Sprouts - Stories from a Young Farmer

Farm School: It's Over, and Now It's Time to Start a Business

A photo of Alison Spaude-Filipczak with a farm shareHooray for Spring!

Sunshine. Long days. Another growing season right around the corner. Yahoo!

The last six months have flown by.  Here is a brief update of what Alan and I have been up to.

November: Alan and I graduate from the Greenbank Farm Training Center on Whidbey Island in Washington State.  We leave with a business plan in hand and as much smarter farmers and gardeners then when we started.  It was eight-months well spent.

December:  We settle in northern Wisconsin along the south shore of Lake Superior. We moved to the town of Washburn, population 2200, and are renting a house that is near Alan’s family. We have intentions to start a business in 2011.

January: Alan and I are both employed! Alan, a man who loves vegetables, is working in produce department at the Chequamegon Food Cooperative, and I have several positions working with youth in the community.  We settle into the idea that we will not become land owners this year, and we look into options for farming this growing season.

February and March:  High Five Produce LLC is formed.   Alan and I are starting our very small business.  We intend to grow and sell vegetables to our local community at a market stand every Friday from the June trough October. Much of our free time is spent doodling in notebooks, paging through farm supply and seed catalogues, and creating a crop plan and business goals.  We have also networked with other farmers in the area and have taken part in Lake Superior Farm Beginnings, a program sponsored by the Land Stewardship Project.

April: Wow! April is here. The snow is almost gone. Our onion and leek starts are getting tall.  Alan is enjoying taking notes on the germination success of different varieties of lettuces—we are growing 21 varieties this year! Our to-do list is getting long, and we are digging up our front yard, one of three places we will be growing this summer.

My hibernation from the blog world is over.  New this year, my husband Alan will be joining the blog.  We hope to keep you all up to date with news from our small farm business and garden life on a weekly basis.

Stay posted for future blog entries on the following topics:

  • On starting an LLC
  • Conducting your own variety trail
  • Tool review of the Vashon Broad fork
  • Our experience making our Wizbang Wheel hoe
  • And many more exciting farm topics

Happy seed starting everyone!

Alison and Alan Spaude-Filipczak 

Growing Seed

A photo of Alison Spaude-FilipczakOne unique project at the Greenbank Farm Training Center this year was growing seed for the retail market. Our farm manager landed a contract with High Mowing Organic Seeds to grow 35-50 pounds of Golden Frill Mustard.  We were to take this specialty green that is typically harvested somewhere between 21 to 45 days and see it through its entire lifecycle. From seed to tender green to bolting plant to full, mature seedpods.  We watched this annual give its best at the reproduction cycle.

We stared in spring. High Mowing Organic Seeds sent us a packet of seeds that we started in cell trays in our greenhouse. At three weeks, a time when Golden Frill Mustard is perfect as a baby salad green, we transplanted the seedlings outdoors. We put three hundred plants in each one hundred foot bed and planted five beds. This put us at roughly 1,500 plants. That is a lot of mustard!

Young Mustard 

It was an easy crop to forget about.  We weeded and irrigated the mustard of course, but the vegetables we were growing for our CSA stole our attention.  As summer progressed the plants began to bolt, one at a time like popcorn popping in a pan. Suddenly all of the small ruffled greens that were so cute had shot up over our heads, creating a forest of flowering mustard plants. Enormous tubers that looked like ugly kohlrabi showed above the surface. One could see how much energy the plant was putting into setting flowers.

This was bee heaven. A hum of buzzing echoed throughout the mustard square, and when the yellow flowers gave way to long skinny seedpods, the bird moved in.  They wanted what we wanted: ripe, mature seed. Flash tape decorated the t-posts that we put up to help support the voluminous plants, a scarecrow was erected, and a few rocks were thrown to try to keep away the birds as the seed became more and more ripe.

Flowering Mustard 

As we inched into fall, our mustard crop became more of a priority. Here was a crop that we had been growing all season long. We had a contract to fulfill, and a good portion of income riding on the success of this seed. Every other day, we checked the maturity of the plants. Were the seeds green or brown?  Were the pods beginning to burst open at the slightest touch?  We watched the weather, as the fall was becoming rainy and wet.   We consulted our friends at the Organic Seed Alliance.  With more bad weather on the horizon, we pulled the plants early with only ten percent of the seed pods filled with ripe seed.  No worries though, several sources told us our crop would continue to ripen indoors.  We cut the plants low to the ground, so that the plants would send the last of its energy up to the pods.  It was final attempt at completing its reproductive cycle.

We moved our 1,500 plants to an attic barn to let them dry for thee more weeks. Then, we had two long days of inside work. First, we stripped the pods from the plants.  Then we stomped on small batches of pods, sending the ripe seed from the pods onto a tarp.  The final step was to winnow the seed and clean it.

Bunching Mustard Plants 

We sent a sample to High Mowing Seed where they preformed a germination test.  89% of our mustard seed germinated.  High Mowing was happy and so were we. We let the remainder of our clean seed dry for a few more weeks before the final cleaning. We ended up with 40 pounds of seed.  It was enough to make it worthwhile endeavor.

Stomping on Mustard  

The 2011 seed catalogues have already started to arrive. Although I have yet to get the High Mowing Seed catalogue in the mail, I know the first page I will look at will have Golden Frill Mustard on the page.  I don’t know if our seed will be divided up into 1/32 of an ounce packets or sold in bulk by the pound to farmers, but I can’t help but wonder into what earth our mustard will be sown. Hats off to his spicy braising green, great in salad or as a garnish! It was a pleasure seeing your lifecycle.