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95: Growing Microgreens | Sarah Harding | Buggy Road Farm | Whitefish, MT
5th November 2015 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 01:15:03

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Buggy Road Farm is a microfarm specializing in duck eggs, asparagus, plant starts and microgreens. They use growing methods in line with their ethics: No chemical sprays, pesticides, herbicides, GMOs, antibiotics, hormones, or cages.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a mother of 2 children, age 6 and 10, happily married, my husband and I bought this land about 11 years ago, built a house and have been  adding on ever since. We didn’t start out, farming the land, I was an avid gardener, John financed my hobby for the first 6-8 years, until I made that shift from gardener to farmer. Now we both farm full time here.

I’m excited to hear about how your growing microgreens in Whitefish?! We’re still not anywhere making money yet.

That’s the hard part! :~)

WE finally drilled a well, this year, and Mike planted like a minifarm, and I thought that was gonna grow a ton of food, and we definitely grew a lot, enough for us and some extra but as far as 20 CSA shares? IDK?!!

We grow ’em year round. We built a greenhouse on the south side of a shop that John built. It’s insulated. We got a bunch of sliding glass doors from Craigslist. There are 6 set of sliding glass doors in there, it has a polycarbonate roof, and a gravel floor. We start the microgreens twice a week, and move them out to the greenhouse and then we grow them and harvest them twice a week! The microgreens pretty much pay the bills. 

The Duck eggs? We love having animals, and we like ducks, their eggs people really value! A lot of people who are allergic to chicken eggs, can have duck eggs. So the people who want duck eggs really want duck eggs! But we don’t make a ton of money, I think we break even on them, and that’s not including our time. Farmers can never really count.

So it pays for the food though and to have the ducks? So how many ducks do you have?

We keep up to 40, we just finished butchering some old ducks, so we only have 15. We have more arriving in 2 weeks, we’ll raise them through the winter and hopefully they’ll have baby ducks in the spring.

Where do you get ducks from?

The big hatcheries hatch chicks and ducks, they pop them in the mail. They arrive at post office at like 5 in the morning! And they call and we drive down there and we pick them up and you can hear the chicks chirping!

OMGoodness! This is a children’s book waiting to happen.

Quite a few hatcheries. The chicks when they’re born have enough of yolk in their system to survive for a day or 2, 3 is pushing it, as long as they get food and water they pretty much thrive straight out of the mailbox.

I was thinking of getting a duck. I had a guest Amelia Schimetz who had a baby duck and it sounded cute. We just got sheep. Kind of a new experience. Now our chickens just get out they have completely figured out how to go everywhere. They have free roam! I was reading in the article in Flathead Living you sell a lot of micrograms to restaurants?

We do! We sell to high end restaurants. We wanted it to get out to just everyone, so we sell them in green 3 oz packages, to grocery stores, so the local healthful stores, and even a major chain store here in Whitefish.

I would think that would go good in Whitefish!

We have a really good following. We’re lucky to have a really supportive community.

Do you want to tell people what a microgreen is? I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t just read it.

A lot of people call our microgreens sporuts. Many of your listeners, have probably heard of sprouts, and probably sprouted things in a jar, when you eat them, you eat the root and stem and pale underdeveloped leaves. So that’s a sprout.

What we grow is, we have trays of organic potting soil and we seed them. We feed them, they grow for 2 weeks in the soil, then we harvest them with scissors, so you are not eating the root, they are grown like baby lettuce would be grown out in the field. Then we harvest them.

We mix them, Vitality Mix that has a lot of brassicas in it, like cabbage, kale, broccoli, kohlrabi, bok choy, and we put some pea shoots on top. Then we have a Spicy <ix, the exhilarating mix, couple of different kinds of raddishes, and couple of kinds of mustards and arugula.

The chefs love them because they are tiny but perfect and beautiful and flavor and color and they’re just really vibrant! They use them a lot of times to garnish their plates! Our retail customers they love them on sandwiches, salads! Our family puts them on everything! Spaghetti! Chili!

I saw that lovely picture on your Facebook page.

BrideNGroomSalad

It was for a friends wedding!

How did you end up with microgreens? Where did you learn about that . One thing let me make sure, the vitality mix, is the sprouts, not something you’re putting in the soil?

We grow a flat of kale, and a flat of broccoli, and then we harvest them and mix them together, and that is our Vitality Mix.

How did you learn how to do that?

People ask me that all the time, but I don’t remember where I first heard about them. Here at the community college in Kalispell, a lovely man, Bill McClaren, I think was his name. Bill McClaren, at the Community College, offered a class at FVCC about Microgreens. I believe it was just one session, in it he taught us about microgreens, how to plant them, gave us seeds and soil and trays. He mentioned that his granddaughter is a farmer in Bozeman and she grew and sells 200 flats in Bozeman. It was something I had already been thinking about would be good for us. When he said that getting struck by lightening. And I thought “That’s what we’re gonna do!”

Awesome!

That was the plan! I came home from that and we started growing a whole bunch and built the greenhouse from there.

Microgreens are so healthy for you! It’s so fresh!

They are grown a little longer and they are grown with sunlight, so the plant actually photosynthesizes! Sprouts are usually grown in water on your kitchen counter. The leaves aren’t green and developed. It also doesn’t have as high of risk of food borne illness, because the bacteria does have the potential to grow in the watery, tightly-packed environment.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

Well, my dad loves gardening, so that was farther back then I can really clearly remember, we had a garden. I grew up in San Diego, a southern California garden with southern artichokes, and lovely warm things. Yeah, helping my dad, he was a high school teacher, so in the summer times he would take on landscaping jobs for other people.

What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?

I think that it’s not super complicated having respect for the water and the soil and the life in the soil and the life on top of the soil and the air. Just not doing anything, doing no harm. It takes a lot of thought, you have to be careful with what you bring in, there is so many pollutants from chemicals and petrochemicals that are in the materials that you could potentially bring onto your farm, like manure, or straw or hay or feed, or even top soil. You have to ask a lot of questions, you have to know which questions to ask to make sure you are not unintentionally polluting  your little piece of land that you are given the honor of being the steward of.

Do you have any questions listeners should ask?

For us, knowing our fellow farmers is important, we know the people that raised the hay for our rabbits and our ducks and chickens, we know that it hasn’t been sprayed, we know that they are doing a fantastic job taking care of their soil, and the same with the straw. We brought it from a fellow AERO member, we know that it’s organic

Straw is especially is tricky, here in the Flathead Valley a lot of farmers spray with a persistent herbicide that lasts up to 7 years. It passes unchanged through the animal’s digestive system. So if the animal. Say your friend has a horse and she feeds her horse hay and we don’t know where that hay came from and the horse eats the hay, the hay has been sprayed with this chemical. I believe a lot of times it goes under the name millennium, but it has probably 15 different trade names it goes under. So that chemical passes unchanged through the horse to the manure, then anything you put the manure now has that chemical in it. So you couldn’t grow peas, in that because they would shrivel, if it had enough in there.  It affects tomatoes, all broad leaf plants, besides the grasses they are looking for when they are growing hay. It’s complicated!

Peggy Jane Ousley one of my first guests was the first one to talk about that. I’ve had a while wrapping my head around the weed-free concept, I think free … chemical-free but that’s not it. That’s part of why we got sheep to expand the garden we need good manure to put on there. Finding fresh fertilizer in your 

We pay a lot of attention to the microbial life in our soil. So doing things like composting, even we call it “Our Vegan compost,” because  we don’t put any animal products in there, on the chance potentially it could have been contaminated. So we put weeds, leaves, brewers mash, and chaff from our local coffee roaster, and coffee grounds. All those things are introducing these microorganisms. Also we do a lot of compost tea. We take the worm castings from our worm bins, put it in a five gallon bucket in a little cheesecloth with water, with a fish tank aerator and make this tea that we can spray and that introduces good microbial life into the soil.The theory is if you have enough of the right fungus, and microbial life that you really don’t need a lot of fertilizer except of the humus that it introduces. 

Mike makes some kind of compost tea with the chicken manure, and wrap it up in the cheese cloth, and when he opens the lid, I’m always like how do you stand that?

That’s good stuff! It’s really important to aerate it to encourage the good bacteria and not let the bad bacteria grow.

I’ll have to ask him about that. You put a fish tank aerator in it.

One of those little bubblers, tied a washer to it a porous stone, so it bubbles from the bottom up.

Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?

I’ve always been pretty crunchy. Starting in high school I spent a lot of time at my best friend’s house, and they were what most people would call “hippies”. They had a big garden, and we cooked a lot and did batiking. I was always attracted to the natural healthy way.

Here in Whitefish, Pam Gerwe from Purple Frog Gardens taught meabout the way natural, more then any other one person about the actual way in which you go about being natural.

 

AsparagusPlanting

Tell us about something that grew well this year.

We pretty excited our Asparagus is going well. We planted 1 year old crowns 2 years ago. This coming spring will be our first harvest. We harvested a tiny bit last year which wet our taste for fresh We planted a 1/4 acre! Hoping we get a lot of asparagus this spring!

We have 5 or 6 different vatieites. I’d say the purple asparagus is the most beautiful. It’s pretty striking.

What’d you say crowns?

Another farmer plants seeds and grows them for a year, and pulls up the crowns, from what I’m imagining is in their beautiful sandy soil, they box em up and sell them to us. So we are buying one year old crowns, we get a one year head start, so the success rate seems a little higher. Virtually all of our crown sprouted and is growing well.

So next spring you’ll have them.

We planted quite a few crowns. We’re hoping for a couple hundred pounds over an 8 week period!

So now did you plant them spread out over 8 weeks or how’s that going to work?

We planted them all at the same time, they’re in rows, double rows, dig a trench and then you plant them at whatever the prescribed amount is. Right now they look like a mini forest of fronds tall ferny fronds, most are about 6 feet tall. We’ll mow all that down, then in the early spring, when the earth is just waking up. In May, the crowns will push up out of the earth, We’ll wait till they are about 6 inches tall, and well cut off every spear and we just keep harvesting them. Then let them grow up to seed for next year.

We have like 6 asparagus growing. They never really did very well. When they come up they don’t make it a foot or two, I just eat them, they are so delicious.

yes they are delicious raw.

I always think we have a major shortage. there are some fresh wild asparagus in Montana but not enough.. I’ll bet the restaurants love them too.

We did a little bit of research before we decided to invest a lot of time and money in this project. The other farmers said, we sell every single stick we can grow. Hardest part is to keep it weeded. Asparagus don’t compete well with weeds especially perennial weeds like quack grass. Keep out of the asparagus patch. Totally true for us. We can sell every stick we grow so far. But the weeds are the difficult part.

So how do you deal with them?

We spent so many hours just hand weeding. Early on when the weeds are tiny, we use a stirrups hoe to knock off the babies, just under the surface of the soil. We also did a path of a layer of cardboard, and then woodchips in the paths, just to try to smother a portion of the weeds. And then just hand pulling over and over!

That’s a lot of hand pulling a 1/4 acre but that is gonna be worth it. I think you’re gonna like those!

We’re excited about it. It’s gonna be really good. It’s gonna be a ton of hard work. It’s gonna be super intense because we;re gonna be harvesting every single day for 8 weeks. IT’s a whole farm season worth of harvesting 8 weeks. So all the marketing and delivering is condensed into a short window! Hopefully it will pay off and be worth it!

I think it will, I think you have some good karma on your side.

Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

We didn’t even finish this season before I was already excited for next season. We are gonna expand our edible flower selection for next year,that was something we just kind of did a tiny bit of and the response was fantastic. It seems like the customers that really like microgreens also like edible flowers. So that is something we’re gonna do more of and also our cut flowers.

So what kind of flowers?

This year we just did violas and nasturtiums and lemon gem marigolds and bachelors buttons, and calendula. But next year we’re gonna try a whole list!

Just? That sounds like a lot!

I’m learning more so we’re gonna be trying and sampling as far as taste.

most of those, except for the calendula, they tasted delicious!

nasturtiums are sweet and peppery and beautiful!

Lemongem marigolds have a very lemony aftertaste. The violas are almost pepperminty and really delicate and delicious! So we’re excited to see what else we can grow for edible flowers. We’re gonna expand cut flowers, we’re really expand our selection of our cut flowers, but I don’t think most of our customers will see most of that because we plant to sell most of those wholesale. I really like selling directly to the florists and let them fuss over making the bouquets, and flowers just gorgeous and beautiful.

I thought about being a flower farmer, so actually I planted 750 sunflowers this year to see if I could cut them and be consistent, I realized that 750 sunflowers is like nothing. I need to be like 750 sunflowers a week,  I could have brought a few bouquets in my house every few days, but as far as taking them anywhere I never actually cut any. I decided I would save them for the birdseed and the birds ate them after all, I got a lot of pictures to paint.

I put the first batch in on Earth Day in April, then the next ones the middle of May and last some at the first of June. The Martha Stewart ones that I put in first bloomed last because they were the biggest and tallest. They were huge 12 feet tall and the huge giant heads. The ones that were most likely to pic. My husband said why don’t you plant the birdseed these packets are expensive. Then they didn’t last in the vases. Lisa Ziegler, suggested pro-cut flowers. She plants 1000 a week.  She’s in Williamsburg. She plants 1000 sunflowers a week. So 750 still just weren’t enough. She cuts 10,000 stems a week during her high season. There were some that were really pretty, they had some deep dark black centers, some Burpees but they came with only 25 in a pack.

They’re pretty expensive. We found that with our tomatoes, if we put...

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