Farm Hack

Farmers, ranchers, growers, eaters, designers, builders, engineers, tinkerers unite!

Last weekend, Cycle Farm had the pleasure of participating in South Dakota’s very first Farm Hack, as part of Dakota Rural Action‘s annual meeting. Farm Hack is an open source community for farmer-driven design collaboration; a virtual grange hall for developing and sharing ideas to promote a more resilient agricultural system; and a jolly good time.

hack the greenhouseThe afternoon featured a tour of the farm, a scrumptious potluck, and insightful presentations by local grower-builders. Jared Capp, of Pangea Designs Group, shared his water wheel / “Wirtz” pump. Spinny, smart, and described in more detail in this brief video. Andy Johnson, a physics professor at the university, shared with us his hydraulic ram-pump irrigation system – even bringing in the pump to demo. Jeremy gave a brief introduction on the potential and applicability of human- and pedal-powered tools for small scale agriculture.andy and ram pump

After touring the farm and feasting together, we all cozied up in the living room and, as a group, we discussed some of our biggest challenges and irksome pet peeves as growers in the Northern Black Hills and South Dakota. Collectively, we were backyard gardeners, aspiring and beginning farmers, 2-3rd generation farmers, Woofers, CSA vegetable growers, chicken ranchers, natural builders, physics enthusiasts, community organizers, museum curators – a strong, diverse brain-power power-house.

Our list of troubles included flea beetles and potato bugs. Protecting orchard trees from big snows. Hard water and irrigation tubing. Profitably harvesting green beans. One issue that rose to the top of the list was planting, transplanting, harvesting long rows and the associated discomfort of kneeling, crouching, scooting down the rows. Say, planting garlic. The solution: a garden gurney. So we set to designing a self-propelled (pedal powered, treadle powered) prone farm mobility vehicle (a bit like this, only self propelled). Enter big markers and wild ideas.

By the end of the afternoon, we had generated a list of necessary (and not entirely necessary, but wouldn’t it be nice to have..?) features, design sketches, and possible self-propelled mechanisms. Feeding off this enthusiasm and momentum, we set a date to reconnect at the Spearfish Bike Coop, to start putting pieces together. The next step will be to share what we develop on, for other small-scale growers to use, adapt, modify, critique, and improve. Stay tuned. Or better yet, if you’d like to get involved in designing, building, testing – contact us.

For more information regarding Farm Hack, please check out this eloquent and timely piece by Courtney White, founder of the Quivira Coalition, who just participated in a West Slope Colorado Farm Hack.

Spring. Pie and guineas.


Hooray for pie! and pi! Big thanks to everyone for helping us celebrate such an important day and for your generous support of the Spearfish Bicycle Cooperative. There were a couple quiches standing tall for the savories, but sweet pies dominated. Get a hold of this line up: a smoked salmon and a chipotle mushroom quiche. Pudding pie, peanut crisp apple pie, ginger rhubarb pie, mocha creme pie, peach pie, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, blueberry pie. Whipped cream. And gluten free brownies. Mercy. So much fun to meet new people, tour around the farm, and eat. Thank you, friends. Cultivating community proves again the most rewarding part of farming.

Pi/e Day also inspired a furious bout of spring cleaning at the farm. We’ve decided that celebrating Pi/e Day should occur annually, if only to encourage us to tidy up after a long winter hibernation. It’s remarkable how piles of remay and tools, seeding trays and buckets seem to grow in corners when you aren’t looking.potato pruning

Our most favorite big, fuzzy Amelia came by for a quick visit last weekend. She and her man, Barton, helped us get started on pruning the fruit trees and put in our very first plantings in the greenhouse (early potatoes, radishes, arugula and spinach).

We planted a small field of barley, in the area where we had garlic last year. This area is thick with Creeping Jenny (I wrote a song about it). This year, our plan to deal with this is to get a good thick stand of barley which will germinate at a lower temperature than Creeper Jennifer and out compete it. As soon as the barley is harvested (mid- late June), we’ll 1-2-punch the Creeping Jenny with another smother crop, this time in the ring: Creeper Jennifer vs. the hometown favorite Sweet Potatoes. TKO. Take that, Jenny. We’ve never grown sweet potatoes before. They thrive in warm soil – and sweet potatoes in SoDak can be done as our good farming friends at Bear Butte Gardens demonstrated last year). By planting later in the season, soil temperatures will be welcoming for them, and hopefully we’ll have left enough time to get a good yield of potatoes. And we’ll keep up the cover crop punches, weeding out that creeping Jenny.

Already now the greenhouse is growing things. Little radishes, bold and determined. And, radix, seemingly ever so appropriate a beginning for a new greenhouse.

sprouts in greenhouse
The chickens have two new coopmates. Our wonderful friend and neighbor Holly brought over two birds last week. Guinea hens are fierce insect predators, excellent grasshopper and tick eaters, organic pest control. They are still acclimatizing to their new home and family. They seem pretty comfortable in the coop, although they did spend one night perched, sleeping up on the apex of our neighbors garage. It turns out they are even harder to herd than the chickens, and they will not be picked up. They are completely wicked looking and gorgeous, and they sing so sweet. We’ve named them Opal Fly and Annette Hanshaw after our two most favorite skrawnky jazz singers (if you’re interested, check out Ms. Fly and Ms. Hanshaw). Thank you Holly. Thank you, thank you.

Other fun bird news: a mottled java caught a snake the other day. That kept the whole bunch of them busy for the entire afternoon. It was a wily, tireless game of keep-away. No teams, every hen for herself. Blood thirsty pile-ups, flapping and screeching. Flex offense and fast cuts. The unnerving part is that they found a snake out and active in March – but as I’m writing this, it’s back down to twenty degrees and we are getting a good dose of snow. It’s March Madness is all.

Happy happy spring!

light-stressed seedlingsOh yes! and Cycle Farm was in the newspaper this week. Local farmers lobby for aid in D.C.