slow and steady, or just slow

Some of you who see our social media feeds have seen suggestions of greenhouse progress, and indeed there has been some! There is most of a structure up, but plenty of remaining work, with the end wall construction being the most time consuming and the part I am most worried about getting wrong!

We are looking forward to having it all done by the end of the week. The past few days featured less greenhousing than expected because of some birthday celebrations, both here and briefly in Minneapolis, which were just great. Also, in the middle of this, during major melting on Sunday, the basement began taking on water. Fortunately it was straightforward to pinpoint the cause, divert the water outside, and suck up the water that collected inside. Sadly, a portion of artwork was damaged: drawings and other prints from friends, some of N's work, and posters. We will certainly be smarter about this in the future!

As I mentioned, there's been significant melting, which makes us giddy. The steep south-facing slopes are largely free of snow, and the gully is full and flowing. Ted, who helped us remain cool during the basement saga, did a good deal of water diversion to help prevent damage to the dairy barn foundation. During some exploration on Sunday, we all discovered what appears to be a seasonal artesian well, with water bubbling/gurgling upward from 2 apparent holes in the ground, about 8 feet from one another. This explains why we've seen so much water running down the back hill toward the dairy barn! So many things left to discover. 

weekly veg field photo, 03-20-2018

weekly veg field photo, 03-20-2018

As you can CLEARLY see, our main crop area remains covered in snow, as does most land that is not heavily sloped to the south. The weekly photo has not changed much since this routine began! The straw mulch on the garlic is slowly emerging from the freeze, and even though there's still plenty of snow, much has melted in a week. 

Some other photo updates from this week (above):

  1. Chocolate banana cream pie (recipe source here) with mini peanut butter cups for Erin's birthday, prepared in a lovely dish made by Erin's aunt. LOVE.
  2. Ever more trays to be filled. More food and flowers to be excited about! This week's crops included 2 kale varieties, collard greens, cabbages, scallions, catnip, thyme, 3 tomato varieties, and chamomile.
  3. Looking north toward the barns and house from near the edge of the veg field, gradual snow melt on the pasture.

THANK YOU for reading.

-pppp

Hexagon Projects & Farm

sliding into march

The title of this post reflects how far into March we seem to be, and in the blink of an eye, or so it seems. It also reflects our literal sliding on ice, snow, and mud all of the time. The weekly photo looks approximately as it did 1 week ago, except with considerably more sun and slightly less snow!

veg field photo #2, March 12, 2018

veg field photo #2, March 12, 2018

The big news this week is official approval as a producer-vendor at the Midtown Minneapolis Farmers Market! This is the market in Minneapolis that we know best - I visited on and off during each of the years I lived in the city. It is located on Lake Street, a busy and diverse east-west corridor in south Minneapolis, and is adjacent to the Midtown/Lake St station served by the blue line train. Our first market day is May 19, and we will have a stall there every subsequent Saturday through the end of October. We are very excited for the market to start up!

sowing kale seeds in the living room

sowing kale seeds in the living room

Seeding of veggies, herbs, and flowers continues, and we have now progressed to a point where I am beginning to feel uncomfortable about not having a greenhouse. This morning, I seeded beets, kale, echinacea, parsley, chives, rosemary, and anise hyssop, a total of 10 trays, which will be a lot to manage in the unconventional way in which we are dealing with seedlings now. The weather is gradually warming, though, and we are looking to have our greenhouse up by this weekend!

olympic red kale

olympic red kale

Our temporary seeding space is much brighter and warmer than the basement, where we had been doing this work. It is quite pleasant and keeps our hands healthier, out of the cold!

Thanks for reading :-)

-pppp

Hexagon Projects & Farm

in the greenhouse of sorts

The actual greenhouse may still be waiting on the weather, but we are able to continue planting seeds, in the basement for now, remaining optimistic about having enough space for seedlings over the next few weeks. Why the basement? Here's our setup:

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I became familiar with fridges as germination chambers working at Poughkeepsie Farm Project, where they were used to keep seeds and soil warm, in a space where the air temperature in the spring could easily hover around zero degrees all evening (now they use chambers that were constructed in spring 2016). One fridge is perfect for us now, though we will definitely try to acquire a second for next year. I got it for free from a dairy farm not far from here, and it just required a good spraying down and light sanitizing before use. 

The refrigerator isn't running. A gentle heat source is powered through a temperature controller that we've set at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Our heat source is a simple 15-foot long strand of white lights that is switched on and off by the controller based on the temperature in the fridge.

P1000554.JPG

The lights are loosely wrapped around the metal dish at the bottom, and water in the dish helps keep the humidity in the fridge right around 100%, which ensures that seeds remain moist for germination. In this photo are 50 parsley seeds, 50 bluestem grass seeds, 660 scallion seeds, 280 leek seeds, 280 onion seeds, and 13 little tomato seeds that have just begun to germinate. Already germinated and living in the house and cold frame are: 2,400 onion seedlings, 100 leek seedlings, and 6 kale seedlings :-)

 

A few people have mentioned the possibility of before-and-after photos of various things around here, and while I think it's a great idea for a lot of things (dairy barn and house, namely), we haven't done it at all. We will begin this sort of thing once we start working on the dairy barn, but for now I will start taking a weekly photo of the vegetable field to hopefully track, visually, a stark transformation from winter expanse to summer abundance. Here it begins:

(also here's evidence of even more snow that fell last night)

photo #1 of the veg field 03/06/2018: not very exciting!

photo #1 of the veg field 03/06/2018: not very exciting!

THANK YOU for reading.

-pppppp

Hexagon Projects & Farm

february goings-on

N. and I attended 1 day of the 2018 MOSES conference, Friday, and left feeling very ready to get to work! MOSES = Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service, and the conference is similar to the NOFA-NY annual winter conference, that I attended in January 2016. The midwest version attracts people from a much larger geographical reach, and it also seems to include fewer gardeners, who were present in surprising numbers in New York, I felt. Our workshop choices focused on branding and marketing, mineral needs for soil health, native pollinator habitat, and proper conditions for a healthy soil fungal environment (and why that's desired). There was also an impassioned keynote address by Melinda Hemmelgarn in which farmer-consumer connections were emphasized and attention was brought to some of the destruction that conventional agriculture can bring about. For me, it was a good reminder to get my head out of our small, progressive circle and remember that seriously harmful things are going on all over in the name of 'cheap', 'convenient', 'quick'. 

The conference is held in La Crosse, and for us this meant a stay at the Castle, which is always a treat. On our way back to Menomonie, we picked up supplies for the greenhouse that we are so ready to build, though it is more of a winter wonderland here then ever. 

the drive back to the lower barn, shoveled by hand

the drive back to the lower barn, shoveled by hand

N. shovels with more energy and more precision than me

N. shovels with more energy and more precision than me

In other news, I bought an app for the first time, in the process of planning for various warm-season projects like fruit tree planting and tree trimming, as well as cold frame and greenhouse construction. I am usually not one to spend money in such a way, but I find Sun Locator Pro to be sufficiently awesome to make an exception. I've been able to visualize, at any hour of any day of the year, the position of the sun with respect to the landscape, buildings, trees, etc.

looking south using Sun Locator Pro, mapping the low January 22 sun

looking south using Sun Locator Pro, mapping the low January 22 sun

This app is especially interesting to use because of the immediate hills all around the farm. The sun's position seems to change more than I normally expect, I think because of the landscape producing significant shade at times. One amazing thing about first being on this property in winter and spring is seeing these seasonal changes for the first time. Today, for instance, is an exceptionally sunny day, and I was shocked that by fairly early in the morning, the open field area was bathed in full, warm sunlight, which is a huge shift from just 3 weeks ago. 

Thanks for reading!

-ppppp

Hexagon Projects & Farm

kicking off the season! (and a brief rant)

While there are updates from the farm that we are very excited about, I must start with some reaction to the news from the last couple of days about drastic changes to SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance for low-income folks). If you haven't heard about this, please take a moment to read a short article like this one, as it's important. This is yet another instance where we feel quite powerless and frustrated: an entire half of one's SNAP benefits will be in the form of food they are instructed to prepare/eat, as if SNAP recipients are inherently flawed, irresponsible, or uncomprehending individuals. Not to mention that it is not in the interest of the environment or that of many individuals' health to be consuming "staple" items such as shelf-stable milk, canned fruit, and pasta. How can we be considering pasta a staple that everybody is expected to consume? I am also tired of hearing news like this tied only to Donald Trump. Independent of this horrid human being, I perceive a pervasive lack of empathy that leads many politicians to feel it is appropriate to shape how people purchase, prepare, and consume their food, based on the politicians' own values and experience. Societies and governments exist, in large part, to offer real support to any member of society who lacks a given resource, especially when that society/government perpetuates the problem it claims to be committed to solving.

I can see where this will head if continued, so I'll rein it in and appreciate Valentine's Day for the unbelievable warmth it brought to western Wisconsin! While frustrated with news such as that discussed above, on the farm we are so very energized by the good work that's to be done.

glorious pile of potting mix bags

glorious pile of potting mix bags

The outside temperature exceeded 40 degrees fairly early in the day; we received a shipment of potting mix and compost; and during this massive thaw, we were able to wash vehicles, clean out and prepare our seed germination fridge, and begin work on converting a barn to the produce wash/pack/storage shed.

slightly more organized barn

slightly more organized barn

We were infused with positive feeling by the amount of warmth and sunlight throughout the day, and we capped it off by setting up the seed germination chamber in the basement of our house and sowing the first seeds (onions) of the 2018 season!

seeding open-pollinated, organic onion seed 'Dakota Tears'

seeding open-pollinated, organic onion seed 'Dakota Tears'

Thanks for reading!

-ppp

Hexagon Projects & Farm

time to grow yet?

Introducing our website! We will have a ton of information here soon, though it's now in its infancy. We are looking forward to taking many hundreds of beautiful photos that contain plants and harvests (and are experiencing a bit of cabin fever thinking about it), and sharing them throughout. The blog will be maintained at this address now, as part of the main website.

The geographic transition from the Hudson Valley to here is being felt! It is February, and thus sustained cold, snow, and dry air is completely expected in Wisconsin, but we are feeling surprised by it.

drive prepared for compost delivery that might occur

drive prepared for compost delivery that might occur

I suppose this is what can happen anywhere in February, aggravated now by the fact that we don't have wood heat and thus are cold, and we are also wanting to work on new infrastructure, like a greenhouse. We are prepared to receive a delivery of locally produced compost and potting mix, as best we can, but the forecast is turning colder by the day, and we may not have enough warmth for those folks to transport compost. 

straw and storm window cold frame

straw and storm window cold frame

I attempted to create something useful out of parts of the house and straw that is, thankfully, in ample supply here. The first day of its existence, on which the outside temperature did not exceed 20 degrees, it was over 60 degrees in this cold frame while the sun was out! If we can acquire more (and better/larger) glass doors and windows, we could create a daytime home for a significant amount of early seedlings! Such a temporary system would require a lot of daily labor, but what else are we here for?

390th street to the north

390th street to the north

Here's a photo of a quintessential February sky in this part of the country, clear, blue, cold, and dry. Also featuring the steepness of our road for those who don't expect hills in Wisconsin. 390th St heads north up this hill and down the other side, in the direction of the city of Menomonie.

Thanks for reading!

-pppppp

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.

20180122120258

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.

20180122120303

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.

IMG_20180118_122224725

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!

20180122120310

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.

jan 17 bloggg

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.

jan 11 blogggg.JPG

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.

jan 11 blogg

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