Winter squash is on the menu

Winter squash is one of those great veggies that can be found locally through the sticker-butternut-squash winter months.  It is packed with vitamins and can be prepared in many different ways.  We grow more than 15 different varieties.  Many of them are available at your local grocery store in the greater Madison area.

We encourage you to visit the restaurants below who use our squash or pickup some squash at one of our grocery partners and make some squash tonight!  Just look for the Becker Family Farms sticker on the squash.



All of the squash we grew this year is free of herbicides and pesticides.

Cherry Tomatoes in the News

Cherry tomatoes have been one of the veggies that the farm has excelled at growing.  We have partnered with REAP Food group and the Madison Metropolitan School District this year to provide fresh, local cherry tomatoes as part of REAP’s Farm to School Snack program.  This program seeks to bring fresh, local produce to school children during the school day.

NBC 15 ran a nice segment on how REAP prep’s and distributes the cherry tomatoes. Congratulations to all involved on getting fresh local produce to kids and letting the community know that our local farms are working hard to provide fresh, local produce!

Pumpkin Pie Season

It is pumpkin season at the farm.  We washed up a pallet bin of pummixingbowl-logopkins to be delivered to the Mixing Bowl Bakery in Sauk City.  They are cooking them and turning them into tasty treats!  If your in the Sauk City area, stop in and have a pumpkin bar, scone, pie or tasty treat!

Roadside Stand on Hwy CV Open

Our roadside stand is open along HWY CV.  Located at the intersection of HWY 51 and CV in Dane County.  Turn onto Hwy CV at the stop lights off of HWY 51.  We are just past the truck stops.  Look for the signs along HWY 51 and CV.

Our excellent bi-color sweet corn is available along with many other fresh veggies and raspberries.

Abby is ready to help you!

Getting the Land Ready

Each year we must prep our land for planting.  This process varies based on the crop we would like to grow, but generally we plow and disc most of our fields.  Plowing buries any remaining crop residue from the previous year, along with any bugs or diseases living in or on that residue.

We then usually disc the field.  A disc will remove most uneven spots left by the plow along with breaking up any tough clods.  If we need a really smooth seed bed we may follow that with a drag harrow or a culti-mulcher/packer.  This makes the soil surface very smooth.

For fields that may be going into grain crops like corn or soybeans, we would use vertical tillage implement called a field cultivator.  This works the top several inches of soil and mixes the crop residue and soil along with exposing the roots of any newly germinated weed seeds.

Here are a pictures and videos from this spring:

Only the best…

Selecting what varieties of each crop to grow each year is sometimes a daunting task.  So how do we do it and why?

Milena and Procraft peppers from Enza Zaden

Milena and Procraft peppers from Enza Zaden

Answering the 2nd question is MUCH easier so I will address that first.  A farmer earns a living by growing crops to sell.  Ultimately quality and yield are the two most important factors to consider when selecting which pepper, tomato, etc. variety to grow.  Disease resistance is the next most important trait we look for.  If a variety is resistant to a disease such as bacterial spec on pepper or Powdery Mildew on winter squash, this means the crop remains healthier when disease is present.  It also reduces the amount of spray we need to use and boosts yield.

Now that we have the why out of the way, the how is the difficult part.  If any of you have gone shopping we all know that marketing is a powerful component of any company’s sales strategy.  Everyone seems to have the “biggest” or “most flavorful” variety.  So how do we cut through the marketing and find out which varieties actually live up to the marketing?  We use several strategies:

1. Read university, public and private trial reports during the winter.  This may be really dry reading, but the trialing data that these universities gather really helps to highlight which varieties do well and which struggle.  Trials are essentially planting many different varieties of a particular crop in small amounts to see which ones perform the best in terms of yield, fruit size, fruit quality and disease resistance.

Trial:Personal Butternut-PanAm Seed

2. We conduct our own on farm trials with current commercial varieties and new experimental varieties.  The experimental varieties are exciting for us.  They allow us grow varieties that may not be released for the next few years.  Our trials help the seed breeders to know if their work has resulted in a better fruit or vegetable.  This also helps us to know which varieties do best on our farm in our climate.

3. Relying on our trusted representatives to tell us which varieties do well in our area.  Our good friends at Seedway and Johnny’s Seeds are invaluable sources of information.  The representatives for our area speak to many growers and hear feedback on what works and what does not.  They are able to pass this information on to us and help guide us in selecting our seeds for the coming year.

During the CSA season we may include samples of these new varieties and ask for your feedback.  The breeders are just as interested in knowing how well you enjoyed the produce.  Together we can provide valuable feedback to our seed breeders that can help them in their efforts to provide us the tastiest, most nutritious, high yielding and disease resistant crops we all enjoy.

Cereal Rye

Each year we use many tons of Rye and Wheat Straw along with Marsh Hay to mulch our veggie crops.  Here are few images from this year.

And a few short videos showing baling, harvesting and some flour from our Rye.  CSA shares will be receiving flour. We also dropped off several hundred pounds to local Chefs. It is quite amazing to see a crop grow and turn into such wonderful baking goods. We will have more flour available. Contact the farm if interested.

Lettuce Head

salanova_huge It has been a long time since the last post.  Sorry about that.  Lettuce this spring and  early summer was very good.  Joe found a HUGE head of a lettuce weighing over 4lbs!  This one head made salads for eight people during lunch.

Look for lettuce to return this fall.

Butterkin Squash

[SinglePic not found] It is hard to believe that fall is already here.  We are excited about a new variety of Squash that we were able to grow this year.  Only 300 farms in the USA received seed of this variety so we think we are pretty lucky.

The squash is called Butterkin.  It is a sweeter, pumpkin shaped squash that is creamier than a butternut.  It has a very nice, richly colored interior flesh.  It is also quite heavy for it’s size.

Tracy roasted ours in the oven and served it to the kids.  Erica (18 months old) ate 1/2 of a 4lb squash.  Tracy said she was squealing for more until she had her fill.  THAT is all the proof I need that this squash is a winner.

Available in limited quantities this year, it can be purchased directly from the farm or at:

  • Metcalfe’s Market West – Madison, WI
  • Piggly Wiggly - Poynette, WI

Our CSA members will see this squash in your share over the next few weeks.  Please let us know what you think of it!

Recipes available here:

GMO Veggies to Watch out for.

I thought I would add a post about GMO veggies that you may not know are now in circulation in US grocery stores and at some farmers markets.  It will be important for you to ask your farmer what variety they plant and if it is GMO or not.  We do not plant any GMO varieties at Becker Family Farms.  Your local grocer may not know if the veggies they are selling are GMO or not.

Here is a list of veggies that we know have GMO varieties on the market:

 Crop  Varieties Reasons
 Sweet Corn  Passion II, Obsession II, and Temptation II Insect Resistance, Herbicide Tolerance
Summer Squash Yellow: Liberator, Liberator III, Prelude II, Patriot II, XPT1832 III, Conqueror III
Green: Judgment III, Justice III, Independence II
Disease Resistance

In addition to the above GMO varieties many companies are now using a breeding technique called Cytoplasmic Male Sterility or CMS.  This is found in nearly all Broccoli, Radish, Onion and many other crops.

What is CMS and why do we not agree with it.  Simply, CMS makes one of the parents male sterile, meaning it can not pollinate itself.  Most plants contain both male and female reproductive parts.  Most plants can pollinate themselves or pollen from one plant in the species can be deposited on the other thereby “cross pollinating.”  The seeds from these cross or self pollinated plants will contain a combination of the genetics from both parents, in a similar way to human children receive genetic copies of DNA from both parents.

In the plant breeding world traits such as fruit size, yield, disease resistance, vigor, etc. are desired by farmers and consumers.  Seed breeders (Farmers, Universities, Private Companies) use different techniques to guide the transfer of desirable traits to new varieties.  In the past the most common technique was to self pollinate a plant with a specific number of desirable traits until it could no longer pollinate itself.  This plant was then said to be self sterile or “self’d”.  It could then be cross pollinated with another variety that was also “self’d”.  The seed from these natural crosses was then planted to see if the desired traits were present.  If they were then the process was repeated on a much larger scale and the seeds were sold to farmers.  The process of cross pollination in this method is called hybridization and the seed is referred to as a hybrid.  Each year the cross needs to be repeated to get the same variety again.

The downside to this method is that it takes a very long time to come up with new varieties, many times a whole season.  It could take 10-15 years of work for a new variety to hit the market.  There was also the problem with some “self’d” plants still being able to pollinate themselves.  Usually this was 1%-2% of the plants, but it results in some “off” plants for the farmer that he can’t sell.

Seed breeders then discovered that some plants, like corn, naturally have some plants that are male sterile.  This was natures way of preventing inbreeding.  The self sterile plants needed to be cross pollinated to produce seeds.  This process assured genetic diversity.

Seed breeders used these self sterile plants to produce entire seed lines that are used just for breeding.  They were assured of 100% hybrids (or close enough) when one parent was male sterile.  They then discovered that they could extract the genetic material from the nucleus of a corn, onion, radish (all had natural male sterile plants) cell, insert it into the cell of another plant then apply chemicals and electricity to force the inserted genetic material to fuse with the host cell.  This then transferred the male sterility genes, along with a bunch of other genes, to the new plant that did not previously have the CMS trait.

This process is now referred to as cell nuclear fusion.  It is used by almost all of the large seed breeders to make male sterile lines quickly (They can also then patent the genes).  They get to skip 7-10 generations of inbreeding to get “self’d” plants.  The problem is that this genetic transfer of material would never be allowed in nature.  A radish cannot sexually reproduce with broccoli, even though they are 99.9% the same genetically.  Broccoli has no known natural male sterility.  This means that selfing is the only way to naturally produce breeding lines.

Almost 100% of the broccoli available today in stores has radish DNA in it.  The USDA even classified CMS techniques as allowed in organic production.  There was a large push by the big seed breeders in the USA to allow this technique in organics as most had abandoned traditional breeding efforts.  All other countries in the world classify CMS as a GMO technique and list it as Genetic Engineering.  It is specifically banned in organic production in all other parts of the world.

Most farmers do not go to the lengths that we do to research this information.  Few if any seed companies disclose whether their varieties use CMS in breeding or are GMO.  Johnny’s seeds, for example, sells numerous varieties that are bred using CMS techniques even though they signed the safe seed pledge.  They also choose not to disclose this information to their customers.

Other seed companies, like Jordan Seeds, disclose if varieties use CMS, but do not if they are Genetically Engineered (GMO).  Seedway discloses GE varieties, but not CMS.  It gets very bewildering at times.  I had to call Sakata to get a list of their varieties that are NOT bred using CMS.  There are only three and they are the market leader in the US for all broccoli varieties.

Thankfully, there are modern hybrids from breeders like Bejo and Rijk Zwaan that are neither GMO nor use CMS in their breeding.  Europe has much stricter standards than the US so their breeders selling into Europe are putting their efforts into traditional breeding methods.

We try to do our research on which varieties to plant so that we can avoid CMS, GMO and all of the other artificial breeding methods that are in use.  Your broccoli from us will not have radish, Onion or Corn DNA in it as far as we know.