Monday, April 29, 2013

Photo Update 4.29.13

Planting season has begun. We have been patiently waiting, and are rewarded with some beautiful days. Now were are working hard to get everything in that we want at this time!

Saturday was so nice even the tomatoes got to hang out with the cool-season transplants we are hardening off. Putting them outside gets them used to the solar heat, and the wind.

Time to till! John got our walking tractor out and got down to business getting the vegetable field ready.

This is the field before tilling. The stakes on the left indicate the edge of our native prairie field border. The area, that seems bare, directly in front is new ground being added to vegetable production. You can somewhat see, off to the right, were the field edge was from last year's field. We are planting quite a bit more this year!

The field, from the other end, after tillage. The rough ground at the bottom of the picture is part of our grain fields, which will hold plantings of flint corn, barley, buckwheat and pig pasture mix

 Lovely new bumble bee house, complete with viewing panel.

The piggies love soaking up the sun and lounging outside!

The rainbow was a beautiful end to a great weekend working together out in the field.

Phenology 4.28.13

Each person has something they notice outdoors that reminds them of the change in the season, it may be a bird, a tree budding, flowers emerging, but year after year it reminds us of changing times. My favorite spring migrant has returned--the tree swallows! April 27th marks the first day I have noticed them back, and almost immediately they have made a claim on the same nesting box as last year. To my surprise they were not the only pair of tree swallows eager to make Alternative Roots Farm their home, there was a second pair attempting to use the birdhouse our neighbor made--perhaps these were chicks from last year's hatch?

This week has been a whirlwind of weather--from snow early in the week to the 70° days over the weekend. Despite the snow, all of the creatures and plants have been waiting and readying themselves for the warm weather. Here is what was noticed when I was in the ravine and wooded areas this week:
emergence of spring ephemerals, including dogtooth violet, round-lobed hepatica, and Dutchman's breeches; return of ovenbirds and yellow rumped warblers. I was even fortunate enough to see a barred owl up-close and during the day, while at work in the river valley floodplain forest.

The uplands are changing rapidly. Rooster pheasants are in grand color, and strutting around trying to gain the attention of a female, or two; the chorus of frogs have started in the wetland down the road (likely spring peepers and leopard frogs); the buds on the lilacs are very swollen.

On the farm we noticed a pair of brown thrashers has come back to nest--they are a delight to hear, as they call a chorus of mimicked bird songs. We are waiting for our native prairie (planted last fall), to germinate, this will still be a little bit of a wait; native grasses are "warm season" grasses, that emerge later on. The rhubarb is beginning to leaf out, the garlic and shallots are up, and the first planting is in the ground. No doubt now, spring is finally here.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day!

Today is Earth Day! Every day is Earth Day really! At least here on the farm it is. Are you doing anything special for Earth Day?

"Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human creatures."
-  US Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day (April 22nd, 1970)

John planting shrubs for wildlife and beauty
Yesterday John planted 50 tall shrubs on the farm--red osier dogwood, gray dogwood, black chokeberry and elderberry. All native, all beneficial to wildlife. A few were planted up along the driveway, as you can see in the picture, the majority were planted in our field--about a 150' strip on the outside of our native prairie field border. This hedge will serve to slow winds, attract beneficial insects and birds, serve as a buffer from our conventional neighbors, and it will be pretty! Can't wait to see it fill in over the season!

Red osier dogwood
It was quite pleasant to see something go in the ground this week! We're still waiting to get into the field to prep for planting. It's still a little too wet, with more moisture in the forecast. The rhubarb is starting to come up, and I bet the garlic won't be far behind that!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Phenology 4.17.13

Phenology Report – Week of April 15, 2013

I had decided to wait a couple of weeks from the last phenology report in hopes that we would really start to see some major temperature shifts and signs of spring….well, we have not seen this yet.  Our unseasonable cold temperatures of late have been slightly agitating, but in trade we have been receiving extra moisture, which our soils desperately needed – so it is even in my book.  The most interesting thing I have noticed lately is the changes in trees and plants vs. changes in animal life.  With this cold weather, the trees and other herbaceous plants seems to be in a “hold and wait” mode where they are not breaking bud and leafing out or flowering.   Rather the plants are just staying near dormancy in wait for warmer evenings.  

A friend told me yesterday that this has been the best maple syruping year they have ever experienced (and these people have been around a few years).  When we talk about maple syrup one must understand that a maple tree does not just give you dark, sweet syrup if you stick a straw in it – it’s a process.  You must first “tap” the tree to allow the flowing sap of the maple to be collected in buckets or bags; the sap must then be cooked down over a hot stove or open fire until it reaches the sugar content you are looking for – this cooking down process is what gives the syrup its caramel color.  Even the different maple trees have varying percentages of sugars in their sap, therefore changing the cooking time.  The reason 2013 has been a good year is due to the fact that we have had days 40-50’s and then it cools down to the 30’s at night.  This warming and cooling action makes the tree want to “run” or move sap up and down the trunk in order to prepare for the spring bud break and flowering.  When we “tap” a tree we are just intercepting the sap as it is flowing through the tree.  So, at least this cool spring will potentially bring us more maple syrup!!

The animals on the other had, particularly the birds, are thoroughly confused by these cold days and extra snowstorms we have been having.  The killdeer, meadowlarks, robins and even the eastern kingbird are all waiting eagerly for the warm summer days to arrive.  I am thinking the young of last fall are thinking that their parents were lying to them when they were told that when they arrive back north it will be “the land of milk and honey”, instead its turned out to be the land of wind and snow storms!  It has been so cold that I think that kingbird decided he had enough and went back south!  The positive thing about this cool weather is that the lakes up north are still frozen over, meaning the migrating waterfowl are still congregating around the area and giving us a great opportunity to view the many varieties on our small wetlands.  Thousands of Canada geese, snow geese, white fronted geese and lesser Canadian geese have been holding over on the large wetland to the east of our place, waking up the morning with their loud calls (who needs a rooster?). 

Spring will arrive, we just have to be patient as I am sure it will bless the farm with a bountiful harvest over the summer.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

CSA Preseason Newsletter

We look to begin the CSA delivery season come mid-June, but for now here is a glimpse at our Preseason CSA Newsletter that we provided to our members.

{Alternative Roots Farm Member News} :: March 26th, 2013 Volume 2 Preseason Issue

Friday, April 5, 2013

Tooling Around

There is no doubt now that spring is ready to burst through with full force! Here's a few photos from around the farm and a glimpse at a couple of our new tools we have been able to upgrade to with our expansion this year.

A precision seeder was high on the list of essential tools this year. While hand seeding will definitely still be used, this seeder will make planting things like carrots and beets easier and more efficient. The rake is for prepping beds--the longer handle and wider rake head will also add to efficiency.

This green beast is our favorite new tool! Our brand new walking tractor, with rototiller attachment. With this we move into the realm of being mechanized--having our tillage at our fingertips, versus reaching out to schedule it is another move towards efficiency. This is a great step forward for us. Thank you to our members for helping us make this investment. A walking tractor is different than a tiller in that it can take different attachments. This will also allow us to take care of our soil better, by tilling some areas and not others, by widening our cover crop options so we may work in more organic matter.

All the tomatoes were planted this week! As well as the early broccoli crop, parsley and next come the peppers! The cabbage is germinated and coming along and the celery was the first thing to get potted up to larger blocks.

John made short work of organizing the garden stakes this spring--doesn't look like much but that was super handy to have put in place!

The field really doesn't look like much at all right now, but it's great to see where it starts and then how it transforms through the season.

We're eager for green outside here! So the chives are always a spring treat.

The green inside increases each day in our seed starting station. Like the little cabbages below.

The alliums (onions, shallots, garlic) have stored exceedingly well. While the onions have reached the end of their storage time, the shallots are still keeping very, very well. Some things are dwindling in the pantry now, and others are still abundant--helping us to determine what amounts to can/dry/storethis season. 

Only a couple months away until we start the CSA deliveries! We can't wait!