Season Extenders

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26 degrees overnight in April?   Check.

Tomato plants all tucked in tight?  Check, check.

We frequently get questions about our high tunnels (also know as hoop houses, or season extenders) and why we have them, what they are used for, etc.  Well, this right here sums it up – we can plant delicate vegetable crops (meaning they can’t take a freeze or even a frost) as early as March, even February with our high tunnels.  Without a season extender, that would be next to impossible in Kansas.

Of course, we do go to extra lengths to ensure our plants survive when then temperature drops below freezing.  If it’s going to be 28-32, we put on row covers (pictured above) to give just a little extra insulation.

We also stick a jug of water in between each plant at the beginning of each season.  On warm days, the water absorbs the heat, and then they slowly let off heat as the temperature drops.

Lastly, we fire up the heat when the temp is in the low to mid-twenties.

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Propane heaters in the high tunnel last night.  Wood stove and blowers heating up our other high tunnel (pictured below).  This year Gage made improvements to the wood stove in this season extender, and it is much more efficient – we are excited to see what we can keep growing in there into next winter!  We also put new plastic on this house.  We didn’t open the box with the new plastic in it until the day we were to put it on.  We then discovered we had ordered white plastic, which only has 55% opacity.  Whoops.

However, the white (instead of the usual clear) plastic keeps it from getting overly hot in the high tunnel on sunny days.  But, we were worried there would be too little sunlight to grow tomato plants.

Not the case!  Once the plants were established, they have been growing like crazy.  Once we are past the risk of frost and freeze, we will roll this plastic all the way up so they will then get full sunlight and rain.  So far, ordering the white plastic looks to be a lucky mistake.

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Below is one of the tomato plants  – a month ago.  You can use your imagination to guess what they look like today.  🙂

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We were blessed to get our high tunnel funded through the NRCS EQUIP program.  Programs like this are a huge asset to small farmers when they are starting out.  We have worked hard to start and grow our farm without having to take on debt.  Programs like NRCS EQUIP help make that possible.

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Raising Cashmere Goats

We have been growing and developing our herd of cashmere-producing goats for a number of years now.  When we bought our first four goats, we had no idea how much we would end up enjoying them.  We now have close to forty with more babies on the way.

And there is nothing cuter than a baby goat.  I mean, just LOOK ….

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Goats, we have learned, can be very smart, are highly sociable creatures, and are prone to get into mischief.  We have been investing in lots of good goat fencing on our farm, as they are gifted escape artists.

So what is a cashmere goat?  Rather than being a particular breed of goat, cashmere can be produced by any goat.  That’s right – dairy goats, meat goats, all goats can produce cashmere.

Our little heard of goats are Black Spanish goats.  We have been selectively breeding and increasing our herd to favor good cashmere producers.  We have some beautiful cashmere producers in our herd right now.

Goats actually have two types of fiber – guard hairs, which are coarse outer-hairs, and the downy undercoat, which is the cashmere.

You can see in these pictures from last spring, the black goats are sleek, shiny and mostly black.  (You can also see their tendency towards orneriness).

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This next picture is of our goats just recently.

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These are the same black goats from the summertime, but you can see the fuzzy grey cashmere sticking out from under their guard hair.

Goats begin to lose their cashmere during mid-late winter.  Shearing would mean taking off all the guard hair along with the cashmere, which means our poor little goats would freeze for the rest of the season.  Which leaves combing.

Yes, that’s right.  You have to COMB the cashmere from each goat.  Which might be why we have yet to do it in all the years we have had goats.

But a few weeks ago, I noticed that one of the goats’ cashmere was beginning to come lose.  I had some time on my hands (usually unheard of!), so I thought I would give it a try.

After more than an hour of combing … and combing … and combing … this is what I had.

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One bag of cashmere fiber that weighed in at 0.6 ounces.  I have not done the math to figure out how much cashmere it takes to make a sweater, but I guarantee it is a lot more than a measly 1/2 ounce.  This is probably why cashmere is so expensive.  (Admittedly, I was probably pretty inefficient at harvesting the fiber and would get better with practice.  But still ….).

The one goat I have had my eyes on all winter is this one.  Shelly, the Cashmere Queen.  After my first try at harvesting cashmere, I coaxed her up onto the stanchion to work on her lovely fiber.  Only to find she was not ready for harvest.  *sigh*.  Maybe this weekend!

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Regardless of the fact that we still have yet to truly harvest cashmere (and in reality, may never harvest cashmere), we still love the goats, and have the benefit of their brush-clearing skills.  (I will post “before and after” pictures of our wooded areas soon.)

2017 Holiday Gift Packages

December 19, 2017 Update:  We have had TREMENDOUS support for our holiday gift packages this year!  We want to thank everyone who has helped make this Christmas sales season a huge success for our farm.  We are no longer accepting orders for Christmas 2017.  We look forward to serving our customers in the new year!

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Last year, we had so much fun launching our first Christmas gift packages!  We have been working to make some tweaks to the products and process this year to make things even BETTER.  Our local flower shop, Timber Creek Floral and Gifts has been awesome at helping us prepare the packaging, and we are really proud of the way they look AND taste!

We have two basic packages we are offering this year, but we can customize a package for you if these aren’t exactlywhat you want.

Our Large Holiday Gift Package includes: one 2 pound local, raw honey, one pint local salsa, two local fruit jams/jellies, and one beeswax lip balm from our bees, all in a cute buffalo plaid crate.  Cost for the large basket is $36.

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The small package includes: a 1 pound jar of local, raw honey, one pint local salsa, and one jar of local fruit jam/jelly for $18.  Increase the 1 pound honey to 2 pound to make the price $24.

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In each gift basket, you can specify the following:

Salsa:

Mild, Medium, or Hot

 

Jams and Jellies:

Spiced Tomato Jam (sounds gross, tastes amazing! trust me!)

Elderberry Jelly

Blackberry Jam

Blackberry Jelly

Blackberry Jalapeno Jam

Apple/Grape Jelly

Grape Jelly

Aronia Jelly

Mixed Fruit Jelly

Point of clarification – jelly is made from fruit juice, so is therefor smooth and with no pulp.  Jam is made from the whole fruit, so it will contain chunks of fruit and seeds. All of our jams and jellies are made with produce from our farm, or from our friends’ farms nearby.

We can also change the gift tags to say Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Holidays or whatever message you choose.

To streamline things this year, we have an online order form here –

Werner Creek Farm Holiday Gift Basket Order Form

We would also love to sell individual products, if that is more your style.  We have three sizes of honey – 2 pound for $12, 1 pound for $6, and half pound for $3.50.

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Pint jars of salsa are $7

Quart jars of salsa (mild only) for $12

Half pints of jam or jelly are $4.50.

Beeswax lip balm is $3

We also have 1/4 pint jars of beeswax hand balm available for $10.

The individual items aren’t on the order form, but just make a note in the instructions if you want to add on any of these items.

Please contact us with any questions you might have!  My email is slwerner8@yahoo.com and my cell is 620-222-5821.

 

 

 

 

Tomato Season Underway

It’s official.  Tomato season has begun!

We picked our first ripe tomato on June 2.  JUNE SECOND.  The earliest by far that we have every had tomatoes.  This is thanks to converting our useless greenhouse into a highly productive high tunnel.  The little bit of extra heat from the wood stove heater in the greenhouse/new high tunnel allowed us to plant tomatoes in late February.

And here they are now:

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The kiddos in the “greenhouse” about three weeks ago.  Yeah, it’s a little tight in there.  It may or may not be a jungle at this point.  Let’s just say, I won’t be posting any more pictures.  I will also say, we will most likely rethink our spacing in the greenhouse next year.

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The old high tunnel is looking good, too.  Especially since this is the fifth year for tomatoes in the high tunnel.  Yikes.  That’s too long to have tomatoes in one spot.  These are all determinants, meaning we will get a big crop off of them, and then yank them out. After this year, we have plans to rest a replenish the soil in this high tunnel, and then decide what crops to plant in it next spring.  We also have plans to put in another this fall.

Look closely and you will see that we have wire along the sides of the high tunnels.  That’s to keep critters out.  Last year, we had terrible trouble with possums, raccoons, and skunks sneaking in and eating big bites out of each ripe tomato.  It was disgusting.  This year, we’ve outsmarted them.  We hope.

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The field tomatoes are looking good, as well.  Tilled, mulched, caged, and irrigated – it’s been a busy week in the garden!