Patchwork Green is a hillside and ridgetop farm overlooking the beautiful Canoe Creek Valley several miles north of Decorah, Iowa. Our family grows five acres of vegetables on a farm near Decorah, Iowa. We grow a wide variety of high quality, chemical-free vegetables using sustainable techniques.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

First Big Harvest!

What a heat wave today!  After a month of below-normal temperatures and lots of clouds, I think I actually heard the plants growing today.  Heat does wonders for plants as long as they have enough water.  The asparagus spears that were growing about 2-3” per day in the cool weather today grew a foot.  What a difference.

Although I was contemplating delaying our first traditional CSA share delivery due to the cool spring, I think this Saturday, 5/24, will be a great time to share our first big harvest.  The greens that have been growing in the hoop house are at their peak, with good size, color, and flavor.  Perennials and overwintered vegetables like rhubarb, asparagus and spinach have some size, and a few herbs like parsley and chives are a healthy green.

It will be a few weeks before we have enough volume of produce to come down to the farmers market.  But, only a few short weeks!

When the weather has allowed it, we have been scurrying to get transplants in the ground.  The onions seemed to take us about two weeks to get in this year, partly because there are a lot of them (more than 20,000, I think) but mostly because it kept raining and it was too wet to till and plant.  Now that the night temp’s are at or above 50 degrees, we’ll put the tomato plants out, followed by the eggplant and sweet potatoes.  The okra and peppers will wait until June, when the temperature rarely falls below 55 degrees (in theory).  Each to their own season, right?  At this point, I can report that the crops that are in the ground are looking great, and we are almost on schedule with the next round of planting/transplanting.

Erik Sessions and Sara Peterson
Patchwork Green Farmers

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Ahh, sunshine!  Nights above freezing!  Crazy-loud birds every morning!  Yes, we are reveling in spring.  

Nina, our newly 5-year-old daughter, is determined to ride a bike this year without training wheels.  Living on a gravel road with a gravel sloped driveway makes this a challenge, and anyone who can learn in this setting is going to be a great biker.  So, we get the ‘Mountain Lion’ bike out every decent afternoon and carefully make our way back and forth on the most level spot we can find.  The Lion has taught her two older sisters how to balance on two wheels, and I think Nina will master it soon!

The ground is firming up, and the frost is out in many places (but not all).  We have repaired the collapsed end-wall of our cherry tomato hoop house, and will put the ‘skin’ of new plastic on the entire house tomorrow.  Next week, we’ll actually transplant boc choi, kohlrabi, lettuces and beets in there, and directly seed some carrots and arugula.  The week after Easter, when the ground will be significantly warmer, we’ll transplant the cherry tomato crop into the hoop house.  By the time the tomatoes are several feet tall, the early crops will be harvested and out of their way.

It feels like we are finally accomplishing garden work now.  Compost is spread, construction is happening, the last of the 2013 trellises and dead plant stalks are removed.  Although I enjoy perusing seed catalogs, contacting CSA members and seeding flats, it feels good to be doing real physical work again.  Well, other than shoveling snow, that is!

Have a great week.

Erik Sessions and Sara Peterson
Patchwork Green Farmers

Monday, March 31, 2014

Feed The Soil, Not the Plant

As the temperatures rise a bit each week, I’m getting the chance to bury my fingers in the soil more frequently.  It feels great!  

Organic farmers have long held with the mantra, “Feed the soil, not the plant,” meaning that the best long-term and sustainable way to produce healthy plants is to care for the soils that they are growing in, rather than just caring for the needs of the plants on an annual basis.  One of my favorite ways to care for the garden soils is by growing several types of cover crops as green manure.  I’ll get more excited about that aspect in a few months, when outdoor crops are actually growing.  

Right now, I’m focused on potting soil.

For quite a few years, I have been using a soil-less potting mix produced in Minnesota.  I buy several pallets worth of bags and stack it in my basement where I fill and seed the flats.  The mix is organic, and is made up of composted tree bark, peat and poultry litter.  Most of my starts are transplanted to the garden within 3-5 weeks, and don’t need any supplemental feeding with this mix.  But some plants, like onions, tomatoes and peppers, spend up to 8 weeks growing in flats, and they need additional fertility to produce a healthy transplant.  For the last few years, I have been adding some liquid fish emulsion to their water once a week, with decent results.

This year I’m very excited about a newly available local product: worm castings from TLC Organics. TLC is Tom and Leslie Cook, and they are running an impressive operation out of their shop east of Decorah.  My girls and I got a personal tour of their operation this winter, and I immediately purchased 500lbs of castings! 

Using local muck soil, minerals and organic feed, Tom has hundreds of thousands of worms on a rotation.  Every day he works with a portion of them, feeding them and sifting out the eggs.  When the worms have thoroughly worked through their box of soil, they are placed in a new medium and their castings are bagged and sold. 

Worm castings are an amazing product that I have read about for year.  To have a local, reasonably-priced source is great, and I am following the recommended proportions of 1 part castings to 2-3 parts potting soil for my vegetable seedlings.  Because the soil passes through the worm, it comes to life with micro-organisms and the micro nutrients in the soil are much more available to the plants.  The soil ‘crumb’ is a great size, with lots of air pockets in between each piece, creating a healthy environment for plant roots.  Many people swear by the beneficial effects of worm castings on their plants.  While I can’t afford to broadcast the castings over my whole garden, I will hopefully have really healthy and vigorous transplants this year!

You can purchase the above products in Decorah for your own house plants, vegetables, flowers and trees.  Mississippi Topsoil’s “Soil Essentials” is carried by Henzler’s Garden Shop.  TLC Organics will have their magical worm castings available around town this spring in bags from one to 100- pound quantities.  Look for it at the Oneota Coop, local garden centers and maybe at the Farmers Market. 

We still have CSA memberships available this spring!  Check out our website for descriptions and ordering information if you have not signed up yet.  Join the bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, meadowlarks and robins in welcoming spring to Iowa!

Have a great week, Erik Sessions, Patchwork Green Farm

Monday, March 10, 2014

Patchwork Green Farm Weather Excitement!

Check out that weather forecast!  It is actually going to be above freezing every day for the next week, here in NE Iowa.  Finally back to ‘average’ temperatures after a long, cold winter.  Now the question is how quickly the snow will melt.  We’re hoping for freezing temp’s most nights to slow down the thaw and keep the flooding to a minimum.

The space under the grow lights in my basement is crammed with flats of onion seedlings.  This week I’ll be starting the propane heater in the small hoop house, and the older seedlings will move out there, making room in the more climate-controlled basement for the first plantings of lettuce, beets, cherry tomatoes and kohlrabi.  Fresh greens are still a ways off, but salads will soon be much more interesting and local!

We are enjoying hearing from our CSA members as they sign up for another year of membership with Patchwork Green Farm.  Go to our website,, to see all the details of our CSA shares, then get your order in soon.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Patchwork Green's website is live once again!

With many thanks to our web designers/gurus, John and Kate, we have made many fun and functional improvements.  Check out the great pictures from Jessica Rilling and (finally) a few recipes from our kitchen.  Most substantially, we hope that the CSA explanation pages and ordering page are smoother and easier to navigate.

As of February 1st, we are accepting CSA memberships on a first-come, first-served basis.  All the details of the share options are on the website.  If you were a member in 2013, you’ll be getting a letter and order form in the mail in the next few weeks, but you are welcome to go ahead and sign up online anytime.

There has been nothing spring-like about the weather recently, although the extra minutes of sunshine each day are noticed and appreciated.  It’s hard to focus on garden-related projects when there is a foot of snow on the ground and the temp’s can’t make it above 10 degrees for more than a day at a time.  This weekend, we spent hours on the sledding hill, the snowshoe trail and a great, 4’-high X 50’-wide drift. 

The drift had been slowly building all winter, but last weeks’ winds capped the drift with a thick crust of dense, hard snow that easily supported the weight of grownups.  It was begging for a tunnel, or at least a cave, so the girls and I took a shovel and a trowel and started chipping our way in.  After a quick talk about snow-tunnel safety and a sketch of our imagined subterranean masterpiece, we set to work.  It was a good workout!  We were able to dig in a long ways in an hour, and there was much excitement about returning to continue the project asap.  I look at it as good training for all the digging we do in the gardens each summer.

We still have a few cabbage, carrots and celeriac in storage from November, and we have been grooving on variations on cole slaw served with pulled pork, sandwiches and soups.  Here is one variation:

Winter Slaw

Thinly slice half a cabbage (green or Napa).  
On a cheese grater, grate whatever you have and/or whatever appeals to you: carrots, beets, celeriac, turnips, apples.   
Make either a vinaigrette or a mayo-based dressing (for a mayo dressing, start with about 3 T mayo, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, salt and pepper, 1 teaspoon sugar and fresh or dried herbs like dill and parsley).  
 Mix all the vegetables and the dressing together and refrigerate for a least half an hour to let the flavors meld.   
Then, toss again, adjust the dressing and serve.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Winter Update

Weather  The recent cold snap was a wonderful dose of ‘real winter.’  When the temperatures fall as low as they did last week, experts say that the invasive emerald ash borer mortality rate is as high as 90%.  I like when Mother Nature brings things back into balance without humans needing to resort to pesticides, traps and tax dollars to fix a problem we created.  On our farm, these cold temp’s may kill off pests like cucumber beetles and squash bugs, making it easier for us to produce quality vegetable crops this year.

Our four laying hens have a super-cool, lime-green mobile chicken pen that we move every week during the summer, allowing them fresh ‘pasture’ bugs and greens, and providing us with amazing eggs.  The mobile unit has an enclosed area for roosting and egg boxes, but we were concerned about how the hens would handle the negative temperatures, day after day.  Although they are amazingly resilient and tough (and they are not laying eggs this month – not enough daylight), we decided to bring them onto our porch.  This involved a large dog crate, a space heater and some re-arranging of the porch ‘junk.’  The hens were very happy to be warm for a few days, however.  They ate and drank more than usual and seemed very perky.  When it warmed above zero they were quickly re-introduced to their outdoor coop – chick manure is smelly in a confined space!

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a Maine-based seed company that we patronize, is offering a new strain of cherry tomatoes this year.  As if we don’t already attempt to grow 10 different cherry tomato varieties and 15 heirloom and slicing tomatoes!  But, these beauties need to be trialed on our farm (I’m a sucker for tomato trials).  There are seven separate varieties, all striped.  They vary in shape, coloring and size, making an amazing mixed-container combination that is touted to be as tasty as it is pretty.  I’m ready for a fresh tomato, how about you?

Website  One of our projects this month is to update our website (  We have some wonderful new pictures to upload, recipes to add to the menu page and better page layout to implement.  You’ll be happy to know that we are keeping CSA prices the same this year and our Traditional Share and Market Share CSA options are largely unchanged from 2013.  The updated website will be ready for viewing by February 1, and you will be able to purchase 2014 CSA shares at that time.

After a big expansion in our CSA member numbers last year, we hope to maintain and improve rather than grow our member base this year.  That means there won’t be too many new memberships available, so sign up early!

Many thanks to our web gurus, Kate and John!!

Maren Stumme-Diers is promising that the Luther College Sustainability Center will have its’ website updated by Feb 1 as well, with explanation of the CSA reimbursement program for 2014 outlined.  For those of you who participated in this great cost-sharing option last year, your excited feedback has encouraged Maren and Luther to offer even more member reimbursements this year!  Spread the word!