Fall is for Homecoming!

We’re coming to the end of another great production season.  Summer gave us one last stand this past weekend and now fall is in full swing.  One of the hallmarks of fall is Homecoming.  Doesn’t the word ‘homecoming’ just bring to mind thoughts of fall leaves, football games and of course, all of the great produce that comes with fall, like pumpkins and squash, carrots and potatoes?

The ECH LOVES Dakota College at Bottineau Homecoming!  Each year we participate in on campus activities and of course in the Homecoming parade.  This year, the parade is slated for October 4th at 9:00 AM.  For the past two years the ECH has joined forces with the Horticulture and Forestry programs to build award winning floats for the parade.

This year will be no different.  So here’s our challenge – all of you folks on campus and in the community – we challenge you to beat us this year.  Build the best and most clever float you can and compete against us in the parade.  We’ve got another winner up our sleeves (thanks Crystal for your work on a theme) and we’d love to see some competition!

We’ll see you there!!!

FALL brings WARM temperatures and a 2nd grade visit!

Our ND weather has been exceptionally warm the past week or so, and the kids are outside at recess or on field trips enjoying the sunshine, blue skies and ND nature.  Mrs. Erickson’s 2nd grade class walked down to visit us yesterday, and Farm Manager Bill took them on a tour of the greenhouse, out to pick onions in one of our gardens, and to pick popcorn out of the high tunnel.  The banana tree, pumpkins in our patch, onion harvest, and high tunnel popcorn picking left them excited, busy, and eager to know more.  Hands on experience gives our future consumers and potential producers the important message of growing our own food … good food, harvesting it, and putting good eats into their bodies.  Mrs. Erickson shared the desire to have the kids come help plant next Spring!  Great idea!  Then they can see how our food comes from seed in the ground to harvest on the table.

FM Bill with some of the kids and onions!

Lined up in the greenhouse!

The banana tree!

Look at pumpkin!

Mrs. Erickson’s 2nd grade class with lots of onions!

Bill showing the kids some popcorn!

Popcorn on a cob!

Hiding out in the corn!

Till next time!  Happy Fall and plentiful harvest.

Crystal ~

Gettin’ A Bit Chilly Out There!

This morning I looked out and leaves on some of the trees are turning yellow.  That hasn’t been the only signs that fall is coming.  The geese are flocking up and flying by with their usual ‘good-bye’ honks. 

The snakes are once again beginning to warm themselves in the midday sun because the evenings have been cool.  The late season apples are beginning to ripen and I’ve put the blanket back on the bed. 

If you believe the weatherman, some areas of our state will see frost next week. Many farmers and producers either dread the first frost or are doing an “I can’t wait until this is over because I’m tired” happy dance when it arrives.  Most however just sit and wait and worry.  There are things you can do to mitigate and predict frost in our area and it’s not too late to take action. 

Above: A heavy frost formed on the stems of basil plants left in the field.

First, a few tips for those with high tunnels.  Remember, your high tunnel will only give you about eight degrees of protection at best and at least maybe four to none – so don’t count on it to just do the job for you.  How much higher temperature you have in the high tunnel will depend upon the height and size of your tunnel, its location and covering type, how well it is sealed up from drafts and wind, how cold it gets outside and for how long, and some inside environmental factors.

Above:  The higher your high tunnel is, the more heat it will accumulate during the day and hold over night.

Moist soil holds more heat than dry soil.  While I do not usually recommend wasting water on anything that doesn’t put a dollar back into my pocket, in this case it does.  Water down all soil in the high tunnel well before the frost.  A good morning soak on a sunny day before the frost is best.  This allows the heat to build in the soil and act as a heat bank for that cold night.  For food safety reasons we do not advocate for overhead watering of produce but I sometimes use a very small sprinkler and water just the walkways and end runs of rows and then use the soaker hoses for in the rows to ensure each area within the tunnel is moist.  This goes for the field crops as well – doesn’t matter if it is inside the high tunnel or outside in the field – moist soil holds more heat.  If conditions are right for frost (usually a clear sky) that is a good indicator that the day before has been a sunny one – get out there and use the heat to your advantage and water! In a study performed years ago, the air temperature above a wet soil was 5 degrees F higher than that above a dry soil and the difference was maintained until 6 a.m. the next morning.

Although the high tunnel provides protection, just like with your outside crops, tender vegetables in the structure might require an extra ‘blanket’ to keep them from frost damage.  Although it’s much easier in the high tunnel in North Dakota because you don’t have to worry about the wind taking away your covering, there are still a few considerations.  Be sure to use something that is not so heavy as to crush the plants.  Even a light layer of Remay™ or other row covering can be just enough to hold a few degrees of heat. 

It might be a pain in the behind to keep putting the wiggle wire or Z-strip on and off the high tunnel at this time of year, but if that is what you need to do to seal it up tight and keep out any drafts – then do it.  Having a high tunnel is much like having a dairy herd – it is 24/7 while it is in operation and it requires constant monitoring.  BE sure to roll down the sides of the high tunnel early each day – before sundown.  You want a little sun or heat left in the atmosphere to build up in there to assist with overnight temperatures.  Where I am at that is about 6 PM right now and getting earlier each day. 

Speaking of monitoring – get yourself a couple of thermometers that track high and low temperatures.  Farmtek carries some pretty simple to use ones http://www.farmtek.com/farm/supplies/ProductDisplay?catalogId=15052&storeId=10001&langId=-1&division=FarmTek&productId=22407 that we have used at the ECH and I have used in my own high tunnel.  Having a thermometer so you know exactly how cold it got outside and inside the tunnel is very important.  Keeping track of these numbers is just about as important.  Make yourself a table on the computer or on a piece of paper and track the temperatures.  In future years you will be much more versed in ‘prediction’ with some back up data.  You will be more able to accurately predict what an outside temperature of 32 will do to the inside temperature in your high tunnel.  You also want to watch your outside low temperatures because do you really want to rely on the news and weather report from 20 miles away to determine how cold it got?   Temperatures and weather can vary greatly within even a mile of area – having your own thermometer that tracks highs and lows gives you accurate information and keeping those records from year to year assists you with choosing varieties, planting schedules and field growing locations. 

Out in the field is also a place for you to do some predicting of your own.  We all know that frost forms or collects ‘in the low areas’ but what does that mean?  How low?  To the naked eye, your field might look pretty level, but in all reality there are slight contours that air currents follow.  One way to determine possible areas for frost in your fields is to use those leftover smoke bombs from the Fourth of July.  On a still evening, light a few on one perimeter of your field.  Watch where the smokes gravitates to.  If it is a calm night and the wind or breeze is not blowing, the smoke should naturally travel along the ground and find the low areas.  These are the areas that will frost first.  Avoid planting sensitive crops in those areas – stick more to vegetables or crops that can take a little frost and be fine like carrots or kale or beets.  Save the more sensitive items for the high ground. 

What if you didn’t know this?  What if you already have sensitive plants in the low spots?  Even if you don’t – if you have a way to do it, moving air, such as with a fan, is a good way to provide just enough mixing of the air to keep the cold air from sinking and forming frost.  I understand, this is NOT something you’re going to do with an acre of field but in certain smaller locations or for certain particular crops that you just want to get through one more night or one more week – using a fan may be enough to get you there.

To understand how this works we first need to look at some of the weather conditions that contribute to frost formation.  First, a clear sky.  A cloudy sky can act as a blanket and keep warmer air near the surface, helping with temperature. 

Above: Clouds can hold in the heat from the day and help to prevent a frost.

Cool, clear nights with low humidity, often following a cold front, are signs of an impending frost.  Next, a still night. During the day, Earth absorbs heat from the sun. At night, it radiates that heat back into the atmosphere, and cold air gradually settles around your plants. But a slight breeze mixes the somewhat warmer air from above with the cold air near the soil. So frost is less likely on a night with a gentle breeze (but not strong wind) blowing.  Next, the dew point.  As the evening temperature falls, the air holds less and less moisture, until it condenses and dew forms. The temperature at which this happens is called the dew point. When dew forms, heat is released. That heat helps to keep the air temperature at or slightly below the dew point. So, the more moisture in the air at sunset, the less the likelihood that frost will occur during the night. (This is why commercial growers turn on sprinklers when frost is predicted. The added moisture in the air raises the dew point.)  The dew point is also a fair indication of how cold it will get that night.

Some forecasters give the dew point in their evening reports. Be sure to check the dew point at or after 6 PM.  Dew points change throughout the day and to get the best estimate on what the dew point for that evening will be check after 6.  You can also check online at our National Weather Service site or Facebook page or at the North Dakota Agriculture Weather Network site.  All three links have been posted here. 

North Dakota Agricultural Network: http://ndawn.ndsu.nodak.edu/

National  Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – use this link to find the location nearest to you for information: http://www.legislative.noaa.gov/NIYS/

So let’s do what we can to make this season last as long as possible before we’re dealing with what eventually will come…

Back to School Time!

Recruitment.  It’s been on my to-do list for a long, long time now.  It’s something I know I need to do but when you spend every minute running wildly trying to keep up with the questions and activities of hundreds of farmers and farmers markets; it never seems to make it to the top of the list.  Right now, it’s September and our producers are scrambling to make every second count and every seed that was placed this spring add up to a bigger bottom line for their businesses.  That means we’re scrambling too.  Helping with production, marketing, record keeping and regulation questions. 

It’s also the time for the beginning of the school year and although Dakota College is showing strong enrollment numbers, once again the Sustainable Vegetable Production program struggles to find students, as does the horticulture programs.  Other programs within the college that lead to degrees that would help a person become their own boss – like childcare and photography – are doing well.  Ours falters.  It’s difficult to recruit when there is no money in the budget to travel or mass market to potential students.  It’s difficult to find those special people with the desire to grow food and be involved in the food or horticulture industry. 

I know they are out there.  I am surrounded daily by videos of young people entering the world of growing food in all parts of the country. http://www.upworthy.com/the-coolest-thing-this-guy-did-in-college-had-nothing-to-do-with-classes-or-tests-or-parties  I see the success of beginning farming programs for veterans http://www.farmvetco.org/ and I know personally the stories of retiring farmers whose children come home to take over the farm in a new way – through growing vegetables or fruits https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riP7pXrQpMI . But how to reach them?

In 2014, the FARRMs internship program had only one intern from North Dakota.  All of the other interns came from out of state.  With the wide possibilities that America offers, how do we find these young entrepreneurs and how do we get the message to them that Dakota College at Bottineau is a GREAT place to learn?  It comes back to time and money – both in short supply. 

The mission of the ECH has always been to “Commercialize the Vegetable Production Industry in North Dakota”, that has not changed.  But without new faces and new ventures, how can we achieve this long term.  Part of the objective to reaching this goal is the Sustainable Vegetable Production program, a degree granting program intended to teach the student – young or old – everything they need to know to begin or work in the vegetable production industry.  That’s everything from owning their own operation to working in the produce section of a grocery store, working for a wholesale company or as a buyer for a food hub or aggregation center.  This program is designed to be mostly hands-on, working in the ECH’s high tunnels and gardens and visiting with other farmers on their farms.  It results in either a certificate or an AAS degree.

This is where we want your help.  If you know of any place we could reach out to possible students, young or old, experienced or not so, we would like you to drop us a line or give us a call and let us know.  It might be an online bulletin board or listing of possible educational opportunities.  It might be a conference where we could send out some literature or a high school agriculture or horticulture classroom with a teacher willing to share our information.  Are you planning on attending a conference this year? Call us, we’ll send out brochures to you that you can hand out as you meet people.  Do you have a friend or relative that has dreamed of owning their own small farm and growing vegetables?  Let us know who they are. 

We have some plans in the works and are trying to get some funding through grants that will help us with recruiting.  I’d love to do a video like our counterparts at Oregon State University.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5Bocu4xjzU. Although this video is more like the services we offer outside of the degree/tuition program, it’s still pretty powerful marketing.  But I never count my chickens before they are hatched so until that money is firmly in our pockets, we are relying on our friends to spread the word about our program.  Please help us out!

Farmer’s Market Etiquette!

Farmer’s Markets are in full swing, and customers are flocking to booths and tables purchasing great produce and products labored with love.  In order to keep everyone happy, and make the visit enjoyable, there are some simple guidelines customers should follow on every visit. 

Build meaningful relationships with your farmers, get to know them, compliment them on their produce or product.

If samples are available, try them out, ask questions, let your salesperson know flavors you like, and they will definitely let you try before you buy.

Try not to rush through your market!  Take your time, stroll along, visit, have fun, explore! 

DO bring your own bags. Reusable (cloth) bags cut down on the cost of plastic on our environment as well as costs to farmers who make and purchase bags. If you need a plastic bag, reuse it for bagging your produce the following weeks or to line a waste bin at home.

Bring Small Bills. Especially if you come bright and early. People who work markets try to plan ahead and bring change but it’s easy to run out if everyone pays with big bills.

DO save change during the week and use your coins! Exact change makes the math easier and gets you out of the checkout line quicker.

Bring Your Curiosity. Don’t be afraid to try new things. The farmers’ market is a perfect place to find things you’ve never tried before.

Bring Your Brain. Don’t ask your farmer “Where are the strawberries?” in August. Likewise don’t ask for apples in May. Maybe you’re not from around these parts and don’t know about these things called “seasons” but it’s pretty easy to find out.

Get Out of the Way. This is a courtesy to your farmers (who are trying to please everyone and be efficient) AND your fellow shoppers. If you don’t know what you want, please make sure those who do can get by you. There’s nothing more frustrating than shoppers who plant themselves in front of your stall and won’t let anyone else in.

♦ Leave the haggling for the garage sale: In most cases the farmers are already giving you the best price they can while still making a profit margin.


Enjoy your market travels!  Until next time…

Crystal ~

It’s Not Just Lettuce Anymore …

Week six is bringing more produce variety, and adding more color to our gardens.  From our gardens to your plate and tabletops, CSA shareholders will begin to take home carrots, peas, potatoes, onions, beans, flowers, etc.  Lettuce will still be gracing your share bags, and can supplement any meal or stand alone.  

Tomatoes in the high tunnel! 

Beans, replanted from the flood zone in garden 3!

Carrots are looking good!


Our popcorn is almost 9 feet tall or more!  Wow!

Our flower section :)

Purple Beans!

An overview of garden #2!  Look at all the pretty veggies right in a row.  How are your gardens growing?  Till next time :)  Happy Harvest!

Crystal ~

North Dakota State Fair Time!

I had the opportunity to judge the FFA horticulture division on Thursday July 17, 2014.  It is amazing how many plants are brought in from FFA Chapters across the state.  Most of the plants were ornamentals. 

I really like the idea of container gardening.  It allows us to move plants around using each plant in a different setting.

You don’t need a plot of land to grow fresh vegetables or flowers. Many vegetables lend themselves well to container gardening.  With some thought to selecting bush or dwarf varieties, almost any vegetable can be adapted to growing in a pot.  Even if you want your favorite full-size variety, if you give it a large enough pot and plenty of soil and water, it will grow just fine and reward you with plenty.  Vegetables that take up little space, such as carrots, radishes and lettuce, or crops that bear fruits over a long period of time, such as tomatoes and peppers, are perfect for container vegetable gardens.

There seems to be fewer vegetables this year at the North Dakota State Fair.  Perhaps the late spring had a lot to do with it.  But the rhubarb is not affected very much by the cooler temperatures that we had this year.  

Red rhubarb and red fading to green seems to be dominant at the fair.  My opinion is that the color of the stalk has no bearing whatsoever on the level of sweetness. 

Being from northern North Dakota, I have a real difficult time believing that melons can be this far along.  Granted, we may be able to have earlier crops with high tunnels. Yet, still here they are on exhibit!

It is so much fun watching the excitement in the exhibitors from FFA, 4-H and open class as everyone takes a lot of pride in showing their best product.  When I am judging, I often wonder if the exhibitor will ask why I ranked their exhibit the way I did.  Well it finally happened!  The exhibitor asked me why I did not rank his higher.  I was judging jade plants and all looked very similar in size and condition.  Lifting up the pots, I noticed that one had not been watered in quite a while.  For me that was the determining factor.  Seems trivial but proper plant soil moisture is always important.

AND it is time to get ready to do some pickling! This time of the year cucumbers and dill are in abundance

They have yet to ask me to judge the baked goods.  I really think it would take me all day just to get through the “taste test” part!

If you are going to the State Fair in Minot, take time to  look at horticulture, livestock and all the other exhibits being shown by the proud individuals in FFA, 4-H and Open class.

Till next time …


Great Opportunities in Local Food

I’ve been on the run all week but I had a nice surprise in the mail when I got home.  The latest issue of Dakotfire Magazine.  This wonderful magazine is published 6 times a year and is specifically written for 3 counties in southeastern North Dakota and several counties in northeastern South Dakota.  This issue, ‘Going Local’ featured many of the great producers in the Dakotas - some as far away from these counties as Hensler, Adrian, and Mandan.  Almost the whole issue is devoted to the topic of local food and it contains not only wonderful photos but some great statistics as well.

Dakotafire is beginning a Local Food Challenge.  It is a way for people in the Dakotas to get better connected to the land and the people who produce our food by eating food produced locally for two weeks in September.  Participants will briefly chart their local foodiness each day on a calendar, (downloadable) and then either e-mail or mail that calendar back to Dakotafire the week following the challenge.  Every who completes a calendar will get a fun “I Went Local” T-shirt, and their names will also be put in a drawing to win other prizes.  There are two levels of participation so you can tailor your challenge to your eating habits.  You can find more information on this challenge at www.dakotafire.net/golocal.

Even if we don’t all live in this part of the state, let’s all try to follow along with this great idea - go local for two weeks in September - the 6th through the 19th!

Until then, let’s get out there and support our local farmers markets and growers.  Everything is in season!


Calling all North Dakota Producers!!!

If you are just starting out, or have been doing this for some years, we have put together a plethora of information into a packet to help you get your business off the ground or revamp to a new level.  You will find the new ND Local Food Directory, a Farm to Market Guide, production and harvesting guidelines, marketing tips, food safety practices, farm to school resources, and liability requirements, etc.  There are also brochures regarding the benefits of our Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture program, and a management program we currently have on campus with instructor, Keith Knudson. 

We have already sent 25 packets to producers in the CONAC and Southwest REAP (Rural Economic Assistance Program) Zones.  Current counties sent to are:  Bottineau, McHenry, Rolette, Towner, Pierce, Benson, Dunn, Billings, Golden Valley, Stark, Slope, Hettinger, Bowman, and Adams.

If are interested in receiving one of these packets, please contact me at crystal.grenier@dakotacollege.edu and I will mail one out today!

Thanks!  Happy and Safe 4th of July to you all…

Understanding Local Foods Marketing

In the last 5 years the term “local foods” has become popular when we think of food for our community.  There is a steady increase of federal and state initiatives to promote growth of production, distribution, and consumption of locally grown foods.

The term “local” tends to relate to a geographical area.  Defining the geographical area continues to be a topic of discussion. Producers and local processors selling directly to consumers at farmers’ markets, CSA (community supported agriculture) and schools seems to be a good fit for the definition of “Local”. Most consumers in the Dakotas would agree that food grown in the state or within 100 miles of the state borders is considered locally grown.

Consumers are finding importance in being able to know where their food is grown and the methods used to grow and process food.  Foods grown locally give consumers a closer link to the producer and it seems that there is more customer satisfaction in knowing the producer first hand.

USDA’s Farm to School Grant program continues to grow and the 2014 Farm Bill gives even stronger support to this program.   USDA grants are available to local school districts to assist the implementation of a farm to school program improving access to local foods.

Producers are finding a number of different ways to market on a local basis. Here are three of the more common markets in the Dakotas and factors that affect the producer’s decisions on how to market.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) finds the producer providing a variety of items usually delivered on a weekly basis.  The consumer subscribes to the CSA paying an annual fee at the beginning of the growing season.  However, there may be variations to the fee schedule depending on the CSA’s policy. The producer sets the price based a history of expenses or based on other local CSAs and is able to use the customer’s payment to cover expenses incurred during the growing season. Items included in the weekly delivery are produce, eggs, baked goods and processed foods with a variety of 25 or more items during the season.  A producer will have activities on the farm during the growing season to acquaint the consumer with the practices used on the farm.

Another popular market is Farmers Markets.  This marketing strategy is a direct producer to consumer relationship.  The consumer has a choice of producers and products to pick from and will often have a favorite producer when attending the farmers market.  There can be quite a variety of items at farmers market.  Presentation and salesmanship is an important factor for producers and it is more time consuming than other market activities.   Income is weekly at the farmers market, however, there may be unexpected loss due to low consumer turnout or high quantities of similar items made available by other producers at the same farmers market. There is usually a fee for setting up at a farmers market.

Farm to School is probably one of the more exciting markets with high growth potential.  It provides students with locally grown foods that are fresh. There are a few challenges for the producer as most produce is grown during the summer months when students are away from school.  The school lunch programs have gone away from raw or unprocessed foods in the past few decades.  Lunchroom labor has been reduced due to the use of processed foods.  The producer may need to assist in processing their products and that may raise the cost of production. Appearance of food at the school lunch program is also an important factor.  Students are comfortable eating foods that are consistent in appearance so adding variation such as different colors or varieties, for example, in salads need to be blended. Scheduling and volume of deliveries is also important for the school lunch program.

Developing a marketing strategy that will increase profits and customer satisfaction is an important part of producer’s financial plan. Often a combination of market types will improve profitability.

Knudson is a North Dakota Farm Business Management and Sustainable Vegetable Production Instructor, Dakota College at Bottineau. Contact him at 701-228-2160 or keith.knudson@dakotacollege.edu