At the Great Plains Vegetable Growers’ Conference

Over the weekend, I braved the poor road conditions on I-29 and headed south to balmy St. Joseph, Missouri (local temp: -2) to attend the Great Plains Vegetable Growers’ Conference.

I heard about the conference from Dr. Laurie Hodges, the vegetable extension specialist at UNL. She gave a guest lecture during my Vegetable Production class this past fall at UNL, and mentioned to me that it would probably be beneficial for me to attend.

And boy, was it beneficial.

I can’t begin to relate all that I learned over the course of the three days spent on Missouri Western State’s campus. From the high tunnel seminar to irrigation practices to organic insect control to new seed varieties available in 2010 to CSA organization to cover crop rotation… it was an incredibly valuable experience for a vegetable grower like myself.

That’s not even to mention what a wonderful opportunity the conference was for networking and meeting people involved in the fruit and vegetable business in the Great Plains. I made a number of new friends in the Nebraska Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, made plans to visit a couple of Nebraska vegetable farms, and just generally made a huge leap forward in my knowledge and connection with the vegetable production industry in Nebraska.

It was also very interesting to listen to the presentations by growers from Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa and South Dakota — and the very interesting seminar about high tunnels, specifically the organic high tunnels of Zaid Kurdieh at Norwich Meadows Farm in New York.

I’ve definitely become convinced that a high tunnel will greatly benefit my production, and will likely be building a small one this spring. There’s some great info on high tunnels here, at a website run by Dr. Ted Carey at Kansas State.

I’m already certain that I’ll be attending next year’s conference, and I’ll recommend the same to the growers I see in the market this summer.

As a sidenote, I’m also pretty excited about the new hoes I bought from ProHoe. Anything that makes weeding easier is my new best friend…

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An overdue update from the farm

Sorry to the few folks who might have been reading my updates from the farm this summer. Things have been piling up on me, and I just didn’t get to posting about the comings and goings of Armbrust Farms lately.

That’s about to change.

I’ll be posting more frequently now that summer is winding down. Starting now.

The market was fairly busy today — a far cry from last week, when a fierce downpour kept most people away all day. In fact, we didn’t see our first customers until almost 10:00 last Saturday. That’s nearly two hours after the opening bell.

There was a lot of interest in my ornamental gourds today, with the swan gourds going fast. Birdhouse gourds and unique, small decorative gourds were also popular with my customers. This is just the tip of the iceberg on the gourds, and with fall just around the corner and my vines loaded with gourds and pumpkins, we’re going to be bringing a lot of great stuff down to the market in the coming weeks.

Surprisingly, it appeared that I was the only grower at the market with carrots today. I sold out of them by 10:00, shortly after selling my stock of yellow pear tomatoes and okra, too. More of each of those crops to come next week, though.

Also, in the last two weeks, I’ve had some inquiries as to my willingness to custom-grow produce for individuals and restaurants. As always, I’m very open to the idea, and am willing to work with anyone on it. As a one-man operation, I’m very flexible in what I can put in the field and do as a grower.

Until next time, I hope you all enjoy the last few weeks of summer! And come visit me — and all the other great vendors — at the Omaha Farmers’ Market on Saturdays from 8 until 12:30 at 11th and Jackson in the Old Market.

Busy times…

Whew… I’ve been keeping pretty busy lately. When I’m not working in the garden, I’m working up in Clarkson, Neb., at Wild Plums with the well-respected horticulturalist Harlan Hamernik, and we’ve been busy lately. I’m in the process of building the website for him, but soon I’ll be back out in the field picking up new bits of info from the master…

As far as my garden goes, it goes well. The zucchini is just taking off, and I think we’ll have a bumper crop this year. The green beans are plumping, and we should have the first crop come in this week. The second crop of kohlrabi is almost ready, and the tomatoes are another week off. They had a slow start this year.

I spent the better part of the day waging the ongoing war against grass, and my rototiller and I made progress. I laid down a few hundred feet of landscape cloth, and I think that should take care of further weed supression. Or at least limit its ability to sneak up on me and gain ground.

Mulberries, celery both popular

Yesterday morning’s trip to the Farmers’ Market was another success, with people very interested in the mulberries and celery that I brought. The broccoli, radishes and cabbage sold well, too, but they weren’t the center of attention.

A lot of people were surprised to see celery there, which, according to most customers, isn’t supposed to grow well here in Nebraska. I can’t say I had any problems getting it to flourish, though. It probably helps that I’ve had it under a controlled drip irrigation system, and that the cool, wet weather we’ve had the last month was what it likes.

The mulberries were kind of a whim on my part. On Friday night, I was snacking on a few plump berries from the mulberry tree next to the garden when I realized that there might be some folks out there who’d like to have some fresh berries from the market. I spread out a sheet, shook the tree, gathered the ripe fruit, rinsed it and brought it to market. I sold eight of the nine tubs I gathered, and everyone seemed pleased when they popped open the tub for a snack of the sweet fruit.

I’ll have more mulberries (and celery) next Saturday, June 27th, at the market, then I’m taking off the 4th of July before returning to the Old Market on Saturday, July 11th.

What’s ready this week

broccoli
After a quick check of the garden, it looks like we’ll have many of the same vegetables ready this week as last, with a couple additions.

The last of the broccoli (pictured above) is heading out on the primary stalks, and there should be a pretty decent number of firm heads this week.

This will be the last week for the radishes, as well. They’re all about golf ball size, and still crisp and delicious.

Although we had four heads of cabbage ready last week, this will be the week for them to take off. It looks like at least a dozen heads will be ready for Saturday.

After some slow growth in the first month, it looks like the celery stalks are ripe for the picking this week. No one at the market had celery last week, so it looks like I might have the only source of it at the market this time around.

There will be a few more kohlrabi, but for the most part, we’re done with them until the second crop (which is doing well) comes in after about three to four more weeks.

The peas are getting close, but probably won’t be ready for another two weeks. Lots and lots of pods and flowers on the vines, though.

And, as a surprise, I might just have some fresh berries to sell this week. Let’s just say that the mulberry tree by the garden is looking pretty good — and I’ve tasted the berries once or twice to check.

That went well

kohlrabi
My initial trip down to the Farmers’ Market in 2009 went pretty darn well. I made some new friends with the vendors near me, had a nice time talking with customers, enjoyed the good weather — and most importantly, actually sold most of my produce.

Out of the 40 or so kohlrabi (pictured above) I brought down there, I only returned home with three. I sold three of the four heads of cabbage, and all but one head of broccoli. The plethora of radishes I brought sold well, with about two-thirds of them bought.

Also, I seemed to be the unofficial ambassador for kohlrabi. A lot of people walked up, interested in knowing what this odd vegetable was. Most people who were aware of kohlrabi, and had tasted it before, seemed to recall it as something their grandmother served. I never considered the kohlrabi an old-fashioned vegetable, but maybe it is…

I’m looking forward to seeing where my booth will be next week. I enjoyed talking with the fine folks from Herb’s Handywork and The Grass Menagerie on Saturday, and I hope my new vendor neighbors will be just as interesting.

Picked…

cabbage
In preparation for my appearance at the Omaha Farmers’ Market tomorrow, I went out and picked some produce today.

And it was wet. And rainy. And muddy.

But I persevered, and filled several boxes with fresh, tasty-looking vegetables.

I have about three dozen kohlrabi, a little on the big side but nonethless very tender and tasty. I cut open one to check, and it was crisp, sweet and delicious.

I also pulled a couple hundred radishes. They’re all about golf ball size or slightly smaller, and have no insect damage at all. I was pleasantly surprised at that. I have two different cultivars, and both look great.

Although I’m a bit disappointed in the effort my broccoli is giving to producing big heads, I got about a dozen good heads out of the garden today. It looks like next week will be better, though.

And for good measure, I cut the four biggest heads of cabbage. They’re nice and dense, and the leaves are extra-crisp. Nice.

Come on out and see me at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and be sure to check back for updates throughout the week!