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

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This week in photos, haphazard and greening

A collection of photos/photo dump from this past week. It’s been busy.

Our first market of the season was last weekend, we celebrated with heaps of greens. We’re getting transplants out into the field. Seeds are beginning to pop up through mulch. 

The greenhouse is brimming.

This is our seventh year working with biodynamic preparations. In the spring we spray 500.

Grafting apples. We lost several trees to girdling last year, so there are some we’re trying to recover, also scion wood from a few local varieties (an apple from Jeremy’s folks’ house, from Grandma Vopat’s apple tree, a mature Haralson(?) we removed from our own orchard due to disease(?)). Get a load of these pretty grafts:

 More ospreys with fish, quickly growing lambs, last year’s robin nests, and a crazy beautiful sweat bee (Augochlora) we found this afternoon.

AND the preying mantis egg case count for this spring is up to 18 (eighteen!). Google search results suggest that preying mantis can lay 100-200 per egg case. Holy buckets of baby beneficial insects.

(also this week, and most of this week, but not pictured: a butt tonne of smooth brome rhizome removal in preparing beds for planting.)

We’ll have the farm stand open Saturday mornings, 9AM-noon, now until the end of October. We’ll keep you posted about Thursday evenings. Thanks, all!

Cheers, t &j

 

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

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.

 

 

up, up!

Springy things are happening in all directions around here, though primarily up. Pace is picking up. Seed trays are filling up. Garlic is shooting up.  Here’s a quick look at what we’ve been up to these last few weeks.An afternoon photo session in the field (above, up): an extremely optimistic, early blooming apricot in the orchard. We have several more trees to plant this spring, bringing our orchard total to 65 fruit trees. The garlic beds look great, I think they can tell we love them. Radish babes are popping in the tunnel, also spring turnips and beets. And we’ve been finding preying mantis egg cases all over the place. I mean it. Holy crap, they are everywhere. Or at least in areas where we have piles of wood stacked up and unmowed grass… which is essentially everywhere. So cool. Not pictured: all the messy beds we need to get cleaned up and ready to be planted for the season. The trouble is some of those messy beds are serving as beneficial insect habitat, so…We’ve been spending a lot of time in the greenhouse, filling seed trays. At this point we’re using soil blocks for most everything. Except herbs and alliums, which we are germinating in flats and either potting up (herbs) or transplanting into the field (alliums). The southern extension space on the greenhouse is getting loaded with seed trays. This is our first spring season with this additional space and we’re feeling grateful for it.And here are a few more photos from inside the greenhouse. Our greenhouse is a passive solar, pole barn structure with straw bale and cob walls. Over the past few years we’ve made modifications and the cob work is not yet finished, but inside, it’s warm and quiet, full of little living things and a great place to spend time – especially during variable springtime weather. (Sunshine this afternoon and it graupeled on us as we came in from the field this evening).

We’re looking forward to our first harvest for the farm stand this weekend. Greens!

Up, up, here we go – t&j