As beginning farmers (that's technically someone who's been farming for 10 years or less, according to the USDA), Els and I are working on finding systems that work for us, and work for this land we have been allowed to care for.
In the past few years, we have worked to reduce the amount of soil disturbance that we do in general. Why? Because it destroys the delicate structure of the soil, upsetting the beneficial fungi and microbes that help get the plants the nutrients that they need to thrive. There is a saying, "tilling is killing", and this is one reason that all the huge corn and soy bean farms around here stopped tilling the soil years ago. Also, each time you till the soil, carbon is released into the air, and once the soil is loosened it can be washed away in the rain.
The thing is, it's much trickier with vegetables. To plant teeny tiny vegetable seeds, or even to transplant small plants, your soil must be "friable"- that means loose and fluffy. Tilling is an easy way to get that texture of soil. Organic farms also use tilling as a method of weed control. They can't just be spraying round up on their organic veggie fields, like the corn and soy farmers do. Until pretty recently, it was a given that vegetable farmers HAD to till. But this is an exciting and innovative time for small scale vegetable growers! Farmers like us have been experimenting, and there are a bunch of cool methods and tools that are allowing us to use the power of nature to till the soil. I like to think of it as "worm-till". In the photo of our farm below, you can see the veggie field has swaths of black and white covering it. Those are giant tarps that we use to smother weeds and spent crops so that we don't have to till. We also use landscape fabric between widely spaced crops like winter squash to accomplish the same thing, but still be able to grow a crop at the same time.
Winter squash is a prime example. You plant a row of seeds every four feet. that's a lot of bare soil between rows, so we covered the bare soil with fabric right after seeding. The squash plants grew so big, that you can't even see the fabric from this photo (it's the right-most bottom swath of field- next to the field road). While the soil was covered, worms were under there working like it was night time 24 hours a day. We never had to water our winter squash, because the soil was shaded from the sun, and protected from the wind, so the rain we got last year was plenty... and it was a really dry year! We harvested the squash in the fall, but left the fabric in place over the winter. In the spring we raked off the dried squash vines, and peeled back the fabric to reveal soil that we could transplant right into with our bare hands.
As 2019 begins, I've been sifting though some of the photographs we took last year. It's been fun to remember the visits we have had, and the things we have accomplished! 2018 was the second season on our farm, and we took on the huge project of building (or, rather... having someone build for us) a pack shed that we will be able to use year round- in other words, it's insulated, so we can increase our storage crop and winter CSA capacity. We also had our first harvest party this fall, where friends and CSA members came out to the farm to take a look. It was loads of fun, and we had a neighbor come by with his mobile pizza oven and serve up some tasty pizzas! We doubled our growing area, and increased the number of CSA shares we offered, which was a big deal for us, as it is a step towards financial sustainability for us. As we learn what works and what doesn't for our size and scale, we will be able to feed even more people from our small plot of land. We've had all manner of visitors out at the farm, family, friends, and folks that we had never met before that were looking for community in other queer farmers. Here are some of the gems hidden deep in my photo reel- I hope you enjoy the glimpse into our year, and perhaps it'll inspire you to come out for a visit!
Photos from our fall harvest party- the rain held off, and the hot tea, friendship, and fires kept us warm.
You know that saying, "there's never a dull moment"? Well, there is this moment that happens in early fall. It's the moment when most things are planted, and you are just waiting for the big harvests to start rolling in. It would be a nice time for a dull moment or two. The weather is beautiful and there are an array of summer crops available, should you want to cook an elaborate meal or do some canning. It seems like we find some trouble to get up to every time this happens... and this week, we brought home a mule. That's right, a 2 year old miniature mule- her mom was a pony and her dad was a donkey. The other way around, we learned while doing about some internet research before making this decision, is called a hinny. She's young and a little feisty, she's bitten us several times already, so we decided to name her after one of our most favorite devas, Stevie Nips.
She is technically here at the farm to be a guardian animal for our sheep, but I'm looking forward to getting a little driving cart and training Stevie and Els to go for rides.
A farm mystery solved!
Since last May we have been hearing a song- we didn't know if it was a bird song or a frog song- down in the marshy area past the sheep pasture. It went Ba-Bo and then would pause and then another Ba-Bo. It seemed to be just one voice, but we didn't make much of that at first. It was a call Els didn't know (I'll admit, I can only identify a handful of bird songs, but I'm working on that). Els' parents are enthusiastic birders, and so we asked who this might be, and they didn't know either. After moving the sheep this week to fresh pasture (we do this every few days) we laid down in the grass enjoy a short break while the sheep munched all around us. Ba-Bo has been a steady backdrop to any time we spend out behind the barn, and so it was that afternoon. But, as we laid looking up at the clouds we saw a Red-winged Blackbird sitting on the telephone wire who appeared to be singing Ba-Bo! This is not their normal call, "purple queeeee", but I guess certain birds can find their own voice. As we looked closer, we could see it steadily saying "ba-bo queeee".
As folks who spend lots of time outside and tracking the weather, the longest day holds a lot of practical meaning for us... the days leading up to and right after solstice have all the plants growing at top speed. And weeds are no exception... often at this time of year our to-do list has 'week the whole farm' somewhere on it. It blows my mind to think that all the days will be shorter than the last from Friday forward... and in about four months everything in the field will have been harvested, and eaten or stored for winter.
Salad Spinner It's important to wash your veggies before you eat them... but I don't want a soggy salad, and I definitely don't want to be washing my lettuce hangry. We wash up as much as will fit in our spinner, spin it dry and store the spinner in the fridge so it's ready to go whenever.
A good quality Chef's Knife really, really makes a difference. Did you know you are less likely to cut yourself on a sharp knife? It's true. I like an 8 inch blade- it is big enough to cut just about everything, but not unwieldily large. I like to have mine professionally sharpened every once in a while (totally worth $2 per knife at Eversharp Knifes in Northeast Minneapolis).
Box Grater the most basic of shredding equipment, but it has stood the test of time. When you make things small, you increase the surface area and the potential to add flavor to any vegetable sky rockets. In this same vein, I also would recommend a spiralizer.
Immersion Blender this is for blending things in their own container instead of in a blender or food processor... but with WAY less clean up.
Large Sheet Pan you can roast just about any vegetable to concentrate the flavor. The best is when it comes out golden brown and a little crispy. The key is not overcrowding the pan. So make sure you have a big pan!
,Amidst a "historic" spring snow storm that dropped about 10 inches of heavy spring snow on the farm this weekend, we had our first baby lambs born here at the farm. Els, in a moment of clarity suggested that we put all the sheep in the barn for the storm (even though they weren't due until next week, at the earliest). When we went to do chores on Saturday morning, there were these two little fellas hanging out with their mom, Lady Baba. Welcome to winter, Snowball and Blizzard!