Bear Necessities – another pre-season CSA Newsletter

Overall, things are going great on the farm. We’ve had WWOOFers (B, Nora, and now Megg) helping since early on, which has really helped us keep on top of the weeding and mulching and planting and fencing and such.

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The field looks great, the high tunnel hasn’t blown away, and your farmers are feeling much less stress than we were last year at this time.

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Up until yesterday, it had not rained here for weeks – but we’ve been running the drip irrigation daily, and being glad that the weeds and mosquitoes have been dry too. But yesterday, enough was enough and the heavens finally opened up and gave us a much-needed inch of glorious rain. Without coordination, all 5 of us ran outside to bask in the deluge … as good as it felt for us, I have to imagine the crops were just about in heaven.

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The Big Freeze:

May 15th is officially the Last Frost Date for our zone – in theory, we can expect that it’s safe for plants to be outdoors overnight past then. It’s just a rule of thumb (we had frosts past that date last year), but the weather took it seriously this year – the lows ever since then have approached a balmy 60 degrees … but on the night of the 14th, we were thrown a wicked curveball. Not a frost – a full-on freeze – and one that was not predicted by the weather forecasts we relied upon. It got below 25 that night – and stayed there, for hours.

The budding oaks were ravaged, the neighbors greening vineyard and Christmas tree farm were rendered brown-tipped and sad, our asparagus drooped over limply, plants inside greenhouses were nipped even under cover, our grapes and raspberry plants lost their leaves … but the worst of it, for us, was the impact on our cool weather plants we’d lovingly nurtured all  spring from seeds. After weeks of shuttling them into our home at night when they were young, keeping them toasty on the new rocket mass heater, carefully hardening them to sunlight and wind, we had transplanted them out into the field, and tucked them all in with a blanket of hay mulch. Hundreds of feet of plants that would have been fine with a little frost – but which were not able to withstand a true freeze.

The devastation was depressing to behold: row after row of colorless limp leaves, their very cells exploded by the freezing water within. The dead included kohlrabi, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and even the hardy arugula and kale plants.

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Not all was lost – for some reason, the peas and lettuce (which I thought would be less hardy than the kale and arugula) were mostly just fine – and even among the worst of it, life and hope spring eternal – a good number of the plants that initially looked to be utterly lost unfurled brave, tiny green leaves from their centers that over the following days, the robust root systems working to keep the system alive and receiving the power of sunshine.

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We won’t have the abundance of spring crops we’d hoped for, but it’s gonna be alright. Que sera, sera!

After the freeze, Spring set in for real – swimming in the Saint Croix, laundry on the line, frog choruses and darting dragonflies, and the end of wood smoke scents.

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Under Siege!

Up here, the coming of Spring also means the coming of bears – and this year has been just beartastic. The Neighbors reported a lot of sightings and raids on their birdfeeders, but we only caught a few glimpses … until this week.  A young male, just kicked out by his mom, has been bumbling around trying to figure out how to survive in our neighborhood. He finally got the nerve up to start raiding us at night, and my sympathy for him is wearing thin …

laundry soap chew toy
laundry soap chew toy

The first raid didn’t work out very well for young Mr. Bear – he tried to get into the composting outhouse, got into a big gross barrel that was on its way to the humanure pile, dined on used fryer oil from a 55 gallon drum he knocked over, and chewed open a brand new big jug of unscented laundry detergent. After this trifecta, I know that the answer was that yes, indeed, bears do shit in the woods. I suspect he was doing plenty of that the next day …

We didn’t see any sign of him during the immediate aftermath of his first foray into our turf, but we still had our bear encounter quota met the next day – Kristin and WWOOFer Megg were out doing dishes when all ten pounds of Widget came hurtling past them barking ferociously – drawing their attention to the big momma bear and her cub that had just strolled into the driveway. The gals screamed “BEARS!” and then screamed at Widget to come back, I ran out the door and bellowed like the hugest most badass beast I could feign, mama bear took off into the woods – but the baby climbed a tree on the edge of the driveway. Fortunately, Widget came back to us, and mama bear ordered the baby down the tree and out of our property.

“And don’t come back!”

The next night, Mr. Bear Junior came sneaking back while were were all celebrating at the Neighbors’ … and this time, he did much better for himself. We had friends from the Cities visiting, and they’d brought a bunch of bacon and cheese to share – and left it in our “fridge” – the buried chest freezer we use to keep our food cool. Unfortunately, the bacon was wrapped loosely in paper – and the fridge is ventilated, allowing delicious smells to waft to the nostrils of munchies-stricken bears.

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Mr. Bear could not refuse the invite … and he destroyed our fridge, ransacked the contents, leveled our rocket stove grill to get to the meat drippings within, tore down and chomped our birdfeeder, and dragged a cooler into the woods and mauled it.

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We heard him tear off into the woods when we returned home to the remnants of his party – and later, he came back and was spotted leaning against a tree about 15 feet from the trailer in the middle of the night, trying to look innocent and nonchalant.

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No. We chased him off … but we know he’ll be back.

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And I’ll be waiting for Mr. Bear with Mr. Shotgun – not to shoot him, but to scare the holy hell out of him with the loudest sound we have the capability to make …. hopefully that will be enough to send him foraging for less frightening food sources.

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(The destruction of the rocket grill and the fridge has a silver lining, really  – both had issues that begged for redesign upgrades, but since they functioned well enough, these rebuilds never attained priority, and they just kept getting used as they were … now, we’ll rebuild them better! Future Us will thank Young Master Bear, even though Current Us would rather kick him in the butt.)

Mr. Bear's scat in the woods near the cooler
Young Master Bear’s scat in the woods near the ransacked cooler

Today is our friend Megg’s last day on the farm – we actually met her while we were all WWOOFing down in Mississippi two winters ago, and told her to visit us sometime during her Full-time Traveling – and so she did!

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In addition to all kinds of help with the usual farm work, she tapped into her past as a signmaker for Trader Joe’s, and helped us make some sweet signs for the farmer’s market with her freakishly good lettering.

the boards are sawed up chunks of a huge blackboard that we scored for free off of Craigslist)
the boards are sawed up chunks of a huge blackboard that we scored for free off of Craigslist

 

 

… as for everything else we’ve been up to, I’ll let the pictures do their thousand words thing:

planting beans alongside the garlic
planting beans alongside the garlic

 

look closely - the Swiss chard has colorful roots, too!
look closely – the Swiss chard has colorful roots, too!
Widget partying at the Wolf Creek Bar
Widget partying at the Wolf Creek Bar
Neighbor Marcia, the Chicken Whisperer
Neighbor Marcia, the Chicken Whisperer
the front line on the War on Quack Grass - this edge of the field is where it's the thickest - we tilled it when it was dry, then mulched over the border with cardboard and woodchips. You don't understand how satisfying this is to me ....
the front line on the War on Quack Grass – this edge of the field is where it’s the thickest – we tilled it when it was dry, then mulched over the border with cardboard and woodchips. You don’t understand how satisfying this is to us ….
the propane flame weeder also serves as a wonderful hole-maker for the plastic mulch
the propane flame weeder also serves as a wonderful hole-maker for the plastic mulch
surprise shiitakes - they wre discovered just in time to make for a great breakfast, the morning of the bacon bear
surprise shiitakes – these and a few others were discovered just in time to make for a great breakfast, the morning of the bacon bear

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Super Poop Scooper
Super Poop Scooper
Deb & Nora transplanting cauliflower & broccoli
Deb & Nora planting beans

 

putting plants out to freeze to death later :P
putting plants out to freeze to death later :P
hay mulching the cool weather crops
hay mulching the cool weather crops

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