up, up!

Springy things are happening in all directions around here, though primarily up. Pace is picking up. Seed trays are filling up. Garlic is shooting up.  Here’s a quick look at what we’ve been up to these last few weeks.An afternoon photo session in the field (above, up): an extremely optimistic, early blooming apricot in the orchard. We have several more trees to plant this spring, bringing our orchard total to 65 fruit trees. The garlic beds look great, I think they can tell we love them. Radish babes are popping in the tunnel, also spring turnips and beets. And we’ve been finding preying mantis egg cases all over the place. I mean it. Holy crap, they are everywhere. Or at least in areas where we have piles of wood stacked up and unmowed grass… which is essentially everywhere. So cool. Not pictured: all the messy beds we need to get cleaned up and ready to be planted for the season. The trouble is some of those messy beds are serving as beneficial insect habitat, so…We’ve been spending a lot of time in the greenhouse, filling seed trays. At this point we’re using soil blocks for most everything. Except herbs and alliums, which we are germinating in flats and either potting up (herbs) or transplanting into the field (alliums). The southern extension space on the greenhouse is getting loaded with seed trays. This is our first spring season with this additional space and we’re feeling grateful for it.And here are a few more photos from inside the greenhouse. Our greenhouse is a passive solar, pole barn structure with straw bale and cob walls. Over the past few years we’ve made modifications and the cob work is not yet finished, but inside, it’s warm and quiet, full of little living things and a great place to spend time – especially during variable springtime weather. (Sunshine this afternoon and it graupeled on us as we came in from the field this evening).

We’re looking forward to our first harvest for the farm stand this weekend. Greens!

Up, up, here we go – t&j

a spring update

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

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

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

With wind tussled hair and big smiles,

Your farmers, Trish & Jeremy

farm animals and harvesting beetles, garlic

Our schedule on the farm, day to day, has been quick-paced and varied. At any given time there are twelve things that need to be done. One urgent task may require four other things be done before finally getting to what you originally set out for. Some things are reliant on weather. Trays of succession plantings to seed, fall transplants to get in. Weeding carrots, thinning beets. Looming infrastructure projects that need tackled before the weather turns. Just as you feel settled into an every-other-day snap pea harvest schedule – BAM – better get those summer squash, quick! Each week’s CSA harvest brings something new. And now: potato beetles. The swelling to-do list evolves with the season, the length of the days. It’s a little shotgun, a little roller coaster.

However, there is also an underlying constant, a reliable rhythmic structure to the farm cycle – animals. Looking after the lambs and the chickens provides a very routine heartbeat to our growing season on the farm. Moving the tractors, grinding feed, carrying water buckets, tending to the brooder babes. Every day. Time spent watching the animals, checking in on how they look, their behavior. What are they eating? How much are they eating? This time is necessary and can’t be rushed – we work on their time.  Caring for the animals provides us a solid rock steady beat to our otherwise Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew farm schedule.

Pasture management proceedings. Pasqual, Isidro, and Ambrose are doing a great job, mowing, feasting, ruminating. Spirited, endearing and affectionate, each with very distinct personalities. We have them in a 10×16′ hog panel tractor (pronounced lamborghini) that moves (typically twice) everyday through the pasture ahead of the chickens. The hog panel tractor helps protect our young fruit trees from being wantonly pruned, it also ensures an even grazing of the pasture. By the time we move them, the lambs have generally mowed down everything evenly within their tractor area, rather than picking out just the best bits and over time selecting for a junky pasture forage profile. They avoid flax. They devour dandelions. Everything is trimmed down to chicken-friendly height.  A few days after the lambs, with the pasture grass newly mowed, the chicken tractors move through.Here’s a link to a short video of Jerm moving one of the tractors. The birds quickly figure out what it means when the walls start shifting. They line up on the forward edge and chase the tractor onto fresh grass and new buggy breakfast. The area they leave behind is covered in a healthy coat of chicken shit, all the grass has been pecked away. It seems pretty bleak. But then, in a week or two, the grass is back, dark green and lovely. The diversity and vigor of what grows after being swathed by the lamborghini and chicken tractor is gratifying and inspiring.  We’re excited about this for a variety of reasons, including: healthy, happy animals, providing good meat for our community, soil carbon sequestration, growing pasture diversity and nutrient cycling.In the brooder, we have our season’s last batch of little peepers, now not yet a week old. These will move out to pasture in a tractor at four weeks old and be butchered come late September/early October. If you are interested in, or would like more information on, pre-ordering some of our delicious pastured, non-GMO chicken, contact us.

As relates: we have a handful of brand-spankin’ new little keets on the farm as of this morning. The tiniest, most adorable, fluffball-things you ever did see. Soon to be obnoxious farm buskers, self-trained tick assassins.Also this week: we are defending our potato crop from an attack of potato beetles at the Eddy field. This involves hours of hand-picking bright orange larvae and stripey beetles off of our nearly denuded plants. Every other day. We haven’t yet made beetle pepper, but we’re thinking about it. We have seven different varieties of potato planted in about a 1/4 acre area. Some of these varieties are holding up against these little villains much better than others. One section of this field is being hit harder than others, this same section had been planted with potatoes last year. The Russian Banana Fingerling are holding strong, but unfortunately, the German Butterballs are getting annihilated. The gbs are in the section of the field that had been planted with potatoes last year. So we’ve got new potato butterballs in the CSA shares this week. Since starting our beetle collection and squishing strategy, we’ve noticed new, green growth on previously sorry potato plants – things are looking up.

This is a field we are leasing, north of town – an acre of dry beans, popcorn, winter squash, and potatoes. We have potatoes planted in our own field (at cyclefarm) and have never had this type of potato beetle pest problem. There are so many different variables that might explain this (land management, tillage/no-till, crop rotation, resident predator insect population, varying soil nutrients, moisture, and plant health). It’s been a great learning opportunity and has given us a whole lot to think about; we’re feeling appreciative of our healthy plants and the management decisions we’ve made here on our own fields.Between routine potato beetle collections, we harvested our garlic beds. Garlic is a special crop to Cycle Farm, our first seed planted and this best-yet harvest has us feeling hugely rewarded. There is something earthy-magic to the stinking rose. A mysterious gift to unwrap. The wily shrunken head, lleno de dientes. Toxin-buster cluster. Sticky fingers and the thick, enduring smell.  Four different varieties of garlic (nearly 1500 heads) are laid out and hung up to cure in the shed. Some of these are saved from seed originally planted in 2011 – great granddaughters – by our friends, Obi and Jill, at the very very beginning of Cycle Farm. Much of these we’ll set aside as seed for next year in the hopes of expanding our garlic production. Half the fun of harvesting garlic is getting another chance to peek in and explore this amazing soil – what thankful farmers we are.

The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life. – from The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry (..and here’s another good read, The Pleasures of Eating from What are People For?)