Root crops and débutantes

The CSA newsletter for this week is posted online here. It features a recipe suggestion from one of our CSA members for eggplant enchiladas, a good way to use the surplus of eggplant we have this week. Thanks for sharing this Cyndee, it looks tasty.

The best part of the day was harvesting carrots during a brief little spit of rain. Not even enough to call rain really. But it was something.

And here are some other miscellaneous scenes from the farm today. I plotted out the beehives, visually, because it’s nearing cold weather tuck-in time and we want to make sure the bees have reserves enough to overwinter, and I’m a nerd. Each hive has plenty of full honeycomb, and we won’t harvest from them this year. Anna Karenina and Lara have 9+ honeycombs (not including brood nest), Lolita (our most dissident hive) has 11+ honeycombs. The trees are doing their spectacular showy thing. The black walnuts are raining down something fierce. I’m collecting and hulling as fast as I can. The birds are out and about these days, debs that they are. We’re still keeping them in the tractor at night and every morning we move the tractor through the grape vines – but now, during the day, we keep the tractor pop-door open. So they are in the spruce trees, and parading through the grapevines, chomping on the grape leaves, eating bugs. Very merry. As long as we keep them safe from weasels, neighbor dogs, and bigger birds..

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Eat, drip, be merry

The drip tape is all strung out now, the filter is hooked up, and we have water. We’re irrigating loads more efficiently these days. Until this past week, we had been using a pump to draw water from the irrigation ditch to a series of sprinklers on a centerline down the middle of the field. The set up worked well in previous years when the field was lawn and hops. It’s been challenging for us however, with rows of diverse vegetables lined up. With the sprinklers, we were needlessly watering our walkways and hoards of weeds, and the water distribution has been very uneven. Now with the filter installed, we can gravity feed water through a two inch line from the irrigation ditch out to both the front and back fields. We have valves on the drip tape at each row, so we don’t have to water the tomatoes and the onions at the same time or as much. No more running a loud electric pump for hours at a time, while constantly keeping an eye on the level of water in the ditch. SO GOOD.

Jeremy rigged up a dispenser for the giant drip tape bobbin to help with stretching out the tape. Mounted on the bicycle, he was able to wheel the bike down the field as we worked his way down the rows. Everything nicely contained on the bike; the staples, the scissors, the tube for clamping off the ends, all together. No heavy lifting. Just easy rolling. Pretty smart.

We finally had a chance to cook up some of our squash blossoms. Sauteed beet greens with garlic and green onion. Mixed with a bit of goat cheese. Stuffed the squash blossoms. It helps if you cut up the side of the flower, in order to spoon it full (this part is especially exciting when there is a honey bee inside). Coated the stuffed blossom in a batter of blue corn flour, milk and egg. And fried. Made crepes with the leftover blue corn flour batter. It would seem farming is decadent hedonism.
And we’re not the only ones eating so well. Our wonderfully talented friends at Crow Peak Brewery saved us some buckets of spent grain, leftovers from a new batch of Spearbeer. SO HAPPY, these birds are thoroughly thrilled, big thanks Crow Peak.

And here’s a photo of our CSA share this week. The first of the summer’s eggplants and sunflowers. Happy August. This week’s CSA newsletter is online here.

Lastly, everybody ought to read this, even though it’s terrifying. And we encourage all our wonderful CSA members to ride their bikes to the farm next Thursday. And the Thursday after that. Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math article in Rolling Stone Magazine. 

Insectary, rafters, and chicken dinner.

The insectary is blooming. SO PRETTY. We’ve written about the insectary and how excited we are about it in this week’s CSA newsletter posted here.

And here’s a view of our CSA share this week..

And the greenhouse is growing. In fact, it’s just too glorious now to capture completely in one shot. So I’ve made a collage of several:

Polycarbonate sheets for the south wall and lower roof were delivered today, and next week we’ll put up the rafters. Jeremy’s dad has sourced rock for the wall foundation, we just have to collect it from a hillside on some generous fellow’s land.

And the birds really look like real birds these days. The awkward, punky feathers-growing-in stage is out. They are all sleek and sophisticated. A few of the males have started testing out their crow. There is one, one of the Orpingtons, who’s got it down. Cock-a-doodle-doo. With the head extended and the neck all fluffed out – just like in the cartoons. I mean really. The others are ranging somewhere between a sort of donkey bray, a big city bus braking, and a whoopie cushion. They try so earnestly. They are endearing. And soon we’re going to eat them. I think I might be having a little bit of a hard time. Can’t say for sure. Jeremy and I haven’t talked about it. So he might be having a hard time too. Every time I check in on them, to feed them or move the tractors, I can’t help but feel like the witch in Hansel and Gretel.. the one that feeds the kids sweets, just to fatten them up. So she can eat them. 

Looks like the straight run split is 24 hens, 24 roosters. Funny how that happened. This is one of our hens (below), a Salmon Faverolle. They are listed as a threatened poultry breed by Livestock Breeds Conservancy. This probably means we need to keep at least one of the roosters.. a Faverolle. We’ll still fatten him up though.

Two more things: One. The Soil Doctor, Doug Weatherbee, has a wicked cool new video/podcast posted online where he discusses soil microbial communities and even gets into the importance of no-till. This is certainly worth checking out – here. Thanks for hooking us up with this Austin. And Two. One of our CSA members is headed down to Durango for bicycle adventuring and has plans to visit a farm while down there.. turns out she’s headed to visit our friends at the James Ranch. The James’ family do magical things with holistic land management and are a wonderful inspiration for us, plus we owe the very beginnings of our metal workshop to their fine lathe. If you have an interest in sustainable agriculture, check out what these good folks are up to.

Up up up!

The CSA shares this week included a bunch of pretty beets. And, as if on cue, the new row of beet seeds has decided to pop up this morning. Tiny, bright red seedlings all in a row, like Yeomen. Going about the day, not really up to much more than showing off. The newsletter for this week’s CSA share is posted here.

We took the camera around this morning. Here’s what happening these days:

The chicken tractors have made it into the grape vines rows. With the heat and dry weather, they’re pretty happy to have the additional shade.. and the grape leaves. Pretty tasty, apparently.

Lots of things fruiting. In order of appearance below: Buttercup and Rouge Vif d’etampes winter squash, Valiant grapes, cucumbers, Sand cherry, Prescott Fond Blanc cantaloupe, Ailsa Craig sweet onion.

There are lots of flowers and the bees are working hard. Here are some photos from the pickling cucumbers: 

AND the greenhouse is getting it’s z-dimension on. Posts went up yesterday for the north and south wall. It’s looking sharp.

So sharp, here are more photos.

There is still an incredible amount of work to do on the greenhouse and we’ll need lots of help when it comes to setting straw bales and stomping cob. We’ll keep you posted!

100 degrees, still smiling.

Two weeks into our CSA season. The heat these past weeks has sent a few things to bolt. In order to beat the bolt, our baskets were extra full this week. We had planned to space the Asian greens over different shares. But here we are. A great opportunity to make kimchi.

This share is bridging the very last of the garlic scapes and the very first of the green onions.  And flea beetles are lacing our greens, but they are still stunning. And delicious. We’ve posted our weekly CSA newsletter here.

The bees are well, they are hot. We checked in on them last weekend, the walls and floor of the hives were blanketed in bees, all standing still, holding on tight with their feet, while madly flapping their wings – ventilating the hives. There are also more bees at the door of each hive, just clustered there, buzzing. But each queen is still laying well. And they’re building new comb. We may get honey this year yet.Also, as relates to the heat, we’ve figured out a way to keep our delicate greens fresh and happy at the Friday night Farmer’s Market downtown: decoys.

way too hotWe understand that, as a marketing technique, this is poor form. Buyers are attracted to mass. A heaping pile of turnips, a brimming basket of greens, an Aconcagua of fingerling potatoes will lead to better sales than a lonely, empty basket.. with a sign. Makes sense. How can you resist a glowing pyramid of rainbow radishes?

Tricky. It would be lovely to distribute our good food en masse. But we don’t want to be handing out wilted greens. We take great care to harvest things at their prime, the day of market, so they are perfectly fresh and ready to enjoy. It’s hard work, we’re working harder than we’ve ever worked before. And we’re proud of what we’re doing. So selling produce on Friday afternoons, in the middle of a hot, paved street on 100 degree day – it’s a challenge.

Sales or no, we’re determined to stick it out. With our goods safe from the heat, fresh in the coolers, and signs posted on the table. A Farmer’s Market is a treasure. It’s too important to us. And I’ll hope that the Spearfish community will soon recognize how fantastic it is to eat healthy foods, and support local, sustainable agriculture, and they will rally downtown to the Friday night Farmer’s Market. Vendors are set up by 5:00PM, so there is time to come by and visit your local farmers and artisans and beat the crowds, music, and difficult parking – if that’s a concern. Fresh, local, non-certified organic produce. Read the signs, we’ll have it in the cooler.

Lastly, here’s a quick shot of the birds tonight, all tucked in for sleeping.

Chicken tractors

The birds are now all set up in deluxe tractors, hand built by artisan Smith and Son craftsmen. Luxury accomodations at Cycle Farm. Each tractor has a pop door for the birds, chicken wire walls, and a recycled vinyl billboard roof. There are even roosting bars set at different heights across the frame. A lot like playground monkey bars. The birds are looking especially happy these days, now that they have a job to do. These glorious chicken get-ups are called tractors because they provide a similar function on the land – via happy chickens instead of petrol. The tractor is built with an open floor, so the birds eat at the vegetation and bugs, the scratch up the dirt, and then they crap all over the place, adding nutrients to the soil. It’s beautiful. Right now we are moving the tractors once a day. The tractors are relatively light weight, moving it means lifting it just enough to slide it over to a new spot. After one day, the birds in each tractor have eaten up all the good stuff: dandelion leaves are picked clean, clover has disappeared, grass seed heads are mowed.

Chicken Hilton

Each tractor is 4’x12′, specially designed for use in our vegetable rows. The vinyl roof/cover rolls down over the side walls – which means these might also work well as make-shift cold frames (when they are not full of chickens), to extend our growing season ..for a bit ..in a tiny area.

The birds are still pretty young and won’t start laying until September-ish – but already they are proving their worth as working livestock. Seeing these little guys doing their chicken thing in the tractors – it brings to mind those awesome electricity generating playgrounds. Harnessing young, random, playful energy and putting it towards a focused good.

June happenings

The irrigation lateral busted out front last weekend. It just broke. I may or may not have had anything to do with it. So it broke and water came splooshing out 4 feet in the air, a geyser, flooding the spruce trees, and making a scene. With some help from our mayordomo and an Alabama match, Jeremy fixed it up, right proper. Wet socks the whole way through. We’re still fussing with the irrigation system, waiting on some parts and pieces we’ve ordered. Getting that all in and running will make a big difference.

We’re getting fencing up. This has been a prolonged process, involving augering post holes, cleaning out the holes, setting the posts (every other post is 16′ long – for hop trellising), carting and tamping gravel. Deer and rabbit are prevalent in these parts, but we’d like to minimize their activity and feasting in our vegetable field. So far, we’ve been successful in protecting crops by using row covers as a deterrent. But as nearly every bed is full of precious, tender, tasty treats now, row covers are less convenient and more time consumptive. We need a fence. And here it comes, by bicycle.

And we’ve started on setting trellis cord in the hop field. We’ve both gotten pretty slick with the sisal rope and hammer toss over the 13′ cable move. Commercial hop farms will trellis hops at 18-25′. We’ve got 13′ trellises (16′ posts with 3′ in the ground), which is what we had available and affordable. The hop plants are on a bit of a rough start as they were mowed all last year and we’ve only now just giving them something to climb. But these little sticky vines are burly. I have confidence in them, they are going somewhere now. Like the awkward, lanky girl in middle school who grows up to play NCAA Division 1 basketball. Climb little ones. Alley oop.

Lots of fun colors happening around here these days. Red cabbage, crazy pink snow pea flowers, beautiful speckeled lettuces. The eggplants were planted outside earlier this week. And the garlic is scaping, just in time for Spearfish’s first Farmer’s Market, this Friday.

The birds are growing into themselves; developing their wing feathers, and tail feathers, and punky personalities. The especially handsome chick here, with five toes and feathery legs, is a Salmon Faverolle. (Sand Hill Preservation Center describes them as “calm, elegant birds”; I think they look a lot like Jeremy). A lovely double rainbow over the farm a few days ago. And the bees are collecting black pollen from our neighbors’ pretty poppies.

..and a few more superfluous farm animal photos. It can’t be helped.

Please come by and visit us at the first Spearfish Farmer’s Market on Friday evening, during the Downtown Music in the Middle of the Street Festival. And – not to be missed – Cycle Farm’s Weeding Party Bonanza on Saturday morning, nine to noon.

Happy happy June!

Staple crop rotation

A large part of our planning this winter was on how to organize our vegetable crop rotations. For instance, corn is especially demanding for soil nutrients and not everything does well when planted in succession after corn. Similarly, we don’t want to plant potatoes in a bed tomatoes were in the previous year, as nightshades they tend to share diseases and pests.

So now the plan is set into action. Here we go. We’ve got a four year rotation set up for staple crops: beans, then corn, then potatoes, then squash. The rest of the vegetables are set up on an 8 year rotation, a bit more complicated, I’ll have to put together a flip-book to explain that one.

For the staple crops, this is how it should work. Beans are fantastic, they fix nitrogen in the soil, a good prep for planting corn the following year. Although corn taxes the soil, potatoes have shown to be unhindered in growth when planted immediately after corn. Potatoes will be hilled and therefore relatively weed free and ready to go for squash the next year. Potatoes and squash, being both big leafy plants, back-to-back, will serve as a good cleaning crops to reduce weed pressure, in preparations for beans the following year. And then we’re back to corn.

There are two blocks of 16 beds, one in the front field one in the back. Each block has alternating rows of two staple crops. This year, corn and squash are in the front. Potatoes and beans in the back. We have one type of corn (popcorn), five different varieties of beans, eight varieties of winter squash, and seven different types of potatoes. The beans are inter-cropped with marigolds, which help deter the bean beetle. The beans and potatoes alternate together especially well, because beans help deter the Colorado potato beetle and potatoes also help deter the bean beetle. Along the same lines, the squash are partnered with corn in the front beds, because the squash will help mulch the corn rows during the heat of summer. Nasturtiums are planted at the end of each squash row to fend off squash bugs. There are sunflowers inter-cropped with the corn and squash ..because they are pretty, and amaranth too because it’s beautiful and delicious. We’ve held out until just this past weekend to plant our popcorn, Dakota Black, in hopes that it will set tassel after our neighbors who are growing sweet corn, and we will be able to save seed.

Rotations are go. First year. Seems like a good start, we’ll see how it works. And here are a few more photos..

We’re finding new blooms around the farm.  Peas just popped open. Clover for the bees. Arugula for us. A field of blue flax.

And some sleepy farm animals.

Special delivery. Chicks are here.

The birds arrived this morning. Jeremy and I scooted out to the post office to pick up a tiny box full of day old chicks. The box was a peeping ruckus. Loud. Jeremy and I were thrilled to go collect them.  The postal workers were, I think, thrilled to get rid of them.

It seems all productivity for the day is on hold. Adorable chirping babies are far too great a distraction. Right now they are set up in salvaged cast iron bathtubs under heat lamps in the garage. They are very chirpy. And endearing. They are all varying degrees of fuzzy and adorable. Pale yellow ones and rich buttery yellow ones, black ones and yellow and spotty black ones. There are a few with a fun sort of chipmunk, stripey-thing going on. Some individuals have quirky, identifiable features, like a mostly yellow one with a single black dot on the top of its head. One with big fat feathery cheeks/muttonchops. One with a mohawk. And one with extraspecially hairy legs.

Aside from chicken-sitting a few times for friends, neither of us know too much about birds. We were sure that we wanted birds though, in part to diversify our market, with eggs to sell. And, in part, to incorporate livestock into our management plan for land health, pest control, and compost. Since we don’t have any preferences for certain breeds over others, we ordered a mixed bag of heavy layers, straight run. We ordered birds from the Sand Hill Preservation Center, a group that does wonderful work preserving heritage and rare poultry breeds. The varieties we received are Barred Holland, Mottled Java, Partridge Barnvelder, Salmon Faverolle, and White Orpington.

As a straight run, some of these little ones are male. We won’t keep the males much past eating age. This is something else we’re going to have to learn about: meat processing. But we’re not there yet. We’re all still at adorable.