse cucumbers and zucchini harvests are a bright spot right now. They help add something besides greens to these early boxes. I hope you've been enjoying them. We expect several more weeks of harvest from them, and then our field zucchini, cucumbers, and yellow squash may start producing. They are young now, but healthy and flowering.

Our tomato greenhouse also looks healthy and has lots of green fruit that may be ready in a few weeks. We're also happy about our field tomato crop, which includes the sungold cherry tomatoes, and paste tomatoes. These showed the least amount of transplant shock than any other year, and are growing nicely now. Fruit to come in mid-late July I would expect. We have drip irrigation on these, to help them through any dry periods that may come.

Spring favorites were late to get out (often we plant them in early April, but this year we still had snow until late April). Carrots, Beets, Scallions, Cippollini onions, broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi are pretty healthy looking, but not ready for harvest for probably two or three more weeks. We planted more plantings of broccoli than any other year. They are staggered, so we hope to give out broccoli more regularly than any other year. This is because over half our members replied to our survey saying that they would use broccoli regularly if we have it. But broccoli plants won't make a nice head of broccoli if they are too stressed from heat, so we may loose some of the mid-summer crop if it is a hot one. Our drip irrigation set up on these beds can help the plants get through hot spells (like the one last week!), so not all hope is lost on this favorite even if it is 100 degrees in July.

Angelica took a picture of the largest carrots, it is in the newsletter she sent out...clearly still too small to give out. These are another favorite that we have scheduled to deliver on a regular basis, as long as we get a decent yield out of each planting. We have plenty of compost and irrigation on these to help make that possible. Last year it went well for carrots, and we have no reason to think that it won't this year, too. But we don't know how it will be until we start digging. Beetie hopes for good carrots. He's more apprehensive about giving out beets. The beet crop looks good, we hope to mainly put beets in the choice boxes every week that we have them available, so that if you love eating beets you can have them every week. If you don't love eating beets but love Beetie, then stay tuned for our upcoming Beetie Fan Club T-shirt! 

Onions are a staple crop, they are a little weedy right now but, and were late to get out. But we planted a lot, so even if they are small, we still have quite a lot of volume that should provide us with a regular supply from early August until the end of the season in late October or early November.

Our garlic crop struggled tremendously this spring (it has to overwinter in the field, and winters aren't always favorable for it). We're not likely to have it very regularly available this season, but there will probably be at least a couple deliveries with some nice bulbs, and then it may end up being a choice item, to help spread it out to those who are most eager for it.

The first melon and watermelon planting went well and the plants are healthy right now. We were just out taking care of these beds today, trying to do everything we can to get the plants to make fruit (keeping them weed free, well watered, and well fed with compost). We know it's a favorite! This crop would probably start to be ready in August, and we will plant more melons two more times so that we can try to give them out at least three times to everyone.

Ahhhh, somebody call a plumber, there's a leak in the field! Oh wait, it's just a bed of leeks, one of my personal favorites. According to our survey it's not a favorite among members, so we'll try not to flood the boxes (pun intended) with them. But if there are any plumbers who are members (I know there are), I hope you'll take some extras and use them to make leek jokes while you are out on plumbing jobs!

Winter squash. We had excellent germination of all our winter squash varieties including delicata, spaghetti, pie pumpkin, butternut, and acorn. Plants are still very young. Sometimes we see bugs on squash plants (very common on organic farms in this region), but there are none here so far. We made sure to put a big scoop of compost on each seed as we planted it. That's for 2+ acres of the crop, which was a big task but well worth it! Many organic farmers still spray "organic" pesticides that are honeybee killers on their squash crops to get rid of these bugs. Our experience has been that creating a fertile, stress free environment is enough to keep our squash plants healthy and bug free, no pesticides needed and not too much crop loss. So far so good this year. Fruit usually starts being ready for harvest in September, with spaghetti and delicata ready first.

Potatoes were planted a little late (four days later than last year, which was already towards to later end of potato planting window), and they were dry for the first week in the ground. But they finally got a good rain last Sunday. It is too soon to predict how the final crop will be. We planted quite a bit extra this year, because we want to do at least one July delivery of "new potatoes", which are small ones that are such a delicious treat. If the crop doesn't look especially good, then we will not do a new potato delivery, and wait to get maximum yields starting with harvesting in late August or early September.

Our first bean and corn plantings didn't look very good when they came up (kind of small scraggly looking seedlings), and I'm not sure why. It was pretty dry, and now they look okay thanks to the good rain we had Sunday night, I think. We do 3-5 plantings of each of these crops, so even if the first ones don't produce much, we have more chances for later harvests. But they may be a little late (August-September).

Peppers and Eggplant are not in a greenhouse this year (they were last year), so we don't expect to have any early ones. We planted more though, especially of peppers, so we do still expect to have them on a regular basis once they start making fruit (late July at the earliest).

Spring turnips and radishes got demolished by flea beetles. I haven't solved the flea beetle puzzle yet. Even copious amounts of compost and water don't seem to help these poor seedlings fight against the flea beetles. Our consolation is that flea beetles only attack these crops in spring. We will plant more in AUgust for harvesting in September and October and there won't be a flea beetle in sight (in a normal year, anyway). The same is true for Arugula. Weird, right? But we won't have any of these crops in the upcoming boxes.

I think that covers a lot (though not quite all) of what is planted, besides the herbs and greens. In short, cilantro and parsley look good right now and we will start harvesting them next week, basil looks below average. Last year deer ate TONS of our lettuce, so this year we planted it in a different spot, up by the greenhouses where it is far less likely to be attacked. I expect we'll have lettuce, salad mix, or kale in over half of the boxes delivered this season. It's about all we seem to have right now, and that's because it grows quickly in spring. So I hope enjoy it now, but if it's not your favorite, I hope you can eat it anyway and look forward to more variety to come in a few weeks.

Well if you made it through this long and boring blog but are still excited about eating vegetables, then we are thrilled to have you as a CSA member! We'll keep working hard all season to make it a good one for you! Thank you for caring about our farm, your health, and the world we all share.

Happy First Day of Summer!

-Farmer Stephanie

The 14-wheeler

Posted 5/20/2018 8:05am by Stephanie Bartel.

This cloudy, cool, drizzly morning is a welcome thing at Old Plank Farm right now. Over the last three days we did our biggest spring transplanting of the season. And transplants do best when they have a cloudy or cool or wet day to get accustomed to the field they've been put in. And us farmers do best when we have a cloudy or cool or wet day to get a little rest!

In the last three days Angelica, Jake and I planted over 22,000 spring transplants for this season's CSA members. Included in our transplanting routine is a scoop of compost for every plant and a drench of water. The three of us accomplished this somewhat daunting task in such a short time thanks to two things: our 14-wheeled homemade transplanting wagon, and our wonderful volunteer tractor drivers.

The 14-wheeler lets us ride along over the field and set the plants out and scoop the compost out and pour the water out without having to carry everything and bend over 22,000 times. It has a tank to carry the water, a mini-gravity bin to carry the compost, racks to carry the plants, and seats to carry us! All pulled by the tractor and built largely out of scraps from around the farm. It means we can get the plants out efficiently and with the least amount of stress for plants and people.

If you want to be a volunteer tractor driver for our next big planting (sometime between June 1-7), let us know! You don't have to know how to drive a tractor, we'll teach you. You just have to drive straight, drive slow, and for goodness sake you have to stop when we yell STOP!

Welcome, Spring!!

Posted 4/27/2018 5:47pm by Stephanie Bartel.

We are finally in the field for the first time this season! Yesterday we prepped and planted 9 beds of salad mix, spinach, snow peas, snap peas, radishes, turnips, carrots, and Beetie's kin. Today we prepped more beds for upcoming plantings. Last week we were plowing snow, this week soil. Time changes everything, and being a farmer in Wisconsin keeps me very much in tune with that fact. 

Sharpening Our Axes

Posted 4/19/2018 1:37pm by Stephanie Bartel.

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." - Abraham Lincoln 

I've always appreciated the wisdom behind Abe Lincoln's quote about sharpening the axe, but it's not always been in my nature to heed his advice. I used to hurry around a lot, and often was impatient about this and that. Many things on the farm show this part of my personality. But within the last few years I have been getting much better at planning and thinking ahead. And never more than this spring. We are better prepared than ever to plant, weed, and harvest our crops as efficiently as possible. So this week's snowstorms aren't bothering us much at Old Plank Farm. We are kept busy putting the finishing touches on new gadgets to improve our planting rates. So when the snow does melt, we will be ready to get everything in the ground and off to a good, if not early, start!

The Adventures of Beetie Episode 2

Posted 4/13/2018 12:13pm by Stephanie Bartel.

The Adventures of Beetie: In which Beetie tours the Old Plank Farm Seeding Greenhouse. By Angelica Immel

Beetie says: "It is thyme for an adventure!"

On Beetie's journey through the greenhouse he comes across some Peppers and Eggplant.
"Did you know" says Beetie, "that it is called eggplant because the fruits of the plant were originally white instead of purple, so they looked like big eggs!"

Venturing on into the green, Beetie finds tomato plants. They are is favorite variety 'Goldie'.
He says to the plants, "I love you from my head, to-ma-toes."

Next he encounters baby zucchini and cucumber plants...
"Happy Birthday!" Beetie shouts to the newly emerging cuke and zuke plants.

In order to get to the other side of the greenhouse, Beetie must trek through a forest of onions.

After that long trek through The Onion Forest Beetie says, "Wow, I'm Beet!" and as he plops down in a bed of Beetie sized greens, "Lettuce Eat!"