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Agrarian Harvest

Wholesome. Organic. Experience. All about our farm, food, and organic, small farm life.

Gone Solar

We are getting even greener. We have installed solar panels, actually, we had a solar company install the panels. The farm and our home is now functioning on solar energy. Last year the farmer started investigating solar energy, but we weren’t planning to install it for a few more years. However, it just happened to work out that we stumbled across this solar company in the Spring. They got their bid right to us and we decided to go for it. We gave them the go ahead and a few months later, here we are, operating on solar energy. It is turning into a year of change for us and that is not what we intended for this year. We are experiencing lots of changes this first half of the year: solar, biodegradable row cover, drip irrigation, covered driveway in wood chips and making the house more energy efficient with siding, windows and insulation.

This switch to solar has definitely made our family more conscious of energy being used. We have changed all our lights to LED, unplug anything that is not in use and make sure lights are off as soon as we leave a room. It’s a new goal for the whole family to produce energy and not use it; that’s something we never discussed, it’s just happening. We are trying to use less and less energy everyday.  The real goal is to save money in the long run and not have to pay a power bill while producing our own clean energy . . . living off grid. In short, we feel we are doing a good thing for the planet, using less energy, producing clean and renewable energy, and being environmentally friendly. We’re living sustain-ably and that brings joy to our lives!

If you are interested in solar, ask the farmer about ours. He loves to talk about solar energy. Actually, he just likes to talk, so he’ll talk about anything . . . just ask him. 

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Our beautiful, black solar roof. We are still waiting for the siding to be put on, then the house will be picturesque.

Capturing a Swarm

Another day, another experience. We have been reading and learning about honeybees for three years now and even considered buying a hive of bee this spring. Last year we had a local beekeeper put a hive on our farm. We loved having the bees be a part of the farm. Then this week we had the opportunity to capture a swarm and make them our bees. So we jumped in the pickup and set out to have a new experience.

20180507_164717The swarm of honeybees were on a lilac in Kimberly. We went to town to buy bee boxes, full of excitement and a little anxiousness, not sure what to expect when we got to the bees. The bees were there for three days and we felt they were waiting for us. Actually, we are wondering if they were going to make a home right there on the lilac brand. They had started building comb, which was surprising to see. We didn’t expect to see that when we swept them into the box.

We backed up to the lilac, set our deep super box on the ground with the base and to our surprise some of the bees that were buzzing around started going in. We cut the branch and shook part of the bees in the box. A large clump still clung to the branch and each other. So we used our bee brush to gently brush them off the branch and into the box and put the lid on. This whole time the farmer and farm wife didn’t have on any bee coveralls, glove or hat. In our regular clothes, with bees buzzing all around us, even landing and crawling on us. And not getting stung. There were several flying around so we hung out for a couple of hours until it cooled down and they went in the box. We taped cardboard over the opening and took them home to our farm.

They have been busy making their home and comb. We’ve been feeding them sugar water so they don’t have to work so hard to find food when they are working really hard to get home built. Everyday we spend time watching them and the hive. It seems they are venturing farther from the hive everyday. It has been a great experience and love being so close to the bee. Getting to stand in the middle of them, feeling we are part of their community and they a part of our well-being and the functioning of our farm.

Farmer & A Dream

This farmer has a dream . . . . . . .  another dream. Some days I would say, “Oh-no, I don’t want to hear it because I don’t want to raise another type of animal!” But this dream doesn’t involve another animal. And without the farmer dreaming we would not be here or be farming today. We are both big dreamers and believe everyone should dream and work toward your dream until your dreams come true.

We started with dreaming to farm, that evolved into organic farming, then to organic farming of a large diversity of produce and herbs (almost 20 acres worth). Now the dream is opening up a storefront on the farm, an on-farm market. It’s an idea that I’m liking. A farm market in our garage; a market that we don’t have to load up . . . drive to . . .  unload and set up . . . take down . . . load up again to then have to drive home exhausted . . . to have to unload yet again all that wasn’t sold (which is usually around 10 or 10:30 pm for the markets in the Wood River Valley). . . then go irrigate and feed the animals before bed.

An on-farm market is less work for the farmer and more time on the farm so we can sell at wholesale prices. The vision for this on-farm market is to offer a one stop shopping for fresh food that is in-season. We will be offering all our produce, eggs, herbs, meat, soap and laundry detergent along with products from other local farms like milk and cheese from Old Almo Creamery.DSCN9441

Our on-farm market is open on Wednesdays from 1 to 6 pm. Giving everyone a chance to come to the farm to buy product at discounted prices. 

So here’s to another dream! Fear less, dream more and may life be happier!

 

March Longings

March is here along with thoughts and longings for Spring and greens. March feels like a breath of fresh air after spending our winter months hibernating in the house. Like a bear coming out of hibernation,  we are really craving fresh food, specifically greens. I feel I could eat a large plate piled high with greens at every meal like a cow at the feed bunk eating her greens twice a day. Yes, I referred to myself as a cow. The farmer has compared me to a cull Hereford cow for years due to complications with pregnancy, childbirth and low milk production. And whenever a needle comes out to draw blood, the farmer will compare it and the needle size to bleeding sheep. Growing up on a farm and then becoming a farm wife, I’ve grown accustom to being compared to an animal. Everything is compared to what we are familiar with, which are animals and plants.

For all of us green hungry people, the farmer has planted a couple of beds of greens: lettuce, spinach, and arugula. Although, they are barely starting to emerge from the ground, I’m very eager for those first greens of Spring. They are planted in one of our cold-frames so there is no heat, just what the sun provides. We are at the mercy of mother nature. This past month it was too cold. We are looking forward to March warming up so our cold frames will too. Our farming son, who has the itch to grow plants just like his daddy, has planted lettuce and radishes in pots in the house. He is trying to beat his dad at getting the first greens of the Spring.  

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Radish Seedlings

And the plastic has been put on our smaller cold frame so it is ready to start seeds. We start all our plants from seed right here on the farm. We will be starting seedlings this month too. Our growing season is officially underway!

January Juggle

For most of January, farming took a backseat to house issues and maintenance. We discovered we had a toilet leaking on the second floor of our house. This leak also did damage to the dining room ceiling. After investigating the issue, we figured out the  plumbing was not done correctly. We checked one of our other toilets, and it was leaking too. We have a third bathroom that we have not tore into yet, but that bathroom has been remodeled since the house was built so we’re hoping that the plumbing was updated with the remodel. So we’ve had two bathrooms tore apart and are working on putting them back together. Then the wiring in our well shorted and caught fire. Three issues in one month . . .  crossing our fingers and hoping we are done these home issues. I’m told it happens in threes.

When the farmer realized we had issues with plumbing, he wanted to cry. That is his least favorite home improvement project to work on, especially when it involves tearing out sheetrock and the sub-floor. And with the mild winter we are having, the farmer has been really antsy to be outside getting things done, not in the house tearing bathrooms apart to work on plumbing and replacing floors. So he split his time between house projects and farm projects; one or two days working on bathrooms and then a couple days of farm projects. The farm wife gets really cranky when her house is tore up and especially when it’s the toilet that is out of commission.

Normally, this time of year we have snow on the ground, it’s froze and there is not much to do but order seeds and plan when we want to start the seedlings in the cold frame. But this winter has been very different with mild temperatures and little precipitation. We put up a second cold-frame, got the plastic on it and still need to get plastic on our original cold-frame. We finished pulling up the last of that ridiculous plastic row cover that we put down last year.  And amazingly, the ground is not frozen and dry enough that the farmer ripped, roto-tilled and marked out one of our fields. That is just crazy that we are working the ground the first of February!

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Chickens follow the farmer as he tills the ground.

It was the first week of February when I wrote this post, when we had Spring-like temperatures and we worked the ground. The following week, when I’m posting this, it is back to Winter. There is snow on the ground and things are frozen again. Time once again to stay inside to work on bathrooms.

 

February Happenings:

  • Put plastic on the cold-frame that we start our bedding plants in
  • Broiler chicks arrive
  • Get some lettuce and spinach planted

Does Organic Mean What You Think it Means?

When we started farming, we followed the organic rules for years before we actually certified. The first and second years of certification were very simple. The third year was very irritating. They decided to audit our winter squash; asking how many acres we had. Guess they are not used to dealing with small producers and also did not read the application documentation that provided the information they were asking about.  I told them that we had 200 plants. They said that they could calculate that out. They asked how much we harvested. I showed them my sales records. They then asked how much I had stored. I told them that I only harvested what was sold. Anything left over after frost became pig food. They wanted to know how much the pigs ate. I answered honestly and said I did not know. This was a big problem for them. My records were not audit-able according to them since I didn’t weigh every squash left in the field. Should I have lied and said some random number of pounds? They issued my certificate in spite of my failure to weigh every rotten squash that the pigs ate. Multipurpose ground like cropland and grazing is too complicated for inspectors or their expectation of farmers is industrial.

Since I started certifying organic, my inspection was done in the spring and all of my fees were paid before July. This allowed me to apply for assistance with certification prior to an October 31 deadline. This year I was inspected in late summer and did not receive a bill prior to the October 31 deadline and will not be eligible for the assistance. That will cost this farmer around $700; that’s a lot of tomatoes. My certifying agency claimed that there were a lot of new farms wanting to certify and our inspection was late because they wanted to get the new facilities done first. So to the back burner I go, behind the mega dairies and corporate farms looking for the big money.

Another item of concern this year is that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted to allow hydroponic and aquaponic production into the Organic program. This means that soil is not required. If soil is not required the plants can only get nutrients from the farmer. There are no healthy soil microorganisms, no fungi, no bacteria, no beneficial life forms to help release micronutrients to the plants. If the nutrients are not provided in the system they cannot end up in our food to nourish us. There are also no microorganisms or adequate sun exposure to breakdown or compete with harmful products or bacteria. Yes, beneficial bacteria and fungi in the soil can protect us against harmful organisms.

So what does the Organic Label mean to me? At this point, I am in limbo. Most of our customers know who we are. They know our practices and are welcome to come inspect anytime they want and would likely buy from us even if we dropped our certification. We are after all a very small farm. At 17 acres, we actually consider ourselves market gardeners. Our production can be large enough though that we need some larger outlets like restaurants and grocery stores. These customers typically look for the Organic Certification when paying our prices. Their customer do not know who we are and thus depend on a third party verification that we are following acceptable methods of food production. But do the consumers actually know what Organic means? Do they know that their product may be raised in a chemical soup provided by a hydroponic system?  Do they know that broad spectrum chemicals like Neem oil that are approved for use as an insecticide in organic production?  Do they know that farms (big farms) can petition to get chemicals accepted because their system is broken and they want to resort to a chemical to “fix” their problem?

At our farm, we have had infestations, some were fixed by an army of lady bugs and others resulted in destroyed crops. We are diverse and learn to roll with it and try to use crop rotation and plant selection to avoid future problems. When you are a mega farm in a mono crop system, you are not as agile and go back to the bottle at the first sign of stress.

We want to call out consumers. What do you think of when you purchase food? Are you looking for the best price? Are you looking for nutrient density? Are you looking for pesticide-free? Are you looking for humane animal husbandry? Do you care about the people who grow your food?  Do you want to know the farm your food came from or is it just the labeling that matters? Does your food come with a warranty?

Is Plastic Organic Friendly?

With the farm clean-up being close to finished for the year, it gave us time to think while we were pulling plastic row cover. To understand what we were doing, part of our clean up consist of mowing down the froze plants, pulling up all the plastic row cover and filling dumpsters. As I’ve always thought of myself as an environmentally friendly person, this practice is bothering my conscience. We are just a small farm. If all organic farms are using plastic row cover, I can’t imagine how many tons of plastic row cover is going to the landfill from Organic farms each year.

The USDA Organics programs allows for the use of plastic row cover as a method of weed control, but up until this year didn’t allow the use of biodegradable row cover. This doesn’t make sense to me and I’m having a problem saying it is okay to put down thousands of feet of plastic that is going to wind up in our landfills. I don’t feel we are doing the world justice being Organic farmers if we are going fill up the landfill with plastic just because the Organics program says it is okay.

I know consumers are conscious of how their food is grown and I’m now wondering if it matters to the consumer if their food is grown environmentally-friendly also. As a farmer, I feel it matters, this farm won’t be using plastic next year. At this time, we are looking into getting biodegradable row covering, which is newly approved by the USDA Organics program, and planting rows farther apart to mow the weeds between rows.  Ultimately, we feel it is important for consumers to know their farmers and their practices, not just look for the Organic symbol.

 

December Happenings:

  • The farmer spends this month drooling over the seed catalogs while the kids go through toy catalogs. He writes a list of what he wants to grow and diagrams how and where to plant everything.
  • Then we discuss what or if any changes need to be made for the next year’s growing and marketing season.

“Off-Season” Work

Fall was way too short. It felt like we had a week of Fall and then went straight into Winter. Maybe it’s because the farmers markets are over, we’re exhausted and quickly go into hibernation mode. But, most likely, it’s the weather. It got way too cool too quick for this warm-weather-loving- body. We’d prefer our fall consisting of three months of 70 degree days. Most of our days are now cool and blustery; and it’s snowing while I type this. With all the leaves off the trees, looking bare and cold, it give us a chill  just looking out the window. But out we must go, there is work to do still.

Since the our growing season is over for the year, we will be spending our days in the field doing farm clean up. This consist of mowing the froze plants, pulling up the plastic row cover and tilling the plant debris into the soil. And the chore of pulling hundreds of t-post out of the ground that were used to stake the tomatoes up. Then there are tasks that need to be done before seeds can be planted for next year like replace the plastic on the cold-frame and, possibly, put another cold-frame up.  

There is also planting to do, believe it or not. It is time to plant garlic. It has to overwinter 20160729_224038in the ground to be ready to harvest by July or August next year. So, hopefully, the weather will hold out, meaning no snow . . . . but since that is already happening, maybe the ground won’t freeze hard as a rock just yet. We are trying to brace ourselves for winter, since we keep hearing that this winter is forecast to be worse than last year. We are just not ready for snow and cold and neither is the farm. Really . . . . we could skip winter this year or spend the whole winter on a warm beach.

November Happenings:

  • Besides the farm clean-up, we look forward to Thanksgiving and eating lots of warm, delicious food.
  • We still have winter squash, pie pumpkins, onions, dry beans, honey, eggs, pork by the cut, beef by the cut, whole chickens, and whole ducks for sale.
  • We are taking orders for whole or half pigs. The butcher dates are set and have limited quantity of pigs available.

Feeling the Change

I live by the seasons. Really,  I didn’t give much thought to the seasons before I was a mother. I just lived day to day wanting everyday to be a summer day that I could lay in the sun reading a book. Then I became a mother and discovered the seasons of motherhood; the season of newborn, season of milestones, toddler season. I now feel I’m in school-age season; feel like I’ve been in this season for a long time and now realize I’m about to enter the season of having a teenager. I once had a friend tell me, “It’s just another season of life; it will pass.”

The seasons of the year and motherhood do pass, sometimes all too quickly and sometimes slower than we would like. But then when you look back you wonder where the time or days have gone. How did it go by so fast? Our summer was like that. There was so much work to do and so many markets and deliveries to make, we didn’t know how we’re going to make it through the days. We wondered how we were going to manage until October and not collapse from exhaustion before the first frost and life would slow down again.  And now looking back, I’m wondering where my summer went. How could it be gone already? I’m feeling sad . . . .  I want summer back! Just like I want back the seasons of early motherhood. . . . . it’s just gone too fast.

We are feeling the change from summer to fall. The nights are crisp and cooler, days are cooler too, plant production is slowing down, kids are back to school, the pumpkins are turning, the wheat fields around us have been thrashed, early potatoes have been dug, storage potatoes are being dug and silage corn is being chopped. And the hopes or fears of first frost are in the air. It’s definitely the feel of fall. A welcoming season with the colors of orange, red and yellow, cups full of warm drinks and the smell of pumpkin spice in the air.

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Welcome Fall . . . . .  the slow-down season for us. My new favorite season.

 

September & October Happenings

  • Harvest winter squash & pumpkins
  • Most of the produce will slow its production or stop producing altogether. It will soon be the last of the corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, melons & basil for the year.
  • Our first frost, then the tomatoes & peppers will done for the year also.
  • Farm clean-up: weeds to be mowed & row cover to be picked up

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