sauerkraut

Last week a hail storm hit the valley, it was the hardest storm we’ve experienced yet and regrettably timed for most valley vegetable production.  We have received several thoughtful notes and phone calls and generous offers to help. We’ve shared supportive hugs and commiserative pints at Crow Peak. We put up over thirty pounds of sauerkraut. With this post, we want to express our gratitude and give an update on how things are recovering and what we’re working on.

We are clearing out beds of damaged-beyond-recovery crops and transplanting in successions of lettuce and fall brassicas and direct seeding in fall greens and roots. The lambs and chickens have enjoyed the recent diversity in diet ranging from peas and chicory hearts, to lettuce and cabbage. The compost pile is heaped in nitrogen-rich greens, ready to be layered with wood shavings from the brooder. There are several crops we are holding out hope for and haven’t yet ripped out, although, to date, they don’t seem too promising. We are learning a whole lot about timing and successions and the resilient nature of plants. We’re feeling vastly grateful for the health of our soil, the diversity of our crop plan, and the support of our community.

In the photos below: Tom (our excellent summer farm hand) and Trish trimmed out the battered and busted leaves on the Swiss chard, leaving the row looking like the line waiting outside a Sex Pistols concert. Now after just a few days, their technicolor mohawks have doubled (some tripled!) in size; Tom and Jerm planted out little lettuces including a new to us Egyptian variety called Balady Aswan; a planting of fall cabbage replacing lettuce; kohlrabi; yeh for soil blocks and mulch!; Vibrant Joy(!) bok choy replacing a row of battered snow peas.With the help of several rock star neighbors, friends, a farm hand, and farm mother, we were able to get all of our hardneck garlic out of the field on Saturday afternoon after the market. Harvesting garlic (which looks spectacular this year) and working along side friends has been a much needed moral booster. Especially while working between  (what remains of) the winter squash rows. With the help of Tom and Jami, we’ve got a good start on clearing up the garlic beds and seeding in a cover crop mix that will feed our soil for the rest of the summer (this mix is buckwheat, oats and clover). From the bottom of our hearts and with bouquets of stinking roses, thank you, friends. Coincidentally, this poem by Marge Piercy was included in the Cycle Farm Poetry Tour -selected for the spot along the drive near the Niedzwetzkyana crab apple, the monarda, and the gate to the front field where the garlic grew this year.On Tuesday morning we stirred up a bucket of Biodynamic preparation 501 and sprayed the farm with silica and good intentions.  Many thanks to Tom for being so patient and rad while we fumble about trying to explain how excited we are about this.The animals are doing great. The pastured chickens are being moved twice a day now, foraging on grass and bugs. Their pasture-based diet is supplemented with a blend of fresh-ground whole grains that we mix and grind on the farm. They move along behind the lamb tractor, after the lambs have mowed down the tall grass. The littlest birds have started putting on their feathers and spunk and are headed out to the second chicken tractor this weekend. We anticipate butchering at the end of August and end of September and will send out an email regarding pre-order as butcher date approaches. If you’d like to be added to our email contact list, just let us know.

In this photo below, from left to right: tall, not-yet-grazed pasture; in front (left) of the chicken tractor has been grazed by the lambs and is where the chickens will be moved next; on the far side of the chicken tractor is where the chickens have been most recently; and along the right is the lush re-growth of pasture 2 weeks after impact from the lambs and chickens.Pasture Management Committee lamb member profiles: Lady Eve – a vociferous contralto who enjoys sunflower leaves and a good fleece rub. Albrecht – horned and affectionate, somewhat clumsy, always endearing. Justus – invariably impeccably dressed though never takes the limelight; he’s gentle, reticent and smart, entirely unsuspected and therefore an ideal accomplice to any sort of fuzzy mischief.There are a number of delicious and unaffected crops coming from the greenhouse: basil, beets, kale, and shortly: cucumbers, peppers, ginger and turmeric. We have been able to salvage a number of good things from the field for market: fennel bulbs, beets w. tops trimmed, new growth on lettuce, krauting cabbage, peas. And we’ve been monitoring new growth on plants in the field: carrot tops are rebounding, aforementioned chard is growing fast, summer squash and cucumbers are flowering, scallions are sending up new greens. In short, this hail event is not the end of our season. We’re planning on having the farm stand open as scheduled through to the end of October, although deliveries to restaurants will be reduced for the next few weeks. The farm stand will be thin for a few weeks, but harvest continues! We have a commitment to our farm supporters, the season is long yet, we are working hard to grow good things and they are growing.Lastly, just a few noted perks as regards the hail: Sauerkraut. Downed and damaged leaves created a full, farm-wide organic nitrogen application, a veritable feast for our beloved, ever hungry soil biology. For the most part, the storm completely shredded the garlic leaves which aided immensely in the bindweed detangling process. Johnny Rotten Swiss chard. Our three year old elecampane was in the wind shadow of the big ponderosa and suffered only minimal leaf damage(!), began blooming the day after the storm(!!). The pelleting force of the hail was an effective shock to our shiitake logs, they are flushing like never before, and we’ll have buckets of shiitakes at market tomorrow morning. Thank you for all your support and we look forward to seeing you at the farm stand,

up, up, up!, Trish and Jeremy  

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May, farm update

Things of note from these past couple weeks. Please excuse us if this reads scattered and disjointed. Consider this disarray an accurate testament to the state of the farm these days. Spectacular mayhem. –

  • We’re doing a better job at start care, timing successions, watering in the greenhouse, even our potting and soil block mix seems to be just a bit more dialed in than previous seasons. Our biggest challenge remains getting no-till beds ready for transplanting.
  • Germination in the field, however, has been less successful/uniform partly due to dry soil conditions (both lack of rain and late turn-on of our irrigation ditch). Carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips are all up, but not at the intended density. And the arugula is unintentionally serving as an excellent flea beetle trap crop, we’ve never grown such nice looking broccoli.
  • We sprayed Biodynamic preparation 501 a couple weeks ago – during the zenith of spring fruit tree blossoms on the farm.
  • Last weekend we had a chance to watch what looked like a magical fiery-feathered parrot perched on a bee hive and gorging on our honey bees. Our Sibley’s and Albrechtsens’ tell us he was a first year male Summer Tanager! WHOA! These birds like supping on bees and wasps especially, and they catch “these insects in flight and kill them by beating them against a branch. Before eating a bee, the tanager rubs it on the branch to remove the stinger. Summer Tanagers eat larvae, too: first they get rid of the adults, and then they tear open the nest to get the grubs” (that bit’s from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology). And, what’s more – they’re not common around here; we haven’t seen him since, we must have just caught him on a re-fueling stop mid spring migration. The binoculars have been firmly attached to Jeremy’s side nonetheless.
  • A few of the bird nesting boxes that we built this winter are occupied – there are a couple chickadees in the wild plums by the spruce trees, house wrens in the plums in front of the house, and the robin on the platform under the gutter has three exceedingly hungry nestlings.
  • We’ve been enjoying spring migration, especially now having a dance card of who’s on their way. Our busiest week so far has included at least 53 different species – 32 on one day alone. Some new species for the farm list are Olive-sided Flycatcher, Pine Siskin, Field Sparrow.
  • Speaking of visitors, this spring we’ve shared the farm through a number (13) of farm tours – a Poetry Tour, Farm Dreams tour and skillshare, the Crook County Conservation District Soil Health Workshop, sharing with other local small producers and beginning farmers, film crews, and farm share members. Our count to-date this year has been 90 different people touring the farm (ninety! holy crap!). This count does not include people who came only to snuggle baby lambs – this number exceeded 50 in the first 3 weeks and I stopped counting, because that’s silly. Celebrity lambs. Apparently word is out that this place is a circus. This is the first year we’ve kept track of farm tour numbers, we’re doing this partly to gauge the extent of our impact in the community and also to understand how much time we’re spending hosting tours and not on income generating work that needs to be done.
  • One of the best parts of these farm visits has been engaging in conversations around soil health, organic no-till mixed-vegetable farming, cover crops, mycorrhizae and little soil critters – all things we love and love learning about.
  • Dung beetles! Due to unusual circumstances and some procrastination, there was a pile of gross fish guts out in the orchard, on close inspection we saw it was teaming with dung beetles – including a new one we’ve never seen here before. HooRAY for inefficiency. (about dung beetles, if you haven’t already watched this, please do. It’s a good one. And the dung beetles make such darling noises.)
  • Our fuzzy flail mowers have graduated to the lamb tractor and are already hard at work. The tractor is a fenced area we can move through our young orchard.  This helps us manage grazing in the pasture/orchard, fertilization, and protects the little trees from browsing. This summer, we’ll move chicken tractors along right behind the lambs – lambs mowing the tall grass for the chickens, and the chickens get to enjoy what the lambs leave behind.
  • The lambs, Justus, Albrecht, and Lady Eve, have taught us a whole lot so far as regards common ailments for young livestock: small puncture wounds, strange gum-ball-turned-golf-ball-sized subcutaneous bumps, bloat, nasty infected wounds, and the remarkable effects of ginger root and grapeseed oil on ruminant digestive issues. Thanks, lambs, we’re glad you’re feeling better.
  • Mostly, these days we’re removing brome rhizomes and dandelions from beds. Transplanting out starts just as quick as those beds are ready. Watering starts, checking and double-checking on the greenhouse, and moving irrigation around. We’re adding things to the to-do list with fervor… and a bit (much) slower, checking items off the list.
  • The garlic looks good and has been delivering us, if just for moments at a time, from the mess and reminding us of our Keatsean negative capability. This season, so far, has been so radically different than our previous springs which makes some things challenging and frustrating.  On the up side, we are sure learning a lot.  March and April were too cold, wet and snowy to get much done in the field, and then May swooped in with her oven doors open. We generally plan for May 25th as our approximate last frost date, this spring’s last frost was May 2nd. And it’s been July since.
  • Operation RUSDSG has been field-deployed (attn. Regina). This special flower garden plot, inspired by our good friend and farm spirit animal is going in piece-meal as spring greens come out of the turbine beds. This is a high-traffic area that will get lots of attention from pollinators and us, alike. Sea star and Tower Chamois asters were launched first. Details on our Operation RUSDSG are on a need-to-know basis. If you need to know what this silly acronym stands for, ask, we’ll tell you.

Thanks, friends! Hope this finds you well.

With love from the farm, Trish and Jeremy

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!

cow shit and strawberries

The CSA shares this week include some exceptionally beautiful lettuce greens, big leaves that we think might make for awful smart lettuce wraps. In light of this, the CSA newsletter includes a recipe for lettuce wraps that we think you’ll enjoy- of course, don’t let this limit you, be creative, have fun, and bon appetit! And while you’re crunching away, here’s a guide to the lettuce varieties in your shares:csa week 3

This year we have nearly twenty different varieties of lettuce planted out in the field (Jeremy has a small problem at seed ordering time, Trish abets). The CSA shares this week also include pea shoots(!) and strawberries(!!).  It is our opinion that all lawn should be replaced by strawberry plants. And peas.z dimentionThe farm z-dimension has grown this week with trellising the tomatoes. And we’ve started a biodynamic barrel compost that will be ready to use next spring. barrelcompostOver the past few years we have been learning about biodynamic agriculture, we appreciate how this philosophy aligns well with our thoughts and management goals and we’re super excited to be incorporating this into our farm and practices. After the CSA season, when we make our annual migration south for the Quivira Coalition conference, we’re also looking forward to attending the Biodynamic Association biannual conference. Here is a shot of our farmer friend’s sweet milker who has so graciously shared her manure with us:ericas cowYesterday we disturbed a cloud (bunches!) of these lovelies lurking by the hops. Lacewings are excellent predators. These ones, in particular, looked well fed.And lastly, trish spirit mustache

 

Enter: LAMBS

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlease join us in welcoming three new farm hands, Feste, Bottom, and Speed. Introducing: our new pasture management committee. They came to the farm on April 1st and are thus named after good fools*. Currently residing in a strawbale nest arranged in the north bay of the garage, these little ones will eventually, this summer, be pastured out in the orchard. We’re looking forward to employing their services for mowing and soil fertility in rotation ahead of the broilers. The lambs will be rotated through the pasture in a fenced area, trimming the grass/weeds/etc. and adding their natural fertilizer, spurring new tender green growth and insect activity. Then we’ll move the birds through in chicken tractors, giving them more ready access to soft tender shoots and tasty bugs. The lambs will help provide good pasture and forage for the chickens and will provide us with happy, healthy meat.

feeding time

These guys are now just over one week old. Bottle feeding is getting easier, especially since building a bottle stand.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAradish and lambs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They are everything adorable and lively and lovely and loud. We have a new anthem at the farm these days: Baby, don’t you tear my clothes. We’re very much looking forward to the end of their early, frequent feeding schedule and the renewal of our sleep schedule. Neither of us has experience with livestock beyond the chickens and worm wrangling. We have been studying up with stacks of library books and online guides. All helpful, but really, we are most grateful for our tremendously supportive mentors, the Barnaud’s and Kelly Knispel. Thank you for your sage advise and encouragement.

rosemary, celery, salvia

In other news: Pace is quickening with these longer days. We laid out thick mulch in the walkways between beds in the front field to help suppress weeds (the mulching formula: a base layer of imbricated barley bags from our neighborhood brewery, with a thick overlaying mantle of chipped wood mulch). The fruit trees are almost all pruned. We are beginning to prepare beds, planting peas, favas. We’ve resumed cobbing work in the greenhouse. Readying ginger to presprout in the basement. The house is bulging with germinating seed trays. Garlic has sprouted. Jeremy is scooting over to Bozeman to pick up potatoes from the Kimm’s (who grow excellent seed potatoes, hire handsome farmhands, and offer inspiration for land stewardship). The chickens are enjoying the thawed earth and recent surge of available protein; Polly, in particular, enjoys hopping over the fence and eating Jeremy’s field pea cover crop. We are scheming Spearfish Bike Week, ag land preservation options, and outdoor kitchen/vegetable prep area.seeds_preps_cob_starts

*see Shakespeare. Feste, the clever, free-range fool in Twelfth Night; Bottom, the weaver, the comical braggart from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Speed, a fun, mischief maker in Two Gentlemen of Verona.

 

sometimes ups outnumber the downs.

hive inspection_compilation

We checked in on the hives last week. This winter we lost Anna Karenina and Lara. Lolita is doing alright.

In looking through the hives, we inspected each bar closely and took lots of notes. It’s not clear to us exactly why the two hives didn’t survive the winter. Starvation of the hive during overwintering is a big concern. For this reason, and not knowing how much honey the hives would need, we left the bees with all their accumulated honey reserves. We were unable to locate a remaining brood nest in Lara. There were a few unhatched brood cells in Anna, but they were in close proximity to honey reserves.

We did find a few varroa mites in Lara’s hive. Varroa mites are a parasite that attacks both adult bees and the developing brood, weakening the hive. It is common for beekeepers to treat hives to control varroa mite outbreaks. This treatment most typically involves using an insecticide to attack the mites. Trouble is, bees are insects too. We do not and will not treat our bees with miticides, medicine, or synthetic chemicals. Continuously treating hives perpetuates weak bees. Instead we will encourage bees to grow healthy, evolve to be strong and naturally resistant.

Russian Carnolians (our bees) are a variety that have been bred to be naturally resistant to varroa mites – We would like to replace these two hives. We’ve checked into ordering nukes, but they are extremely hard to come by, as everyone is suffering losses especially this year. Our best bet may be to keep our eyes open and try capturing a local swarm (please let us know if you find a swarm, we’ll come pick it up).

On warm days, we had been watching bees go in and out of all three hives. It turns out, Lolita’s hive has been poaching honey reserves from the other two unoccupied hives. Anna and Lara both have several full honey combs. We’re feeling pretty blue about the loss of Anna and Lara. But also pretty damn proud of Lolita, she’s proven resilient and resourceful.

bike bucket braceJeremy and Marcus (mainly Marcus) have been toiling on completing the deer fence around the orchard area.  We’ve ordered bare root fruit trees which will be arriving soon and, with the number of deer we have, a fence will be essential to giving these little trees a chance at survival. The fence posts are leftovers from the hop trellising we set up last spring, the posts are set in 3.5′ holes. On the west end of our field, the delicious valley top soil stops at about 1′ and meets with a hardpan clay layer, sometimes gravel. In order to power through this, Jeremy and Marcus are soaking holes to soften the clay.  Because there is no access to water back there, Jeremy built a smart Bicycle Bucket Brace with which he can carry four 5-gallon buckets of water from the pump out to the field. This will also serve useful this summer when we are watering trees.

april 3rd greenhouseSeed trays are filling up and multiplying, special things planned for our CSA share members (there are still a few shares available, call us quick!).

This part is ridiculous fun. There is something about spending time with young vegetable plants, a raw optimism that is completely contagious.seeds_compilation

Some random notes: Calendula seeds are my new most favorite seed as they bear striking resemblance to ogre toenails. Totally gnarly. Jeremy and I have found drilling holes for native pollinator habitat to be very therapeutic in light of our recent loss. And I’m trying to salvage some Dester tomato seeds “saved” from last season. The rotten tomato mush got neglected in a yogurt container for too long and may have prematurely germinated or rotted the seed, we’ll see.

preparation 500_compilationHere are a few photos from our preparation 500, many thanks to friends at Meadowlark Hearth Farm in Scottsbluff, NE.

And it’s official: the first vulture of spring is here.