a spring update

Off we go and the pace is quickening. Here’s an update on spring farm happenings. Mostly photos, miscellany, and muddled chronology.

Seed trays are filling up. We just started an early round of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. We’ll get some of these planted out in the tunnel, and we’re also planning a fancy pants/fancy plants Memorial Day Plant Sale (mark your calendar!) with lots of great vegetable, herb, and flower varieties. Stay tuned for more details on this.soilblocksWe’ve re-arranged our beds in the greenhouse, replacing the long rows with key-hole style beds. This has nearly doubled our growing space and will give us more flexibility with crop rotation.key holesAnd a few more shots from the greenhouse – clockwise from upper right: scallions, mixed lettuce, beets, spinach.green in greenhouse A few weeks ago we got a chance to visit with our neighbor/farmer friend, James, of Lookout Gardens and Gage’s Gardens; he showed us the germination chamber they use to get seed trays started. It’s elegant, efficient, and brilliant. With theirs in mind, we built one. Slightly less elegant, rather more clunky, but it should do the job alright.  It’s a 6’x6’x2′ frame box lined with blue foam (leftovers from building the walk-in cooler), and wood slat shelves. The door is plastic sheeting (leftovers from the tunnels). In the bottom, we’ll set a metal tub with water and a heating element to try and keep the chamber at 75-80 degrees with high humidity. We’re looking forward to being better able to take care of these little ones as they get started and hope to have more consistent germination rates (last year’s cold, wet spring was a challenge for us) – and we truly appreciate our clever, thoughtful, supportive farmer friends’ sage advice and inspiration.germination chamber As regards germinating, we’re experimenting with stratifying seeds. We are growing bunches and bunches of plants this year that we’ve never grown before, extra-specially for a good friend of ours who is studying for a certificate in traditional naturopathy. We just started 23 different varieties of flowers and herbs, all tenderly tucked away in bags with wet sand and set aside in the fridge, some for 30 days, some for 60 days.  Jeremy, in particular, is excited about this because it’s given him an excuse to order things that have been on his dream seed list for years.  So now we’ll get to have things like Compass plant (aka silphium, admired by Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac) and Maximilian sunflower (a perennial sunflower!? yes please!), Angelica (a key ingredient in drambuie) and Joe Pye Weed (beneficial to pollinators and people, plus it’s got a great name) growing on the farm.cold stratifying seedsWe lost one of our field tunnels in a hearty wind storm, mid-February. The wind lifted the tunnel, pulling five of the twelve 30-inch earth anchors and sending the structure off like a dervish across the beds, nearly somersaulting over the adjacent tunnel. This second tunnel didn’t budge. We heard reports of 75 mph gusts, though haven’t verified this. On the positive side, we’ll be able to salvage and re-use about half of the frame and this was the tunnel we needed to move this spring anyway, to follow our crop rotation.  tunnel catastropheSo we’ll be building another tunnel. Along with a few other construction projects underway and pending: we are establishing a new raised bed up at the farmstand for you-pick herbs. In order to accommodate more starts, we’re adding on to the front of the greenhouse. A starter annex to replace our living room. We’re building up the vegetable wash station, creating a space that’s both efficient and pleasant to work in. And it looks like this year we’ll have to replace the fence and hop trellis posts.

We just finished pruning the grape vines, a process that has progressively become more streamlined since the Big Buzz Cut of 2012 and developing a pruning/trellising system that we like. There are a handful of chickens that routinely make like Houdini out of their run each morning. They join us as we’re working, at times helpful and at times ripping out entire beds of freshly planted strawberries. And Jeremy found this incredible skeleton this past weekend while cleaning up grape vine trimmings. Woah.spring chores and skeletonAnd lastly, the garlic is up! We expanded out garlic planting last fall and are trying a few soft-neck varieties as well as our favorite hard-necks.  The garlic are planted in alternating beds with a rye and vetch covercrop in between. The covercrop will be crimped and laid down in place as mulch and we’ll plant winter squash into these beds.  We should be able to harvest the garlic in time to give the squash plenty of room to spread out.

With wind tussled hair and big smiles,

Your farmers, Trish & Jeremy

farm update, with bonus photos!

We’ve wrapped up our beet and kohlrabi planting and have tucked in to warm our fingers. The early morning misty drizzle has evolved to a drippy, more stout rain. Quickly turned snow. It’s a good time for a farm update.

The greenhouse is glowing these days. We’ve just started pulling out radishes, baby bok choy will be next. Greenhouse April 27th

The earliest seeds have been sown out in the back field. Snap peas, garlic, and spinach have already popped up and favas, radishes, turnips, carrots, and beets should follow soon.  It’s snowing now, but the soil has already warmed up this spring; once this melts off we’ll transplant out our earliest kales, mustard greens, lettuce, and green onions.

We have added a few more fruit trees into the orchard. A couple of these are Evans cherries – especially cold hardy, tart cherries, which already seem quite at home here. We had the opportunity to learn how to graft at the MOSES conference scion exchange and, this past week, we planted four trees that we grafted ourselves(!) – three apples and a pear. Two of the apples are already budding from the scion wood end, the other apple and pear are either late budders or we botched the graft. in the orchard with sheep

Much of our time in the field these days has been shuffling things around. Materials handling: moving straw bales out to the beds for mulching, spreading wheelbarrows of compost, laying down wood mulch, flipping and sifting the compost pile, cleaning out the coop, leading sheep out to the field in the morning, herding them back to the garage at night, carting out seed trays, piling brush, vine clippings, and downed branches.

We are applying compost to the especially heavy feeders like the hops and ginger, and adding it to help build soil in the close windmill bed. We’ll be using straw bales again this year for hilling the potatoes. It worked well last year, not only for hilling the plants, but also for weed suppression and it made harvesting easy-breezy. Straw bales will go out in other rows too. Last year, we found mulching the beds worked well for keeping in soil moisture, providing lovely habitat (for worms, spiders, snakes, insects… and pocket gophers) and for reducing the amount of time we had to spend weeding the beds. Heavy mulch made a pretty good dent in our quack grass, and by keeping the soil so moist and loose (by worms, etc), the remaining rhizomes are a lot easier to remove in big pieces than in past years.  It will still take a number of years before our rows are mostly clean, but we’re making progress.  We have to wait until the soil warms further to see how the straw is doing with the bindweed/creeping jenny, that one will certainly prove a harder challenge. We’re using woodchips from a local landscaper for mulching grape vines and hops, as well as between the rows in the front field to help reduce weed growth.

Everything is pruned for the season and now things are starting to bud out.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’re feeling grateful for the help we’ve received this spring. Not only are the extra hands literally very helpful, it’s also a treat to get to spend time with friends and family. It means heaps that you are willing to spend your time out here with us, getting dirty.

We’d like to share special, super enthusiastic and muddy high-fives with SDSU’s Horticulture Club. HOLY SMOKES. Yesterday, a van-full of students from SDSU came out to the farm and helped us get a whole layer of cobbing done on the north wall of the greenhouse. With excellent conversation and in less than an hour we accomplished twice as much as it takes the two of us a full, long morning to do. Not only did these strong hands help us with the cobbing, they also offered us a short course in lamb/livestock husbandry, organic pest control techniques, and worm barrel composting. This is the future of agriculture in South Dakota – better hold on to your hat, Chicoine. Comrades in mud, thank you. Please come back again.

Here are some photos from our work together.cobbing1

Many hands. Muddy work.cobbing2

The greenhouse is designed as a passive solar structure. The north wall is strawbale and cob. The strawbales provide insulation. The cob (6ish”) will serve as thermal mass.cobbing3

Farm touring, talking no-till organic vegetable production, and checking in on sprouting hops.

We’re prepping beds for potatoes this week and we are hosting a POTATO PLANTING PARTY! We have 6 different varieties we’ll be planting this Friday evening, May 2. We’ll start at 5:30, bring a friend, dress for the weather. We’d love to have your help and share in the merriment of community, soil, and potatoes.

bonus photos from the farm! (and corresponding sentence fragments.) Planting our saved seed is even more fun. Compost flipped and cooking. We found a snake in the greenhouse. Lambs are enjoying foraging.saved seed_snake_140_sheepGinger is presprouting in coir. Lambs enjoy exploring the coop. The birds don’t so much appreciate the lambs exploring their coop. A pink ladybug! a pink one!
ginger_lambs_birds_pinkladybug

Farm Hack

Farmers, ranchers, growers, eaters, designers, builders, engineers, tinkerers unite!

Last weekend, Cycle Farm had the pleasure of participating in South Dakota’s very first Farm Hack, as part of Dakota Rural Action‘s annual meeting. Farm Hack is an open source community for farmer-driven design collaboration; a virtual grange hall for developing and sharing ideas to promote a more resilient agricultural system; and a jolly good time.

hack the greenhouseThe afternoon featured a tour of the farm, a scrumptious potluck, and insightful presentations by local grower-builders. Jared Capp, of Pangea Designs Group, shared his water wheel / “Wirtz” pump. Spinny, smart, and described in more detail in this brief video. Andy Johnson, a physics professor at the university, shared with us his hydraulic ram-pump irrigation system – even bringing in the pump to demo. Jeremy gave a brief introduction on the potential and applicability of human- and pedal-powered tools for small scale agriculture.andy and ram pump

After touring the farm and feasting together, we all cozied up in the living room and, as a group, we discussed some of our biggest challenges and irksome pet peeves as growers in the Northern Black Hills and South Dakota. Collectively, we were backyard gardeners, aspiring and beginning farmers, 2-3rd generation farmers, Woofers, CSA vegetable growers, chicken ranchers, natural builders, physics enthusiasts, community organizers, museum curators – a strong, diverse brain-power power-house.

Our list of troubles included flea beetles and potato bugs. Protecting orchard trees from big snows. Hard water and irrigation tubing. Profitably harvesting green beans. One issue that rose to the top of the list was planting, transplanting, harvesting long rows and the associated discomfort of kneeling, crouching, scooting down the rows. Say, planting garlic. The solution: a garden gurney. So we set to designing a self-propelled (pedal powered, treadle powered) prone farm mobility vehicle (a bit like this, only self propelled). Enter big markers and wild ideas.

By the end of the afternoon, we had generated a list of necessary (and not entirely necessary, but wouldn’t it be nice to have..?) features, design sketches, and possible self-propelled mechanisms. Feeding off this enthusiasm and momentum, we set a date to reconnect at the Spearfish Bike Coop, to start putting pieces together. The next step will be to share what we develop on farmhack.net, for other small-scale growers to use, adapt, modify, critique, and improve. Stay tuned. Or better yet, if you’d like to get involved in designing, building, testing – contact us.

For more information regarding Farm Hack, please check out this eloquent and timely piece by Courtney White, founder of the Quivira Coalition, who just participated in a West Slope Colorado Farm Hack.

Spring happenings in the greenhouse.

Here are a few photos from the greenhouse last week:PrintSpinach, cracoviensis lettuce (seed we saved!), johnny jump-up blooming, view of the greenhouse.april greenhouse2Thyme, green onions, bed medley, tiny lettuces.april greenhouse3Tomatoes, mustards, johnny jump-ups budding, asian and mustard greens.

april greenhouse4Red cabbage, white russian kale, radishes, broccoli.

If you have questions about the varieties we grow, where we source our seed, how we save seed – let us know, we are excited to share.

Snow, seedlings, serious.

Little green things in the greenhouse are faring the snow and cool temperatures fantastically. Radishes are just starting to bulb up. Lettuces are thrilled. Spinach and arugula, standing tall. And the potatoes are on exhibition, lined up like glowing, spring-break sunbathers reclining on sun-kissed, sandy beaches. snow on greenhouse

We did, however, end up bringing the tomato starts inside. After watching the temperature in the greenhouse continuously fall earlier last week, and because we haven’t finished building the north cob wall (no thermal mass), and we don’t have a door on the east end, we finally tucked our chins and shuffled the tomato trays inside. It’s tough playing chicken with mother nature, nerves of steel, she never swerves. The tomatoes would likely be absolutely fine in the greenhouse. If the potatoes are alright, the tomatoes should fare well too. Everything is under rowcovers at night, wrapped snug in a blanket of good intentions. We are no doubt being unduly nervous. Weak nerves partner well with lack of experience and fierce desire to share a bumper crop of tomatoes with our wonderful CSA members. (We still have a few CSA shares left, please contact us soon if you’d like to join us for a season of farm fresh vegetables).

So for the meantime, this is our living room.April13_livingroom_nomoreroom

And our roommates.

april13

We are feeling very grateful for the surge of moisture. In planting fruit trees last week, it was unnerving to see how dry the soil was. Hopefully, our rich, healthy, no-till soil will work some magic moisture retention and keep going strong for our early plantings, before the irrigation ditch is turned on in May.

The snowy, inside days offered us a good chance to process honey. We collected honeycomb from Anna and Lara’s empty hives a couple weeks ago. The combs were cut off the top bars and collected in 5-gallon buckets. We ended up with almost 80 lbs of honeycomb. The next step was crushing the comb to release the honey. Larger operations will use a machine called a ‘honey extractor’, a barrel centrifuge that spins the comb around, pulling honey out.  But, on our scale, crushing the comb works just as well and is five hundred million times more fun. The comb is crushed by hand over a sieve which separates the wax comb from the honey. The honey drips down into a bucket. We’ll offer the crushed wax bits with relic honey back to Lolita; the bees should be able to clean up whatever honey is left.

crushing honeycombWe have loaded up flats of starts of bee-friendly flowering plants. If we have enough food sources here for our bees, it may reduce the amount of time they have to spend foraging off-farm in areas where neighbors in the valley might be chemically treating their lawns and gardens. We need to do a better job encouraging/educating folks to avoid using neonicotinoids and similar chemicals that harm honey bees, native pollinators, and other insects. And plant bee balm and Phacelia instead. But how do you do this when people have been treating their lawns since forever? and they love their thick, green manicured grass, mowing it, faithfully, every weekend? and the TruGreen lawn care truck is cruising the neighborhood, sprayers drawn like sabers, a fierce knight defending the neighborhood lawns from the dragons of a flawed green mat? Please don’t treat your lawns. The decline in bee populations (honey bee and natives) is a serious and urgent issue in terms of food security and land health. Not to mention honey production. They need our support. So please, plant for the bees.

Other recent farm activities include: fence repair, filing farm taxes, tool maintenance and repair, cleaning the garage and Pemberly, rescuing the bags of chicken feed from an onslaught of hungry mice, more fence repair, digging holes for fruit trees, seeding successions of lettuces and brassicas, weeding in the greenhouse, research into health insurance plans and cool-bot refrigerator designs, coochi-cooing the chickens. And fence repair, again.

apple

Almost entirely unrelated: It’s occurred to us that the website has become a repository of pretty farmy photos and cheery stories. We don’t do a very good job of conveying the especially trying parts of our days. We try to be honest, I think we do a good job. But, by nature, Jeremy and I also are both more comfortable focusing on the positives. So we post photos of vegetables.

Transparency is important, but it’s also easier to communicate face-to-face, face-to-farm – it’s harder to write about. There is a remarkable amount of stress associated with growing food and running a small business, it seems everyday we’re discovering new aspects of this stress. Farming involves more aches and aggravations, more worries, uncertainties, and disappointments than either of us has ever dealt with before. It’s frustrating and humbling and utterly exhausting. On the flip side, this is also absolutely the most rewarding work we’ve ever done, the most challenging puzzle. It is always the best way to spend a day. Working with nature to grow food feels sacred and uplifting. And as food producers and land stewards, we are able to engage with and serve our community in a way that’s pretty damn magical.

So as regards full disclosure, here’s a list of some of the things we don’t have pretty pictures of: The deer are inspiring mutterings of full-spectrum colorful language these days. We have just laboriously installed a very expensive, yet, it seems, entirely decorative, deer fence. We could really use some lessons in marketing. And fence construction. The greenhouse is nearly twice as expensive as we initially budgeted. We have bare-root trees that need to go in the ground immediately, and we have 2′ of snow. The male guinea is bullying our hens so badly, most have beaten tail feathers and bald backs. We’re considering guinea stew. Or kebabs. Farm financial feasibility study is in review, needs serious work.

Of course, having said all that: the eggplants have sprouted, Jeremy is making some incredible bread these days. And we have honey. More honey than I’ve ever seen before.bread in cloche from Dykstra Pottery

Hooplah, last CSA day, greenhouse, garlic, and snowfall. Ramping up to slow down.

We had a wonderful time at the farm Harvest Hooplah last Saturday. Thank you everyone for joining us, for sharing good food and excellent company. Here are some highlights from the afternoon.

A delicious feast of locally grown, lovingly prepared foods, including our own young roosters, a flight of 9 different varieties of winter squash, and fresh pressed apple cider.

THANK YOU ALL for your support and enthusiasm this first year. We’ve never worked so hard before, never learned so much so quickly, and never had so much fun.  We’re looking forward to seeing you all around the farm next season.

The squash mandala on the floor of the living room has shrunk significantly since our CSA pickup last week. The final week’s CSA newsletter is posted online here. And we have a popcorn update since the newsletter was written: the toss-a-whole-cob-in-a-paper-bag-and-into-the-microwave trick actually works. Incredible.

Our new friend Jason came to help harvest and clean carrots and fingerlings. He does magical things with film and video, and introduced us to the aperture settings on our camera. SO MUCH FUN. Thank you Jason.

Jeremy, Radish, and our A-1 good friend Thomas have been busy building the stone wall for the greenhouse. It’s stunning. The wall is dry stacked rock sourced from an especially rocky hillside property in Spearfish Canyon, the gravel pit in Beulah, and from right here on the farm (from the frost-free pipe trench we dug earlier this summer).  The chickens will be cooped in the western end of the greenhouse, their pop-doors built into the stone wall. Pretty elegant set up. If we time things well with the weather, we may get straw bales and cob up this next week.

We were able to get most of the garlic in before the snow this week. We’ve saved seed from the three varieties we grew this year; Persian Star, Korean Purple and Music. And we’ve added Chesnok Red and Spanish Roja. We’ll get the rest in the ground here shortly. We have to.

The birds have started laying. Under the spruce trees. They have free range during the day and until the walls are up on the greenhouse/coop, they are over-nighting in the tractors. There are nesting boxes in the tractor, but they clearly prefer to snuggle down under the trees and send us out for a daily egg hunt.

..and a photo of the Dakota Black Popcorn. Wow.

And now with the snow and short days, wintertime reading has begun. A little bit. Tom is sailing through any and all Ivan Doig available at the Spearfish Public Library. I’m in the middle of Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy – in which he references this article from Orion about Mayapedal. Smart farmers use bicycles. And Jeremy finally has time to catch up on a stack of mail that’s been accumulating all summer. Radish is working on crossword puzzles.