It has been a busy fall at the farm getting ready for winter. I recently took on the job of tilling up the soil for all the Hmong farmers in the area. The Hmong tend to rent their land and quite often have a different garden spot each year. It is important for them to get the soil ready for the spring by first plowing and then using a rototiller to loosen the large clods of soil. They generally do not own large tractors so I help them. I have a tractor mounted rototiller with a 6 foot path behind the tractor and can quickly work their soil. They would have to spend weeks with their walk behind tillers to accomplish the same task.

Wuachore Yang has become one of my favorites. He runs a five acre plot next to our land. I’ve worked with him for a year now and he trusted me enough to confide his life story to me. He was born in Laos and fled to Thailand where he lived for 20 years until the government kicked him out. He has lived in the U.S. for five years. He has eleven children, the youngest being eleven years old. Her name is Chi and she did much of the translating for me as she speaks fluent English and Wuachore does not. He told me that it has been very difficult to make a living without being able to speak English. He told me he made many mistakes this year farming and hopes 2012 will be better. Without exception, the Hmong farmers are the hardest working people I have ever come across. In the spring they will be at the garden plot by sunup and will not leave until the sun is setting. They do not take Sundays off!

The Hmong rarely plant anything but annual vegatables as they never know how long they will be able to rent a particular piece of land. But this fall, Wuachore planted garlic and onions to come up in the spring. He was generous enough to give me several thousand onion sets for us to plant on our farm.

It is not common to plant onions in the fall this far north with our harsh winters, but I hope it works!

Our harsh winters are perfect for garlic. We take the garlic bulbs we harvested in late July and separate them into their cloves (called popping the cloves). Each clove is planted in late October

and will be the first to come up through the straw mulch in late March. We save much of the garlic that we harvested in July and it will typically last through late May if we store it correctly. A beautiful system.

We’ve always planted two varieties in the fall, but this year I was able to buy 8 more varieties from The Herb Man in Farmington.

Jeff Adelmann is quite a character. You can find him selling his garlic at many of the St. Paul Farmers Market locations. He grows close to 90 varieties of garlic. Who knew there were even that many to plant! We planted varieties that will be intensely hot on the tongue and some that are mellow. Some are meant for slow cooking and some are meant for quick stir fry’s. I am so excited to try our new flavors next summer!

By the way, even though we cannot get our garlic to last past May as it goes bad, we do not have to wait long as the garlic scapes will be ready to harvest in mid-June. If you have never cooked with scapes it is a real treat. They are a small green stem that would be the beginning of the flower and if you pick them at the right time they are tender and have a mellow garlic flavor.

Of the twenty acres we own, we have typically rented out 5 acres to a farmer down the road. This year we decided to take back the land and plant hay next spring. We plan on planting oats and grass hay at the same time. The oats will come up quickly. This will allow us to cut the oats and bale it into hay while the slower perennial grasses take their time to come up strong. To be able to plant in the spring we plowed up the five acres this fall.

We encountered many rocks along the way and the kids had a great time collecting them and making piles. But the biggest rock was huge!

We dug four feet down all around it to try and remove it. My tractor didn’t seem big enough to get it out. It wasn’t until another neighbor stopped by and recommended dragging it out with a chain that I got it out! I love this kind of thing.

A few weeks ago we loaded up the horse trailer with our two pigs we got in the spring

to take them to our favorite butcher, Odenthal Meats in New Prague, MN. The pigs come to us as 20 pound weaners (recently weaned from the mother) and by the fall they are close to 300 pounds. It is a great system for us because I am able to bring home all kinds of scraps from our bakery to feed them. They love it and it reduces our cost to feed them. Today we are cleaning out the garage where our two freezers are and organizing them as we will go pick up the processed meat today.  A winter full of bacon, pork chops and slow cooked pork roasts!

The rest of the day Carolyn and I will spend putting protective tubes on all our small orchard trees and all the vines in the vineyard. It will amount to about 150 tubes. We are a little late this year, but the warm temperatures today will make it pleasant work. The tubes protect the trunks from being girdled by mice and rodents who get awfully hungry by late February and will innocently gnaw on the bark for nutrition.

The garden seed catalogs are pouring in and after the holiday rush we will begin to make our plans for next spring. One of our big goals for 2012 will be to get better at succession planting, which allows for a longer season for each particular vegetable.

I will sign off now and leave you with this picture

as we just ate our last apples and are dreaming of the apples we will eat next year!

Karl, Carolyn and the Kids