Market stories: The Small Farm |Local farms |crescent-news.com

2022-09-24 08:59:39 By : Ms. Phoebe Pang

One of the flower fields at Das Klein Bauernhof located at at 11142 County Road L.

Shown are two different sections of sunflowers. The plot on the left has been planted regularly while the plot on the right has rows of buckwheat growing in between. This is an ongoing experiment with Gerken to try to depopulate the weeds that grow in her flower beds.

Two different sizes of homemade maple syrup that is made by Das Klein Bauernhof.

A Mini Café Au Lait dahlia in full bloom at Das Klein Bauernhof.

One of the flower fields at Das Klein Bauernhof located at at 11142 County Road L.

Shown are two different sections of sunflowers. The plot on the left has been planted regularly while the plot on the right has rows of buckwheat growing in between. This is an ongoing experiment with Gerken to try to depopulate the weeds that grow in her flower beds.

Two different sizes of homemade maple syrup that is made by Das Klein Bauernhof.

A Mini Café Au Lait dahlia in full bloom at Das Klein Bauernhof.

NAPOLEON — Amidst the fall crops and country roads that span miles long, fields of flowers bloom, rows of mums thrive and sap in maple trees sweeten on the acres of Das Klein Bauernhof.

Meaning “the little farm” in German, Das Klein Bauernhof is a small farm within a farm nestled in Henry County at 11142 County Road L. It sits on about 70 acres of land and is owned by the Klein clan, a family of farmers that can be traced six generations back.

The name plays upon the family’s last name, Klein, as well as their Germanic heritage, revealed Andrea Klein-Gerken.

Gerken grew up on her father’s farm on County Road L, alongside her brother, John Klein. It is these two siblings that head the operations of their hobby farm-transformed-small-business, Das Klein Bauernhof.

The business attends the Defiance Farmer’s Market at Northtowne Mall often and offers fresh cut flowers, mums and homemade maple syrup. It exists right on about a half acre of their father’s property. He manages the larger crop farm operation alongside it.

Das Klein Bauernhof unofficially began in 2019 when Gerken was planning her wedding. She was looking to grow her own flowers (statice) to use for center pieces and thus began the ambitious project.

Initially, it was not her intention to create a business. However, in 2020, her sister requested sunflowers for her wedding and it “kind of grew from there,” said Gerken.

The little flower farm became commercial in July 2021, with some cut flowers and about 500 mum plugs. Now, Gerken boasts over 1,000 mum plugs and continuously experiments with various species of cut flowers.

Although Klein and Gerken have experience aiding the crop farm, entering the unfamiliar world of floriculture was not met without its challenges.

Learning when to plant and keeping seedlings alive was a skill that took time to master. For example, some had to be started indoors before they could be planted outside and the siblings also had to combat the forces of nature. In the beginning to even now, seedlings that survived to be planted would get destroyed by animals, bugs and even winds.

They have gotten creative in finding solutions to these issues. To protect seedlings from wildlife, they manufactured a cage to keep the pods in. To fight bugs, Gerken has been trying out tying organza bags over blooms. As for weather — that just comes with the territory, as all farmers can attest.

The siblings noted a difference in farming techniques as well. A lot of the equipment used on the flower fields are much smaller than what they use on the crops. Gerken said they are not exactly organic, but the planting and weeding is all done by hand and there is little to no use of insecticides or herbicides. They utilize irrigation and drip tape, which was a learning process too.

According to Gerken, sunflowers are the easiest to grow, but it is a lot of upkeep. She only grows the single-stem variety and so after it gets cut, it will not grow back. Therefore, in order to keep up with demand, she does weekly planting of sunflowers from April until August.

A lot of the siblings’ knowledge has been obtained through online resources like YouTube and from their own family. Dad is a farmer with years of know-how under his belt and their 87-year-old grandmother, Donna Smith, was also an avid gardener, more than ready to give advice when needed. They are very much their inspirations and mentors.

Another aspect of Das Klein Bauernhof that they picked up from family is maple syrup. The Klein farm has about 20 acres of woods with a little over 100 taps.

According to Klein, their father would make maple syrup for the family when he was younger. After Klein himself graduated high school, he held a desire to get back into those childhood memories and make syrup again. He soon found himself with more than he and his loved ones could eat, so he and Gerken began to sell the surplus.

The process of creating the maple syrup begins in mid-February, around the time temperatures begin to rise. This is when the sap in the maple trees is sweetest, thus making it optimal time for tapping.

“We’re taking surplus sap that the tree doesn’t need,” Klein explained. “We do it in the spring because that’s when they’re coming out of their dormancy and they’re asking for all the sugars at the top of the tree.”

It takes about 40 gallons of boiled sap to make one gallon of syrup. In the evaporator of their self-built sugar shack, 20 gallons of sap is boiled per hour. So, it is by no means quick, easy work.

Das Klein Bauernhof is still relatively young, and Klein and Gerken are still working out the mechanics of things. In the short term, they are trying to figure out ways to become more efficient.

This year, Gerken revealed that they were having issues with weeds becoming rampant. In response, her and Klein are experimenting with growing buckwheat in between rows of sunflowers for maintenance.

It goes without saying that this hobby farm is very labor-intensive, and with Gerken expecting a baby very soon, it shall continue to be so. However, the siblings have no complaints about their “second jobs”.

“We love doing it,” Gerken affirmed. “It’s definitely a labor of love, for sure.”

For these two siblings, the connections that flowers bring and the childhood memories re-lived through syrup make every hand-planted seed and ounce of sap worth it.

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