Dirty Dog

Though our digging party wasn't as big as we'd hoped, we had a couple friends over from Choteau, Audra and Eric, who were an immense help in building a handful of garden beds. They weren't double-dug (my zeal tempered by reality), but rather rototilled, raked, and shaped into raised beds. The new beds will buy me some time since I can't double-dig fast enough to keep up with the onslaught of seedlings nearly busting out of their tiny cells in the greenhouse.

It was great to have friends over to share the sunshine, wind, and land with. Consider this an open invitation to all friends, known or unknown, to do the same. Manual labor is not a requirement (though it is encouraged!).

We do have one double-digger that works furiously, though I can't seem to get her to dig where I need it. Oh well.


Double Dig! and Rural Revival!

(Click on the poster for a larger version.)

Come one, come all for the 2009 Prairie Heritage Farm Double Dig and Rural Revival! Give us a call, drop us a note and tell us you're coming.

Emmer Up

The emmer has germinated and that makes me very happy. The following are photos of one spikelet that I dug up. Some emmer spikelets have one kernel and some two. This one has two kernels and hence, two seedlings.

We've Got Worms

Another riveting documentary from Prairie Heritage Farm Studios (for an earlier compelling movie, refer to the blog entry for Tuesday, May 12):


Lease, Own, We're All Just Renting

A few years ago, my friend Brooke, with whom I share a deep love for literature and empty spaces in which to read it, told me I must read Willa Cather's O Pioneers!, but to do so in the spring.

"It's a delightful book for spring," she said -- or something to that effect. Brooke sometimes speaks like the heroine in one of the novels she's devoured. It's one of the many reasons I love her.

So, this week, I happened to find O Pioneers! in the one box of books I've brought in from the garage.

I read it fervently and tonight finished the final chapter, the beauty of which I always forget. It was, as it is every spring, gorgeous and complex.

But this year, now that we're farming, I brought an entirely new perspective to the book. And because of that, one passage in particular sang for me.

Last fall, when Jacob and I first started talking to David about leasing his land, he had a surprisingly unsentimental take on the future of the place. I don't mean dispassionate. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It was just a sense of practicality and no-nonsense. I can't remember exactly how he put it, but what he said had something to do with him not being the first one on the land, nor the last one. No one really owns their land in the first place, he said.

It's not a novel notion – but it is one I've heard mostly from the mouths of academics or environmentalists. Try it on a farmer who's been on his land for 50 years and his family for three generations and it's not going to fly. That's why coming from a farmer -- especially one staring down the reality of handing his land over to someone else – the idea held a tremendous weight.

I know a thing or two about the more sentimental approach to land ownership. For the better part of six years, I've cried every time we flash past my childhood farm on the interstate. The thought of another family there, of another farmer's plow in those fields … somehow, I felt robbed. Something that was mine was no longer.

David's place is 15 minutes from the that farm. I now pass the old place at least twice a week. When I remember, I glance over at the profile of the homestead – to see if the trees are still growing on the edges, if that depression near the turnoff is still sinking. But, I don't cry anymore.

Maybe it's that the old farm is no longer “the farm.” Now, “the farm” is our farm, Jacob's and my farm. Or, maybe I am just finally able to intellectualize that the farm was never really mine to begin with, that what I was mourning was a childhood, innocence and an unscathed family, not a piece of ground.

Or, maybe I just knew it would be a waste of moisture – so very precious in this eastern front wind – if I had to cry every time we passed the farm.

Regardless, now that I'm digging in our dirt, which is actually owned by David, but technically still owned by the bank, and before that, owned by his parents and before that by someone whose name I don't even know, I see what David was talking about: It's about being able to see farther back than yourself or even your parents or grandparents and farther forward than your children or even their children.

Or, in more eloquent terms, it's about what Alexandra Bergson explains to Carl Lindstrum in that final chapter of O Pioneers!:

"Suppose I do will my land to their children, what difference will that make? The land belongs to the future, Carl; that's the way it seems to me. How many of the names on the county clerk's plat will there be in fifty years? I might as well will the sunset over there to my brother's children. We come and go, the land is always here And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it -- for a little while."


I seeded 5 acres of emmer. Emmer is an ancient grain with wild ancestors dating to the late Paleolithic Age, 17,000 BC. Emmer has been cultivated since 10,000 BC and was used by early civilizations in the Near and Far East, Europe, and Northern Africa. The seed I used is a variety from the Montana State University Foundation Seed, called "Lucile" which was selected and grown out over a number of years.

To plant, I pulled the rod weeder in front of the drill to get one last shot at the weeds that had germinated after the sun after the snow. By pulling both implements, I was able to tackle two tasks in one shot, reducing soil compaction and fuel use. The setup is a bit awkward to pull around and turn, but it works.

Planting something that has been planted for thousands of years makes me feel like I'm part of some kind of continuum that connects us and what we're trying to create here at Prairie Heritage Farm with so many others before us.

Oh Sweet Water

Water is always on my mind - water from the sky, water in the soil, water for dryland crops, water for irrigation. The Farm is flood irrigated (minus a couple fields) from a ditch that's fed from Lake Frances, north of Conrad. It also has a couple of reservoirs that are filled from the ditch and supply a handful of hydrants including one in front of the greenhouse.

Though the water in the canal hasn't been turned on yet (released from Lake Frances), there is just enough water in the upper reservoir to reach the farm buildings. My plan was to set up drip irrigation for the garden field and last week, my friend Byron and I laid out the first lines.

Not knowing if there would be enough pressure for the drip to work (the water is gravity fed from the upper reservoir with maybe a 5-foot drop over 1/2 a mile). We hooked it all up, turned on the hydrant and watched as glorious water drip dripped from the lines.


In an effort to fill the upper reservoir with as much of the snowmelt as possible, I got permission from the ditch rider to dam the main canal in the hopes that as the snow melted, it would back up to a small gate that feeds into smaller ditches into the reservoir.

To dam the canal, you slide boards down two brackets to a concrete base.

There was a winter's worth of grass and crud and I tried to drag it out with a stick while laying on the bridge, but it was difficult. So, I took my boots and socks off and waded through the frigid water to pull it out by hand.

That done and the boards in place, I simply had to wait for the snow to melt, the water to rise, and the reservoir to fill. Alas, though the water started to back up over the next few days, it has since dropped and no new water was fed into the reservoir. I'll just have to wait until the water is turned on.


On the Air

On Thursday I spoke with Severine von Tscharner Fleming on Greenhorn Radio:


Severine is the director of a project called "The Greenhorns: A Documentary Film About Young Farmers." Their website is:


And, they maintain a great blog:

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