May farm update. The heat is on.

Here’s a brief update on good things growing, long days working, warm sun shining on the farm these days. We planted potatoes and started filling in the herb bed (planted so far are the echanachia, johnny jump-ups, calendula, borage, and mints, other culinary herbs are headed out soon). And long days of weeding and bed prep for CSA crop rows. Peas have sprouted, radishes and beets, turnips are just starting to poke their leaves up. We’ve begun transplanting into the back field: mustards, collard greens, cabbage. The flea beetles have already found our mustard greens, bok choy, and tat soi. These little guys decimated our mustards last year. We’re dosing our tender greens with diatomacious earth and a good pep talk, this seems to be working so far.

fleabeetles hops onions

Lolita’s hive is doing well, building comb and collecting pollen – right now the bees have mainly crazy orange dandelion pollen, but there are also bees about with a lighter yellow pollen (cottonwood?).  The pears are in full glorious bloom. We did not get fruit from these trees last year, so we can’t speak from experience, but hear-say is these pears are exquisite. Qi bombs. The plums and crab apples have also just started to flower. The hops are doing their fun sort of cobra dance, snaking around in the air looking for something to climb. And as also regards snakes, the garter snakes on the farm are all sorts of amorous these days. Everywhere you look, dexterous, tangled. Entirely uninhibited. It’s mesmerizing.

may pear tree

We are trying to keep the greenhouse cool. With outside temperatures in the 90s this is a challenge. We have lost a few lettuces, but in general the little green things are toughing it out alright.may 13 hot day

Our peppers and tomatoes are stoked.
may peppers and tomatoes

Here’s a quick no-till bed prep report.

-Hoeing and hand pulling the quackgrass rhizomes takes about 6 hrs/bed. We’re tried different variations along this theme, but that’s generally where we’re at with this. So far, we’ve done this to 12 beds.  After weeding, these beds are immediately covered with a thick layer of straw.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

-Perennial rows (insectary and asparagus) have been (and will be) weeded by hand. With these beds we can’t manage extracting weed roots without damaging our plants, so we are essentially mowing. By hand. Pulled grass is layed right back on the bed around the asparagus/flowers as a mulch. So far, this is time consuming but surprisingly effective.

-Scything and mulching with a long roll of 100% recycled craft paper and straw. This technique is embraced with smiles as it allows for standing and moving, and swinging the scythe, a brilliant tool.

-Storage crop rotation rows are all a go (we have a four year rotation on potatoes, winter squash, beans, corn – partially for soil nutrient cycling, partially for pest management). Eight rows (potatoes) were mulched with straw early in March. This has done an awesome job suppressing weed takeover, we have potatoes in and they should do alright out-competing the wheat kernals from the straw mulch that decide to pop up. Another eight rows (beans) were manually weeded, pretty thoroughly, then heavily mulched. Those will be planted in a few weeks. We intercepted an incredible lot of empty barley bags from the trash bin at the brewery, thick brown paper bags. Those were layed out over yet another 8 beds (corn) and weighted with straw mulch. (where we ran out of barley bags we spread out a thick layer of old newspapers. Hope is this will set back/knock out weed growth underneath. And we’ll either cut into the bags for planting into or remove the bags, strip the weeds, mulch and plant. And then, in the squash rows (8 rows for these too) – this is exciting – Jeremy planted a cover crop of winter rye last fall. It’s up, growing tall, totally out pacing the quackgrass. Just like it’s supposed to. So we should be able to fold this down and plant squash into this in a few weeks. (Yes! score one for the farmers!)

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Commonly small farms will use a sheet of plastic as an easy, efficient way to manage weeds. We are not using plastic for mulching, solarizing, or ‘burning’ the weeds, because it generates an awful lot of garbage. Our intent is to minimize our off-farm inputs, and make the farm as ‘sustainable’ (arrg, this poor word…) as possible. We’ll keep trying. Lots of experiments.

With all this in consideration, both the health of the soil and the labor involved, we are putting much thought into the merits of tilling (eeep!). Our neighbors have a field, over 8 acres, they are able to glide over with a tractor in approximately 3 hours. Meanwhile we are bent over a 30″x70′ bed for 6 hours pulling weeds. That’s just one row. This doesn’t make sense: fiscally this seems incredibly irresponsible, and while great for soil health, it’s ultra tough on the farmer (hands, back, morale). We are transplanting and filling beds as they are cleared, but we are still behind. At what point does the energy consumed by the tractor become more efficient than the energy we are consuming as two people working the land? Seems to me like we might be cutting it pretty close. So we’re decided to play out as many no-till ideas as we can this year. Give it absolutely the very best we’ve got.  If we are stuck in the same position next year, it may be time to consider renting a tiller. This soil is phenomenal. And resilient. If we can get a hold on our weeds, establish a cover crop immediately after a single go at tilling, bring the farm into a manageable state, quality of life for everyone (the soil, our crops, us) will be significantly improved. But for now, the jury is still out and we’re still no-till.

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And lastly, here are a few links we’ve been accumulating for a little while, things people have passed along to us and we would like to share.

Another strong argument for no-till. A BBC article discloses: Fungus plays role in plant communication: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22462855 Much like the tin can-string set up the farmers use here at Cycle Farm.

Undoubtedly, you’ve also been hearing/reading a lot about the alarming, distressing bee problems. Here’s a bit more, http://e360.yale.edu/feature/declining_bee_populations_pose_a_threat_to_global_agriculture/2645/

This is absolutely incredible. Data. Google Earth has stitched together nearly 40 years of satellite imagery, here: http://earthengine.google.org/#intro/.  How did they do this?! You can travel through time and space, while sipping tea at your desk – search for Spearfish and watch ag land be eaten up by houses. Zoom in on any part of the Brahmaputra River in Bangladesh – ! lose yourself in channel pattern evolution and sediment transport, so glorious. Alternatively, search Fort McMurray, AB Canada and zoom out a bit and pan north a bit. That one may give you a stomach ache.

And here’s an interesting article regarding ribbon farms (vs section, 1/4 section farms) and contemporary American transportation, community: http://www.wired.com/opinion/2012/11/how-a-quirk-of-medieval-farm-shapes-led-to-the-american-psychology-today/ Cycle Farm is a “ribbon farm”, 100′ x 1/4 mile – relic of Spearfish Valley’s agricultural heritage.

For those of you who know and use Latin names and appreciate work cited and in-text referencing, get a load of this. http://botanistinthekitchen.wordpress.com/ SO GOOD. Prepare to fall even more in love with asparagus.

With warm, happy smiles – Trish and Jeremy

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