Friday, July 29, 2011
We hang it up to cure in our neighbor Jack's barn for a few weeks-- it dries down to get those nice papery husks which help it store at room temperature for a long time. We'll start clipping it down and cleaning it up to give out with our CSA shares soon.
Friday, July 22, 2011
We often grow winter rye as a cover crop, to add organic matter into the soil during the times when we're not growing a vegetable crop on the ground. Instead of harvesting it, we plow it under just when it's at its height of growth. Basically we are composting right on the field-- but composting needs moisture to activate the little critters (fungi, earthworms, bacteria, etc.) that decompose the rye straw and turn it into rich soil organic matter. No rain = no composting. The hard soil chunks and the dry rye straw just sit there until there is moisture. So we put up with harsh planting conditions, hoping that our little cabbage seedlings are strong enough to hold on. We keep them on life-support: our 400 foot drip irrigation lines provide enough immediate moisture for their roots to venture down into the deeper subsoil, where they can access more hospitable conditions. We blanket them with row cover, which keeps the moisture in and the cabbage moths out.
But here's the exciting news from last week: we are grain farmers now!
We had a back field of about four and a half acres (across the street), which we planted to winter rye last fall, to prepare the ground for future vegetable crops. Until May, the field had standing water from our incredibly wet spring, so we couldn't plow it, or even bush-hog it, until it got to be five feet tall. The rye started "heading up"... and Luke and I took a walk through the field a few weeks ago, discussing what we should do with the field. Luke is a baker... and he got an idea in his head.
Our neighbor Jack, who farms a few miles down the road from us, grows corn, soybeans, oats, hay, and wheat. He is always extremely helpful, stopping by at just the right moment when something is broken, and always having the right tool back at his barn to fix it. We asked if he would harvest our rye for us with his combine. He said sure!
Here's a few photos from the exciting morning. As he entered the back field, I noticed the humorous contrast between this huge green machine and our eggplant field.
Once in that great big sea of golden grain, I quickly realized that this was indeed the tool for the job. He got the whole field done in less than an hour-- imagine how we would have done it before machines like this!
We all crowded around to watch his first few passes!
I climbed up in the hopper to see what it looked like-- our very first grain harvest!
We ended up yielding about eighty bushels.
Jack even baled the straw for us. Now we're more than just vegetable growers-- we're grain farmers.
Luke plans to make a whole lot of rye bread. Check it out Small World Bakery's booth at the market in a couple of weeks!
(Neighbor kid Gracie enjoying a few raw turnips)
Friday, July 8, 2011
People often ask me what brought me to Mud Creek. I think there are a variety of reasons I decided to join Erin’s team this summer. For one thing, as a farmer’s daughter, I had experienced how my family farms, but I wanted to experience other, different farms. Erin’s farm is about as far away from my family’s farm as you can get. For one thing, Erin’s farm is organic, and it is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) My father’s farm is also a vegetable farm, but he grows food on a commercial scale, he sells most of what he grows at auctions, and he is not organic (although he is moving in that direction.) I have also farmed on Rivka Davis’ Road’s End Organic Farm, in Starkey, NY. Rivka’s farm is a lot closer to Erin’s farm in many respects, except she wasn’t a CSA either, she sold all of her produce at farmer’s markets. So it’s been a great experience being able to work on three very different farms, all of which are very different scale of production, and managed very differently as well.
Besides farming, my interests are wide and varied. I attended Birthingway College of Midwifery for three years, and see myself as a midwife someday. Farming will probably just be something I do as a side thing, maybe three acres at most, enough to feed my own family. I think I’ll primarily want to focus on attending home-births, growing herbs for my midwifery business, and making herbal medicines. But I do think farming and midwifery can go hand in hand, since many of the midwives I know are also small-scale farmers and/or homesteaders. I think this is because midwives tend to know the value of good nutrition, and because both midwifery and farming are about being good stewards of the earth, while helping people be healthy and heal. One of the most famous midwifery authors, Michel Odent, a French man who started revolutionary water birth centers in France, was a farmer before he became an OB. He wrote a book very well known in midwifery circles called “The Farmer and the Obstetrician.” I need to read that book.
I also like adventures of all types, everything from epic bike trips, to dancing, to hiking, traveling (often with little or no money,) trying to tan animal hides, making home-brews, swimming, fishing, hunting, punk rock shows, eating wild foods, bonfires, canoing, and all sorts of other adventures. For example, I once hitchhiked all the way from Portland, OR to Minnesota to meet up with a group of people, most of whom I didn’t know, to harvest wild rice from lakes in the northern woods. That turned out to be a great adventure! And by the way, freshly harvested wild rice is the best tasting grain you can imagine!
I’ve lived a very unconventional life so far, but it has been very full and imaginative. I’m so glad Mud Creek Farm has become part of my adventure this year!
Saturday, July 2, 2011
The days are long, and the sweating starts before 8am and doesn't stop till the sun goes down.
It's about this time when I start thinking that growing vegetables is kind of a battle. So much is invested in each plant, from planting the tiny seed, preparing the soil, keeping it watered, weeding, pruning, thinning, hoeing, cultivating. I begin to feel motherly tendencies, and I want to protect these plants with all of my might.
But vegetables, especially the kinds that have been bred to be most sweet and tender, are delicious. And word gets out, among the non-human population. Critters on four legs, critters on six legs, critters that fly, critters that slide on their own slime. Critters that metamorphasize. They all approach the buffet table and ready themselves for a nice meal, on someone else's tab. It's hard to fend them all off!
Times like these, it's easy to see how some farmers who find themselves feeling vulnerable against all of these "pests" choose to use chemicals as an effective tool for vegetable warfare.
Even the nutsedge, velvetleaf, purslane, and quackgrass seem to march into the territory with bloody axes swinging, ready to push out our tender helpless cucumber seedlings. Having the easy option of herbicide might be a sizable axe to swing back at them.
But here at Mud Creek Farm, we recognize that chemically-created death potions are not the answer, because of long-term negative effects on both us and the environment.
So our tools for battle? We have to be creative.
For weeds we use a variety of techniques, which we are still honing and perfecting. When it comes down to it, we hand-pull. But this is a last resort! We have a cultivating tractor just for weeding. And different kinds of hoes. We are even experimenting with flame-weeding! And timing cover crops correctly help us lower the overall weed seed-bank.
For bugs, we mostly use rotation. This means that cabbage doesn't get planted in the same field where cabbage was last year. Certain insects require special consideration. For Colorado Potato Beetle (CPB), we have to hand-pick the larvae off the plants a few times. We are experimenting with interplanting buckwheat in our potato field to attract the "good bugs" that will parasitize the CPB's. We let the ladybugs and lacewings keep other bugs in check. Usually a big outbreak of a pest will be quickly dealt with by a food web that is healthy and diverse.
Larger, furrier pests, can be more difficult because the food web that keeps them in check is partially broken by the strain of Victor's over-development. We do have a few resident hawks and foxes that prey on meadow voles, rabbits, and woodchucks. Our job is to keep the area thirty feet around the fields mowed low, so the predators can do their hunting. Occasionally we set traps, when severe nibbling is occuring. For the deer, we have the electric fence, which works about 80% or so. We still see hoof prints in the field, but it is only the brave souls. I am hoping my neighbor's soybean field down the road will distract them soon from our green beans! We also do enjoy our venison steaks. We might also try spraying hot sauce on some of their favorite plants, and spreading dog hair around the edges to dissuade them.
On these cloudless, really HOT days, sometimes the sun seems like a pest. Slowly drying the soil out to the point where the plants get stressed and will produce less, or fail to produce an edible harvest. Lettuce bolts (check out our "Christmas tree lettuce") -- it turns bitter before it makes a big harvestable head. Broccoli gets weird, staggered crowns. Arugula and bok choi make flowers. Forget those crops, let's save the rest of the farm-- and then the farmers get stressed! Hours are spent under that blazing sun, fixing and moving irrigation lines, turning on and off valves, and trying to get the pump started. Wouldn't it be so much nicer if it just rained?
For this battle, we have no chance of victory at all really. We just have to make do with what we are given. Half an inch of rain? I'll take it! Three inches of rain? Okay, I'll take that too! No rain? Sure. The ground has survived worse.
Farming-- what a profession to be in! Experiencing a direct connection with the climate and the natural ecosystem have their benefits: we get to work outdoors and have nature all around us! But the realities are that vegetables are just really pretty vulnerable. It takes all our might to protect them.