winter, farm visitors!

A productive, restful winter.
Woolly socks, hot tea, the melodica, seed catalogs and Sibley’s bird guide. Beans and potatoes. And eggs. Building a gate for the chicken yard, scheming mobile coop designs, reviewing conference notes, reflecting on last year’s growing season, planning for this year’s. Baking bread and stirring resistance. A hammock in the greenhouse, cross country skis by the door, books by the couch… and on the table, and on the floor, and by the bed. And visitors!vicious-birdsWe’ve had a couple predatory birds visit the farm over the last month. A Northern Shrike briefly took up residence in our greenhouse, helping with pest management. And yesterday we happened to see a Eastern Screech owl peeking out of a basswood tree. Our chickens don’t seem to mind the company and are laying abundantly.

We’ve also had a couple friends visit the farm over the last month. Thomas came from Washington bearing whisky, reggae on vinyl, and a big stack of NYT crossword puzzles… *sigh*… winter. Radish enjoyed having a ski-mate and perfecting her newest trick, hoop-jumping. We enjoyed having help with our seed inventory and cleaning up the greenhouse after the shrike massacre (3 mice, 7 house sparrows, decapitated and impaled on popsicle sticks. eeew).And then our friend, Gordon, and his sweet basset travel companion, Dot, were snowbound here on their way back home. Several of our trees are from Gordon’s fruit tree nursery in northern New Mexico. We took the opportunity to walk through our young orchard with him, and learn more about orchard management, tree health, and practice grafting techniques.gordon-tooley-visitAnd now the house is empty, the futon is folded up. The seed orders are in. The days are growing noticeably longer. The greenhouse is seeded with every sort of spring green, turnips, radishes and beets. We’re looking forward to a few sunny days to help with soil temperature and germination. seeding-greenhouse-feb-5feb-2017-photo-montage2While we anticipate fresh greens, farm feastings have been mostly a whole lot of soups, and squash pie, and fermented things. When you have a chance, check out this exceptionally delicious, new favorite recipe for fermented hot sauce, also lovely kraut crocks.

Thanks, friends. Siempre adelante.

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cow shit and strawberries

The CSA shares this week include some exceptionally beautiful lettuce greens, big leaves that we think might make for awful smart lettuce wraps. In light of this, the CSA newsletter includes a recipe for lettuce wraps that we think you’ll enjoy- of course, don’t let this limit you, be creative, have fun, and bon appetit! And while you’re crunching away, here’s a guide to the lettuce varieties in your shares:csa week 3

This year we have nearly twenty different varieties of lettuce planted out in the field (Jeremy has a small problem at seed ordering time, Trish abets). The CSA shares this week also include pea shoots(!) and strawberries(!!).  It is our opinion that all lawn should be replaced by strawberry plants. And peas.z dimentionThe farm z-dimension has grown this week with trellising the tomatoes. And we’ve started a biodynamic barrel compost that will be ready to use next spring. barrelcompostOver the past few years we have been learning about biodynamic agriculture, we appreciate how this philosophy aligns well with our thoughts and management goals and we’re super excited to be incorporating this into our farm and practices. After the CSA season, when we make our annual migration south for the Quivira Coalition conference, we’re also looking forward to attending the Biodynamic Association biannual conference. Here is a shot of our farmer friend’s sweet milker who has so graciously shared her manure with us:ericas cowYesterday we disturbed a cloud (bunches!) of these lovelies lurking by the hops. Lacewings are excellent predators. These ones, in particular, looked well fed.And lastly, trish spirit mustache

 

CSA, covercrops, and other beneficials

Over the past few years, Jeremy has been seeding flowers (deep rooted plants, legumes, medicinal herbs, wild flowers) seemingly everywhere, this has successively become evident in the orchard and along the borders of the vegetable fields, all around the house and down the driveway. This spring we are finding columbine, dame’s rocket, bee’s friend, bachelor’s buttons, borage, coneflowers, sunflowers and salsify.  Clumps of chamomile are coming up in the chicken yard (dunno. must have come in with some batch of feed?). Phacelia under the crab apple.  Woolly verbena and white campion in the orchard. Dame’s rocket over the lamb skulls. Bees are stoked. Farmers too.We just celebrated our first CSA harvest of the season today. It was a sunrise sauna in the field this morning, our thermometer reaching 95 degrees by the early afternoon. For CSA members: the weekly newsletters will be posted online here, this week’s is here. And don’t forget to peruse our farm community cookbook for additional ideas and inspiration. Thanks for joining us this season – we’re looking forward to spending the summer with you all!

We’ve been learning heaps these past couple months about early greens production, rapidfire succession planting, and how to manage all this early harvest and marketing along with our already brimming spring planting schedule. There are still some wrinkles to work out with timing. farmstand late mayrye vetch covercropLast week we pulled out a rye and vetch cover crop that we had seeded last fall between the garlic beds. We laid the cover crop down in-place as mulch and immediately seeded winter squash into those beds. In about a month, we’ll harvest the garlic, right as the squash needs space to expand. If we get our act together, we’ll seed buckwheat in the open garlic beds hoping it will winter-kill before going to seed. As part of our no-till management, we use straw bales as mulch for most of our beds, but we’re excited about growing our mulch on-site. And in doing so, feeding our soil microbiology for more of the year and reducing an off-farm input by not having to purchase as many straw bales.We just learned about crab (flower) spiders. We’ve seen these around previously, but after witnessing lunchtime featuring a main course of one of our beloved pollinators, we had to look this up. This spider perches on flowers like she’s sunning herself on a beach towel, her front crabby legs wide open in some sort of ultra-still warrior pose. When an unsuspecting native bee/honey bee/butterfly comes by the flower to sip nectar, the spider, ninja-style, seizes the bee or fly and bites into it, paralyzes it and then eats it. *wince* YET. Healthy apex-predator populations are indicative of a healthy ecosystem. They play a vital role. Like bears and wolves and purple sea stars. So we love this little guy. Even though she’s eating our bees… and it feels a little like having an orca on our penguin farm.

Speaking of which… we were getting anxious, noticing aphids on a few of our fruit trees. But then looking down at the understory, below our plums, we found a glorious nursery of ruthless, voracious lady bug larvae. Anxieties quelled.

 

 

autumn update, in photos

The sandhill cranes have been flying over in super high vees these past two days, with their rolling, gurgling, chortle calls. The robins are gone, replaced by blue jays. Elms are doing that amazing yellow thing they do. It’s nearing mid-October and we’re still picking cucumbers in the field. We had a few wet, rainy days that teased us with fall and sweaters and cold hands harvesting greens, but this evening, as we unloaded compost onto next year’s winter squash beds with the sun setting, the thermometer read 75 degrees.

Here is an abbreviated autumn update from the farm, mostly photos.Acidanthera, fragrant gladiolus, blueberries milkweed chickens octoberWe tried out some bulbing flowers this year, testing our interest/ability/capacity for cut flower production. It’s incredible fun to include flowers in the CSA shares and it would be great to offer local, organically grown flower bouquets throughout the season. This is something we’d like to work on, figuring out the timing and diversity. It’s on the range, but shoved over on a way back burner …behind weed management and finishing cobbing in the greenhouse and a new gate for the chicken yard and… The mushroom logs responded well to this recent wet spell. This year we tried out shiitake, oyster and wine cap. For being somewhat neglected, they’ve been doing well this predominantly wet season. Despite our best intentions to curb superfluous farm projects (tangents? whims?), Jeremy somehow snaked in a patch of hardy blueberries this spring. They plants look great and we even got a crop of fruit this summer (like 7 berries).  We just wrapped up our final batch of pastured chickens last weekend. We raised 4 rounds of 50 Freedom Ranger chickens, took pre-orders, and sold chickens fresh from the farm the afternoon after butchering. This process worked well and we really appreciate our customers’ flexibility in scheduling and enthusiasm for good meat.cucmbers CSA grilled tomato seeds october The summer season produce just seems to keep on coming. The shares this year have been heaped with greens and cucumbers, summer squash and roots. We’ve been struggling to get peppers and eggplants to ripen before the slugs get at them and we lost out entirely on winter squash, tomatillos, broccoli. Our meager two rows of cucumbers have far outdone themselves, some of our CSA members have been canning and we’ve even been able to deliver cucumbers to the Spearfish Food Pantry. The farmstand has become a routine part of our week, with both the CSA pick-up and our Friday night market. It’s such a good space. And we just rotted, rinsed, and dried oodles and oodles of saved tomato seed. Still need to chase out the last of the lingering fruit flies.collecting bales As part of our no-till bed management, we stocked up on a whole heaping mess load of strawbales. We’re immensely grateful to have found a source for untreated oat straw to use. Plus we got to spend some time tossing bales in the shadow of Bear Butte.october bedsThis extended season has graced us with more time to tackle our absurdly long to-do list. One extra big check off the list was getting one of our field tunnels covered. This summer we constructed two modular low tunnels that we’ll be able to move with our crop rotation each year. With these tunnels, we should be able to increase our early spinach and other spring greens yield and help give our peppers and eggplants longer frost free time in the fall.installing solar panelsAnother big check off the list was getting our new PV array installed. With enormous help from Jeremy’s father, Dave, our new friend and comrade in clean energy, James, and our solar sage in Bozeman, Sarah, we are now able to produce good food AND electricity using sunshine.krauting workshop with Cis and RadishThis week we got to host a sauerkrauting workshop led by our friend and comrade in krauting, Cis Rongstad. We learned so much and are appreciative of Cis sharing her experience and knowledge on the chemistry, biology and good flavors of kraut. Cis brought 6 different types of kraut to sample(!); lemon dill, cortido, classic kraut w apple, kim chi, and a zucchini relish with fermented tomatoes(!!)… My favorite was one with curry spices, Cis’ recipe is shared in the Cycle Farm community cook book here.kale diverisityAnd lastly, here are some photos from our 4th annual Harvest Party celebration just this afternoon. We appreciate having the chance to share our farm with friends and neighbors, snuggling the lambs and taste-testing garlic varieties, gorging on a flight of potatoes, rainbow pico de gallo, ciabatta and chocolate beet cake. Conversing over edible flowers and a kale breeding project, guinea recipes and raspberry production, broom corn and sauerkraut. To all our Cycle Farm family: your support and enthusiasm means the world to us. You inspire us everyday. Thank you. potato flight and beet cake

Wishing you all a happy harvest season! Full bellies and big smiles, T and J

midsummer farm update, in photos

An update from the farm, mainly photos. Our crops and hearts got crushed earlier in July with a hail storm. We’ve re-trellised and planted out new flats of greens and brassicas. Some things are rebounding brilliantly, other things (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) still look feeble and sorry. We’re offering them gentle encouragements, spread with a thick layer of hope. field tunnels leeks squashWith the storms and the slugs, we got a bit mopey. To combat this, Jeremy took me around on a special “there’s lots to celebrate here despite the mess” farm tour. He brought the camera. The following are shots from the tour: the St John’s Wort in the orchard, showy milkweed in the herb bed, a soon-to-be sunflower by the compost, and rudbeckia blooming by the farm stand.july flowersAnd greens, so many greens. New lettuce plantings are filling in. The peas are sending out new flowers.July greensLast Friday, we had a chance to visit with Linfred and Ron Schuttler on the porch of the farm stand. With vegetables on the counter and glasses of ice water in hand, we heard stories about their family farm, Lumbago Acres, the farm stand, and agriculture in the valley during the 50’s and 60’s. There’s a great article in the Black Hills Pioneer sharing some of these wonderful stories from our conversation together.visitingThe first batch of pastured chickens were butchered and sold last weekend. We feel enormously appreciative about how everything went. The morning slaughter and butcher went smoothly, everyone calm and happy – both the birds and the people. We had great help. The birds averaged 4 pounds. We’re very grateful for having sold out of chickens. If you are interested in reserving a fresh chicken for next time, please let us know.  Thank you so much for supporting small-scale, thoughtfully raised, and humanely slaughtered meat.Additional celebrations! My niece has been visiting this week. Getting the chance to share the farm with an inquisitive, brave, and energetic nine year old is awesome. Thanks for coming, Elora – and thanks for rallying your Dad and Gamma to come too. elora ann on the farmAnd celebrations continue! A wedding on the farm! Our friends and all time number one farmer-inspirations, Eowyn and Jacqui, were married in the shade of the grapes, between the blooming valerian and the lemon sorrel this past Saturday. Thoughtful words, joyful smiles, and beautiful bouquets of wild carrot. So much love.

For our CSA, we put together a weekly newsletter with an update on farm goings-on. If you are interested in finding out more of what’s happening at Cycle Farm, check out the newsletters posted online here each week. We also have a new CSA cookbook, an ongoing online collection of recipes and kitchen inspiration you might like to poke through.

Happy summer, happy feasting!

-t

 

farm stand

We have been having much deliberation about the season, a lot of ruminating on time, finances, and the Farmers Market. Right now we’re feeling enormously swamped on the farm, too much to do, only two people, not enough time. We’ve decided we have to miss the Saturday market this summer. This has us feeling torn and disappointed, we love the market so very much. However, we’re also really looking forward to having the additional time to spend in the field and finishing projects. One of the projects we’re especially excited about is fixing up an old farm stand, which we’re planning on using for our CSA pick-up and for on-farm sales. Our hope is that we can still make our produce available to customers while being here to manage the farm, care for critters, tackle chores, etc. We’re still finishing construction/repair on the farm stand and haven’t yet set open hours. Please stay tuned. We hope that you’ll stop by the farm stand and see us! Of course, you should also hop on your bike and go visit our friends at the Farmers Market too!

A bit more about the farm stand: This farm stand was originally built by the Schuttler family in the early 50’s on their farm property at the corner of Evans Lane (then Lower Valley Rd) and Old Hwy 14.  They sold everything from honey and canned jams and jellies, eggs and herbs, potted plants, and a whole array of diverse vegetables and fruits. All seasonal and local and amazing. This is a photo courtesy of Linfred and Ron Schuttler of their parents’ stand in operation.   The Schuttler’s family farm was called Lumbago Acres, aptly named because it had a ‘crick in the back’ – before the highway was built, Spearfish Creek flowed along the north property boundary, through the back of the farm.  The stand was last used as a market space in 1976. Here is a shot of the farm stand at the original farm, circa 2013. When we first moved to Spearfish to start farming, Ron Schuttler graciously offered us the stand if we could figure out a way to move it. For three years it’s been on our to-do list (indeed it’s printed on our business card). This spring, we contacted a couple big-truck towing, fork-lifting, hauling companies to see about having it moved, but were repeatedly warned that due to rot and age, moving it would crumple it.  Jeremy and his father, Dave, were confident in its structural soundness. Jeremy had already transplanted the lilac hedge. It would move just fine. Together, the two jacked it up, corner by corner, on bricks and beams and coffee cans and marbles. Such a good team. Once it was up high enough, Dave backed a trailer underneath. Once here, in the driveway, they reversed the process jacking it down, corner by corner. Finally, setting it down on boards. Using pipes as rollers and fun trigonometry, a tiedown strap to lift a crab apple branch out of the way, a come-a-long and moxy, the farm stand found its way into place at Cycle Farm.on rollers Between time on bed prep and planting in the field, we’re working on getting the farm stand usable. The rot is cut out. It’s now sporting a fabulous new porch, with great rocking chair potential, and new roof boards. roofing Even after 40 years unused, the farm stand is in remarkably good condition. It’s such a great space. Everything so smartly laid out and built. Complete with, hinged counters, shelves, hanging produce signs, and a wonderful, little sliding glass window in the back. The counters and shelves inside are all preserved well under a generous layer of dust, spider egg casings, and cob webs. Newspaper comic strips stapled to the walls, and photos of brown trout and bass, and pretty ladies with horses tacked to the ceiling. There’s an incredible, rich history to this space, as part of Spearfish Valley agriculture and small family farming, and we feel honored and privileged to get to be a part of it.40 years of dustWe’re planning having the farm stand ready for our first CSA pick-up on Thursday (oh sheeesh). We’ll also be selling produce fresh from the farm through the farm stand all season long. Look for updates on our facebook site as to what’s available. Or check out the smart signs posted on the side of the stand. We hope you’ll come by and visit us.


An update! Since posting this, we had the chance to spend an afternoon (July 3rd) with Linfred and Ron Schuttler on the porch of the farm stand. Some of this great conversation, history of the farm stand and agriculture of Spearfish Valley was recorded in this great article from the Black Hills Pioneer, Restoring — and restocking — a Spearfish farm stand.

spring, move out, go forth

Spring’s on, full speed ahead.  The grapevines are budding, the peas are winding out their tendrils, and the chokecherries are a buzz with a buzzillion pollinators. The apples have lost their pretty petals, the plums are fading, we’re feasting on the first asparagus. The mass exodus to the field from the greenhouse has begun; napas, bok choi, lettuces, mustard greens, kale. Here is a photo update of things in motion, in disarray.grapes lettuce garlicOne of the types of kale we’re growing (of six total) is a variety planted from seed saved from our very first gardening adventure together six years ago. We picked up the kale as starts at the farmers market in Santa Fe from a woman who sold duck eggs, herbs, and art work made out of turkey feathers. Having not kept track of the true variety name, we’ve been calling it Mu’s Blue, after our friend Mu who hosted our first garden plot. Mu’s Blue has been with us so long, these plants are almost like family. planting out kalesplanting out mustardsThe first batch of broilers have also transitioned from the brooder out to the small tractors. We’re keeping these guys close for a bit, so we can more easily shelter them from the cool evening temperatures (and ever-threatening snow) while they get their feathers on. They’ll head out to the larger tractor in the orchard in a few days.chicken tractorsSeveral of our hens have gone broody. There are no roosters in the flock, so this behavior is all for naught. Because they stop laying eggs when they get broody, we’ve been scooping them up and tossing them out of the coop every time we’re in there. Lately, three of them have decided that there is strength in numbers and they piled up together in one nesting box to thwart us. Ridiculous.hen and broody birdsNews from the greenhouse: Jerm found a really rad parasitoid wasp in the spinach bed last week (Ichneumonidae). These wasps don’t sting or bite, they are good guys. Good in that they consume pollen and nectar and lay eggs in other insects. When the eggs hatch, their young/larvae develop inside the host insect, eating the insect host from the inside as they grow. The incubator insects are aphids and caterpillars, beetles, scales, true bugs, and flies. Welcome to the farm, friend. Hoorah for biodiversity.wasp seeding spinachThis has been our first spring using soil blocks and we’re really happy with them. The starts look great and transplanting is easier – both on us and the plants. We pulled out the last of the greenhouse spinach bed this week to make way for radishes, carrots, and cucumbers. We harvested 50.75 lbs of spinach from this bed over six weeks! Also, and lastly, we found a spinach leaf the size of Jeremy’s face.

year in review, 2014 farm digest

We’re already moving quickly into the 2015 season. Seed orders are coming in, boxes packed to brimming are arriving daily. The greenhouse is planted and sprouting in radishes, spinach, beets and lettuce. It’s a party in the greenhouse these days, complete with cotyledon confetti. The chickens are providing us and our neighbors with a plentitude of rich, delicious eggs. And we’ve just opened early registration for our CSA shares. Gears are in motion.

A big part of our winter is spent tallying figures, pouring over spreadsheets, reflecting on the previous year(s) and planning for the next season. It’s important to us to share our thoughts and perspective on farm management, methods and finances. We believe this transparency is key in a strong, healthy food system. And along this vein, we welcome feedback and suggestions. We are learning how to make this work efficiently, holistically, and realistically – any and all input is much appreciated.

A brief reflection on farm finances for 2014 – In 2014, we increased our gross sales by 46% over 2013. Although we increased the number of CSA shares offered, this accounted for less than half of our increased sales. A good portion of these new sales came from pre-CSA season vegetable sales to local restaurants and the Red Barn Market, seed and start sales, and broiler chickens.  This coming year, we will maintain the same number of CSA shares, but we plan on increasing our wholesale markets, broiler chicken numbers, hope to increase egg production, and expand seed and start sales.

A review of our marketing outlets – In 2014, we offered 20 CSA shares for an 18 week season (this was an increase from 16 shares offered in 2013).  We ended up filling shares for 19 weeks, as an early round of bok choi encouraged a pre-season bonus share. Our weekly shares were full, but not brimming as we would have liked. This is a reflection of both the challenging weather and us not keeping up with our crop plan. We were disappointed that many of our beloved, warm season, fruity crops (eggplant, tomatillos, peppers, lemon cukes) never quite made it to maturity before the early September frost. These are the especially fun things to have in the CSA, and not having those to include was a let down for us. We did however have a stellar crop of beets, over and over again. Which is totally worth celebrating. We had roughly 60% retention rate of share members, with people moving and changing lifestyles. In the future, we would like to meet a retention rate of at least 70-80%.

We participated in the weekly Spearfish Farmers Market in the Park. Our experience with this is much the same as it was last year. We’ve been torn as to whether or not we should continue with this market as it does not pay for our time (production, harvest, time spent selling), yet there are things about it that we value a whole helluvalot.  After following the holistic decision making framework, we decided that, despite financial misgivings, we will continue going to the Farmers Market next year.

A new market we’ve added this year is the South Dakota Online Local Foods Co-op, a year-round online farmers market. This is something we are completely jazzed about: cooperatively managed, direct to consumer sales, all local. We’re looking forward to watching the Co-op grow as a strong local market connecting consumers to producers throughout the Black Hills area, potentially bridging statewide in the future. Our plan is sell through the Co-op primarily during the winter months.

Our wholesale distribution last year was mostly limited to pre- and post-CSA season deliveries. There are two restaurants in town that we are lucky to have support from. The kitchen crews at Killian’s Tavern and Dough Trader Pizza have both been tremendously flexible and willing to work with what’s available seasonally. We value getting to work with these local businesses and help put fresh, local foods on their menus. There is something intrinsically magic about this absolutely integral (yet rare in this area) connection between a farm and restaurant, we’re very much excited to be a part of this growing relationship in Spearfish. We’ve also received huge support from what often feels like our extended family at the Red Barn Farmers Market. This extraordinary little shop has become a crucial hub in our local food system, highlighting the work of local farmers and ranchers, and we are so grateful for it.  Having said this, we were not able to deliver as much as we would have liked throughout the growing season last year and are planning to grow more for wholesale to restaurants and the market this year.

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Direct sales from the farm included early spring seeds and starts, egg sales, chickens, grapes and hops, honey and christmas trees.  We have a pretty good array of diverse, complementary enterprises to accompany our vegetable production. Here is a breakdown of our 2014 sales per farm enterprise. Note: this is all but the vegetables.Print

Some of our especially meaningful successes from 2014 – Greenhouse management and production went well last year; great early season yields of greens and radishes, and tomatoes and cucumbers into November. We increased our CSA share numbers and community involvement, and kept up on our calendar and monitoring. Much of our success and happy times last year can be attributed to our amazing BHSU intern, Abigail McBride, crews of students, traveling volunteers, and community work parties who came out to help on projects throughout the season.

An enormous success on the farm last year was in pasture management. We ran three lambs, on daily rotation through our young orchard followed 1-2 weeks later by a chicken tractor. The result of this migration through the field was absolutely, hands down, the most awesome thing.  A textbook regimen for healthy soils, realized.  The stuff dreams are made of. The lambs were our introduction to small livestock(mammal) management. They were a joy to be around and we appreciate the work they’ve done. We slaughtered and butchered them on the farm in October and now our freezer is full of some of the most incredible meat either of us have ever had. The small broiler operation last year went well. We raised 120 chickens on pasture, butchered on farm, and sold them through pre-orders. Feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive, so our plan is to do this again next year – adding two more butcher dates. 2014 was also a pivotal year for us in terms of stress management and communication (we learned heaps about handling and supporting each other when we’re tired and edgy). All this and we found a new-to-us TIG welder.

Our biggest challenges, shortcomings during 2014 – There were many challenges last year, we were tested both by things entirely within our control (time management) and things completely out of our control (weather).  The season felt abbreviated, both shortened by late spring and early September frost and generally cool temps throughout the growing season. We felt stretched thin in terms of off-farm commitments on top of our growing responsibilities. We farmed an additional 3/4 acre field north of town, essentially doubling our vegetable production area. This was a good learning experience as it was furrowed and flood irrigated. Our heavy duty drip tape that we hoped would last 5-7 years is suffering from mineral build-up at the emitters; we’re investigating how best to remedy this without having to junk the whole lot of tape.  A thriving gopher population has taken up residency in both the orchard and our vegetable beds (we’re discovering a few drawbacks to no-till, we’ll report on this in more detail soon).  We ran out of time planting this spring and didn’t get our dry beans in – which wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t such a key player in our staple crop rotation. And we didn’t complete our mid-season planting and as a result had more empty beds that we would like come late summer/fall.

Most successful crops for 2014 – It was a great year for our herb garden, popcorn, green onions, beets and lettuces. We celebrated, with rapture, our first bountiful strawberry harvest. We aced arugula in the greenhouse and spinach in cold frames. Kale was stunning and sweet, oh, and the mustard greens!

Least successful crops for 2014 – We experimented with celtuce last year and, despite our high hopes, good intentions and it’s own reputed tastiness, our CSA members were skeptical and underwhelmed. We won’t be doing celtuce again this year. The same goes for Romanesco. After three years of growing lush, gorgeous plants that never quite get to heading, we’ve decided to use that row space to grow something with a better track record for yield. The cool temperatures of 2014 made it hard for peppers and eggplants. Our no-till methods and very efficient mulching on the potatoes made for wicked good gopher(vole?) habitat and forage. We inter-cropped popcorn and squash, planting them in alternating rows with the thought that the squash would help suppress weed growth around the corn. Weed suppression worked out alright, however, we did not anticipate the tight rows of corn shading out the squash and stunting fruit development.

Goals for 2015 – We’ve gone back to the drawing board on our crop map and rotation plan. Our original crop rotation plan has worked well, we’ve been really happy with it, but it’s not capable of doing some things we want, so we’re scrapping it. We are rearranging our field crops this year in order to facilitate harvest, irrigation, weeding, row covering, and monitoring. We are super jazzed to try this out. Another benefit of this new field layout is that we’ll be able to implement season extension modular, mobile poly-tunnels. We’re planning on building 2 tunnels, each covering 4 full rows, which will amplify temperatures and extend the season for peppers, eggplants, and cucumbers, as well as getting an early start on 2016 spring greens. This season we are putting a focus on increasing quantity and quality of our vegetable production, especially through decreasing empty rows/time, efficient use of crop land, reducing excessive crop diversity, and honing in on varieties we grow well and have a strong market for. We will not be increasing the number of CSA shares offered this year, instead we’ll focus on beefing up the quantity of vegetables in each share. Additionally, we’d like to have regular/weekly deliveries to local restaurants and market, and a farm stand on farm. We’re excited to see how the orchard pasture recovers and adjust our management accordingly. Also, we’d like to resume regular blog posts. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

of easy wind and downy flake, winter happenings

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe get asked frequently about how winter is going, “what do you do in the winter?” It seems as though a small-scale farmer in the winter, in South Dakota, is a strange, curious specimen – as though we were in an elusive club with Santa and rodeo clowns.  We’d like to share with you how we’re spending our time these days, our winter to-do list.

1. Reflection and review: taxes, review finances and budgets, reflect on our previous growing seasons, what techniques worked well, what didn’t.

2. Planning: reevaluating and restructuring our crop rotation plan, plotting the planting calendar, seed inventory and selection, figuring out the cover crop schedule, selecting fruit trees, planning budgets, livestock and pasture management ruminations.

review and reflection

3. Reading: we’re both powering through a thick reading list this winter. Our public libraryand interlibrary loan are amazing resources.

4. Conferences and workshops: Winter (along with our much appreciated farm-sitters) gives us an opportunity to head off-farm to different conferences and classes to learn heaps and recharge. In November, we went down to New Mexico to reconnect with friends at the Quivira Coalition conference  (check out this presentation, Fred Kirschenmann on farming methods and thoughts from the past into the future, and this one too, Dorn Cox on Soil and Silicon).  In a couple weeks, Jeremy is headed to a seed production and breeding workshop lead, in part, by some of our favorite seed growers. Additionally, Trish is facilitating the Farm Beginnings course this year in Rapid City.

5.  Arts and crafts: sewing, knitting, woodworking projects, block prints, painting, spinning. Assorted and absurd indoor creative outlets.arts and crap3

6. Infrastructure design/build, tool maintenance, work on the greenhouse, vegetable wash area, day-dreaming plans for a farm stand and wood fired oven, planning a PV system (and lamenting SD solar incentives).solar

7. Restful time with friends and family. Pancake breakfasts, extreme snowshoeing, ardent board games, sending care packages, eating ice cream. Connecting with our inspiring farmer friends over bottles of wine, plotting chicken feed collectives and local food systems.

8. Cooking, baking, enjoying foods we put up last year. Exploring amazing lamb recipes.

9. Scheming: winter is planning time for Spearfish Bike Week, a seed swap (coming up here soonFeb 22nd), Pi Day and summer farm events. So much to look forward to. seed swap banner

10. Teaching Radish new tricks. Last winter, Radish dazzled us by learning a one-command multi-part trick, “How do you want your mocha this morning?” She’s now working on a pawkour routine (a la parkour). She’s got hellagood ninja inspiration.

celebrating farm hands and forts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had a chance this weekend to spend time with some of our most dearest friends and biggest inspirations, Craig and Avery. Together, we nearly doubled the height of the cob wall in the greenhouse, started on trellising the hops, taste-tested the assorted farm ferments, watched the baby chickens grow and sleep, cruised out for a bike-in movie on the hill, feasted on mesquite pancakes and our very first farm asparagus harvest, added fruit trees to the orchard, and planted a hazelnut hedge. SO GOOD. Thanks for taking a busman’s holiday, you guys.craig and avery

This week we are also celebrating our NEW SUMMER INTERN! (insert fireworks and horns and huzzahs here). Abigail has set straight to work, finishing up the last of the hop trellising, helping build a Tomato Fort, and planting out grape vines, peas, and parsley. Words can’t quite express how grateful we are to have such motivated, capable and insightful assistance and company. Did I mention, she likes bicycles just as much as we do!?  A special thank you to Black Hills State University for giving us the opportunity to host a student intern. We’re really looking forward to getting to share the summer with you, Abigail.

The Tomato Fort (pictured below) is a straw bale ring (one bale high) to house seed trays between the greenhouse and the field. A halfway fort to help harden off some of our starts before transplanting. The bales will allow them adequate exposure, yet help protect the little ones from excessive winds and, should we need to, we can cover over them at night with remay for protection from low temperatures. The fort floor is lined with a thick paper bag mulch which is doubling as weed suppression. This will hopefully come in handy in a few weeks when we are getting ready to plant out our sweet potato slips in this same spot.

tomato fort_appleblossoms_dandelions_chickens

And in other news (a note from Trish): Nearly two weeks ago, I found a nest in one of the spruce trees by the chicken coop. I’ve been exceptionally good about leaving well alone and not interfering. But this afternoon I caved. It couldn’t be helped. LOOK!!

robins nest_May9_May21