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 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

Farm Week: May 12, 2014

Another exciting and productive week here on the farm. Once again, we worked around the weather to keep filling up our fields for the season. We planted our onions, shallots, and scallions, which is a big crop for us. We kept planting lots of greens, like chard, cabbage, and lettuce. During those times we couldn’t be out in the fields, whether they were actively being drenched or were too wet to plant, we continued the seeding process indoors. There’s something almost meditative about hearing rain fall outside while you’re planting seeds that will result in delicious vegetables weeks, or even months, from now. 

The many new arrivals of last week are as cute as ever, or maybe even cuter. The newest two litters of pigs are making their first few forays into the pasture, and they are tiny but very sturdy. As I mentioned last week, we stumbled into a bit of an unorthodox situation in regards to lots and lots of day-old chicks. Well, it was a gamble after all. These were not a mixed “barnyard mix” as advertised, but instead a discount mix consisting of all male chicks from heritage laying breeds. That means our new laying flock is a few more months off than we thought, but that we’ll have a freezer full of birds nonetheless. I also helped in the first check of our two new honeybee colonies. We were able to find the queens in colonies, and we’ll be checking back in periodically to make sure they’re going strong.  

Thinking about: storage solutions, sprouts, timely hoeing

Eating: lots of asparagus!, fresh-harvested shitakes, lentil soup with duck stock, shitakes, and fresh ginger

Reading: Temple Grandin’s Humane Livestock Handling, Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, John Seymour’s Guide to Self-Sufficiency

Farm Week: May 5, 2014

My second week here on the farm was quite a whirlwind of adolescent arrivals. We started off the week with a visit from an exchange group of French fourth graders, who were living with host families in nearby Ripon for two weeks. They were very well-behaved, asked a mix of intelligent and adorable questions, and took pictures of everything. Also arriving this week on the farm were 14 adorable newborn piglets. Two new sows farrowed on the same beautiful day without any problems, though when I woke up to thunderstorms later that night, the newborn pigs were the first thing I thought of.

We had been planning to order some new chicks to raise up into a pasture-based laying flock, and were just finalizing our breed choices when we were presented with an opportunity that was just too good to pass up. For half of the planned price, we bought twice the planned chicks, and so now we find ourselves with 200 chicks, some layers, some meat birds, and all of indeterminate breed and sex at this stage. It was a bit of a gamble, but at the end of the day (make that the end of the summer), we’ll hopefully end up with a trailer full of laying hens in the pasture and a freezer full of chicken for sale. 

As the weather continues to warm up, we continue to slowly fill the field with seeds and seedlings. We planted our potatoes this week, four different varieties. We continued to transplant brassicas and mustards, like cabbage, kohlrabi, and pak choi. We finished ripping out the remnants of early spring spinach production, and transplanted a whole range of tomatoes and peppers to get a jump on the weather and take advantage of the demand for early tomatoes at the market.

We rounded out the week with the arrival of two packages of honeybees, which we housed in hives down by the pond, followed by a barbecue and bonfire with a few people who volunteer on the farm. We couldn’t have asked for a better night for it!

Thinking about: timing, new friends, muscle memory

Eating: homemade pizza with cow tongue sausage, yeast rolls with homemade ricotta and beet chutney, homemade mac and cheese with guanciale and spinach, fresh raw radishes with homemade butter and salt

Reading: Temple Grandin’s Humane Livestock Handling, Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg, Diana Henry’s Plenty

Farm Week: April 28, 2014

At long last, my farming season is underway here at Boerson Farm in Princeton, Wisconsin. Although the season got off to a rainy start, I’m glad to have my boots back in the mud and my hands busy again. Boerson Farm is a small, diversified farm run by Mat and Danielle Boerson with some help and hindrance from Henry and Shep, two energetic and adorable boys who I am sure will get even more rambunctious as the days warm up and shoes come off. The farm produces organic veggies for a 50-member CSA and a few farmers markets in the neighboring towns, as well as pastured pork and a bit of grass-fed beef. The barnyard is rounded out with a very diverse flock of chickens, ducks, and guinea hens and three big beautiful draft horses, which are used for as much of the cultivation and haying as possible. 

I spent this past week getting settled into my new digs (a mother-in-law apartment about 10 minutes away at the house of a lovely family who are big supporters of the Boersons’ endeavors) and jumping right into work on the farm. Because of the weather and the low ground, the fields were too soggy to work, so we mostly worked in the greenhouse, getting beds ready for tomatoes and peppers, got a bit of a jump on next week’s scheduled seeding, cutting seed potato, and gleaning what we could from the last of the winter spinach. One of the bigger projects for the week was inoculating oak logs with shitake mushroom spores, which was a very cool process to learn. We stood up the last batch of logs for easier and more productive harvests this year, and then stacked the newly inoculated and waxed logs in the evergreen hedgerow, where they’ll start to produce next year. 

One of the most fascinating things this week has been getting to know the routines and the systems in place, which varies so much from farm to farm. For example, the Boersons use soil blocks to start seeds instead of plastic or styrofoam trays. To make the blocks, you mix up a slurry of compost, peat, vermiculite, pearlite, nutrients, lime, and water, then use a handheld press to shape blocks, which you squeeze out onto a prepared surface. You can seed right into these, and then when you’re ready to transplant you can stick the whole thing in the ground, which cuts down on lots of the plastic waste that growing vegetables can entail. There will be many more of these new skills to come, and I’m looking forward to learning what it takes to run a diversified farm on this scale, fitting many moving parts together to make a thriving farm that much closer to self-sustaining. I’m excited and energized for a great season!

Thinking about: new systems, year-round cash-flow, mud season

Eating: freshly made stovetop flatbreads with Boerson ham, cheese, greenhouse spinach, and tart apples; egg noodles with spinach, beef, and buttermilk sauce; parsnips, carrots, rice and beans in various forms

Reading: Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, Kim Severson’s Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life, Temple Grandin’s Humane Livestock Handling, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois’ Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Farm Week: May 6-10, 2013

This week brought the full range of spring weather, including some much-needed rainfall. The trees are waking up, and the view up the hillsides in all directions from our little valley becomes greener every day. The winter rye is over knee-high, and the smell of apple blossoms has caused me to stop moving and breathe deeply at least once per day.

Now a little over a week old, our broiler chicks are bigger and more fully feathered every time we feed them. They're still small and cute, and they still have a few weeks to go before they go outside. We decided not to buy organic feed because the price was prohibitively high, but we did find some conventional feed without all the unnecessary antibiotics. If the farm were certified organic and we were selling them formally to the CSA members, we might have made the decision to shell out for the organic feed and price the birds accordingly higher. Instead of going for the omnipresent fast-growing hybrid Cornish Cross, we opted for Freedom Rangers, which is a breed known for its hardiness and its foraging, which makes it the perfect bird for pasture-raising.

This week brought a bit more transplanting, and lots of cultivation. The same amount of transplanting that would have made us tired and sore a few weeks ago is now just a matter of course. The first round of spring carrots also needed to be thinned - Dan chooses to over-seed these notoriously bad germinators to avoid long gaps between carrots so we all sat down in a pathway and weeded and thinned the carrots to 1-1.5 inches. It is very slow-going, monotonous, and miniscule work. I loved it. We've done some hand-hoeing, which always makes for some great conversation as we move down the rows. The carrots also provoked hours of interesting conversation, but for some reason I have a skill for this particular task, and after awhile I was too far ahead to take part. So I put on some old-timey fiddle and banjo music and somehow my fingers moved even faster.

Another highlight this week was the first CRAFT visit of the season. At first twice and later once per month, all the apprentices from sustainable farms in the area get out of work early on a Monday and gather on one of the participating farms for a two-hour workshop followed by a potluck dinner. This week's topic was cover crops and compost, and I'm working on an essay about the thoughts the tour and workshop provoked. For now I'll say that I'm really looking forward to these visits all season. Even besides the workshops, I think it's immensely instructive just to see how different farms are set up and how they operate. The potluck was great, too - good food and good conversation, and I'm looking forward to many more.

Thinking about: bare feet in the soil, wide-brimmed hats, smells of spring

Eating: Pita with homemade hummus, avocado, apple, and homemade sauerkraut

Reading: Michael Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef, Dave Eggers' A Hologram for the King