August August, illustrated

A mid-summer photo dump. Annotated. In full.

The corn-beans-squash beds have exploded and are running amok through the rhubarb, climbing the greenhouse. You can almost watch the Rouge vif D’Etampes and Sundream swell. The beans we have planted in here are Hidatsa Shield Figure beans and the corn is a Taos Blue Corn that makes scrumptious atole and pancakes. We also planted in a few of the lesser known fourth sister, Rocky Mountain bee plant (cleome, spider plant), but it seems she may have been swallowed by her siblings. The sisters are planted in two beds near the greenhouse, it’s a small planting and we may have to hand-pollinate the corn. We have 8 additional rows of various winter squash varieties planted, but didn’t get our popcorn or other dry beans in this spring.

We’ve teased out a 4-year crop rotation that’s been working really well for our staple crops; potatoes then squash then beans then either garlic or popcorn. The field winter squash were seeded into alternating beds with our garlic planting. Garlic was harvested out in mid-July and Jeremy immediately seeded a buckwheat and oat cover crop in its place. Despite getting this seeded just before a good rain, the cover crop is really doing best near the drip lines. With the garlic out and the buckwheat/oats just getting going, there’s plenty of room for the squash vines to spread. We’ve been playing with integrating different cover crops and mixes with our vegetable plantings, some we haven’t mastered so well. This is one that we’re especially pleased with.Jeremy has been spending more and more time ooey-glueyied to the binoculars. The bird list is up to 87 different species identified on or flying over the farm this year. Most recently: Shrikes hunting grasshoppers in the orchard, a Red-eyed Vireo, hummingbirds (Ruby-throated and Rufous), a Great Horned Owl, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and a Lewis’s Woodpecker.

We continue to lose young trees to voles – usually they get girdled during the winter, but this summer we’ve lost several, probably due to tall grasses near the trees (sounds like we need some lambs again, eh?). There have been a few fruits this year, mostly apples and plums. Noteworthy fruits include a plum from the very, very first tree we planted on the farm, a pear from a tree planted in honor of Grandma Ginny, and a bomber crab apple harvest which we are currently climbing through the middle of. Oh yes! Even berries off of our brand spankin’ new, first year hedgerow shrubs (many thanks to those fine folks at the Lawrence County Conservation District). We planted over 200 bareroot cherries and berries around the perimeter of the orchard, immediately got them linked up to a drip line, and they’re doing great.This (below) is a shot of one of the hummingbird visitors we’ve had on the farm during these past few weeks. Most activity has been seen on Texas Hummingbird Sage and Sunset Hyssop. A young female Rufous Hummingbird, photo by Greg Albrechtsen.This season, we’re experimenting with a new farm share market plan and we’ve received good feedback from our farm stand family members. It’s sounds like there is significantly less food waste happening at customers’ homes and folks are appreciating the choice in produce and the flexible schedule. We’ve noticed that we have a much reduced stress level this summer versus previous summers.  And at least part of this we are attributing to our new marketing arrangement and how it is reducing our stress around filling bountiful and balanced CSA baskets.

Some of our worries with this new arrangement were losing the connection to the farm that a CSA membership facilitates and that a market style farm share plan might force us into growing only just the most popular vegetables. A carrot and tomato farm. These were unwarranted worries and we’ve found that, overwhelmingly, our customers are staying engaged with the farm through emails and newsletters, coming throughout the whole season, and are still trying new vegetables and supporting the farm by purchasing a diversity of vegetables.  We really appreciate our thoughtful community of farm supporters, they’re truly helping make this all possible.We’ve been having fun getting to know new flowers this year, both new-to-us annual varieties and several perennials that are only now setting blooms. Blue vervain, elecampane, lemon bee balm/bergamot, liatrus, hyssop, black cohosh, chocolate flower, Buddha’s Hand cosmos, butterfly milkweed, some crazy pink poppies, and arnica. We’ve also been having fun getting to know our native pollinators better. This spring, we built a native pollinator nesting box.  It’s outfitted with oat straw, sunflower, Valerian and chicory stems. Drilled holes of various diameters and depths. Nesting sites for all sorts. The box is set up near the farm stand and new pollinator/herb bed. It’s a busy spot and completely captivating. We have identified several: grass-carrying wasps, yellow-faced bees, leaf-cutter bees, mud dauber wasps, mason bees. And then there are all the ones we haven’t identified: tiny metallic blue bees, yellow-bellied bees, etc. It’s become a regular farm telenovela series. Return characters. Romances. Dark relationship dramas. A leaf cutter bee who lined and capped her nest with flower petals. A yellow-faced bee who robbed the saliva from one nest to build another. Earlier this week, we saw a Downy Woodpecker take off from near the box. When we inspected the holes, we found them littered with green leaf-cutter bee nest confetti. This bird had found the buffet line and loaded up. If it’s any consolation, we’ve read that mother bees will lay female eggs at the back of the nests, and male eggs towards the front.. for this very reason.

If you’re as stoked about native pollinators as we are (and why wouldn’t you be?), check out the Xerces Society, a great resource on invertebrate conservation, pollinator box worksheets here and here. Peek inside the solitary bee nests here, Resonating Bodies, and lastly here’s a neato video.The pollinator box has been so popular – with both invertebrate friends and people friends, that we hosted a native pollinator nesting box building workshop. It was a treat to spend the afternoon with fellow pollinator-enthusiasts, being constructive and creative together, building habitat for our beloved native solitary bees and wasps. Eight solitary bee boxes were constructed and are now up, scattered all around the Spearfish area in home gardens and backyards. In an uncanny yet completely obvious and timely expression of gratitude, we all watched, amazed, as a bee headed right into one box even before it’s roof was attached. This year, the front field is planted in alternating rows of beans and potatoes (with a few intercropped beets and a row of fall brassicas).  We are intercropping more this year than we have before, mainly due to space limitations. The limitation is not overall space, but ready-bed space. This season we have a lot of beds that are unplanted, 40% of our designated rows never got weeded and planted this spring. However, we’ve been putting time and money (via paid labor; thank you, Madeleine) into pulling rhizomes and getting this space ready for next year.Below is a view of some of the beds in the back field. From left to right: fennel in flower, lettuce, just germinating fall carrots, beets and tomatoes, peppers, more tomatoes, (and just out of view) cucumbers and cabbage. Bottom left, celery seed drying. We just learned that when celery plants go to seed they become ginormous. Don’t try and grow anything near them, because you won’t. Beneficial insects are all over the flowers though. And you can smell the heavenly celery from halfway down the field. Immediately after clearing a bed of lettuce(some) and celery(mostly), we added compost and seeded in carrots. (Specific no-till bed prep methods: pulled out lettuce, cut celery stalks at the base, seeded carrots using precision seeder / 6 rows, replaced drip tape, shoveled on compost, just a thin layer, raked gently to even the bed, hand watering with hose daily until germination, approx 6 days.) We’ve been having trouble with carrot germination, but these little ones look great and will be a welcome addition to roasted root vegetables and fall soups.

After three years without much for apples, this year, trees are super heavy with fruit. So far, we’ve collected over 200 pounds of crab apples from the tree by the farm stand. Most of this will be pressed and fermented into hard cider (Naked Lady Crab Apple Cider, 2017 vintage – harvest coincides with blooming Naked Lady flowers), plain wild ferment and a dry hopped batch.  At least 200 hundred more pounds have be raked up off of the ground for our chickens and the robins and doves have probably eaten that much as well.  The tree still looks loaded. (Interested in pressing cider? crab apple jelly? pickling? let us know.) The wild plums have their biggest crop in the six years we’ve been here.  We seem to have three varieties of wild plum (red, yellow and purple) of which we have only picked one so far, but the rest should be ready to pick by the end of the month.  And the grapevines have a good crop as well.  We use a refractometer to measure the sugar level of the grapes, and we start harvesting when they get up to 20-22 degrees brix. Harvesting grapes is not infrequently interrupted by shrieks, squeals, and big happy laughter as we find young garter snakes four feet off of the ground, looking at us eye-to-eye while we’re reaching for clusters of fruit.As the busy planting and weeding season passes the baton, clumsily, into busy harvesting season, we have found just a little time to sneak in infrastructure and other construction projects. Finishing the wash/pack shed is moving up in priority on the to-do list. We have spent the summer testing out different arrangements of the wash area layout and are nearly ready to commit to running water lines, lights and electricity and building out sorting tables and shelves. Earlier this week, we built a hand washing sink. It currently has a spectacular view. Also on the pack shed construction to-do list is a pair of sliding barn doors to enclose the north and west sides during times when inclement weather and harvest coincide. 

And, quickly and best of all, our friend Regina came for a visit, the sun went away then came back, and we received an award for Conservation Citizenship from Lawrence County Conservation District(!).

That’s it, pert near. Thanks, all! With grit and gratitude, t and j

 

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spring snow and no-till perks

A snowglobe day, Common Yellowthroats in the plum trees, streaming Kid Hops, stretching, seeding lettuce in the greenhouse, and a quick update on spring bed preparations.

We’ve started in on getting beds ready for planting. Some are more ready to go than others. A first round of carrots, parsnips, radishes and peas are in and up. And blanketed in snow. Trays of brassicas and lettuces are eager to get out.

We have practiced no-till since we started growing on this property in 2012. Before we moved here, the back field had been mowed as a very tidy, very expansive lawn. It had been planted with hops as well, but the trellis had been removed and the whole area was mowed for a summer. To establish our permanent beds, we transplanted the hops, rented a sod cutter and cut 36″ wide strips at what we thought was just below root line. These strips were flipped in place in efforts to kill off grass with minimal disturbance to the soil structure. Unfortunately, this plan didn’t work so well. The brome grass popped right back up. With vigor. Since then, we’ve been slowly, earnestly fending off the brome with a broadfork and hand weeding. There are 85 rows, each 70′ long. Six of these are planted in perennials: asparagus and strawberries.

The brome had originally been our primary (pert near only) weed in the rows. We still have brome in some beds worse than others, but these last couple years we are finding greater diversity of weeds.  Bindweed, some annual grasses from a dirty batch of oat straw, dandelion, parsnips and lettuce and other vegetable crops gone to seed, and medic (yea! nitrogen fixing bacteria!).  These other weeds are a whole lot easier to manage and don’t seem to compete for nutrients with our crops quite so much.  Plus the chickens think the greens are fantastic.

Over the past few years we have found visible fungal activity in spots where we’ve put down thick wood chips, at the base of fruit trees, in herb beds, and the front field. Earlier this week, Trish was prepping a bed for lettuce and found a visible fungal network (mycorrhizae) in our soil, not in an area with wood chips. This is an encouraging, tangible sign that our no-till, minimal disturbance practices are contributing to soil health. By not tilling the soil, we’re allowing organic material to accumulate, roots in the soil and mulch on the surface, and decompose in place, giving the opportunity for fungal networks to become more strongly established.  As we’re feeding the soil, it is becoming more healthy and active; it is eating through organics faster and we’re certainly seeing this with the break down of straw mulch in our beds.

We just cleaned up a bed for transplants, mostly pulling dandelions. The biggest disturbance here was Jeremy unzipping a 6.5′ long plum root that was jetting beneath the surface of the bed from a thicket 30′ away. Pulling up on one end and whooop. The soil tilth is friable and dreamy, an amazing amount of macro pores, structured like the most delicious brownie full of worms.  Last summer we watched a garter snake scoot along a bed and then – zoop – disappear straight into the soil.

Our current management approach is to maintain beds that we’ve cleared of brome, and apply heavy straw mulch in the walkways. We are trying to figure out the best living mulch to use in the walkways, something to replace the straw mulch; clover, non-spreading grass, or a mix.The straw mulch is a continuous farm purchase and it’s challenging to find straw that hasn’t been sprayed yet isn’t full of weed seed. We’d rather have living roots feeding the soil instead. In beds where brome is still an issue, we do a pretty thorough broadforking and remove as many rhizomes as we can. We also mow around the immediately perimeter of the field to keep adjacent grasses from going to seed. That’s the idea at any rate. We are definitely letting things go to seed, undisturbed areas all over the farm, insectaries.  We are getting better at following our crop plan, but still have a hard time ripping out vegetable volunteers, lettuce seedlings, parsnips that will ultimately turn into a harvestable crop, but are geographically not where we want them.  For instance, the bed Trish just cleared for lettuce transplants (the one with the mycorrhizae-extravaganza), had celery last year, many of which overwintered and are coming right back.  She left those in place to plant lettuce around, because… celery seed is tasty.  This is not space efficient, it will undoubtedly cause minor challenges in harvesting lettuce in a few weeks. And yet. Celery seed.

If you are as excited about soil health and no-till as we are, here are some great resources to check out: Dr Jill Clapperton’s presentation at the Quivira Conference (2012). David Montgomery’s book, Dirt, the Erosion of Civilizations.The Natural Resources Conservation Service has all sorts of good stuff, including the South Dakota Voices for Soil HealthUnderstanding Roots, by Robert Kourik (on our yet-to-read list). Also, for a bit more background on no-till at Cycle Farm and a few additional, excellent resources, read this.

 

 

a no-till report

Here is a summary of our experience and experiments with no-till, the development of our thoughts and practices over these past few years, the incredible perks, the frustrating challenges and drawbacks, what has worked well, and what hasn’t.  As we got started, we found limited information about small-scale, no-till mixed vegetable farming. We referenced Rodale and made things up. Even just over these past few years, more stories and examples have been surfacing about growers doing similar things in different areas. If you are interested in no-till vegetable farming, here are some resources you might check out:

Our intentions:

Tillage breaks up soil structure and disrupts dynamic soil ecology. Based on our partial understanding of soil health, of biological and nutrient cycling, we were predisposed to prioritize and nurture our soil. The health and longevity of our farm system and quality of our food is absolutely reliant on -and is a direct reflection of- our soil health.  Having backgrounds in environmental science, we both came to farming via an interest in land health. Although we were convinced of no-till by the book and in our guts, we had no actual hands-on experience growing crops this way.

One of our goals is to minimize off-farm inputs (in terms of fuel, fertility, plastic farm garbage, etc), we’re able to pursue this goal through managing our soil nutrients through a no-till system, using cover crops and crop rotation, hand and bicycle power.

Methods:

We have employed a creative, varied suite of techniques and a veritable rainbow of mulches over the past three years.  We established locations for our permanent beds using a sod cutter. Each 30” row was cut in 2 passes, with an 18” sod cutter blade.  The sod cutter blade was set at 1-1.5” depth, trying to cut below the sod and roots, while having minimal amount of soil disturbance.  In retrospect, we should have gone deeper as we missed some of the perennial root mat.  Glazing of the soil from the sod cutter was noticeable during the first year, limiting some transplant root growth, but by the start of our second year this had been broken down, worked in by worms. After cutting, we manually flipped the sod. Our thought here was that the flipped sod would die out; exposed roots would break down, making a great cleared area to transplant and seed.  This worked better in some places than others.  It did not work in areas where the grass growing is rhizomatous/perennial and where we have bindweed.  We used the sod cutter to prepare beds early during the spring we moved to the farm.  Ideally, we would have prepared these beds during the fall before our first growing season, using heavy mulch and not fussing with the sod cutter.jerm flipping sodnotill_obiandjillWe mulch liberally.  So far we’ve used: newspapers, barley bags from the brewery down the street (triple-ply paper bags, the same width as our walkways; work great, break down within a year), a roll of craft paper (100% recycled, unbleached 36” wide; fancy red-carpet effect, but breaks down almost immediately after first rain), straw mulch (@ $4/bale, 2 bales/bed, > 60 beds, with bonus thistle seed), wood chips, and cover crops. We’ve grown winter rye as a cover crop which worked well to out compete early spring weeds, then laid it down in place as a mulch that we planted winter squash into. This is ultimately the direction we’d like to go with all our mulching – growing it in place as a cover crop.notill_ryeSmall-scale, mixed vegetable growers will often use plastic mulch, but this is something we’d  like to avoid. The plastic is used for one season and then heads for the landfill. Although effective at reducing weed pressure, it’s biologically a net-negative for soil health as it leaves the farm as waste, rather than adding to soil fertility. Biodegradable plastic mulches are beyond our budget and seem creepy.

We use intensive spacing in our plantings and companion planting in order to help out-complete weeds. And hand weeding. We spend a discouraging amount of time hand weeding perennial weeds (grasses). This method seems to be the most efficient at getting rid of the persistant roots. In some beds, we have used a hoe to break up clumps of sod, followed by hand weeding. This is laborious and results in more soil disturbance than we would like.notill_TRANSPLANTINGnotill_mulchingThis year we finally invested in a broadfork; it works infinitely better than a heavy peasant hoe, with less disturbance and better root removal. We had procrastinated in getting one for three years because they are mega expensive, but we’ve had this for a week now, and it’s completely worth it.braodforkTangentially, but pertinent:  we irrigate our beds using gravity-fed drip tape, with water from the Evans-Tonn ditch off of Spearfish Creek. The tape should need replaced every 5-7 years. We have over-wintered the tape on the beds in the field, under mulch. So far, this is working well.  A problem we’re running into is calcium build-up at the emitters from hard creek water.

Challenges:

Effective mulching inhibits early spring soil temperatures from warming up. As mentioned, our biggest weed pressure is from bindweed and smooth brome. We have let early spring dandelions go for the bees and, as a result, some beds have substantial dandelion pressure (but great dynamic accumulators). Good intentions, poor foresight. Heavily mulched no-till beds, as it turns out, are absolutely irresistible forage and habitat for gophers.  The amount of time it takes to prepare the beds, individually and by hand, each spring has been a big challenge.  We have found limitations in direct seeding the beds. Also, claiming the aisles between the beds has been hard, it is currently smooth brome dominated, but we would like to replace this with a low laying resilient ground cover (i.e. white clover).

Successes:

We have very little trouble with annual weeds. Our third year in, we were able to direct seed carrots into certain beds, we even used an Earthway seeder. Progressively, each year, bed prep time is decreasing and weeding, transplanting, and seeding are getting easier.  The soil biology is thriving: so many earthworms, spring tails, and other invertebrates. It’s positively distracting. The soil structure and moisture capacity is awesome – no ponding water, ever. Rarely is it too wet for us to get in the field to work. And, with the heavy mulching (and weeds), we infrequently have bare, exposed soil.

Going forward:

In the future, we would like to pursue more attempts with cover crops, part of this is getting them written into the crop plan and calendar. We need to establish routine monitoring with soil tests.  And continue with proven ninja tactics: persistent mulching and proactive hand weeding.  As soil health improves and soil biology becomes more active, mulch decomposes/ breaks down at faster rates, so we’ll need to figure out how and at what rate to lay down new organic matter/mulch and where to source it from.

Soil amendments so far have included compost applications (our own vegetable compost and composted dairy manure), compost tea, and biodynamic preparations (BD 500 and barrel compost). We’ve used cover crops primarily as weed suppression and mulch and would like to do more with them utilizing soil building capacity.  Buckwheat, clovers, sorghum, and field peas are things we look forward to incorporating into our cover crop rotation in the future. We have a brassica heavy crop list and finding a spot to include a brassica cover crop (radishes) is going to be tricky.

As part of our monitoring, we would like to figure out a way to measure and track how much carbon we are sequestering in the soil.  We can get a rough estimate of this by looking at soil organic matter percentages over time. And then, ultimately, we’d like to be able to compare this to the carbon budget of the whole farm.

Through experimenting, we have learned and will keep learning an enormous amount. Overall, we’re happy with the results we’ve found and the direction we’re headed. We would really love to hear other no-till tales, suggestions, criticisms – please be in touch.

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Since posting this, we have been asked questions about the walking crimper. Here are some notes from Jeremy: There is a photo of our crimper – angle iron on a 2×4 with rope loop handle.  It did not work exceptionally well for us but I think it was more construction flaws than concept.  Most of our aisles are built up from mulching. When I built the crimper I sized it to do the whole row in one pass, this meant the edges crimped well but too little pressure was applied into the lower centers of the bed and we had a lot of the rye pop back up.  We ended up going back in and pulling the rows by hand.  The crimper was a joy to use, easy rhythm, not fatiguing. The piece of angled metal we had on hand (some shelving bracket) was not strong enough and by the end of 500′ the edges taking the pressure had flattened to nearly useless, I think a stout piece of angle iron would probably hold up better.

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

Work party, cob wall, quackgrass, fine dining

Farm update: The tomatoes and peppers are back out to the greenhouse, and the living room has been reclaimed, once more, for human habitation. The birds are enjoying the increasingly greening grass and growing bug populations. Snakes continue to spur all manor of entertainment, as did a clutch of very baby rabbits. Lolita’s hive is more active everyday, no doubt enjoying the onset of the dandelions and other early nectar flow. We had a wonderfully productive work party descend on the farm this weekend like a troop of superheroes. Cobbing in the greenhouse is off to a good start. After several slightly different recipe ratios, we’ve finally nailed down just the right proportion of clay – sand – straw for a good, solid cob wall. And the asparagus we planted last year from seed have started shoving up. Peas, radishes, turnips, parsley, spinach are now all in beds in the back field. And we’ve just begun harvest of radishes and arugula from the greenhouse.parsley and peas

There must have been a right quick ladybug hatch after the snow cleared. There were several who found us and cheered us on while we flexed our forearms in fisticuffs with the quackgrass this weekend. One significant downside to the no-till sod-flipping technique has been the weed resurgence, especially with the quackgrass which dominates the back field (here is a description of our no-till bed prep method from last year). Quackgrass is a natty-rooted, rhizome-spreading grass. It does a fantastic job of growing quickly, protecting soil from erosion, building soil structure. It’s especially hardy and drought tolerant.  But it’s troublesome in our beds. A conventional way of dealing with this weed is to till up the soil. A lot. And/or spray it with glyphosupertoxicate.

In order to help preserve soil health, we will use other methods to try to manage this. Currently, we are hand hoeing or digging out the quackgrass, trying to preserve root integrity, removing the rootmass (as best we can), and mulching heavily in rows where we will direct seed crops. Rows that will be transplanted into, we will blanket in thick newspaper, followed by straw mulch. This struggle will be ongoing. If you have ideas or experience to share, please let us know. Ultimately, we will need to establish a good mulch/covercrop in the walkways between beds as well. Otherwise, we don’t stand a chance – the rhizomes can grow up to 1″/day which gives our freshly weeded vegetable beds (30″ beds surrounded by walkway rows of quackgrass) approximately 2 weeks of liberty from the clutches of quackgrass.

And finally, heaps of thank yous to our incredible friends, Avery, Craig, and Iggy, who came by the farm this weekend and set immediately to work. In just a weekend of focused energy and merry camaraderie, we were able, together, to tackle several tasks from our ever-growing better-get-this-done-in-a-hurry list… and still make time for siesta.cobbing party

The best bits of the weekend include lots of muddy hands building a cob wall; good friends who work tirelessly …and joyfully; having hot coffee delivered to us during early morning weeding; an ever so inviting pathway through the new herb garden; call and response worksongs, little ditties featuring our favorite good farm dogs; rain tapping on the greenhouse roof during a fancy feast of roasted homegrown chicken and happy birthday ginger peach pie. Many thanks to you, we are feeling super lucky – pert near blessed – to have such generous, inspiring, and insightful friends.

Check out our new herb bed walkway, brick work by master rock artisan, Craig:
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…Avery and Iggy, however, are clearly more impressed by the wicked cool tricycle ice cream vending cart our good friend John brought by full of birthday growlers: icecream-tricycle-growler-delivery

And here’s a shot of Cycle Farm’s new fancy fine dining locale:

Farm to table, with love.