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

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