Despite the recent tepid temperatures, the seed catalogs have started rolling in. We are spending the days clearing and mulching vegetable beds, moving rocks, chopping wood, baking bread, broadcasting clover cover crop seed, winnowing amaranth and popcorn.
Our friend, Gordon Tooley of Tooley’s Trees in Truchas, NM honored us with a beautiful South Dakota plum tree while we were down visiting for the Quivira Coalition conference a couple weeks ago. Gordon grows heirloom fruit trees, organically, on a north facing slope, at nearly 8,000′ elevation. His reverence and enthusiasm for fruit trees has inspired us to make orchard plans for the farm. Trees are important. There is something sacred about tending to something, a being, that will likely outlive you. Perennials deserve extra deliberation We have been studying several orchard books and have consulted with the field itself. We are looking at existing, larger shade trees, wind direction, aspect, soil moisture. Pear trees generally grow taller, so plan on room for them towards the north side so they don’t block sun for anyone else. Wind comes from the west, so arrange the rows skewed from that as to divert air flow up and over the trees, not down the rows. Consider your root stock. And so we go.
The South Dakota plum, Prunus americana, is a variety originally bred in the early 1900’s by the head of the Horticulture Department at South Dakota State University, Niels Ebbesen Hansen. Only wish he’d have given it a good Danish name. Ours has been planted in an excellent spot, near a cluster of wild plums, towards the very south west corner of the field. Planted at grade, graft union to the north. It’s got a burly deer fence protecting it. And a fantastic view of Spearfish Peak. Thank you Gordon.
A few of the highlights of our recent orchard studies include the following: fruit trees are described as precocious. It is advised that one makes thorough ski tracks and/or snowshoe trompings through one’s orchard after winter snowfalls, to ensure adequate collapse of vole/mole/critter tunnels which might otherwise be girdling your trees. Add that to the to-do list. Have to go skiing.
December has brought us a few challenges. The deer have discovered they can rip down the fencing and help themselves to the remaining goodies in the field. We had been looking forward to krauting a short row of cabbage – but it’s gone now. The frost-sweetened kale, collards and brussels have been mowed. The daily routine now includes a check and repair on the fencing. The warm temperatures mean that the hives have not completely tucked into winter hibernation. The more active they are, the more honey they consume. The danger is that they will exhaust their honey reserves before spring time. The huge winds of this past weekend blew the tarps covering the straw bales on the greenhouse all to hell. It’s exhausting and completely futile to try and weigh down a 14 x 30′ sheet of vinyl canvas that’s being lifted by the wind. We spent more time that we should have out there battling the banshees. It’s essential that we keep the strawbales dry, otherwise they will rot and mold beneath the plaster. Gales, heavy tarps, lots of yelling, murky clouds, hastily piling straw bales, rocks, wood beams. Helpless and absolutely miserable. In the end, a board holding an edge of one of the tarps was ripped off the roof beam. No structural damage. And not too much strawbale damage.
We also have new positive challenges. Our chickens are laying in abundance, which has increased the pressure to find a market. Legally, we can sell our eggs direct to consumer, which is great. However, being primarily occupied by on-farm chores and not having a weekly winter Farmer’s Market, our ability to network and market our eggs is a time-challenge. We’re looking into the licensing required to distribute our eggs through a local grocer. This involves “candling” the eggs, a term which conjures a little bit of Archimedes, and a little voo-doo. We’ll see. In the meantime, please contact us if you’re in the need for some extra-delicious, farm fresh eggs.