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.

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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

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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.)

August August, illustrated

A mid-summer photo dump. Annotated. In full.

The corn-beans-squash beds have exploded and are running amok through the rhubarb, climbing the greenhouse. You can almost watch the Rouge vif D’Etampes and Sundream swell. The beans we have planted in here are Hidatsa Shield Figure beans and the corn is a Taos Blue Corn that makes scrumptious atole and pancakes. We also planted in a few of the lesser known fourth sister, Rocky Mountain bee plant (cleome, spider plant), but it seems she may have been swallowed by her siblings. The sisters are planted in two beds near the greenhouse, it’s a small planting and we may have to hand-pollinate the corn. We have 8 additional rows of various winter squash varieties planted, but didn’t get our popcorn or other dry beans in this spring.

We’ve teased out a 4-year crop rotation that’s been working really well for our staple crops; potatoes then squash then beans then either garlic or popcorn. The field winter squash were seeded into alternating beds with our garlic planting. Garlic was harvested out in mid-July and Jeremy immediately seeded a buckwheat and oat cover crop in its place. Despite getting this seeded just before a good rain, the cover crop is really doing best near the drip lines. With the garlic out and the buckwheat/oats just getting going, there’s plenty of room for the squash vines to spread. We’ve been playing with integrating different cover crops and mixes with our vegetable plantings, some we haven’t mastered so well. This is one that we’re especially pleased with.Jeremy has been spending more and more time ooey-glueyied to the binoculars. The bird list is up to 87 different species identified on or flying over the farm this year. Most recently: Shrikes hunting grasshoppers in the orchard, a Red-eyed Vireo, hummingbirds (Ruby-throated and Rufous), a Great Horned Owl, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and a Lewis’s Woodpecker.

We continue to lose young trees to voles – usually they get girdled during the winter, but this summer we’ve lost several, probably due to tall grasses near the trees (sounds like we need some lambs again, eh?). There have been a few fruits this year, mostly apples and plums. Noteworthy fruits include a plum from the very, very first tree we planted on the farm, a pear from a tree planted in honor of Grandma Ginny, and a bomber crab apple harvest which we are currently climbing through the middle of. Oh yes! Even berries off of our brand spankin’ new, first year hedgerow shrubs (many thanks to those fine folks at the Lawrence County Conservation District). We planted over 200 bareroot cherries and berries around the perimeter of the orchard, immediately got them linked up to a drip line, and they’re doing great.This (below) is a shot of one of the hummingbird visitors we’ve had on the farm during these past few weeks. Most activity has been seen on Texas Hummingbird Sage and Sunset Hyssop. A young female Rufous Hummingbird, photo by Greg Albrechtsen.This season, we’re experimenting with a new farm share market plan and we’ve received good feedback from our farm stand family members. It’s sounds like there is significantly less food waste happening at customers’ homes and folks are appreciating the choice in produce and the flexible schedule. We’ve noticed that we have a much reduced stress level this summer versus previous summers.  And at least part of this we are attributing to our new marketing arrangement and how it is reducing our stress around filling bountiful and balanced CSA baskets.

Some of our worries with this new arrangement were losing the connection to the farm that a CSA membership facilitates and that a market style farm share plan might force us into growing only just the most popular vegetables. A carrot and tomato farm. These were unwarranted worries and we’ve found that, overwhelmingly, our customers are staying engaged with the farm through emails and newsletters, coming throughout the whole season, and are still trying new vegetables and supporting the farm by purchasing a diversity of vegetables.  We really appreciate our thoughtful community of farm supporters, they’re truly helping make this all possible.We’ve been having fun getting to know new flowers this year, both new-to-us annual varieties and several perennials that are only now setting blooms. Blue vervain, elecampane, lemon bee balm/bergamot, liatrus, hyssop, black cohosh, chocolate flower, Buddha’s Hand cosmos, butterfly milkweed, some crazy pink poppies, and arnica. We’ve also been having fun getting to know our native pollinators better. This spring, we built a native pollinator nesting box.  It’s outfitted with oat straw, sunflower, Valerian and chicory stems. Drilled holes of various diameters and depths. Nesting sites for all sorts. The box is set up near the farm stand and new pollinator/herb bed. It’s a busy spot and completely captivating. We have identified several: grass-carrying wasps, yellow-faced bees, leaf-cutter bees, mud dauber wasps, mason bees. And then there are all the ones we haven’t identified: tiny metallic blue bees, yellow-bellied bees, etc. It’s become a regular farm telenovela series. Return characters. Romances. Dark relationship dramas. A leaf cutter bee who lined and capped her nest with flower petals. A yellow-faced bee who robbed the saliva from one nest to build another. Earlier this week, we saw a Downy Woodpecker take off from near the box. When we inspected the holes, we found them littered with green leaf-cutter bee nest confetti. This bird had found the buffet line and loaded up. If it’s any consolation, we’ve read that mother bees will lay female eggs at the back of the nests, and male eggs towards the front.. for this very reason.

If you’re as stoked about native pollinators as we are (and why wouldn’t you be?), check out the Xerces Society, a great resource on invertebrate conservation, pollinator box worksheets here and here. Peek inside the solitary bee nests here, Resonating Bodies, and lastly here’s a neato video.The pollinator box has been so popular – with both invertebrate friends and people friends, that we hosted a native pollinator nesting box building workshop. It was a treat to spend the afternoon with fellow pollinator-enthusiasts, being constructive and creative together, building habitat for our beloved native solitary bees and wasps. Eight solitary bee boxes were constructed and are now up, scattered all around the Spearfish area in home gardens and backyards. In an uncanny yet completely obvious and timely expression of gratitude, we all watched, amazed, as a bee headed right into one box even before it’s roof was attached. This year, the front field is planted in alternating rows of beans and potatoes (with a few intercropped beets and a row of fall brassicas).  We are intercropping more this year than we have before, mainly due to space limitations. The limitation is not overall space, but ready-bed space. This season we have a lot of beds that are unplanted, 40% of our designated rows never got weeded and planted this spring. However, we’ve been putting time and money (via paid labor; thank you, Madeleine) into pulling rhizomes and getting this space ready for next year.Below is a view of some of the beds in the back field. From left to right: fennel in flower, lettuce, just germinating fall carrots, beets and tomatoes, peppers, more tomatoes, (and just out of view) cucumbers and cabbage. Bottom left, celery seed drying. We just learned that when celery plants go to seed they become ginormous. Don’t try and grow anything near them, because you won’t. Beneficial insects are all over the flowers though. And you can smell the heavenly celery from halfway down the field. Immediately after clearing a bed of lettuce(some) and celery(mostly), we added compost and seeded in carrots. (Specific no-till bed prep methods: pulled out lettuce, cut celery stalks at the base, seeded carrots using precision seeder / 6 rows, replaced drip tape, shoveled on compost, just a thin layer, raked gently to even the bed, hand watering with hose daily until germination, approx 6 days.) We’ve been having trouble with carrot germination, but these little ones look great and will be a welcome addition to roasted root vegetables and fall soups.

After three years without much for apples, this year, trees are super heavy with fruit. So far, we’ve collected over 200 pounds of crab apples from the tree by the farm stand. Most of this will be pressed and fermented into hard cider (Naked Lady Crab Apple Cider, 2017 vintage – harvest coincides with blooming Naked Lady flowers), plain wild ferment and a dry hopped batch.  At least 200 hundred more pounds have be raked up off of the ground for our chickens and the robins and doves have probably eaten that much as well.  The tree still looks loaded. (Interested in pressing cider? crab apple jelly? pickling? let us know.) The wild plums have their biggest crop in the six years we’ve been here.  We seem to have three varieties of wild plum (red, yellow and purple) of which we have only picked one so far, but the rest should be ready to pick by the end of the month.  And the grapevines have a good crop as well.  We use a refractometer to measure the sugar level of the grapes, and we start harvesting when they get up to 20-22 degrees brix. Harvesting grapes is not infrequently interrupted by shrieks, squeals, and big happy laughter as we find young garter snakes four feet off of the ground, looking at us eye-to-eye while we’re reaching for clusters of fruit.As the busy planting and weeding season passes the baton, clumsily, into busy harvesting season, we have found just a little time to sneak in infrastructure and other construction projects. Finishing the wash/pack shed is moving up in priority on the to-do list. We have spent the summer testing out different arrangements of the wash area layout and are nearly ready to commit to running water lines, lights and electricity and building out sorting tables and shelves. Earlier this week, we built a hand washing sink. It currently has a spectacular view. Also on the pack shed construction to-do list is a pair of sliding barn doors to enclose the north and west sides during times when inclement weather and harvest coincide. 

And, quickly and best of all, our friend Regina came for a visit, the sun went away then came back, and we received an award for Conservation Citizenship from Lawrence County Conservation District(!).

That’s it, pert near. Thanks, all! With grit and gratitude, t and j

 

laying flock

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

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

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

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