High Tunnel Update

I may be the only one who cares, but who cares? I love what goes on in the high tunnel. So if only for me to spout off to myself on the wonders of the rye and peas in the high tunnel, here is an update:

The rye and peas in the back left-hand corner has been untouched since it was planted last fall. The rye and peas on the right-hand side near the back was mowed April 22nd and what you see is the regrowth since then. On the left-hand side foreground, the rye and peas were mowed May 8th. My plan for this section is to use it as a living mulch by mowing it once or twice more very close to the ground, and transplant tomatoes and peppers into it.

Here is a close-up of the three stages:

The peas are doing well within the rye:

They're even climbing the stalks:

And the rye is heading out:

Now who's as excited as I am?!!

Working With Water

A couple of days ago I "ordered" water from our ditchrider to fill the reservoir in the far south corner of the property. The reservoir water is where all of our irrigation comes from for our vegetables. It's a gravity-fed system which is primarily why we use all drip irrigation.

The water originates in the Rocky Mountains which feed various streams and rivers which flow into Lake Frances just 15 miles to the north. Then the water is released into the main canal from which much of the farm ground around us is irrigated, including our little farm.


When I order water, the ditchrider sets boards across the canal to back the water up to where our turnout is (a metal gate which opens to turn water into the farm's main ditch). He then opens that metal gate and the rest of the job is up to me. At this point, I can choose, by selectively damming parts of the ditch, where I want the water to go. In this instance, the water's natural inclination is to head east, so I set a dam right inside the turnout so the water heads west toward the reservoir. There is one gate between here and the reservoir which I leave open, and one on the other side of the reservoir, which I board up so the water will back up and flow into the reservoir.

There is something that I enjoy about working with the water as it comes out of the main canal. Maybe because it requires me to try to know it; to understand why it flows the way it does. It also reminds me how much we humans have manipulated water and to not take it for granted. There is no switch that I turn on and let water flow from the tap like magic.

While yesterday's task was a simple one to fill the reservoir, the farm's main fields are flood irrigated which requires a more nuanced use of dams and gates. I once thought that flood irrigation was the brute force method of irrigating (just soak everything in water!), but now believe it can be low-tech elegant and thoughtful. And here's how I will learn how to effectively work with it:

The 1955 Yearbook of Ag: yet another wonderful book on my bookshelf that needs to be read.

Lydia really likes it when I work with the water, too, because we drive by the field that so many gophers have decided is home. All Lydia wants to do is knock on their front doors and say hi. They usually don't answer.

Knock, knock.

Lydia looks about.

Days Gone By

Since "retiring" from my full-time paid job with benefits to volunteer on Prairie Heritage Farm, there has been relentless work to do. With the early crops in the high tunnel come the early weeds, so put weeding on the list. Turkeys and geese need daily care. The beds need to be prepared and lettuce, kale, chard, cabbage, and onions need to be transplanted out into the field. And the drip irrigation needs to be set up to water them once they're in. The tomatoes need to be transplanted into 4" pots. We need to start more seeds in the greenhouse. The emmer needs to be seeded in the field as does the chickpeas, flint corn, and milk thistle. And the potatoes need to get in the ground.

Transplanting kale.

Remarkably, in the past week and a half, we've done all that. Maybe that's why my back and shoulders ache and my hands are cracked and dry. Maybe that's why it doesn't feel like a week and a half, but rather a month and a half.

I borrowed a corn planter from a neighbor and what a delight it's been to use: drive the tractor from one end of the field to the other and voila, 4 rows of corn planted. I'll be able to set up the cultivator on the tractor to weed between the rows when the time comes, severely cutting down on time and labor later in the season.

My savior.

I really wanted the same setup for the milk thistle, but the planting plates in the corn planter are set for corn, not the much smaller milk thistle seed. I even tried mixing the thistle seed in with pea seed, but the planter still put down too much milk thistle seed. So instead, I drove the empty corn planter on the spot where the milk thistle was to go to mark the rows, then came in behind with the walk behind seeder. It wasn't easy pushing that thing through the stubble, but it'll be worth it later when I'm tractor cultivating.

Me circa early 1900s.

It is supposed to rain today and I hope it does. I need the break and the seeds need water.

They're Heeeeere...

Yes, the turkeys have arrived. And with them all of last year's anxieties. I think the hatchery throws those in for free. They are no less cute than last year's, chirping mightily and sprinting around in their new home.

We also ordered 10 Chinese geese and they came in the mail the next day. Our plan it to experiment raising the geese and turkeys together, and using the geese as guard birds. I hear they can be mean.

The goslings are even cuter than the turkeys. We gave them a full day to find their feet before introducing them in with the turkeys.

Once together, I realized just how huge the goslings are relative to the poults. It made me nervous, especially when one gosling went after whichever poult was nearest, grabbing its wing and chasing it around. They eventually settled down and now the goslings are a hot commodity when it comes time to hunker down for the night - they make a nice toasty bed.

In It to Win It

 Well, hello new life!

(Cross posted from Life, Cultivated.)

Remember that little (and by little, I mean big) problem I was talking about a few weeks ago? The one about Jacob working full time, me working part time and both of us farming and parenting full time?

And, how maybe, we might not be able to keep up?

And how maybe, just maybe, something might explode?

Well, we fixed it. Lickety split.

Here's how we did it:

a) I started a new off-farm job on Monday (Managing Editor of this very cool site. But, I'll continue to contribute to New West and the Daily Yonder too.)

b) Jacob quit his off-farm job on Tuesday.

And just like that, problem is solved.

Obviously, there is still much to figure out and much (maybe even more) to juggle.

Basically, Jacob just simplified his life and I just complicated mine. But, the thought is that we'll start to spread out our complications evenly between us and that will simplify things for both of us -- him taking Willa part-time, me lightening my farming load, both of us sharing more daily chores, etc.

It's all an effort to focus on the farm, keep all of us closer to home, play a bigger role in our community and spend more time together.

And, while we will certainly miss Breadwinner Jacob (and in particular, his health benefits), we rather prefer Farmer and Daddy Jacob. He's certainly less stressed and definitely happier.

There was much hand-wringing about this decision going on in the background, all of which I'm sure I'll write about later (A preview: you should know by now that health insurance companies suck and for farmers, off-farm jobs -- and whether to take them and how to juggle them and who should work them -- create an inordinate amount of stress and time.) but for now, just to summarize, a few of the emotions rolling around this morning, the first day of the rest of our lives:
  • I feel grateful that I can telecommute to awesome jobs doing things I care about,
  • apprehensive about balancing all these roles (and about becoming the breadwinner again), but
  • so, so, happy to have my parenting and farming partner back at my side, and not commuting and traveling and scrambling, (This morning, he and Willa went for a run and I took a shower. A shower. Like, in the morning, and not with a baby in my arms. I washed my hair and conditioned for the full three minutes before rinsing. A girl could get used to this clean, bouncy hair, let me tell you.)
  • hopeful that this will mean we will have more time: more time for each other, more time for our friends, more time for our families, more time for our community. If I've learned anything about time though, I've learned that it expands and contracts in unexpected ways, so even if I think we might have more time, we might not. But, there's nothing wrong with being hopeful.
  • nervous, but excited to be relying, even just partly, on the farm for our livelihood. We are, as my friend Jennifer says (yes, you Jennifer), we're in it to win it now and that's a great, terrifying thing.

Sometimes though, you just have to hop on and push off, you know?

Wouldn't it Be Easier to Just Eat the Seeds?

(Note: This is cross posted from Courtney's new blog, Life, Cultivated.)

We're a little behind in the greenhouse. Luckily, Willa is excellent help.

See here Mama, it says basil can be started indoors 4-6 weeks before last frost. But I say we get a start now by putting the seeds directly in my mouth.

Basil is quite possibly my favorite crop. I love to plant it, I love to harvest it, I love to eat it, I love to sell it.

But, it can also be sort of tricky. So, here's a few tips I've gathered over the years:

  • Keep seeds warm during germination. One mistake I made my first year was starting too early in the winter and then getting increasingly frustrated when germination was slow. It was because, among other things, the soil wasn't consistently warm enough. Keep that in mind.
  • Prune. Once you have at least two sets of "branches" on your plant, start pruning to keep the plant bushing instead of growing tall and leggy. 
  • Some people wait to harvest big long stems but I like to harvest young, tender leaves. This does the pruning I mentioned above while giving you nice, bright, tender green leaves ready to toss into salads, pasta and well, in our house, just about anything else. 
  • Don't let it flower. Like most others, the minute the plant starts putting its energy into seed production, the leaves get bitter. Another reason to stay on top of the pruning/harvesting.
  • Keep the frost imps at bay. Basil will be the very first thing in your garden to blacken at even the threat of frost. When in doubt, cover.
  • When preserving, don't be shy with the olive oil. The best way to preserve basil is to process with olive oil or make pesto. If you're doing either, put a nice film of oil on the top of your container -- that's what will seal the green in and keep the black out. 

My favorite varieties are your standard sweet basil, sweet thai basil and Genovese basil. 

I'm dreaming of the first harvest already.

Of Peas and Parks

The peas are fixing nitrogen.

Well, it's still too wet to plant anything outside. We're about a month behind at this point and I'm getting antsy. So, I'll just post another entry about the green goodness beneath the high tunnel. The rye is developing heads which are in the boot: forming in the leaf sheath, and the peas are fixing nitrogen.

Pink nodule where nitrogen-fixing bacteria live.

Meanwhile, even though there is plenty to do around the farm, like weeding the asparagus and strawberries, mucking out the turkey brooder, and cleaning up the potting shed, Willa and family went to the park where she told me to stop taking her picture.

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