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!

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.


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.

Thank You 2013

2013 turned our to be a pretty good year.  We wound up donating 2500lbs of food to the 2nd harvest food bank this fall along with another 1000lbs to our local religious charities.  We are not a big farm (yet), but we try to give back to our community when we can.

We are very thankful at this time of year for our customers, the good harvests that God provides to us and for our friends and family.  Without everyone we could not make the farm the success it is.  We wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a successful new year!

Potato Planting 2013

It has finally dried out enough for us to get into the field and plant our 450lbs of seed potatoes this year.  We had some friends stop over and help out.  We had a combined total of 11 children today all wanting to help in some way.

Red Norland, Yukon Gold, Carola, Colorado Rose, Purple Majesty and German Butterball were all planted today.  They will get ready in the order listed above.  Planting of other crops continues as well.  The early cold weather and now the week of heat and wet weather sure is making it interesting getting everything in the fields.

May 15th

Today we got all Pak Choi in the ground with some kohlrabi, and chard also. We had to take the leafy plants out of the greenhouse yesterday because of the increased air temp. outside. It was 98 degrees F (in the greenhouse.)

Healthcare rebates

I have received a few calls from CSA members asking about Health Care rebates for purchasing a CSA share.  Most of the local health insurance companies offer an incentive/rebate for eating healthy local food by joining a CSA.  There is a hitch though.  Almost all of them require the farm to be a member of the Fair Share CSA coalition.

Fairshare was originally started as a way to bring consumers and farmers together.  It made it much easier to know which farms were offering CSA shares and some background on the farm.  After a few years Fairshare decided to impose an requirement for the farm to be certified organic or they would no longer/can not be listed as a Fairshare CSA farm.

Becker Family Farms is not certified organic and we do not intend at this time to be certified.  There are several reasons for this decision.  First, we always try to use organic methods, but if there is an insect problem we cannot control we would prefer to be able to fall back on conventional sprays vs. losing an entire crop.  Second, certification requires that we must be inspected each year and this has between a $600 and $1000 cost.  Finally, we do use some conventional fertilizer and feel that this allows us to maximize crop yield and health.

All of that being said, most of the health insurance companies are attracted to Fairshare as it removes the requirement for health insurance companies to deal directly with farms to determine if they are truely running a CSA.  It is a simple paperwork burden that they offload.  Please see below for a list of health plans in the Dane County area and whether they will reimburse you for being a member of our CSA:

Dean Care
If you have Dean Care insurance you qualify for the WIN – Healthy Food Focus program rebate for being a CSA member at Becker Family Farms.  The rebate is $100 for single person coverage and $200 for family health insurance coverage.  All that is required is that you fill out the WIN form and submit a receipt from the farm or a canceled check.  Please contact the farm if you need a receipt.

WPS Health Insurance
WPS will reimburse CSA membership up to $200 for MATC members.  For non-MATC member, please check your benefits to determine what amount will be re-imbursed.  The Healthsense Claim Form must be filled out and submitted.  Please contact the farm if you need a receipt.

GHC
Members qualify for a rebate for purchasing a fruit, vegetable or meat share as part of the GHC Healthy Eating program.  The total allowable reimbursement is $100 per person with a maximum reimbursement of $200 per household. If you have family coverage, you may submit for reimbursement under one GHC-SCW family member’s GHCMyChartSM account.

Details about the program are available on the GHC CSA Wellness Rebate site.

Unity, Physicians Plus, GHC
Our farm is not currently covered as we are not certified organic.  If you have Unity, Physicians Plus or GHC health insurance and you would like to be able to take advantage of the CSA reimbursement, please call and tell them you would like them to cover Becker Family Farms.

Late Fall Greens

It was a little chilly today, but we were able to harvest some of our late fall greens.  We have Romaine Lettuce and Pac Choi.  We were also able to find some collard greens.  Who would have guessed we would be harvesting greens in November?

Next week we hope to harvest the last of the greens.  Then we can turn out focus to putting up another greenhouse and finish removing drip lines from the field.

Garlic Cracking

It is that time of the fall for planting garlic.  The first order of business is cracking apart the garlic bulb.  This is what you see in my hand to the right. 

This particular variety of garlic is called Music.  It is a Porcelin or “Hardneck” garlic.  Hardneck coming from the the hard, almost pencil like stick that will grow up from the center of the new bulb.  In order to plant the garlic we must first remove the white papery covering.  Inside the garlic bulb will be individual garlic gloves.  These cloves also have their own covering, but we don’t remove those to plant, only when we want to eat them.  This coming year we will have 6 varieties of garlic for you to enjoy, all with their own unique zest, but still very much garlic.

The garlic we are cracking here is additional garlic  that we purchased locally this year  to expand our planting.  Last year we planted about 13lbs of garlic.  This year we are planting about 130lbs of garlic.  In a good year we will get about a 600% to 700% yield over what we planted. 

The garlic clove to your right is quite an over achiever.  It is darn right huge.  Music is know for large bulbs that can weigh almost a 1/3lb each.  There we 6 of these cloves in the particular bulb I cracked.

It takes quite some time to crack open 130lbs of garlic.  The kids and grandma have all been helping.  Hopefully with the rain letting up over the last day we will be able to get into the field to plant.  It is the last item we plant for the year.  Garlic will also be the very first veggie to poke it’s new green shoots from the ground in the spring. 

I will try and post a few more images and maybe a video of us planting this weekend.  It is always interesting when you have kids ages 12-1 who all want to help.