brix, briefly

We pulled out the refractometer this morning after harvesting arugula and got geeky. Our curiosity was piqued after clearing out a bed of early arugula in the greenhouse and picking from an outside, uncovered bed and noticing subtle and not at all so subtle differences in plant form.

The arugula grown inside is uniform, unblemished, strong green, snappy, yet tender and delicious. The arugula growing in the outside bed is variable. This bed is a sparkly new raised bed built just in front of the greenhouse. We filled the raised bed with wheelbarrow loads of dirt that had been excavated for construction of our new pack shed. Since seeding in this bed, we’ve noticed patchy sections of really poor germination and stressed plants. All other inputs being the same, our best guess is that this is a soil quality/nutrient availability issue. Indeed, this crap sections of the bed are “wheelbarrow load-sized”, where we must have been loading from a poorer section of the excavated soil. Arugula plants in the meh soil, are super stunted (1-2″ tall), with yellowed leaves, and hit hard with flea beetle damage. The arugula growing in the good soil have dark green, broad leaves, limited flea beetle damage, and much better germination.

The refractometer is a tool we use to help determine the optimal time to harvest our grapes. The refractometer measures the dissolved solids in the plant juices, and are a good approximation of the total nutritional value and health of the plant.  Higher brix numbers (degrees brix, °Bx) equal more dissolved sugars and generally higher nutrition. With grapes, it’s fun watching the brix numbers climb over the course of a couple weeks, generally in August. For harvesting, we want the grapes to read at 22°Bx.  Of course this is typically 12 hours after the robins pillage the vines. A refractometer can also be used for the juices in plant leaves, though we haven’t explored this much. Until today.

This morning we started out with a quick look at a few of the arugula plants in the greenhouse, then out to the uncovered bed. At which point we couldn’t stop, so we went out to test the spinach and lettuce. Our test sample size is puny (3 or 4 plants), but the results have us stoked to look further into this.

Unfortunately for the sake of comparison, we’ve already pulled out the spring greenhouse lettuce and spinach plantings to make way for summer successions (basil, cucumbers and peppers). There are other things to look at. And we’re going to refractometer them all.

Greenhouse arugula readings were very close, 6.5-7°Bx. Please note, this summary is based of off a very (very) few samples. In the greenhouse, we measured brix from three leaves, 3 different plants. We were surprised to see how much higher the outside stunted arugula brix levels were, and then again, how close the brix from the stunted, flea beetle harassed leaves were to the much healthier looking, only slightly flea beetle damaged arugula growing right down the row. The spinach tested were from a bed that had overwintered outside,the variety Winter Bloomsdale. The wide range in lettuce (9-15°Bx) is interesting given these were readings all from one variety, Vulcan (this was a planting from fall 2016 that overwintered).  Jeremy has a special thing for lettuce, and grows over 20 different varieties, so there is vast potential for refractomtastic lettuce studies. Look out for our research published in Nature, or maybe Science, with more box and whisker charts.

These measurements were made mid-morning, after harvesting and packing things away. It would be interesting to compare degrees Brix of greens throughout the day. Are brix levels higher early in the morning, while plants are cool? Does this translate to optimum harvest time for highest nutrition content?

We appreciate the greenhouse for early spring harvests and as a refuge from summer hail storms, but looking at this comparison reaffirms our interest in learning how to better grow in accordance with the elements.

Rain and sunshine, t and j

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

May farm update. The heat is on.

Here’s a brief update on good things growing, long days working, warm sun shining on the farm these days. We planted potatoes and started filling in the herb bed (planted so far are the echanachia, johnny jump-ups, calendula, borage, and mints, other culinary herbs are headed out soon). And long days of weeding and bed prep for CSA crop rows. Peas have sprouted, radishes and beets, turnips are just starting to poke their leaves up. We’ve begun transplanting into the back field: mustards, collard greens, cabbage. The flea beetles have already found our mustard greens, bok choy, and tat soi. These little guys decimated our mustards last year. We’re dosing our tender greens with diatomacious earth and a good pep talk, this seems to be working so far.

fleabeetles hops onions

Lolita’s hive is doing well, building comb and collecting pollen – right now the bees have mainly crazy orange dandelion pollen, but there are also bees about with a lighter yellow pollen (cottonwood?).  The pears are in full glorious bloom. We did not get fruit from these trees last year, so we can’t speak from experience, but hear-say is these pears are exquisite. Qi bombs. The plums and crab apples have also just started to flower. The hops are doing their fun sort of cobra dance, snaking around in the air looking for something to climb. And as also regards snakes, the garter snakes on the farm are all sorts of amorous these days. Everywhere you look, dexterous, tangled. Entirely uninhibited. It’s mesmerizing.

may pear tree

We are trying to keep the greenhouse cool. With outside temperatures in the 90s this is a challenge. We have lost a few lettuces, but in general the little green things are toughing it out alright.may 13 hot day

Our peppers and tomatoes are stoked.
may peppers and tomatoes

Here’s a quick no-till bed prep report.

-Hoeing and hand pulling the quackgrass rhizomes takes about 6 hrs/bed. We’re tried different variations along this theme, but that’s generally where we’re at with this. So far, we’ve done this to 12 beds.  After weeding, these beds are immediately covered with a thick layer of straw.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

-Perennial rows (insectary and asparagus) have been (and will be) weeded by hand. With these beds we can’t manage extracting weed roots without damaging our plants, so we are essentially mowing. By hand. Pulled grass is layed right back on the bed around the asparagus/flowers as a mulch. So far, this is time consuming but surprisingly effective.

-Scything and mulching with a long roll of 100% recycled craft paper and straw. This technique is embraced with smiles as it allows for standing and moving, and swinging the scythe, a brilliant tool.

-Storage crop rotation rows are all a go (we have a four year rotation on potatoes, winter squash, beans, corn – partially for soil nutrient cycling, partially for pest management). Eight rows (potatoes) were mulched with straw early in March. This has done an awesome job suppressing weed takeover, we have potatoes in and they should do alright out-competing the wheat kernals from the straw mulch that decide to pop up. Another eight rows (beans) were manually weeded, pretty thoroughly, then heavily mulched. Those will be planted in a few weeks. We intercepted an incredible lot of empty barley bags from the trash bin at the brewery, thick brown paper bags. Those were layed out over yet another 8 beds (corn) and weighted with straw mulch. (where we ran out of barley bags we spread out a thick layer of old newspapers. Hope is this will set back/knock out weed growth underneath. And we’ll either cut into the bags for planting into or remove the bags, strip the weeds, mulch and plant. And then, in the squash rows (8 rows for these too) – this is exciting – Jeremy planted a cover crop of winter rye last fall. It’s up, growing tall, totally out pacing the quackgrass. Just like it’s supposed to. So we should be able to fold this down and plant squash into this in a few weeks. (Yes! score one for the farmers!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Commonly small farms will use a sheet of plastic as an easy, efficient way to manage weeds. We are not using plastic for mulching, solarizing, or ‘burning’ the weeds, because it generates an awful lot of garbage. Our intent is to minimize our off-farm inputs, and make the farm as ‘sustainable’ (arrg, this poor word…) as possible. We’ll keep trying. Lots of experiments.

With all this in consideration, both the health of the soil and the labor involved, we are putting much thought into the merits of tilling (eeep!). Our neighbors have a field, over 8 acres, they are able to glide over with a tractor in approximately 3 hours. Meanwhile we are bent over a 30″x70′ bed for 6 hours pulling weeds. That’s just one row. This doesn’t make sense: fiscally this seems incredibly irresponsible, and while great for soil health, it’s ultra tough on the farmer (hands, back, morale). We are transplanting and filling beds as they are cleared, but we are still behind. At what point does the energy consumed by the tractor become more efficient than the energy we are consuming as two people working the land? Seems to me like we might be cutting it pretty close. So we’re decided to play out as many no-till ideas as we can this year. Give it absolutely the very best we’ve got.  If we are stuck in the same position next year, it may be time to consider renting a tiller. This soil is phenomenal. And resilient. If we can get a hold on our weeds, establish a cover crop immediately after a single go at tilling, bring the farm into a manageable state, quality of life for everyone (the soil, our crops, us) will be significantly improved. But for now, the jury is still out and we’re still no-till.

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And lastly, here are a few links we’ve been accumulating for a little while, things people have passed along to us and we would like to share.

Another strong argument for no-till. A BBC article discloses: Fungus plays role in plant communication: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22462855 Much like the tin can-string set up the farmers use here at Cycle Farm.

Undoubtedly, you’ve also been hearing/reading a lot about the alarming, distressing bee problems. Here’s a bit more, http://e360.yale.edu/feature/declining_bee_populations_pose_a_threat_to_global_agriculture/2645/

This is absolutely incredible. Data. Google Earth has stitched together nearly 40 years of satellite imagery, here: http://earthengine.google.org/#intro/.  How did they do this?! You can travel through time and space, while sipping tea at your desk – search for Spearfish and watch ag land be eaten up by houses. Zoom in on any part of the Brahmaputra River in Bangladesh – ! lose yourself in channel pattern evolution and sediment transport, so glorious. Alternatively, search Fort McMurray, AB Canada and zoom out a bit and pan north a bit. That one may give you a stomach ache.

And here’s an interesting article regarding ribbon farms (vs section, 1/4 section farms) and contemporary American transportation, community: http://www.wired.com/opinion/2012/11/how-a-quirk-of-medieval-farm-shapes-led-to-the-american-psychology-today/ Cycle Farm is a “ribbon farm”, 100′ x 1/4 mile – relic of Spearfish Valley’s agricultural heritage.

For those of you who know and use Latin names and appreciate work cited and in-text referencing, get a load of this. http://botanistinthekitchen.wordpress.com/ SO GOOD. Prepare to fall even more in love with asparagus.

With warm, happy smiles – Trish and Jeremy

sometimes ups outnumber the downs.

hive inspection_compilation

We checked in on the hives last week. This winter we lost Anna Karenina and Lara. Lolita is doing alright.

In looking through the hives, we inspected each bar closely and took lots of notes. It’s not clear to us exactly why the two hives didn’t survive the winter. Starvation of the hive during overwintering is a big concern. For this reason, and not knowing how much honey the hives would need, we left the bees with all their accumulated honey reserves. We were unable to locate a remaining brood nest in Lara. There were a few unhatched brood cells in Anna, but they were in close proximity to honey reserves.

We did find a few varroa mites in Lara’s hive. Varroa mites are a parasite that attacks both adult bees and the developing brood, weakening the hive. It is common for beekeepers to treat hives to control varroa mite outbreaks. This treatment most typically involves using an insecticide to attack the mites. Trouble is, bees are insects too. We do not and will not treat our bees with miticides, medicine, or synthetic chemicals. Continuously treating hives perpetuates weak bees. Instead we will encourage bees to grow healthy, evolve to be strong and naturally resistant.

Russian Carnolians (our bees) are a variety that have been bred to be naturally resistant to varroa mites – We would like to replace these two hives. We’ve checked into ordering nukes, but they are extremely hard to come by, as everyone is suffering losses especially this year. Our best bet may be to keep our eyes open and try capturing a local swarm (please let us know if you find a swarm, we’ll come pick it up).

On warm days, we had been watching bees go in and out of all three hives. It turns out, Lolita’s hive has been poaching honey reserves from the other two unoccupied hives. Anna and Lara both have several full honey combs. We’re feeling pretty blue about the loss of Anna and Lara. But also pretty damn proud of Lolita, she’s proven resilient and resourceful.

bike bucket braceJeremy and Marcus (mainly Marcus) have been toiling on completing the deer fence around the orchard area.  We’ve ordered bare root fruit trees which will be arriving soon and, with the number of deer we have, a fence will be essential to giving these little trees a chance at survival. The fence posts are leftovers from the hop trellising we set up last spring, the posts are set in 3.5′ holes. On the west end of our field, the delicious valley top soil stops at about 1′ and meets with a hardpan clay layer, sometimes gravel. In order to power through this, Jeremy and Marcus are soaking holes to soften the clay.  Because there is no access to water back there, Jeremy built a smart Bicycle Bucket Brace with which he can carry four 5-gallon buckets of water from the pump out to the field. This will also serve useful this summer when we are watering trees.

april 3rd greenhouseSeed trays are filling up and multiplying, special things planned for our CSA share members (there are still a few shares available, call us quick!).

This part is ridiculous fun. There is something about spending time with young vegetable plants, a raw optimism that is completely contagious.seeds_compilation

Some random notes: Calendula seeds are my new most favorite seed as they bear striking resemblance to ogre toenails. Totally gnarly. Jeremy and I have found drilling holes for native pollinator habitat to be very therapeutic in light of our recent loss. And I’m trying to salvage some Dester tomato seeds “saved” from last season. The rotten tomato mush got neglected in a yogurt container for too long and may have prematurely germinated or rotted the seed, we’ll see.

preparation 500_compilationHere are a few photos from our preparation 500, many thanks to friends at Meadowlark Hearth Farm in Scottsbluff, NE.

And it’s official: the first vulture of spring is here.

Blommefrugttræ and a banshee.

Despite the recent tepid temperatures, the seed catalogs have started rolling in. We are spending the days clearing and mulching vegetable beds, moving rocks, chopping wood, baking bread, broadcasting clover cover crop seed, winnowing amaranth and popcorn. seeds and sleep

Our friend, Gordon Tooley of Tooley’s Trees in Truchas, NM honored us with a beautiful South Dakota plum tree while we were down visiting for the Quivira Coalition conference a couple weeks ago. Gordon grows heirloom fruit trees, organically, on a north facing slope, at nearly 8,000′ elevation. His reverence and enthusiasm for fruit trees has inspired us to make orchard plans for the farm. Trees are important. There is something sacred about tending to something, a being, that will likely outlive you. Perennials deserve extra deliberation  We have been studying several orchard books and have consulted with the field itself. We are looking at existing, larger shade trees, wind direction, aspect, soil moisture. Pear trees generally grow taller, so plan on room for them towards the north side so they don’t block sun for anyone else. Wind comes from the west, so arrange the rows skewed from that as to divert air flow up and over the trees, not down the rows. Consider your root stock. And so we go.

The South Dakota plum, Prunus americana, is a variety originally bred in the early 1900’s by the head of the Horticulture Department at South Dakota State University, Niels Ebbesen Hansen. Only wish he’d have given it a good Danish name. Ours has been planted in an excellent spot, near a cluster of wild plums, towards the very south west corner of the field. Planted at grade, graft union to the north. It’s got a burly deer fence protecting it. And a fantastic view of Spearfish Peak. Thank you Gordon.

planting south dakota plum

A few of the highlights of our recent orchard studies include the following: fruit trees are described as precocious. It is advised that one makes thorough ski tracks and/or snowshoe trompings through one’s orchard after winter snowfalls, to ensure adequate collapse of vole/mole/critter tunnels which might otherwise be girdling your trees. Add that to the to-do list. Have to go skiing.

December has brought us a few challenges. The deer have discovered they can rip down the fencing and help themselves to the remaining goodies in the field. We had been looking forward to krauting a short row of cabbage – but it’s gone now. The frost-sweetened kale, collards and brussels have been mowed. The daily routine now includes a check and repair on the fencing. The warm temperatures mean that the hives have not completely tucked into winter hibernation. The more active they are, the more honey they consume. The danger is that they will exhaust their honey reserves before spring time. The huge winds of this past weekend blew the tarps covering the straw bales on the greenhouse all to hell. It’s exhausting and completely futile to try and weigh down a 14 x 30′ sheet of vinyl canvas that’s being lifted by the wind. We spent more time that we should have out there battling the banshees. It’s essential that we keep the strawbales dry, otherwise they will rot and mold beneath the plaster. Gales, heavy tarps, lots of yelling, murky clouds, hastily piling straw bales, rocks, wood beams. Helpless and absolutely miserable. In the end, a board holding an edge of one of the tarps was ripped off the roof beam. No structural damage. And not too much strawbale damage.

We also have new positive challenges. Our chickens are laying in abundance, which has increased the pressure to find a market. Legally, we can sell our eggs direct to consumer, which is great. However, being primarily occupied by on-farm chores and not having a weekly winter Farmer’s Market, our ability to network and market our eggs is a time-challenge.  We’re looking into the licensing required to distribute our eggs through a local grocer. This involves “candling” the eggs, a term which conjures a little bit of Archimedes, and a little voo-doo. We’ll see. In the meantime, please contact us if you’re in the need for some extra-delicious, farm fresh eggs.

bearded lady and coop shots

Casita gallina and off-farm activities.

We took the chance to visit friends and family, and attend the Quivira Coalition annual conference in New Mexico this past week. A holiday away from the farm. This is a big deal. Before heading off, we had a tremendous amount of work do to, tucking things in. It was a sort of a messy, teary, prolonged goodbye – very Bogart Bergman. Here’s looking at you, farm.  Several late nights spent cobbing walls on the greenhouse and plastering the bales. And finally an unwilling submission to time – or the lack of time. We didn’t have time to get the plaster up before leaving for the conference, and we won’t be able to before winter weather. So we picked up a couple 14×48′ salvaged billboard signs to use as heavy tarps for covering up over the outside walls. Tucking in the greenhouse came first, the beds will have to wait for our return.

The main push was to finish the west end of the building, where we have separated an extra special area for the chicken coop. The coop has an earth floor prepped for deep litter, 2 pop doors, 6 nesting boxes accessible by us through a drop door from the outside, a deluxe roosting bar ladder, and a large picture window to the south shedding lots of light inside. Finishing up the coop to a point where we could confidently/comfortably leave the birds for a few days took working late into the 6 degree night the night before our trip. It’s not entirely finished, the straw bale walls need 6-8″ of cob, we need to source and install the glass for the window, and we still need a door between the coop and the main greenhouse area (right now it’s blocked by a precarious stack of straw bales). But in the mean time it’s cozy enough; the birds have a place to be out of the cold, out of the tractors. We are so grateful to Jeremy’s generous parents for taking care of the birds while we are gone.

As a side note, the billboard signs protecting the north wall are fabulous: one is an advertisement for Comfort Inn pool and casino – featuring a cheery photo of kiddos playing on a pool waterslide with rainbow inner-tubes and smiles, the other sign is for Wild Turkey Bourbon, it reads something like “Always an impressive finish” – especially inspiring as we certainly are not finished with our work on this greenhouse. Maybe someday, and it will be impressive. Despite how appropriate these signs’ messages are, we did ultimately decide to hang them graphic to the inside, such that they are not such a bold eye-sore to our dear neighbors.

The arched doorway to the chicken coop is something special. Here’s the back story. During the straw bale stacking a couple weeks ago, Thomas and Jeremy were spending long days wrestling with heavy, pokey, dusty bales. I was able to help for part of this, a small part – most of my time mid-day is spent working from a computer at our home office. On one particularly long day finishing up with the bales, after a series of long days – I took a stretch break away from the computer to check in on the greenhouse and the hard workers. I’m feeling fresh and punky, having spent the past few hours tapping at a keyboard, sipping tea and listening to NPR. I could see Thomas and Jeremy are both thoroughly exhausted, slightly frustrated maybe, but also pleased with their hard work. Ready to be done with it. I am full of awe and compliments, and facetiously throw out a “hey so, gosh things look so good, but wouldn’t it be nice if, here at the door, we arch the bales – you know, wouldn’t an arched doorway to the chicken coop be lovely?” Ha ha.

But then, Jeremy’s father David hears about this. My flippant, insincere request for the absurd. Not to be taken seriously. Ridiculous. Thomas and Jeremy may have rolled their eyes, but watch what you wish for – nothing is impossible to Dave, no request too absurd. He set to work in his wood shop and voila. Geometry and alchemy. An arched door frame and a gorgeous, arched, tongue and groove paneled door to match. It’s stunning. The world’s most lovely chicken coop, my heart is swollen. Lucky birds. Lucky me. Thank you thank you thank you.

There is still a fair amount of work to do on the greenhouse. Indeed, even when it’s all ‘done’, the walls’ plaster work will need maintenance every couple of years or so. We’ll continue to work on the inside during this winter, setting the stone wall on the south side and cobbing the north wall, but for now the outside work is on hold.

The Quivira conference was excellent. The Quivira Coalition is a group of ranchers, farmers, environmentalists, and associated enthusiasts who are excited about working together for local foods, land health, and restoration. We heard speakers from all over the country – all over the world, small-scale producers, land stewards, educators. We heard talks about building healthy soil, urban water harvesting and humanure, pasture cropping, organic no-till farming, planned grazing, food policy, establishing orchards. And more. We had a chance to reconnect with friends and mentors, and meet new people doing thoughtful, commendable things. This is an inspiring community and so we left all riled up, and thrilled about where we are headed. Bright-eyed and optimistic.

And then we see this blog/report and linked articles discussing South Dakota’s state representatives’ push to replace small local dairies with large, out-of-state-owned dairy operations..CAFOs (note: these articles avoid this term, it’s too objectionable. But it’s certainly implied). This decision is short sighted and profit-driven. Mr. Walt Bones, we couldn’t disagree with you more. The health of our communities and our land and water should be priority. We need to be building resilient local economies by supporting small-scale, local producers. Not chasing quick cash. South Dakota, please let your representatives know what you think.

November mud, mask.

Happy happy November. We wrapped up our Farmers Market season last weekend with smiles on our faces, snow on the ground, Positive Vibrations on the radio, and Cycle Farm-grown produce all over the place. It feels good to pack up the market and start putting time towards other things. We learned a lot this summer, selling at the market both downtown and in the Park. Spearfish certainly has a unique market – and we are lucky to have it. Big thanks to everyone who came downtown on Friday nights, and later Saturday mornings, to visit with us and pick up vegetables. Thank you for your support. We look forward to seeing you next year. Here are some photos from our very last Farmers Market in Spearfish City Park. It was a slow day, but absolutely beautiful in the snow and sunshine.

Halloween fell smack in the middle of a long week of stacking strawbales and spreading mud slurry primer muck all over. It almost got lost entirely. We could have easily resigned to dress as weary farmers, with our ready-made costumes: mud-caked pants, sneezy, dust-crudy noses and prickly, straw-pokey socks. Somehow that didn’t seem like quite enough of a merry celebration. So with haste and determination I made a mask. An up-side-down face. It’s not much, but it has proven itself pretty useful. For instance, Jeremy pulled out a few leeks for potato-leek soup. This made him very happy. See. Happy Halloween!

And a quick greenhouse update.

Last week we got the strawbales up for the greenhouse walls. Jeremy made a bale needle for sewing custom bales to fit the odd spots. Our good friend Tom helped with the loading, unloading and stacking of the bales. They went up like heavy, slippery legos – shedding prickly straw bits into our socks and pretty much everywhere.

Once the bales were stacked, straightened and secured to the framed structure, we started packing muddy straw to fill holes and gaps. Then we sprayed on a very messy clay slip primer coat. This is a thin coat that went on before applying the thick plaster which will get us through the winter. Our plan, at this point, is to do a final coating on the outside walls in the spring. We’ll try and finish the inside cob work this winter as weather permits.

The clay came from the hill behind exit 14 here in Spearfish. It is of the Spearfish Formation, a red clayey mudstone/sandstone which is Permian-Triassic, 250 million years, give or take. This is very exciting. At this point North America, South America and Africa were cuddling together right at the equator. The Spearfish formation would have been deposited in a low-energy, flat coastal desert environment. Maybe like today’s Persian Gulf in the Middle East.  Iron present in the sediments would get wet then dry and wet and dry, oxidizing into this crazy brilliant beautiful red. Makes you want to sing. Makes Tom want to raise the barn.

Jeremy has started on the thick plaster work (see below). Not ever having done this before, we certainly see the merit in hands-on cob-building workshops and trainings. Our hope is to use the greenhouse to start seed trays in the spring and be growing produce in the ground by the summer.

There is no end to a good thing.

It takes a village

We’ve had lots of help these days from family and friends visiting the farm. Digging up potatoes, harvesting hops, setting up a waterline to the greenhouse, butchering advice and counselling. It takes a village to grow a farm. Thank you everybody.

Here is a photo of the CSA share this week. We’re jazzed about including shishito peppers, hope everyone enjoys them as much as we do. And possibly the world’s most petite fennel. Don’t be fooled, they are exceptionally full of flavor.

It’s been SO GOOD having our new farm friend, Emily, here this week to help us fumble around. We met Emily briefly at a canning workshop and potluck in Eugene, Oregon last fall. We had shared with her our grand plans to run away and start growing food. She remembered this conversation and this week she decided to take her vacation time and hitch a ride to our little farm in South Dakota. Not exactly a typical vacation destination, infinitely more punkrock – she’s nearly as quirky about growing vegetables as we are. She’s fantastic and we are so grateful to have her happy energy, excellent conversation, and another set of enthusiastic, helping hands in all this weeding and harvesting. Big BIG thanks, Emily!

The frost-free hydrant is all set up and flowing in the greenhouse as of last night. And to take special advantage of the long, deep trench we have dug between the greenhouse and the house-house, we are setting up an earth-tube heat exchange system. This is VERY EXCITING. We’ve written about it in our CSA newsletter this week.

Almost quite nearly as exciting as the water hook-up and earth-tube is our fennel.

And lastly, here’s a link to a recent article in the Atlantic regarding organic foods for personal health.. vs organic for land health.

Spelled r-o-o-f, pronounced [ruhf]

New for the CSA shares this week are bulb onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Hot off the vines. It must really be summer now, things are getting juicy.

The last of the plywood is up on the greenhouse roof and over the chicken coop. This upper section of roofing will get a tin shed sheeting over it, while the lower section of the roof will be polycarbonate, greenhouse window material. Having the roof split this way should help regulate temperature in the greenhouse. In the summer, when the sun is high in the sky, the light coming through the lower, polycarbonate greenhouse roof section should hit the floor of the greenhouse, but the back wall will be shaded by the upper section of roof. In the winter time, when the sun is low in the sky, light will shine in through the south wall and the lower section of the roof and hit the back wall. The wall will be a thick mass of cob (think adobe), which will serve as a heat sink and hopefully help keep things warmer during those short days/long nights. The straw bales in the north wall will serve as insulation. That’s the plan at any rate. If Jeremy grows a greenhouse like he grows lettuce: it will all come together wonderfully, especially with his father’s Mr. Miyagi insight, council, and skill. 

Here is a photo of the CSA share this week. And the newsletter is posted online here. It’s a hit. Featuring Cycle Farm adventures and anecdotes, including the Sad Story of the Hubbard Squash, How We Grow, and DIY Cucumber Fresca. Original illustrations. Free.

The sun has set and nearly all is well on the farm. Jeremy and his father have just now climbed down off the new greenhouse roof, [ruhf]. The chickens are all tucked up on roosts in their tractors, bellies full of Crow Peak’s porter spent grain. Two good farm dogs are passed out. I finished the CSA newsletter, but broke the camera (or maybe just the memory card?). It seems completely done for. This is almost as disappointing as the deer getting that gorgeous Blue Hubbard squash …but certainly not so disappointing as losing all the just-ripe grapes to the birds this past week; or hearing the kid stocking cantaloupes at the grocery store yesterday tell me that the Locally Grown signs are “just a marketing thing”, the produce actually “probably comes from Arizona or Colorado or someplace”; or having to bid farewell to the best little predator a farm could ask for: sweet, rabbit-eating, black cat Hogan. Ah well, camera schmamera – not such a let down after all. Whew.

Oh HEY! Everybody get ready! We’re having BREAKFAST IN BED at the farm. A weeding party: breakfast in the vegetable beds. We have lots of weeds, we need your help, and IT’S A PARTY! We’re getting smarter these days, in order to beat the heat we’re going to tackle the weeds early. This Saturday, August 11th, 7-11AM. We’ll provide coffee, tea, juice and delicious breakfast treats. (You don’t want to miss Jeremy’s coffee cake. So good.) If you’d like to bring snacks to share, please do! Bring your family. Bring your friends. Bring a date. There’s no fun like weeding. Especially when sharing time with friends and being serenaded by the sweet songs of a tractor full of young roosters and Jeremy on a zucchini flute. When was the last time you had breakfast in bed?  Hope to see you Saturday, give us a call if you have questions.

Insectary, rafters, and chicken dinner.

The insectary is blooming. SO PRETTY. We’ve written about the insectary and how excited we are about it in this week’s CSA newsletter posted here.

And here’s a view of our CSA share this week..

And the greenhouse is growing. In fact, it’s just too glorious now to capture completely in one shot. So I’ve made a collage of several:

Polycarbonate sheets for the south wall and lower roof were delivered today, and next week we’ll put up the rafters. Jeremy’s dad has sourced rock for the wall foundation, we just have to collect it from a hillside on some generous fellow’s land.

And the birds really look like real birds these days. The awkward, punky feathers-growing-in stage is out. They are all sleek and sophisticated. A few of the males have started testing out their crow. There is one, one of the Orpingtons, who’s got it down. Cock-a-doodle-doo. With the head extended and the neck all fluffed out – just like in the cartoons. I mean really. The others are ranging somewhere between a sort of donkey bray, a big city bus braking, and a whoopie cushion. They try so earnestly. They are endearing. And soon we’re going to eat them. I think I might be having a little bit of a hard time. Can’t say for sure. Jeremy and I haven’t talked about it. So he might be having a hard time too. Every time I check in on them, to feed them or move the tractors, I can’t help but feel like the witch in Hansel and Gretel.. the one that feeds the kids sweets, just to fatten them up. So she can eat them. 

Looks like the straight run split is 24 hens, 24 roosters. Funny how that happened. This is one of our hens (below), a Salmon Faverolle. They are listed as a threatened poultry breed by Livestock Breeds Conservancy. This probably means we need to keep at least one of the roosters.. a Faverolle. We’ll still fatten him up though.

Two more things: One. The Soil Doctor, Doug Weatherbee, has a wicked cool new video/podcast posted online where he discusses soil microbial communities and even gets into the importance of no-till. This is certainly worth checking out – here. Thanks for hooking us up with this Austin. And Two. One of our CSA members is headed down to Durango for bicycle adventuring and has plans to visit a farm while down there.. turns out she’s headed to visit our friends at the James Ranch. The James’ family do magical things with holistic land management and are a wonderful inspiration for us, plus we owe the very beginnings of our metal workshop to their fine lathe. If you have an interest in sustainable agriculture, check out what these good folks are up to.