a May(hem) montage

So many warm and happy greetings from Cycle Farm! We’ve been sending out weekly farm updates via emails to our farm share members  for a month now and have realized that without our routine springtime farm community events, there are many in our broader community of farm friends that we haven’t had a chance to catch up with these days and we’re missing time with you all. This is a collection of snapshots (mostly annotated) from the farm these past couple of weeks, highlights from the most recent week’s share member newsletter, and a brief update as to where we are in the season. We are sending this out with love and hope it finds you doing well, keeping busy, and eating something seasonal and delicious, wherever you happen to be.Currently on the farm we have three lambs, a young soon-to-be laying flock, and a brooder full of Freedom Ranger meat birds. The lambs, Emily, Oliver, and Budbill, are just recently weaned and still exceedingly snuggly. The not-quite-yet layers treat the lambs like playground equipment. The lambs don’t seem to be thrilled about this. The brooder birds have quickly phased from cutie little peepers into their partial feathers, haggard and ragged look and whole-hearted dissident punk attitude. I think they’re staying up late listening to Rancid records, making art stencils, and compiling their angst and diy ethics into zines. They are at least pooping everywhere and scratching all the feed out of their feeders, no doubt because the feeder is an indisputable symbol of authoritarianism. Last week we put the lambs to in graze an area that we had seeded last fall with a rye and vetch cover crop. They took to the task without hesitation, the chickens followed suit. A lot of full crops and contented ruminations. The photos below show the rye/vetch field, in the lower photo: on the left is what they’ve grazed down in two days, on the right is where we’re just about to move them.The field rows are filling in. It seems as though most of our time is being spent hauling stuff: carts of straw mulch, wheel barrows of compost, buckets of weeds, buckets of grain for chickens, flats of young, tender green plants, and the live trap with BunBuns and then, later, Mrs. Bun-Buns. Some things look awesome, some – not so hot. We’ve had trouble with some direct seeded crops (mostly due to flea beetles), and accepting of this, we’ve transplanted out starts from the greenhouse in their stead – that is to say we’re bummed about the spring turnips that didn’t even really have a chance to set true leaves, but the rainbow Swiss chard transplants we plunked down in the bed instead look great. We have a couple self-inflicted weed issues that have been and will take time over the course of the summer – a trailer load of oat straw that we’re using to mulch beds is rich in oat seed, which means now all our vegetable beds have a lush oat cover crop coming up, and after making a few batches of soil block mix with vermicompost, we discovered that last year we hid a butt tonne of flowering stinging nettle in the worm bin. On the plus side, stinging nettle appears to be great at increasing circulation and easing soreness in tired, achy hands.The snap and snow peas are climbing up up UP. The onions look great. Jeremy’s hands have completed their annual transition to 80-grit sandpaper.Last week, Jeremy and his father, David, finished up a construction project in the pack shed.  We now have a big, empty, sparkly new wall. This puts us another step toward having the packshed all set up and functioning super smooth AND gives us an excellent location for art – we are accepting any and all mural ideas.  (fyi octopus is off the list, we already have the world’s most amazing octopus). Two observations regarding wearing masks during construction work, an advantage and a disadvantage: the mask blocks unpleasant dust/mold/junk associated with working on an old building however it’s mighty inconvenient for people who are used to holding nails/screws in their mouth as they work. Last week we also sprayed Biodynamic preparation 500, this is our ninth season with preps on the farm.  Spraying 500 always seems to happen when our to-do list is over the top and we are feeling behind despite being in go-go-go mode. And this requires us to sit and focus, to pull our attentions and intentions together; this practice fosters observation, humility, and patience. It was a good opportunity to reflect and meditate on the farm with a special focus on all these leafy green solar panels collecting energy from the sun, exuding sugars into the soil, and feeding our soil microbes and diversity of life around us, and to help us grow good, healthy food. In short, things around here are busy busy and beautiful, and we’re feeling especially grateful for all of it, even the 500 billion baby nettles in our soil blocks.

Oh yes! AND we’d like to share a collection of things we’ve found of interest and delight these past couple weeks…

  • Orion’s new series of letters from isolation, Together Apart, especially so this one.
  • Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach.
  • This poem by John O’Donnell and read aloud by Billy Collins in an interview on Sugar Calling.
  • Even though we know just enough about basketball to know they aren’t the Yukon Huskies, The Ramshackle Garden Of Affection, a collection of letters between Ross Gay and Noah Davis
  • for SoDak friends: the Sicangu Community Development Corporation and Dakota Rural Action are in cahoots to rally the masses in a distanced celebration of food – join the party, come to the table.
  • And a bit of fascinating science about bumble bees – they are AMAZING.


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  

laying flock

This summer we’re taking a break from raising pastured meat birds and lambs and instead, we’re devoting all our coochiecooing attentions to our laying flock. We have Ameraucanas, Black Australorps and one sweet Dominique (barred bird in photo above). The Ameraucanas lay blue-green eggs, the Australorps and Dominique lay various shades of brown eggs.

In the past, we’ve ordered straight-runs of chicks as mixed grab-bags of heritage breeds from Sand Hill Preservation Center. We’ve had great luck with their chicks and through these birds we learned a lot about different types of chickens, good layers, not so good layers, growth rates, behavior, egg color, broodiness, comb-size and frost bite susceptibility, etc. And we enjoyed the variations in egg color.  However, in replacing old layers, we found it hard to distinguish between the newer layers and old hens. With the cost of feed, our profit margins on eggs are such that we can not afford to feed good sweet birds who are not laying eggs. Finally, after 4 years, egg production had become an economic folly and we decided to refresh the whole lot. Instead of ordering the mixed bag of heritage breeds again, we took a cue from our friend Julie at the James Ranch in Durango and decided to select birds by breed, such that we can establish an easier flock rotation. New layers this year are distinct (the Australorps are solid black, the Ameracaunas are either brown or white with mutton chops), the next chicks we get may be white or barred birds so we can tell the difference in age.

Our 43 hens spend the day patrolling for bugs, grubs and tender green things through our back grapevines. They dust bathe and rest in the shade of the spruce trees. We lug weeds out of the field by the bucket-load for them to manage. Periodically throughout the summer, we’ll let the open ditch run to water the trees; the birds always seem to enjoy an afternoon of puddle jumping and muddy worm gobbling. They eat things all day, lay eggs, and make great noises. And then they pick on each other and get broody and make even better noises. Currently we are ordering in feed from Buckwheat Growers, an organic feed mill in Minnesota. We order whole grains and use a small mill to grind grains, then mix the feed ourselves. The mill allows us to grind feed weekly, ensuring freshness and high nutrition.  We are trying to find a more local source for these grains and ideally reduce our shipping costs as well as carbon footprint.

We’re grateful for these feathered ladies, for eggs, nutrient cycling, and entertainment value.

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!

late August update, photos

The summer’s growth has crested into harvest. We’ve been trying to keep up. Here’s a bit of what’s happening.flowers putting up garlicThis was a great year for garlic; our new flower beds are showy as all get out; spending late nights processing junky, split and buggy tomatoes; our kale grex is ready to get out into the field.

bees bees and birdWe have two hives now, Pipi Longstocking and Heidi, both wild swarms, they are doing great; the herb beds are all bBbzzZZzzzy with native pollinators; and we have a hummingbird!! (a female ruby throated hummingbird, we’ve seen her regularly for 3 weeks now).

lambs hops rainbowHops are ready for harvest; a welcome light rain and double rainbow during chores this morning; the pasture management committee is hard at work and ruminating.

birds and seed

The lambs are followed by a chicken tractor: fresh grass, sheepshit, and bugs make for happy birds; our young birds from Sand Hill are growing up, with rose combs and hairy legs; seed saving is on full swing, and we’re already totally stoked about Spearfish’s second annual Seed Swap (stay tuned, next February).

csa so far

The CSA is going well. We’ve had beets in the shares and strawberries! SO GOOD. Our CSA members are such an incredible group of local food enthusiasts, we’re immensely grateful. Thank you, CSA, for sharing the season with us, for your bright smiles each week during pick-up and your courageous kitchen wizardry as we experiment with things like celtuce, fava greens, and sprouts. (If you’re interested, our weekly CSA newsletters are posted online here.)

We have been learning heaps. On the syllabus this summer: livestock and pasture management, blight and orchard care, experiments with row crop farming and flood irrigation, marketing meat birds, increasing production for our CSA, tax incentives for, and the difficulties of, encouraging ag land preservation, farm insurance. And time management, we’re learning about time management.


One of the absolute highlights this summer has been getting to host Abigail, a BHSU student intern from their Sustainability Program.

radish hoopingAlso, lastly, Radish and Jeremy are working on a new trick now that mocha is down (J: how do you want your mocha this morning, Radish? R: with whipcream and a double shot.) Radish has, believe it nor not, harnessed even more lust for life now that we have a freezer full of dehydrated chicken hearts and gizzards.



losing chickens

It was a bummer when we lost a bird to a red tail hawk last summer, but there was also something ok with it… something out of our control, something about the food chain and nutrient cycling. The redtail went after the little one – the baby guinea – and she ate it all up. We watched her pull it apart as she was perched up on the hop trellis. It was a good reminder that we are growing, farming, with nature.  We’re growing at nature’s mercy, really, and we are appreciative.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

However, it is harder to find consolation when losing birds to a dog. It seems a much more careless, savage death. A waste. The dog’s not hungry, just playing. The other night we got about 8″ of snow, and as a result most of the birds were cozied up, comfortable in the coop. First thing in the morning we opened their pop door, despite the snow – we like to give them the option of enjoying the day outside. A big handsome husky found his way into the coop. Radish alerted us to the dog. Jeremy bolted out to chase it away. We lost four birds. Part of what’s so troublesome about this is that it is counter to the attention and love that we have in caring for the animals, which includes providing them a deliberate, thoughtful, humane death.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Makes me think back to when we first got started up here. Radish got one of our neighbor’s birds. A beautiful old hen named Nutmeg. I was mortified. I’m still mortified. Our neighbor actually consoled me, graciously telling me how she was a old hen, probably not laying anymore, not even worth stewing, dogs are dogs, etc., etc. Ever since, Radish has been on leash lock-down if she’s anywhere near birds. And I have a fair amount of work to do to build up my losing livestock calluses.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’re feeling pretty blue around here. Salvaging the birds for stew and setting to repair the fencing. The ground is still frozen, so for the time being, we’ve “patched” the fence with pallets. Not ever having butchered laying hens before, we got exposure to a little bit of different anatomy. Athena even had a hard-shelled egg right ready to drop. We’re headed over to a friend’s ranch tomorrow to learn about raising bum lambs. Which means we’ll need more/better fencing. And I’ll need thicker calluses.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We just finished dinner. Jeremy made butter chicken curry, with farm potatoes and peppers. Finished with a poem – A Prayer After Eating, by Wendell Berry

I have taken in the light
that quickened eye and leaf.
May my brain be bright with praise
of what I eat, in the brief blaze
of motion and of thought.
May I be worthy of my meat.

Spring. Pie and guineas.


Hooray for pie! and pi! Big thanks to everyone for helping us celebrate such an important day and for your generous support of the Spearfish Bicycle Cooperative. There were a couple quiches standing tall for the savories, but sweet pies dominated. Get a hold of this line up: a smoked salmon and a chipotle mushroom quiche. Pudding pie, peanut crisp apple pie, ginger rhubarb pie, mocha creme pie, peach pie, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, blueberry pie. Whipped cream. And gluten free brownies. Mercy. So much fun to meet new people, tour around the farm, and eat. Thank you, friends. Cultivating community proves again the most rewarding part of farming.

Pi/e Day also inspired a furious bout of spring cleaning at the farm. We’ve decided that celebrating Pi/e Day should occur annually, if only to encourage us to tidy up after a long winter hibernation. It’s remarkable how piles of remay and tools, seeding trays and buckets seem to grow in corners when you aren’t looking.potato pruning

Our most favorite big, fuzzy Amelia came by for a quick visit last weekend. She and her man, Barton, helped us get started on pruning the fruit trees and put in our very first plantings in the greenhouse (early potatoes, radishes, arugula and spinach).

We planted a small field of barley, in the area where we had garlic last year. This area is thick with Creeping Jenny (I wrote a song about it). This year, our plan to deal with this is to get a good thick stand of barley which will germinate at a lower temperature than Creeper Jennifer and out compete it. As soon as the barley is harvested (mid- late June), we’ll 1-2-punch the Creeping Jenny with another smother crop, this time in the ring: Creeper Jennifer vs. the hometown favorite Sweet Potatoes. TKO. Take that, Jenny. We’ve never grown sweet potatoes before. They thrive in warm soil – and sweet potatoes in SoDak can be done as our good farming friends at Bear Butte Gardens demonstrated last year). By planting later in the season, soil temperatures will be welcoming for them, and hopefully we’ll have left enough time to get a good yield of potatoes. And we’ll keep up the cover crop punches, weeding out that creeping Jenny.

Already now the greenhouse is growing things. Little radishes, bold and determined. And, radix, seemingly ever so appropriate a beginning for a new greenhouse.

sprouts in greenhouse
The chickens have two new coopmates. Our wonderful friend and neighbor Holly brought over two birds last week. Guinea hens are fierce insect predators, excellent grasshopper and tick eaters, organic pest control. They are still acclimatizing to their new home and family. They seem pretty comfortable in the coop, although they did spend one night perched, sleeping up on the apex of our neighbors garage. It turns out they are even harder to herd than the chickens, and they will not be picked up. They are completely wicked looking and gorgeous, and they sing so sweet. We’ve named them Opal Fly and Annette Hanshaw after our two most favorite skrawnky jazz singers (if you’re interested, check out Ms. Fly and Ms. Hanshaw). Thank you Holly. Thank you, thank you.

Other fun bird news: a mottled java caught a snake the other day. That kept the whole bunch of them busy for the entire afternoon. It was a wily, tireless game of keep-away. No teams, every hen for herself. Blood thirsty pile-ups, flapping and screeching. Flex offense and fast cuts. The unnerving part is that they found a snake out and active in March – but as I’m writing this, it’s back down to twenty degrees and we are getting a good dose of snow. It’s March Madness is all.

Happy happy spring!

light-stressed seedlingsOh yes! and Cycle Farm was in the newspaper this week. Local farmers lobby for aid in D.C. 

January, in photos

Here is a quick photo update of the farm(chickens) these days.Jan10th

The photos above were taken before the snow last week. A sunset over Crow Peak. And here’s the farm today:January at Cycle Farm

The birds are spending a lot of time in their coop, grudgingly making their way out to explore the snow during the day. The chicken tractor is set up on cinder blocks with the door open, the birds are using this dry area as their dust bath.

The strawbale walls of the coop help keep them out of the wind, but it still gets cold in there, with the rest of the greenhouse unfinished and no cob yet for thermal mass. We haven’t put in a heat or light lamp for them. They are laying well and don’t seem to mind cuddling up together for warmth. Though investing in a heated waterer would be lovely.

jan chickens..and more bird photos. We have a few more named ladies. Winter is for naming the birds, it seems. Athena and Uncle Vincent. And Polly. Athena and Uncle Vincent are the two, full-figured White Orpingtons. Athena is typically the last hen into the coop at night, she likes to stand on the pop-door and muster lightingbolts at any would-be owls. Jeremy’s father named Uncle Vincent, after a dear relative. And Polly is one of the Mottled Javas, the biggest one. She’s so named because she likes to hop up on my knee.. and my shoulder. She gets comfortable, nestles into my neck, and takes a fair amount of persuasion to get rid of. It would maybe be cuter if her feet weren’t covered in mud and chicken shit. Jeremy enjoys this a great deal and calls her Polly.

broodyhenOne hen went broody, just for a few days. Squawky, she screamed at us if we got too close. And then she just sat there, settled and poofy. A feathery, partially deflated, black basketball. Patiently sitting. Deliberately rotating the eggs beneath her. More meditation than incubation, as the eggs aren’t fertilized. She got over it quickly.

bolitabeansCleaning beans and cutting blocks.

BLOCk printign

We are spending lots of time planning for the upcoming season. Our hope is to increase the number of CSA shares we fill this year. This is taking a great deal of strategizing in terms of row spacing and rotation, varieties, timing, budgets, etc. We’re both going dog-ear happy with the seed catalogs. Jeremy is collecting a wish list of trees for the orchard. Radish is enjoying her days snoozing at my feet under the desk where I’m plugged into work. I’m enjoying the days being able to full-heartedly focus on off-farm work, not feeling torn or guilty – like I really should be outside. Jeremy is baking bread. We are connecting with our community in ways that are hard to do during the growing season. We’re reading Rudolf Steiner and Buffalo Bird Woman, Edith Hamilton and Michael Phillips. We are having fun working on projects in Jeremy’s father’s woodshop and fiddling around with blockprints. And we’re eating squash.

Happy 2013 everyone! We hope this is a joyful year for you all, full of peace and good things growing.

Blommefrugttræ and a banshee.

Despite the recent tepid temperatures, the seed catalogs have started rolling in. We are spending the days clearing and mulching vegetable beds, moving rocks, chopping wood, baking bread, broadcasting clover cover crop seed, winnowing amaranth and popcorn. seeds and sleep

Our friend, Gordon Tooley of Tooley’s Trees in Truchas, NM honored us with a beautiful South Dakota plum tree while we were down visiting for the Quivira Coalition conference a couple weeks ago. Gordon grows heirloom fruit trees, organically, on a north facing slope, at nearly 8,000′ elevation. His reverence and enthusiasm for fruit trees has inspired us to make orchard plans for the farm. Trees are important. There is something sacred about tending to something, a being, that will likely outlive you. Perennials deserve extra deliberation  We have been studying several orchard books and have consulted with the field itself. We are looking at existing, larger shade trees, wind direction, aspect, soil moisture. Pear trees generally grow taller, so plan on room for them towards the north side so they don’t block sun for anyone else. Wind comes from the west, so arrange the rows skewed from that as to divert air flow up and over the trees, not down the rows. Consider your root stock. And so we go.

The South Dakota plum, Prunus americana, is a variety originally bred in the early 1900’s by the head of the Horticulture Department at South Dakota State University, Niels Ebbesen Hansen. Only wish he’d have given it a good Danish name. Ours has been planted in an excellent spot, near a cluster of wild plums, towards the very south west corner of the field. Planted at grade, graft union to the north. It’s got a burly deer fence protecting it. And a fantastic view of Spearfish Peak. Thank you Gordon.

planting south dakota plum

A few of the highlights of our recent orchard studies include the following: fruit trees are described as precocious. It is advised that one makes thorough ski tracks and/or snowshoe trompings through one’s orchard after winter snowfalls, to ensure adequate collapse of vole/mole/critter tunnels which might otherwise be girdling your trees. Add that to the to-do list. Have to go skiing.

December has brought us a few challenges. The deer have discovered they can rip down the fencing and help themselves to the remaining goodies in the field. We had been looking forward to krauting a short row of cabbage – but it’s gone now. The frost-sweetened kale, collards and brussels have been mowed. The daily routine now includes a check and repair on the fencing. The warm temperatures mean that the hives have not completely tucked into winter hibernation. The more active they are, the more honey they consume. The danger is that they will exhaust their honey reserves before spring time. The huge winds of this past weekend blew the tarps covering the straw bales on the greenhouse all to hell. It’s exhausting and completely futile to try and weigh down a 14 x 30′ sheet of vinyl canvas that’s being lifted by the wind. We spent more time that we should have out there battling the banshees. It’s essential that we keep the strawbales dry, otherwise they will rot and mold beneath the plaster. Gales, heavy tarps, lots of yelling, murky clouds, hastily piling straw bales, rocks, wood beams. Helpless and absolutely miserable. In the end, a board holding an edge of one of the tarps was ripped off the roof beam. No structural damage. And not too much strawbale damage.

We also have new positive challenges. Our chickens are laying in abundance, which has increased the pressure to find a market. Legally, we can sell our eggs direct to consumer, which is great. However, being primarily occupied by on-farm chores and not having a weekly winter Farmer’s Market, our ability to network and market our eggs is a time-challenge.  We’re looking into the licensing required to distribute our eggs through a local grocer. This involves “candling” the eggs, a term which conjures a little bit of Archimedes, and a little voo-doo. We’ll see. In the meantime, please contact us if you’re in the need for some extra-delicious, farm fresh eggs.

bearded lady and coop shots

Casita gallina and off-farm activities.

We took the chance to visit friends and family, and attend the Quivira Coalition annual conference in New Mexico this past week. A holiday away from the farm. This is a big deal. Before heading off, we had a tremendous amount of work do to, tucking things in. It was a sort of a messy, teary, prolonged goodbye – very Bogart Bergman. Here’s looking at you, farm.  Several late nights spent cobbing walls on the greenhouse and plastering the bales. And finally an unwilling submission to time – or the lack of time. We didn’t have time to get the plaster up before leaving for the conference, and we won’t be able to before winter weather. So we picked up a couple 14×48′ salvaged billboard signs to use as heavy tarps for covering up over the outside walls. Tucking in the greenhouse came first, the beds will have to wait for our return.

The main push was to finish the west end of the building, where we have separated an extra special area for the chicken coop. The coop has an earth floor prepped for deep litter, 2 pop doors, 6 nesting boxes accessible by us through a drop door from the outside, a deluxe roosting bar ladder, and a large picture window to the south shedding lots of light inside. Finishing up the coop to a point where we could confidently/comfortably leave the birds for a few days took working late into the 6 degree night the night before our trip. It’s not entirely finished, the straw bale walls need 6-8″ of cob, we need to source and install the glass for the window, and we still need a door between the coop and the main greenhouse area (right now it’s blocked by a precarious stack of straw bales). But in the mean time it’s cozy enough; the birds have a place to be out of the cold, out of the tractors. We are so grateful to Jeremy’s generous parents for taking care of the birds while we are gone.

As a side note, the billboard signs protecting the north wall are fabulous: one is an advertisement for Comfort Inn pool and casino – featuring a cheery photo of kiddos playing on a pool waterslide with rainbow inner-tubes and smiles, the other sign is for Wild Turkey Bourbon, it reads something like “Always an impressive finish” – especially inspiring as we certainly are not finished with our work on this greenhouse. Maybe someday, and it will be impressive. Despite how appropriate these signs’ messages are, we did ultimately decide to hang them graphic to the inside, such that they are not such a bold eye-sore to our dear neighbors.

The arched doorway to the chicken coop is something special. Here’s the back story. During the straw bale stacking a couple weeks ago, Thomas and Jeremy were spending long days wrestling with heavy, pokey, dusty bales. I was able to help for part of this, a small part – most of my time mid-day is spent working from a computer at our home office. On one particularly long day finishing up with the bales, after a series of long days – I took a stretch break away from the computer to check in on the greenhouse and the hard workers. I’m feeling fresh and punky, having spent the past few hours tapping at a keyboard, sipping tea and listening to NPR. I could see Thomas and Jeremy are both thoroughly exhausted, slightly frustrated maybe, but also pleased with their hard work. Ready to be done with it. I am full of awe and compliments, and facetiously throw out a “hey so, gosh things look so good, but wouldn’t it be nice if, here at the door, we arch the bales – you know, wouldn’t an arched doorway to the chicken coop be lovely?” Ha ha.

But then, Jeremy’s father David hears about this. My flippant, insincere request for the absurd. Not to be taken seriously. Ridiculous. Thomas and Jeremy may have rolled their eyes, but watch what you wish for – nothing is impossible to Dave, no request too absurd. He set to work in his wood shop and voila. Geometry and alchemy. An arched door frame and a gorgeous, arched, tongue and groove paneled door to match. It’s stunning. The world’s most lovely chicken coop, my heart is swollen. Lucky birds. Lucky me. Thank you thank you thank you.

There is still a fair amount of work to do on the greenhouse. Indeed, even when it’s all ‘done’, the walls’ plaster work will need maintenance every couple of years or so. We’ll continue to work on the inside during this winter, setting the stone wall on the south side and cobbing the north wall, but for now the outside work is on hold.

The Quivira conference was excellent. The Quivira Coalition is a group of ranchers, farmers, environmentalists, and associated enthusiasts who are excited about working together for local foods, land health, and restoration. We heard speakers from all over the country – all over the world, small-scale producers, land stewards, educators. We heard talks about building healthy soil, urban water harvesting and humanure, pasture cropping, organic no-till farming, planned grazing, food policy, establishing orchards. And more. We had a chance to reconnect with friends and mentors, and meet new people doing thoughtful, commendable things. This is an inspiring community and so we left all riled up, and thrilled about where we are headed. Bright-eyed and optimistic.

And then we see this blog/report and linked articles discussing South Dakota’s state representatives’ push to replace small local dairies with large, out-of-state-owned dairy operations..CAFOs (note: these articles avoid this term, it’s too objectionable. But it’s certainly implied). This decision is short sighted and profit-driven. Mr. Walt Bones, we couldn’t disagree with you more. The health of our communities and our land and water should be priority. We need to be building resilient local economies by supporting small-scale, local producers. Not chasing quick cash. South Dakota, please let your representatives know what you think.