Hands-free hand washing

During these past two weeks, amid our spring rush to ready the field and get things transplanted, Jeremy and his father hooked up the plumbing in our pack shed. Along with our three basin sink and spray table, we now also have water running to our hand washing sink. We had been using a big blue water jug modified with an added water spigot for hand washing, but we’ve now taken hand washing all the way Uptown with a hands-free day-spa experience (click on this link for a video of this in action).

This is so super slick and simple, we wanted to share construction notes for any other farmer friends who might be looking for something fun to do with all their heaps of spare time. You can also find this and a myriad of other helpful resources, plans, ideas posted on Farm Hack.

Materials we used:

  • wood, scrap boards and 2×4″s
  • small sink basin (we found this one at the ReStore)
  • 1/4″ carriage bolt
  • coupling threaded onto 1/4″ All-Thread rod
  • 4-1/4″ nuts
  • valve – handle drilled with holes
  • 1/8″ eye bolt and nylon locking nuts
  • 1/2″ NPT fitting
  • a faucet (we’re using an old shower head that we picked up for $.25 at a yard sale on the side of the road near Dixon, NM)
  • 2 adjustable spring hinges

How to:

  • Build a frame for your sink. Ours has counter space next to the sink for ? (soap dispenser, towel dispenser, vase of fresh-cut flowers, Jeremy’s loofa, Caboodles, and curling iron, maybe one of those essential oil thingies with diffuser sticks, you know: all the day spa amenities). And being in proximity to food in our packshed, we put splash guard walls on two sides of it.  Currently, our sink drains into a five gallon bucket.
  • In building the frame for the sink, leave space open for the knee bar to swing through (i.e. no legs, deep sink basin, or plumbing/pipes in the way). The knee bar is attached with spring hinges; we have 2, but one would probably be strong enough.
  • The drain valve for winterizing the plumbing has a short bit of pipe at a 45 degree angle which we can also use to fill buckets.
  • We put the on/off valve horizontal (though not quite level so it drains) to match the direction of the push rod. If necessary for your plumbing situation, you could make a replacement handle for the valve facing 90° perpendicular.
  • Drill a series of holes in the valve handle for adjustment or fine tuning.
  • Attach a carriage bolt to the All-Thread using coupling and a couple of lock nuts. Find a path from the valve to the knee bar that by-passes the frame and plumbing. Drill a hole in the back of the knee bar for the head of the carriage bolt to sit in and hold the bolt in place, but free to pivot, with two crossed pieces of plumbers’ tape. Use nuts on the All-Thread to set the knee bar-to-lever distance where you want it and use locking pairs of nuts to hold this in place.
  • Test and adjust.
  • Wash up.

With sparkles and bubbles, t & j

**P.S.! 6/16, edited to add THIS article and THIS video about Stephen Wamukota, a nine-year-old boy from Kenya who, in response to the Corona virus outbreak, invented/designed/built a genius hands-free handwashing station – pedal powered – with hand sanitizer dispenser. <3

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.

COVID-19, Spring Planning and Thoughts…

…topsy turvy tidings and an update from the farm. 

Hello Farm Friends,

Wishing you warm greetings.  These days, we are all feeling our familiar patterns and routines turned upside down and inside out.  While social distancing and without our annual seed swap and Pi(e) Day festivities, it feels strange not to be gathering with our community to share the excitement of the change in seasons.  We’re missing our visits, joyous conversations, and anticipatory early season farm tours.  As the pace of springtime quickens, we are socially still in our depths of winter behavior: snug inside, warm meals, books and paperwork and phone calls with friends.  The farm, however, is moving into spring just as it should be.  There is now a lengthening list of springtime work to be done: soil blocks being mixed and made, seeds to start and little ones to pot up or plant out, beds to prepare and mulch.  Our first batch of chicks is scheduled to arrive in two weeks and hopefully three bum lambs soon too.  And, of course, the sudden re-awakening of all of the invertebrates and first hints at spring bird migration have us frequently looking to see who just flew (flitted, scrittered, or squirmed) by.  Life is humming along and all around us are things to delight and take comfort in: familiar bulbs popping up and ready to flower, tree buds swelling, grass growing greener, days growing longer, meaningful work to do.

At this point we are still planning to open up our farm stand this spring with fresh greens from the field and greenhouse, probably in late April.  We will make several modifications to our traditional market set-up in order to minimize risk and promote the safety of our share members, customers, and farm crew.  We’ll be discussing with our share members possible alternatives for improved/preferred methods for distributing produce.  We are paying close attention to how the situation is progressing and as new information comes out are looking to a number of different farm advocacy and food safety organizations for guidance.  We are working hard to be prepared and remain flexible in order to do what’s best for our community.

We will keep in touch with further updates as they become available, and, as always, please feel free to email/call with any questions or concerns. If you are experiencing food insecurity or need assistance in purchasing our produce, please contact us about our discount farm shares.

Over these past few weeks, we have been thinking of you all while we put our hands in the soil. As always, though with particularly acute significance now, it is such an honor to grow food for you and your families. Take care of each other and stay well and stay home. We’re looking forward to sharing the season with you.

With love and gratitude,

Trish and Jeremy

P.S. We’d like to share a list of things that have brought us joy these past few weeks. And things that may offer some helpful diversion while you are at home with your wifi.

The Peace of Wild Things, a poem by the venerable Wendell Berry

The No Regrets Soil Health Primer, a delightful wormhole of resources to explore and learn from.

Universe in Verse, a beautiful conglomeration of science and poetry, truth and beauty.

KEXP’s El Sonido and Wo’Pop, you can stream these any ol’ time you want here.

…and with a nod to the imminent and eagerly awaited spring migration, here’s our Migration Riddim agrarian mix.

*Re: social distancing, Although Jerm is entirely onboard with the functionality of social distancing in the present situation, he deeply dislikes the semantics of the term.

lavender, lacewings, and lucky lollygagging

Make yourself a cocktail and settle in, friends, we have a guest post by Regina Fitzsimmons!

We asked our friend, farm care taker, and favorite writer, Regina, if she would write a little ditty to share with our farm friends, something about her experience these past few weeks on the farm. Between cross-country road travels, family wedding celebrations, and preparing for the fall semester – she did. Regina is a proficient farm dog snuggler, apple and (newly!) lavender aficionado, master potato beetle squisher(even though it’s so gross), mighty delicious cocktail maker, care taker of all things, care maker for all things, ever haloed in tenderness, delight, and wonder, and, amidst so much more, she is certainly one of the world’s most talented and thoughtful word crafters. AND the included photos are ones she took and shared with us (so let’s just add Official And Amazing Farm Photographer to the list too). Regina, thank you, dear friend. Our hearts are full of flamingos. – T&J


Yesterday I packed up my car with a cooler full of kale, a precious carton of rainbow-pastel eggs, a heavenly jar of dried garlic scape powder, and a golden-yellow bottle of homemade limoncello. I just glanced down at my shirt, and noticed little tufts of Radish fur—from my goodbye squeeze yesterday morning. I can hardly believe I get to write these words: For the last month, Cycle Farm was home. 

When Trish and Jeremy told me they were whizzing across the Atlantic for a family wedding, during a hustle-bustle harvest month, I was reminded—as I always am with these two—of their unceasing generosity. It is no small thing to pack up a bag, say goodbye to the best dog in the world, and leave a home and livelihood in the hands of somebody else. But Trish and Jeremy did so with ever-present kindness, trust, lightness and humor, enthusiasm, not to mention a kind of superhuman bottomless patience for my litany of questions—including real winners like, “Wait, but how do you pick up a chicken again?” or “Which one of these is the vegetable and which one is the weed?” 

This might be stating the obvious, but hot tamale: The difference between working at a farm and running one is as staggering as the difference between a garden snake and a rattler. I’ve worked on a lot of farms over the years, but prior to this summer, my farm days have always looked relatively similar, regardless of locale: my mornings and afternoons were buttressed by some effortful work and a lot of zoning out. I’ve experienced negligible, if not non-existent, foresight or hindsight. I’ve always had a farm boss who’s told me exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do that thing. I’ve rarely registered an entire landscape, I’ve instead zeroed in on one task: planting a row of onions, seeding a tray of lettuce, attempting to harvest a pile of potatoes without stabbing too many of them with my pitchfork. 

The farmers that I admire, though, are a direct inverse of my obliviousness. They are always attentive, eternally alert. I suspect there’s no greater land steward than a farmer. I am moved by their ethics, their Herculean strength, their flexibility, dependability, and ever-present observation. The farmers I admire are never not paying attention—they’re cognizant of the quality and moisture of the soil, of the number and variety of the pollinators, of the invasives, the water quality and rainfall, the aridity and humidity, the weather and projected weather and the weather trends from last season, and so on. They’re thinking about saving seed for next year, or the planting schedule in years to follow. They’re aware in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever been aware, of an entire ecosystem at their fingertips. Trish and Jeremy are farmers like that. 

While I gallantly attempted to emulate these two, I am still very much the bumbling farmer that I ever was. And I’m not being self-deprecating! Lemme paint y’all a picture: This past month I misidentified lavender *quite literally* more times than I correctly identified it. I excitedly emailed Trish some pictures of onion seed, only to be so gently informed that those were, in fact, not onions at all. I weeded a baby beet bed and probably yanked out upward of 10 mini beet stems in my haphazard process. When a chicken flew directly toward my face I literally barked, “COULD YOU NOT!?” And then I promptly burst out laughing, the noise of which thoroughly startled all the birds who zoomed away from me as fast as their little scaly legs would let them. Suffice it to say, it was a super solid, very brave move, to let me steer this farm ship in their stead.

Thankfully, I didn’t do this alone. For a few days, I was joined by Tom, who tirelessly weeded and planted potatoes that are now leafing out, promising delectable abundance in months to come. For a few solid weeks, I was also joined by Marci, who expertly irrigated all the fields, and trellised cucumbers and tomatoes with astounding attention to detail and care. During some of the hottest days, she and I took shelter indoors and swapped stories that were so funny, my face ached from the laugh-tears. There were also a few days when Radish and I flew solo—a thought that had initially made me nervous, to shoulder so much responsibility, but turned out to be downright peachy. Radish has a warm way of quelling any sort of worry. She and I dipped our toes and paws in Spearfish Creek on the daily, and she seemed to sense anytime I was feeling worried; she’d wriggle under my arms, squeeze tightly into my side, nuzzling in as close as she could so there wasn’t a trace of space between us. Looking back, I’m overcome by the total delight of all this companionship. These farm friends made my days feel so rich, vibrating with energy and color, zest and flavor, humor and comfort. 

It feels both moving and a little sorrowful, looking back at Cycle Farm in the rearview. This morning—my first daybreak away from the chickens and good dog—felt a bit strange, a little lifeless. It’s just after six in the morning as I type this, and looking ahead, my day seems blandly devoid of structure. During the weeks spent at Cycle Farm, my days began at first light, when I stumbled out the backdoor to feed the ensemble of symphonic chickens. I thought of Jeremy this morning, now resuming this routine. I glanced at my clock, wondering if he was walking toward the chicken house at that very moment, booting the roosting hens from their little cubbies, greeting them with gentle hellos and breakfast goodies. This past month my days closed at last light, tucking them in—a task now back in the skilled hands of T & J. I am comforted that the farm is back in their far more capable care, but I also miss, in a selfish way, the chance I had to learn with and from this landscape. For the past month, I’ve tried to study this ecosystem, to attempt to look and listen the way T & J look and listen. I wish I could’ve given as much as T & J give on the daily. And yet, I’m also buoyed by the notion that ultimately, I did the best I could. Everything I did, I did to nourish something else. And the farm, in turn, gave so much more—it never stopped gifting. There’s an everlasting indebtedness there, that I neither deserved nor earned. And yet, it was still gifted to me. What I’m feeling now is an undiluted delight in reciprocity. It feels so good to give; it feels so very precious to be taken care of.

There’s something I thought about so often this past month, that I thought I might also share here. I found myself reflecting on my very first visit to Cycle Farm. My friends Avery, Craig, and I zoomed over to Spearfish, to take a peek at T & J’s new home, before it had really revved into gear. Trish and Jeremy had just touched down in Spearfish and already two things were growing: garlic and bulbous radishes. I remember Trish uprooted one of the radishes for me to nibble—my first taste of the bounty to come. I kept rewinding that old memory these past few weeks. Cycle Farm seems unrecognizable, compared to that first glimpse. It’s always been beautiful to me, but it has also transformed into a truly astounding landscape. It is a carbon sequestering machine. It invites a host of birds and butterflies, friendly bugs and wiggling snakes—it is a regenerative biodiverse landscape in its very essence. Also. Guys. Can we just take a second to talk about the POETRY DISPENSER inside the farm stand!? WHAT MAGIC IS THIS!? There’s watercolor and block prints everywhere; the artistry is as skillful as it is gorgeous. Everything is handmade.   

Over the years, I have had the fortune to work with and learn from many farmers and land stewards. I also studied agriculture in school, which provided a different, albeit more bookish, agrarian education. All in all, there have been few who’ve taught and inspired me as much as these two. In such a short number of years, they’ve grown something that I struggle to articulate in words—there’s simply so much happening. The restoration, the regeneration, the animal husbandry, the seed saving, the continual pivot away from motorized equipment—everything you see is done by hand. The farm embodies intention, reflection, and thoughtfulness.  

Additionally, I’ve had the equally great fortune to work on a few farms that seemed to embody joy, where the work felt vital and important, but also fortified by levity, forgiveness, and good humor. I realized, while writing this post this morning, that I’ve had a smile plastered to my face while doing so. Cycle Farm’s got all the good vibes. As does the community in Spearfish who were so kind, so endlessly welcoming to me, offering help, laughter, and friendship everywhere I turned. It’s possible, I imagine, to feel alone and pretty freaked out, keeping a farm going in a farmers’ stead. But I always felt the inverse. I was continually looked after, supported both by the farm and by this kind and heart-filled community nestled in the Black Hills. 

Gosh, saying goodbye is like a sucker punch. I’ve never successfully driven down the whole length of Evans Lane without pulling over to dry my eyes. I also leave Cycle Farm kinder and gentler than when I arrived—my friends bring out the best in all living things. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. Cycle Farm has a quiet way of grounding us with humor, of refilling bellies and hearts, of tethering us to kindness, and of restoring hope during times when care and decency feels in short supply. Thinking about it all just makes me sit here and smile. I’m shaking my head, too, having just murmured aloud: How did we all get to be so lucky? 

magical creatures

Early last week Albrecht cracked his horn. And, related, for a brief while he was sporting a rather gruesome gash under his eye. The gash quickly healed. We suspect the circumstances surrounding the incident that led to this had something to do with getting his head caught in the fence while reaching for a nearby young apple tree. We can only suspect as Justus won’t tell, clearly sworn to secrecy, and we can’t understand a word Lady Eve says.

We’ve been keeping an eye on him. He’s maintained his usual sunny, hungry, and ever-affectionate disposition, so we haven’t worried too much about him. Yesterday, the horn slipped off, revealing – what we’ve always suspected: Albrecht is a unicornNot only do we have wood nymphs in the orchard, now there’s a unicorn out there too.

—————————————————————–

8/10 – Since posting the above note, this snippet of a film(?) has been called to our attention (thank you, Kaija). It seems to sufficiently summarize my feelings, so I’ve edited to add this. Unicorn sprinkle dinkles and love, t

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  

carbon farming

These long, hot days have been full of weeding, transplanting, more weeding, breaking for ice water, and daydreaming of cross country skiing, reading books, and cooking feasts. During the winter months we take time to reflect on the previous year, plan for the upcoming season, and in general recoup.  These past two winters Jeremy has sat down and calculated our carbon budget for us and the farm. A carbon budget, like a financial budget, is an inventory of our expenses (carbon costs, emissions), compared to our income (carbon sequestered through land management practices).  We came to farming from a land health/environmental perspective and deep in our guts we feel like our practices are reaching towards our goals and values.  Pulling the numbers together and working out our carbon budget has been a way to quantify our carbon emissions, assess the impact we’re making, and identify areas for improvement in management.

It was important for us to consider not just the farm business in our calculation but also our own personal carbon costs.  Partly and feasibly, this done in response to the complexity of teasing the two apart. For instance, our electric meter doesn’t separate the air conditioner on the pack shed walk-in cooler, the heat lamps in the brooder, and the fans in the greenhouse from Jeremy’s loud reggae music on the record player. But further, and more importantly, we can’t ethically separate ourselves and our actions from our business.  In this budget we also took into consideration our secondary carbon footprint including the carbon costs of shipping in materials, seed, feed, lifestyle choices, etc.

Our immediate carbon expenses over the past couple of years include electricity (coal), natural gas, gasoline for our car and Jeremy’s father’s truck, our farm laborers’ gasoline to-from work, and airplane travel for work and family/friend visits. We don’t have a tractor, tiller or mower, we do most work by hand and run errands by bicycle.  Having grid-tied wind and solar power reduces our total emissions from electricity.  Our secondary carbon emissions include things like the shipping and transportation of supplies to the farm over the course of the year as well as emissions of the manufacturer of those supplies (i.e. greenhouse plastic, drip tape, chicken feed).  This also includes our personal secondary footprint (consumer habits, diet related emissions (damn Argentinian wines)).

These costs are added up to give us our total carbon emissions (expense) for the year.

Our carbon “income” is reliant on practices we employ on the farm that build long term stable soil organic matter. The driver of sequestering carbon in the soil is photosynthesis which takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converts it into simple sugars that enter the soil profile either through decay of plant material or directly as root exudates. A large portion of this carbon is active, feeding soil biology and returning to the atmosphere in a relatively short period of time.  But a portion of it becomes stable in the soil.Practices that we routinely use to build soil organic matter and sequester carbon include no-till/minimal disturbance, keeping the soil covered, having a living root in the soil as long as possible (YEAH – root exudates!), increasing diversity (different plants, different root types), including animals, applying compost, and planting perennials.  We are constantly trying to improve our implementation of these practices on the farm.Quantifying how much carbon is sequestered in the soil through the implementation of these practices is the part of the carbon budget that requires the most estimation, approximation, squinting and pointing off towards the horizon.  There are many studies that have looked at carbon sequestration across varied practices and we have taken conservative estimates from research on similarly managed land – organic, no-till, mixed annuals and perennials – in temperate zones.For the last two years (2016 and 2017), our carbon budget shows that we are sequestering more carbon in the soil over the course of a year than both our farm business and personal emissions combined.  This includes our secondary carbon footprint.  (AWYEAH!! …and more !!!!!)

We have a goal of increasing the amount of carbon we’re storing in the soil to the point where we are also sequestering carbon for one step forward from the farm, the emissions generated by our customers coming to pick up their produce at the farm stand.  This can be done by either further reducing our emissions or by improving our land stewardship practices.  We currently make deliveries to restaurants and natural food stores in town by bicycle and are enormously thrilled when customers are able to walk or bike to the farm to stock up on vegetables.  We are just starting to figure out how to fit diverse cover crops into our vegetable rotation and from a carbon point-of-view still have a lot to learn about soil biology, pasture management, and so many other aspects of farming.The idea that we sequester more carbon in the ground than we emit over the course of the year through our actions seems like a little thing in the face of our mind-boggling climate crisis – increasing wildfires, rising seas and collapsing glaciers, displaced communities, vanishing forests, vanishing species.  But it is something positive. Responding to climate change will take adaptation and mitigation, but over the long term will also require drawing down carbon from the atmosphere. Agriculture is guilty of being one of the largest emitters of CO2 over the past decades and it’s extremely empowering that well-managed lands are society’s best hope for sequestering enough carbon quickly enough to make a difference.

Here are some excellent resources we have found educational, helpful and inspiring:

Also, carbon comrades: If you are interested in specific numbers (well, specific ranges of numbers) and methodology, we’d be happy to send along our calculations.  Because the range on estimating secondary footprints and carbon sequestration is so broad, we select higher estimates for emissions and lower estimates for sequestration from multiple footprint calculators and soil carbon studies.

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

capricious loveliness

The seemingly unseasonably cold spring has some things moving along at a pokey-molasses pace, others are all systems go. Our calendar and journal from last year tell us things are about a month behind 2017.  Here’s a quick update as to some of what has been happening on the farm these past few weeks.

We celebrated an exciting early greens harvest at the end of March. A few rows of cold-hardy greens we had started last fall and had hoped would overwinter and be ready for our earliest farm stand markets this spring started to bolt earlier than we had expected, became instead a special harvest for our early-to-sign-up farm share members.  In the greenhouse, the germination chamber is stuffed to the gills with trays of soil blocks. The thermometer consistently reads at 70(ish) degrees in the germination chamber, an insulated and many-shelved box, with heat mats – temporary parking for seed trays while seeds are getting ready for their debut into sunshine. Shelves are filling up with flats of seedlings. Radishes are swelling. Spinach is getting mowed down by mice. We’re setting mouse traps with peanut butter. Outside and greenhouse temperatures have been such that we are still playing the cover-uncover back and forth game with row covers in the greenhouse, trying to keep all the little ones comfortable during the cold nights.One of the pepper varieties we seeded last week is La Mesilla – from our own saved seed. This is a Northern New Mexico chile pepper grown by our farmer friends and mentors, David and Loretta, at Monte Vista Organics. These two offer endless inspiration for us, not only as regards growing delicious food, but also as thoughtful, hardworking, generous and truly lovely humans. This just might be the very beginning of a Spearfish Valley, regionally adapted La Mesilla strain. Over half of the tomato varieties we’re growing this year are from our own seed (that’s 18/34, if you’re keeping count).  Seeding in the spring is full of all sorts of hope and magic, wonder and possibility, all the things of poetry and prayer. These sentiments are amplified in planting seed that we’ve selected for and saved, seeing plants complete their life cycle, generation after generation, on the farm.

Also in the works/germination chamber is the very beginning of Operation RUSDSG- new for 2018. This is a special flower garden plan inspired by a friend. The name is slightly embarrassing and calls into question the legitimacy of our credibility as farmers, but it was an entirely necessary measure in reigning in Jeremy’s absurd, unending flower seed order, so please content yourself with the acronym, RUSDSG. Below is a sneak preview; some photos snitched from Uprising Organics and Wild Garden, two of our favorite seed growers and suppliers for our RUSDSG.Ginger and turmeric are presprouting. In early February, we cut seed, spread them out and covered them over. They’ve been set in the warmest nook of the house, Little Bali, a neighborhood favored by baby ginger and spiders with massive pedipalps. As soon as soil temperatures warm up in the greenhouse, out they’ll go (the ginger; the spiders, ? who knows). We’ve had good luck with growing ginger before and are looking forward to seeing how the turmeric fares.A couple weeks ago we welcomed three bum lambs to the farm. The north bay of the garage has been converted into a lamb barn/ parkour jungle gym. These little ones are spending their days snoozing and bouncing, slurping down milkshakes and gumming everything they can get a hold of: straw bales, baby spruce trees, and small, giggly visitors. The lambs will soon transition to daytime in grape vines and then they will head to the back field where they will mow and fertilize our pasture and orchard area. Lady Eve, Albrecht and Justus, we’re so grateful you are here.And, as we’re on the topic of darling, tiny, fuzzy things, in clearing out and replanting beds in the greenhouse, we found just a few mossy patches near the komatzuna – including a little clump with sporophytes!  So exciting, we had to pull out the loupe.  Moss on soil can be a problem, it’s often indicative of too much moisture and/or poor circulation. This bed was covered up for the winter and the protected, still air under greens seems to have suited their growth. With warmer temperatures and some quick successions of radishes, turnips and salad greens, these little bryophytes will disappear or go dormant.We planted fruit trees, raspberries and herbaceous perennials this week.  A South Dakota-bred pear (Gourmet) and two apples (Hudson’s Golden Gem and Chestnut Crab) were added to the orchard, now with over 65 fruit trees.  And elsewhere, throughout the farm – a honeysuckle that should be pretty popular with hummingbirds, more herbs/medicinal plants, lavender, lady’s mantle and arnica. (Also in photos: Radish is a great help with vole patrol in the orchard and when the handle on the water bucket breaks, it’s convenient to have sunflower stalks on hand.)

And just a few more photos of April, above: a juvenile goshawk enjoying a Eurasian collared dove for breakfast (that was this morning!); Halcyon in snow; the greenhouse disappearing under snow last week; lamb snuggles; spring eggs; soil blocking; spring greens; arugula+bacon+avocado+Jerm’s bread+fried egg = not our usual 13th century peasant slop(read: lentils) and thus a photo worthy feast; chickens enjoying culls from the greenhouse; baby kale (March harvest) and new harvest totes; Lady Eve Balfour; milk thistle seed; young ones in the gh; worm castings are all over the greenhouse beds; tomato seed.

Thank you, friends! A special thanks to all who made it out for the Poetry Tour last weekend, we really enjoyed the time with you all.

Bright green cotyledons, muddy boots and big smiles,  Trish and Jeremy

a year of birds on the farm

Hooray-hooRAY and happy, happy tidings!

One of the exciting things about flipping over into another January is starting a whole new series of calendars, and we have no shortage of these: farm journal, planting calendar, daily planner, and our bird list.We started the bird list last January 1st in an effort to better monitor our avian diversity and as a way to record the comings and -especially- goings of migrating species, of particular interest: the robins and vultures.

And now with a complete year of observations, we can’t wait to share this. It’s SO COOL: 2017 farm bird list. (< click to view)

The calendar is set up by week with a note (x) for observed presence on farm during that week. This doesn’t account for number of individuals. 300 Grackles get the same x as one Rufous Hummingbird. However, this does show number of species and trends over the course of the season.  The boundaries we use for inclusion are not rigid. Fly-overs are counted as “seen on the farm” (i.e. Sandhill Cranes, Mallards), however wild turkeys seen parading about in the neighbors’ horse pasture don’t. To an extent, these boundaries follow Jeremy’s whims and fancies and mostly depend on likelihood of direct interaction with the farm.

A few things of note:
With these records we can see the two peaks (mid-May and Sept-Oct) of spring and fall migrations. It looks like the spring migration peak is a shorter pulse as birds are cruising on to breeding grounds, and fall migration is more drawn out. Over the course of the year, Jeremy got a whole lot better at bird observation and identification. This certainly skewed the data a bit towards fall abundance.

Our original list included 82 species that we thought we had seen on the farm over the past 5 years. This year we were able to confidently identify a total of 103 different species including 35 new-to-our-list species. (HOLYCRAP!)Bird highlights: We identified three species of hummingbird including the smallest bird in North America, Calliope (photo above(!) courtesy of Greg Albrechtsen). A Golden-winged Warbler. American Redstarts nested here. Regular visits by a Great Horned Owl. Our first Orioles. AND we learned to identify several of the warblers (at least 11 different species and variants), who had until this year just been lumped as “the little flitty birds in the trees.” It’s fun to have these visitors to the farm, to be aware that they have come through, but the species who make the farm their home are most intriguing to us. We are having big fun getting to know the behavior and personalities of these birds; the Juncos, Robins, Starlings, Blue Jays and Flickers.

Our biggest bird week (9/10) included a Sunday in which our sweet, smart friends, Greg and Mary Beth, came over and spent the morning birding with us. These two have been generous and contagiously enthusiastic mentors for us as we cannonball (bellyflop?) into the deep-end of the pool of birding.9/4/2017, birding w. Greg and MBWe’re especially excited to continue this monitoring and watch how seasonal trends appear over several years. And this year we will be planting even more Hummingbird Sage and Sunset Hyssop. Big cluster plantings, everywhere.

Wishing you all a joyful, healthy, and wondrous new year, t&j

(and for our birding brethren – if you would like a copy of our template, it’s here to share: 2018 Birds, annual record – SHARE Easy to edit.)