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September 5th Field Class

With the encouragement of Practical Farmers of Iowa, we will be having a field class on Wednesday afternoon from 1:00 -4:00 pm.

Agroforestry class listens to Tom Wahl near pawpaw grove.
Agroforestry class listens to Tom Wahl near pawpaw grove.

This field class will focus on a variety of tree crops suitable for forest farming systems in Iowa. Attendees will learn about
the production, maintenance and marketing of a handful of the 75 species of crop trees and shrubs found at Red Fern
Farm. Tom and Kathy will take guests on a tour through their agroforestry farm that specializes in nut, fruit and berry
crops, as well as medicinal forest plants, and discuss how they market their crops through U-pick. There will also be an
opportunity to sample some of the non-traditional crops featured throughout the day.

Registration is required: This event is free, but attendance
is limited to 50 people. To register, contact Debra
Boekholder, debra@practicalfarmers.org or
(515) 232-5661 by Monday, September 3.

Agenda:
1:00   Welcome to Red Fern Farm
1:05   Practical Farmers of Iowa Introduction
1:15   Iowa Farmers Union Introduction
1:20   Sustainable Iowa Land Trust Introduction
1:25   Split into two groups and heads to groves
1:30   Group lead by Kathy Dice learns about chestnuts.
Group lead by Tom Wahl learns about Asian
pears, heartnuts, and pawpaws.
2:30   Snacks back by farm entrance
3:00 Groups switch and go to new groves, learn from other guide
4:00 Finale questions and head home

See a field guide of other Practical Farmers of Iowa events at https://www.practicalfarmers.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/2018-Field-Day-Guide_web.pdf .

Bare-root ordering closed for Spring of 2018

On Monday, April 9th, we closed the website for ordering more bare-rooted trees for Spring of  2018. We will reopen the site to ordering bare-rooted trees for spring of 2019 when we know what and how many trees will be available for spring of 2019.

We shipped all orders of bare-rooted trees today and Tom is packing orders that will be picked up from the farm. If you have  an order of bare-rooted trees for local pickup, give us a call or email to schedule your pickup time.

Bags of bare root trees.

Future Permaculture Farm Available in Near Decorah

View of trees and pasture
A view of the Luzum farm near Decorah, Iowa.

The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust announces it is reopening applications for sustainable food farmers from every background for SILT’s premier farm in Northeast Iowa – 70 acres of pasture, organic grain and timber with an historic, well-maintained 4-bedroom farmhouse with solar and geothermal and multiple outbuildings. The successful applicant has the opportunity to purchase the farm equipment interest-free over time. This opportunity, first offered in 2017, is being presented again due to the short window available for the first round of applications.

SILT offers qualified candidates a 3-year lease on the buildings and land which will result in an offer to the successful farmer of a 20-year inheritable ground lease (to be extended as allowed by Iowa law so long as the farmer remains in compliance) and option to purchase the home and barns. No down payment is required, and farmers will gain equity in the infrastructure if they so choose. The current tenant is on a one-year lease, understands that applications are open and has been invited to apply as well.

SILT’s costs include the Payment, Interest, Taxes and Insurance on this property equaling $13,446 per year. SILT administrative charge of 2 percent brings the base cost to $13,800. SILT is offering discounted 1st year rent of $12,800 with second and third year at $13,800. Rental rate is negotiable with the right applicant. Be sure to discuss with a SILT representative.

Potential sources of income include livestock, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seed, AirBnB, agri-tourism, workshops and more. The farm is conveniently located less than 10 minutes from Decorah.

SILT farmers are eventually third-party certified as organic, naturally grown, Food Alliance, biodynamic and for livestock, Animal Welfare approved.

Application materials and deadlines available here. Please read all materials before contacting us with questions at info@silt.org

 

Sales Tax Changes at Red Fern Farm

In Iowa, fruit and nut bearing trees are charged sales tax if the fruit and or nuts from that tree or bush will never be sold. If the purchaser plans to sell the fruit or nuts at any time in the life of the plant, no sales tax will be charged. It all reflects on if this plant is being purchased for a business or personal use.

In the past, we at Red Fern Farm have given buyers the option to purchase plants solely for personal use. This November we are changing that policy. We will only sell to people who plan to sell fruit or nuts from their tree or bushes at some time. This will simplify our website and other bookkeeping practices.

We will not have a minimum order, but we make it clear that you must plan to sell a product from these plants at some time. We will be updating our website slowly through the end of the year to reflect this change.

YOU PICK AT RED FERN FARM FOR 2017

You-Pick at Red Fern Farm is by reservation only. You can call a day ahead to see if there is an opening or schedule your harvest day weeks in advance. We have lots of openings on weekdays, but weekend fill up quickly.

What to Expect: You can usually drive up and park close to the spot you will be harvesting. We have clean latrines, hand washing stations and picnic tables at each parking area. This is a safe area for children, but no dogs or cats are allowed (food security issues).

The grass will be mowed, but not as fine as a lawn. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, prickly chestnut burs are scattered on the ground. Our orchards are in a rural setting, close to “wild” timber. Bring bug repellant.

Aronia Berries: (still available as of 9/29/18) Aronia berries are available free for you-pick. They will hit the peak of ripeness during early September. We have over 2 acres to choose from, with some shade from young chestnut and heartnut trees. Call for more information.

Hazels: (Finished for 2018) Hazels are available at $1.00/pound for un-husked clusters for you-pick. The season for hazels starts in late August and continues to mid-September. Hazels can be picked from the bushes or from the ground underneath. Bring bags, buckets or boxes to collect into. It can take 30 minutes for one adult to pick clean one 10 foot tall bush and gather about 1-3 gallons of hazel clusters.

Pawpaws: Our pawpaw season is now past it’s peak.  There are still pawpaws available on the trees as of 9/29/17, but the season will be winding down soon. Pawpaws are $3.00/pound when you pick them, $5.00/pound when we pick them. Bring buckets, boxes or crates. Ripe pawpaws are very soft and should not be stacked no more than 2 deep. Weekends are very popular, so call early to reserve a time slot. Tuesday – Thursday is an excellent time to have the pawpaw patch to yourself. It only takes about 15 minutes to get 5 – 10 pounds of pawpaws. Late afternoon is the best time to pick, but ripe pawpaws will be available all day. Recipes are available. There is no minimum or maximum for the amount of pawpaws you pick. We do ask you only pick what you plan to take home.
We have many grafted trees. If you want to see what grafted variety you like the flavor of best, bring a black sharpie with you. You can write on the outside of the pawpaw what the variety it is. When you eat it later, you can compare it with other varieties

American Persimmon: Persimmons are available are still going strong as of 9/29/17 at $2.00/pound when you pick them, $3.00/pound when we pick them. The season starts in early September and continues to mid-October. Persimmons are very soft when ripe. They should not be piled deeply in your gathering container. Bring bags, buckets or boxes to collect into.
They can be gathered from the ground or picked from the tree. Slightly under ripe persimmons are very astringent. They will ripen at room temperature if picked early. We have nets spread under grafted persimmons in front of our house. You are welcomed to gather from the nets, the trees or anywhere in our groves.

Heartnuts: Heartnuts are available at $2.00/pound for un-husked clusters or $4/pound without husks (they husk very easily) for you-pick. The season for heartnuts starts in early September and continues to mid-October. The nuts are gathered from the ground under the trees.

Cornelian Cherries: (Finished for 2018) Cornelian Cherries are available at $1.00/pound for you-pick. The season has been mid-August to mid-September. We recommend bringing a gathering cloth to spread under the bushes. The ripe berries are soft and sweet. Under ripe they are firmer and very tart. They will continue to ripen after picking. We have none available already picked (the family eats them up too fast).

Spicebush: Spicebush berries are available for $8.00/pound  or 50¢/ounce for you-pick.  The season runs from early September to mid October.  (Tom reported ripe, red berries on 9/7/17.) You only need a few ounces of these potent berries to add to a variety of recipes. Kathy uses them in pawpaw jam and persimmon margaritas.

Chestnuts: We offer you-pick under our chestnut trees. The season often runs mid-September to mid-October. As of 9/29/17 the 2017 season is starting to wind down, and we have discounted our you-pick prices as a result. We provide tools and buckets for harvest and designate an area all your own to pick for a day. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, prickly chestnut burs are scattered on the ground. The best time of day to gather chestnuts is mid to late afternoon. Plan on coming after lunch and harvest up till sunset.
We have a very long waiting list of people who want to gather chestnuts on weekends. If you are new to our You-Pick, your name goes to the bottom of the list. If you can only come on a weekend, it may be years before you get a chance to gather chestnuts. If you can come on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday you have a much better chance of getting to gather chestnuts. We have started scheduling people to come pick chestnuts for 2017. Call or email us to get on our list. We can schedule you now for weekdays or call you when  other dates open up.

2017 Chestnut You-Pick Prices:
If you want to keep all the nuts you pay $2.50   $2.25/pound for everything you picked up.

We discount that price by 25 cents if you come on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. On these days the price is $2.25  $2,00/pound. (on 9/29/17 we discounted our prices by 25¢ )

If you don’t want all the nuts, we will pay you 50¢ for each pound of chestnuts you gather and don’t take home.
Be sure to bring water and snacks. It takes about one hour for one adult to gather 25 pounds of nuts.
Maps and directions are available or call if you need help finding us.
We are outside a lot this time of year. Be ready to leave a message.

SILT Showcase September 20th

Red Fern Farm and the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust will be hosting a showcase at Red Fern Farm on Wednesday, September 20 from 10:00 – 2:00. The showcase will include a tour of Red Fern Farm’s chestnut and pawpaw groves, lunch (including venison, pawpaw bars, and persimmon brownies), and information about protecting farm land with SILT. A lawyer and appraiser will be available to answer your questions about land easements and other protection options.

Tom and Kathy in Pawpaw patch
Tom Wahl and Kathy Dice standing in their pawpaw patch at Red Fern Farm.

Space is limited, pre-register by Friday, September 15th by emailing info@silt.org or call (515)278-0550 to reserve your spot. This event is free and open to the public.

Red Fern Farm Showcase Flyer

You Pick at Red Fern Farm for 2016

 Pawpaws: We will have ripe pawpaws by mid September. Pawpaws are $3.00/pound when you pick them, $5.00/pound when we pick them. Bring buckets, boxes or crates. Ripe pawpaws are very soft and should not be stacked more than 2 deep. Call to schedule a time to stop by our house and we will show you the pawpaw patch. Weekends are very popular, so call early to reserve a time slot. Tuesday – Thursday is an excellent time to have the pawpaw patch to yourself. Picnic tables and portable toilets are close to the pawpaw patches. The grass will be mowed, but not as fine as a lawn. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, prickly chestnut burs are scattered on the ground. Our orchards are in a rural setting, close to “wild” timber. Bring bug repellant. It only takes about 15 minutes to get 5 – 10 pounds of pawpaws. Late afternoon is the best time to pick, but ripe pawpaws will be available all day. Recipes are available.

Aronia berries: Aronia berries are available at 25¢/pound. They will hit the peak of ripeness during early September. We have over 2 acres to choose from, with some shade from young chestnut and heartnut trees. Call for more information. Link to map below.

Chestnuts: We offer you-pick under our chestnut trees. We provide tools and buckets for harvest and designate an orchard all your own to pick for a day. Picnic tables and portable toilets are close to the orchards. The grass will be mowed, but not as fine as a lawn. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, prickly chestnut burs are scattered on the ground. The best time of day to gather chestnuts is late in the afternoon. Plan on coming after lunch and harvest up till sunset.

We have a very long waiting list of people who want to gather chestnuts. If you are new to our You-Pick, your name goes to the bottom of the list. If you can only come on a weekend, it may be years before you get a chance to gather chestnuts. If you can come on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday you have a much better chance of getting to gather chestnuts. Call or email us to get on our list. We will call you when dates open up to see if you can come.

2016 Chestnut You-Pick Prices:
If you want to keep all the nuts you pay $2.50/pound for everything you picked up.  We discount that price by 25 cents if you come on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. On these middle of the week days the price is $2.25 pound.

If you don’t want all the nuts, we will sort the nuts by size and you will pay a higher price, but only take what you want.
Small: $2.50/pound,   Medium and Large: $2.75/pound,   X-Large $3.00/pound

And we will pay you 50¢ for each pound of chestnuts you gather and don’t take home.

Be sure to bring water and snacks. It takes about one hour for one adult to gather 10 – 30 pounds of nuts.

Maps and directions are available or call if you need help finding us.
But be warned, we are outside a lot this time of year . Be ready to leave a message.

Honeyberries – A New Crop for the Midwest?

Lonicera cearulea – blue honeysuckle, AKA “honeyberry”, “haskap” , and “mountain fly honeysuckle ” – by whatever name you call it, this plant is generating some excitement for its potential as a commercial crop.

Honeyberry cluster on bush.
Honeyberry cluster on bush.

The dark blue berries produced on small, multi-stemmed shrubs 2 – 6 feet tall are similar in size and flavor to blueberries. Like Aronia berries, honeyberries have 3 times more antioxidants than blueberries, but unlike Aronia, they taste good right off the bush. Growers report honeyberries sell out very quickly at farmers’ markets.

In the wild, honeyberries are found growing at the edges of wetland
s and in the shade of boreal (evergreen) forests across Northern Europe, Siberia, Northern Japan, and Canada. In the US they are found in the northern Midwest and in the NE from northwest Pennsylvania through New England. Honeyberries should not be confused with the exotic, invasive Amur and Tartarian honeysuckles. Honeyberries are not invasive; in fact, they need care and attention from humans in order to grow and thrive outside of their native habitats. Although they are cold-hardy to -50ºF, they do not compete well against grasses, and some are damaged by direct sunlight at southern latitudes.

Honeyberries originating from low humidity environments tend to be susceptible to the foliar fungal disease downy mildew.

In the wild, most honeyberry fruits are rather small, and flavor can be quite variable, from sweet-tart to bland or even bitter. In Russia and Japan, extensive breeding programs dating back decades resulted in the development of larger, better tasting berries on more productive bushes. In contrast, honeyberries were ignored in North America until quite recently, but brand new breeding programs by Dr. Maxine Thompson at Oregon State University and Dr. Robert Bors at University of Saskatchewan have already yielded some dramatic results. Cultivars producing better-tasting berries and more than twice the size of any in Asia are now available to growers in the US and Canada. Some of these new varieties are suited to mechanical harvesting.

Despite the rapid advances in the development of honeyberries, some significant challenges remain to be overcome before they become an important berry crop in North America. In the nursery trade, honeyberries of Russian origin dominate the US market. These Russian honeyberries bloom in March, well before the bees needed to pollinate them become active. This, pus their susceptibility to sunscald and foliar disease make this strain the least adapted to our latitude and climate. Worse still, some of the Russian cultivars were deliberately bred to have bitter-tasting berries for adding to Vodka. Some of these have found their way into the US market, leading some to believe the hype about honeyberries is fraudulent.

Honeyberries on bush.
Honeyberries on bush.

A great deal of work needs to be done to explore the limits of the honeyberry plant’s adaptability. “How far south can it be grown?” is a question that remains to be answered (current speculation is that zone 6 or 7 will be the limit). How much moisture do these plants need? Though they are found growing at wetland edges, it has been found they grow best in moist but well-drained soil. No one yet knows what the ideal ratio of shade to sunlight will be, or if this ratio will varyat different latitudes. Fertilizer requirements remain unexplored, except that N rates normal for blueberries can be lethal to honeyberries. Recommended plant spacing is just a guess at this point, and will be different for hand-picking verses mechanical harvesting.

One of the most serious problems facing this crop is the name. Many growers and researchers have adopted the Japanese name “haskap”. Others are using the name “honeyberry”. What you call a crop has a profound impact on its marketability. There are many examples of this, but one obvious case is the “Chinese gooseberry”. This plant was grown in the US for over 150 years, yet no-one was even interested in eating them until the name was changed to “Kiwi fruit”. It takes no explanation for why growers chose to replace the name “choke berry” with “Aronia berry”. “Honeyberry” is an excellent name for something you would expect to taste delicious. “Haskap”, to the ears of Americans, may refer to the lid for a special container for hazardous waste. Although I believe the name “honeyberry” will eventually prevail over “haskap”, I also think that the sooner we kill this name, the better.

Honeyberries are not well known in this country; in fact, most Americans have never heard of them. Much needs to be done to educate the public about this new crop, but I have no doubt that a native berry that tastes this good will have a bright future.  – Tom Wahl

Uncommon Fruits with Backyard or Commercial Potential

Let me tell you a story. The Chinese gooseberry, Actinidia deliciosa, a perennial vine native to eastern Asia, was grown as an ornamental for centuries. Even though it produced a fruit, few people consumed it and it was never found in the market. A few decades ago some enterprising New Zealanders decided to take the Chinese gooseberry commercial. They changed its name and came up with a marketing campaign. Today, kiwi is popular all over the world.   

There are thousands of fruits around the world that are seldom or never found in commerce. Of these, dozens – perhaps hundreds – are well suited to backyard culture and home use. Some of these could become commercially popular if more people knew about them. One example is Actinidia arguta, the hardy kiwi.  Hardy kiwi fruit is a smaller (about the size of a grape), sweeter, and mHardy kiwi fruit held in a hand.ore flavorful relative of the fuzzy kiwi found in stores. Its smooth skin does not need to be peeled. The vine is vigorous to the point of being rampant, requiring a very sturdy trellis to support the fruit load of up to 200 pounds per vine. They come in male and female; males produce no fruit, but are required for fruit production on females.

Another little known fruit with potential is the goumi, Eleagnus multiflora. This small tree or large shrub is a non-invasive reGoumi fruit held in a hand.lative of the invasive pests autumn olive and Russian olive. The potentially heavy crops are sweet-tart and cherry like in size and flavor, but without the pest and disease problems associated withcherry production.  It is hardy through zone 5.

Che, Cudrania tricuspidata, sometimes called “melon berry” or “silk thorn” is a Chinese relative of our native Osage orange. Che fruit resembles Osage orange, but is only 1” – 2” in diameter and deep red when ripe. A more important distinction is that while t

Che fruit on bush.
Che fruit on bush.

he larger Osage orange is inedible, the fruit of the che is chewy but delicious. The flavor is said to resemble a mix of mulberry and fig, both of which are related to che. Though it usually only reaches the size of a large shrub or small tree, che can produce up to 400 pounds of fruit. The long growing season required to ripen the fruit limits the production to zone 5b and south. Development of earlier ripening cultivars could potentially extend its range northward. Like the kiwi, che comes in male and female, but unlike kiwi, some female che will bear seedless fruit without a male nearby.

The Cornelian cherry Cornus mas, is not a cherry at all, but a type of dogwood native to Europe and Asia. Like the goumi, it can produce very large crops of bright red, sweet-tart fruits on

Cornelian Cherries
Cornelian Cherries

a large shrub. The fruits are similar in size and flavor to pie cherries. Also like the goumi, it seems to be unbothered by pests and diseases. Even Japanese beetles seem to leave them alone. They are cold-hardy though zone 4.

A close relative of Cornelian cherry is the kousa dogwood.  In early spring it is covered by large, showy white flowers like our own native flowering dogwood, but on this eastern Asia native the floKousa fruit in hand.wers are followed by edible red fruit. Kousa fruits are highly variable in size, flavor and quality. The best of these have a creamy texture and a sweet flavor reminiscent of paw paw. Unfortunately, kousa varieties are usually selected for ornamental qualities. One single cultivar, ‘Big Apple’, has been selected for large fruit size. So far, no kousa varieties have been selected for fruit flavor or quality.

Mayhaw is a term applied to hawthorns, Crataegers sp., that are highly prized for their fruits. In the stricteMahaw fruit in hand next to jar of mayhaw jam.st sense, mayhaw is C. aestivalis, a species native to the southeastern US. Mayhaw fruits are small, bright red, tart, but rich tasting. The shrub or small tree can tolerate a very wide range of conditions but is usually found on wet or even swampy sites. The mayhaw flowers and fruits very early for a hawthorn. In the Deep South, fruits ripen in May, hence the name. Devoted fans of the mayhaw claim it makes the very best jelly in the world.

More broadly, “mayhaw” may be applied to any of several other species of hawthorn with high quality fruit. Most of these are native to the northeastern US and their fruits ripen in the fall. Arnold hawthorn, C. arnoldiania and scarlet hawthorn, C. pedicellata are a couple of the better known hawthorns with commercial potential.

Medlar is a relative of hawthorns, apples and pears. The fruit of this Eurasian shrub or small tree was one of the most commercially important in Europe during the Middle Ages, but has since faMedlar fruit on treellen into obscurity. The mature fruit is brown, hard, 1” – 2” in diameter, and somewhat resembles a small apple or pear, but with a very large calyx or “blossom end”. This characteristic gave rise to the fruit’s old common name “open arse.” Mature fruit are too hard and astringent to eat. They must first go through a process of over-ripening called “bletting.” When they reach the point of becoming mushy, fully bletted medlars take on a flavor and consistency of applesauce spiced with cinnamon. To eat the fruit you bite a hole in the tough skin and suck the pulp, using your teeth to strain out the large, hard seeds. It is no wonder the fruit has fallen out of favor, and it is not grown commercially anywhere in the world today. Where i
s the commercial potential? Certainly it is not with the general public. On the other hand, even in isolated rural areas you can find groups of people who will spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to dress up in Medieval costumes to attend “Madrigal Dinners” or “Renaissance Faires”. Just imagine what you could charge if you were the only supplier of authentic bletted medlar fruit to su
ch an event! – Tom