After retirement Witzel expanding produce production
Neil Witzel grew up south of Kasson and was a 1975 K-M graduate and was involved with the school FFA program.
His grandmother (Laura Witzel) used to raise and sell some flowers and poultry, when he was growing up, to doctors and fellows that his dad worked with at the clinic. Witzel said he probably planted his first pumpkin seeds in 1976.
Still, farming was not the first career he was involved in.
He married Amy Anderson from the Sargeant area in 1978 and they built their log cabin house in 1984 on the farm site his parents also lived on. The Witzel’s have three children (they live in Kasson and Colorado) and have five grandchildren.
After getting married Neil worked for Erdman's in the grocery and produce departments for several years. He also was in the insurance business for several years until he sold his agency while going into nursing. He was an E.M.T. and one of the K-M First Responders with the Dodge Center Ambulance and then with the Dodge Center Ambulance stationed in Kasson. Witzel was the E.M.T. of the year once and was on the service for 20 years. He said during those years he was involved with some good and also some real tough situations which takes a toll on a person as he never knew when he would be called upon to face a life or death issue any time of the day.
He attended RCTC and graduated in the nursing program in 1995 and started working at the Fairview Nursing Home and within a couple of weeks went full-time. Neil worked at Fairview for five years as a
R.N. then took the position as assistant director of nursing at Cedarview Care Center then as the D.O.N. for 10 years. He was the director of nursing at Bear Creek Care Services for seven years and retired the summer of 2019.
During these years he and his family started Witzel Farm and Garden.
After retiring from his full time job, Neil decided to increase his vegetable production this year since he should have more time available. He said he has four acres of sweet corn, five acres of pumpkins, 250 tomatoes and 500 peppers, watermelons, onions, eggplant, kohlrabi and cabbage along with many other vegetables and corn.
This type of farming, he said, involves a lot of hand work, such as the staking and tying 120 tomato plants in one section, planting vegetable transplants by hand as they generally start their own plants from seeds and hoeing weeds especially those “pesky” pigweeds which are a big problem.
He uses a JD 290 two row corn planter for his field and sweet corn plus also has adapted plates for planting rows of squash and pumpkin seeds. His sweet corn is spaced out so when one batch is growing a new section is then planted so is able to market his products later as others batches are done. He hopes to have sweet corn up until it freezes, he said, planting yellow, bi-color and some white varieties of sweet corn. He makes good use of his 8N, 9N and an 860 Ford tractors, a Farmall M for farm work plus spraying. His big power tractor is an Oliver 1850 built in 1969. He has a wood chipper that fits on one of his tractors so is able to grind up branches and trees to use as mulch in tree areas.
He said he is not an organic grower as he uses certain non-restrictive sprays for insect and some weed control besides cultivating with a larger tiller when needed.
A lot of his plants are started in his greenhouse for transplanting but other crops are direct seeded. The large amount of snow damaged his high tunnel Feb/2019 and will be replaced when he has the opportunity to get it rebuilt, he said.
To control soil erosion, strips of alfalfa and grass are grown in the sloped areas and it has really helped to reduce the water run off damage he used to experience, he said. Moving locations with crop rotation of vegetables and corn is something that he does each year as it is important in helping control disease problems.
He estimates they have over 250 apples trees with a variety of types such as Honeycrisp, Sweet Tango, Snow Sweet and even the new variety developed by the University of Minnesota First Kiss (which is not yet in production for him). To control insects or blight on his apple trees requires spraying about every 10 – 14 days but since he also has some hives of bees necessary for the pollination of the plants he needs to be careful not to kill off the bees.
Witzel said he does a lot of the planting and harvesting of his crops but also gets some help from his family members when possible. Amy has operated a home cleaning business for many years but helps when she can. There are certain crops she likes to harvest and helps with the planting and harvest. Some of his produce is marketed at a couple of local grocery and hardware stores and he was involved with the Farmers Market at Prairie Meadows but this is not available this year because of the virus.
The majority of his produce is sold at his farm site about a mile and one half south of Kasson on the Oslo road (county road #13) as a self-serve “honor system” as a table display under a canopy. They don't run a self-pick operation or a C.S.A. currently.
He experiences some damage from deer but said “well I guess they have to also eat and of course raccoon's always seem to know when the sweet corn is just right for eating.”
For some reason he has not had many problems with rabbits eating beans as many others seem to have in their gardens.
Sometimes depending on the weather conditions some vegetables just do not grow as he experienced this year with beets and carrots.
Witzel has been involved with the First Baptist church in Kasson for many years in leadership roles. He got involved with the Semcac board several years ago when encouraged by former Dodge County Commissioner Lyle Tjosaas to become a member.
Each year he donates much of his excess produce to the local Dodge County Food Shelf in Kasson and Channel One in Rochester.
Like any farmer it takes a lot of work putting in the crop and it is critical to get the harvesting done at the right time but Witzel really seems to enjoy providing good healthy food for the community and invites people to check out his vegetable stands when the produce is ready for sale.