May: It Rhymes With Hay

When I told WWOOFer Meg I was going to put up a blog post about recent weeks, she suggested it simply be the word “HAY!”  It was tempting.

We’ve been busting out row after row of thick hay mulch, keeping the ravaging hordes of weeds suppressed while the crops get their feet under them; it holds moisture in the sandy soil, and eventually breaks down, adding nutrients and much needed organic matter for future crops. It’s not the most pleasant of tasks, especially for those of us with hay and mold allergies, but we’ve gotten some pretty good tactics down to make it easier; one person with a wheelbarrow per row to be mulched, doing relays back and forth, while one or two people rip up bales outside the field, and load up the wheelbarrows when they return, empty, to the fence.

This process has made things much more efficient, and since we’ve had a few WWOOFers helping, we’ve managed to get much more of the field under cover than previous years … which will mean happier crops and less weeding for the rest of the season.

tortiseshell haymulch
tortoiseshell hay mulch

In a similar vein, we found a free silage tarp the exact dimensions of our high tunnel greenhouse, while scavenging for useful items at the annual “Trash Days” in Bloomington MN (where folks put all manner of unwanted piles out on the curb for scavengers like us to pick through, prior to it all heading to a landfill). Although it hadn’t been the plan, the dimensional match seemed too meant to be to ignore, so we transformed the high tunnel into a plastic bubble for heat-loving plants.

It’s amusing since neither of us really ever wanted to grow using plastic, but it’s hard to argue with luck and with results – and it’s certain that such a ground cover is ideal for the sandy, weedy soils we contend with here, as well as for heat-loving plants. (The plants are watered by both driplines connected to the well, and by soaker hoses gravity-fed by various rainwater collection tanks around the farm.)

sweeping the loose soil away from the sensitive tomato plants. Tomatoes are total Bubble Boys
sweeping the loose soil away from the sensitive tomato plants. Tomatoes are total Bubble Boys

And speaking of rain – we’re finally getting nice amounts, after a nearly month-long dry spell, where we were having to run the generator/well irrigation daily to keep the seeds and transplants alive in the field. We’d watched storm after storm split apart on the radar and pass around us, leaving us dry … but finally, we were blessed with three inches over the course of a few day rainy spell (an amount that would have been problematic in less well-drained soil), and since then it’s been a lovely syncopation of sunshine and rain, alternating daily or even hourly.

the crew unloading a trailerful of free woodchips
the crew unloading a trailerful of free woodchips

As I sit writing this on Monday morning, it’s going from full sun to downpour about every 10 minutes – the photo above is the sunny field with the next squall rolling in.

The crops love this rhythm, and are looking quite pleased with their lot in life.

cloudy weather kept us from properly hardening-off the tomato plants to the sun - so of course as soon as we transplanted them out, the weather left the forecasted script and went full blazing sunshine ... we spared the tomatoes from the strongest rays with suspended row cover fabric
cloudy weather kept us from properly hardening-off the tomato plants to the sun – so of course as soon as we transplanted them out, the weather left the forecasted script and went full blazing sunshine … we spared the tomatoes from the strongest rays with suspended row cover fabric

 

The mulch has unfortunately provided habitat for our population of tunneling colonial vegetarian rodent-monsters (aka voles), however we have been heartened by the influx of snakes around the field this spring – the hugelkultur mound, for example, had been nicknamed the “Vole Hotel” last year, as it was clear they’d infested the spaces between the buried branches and logs. When we got to work this spring, we noticed the holes into the mound seemed larger, and feared it meant even MORE voles … soon enough, however, we saw the huge gopher snakes cruising in and out, basking atop the mount in the sun, breeding in the grass, and hopefully striking terror and population control into the resident rodents.

snake sex! We hope for many babies.
snake sex! We hope for many babies.

We’ve been reconnecting with our human network as well – spending plenty of time with our friends, supporters, and neighbors, the Marquardts, meeting up with local historian and author Russ Hanson (he gave us an old coal boiler that we’ve turned into a wood-fired water heater), and taking the poop pile from our new goat-mancer friends and CSA members at The Munch Bunch.  And we’ll be starting to sell at the Saint Croix Falls Farmers’ Market in a week or two … a few weeks after the market begins, as usual.

the wood-fired water heater, ready to provide up to 20 gallons of hot water every day. Made from a 1930's Sears "bucket-a-day" coal boiler and a modern Sears water heater tank. The fire and gravity work together to circulate the water without a pump.
the wood-fired water heater, ready to provide up to 20 gallons of hot water every day. Made from a 1930’s Sears “bucket-a-day” coal boiler and a modern Sears water heater tank. The fire and gravity work together to circulate the water without a pump.

(We simply don’t have enough growing this early in the season for our attendance to make sense, especially alongside those coming in from south of here. Heck, we even have a slower start than other farms in the same township as us – the local historian let us know that his growing season, up the hill, is a full month longer than ours is, due to the way cold air settles into the wide glacial Saint Croix River valley where we grow!)

lettuce, beets, and kohlrabi
lettuce, beets, and kohlrabi

The biggest change afoot this spring is all around us, and it’s been a real test of our ability to “que sera, sera” with inevitable change – logging. Starting at 7 am, for weeks, we’ve been greeted by the sounds of the profit-driven logging machines devouring all the largest and oldest trees in the vicinity, and leaving arboreal carnage in their wake.

the north side of the farm has already been logged - you can probably guess where our property line is ...
the north side of the farm has already been logged – you can probably guess where our property line is …

I could rant, here; there is much to be angry, sad, and disappointed by, seeing how callously these woods are turned into dollars for the Wisconsin General Fund … especially knowing that next year it will likely be the patch of woods right alongside our driveway that is razed.

the loggers "spare" a few token trees here and there, but they never fare well after having all their neighhbors removed and their roots run over repeatedly.
the loggers “spare” a few token trees here and there, but they never fare well after having all their neighhbors removed and their roots run over repeatedly.

But I won’t rant. It’s one of those things that we cannot change, and must find peace with at minimum, and even better, silver linings. In this case, we will have ample access to the remnants the loggers leave behind, for use in our heating needs, and we expect that the suddenly-opened areas will allow understory fruit bushes to spring into productivity, producing wild raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries.

excavating the ruins ahead of the loggers
excavating the frosted ruins, ahead of the loggers

Another silver lining –  although no one had told us, I had a hunch that the loggers were coming to the neighborhood – and launched a salvage expedition to recover the last of the old car body panels from the homestead ruins of “The Architect” … and just days later, the whole site was crushed by heavy machinery treads. Sad – but awesome that we salvaged the remains in the nick of time, to repurpose for future projects that have local historical roots, as well as powerful aesthetic appeal (to our eyes anyway!)

aftermath of the logging crews
aftermath of the logging crews
Widget with a model-T body panel run over by a bulldozer
Widget with a model-T body panel run over by a bulldozer

We’ve enjoyed feeling like we lived in a forest, but with the surrounding woods logged, we’ll be well-aware that we truly live in The Barrens, and we that we grow food in an area considered to be little more than a wasteland by many. Underappreciated, scruffy places on the outskirts of human civilization has long been our favored type of habitat, and that’s exactly where we are putting down our roots; deep tap roots that can draw sustenance from the most unpromising-looking sands.

No matter what, it’s going to be interesting, and interesting is our favorite thing.

So.

The first CSA box will be coming on June 6th … are you ready? We are!

See you soon,

Gabe & Kristin

morel captured
morel captured
oyster mushrooms on a stick
oyster mushrooms on a stick

 

HEY HAY MAY PICS

building the tomato trellises
building the tomato trellises

the monster on the left had two yolks
the monster on the left had two yolks

 

killing quack grass - first loosening the soil with a broadfork, and then carefully digging the extensive root systems out by hand.
killing quack grass – first loosening the soil with a broadfork, and then carefully digging the extensive root systems out by hand.
WWOOFer woofer Kingsbury likes to find and bring home pieces of deer ... so pleased with himself!
WWOOFer woofer Kingsbury likes to find and bring home pieces of deer … so pleased with himself!
grapevines coming to life
grapevines coming to life
we took several bucketfuls of quack grass rhizomes out that day ... the weed bloodlust was strong.
we took several bucketfuls of quack grass rhizomes out that day … the weed bloodlust was strong.
Widget helps weed the raspberry patch
Widget ‘helps’ weed the raspberry patch
Elden pots up pepper plants
Elden pots up pepper plants

a box turtle came to visit
a box turtle came to visit

Kristin and her dad working on the screen porch roof
Kristin and her dad working on the screen porch roof

chive flowers
chive flowers
Jim helps install the new solar panels
Jim helps install the new solar panels
laying irrigation lines
laying irrigation lines
babies
babies
the eroding pipe of greenhouse heater's booster fire makes for some beauty
the eroding pipe of greenhouse heater’s booster fire makes for some beauty

 

And finally, let’s cap May off with a few good versions of our farm’s theme song!

(High Keys is my current favorite version. The Lords version is awesome for the band’s dancing lol)


2 thoughts on “May: It Rhymes With Hay”

  1. Excited for our first share! Maybe sometime we’ll have to swing by for a visit and help out! We’d love to see the place!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.