elementary carbon cycling

Today we had a chance to spend the morning with 3rd graders from Creekside Elementary School and the BHSU Sustainability program. Together, we explored the function of animals on the farm and delved into the carbon cycle, observing that nature doesn’t farm without animals. There was also a seemingly necessary amount of ogling chickens and snuggling lambs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe peeked in the greenhouse to see how things had changed since their classmates had been out to visit the farm in early March. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…and discussed the benefits of rotational grazing and farm animal poop as regards to sequestering soil carbon and mitigating climate change. The students brainstormed a whole suite of ways we can personally reduce the amount of CO2 we are contributing to the atmosphere: riding bicycles and walking, not wasting electricity, planting trees, recycling, growing your own food or eating food grown locally. Smart kids.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdditional, tangential topics covered this morning included: food miles, butchering livestock, growing cabbages, alternative energy, hogs used for tree stump removal, the indispensable function of pollinators, annuals vs. perennials, and how riding bicycles is the smartest thing ever. And we did a few jumping jacks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is a great quote from Robert Michael Pye (from The Thunder Tree: Lessons from an Urban Wildland), where he talks about the extinction of experience, how people are losing personal contact with nature, how all-round bad that is, and how we need to get our act together and remedy this. “People who care conserve; people who don’t know don’t care. What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never known a wren?” Like natural areas and open spaces, we seem to have grown disconnected to agriculture, farms, food production. And similarly, as we’ve become more removed from where our food comes from, we’ve set in motion a cycle of disaffection. Bring kids to a farm, introduce them to lambs and chickens and talk about soil fertility and humane slaughter, and it leads to not just an awareness, but a sense of responsibility. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat a treat to be able to share our farm with you. Big thanks, all!

a no-till report

Here is a summary of our experience and experiments with no-till, the development of our thoughts and practices over these past few years, the incredible perks, the frustrating challenges and drawbacks, what has worked well, and what hasn’t.  As we got started, we found limited information about small-scale, no-till mixed vegetable farming. We referenced Rodale and made things up. Even just over these past few years, more stories and examples have been surfacing about growers doing similar things in different areas. If you are interested in no-till vegetable farming, here are some resources you might check out:

Our intentions:

Tillage breaks up soil structure and disrupts dynamic soil ecology. Based on our partial understanding of soil health, of biological and nutrient cycling, we were predisposed to prioritize and nurture our soil. The health and longevity of our farm system and quality of our food is absolutely reliant on -and is a direct reflection of- our soil health.  Having backgrounds in environmental science, we both came to farming via an interest in land health. Although we were convinced of no-till by the book and in our guts, we had no actual hands-on experience growing crops this way.

One of our goals is to minimize off-farm inputs (in terms of fuel, fertility, plastic farm garbage, etc), we’re able to pursue this goal through managing our soil nutrients through a no-till system, using cover crops and crop rotation, hand and bicycle power.

Methods:

We have employed a creative, varied suite of techniques and a veritable rainbow of mulches over the past three years.  We established locations for our permanent beds using a sod cutter. Each 30” row was cut in 2 passes, with an 18” sod cutter blade.  The sod cutter blade was set at 1-1.5” depth, trying to cut below the sod and roots, while having minimal amount of soil disturbance.  In retrospect, we should have gone deeper as we missed some of the perennial root mat.  Glazing of the soil from the sod cutter was noticeable during the first year, limiting some transplant root growth, but by the start of our second year this had been broken down, worked in by worms. After cutting, we manually flipped the sod. Our thought here was that the flipped sod would die out; exposed roots would break down, making a great cleared area to transplant and seed.  This worked better in some places than others.  It did not work in areas where the grass growing is rhizomatous/perennial and where we have bindweed.  We used the sod cutter to prepare beds early during the spring we moved to the farm.  Ideally, we would have prepared these beds during the fall before our first growing season, using heavy mulch and not fussing with the sod cutter.jerm flipping sodnotill_obiandjillWe mulch liberally.  So far we’ve used: newspapers, barley bags from the brewery down the street (triple-ply paper bags, the same width as our walkways; work great, break down within a year), a roll of craft paper (100% recycled, unbleached 36” wide; fancy red-carpet effect, but breaks down almost immediately after first rain), straw mulch (@ $4/bale, 2 bales/bed, > 60 beds, with bonus thistle seed), wood chips, and cover crops. We’ve grown winter rye as a cover crop which worked well to out compete early spring weeds, then laid it down in place as a mulch that we planted winter squash into. This is ultimately the direction we’d like to go with all our mulching – growing it in place as a cover crop.notill_ryeSmall-scale, mixed vegetable growers will often use plastic mulch, but this is something we’d  like to avoid. The plastic is used for one season and then heads for the landfill. Although effective at reducing weed pressure, it’s biologically a net-negative for soil health as it leaves the farm as waste, rather than adding to soil fertility. Biodegradable plastic mulches are beyond our budget and seem creepy.

We use intensive spacing in our plantings and companion planting in order to help out-complete weeds. And hand weeding. We spend a discouraging amount of time hand weeding perennial weeds (grasses). This method seems to be the most efficient at getting rid of the persistant roots. In some beds, we have used a hoe to break up clumps of sod, followed by hand weeding. This is laborious and results in more soil disturbance than we would like.notill_TRANSPLANTINGnotill_mulchingThis year we finally invested in a broadfork; it works infinitely better than a heavy peasant hoe, with less disturbance and better root removal. We had procrastinated in getting one for three years because they are mega expensive, but we’ve had this for a week now, and it’s completely worth it.braodforkTangentially, but pertinent:  we irrigate our beds using gravity-fed drip tape, with water from the Evans-Tonn ditch off of Spearfish Creek. The tape should need replaced every 5-7 years. We have over-wintered the tape on the beds in the field, under mulch. So far, this is working well.  A problem we’re running into is calcium build-up at the emitters from hard creek water.

Challenges:

Effective mulching inhibits early spring soil temperatures from warming up. As mentioned, our biggest weed pressure is from bindweed and smooth brome. We have let early spring dandelions go for the bees and, as a result, some beds have substantial dandelion pressure (but great dynamic accumulators). Good intentions, poor foresight. Heavily mulched no-till beds, as it turns out, are absolutely irresistible forage and habitat for gophers.  The amount of time it takes to prepare the beds, individually and by hand, each spring has been a big challenge.  We have found limitations in direct seeding the beds. Also, claiming the aisles between the beds has been hard, it is currently smooth brome dominated, but we would like to replace this with a low laying resilient ground cover (i.e. white clover).

Successes:

We have very little trouble with annual weeds. Our third year in, we were able to direct seed carrots into certain beds, we even used an Earthway seeder. Progressively, each year, bed prep time is decreasing and weeding, transplanting, and seeding are getting easier.  The soil biology is thriving: so many earthworms, spring tails, and other invertebrates. It’s positively distracting. The soil structure and moisture capacity is awesome – no ponding water, ever. Rarely is it too wet for us to get in the field to work. And, with the heavy mulching (and weeds), we infrequently have bare, exposed soil.

Going forward:

In the future, we would like to pursue more attempts with cover crops, part of this is getting them written into the crop plan and calendar. We need to establish routine monitoring with soil tests.  And continue with proven ninja tactics: persistent mulching and proactive hand weeding.  As soil health improves and soil biology becomes more active, mulch decomposes/ breaks down at faster rates, so we’ll need to figure out how and at what rate to lay down new organic matter/mulch and where to source it from.

Soil amendments so far have included compost applications (our own vegetable compost and composted dairy manure), compost tea, and biodynamic preparations (BD 500 and barrel compost). We’ve used cover crops primarily as weed suppression and mulch and would like to do more with them utilizing soil building capacity.  Buckwheat, clovers, sorghum, and field peas are things we look forward to incorporating into our cover crop rotation in the future. We have a brassica heavy crop list and finding a spot to include a brassica cover crop (radishes) is going to be tricky.

As part of our monitoring, we would like to figure out a way to measure and track how much carbon we are sequestering in the soil.  We can get a rough estimate of this by looking at soil organic matter percentages over time. And then, ultimately, we’d like to be able to compare this to the carbon budget of the whole farm.

Through experimenting, we have learned and will keep learning an enormous amount. Overall, we’re happy with the results we’ve found and the direction we’re headed. We would really love to hear other no-till tales, suggestions, criticisms – please be in touch.

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Since posting this, we have been asked questions about the walking crimper. Here are some notes from Jeremy: There is a photo of our crimper – angle iron on a 2×4 with rope loop handle.  It did not work exceptionally well for us but I think it was more construction flaws than concept.  Most of our aisles are built up from mulching. When I built the crimper I sized it to do the whole row in one pass, this meant the edges crimped well but too little pressure was applied into the lower centers of the bed and we had a lot of the rye pop back up.  We ended up going back in and pulling the rows by hand.  The crimper was a joy to use, easy rhythm, not fatiguing. The piece of angled metal we had on hand (some shelving bracket) was not strong enough and by the end of 500′ the edges taking the pressure had flattened to nearly useless, I think a stout piece of angle iron would probably hold up better.

2015 pi(e) Day Index

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Key ingredients for a most delightful pi(e) day soirée: friends, feasting, and merriment. Thanks everyone for joining us in celebration of all things delicious and irrational! Here is an index for the evening:

3rd annual π/Pie Day at the farm
50 (ish) degrees, gusty winds

19 pies!

7 gluten free pies

1 vinegar pie?!

19 pie enthusiasts
2.5 years old, youngest pie celebrant

3 bicycles

1 nerf football

1 bowl of whipped cream

3 quarts of hot apple cider
7, rumored number of pieces of banana creme pie consumed by one young personOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPrint

pie day 3Heaps of good stories, fun conversation, and smiles. Once again, we’ve witnessed the mathmagical truth, that just as the ratio between a circle’s circumference and diameter is constant – so is the ratio between our levels of delight and the scale of enthusiasm, support, and engagement of our community.pie day

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elementary soil science

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had the chance to spend the morning with third graders from Creekside Elementary School today, discussing the merits of worms and compost, the fine art of mixing potting soil, and the importance of good soil stewardship. This was part of a field trip series has been organized by Black Hills State University Sustainability Coordinator, Katie Greer, and Spearfish Local intern, Jessie Clark. While we visited in the greenhouse, Jessie led the students in a ecosystem services web exercise in the garlic shed, illustrating just how intricately interconnected and interdependent everything is.

Here are a few photos from our morning in the greenhouse.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Checking out soil particle size settled in a water column. Talking soil composition, structure, and glomalin. Rain storms, earthworms on the sidewalk, and how the soil breathes like we do. (An open letter to the group who had to hear about mycorrhizae: It really is awesome. Jeremy in particular gets jazzed about it. Please understand he couldn’t stop himself; it’s such a fundamentally important part of our soil, our no-till farming practice, he just really wanted to share this with you. But you weren’t quite ready for it. We could visibly watch the interest drain from your little bodies as you looked down at the dirt and started kicking tiny dust clouds. Sorry about that, kiddos. Thank you for being so patient, not rioting. Someday I hope you come to love mycorrhizae too. Sincerely, t)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Today was part two of a three-part series of farm tours for the third grade class at Creekside. In total we’ll have a chance to host 180(ish) students, for fall, winter (today), and spring trips. By coming out to the farm during this time, the students are getting a chance to peek in at the inner workings of the farm – more than just the display at the Farmers Market table. There is so much that happens on a farm throughout the seasons, these trips are hopefully building a deeper connection to the local food system. A 1/3 of the class (60 students) came in November and helped us winnow seeds. We talked about the advantages of saving our own seed, regionally adapted varieties, selecting for taste, plant strength and vigor.  We investigated different seed shapes and dispersal mechanisms. Observed how calendula seeds look just like a cartoon hedgehog, (pokemon? I can’t remember). And a BHSU student, Evan, led the kids in a local foods relay, comparing food miles for different types of grocery items.  After each group visits, they return to school and put together a presentation for their classmates; they share what’s happening on the farm, what they learned. The spring trip will be in April(ish), we’re looking forward to it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The no-hesitation, dive-right-in approach to vermiculture is absolutely the best thing ever. Big, muddy high-fives, you guys, we appreciate your enthusiasm for castings. Figuring out which end is the mouth-end was routinely important throughout the morning groups (I suppose it’s always good practice to know which end to address). And finding worm eggs was pretty exciting too.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were so happy to see these kids understand the link between healthy food and the farms and soils that produce it. Thanks for spending the morning with us! 

year in review, 2014 farm digest

We’re already moving quickly into the 2015 season. Seed orders are coming in, boxes packed to brimming are arriving daily. The greenhouse is planted and sprouting in radishes, spinach, beets and lettuce. It’s a party in the greenhouse these days, complete with cotyledon confetti. The chickens are providing us and our neighbors with a plentitude of rich, delicious eggs. And we’ve just opened early registration for our CSA shares. Gears are in motion.

A big part of our winter is spent tallying figures, pouring over spreadsheets, reflecting on the previous year(s) and planning for the next season. It’s important to us to share our thoughts and perspective on farm management, methods and finances. We believe this transparency is key in a strong, healthy food system. And along this vein, we welcome feedback and suggestions. We are learning how to make this work efficiently, holistically, and realistically – any and all input is much appreciated.

A brief reflection on farm finances for 2014 – In 2014, we increased our gross sales by 46% over 2013. Although we increased the number of CSA shares offered, this accounted for less than half of our increased sales. A good portion of these new sales came from pre-CSA season vegetable sales to local restaurants and the Red Barn Market, seed and start sales, and broiler chickens.  This coming year, we will maintain the same number of CSA shares, but we plan on increasing our wholesale markets, broiler chicken numbers, hope to increase egg production, and expand seed and start sales.

A review of our marketing outlets – In 2014, we offered 20 CSA shares for an 18 week season (this was an increase from 16 shares offered in 2013).  We ended up filling shares for 19 weeks, as an early round of bok choi encouraged a pre-season bonus share. Our weekly shares were full, but not brimming as we would have liked. This is a reflection of both the challenging weather and us not keeping up with our crop plan. We were disappointed that many of our beloved, warm season, fruity crops (eggplant, tomatillos, peppers, lemon cukes) never quite made it to maturity before the early September frost. These are the especially fun things to have in the CSA, and not having those to include was a let down for us. We did however have a stellar crop of beets, over and over again. Which is totally worth celebrating. We had roughly 60% retention rate of share members, with people moving and changing lifestyles. In the future, we would like to meet a retention rate of at least 70-80%.

We participated in the weekly Spearfish Farmers Market in the Park. Our experience with this is much the same as it was last year. We’ve been torn as to whether or not we should continue with this market as it does not pay for our time (production, harvest, time spent selling), yet there are things about it that we value a whole helluvalot.  After following the holistic decision making framework, we decided that, despite financial misgivings, we will continue going to the Farmers Market next year.

A new market we’ve added this year is the South Dakota Online Local Foods Co-op, a year-round online farmers market. This is something we are completely jazzed about: cooperatively managed, direct to consumer sales, all local. We’re looking forward to watching the Co-op grow as a strong local market connecting consumers to producers throughout the Black Hills area, potentially bridging statewide in the future. Our plan is sell through the Co-op primarily during the winter months.

Our wholesale distribution last year was mostly limited to pre- and post-CSA season deliveries. There are two restaurants in town that we are lucky to have support from. The kitchen crews at Killian’s Tavern and Dough Trader Pizza have both been tremendously flexible and willing to work with what’s available seasonally. We value getting to work with these local businesses and help put fresh, local foods on their menus. There is something intrinsically magic about this absolutely integral (yet rare in this area) connection between a farm and restaurant, we’re very much excited to be a part of this growing relationship in Spearfish. We’ve also received huge support from what often feels like our extended family at the Red Barn Farmers Market. This extraordinary little shop has become a crucial hub in our local food system, highlighting the work of local farmers and ranchers, and we are so grateful for it.  Having said this, we were not able to deliver as much as we would have liked throughout the growing season last year and are planning to grow more for wholesale to restaurants and the market this year.

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Direct sales from the farm included early spring seeds and starts, egg sales, chickens, grapes and hops, honey and christmas trees.  We have a pretty good array of diverse, complementary enterprises to accompany our vegetable production. Here is a breakdown of our 2014 sales per farm enterprise. Note: this is all but the vegetables.Print

Some of our especially meaningful successes from 2014 – Greenhouse management and production went well last year; great early season yields of greens and radishes, and tomatoes and cucumbers into November. We increased our CSA share numbers and community involvement, and kept up on our calendar and monitoring. Much of our success and happy times last year can be attributed to our amazing BHSU intern, Abigail McBride, crews of students, traveling volunteers, and community work parties who came out to help on projects throughout the season.

An enormous success on the farm last year was in pasture management. We ran three lambs, on daily rotation through our young orchard followed 1-2 weeks later by a chicken tractor. The result of this migration through the field was absolutely, hands down, the most awesome thing.  A textbook regimen for healthy soils, realized.  The stuff dreams are made of. The lambs were our introduction to small livestock(mammal) management. They were a joy to be around and we appreciate the work they’ve done. We slaughtered and butchered them on the farm in October and now our freezer is full of some of the most incredible meat either of us have ever had. The small broiler operation last year went well. We raised 120 chickens on pasture, butchered on farm, and sold them through pre-orders. Feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive, so our plan is to do this again next year – adding two more butcher dates. 2014 was also a pivotal year for us in terms of stress management and communication (we learned heaps about handling and supporting each other when we’re tired and edgy). All this and we found a new-to-us TIG welder.

Our biggest challenges, shortcomings during 2014 – There were many challenges last year, we were tested both by things entirely within our control (time management) and things completely out of our control (weather).  The season felt abbreviated, both shortened by late spring and early September frost and generally cool temps throughout the growing season. We felt stretched thin in terms of off-farm commitments on top of our growing responsibilities. We farmed an additional 3/4 acre field north of town, essentially doubling our vegetable production area. This was a good learning experience as it was furrowed and flood irrigated. Our heavy duty drip tape that we hoped would last 5-7 years is suffering from mineral build-up at the emitters; we’re investigating how best to remedy this without having to junk the whole lot of tape.  A thriving gopher population has taken up residency in both the orchard and our vegetable beds (we’re discovering a few drawbacks to no-till, we’ll report on this in more detail soon).  We ran out of time planting this spring and didn’t get our dry beans in – which wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t such a key player in our staple crop rotation. And we didn’t complete our mid-season planting and as a result had more empty beds that we would like come late summer/fall.

Most successful crops for 2014 – It was a great year for our herb garden, popcorn, green onions, beets and lettuces. We celebrated, with rapture, our first bountiful strawberry harvest. We aced arugula in the greenhouse and spinach in cold frames. Kale was stunning and sweet, oh, and the mustard greens!

Least successful crops for 2014 – We experimented with celtuce last year and, despite our high hopes, good intentions and it’s own reputed tastiness, our CSA members were skeptical and underwhelmed. We won’t be doing celtuce again this year. The same goes for Romanesco. After three years of growing lush, gorgeous plants that never quite get to heading, we’ve decided to use that row space to grow something with a better track record for yield. The cool temperatures of 2014 made it hard for peppers and eggplants. Our no-till methods and very efficient mulching on the potatoes made for wicked good gopher(vole?) habitat and forage. We inter-cropped popcorn and squash, planting them in alternating rows with the thought that the squash would help suppress weed growth around the corn. Weed suppression worked out alright, however, we did not anticipate the tight rows of corn shading out the squash and stunting fruit development.

Goals for 2015 – We’ve gone back to the drawing board on our crop map and rotation plan. Our original crop rotation plan has worked well, we’ve been really happy with it, but it’s not capable of doing some things we want, so we’re scrapping it. We are rearranging our field crops this year in order to facilitate harvest, irrigation, weeding, row covering, and monitoring. We are super jazzed to try this out. Another benefit of this new field layout is that we’ll be able to implement season extension modular, mobile poly-tunnels. We’re planning on building 2 tunnels, each covering 4 full rows, which will amplify temperatures and extend the season for peppers, eggplants, and cucumbers, as well as getting an early start on 2016 spring greens. This season we are putting a focus on increasing quantity and quality of our vegetable production, especially through decreasing empty rows/time, efficient use of crop land, reducing excessive crop diversity, and honing in on varieties we grow well and have a strong market for. We will not be increasing the number of CSA shares offered this year, instead we’ll focus on beefing up the quantity of vegetables in each share. Additionally, we’d like to have regular/weekly deliveries to local restaurants and market, and a farm stand on farm. We’re excited to see how the orchard pasture recovers and adjust our management accordingly. Also, we’d like to resume regular blog posts. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

best of beards

Cycle Farm, bearded since 2012.

Dear friends,

It has occurred to me that our photos from the farm show a decisively striking trend (granted, a trend that’s generally decisive, but not at all striking, regarding perhaps most farms). Beards. Humbly, I have compiled a ‘best of’ collection, beards from the farm which I am so very, very pleased to share with you. These images are wildly uncanny, at times ridiculous, and admittedly enchanting. It is with enormous joy that I present to you the following assemblage of bearded charm from Cycle Farm over these past few years.

With warm regards, Trish

best beard club1ibest beard club1hbest beard club1jbest beard clubbest beard club best beard clubbest beard club1d

(also, mustachios)best beard club_mustachios

Big love and high-fives to all my bearded, mustachioed comrades. XO -t

of easy wind and downy flake, winter happenings

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe get asked frequently about how winter is going, “what do you do in the winter?” It seems as though a small-scale farmer in the winter, in South Dakota, is a strange, curious specimen – as though we were in an elusive club with Santa and rodeo clowns.  We’d like to share with you how we’re spending our time these days, our winter to-do list.

1. Reflection and review: taxes, review finances and budgets, reflect on our previous growing seasons, what techniques worked well, what didn’t.

2. Planning: reevaluating and restructuring our crop rotation plan, plotting the planting calendar, seed inventory and selection, figuring out the cover crop schedule, selecting fruit trees, planning budgets, livestock and pasture management ruminations.

review and reflection

3. Reading: we’re both powering through a thick reading list this winter. Our public libraryand interlibrary loan are amazing resources.

4. Conferences and workshops: Winter (along with our much appreciated farm-sitters) gives us an opportunity to head off-farm to different conferences and classes to learn heaps and recharge. In November, we went down to New Mexico to reconnect with friends at the Quivira Coalition conference  (check out this presentation, Fred Kirschenmann on farming methods and thoughts from the past into the future, and this one too, Dorn Cox on Soil and Silicon).  In a couple weeks, Jeremy is headed to a seed production and breeding workshop lead, in part, by some of our favorite seed growers. Additionally, Trish is facilitating the Farm Beginnings course this year in Rapid City.

5.  Arts and crafts: sewing, knitting, woodworking projects, block prints, painting, spinning. Assorted and absurd indoor creative outlets.arts and crap3

6. Infrastructure design/build, tool maintenance, work on the greenhouse, vegetable wash area, day-dreaming plans for a farm stand and wood fired oven, planning a PV system (and lamenting SD solar incentives).solar

7. Restful time with friends and family. Pancake breakfasts, extreme snowshoeing, ardent board games, sending care packages, eating ice cream. Connecting with our inspiring farmer friends over bottles of wine, plotting chicken feed collectives and local food systems.

8. Cooking, baking, enjoying foods we put up last year. Exploring amazing lamb recipes.

9. Scheming: winter is planning time for Spearfish Bike Week, a seed swap (coming up here soonFeb 22nd), Pi Day and summer farm events. So much to look forward to. seed swap banner

10. Teaching Radish new tricks. Last winter, Radish dazzled us by learning a one-command multi-part trick, “How do you want your mocha this morning?” She’s now working on a pawkour routine (a la parkour). She’s got hellagood ninja inspiration.

Panoramdemonium 2014

Woolly socks. Sleeping dog. The tea kettle, spitting, hot on the stove. Seed catalogs stacking up. Jeremy scheming crop rotations. A productive, yet wonderfully restful winter.

It has become a tradition, in the beginning of the year, to reflect back on the previous year through photos from our quarterly monitoring exploits. Here we are, panoramdemonium 2014. If you’d like to start from the beginning, check out 2012 and 2013. Like traditions tend to do, ours has morphed, it’s evolving – a smidge. We embrace tradition and revolution equally around here, after all.

Here is the view of the orchard and hop yard from the beehives over the course of the year.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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2014Dec_hopyard and bees_11x4And here is the view of our main vegetable field from the north gate.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince starting, we’ve added a number of points to help better track changes on the farm. We now have just about 25 spots that we take photos from four times a year. One of the photo points we’ve added, for instance, is a shot in the greenhouse.2014photomonitoring_in the greenhouse Also, since establishing points, we’ve made the somewhat frustrating / disappointing / unfortunate / we-should-have-known-better discovery that due to the dates we selected (solstices and equinoxes), we are missing much of what we are trying to monitor – peak growth during the summer.  June is early yet and by September, frost has already hit. We initially chose the solstice and equinox for monitoring dates because they were evenly spaced dates and easy to remember. Additionally, there seemed to be a certain poetry or romance with monitoring the passage of time on the farm according to the celestial seasons. Now, three years into this, we’ve concluded the monitoring dates are cute, sure, but not entirely effective and will need revisiting.  Perhaps photos from CSA week no.x? or Labor Day weekend? August 14th? We’ll figure something out and report back. Tradition, revised.

Winter gives us an opportunity to spend time working on plans for the next season, reflect on things that have worked well and things that haven’t worked and need tweaking. Having this bank of photos from the past years has provided fodder for ruminations and stimulated some good conversation.  Namely, when will we have time to get the back wall of the greenhouse cobbed? why is there always stuff (piles of wood chips, straw bales, folding tables, upside-down lawn chairs) in our front yard? how do we better manage our planting calendar to maximize yield from the greenhouse beds? and why doesn’t everyone plant fruit trees in their backyard? We’re putting together more thoughts about the year overall and are looking forward to sharing that  here soon.

Wishing you all a wildly happy and delicious New Year!  J&T

 

ginger

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGinger, ginger! Oh bliss! Oh glee!

We grew a trial batch of ginger this year. Here. In South Dakota. We had been introduced to high latitude ginger farming at the conference at Stone Barns, in the Hudson Valley. Even without a full, long season of heat, ginger can be grown in a greenhouse and harvested early, as baby ginger. Amazing ginger. It is touted as delicious, versatile, highly valued, easily marketable, and, of course, totally hip. And, as it turns out, the north wall of our greenhouse is a bit like the north shore of Hawaii. Happiness abounds!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Baby ginger is also called ‘pink ginger’ or ‘spring ginger’, sometimes ‘ginger’s mild-mannered younger sister‘.  Unlike the characteristically gnarly mature ginger, baby ginger has a more mild flavor and is less stringy. Plus it’s thin-skinned and doesn’t need to be peeled.

We are thrilled beyond measure to be including ginger in the CSA shares this season. CSA friends: on the off chance you need some ideas, things to think about and google recipes for, consider candied ginger, pickled ginger, tea, Kimchi, ginger juice cocktails, dried ginger. The greens can be added to a dish (soups, stir fry) while cooking for additional flavor, just remove them before serving as they are tough. You can also freeze your ginger, for use later this winter.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A few notes on storing your baby ginger: remove the fronds and store separately in the crisper drawer of your fridge. It may become rubbery, that’s ok. A clever NYTimes‘  Dining and Wine writer reports: ‘It keeps for up to two weeks in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic. It should stay moist, so wrap it in a damp paper towel. It can be frozen as well, packed in freezer bags. The younger the ginger, the more damage freezing does to the texture, so it will be too pulpy to chop; try grating the ginger directly into dishes while it is still frozen. You can also submerge ginger in a neutral spirit like vodka, and it will over time impart a delicate, spicy flavor.”

Here is some baby ginger reading from NPR, with recipes – Tickled Pink: Fresh, Young Ginger Is A Sweet Break From Gnarled Roots. And more smart ginger recipes, ideas from The Guardian, The 10 Best Ginger Recipes.

And here’s a recipe for The Best Homemade Ginger Tea Ever (from MindBodyGreen)

1 Tbsp. fresh grated ginger
2 cups filtered water
1 Tbsp. raw honey or pure maple syrup
½ lemon, juiced

Optional: 1 cinnamon stick, Chamomile flowers, Echinacea tincture, Fresh mint leaves, Pinch of cayenne pepper

Peel the ginger root (pink ginger probably does’t need peeling) with a peeler or with the handle of a spoon. Grate the ginger with a grater/zester. If you slice it, slice it thin and use more. Infuse the ginger; if you add cinnamon, mint, chamomile or cayenne, add it here. If you are using a saucepan, bring the water to a boil, add ginger and turn off heat. Put the lid on it and let it steep for 10 minutes. If you are using a teapot, add ginger in the teapot and pour boiling water in it. Let it steep for about 10 minutes. If you are using a saucepan, strain the water to remove the ginger. Add fresh lemon juice and natural sweetener if you like. Stir and enjoy! If you want a cold tea, let your tea cool down, store it in the fridge and add ice cubes before serving.

frost, Farm Aid, and feathers

We got our first hard frost on the farm last week. The cold snap was well forecasted, so we had just enough time time scurry around. But really, we could have used at least 3 more weeks. Cover up, tuck in, and haul out. Below are some photos and narrative.

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The grape harvest this year is great. We’re still working on getting the vines all oriented in a trellising style and on pruning cycle that works best and we like. It was great fun this summer watching the vines respond to compost tea applications (maybe it was the tea?). We have grapes for sale, contact us if you are interested. They’re Valliants which make excellent juice, jam, and jelly.hop harvest

Hops are in, spread out on screens, and drying. It was a late afternoon, turned full moon night harvest in order to get the cones in before the weather turned. Grateful for Randi’s help. This year, the hops will be dried and packaged in 1-oz vacuum sealed bags for local hombrewers. There are 16 different varieties, we were able to harvest from 6. The eventual goal is to get our Cascade row in production such that we have enough yield to take down the street to the brewery.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We harvested out flats, boxes and bags, crates and coolers, bushel baskets and tubs of ripe and nearly-ripe produce from the field and spread out almost 1000ft of remay/row cover with well-wishes and hopes that what was left just might survive the snap.

under remay

A wet 1-1.5″ of snow the next morning greeted Jeremy early morning for the CSA day. (the newsletter is coming shortly, this week’s is online here). I took off on Wed afternoon to go to Raleigh, NC for Farm Aid leaving Jeremy to fly the farm solo.

Sept 11 CSA share

frost 25deg Fri AM

…and the following day it fell to 25 degrees. (Meanwhile, I’m visiting a farm in Raleigh where okra is growing over my head and raspberries are fruiting in excess, spreading out around a banana tree).

after the frost_devistating acres

By the time I returned, it was clear, summer had swan dived into a deep pool of autumn. She just peaced – didn’t even leave us one ripe watermelon.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

There is an ever-growing list of things to do. Though after returning from Farm Aid, we’ve got some good new energies fueling us along.

As a farmer and member of Dakota Rural Action, I was invited to attend last weeks’ Farm Aid workshops, farm tours, and concert. Farm Aid has generated a loyal following for its big name, mega hip benefit concert.  However, Farm Aid is a whole helluvalot more than just a hip concert. Farm Aid represents an extensive and diverse national network of organizations and people, all advocates of small family farms (DRA is one of these). The three-day event began with inspiring keynote presentations and round-table discussions, offering a platform for exchanging ideas regarding how to cooperatively and effectively push policy changes and build strong, healthy food systems. It was an honor, a blast, and absolutely humbling to be surrounded by so many bright, motivated, passionate people. The following day, we got a chance to visit a couple local Raleigh city farms, featuring a farm incubator, a farm accelerator, and a banana tree. And finally the concert event, which was simultaneously jam-packed full of learning, sharing, and networking opportunities for folks around small farm topics. Thank you, DRA, for bringing me along.

Since getting back, I’ve been gushing to Jeremy about all the extraordinary highlights – three days, a lot to think about. Good fodder for conversation as we clean up what the frost left behind.

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One last thing: we have Cycle Farm chickens FOR SALE. We are butchering chickens this Sunday, September 21st. The birds came to the farm as day old chicks in the mail from a hatchery that specializes in pasture-raised poultry. The birds spent the summer on pasture, in tractors, in rotation a few days after the lambs. Along with natural forage on pasture, Jeremy has been mixing a feed to ensure they are getting the proper protein and minerals they need. The feed is a blend of organic and transitional whole grains, all non-GMO. The birds are doing really well, we’re pleased with how healthy and active they are. We’re also thrilled with the positive impact they are having on the land and vegetation in our orchard. They will be 11 weeks old and we’re hoping they will come in at around 3.5 – 4 lbs each, dressed weight. Our average weight for the first batch was 3.7 lbs, ranging from 2.9 to 4.5 lbs. On Sunday morning, we will slaughter and clean the birds, and cool them in an ice bath. If you are interested in purchasing some chicken, please let us know as soon as possible. We will have the birds available for pick up on Sunday afternoon from the farm. This way, if you want to cook it up fresh you can do that, or take it home to freeze whole or parted. We’ll be charging $4.50/lb for the birds. This price reflects the cost of the chicks, their feed, and, in part, their tractor, waters, spa membership fees – and hints at paying for our labor. Please contact us if you would like to reserve a bird(s) or have any questions.

-Trish