A mid-summer photo dump. Annotated. In full.
The corn-beans-squash beds have exploded and are running amok through the rhubarb, climbing the greenhouse. You can almost watch the Rouge vif D’Etampes and Sundream swell. The beans we have planted in here are Hidatsa Shield Figure beans and the corn is a Taos Blue Corn that makes scrumptious atole and pancakes. We also planted in a few of the lesser known fourth sister, Rocky Mountain bee plant (cleome, spider plant), but it seems she may have been swallowed by her siblings. The sisters are planted in two beds near the greenhouse, it’s a small planting and we may have to hand-pollinate the corn. We have 8 additional rows of various winter squash varieties planted, but didn’t get our popcorn or other dry beans in this spring.
We’ve teased out a 4-year crop rotation that’s been working really well for our staple crops; potatoes then squash then beans then either garlic or popcorn. The field winter squash were seeded into alternating beds with our garlic planting. Garlic was harvested out in mid-July and Jeremy immediately seeded a buckwheat and oat cover crop in its place. Despite getting this seeded just before a good rain, the cover crop is really doing best near the drip lines. With the garlic out and the buckwheat/oats just getting going, there’s plenty of room for the squash vines to spread. We’ve been playing with integrating different cover crops and mixes with our vegetable plantings, some we haven’t mastered so well. This is one that we’re especially pleased with.Jeremy has been spending more and more time ooey-glueyied to the binoculars. The bird list is up to 87 different species identified on or flying over the farm this year. Most recently: Shrikes hunting grasshoppers in the orchard, a Red-eyed Vireo, hummingbirds (Ruby-throated and Rufous), a Great Horned Owl, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and a Lewis’s Woodpecker.
We continue to lose young trees to voles – usually they get girdled during the winter, but this summer we’ve lost several, probably due to tall grasses near the trees (sounds like we need some lambs again, eh?). There have been a few fruits this year, mostly apples and plums. Noteworthy fruits include a plum from the very, very first tree we planted on the farm, a pear from a tree planted in honor of Grandma Ginny, and a bomber crab apple harvest which we are currently climbing through the middle of. Oh yes! Even berries off of our brand spankin’ new, first year hedgerow shrubs (many thanks to those fine folks at the Lawrence County Conservation District). We planted over 200 bareroot cherries and berries around the perimeter of the orchard, immediately got them linked up to a drip line, and they’re doing great.This (below) is a shot of one of the hummingbird visitors we’ve had on the farm during these past few weeks. Most activity has been seen on Texas Hummingbird Sage and Sunset Hyssop. A young female Rufous Hummingbird, photo by Greg Albrechtsen.This season, we’re experimenting with a new farm share market plan and we’ve received good feedback from our farm stand family members. It’s sounds like there is significantly less food waste happening at customers’ homes and folks are appreciating the choice in produce and the flexible schedule. We’ve noticed that we have a much reduced stress level this summer versus previous summers. And at least part of this we are attributing to our new marketing arrangement and how it is reducing our stress around filling bountiful and balanced CSA baskets.
Some of our worries with this new arrangement were losing the connection to the farm that a CSA membership facilitates and that a market style farm share plan might force us into growing only just the most popular vegetables. A carrot and tomato farm. These were unwarranted worries and we’ve found that, overwhelmingly, our customers are staying engaged with the farm through emails and newsletters, coming throughout the whole season, and are still trying new vegetables and supporting the farm by purchasing a diversity of vegetables. We really appreciate our thoughtful community of farm supporters, they’re truly helping make this all possible.We’ve been having fun getting to know new flowers this year, both new-to-us annual varieties and several perennials that are only now setting blooms. Blue vervain, elecampane, lemon bee balm/bergamot, liatrus, hyssop, black cohosh, chocolate flower, Buddha’s Hand cosmos, butterfly milkweed, some crazy pink poppies, and arnica. We’ve also been having fun getting to know our native pollinators better. This spring, we built a native pollinator nesting box. It’s outfitted with oat straw, sunflower, Valerian and chicory stems. Drilled holes of various diameters and depths. Nesting sites for all sorts. The box is set up near the farm stand and new pollinator/herb bed. It’s a busy spot and completely captivating. We have identified several: grass-carrying wasps, yellow-faced bees, leaf-cutter bees, mud dauber wasps, mason bees. And then there are all the ones we haven’t identified: tiny metallic blue bees, yellow-bellied bees, etc. It’s become a regular farm telenovela series. Return characters. Romances. Dark relationship dramas. A leaf cutter bee who lined and capped her nest with flower petals. A yellow-faced bee who robbed the saliva from one nest to build another. Earlier this week, we saw a Downy Woodpecker take off from near the box. When we inspected the holes, we found them littered with green leaf-cutter bee nest confetti. This bird had found the buffet line and loaded up. If it’s any consolation, we’ve read that mother bees will lay female eggs at the back of the nests, and male eggs towards the front.. for this very reason.
If you’re as stoked about native pollinators as we are (and why wouldn’t you be?), check out the Xerces Society, a great resource on invertebrate conservation, pollinator box worksheets here and here. Peek inside the solitary bee nests here, Resonating Bodies, and lastly here’s a neato video.The pollinator box has been so popular – with both invertebrate friends and people friends, that we hosted a native pollinator nesting box building workshop. It was a treat to spend the afternoon with fellow pollinator-enthusiasts, being constructive and creative together, building habitat for our beloved native solitary bees and wasps. Eight solitary bee boxes were constructed and are now up, scattered all around the Spearfish area in home gardens and backyards. In an uncanny yet completely obvious and timely expression of gratitude, we all watched, amazed, as a bee headed right into one box even before it’s roof was attached. This year, the front field is planted in alternating rows of beans and potatoes (with a few intercropped beets and a row of fall brassicas). We are intercropping more this year than we have before, mainly due to space limitations. The limitation is not overall space, but ready-bed space. This season we have a lot of beds that are unplanted, 40% of our designated rows never got weeded and planted this spring. However, we’ve been putting time and money (via paid labor; thank you, Madeleine) into pulling rhizomes and getting this space ready for next year.Below is a view of some of the beds in the back field. From left to right: fennel in flower, lettuce, just germinating fall carrots, beets and tomatoes, peppers, more tomatoes, (and just out of view) cucumbers and cabbage. Bottom left, celery seed drying. We just learned that when celery plants go to seed they become ginormous. Don’t try and grow anything near them, because you won’t. Beneficial insects are all over the flowers though. And you can smell the heavenly celery from halfway down the field. Immediately after clearing a bed of lettuce(some) and celery(mostly), we added compost and seeded in carrots. (Specific no-till bed prep methods: pulled out lettuce, cut celery stalks at the base, seeded carrots using precision seeder / 6 rows, replaced drip tape, shoveled on compost, just a thin layer, raked gently to even the bed, hand watering with hose daily until germination, approx 6 days.) We’ve been having trouble with carrot germination, but these little ones look great and will be a welcome addition to roasted root vegetables and fall soups.
After three years without much for apples, this year, trees are super heavy with fruit. So far, we’ve collected over 200 pounds of crab apples from the tree by the farm stand. Most of this will be pressed and fermented into hard cider (Naked Lady Crab Apple Cider, 2017 vintage – harvest coincides with blooming Naked Lady flowers), plain wild ferment and a dry hopped batch. At least 200 hundred more pounds have be raked up off of the ground for our chickens and the robins and doves have probably eaten that much as well. The tree still looks loaded. (Interested in pressing cider? crab apple jelly? pickling? let us know.) The wild plums have their biggest crop in the six years we’ve been here. We seem to have three varieties of wild plum (red, yellow and purple) of which we have only picked one so far, but the rest should be ready to pick by the end of the month. And the grapevines have a good crop as well. We use a refractometer to measure the sugar level of the grapes, and we start harvesting when they get up to 20-22 degrees brix. Harvesting grapes is not infrequently interrupted by shrieks, squeals, and big happy laughter as we find young garter snakes four feet off of the ground, looking at us eye-to-eye while we’re reaching for clusters of fruit.As the busy planting and weeding season passes the baton, clumsily, into busy harvesting season, we have found just a little time to sneak in infrastructure and other construction projects. Finishing the wash/pack shed is moving up in priority on the to-do list. We have spent the summer testing out different arrangements of the wash area layout and are nearly ready to commit to running water lines, lights and electricity and building out sorting tables and shelves. Earlier this week, we built a hand washing sink. It currently has a spectacular view. Also on the pack shed construction to-do list is a pair of sliding barn doors to enclose the north and west sides during times when inclement weather and harvest coincide.
And, quickly and best of all, our friend Regina came for a visit, the sun went away then came back, and we received an award for Conservation Citizenship from Lawrence County Conservation District(!).
That’s it, pert near. Thanks, all! With grit and gratitude, t and j