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

 

farm update, with bonus photos!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some photos from our work together.cobbing1

Many hands. Muddy work.cobbing2

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

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

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

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

2013 farm review

We have been taking advantage of the quiet time this winter to pull out the assorted notebooks/ receipts/spreadsheets and synthesize, reflect on, and digest the farm finances from our previous year.  Last year we put off doing taxes until the beginning of April which added a lot of stress to an already busy time. We learned from this, and with the advice from our smart farmer friends at Bear Butte Gardens, we’re tackling this earlier and have blocked out two weeks to review farm finances and get taxes filed before the busy farm season begins.  Now that we have a couple seasons of data, we can start comparing and seeing trends over time, and put more robust thoughts together regarding our farm business plan. Having our management and methods be as transparent as possible is important to us. Here are some of our numbers and thoughts from 2013, a review of our markets and production, and goals for this next season.

A reflection on farm finances for 2013 – In 2013, our second year growing full-time, we increased our gross sales by 54% over 2012 and it looks possible that we might see similar numbers next year. A big part of this increase was due to an increased number of CSA shares offered and an increase in the price per share.  We also increased our distribution to include one local restaurant and one local grocery market.  Our total income from the weekly Spearfish Farmers Market decreased significantly this year even though our average weekly sales increased, due to a shorter season (14 weeks instead of 24).

winterwork

In the process of our review, we have assessed the numbers on our laying hen operation and found it to be a considerable money sink. It turns out we are spending nearly twice as much on the certified organic feed as we are making on sales of eggs. Despite this, we’re keeping the layers and their good diet for their assorted incalculable, intangible benefits. We’ve made the decision to increase the cost of our eggs, this increase will still not cover the full cost of keeping the birds, but it will help.  And in addition to the hens, this year we’ll be pasturing meat birds which should prove to be more financially reasonable for us. (As a side note, we’re taking pre-orders on birds, give us a call to reserve).

winter chickens

An important question in our financial review is how close we are to our goal of having the farm support us.  This year the farm paid for its own immediate operation (seeds, tools, supplies, etc.), but did not pay for our labor, contribute to farm or personal savings, or cover the cost of the land, or walk-in cooler.  We are certainly much closer than last year towards covering all farm expenses, however generating the income to pay labor is a longer term goal.

Many farms (including ours) subsidize operations by not taking into account the farmers’ labor. However, we are aware of this, don’t agree with it, and our long term (5 year) budget planning includes paying a living wage to both of us.  A rough estimate of the income needed to pay for our labor looks like this:

60 hrs/week   (for Trish (working off farm part time) and Jeremy (full time on farm)                                      combined, year average, more in summer, less in winter, includes                                        field work, time at market, advertising, planning, website maintenance, etc).

$15/hour        (living wage and health insurance and overhead costs)

52 weeks/year

$46,800 annual wages for both T&J

+ farm expenses, which are (estimated) between $10-15,000/year (variable value based on having to replace irrigation or other spendy infrastructure, and so on) = $61,800 required gross farm sales. Which is huge.

Considering our current production rates this number is absurd, but it is feasible from our acreage with smart planning and intensive farming.

If we run the numbers with a lower wage, which reduces our long term savings, but is maybe more attainable short term: 60 hrs/ week at $10/ hr for 52 weeks = $31,200 (T&J combined wages w/o farm expenses)

…which compared to our income this year is still huge. We feel a bit more confident that this might be attainable in 5 years.

These numbers are discouraging, but they don’t factor in our quality of life and absolutely incredible pantry.

Projecting our financing into this coming year we expect to increase total sales which will allow us to pay off the walk-in, continue to pay off a portion of the greenhouse (on a 5-10 year plan), pay our health insurance fees, and possibly pay Jeremy something for his labor. In addition, our expenses should decrease as we’ve saved seed, installed most major infrastructure, and accumulated most small tools to allow us to operate efficiently.

A review of our marketing outlets – In 2013, we offered 16 CSA shares for an 18 week season. The cost of our shares was $500 and we are pleased that despite the weather challenges, we filled the shares and exceeded the cost of the shares with vegetables.  Being involved with our customers via the CSA plan has been a tremendous asset to us as beginning farmers. The predetermined market helps us plan plantings and harvest. We really value hearing about how things were eaten, shared, enjoyed and receiving immediate, direct feedback. The CSA allows us to grow a diversity of vegetables, knowing that we have an outlet, rather than focusing on a few good sellers for market. That diversity is also risk management with tenuous weather, pests, crop failure, etc.  Through the CSA, we’ve gotten a chance to know a truly incredible cross section of Spearfish, engaged, thoughtful, inspiring group of people who are almost as excited about eating vegetables and building the local food system as we are. Another perk to the CSA is having potato leek soup delivered to us by a share member after an especially long CSA harvest and pick-up day. The only disadvantages to the CSA we‘re finding at this point is that it takes a considerable amount of planning, and that it can be high stress, especially in the beginning of the season during low production, worrying about filling shares amply.

We participated in the weekly Spearfish Farmers Market in the Park. Attending the Market means we have a weekly early morning bicycle ride to the park and 4 hours committed to being away from the farm and chores there (which has its perks, though is often frustrating).  The Market provides a venue to sell vegetables that we either have surplus of or not enough to fill CSA shares with. It fills an advertising role, a bit.  And the Market gives us a chance to visit with a lively group of area growers each week that we wouldn’t otherwise get to see until October. On the other hand, we are finding the Market does not pay for our time (production, harvest, and time spent selling). We cannot compete with low prices set by home growers trying to off-load their surplus.  And we are often left with unsold produce at the end of a long morning which is a challenge to deal with. We feel strongly that Spearfish deserves, needs, and can support a Farmers Market and we would love to continue to be a part of it – despite it being a drawback for our immediate economics. Ultimately, by supporting the Market, it means we are being a part of something precious in Spearfish and we’re sticking with it.

Last year we expanded our distribution to include wholesale to a restaurant and a grocery market. By getting local produce into markets and restaurants, we’re making locally grown food available to more people than we reach through our direct outlets – which feels especially good.  We found wholesale to be a relatively simple, efficient way to move a fair amount of produce.  We took grapes to the Red Barn Market – at a point when the weekly market had already ended, but we were still sitting on bushel baskets of them. The owner/main chef at Killian’s who we work with is creative, enthusiastic, and incredibly flexible, working magic into the menu with whatever we brought him each week. As a couple of beginning farmers, we are truly grateful for the support of our wholesale markets.

A small percentage of our sales are direct from the farm. A big benefit to this market is that it brings people to the farm and gives them an opportunity to see how things are growing and for us to share and answer questions.  It’s also usually convenient for us in that we are here already and don’t have to pack up and lug stuff anywhere, however it will be more convenient when/if we get a farm stand set up and establish set shop hours. Although direct from the farm is our lowest volume of sales, sales are mostly to people who are not CSA members and we don’t necessarily see at the Farmers Market.

Some of our especially meaningful successes from 2013 – We increased production despite more challenging weather. With much help from Jeremy’s father, we built a walk-in cooler, which has increased our efficiency and reduced our stress. And as a result, during peak season, we are now running one air conditioner part-time vs. 3 refrigerators full-time. We were able to increase our off-farm time, getting more engaged in events in the community (volunteering at the Bike Coop, planning Bike Week, time with family and friends). And we became a bit more efficient with our sociable time on-farm as well. During our first year of farming we had many, frequent, spontaneous visitors come by to tour the farm, ask questions, chit chat and be all-round excited/curious about what we were doing. It is amazing how fast 2 hours can go when you’re visiting about vegetables.  And now consider giving on average 3 farm tours a week. This is something we both love, sharing ideas and engaging with people via the farm is important to us, but as regards managing our farm and time efficiently, this is something we are struggling to find a balance with.  During our first season, the frequent visits were partly a treat and great fun, but also distracting and an unexpected time commitment.  This past year we did a better job of being courteous and taking time to visit, while maintaining efficiency with farm visitors.

Our biggest challenges, shortcomings during 2013 – In part because the season was so truncated by weather, we had fewer on-farm events this past year than we had originally planned. We have already sat down with a 2014 calendar and set aside dates and tentative dates for several on-farm and farm related activities. We’ll keep you posted on the seed swap, food preservation workshop, potato planting, weeding and harvest parties, farmer Jeremy’s big 30 birthday bash, and more. We did not get as much work done on the greenhouse as we had planned. Access to a good source of clay continues to limit progress on the cobbing and plaster of the straw bale walls. A significant challenge we are having is making our produce accessible to a wider, low-income market.  Making good food accessible to everyone is something we are passionate about. We are working out a way to both meet farm expenses and provide affordable produce – and we are very open to suggestions.

Our most successful crops for 2013 – Summer squash, snow and snap peas, chard and lettuces did well. We had a great potato yield and absolutely stunning cabbages.

Least successful crops for 2013 – We are still struggling to get good crops of beets and cilantro. Over half of our garlic rotted in the field this spring. We lost our entire crop of popcorn to the early snow in October.  The short season also meant most of our winter squash did not ripen to maturity.

Goals for 2014 – This next year, we’re going to put special efforts towards more efficient production, increasing yield from our bed space through planting schedules and successions, especially in the greenhouse. We hope to increase involvement with our community through on-farm and off-farm events, educational workshops, work parties and farm tours. We are looking forward to being more proactive in facilitating or opening dialogues on building local economy, small-scale, place-based agriculture, sustainable/adaptive technology, and adaptation as regards climate change. Already this year, we have started implementing better organizational structures for managing calendars and recordkeeping. In the past our recordkeeping system has been an accumulation of scraps of paper, old receipts, several notebooks, spreadsheets and calendars. Enough of that. And finally, we’d really like to get the outdoor kitchen/vegetable wash and prep area all set up and functioning this year.

winter greenhouse

We are looking forward to 2014: building on the good, figuring out the puzzles, and learning throughout.  We will be planting in the greenhouse next week and soon we’ll be filling CSA shares. The field crop rotations are more diverse this year and we have our plans laid out for more efficiently utilizing space throughout the season, two or sometimes three crops out of a single bed.  And maybe just because we feel like the farm is starting to blossom, we’re putting in an additional seventy feet of flower beds.

Panoramdemonium 2013

Every three months, we lap around merrily with a camera and our good dog, taking photos of the farm. Having photos throughout the year gives us a chance to reflect on the seasons and our progress on various projects. Here are a couple of the panoramic images over the course of 2013. (Maybe you remember, we did this last year too).

This is a series of photos taken back by the bee hives and the hops. The photos are looking west to east. Behind the hives is the orchard where we planted 32 fruit trees this spring.March2013_bees

June2013_bees

Sept2013_bees

Dec2013_beesThe following series are photos taken by the north gate looking east to west, towards the sweet potato field and the main vegetable rows.

March2013_lookingsouth

June2013_looking south

Sept2013_lookingsouth

Dec2013_Lookingsouth

Special things to note in the photos are the appearance of an additional bee hive after we caught a wild swarm in June, all hand-prepped beds and application of thick straw mulch for weed suppression/soil moisture retention, and using re-may row covers to help manage soil temperature for the sweet potatoes and pest pressure on the mustard greens (as a bonus, the re-may also made for ever changing and lawless, wind-crafted farm art). You will also certainly observe one of the biggest drawbacks to our no-till management: weeds. In excess.

Here are another couple compilations of shots, all from the same vantage. This one looking east from the house (where the new herb garden is). These are photos, taken every three months, starting in March 2012 to December 2013. 12-13herbbedAnd a similar series, this one of the front field:12-13front fieldWhat is most remarkable to us is the how visibly different our first two growing seasons were as regards moisture.  Beyond the visible differences, we both felt that 2013 was a more difficult year.  We had new weather challenges of late spring snow that delayed planting, hail storms, and a heavy snow in early fall that flattened most crops still in the field as well as prematurely ending the farmer’s market season.  We did better at growing high quality and diverse crops, but flea beetles still were a persistent pest and our beloved arugula has yet to make it into our CSA shares.  As we are planning for year three, we both feel more in touch with the farm, but also more aware of how little we know.  It is humbling to to realize how dependent our success is on that which is totally beyond our control, but at the same time we feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work on the endlessly fascinating puzzle of building a diverse and resilient farmstead and the community that supports it.

Rain, planting, update.

A couple weeks ago, we spread out a flower seed mix including a native wild flower mix, bee balms, phacelia, borage, marigold, sunflowers, a cocktail of every good thing. Cosmic chaos. The seeds were mixed with soil and then broadcasted through the orchard and the insectary, mainly.for the bees

So we tossed seed all over and then, as if on cue, it started raining. We got about 5” over the course of five days earlier last week. Spearfish creek reached 700 cfs. Heavenly. The rain has felt great. The soil is sucking it up. Transplanting is easy. The weeds are on full blast – but easy pulling. And it gave us a good, occasional excuse to duck inside and process some greens into pesto (somewhat non-traditional: radish greens, sunflower seed, Parmesan, olive oil and much much garlic).  radish greens pesto please

Planting and transplanting. In the rain. With friends. Quite nearly so dreamy as a .. bouquet of unicorns.

kaija planting in the rainThe birds have been occupied conducting studies in surface hydrology. Or otherwise passing the slow days making wishes on dandelion poof balls and eating their fill of wiggly things. chickens in springtime

Our barley experiment isn’t doing so hot. The intent was to get a strong crop of barley growing that would out compete the bindweed. The barley would then be threshed and laid back out as mulch in time to plug in sweet potato slips. Instead, the Creeping Jenny is growing taller now than the barley. We’ll see how this progresses.Barley Experiment 05282013Here are just a few more images from the farm these days. Marcus, chief hop wrangler, helping with trellising; peas; and garlic; the field; and sequestering carbon.

the farm_end of may

Lolita’s hive is doing alright. They are a joy to see around the farm, though certainly noticeably fewer bees around this year with only one hive (vs last year with three). They are active building comb, collecting pollen, and nectar. We’re keeping an eye on Lolita these days. Her laying pattern seems a bit off (a healthy queen will lay eggs in tight clusters of cells – an aging/off queen might lay in a more shotgun-like pattern). Also we found three new queen cups building built. Here’s a photo of the queen herself (in PLSS, she’s in the NW 1/4 of the SE 1/4 section).Lolita

And finally: Are you filling in your home garden beds? We have starts for sale! Basil, oregano, thyme, sage, broccoli, romanesco, cabbage – and MORE – give us a call.

Wishing you well, Trish and Jeremystormy afternoons make for nice sunsets