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

the heat of May

Over the last month we experienced a stretch of drought conditions, finally got some soaking rains, and recently the daytime temperatures have been in the 90s, at one point for a 4-day stretch. This is interesting because it doesn't necessarily mean that plants are growing really fast and looking great. In fact, a lot of what vegetable farmers rely on in the spring (lettuce, spinach, arugula, radishes) do not respond well to excessive heat and sunshine, entering seed production mode and sending up a flower stalk to begin this process. When this happens, edible radish roots cease to form, and leafy greens take on a bitter taste and leaves no longer grow broad a lush. 

Mostly it seems we have avoided this, although in the greenhouse, where the temperature has been over 100 during the day, radishes are flowering, and even a couple of beet plants have thrown up flower stalks as well. Fortunately the spinach has all been harvested.

On the other hand, for crops that thrive on summer heat (tomatoes, zucchini, peppers), this weather means it is time to grow! All varieties of our tomatoes, planted outdoors with no cover, are flowering, and we even see the beginning of fruit formation; I did not expect this in May in Wisconsin! Yesterday I also spied some of the first tiny yellow summer squash, meaning harvest will commence very soon.

 Red Express cabbage

Red Express cabbage

The fast growth that can happen in hot weather is dependent on other factors, too, and moisture level is a critical one. Rainfall soaked the soil and plants absorbed this water for days. We decided to run our sprinklers for brief periods during the hottest weather in an attempt to cool some plants, especially radishes, kale, cabbages, lettuce, and arugula. A little extra water was also needed in beds with newly transplanted crops, including winter squashes (butternut, golden acorn, delicata, and more).

For our irrigation needs, which are simple this year given our very small growing area, I ran 3/4-inch plastic tubing from the wash/pack barn, which has well access, down the small hill, over the gully, and back up to the vegetable area, perhaps about 200 feet. After entering the field, there is a 4-way coupler with valves that allows us to hook up our sprinklers (seen above near the beets), which are Xcel Wobbler sprinklers on homemade risers of PVC pipe and fittings. These are easily attachable to garden hose, and I should say that none of this is my idea: it is outlined in the Lean Farm vegetable growers guide. 

Pictured with the heirloom zucchini and my feet is a line of drip irrigation, which serves tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, corn, winter squash, melons, and potatoes: the crops that are most susceptible to diseases that are worsened by frequent drenching with sprinklers. Each line comes directly off of the 3/4-inch tubing and there is a valve that allows the drip section to be turned on or off as needed. It's simple and it has worked well so far, and we are very happy that the farm well is suiting our needs quite... well.

Thanks for reading!

ppppppp

market season begins

Hello from here! Since the weekend, it's been relatively chilly and has felt somewhat muggy, which apparently cues the mosquito population. They are everywhere, in large numbers, and due to them I've slapped my own face at least 40 times since Sunday. 

We haven't received significant rainfall in over 2 weeks, and the soil shows it. We are feeling very fortunate, though, to have our irrigation capacity, which is keeping crops hydrated. There hasn't been a shortage of conversation around here about well problems and pest trouble, and again, we are super fortunate in that we are not dealing with these, at least beyond ordinary levels. (I'll describe how we set up our irrigation in a future post)

Nicholas and I worked our first farmers market ever on Saturday! We are at the Midtown Farmers Market, in Minneapolis less than 100 yards west of the Lake St - Midtown blue line station. We didn't have much produce to bring along, and we sold out of pretty much everything. Stinging nettles were the exception, but they still sold well! We only brought 6 half-pound bags back to the farm, and we've mostly consumed them and made delicious tea from them. 

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In the field, plants are growing faster (veggies and weeds) and we are almost done catching up with the soil preparation that's been delayed due to the inherited thick rye and occasional strong-rooted alfalfa that we are either broadforking or tarping. The good news about the latter is that it is working really well! After field areas are tarped for at least 2 weeks, most grasses are dead, soil is slightly less compacted, and earthworms are everywhere. Bed quality is much improved after tarping. 

Photos above are: left: weekly crop field photo; and right: effect of tarping on ground thick with rye, dandelion, and clover.

Thanks for reading!

-pppppp

Busy week! Photo-farm-update for you

Should have seen this coming. With N. still working full time I am racing about trying to get things in order and getting lots of things partially done! I generally consider my time spent successfully if I've accomplished worthwhile tasks while being aware/present enough to appreciate the glorious and peaceful setting in which I work. Taking time and cultivating this awareness is far more difficult than one might think, at least for me.

While I do some quick bookkeeping and then go outside to do all the things, please enjoy a photo update from the farm!

 My uncle visited on Monday/Tuesday, and he and I finally laid some drip irrigation on the soutern portion of the vegetable plot. Then he and Nicholas transplanted tomatoes in the rain! I of course did not have any photo capturing device to catch evidence of their hard work in action! Next time...

My uncle visited on Monday/Tuesday, and he and I finally laid some drip irrigation on the soutern portion of the vegetable plot. Then he and Nicholas transplanted tomatoes in the rain! I of course did not have any photo capturing device to catch evidence of their hard work in action! Next time...

 Weekly photo taken Tuesday morning. The distant beds are prepped and planted, and tarps are moving around for plantings that will happen if I ever stop writing.

Weekly photo taken Tuesday morning. The distant beds are prepped and planted, and tarps are moving around for plantings that will happen if I ever stop writing.

 Greenhouse shot of seedlings almost ready for the field: parsleys, batchelor button, lettuces, amaranth, zinnias, okra, beets, rhubarb, oregano, marjoram, echinacea, and catnip!

Greenhouse shot of seedlings almost ready for the field: parsleys, batchelor button, lettuces, amaranth, zinnias, okra, beets, rhubarb, oregano, marjoram, echinacea, and catnip!

 Nicholas enjoys donning the ear plugs and keeping this place clean with our largest piece of equipment.

Nicholas enjoys donning the ear plugs and keeping this place clean with our largest piece of equipment.

 Confused about a reference to fresh cherry pie? Voila! Cherry trees are blooming and we are excited.

Confused about a reference to fresh cherry pie? Voila! Cherry trees are blooming and we are excited.

 One of our multiple seas of stinging nettle. We will be selling the tender tops at the  Midtown Farmers Market  on Saturday! We plan to harvest here for about an hour on Friday, and then convince people to buy nettles for multiple hours on Saturday. We will also offer radishes, arugula, and a beautiful salad mix on our first market day.

One of our multiple seas of stinging nettle. We will be selling the tender tops at the Midtown Farmers Market on Saturday! We plan to harvest here for about an hour on Friday, and then convince people to buy nettles for multiple hours on Saturday. We will also offer radishes, arugula, and a beautiful salad mix on our first market day.

Thanks for reading/admiring!!

-pppppppp

#endlesswinter, it appears, has ended

The weather has been phenomenal, every day, for almost 3 weeks now. A massive improvement over the period when the lovely endless winter hashtag was used a couple of times, by me. Yeah, I am learning to love hashtags several years late.

 nicholas inspecting our garlic, which was planted on the day of the home inspection in October

nicholas inspecting our garlic, which was planted on the day of the home inspection in October

My birthday was on Saturday, and we were joined on the farm by N's parents. The weekend summary involves not so much the birthday as much as a huge barn cleaning and farm tidying, thanks to lots of good spring energy and hard work.

So, yeah. That was great. This all means we can begin building a little cooler, which we're building uncomfortably late (first farmers market in 12 days! yikes!) and finally arranging our work area, allowing us to wash, pack, and store produce, and to safely and cleanly store many of our other supplies. 

While barn scouring was occurring, the first compost holding bins were constructed, the vegetable field electric fence was completed, and most of the other fencing, that we will not be using for now, was stowed away!

Another space that's changed a lot in less than 2 months is the greenhouse area, which was frozen, grassy, and uneven in March. We are still working out the ideal seedling organization strategy and don't have proper tables yet, but our relatively small amount of plants are doing well this spring, and we have just enough space to grow early veggies for the first farmers markets.

Finally, when you thought there couldn't possibly be more to this post, I owe y'all the weekly vegetable plot photo. Fence, gates, sprinklers, some crops in the ground, tarping in action. More things are happening!

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THANK YOU for following along with us!

-ppppp

It's May!

I like May. My birthday is in a few days, the weather outside is WARM, and trees will transition from pretty bare to quite full of leaves and blossoms. It's fitting that my eyes started itching today. It's also fitting that nettle can be harvested, so fresh anti-allergy tea is close at hand. Does anyone not dream of having land with wild nettles on it, for tea and spring cooking? No one does? Well, I do, but now it's reality.

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The weekly photo, from a slightly different perspective, shows evidence of some progress! The flimsy electric fence rods I used to say "Don't drive here! Garlic! Hope of loose soil!" are gone, replaced with wood fence posts and soon a gate, as well as T posts that will allow us to get the electric fence up by today or tomorrow. Several beds in this year's small plot are tarped for slow weed suppression, and we are progressing through our hand scale bed preparation, with potatoes, onions, kale, and cabbage due for planting any moment. Seeing how packed down the soil can be along tire tracks, I am glad there will be no heavy equipment in our growing area and am excited to observe the soil quality as we work.

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Given the extended winter-like conditions this spring, we have tried to plant as much as possible in the greenhouse, including the radishes in the photo above, which do not in fact have yellow leaves as it appears there. Along with these are early beets, carrots, salad mix, 2 types of arugula, and 2 types of spinach as well. These plantings are looking good, and managing them is easier with the farm well back in action. I discovered a big leak at the bottom of the frost free valve I was digging up, where the pipe was almost completely broken. It is now replaced with a plastic line that will head directly to the vegetable field and should be really easy to operate!

That's all from here. Happy May Day, and thanks for reading.

-pppppp

a new week, indeed!

Last weekend, I happened to be at the farm alone, getting up during the night to sweep snow off of the greenhouse, double and triple checking to make sure all seedlings were in a safe/sufficiently warm space, and wrapping myself in blankets inside. This weekend, we assembled and started up the grill, and I've been wearing sandals and sowing seeds in the greenhouse, barefoot. Some change.

 weekly vegetable plot photo, Tuesday morning

weekly vegetable plot photo, Tuesday morning

The garlic has not poked through the straw yet, but it is making good progress. There is rye and some clover planted in this area, which is somewhat unfortunate because both plants are vigorous and survive the winter and we intend to plant early crops here. The soil remains too wet to work, but especially considering that a week ago the area was covered with 8 inches of snow, no one here is complaining!

I celebrated this warmth with a ritualistic restoration of power to the farm well, which for a moment allowed respite from lugging buckets of water to the greenhouse from the house. It didn't take long, though, to realize there were some problems, and I ended up digging a wonderful hole:

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The ultimate test of spring: the ability to dig a 6-foot deep hole by hand! I am attempting to inspect - and hopefully replace without further complications - the frost-free valve that rises to the small barn (behind me), since water is leaking from the base. The hole is due to be widened the moment I finish this blog post, so perhaps I'll write 5, 6, 10 more paragraphs...

Last night, the greenhouse did not require any supplemental heat, with an outdoor low temperature of 39 degrees, which was momentous! We are working on the truly heat-loving crops now, having seeded summer squashes, melons, and okra over the past 2 weeks. Corn and cucumbers will be in the greenhouse very soon. 

Yesterday was potting up day for our tiny batch of peppers (lots of losses due to damping off, because of the conditions they were in and how they were planted). We'll still have plenty for market, and are backing them up with a slightly later sowing. A favorite of Nicholas and I is the poblano, currently in the form of very tiny seedlings that were just potted up:

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The poblano variety we are trying this season is called Ancho, from High Mowing Organic Seeds. It is an open pollinated variety, of course, and we promise a review once the plants mature and once we can chop, slice, roast, grill, bake, and do all the other delicious things with poblanos this summer and fall. 

Thanks for reading and have a good week!

-pppppppp

snow photos forever!

Well, let's get it over with. Weekly veg field photo:

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Yeah, more snow. I don't think I've ever fixated on seasonal changes as much as I already have this year. Being at the new farm and house, I am very anxious to experience some comfortable, warm weather. We're also farming on our own! Once winter finally exits, we will have so much to do. My spirits are high, though. I've have a few conversations in which I have described the situation, the progress, and the delays, and I've laughed a lot, which has surprised multiple people (my mother actually said I sounded hysterical, which I found hilarious and was quite possibly true and a symptom of inconsistent sleep while on greenhouse-snow-removal duty 2 nights in a row).

Partially, despite the surprising length of winter we've experienced, there are now green things to be admired and cared for! The photos above were taken on Monday 4/16 and show Early Wonder Tall Top beets on the left and an heirloom onion, Noordhollandse Bloedrode, on the right. Having the greenhouse in a stable, workable state allows for this progress, as long as the sun comes through the clouds some of the time! Another experience that has helped me personally, I think, is that of having been awfully frustrated by a variety of complications that occurred earlier in the year. I needed some time and practice to begin to learn to work on my own effectively, for long periods, and to take setbacks and mistakes in stride, learning from them rather than freaking out. The period during which I did freak out a little bit helped me to be more mindful at all times, seeing the big picture rather than being overwhelmed by each little event. 

Another little thing to share: HEXAGON's first harvest! Not super significant, but sometimes one has to take what one can get. These onion top trimmings that topped N's cornbread (along with some caramelized onion) technically represent our first edible harvest :-)

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In addition to the beets and onions I mentioned earlier, what else is sizing up that we're excited about? Plenty. The tomato plants all look pretty similar, so we'll wait to gush about the many varieties we will see and enjoy. Below, on the left, is a Palla Rossa radicchio seedling, an Italian variety that, like everything we grow, is open pollinated (meaning we can save the seed to replant if we decide to do so, unlike hybrids). We will attempt to harvest radicchio heads late this spring, and then we plan on a better fall harvest: crops like this do much better in fall. Then, it will be joined by 2 other chicories, including an Italian dandelion green. MY MOUTH IS WATERING. 

The second photo is of Peking Ta Ching Kou Pai Tsai, an Asian green that I had not heard of before making our order with Seed Savers Exchange. It is a brassica, like kale, collards, and mustard greens, and is apparently prepared in a similar way. I am very excited to try it, and to see larger, glossy, purple-green leaves! I don't know where the hell all of this stuff is going to be planted, but I like caring for it and watching it grow for now.

Thanks for reading!

-ppppppp

at least one warm place on the farm now!

The first week of April didn't earn a blog post from here: first, it snowed and then became very cold, and my interest in writing about the cold weather is awfully diminished. There were also some trips to Minneapolis for a training, a meeting, and supply acquisition, and combined with the busy-ness associated with finally getting the greenhouse to function, I've neglected computer and phone-based activities, which admittedly is nice. 

Here is this morning's crop field photo, along with a shot of the future pasture/orchard. It features more snow and more of the color gray than the last one, which was from 3/28!

As you can surmise after a quick glance, there is no field work occurring these days, and considering the wetness and low soil temperatures, it is safe to say the first outdoor planting will happen later than planned.

On the other hand, we are enjoying the homemade greenhouse, which won't have heat until next season (creative/industrious heating ideas are very welcome!) but which is otherwise keeping seedlings super healthy. To deal with incredibly low temperatures (single digits overnight during the first week of April), we set up a hilarious but functional heated sleeping chamber for plants, which is kept warm by a single space heater on its lowest setting:

 the heated chamber during the day

the heated chamber during the day

Thanks to Doreene and Norm for the 6' by 33" glass panels! We placed them about half a foot in the soil, sealed cracks with tape, and cover it at night when the heat is on. Space is limited and it is only a first-year solution, but it works beautifully. 

The greenhouse itself is still not completely finished, mostly because I designed it myself (problems/oversights to work out) and largely constructed it myself (I'm not the fastest). Once insulation goes up against the barn wall, today, I will be monitoring it closely so as to be able to have a sense of the expected temperature given the weather forecast overnight. It STILL will not be done then, as we have not been able to install baseboards along the front because the ground is STILL frozen. I will also determine the cost per square foot of greenhouse space! 

 ignore the awful germination in the foreground

ignore the awful germination in the foreground

That's the story out here. Have a good week!

-pppp

Requesting an extension of March

Okay, okay, it seems everyone is talking/complaining about this loooooooonng winter and skittish start of spring. I'll resist adding my opinions. Realistically, the conditions here seem average, I believe, with the exception that the air and ground have been relatively cold. There has been a lot of snow melt around the farm, and I am glad it didn't all happen at once. 

The feeling that we're not leaving winter fast enough, rather than based on reality, is related to looming seasonal deadlines, upgrading and creating some infrastructure, and for me personally, learning to do all of the things individually, at least for now and over the next few months. 

The big changes around the farm are happening with the greenhouse, which is unfinished but holding temperatures of over 100 degrees on sunny days. For now, since the ground is still so cold, our focus is leaving a tarp on the ground in the greenhouse, helping to warm the soil and starting to get rid of grasses that would otherwise grow there. 

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As you can see, a lot of PVC work went into the structure, and the process has mostly been successful. I had never used PVC, and didn't in fact know that PVC cement was a thing, until a few weeks ago. As I tend to do things, I happened to find PVC solvent and cement in the basement, and I read the instructions, and I've been using it. Only in the past couple of days, attempting to use a really old length of PVC and also setting pieces together under highly variable temperatures, have problems arisen (with the roll-up front of the greenhouse).

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Now, in addition to countless branches and small-diameter trees laying about the farm, don't be surprised by many tiny sections of pipe, small pieces of plastic weighed down with various objects, and the solvent/cement can pair from the basement.

Thanks for reading!

-ppppp