no. 45: the second year

It is a rare early end to the work day (6 pm, writing on Tuesday), breezy, cold, raining again. And while I very well should be sitting back and reading Eileen Myles, I am doing THIS, because May 2019 deserves a Hexagon blog post, IMHO. After a frustrating day dealing with weeds and anxiety, I am excited to tell the story of the second year, which on a new vegetable farm often comes with surprises that are not very fun surprises (but also good stuff).

view to the southwest from our road

view to the southwest from our road

crop report

First, what have we been harvesting and bringing to market? It is not quite the end of May and we have already harvested for 3 markets! The last was canceled due to a threatening Saturday forecast, but we harvested most items prior to the notification, and they included kale, French breakfast radishes, our spring salad mix (4 types of lettuce, red mustard greens, and baby beet greens), and loads of beautiful stinging nettle.

A large portion of our market stall has been devoted to garden seedlings, which are great for starting (and continuing) conversations with customers. We are focusing on some relatively uncommon flowers and herbs, including borage, lovage, chervil, lemon balm, feverfew, strawflower, and purple globe amaranth, as well as basil and thyme. This coming Saturday we will also start bringing our wonderful heirloom tomato starts that will hopefully be planted in lots of Corcoran and Longfellow neighborhood gardens! In the field, we are looking forward to the first sweet, white salad turnips very soon, along with a new, cold-hardy heirloom collard we are trying out.

the 2nd year

One place to start the discussion of the second year is our expectation that the farm will be profitable in 2019! For a reminder of some of the fund-draining putzing we were engaged in 1 year ago, go back to this post. With most of the needed infrastructure in place, like the greenhouse and cooler we built, costs are relatively low. We vend at a swell farmers market and are a part of the brand new (and to date very small) western Wisconsin based cooperative CSA, Local Choice. Before leaving it at 'profit', however, I will point out that we, the farm owners, provide all of the labor and likely will not pay ourselves for the second year. So my definition of profit is awfully loose, as the equation does not include labor costs whatsoever (more on that in the future, perhaps).

The takeaway here is a satisfying sense of progress and the hope that we will shift to residency and internship planning as our farm systems are more in place!

Now, especially for you non-farmers, here is some fun news: technical aspects of growing, such as fertility and weed pressure, is sometimes more challenging in year 2 than in year 1. And, you guessed, that is the case here. The big challenge we are dealing with this month is rampant growth of weeds, especially grasses, in our vegetable and fruit beds (both annuals and perennials). This is commonly a second- and third-year problem because the weed pressure does not become apparent until the soil is worked for a full season and then prepared the following spring. Working the soil with aggressive tillage is a way to beat back such weeds in a relatively short period of time, but we do not do that. Instead, we are slightly adjusting our long-term plans (scaling back field expansion) and determining how to collect as much mulch as possible. Instead of aggressive tillage, we would opt for aggressive mulching (mulching being a particularly unaggressive activity).

addressing the grass problem with loads of hand weeding

addressing the grass problem with loads of hand weeding

Weed pressure this spring is exacerbated by the cold temperatures and extremely frequent and heavy rainfall, which favors aggressive (word of the day) weed growth and conditions that make bed preparations difficult. To picture what I mean, consider that yesterday I uncovered a 100-foot-long bed of carrots that had recently germinated. It was already sprinkling outside and soil was still wet from the previous rainfall, and I beheld a bed containing about 90% plants we'd consider weeds, and no more than 10% carrots. It sounds awful, but conditions like this are well known and demonstrate why farming is such hard work.

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Thanks for reading!

-pppppp

We (Pat and Nicholas) own and operate Hexagon Projects & Farm LLC just outside of Downsville and Menomonie in western Wisconsin. Find our produce May-October at the Midtown Minneapolis Farmers Market and through the Local Choice CSA (www.localchoicecoop.com). For more, follow us on fb and instagram and subscribe for email updates on our homepage.

no. 44: a year in the life

On April 4th we enjoyed the relative calm and warmth of the new caterpillar tunnel, a greenhouse-like structure homemade from PVC, rebar, rope, and greenhouse plastic. A cold rain was falling and a brisk wind blowing outside, and we prepared a 100-foot long bed for an upcoming early planting of kale and beets.

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This was our first experience working a bed following the cover crop established there in the fall, and the effectiveness was exciting news to me. Adding to that the fact that this is the very first bed we worked on, including before we owned the farm, I wanted to describe the life of this one bed. There are so many cycles around here, including the many transformations of a single bed.

October 26, 2017

The field is full of rye and tillage radish, and Nick is at the farm for the home inspection over a week before closing. Our friend Liz joins, and they broadfork the very first bed and plant garlic cloves!

February 7, 2018

In early December, we were able to mulch the garlic bed with straw just before the first snow and hard freeze. By February, the bed is covered in snow and temperatures are low. I dig out some of the snow so that we can receive a compost delivery at the edge of the field.

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March & April, 2018

At the end of March, snow begins to melt, the mulch becoming visible. In late April, after a big spring snowfall, most snow has melted, but garlic shoots haven’t made it through the mulch yet.

May 2018

Garlic is growing through the mulch. It was the only crop planted over the winter, so its emergence was very exciting that first year. Once it is established, we add some compost and organic fertilizer to the bed, then lightly disturb the mulch and water it all in.

July 24, 2018

I skipped the harvesting of scapes, which are the shoots at the top of a garlic plant containing seed pods at their tops. Scapes are delicious and fun to harvest, but we didn’t get any photos of this in 2018! Garlic bulbs were harvested in late July, also a fun task, and we carted them away for curing in the very solid cart my father built for us.

Since we planted a small amount of garlic, it was only used for (1) personal use, which we are still taking advantage of; and (2) seed for the 2019 crop (individual cloves get planted in the fall).

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July 30, 2018

To avoid this bed becoming a weedy/compacted mess, and since I was mowing the surrounding field by hand to create straw, we covered it in a thick straw mulch to keep the soil healthy. (Hey, I’m in one of the photos!)

September 5, 2018

In August I finally get my act together and order organic cover crop seed. We are curious to see how hand-scale cover cropping works, and we also do not have enough mulch for all of the beds! In August I sow oats and lentils in this bed after raking the surface, and by early September it has grown to be a very nice stand! This mixture should be ideal because it will be killed over the winter, leaving soil covered by mulch in the spring.

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March 2019

It’s late winter! To get the season rolling, we work on the homemade caterpillar tunnel that will enclose the bed of interest, plus 2 others. The cat. tunnel is so named because viewed from the side, it is segmented and resembled a caterpillar’s shape. Fortunately, some of the rebar was pounded into the ground in December. But not all.

Our friends Nathan and Emily come over on a Sunday and the three of us lay the plastic and secure it with bailing twine. Of course we celebrate.

April 4, 2019

We finally get into the tunnel and view the thawed ground! It only takes an hour to pull out dead cover crop and weeds from the 100-foot bed to reveal gorgeous soil that is ready to go without even a broadfork or hoe to break anything up. Just below is a before and after comparison.

Nicholas in action.

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Now to decide what bed or process shall be the subject of the next story!

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Thanks for reading!

-ppppppp

We (Pat and Nicholas) own and operate Hexagon Projects & Farm LLC just outside of Downsville and Menomonie in western Wisconsin. Find our produce May-October at the Midtown Minneapolis Farmers Market and through the Local Choice CSA (www.localchoicecoop.com). For more, follow us on fb and instagram and subscribe for email updates on our homepage.

no. 43: the story of spring

Last winter was our first on the farm, and the blog posts concerned the experience of starting with little: creating a greenhouse, mucking out a barn for transformation to a wash/pack space, and acquiring small tools and equipment to begin managing the land we will have in cultivation. The winter was cold, and snow accumulation didn’t really occur until late winter and early spring.

Now our understanding of this place is hugely improved, and I’ll give a sense of what early season preparation looks like!

current state:

greenhouse frame aka snow storage facility

greenhouse frame aka snow storage facility

With only the winter to work with last year, we built a 50-foot long, far-too-flimsy greenhouse against the big barn/machine shed. Last fall, we rebuilt using lumber and are excited for the change, except that yesterday there was an avalanche (small-scale, admittedly). We are fortunate that the greenhouse plastic had not yet been put up, but this does all mean that our limited number of seedlings are in the house, receiving inadequate sunlight.

This is a primary challenge for growers: maintaining a warm and safe environment for newly sprouted seedlings in early spring, ideally with a dependable water source (still working on it). Finally accepting the bad idea that is our lean-to greenhouse, we realize we must build a freestanding structure in order to get through this season in coming years.

It is possible to contract with other growers and have them grow our seedlings, but we tend to do things ourselves (to a fault?), and we also value being able to tell the story from seed to plant or produce, all occurring on our farm.

from seed

germination chamber

germination chamber

Seed starting can be done a number of ways, and our production is small enough that we are able to use a modified refrigerator to create an ideal seed germinating environment. An open container of water provides just enough humidity to the space, and heat is supplied by a string of holiday lights. A temperature controller turns the lights on and off to maintain a temperature of 72 to 75 degrees, depending on what is in the chamber. The fridge is used because it was free and is well insulated!

Germination can also be carried out in a greenhouse, or any humid and warm space, though humidity and heat are more constant in a setup like ours, and germination is excellent as a result. For now, at quite a small scale, this works well for us.

In late February and early March, we start seeds of cold-weather crops as well as crops that will take a number of months to reach maturity and thus need a head start. Some examples are:

farm produce:

  • kale, collard greens, and kohlrabi

  • beets

  • lettuce

  • allium family: onions, shallots, leeks, and scallions

  • celeriac

  • herbs (rosemary, lemon balm, borage, lovage)

garden seedling sales:

  • herbs (borage, lovage, basil, lemon balm, anise hyssop, thyme, lavender)

  • flowers (strawflower, black cumin, dahlia)

  • hot peppers

winter

Both years we have occupied this farm, winter weather has defied our intentions for February and early March. Late winter is not a very glamorous time to be a farmer: it often means infrastructure upgrades, repairs, building projects, and the like, sometimes in the rain and cold. The cold of this February prevented us from doing almost any productive farm labor. Products like PVC cement and protective outdoor paint do not function properly at 10 degrees, and the depth of snow made it unsafe to do things like cut down select trees (for farm management and firewood).

spring

It isn’t actually spring yet, but the cold weather broke in a dramatic way and certain tasks cannot be avoided.

meltwater management

meltwater management

Since the greenhouse is distinctly inaccessible, we are able to focus some time on diverting water from its original path straight to the basement.

That’s a little dramatic, to be honest. Yes, there is water in the basement, and yes, that is running water underneath Nicholas; but it is in fact fairly easy to manage, especially since we are no longer fresh from the city!

That’s the early season scoop from here. We remain very excited to get growing and are enjoying the stark winter scenery (turning goopy and gray as I write). And STILL watching the dairy barn’s shockingly slow demise.

Thank you for reading!

pppp

no. 42: the farmers market commute

Lo, it's the first Hexagon blog post of 2019! This February is proving to be remarkably similar to last February, which made the prospect of setting up our first year infrastructure pretty challenging, but with more snow. Fortunately, with a year under our belts there is less to do, in a way, because some things, like a wash station and cooler, are set up already; because of this, I think, the emotional distress I feel about the whole situation is considerably less intense! We also have better tools and more knowledge.

I'd like to focus in this post on something that surprised me throughout our first farmers market season (2018), which is the continual surprise on the part of many customers about our distance from the market. On a recent trip to Minneapolis meeting with various farmers marketers, several folks were similarly surprised. I initially felt a good deal of defensiveness, in part because my interaction with customers ended up focusing on what I felt was a negative attribute: being 'far away' might mean that lots of fossil fuels are burned to get our produce to the market; the distance also indicates a separation between the community we are serving in Minneapolis and our farm in Wisconsin.

Getting past my negative perception of this situation, I am excited to share my thoughts surrounding these reactions, as I think they are rooted in misconceptions regarding the realities of food and small family farms. I am not hoping to rise to our particular defense, but rather to explore the topic of local/regional food and the options one has at a market like Midtown. Also, as a note, if any readers of this have shared this surprise with me, do not feel bad! It is understandable, and has motivated me to write this and to respond in a constructive way in the future!

the details (I will be using our farm as a familiar example and NOT to elevate it in any way)

  • Our farm is 8 miles south of Menomonie, Wisconsin

  • Each Saturday morning during market season, I drive 1.5 hours to Minneapolis

  • Departure time is ideally 5:20 AM

  • I mostly drive south of I-94 because the roads are quiet and the country there is gorgeous

  • The round trip, during which I am able to pick up farm supplies we need, is 150 miles

checking the tiny first garlic crop, 2018

checking the tiny first garlic crop, 2018

other observations

  • Many farm vendors at Midtown (as an example market) are 30 to 50 miles from the market

  • Several others are 60 to 80 miles away, with some over 100 miles away

  • Not all farms are easily searchable online, so this is nothing more than a rough sketch

  • Several small, sustainable farms in our part of Wisconsin sell at Minneapolis farmers markets

  • In larger urban markets (New York City and Chicago I am familiar with), farmers are known to travel 2 to 5 hours to farmers markets

distance oversimplified

The Twin Cities market (this applies to most large urban areas) is attractive to farmers because of the people there and the health of the local food economy there. In our search for a farm, we intended to sell at market(s) in Minneapolis, ideally Midtown (yay!), and we thus wanted to be close to that market.

In 2017/2018, the Twin Cities real estate market was not an easy one for a farmer to enter, and that is even truer today. Realistically, if we had been lucky enough to have found a farm nearer Minneapolis that we could afford, it would have been very small (5 acres or less) and likely would have included a crumbling old house or no house at all. Additionally, it is likely that it would be very close to conventional corn and/or soy crops, which means chemical sprays could infiltrate our crops or our drinking/irrigation water.

Instead, we drive our minivan a bit longer to get to market, with benefits: our neighbor is a certified organic grain grower; we still have a small parcel (9 acres) but it is enough to produce all of our firewood for heating and lots of straw mulch and leaves for compost and direct mulching of soil; there are barns that house our cooler, wash station, and residency/studio space (eventually!); and, because it is affordable, we are not forced to abuse our amazing soil in order to make a larger profit.

very small farms

I sometimes classify our farm as very small, which I think is accurate: with almost no presence of engines of any kind in our field, we are gradually working up to 1 acre in cultivation and eventually more. Especially last year, our first, our market presence was relatively small, and some folks assumed we were located in the city or possibly the suburbs.

If this were a valid assumption, then why don't we see mostly urban farms at farmers markets? On the surface, I agree that if food can come from the actual city, it does not make sense to be acquiring it from outside. Why is it unrealistic to expect urban farms to feed substantial numbers of city residents?

  • City land is simply not all appropriate for food production, and not just from an agricultural viewpoint

    • Park areas are extremely important for mental/physical/spiritual health and should not be turned over to farming

    • Vacant lots are appealing and are also far more common in more economically distressed parts of the city; funneling food from these lots to farmers markets in other areas is unethical (my opinion)

  • City land is sometimes polluted and often with challenging substances like heavy metals

    • This can be dealt with by bringing in plastic barriers and importing soil, a questionable practice

  • Limits on available land area often translate to farming shortcuts

    • Shortcuts include increased need for inputs (fertilizers) and inability to let the soil rest and build itself, e.g. with use of cover crops

    • Not all soil is healthy enough for farming! Food production should not be forced in these places.

don't get the wrong idea

I am NOT suggesting that urban farming is unhealthy or inappropriate. Both urban and rural farming are key elements in sustaining the health of an urban community. My aim is to point out why one could and should expect to see small, sustainable growers at city markets, even if their farms are 50 to 100 miles away.

Hexagon Projects & Farm in winter

Hexagon Projects & Farm in winter

idealizing small farms

I challenge the notion that driving 75 miles to sell fresh vegetables and fruit is at all excessive. It is not hard to imagine an individual who commutes to their office job that is 25 miles from home; plenty of people do this in the Twin Cities every weekday. With a comfortable 5 weeks off each year for vacation, this amounts to 11,750 miles just to move their body to the place where their office, computer, and coworkers are located. While not ideal, most people find this situation normal and acceptable.

At Hexagon Projects & Farm, we pack the minivan full of produce and sell it 75 miles from our farm, which over 26 weeks amounts to only 3,900 miles driven. Is this not a more substantial and worthwhile activity than moving 1 human from house to office? I encourage everyone to idealize small farms and farmers markets less, and to enjoy them more.

We love selling at our farmers market, even if it means going to be very early every Friday and workin' it all day Saturday. The customers, music, vendors, and the environment are energizing, and the sales allow us to keep doing what we love to do, though admittedly not much more. I sincerely hope that folks read this and get a little something out of it, and if one has additional insights or problems with any of it, please get in touch!

Thank you for reading.

-ppppppp

additional note: there is so much more to say on these topics, and indeed so much more potential when it comes to urban and suburban farming. If we as a society could get past our rigid view of land use and ownership, there is a serious amount of food production that could be done, sustainably, very close to areas with large population densities.

If you enjoyed this post and are interested in following along with the growth of our farm, subscribe on the homepage to be notified whenever a new blog post is published! Find us on instagram and facebook for more updates and content we find interesting.

no. 41: year 1 in review!

Some of you already know that we are away from the farm for a 6-week break, a chance to spend time with family and friends all around the northeast, including a return to the farm in Poughkeepsie and a bit of time in Boston, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and eventually Philadelphia. I had looked forward to sitting down early on and reviewing Hexagon’s first year, but with all of the moving about it has not happened until now, December 31, a perfectly appropriate date to look back on the year.

Here is a look at the current state of the farm:

  • We have occupied the farm/property since the end of November, 2017.

  • We finished our market season on October 27. Neither of us arrived with any market experience, but we enjoyed the experience and exceeded our goals re: sales and customer interactions. We will be at the Midtown Farmers Market again in 2019.

  • Work is currently underway in the creation of a cooperative CSA-type plan serving the Menomonie area and Twin Cities. We are excited to supply produce and work through the first CSA season in 2019!

  • In terms of acreage we are still very small, but are expanding the growing area with very minimal powered equipment usage. We learned much in 2018 about market-scale companion planting and effective bed preparation.

Oh! The farmers are also now married, as of July.

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  • Our intended creation of studio spaces and guest living space has not begun, but we hope to move forward with this in 2019. It was immensely helpful this first year to get a sense of the labor required to simply keep the fields and property in decent shape! This required much of our time, energy, and attention over the past 12 months.

  • We continue to work toward resilience on the farm and throughout the farmstead, including heating with wood harvested on the farm, managing grass/producing hay and straw with a scythe, mulching everywhere, and establishing perennial food and energy crops.

The extended time away from Wisconsin has been restful and full of warm gatherings, and it has me quite energized for our return and the time to get back into it all. Here are a few more highlights of 2018 as I contemplate the season and review photos:

  • A greenhouse was built during the very snowy and cold winter/spring. We learned a lot from the initial structure and will be finishing the greenhouse rebuild shortly after returning to the farm

  • Spring snow and cold was quite the patience-tester: we seeded trays in the house, hauled seedlings to and from the house daily, and were on constant alert whenever snow was falling, given the weakness of our greenhouse structure.

  • The alpaca/sheep/goose shed was converted to our wash/pack/storage space, involving much forking of manure and bedding and plenty of deep cleaning. We received much valuable help in this from Nick’s parents, including construction of an 8x8 cooler in the shed.

  • We learned more and more about the farm over the course of the year, including the layout and condition of the well system and electrical supply. Knowing almost nothing about wells made this especially entertaining.

  • Our growing system was slowly refined, and we felt good about our careful method of caring for important crops like tomatoes and cucumbers, which we were very proud of at market.

That is all for this year. Happy New Year!

And thanks for reading.

Expect more updates once we return and get back to work in mid-January!

-ppppp

no. 40

It is almost Thanksgiving, and while we are enjoying a somewhat restful middle-end of fall (fires, cat cuddling, crafting, baking, roasting, soups), the sudden onset of snow and cold, and the continued cold, means there has been more pressure than we expected to clean up, finish the fall projects, and be ready for winter, because it has effectively arrived.

I am writing today from our friends’ farm about an hour’s drive (for me, that is; subtract at least 10 minutes for the average driver) from our hexagonal farm, where there is reliable internet, and yes, even enough bandwidth to upload photos! But not much more.

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Our farm, while relatively close to the city of Menomonie, is in somewhat of a communications dead zone, with no available options for wired internet connection (including dial-up, as the phone line was sliced this summer). We are fortunate to have cell service, and to be able to afford service that includes hotspot generation, but lately our high speed data is used up within 10 days of each month, inexplicably, and that means no blog posts, at least from home. Of course it also means no streaming of anything, but that is something we can handle. The barriers to rural connectivity are real!

Around the farm

We put some photos out on instagram of some greenhouse progress, and it continues, somewhat! Due to its inability to handle a snow load AND to adequately hold a temperature that is safe for seedlings, we dismantled the crappy greenhouse structure that I lovingly built in the spring, and we have replaced it with the beginnings of a wood structure.

(I did some of the work too!)

We lowered the floor by removing dirt, and a structure was constructed with a pitch that is much more conducive to shedding snow and rain, compared to the old design. It is also approximately 63 times stronger. We used untreated construction lumber that we coated with a good exterior paint that will hopefully provide some protection against sun and high humidity. With the very cold and slightly snowy conditions that began the instant we finished putting up the 2x4s, this fun project is on hold as we focus on tasks that cannot be done come February, when we hope to finish the greenhouse. Because we will reuse the plastic covering, blower, and fan, the cost of this update should be under $200, and as we hope to show late this summer, it will be much improved.

We have been enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of fall, returning to the perimeter trail for very different views now that foliage is gone, and I finally spent a little bit of time behind our largest barn, with a lone tree that is moderately challenging to climb but offers a very nice perch. It is on the jagged eastern edge of our farm, with a hilly alfalfa field (in the photo) on the other side.

I have finally gotten around to cutting rebar and carefully hammering it into place to define the footprint of the caterpillar tunnel we will finish assembling in the spring. (also, orange vest = deer hunting season) This very lightweight tunnel with a plastic covering will warm up the soil early and allow us to harvest a significant amount of produce in May. As we will hopefully see, the appearance of such structures is where the name originates; they look to be composed of many segments, like a caterpillar.

The house received a major upgrade this fall with the addition of a wood stove! To say we are enjoying it is an understatement. To say the cat is enjoying it is a massive understatement. The house layout is not ideal for wood heat, as it is a single floor with a narrow hallway that leads to the smaller rooms in the back. There are recent developments inside, including some new holes in our walls (one hopes the photographed hole will be tidied and finished in the coming months) to circulate the cozy warmth to the back rooms. Expect a full report when we are emotionally through with winter. February? This added circulation appears so far to have a good effect.

Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for reading.

-pppppppp

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