sauerkraut

Last week a hail storm hit the valley, it was the hardest storm we’ve experienced yet and regrettably timed for most valley vegetable production.  We have received several thoughtful notes and phone calls and generous offers to help. We’ve shared supportive hugs and commiserative pints at Crow Peak. We put up over thirty pounds of sauerkraut. With this post, we want to express our gratitude and give an update on how things are recovering and what we’re working on.

We are clearing out beds of damaged-beyond-recovery crops and transplanting in successions of lettuce and fall brassicas and direct seeding in fall greens and roots. The lambs and chickens have enjoyed the recent diversity in diet ranging from peas and chicory hearts, to lettuce and cabbage. The compost pile is heaped in nitrogen-rich greens, ready to be layered with wood shavings from the brooder. There are several crops we are holding out hope for and haven’t yet ripped out, although, to date, they don’t seem too promising. We are learning a whole lot about timing and successions and the resilient nature of plants. We’re feeling vastly grateful for the health of our soil, the diversity of our crop plan, and the support of our community.

In the photos below: Tom (our excellent summer farm hand) and Trish trimmed out the battered and busted leaves on the Swiss chard, leaving the row looking like the line waiting outside a Sex Pistols concert. Now after just a few days, their technicolor mohawks have doubled (some tripled!) in size; Tom and Jerm planted out little lettuces including a new to us Egyptian variety called Balady Aswan; a planting of fall cabbage replacing lettuce; kohlrabi; yeh for soil blocks and mulch!; Vibrant Joy(!) bok choy replacing a row of battered snow peas.With the help of several rock star neighbors, friends, a farm hand, and farm mother, we were able to get all of our hardneck garlic out of the field on Saturday afternoon after the market. Harvesting garlic (which looks spectacular this year) and working along side friends has been a much needed moral booster. Especially while working between  (what remains of) the winter squash rows. With the help of Tom and Jami, we’ve got a good start on clearing up the garlic beds and seeding in a cover crop mix that will feed our soil for the rest of the summer (this mix is buckwheat, oats and clover). From the bottom of our hearts and with bouquets of stinking roses, thank you, friends. Coincidentally, this poem by Marge Piercy was included in the Cycle Farm Poetry Tour -selected for the spot along the drive near the Niedzwetzkyana crab apple, the monarda, and the gate to the front field where the garlic grew this year.On Tuesday morning we stirred up a bucket of Biodynamic preparation 501 and sprayed the farm with silica and good intentions.  Many thanks to Tom for being so patient and rad while we fumble about trying to explain how excited we are about this.The animals are doing great. The pastured chickens are being moved twice a day now, foraging on grass and bugs. Their pasture-based diet is supplemented with a blend of fresh-ground whole grains that we mix and grind on the farm. They move along behind the lamb tractor, after the lambs have mowed down the tall grass. The littlest birds have started putting on their feathers and spunk and are headed out to the second chicken tractor this weekend. We anticipate butchering at the end of August and end of September and will send out an email regarding pre-order as butcher date approaches. If you’d like to be added to our email contact list, just let us know.

In this photo below, from left to right: tall, not-yet-grazed pasture; in front (left) of the chicken tractor has been grazed by the lambs and is where the chickens will be moved next; on the far side of the chicken tractor is where the chickens have been most recently; and along the right is the lush re-growth of pasture 2 weeks after impact from the lambs and chickens.Pasture Management Committee lamb member profiles: Lady Eve – a vociferous contralto who enjoys sunflower leaves and a good fleece rub. Albrecht – horned and affectionate, somewhat clumsy, always endearing. Justus – invariably impeccably dressed though never takes the limelight; he’s gentle, reticent and smart, entirely unsuspected and therefore an ideal accomplice to any sort of fuzzy mischief.There are a number of delicious and unaffected crops coming from the greenhouse: basil, beets, kale, and shortly: cucumbers, peppers, ginger and turmeric. We have been able to salvage a number of good things from the field for market: fennel bulbs, beets w. tops trimmed, new growth on lettuce, krauting cabbage, peas. And we’ve been monitoring new growth on plants in the field: carrot tops are rebounding, aforementioned chard is growing fast, summer squash and cucumbers are flowering, scallions are sending up new greens. In short, this hail event is not the end of our season. We’re planning on having the farm stand open as scheduled through to the end of October, although deliveries to restaurants will be reduced for the next few weeks. The farm stand will be thin for a few weeks, but harvest continues! We have a commitment to our farm supporters, the season is long yet, we are working hard to grow good things and they are growing.Lastly, just a few noted perks as regards the hail: Sauerkraut. Downed and damaged leaves created a full, farm-wide organic nitrogen application, a veritable feast for our beloved, ever hungry soil biology. For the most part, the storm completely shredded the garlic leaves which aided immensely in the bindweed detangling process. Johnny Rotten Swiss chard. Our three year old elecampane was in the wind shadow of the big ponderosa and suffered only minimal leaf damage(!), began blooming the day after the storm(!!). The pelleting force of the hail was an effective shock to our shiitake logs, they are flushing like never before, and we’ll have buckets of shiitakes at market tomorrow morning. Thank you for all your support and we look forward to seeing you at the farm stand,

up, up, up!, Trish and Jeremy  

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May, farm update

Things of note from these past couple weeks. Please excuse us if this reads scattered and disjointed. Consider this disarray an accurate testament to the state of the farm these days. Spectacular mayhem. –

  • We’re doing a better job at start care, timing successions, watering in the greenhouse, even our potting and soil block mix seems to be just a bit more dialed in than previous seasons. Our biggest challenge remains getting no-till beds ready for transplanting.
  • Germination in the field, however, has been less successful/uniform partly due to dry soil conditions (both lack of rain and late turn-on of our irrigation ditch). Carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips are all up, but not at the intended density. And the arugula is unintentionally serving as an excellent flea beetle trap crop, we’ve never grown such nice looking broccoli.
  • We sprayed Biodynamic preparation 501 a couple weeks ago – during the zenith of spring fruit tree blossoms on the farm.
  • Last weekend we had a chance to watch what looked like a magical fiery-feathered parrot perched on a bee hive and gorging on our honey bees. Our Sibley’s and Albrechtsens’ tell us he was a first year male Summer Tanager! WHOA! These birds like supping on bees and wasps especially, and they catch “these insects in flight and kill them by beating them against a branch. Before eating a bee, the tanager rubs it on the branch to remove the stinger. Summer Tanagers eat larvae, too: first they get rid of the adults, and then they tear open the nest to get the grubs” (that bit’s from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology). And, what’s more – they’re not common around here; we haven’t seen him since, we must have just caught him on a re-fueling stop mid spring migration. The binoculars have been firmly attached to Jeremy’s side nonetheless.
  • A few of the bird nesting boxes that we built this winter are occupied – there are a couple chickadees in the wild plums by the spruce trees, house wrens in the plums in front of the house, and the robin on the platform under the gutter has three exceedingly hungry nestlings.
  • We’ve been enjoying spring migration, especially now having a dance card of who’s on their way. Our busiest week so far has included at least 53 different species – 32 on one day alone. Some new species for the farm list are Olive-sided Flycatcher, Pine Siskin, Field Sparrow.
  • Speaking of visitors, this spring we’ve shared the farm through a number (13) of farm tours – a Poetry Tour, Farm Dreams tour and skillshare, the Crook County Conservation District Soil Health Workshop, sharing with other local small producers and beginning farmers, film crews, and farm share members. Our count to-date this year has been 90 different people touring the farm (ninety! holy crap!). This count does not include people who came only to snuggle baby lambs – this number exceeded 50 in the first 3 weeks and I stopped counting, because that’s silly. Celebrity lambs. Apparently word is out that this place is a circus. This is the first year we’ve kept track of farm tour numbers, we’re doing this partly to gauge the extent of our impact in the community and also to understand how much time we’re spending hosting tours and not on income generating work that needs to be done.
  • One of the best parts of these farm visits has been engaging in conversations around soil health, organic no-till mixed-vegetable farming, cover crops, mycorrhizae and little soil critters – all things we love and love learning about.
  • Dung beetles! Due to unusual circumstances and some procrastination, there was a pile of gross fish guts out in the orchard, on close inspection we saw it was teaming with dung beetles – including a new one we’ve never seen here before. HooRAY for inefficiency. (about dung beetles, if you haven’t already watched this, please do. It’s a good one. And the dung beetles make such darling noises.)
  • Our fuzzy flail mowers have graduated to the lamb tractor and are already hard at work. The tractor is a fenced area we can move through our young orchard.  This helps us manage grazing in the pasture/orchard, fertilization, and protects the little trees from browsing. This summer, we’ll move chicken tractors along right behind the lambs – lambs mowing the tall grass for the chickens, and the chickens get to enjoy what the lambs leave behind.
  • The lambs, Justus, Albrecht, and Lady Eve, have taught us a whole lot so far as regards common ailments for young livestock: small puncture wounds, strange gum-ball-turned-golf-ball-sized subcutaneous bumps, bloat, nasty infected wounds, and the remarkable effects of ginger root and grapeseed oil on ruminant digestive issues. Thanks, lambs, we’re glad you’re feeling better.
  • Mostly, these days we’re removing brome rhizomes and dandelions from beds. Transplanting out starts just as quick as those beds are ready. Watering starts, checking and double-checking on the greenhouse, and moving irrigation around. We’re adding things to the to-do list with fervor… and a bit (much) slower, checking items off the list.
  • The garlic looks good and has been delivering us, if just for moments at a time, from the mess and reminding us of our Keatsean negative capability. This season, so far, has been so radically different than our previous springs which makes some things challenging and frustrating.  On the up side, we are sure learning a lot.  March and April were too cold, wet and snowy to get much done in the field, and then May swooped in with her oven doors open. We generally plan for May 25th as our approximate last frost date, this spring’s last frost was May 2nd. And it’s been July since.
  • Operation RUSDSG has been field-deployed (attn. Regina). This special flower garden plot, inspired by our good friend and farm spirit animal is going in piece-meal as spring greens come out of the turbine beds. This is a high-traffic area that will get lots of attention from pollinators and us, alike. Sea star and Tower Chamois asters were launched first. Details on our Operation RUSDSG are on a need-to-know basis. If you need to know what this silly acronym stands for, ask, we’ll tell you.

Thanks, friends! Hope this finds you well.

With love from the farm, Trish and Jeremy

capricious loveliness

The seemingly unseasonably cold spring has some things moving along at a pokey-molasses pace, others are all systems go. Our calendar and journal from last year tell us things are about a month behind 2017.  Here’s a quick update as to some of what has been happening on the farm these past few weeks.

We celebrated an exciting early greens harvest at the end of March. A few rows of cold-hardy greens we had started last fall and had hoped would overwinter and be ready for our earliest farm stand markets this spring started to bolt earlier than we had expected, became instead a special harvest for our early-to-sign-up farm share members.  In the greenhouse, the germination chamber is stuffed to the gills with trays of soil blocks. The thermometer consistently reads at 70(ish) degrees in the germination chamber, an insulated and many-shelved box, with heat mats – temporary parking for seed trays while seeds are getting ready for their debut into sunshine. Shelves are filling up with flats of seedlings. Radishes are swelling. Spinach is getting mowed down by mice. We’re setting mouse traps with peanut butter. Outside and greenhouse temperatures have been such that we are still playing the cover-uncover back and forth game with row covers in the greenhouse, trying to keep all the little ones comfortable during the cold nights.One of the pepper varieties we seeded last week is La Mesilla – from our own saved seed. This is a Northern New Mexico chile pepper grown by our farmer friends and mentors, David and Loretta, at Monte Vista Organics. These two offer endless inspiration for us, not only as regards growing delicious food, but also as thoughtful, hardworking, generous and truly lovely humans. This just might be the very beginning of a Spearfish Valley, regionally adapted La Mesilla strain. Over half of the tomato varieties we’re growing this year are from our own seed (that’s 18/34, if you’re keeping count).  Seeding in the spring is full of all sorts of hope and magic, wonder and possibility, all the things of poetry and prayer. These sentiments are amplified in planting seed that we’ve selected for and saved, seeing plants complete their life cycle, generation after generation, on the farm.

Also in the works/germination chamber is the very beginning of Operation RUSDSG- new for 2018. This is a special flower garden plan inspired by a friend. The name is slightly embarrassing and calls into question the legitimacy of our credibility as farmers, but it was an entirely necessary measure in reigning in Jeremy’s absurd, unending flower seed order, so please content yourself with the acronym, RUSDSG. Below is a sneak preview; some photos snitched from Uprising Organics and Wild Garden, two of our favorite seed growers and suppliers for our RUSDSG.Ginger and turmeric are presprouting. In early February, we cut seed, spread them out and covered them over. They’ve been set in the warmest nook of the house, Little Bali, a neighborhood favored by baby ginger and spiders with massive pedipalps. As soon as soil temperatures warm up in the greenhouse, out they’ll go (the ginger; the spiders, ? who knows). We’ve had good luck with growing ginger before and are looking forward to seeing how the turmeric fares.A couple weeks ago we welcomed three bum lambs to the farm. The north bay of the garage has been converted into a lamb barn/ parkour jungle gym. These little ones are spending their days snoozing and bouncing, slurping down milkshakes and gumming everything they can get a hold of: straw bales, baby spruce trees, and small, giggly visitors. The lambs will soon transition to daytime in grape vines and then they will head to the back field where they will mow and fertilize our pasture and orchard area. Lady Eve, Albrecht and Justus, we’re so grateful you are here.And, as we’re on the topic of darling, tiny, fuzzy things, in clearing out and replanting beds in the greenhouse, we found just a few mossy patches near the komatzuna – including a little clump with sporophytes!  So exciting, we had to pull out the loupe.  Moss on soil can be a problem, it’s often indicative of too much moisture and/or poor circulation. This bed was covered up for the winter and the protected, still air under greens seems to have suited their growth. With warmer temperatures and some quick successions of radishes, turnips and salad greens, these little bryophytes will disappear or go dormant.We planted fruit trees, raspberries and herbaceous perennials this week.  A South Dakota-bred pear (Gourmet) and two apples (Hudson’s Golden Gem and Chestnut Crab) were added to the orchard, now with over 65 fruit trees.  And elsewhere, throughout the farm – a honeysuckle that should be pretty popular with hummingbirds, more herbs/medicinal plants, lavender, lady’s mantle and arnica. (Also in photos: Radish is a great help with vole patrol in the orchard and when the handle on the water bucket breaks, it’s convenient to have sunflower stalks on hand.)

And just a few more photos of April, above: a juvenile goshawk enjoying a Eurasian collared dove for breakfast (that was this morning!); Halcyon in snow; the greenhouse disappearing under snow last week; lamb snuggles; spring eggs; soil blocking; spring greens; arugula+bacon+avocado+Jerm’s bread+fried egg = not our usual 13th century peasant slop(read: lentils) and thus a photo worthy feast; chickens enjoying culls from the greenhouse; baby kale (March harvest) and new harvest totes; Lady Eve Balfour; milk thistle seed; young ones in the gh; worm castings are all over the greenhouse beds; tomato seed.

Thank you, friends! A special thanks to all who made it out for the Poetry Tour last weekend, we really enjoyed the time with you all.

Bright green cotyledons, muddy boots and big smiles,  Trish and Jeremy

elementary carbon cycling

Today we had a chance to spend the morning with 3rd graders from Creekside Elementary School and the BHSU Sustainability program. Together, we explored the function of animals on the farm and delved into the carbon cycle, observing that nature doesn’t farm without animals. There was also a seemingly necessary amount of ogling chickens and snuggling lambs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe peeked in the greenhouse to see how things had changed since their classmates had been out to visit the farm in early March. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…and discussed the benefits of rotational grazing and farm animal poop as regards to sequestering soil carbon and mitigating climate change. The students brainstormed a whole suite of ways we can personally reduce the amount of CO2 we are contributing to the atmosphere: riding bicycles and walking, not wasting electricity, planting trees, recycling, growing your own food or eating food grown locally. Smart kids.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdditional, tangential topics covered this morning included: food miles, butchering livestock, growing cabbages, alternative energy, hogs used for tree stump removal, the indispensable function of pollinators, annuals vs. perennials, and how riding bicycles is the smartest thing ever. And we did a few jumping jacks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is a great quote from Robert Michael Pye (from The Thunder Tree: Lessons from an Urban Wildland), where he talks about the extinction of experience, how people are losing personal contact with nature, how all-round bad that is, and how we need to get our act together and remedy this. “People who care conserve; people who don’t know don’t care. What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never known a wren?” Like natural areas and open spaces, we seem to have grown disconnected to agriculture, farms, food production. And similarly, as we’ve become more removed from where our food comes from, we’ve set in motion a cycle of disaffection. Bring kids to a farm, introduce them to lambs and chickens and talk about soil fertility and humane slaughter, and it leads to not just an awareness, but a sense of responsibility. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat a treat to be able to share our farm with you. Big thanks, all!

farm update, with bonus photos!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some photos from our work together.cobbing1

Many hands. Muddy work.cobbing2

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

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

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

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

Enter: LAMBS

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlease join us in welcoming three new farm hands, Feste, Bottom, and Speed. Introducing: our new pasture management committee. They came to the farm on April 1st and are thus named after good fools*. Currently residing in a strawbale nest arranged in the north bay of the garage, these little ones will eventually, this summer, be pastured out in the orchard. We’re looking forward to employing their services for mowing and soil fertility in rotation ahead of the broilers. The lambs will be rotated through the pasture in a fenced area, trimming the grass/weeds/etc. and adding their natural fertilizer, spurring new tender green growth and insect activity. Then we’ll move the birds through in chicken tractors, giving them more ready access to soft tender shoots and tasty bugs. The lambs will help provide good pasture and forage for the chickens and will provide us with happy, healthy meat.

feeding time

These guys are now just over one week old. Bottle feeding is getting easier, especially since building a bottle stand.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAradish and lambs

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They are everything adorable and lively and lovely and loud. We have a new anthem at the farm these days: Baby, don’t you tear my clothes. We’re very much looking forward to the end of their early, frequent feeding schedule and the renewal of our sleep schedule. Neither of us has experience with livestock beyond the chickens and worm wrangling. We have been studying up with stacks of library books and online guides. All helpful, but really, we are most grateful for our tremendously supportive mentors, the Barnaud’s and Kelly Knispel. Thank you for your sage advise and encouragement.

rosemary, celery, salvia

In other news: Pace is quickening with these longer days. We laid out thick mulch in the walkways between beds in the front field to help suppress weeds (the mulching formula: a base layer of imbricated barley bags from our neighborhood brewery, with a thick overlaying mantle of chipped wood mulch). The fruit trees are almost all pruned. We are beginning to prepare beds, planting peas, favas. We’ve resumed cobbing work in the greenhouse. Readying ginger to presprout in the basement. The house is bulging with germinating seed trays. Garlic has sprouted. Jeremy is scooting over to Bozeman to pick up potatoes from the Kimm’s (who grow excellent seed potatoes, hire handsome farmhands, and offer inspiration for land stewardship). The chickens are enjoying the thawed earth and recent surge of available protein; Polly, in particular, enjoys hopping over the fence and eating Jeremy’s field pea cover crop. We are scheming Spearfish Bike Week, ag land preservation options, and outdoor kitchen/vegetable prep area.seeds_preps_cob_starts

*see Shakespeare. Feste, the clever, free-range fool in Twelfth Night; Bottom, the weaver, the comical braggart from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Speed, a fun, mischief maker in Two Gentlemen of Verona.