lemon meringue and honeydew

We just got extremely excited about this and want to share.

While we are working in the field, we also spend a good amount of time inspecting little critters and watching birds, admiring nitrogen nodules and thanking earth worms. This evening, we noticed aphids on several of the dandelion roots we excavated, and always with the aphids were one or two brilliant golden ants. Rad. The sun was lowering in the sky, the plums along the north line were blooming sweetly, and every now and again there was a very distinct smell of lemons. Lemons? I pointed it out. Jeremy confirmed it. Weird. Keep working, it’s still light, lots of work to do. And then we pieced it together: the lemon smell was coming from the dandelion roots… with aphids… with ants. So we speculated back and forth, and then went in and Googled.

THIS IS SO COOL.

These little golden ants are lemon-scented ants (some sites call them “citronella ants”, I prefer “magical shimmery golden lemon meringue ants”). They collect and eat honeydew from aphids that feed off of dandelion roots. Honeydew is a lovely term for plant nutrients and sugars excreted by aphids. The ants’ lemon scent is an irritant to predators and a warning to their friend-ants that something is amok.So these magical golden lemon meringue ants are little dairy farmers, tending herds of aphids on the roots of dandelions (which are in and of themselves crazy fantastic magical, dynamic accumulating, tap-rooted, bee-feeding, photo-sensitive, wish granting plants). The ants drink honeydew, they glimmer like sunshine, and they smell as sweet as a lemon tree. This is the stuff of fairy tales. Only it’s real. And in our soil.This is a pretty crap image of one of these (elusive) magical shimmery golden lemon meringue ants. Can you see her? She was not interested in having her photo taken. She looks orange. I swear, she’s really golden. And shimmery. And she smells like lemons. Lemons! Jeremy’s hands are, in fact, that dirty.

¡Viva la hormiga! and magical shimmery love, t

spring snow and no-till perks

A snowglobe day, Common Yellowthroats in the plum trees, streaming Kid Hops, stretching, seeding lettuce in the greenhouse, and a quick update on spring bed preparations. We’ve started in on getting beds ready for planting. Some are more ready to go than others. A first round of carrots, parsnips, radishes and peas are in and up. And blanketed in snow. Trays of brassicas and lettuces are eager to get out.

We have practiced no-till since we started growing on this property in 2012. Before we moved here, the back field had been mowed as a very tidy, very expansive lawn. It had been planted with hops as well, but the trellis had been removed and the whole area was mowed for a summer. To establish our permanent beds, we transplanted the hops, rented a sod cutter and cut 36″ wide strips at what we thought was just below root line. These strips were flipped in place in efforts to kill off grass with minimal disturbance to the soil structure. Unfortunately, this plan didn’t work so well. The brome grass popped right back up. With vigor. Since then, we’ve been slowly, earnestly fending off the brome with a broadfork and hand weeding. There are 85 rows, each 70′ long. Six of these are planted in perennials: asparagus and strawberries.

The brome had originally been our primary (pert near only) weed in the rows. We still have brome in some beds worse than others, but these last couple years we are finding greater diversity of weeds.  Bindweed, some annual grasses from a dirty batch of oat straw, dandelion, parsnips and lettuce and other vegetable crops gone to seed, and medic (yea! nitrogen fixing bacteria!).  These other weeds are a whole lot easier to manage and don’t seem to compete for nutrients with our crops quite so much.  Plus the chickens think the greens are fantastic.

Over the past few years we have found visible fungal activity in spots where we’ve put down thick wood chips, at the base of fruit trees, in herb beds, and the front field. Earlier this week, Trish was prepping a bed for lettuce and found a visible fungal network (mycorrhizae) in our soil, not in an area with wood chips. This is an encouraging, tangible sign that our no-till, minimal disturbance practices are contributing to soil health. By not tilling the soil, we’re allowing organic material to accumulate, roots in the soil and mulch on the surface, and decompose in place, giving the opportunity for fungal networks to become more strongly established.  As we’re feeding the soil, it is becoming more healthy and active; it is eating through organics faster and we’re certainly seeing this with the break down of straw mulch in our beds.

We just cleaned up a bed for transplants, mostly pulling dandelions. The biggest disturbance here was Jeremy unzipping a 6.5′ long plum root that was jetting beneath the surface of the bed from a thicket 30′ away. Pulling up on one end and whooop. The soil tilth is friable and dreamy, an amazing amount of macro pores, structured like the most delicious brownie full of worms.  Last summer we watched a garter snake scoot along a bed and then – zoop – disappear straight into the soil.

Our current management approach is to maintain beds that we’ve cleared of brome, and apply heavy straw mulch in the walkways. We are trying to figure out the best living mulch to use in the walkways, something to replace the straw mulch; clover, non-spreading grass, or a mix.The straw mulch is a continuous farm purchase and it’s challenging to find straw that hasn’t been sprayed yet isn’t full of weed seed. We’d rather have living roots feeding the soil instead. In beds where brome is still an issue, we do a pretty thorough broadforking and remove as many rhizomes as we can. We also mow around the immediately perimeter of the field to keep adjacent grasses from going to seed. That’s the idea at any rate. We are definitely letting things go to seed, undisturbed areas all over the farm, insectaries.  We are getting better at following our crop plan, but still have a hard time ripping out vegetable volunteers, lettuce seedlings, parsnips that will ultimately turn into a harvestable crop, but are geographically not where we want them.  For instance, the bed Trish just cleared for lettuce transplants (the one with the mycorrhizae-extravaganza), had celery last year, many of which overwintered and are coming right back.  She left those in place to plant lettuce around, because… celery seed is tasty.  This is not space efficient, it will undoubtedly cause minor challenges in harvesting lettuce in a few weeks. And yet. Celery seed.

If you are as excited about soil health and no-till as we are, here are some great resources to check out: Dr Jill Clapperton’s presentation at the Quivira Conference (2012). David Montgomery’s book, Dirt, the Erosion of Civilizations.The Natural Resources Conservation Service has all sorts of good stuff, including the South Dakota Voices for Soil HealthUnderstanding Roots, by Robert Kourik (on our yet-to-read list). Also, for a bit more background on no-till at Cycle Farm and a few additional, excellent resources, read this.

 

 

up, up!

Springy things are happening in all directions around here, though primarily up. Pace is picking up. Seed trays are filling up. Garlic is shooting up.  Here’s a quick look at what we’ve been up to these last few weeks.An afternoon photo session in the field (above, up): an extremely optimistic, early blooming apricot in the orchard. We have several more trees to plant this spring, bringing our orchard total to 65 fruit trees. The garlic beds look great, I think they can tell we love them. Radish babes are popping in the tunnel, also spring turnips and beets. And we’ve been finding preying mantis egg cases all over the place. I mean it. Holy crap, they are everywhere. Or at least in areas where we have piles of wood stacked up and unmowed grass… which is essentially everywhere. So cool. Not pictured: all the messy beds we need to get cleaned up and ready to be planted for the season. The trouble is some of those messy beds are serving as beneficial insect habitat, so…We’ve been spending a lot of time in the greenhouse, filling seed trays. At this point we’re using soil blocks for most everything. Except herbs and alliums, which we are germinating in flats and either potting up (herbs) or transplanting into the field (alliums). The southern extension space on the greenhouse is getting loaded with seed trays. This is our first spring season with this additional space and we’re feeling grateful for it.And here are a few more photos from inside the greenhouse. Our greenhouse is a passive solar, pole barn structure with straw bale and cob walls. Over the past few years we’ve made modifications and the cob work is not yet finished, but inside, it’s warm and quiet, full of little living things and a great place to spend time – especially during variable springtime weather. (Sunshine this afternoon and it graupeled on us as we came in from the field this evening).

We’re looking forward to our first harvest for the farm stand this weekend. Greens!

Up, up, here we go – t&j

panoramdemonium 2016

Hey there, friends, we’re running a little tardy on putting together our annual panoramdemonium, but here we are!  A panoramic year in review, our 2016 Panoramdemonium, assembled whilst sipping on the luke-warm dregs of winter. If you are interested in seeing the farm as it’s developed over these past few years, check out our previous panoramic plays: our first year, 2012, 2013, 2014, and the year without June, 2015.

A view of the orchard and hop yard from the beehives over the course of the year.  Photos are taken on the solstice and equinox days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And a view of our main vegetable beds from the north gate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Of note: Our 5×6″ 16′ untreated hop trellis/deer fencing posts are in terminal decline, they are rotting away at the base and we’re running out of t-posts to help steady them. The forceful winds of late seem to only be expediting their downfall. Literally. Foremost on our spring to-do list is replace the trellising and fence posts with new posts from locally invasive cedar trees, which should last us a bit longer. Also, related, you’ll notice we had no climbing hops this year. Our poor hops fell prey to the lack of time last spring; with our spring frenzy of vegetable work, getting the hops trellised just didn’t happen. We need to establish a help for hops program (ie Are you a Spearfish-area home brewer who is willing to work in exchange for hops? please contact us. ehem… Marcus?).

We had two big construction projects last year: building a vegetable wash/pack shed and a greenhouse expansion.  The wash/pack shed was built as an extension off of an existing outbuilding.  Now we have a 16′ x 25′ covered, clean work area for washing and packaging produce with storage loft space above.  This spring we will hook up sinks, build spray and sorting tables, and hang roll-up sides to keep the space pleasant even if the weather isn’t.  The greenhouse addition was driven by a decision to change the layout of our greenhouse beds from long rows to keyhole style beds. This almost doubled our growing area, but as a consequence, we lost all of the isle space where we would lay out seed trays in the spring.  A couple years ago, we replaced the roof glazing with larger glazing panels and solar panels. We used this old glazing to bump out the front end of our existing space, rather than build a separate space for our starts. We still have a fair amount of work to do to make this space fully functional.In the greenhouse – last year we had a great spring harvest of radishes, lettuce, and other greens. These were followed by cucumbers, basil and an impenetrable wall of tomatoes. Although we started out pruning them well, it just took one missed week during peak growth and we ended up having to belly crawl between the rows for those Black Cherries and Lemon Drops. We’ll do a better job this year. We have to.After five years we are feeling more and more at home here, we are learning the rhythms of the land and the valley, the soil and ecology. It has been fun to look at these photos over the years and see, broadly, some of these rhythms we get to participate with.

Seasons greetings, t and j

 

winter, farm visitors!

A productive, restful winter. Woolly socks, hot tea, the melodica, seed catalogs and Sibley’s bird guide. Beans and potatoes. And eggs. Building a gate for the chicken yard, scheming mobile coop designs, reviewing conference notes, reflecting on last year’s growing season, planning for this year’s. Baking bread and stirring resistance. A hammock in the greenhouse, cross country skis by the door, books by the couch… and on the table, and on the floor, and by the bed. And visitors!vicious-birdsWe’ve had a couple predatory birds visit the farm over the last month. A Northern Shrike briefly took up residence in our greenhouse, helping with pest management. And yesterday we happened to see a Eastern Screech owl peeking out of a basswood tree. Our chickens don’t seem to mind the company and are laying abundantly.

We’ve also had a couple friends visit the farm over the last month. Thomas came from Washington bearing whisky, reggae on vinyl, and a big stack of NYT crossword puzzles… *sigh*… winter. Radish enjoyed having a ski-mate and perfecting her newest trick, hoop-jumping. We enjoyed having help with our seed inventory and cleaning up the greenhouse after the shrike massacre (3 mice, 7 house sparrows, decapitated and impaled on popsicle sticks. eeew).And then our friend, Gordon, and his sweet basset travel companion, Dot, were snowbound here on their way back home. Several of our trees are from Gordon’s fruit tree nursery in northern New Mexico. We took the opportunity to walk through our young orchard with him, and learn more about orchard management, tree health, and practice grafting techniques.gordon-tooley-visitAnd now the house is empty, the futon is folded up. The seed orders are in. The days are growing noticeably longer. The greenhouse is seeded with every sort of spring green, turnips, radishes and beets. We’re looking forward to a few sunny days to help with soil temperature and germination. seeding-greenhouse-feb-5feb-2017-photo-montage2While we anticipate fresh greens, farm feastings have been mostly a whole lot of soups, and squash pie, and fermented things. When you have a chance, check out this exceptionally delicious, new favorite recipe for fermented hot sauce, also lovely kraut crocks.

Thanks, friends. Siempre adelante.

Summer into October

October?! Yowzahs! How did this happen?!

Here are some highlights from the last couple months. Scroll through quick and it should have that fun flip-book effect. High pitched, redshift, here is our summer, in review, in fast forward.

Our big project this summer has been building the pack shed. The original plan was to have it finished before CSA started in June, but we may have been over estimating ourselves – by a year. The pack shed is a covered 16’x25′ concrete slab with a storage loft. We will run all the water and electric from above, so we can make changes as we figure things out.  The construction crew has been primarily Jeremy and his father, David. We’ve had gracious and timely help from friends for heavy lifting and pouring concrete. And Trish gets to pound nails, sometimes.building-the-packshedWe had a few excellent friends come out to visit this summer. Beyond being much appreciated and additional willing, working hands, we so love all the smiles, good conversation, and inspiration. Thanks for coming by the farm, friends, it’s such a treat to have you here.

This has been our first full season with our farm stand. Overall, it’s been a good season, though it’s clear we need to address some marketing issues, namely, we need to do some marketing. A sign might help. We have a good core customer base and we’ve really enjoyed getting to know people as they return each week, hearing about recipes they’ve tried, sharing sourdough starter and swapping cook books. Our original intent was to set up an honor system till at the farm stand, but the weekly interaction we get with folks is something we’ve grown to really value and, so far, being open only Saturday mornings, we’ve been able to prioritize the time and have at least one of us be there. This Saturday will be our final farm stand for the season – come by and load up.farmstandWe’re enthusiastically learning more about biodynamic agriculture and ways we can incorporate this practice on our small farm. There are elements to biodynamics that resonate strongly with us (the farm as a whole living system, focus on soil health, importance of animals, community involvement, observation and meditation, we’ve found the planting calendar is super useful…), and then there are other parts we haven’t quite wrapped our heads around. A few weeks ago we buried biodynamic preparation 500 near our barrel compost.bd-500The first weekend of October, we took a quick trip down to visit our friends Beth and Nathan at their farm in Scottsbluff. They hosted a workshop on integrating seed production with small scale vegetable farms. This is something we have been interested in doing here and we’re especially grateful to have the opportunity to learn from these thoughtful, generous, experienced growers. It was good to learn some new seed cleaning techniques as well as improve our understanding of producing seed from biennial crops. (and a quick side note: as winter settles in and your fireside seed dreaming starts, check out Meadowlark Hearth. They grow good seed.)meadowlark-hearth-workshopIt was a good summer for bugs on the farm. So many good ones, including burying beetles.2016-summer-bugsThis past Sunday we butchered our laying hens. These ladies were 2-4 years old, the oldest of which were our very first chicks. Good, sweet birds; they taught us a lot. We are replacing them with the young flock that’s been scooting about in tractors in the orchard this summer. The new layers will likely start producing eggs in a month or so.chicekns

We’re hugely grateful for our evisceration crew. It’s so delightful having friends with bright attitudes, minimal squeamish tendencies, and an interest in avian anatomy. Thank you for helping make the morning go so smoothly, respectfully, efficiently. And thank you to our customers for helping to support local, humanely raised, good meat. We’ll be butchering the fryers (young roosters, 20 weeks) this upcoming weekend, if you are interested just let us know.butchering-chickensThese old laying hens make incredible stew. And schmaltz. Jeremy made a leek and onion broth soup with some of the unlaid eggs. He made pad thai with the rest. (Trish prefers the unlaid egg pad thai over the unlaid egg soup). Radish has had this expression on her face ever since we started dehydrating livers and gizzards.chicken-bits

Last week we celebrated our final CSA pick up of the season – with parsnips and leeks, and our best onions yet. This wraps up our fifth CSA season and has us feeling a bit nostalgic, extremely thankful, and completely humbled by how much we have yet to learn. From the very bottom of our hearts, thank you for joining us this season, CSA friends. We’ve enjoyed sharing the harvest with you each week. CSA isn’t for everyone, it’s a special commitment, it requires patience and trust, and a willingness to be flexible and creative – thank you.  We appreciate you for accompanying us on this adventure, for all your support and smiles. Thank you for getting as excited as we are about celery, for telling us about how your sweet little one’s very first non-milk food-food was a Shintokiwa cucumber, for making and puttin’ up pesto, more pesto that you know what to do with (we promise, you’ll be happy about this come February!), and for learning to love beets. We hope that you will join us again next year!

Throughout the CSA season we encouraged share members to either walk or bike to the farm to pick up their vegetables. Of course, it’s not always easy to do (or feasible) and we wholeheartedly understand busy schedules, but we do love the idea of taking the opportunity to stretch your legs after a long day, head over to pick up fresh vegetables at the farm, feel the sun on your face, hear the birds singing… all the while saving the planet from a short trip across town in the car.  Over the course of our 20 week CSA season, there were over 80 trips made by bike or foot! THIS IS HUGE! Thank you, thank you, thank you! We’ll be drawing names from the pie lottery next week, so expect a call from us soon.last-csa-day

That about covers it. Thanks, friends!

agrarian riddims, vol. 4

It’s that time of year again. It’s time for the release of this summer’s agrarian riddims compilation, a farm tradition originally inspired by Grist’s mix-tape love letter to parks. For your listening pleasure, check out previous years’ mix-tapes: Volume one, Volume two and Side C. Special thanks to all the reggae musicians celebrating food and farming, and to Tom Payne and Kid Hops for inspiration.

Big beets and big smiles, t&j

Winston McAnuff – What Man Sow  

Junior Delgado – Effort

Barry Biggs – Work All Day

Ras Muhamad feat. Naptali – Farmerman

Joseph Cotton –  Plant the Vegetables

Count Lasher’s Calypso Quintet – Water the Garden

Bascom X – Farmer Man

Gregory Isaacs – Words of the Farmer

Reya Sunshine – Sista Farmer

Erico Morris – Beautiful Garden

Loyal Flames – Working

Jah Mike – Jack a the Farmer

Yardman and Foundation Crew – Farmer Man

Lopez Walker – Jah Jah New Garden

Boris Gardiner – Elizabethan Reggae, a reggae rendition of Elizabethan Serenade, with agrarian fly-over.

Jeremy finds this one especially… suiting. Teddy Brown – Rose Garden

And, not entirely appropriate for our latitude, but Trish really likes this one… Jah 9 – Avocado

 

celebrating late-bolting lettuce

lettuce bolting and slogun, not bolting.Each year we try out a few new varieties of lettuce to see how they compare to our past favorites.  This year we are smitten with Slogun, a beautiful crisphead that has amazing bolt tolerance.  It has held in the field a good two weeks longer than the other 8 varieties we transplanted at the same time.  But not only is it still looking good, it also is one of our sweetest flavored. Slogun is definitely a variety we will plant next year, the tricky part is that we have a bed full of lettuce needing to be pulled out and replaced, except for lovely Slogun, still holding in the middle.  This will take a little finessing of our succession planting plan. (If you are in the market for good seed, we bought our Slogun seed from Adaptive Seeds, out of Oregon, who also provided us with our other new favorite, Vulcan)field hops cabbage tomatoe rowsA few quick-before-the-sun-sets photos: Renegade sunflowers in the middle of our trellised tomatoes. Freshly weeded tomatoes and basil.  Our most productive hop plant, a mystery variety that appeared at the corner of the house a few years ago.  Cabbages are heading up.summer veg August 4This week’s CSA shares include cucumbers, beets, eggplant, and fennel. The newsletter is online here with a recipe for a fennel, eggplant, garlicy pasta sauce. And for those of you who are still working on developing a love for beets, check out the super simple beet chip recipe online here. We have confidence, you’ll be kvassing soon.week 9 CSACheers! t&j

rain, rain, come and stay.

..at least for a while longer.csa week8We really enjoyed harvesting for this week’s CSA in the rain. Usually we are moving quickly, trying to keep greens cool and happy between harvest and washing before going into the walk-in cooler. The cool, wet morning allowed for coffee breaks and an opportunity to explore camera settings. And revel in golden beets.seding lettuce inside and rain on kaleAfter losing a couple rounds of lettuce successions in our toasty warm greenhouse, we’re now starting seed trays in the living room which is considerably less toasty warm.  july flowersMints, sunflowers, echinacea, and feverfew are blooming. Birds have picked over the last couple chokecherry bushes and are now eyeing up the grapes. We’ve got the front grape rows netted, but will hold off on netting the back grapes until they get closer to harvest. And LOOK! Our first slicer tomato of the season: a 2+ pound Gold Medal. We capresed our hearts out for lunch. And dinner.gold medal for the winWith help from our most competent and reliable (and hugely appreciated) farm sitters/ chicken tractor wranglers/ hen whisperers/ greenhouse tenders, we were able to take a couple days and scoot over to visit J’s grandparents in Montana. We camped out at the kitchen table and heard good stories about growing up on a small dairy farm in the mountains and working on the Milwaukee rail road. We also had a chance to catch up with some good friends in the big cities and visit Rathvinden Farm and get farm-geeky over all the beautiful and tasty things they’re growing. Good farmdog Radish enjoyed the holiday too.Big thanks happy summer feastings, t&j

 

weeding, watering, melting

greenhouse sunset lilyand lettuceIrrigating and weeding. Then irrigating some more. And weeding, always weeding. The vegetable beds are on drip irrigation, which is lovely. Everything else though, the orchard, flower beds and herbs, all require more direct attention and hose shuffling. Jeremy had a chance to attend a pasture management and grazing workshop earlier this week, you can read more about it in this week’s CSA newsletter as well as find a couple parsley-centric recipes: an eggy, cheesy chard and parsley frittata and a versatile fresh green salsa (pesto/ sauce/ dressing…) for those of you with capers and anchovies in your cupboard. onions worms seed and tomatoesOnions are bulbing and tomatoes are fruiting. The worms are making some luscious compost. The last of the grex seed is cleaned. These days it’s been early mornings, and water breaks, and what tasks can we tackle in the shade?

The race against the birds has begun for chokecherries. Tonight we loaded up off of our two earliest bushes, just over 20 lbs. Getting chokecherries into the CSA shares has been important to us ever since our first season on the farm.  And even more so after reading through Jo Robinson’s research on phytonutrients.  CSA friends, get ready – chokecherry syrup, chokecherry shrubs and gin and tonics, chokecherry sorbet.chokecherryWith the proposed re-zoning of one of Spearfish valley’s most iconic working agricultural fields, we’ve been reflecting a lot this week on the contradiction between an area-wide growing enthusiasm for a local food system and the community’s apparent lack of interest in the loss of productive, irrigated farmland. A curious disconnect, lots to think about while weeding onions and shuffling the hose between fruit trees.

-t&j