Pommes de Terre Au Vinaigre

Vinegar Potatoes

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Agronomy Scout School

!Farmers Corn Harvest

Yesterday was a full day of intense agricultural learning at our land-grant university, Penn State at State College Pennsylvania. At the school, a group of fifty (50) entry level crop scouts were provided with the fundamentals necessary for scouting in corn, soybeans, forages, and small grains.

The Agronomy Scout School is mainly designed for scouts working for crop consultants, industry agronomists, or Ag service providers throughout Pennsylvania or neighboring states. Figuring that, as an Organic Inspector, basic scouting knowhow is also an important part of the job to assess the organic field crops during my farm visits.

Some of the sessions were hands-on. Each participant received Agronomy Field Guide handbooks and a some basic tools to use in the field. Topics covered were:

  • Introduction to crop scouting
  • Soil fertility basics and nutrient deficiencies
  • Alfalfa and grass growth and development
  • Corn, soybean, and small grain growth and development
  • Insect ID
  • Disease ID
  • Weed ID
  • Non-pest crop response symptoms
  • Sampling techniques and reporting
  • Stand and population assessments and estimating yield

The added treat was the vanilla bean ice cream from the Berkey Creamery.

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Steely-eyed Missile Man

In case you were wondering, a steely-eyed missile man is A NASA astronaut or engineer who quickly devises an ingenious solution to a tough problem while under extreme pressure. Similar to those of us who farm, and need to make quick decisions on the fly.

And, much is happening this week. First off, Organic Inspection work has begun for the 2018 season, on certified organic farms around the regional area. Just so you can sleep better at night, know that organic integrity checks are being made.  Rest assured that there is a former Steely-eyed Missile Man checking those organic regulations accurately and thoroughly. All to the benefit of the consumers who  prefer certified organic items as an integral part of healthy eating.

A point occurred me recently. A farmer mentioned that a vegetable seed supplier told them that … “It’s ok for organic farms to buy untreated non-GMO seeds because they the same as organic.”  In fact, often this sales claim is flat-out untrue.  And worst yet, it might be intentionally done and meant to mislead the organic-minded buyer. Especially when there is an equivalent organically produced variety available. For example, we prefer to grow a pickling cucumber, called Jackson Supreme, because of it’s shape, good yielding traits and broad range of disease resistance. After an exhaustive good-faith  seed search, we found that this cucumber is not available in an organic variety.  As a result of our documented seed search of at least three seed sources, we purchased the conventional untreated Jackson Supreme seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. However, for our preferred winter squash variety, Delicata, organic seeds are commercially available at Johnny’s. So, we therefore purchased the organic Delicate seeds. And, GMO seeds are never allowed in organic production.  And, prohibitive conventional seed treatments are not allowed in organic production either. And lastly,  some organic seeds are treated with organically approved coatings, such as naturally occurring inoculants, and therefore are allowed for organic production.

sunshine-mix-organicOn a slightly different note, today we ordered a new bale of seed start mix. Happily, it was found that our favorite organic SunGro medium still is available. The Sun GRO Sunshine Mix was recommended to us by internationally recognized potato and tomato breeder Tom Wagner aka “Tater-Mater” for seed starts … “where high air capacity and fast drainage are needed: during winter months, with water or salt sensitive crops, or where frequent leaching is required.” We ordered our last bale in the winter of 2015. We had just enough from that old bale to get our tomato and cucumber seeds started this spring resulting in 4 trays of tomatoes and 2 trays of cucumbers. So, it begins anew.



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Three States, Three Completions

The following narrative provides a story line about organic inspector trainings and a trove of facts about the training sites.  Last year was substantially a year of education. It began with International Organic Inspector Association (IOIA) livestock training that occurred near a 3,800-year-old archaeological site along the Iowa River, in a place called Coralville. This town’s name comes from a fossilized coral reef in Iowa formed during the Devonian period. That being a period of time in the Paleozoic Era occurring about 419.2 million years ago. My IOIA livestock training at Coralville was last spring, almost a year ago already. It seems like yesterday.

In Coralville, there is also a significant Late Archaic site dating back 3,800 years called Edgewater. The archaic period most notably began with mobile hunters and gathers, ending with the adoption of sedentary farming. In terms of years, that period ran from around 8000 to 1000 BC.  Artifacts that were found at the Edgewater site include cooking hearths, flintknapping tools, spearhead points, bone awls and hooks. As a collection the site shows that the food production at that time most likely came by the way of game hunting and fishing in the river waters. However, perhaps the most interesting find at the site were the ancient seeds of little barley and barnyard millet.  These seeds finds suggests that the inhabitants were involved in the early stages of grain cultivation.

And, without a doubt that trend caught on. Now about 90 percent of Iowa is dedicated to farming. Finding foodstuff of the Late Archaic was called gathering, now we call it wildcrafting. Hunting is still done, but it is now more of a sport than a necessity of life.  And, farming is still farming but not much of the modern farming remains organic.  So then, farming seemingly started with the crops and included livestock later on. Much like it was for the completion of IOIA training courses; a lengthy hunting and gathering period, followed by the cultivation of the crop course in Mt. Sterling, Ohio in the spring of 2016, and then the harvest of the livestock course in Coralville, Iowa.

Digging a little deeper – well maybe not literally, other interesting tidbits about Coralville’s past were found. During the westward migration of the mid-1800s, Coralville was a waypoint where travelers made handcarts of native woods to continue their westward trek. It was recorded that each adult was expected to haul 600 to 700-pounds in their handcart and cover about 15 miles a day during the journey. Those journeyers undertook a tough expedition, and in some ways not all that much different than what was expected of participants during the IOIA training course.

(Stay tuned more to come in the following days as the storyline will occur piece-meal)

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Apple Scionwood

Yesterday was scionwood gathering day. These grafting sticks are from local apple trees making them the best material possible.  We will be doing grafting onto rootstocks in a few weeks — so stay tuned for grafting announcements. Until then, the scionwood will be stored in the refrigerator and wrapped in damp paper to keep them fresh.

Apple Scionwood 2018

Four varieties were pruned from the dormant (pre-budding) trees.

  • Smokehouse 
  • Northern Spy
  • Chenango Strawberry
  • Summer Rambo


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Organic Potato Pancakes

With spring-like weather rolling into our area, the free-range hens are giving us some eggs. And with that came this new favorite (first time tried in our kitchen) that was made with organic ingredients. By using the food processor, it was quick and easy to boot.


  • 1 pound of organic potatoes, washed and not peeled. We selected King Harry, which we grew and kept in the root cellar.
  • 2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled. We happened to grow some garlic too. Wild leeks or green onions would work here too, as the seasonal gatherings shall provide.
  • 1/2 cup of organic sprouted spelt flour. Sprouted spelt flour is made from spelt seeds that have begun to germinate. Growers allow the spelt plant break from the seed. Then, they dry and grind it into a fine powder to produce sprouted spelt flour. Many consider this type of flour to be more nutritious and easier to digest than flour made from unsprouted grains. We had some from a local milling farm in the pantry.
  • 2 free-range freshly-gathered hen eggs, cracked
  • pinch of sea salt


Place potatoes in a food processor, and pulse until shredded or coarsely chopped, but not pureed. A box grater could be used instead of the food processor. Add garlic, eggs, salt and flour, and pulse again to mix ingredients together. Try not to over blend — it is best if the mixture remains as a coarsely chopped batter. Heat a cast iron pan on low heat and add a tablespoon of olive or canola oil. Place the Potato Pancake batter into the frying pan in small 1/2-cup sized amounts, and flatten slightly making room about four pancakes per 10 inch pan. Let the Potato Pancakes heat for about 2 or 3 minutes, until golden brown and then flip and repeat. The Potato Pancakes will firm up and get nicely browned when ready.

Next time, we’ll pair the Potato Pancakes with a couple of crispy bacon strips, and add a spoon full or two of home-made Crème Fraiche on the side. That’s sure to be any foodie’s delight without much expense or difficulty to make at home.

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Raring to Grow Organically

Any food that requires enhancing by the use of chemical substances should in no way be considered a food.     

John H. Tobe

Heirloom tomatoes are a seasonal treat. They are not good looking (actually some are very ugly) — Ah but the flavor is close to perfection. Here’s a flat of beefsteaks from last summer. Beefsteaks are the largest varieties of cultivated tomatoes; some weighing a pound or more.  And, our favorite fruit fresh eatin-wise.

Luckily, seeds were saved. The picture below shows the amount of saved seeds from just one tomato. And, we can’t wait to get going with seeds starts later this spring.


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