a new week, indeed!

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

weekly vegetable plot photo, Tuesday morning

weekly vegetable plot photo, Tuesday morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and have a good week!

-pppppppp

snow photos forever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

-ppppppp

at least one warm place on the farm now!

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

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

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

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

the heated chamber during the day

the heated chamber during the day

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

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

ignore the awful germination in the foreground

ignore the awful germination in the foreground

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

-pppp

Requesting an extension of March

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

-ppppp

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.

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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