no. 39

Writing this week on the second-to-last day of October, the sights, smells, and sounds around the farm are signaling November (which happens to be my favorite month). Migratory birds have visited and sung from trees and shrubs; the field across the road is a bare spectrum of browns and yellows, the corn and soybeans having been harvested recently; and our garden is mostly cover crop and leaf and straw mulch, with some dry perennials and a few hardy veggies including parsnip, chicories, kale, and collards. Additionally, market season is over for us! We both attended the final market of the season, during which we almost sold out of cabbages, squash, and other good roasting/root crops and were visited by regular customers wishing a pleasant winter and checking in about next season.

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With weekly market on hold until May when the new season begins, the farm focus is fully on getting ready for winter, which mostly means some building and repair projects. Much on my mind, with memories of trudging through snow with a broom and a headlamp at 2:30 in the morning, has been our greenhouse, which is really an unsuitable structure to be relying on, made mostly of 1” PVC and in a location where lots of precipitation accumulates on it. Two days ago we finally gave up struggling with the structure I initially designed and took it apart, and will begin putting up a new wood structure today.

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This is an important upgrade, as we plan to grow earlier in the season in 2019 vs 2018, and more early-season transplanted crops, such as onions, will need space to grow. Additionally, we will be selling seedlings along with our produce during the month of May; all of this requires a warm greenhouse space we can rely on.

We have also been ENJOYING this time. The transition to fall seems perfect for a little more contemplation compared to busy summer, and time to watch blue jays, marvel at the green of cover crop, or appreciate the changing sights and the ability to see our neighbors’ houses again. A couple of weeks ago we spent a glorious/somewhat brisk and misty day with friends nearby pressing apples for cider and eating delicious pot luck food.

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We also had the pleasure of amazing wood fired pizza and a lovely evening at our friends’ harvest party, celebrating their relatively new farm and community. AND I am of course baking all the pumpkin/chocolate/pecan/raspberry/cinnamon things about 12 hours out of each week, having an excellent time attempting to make the perfect scone(s).

Thanks for reading!!

-pppp

no. 38

Hello again! We’re still here, despite the recently quiet blog, enjoying our first beautiful autumn on the farm and in Wisconsin! I feel we have been here for a long while given the many new friends, projects, and developments, but a year ago today the home inspection still had not happened and garlic had not yet been planted (more on garlic later).

A couple of photos of our market setup this past weekend feature the last of a too-small crop of really amazing carrots, a mix of scarlet nantes, dragon, and cosmic red that always sells out, as well as some tender fall scallions and two remaining winter squash varieties, waltham butternut and winter luxury pie pumpkin.

For next market (tomorrow), we will bring back some beautiful kale (for the last time in 2018) and while we are out of scallions and carrots, we are beginning to offer storage crops including german butterball and daisy gold potatoes, rutabaga and turnips, parsnips, and a lovely mini green daikon called green meat.

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We planted our 2019 garlic on Sunday, and thanks to the help received, it was all in the ground and finished in less than an hour! Garlic is currently a minor crop for us and we are still building up our seed bank, so only 600 cloves were planted. Slowly ramping it all up. We planted german extra hardy, which came from a small quantity grown at PFP, as well as nootka rose, a soft neck garlic that we are excited to grow and taste!

Aside from garlic planting time, this fall has a period of amazing outdoor views, of course. Most of the farm is populated by the lovely box elder tree, which loses is dried, brown leaves in a most unemphatic manner early in the fall. This means that the few larger trees around us look especially spectacular, notably the many trees on a small hillside across the road and the tree below, which is located at the far corner of the irregularly hexagonal property. A wonderful thing to behold!

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There is so much to report on this week! Two more bits of news make us happy and a little sad, respectively.

First, our yellow cherry tomatoes (white cherry) and pink-red tomatoes (rose de berne), shown above at our market stall, were some of the favorites at a tomato tasting that took place on September 15 at Tiny Diner in south Minneapolis. We were able to join the casual tasting toward its end, after our market, and it was very fun, and especially interesting to try many varieties and also talk methods and soil types to determine the related differences in taste and texture between tomatoes and farms. Yay!

Some sadder news concerns our small homestead flock of ducks and chickens, which was almost entirely devoured while N and I took a 3-hour trip into town on Wednesday evening. We returned to a single nervously quiet duck, and a dead chicken I could barely see in the dark. The next morning, one champion rhode island red hen actually returned to her coop, but the rest of the hens were clearly eaten and 2 of the ducks are not to be found and there is no apparent trace left of them.

Concerning this, we are feeling like bad caretakers of the birds, surely. They at least went as food for other animals, and the each surviving bird will have a new home with plenty of friends by this evening (thanks to the new caretakers!).

I will miss them, no doubt, as they were quite a lovely part of the environment here!

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THANKS FOR READING

-ppppp

blog post #37 - wrapping up september

I decided to count the number of blog posts, and this is the 37th! More than I would have estimated, for sure.

Some surprisingly significant changes have taken place around here over a short period of time, the big one of note being that I’ve started working part-time as baker at the coffee shop/restaurant in the center of Downsville. We’re still of course working hard on the farm, and have had plenty of variety and abundance at market.

The Midtown Minneapolis Farmers Market has been a wonderful place for us to get started our first season. The foot traffic is generally high, and especially lately, we’ve connected with people (often customers) interested in discussing our farming methods, the variety we choose to grow, and/or our mission and plans for this project. I redesigned our tomato display for the most recent market, and every tomato I brought to market was sold that day.

Naturally, since it’s the end of September, we are shifting toward winter squash, winter radishes, and other storage veggies. We expect a final tomato harvest on Friday 9/28, followed that evening by a predicted frost. We’ve begun offering delicious golden acorn squash at market, and the rest of our winter squash awaits in the slightly cool and dehumidified basement.

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And yes, these butternut squash have been washed. The reality of selling at market!

As fall progresses, I am excited to get more baking done and settle into the new job. I have thought about a part-time job over the past several months, partially as a way to feel connected to town, and at 3 hilly miles away I am able to bike there until it becomes bitterly cold. The ability to live in the country and also bike (and walk, sometimes) to a job is fantastic.

 We biked there today, in fact, and I am writing this at our table after some delicious soup

We biked there today, in fact, and I am writing this at our table after some delicious soup

That’s it for #37. Have a good weekend and thanks for reading!

-pppp

Autumnal changes

Conditions around here have really changed in the past 2 weeks, and this post goes up near the [predicted] end of 4 days of intermittent rain and thunderstorms which leave some of our crops looking better and some worse than before the rainy period. As for the dairy barn, it’s looking less like a barn these days.

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Windy and rainy conditions combined with, well, time and fortune, have led to cracking, creaking, crashing, and overall a slow sinking of the barn roof, which is totally fine as we finally decided this summer to ignore the behemoth for now, as we do not have the resources to do anything about it. For a week now, each night the sounds of settling roof and snapping lumber have reached us through the open window, and I am always waiting for the big crash that may never come.

While we are ignoring the lost barn, we focus on the others! In our largest covered space (Greylock), onions, garlic, and winter squash is cycling through, and once dry we are storing them for market or as winter provisions for us. We are working on more organization of our principal indoor workspace (Warwick), which has extremely little storage. Shelves made from old barn wood are going up and all of the things are being hung on the walls (scythe, rakes, shovels, forks, hoes, brooms, weed trimmer). We have also finally begun using the chainsaw to remove select trees.

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The land in this photo has been pasture in recent years. The grass produces amazing straw, and the soil is rich and soft. The trees from this area will heat the house, and their removal opens a bit of space for development of mulched beds (also visible here) and a perennial garden/orchard, starting this coming spring with raspberries, at least.

In the vegetable field, there is lush cover crop in many beds! I am trying a combination of oats and lentils this fall, and it seems to be working well.

An important principle of soil (and water) health preservation is avoiding bare soil conditions: bare soil dries excessively and can easily be washed away by rain or blown away on a dry, windy day. Our approach to covering soil is either establishing a cover crop or mulching with straw or leaves or sometimes plastic, depending on weather, time of year, or other condition(s). There isn’t much information available regarding lentils as a cover crop, but I was very curious; the small seed size seemed ideal for broadcasting the seed by hand, which I did. It is a legume and thus fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere, converting it to a form plants can take up and utilize. Both oats and peas will die over the winter and leave a handy mulch residue in the spring.

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Finally, a photo from off-farm and from week before last, when it was hot, dry, sunny. We decided to ride bikes on the Red Cedar State Trail, and without initially planning on it, we extended the ride to Durand, a 30-mile round trip, with a chocolate malt break and short walk in Durand. Where the Red Cedar empties into the Chippewa, we were greeted by the most surprising (to me) landscape! Sand beaches along the river, flat expanses of prairie, and stunning oak savanna, which is the photo above.

Back to farm thoughts, tomato plants are falling down and becoming increasingly brown (to be expected), and autumnal equinox occurs this weekend. Here in zone 4b, the average first fall frost is September 24, whitch means a lot more could begin to change in coming days.

Thanks for reading!

ppp

rainy blog

A thing that I should by now expect, but that still surprises me, is that the distractions are so great come the first signs of fall (signs including: chillier evenings, field crops turning yellow, and winter squash and potatoes harvested). There is plenty to still care for farmwise, but I am crocheting, preserving, spending a little more time in our small woods, and just resting, rather than dutifully drafting blog posts. Honestly, it's pretty nice, and you'll just have to forgive me.

Today is a good one for reflecting a writing, as it has rained consistently since the early morning and we're enjoying thinking about the gentle soaking the soil is receiving, and listening to it all. 

With some rain and mild weather, our plants are looking beautiful, and harvests and markets are going great. A few market highlights from last Saturday include beets, as always, and our collection of "2-bite" tomatoes: jaunne flamme, pink ping pong, and the small green zebra tomatoes. NO FILTER.

In the last couple of weeks, we harvested all of our winter squash and our 4 varieties of potatoes. The harvests were reasonably abundant, especially considering that I didn't situate them all in ideal environments: especially the potatoes, which were smothered by nearby winter squash vines and neglected during the summer, yielded a bit less than otherwise expected. But harvest was FUN, of course, and we shall begin offering winter squash at market this Saturday, with beautiful and delicious golden acorn squash. 

I look forward to sharing in coming weeks our progress on various fall projects. After having arrived here in winter last year, we feel very fortunate simply to have autumn, and to be here, and to do the things! We want to build a caterpillar tunnel, continue mulching beds for next year, adjust the dimensions of the greenhouse so it makes more sense, prepare ground for more perennial plantings closer to the barns, install rainwater catchment system(s), gather/cut way more firewood. Yes.

 sometimes hard-earned market cash has to be used for ferris wheel rides

sometimes hard-earned market cash has to be used for ferris wheel rides

Thanks for reading the latest post, and welcome to September 2018!

-ppppp

 

for fat heirloom tomato slices

Today: a recipe! And an abbreviated version of my rambling update routine.

This week, we harvested the first of our winter squash, golden acorn, now curing in the field. We've really liked growing winter squash as part of a 3 sisters polyculture: weed pressure is low in these beds and all crops are doing well, except, possibly, for beans. As long as the 3 sisters are separated from other crop beds, they work well for us. 

 squash!

squash!

We've now planted in our field extension! A bit of space was needed for salad turnips, salad mix, and arugula for the fall, so we opened a new bed by pushing aside the straw, broadforking, and weeding! The result is promising, though the soil is bone-dry because it's been in grass and rye and hasn't been irrigated. I added transplanted lettuce and spinach today and it is looking good. Because it is outside of our electric fence, it is also a test of deer pressure!

Now to the title of the post: a delicious gluten free bread on which to enjoy extra delicious and huge heirloom tomato slices. I've made this gluten free teff sandwich bread a few times, and it's quite good. I've been very interested in soaking grains lately, which renders them more nutritious, so I altered the recipe just a bit to incorporate a 24-hour soak in an acidic medium. The resulting bread rose very nicely and is delicious!

This is how to make it with the soaking step:

24 hours before intended baking time, mix 1.5 cups water, 1/4 cup oil or melted butter, and 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar. Add 200g teff flour, 100g brown rice flour, 75g coconut flour, 75g tapioca or arrowroot starch, and 1.5 teaspoons xanthan gum. Mix it all up and let it soak for 24 hours.

24 hours later, in a small bowl, beat together 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon active dry yeast. Add to the flour mixture and mix it all up. Spread into an oiled/floured or greased bread pan and allow to rest, covered, until visibly rising. Then bake for 50 minutes at 375 degrees. After 50 minutes, turn the oven off and open the door. 5 minutes later, turn the bread out onto a cooling rack. A little bit later, enjoy with a giant slice of Paul Robeson tomato, salt, and pepper.

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THAT'S IT. Thanks for reading!

-ppppppppppp

More mulching, and carrots

Rain today means blog post today! This has been especially true lately, when it is hard to leave the fieldwork to focus on website, email, etc. Today's rain was unexpected: I was raking straw into piles while N. was harvesting red potatoes, with loud thunder overhead for at least 20 minutes before precipitation actually materialized. During the heavy rain that followed, we got some things done at the NRCS office and now a blog post materializes (really?) from the Raw Deal in downtown Menomonie. 

 a recent kitchen harvest

a recent kitchen harvest

What to say about this week:

  • We began harvesting lettuce after a midsummer break
  • Colors are changing: we're seeing red peppers, orange pumpkins, and creamy butternut squash
  • Hail!
  • First ever carrot harvest
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If you've ever harvested fresh carrots, you'll know that after these were washed, they were infinitely brighter. Our various carrot beds have been on my mind lately, carrots always remaining a surprise until harvested for market; and we were very pleased with these sweet heirloom roots!

This same harvest day, a storm gathered just as we left the field for a brief morning break. Heavy rain, wind, and hail ensued and I may have been talking loudly at the window in disbelief. I was ready to accept that, after plenty of success this season, we would have to deal with lots of crop damage. 

Convincing myself that it was not worth worrying about.

(I tend to worry)

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Turns out it was fine. Somehow, damage was limited to a few peppers, 1 single tomato (that I've seen), and some now ragged kale, collard, and chard leaves. I accept this continued good fortune.

We continue to allow our soil management plan to evolve as we get better at mowing with the scythe and using the mulch that is produced. This is really fun! Recently, I turned over a bed where salad mix was growing in the spring. I hoed the lettuce plants and covered the bed section with straw. This morning, a couple weeks after mulching, I gently raked away the straw to reveal gorgeous, well hydrated soil into which I planted spinach.

That's all for this afternoon. Thanks for reading!

-ppppp

Still working at it!

Over a month since the last post? This is hard to believe, but it's true and for a good reason! Through early July, we, including N's parents, were getting the farm into shape. My parents came from Massachusetts for an excellent visit, and also worked really hard and well to put on a big party, a couple of days after Nick and I got married!

We're so grateful to everyone who joined, especially family and friends who traveled a long distance, but also friends from the region who shared dishes and other goodies they brought/prepared. Above are just 2 lovely photos, of my family on the left, and us with Kate from the Hudson Valley/PFP on the right! We hope to collect more photos/memories from folks in the coming weeks. 

After all of this, we recuperated slightly and then focused on the farm! We are in the middle of tomato and cucumber season, which fills farmers market Saturday mornings with fun work. Below is a copia tomato closeup: sweet and smooth with a flavor between delicious red and yellow tomatoes. And, a shot taken during a quite serene tomato and cucurbit harvest, featuring a most strong and useful farm cart made by my father. 

We continue to work out the life cycle of our annual crop beds, considering how to incorporate cover crop without tillage equipment, and are currently utilizing a lot of grass/clover straw that I have produced with the scythe from the area outside of the vegetables, as a mulch to keep weeds down and maintain fluffy soil in the beds. It is definitely all a work in progress, including the development of 15 new 100-foot long beds, with 8 feet between bed edges, established using mulch gathered from the surrounding area and from between the beds. We are excited to see if this is a less laborious management technique than what we are currently doing, which involves a lot of hand weeding and hauling straw from one place to another. 

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Finally, we are excited about our own sustenance plot, including light red kidney beans, sunflowers (for seed, in theory), quinoa, and oats! The grain harvest will probably begin soon!

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THANKS FOR READING

-pppppppppppp

summer 2018

It's here! Days are long, solstice is past, cukes and tomatoes are ripening, and zucchini is popular at the farmers market. Below is one of our first zinnia blossoms, palla rossa radicchio, and our June 23 market table.

It seems that the blog shall become a biweekly venture rather than a weekly one, considering the height of the growing season is upon us.

Things are shaping up around the farm! Spring grasses have largely fallen over and begun making way for warm-season plants, and in the vegetable field we are seeing more pigweed and purslane (which thrive in the summer), although relatively less than I am used to because we are growing in what has been a hay/corn/grain field.

In the pasture area, which has been neglected since we decided to not have sheep, a little more activity has taken place! After meeting with our local scythe expert and picking up some excellent gear and knowledge, I have begun to create some mulched beds using grass and weed cuttings (seen above on the left), which may be used for special seed saving projects in the future, or potentially for early spring crops, since this area is a south facing slope and the first to be free of snow and warming up in the spring. I have been mowing areas with the scythe, and then re-seeding with grass and clover and spreading the straw out to dry. A few days later, it is raked into rows, and the new seeds usually will have begun germinating.

Also, at one of the lowest points on the property, we finally have a bridge! One can now access the vegetable area with a mower, wheelbarrow, or other bulky object without taking the road. Many thanks to Thom for making this happen! It is made entirely from super strong lumber that T & D have had at their house for years, as well as barn wood that came from what is now our washing/packing/storage barn.

Elsewhere on the farm, our four ducks have grown up and have found some favorite spots, including nicely shaded ones behind the house and under a giant lilac growth, as well as areas where I've spread freshly cut straw/hay.

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There are plenty of crops in our field that we are excited about, including rare varieties, and one I couldn't help sharing here is Moon & Stars watermelon, from which we expect dark green melons with irregular yellow spots. We didn't realize that the foliage would mirror this color pattern! It's stunning.

That's all for now! One of my PFP farming mentors visited yesterday, our first visitor from the northeastern US, and we didn't do much field work (admittedly COMPLETELY my fault). A final photo is of Jes's coracle, a handmade personal fishing craft (historically) that she created this week. We were both able to get in and awkwardly paddle around the Red Cedar River, and later Lake Menomonin.

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Thanks for reading!

-pppp

working on all of the things!

Things are moving around here! I've been moving enough that I neglected to post on the blog last week; I hope our dedicated readers were able to cope.

In the last couple of weeks, we finished our 8 x 8 cooler, at least to the point that it works well, and N. finished building a little chicken coop for our 6 lovely chicks and 4 ducks. I acquired an Italian scythe from a scythe enthusiast, dealer, and teacher located only 25 minutes from our farm. My first bit of practice involved mowing a 60 by 200 foot field. 

It is officially the middle of June, which means plant growth is taking off, there is light outside until 9:30 pm, there are shockingly large tomatoes and summer squash forming, and we happen to be hosting a large gathering at the farm in less than a month! With this last point in mind, more and more work, with tons of help from T & D, has been done to make the place beautiful, which is pretty exciting! The main drive up to the large barn is neat, we are increasingly removing debris that surrounds the barn, and I shall plant lots of sunflowers today, focusing on our road frontage, which could use some color and energy that sunflowers seem to contain. 

Early this morning, I was outside engaged in my regular Monday activity, which could look a little alarming if you happen to be driving by, since backpack sprayers so commonly contain Roundup or some other noxious/toxic substance. Not here! Every week, I spray our cherry trees, and then head down to the vegetable field, with a lovely (for plants) and smelly (for us) mixture of fish hydrosylate, kelp powder, and neem oil, in plenty of water. It is a special holistic health spray that is meant to strengthen plants' immune systems and encourage fungal activity, which is very beneficial. The mixture contains fatty acids, trace minerals, nitrogen, potassium, and other helpful substances that plants take up through their leaves (thus a foliar spray). Fish hydrosylate is smelly, but the worst culprit is actually the neem oil, the smell of which I find to be quite unacceptable. 

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Here is the weekly (kind of) vegetable field photo! From this distance, it is difficult to appreciate the growth, especially of tomatoes, squash, garlic, and cabbages, although the tomato trellis is visible on the right! Also visible on the right outside of the vegetable fence is the large rectangle that I cleared with the scythe. You can see rows of nicely dried straw that it leaves behind! Hopefully I will do something with this today.

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Finally, with a lot of the soil prep work behind us, we began planting some perennials and thinking about long term inhabitants of our field and farm! Echinacea, or purple coneflower, is front and center in this photo, joined by sage, thyme, catnip, chives, and other perennial herbs in this bed. Other perennials planted last week include rhubarb and several donated raspberry plants! More to come, for sure. 

Thanks for reading! Have a lovely week.

ppppppp