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Hello blog readers. Well, it’s been a couple months without a post from us here on the farm. It’s summer, and we are pretty busy. However, we do write a weekly newsletter for our CSA subscription program, and we will now be posting each week’s newsletter here on the blog. We’re just going to pick up in the middle of things…. I think you’ll be able to catch on:

After last week’s mini account of our farm’s history, I thought I’d write a bit about how our farm looks today. When we moved onto this property in the early part of 2011, it was just a big expanse of grass. Formerly, this farm was operated as a dairy, but it had been lying fallow for at least six years and cut for hay from time to time.

Converting what I like to call “old-growth pasture” to tilled soil is a major undertaking. We have a diverse mix of plants in our pasture fields, but the dominant species are various types of grass, and the dreaded buttercup. In order to create a soil medium that will successfully grow vegetables, it’s necessary to kill (or at least mortally wound) these perennial grasses. The first step is plowing. For our big initial field preparations, we hire a neighbor with a big tractor and a big two-bottom plow. The plow undercuts the soil at a depth of about 15”, and inverts it, flipping and burying the grass where it will theoretically perish for lack of sunlight.  The plow leaves a sort of wavy pattern on the top of the soil. After a certain amount of time, we either decide the grass has been buried long enough to die, or we have to plant so we just forge ahead. Then it’s time to disk. The disk is actually a series of rolling disks, set on their edges, that we drag across the field, perpendicular to the plowed waves. It breaks up large clods of dirt and begins to level out the ridges. Disking is a very bumpy tractor job.

Once the field has been plowed and disked, we use different tools to break up and smooth out the soil, partly depending on the time of year and how wet the soil is, and partly depending on what we plan to plant in the field. After three years of continuing to break new ground on our farm, we now have about 25 acres that have been plowed and prepared for planting. This year, 15 acres will be used to grow vegetable crops over the course of the year, and the other 10 are either being rested after a year or two of vegetable production or are recently plowed fields that we are “bare fallowing” in an effort to bring the grass and other perennial weeds more under control. Despite our best efforts, the old-growth pasture grasses are amazingly tenacious. They have deep and complex networks of roots, and they propagate with underground runners that can pierce straight through a full-size potato and grow several feet long in a single season. Bare-fallowing helps clean up the patches of grass that survive plowing. We use tractor-mounted tools that undercut or drag out the grass roots without disturbing the soil structure or pulverizing soil aggregates. Finally, all of our fields get a sowing of cover crops before the winter rains set in. Cover crops protect soil against erosion during the winter, and when we turn them under in the spring, they build organic matter in our soil. More on that next time!

Box Contents for July 23rd

1 bunch red beets

1 small bunch carrots

1 bunch collards

1 bunch sweet onions

2 zucchini

1 bunch baby bok choi

1 head Samantha red oakleaf lettuce

4 ‘Miniature White’ salad cucumbers

1 bunch dill

Large Box Additions

First tomatoes!

Sage

Flashy Trout’s Back lettuce

Next week’s produce (we think): carrots – potatoes – scallions – fennel – chard – savoy cabbage – broccoli (maybe) – cukes & zukes!

Ideas and info for this week’s produce

Beets  – Beets are making their first appearance in the CSA boxes this week. We grow three different varieties of beets, which you will probably see each of at some point this year, but today you are getting the classic red beet. The simplest way to make your beets is to boil them whole. No need to peel, just put them in a small pot with enough water to cover, and boil until the beets are easily pierced with a paring knife. Drain, and run under cold tap water. The beets’ skin will easily slip off. Then you may use the cooked, peeled beets however you like. I am pleased that our dill crop is ready to pick in time for this week’s box, because I think dill is a great accompaniment to both beets and cucumbers. Cubed chilled beets, cucumbers, and slices of sweet onion would make a lovely salad, either with a simple vinegar dressing or some kind of creamy addition (yogurt, sour cream), topped off with a sprinkle of minced dill.

Speaking of cucumbers:

Cucumber – I think cucumber is one of the most popular items we include in the CSA. Just about everyone enjoys cucumbers, and they are easy to eat, even if you feel overwhelmed by cooking some of your other vegetables. We have planted a LOT of cucumbers this year, and we expect to be able to give them in the box regularly from now through mid-September. Cukes should be stored in a sealed container the fridge, and will keep at least a week if un-cut. All of these cucumbers will work for the refrigerator pickle recipe. One large or two medium cucumbers will probably fill a quart jar.

Recipe – Refrigerator Pickles

Slice cucumbers into ¼” thick rounds. Slice half an onion and a sweet pepper into strips. Pack vegetables into a quart jar. Roughly chop dill and add to jar. In a saucepan, bring to a boil ¾ cup apple cider vinegar, ½ cup water, ½ cup sugar (or honey), 1 teaspoon peppercorns, 1 ½ teaspoons mustard seed and pour over cucumbers to fill jar. Leave uncovered and chill for 24 hours. Cover, and keep in fridge. Pickles will keep in the fridge for several weeks.  (You can also make a half recipe.)

Beet Greens – What with all the roots this week, along with the zucchini and cucumber, your box is a bit light on cooking greens…. But don’t forget about your beet greens! Cook just like kale or chard (beet greens and chard are the same species!). More recipes in today’s email.

It’s been a long while since we updated the blog. And no wonder. The weather for the past month has been amazing. Especially, with the memory of the past two cold and wet springs still fresh in our mind. This time of year is probably the most stressful around here. We have hundreds of thousands of little seedlings in the greenhouse waiting to be transplanted, we have fields growing cover crops waiting to be mowed, disked, spaded, and made into beds for seeding or transplanting…. if only it would dry out enough for us to work the soil. Well, this year we have mostly been spared the stress that comes from too much rain in the spring.

Mowing cover crops

Mowing cover crops

Indeed, with the wonderfully warm and dry weather we’ve had, we’ve been wonderfully busy. The Broadway Farmers Market started in April, and the Duvall Market started in early May.

Harvesting Radishes

Harvesting Radishes

Broadway Market

Broadway Market

We built our new NRCS funded greenhouse and immediately planted it with tomatoes. Our second round of tomatoes, and our peppers and eggplant will be going in next week.

First round of tomatoes

First round of tomatoes

We have already seeded or transplanted around 4 acres of veggies, and in the coming weeks we’ll be putting in a whole lot more.

Emerging zucchini

Emerging zucchini

Transplanting Brassicas

Transplanting Brassicas

Seeding Beets

Seeding Beets

Once the plants are in the ground, comes the task of watering, weeding, and otherwise caring for them. Before the rain returned again last week, we were forced to start irrigating earlier than I can ever remember.

Lettuce and drip tape

Lettuce and drip tape

We also got out and did some tractor cultivation. Here’s a video I made while cultivating lettuce. The black object that keeps flashing through the screen is the steering wheel.

Wheeeee

Wheeeee

Winter to Spring

This week, we are saying goodbye to some old friends; leeks, beets, and carrots are all making their final appearance on our fresh sheet and farmers market table until this year’s crops grow up. Some of these crops have been with us for a very long time. Leeks are started from seed in February or March, transplanted into the field in May, and harvested starting in late September. We leave all the small leeks in the field over the winter – they are very cold hardy, so we can just walk out to the field to pick leeks for dinner all winter long. Finally, sometime in April or May, the remaining leeks start to make their flowering stalk. This appears first as a thin but tough inner core, which will become a five-foot high flower if left alone. When we see the first signs of this in our overwintered leeks, it’s time to pull them all out of the field. Carrots, parsnips, and beets all have a similar life cycle. At a certain point in the spring, they come out of winter dormancy and start putting all their stored root energy into a flowering stalk – truly their only purpose in life! All the photosynthetic work that these plants do in the first season of their life to grow a big sweet root is ultimately all repurposed to make an attractive flower, get pollinated, and make viable seed to keep their genes in the gene pool. From our point of view, that emerging flower stalk is a sign that the roots are about to get tough and bland, so it’s time to harvest… sorry plants, you won’t be reproducing.

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Mid-winter carrot harvest

Some years, overwintered crops carry through the end of April or even into May. It’s some combination of day length and temperature that must send them into reproductive mode, but I don’t know exactly what does it. This year, the change has come earlier than normal. Maybe it was our mild winter, or the warm spell we had in March, but everything is rapidly trying to go to flower.

Luckily, mild winter weather usually means that we have also had a chance to get some of this year’s crops into the ground a little earlier than normal. Yesterday, besides the very last of our Red-Cored Chantenay carrots, we harvested our first spring-sown crops from the field: French Breakfast radishes and tender little mustard greens. These were sown during an exciting little weather window in late February, and have been slowly growing under a protective blanket of floating row cover for almost two months.

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Radishes!

It’s just a little bit of this and a little bit of that coming from the new plantings at this point, but it will help us through the difficult transition from winter to spring. Our first farmers market is this coming Sunday on Broadway, and we’ll have a diverse array of hearty roots and tender spring items. We used our small fleet of greenhouses to good effect this spring, and have already harvested several thousand row-feet of arugula, spinach, and radishes from February greenhouse plantings. For Sunday, we will have baby head lettuce and a little bit of salad greens from our greenhouse plantings to help fill our market table.

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Sowing radishes in the greenhouse.

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… and seven weeks later.

Soon, these spring greenhouse crops will have to make way for tomatoes, peppers, basil, and eggplants, and we’ll be relying on our hardy outdoor crops to grow, and not get eaten by pests, so we can continue to supply our market and restaurant customers with some form of vegetables. May is the most challenging month of the market season, because those outdoor crops just do not grow that quickly. We transplanted lettuce seedlings into the field couple weeks ago, and in a normal spring we should expect to harvest them not until the beginning of June.

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Lettuce for eating in June.

Chard and kale won’t reach pickable size until almost mid June. In May we really rely on our direct-sown, quick growing things: salad greens, bok choi, arugula, radishes, and turnips. This is why a dry spell in late February or March is so important for us! We drop everything and prepare beds so we can plant seeds in the field, tuck them into their little spun fabric blankets, and hope that they don’t get too munched by slugs before they are ready to harvest.

March!

Jason and I just took a whole week off from farming for a lovely family ski vacation. When we got back to the farm, the growth of the plants in the field and in our seedling house was genuinely shocking. Suddenly we feel like there is a lot of work to do.

We have been working steadily pretty much all winter long, but definitely taking a relaxed approach to everything. Each week there have been some crops to harvest, pack, and deliver to restaurants, and in early February we started the weekly routine of seeding flats in the greenhouse. Now, all those little seedlings are beginning to look like miniature plants, telling us that it is time to move them into the real soil. 

We applied for and received a National Resource Conservation Grant to build a new big greenhouse, so we plan to give one of our 30’x90′ greenhouses a break from tomato growing this year… which means that we have less than a month to build this new one, because our tomato plants will be ready to go in the soil around mid-April. This is what they look like now:Image

 

These are our “early” tomatoes, although we don’t push them in the ground as early now as we used to. Our second round of tomatoes is scheduled for seeding this week, with a plan to put them in the soil in mid-May. With that date in mind, we planted an experimental carrot crop in the greenhouse that will eventually hold our May tomatoes…. the little carrots are definitely growing but I’m dubious whether they will be ready to harvest in less than two months.

Our farmers market season begins in 5 weeks (!!) when Broadway Sunday market opens on April 21st. We are taking this new, early start date as a fun challenge to see what we can have ready to harvest by then – hence the greenhouse carrot experiment. Thankfully, like last year, we had a quite mild winter, which has allowed all sorts of things to survive for a bonus spring harvest. In late April, besides the limited supply of greenhouse grown radishes, arugula, baby lettuce, and other delicate specimens, we should have a good supply of kale rapini, leeks, beets, parsnips, chard, parsley, and maybe carrots.

Walking around the fields at this time of year is a fun treasure hunt. Also still growing, though not in marketable quantities, are arugula, turnips, green onions, dandelion greens, cilantro, celery, and brussels sprouts. Usually, by late February, we are giving covetous glances at (and sometimes buying) California-grown broccoli, lettuce, and cauliflower at the co-op. There’s only so much winter squash, radicchio, and parsnips that I can eat before I get grumpy and bored of cooking. If it could always be like these last two winters (mostly mild, a few freezes, no significant flooding), I’d swear off that California lettuce for good.

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Surprise vegetable treats, late January

Anyway, back to the long list of work I was describing. 

Transplant snap peas in greenhouse (another experiment)

Weed garlic

Build new greenhouse

Transplant baby lettuce in greenhouse

Dig all remaining parsnips (which are starting to come out of dormancy). Probably ~800 pounds remain to harvest.

Scrub algae off seedling house (it’s getting dark in there)

If the weather ever clears up, transplant about 3000 early chard, kale, and lettuce plants in the field.

Also if the weather ever clears up, mow headlands.

Also if the weather clears up, mow/disk/spade cover crops before they get too big

Pay bills

Process CSA member signups

Taxes!

etc.

etc.

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Tall rye and vetch, ready to turn into soil fertility

So, that’s what March looks like on the farm. Jason and I both have several non-update blog entries that we are writing in our heads right now. We had some great, thought-provoking experiences this winter, and if we can get through this every-expanding list of farm work, I hope we can produce some new interesting posts for you all.

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Another 40 Acres!

This past fall, a journalist was interviewing Siri and me, and asked us what made the biggest difference in our recent success. Neither of us had an immediate answer, but before my brain really had time to decide whether I meant it or not, I blurted out, “Having Felix.”

Thanks!

Thanks!

At first blush, it sounds crazy. How could having a child be the primary reason our small business, which until recently seemed to require both Siri and I to never stop working, was doing so well? But when Felix was born, it quickly became apparent that our farm was no longer the most important thing in our life, and working long hours, 7 days-a-week was no longer a possibility. At the same time, that same farm is what earns us enough money to pay for insurance, food, our mortgage, etc. Having a baby forced us to get creative, to get a little bigger, to become more efficient, to pay our employees more so they’d stick around for more than one season, to refine what we grow, focusing on the most profitable crops, and it has definitely worked.

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Success!

I can definitely say, it hasn’t been easy. The transition in 2011 from old farm to new with infant baby in tow was unquestionably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and probably will ever do. But we seem to have emerged out the other side substantially better for having made the transition. Indeed, Siri and I have been talking all year about how we could possibly afford to buy the 40 acres next door.

Our farm is on the right, the new 40 are on the left.

Looking South, our farm is on the right (with all the vegetables growing on it), the new 40 acres are on the left (with all the dairy infrastructure on it).

The 40 acres we have been farming for the past two years was originally the West half of an 80-acre dairy that operated here for over 100 years. When we purchased our 40 acres, the seller subdivided the property into two 40-acre parcels and sold us half, as we couldn’t afford all of it (at the time, at least). However, we have done very well these last two years, and, more and more, we have been thinking about how we could afford to buy the other 40 acres. Our intention this past year was to wait until the season was over, look at how much we could afford, and put in an offer. But back in November, the seller called me to let me know that he had just received an offer that he was going to accept unless we could come up with a better counteroffer. So much for waiting until the year was over! That week, we scrambled to get a counter offer in. The seller accepted our offer in early-December, and for the past few months, we have been working to find financing we could afford (more on that later)

Farm from the East. Note all the barns, manure lagoon, etc

These new 40 acres are a wonderfully complicated mix of well drained areas, poorly drained areas, massive barns, dilapidated dairy buildings and infrastructure, and a million gallon manure lagoon. In the near future, much of the infrastructure is going to prove to be a bigger headache than asset. It’ll be expensive to maintain, a possible liability, and much of the fields are currently too wet to farm. So why did we make an offer on this property again?

The driveway dividing the property during the flood this past February.

The driveway dividing the property during the flood this past February.

One of our farming goals is to grow more extensively so that we can reduce the amount of inputs we use to grow veggies. That is to say, we believe that by fallowing large amounts of our acreage, we can grow our own fertility through cover cropping. Another of our goals is to pay our employees a fair wage. We are still looking for the scale that gets us there, but it seems like it’s a bit bigger than we are now. In order to fallow half our land each year, and in order to make enough to pay all our employees more, we simply needed more dry acres than our 40 acres has (if our whole farm was flat and well drained, I think we’d have enough ground now, but it isn’t). Together, these 80 acres have somewhere between 30-40 dry acres, which is as much as we believe we’ll need to get where we want to go. Fixing the drainage issues and having 80 dry acres is a topic for future blog posts.

One day, all 80 of these acres will be farmable.

One day, we hope all 80 of these acres will be farmable.

As exciting as the increased acreage, what the new 40 acres comes with is a host of barns, buildings, and assorted infrastructure. This infrastructure is priceless because the way King County enforces FEMA flood regulations essentially prohibits all construction of anything in the flood plain (other counties enforce the same regulations more favorably for farmers – another topic ripe for a blog post). So although all us farmers very much need all sorts of infrastructure, we aren’t allowed to build anything. The sheer number (and poor shape) of the buildings we are buying is intimidating. Our most immediate need is to enlarge and streamline our wash station, and we will turn one of the three huge barns over there into a more efficient wash station with lots of cooler space and storage. Beyond that, we have to deal with are two other larger barns, in relatively good shape,  a falling down calving barn, a milking parlor, and office-y space. We are thinking that one of the barns will be a nice spot to host parties, events, and weddings.

Peri and Jesse used one of the barns for some of their wedding pics last summer.

Peri and Jesse used one of the barns for some of their wedding pics last summer.

We officially closed last week. There’s much more to say about how this all came about, and what’s next for our farming plans. For now, we’re happy to share this news with all of you. The rest will have to wait.

Winter Work

Although it is barely February, if you look closely you can see signs of spring everywhere. (NB February 1st is the Celtic holiday of Imbolic, considered by some to be the true first day of spring). We just returned from a three day trip, where Siri was a presenter at the Washington State Farmers Market Conference in Vancouver, WA. We followed that event with a trip to see our friend Justin, down in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. We stayed a couple nights on a stunning property of pasture, oak trees, and grapevines, owned by some professional beekeepers. They were packing up their bees to bring them down to California for the almond pollination (spring!). We were so busy having fun that we failed to take any photos, except this one of a lovely candelabra fitted up with hand-dipped beeswax candles:

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We also visited a farm that I’ve been obsessively following on the interwebs for many years now, Gathering Together Farm. Their blog is incredibly detailed and beautifully illustrated with photos that are both pretty and SO useful for a farm of our size. GTF farms about 50 acres of mixed produce, and partners with Wild Garden Seed, a seed growing operation that is the source for many of our most favorite things: lettuces, interesting mustard greens, kale, Delicata squash, sweet peppers, and so much more. Wild Garden Seed’s diverse offerings of seed variety has always been impressive, but much more so now that we have dabbled a little in seed production of our own.

Anyway, we were too busy checking out GTF’s greenhouse designs, seed-starting facility, and packing station to take any photos, but their blog has it all – much better than any photos we could have taken with our little phone cameras. The climate in their part of Oregon is a bit milder than ours, and they are a few weeks ahead of us on their seed-starting schedule (spring!). They already had the first round of tomato seedlings up and growing, as well as chard, peas, onions, and a few other early crops. Although GTF has about 5 times more acreage in production than we do, the basics of their operation felt very familiar. It was both inspiring and reassuring to witness a farm operation that has been in business for 25 years and has lots of happy current and former employees, loyal customers, and owners that seem to still enjoy what they do.

Back on our farm, the signs of spring are there too, although many of them are happening behind closed doors. The obvious signs are the glowing seed-starting room, with trays of just-germinated seedlings poking up, the noticeable increase in egg production by our small home flock, and the first little flush of weed seeds that broke out in the 30×90 greenhouse after we ran the sprinkler in it last week.

Two weeks ago, we seeded our first round of veggies to be transplanted into a greenhouse: 2400 baby lettuces of various varieties.

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Sam, using the vacuum seeder to seed lettuce

They are growing happily under lights in our germination/seed starting room. This week, we started 4800 Walla Walla onions, 2400 shallots, and 2400 cippollini onions.

Baby baby lettuce

Baby baby lettuce

Today, we spaded some of our greenhouses, getting them ready to be planted with our first direct-sown crop of 2013 – radishes, spinach, and carrots.

Spading

Spading

Then, we tried something new. We used the tractor to seed radishes in the greenhouse (We’ve always used a one-row push seeder).

Seeding radishes

Seeding radishes

The carrots and spinach, though, we seeded using the push seeder.

Siri, seeding spinach

Siri, seeding spinach

Last week, we finally finished fixing the above-mentioned spader. Spaders are amazing tools for small farms like ours. They do deep tillage work, loosening soil deep down and breaking up compaction, but they require but require a small fraction of the horse power required for traditional tools used for this task. A spader’s drawback is that is’s a finicky, complicated contraption that has a zillion moving parts, Zerk fittings to grease, bolts that can loosen, etc. We bought ours used, and towards the end of both 2011 and 2012, we had a bearing fail putting our spader out of commission before we were ready to stop using it. Last winter, we replaced some of the main bearings. This winter, we replaced all the rest. It’s an annoying job, but it’s finally done and hopefully will keep our spader working well for a few more years….

The spader, stripped down

The spader, stripped down

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Good as new! *knocks on wood*

The winter and early-spring continue to be a whirlwind. Next week, we are being flown to Spokane, to speak at the annual convention of Northwest Farm Credit Services (click this link, our picture is front page on their website!!!). NWFCS is the bank that administers the Washington State Beginning Farmer loan program which is part of the complicated package of below-market-rate loans we got when we bought this place. The following week, we head back down to Oregon for the super-amazing, farmer-only Farmer to Farmer Exchange convention held at the Breitenbush Hot Springs at the base of Mt. Jefferson. By the time we get back, we hope to see some radish sprouts pushing their way through the soil in the greenhouse. Spring!

Our guest blogger is Rawley Johnson, Local Roots Farm 2012 crew leader and our first full-fledged incubator farmer. Rawley is keeping 500 laying hens on the farm this year, selling his eggs through our CSA program. If you are interested in joining our egg CSA, you can find the details here: Local Roots Farm CSA.

Here’s Rawley to tell you more about the life of a chicken farmer:

When the phone woke me up at 5:30am on a chilly October morning, I knew instantly who it was from the chirping on the other end of the line.  My baby chicks had arrived at the post office.  500 just-hatched chicks had been sent air mail all the way from Iowa.  They are packed 100 to a box and usually survive the flight just fine, subsisting on stored nutrients from the eggs they hatched out of.

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I rolled out of bed and stumbled into the early morning darkness to make some last minute preparations for the birds’ brooder space.  Wooden apple bins fitted with heat lamps were going to be their new home.  By the time I arrived at the post office it was 7:30 and the cacophony of chirping could be heard from the moment I swung open the door.  Those poor postal workers had been putting up with the chatter for 2 hours!  From the urgency in the birds’ voices I knew they were ready to get out of there and see some daylight.

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As much as I wanted to free the birds from their little boxes all at once, it’s better to do it one at a time.  I gave each bird a quick inspection, looking for any health concerns.  One had what they call “pasty butt” and needed a cleaning reminiscent of a dirty diaper change.  Another had actually lost its rear claw and was bleeding.  I gave it a makeshift mini bandage and it turned out just fine.  After passing inspection, I dipped each bird’s beak into the water bowl to make sure they knew where to get a drink, and then they were free.  The distressed high pitched chirping of the box was replaced by a contented, soft tweet, as each bird began to explore its new world.  If you want to know how a baby chick is doing, just listen to how it chirps.

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The key to happy chicks is keeping them warm.  It takes about 8 weeks for their adult feathers to grow in, and for their first week of life they need it to be about 90 degrees.  This is why a mother hen keeps her clutch close at hand.  For these birds, I was the mother hen.  This meant getting up in the middle of the night for weeks to make sure everything was okay.  When they get cold, chicks have a tendency to bunch together to share body heat and can suffocate if the pile gets too tight.  The picture below is an example of how things should look at night.  I know the heat lamp is warm enough because no birds are sleeping directly under it.

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After a week, they were already hopping up to roost on sticks of bamboo.  In 3 weeks, they had outgrown their brooder space and were ready for more room.  I found some mobile chicken coops on Craigslist (who knew?) and invited some friends over to help fix them up.  Now I can lock the birds in at night and drive them to new grass in the morning.

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At only 5 weeks old, I let them out on the grass for the first time.  They love running around on the pasture playing tag.  One bird will pick up a piece of carrot or something and run off with the others in hot pursuit until another one snatches it away and sends the chase in another direction.

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I ordered all females (pullets) from the hatchery but now that they’re 3 months old, I can see I’ve got a few males (cockerels) in the bunch.  They actually have a guy at the hatchery who is a professional sexer, trained to tell a pullet from a cockerel at birth.  You couldn’t pay me enough to do that job every day.  One breed I ordered, the Red Star, is a modern “sex-link” variety, which means that the hens and roosters are different colors at birth, making the job a lot easier.  But the Barred Rocks and blue-egg laying Araucanas are heritage breeds and my sexer apparently missed a few.  I haven’t decided if I’m going to keep any roosters; it’s a myth that they encourage egg production.  I’ve heard that the roosters help alert the hens of eagles and hawks, but this is probably a myth, too.  Hens can fend for themselves just fine.

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They should start laying eggs in early April.  I’m feeding them hand sprouted organic whole grains and locally milled Scratch and Peck feed, so these eggs are going to taste great.  CSA members can sign up for the season at a discounted price or come get them at the farmers market this spring!

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What is the difference between “this year” and “next year?” In January, I usually find myself naturally shifting to talking about the coming growing season as “this year,” but right now, in January 2013, last year is still this year.

Usually – in fact, every year but this one – some sort of weather event puts a sudden end to our farming for the year. Sometimes it’s a freeze, other times it’s a major flood, but either way, for the first five years we farmed here in the Snoqualmie, it was the weather that put an end to our harvest season. Sometimes it was as early as mid-November, and once we made it to the first weekend in December, but we’ve never had a year like this one, our sixth growing season. Although the calendar says January, we have not yet had our accustomed punctuation mark to 2012 yet, so from the farmer’s point of view, the 2012 season just goes on and on…

 

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December 23rd market

As we mentioned when last we blogged, back in October, we were hoping for a long mild fall. We always plant our fall and winter crops with the hope that we will get the weather that allows us to continue to harvest and market until at least Thanksgiving, but we don’t bank on it. In our budget, we assume that we will get a knockout flood or freeze on November 1st, so we plan for the worst, and hope for the best. This year we got the best. We continued to attend our Sunday farmers market on Broadway through December 23rd, not just with a few baskets of boring root vegetables, but with kale, chard, salad greens, radicchio, spinach, and, yes, roots. Local Roots.

Besides that, we also managed to tack an extra three weeks onto our regular CSA season, and continue (present tense) to sell to our most dedicated restaurants on into the previously uncharted territory of January. So. What year is it? The harvest of 2012 crops continues unabated. This past Sunday, we loaded up the van with bins full of carrots and parsnips, plus whatever leafy greens we could muster during the brief daylight hours on Saturday, and headed into Seattle. We parked on the street in front of our normal farmers market spot, and proceeded to sell vegetables off the back of the truck. I think they call that truck farming.

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Will it ever stop? Yo, I don’t know. We still have about 4,000 pounds of carrots out in our field, so we’ll be back parked on the street on Broadway again in a couple weeks. We’re also hard at work on our normal “off-season” jobs of budget writing, crop planning, and seed ordering, as well as tuning up the tractors, cleaning up the greenhouses, and generally hatching plans. Finally, we are supremely happy to have four members of our 2012 farm crew returning for 2013 (or whatever this year is).

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Kyli, Annie, Sam, and Rawley, harvesting parsnips in the rain

 

This only adds to the time-warp feeling that 2012 is the year that will never end… In closing, our apologies for the long delay in blog. I hope what has been described herein is a sufficient excuse. Plus, big farm news coming soon! Stay tuned!

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It’s been quite a while since we’ve managed to write a blog post. This is not surprising. Mid-June through August are busy times around here. We are harvesting a lot, while still planting, seeding transplanting, and watering. On top of that, we experienced the driest August/September on record (nearly zero measurable precipitation). So we were extra busy moving around drip tape trying to keep everything well watered. Also, we have a two year old.

Well watered lettuces

But the real excitement this summer was all the parties! Siri’s sister, Peri, got married on the farm in August. We also put on some awesome dinners, one with Russ Flint who owns Rainshadow Meats, one with Marie Rutherford who cooked at Boat St. Cafe and now The Whale Wins restaurant, and a “barn” dance with Dave Sanford who owns Belle Clementine restaurant. We also had the Food Network out here filming a television show with Russ Flint and Renee Erickson from Boat St Cafe. July and August were busy.

Farm Dinner!

Farm dining

Farm Wedding

Farm String Band

When we finally finished cleaning up after all that partying, it was time to start the process of putting the farm to bed for the winter. The first step in that process is seeding cover crops into every available field and bed.  This year, we bought an old grain drill from our neighbors down at Jubilee Farm. Now, a grain drill is a wonderful thing, because it allows you to accurately (or fairly accurately, at least) gauge how much cover crop seed you are seeding, and to do so at an even rate. It also buries the seeds – as opposed to a drop spreader or a cone spreader, which simply lays the seeds on the surface – helping ensure a higher rate of germination and, thus, a thicker stand of cover crops.

Grain drill!

Once it finally (finally!!) started raining in mid-October our fields of cover crops started germinating. We are very pleased with the tidy looking straight lines of vetch, rye, clover, and peas that are emerging around the farm. One of the aspects of farming we are most excited about is experimenting with using cover crops and fallowing fields for long periods to increase fertility and battle weeds. As with all money-making ventures, there is a strong urge to maximize what you can earn. And we certainly could farm every inch of our farm, every year, and make more money… in the short term. However, farming the same piece of ground year after year is similar to a mining operation. Nutrients and minerals are extracted, never returned. A more interesting, challenging, and holistic approach is to use long-term fallow periods to increase soil nutrients and organic matter naturally, resulting in higher fertility, better drainage, better moisture retention, and fewer inputs to grow our veggies. The most basic step towards that future begins every fall when we seed our fields with cover crops.

Last year’s well established cover crops

Another exciting project we are carrying out involves saving our own seeds. It all started last year with the disappearance of commercially available seeds for one of our favorite unusual vegetables – Spigariello.  Around the same time, farm employee extraordinaire Brady Ryan was getting into small-scale seed saving. One interesting, and key, fact about Spigariello is that, although it’s very brassica-like, it happens to have a white flower. Our hope was that Spigariello wouldn’t cross with any of the many varieties of yellow-flowered brassica that were all over the farm. We had planted our last Spigariello seeds last spring and were facing the prospect of never getting to grow it again. Before we mowed in that last planting, Brady suggested we let the plants make seeds to see whether they’d come up true to type, or whether they would have crossed with anything. When we germinated the seeds, they came up true. This year, we have been growing spigariello from our own seed!

Spigariello, at the Broadway Farmers Market

Emboldened by our Spigariello seed saving success, Brady has spearheaded saving seeds from varieties of vegetables that are increasingly difficult to find or that we want to see an improvement in their genetics.

“Perfection” variety fennel flowers, on their way to becoming seeds

Super cold tolerant Lacinato kale seed, drying in the summer sun

The biggest and nicest Red Cored Chantenay Carrots harvested from our fall planting. We will replant these roots next spring and harvest their seeds by August.

We have successfully saved seed from Spigariello, Lacinato kale, and Perfection fennel. We are attempting to save seeds from “Piricicaba” our favorite sprouting broccoli, the seeds of which don’t appear to be available any longer, Red Cored Chantenay carrots (pictured above) because we want more uniformity in the variety, and Treviso radicchio, because it’s our favorite vegetable. Seed saving is a really exciting new project that we will be doing more of in years to come.

In our last bit of exciting news, yesterday, farm employee Rawley took delivery of 500 baby chicks! As a side project, Rawley is going to raise these chickens to offer an egg-share to our CSA and to bring to market. Right now the chicks are living in our greenhouse in repurposed apple bins, divided into groups of 100. If all goes well, we hope to be able to offer 100 (or more) egg shares next year.

Baby chicks living in an apple bin

The weather has definitely changed, and fall/winter is upon us (it feels more like winter today, with a high of 48 and steady rain). Ordinarily, this is the time of year when things begin slowing down. Yet we continue to harvest lots and lots of food. In fact, this week was a record for restaurant sales. The Broadway farmers market continues to have very good sales. And our CSA continues for two more weeks. Once our CSA is officially over, we will begin an experimental 3-week CSA addition. Our plan this year was to try growing a bunch of new storage items with an eye towards continuing our CSA well into flood season. Previously, the risk for us in extending our CSA past November 1st has always been the prospect of a flood inundating our fields and making our veggies, according to the USDA, adulterated and unsafe to eat (in reality, there probably isn’t anything unsafe about eating veggies that were submerged in water from the Snoqualmie River, but it’s a national policy). On our new farm, with much more cooler space, we have the ability to harvest and store a lot more food than ever before. So, after a very successful experiment this year growing and storing a modest quantity of daikon radishes, watermelon radishes, storage turnips, storage carrots, celery root, and more, we feel pretty confident that we can extend our CSA season to 25 weeks next year.

And so, we soldier on, wet and cold, but happy. Because for us, continuing to harvest lots of vegetables through November is truly the difference between a good year and a great one.

Hi out there. Yes, it’s been a while since we last posted. I blame a little thing called “summer.” In lieu of a lengthy, well-illustrated post, here’s a short screed from this week’s CSA newsletter:

A recent study comparing the nutrient content of organic and conventional foods has been getting a lot of press in the last couple days. My educational background in statistics and social science makes me tempted to critique the methodology of the study, but I think it would be more interesting for most of you to hear more about how farmers’ growing practices may impact the nutritional value of the foods we eat.

In this study, the researchers compared the nutrient content in two categories of food: organic and conventional. It found no statistically significant difference between the two categories in terms of most vitamins, although there were some exceptions (higher Omega-3 content in organic milk, for example). However, this simple binary classification of either “organic” or conventional fails to account for an infinite number of other conditions that can lead to foods being more ore less nutrient dense. At the end of one of the articles I read about this study, the writer mentioned that “ripeness” has been found to result in higher vitamin content. I would say so. Not only ripeness, or maturity, at the time of picking, but also length of time in transit/storage, underlying soil mineral content, amount of water used in growing, exposure to pests or other stressors – all these factors combined are what determines the nutritional value of the food we eat. Certified organic produce for the national wholesale market is typically grown in a system that mimics conventional farming, and won’t necessarily result in an end product that is distinct from a conventionally grown variety in nutrition (or flavor). Varieties are chosen for appearance and ship-ability, treated with organic versions of pesticides to prevent insect damage, and likely spend days or weeks en route from the farm to your fridge.

By contrast, the food that you get from us has been chosen for flavor and for how well the varieties perform in our specific location and soil conditions. We pick our produce when it’s ready to eat, and bring it to you within a day or two of harvest. Due to a limited supply of water, we use a minimal amount of irrigation, resulting in plants that are heartier and less watery than supermarket vegetables. We also, as you probably have noticed from time to time, do minimal intervention to prevent pest damage. The result is not to be confused with mass-market “organic”. Of course, there are many other, and very legitimate, reasons to choose organic foods over conventionally ones: less toxin exposure for both consumers and farm workers, absence (for now) of genetic modification, and reduced fossil fuel-based fertilizer inputs.

Want more vitamins in your diet? Eat more organic, locally-grown veggies!