Monday, March 4, 2013

2008---Our Fifth Season

In 2008 we met our 5-year goal of being a 100% CSA farm. No more standing around at market hoping the customers would come to buy, instead we were able to stay focused on farming, knowing that all of our produce was already sold.

Morning light in winter
As we plotted our future we realized that one thing we were not doing was getting the most out of the land we were cultivating. It seemed friends with home gardens were growing more in small areas than we were in long beds of crops. We decided to expand our operation by contracting - growing less plants and paying more attention to them.

We had been asked that January to coordinate a CSA Workshop at the Great Plains Vegetable Growers Conference in St. Joe. We immediately contacted Liz Henderson from Peacework Organic Farm to join us on the panel. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to show her our progress since those days in 2001 at her farm.

Rebecca and Elizabeth Henderson in January
We also took time to visit friend Liz Elmore who was working at The Land Institute in Salina, KS. This group of folks, headed by Wes Jackson, are working in a field they call natural systems farming. In what they state is at least a 100-year project, they are breeding perennial grains that can be grown in a prairie-like system. We suggest you visit their website to learn more, and to support their efforts.

Board at The Land Institute explaining some of their work
February was busy as we converted the Allis Chalmers G tractor from gas to electric. With volunteer apprentice Lorne Carroll's help and John Graff's welding ability we performed the operation lickety split. We had just started our blog and documented the progress there.

Lorne assembling new motor parts, old G gas engine at top of photo
Then there was Rocky. We knew that we needed help keeping the critters out of our fields and off of our crops, but were not sure what type of dog would do the trick. Livestock guarding breeds seemed to be the best choice - big and intimidating to a critter, but calm and sweet with people.  So when Tom Parker told us a local farmer had Great Pyrennes/Anatolian Shepherd cross puppies for sale we jumped at the opportunity. We brought Rocky home on February 5th. He was tough to resist.
Rocky and his brother Bandit

2007 volunteer apprentice Jen Baughman joined us for the year. Her sweet spirit and positivity kept us smiling during a difficult year.
Jen and Rebecca potting up fall crops
The fields in 2008 were drenched on numerous occasions. The potatoes were a total loss, as the trenches we cut to plant them in filled like irrigation ditches in April. The tomatoes did OK, but were diseased and dying by Labor Day. In September another gullywasher set back the Fall plantings.
Attempting to bail out the potato beds in mid-April

Effect of 3 inch rain in September

Typical 2008 harvest morning with CSA troopers
On the bright side, the strawberries loved the rain, as did the beans, greens, carrots, garlic, lettuce, sweet potatoes and cover crops. We harvested 587 quarts of strawberries that year. The Honeoye variety was a good choice...easy to pick, juicy, flavorful, not too sweet, and red all the way through. 
Our first harvest off the new patch
Fresh Tropea onions
Just dug carrots

Weeding crew at the strawberries
A colorful share
Kid Rocky
Though we did not necessarily need it, our solar powered irrigation system was installed in May. Missouri contractor Henry Rentz set things up and we took it from there. It came in handy in August, the only month without a downpour.

Our new solar panels and irrigation pump
The wetness of the year gave pause, as we realized that our farming methods were vulnerable to excess rain. Problems could occur with only 2 to 3 inches of precipitation, something we knew to expect in the future. So we worked on several strategies to address excess moisture.

Step 1: Take low spots in the fields out of production. Being so dry when we started farming in 2003, we did not know just how wet some areas could get.

Step 2: Mulch as much as we can. A canopy of hay or straw over the surface of our silt/clay soils does wonders to keep the plants and soil life from suffocating after a downpour. Hay also provides food for worms and eventually the crops. As we like to say, we have grass-fed vegetables.
Jen mulching with hay over a buckwheat cover crop
Step 3: Use the electric G to gutter our beds, keeping the crops raised and reducing the chance of flooding out the plant.
Step 4: Continue with our cover cropping and biological farming methods. It is a proven fact that organically-farmed soils handle water better in wet conditions, and provide drought tolerance during dry times.
Rocky enjoying a nice stand of buckwheat
And so we entered another winter on the farm. Back to the remodel. This time it was the kitchen and dining room. We do alot of cooking and canning, so a functioning kitchen was a huge improvement to the homestead.

Stripped down and ready to go
So what did 2009 hold in season yet, bees, sheep and double the apprentices.

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