save it for later, storing vegetables

Yesterday’s super special bonus CSA share included heaps of potatoes and parsnips, garlic and carrots. There were a number of good questions on how best to store things, so we’ve put together some quick tips. Don’t fret about not having a root cellar. Here are some ideas on and tips for vegetable storage in a typical home:Your refrigerator, usually set at about 35-40 degrees F, is a great spot for roots and greens (beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, radishes and cabbage, kale). Store these in a plastic bag (the fridge is a great dehydrator); if you prefer, wrap roots in a paper towel to wick away moisture, then tuck into a plastic bag. For roots, cut off the greens and store separately.An unheated (but freeze-proof) room, closet, garage, entryway, attic, usually between 40-50 degrees F, is a great spot for garlic, winter squash, onions, and shallots. Keep onions and shallots and garlic in a dark spot, or they’ll sprout. For winter squash, make sure they are not touching and they have good airflow between them. If you want details as to why not to stack your squash, we’ll be happy to show you the squash soup stains on the floor of our basement. Completely nasty.

A cool damp area (between 33-50 degrees F), like your basement, is a great spot for storing potatoes. Keep these guys in a dark and ventilated area, a cardboard box, a wooden crate, a mesh bag (not a sealed plastic tub, or plastic bag); and don’t store potatoes with apples. Apples give off ethylene gas that will spoil your potatoes.

Visit your stores every once and a while and check things over. If anything has gone soft or funky, get it out of there quick.

Put it up!

autumn update, in photos

The sandhill cranes have been flying over in super high vees these past two days, with their rolling, gurgling, chortle calls. The robins are gone, replaced by blue jays. Elms are doing that amazing yellow thing they do. It’s nearing mid-October and we’re still picking cucumbers in the field. We had a few wet, rainy days that teased us with fall and sweaters and cold hands harvesting greens, but this evening, as we unloaded compost onto next year’s winter squash beds with the sun setting, the thermometer read 75 degrees.

Here is an abbreviated autumn update from the farm, mostly photos.Acidanthera, fragrant gladiolus, blueberries milkweed chickens octoberWe tried out some bulbing flowers this year, testing our interest/ability/capacity for cut flower production. It’s incredible fun to include flowers in the CSA shares and it would be great to offer local, organically grown flower bouquets throughout the season. This is something we’d like to work on, figuring out the timing and diversity. It’s on the range, but shoved over on a way back burner …behind weed management and finishing cobbing in the greenhouse and a new gate for the chicken yard and… The mushroom logs responded well to this recent wet spell. This year we tried out shiitake, oyster and wine cap. For being somewhat neglected, they’ve been doing well this predominantly wet season. Despite our best intentions to curb superfluous farm projects (tangents? whims?), Jeremy somehow snaked in a patch of hardy blueberries this spring. They plants look great and we even got a crop of fruit this summer (like 7 berries).  We just wrapped up our final batch of pastured chickens last weekend. We raised 4 rounds of 50 Freedom Ranger chickens, took pre-orders, and sold chickens fresh from the farm the afternoon after butchering. This process worked well and we really appreciate our customers’ flexibility in scheduling and enthusiasm for good meat.cucmbers CSA grilled tomato seeds october The summer season produce just seems to keep on coming. The shares this year have been heaped with greens and cucumbers, summer squash and roots. We’ve been struggling to get peppers and eggplants to ripen before the slugs get at them and we lost out entirely on winter squash, tomatillos, broccoli. Our meager two rows of cucumbers have far outdone themselves, some of our CSA members have been canning and we’ve even been able to deliver cucumbers to the Spearfish Food Pantry. The farmstand has become a routine part of our week, with both the CSA pick-up and our Friday night market. It’s such a good space. And we just rotted, rinsed, and dried oodles and oodles of saved tomato seed. Still need to chase out the last of the lingering fruit flies.collecting bales As part of our no-till bed management, we stocked up on a whole heaping mess load of strawbales. We’re immensely grateful to have found a source for untreated oat straw to use. Plus we got to spend some time tossing bales in the shadow of Bear Butte.october bedsThis extended season has graced us with more time to tackle our absurdly long to-do list. One extra big check off the list was getting one of our field tunnels covered. This summer we constructed two modular low tunnels that we’ll be able to move with our crop rotation each year. With these tunnels, we should be able to increase our early spinach and other spring greens yield and help give our peppers and eggplants longer frost free time in the fall.installing solar panelsAnother big check off the list was getting our new PV array installed. With enormous help from Jeremy’s father, Dave, our new friend and comrade in clean energy, James, and our solar sage in Bozeman, Sarah, we are now able to produce good food AND electricity using sunshine.krauting workshop with Cis and RadishThis week we got to host a sauerkrauting workshop led by our friend and comrade in krauting, Cis Rongstad. We learned so much and are appreciative of Cis sharing her experience and knowledge on the chemistry, biology and good flavors of kraut. Cis brought 6 different types of kraut to sample(!); lemon dill, cortido, classic kraut w apple, kim chi, and a zucchini relish with fermented tomatoes(!!)… My favorite was one with curry spices, Cis’ recipe is shared in the Cycle Farm community cook book here.kale diverisityAnd lastly, here are some photos from our 4th annual Harvest Party celebration just this afternoon. We appreciate having the chance to share our farm with friends and neighbors, snuggling the lambs and taste-testing garlic varieties, gorging on a flight of potatoes, rainbow pico de gallo, ciabatta and chocolate beet cake. Conversing over edible flowers and a kale breeding project, guinea recipes and raspberry production, broom corn and sauerkraut. To all our Cycle Farm family: your support and enthusiasm means the world to us. You inspire us everyday. Thank you. potato flight and beet cake

Wishing you all a happy harvest season! Full bellies and big smiles, T and J

farm animals and harvesting beetles, garlic

Our schedule on the farm, day to day, has been quick-paced and varied. At any given time there are twelve things that need to be done. One urgent task may require four other things be done before finally getting to what you originally set out for. Some things are reliant on weather. Trays of succession plantings to seed, fall transplants to get in. Weeding carrots, thinning beets. Looming infrastructure projects that need tackled before the weather turns. Just as you feel settled into an every-other-day snap pea harvest schedule – BAM – better get those summer squash, quick! Each week’s CSA harvest brings something new. And now: potato beetles. The swelling to-do list evolves with the season, the length of the days. It’s a little shotgun, a little roller coaster.

However, there is also an underlying constant, a reliable rhythmic structure to the farm cycle – animals. Looking after the lambs and the chickens provides a very routine heartbeat to our growing season on the farm. Moving the tractors, grinding feed, carrying water buckets, tending to the brooder babes. Every day. Time spent watching the animals, checking in on how they look, their behavior. What are they eating? How much are they eating? This time is necessary and can’t be rushed – we work on their time.  Caring for the animals provides us a solid rock steady beat to our otherwise Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew farm schedule.

Pasture management proceedings. Pasqual, Isidro, and Ambrose are doing a great job, mowing, feasting, ruminating. Spirited, endearing and affectionate, each with very distinct personalities. We have them in a 10×16′ hog panel tractor (pronounced lamborghini) that moves (typically twice) everyday through the pasture ahead of the chickens. The hog panel tractor helps protect our young fruit trees from being wantonly pruned, it also ensures an even grazing of the pasture. By the time we move them, the lambs have generally mowed down everything evenly within their tractor area, rather than picking out just the best bits and over time selecting for a junky pasture forage profile. They avoid flax. They devour dandelions. Everything is trimmed down to chicken-friendly height.  A few days after the lambs, with the pasture grass newly mowed, the chicken tractors move through.Here’s a link to a short video of Jerm moving one of the tractors. The birds quickly figure out what it means when the walls start shifting. They line up on the forward edge and chase the tractor onto fresh grass and new buggy breakfast. The area they leave behind is covered in a healthy coat of chicken shit, all the grass has been pecked away. It seems pretty bleak. But then, in a week or two, the grass is back, dark green and lovely. The diversity and vigor of what grows after being swathed by the lamborghini and chicken tractor is gratifying and inspiring.  We’re excited about this for a variety of reasons, including: healthy, happy animals, providing good meat for our community, soil carbon sequestration, growing pasture diversity and nutrient cycling.In the brooder, we have our season’s last batch of little peepers, now not yet a week old. These will move out to pasture in a tractor at four weeks old and be butchered come late September/early October. If you are interested in, or would like more information on, pre-ordering some of our delicious pastured, non-GMO chicken, contact us.

As relates: we have a handful of brand-spankin’ new little keets on the farm as of this morning. The tiniest, most adorable, fluffball-things you ever did see. Soon to be obnoxious farm buskers, self-trained tick assassins.Also this week: we are defending our potato crop from an attack of potato beetles at the Eddy field. This involves hours of hand-picking bright orange larvae and stripey beetles off of our nearly denuded plants. Every other day. We haven’t yet made beetle pepper, but we’re thinking about it. We have seven different varieties of potato planted in about a 1/4 acre area. Some of these varieties are holding up against these little villains much better than others. One section of this field is being hit harder than others, this same section had been planted with potatoes last year. The Russian Banana Fingerling are holding strong, but unfortunately, the German Butterballs are getting annihilated. The gbs are in the section of the field that had been planted with potatoes last year. So we’ve got new potato butterballs in the CSA shares this week. Since starting our beetle collection and squishing strategy, we’ve noticed new, green growth on previously sorry potato plants – things are looking up.

This is a field we are leasing, north of town – an acre of dry beans, popcorn, winter squash, and potatoes. We have potatoes planted in our own field (at cyclefarm) and have never had this type of potato beetle pest problem. There are so many different variables that might explain this (land management, tillage/no-till, crop rotation, resident predator insect population, varying soil nutrients, moisture, and plant health). It’s been a great learning opportunity and has given us a whole lot to think about; we’re feeling appreciative of our healthy plants and the management decisions we’ve made here on our own fields.Between routine potato beetle collections, we harvested our garlic beds. Garlic is a special crop to Cycle Farm, our first seed planted and this best-yet harvest has us feeling hugely rewarded. There is something earthy-magic to the stinking rose. A mysterious gift to unwrap. The wily shrunken head, lleno de dientes. Toxin-buster cluster. Sticky fingers and the thick, enduring smell.  Four different varieties of garlic (nearly 1500 heads) are laid out and hung up to cure in the shed. Some of these are saved from seed originally planted in 2011 – great granddaughters – by our friends, Obi and Jill, at the very very beginning of Cycle Farm. Much of these we’ll set aside as seed for next year in the hopes of expanding our garlic production. Half the fun of harvesting garlic is getting another chance to peek in and explore this amazing soil – what thankful farmers we are.

The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life. – from The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry (..and here’s another good read, The Pleasures of Eating from What are People For?)

midsummer farm update, in photos

An update from the farm, mainly photos. Our crops and hearts got crushed earlier in July with a hail storm. We’ve re-trellised and planted out new flats of greens and brassicas. Some things are rebounding brilliantly, other things (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) still look feeble and sorry. We’re offering them gentle encouragements, spread with a thick layer of hope. field tunnels leeks squashWith the storms and the slugs, we got a bit mopey. To combat this, Jeremy took me around on a special “there’s lots to celebrate here despite the mess” farm tour. He brought the camera. The following are shots from the tour: the St John’s Wort in the orchard, showy milkweed in the herb bed, a soon-to-be sunflower by the compost, and rudbeckia blooming by the farm stand.july flowersAnd greens, so many greens. New lettuce plantings are filling in. The peas are sending out new flowers.July greensLast Friday, we had a chance to visit with Linfred and Ron Schuttler on the porch of the farm stand. With vegetables on the counter and glasses of ice water in hand, we heard stories about their family farm, Lumbago Acres, the farm stand, and agriculture in the valley during the 50’s and 60’s. There’s a great article in the Black Hills Pioneer sharing some of these wonderful stories from our conversation together.visitingThe first batch of pastured chickens were butchered and sold last weekend. We feel enormously appreciative about how everything went. The morning slaughter and butcher went smoothly, everyone calm and happy – both the birds and the people. We had great help. The birds averaged 4 pounds. We’re very grateful for having sold out of chickens. If you are interested in reserving a fresh chicken for next time, please let us know.  Thank you so much for supporting small-scale, thoughtfully raised, and humanely slaughtered meat.Additional celebrations! My niece has been visiting this week. Getting the chance to share the farm with an inquisitive, brave, and energetic nine year old is awesome. Thanks for coming, Elora – and thanks for rallying your Dad and Gamma to come too. elora ann on the farmAnd celebrations continue! A wedding on the farm! Our friends and all time number one farmer-inspirations, Eowyn and Jacqui, were married in the shade of the grapes, between the blooming valerian and the lemon sorrel this past Saturday. Thoughtful words, joyful smiles, and beautiful bouquets of wild carrot. So much love.

For our CSA, we put together a weekly newsletter with an update on farm goings-on. If you are interested in finding out more of what’s happening at Cycle Farm, check out the newsletters posted online here each week. We also have a new CSA cookbook, an ongoing online collection of recipes and kitchen inspiration you might like to poke through.

Happy summer, happy feasting!



agrarian riddims, side c beats

Originally inspired by Grist’s mixtape love letter to the parks, we’ve been putting together annual summer mix tapes featuring agrarian-inspired riddims. Check out these links to our previous mix-tapes, Volume 1 and Volume 2. This year, we’ve pulled together some great tracts to accompany our particularly tempestuous season. We hope you like these melodies as much as we do. Turn it up, up, up.

Burning Spear – Man in the Hills

Proper King – Farm Di Ground

Mungo’s Hi Fi – Bike Rider

Sarah Lubo and Kabaka Pyramid – High and Windy

Protoje and Chronixx – Who Knows

Buju Banton – Not an Easy Road

Dezarie – Hail Jah

Protoje and The Indiggnation – Hail Rastafari

Shabba Ranks – Tough Life

Lee Scratch Perry – Rainy Night Dub

Webby Jay – In the Rain

Martin Jondo – Rainbow Warrior

Promoe – New Day

Israel Vibrations – Mud up

Sister Charlotte – Weeding Dub

Beany Mann – Insects Nuh Bother We

Clinton Fearon – Better Days

Winston McAnuff and Fixi – Garden of Love

Big beets, big thanks, t and j

farm stand

We have been having much deliberation about the season, a lot of ruminating on time, finances, and the Farmers Market. Right now we’re feeling enormously swamped on the farm, too much to do, only two people, not enough time. We’ve decided we have to miss the Saturday market this summer. This has us feeling torn and disappointed, we love the market so very much. However, we’re also really looking forward to having the additional time to spend in the field and finishing projects. One of the projects we’re especially excited about is fixing up an old farm stand, which we’re planning on using for our CSA pick-up and for on-farm sales. Our hope is that we can still make our produce available to customers while being here to manage the farm, care for critters, tackle chores, etc. We’re still finishing construction/repair on the farm stand and haven’t yet set open hours. Please stay tuned. We hope that you’ll stop by the farm stand and see us! Of course, you should also hop on your bike and go visit our friends at the Farmers Market too!

A bit more about the farm stand: This farm stand was originally built by the Schuttler family in the early 50’s on their farm property at the corner of Evans Lane (then Lower Valley Rd) and Old Hwy 14.  They sold everything from honey and canned jams and jellies, eggs and herbs, potted plants, and a whole array of diverse vegetables and fruits. All seasonal and local and amazing. This is a photo courtesy of Linfred and Ron Schuttler of their parents’ stand in operation.   The Schuttler’s family farm was called Lumbago Acres, aptly named because it had a ‘crick in the back’ – before the highway was built, Spearfish Creek flowed along the north property boundary, through the back of the farm.  The stand was last used as a market space in 1976. Here is a shot of the farm stand at the original farm, circa 2013. When we first moved to Spearfish to start farming, Ron Schuttler graciously offered us the stand if we could figure out a way to move it. For three years it’s been on our to-do list (indeed it’s printed on our business card). This spring, we contacted a couple big-truck towing, fork-lifting, hauling companies to see about having it moved, but were repeatedly warned that due to rot and age, moving it would crumple it.  Jeremy and his father, Dave, were confident in it’s structural soundness. Jeremy had already transplanted the lilac hedge. It would move just fine. Together, the two jacked it up, corner by corner, on bricks and beams and coffee cans and marbles. Such a good team. Once it was up high enough, Dave backed a trailer underneath. Once here, in the driveway, they reversed the process jacking it down, corner by corner. Finally, setting it down on boards. Using pipes as rollers and fun trigonometry, a tiedown strap to lift a crab apple branch out of the way, a come-a-long and moxy, the farm stand found its way into place at Cycle Farm.on rollers Between time on bed prep and planting in the field, we’re working on getting the farm stand usable. The rot is cut out. It’s now sporting a fabulous new porch, with great rocking chair potential, and new roof boards. roofing Even after 40 years unused, the farm stand is in remarkably good condition. It’s such a great space. Everything so smartly laid out and built. Complete with, hinged counters, shelves, hanging produce signs, and a wonderful, little sliding glass window in the back. The counters and shelves inside are all preserved well under a generous layer of dust, spider egg casings, and cob webs. Newspaper comic strips stapled to the walls, and photos of brown trout and bass, and pretty ladies with horses tacked to the ceiling. There’s an incredible, rich history to this space, as part of Spearfish Valley agriculture and small family farming, and we feel honored and privileged to get to be a part of it.40 years of dustWe’re planning having the farm stand ready for our first CSA pick-up on Thursday (oh sheeesh). We’ll also be selling produce fresh from the farm through the farm stand all season long. Look for updates on our facebook site as to what’s available. Or check out the smart signs posted on the side of the stand. We hope you’ll come by and visit us.

An update! Since posting this, we had the chance to spend an afternoon (July 3rd) with the Schuttler’s on the porch of the farm stand. Some of this great conversation, history of the farm stand and agriculture of Spearfish Valley was recorded in this great article from the Black Hills Pioneer, Restoring — and restocking — a Spearfish farm stand.

spring, move out, go forth

Spring’s on, full speed ahead.  The grapevines are budding, the peas are winding out their tendrils, and the chokecherries are a buzz with a buzzillion pollinators. The apples have lost their pretty petals, the plums are fading, we’re feasting on the first asparagus. The mass exodus to the field from the greenhouse has begun; napas, bok choi, lettuces, mustard greens, kale. Here is a photo update of things in motion, in disarray.grapes lettuce garlicOne of the types of kale we’re growing (of six total) is a variety planted from seed saved from our very first gardening adventure together six years ago. We picked up the kale as starts at the farmers market in Santa Fe from a woman who sold duck eggs, herbs, and art work made out of turkey feathers. Having not kept track of the true variety name, we’ve been calling it Mu’s Blue, after our friend Mu who hosted our first garden plot. Mu’s Blue has been with us so long, these plants are almost like family. planting out kalesplanting out mustardsThe first batch of broilers have also transitioned from the brooder out to the small tractors. We’re keeping these guys close for a bit, so we can more easily shelter them from the cool evening temperatures (and ever-threatening snow) while they get their feathers on. They’ll head out to the larger tractor in the orchard in a few days.chicken tractorsSeveral of our hens have gone broody. There are no roosters in the flock, so this behavior is all for naught. Because they stop laying eggs when they get broody, we’ve been scooping them up and tossing them out of the coop every time we’re in there. Lately, three of them have decided that there is strength in numbers and they piled up together in one nesting box to thwart us. Ridiculous.hen and broody birdsNews from the greenhouse: Jerm found a really rad parasitoid wasp in the spinach bed last week (Ichneumonidae). These wasps don’t sting or bite, they are good guys. Good in that they consume pollen and nectar and lay eggs in other insects. When the eggs hatch, their young/larvae develop inside the host insect, eating the insect host from the inside as they grow. The incubator insects are aphids and caterpillars, beetles, scales, true bugs, and flies. Welcome to the farm, friend. Hoorah for biodiversity.wasp seeding spinachThis has been our first spring using soil blocks and we’re really happy with them. The starts look great and transplanting is easier – both on us and the plants. We pulled out the last of the greenhouse spinach bed this week to make way for radishes, carrots, and cucumbers. We harvested 50.75 lbs of spinach from this bed over six weeks! Also, and lastly, we found a spinach leaf the size of Jeremy’s face.

meet your meat

Do you know where your meat comes from? We would like to welcome you out to the farm for a special Pastured Poultry Field Day on Saturday, June 20th. Fun for the whole family, everyone is welcome. Tour begins at 2:30PM. CCF05162015_0002 copyCome spend the afternoon at the farm with us and see how our chickens are raised. During our Pastured Poultry Field Day, we’ll visit with newly hatched chicks in the brooder. Then we’ll head back to the orchard and visit with the chickens in rotation on pasture in chicken tractors. The tour will also include a discussion on mixing and grinding our own blend of certified organic and transitional whole grain feed rations, the economics of raising chickens/how we set our price, and sharing details on humane slaughter. Although we will have the equipment set up and be discussing slaughter methods, we will not be demonstrating a slaughter on Saturday. (We are looking for help on butcher days, if you are interested in coming to help out, please let us know.)

The general state of meat production in this country is grim – for the animals, the farmers and the environment. But as meat eaters, we can make choices as to where we source our meat. We’re excited about raising happy, healthy animals for our community in a way that benefits the land. Come visit the birds, ask us questions. Food tastes better when you know where it comes from. We look forward to sharing our small pastured poultry operation with you. Hope to see you on the tour.

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.


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.


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).


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.


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.