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Spring Farm Musings

8364_10151575311876145_1157698364_nOh my, was that two weeks before Easter incredible. Everything was warming up and drying out and the soil was getting to planting quality, but not perfect.  I spent all last weekend wishing I could get more peas planted (almost done), my strawberries planted (half done) and get some spuds in the ground (none done). This amount of rain will take 4 or 5 days to begin to dry out. Thankfully, it is still very early in the season and most of my crops will go “in” from the end of April through June. 

The frustrating thing about farming is you have to take what is given and make the best choice at that time. When the weather first “broke” a few weeks ago, I waited. Then it stayed nice and I was compelled, no…drawn, no…wooed, yes…“wooed” by the farm to come and begin the season. So, cautiously, I fired up the tractor and started working the ground. The ground was willing, but not ready to begin.  If our farm was a sandy soil it would have been perfect, but we are more of a clay loam. Clay loams are great for holding soil moisture into August, but not so great for “working” early.  Alas, rarely is anything perfect and the soil responded to produce an acceptable seedbed.

With the forecasted weather change coming, I planted.  I really wanted a few more days, but none were coming and now I know that none are coming for a while. The rub is that if it stays on a warming trend from mid-March through April, the farm will give up a lot of field moisture early that would normally carry us through dry summer months. It will also cause the grass to dry out sooner and affect our grazing rotations for the cattle. But, conversely, many crops love an early spring and if a farmer catches it right, you can have some amazing spinach, lettuce and pea crops.  

But I have learned to not trust March and only wade in; after all,the water is rarely warm in March.  So now I find myself wondering if my pea seeds will germinate, partially germinate or rot—time will tell. A little concerned about the strawberries and how they will fare. I am thankful that I didn’t plant my potatoes. But I am also happy that this past March’s nice warm weather won’t deplete my soil moisture for the cattle and late summer crops.

As a farmer, there is almost always a crop or season in which you can find a “silver lining.” You might have to look a little harder or change your attitude/ perspective, but every season has a blessing buried in it. And if you find yourself in such a season of instability or insecurity, take a deep breath, dig a little deeper and unbury that blessing –it will warm your heart and get you through that moment.
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Hang On To Your Hats, It's Time To Farm!

Hang on to your hat, because these next few weeks are going to be a class 5 kayak ride!  We were behind a few weeks ago, but now we are getting nervous.  If the weather doesn’t break soon so that the rain lets up, I won’t be harvesting anything until August.  At least we have snuck in (mudded in) a few plants in between rain storms. Our first plantings of peas are up and our second plantings are just emerging. The strawberries and raspberries are sending out new leaves every day and those two nice weekends we had gave the bees enough warmth to get out and work in the orchard.   Now,it is a waiting game to see if (and how much of) the fruit will set. 

After last year’s horrible spring, I decided to diversify and plant some more perrienels , like raspberries, strawberries, apples, pears, plums as well as herbs.  Even the beef help to mitigate springs like these. Every season has its ups and downs, challenges and triumphs. By diversifying we are able to cover expenses and even out the waves of life or seasons.  Looking forward to calm waters ahead.

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Please no more false starts

This Monday was the day to plant. After two serious days of rain on Thursday and Friday, the fields began to dry out, allowing us to move forward with planting shallots, beets, spinach, and round two of sugar snap peas. It is still early, but we aren’t getting greedy. The farming season is a long one and while getting out of blocks early does help, it isn’t a make it or break it deal. 

But with that said, the race has begun. The fruit trees are just about to “pop” and then we will have apples, plums, pears, and dandelions??? in blossom. I love this season, even with its erratic weather, because everything just wants to grow.

We have several farm trials going on this year, so I hope you can make it out to our Farm Festival on August 18th to see what is going on. We are doing a compost trial with Cedargrove and WSU extension, some Chinese medicinal herbs with Eastern Asian Medicinal Practitioners, some test plots on strip tillage, double digging, and soil microbe applications. I didn’t think this was going to be an overly busy year, but after typing this list I already feel tired J.

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Feathered Friends & Farming

As I sit to write this newsletter, I have to stop and marvel at a pair of hummingbirds. I wonder at how fast those wings beat to stay stationary in one place (up to 80 times per second with the smallest species). Talk about amazing creatures! This year we have had an explosion of feathered friends. Multiple species are now calling this place home. The other day, when I was mowing some hay, I had a bald eagle land not more than 15 feet from me. Shoot, around here, those birds are about as domesticated as my chickens. I think my favorite neighborly bird is the American gold finch—what a striking color contrast to the green backdrop of the apple trees.

Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I set up my irrigation it rains and, boy, did it ever! I will have to try that trick more often. The rain is both a blessing and curse. For many of my friends, it means they are unable to make hay and they have hundreds of acres to put up. We have been fortunate this year and  been able to get our most “pressing” hay fields cut, tedded, raked and baled between rain storms. If you need hay this year, talk with your farmer and let them know you are interested, it looks like it is going to be a tight year.

This week we are finally harvesting lettuce and spinach. With this cold season, things are not coming (growing) quickly, but now we get to harvest. YEAH!  On the flip side, the weeds are loving life and living large, so this week I am bringing a big crew to weed the carrots, basil and beets. The beautiful thing about the rain is that it makes weeding a ton easier. When the ground is dry, it is almost impossible to pull the weeds and get their roots, but with this rain the roots will come easier.  Conversely, so will the roots of the carrots and basil, so the crew will have to be slow and steady. And the last blessing about weeding and the rain is that the dirt clods will be easier on our knees, much appreciated after a few hours of crawling around.

Farming is so much about managing the weather you get. Hopefully we will get some sunshine to go with this moisture and the crops will really start to come (grow).

I hope you have our farm day on your calendar. For this year’s event (August 20th) we are adding music. I have several friends coming to play and if you have a fiddle, violin, guitar, banjo or djembe, bring it along and maybe you can getting in on the jamming. As always, our farm day is a blast—part old fashioned picnic, part educational and part historical.

Farming really slow food this year!