Sunday, November 27, 2016


I plowed up a small section of the pasture where the weeds have really taken over.  I'll seed it to clover and timothy in the spring and see what happens.  I don't think I'll bother to fence it off.  I was very happy with how the plow and team worked.  We could have plowed much more.

Rodrigo is hilarious--he stays in the coop until at least 11 am most days, sometimes much longer.  What a lazy rooster!

Friday, November 25, 2016


Here is how wheat in the test plot looked today.

The Bacska wheat, both strains, is laying over quite dramatically.  Not sure what caused it.  Cold weather has been pretty sparse, and no pounding rain.

Wisconsin No. 2

Turkey Red

Thursday, November 17, 2016


I rolled the hoop house onto the kale/spinach patch today.

Brussel sprouts!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Fall planting

Winter Wheat in the test plot.  The foreground is Turkey Red from the USDA (Vasilov Institure), and further into the field is the Bacska.  Both Bacskas are significantly taller than the Turkey or the Wisconsin No. 2.  This was planted September 20 and it's growing so tall that I'm a little unnerved.  I hope it does not head out!  We have another week of warm weather.
The 3 Mile field.  I did a terrible job of drilling--there is close to a foot between passes!  But otherwise its growing well.

The field on 96th Street looks great.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Turkey Red Bread Test

I became curious about the provenance and accuracy of my Turkey Red seed stock last year, and I decided to run a simple test in the Fall of 2015.  I had access to three different seed sources, each claiming to be authentic heritage variety Turkey Red wheat.  The sources were Heartland Mills, Stephens Land and Cattle, and Ehmke Seed Company.

Heartland Mills has been selling Turkey Red online for a few years now, and a couple of times I have ordered bags of unground whole berries from them.  The seed I found in my freezer was a couple of years old, maybe the 2013 crop I'd say.  It germinated somewhat weakly, so I think it was at least that old.

Stephens Land and Cattle is a farm in Northwestern Kansas that grows and markets about 200 acres of Turkey Red per season.  My seed came by way of Southwestern Wisconsin and was contaminated at some point with about 2% rye.  I used the seed  I purchased in 2014, and not my own 2015 crop, for the seed source.

Ehmke Seed Company produced certified Turkey Red seed, and I had 20 bushels of it shipped to me in the Fall of 2015.  This seed was very interesting to me since Kansas State University had worked on their seed source and carefully rogued and selected the seed stock to match historical descriptions of Turkey Red.  This is the seed I planted in 2015, which made up my commercial planting (for sale at  The 2016 commercial planting was seed that I harvested from the 2015 planting.

Sooooo...the three turkeys were planted in my test plot, hand harvested and shocked, and threshed in my combine.  I milled about 5 pounds of each last week in my stone mill, sifted with a 730 micron screen, which yields about 92% extraction for me.  There were differences right away--the Heartland had a mild yellow color, distinct from the other two.

Check out also my notes from the harvest.  The Stephens showed the most variability, the Heartland was consistently shorter than either the Ehmke or the Stephens, and the Ehmke had the most trouble standing up.  Most dramatic was what these three turkeys did not have.   In the same test plot, the straw of both samples of Turkey Red from the USDA small grains collection developed a red color about two weeks before harvest.  I did not see this red color in any of the three "modern" Turkeys we are concerned with here.  Click here or here to see pictures of the red stems before harvest.

The breads were distinct, and the 17 surveys that my testers filled out attest to that.  The Ehmke had the best oven spring and the creases expanded completely to make a smooth loaf.  The Stephens had the most open crumb, and the Heartland came close to filling in the creases.  All three tasted great, although I managed to bungle the bake and the loaves should have baked another five minutes.  I actually found the Stephens to have the most interesting flavor (possibly from the rye), but the Ehmke seemed to have the slight edge in favor-ability from the surveyors.

Overall, it was impressive that the different seed sources produced such distinct loaves.  These were all planted the same day, on the same plot, harvested the same day, cleaned and milled the same, and baked the same.  They produced three different loaves.  So which one is the "real" Turkey Red?

Since Turkey Red is a strain of wheat, and technically not a specific variety, it may be correct that all three are Turkey Red wheats.  I did not reference the descriptions from JA Clark and similar sources, so I really don't have an informed opinion.  I did find more commonality in the field between the Stephens and the Ehmke, especially in stalk height and the appearance of the ear.  Ultimately, however, this test has left me with as many questions as answers!

Anybody else want to run this test?  I have a few more pounds left that I did not mill yet!

Buckwheat Harvest

The buckwheat planted on August 12 actually made a harvest!  After a couple of moderate frosts and plenty of rain, Ron ran his combine over it on November 1.  He said it ran through the combine very easily, and the 3 acres yielded about 30 acres total.  Not bad for such a late planting! 

I am drying some of it down now and I have already made some pancakes with the buckwheat.  I would say it is not the best quality--there are a lot of small kernels that should be cleaned out before milling.  However, I am desperate for buckwheat in my kitchen so it's really great!  I may try to sell a bit of it as well.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


The red clover that was planted along with the Marquis wheat grew very well, although it ended up maturing during a very wet Fall.  I was ultimately very pleased with the late date I chose to cut it, October 17.  The next 7 days were dry and there were several sunny days.

Cutting was an experiment.  I tried using my $50 sickle mower (not pictured) and it kept clogging up.  Brian had a rig close by and he came over and cut it for me with a mower conditioner.  This made short work of things.  Interestingly, I don't think the conditioned clover dried faster than the sickle cut clover, possibly even the opposite.

I turned the hay over at least twice, and it dried off nicely.  The first evening I raked was memorably beautiful.

Baling was a story in itself.  Ron came over on Monday at 1:30, completely on schedule, and the first 70 bales came off like clockwork.  Then the baler broke down and we quit for the day.  The next day, October 25, was colder and the remaining hay was not nearly as dry anymore.  Ron contacted me by noon to say the baler could not be fixed in time, so Brian's friend Roberto (whose hay I had spent the morning raking) brought his baler over to finish.  His baler had a lot of trouble with the clover and made very heavy bales, but we got the job done.  The field produced about 120 total bales, 60 per acre.

Friday, October 21, 2016

96th Street Field

Last weekend I added a second field of Turkey Red, about 2.4 acres.  This is a field that my friend Brian grew some soybeans in this year.  Although I did not nearly make the planting date I had hoped for, by this point I was actually pretty curious about how a late planting would perform.  To compensate, I increased the seeding rate to about 140 lbs/acre.  It was a bit far to drive my tractor so I put the drill onto a trailer and used Brian's Ford 800 tractor, the same tractor that did most of the combining with my IH-76 combine.

I was very careful to check my row spacing, so as not to make the same mistake I made on the 3 Mile field.  I am pretty confident there are no bare spots this time.  The drill was still having trouble getting all the seed covered.  I think one or two of the shoes might have weak down pressure.

Anyhow, to ensure that all the seed was covered up Brian came over with a 30' drag and went over the field a time or two.  This piece of equipment did a very good job--I could not find a single grain on the field after 10 minutes, which is about all it took to cover the 2.4 acres.  I am going to be very interested to see how this field turns out.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Roasted Potatoes and Squash

It's squash season so I thought I'd share my recipe for roasted squash.  I'm using a Greek Sweet Red Squash here, but I also do the same thing with butternut squash.  I make the squash pieces bigger than the potato pieces, since the squash will cook quicker.  If you want to mess with it, you could even put the squash in later.  I also put in an onion, chopped up in big pieces.

Marinate everything in olive oil and your favorite spices, and put into a baking dish.  For this session I baked it in a 400 degree oven, covered, for 45 minutes, and then pulled the cover off for another ten minutes.  Without a cover I would go down to 375 or 350 I think.  It tasted great, and the leftovers were easy to heat up in a covered saucepan.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

3 Mile field

Another saga!  Although not as crazy as some other ones.  Here is the story.  I was able to lease a soybean field less than a mile from my house, which I was very excited about.  This meant that I could watch the field closely and harvest would be so easy--just drive the wagons a mile down the street.  No worries about breaking down when I'm a 30 minute drive from my workshop, etc.  What a dream.

As the season got later, the beans were still sitting there on the field.  Nothing new here, it always seems like my field is taking forever to get the beans off.  They finally came off on October 8, and the deal was that the field would be worked up so my drill could go right in.  Unfortunately, the communication got screwed up and the field was chisel plowed.  This created a pretty serious mess for me.  Now there were chunks of hard soil the size of my front tractor tires all over this field, and no way my 35 hp International could break them up.  Aaaaargh!  It would have been better had the field not been chisel plowed at all.

Farmaggeddon.  It was actually awe inspiring and a little terrifying when this rig showed up to chisel the field.  I spent Monday picking rocks with the 330, and did not notice when this tractor appeared on the field.  I turned around, and it was just there, in the corner furthest from where I had my head down picking rocks.  It looked alarmingly large.  I later looked it up and learned it was a 470 hp tractor--wow!
Anyhow, I hit the phones on Monday evening and tried to find someone I could hire/beg to come disc the field.  There was one day to do it--Tuesday.  Rain is coming on Wednesday.  Of course, my friend Joe offered to come over with his excellent JD 3020 and a 12' disc.  What a relief!  It was still hard work--this rig could prepare about 1 acre per hour, and in a perfect world we would have taken longer and done a third pass.  But it was good enough and I really wanted to get going.  

Soooooo...I took a deep breath, filled the seed hopper on my 75 year old Van Brunt seed drill that I have never used before, and started sowing wheat at the West headland.  I was pretty dumbfounded when I looked back and saw seed dribbling into all of the tubes, and even more dumbfounded when I hopped off the tractor and could see that the seeds were getting covered.

It was not a perfect job.  In the low spots where it was still too wet, the tractor tire would compress the soil so hard that the shoe could not press into the ground anymore.  The seed was just sitting on the ground.  But overall the rig was working, and I decided the best option was just to keep working.

Joe had to leave at 1:30, after working up three acres.  I finished sowing the 3 acres by 2:30, then I hopped on the disc and worked up another 2 acres.  This took the predicted two hours, but this ground was a little higher and I think it worked up better.  I was slowed up by hopping off constantly to pick rocks, but it was a pleasure to use Joe's rig.  This tractor has a synchromesh transmission, which was like butter to shift.  I did most of the work in 4th gear, and some of the finish work in 5th.

The last two acres was harder on the 330 for some reason--the soft soil made the drill pull harder, and steam would come off the engine if I stayed in 4th gear.  So I had to lug around in 3rd, which cramped my style.

I put my 10' single action disc (which Joe actually gave me several years ago) on the 330 and pulled it around for a couple of hours as I picked rocks.  It was mostly window dressing.  In the hard clods it did not do much, and the 330' did not have enough power either.  But it helped a little.
Seed not getting covered in wet ground behind the tractor tires.  I walked the field and I'm pretty confident that there will be a good stand.  However, I'll feel a lot better once I see some wheat up and growing.

The drill did not have those little chains to help close the furrow, so I dragged this piece of fence around all day.  It worked great where the soil was well prepared, and did nothing where it was still wet and cloddy.

Last pass, about 30 minutes before sunset.  So 5 acres planted, which was great.  It turned out to be exactly 12 bags--2 bushels per acre.  This is heavier than my target, but exactly what I wanted due to the late planting date and poor seedbed preparation.  I will come back to plant more after the rain on Wednesday, if I can.  The last 30 minutes were interesting--once the sun gets low, it's a lot harder to follow the ruts left by the drill.  I hope there are no giant gaps in the stand.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Plow and plant

Fantastic morning plowing and planting a late cover crop with the team this morning.  The plow is working very well and the new team lineup is the best ever.  I have the larger donks (Sebastian and Cassie) on the same doubletree to the right, and Rosie is on her own singletree.  I have set the hitch point on the evener over towards the larger donkeys, so that Sebastian and Cassie are doing probably 75% of the work, and Rosie the remaining 25%.  I may set it over even further, primarily to reduce side draft.  Right now I have Sebastian walking on plowed ground, and Cassie on unplowed ground (straddling the furrow).  If Sebastian walks in the furrow, it's hard to keep the plow in the furrow.  Keep in mind that side draft with 3 abreast minis is fairly severe.  Although each animal is pulling a fraction of what a full sized horse or mule would pull, they are not correspondingly that much narrower.  My singletrees are about 20" wide, and usually a full sized equine would have a 34" or maybe 40" wide singletree.  But my largest donk weighs about 350 lbs, probably 1/4 of what an average draft horse or mule weighs these days.  So things don't scale down quite the way I'd like, and side draft with 3 abreast is a big issue to deal with.

Anyhow, the soil conditions were pretty good (could have been a tad drier), and with rain coming I did not mess around much.  After plowing, I halted the team while I broadcast oats and peas.  They had a little trouble standing for me and I had to lunge for the lines at one point.  After broadcasting we picked up the spike tooth and just ran over the field a dozen times.  The seed all got covered and it actually looks pretty decent (see below).  September 29 is a tad late for oats and peas, but I don't want a lot of winter hardy cover crop to deal with next season.  I may try it in one small strip, since we are getting better at Spring plowing now.  For sure I am not eager to deal with terminating a lot of red clover again.  This strip was popcorn, flint corn, and garlic, and most of it was that darned red clover that was so hard to terminate in May.  I was a little disappointed in the corn yield, and I don't know if I should blame the red clover for not feeding the soil enough, or myself for planting too densely.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Corn Harvest

I grew three varieties of corn this season, and the results were so-so.  I think the drought contributed to some poor yields, but I also think I crowded the plantings.  I used 24" rows, next year I plan to try 32".  Also, I need to find a popcorn plate for the Earthway seeder, since the popcorn seeds just pour through the corn plate.

By now every deer in the county knows about my corn and it is a race to get the corn out of there.  I should have started a week earlier, as a lot of the flint corn has been fed to the wildlife by now.  Today I went in and finished up.

Flint corn is fun to harvest, since I am harvesting and selecting seed at the same time.  For good seed, I am looking for full ears, sturdy plants, and no mold.  When I see one I like, I set it aside.

You can see that my stand of flint corn is not that pretty.  I think the poor showing is a result of the drought and the plants being too close together.
Here is a good candidate for a seed ear.  The ear dropped away nicely from the stalk.  Even better is one that is hanging all the way down, so that it dries down and rain is conveyed away from the inside.

Cassie did a great job of standing still while I picked popcorn and filled up the cart.  Rosie worked a shift a couple days later and was insufferable.  She would not stand still!  Just a sign I need to work her more as a single.

Sebastian was an absolute rock star.  Here he is standing while I pile sweet corn stalks high on the cart to take back to the barn.  I feed all the animals a lot of cornstalks this time of year.