best of beards

Cycle Farm, bearded since 2012.

Dear friends,

It has occurred to me that our photos from the farm show a decisively striking trend (granted, a trend that’s generally decisive, but not at all striking, regarding perhaps most farms). Beards. Humbly, I have compiled a ‘best of’ collection, beards from the farm which I am so very, very pleased to share with you. These images are wildly uncanny, at times ridiculous, and admittedly enchanting. It is with enormous joy that I present to you the following assemblage of bearded charm from Cycle Farm over these past few years.

With warm regards, Trish

best beard club1ibest beard club1hbest beard club1jbest beard clubbest beard club best beard clubbest beard club1d

(also, mustachios)best beard club_mustachios

Big love and high-fives to all my bearded, mustachioed comrades. XO -t

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We love our tools and garlic.

The garlic have sprouted. Jeremy looks a little shell-shocked. Don’t these little guys know we need at least a couple more weeks?  It’s been such a mild winter and uncharacteristically warm these past couple weeks. You can’t blame them. It’s just so early yet. Jeremy is rightfully concerned that we are bound to get some pretty heavy freezes still, and we’ll have to keep them covered to protect them.  Me, I’m thrilled as all get out. They are so robust. Confident. Seeing them bursting out of the earth, in their neat rows, it hits me a like a pep talk. You can do it. Up up up! Thank you, Austin and Jill – for getting these in the ground last fall. This is the best gift a couple of beginning farmers could ever receive.

Yesterday I set to apply another coat of lindseed oil to the outside of the top bar bee boxes. This cascaded into oiling the handles on all the tools. Every one of them. The Smith’s have been accumulating all sorts of wonderful used tools from auctions around Spearfish, they are each in a state of more or less loved. Though now, after a coat of lindseed, they all have a little sparkle as we set them back up in Pemberly. (The ever stately shed, pictured, is Pemberly. Makes me want to dub the wheel barrow “our Barouche box.”)

More on tools. I just discovered the fence wire stretcher earlier this week. Jeremy taught me how to use it for tightening up the trellises on the vines. It’s just like a third hand tool for bike cables, so I took to it quickly. It’s a bit more beefy than a bike tool, but just as smart. I love it.

Spring things.

With the onset of spring and weather changing so quickly these days, it seems everyday we’re finding something exciting. Everyday something new and fantastic at Cycle Farm. We don’t know what to expect, so every little thing sends us into a whirl of glee and excitement. Jeremy found a bag of Jacobs Cattle beans in the basement crawl space, with a label that reads “2004, to be planted 2005.” I found a thick mat of Hens and Chicks under the faucet below the kitchen window. There are more and more green bulbs shooting up out of the ground, all over. Our sweet neighbor, Holly (that’s right, our bad dog got her good hen) stopped by yesterday morning with a kombucha mother. Holy smokes. Kombucha!? Another neighbor, John, came by and gave us a tour of the wild asparagus patches on the property. Wild asparagus?! It gets better and better. We’ve even found a set of horse shoes in the garage. Everything is a marvelous little discovery, another aspect to the farm we’re getting to know. Every moment, a little bite of kensho. Lots of fun being had on Cycle Farm Treasure Island.

Pruning grapevines

These past few days we’ve been spending a lot of time with the grapevines. The vines were planted as cuttings, with several cuttings set in one hole and the hope that maybe one would take. We’re finding that, in most cases, 4 or 5 vines took. Really well.  Wire cages were put in probably in some efforts to keep the plants growing upwards. They grew upwards, and then spilled out and over the sides, they wound round and round, and through, and in between. With the ground still frozen, we can’t pull the cages out completely. But we can “unzip” them enough to reach in and start trimming.

We’re being very severe with these vines. More severe than either of us is comfortable with. We keep reassuring ourselves that this is what’s best. We’re cultivating a healthier, more sustainable vineyard. Maybe crop yields will be lower this year, but they will beef up the following year. There is much deliberation over which to keep and which to cut. Lot’s of back and forth: “Cut that one.” “No you cut that one.” “But it’s so strong and happy.” “Why can’t we keep them both?” “We can’t.” “Don’t be cruel, they like each other- look how they are all tangled.” “We have to do this.” “Fine, but I can’t watch.”

We’ll save cuttings with 2-4 buds for new plantings. If anyone would like some grapevines (Valliant, and Concord), we have a few.

 I’ve tried to take some before and after shots here to show the extremity of our grapevine situation.  There are five vines growing in the clump to the left. The little, lonesome vine on the right is all that’s left afterwards. Conjures images of riot police dispersing protesters, Viking raids, Nurse Ratched, buzz cuts – all things cruel and unjust… doesn’t it?

Asparagus sprouts, fuzzy buds, and chicory stems.

Our asparagus seeds sprouted yesterday. They are the most tender, delicate little wisps of sprouts. They make me want to hold my breath for fear of maybe toppling them with an exhale.  We’ve got two varieties going: Mary Washington and Precoce D’Argenteuil. Jeremy and I have never grown asparagus before and don’t know exactly what to expect, but the seed catalog describes the Mary Washington as a “popular variety” with “long green spears.” The fancy, frenchy one is an “old heirloom variety” that also does well as a blanching asparagus. These both are from Baker Creek.

From seed, asparagus take 3 years to develop before they can be harvested for eating. Or you can start asparagus from crowns, or root stalk, and harvest after two years. Despite the additional wait, we chose to start asparagus from seed because we couldn’t find asparagus crowns we liked. What we found available as crowns were either hybrid asparagus or patented, hybrid asparagus. Hybrid seeds are common in mono-crop operations; hybrids don’t allow flexibility for evolution, resilient innovation, and diversity.  We’ve been intentionally selecting open-pollinated varieties for seeds – avoiding hybrids and patented seeds – and didn’t want to be growing asparagus we couldn’t even save seed from.  And as regards saving seed: asparagus are gender binary. I’ve been reading. Most of these books suggest growing only male plants. Because they spend energy on seed production, the female spears are often scrawny and they make for over-crowded beds – crowded with new shoots from all their seeding.  Despite these suggestions, we’ll commit to doing a little extra weeding so that we can keep some matriarch asparagus and have seed to save.

On a walk around with the dogs this morning we think we may have identified a pretty sort of dead-flower-stem thing that’s up and about all over the irrigation ditch and in with the spruce trees. Is it chicory? The only plant ID guides we can find are of flowers in bloom. To me, it seems like if you were to give one of the chicory plants in these photos a big spoonfull of South Dakota winter, it would end up looking a lot like one of these dead-flower-stem things. (Mollie, what are your thoughts? – please say yes. Jeremy is very excited about chicory coffee.)

On this same walk around, we noticed the grapes have started to peak out little fuzzy buds. Little, bitty ones. Oh boy. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, this is our signal to get out there and prune. Shears ready, shears sharpened. Jeremy and I have been getting a bit stir crazy, with the ground still frozen and so much work to do. This is the onset of spring’s irreversible torrent; flushed out of the eddy, we are straight in the thalweg now.

And lastly, but heavens, not leastly. Certainly not. Our most favorite fuzzy muppet, Amelia, is visiting for the next month. Amelia and Radish are getting along fantastically – play time has not stopped since she got here. Two big, happy farm dogs. One little, bitty farm house. The rugs are all overturned, the furniture is in disarray, the doors are scarred, absolutely everything is dusted in dog fur, and our sides are sore from enjoying the mayhem. Jeremy and I got a chance to spend six (7?) months with Amelia a couple years ago while her man, Barton, rode his motorcycle through Eastern Europe and across Russia. Now he’s headed up a volcano in the Andes, and Amelia is our first farm guest. Having the world’s two most ridiculous dogs, Radish and Amelia, is everything irresistible and fun. Need a little puppy-time pick-me-up? You ought to stop by Cycle Farm for a visit with Radish and Amelia. Spirit lifters. No appointment necessary.

Topbar bee boxes

Cycle Farm was awarded grant funding from the Lundberg Family Farms’ Raising Organic Family Farms program to help us start bee hives this spring. Since taking a backyard bee keeping course last year with Les and Heather of For the Love of Bees in New Mexico, we’ve been really excited about topbar bee keeping and promoting local pollinators. Jeremy and I spent yesterday afternoon building bee boxes with the generous help of Jeremy’s father, David, and his well-equipped wood shop.

Assembly was pretty straightforward. The boxes are from pine boards, and the bars are cut from scrap. The wood is all untreated and the outside of each box will be seasoned with linseed oil (flax). The box is a trough shaped container (think hollow log) on which the top bars line up, creating a lid.  The bees build a comb from each bar, and to help prevent cross-combing, we’ve attached a cleat to several of the topbars. The bees use a slit in a wall of the box as their primary entrance/exit.

Our next bee-project will be a mason bee nesting block to encourage additional, industrious local pollinators. Here’s a photo from a visit to Sol Feliz Farm, near Taos, NM.

CSA shares filled up!

Thanks for all the excitement and support, we’ve filled up out CSA shares for 2012! If you didn’t get a Cycle Farm share this year, we’d be happy to put you on our waiting list for next season. We hope to double the number of shares we have available next year.

Also please check out the other wonderful CSA farms in the area: Bear Butte Gardens in Sturgis and Harold Gray in Nisland (499-8840). 

The Dog Bitter

Number One farm dog met a chicken last week. Our neighbor’s chicken. A gorgeous and girthy red layer, who unfortunately found her way out of the run.

Our good dog had never met a chicken before. We weren’t totally sure how she would find them.. I confess, in the back of my mind I had sun-kissed visions of the dog and a happy flock living merrily together. Radish would naturally take pride in herding the girls and protecting them from any sort of danger. And the birds would respect Radish as their loyal guardian and keeper, and as such they would stay where they belong and not make a mess of our vegetables. That’s not at all how it happened.

The bird never even had a chance. Jeremy and I gushed apologies, completely mortified. The owner was gracious and forgiving, suggesting that she was an old hen, not a very good layer. Yea, right. Her name was probably Blue Ribbon Layer or Holly’s Prize. We assured him we would replace her with a vigorous layer in the spring. Apologizing again, we -all three- tucked our tails and went home.

So our darling dog is a masked chicken killer. Feeling like horrible neighbors and poor dog owners, we took a walk down to the brewery to digest what had just happened. Crow Peak was having a tasting and naming of their new Special Bitter. It’s an excellent beer, and there were some great bitter-themed names suggested. A favorite was Valley Annex Bitter. Jeremy and I told the story of our afternoon, our bad dog, ..and the chicken. Our name suggestion was The Dog Bitter, as that’s what happened to her. She got bit.

Last night, in memory of Holly’s Prize, we had a Dog Bitter. And it was delicious. Thanks Crow Peak. It may not set things right, but it sure does make for a happy(ier) ending.

a session beer with a bite

Center for Appropriate Transport

Jeremy got a chance to apprentice with the Center for Appropriate Transport in Eugene, Oregon over these past few months. He left in July and just came back in December. It’s all sort of splendid and mysterious. Where’d he go? ..he’s doing what? The course was comprehensive in cargo bike frame building, small business management, welding, weeding and industrial sewing. We’ve heard lots of stories – now here are some pictures! This is a link to the CAT program site. It is a magical workshop where thoughtful utilitarian transport and happiness are made. You’ll see.

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The fantastic folks from the apprenticeship: Jeremy with Tuyen and Derek and their inspiring mentor, Jan.

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Jeremy with a special delivery on the Long Haul bike he built during the CAT course.

We are really excited about minimizing off-farm inputs and maximizing human powered farming practices with Cycle Farm. This smart cargo bicycle will serve well as our farm truck. It will be extraspecially fun to have loaded up on market day. Fresh off the pedals from Bike-Building Wonderland, Jeremy’s brain is still ticking away at ideas for trike-tor design, trailers and other pedal powered farm equipment.