Morel Heaven!

Here in Northern Illinois, Morel mushrooms are starting to pop. We found these beauties inmorels
the woods just a few miles from home. Enough for a couple of meals and they were delicious!

Everyone likes to share their theories on how to find these elusive delights and the most delicious recipes. During the height of season, talk can be heard every which way you turn.

Experts say they can be found around certain trees, when the temperature outside is getting warmer and when the soil is above 60 degrees. If you’ve been hunting Morels for a while now, you know these tidbits are true, to a point. But, morels can be found in places you wouldn’t normally expect as well. My point: never give up the hunt! They can be right around the corner, just keep looking.

Interested in seeing where Morels have been found so far this year? Check out this map.

For more information on finding your own secret supply of Morels, visit Field & Stream’s website.

Springtime is Asparagustime!

Along with the tulips, daffodils, and crocus, the early days of spring bring life to the asparagus patch. We started our asparagus patch around five years ago, nestled in the corner next to the barn and the green house. This year, we should get enough asparagus asparagusPatchfor several meals. Picking every couple of days is essential so they can be picked at the optimal moment. Pick them too early and they haven’t grown quite enough, wait too late to pick them and they will start to open up.

We’ve planted asparagus by roots and by seed, but always seem to have better luck with seeds. Seeds are cheaper than roots and can be found at our favorite home and garden center. The only problem with planting asparagus by seed is that you have to wait a few years to get enough to make a meal, but it will produce for years to come so it is definitely worth the wait!

This year, we will add more of the Jersey variety that we started by seed several weeks ago. Eventually, our asparagus patch will cover a 15 x 120 foot area with baby asparagusJersey and Purple Passion varieties. The Jersey has more flavor, but I wanted a little Purple Passion for color.

Conventional gardening wisdom would have you believe that it is necessary to keep your asparagus patch free of weeds and grass, but we buck that notion. Before the asparagus begins to pop up, we mow the patch down really short, then wait for the magic to happen. When we first start to pick the asparagus it is taller than the grass. As the season goes on, the grass will catch up to the asparagus but by then we have what I like to call “asparagus eye.” We see it no matter how tall the grass gets!

Whether you’re growing it yourself or buying it from a local farmer (always seems fresher than store-bought), a great (and simple) way to cook asparagus is by placing it in aluminum foil, pouring a little bit of olive oil on it with some salt and pepper and cooking it on the grill until it is tender. Absolutely delicious!

The Beginning of the End of Another Illinois Turkey Season

In the turkey blind - that's a decoy!

In the turkey blind – that’s a decoy!

2016-04-23 06.29.19

The ones that got away.

This is the last week of Spring Turkey Hunting Season in Illinois. As a landowner, I have the privilege of hunting all five seasons — an entire five weeks to bundle up in camouflage, sit in the pre-dawn woods, and wait for toms to appear. Actually, in all my years of hunting, I’ve never needed five weeks, I’ve barely needed more than an hour.

 

Since “restocking” wild turkeys throughout Illinois (an initiative that spanned from the 1970’s to 2003), the critters have been abundant on our farms. Because they are so abundant, a successful hunt is simply a matter of scouting in the evening and then the next morning, following a modified version of advice from hockey’s Wayne Gretzky: “skate to where the puck is going to be.” Yep, it’s that easy, “hunt where the bird is going to be.”

Using this advice, again this year, I brought down a 23.4 lb tom and had two beautiful packages of turkey breasts in the freezer in time to make an 8:00am appointment in town. And thus ends another season of spring turkey hunting.

On The Fence

A few years ago, we put in a split rail fence on one side of the driveway.  I spent most of that summer fussing over the landscaping along that fence line, planting flowers and edibles that would bloom throughout the growing season.
fence
The post holes were dug by hand, which is why we were on the fence (pun intended) about putting the fence up on the other side of the driveway that summer.  But, the time has come to complete this project and the weather is finally going to allow us to get busy. Unfortunately, the new fence will be dug by hand as well.  I keep telling my husband its good exercise.  🙂

After the fence is up, I’ll plant more flowers and edibles.  But first, we will put down some fabric to keep the weeds and grass at bay.  Last year, we planted hops vines in this area, so I’ll add flowering bulbs here with the intention of having some color most of the year along this part of the fence.  There will be a variety of lilies, some bleeding hearts and Hostas (because some of the area will be shady most of the day).  By the end of this weekend, the mulch will be added and I’ll be sitting on the porch enjoying the view of our completed project!

Chirp Chirp

The local Tractor Supply in our hometown sells chicks every spring.  A few weeks ago, we bought a dozen of them.  They were chirping and dancing around in their little box, anxiously awaiting their new home.Chicks

 

Sadly, we lost one chick within the first three days so now we are down to eleven.  The rest of them were looking healthy and growing fast. Food and water are provided for 12 hours and then removed for 12 hours because these creatures will eat themselves to death if you’re not careful. We can’t let that happen!

They spent the first few weeks in an old cart that we covered with chicken wire. We chicksHalfWayadded a heat lamp for those chilly spring nights and put some pine shavings in the bottom of the cart so they were comfortable and warm.

Last weekend, the chicks moved to a larger home.  The idea for this movable outdoor area came from… It’s a great way to allow the fast growing chickens to enjoy fresh grass and all
the bugs they can eat. The yard gets a little extra fertilizer too.

In about three weeks, they will be full grown chickens and it will be time to prep them for the freezer.  That will make 11 meals in the freezer and we’ll start the process all over again in a few weeks.

Until then, we’ll enjoy our farm fresh eggs that we’ve been lucky enough to have for about the past five years.

eggs

And So It Begins…

Back in February, we planted seeds in small containers and placed them on the shelves in our four season porch (thanks to the fireplace).  The seedlings are coming along quite nicely and were recently moved them out to the greenhouse. Before we know it, we’ll be planting these in one of the many raised beds on our one acre homestead.seedlings3

The greenhouse was built a few years ago as an addition to the machine shed and has been a huge part of growing our own food.  This bed was put in last winter so we could have fresh spinach a few months before it could even be planted outside.

spinach

Now that it is time to start planting outdoors, we’ve begun the cleanup process in the raised beds.  Since we leave plants in some of the beds for the birds and butterflies after growing season is over, we have to pull a few dead plants.  We like to use the Square raisedBedFoot Gardening philosophy wherever it works for us, so some of the beds need to be tied off as well.

Here in Northern Illinois, April is the time to start planting cool season crops outside.  We’ve already planted spinach, radishes, a few varieties of lettuce, green onion, garlic, chard, kale, broccoli, cauliflower and some other cool season plants.  Within the next few weeks we will be planting succession crops of most of these plants.

The rhubarb is coming up nicely again this year and the asparagus behind the machine shed is just starting to be visible through the weeds.  This year we hope to expand this patch of asparagus a little.

Follow along all summer for weekly gardening updates and share what you are growing with us. We love to see gardens, regardless of what you are growing! Share your story with @lisakruggles on Twitter.

Only Seven Weekends?

Yesterday, I passed a business whose outdoor sign read, “Only seven shopping weekends before Christmas,” and all I could think is, “But I’m not done with summer!” And yet, the leaves are on the ground, the garden is dormant, and we’re approaching the end of harvest.

The lightning speed at which winter is hurling toward us seems compounded by the late spring and a crazily busy summer — on both the home and the work fronts.

On the farm, my summer days were filled with landscaping projects and wedding plans as we prepared to host the celebration of one of “our neighbor kids” (what an honor!). Along with a million other tasks, thanks to a Woods BrushBull and Mow’n Machine, we transformed a pasture into a manicured parking lot with a 200+ car capacity.

As for work, this summer marked the launches of our relationship with Massey Ferguson and our expansion into Brazil. For a marketer, these are monumental projects, wrought with excitement for the opportunities ahead — and achievable only with the talent of a strong team!

It’s no wonder that summer seems to have slipped by and dragged autumn right along with it. Now the farm is fully focused on getting the crops in (hopefully before Thanksgiving) and my work focus has turned toward 2015 planning, first quarter tradeshows, and a myriad of deadlines that all seem to align around 3/31/15.

Somewhere between now and then, I’ll need to take advantage of one of those “seven shopping weekends” to ensure Christmas doesn’t slip by.

“Tough Jobs” Complete … CHECK

The last of our summer “Tough Jobs” is cleaning out the fence rows. It’s amazing how quickly they get out of control. One day the weeds are barely visible, the next they are knee high, then waist high.

Our thistle population is almost unbelievable. They have invaded the side pasture, the back pasture and the cattle runs near the barn. We’ve kept them in check in the big pastures with the Woods 12-foot Batwing and we got into some tight places amongst the trees with the Woods RC6 Rotary Cutter.

This weekend, we needed a combination of the Rotary Cutter, Mow’n Machine and some good old-fashioned shovel work.

BJ fence rows DSC00016DSC00052

Finally after just a few hours of intense teamwork, the job was accomplished.

DSC00036To say “goodbye” to summer, we are hosting our club calf sale. Hopefully we’ll see many of these steer calves at the shows next summer. And, I’m sure we’ll have more tough jobs to tackle again next year. That’s one thing we always can count on, the farm jobs are never done.

steer 2014

Long holiday weekends are perfect for …

FALL PASTURE PREP!

Spring calves are weaned from their mothers. Fall-calving cows are brought up and starting to calve. It’s time to squeeze the last bit of grass out of the pasture and prepare for winter.

IMG_2935Earlier this summer we used the Woods Precision Super Seeder on several dead spots in the pasture. Those areas were damaged during the winter so no grass grew. We used a standard grass mixture and today the grass is lush and green.

To prepare for fall and winter, we need to tackle some brush that has invaded the hard-to-reach places in the back pasture. The worst areas are infested with multiflora rose and prickly ash. If you’ve never seen these weeds, they’re terrible.

Nasty brush in our pasture

Nasty brush in our pasture

As with any rose bush, they are full of thorns. The prickly ash is even worse with hard spines that poke through your clothes and stay embedded in your skin. And though the cows have created paths through the brush, we never fail to get all cut up when trying to bring the cows up to the barn.

IMG_2083

NEW Woods Single Spindle cutter tore through the bushes and weeds.

 

The NEW 12-foot Woods Batwing did a great job on the big pasture and could get into some tight spaces, but for the cow paths and wooded area we pulled out the NEW Woods Single Spindle cutter.

It was able to take out the thorny brush, bring down the large thistles and quickly tame all the other weeds. To keep the pasture in good shape for next year, we’ll now go in and treat what’s left of the brush so it doesn’t come back. IMG_2091

Only one more tough job for the summer – cleaning out the fence lines in preparation for our fall steer sale. Watch for the before and after pictures next week and happy mowing!

Educating on Agriculture – The State Fair Experiment

No matter where we go, we always feel it’s important to tell the agriculture story and share our love for what we do. Last week we attended both the Wisconsin and Iowa State Fairs.

Sharing our love for cattle and agriculture is our main goal at the State Fair.

Sharing our love for cattle and agriculture is our main goal at the State Fair.

Both shows are held in the heart of urban areas and offer a great opportunity to reach out to people that don’t have any farm background. Most of the visitors have never seen a farm animal, or have only seen them at the fair. The barns in Wisconsin were packed with a constant flow of strollers and curious onlookers.

Now that our kids are getting older we want them to learn to be spokesmen for agriculture and help educate the 98% of the population that no longer has any association with farming or agriculture. So we arm them with a few facts and open up the stalls to kids and adults.

Here are the facts they shared and some of the more interesting questions we heard during our 10-day State Fair tour:

  • 97% of U.S. farms are operated by families – individuals, family partnerships or family corporations.
  • Farm and ranch families make up just 2% of the U.S. population.
  • More than 21 million American workers (15% of the total U.S. workforce) are part of the US food chain.
  • Each farmer must produce enough to feed 155 people.

We get some of the same questions every year:

“How much does she weigh, eat, poop, etc.”

"Why does she sit like that?"

“Why does she sit like that?”

"Is that one dead?"

“Is that one dead?”

"Can I pet/touch/kiss one?"

“Can I pet/touch/kiss one?”

But this year there were a few that made the kids stop and think about their answer:

  • Could your cows survive in the wild?
  • If you love them how can you keep them tied up?
  • How can you eat something with such a pretty face?
  • Are they organic (or grass fed) because that is better?

The kids handled these questions like pros, highlighting the benefits of eating beef and the importance of treating animals well so they are comfortable and most productive.

We are so proud of how the kids can advocate for agriculture and educate the public. They are truly becoming skilled spokesmen for the industry we love. Though it can be exhausting,  the State Fair is a great place to help consumers get closer to agriculture!

"Being an advocate for agriculture is exhausting work."

“Being an advocate for agriculture is exhausting work.”