Farm Week: July 7, 2014

This week felt a little like the real beginning of summer, for a few reasons: zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes. The tomatoes have been a bit of a selfish secret so far, enough for a little taste at lunch, but not enough to bring to market, much less put in the boxes. People have been asking for tomatoes for weeks, understandably impatient, but seemingly ignorant of the climate of Wisconsin. Memory can be funny that way - it’s hot, where’s my sweet corn and tomatoes? But while we think of these as “summer crops,” they’re not really ready outdoors until almost mid-August, depending on the season, and the unheated hoop house only gives a few weeks head start. Tomatoes are such a milestone crop that I had to look back to my blog posts from last year to see whether we’d had our hoop house tomatoes already by this time. What I found really brought me back to the crazy season we had last year. In Connecticut last year, it rained almost non-stop from the end of May through late June, and in fact the weather spurred a latent poetic urge in me, the results of which I’ve attached below. This year in central Wisconsin, we did have a few wet weeks in June, in which the lower ends of the field were underwater, but since then it has dried out, and while there is some stunted growth in the lowest points of the field, what we see these days is mostly lush growth, happy plants, and happy farmers. This week last year, we took an unplanned week off of our CSA boxes to attack the weeds full time. This week, decided to keep going to the third weekly farmers market. For me, this look back was a great reminder of just how dependent we are on the vagaries of the weather, which are only getting more unpredictable with every passing year. In the meantime, I sure savored that first tomato, thanking my lucky stars that the beginning of this season did not mirror last season.

Thinking about: machinery, neighbors, La Copa Mundial

Eating: the first red tomatoes, summer squash, carrots, beets, scallions, and more

Reading: Roberto Bolano’s 2666, Michael Phillips’ The Holistic Orchard, Dave Jacke & Eric Toensmeier’s Edible Forest Gardens, Ron L Engeland’s Growing Great Garlic

From July 2013:

It started with the rhythmic patter,
on wood, on canvas, on plastic and fiberglass.
Faint, then constant, then pounding.
It started then it stayed,
at last coming up to a roar
eventually receding in the mind
like so much white noise.
Hours became days became weeks, 
the roar ceasing for few precious hours,
supplanted by the resulting rumble of the brook, 
near breaching its brown banks, 
with bated breath you awaited the flood.

And in and around the rain 
you worked, layers of cotton
mouldering under layers of rubber, 
hair curling under the humid hood,
toes, soles, souls soggy in your socks.
Staggering through kale,
mud covered the tops of your feet,
passive, feigning innocence,
then violently  grasping your boot, 
relenting with an obscene SHLOOP!
Bent scythe-like, you filled your bins,
willing the clouds to part.

And then one day, at last, the heat came.
Your bodies from soggy to sweating and burnt,
your fields from grey to green.
But the relief was fleeting, for bending closer
to the earth, you saw the green not of
nightshades or cucurbits, but of
noxious weeds, galinsoga and sedge,
waging a battle you hadn't time to fight.
You peeled off socks, and sank 
to your shins in soaked soil, 
clawing to save your precious plants,
each day closer, yet farther from victory.

And on you worked, falling into rhythms:
harvest, hoe, sow, muster for battle.
Hundreds of row-feet planted,
thousands of plants saved. And yet,
another menace emerged, at first invisible.
From the tire-tracks of tractors,
from the lowest fields and pastures,
the winged militia took flight, evoking in you
a arhythmic dance, a slap, a flick,
an equine swing of the mane,
the perfumed attempt at evasion,
And finally, the itch, the scratch, the rub.

And as battle raged in you and around you,
you came upon treasures, buried and not.
The faint pip! of a root pulled from the ground,
the sweet smell when you pop off the carrot-top,
the small snap of the pea as you bite,
the mint and parsley and dill and cilantro,
that force the deep breathing of calm.
And finally, when the memory has all but gone,
you spy that glint of deep red in the greenhouse.
You pluck it, you smell it, your mouth waters.
Bacon sizzling, you reach for the toothy knife,
and at last you remember why you farm.

Farm Week: June 2, 2014

Another busy week here on the farm. Some heavy downpours last weekend pushed back our plans for planting our outdoor tomatoes, but our greenhouse tomatoes are pruned and trellised and well on their way to production. Even with a soggy field, we kept filling up the field with food. As the field fills and the weather keeps up, we find ourselves staring down the start of a long and ongoing battle against the weeds. Now is the part of the season where we have to split our attention between finishing our seeding and transplanting, weeding the crops that are getting established, and harvesting for the CSA and markets. Complicating matters as always is the weather, which can alternately keep us out of the fields, fry us while we’re in the fields, or give the weeds a head start. As always, there is plenty to be done. 

We also made our first cutting of hay on about five acres this week, and Mat used the horses for most of the process. I was only involved at the last minute (or last few hours, I guess). I drove the old Allis-Chalmers tractor around in concentric circles, pulling a baler and a hay wagon. Mat stacked the bales, and we ended up finishing in plenty of time before the rain started on Saturday afternoon. Sometimes I look at farm equipment and marvel at the ingenuity. Whoever thought of a way to pick up hay off the ground, arrange it in tight bales, and tie it off with twine was imaginative, to say the least. The machine seems to be the  definition of a contraption, with its rhythmic clanking metal and constantly moving parts. Fascinating.

Thinking about: ingenuity, time management, rhythm

Eating: spaghetti with homemade cream sauce with ham, broccoli, and spring onions; arugula salads; french toast made with Renard’s buckwheat pear and hazelnut bread

Reading: Steven Apfelbaum’s Nature’s Second Chance: Restoring the Ecology of Stone Prairie Farm, Susan Bourette’s Meat: A Love Story, Plutarch’s Selected Essays on Love, the Family, and the Good Life

Farm Week: May 26, 2014

This week was an intense week on the farm, in a few different ways. On the one hand, we got quite a bit done. Our greenhouse tomatoes are pruned and trellised! Our fields keep filling up with transplants! We are (so far) keeping up with the cultivation! The sun came on strong and hot this week—we are apparently skipping spring for the most part this year. Our first CSA boxes went out this week, which included over-wintered leeks, pea shoots, asparagus, rhubarb, and mint. The relative scarcity this early in the season will be compensated for with some very heavy, full boxes later in the season. For now, though, we have a few spring delicacies to offer. 

The other thing that made this week intense was that we lost the family milk cow, Frida, very suddenly to bloat. Bloat usually occurs in the spring when cows return to the pasture after eating hay all winter. You can mitigate the risk of bloat by not putting cows out onto wet grass and by limiting access to very rich or high-nitrogen pasture until they become slowly accustomed to fresh pasture again. We did both of these things, and we still weren’t able to prevent it. It happened the same day that we had to deliver CSA boxes and drive feeder pigs to another farmer a few hours away, so we were all pretty busy. We brought the cows in after less than two hours on pasture, and there were no warning signs. Hours later, when we went to do the evening barn chores, we was gone. Once a cow is bloated there are a few last-ditch things farmers can try to save them. A risky approach is to use a needle or a thin knife to puncture between the ribs and let the air out. This comes with quite a risk of infection. Another option is to lubricate a length of garden hose and force it down the cow’s throat until it hits the rumen and expels the gas. Not a pleasant task, but you’d be willing to try it if it might save the family cow. But it’s a moot point, as we missed any window for action. It’s a sad thing to lose any animal, but a family milk cow is closer to a pet than any other livestock on the farm. Looking for that silver lining, we did just gain a milk cow in Redtop, so we won’t be without milk. Also, Frida’s calf from last year is a young heifer, almost ready to be bred. By this time next year, she’ll have a calf of her own, and Frida’s legacy will continue on the farm.

Thinking about: constant vigilance, setbacks, progress

Eating: asparagus, ramp, and morel omelets; homemade oatmeal and flax seed cookies

Reading: Steven Apfelbaum’s Nature’s Second Chance: Restoring the Ecology of Stone Prairie Farm, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Farm Week: May 19, 2014

It has been an amazing week here, weather-wise. One day you’re looking for another sweater, and the next you’re reaching for the sunblock and floppy hat. Spring is here in full force - everything is green again! Fruit trees are blossoming, the dandelions are out, and color has returned to the world! It happens so gradually that sometimes you have to just stop and look around to soak it in. The cows are certainly happy to see the green again, and they’ve started their grazing rotation. Using portable electric fencing, they get a new swath of pasture every morning, forcing them to graze more evenly and completely, which improves the pasture while providing them steady rations. 

We’re also feeling the impact of all the new grass, with Frida, our little Jersey, actually producing even more milk now that she’s on grass. We feed the excess skim milk and whey to the growing pigs, so the wealth is shared all around the farm. We also welcomed another friendly face to our barnyard: a new cow by the name of Redtop. She’s a Brown Swiss-Holstein cross, which mean’s she’s much bigger than Frida and will produce much more milk, though with a lower cream content. She arrived at the beginning of the week, and by the end of the week, she had added to our little herd yet again! Ringo, a little bull calf, was waiting for us one morning, with legs almost as long as Frida’s straight out of the womb. I don’t have any pictures at the moment, but I promise to get a good one this coming week. 

The first farmers market happened in Green Lake this past Friday, and this coming week will see the first CSA boxes go out. As expected, the boxes are a little lighter this early in the spring than they will be in a few weeks, but the bounty of August and September will even things out eventually. My parents came up for a visit over the long holiday weekend, and we took that opportunity to go for a hike with Danielle and the boys in her family’s glen, where we found a few morels and some ramps. More spring delicacies! 

Thinking about: perennial planning, chlorophyll, vitamin D

Eating: even more asparagus, homemade pitas, homemade hummus, baigan bartha, some made sour cream, foraged ramps 

Reading: Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, Steven Apfelbaum’s Nature’s Second Chance: Restoring the Ecology of Stone Prairie Farm, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl