a wilted salad and Sugar Anns

Eeep! We meant to get this posted on Thursday, but somehow it slipped. It(we) got lost in the weeds. Here we go. A post post, if you will.

This week’s CSA harvest is brought to you by big smiles and both moms! We’re exceptionally lucky to have you two. Here is a link to this week’s newsletter, a list of what’s in the share and some ideas on how to prepare them.csa 4 with momsA new bed is getting established behind the farm stand, we’re planting it with you-pick fresh herbs for CSA members and farm stand customers. The only thing better than cooking with fresh herbs is having the chance to prance around in the plants and cut them yourself. The line-up right now includes sage, oregano, thyme, chives, and lavender.new herb bedThe grape vines look like they will have a good crop this year. Jeremy was gifted some glass gem corn seed (a vogue heirloom flint corn) which is now knee high. And we have twelve different varieties of winter squash planted.grapescornsquash Here are some photos from the back field: Swiss chard and little leeks.cropsA friendly customer at the farm stand this past weekend picked up salad greens just for a wilted salad.  After a brief internal “are you kidding me? it’s 90 million degrees, it hasn’t rained for 3 weeks, do you realize how hard we’ve worked to not wilt these greens?! and you want to go home and wilt them?? I’m sorry, what?”,  we smiled and had to ask for details. Here’s her recommendation: cook up bacon in a skillet, pull out the cooked bacon and break this up into chunks. Add red wine vinegar and a little bit of sugar to the bacon drippings and simmer this just a bit, with chopped scallions too. Season with salt and pepper then drizzle this vinegary, bacon greasy, scallions and sugar on fresh salad greens. Decorate with bacon crumbles, toss and eat immediately. Of course! wilted salad. Sounds like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Probably wouldn’t hurt to toss some scapes in to simmer with the bacon grease too…

The young chickens are now 4 weeks old and they’re all deep into their extreme spiky punkster phase; sporting Robert Smith eyeliner and an underlying Patti Smith attitude.This week’s CSA shares included the first of our season’s snap peas. We grow two varieties of snap peas, Sugar Ann and Cascadia.  The majority of the what we plant is Cascadia, a beautiful and productive snap pea bred at Oregon State University for Northwest gardeners; we find it does great here. We also grow a couple rows of Sugar Ann peas each year because they mature about ten days earlier than Cascadia and they are also delicious. Snap peas are derived from a cross between a snow pea and a shelling pea. For seed growers, off-type peas can appear during subsequent years of saving seeds.  If these off-types are not removed from the seed stock they can, over time, present a problem for growers trying to have a uniform crop.20160629_085152This year we are finding that our planting of Sugar Ann has a lot of variation.  We are getting about 3/4 snap-pea type plants, about 1/4 shelling-pea plants and a few snow-pea types.  This makes harvest take longer in order to keep them separate and it reduces our expected yield of snap peas. We start everything from seed and we are very deliberate about where we source our seed. We preferentially source open-pollinated and regionally adapted varieties grown using organic practices. If we have an incredible crop or if we have a problem or questions, we know where our seed originated and can directly communicate with our seed producers. This is an advantage over buying seed from large companies where tracing the actual seed grower may be difficult.  In the case of our Sugar Anns, we can contact the source of our seed to let them know what is happening so that the seed can undergo a rogueing and selection process making future seed lots more uniform. We’d be really surprised if the seed company hasn’t already noticed the variability and begun this process, but we will give them a call anyway.

This open-communication is what we strive for with our own customers and community at the farm. Receiving honest feedback offers us the opportunity to learn and improve as farmers. Which is (despite appearances) what we’re constantly working on.

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Up, up and away

It’s been a while. Lots to catch up on. Here are photos.

We had a Weeding and Wine Party at the farm a few weekends ago. Such a treat to have the time with friends, in the cool of the evening, together tackling the bindweed and Malbec. Somethings are most efficiently and enjoyably addressed with friends – and the potatoes look so good. Thank you for your help!Weeding and wine - Thank you friends!

The potatoes are now hilled and the beans are trellised. We’re using straw mulch and grass bits to hill the potatoes.  The beans in the front are all dry beans (Hidatsa Shield Figure, Bolita, and Jacob’s Cattle), only the Hidatsa’s are on trellises. Like a giant jubilant harp, the bean trellis is tuned to play in a major key. This took some time.beans and potatoes

An update on the bees: We just lost Lolita, our remaining hive from last year. The queen had been laying poorly for a while and we were watching the hive numbers grow fewer and fewer. We checked in on the hive last week, there was no queen, no eggs/brood, and only very few bees in the hive. We chose not to try and merge the hive with another because there were so few bees and the health of the hive seemed so poor – we didn’t want to possibly introduce problems to another hive. It is absolutely no fun losing bees.

We have two active hives now, Pygmalion and Bertha Mason – both swarms caught this year. Bertha Mason is the newest hive. She’s named after the wild, violent, insane, beast of a lady who was locked up high in the tower in the novel Jane Eyre. Collecting this swarm was a challenge, and we had thought for a while that we didn’t have the queen (maybe she fell out of the tower to her death – just like in the book?) – but it turns out they are doing alright. There is a queen, growing brood nest, and the ladies are collecting pollen. Pygmalion is also doing fantastically.july bee hives

Here’s a photo of the propolis in Pygmalion’s hive (we’ve been getting questions about propolis a lot at the farmers market). The bees collect propolis from pine trees – it’s not pine pollen, but pine sap. It’s the sticky goo a pine tree uses to help protect itself from burrowing insects. The bees collect it and use it in their hive to help keep themselves healthy and safe. It’s full of good things

This year, the early CSA season has been pretty challenging (disappointing, stressful) for us.  Due to the cool spring and hail, we’ve been working hard to fill in meager shares, trying to be resourceful. Early on we grew alfalfa sprouts, included jars of honey, and harvested wild spinach (delicious and ever-so good for you, but so absurdly time intensive, no wonder it’s not a cultivar). Our CSA members are being very gracious and are learning to love parsley. We are learning better how to manage the greenhouse space for early season crops. Here are some photos from these past few CSA pick-up days and links to CSA newsletters. june27CSAshareJune 27 CSA newsletter. Hail, Pygmalion, and garlic scapes.
july 4 CSA

July 4th, CSA Newsletter. Harper’s Index of Cycle Farm.CSA-newpotatoes

July 11, CSA newsletter. The heat sets in and new potatoes, parsley chutney.
week5 CSA pickup

July 18th, CSA newsletter, in which we discuss the merits of our weeds. Quick note: CSA members have been coming by to pick up their shares by bike (and on foot!), this is absolutely the most lovely thing.

CSA July 25

July 25 CSA Newsletter, chard chiffonade, a white lady bug, and rhizosphere adorations.

Sweet mama guinea hen, Annette Hanshaw, hatched her chicks last week. It’s not exactly the darling, sparkly-eyed Disney cartoon story that I maybe expected. It’s more of the shark attack, National Geographic, Texas chainsaw story. Gruesome. We have a fence up now around mama and her lil’ ones – to protect them from the chickens.set of july collage

Fruit set on the trees is promising. Pears! We’ve been delivering farm foods to an excellent restaurant in town, Killian’s Tavern. Radish especially enjoys her delivery duties. Please treat yourself to some delicious Spearfish Valley terroir at Killian’s. They support local farms. And bicycles. We are employing the basket weave technique for trellising the tomatoes this year. It’s working well. The calendula harvest is a go. The new herb bed is glorious and delicious.

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!)

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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