gathering steam (so to speak)

Despite the continued cold weather, it feels like we've actually got something going here! Some folks saw on Instagram that we now have a vehicle capable of transporting a good deal of stuff! What kind of stuff? Old fridges, all the wood, cinder blocks, bricks, produce, potting mix, various appliances as needed, cooler materials, and more wood. I'm sure that hauling bricks and old appliances is exactly what Chrysler had in mind when designing this gold minivan and its beautifully carpeted interior, which remains shockingly pristine after 15.5 years of use. This shall change soon. p1000493.jpg

Farmers market applications are in process, and along with this the logo, website, and other resources of the farm are taking shape! The current logo we are working on will change over time, but we've finally settled on the main design after seeing several drafts by a special friend, plus consulting with family and friends and arriving on an overall image somewhat by accident.

logo

The website is under construction, but we have a Facebook page that you should immediately go like! It's not like you have to go far.

www.facebook.com/hexagonprojectsfarm

A few people have already found the page and like it, and you are awesome.

We now have essentially all of our seeds for the 2018 season,  but still have to acquire some exciting materials, namely seed potatoes and some perennials and fruit trees to get started. I am excited to report on that and plenty more in coming weeks!

Thanks for reading.

-ppppppppppp

january days

The cold weather earlier in the month has given way to snowy and comfortably cold conditions here, which are welcome. I'm very glad to see a thick layer of snow on the ground that will melt and work down into the earth over the next few months.

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On Monday, between 8 and 10 inches fell here, and drifts here and there are over a foot deep. I say bring on more! but I also feel limited, not having skis or snowshoes yet and thus not currently being able to access a lot of the property without getting plenty of snow in boots. I've spent a bit of cozy time wrapped in scarves, with a cup of tea or coffee, in the barns, working out schemes for the coming season and additional ones.

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We are excited to start some work in the 'lower barn,' which is above, and could serve multiple purposes very well, as it is a moderate size, with excellent access to water and electricity. This will be our produce washing, packing, and storage area, complete with a cooler to be built this spring! Progression of this and other projects should be sped up with more transportation capacity, and our search for a van commences this weekend during my trip to Minneapolis! Prepare for dozens of photos of me driving hideous 15-year-old minivans.

In the house, Rose proves herself adept at finding the sunniest spots, including ones temporarily vacated by a pan that is in use. On a side note, it's been far to cloudy for her and me lately.

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N. and I enjoyed moving snow sans motors this week, dutifully clearing a wide swath of driveway. We shoveled twice on Monday and once on Tuesday for the latest storm, which sounds like too much but beats shoveling a foot of heavy snow all at once. While I've dreamed of a long driveway through the woods, I am not displeased with our relatively short/manageable one!

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Thanks for reading!

-pppppp

plans for the growing season

We're in the midst of a truly beautiful winter, and I am especially grateful to find myself in a setting that is peaceful and expansive, and to be carefully planning for the future of the farm. jan 17 blogggg

We are working on a number of areas that will help us to produce, sell, and continue to build our project during the coming season, and of course beyond:

  • vegetable crop plans
  • preparing for organic certification
  • procuring a farm vehicle
  • farmers market spots
  • greenhouse

jan 17 blogg

This lightly shoveled area between the dairy barn and the small pole barn seems ideal for the site of a greenhouse (really a small high tunnel) that will be used for seedling propagation and for growing a small number of plants in the ground: it is very close to water and electricity sources (not mixed!), it is flat, and it receives a terrific amount of sunlight. It is also close to the house, which will be great as we worry about tiny plants on frigid March evenings.

While vegetables will not be grown in this area, we are thinking about a high tunnel, for eventual winter growing, a bit past the greenhouse area, because it is one of the few flat, sunny spots around, and the annual/perennial fields are far from winter water sources. With luck, work on this could begin later in the year.

jan 17 blog

I've been walking on our perimeter trail a whole lot (photo above), and especially with the snow cover it allows me to see how active animals are in the area. Conclusion: very. There are footprints all over the place (deer, rabbits, quail, unidentified others) and a lot of deer poop on the trail, and while I am tempted to plant a compact and diverse 1/2 acre of annuals without deer protection, I am also very nervous. So part of our holistic farm planning includes figuring out a sensible and manageable electric fence system, for this season at least, and also realizing that it won't be perfect. Other aspects of this whole farm plan I will share at a later time (when they are changing less!), but they include planting large and small trees for firewood, protein, timber, and fruit, maintaining habitat for a diverse crew of animals, bugs, and microbes, and creating beautiful spots for meditation, contemplation, yoga, etc.

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This spot is naturally very beautiful, especially now with combinations of gold, white, and brown/green under vivid blue skies. A bench or two in the right place, once the weather is warm, will be amazing.

Thanks for reading!

-ppppppp

warm winter update

We've experienced some thawing over the past 3 days here and through most of Wisconsin and Minnesota. I don't believe I've been in either state in January, until now, when the outside temperature has been above freezing. It's unfortunate because if no snow or ice melts, the roads actually remain pretty safe, even if hard-packed snow remains on the surface. Now, liquid water freezes and creates the potential for unexpected icy spots. Mostly, the warmth has felt great, though, and I've been outside again cutting down small trees and surveying the pasture and open field areas. Wednesday was especially warm, cloudy, and humid, with a little rain falling overnight.

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I've been very amused (and thankful) that little things continue to go wrong (frozen pipes and apparently broken furnace, for instance) but do not end up causing serious damage or stress. Yet another example, after returning from La Crosse, as I stared at an object on the garage "floor"

jan 11 bloggg

I first experienced confusion, and then identifying one of the garage door springs, I felt some disbelief and amusement that this thing sling-shotted several feet once the end of the spring broke off, pulling a 2 by 4, and breaking another one, in the process. Then I was sad that I cannot, for now, open the garage door. Finally, I was amazed that this happened while we were away with the car; otherwise it very well could have smashed some windows.

Who knows where I can get another one of those springs?

jan 11 blog

The air on Thursday morning was decidedly dryer, and as I write this later in the day, a steady, fine snow is falling. As I was descending the tower on the north edge of the farm (now one of my favorite spots, with amazing views), icy precipitation began falling. It is a beautiful winter day.

I have barely spent time in a rural setting in the winter, and this experience is filling me with wonder at the seasons and utter excitement for the growing season; I am not anxious for winter to be over, just amazed to think of the transition to spring and summer.

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The feelings are amplified by the arrival not only of more seeds, but of some of our supplies. The basement is gradually filling with tubing, fittings, electric fence parts, and more, and this place sort of feels like a farm!

Thanks for reading.

-ppppppppp

sunny days, frozen pipes

Do not worry! Yes, some of our pipes froze.

Yes, I think I mention frozen things and cold enough to make it sound like our house is just a large walk-in cooler. But really, I have been calling things lovely far too much lately, and most of the issues that come up related to heating, plumbing, etc. end up being extremely minor and are mostly amazing learning opportunities, because, as I should have said by now, I have no idea what I'm doing (I speak only for myself here!). Any practice helps. As far as the general cold, it's pretty average for this part of the country, as far as I've experienced living in Minneapolis, and we have now entered the Jan-Feb-Mar sunny winter season. With the amount of bright sun we're consistently getting, it already feels so different from December.

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The fields (both our own and ones we get to appreciate from a distance) are covered in powdery snow, so I continue planning and listing the fun things that will be possible after a thaw, such as burrowing under one of the barns to try and replace a frost-free valve that is old and broken. The thought of constructing a greenhouse in this kind of cold and snow is daunting, but it will have to happen in about 2 months. I am excited.

The plumbing work I focused on yesterday took almost no time, which felt great; it will require some more attention once the world warms up (insulating/sealing a corner of the basement). We didn't consider the potential issues that we'd face with the house that stem from the fact that, I think, humans haven't overwintered here in almost a decade. Combining that with some new plumbing in an area where the basement isn't appropriately protected from the elements produces potential problems.

bloggg jan 5

Don't ask me what all is going on in here, because I am not sure. What I know is that the sink and toilet stopped working in the half bathroom (we have 2 bathrooms. blows my mind.). The water in the pipes froze and didn't burst, because luckily they're PEX (cross-linked polyethylene), which is a somewhat flexible plastic.

blogg jan 5

After mostly draining the system, I cut the affected tubing, installing valves on the supply ends that I closed, and leaving the frozen ends open to slowly thaw and drain. If the brittleness of the tubes wasn't enough to confirm that ice was present, the ice and water trickling out certainly were.

Recap: pipes froze (oh no!) but nothing bad actually happened. I had to buy some valves. Stopped at the library on the way to the store. It was lovely.

In addition to the bright winter sun lately, we've been treated to a glorious winter moon, which was full recently. For over a week, the landscape outside the nighttime windows has been bathed in a dawn-like glow, the bright light of the moon shining down on us and on all of the white snow.

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It is lovely.

-ppp

New Year's Eve!

The new year arrives in a couple of hours! We'll be celebrating hard as always: in bed by 10 after downing copious amounts of water and/or herbal tea. In reality, the transition to 2018 is bringing a bit of anxiety to me, but also excitement. Because the regular growing season at PFP always started at the very beginning of March, I feel a mostly irrational pressure to have EVERYTHING farm-related prepared and ready to run by then. Realistically, this is unnecessary, although having a greenhouse up by then will be immensely helpful (and possible!). Lately, the cold has continued. I don't think the temperature is going to surpass the zero Fahrenheit mark for the duration of this weekend. Still, we've gotten out a tiny bit for some brisk fresh air: we walked south of Downsville on the Red Cedar State Trail, and in the process learned that the 8-mile stretch from Downsville to Menomonie is a dedicated cross-country ski trail during winter, and is even groomed! What this means is: I must procure skis by next winter, at least. I would love to share photos from the trail; however, an allergic condition I've experienced a bit before has flared up now that both the air and water in our house is so cold. When my hands are exposed to rapid temperature changes (and mostly really cold or hot water, I think), hives and swelling develop on my fingers. This means gloves inside when one wouldn't normally expect them, lots of lotion, and fewer outdoor photos. There are a few I recently took on the farm, including this from atop the tower that was once a windmill:

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It's pretty great up there, my only complaint being the thinness of the ladder, which feels as though it will slice through my boot. The boots are strong though! They've lasted since high school and are still in amazing shape, somehow.

What's going on with the farm? First, lots of seed ordering. It's still early, but we've received some of the seeds we ordered, with still a bit more to do, and much perennial research, deciding on types and sources of seed for woody perennials that will supply firewood, mulch, and/or nitrogen fixation. I include this photo to remind myself and others that summer crops will indeed grow again! It seems hard to believe in the midst of such a deep freeze; apples and yarn are present as a reminder of the current season.

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An initial order of irrigation supplies for the vegetable field has been completed, which is super exciting for me. In 1 to 2 weeks we should receive the shipment, which includes most of what we will need to set up a simple system that runs from the animal barn, across the gully, and will supply the field with water using sprinklers and drip irrigation. I am excited to expand the system as we likely expand our growing space for our second growing season; that should require minimal additional material, which is wonderful! N. has been identifying some local nurseries, which I am very excited about, and we have begun thinking about the few varieties of trees we will purchase as we start a very modest orchard in the pasture area.

Finally, Rose has been sleeping ALL DAY lately, and into the night. We've begun allowing her full access to the basement, and her scurrying about suggests that she's busy in pursuit of rodent friends. So far she's delivered 2 specimens and perhaps needs to recharge before a third.

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Happy New Year!

-pppppppp

 

post-holiday break: walking trail!

How different this week feels, already, from the last! A couple of days away to spend some time with lovely people, returning with days when the temperature struggles to reach zero Fahrenheit. This weather is a beautiful setup for some good farm planning. Before this turn to extra-cold occurred, my outdoor work shifted to making this place more livable, and also realizing a dream I've had since I was extremely young! I had no early ambition to become a farmer, but I did strongly envy friends or acquaintances who had wooded space, even small areas, with trails. I remember fixating on the joy of having one's own little trail, which carries on in a love for walking, maybe (or it is a related phenomenon), and interest in walking and thinking, and walking for meditation. Finally, space for trails!

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My primary tool was still the trusty bow saw, and I also used some sharp loppers, tracing a path and cutting through dense brush along a hilly trail that begins (or terminates) in front of the house, continues behind the house and to the highest point on the property, cuts through the middle of the farm and continues behind the dairy barn and pasture, and ends up crossing the gully (where it is quite shallow) and terminating (or beginning) at the edge of the vegetable field.

Here is an extremely fancy map that I made:

Hexagon map with trail

The trail is yellow-green. House = orange; old windmill tower and highest point = blue; cherry trees = red; upper barn (where we plan studios and sleeping quarters) = fuchsia (did NOT know how to spell that); green lines = vegetable field.

The trail is somewhere around/just above a quarter of a mile long, and is important for me not JUST because it was my life's mission (not actually true), but because of the opportunity for solitude and quality time/thought it provides to us and to people who stay here in the future (who will be focusing on their own creative process and life, mostly). 9 acres in not a huge amount of land, but this particular 9 acres offers a rich diversity of open spaces, wooded spaces of different densities, high points with views, and low points. The trail adds another dimension to all of this and I am very excited about it.

This map also gives a sense of our surroundings. Just south of this aerial image are 2 neighbors, each with lots of about 2 acres. To the west is the road and corn/hay fields, and along the curving borders north and east begin large hay and corn and possibly soybean fields. What the crop is at any given time will depend on the rotation being practiced, and I haven't been around long enough to know what that is exactly. Those hills are great, at least, for catching interesting views of our farm and of the surrounding countryside.

Thanks for reading!

-ppppppp

 

discovery

We continue to discover new things about this property, ranging from furnace workings (as has been shared) to water filtration and old infrastructure. Some outdoor work is still getting done, at least until it turns extremely cold late this week, and some other important work is getting done, including seed orders and continuously crafting our vision for marketing and sales for the farm. I finally invested some time thinking about the water supply in the house, which was somewhat a mystery: the water from the well was running through 2 filters before dispersing to various sinks/toilets/etc., and there was a filter installed on the kitchen tap. The water has always tasted amazing, but we were told that it was quite hard. N and I had mentioned a water softener, but before working on that I learned that one of the filters actually just had a cartridge in it that treats hard water! Hallelujah!

I purchased a new cartridge, which wasn't even necessary, as the existing one was still partially full and the system wasn't working because there was an inch of buildup on the brass jet. It took over an hour, some cursing, prolonged uncomfortable postures, and finally a good deal of vinegar-water spray combined simultaneously with all of the above, but finally water was lightly spraying down on my legs and the floor! I installed the cartridge and sump, and also cleaned out the particulate filter, and I feel like I know things now!

Now, returning to the barns:

dec 19 blog

It was almost sunset so this photo is poor, plus I'm not doing anything real in this photo - just posing for N. who had just finished work. We've made good progress cutting down some of the many weed-like trees growing all over the place. I don't know what tree they are, but they are mostly of one type and clog the areas around buildings. Some of them are resting on buildings and a couple of large ones we need to have professionally removed (including one that is beginning to damage a rear portion of the barn in which we plan on having art studios and sleeping quarters.

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The best we can do for a 'before' image is this, which is the south side of the barn, and what the north side looked like a few days ago. Of course the north side doesn't have the scary falling-down roof, but that's another story. The little bow saw we bought for $11 is a good friend.

In clearing the north side of the dairy barn, I discovered more old concrete objects, one of which is a large circular foundation of some sort, possibly a cistern or related thing from the dairy farm era. I at first thought it had been the foundation of a second silo, but the existing silo doesn't have any such foundation, and I imagine if another silo had been there that the pieces of it would be scattered about the area, which thankfully they are not!

We are still enjoying PFP produce that is stored in the fridge (potatoes, radishes, beets, carrots, pears from fruit share) and in bins in the basement (apples, winter squash). We didn't take very much, but we've been using it wisely so as to extend its life as much as possible! I finally threshed the beans that N. and I grew in the community garden plot at PFP; it was not a big harvest this fall, but we collected enough for a bit of cooking and a good amount of planting.

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I am currently carrying out small germination tests (only 20 seeds) on the 3 varieties we grew. I'd like to grow many more of the type in this photo, which is called Hidatsa Shield Figure, which I purchased last year, certified organic, from Heirloom Seeds. These beans expanded significantly when left between pieces of wet paper towel, and didn't lose much of their fantastic color. They are just beginning to germinate today.

Thanks for reading!

-ppp

 

farm planning on the road

Anyone who knows me at all should expect that I will manage to walk to things I appreciate, even if I am (and I almost always am) the only one. Blog dec 15

What I'm astounded by after yesterday is that we (meaning anyone who comes to spend time here for farming- or art-related projects) can exist in a setting that looks like this, and be able to walk in less than an hour to a super cute coffee shop. The morning was truly splendid, with bright sun and a temperature somewhere in the twenties that felt warm enough. I was passed by 1 automobile in the little over 50 minutes I was walking.

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Nearing the center of Downsville, there was a glimpse of a nice train trestle, over which the Red Cedar State Trail runs. After walking essentially the whole way on very quiet back roads, I crossed the river on Highway 25 - there was even a snow-covered sidewalk! - and turned off immediately to Downsville's small main drag.

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Over a scone and some tea, and enjoying plenty of midmorning winter sunlight, I worked on gathering my thoughts so that I can put together an organized vegetable crop plan soon. I am finally looking into organic certification, which means that seed buying will be more challenging than it would be otherwise. I like the idea that requiring growers to use certified organic seed will result in organic seed producers receiving more business! It's not only about our little farm, but the many potential inputs required along the way and how they affect their own producers and environment.

I need to learn more, though, about how organic certification could limit the variety of off-farm inputs that I believe are healthy for everyone, including spent coffee grounds and collected leaves from around town. The person who runs the cafe wants us to have their spent coffee grounds, and I intend to check with a few other places about this resource as well.

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It was considerably cloudier during the walk back and felt cooler, but it was equally peaceful! I was even able to sneak past a certain property without the dogs going crazy as they did on the trip out. Dogs make me nervous (unless they are Penny, Comet, Moxie, Briar, or Lucy).

That's about as good a final sentence as I can imagine. Thanks for reading!

-pppp

learning things!

This is a post that is unrelated to projects that directly impact the farm, because it's really cold out, for one, but mostly because other things have gotten in the way, including a frigid house/broken furnace! Happily, the furnace is not broken at all; I alone caused it to fail repeatedly when firing up, leading to some dough paid to the technician, and all ending with Ted saving the day. For all of you who are unaware of this (which is probably just me and some toddlers), here is some wisdom: there should be some fresh air flowing into the basement. We have an unused chimney that's totally open to the basement and was letting cold air in, so I stuffed the basement opening full of rags to seal it, which worked! Because there is no other fresh air intake, and all the doors are closed, it seems we were not getting enough fresh air for proper propane combustion to happen. I try not to use people's names in my posts, but since Ted diagnosed and provided the solution to this problem in about 3 minutes over the phone, after technicians came to our house THREE TIMES, he has practically earned god status and deserves recognition (at least among the 3.5 people who read this).

The furnace issues have been frustrating, but I'm feeling great about how much  we are learning, and feel like we should have somehow been learning about houses while renting all these years!

Okay, too much text. Here's a nice picture:

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I drove into the city of Menomonie yesterday, and just loved every bit of it. Ending up in our location happened entirely by chance; we're thrilled that we connected with the previous owner, because we're excited about the farm, and I at least thoroughly enjoy Menomonie and the surrounding country. On the way back, I stopped at a tiny access point to the Red Cedar State Trail (the photo above), which runs along the Red Cedar River for a number of miles, passing close to our farm and going as far north as Lake Menomin, which generally marks Menomonie center.

I took several black and white photos of glorious trees (along the riverbank), as usual:

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N. and I have also begun to venture into the farm fields surrounding our property, at least the ones with cover crop or hay production, rather than corn stubble. The land undulates shockingly, based on what I am used to, and there are so many unique views, both across our little valley and further out, mostly to the south and east.

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The photo above, taken from the hilly field behind our property, shows our position on the right compared to the 2 neighbors who are a couple minutes' walk up the hill. Just below and between their 2 houses, in this photo, is the uppermost corner of our vegetable/perennial/straw field.

We've received insider information suggesting that one of these families keeps to itself, while the other is made up of friendly individuals, and late last week we went to the workplace of one of them to introduce ourselves. This sounds vaguely like stalking activity, but said workplace is an incredibly charming coffee shop quite close to our farm, on a very quiet Main St type of setting! WE WILL BE BACK. We are happy to know a neighbor who is so friendly and warm.

In this same town is a pottery studio and self-serve shop. When N.'s family was visiting recently we were lucky to stop in during their lovely open house, where we each wanted to take home all of the things: I chose a ceramic teapot that at least once a day is filled with hot water, nettles, tulsi, mint leaves, and other delights.

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This is all rounded out by the people essentially all around here who are friendly and who tend to listen well. Part of my trip into town yesterday was a search for a new thermostat and a new well filter. I ended up having to buy both online because I was looking for fairly specific qualities in both, but I talked with a lot of sometimes helpful and always friendly people during the search!

Thanks for reading!

-ppppppppp