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.

first CSA, midsummer hail, native bees, farmers market

The CSA season has begun, we are off and rolling! Uphill… with a headwind. There is a newsletter posted online here. Our early CSA crops were set back significantly with the snow and rain this spring and recent hail, so our first shares are meager. It feels indescribably wonderful to feed people, to share the bounty. And on the other hand, we feel absolutely cruddy sharing a weak harvest.FISRT CSA SHARE

It’s just the beginning of the season. Things are growing slowly, and that’s what they are supposed to do. This is a part of eating locally and eating seasonally. We have worked hard to select varieties and manage crop planting calendars to structure a good CSA season. But we’re also in this intimately with Nature, and when she’s cold and wet, well.. so are we. We have learned a good deal, there are certainly things we’ll plan better for next year in order to be more bountifully prepared for our early CSA shares.

Meeting with everyone last week during the pick-up was a wonderful summary to a very busy, stressful, anxious past few weeks. We are so thankful for our CSA members’ graciousness and understanding. We’re looking forward to a bountiful season with you, friends. Thanks for your patience and sticking with us.

Other updates from the farm:

On this past Saturday afternoon, we were pummeled with ping pong ball sized hail. We’d never seen anything like it. They beat the field down a fair amount, some spots/crops fared better than others. Winds from the west battered peas on the west-side of the trellising, but east-side plants were somewhat protected. Eggplants look pretty sad, but only a handful actually snapped at the stem, most just lost leaves and are already sending out new ones. Several tomatoes snapped, Jeremy set immediately to bracing them up (maybe they’ll recover?). And we have the comfort of several tomato plants in the greenhouse. The squash had only just sprouted, and as such small targets, we didn’t lose but just a few. Contrarily, the lush, leafy cabbage looks like it got in a knife fight.. or a garbage disposal.hail

So we’re feeling pretty grateful. Things are ok. We’ll have “perforated greens” for the CSA this week and hail-kissed snap peas. Ice-massaged spinach. You know, real ‘foodie’ foods. Just like Kobi beef and kopi luwak.

We were completely taken with this hedge of flowers these last couple weeks. Turns out everyone else was too. It was covered in a veil of buzzing pollinators. Flies and bees, honey bees and bubble bees. Oh so ridiculously happy. 

POLLINATORS

We’ve also been watching mud caps fill in on the solitary and mason bee homes we drilled into the fencing posts earlier this spring. If you are interested setting up homes for native pollinators – or just learning more about these important little creatures, check out The Xerces Society and this article, Farming for Bees, guidelines for providing native bee habitat on farms.native pollinator, mud capped homes

We are looking forward to this season’s Farmer’s Market in the Park, Saturday mornings (9 AM to noon in Spearfish City Park). We take our produce to market by bicycle. Please come stop by the market and say hello. Days on the farm are generally pretty quiet – we’re grateful for a chance to connect with people and see smiling faces. This past Saturday, we brought herb and flower starts, honey, mixed lettuce greens, rhubarb and parsley. Everything grown on our farm. Hope to see you at the park this summer.first farmers marketAnd lastly… many thanks, friends, for all your concern and support during our hail re-hab. Every email message, phone call, and friendly face stopping by to check in was dearly appreciated. Thank you. Our greens may be battered, but our hearts are full.

love, Trish and Jeremy

Catching a swarm

Our friend John called us this past weekend excited, the hive in his backyard tree just split and the swarm was streaming out of the tree into a frenzied cloud next to his house. Having an active hive in his backyard, John is an experienced swarm catcher and generously guided us in collecting the bees into an empty hive.

bees!

Here’s a play-by-play of the swarm catching.

John called, the bees were just starting to swarm, leaving the hive. (this is neat. When the bees decide to swarm (either there is good nectar flow and the hive is full and needs more room, or the queen is old/unhealthy and they decide to replace her, etc.), the bees will build special cells for queen brood, usually 6-7 cells. The queen will lay eggs and the workers start raising the new queen larvae. When the first of the new daughter queens is ready to hatch from her capped cell, she emits this tiny, audible little chirp – a signal to her Mama Queen to GET OUT. So Mama Queen rallies her troops – 1/2 the hive. They quick slurp down as much honey as they can and beat it. If the queen doesn’t get out before her 1st daughter hatches, the daughter will kill her. There can only be one queen. Number one, first thing the newly hatched queen does is go around to the other queen cup cells and kill her sisters. This is all very Shakespeare.)

So the bees are spewed out of their tree, into a dark energized cloud of loud buzzing in John’s yard. Shortly after leaving the original hive, the bees started to collect on a high branch in another tree in John’s yard. (this is important. When bees are in swarm-mode it doesn’t mean they are out to get you. “Swarm” doesn’t mean vicious. Oppositely, they are extremely vulnerable during a swarm. They are looking for a home for their queen. They are not too terribly bothered/interested in people. They have full bellies, they are drunk on honey. So if you see bees swarming near your house, your kids, your kid’s playground STAY CALM. Go inside and call a local beekeeper. Please don’t call some pest control company to come and poison them. Instead, use the swarm as an opportunity to teach your kids about the importance of local pollinators in our agricultural and natural environment. And your local beekeeper will BE SO HAPPY)

I quick grabbed an empty hive and went over to John’s place. Jeremy happened to be biking by on his way to the Bike Coop – John interrupted him and brought him back to the bees too. So we watched and waited a bit for the bees to cluster together on a branch in the tree. A big, dark, blob of bees. A little wiggly, like a fuzzy, upside-down jello mold.bee swarm

Once the bees were, for the most part, all collected (they collect together around their queen, for protection – while scouts fly off looking for a new home and report back), John and Jeremy climbed up into the tree, doing a fair amount of trimming through a massive lilac on the way up. Because the bees had collected so far up, our plan was to cut the branch down and introduce them to the hive down at ground level. With John holding the branch and Jeremy on the loppers, they were able to get the branch out of the tree – bees still clustered. A stick covered in bees is a very heavy stick. The stick was also pretty awkward, they swarm was large and spread out over several branching angles.

bees on branchOur original thought was to lay the stick down in the hive, cover the hive, and remove the stick later. In retrospect this was silly, they were still in swarm-mode, there was just an added inconvenient box around them. hive on garbage bins with ladder

So we went back in, removed the stick and shook the bees off the stick and into the hive. (Imagine pouring molasses out of a jar. The bees are clinging to each other, so when you shake them off the stick they kind of pour off as collective bee goo. Fuzzy, buzzing molasses). With most of the bees in the hive, we carefully closed up the top-bars and set the stick with a few remaining bees on it right by the entrance, so they would be able to find their friends inside. This seemed to be great, we just needed to wait to see that they found this hive as a suitable home. Jeremy and I headed home to do chores. loading the hive

A couple hours later John called – the bees were swarming again. Oh no! So we ran out to Lolita (our other hive) and grabbed a couple comb from the back of her hive – one nearly empty, one full of honey – and brought them over to the new hive.. as a hive warming gift. The bees were clustered along the end of the hive, they were bearding down into one of the trash bins the hive was set up on.  They were flying all over. It was a mess. They were not at all interested in settling down in the hive we offered them. We set the comb in the hive and hoped maybe that would encourage them. They lived their whole life in a tree – maybe an empty box.. with angles was too much. Maybe having honey comb would make it feel more like home? We watched. And waited. Still bearding. And buzzing all around. A few bees went in after the honey. And then Jeremy spotted the queen down at the bottom of the trash bin. In the middle of a swarm of 10,000 bees, Jeremy spots the queen bee. In a trash can. (superhero powers confirmed). He scooped her up, very Prince Charming, big white horse.. and set her in the hive. Almost immediately the bees started funneling into the entrance of the hive. And that was that. Home sweet home. That night we came by after dark to check and see if we could move the hive to the farm. It was a warm night and there were a number of bees still bearding by the entrance. The next night was cooler, the bees were tucked in, so we hauled them to the farm and set them up near the orchard with a nice southeast view of Crow Peak and Lookout.

We had sealed their door shut to transport them, and they were already eating away at the paper by 8 the next morning, eager to get out… so we removed the paper (also not wanting them to over heat, trapped in a hot box in the sun.  We have read there are recommended ways of moving hives less than 3 miles, so as not to disorient your bees. Because this hive had so recently been a swarm and we significantly changed to orientation of the hive, we felt somewhat confident that they would recognize a difference as they left the hive, would reorient themselves and not get lost. The original orientation of the hive box (in the middle of John’s yard) had the entrance to the north and a large branch in front of the door – and when we moved the hive, the entrance is now on the south without a branch. These are pretty clear indicators that something had changed and they should reorient themselves before leaving the hive. It was especially reassuring when, within minutes, they started bringing back grass pollen. John reported there were about a dozen bees that had made their way back to his place, and were gathered at the trash bin. We are grateful it was only a few bees and we didn’t lose the whole hive. In moving hives, it is suggested that you keep the entrance on the hive shut for an additional day or two after moving them – or you move the hive out somewhere over 3 miles away for a couple weeks and then back to where you want them. Clearly the bees are smarter than we are. 

We’ve named the hive Pygmalion – after George Bernard Shaw’s story about the flower girl guttersnipe. Queen bee in the garbage bin.

Thank you John!

Snow, seedlings, serious.

Little green things in the greenhouse are faring the snow and cool temperatures fantastically. Radishes are just starting to bulb up. Lettuces are thrilled. Spinach and arugula, standing tall. And the potatoes are on exhibition, lined up like glowing, spring-break sunbathers reclining on sun-kissed, sandy beaches. snow on greenhouse

We did, however, end up bringing the tomato starts inside. After watching the temperature in the greenhouse continuously fall earlier last week, and because we haven’t finished building the north cob wall (no thermal mass), and we don’t have a door on the east end, we finally tucked our chins and shuffled the tomato trays inside. It’s tough playing chicken with mother nature, nerves of steel, she never swerves. The tomatoes would likely be absolutely fine in the greenhouse. If the potatoes are alright, the tomatoes should fare well too. Everything is under rowcovers at night, wrapped snug in a blanket of good intentions. We are no doubt being unduly nervous. Weak nerves partner well with lack of experience and fierce desire to share a bumper crop of tomatoes with our wonderful CSA members. (We still have a few CSA shares left, please contact us soon if you’d like to join us for a season of farm fresh vegetables).

So for the meantime, this is our living room.April13_livingroom_nomoreroom

And our roommates.

april13

We are feeling very grateful for the surge of moisture. In planting fruit trees last week, it was unnerving to see how dry the soil was. Hopefully, our rich, healthy, no-till soil will work some magic moisture retention and keep going strong for our early plantings, before the irrigation ditch is turned on in May.

The snowy, inside days offered us a good chance to process honey. We collected honeycomb from Anna and Lara’s empty hives a couple weeks ago. The combs were cut off the top bars and collected in 5-gallon buckets. We ended up with almost 80 lbs of honeycomb. The next step was crushing the comb to release the honey. Larger operations will use a machine called a ‘honey extractor’, a barrel centrifuge that spins the comb around, pulling honey out.  But, on our scale, crushing the comb works just as well and is five hundred million times more fun. The comb is crushed by hand over a sieve which separates the wax comb from the honey. The honey drips down into a bucket. We’ll offer the crushed wax bits with relic honey back to Lolita; the bees should be able to clean up whatever honey is left.

crushing honeycombWe have loaded up flats of starts of bee-friendly flowering plants. If we have enough food sources here for our bees, it may reduce the amount of time they have to spend foraging off-farm in areas where neighbors in the valley might be chemically treating their lawns and gardens. We need to do a better job encouraging/educating folks to avoid using neonicotinoids and similar chemicals that harm honey bees, native pollinators, and other insects. And plant bee balm and Phacelia instead. But how do you do this when people have been treating their lawns since forever? and they love their thick, green manicured grass, mowing it, faithfully, every weekend? and the TruGreen lawn care truck is cruising the neighborhood, sprayers drawn like sabers, a fierce knight defending the neighborhood lawns from the dragons of a flawed green mat? Please don’t treat your lawns. The decline in bee populations (honey bee and natives) is a serious and urgent issue in terms of food security and land health. Not to mention honey production. They need our support. So please, plant for the bees.

Other recent farm activities include: fence repair, filing farm taxes, tool maintenance and repair, cleaning the garage and Pemberly, rescuing the bags of chicken feed from an onslaught of hungry mice, more fence repair, digging holes for fruit trees, seeding successions of lettuces and brassicas, weeding in the greenhouse, research into health insurance plans and cool-bot refrigerator designs, coochi-cooing the chickens. And fence repair, again.

apple

Almost entirely unrelated: It’s occurred to us that the website has become a repository of pretty farmy photos and cheery stories. We don’t do a very good job of conveying the especially trying parts of our days. We try to be honest, I think we do a good job. But, by nature, Jeremy and I also are both more comfortable focusing on the positives. So we post photos of vegetables.

Transparency is important, but it’s also easier to communicate face-to-face, face-to-farm – it’s harder to write about. There is a remarkable amount of stress associated with growing food and running a small business, it seems everyday we’re discovering new aspects of this stress. Farming involves more aches and aggravations, more worries, uncertainties, and disappointments than either of us has ever dealt with before. It’s frustrating and humbling and utterly exhausting. On the flip side, this is also absolutely the most rewarding work we’ve ever done, the most challenging puzzle. It is always the best way to spend a day. Working with nature to grow food feels sacred and uplifting. And as food producers and land stewards, we are able to engage with and serve our community in a way that’s pretty damn magical.

So as regards full disclosure, here’s a list of some of the things we don’t have pretty pictures of: The deer are inspiring mutterings of full-spectrum colorful language these days. We have just laboriously installed a very expensive, yet, it seems, entirely decorative, deer fence. We could really use some lessons in marketing. And fence construction. The greenhouse is nearly twice as expensive as we initially budgeted. We have bare-root trees that need to go in the ground immediately, and we have 2′ of snow. The male guinea is bullying our hens so badly, most have beaten tail feathers and bald backs. We’re considering guinea stew. Or kebabs. Farm financial feasibility study is in review, needs serious work.

Of course, having said all that: the eggplants have sprouted, Jeremy is making some incredible bread these days. And we have honey. More honey than I’ve ever seen before.bread in cloche from Dykstra Pottery

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.

Warm days and a fierce headwind

Last week we had a few days in the 40s and 50s. We took advantage of this and finished the short cob wall on the south side of the greenhouse.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The snow-free days also allowed us to inspect the state of our cover crop trials and prep several rows with straw mulch. In checking on the state of things, we discovered that quack grass in the back field is already on a roll. Rats. And early onions planted last fall have survived and are going strong (there’s a photo, below). Jeremy got to try his hand at cutting glass for the coop window. It’s an old pane from the Smith’s house. The glass itself might not be from the original construction of the house (late 1800’s) – but it’s still pretty brittle and took a fair amount of tender, delicate, James Bond-style breaking and entering finesse to cut without shattering to bits. The birds are enjoying the extra light in their coop. They are also enjoying spent grain (photo below..) from Crow Peak Brewery down the street.

Despite all this attention: the additional light, their certified organic feed, malted barley, and our daily dotings, they are producing 4-5 eggs a week. It seems the birds have become a very expensive hobby – at least until the days lengthen and egg production picks up.

birds and onionOur seed orders were placed just a few weeks ago, and already we’ve been getting packages in the mail. Onions and leeks have sprouted. And trays of asparagus are germinating. Last year we experimented with planting green onion seeds in clusters of 7-8 seeds together. This method allowed for quick, easy transplanting into the field and harvesting, washing, bunching – chop chop. This year we’re going to try out this cluster seeding technique with bulbing onions as well, with 4-5 seeds together. We’ll see.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ve been keeping an eye on the hives during the unseasonably warm days these past few weeks. There has been limited activity outside the hives, a bee or two will fly out, sometimes one will scoot in. Lots of dead bees below the entrances to the hives. This is not terribly pleasant, but it suggests that the queen is still laying, and they are just keeping the hive clean.
beehives in february

We have not yet opened the hives. By looking around inside, we can get a better sense of the health of the hive:  is the queen laying well? how much honey reserves do they have left? do they need supplementary honey to hold them over before spring flowers set? So it might be smart to check out what’s happening inside.

However, by popping open the hive, we are breaking the laboriously installed propolis the bees have sealed their hive with. Bees do an incredible job maintaining temperature and humidity in the hive, to keep the queen and brood healthy. By opening the hive, we fuss with this. So we’re not going to fuss with this. (I’ll just bite my lip and hope they are keeping on ok). We did not harvest honey from the hives last year. Instead we opted to let them keep everything as reserves for winter – hopefully this will be enough to carry them through. If there’s anything left in the spring, we’ll collect some for ourselves.

And lastly a fierce headwind from Pierre. Here are some examples (links) of what happens when legislative action is made without involving long term or whole systems thinking.  South Dakota state legislature on net metering and on uranium mining.

So we will continue to make phone calls. And write letters. We might even keep on with our wishful thinking and faith in democracy. But more importantly, we’ll sharpen our shovels. Ride our bicycles. And grow food for our neighbors. If we can’t demand conservation or good stewardship, maybe we can inspire it?

Root crops and débutantes

The CSA newsletter for this week is posted online here. It features a recipe suggestion from one of our CSA members for eggplant enchiladas, a good way to use the surplus of eggplant we have this week. Thanks for sharing this Cyndee, it looks tasty.

The best part of the day was harvesting carrots during a brief little spit of rain. Not even enough to call rain really. But it was something.

And here are some other miscellaneous scenes from the farm today. I plotted out the beehives, visually, because it’s nearing cold weather tuck-in time and we want to make sure the bees have reserves enough to overwinter, and I’m a nerd. Each hive has plenty of full honeycomb, and we won’t harvest from them this year. Anna Karenina and Lara have 9+ honeycombs (not including brood nest), Lolita (our most dissident hive) has 11+ honeycombs. The trees are doing their spectacular showy thing. The black walnuts are raining down something fierce. I’m collecting and hulling as fast as I can. The birds are out and about these days, debs that they are. We’re still keeping them in the tractor at night and every morning we move the tractor through the grape vines – but now, during the day, we keep the tractor pop-door open. So they are in the spruce trees, and parading through the grapevines, chomping on the grape leaves, eating bugs. Very merry. As long as we keep them safe from weasels, neighbor dogs, and bigger birds..

Up up up!

The CSA shares this week included a bunch of pretty beets. And, as if on cue, the new row of beet seeds has decided to pop up this morning. Tiny, bright red seedlings all in a row, like Yeomen. Going about the day, not really up to much more than showing off. The newsletter for this week’s CSA share is posted here.

We took the camera around this morning. Here’s what happening these days:

The chicken tractors have made it into the grape vines rows. With the heat and dry weather, they’re pretty happy to have the additional shade.. and the grape leaves. Pretty tasty, apparently.

Lots of things fruiting. In order of appearance below: Buttercup and Rouge Vif d’etampes winter squash, Valiant grapes, cucumbers, Sand cherry, Prescott Fond Blanc cantaloupe, Ailsa Craig sweet onion.

There are lots of flowers and the bees are working hard. Here are some photos from the pickling cucumbers: 

AND the greenhouse is getting it’s z-dimension on. Posts went up yesterday for the north and south wall. It’s looking sharp.

So sharp, here are more photos.

There is still an incredible amount of work to do on the greenhouse and we’ll need lots of help when it comes to setting straw bales and stomping cob. We’ll keep you posted!

Turn up the beets.

July is hot and furious on the farm. Wow. Things just keep getting more and more pretty. We’ve spotted our first little tomato fruits, broccoli heads, and squash blossoms.  And the blue corn is knee high, as they say.

The bees are constantly a source of smiles. Seeing them throughout the day, busily working on the mint and chicory, they are good farming companions. A couple days ago, as we were headed in at the end of the day, we noticed Anna Karenina sporting a thick, burly mountain man beard. All the bees seemed to be hanging out outside the hive, right by the entrance. They don’t usually do this. It was alarming until we realized the hive is just doing a little temperature regulation. Together the bees create a lot of heat. Think of the friction generated by thousands of little feet scurrying around and wings bzzing inside a small wooden box smack in the middle of the sun. Usually the inside of a hive is around 90-95 degrees F, which is optimal temperature for rearing brood. Worker bees will fan the hive and bring in droplets of water to regulate temperature and humidity, to keep things comfortable for their queen and babies. And when it’s just too hot, they’ll cluster outside the hive instead of heating things up inside. So smart.

We are Week Three into the CSA season. Here’s a photo of the farm share this week. 

Turn up the beets! Our CSA share this week included beet greens and baby beets, thinned from the beet rows. The beet greens are delicious. And absolutely gorgeous. Amy Goldman does those photo heavy books of really sexy vegetables like squash and tomatoes. She ought to write one on beets.

And to top it all off: the greenhouse is growing! Marcus, Jeremy’s diligent little brother, has been coming over nearly every day to help dig out post holes for greenhouse footings (thank you, Marc). On Tuesday a concrete truck came in and we set the pilings for the greenhouse pole-barn timbers (thank you, David and Kyle and Derek). We’re really excited about the greenhouse and we wrote a little bit about the design in the CSA newsletter here.

And finally, mark your calendars! We are having another WEEDING PARTY at the farm, next Saturday, July 14. From 9AM to noon, with a potluck lunch to follow. We have rows and rows of vegetables that need weeded, and we need more hands. It’s a great chance to catch up with friends, meet your neighbors, share ideas – it’s BIG FUN. If you can’t make it in the morning, please come to lunch, feast and visit with us at noon! We look forward to seeing you on the farm!

100 degrees, still smiling.

Two weeks into our CSA season. The heat these past weeks has sent a few things to bolt. In order to beat the bolt, our baskets were extra full this week. We had planned to space the Asian greens over different shares. But here we are. A great opportunity to make kimchi.

This share is bridging the very last of the garlic scapes and the very first of the green onions.  And flea beetles are lacing our greens, but they are still stunning. And delicious. We’ve posted our weekly CSA newsletter here.

The bees are well, they are hot. We checked in on them last weekend, the walls and floor of the hives were blanketed in bees, all standing still, holding on tight with their feet, while madly flapping their wings – ventilating the hives. There are also more bees at the door of each hive, just clustered there, buzzing. But each queen is still laying well. And they’re building new comb. We may get honey this year yet.Also, as relates to the heat, we’ve figured out a way to keep our delicate greens fresh and happy at the Friday night Farmer’s Market downtown: decoys.

way too hotWe understand that, as a marketing technique, this is poor form. Buyers are attracted to mass. A heaping pile of turnips, a brimming basket of greens, an Aconcagua of fingerling potatoes will lead to better sales than a lonely, empty basket.. with a sign. Makes sense. How can you resist a glowing pyramid of rainbow radishes?

Tricky. It would be lovely to distribute our good food en masse. But we don’t want to be handing out wilted greens. We take great care to harvest things at their prime, the day of market, so they are perfectly fresh and ready to enjoy. It’s hard work, we’re working harder than we’ve ever worked before. And we’re proud of what we’re doing. So selling produce on Friday afternoons, in the middle of a hot, paved street on 100 degree day – it’s a challenge.

Sales or no, we’re determined to stick it out. With our goods safe from the heat, fresh in the coolers, and signs posted on the table. A Farmer’s Market is a treasure. It’s too important to us. And I’ll hope that the Spearfish community will soon recognize how fantastic it is to eat healthy foods, and support local, sustainable agriculture, and they will rally downtown to the Friday night Farmer’s Market. Vendors are set up by 5:00PM, so there is time to come by and visit your local farmers and artisans and beat the crowds, music, and difficult parking – if that’s a concern. Fresh, local, non-certified organic produce. Read the signs, we’ll have it in the cooler.

Lastly, here’s a quick shot of the birds tonight, all tucked in for sleeping.