The Charm Farm CSA

the latest beet

A Not So Slow Time of Year

The 2015 growing season, having officially capped itself this past week with some five degree temperatures, is in the books. Far from an ordinary year, having swung between moisture extremes from month to month, it’s a relief to have it behind us here on the farm.  Having proved itself to be the most challenging year of cropping of my farming career yet (I had heard there would be such years), it is excellent motivation for coming seasons and safety net investments such as expanded irrigation capacity and increased fertility production.  The latter of these has been occupying the majority of my winter workload.

In early December, we broke ground on what will become the winter home of the Angus cattle herd. The barn dance barn, aka the lower barn, is being outfitted for feeding the cattle during the winter months.  Originally built as a cattle barn in the forties, it was designed to feed loose hay from the upper level and silage (fermented feedstuffs) from the silo to cattle housed on the ground level of the barn.  Within a week, cattle will once again utilize this space to stay out of the weather and mud.  Nearly ninety yards of cement were poured in mid-December during a rather opportune window of warm weather for an outdoor loafing area that will give the herd access outside without the mud as well as providing more area per animal.  Rather than silage or loose hay, the old feed bunk has been retrofitted to handle large round hay bales.  I care deeply about the well-being and comfort of my animals but that is not the sole reason for this build out.  The primary purpose of this arrangement is so all of the manure can be collected and composted to be used on the vegetable fields for the coming season.  Along with all of this cow manure, the chicken and turkey litter from the farm is added to the pile as well as over forty truckloads of leaves from the city of Elkins.  This is the first year of this arrangement and I look forward to keeping it up in the future as it brings a tremendous amount of fertility onto the farm, but leaf litter alone will not decompose well as it does not make good food for the microorganisms that do the composting.  Higher nitrogen materials such as manure or food waste do this best and must be blended with the leaves for them to fully break down.  This addition to the farm will make fertility management much more effective in utilizing this on-farm resource as a means to improve the soil of the crop fields as well as giving the pasture land a welcome rest when it is most vulnerable to damage from the cattle that lead to the loss of topsoil and desirable plant species.  Furthermore, the amount of tractor work to feed during the winter will be greatly reduced although the overall hours of tractor work will remain roughly the same as the barn and loafing pad will need to be cleaned every two weeks.  Large scale on-farm compost production has been a goal since I began farming and it feels great to be making progress on this.  Stay tuned for pictures of warm cows when the cold weather eventually arrives and more updates on the barns.

As I adjust to writing 2016 on checks and such, the coming growing season is coming into focus. The seed orders are prepped and three acres are plowed and bedded for the earliest crops.  The first taps of the season were put into maple trees this week up at Dry Fork Maple Works and Emma and I look forward to the many more days it will take to finish that job.  I’m not one for resolutions, but Emma insists I write these posts more often.  So to close, I’ll finally apologize for my prolonged silence on here and you can bet you’ll be hearing more from me soon.

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Summer Veggies Via Emma

There are a couple pending posts in my near future- a barn dance recap, the weather idiosyncrasies, thoughts on crops and so on, but first, here are the recipes for some of the fare Emma demoed for the blood screening event recently held in Elkins.  Enjoy these different takes on some staple summer veggies.  More posts coming soon.
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And The Rain Keeps Coming

Drought-stricken May is a distant memory as we make our way into the fifth straight week of constant rain.  That is not an exaggeration.  There have been three days since June 1 that it hasn’t rained.  Transplants are either stuck in the greenhouse or they have been drowning in the field, the ground is mud, the field corn has been sitting in four inches of water for the past month, and forecasters don’t even read the weather anymore- it’s just rain.  And it’s more than just a touch frustrating but crops are still coming in.  Thank goodness.  Green beans and the cucurbits are in high gear, tomatoes are ready but reluctant to ripen (probably has something to due with that big yellow orb not showing its face), the sweet corn is starting to fill out its ears, and the brassicas have been enjoying this temperate jungle climate.  Regardless, it still needs to dry out some.

On a different note, the barn dance and dinner is fast approaching and posters have been hung around town.  If you plan on attending, please call or email to reserve your spot and bring a homemade pie or cake for the cakewalk if you like.  In case you haven’t seen this yet, here’s a treat…

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Farmer To Farmer

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There are many instances on the farm where I find myself stuck in a tedious and necessary but relatively quiet task, a welcome change from the rumble and racket of tractor work.  It is during these times of greenhouse seeding or tomato pruning that the well-worth-the-$70 job site boombox gets put to use, especially during the least exciting task of all, driving.  Sometimes music will give me that boost of energy and rhythm to plow through those jobs, but for the past year or so, podcasts have been the go-to for those times when my mind needs to hear something other than itself.  Yeah, the NPR mainstays of Wait, Wait and This American Life fulfill the entertainment void that seeding broccoli doesn’t exactly provide but I really love it when I get to nerd out on Thursday or Friday to the latest Farmer to Farmer podcast hosted by veteran farmer and well respected consultant Chris Blanchard.  Chris taps into his vast network of friends and mentors to talk about what is happening in the market farming and sustainable agriculture world which really becomes a conversation about life on a farm and what it takes to make that work in regards to business practices, family life, technology and so much more.  The farming line of work doesn’t necessarily allow one to traipse around and shoot the bull with the market farmer down the lane or across the country.  Our sort is scattered about the land and as much as we’d like to take the time to talk and learn with fellow growers, we don’t always have the luxury of time, that’s why I so appreciate the work Chris is doing and the podcast universe that provides space for these conversations.

A couple weeks ago, I emailed Chris regarding a question he asked on the show.  Well, a simple email signature tipped him off that I had a farm and after a bit of googling the Charm Farm, Chris invited me to be a guest on his show to discuss the process of starting a whole diet CSA as well as integrating livestock and crop production.  I was deeply honored but more nervous than I’ve been in some time, I mean, he has interviewed several of the market farming rock stars.  But alas, we talked, it went well and now you can listen in to as well. Here is the link.  This is a great opportunity to learn more about the conception of the farm and why I do what I do.  Enjoy.

Come On Out To The Dance Floor, Y’all

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Check out the Barn Dance page to learn more about the boot-stomping good time we’re planning for July 11th.  Yeah, it will be one of those old time gigs but we’ve given it a twist or two.  Hope to see you there.

Let’s Have Another Go

I have been here, here on the farm anyhow.  The web presence has been neglected but I’m reappropriating some time to tend the website.  A weekly picture and an update on what is happening on the farm is the plan, that is so long as it rains once a week to better accommodate what is relegated to the office work realm.

Memorial Day weekend was spent juggling weddings and the season’s first cutting of hay. I’m really pleased with the quality of the alfalfa/fescue and alfalfa/orchardgrass blends this early in the season.  I seeded out the first alfalfa crop on the farm last August and this was the first cutting to come off that field.  More alfalfa will certainly be going into the ground.  The TrafficPro from Kingfisher has deeper set crowns to protect the plant’s growing tips from tires and hooves.  I’m looking forward to grazing this field this fall when it has some stockpiled growth.  It’ll be a good test of this variety and it’s ability to overwinter with 2-3″ of residue.  The alfalfa and adjoining hay meadows will be mowed and grazed until spring 2017 when corn returns to the upper field.

Mowed on Friday, baled on Monday.  Rained Tuesday and looking like it will for the next week or so. A rare four day window of drying weather.  This mower also crimps the hay crop which makes a substantial difference in the amount of drying time and amount the hay must be stirred or tedded by breaking the stems and allowing for more thorough evaporation.

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I’d love to chew the fat with you, but…

The sun is going down and rain is in the forecast. Nothing like that second wind of energy to get me from the post-lunch drowsiness through evening milking, and on this particular night, typing out some farm updates for you all. Impending rain is usually the catalyst that helps me get through these ever-longer days. Rain is in the forecast for tomorrow. Therefore, it’ll be an extra early day working on the high tunnel. Speaking of which, it now has plastic on it. Certainly not a solo job, so my most appreciative thanks goes out to Gabriel(my superhero carpenter), Andy and Tim for getting the structure covered and looking like a greenhouse. Some other progress on the farm since I last wrote is that there are now 7000 little strawberry plants in the ground and off to a good start, thanks to Greta and Gabriel. First go using the water wheel transplanter- a most mysterious piece of equipment until you see it work. Might be my new favorite tool on the farm as it changed some incredibly back-breaking work into a genuine pleasure, albeit active work, and all the workings of it are mechanical and simple to use and repair. It embodies the basics of a well-designed tool.

The angus cows are starting to drop calves, just as grass is really becoming abundant. This grass milk is higher in vitamins and fat content. It is the same with Jersey milk. You might notice a more yelllow color this week. It’s delicious and especially nutritious. The same beta carotene that makes the egg yolks so golden. Ok, so this is where I fell asleep while typing. You may have noticed that the aforementioned forecast doesn’t quite bode with these couple days of sunshine. I think that calls for a new paragraph.

It’s been a meat cutting last couple of days. Beef and pork with some sausage making in the very near future. Members might just see some green stuff this week at distribution. Speaking of which, I’m pretty darn excited that this is week one of fifty-two for the no-longer-solely-winter CSA (catchy, huh?). I am looking forward to everything that is the inaugural season of the CSA. Motivation is ever present when you know where and to whom all the fruits of your labor are going- such a luxury in a career.

Some new members will be coming on board this month. I’d really appreciate it if some of the vets chat about/demonstrate the procedure for the buffet-style distribution, as it is a somewhat paradoxical concept for a market. Some other pertinent member news is that there will be a farm wide tour for members(current and potential) during the month of May. I was leaning towards a Saturday afternoon. What do you all think?

The Urgency of Spring

Having bided their time as those persistent daggers stabbing their way through last fall’s leaf litter, the daffodils have officially arrived. Those by the red gate, anyway. I don’t seem to see the flower as I once did. Now it is a small, yellow megaphone, flanked by some overly exclamatory petals, shouting, “Hey! Look at me! You best get plowing, tilling, mulching, planting, assauging the IRS, etc.” So I do.

I am not writing to diminish the beauty of the first flowers of spring, but rather to give a spring forecast for the farm. This rather unexpected bout of hot, yes, genuinely hot, weather has dried the ground out well beyond the moisture content I need to get the plow going. This week, the ground for vegetables, potatoes, wheat and strawberries will be plowed (6.5 acres total), and if the weather holds and the tractor goes, I’ll turn under about thirteen acres for corn. What will become the cornfield has been the winter pasture for feeding cattle, so there is plenty of organic matter, but the field hasn’t been plowed for ten or twelve years so it’ll be a little slow going. Once the plowed ground sits for a week or two, depending on residue from last year’s crop, I’ll go through with a soil finisher to break up the ankle-breaking clods of dirt into a fine seedbed ready for planting. Once I move the pigs down to their summer pasture, I can prepare the ground for oats underseeded to alfalfa (I harvest the oats by the time the alfalfa is just getting established and growing). Soybeans and barley will finish out the field crops. May 10th is generally our frost-free date here, but I am guessing that that may be a bit late this year. I’ll get some veggies out early and if need be, I can cover them with Remay for frost protection. Somewhat more subtlely than the daffodils, I’ve got about six thousand onions hankering to get in the ground.

The high tunnel is coming along. I’ll let folks know on Wednesday when plastic is going up- a job that many hands makes light work of. We need a day with no wind, even a small gust could send the folks holding down the corners airborne. I didn’t report the latest baby on the farm. Casper, a little bull calf, was born to Cheyenne on the first. Cheyenne hasn’t been picking up on the milking routine, which means she won’t go to the barn herself so I have to carry Casper in and then she’ll follow. She’s too darn big and stubborn for me to lead her in by herself. She’ll come around though. On Thursday, we’ll have two hundred more babies on the farm- little chicks arrive. One day old and at the post office, pretty impressive.

As the sun stays up longer, so do I. Thank goodness we got that coffee last week. Keep spreading the good word to folks who like eating as we prepare for the kickoff of the annual share in May. Some details are up in the Whole Diet CSA tab.

Walking to the barn at night, the flashlight is more to send the nightcrawlers slurping back into the earth than it is to show me that well worn path. Most of them escape death by boot, but I’m sure a few among the thousands perish in my footsteps. Always a good sign to see so many on the farm, those little fertility factories. Also noteworthy were the bats last night and the first toad of spring exploring the dairy barn tonight. On a completely unrelated note (I am not Johnny Verbeck), let me know if you have any charcuterie/sausage requests for May.

Thinking of Charcuterie

When folks ask me what I do in my spare time, I used to explain to them that that was the block of time devoted to raising produce.  But seeing that vegetable farming is becoming a hefty chunk of my day’s activities, I decided I needed to fill the recently vacated hobby realm with an activity I do more like a hobby: not frequently, but completely immersive when the occasion does arise. Think of the fly fisherman. This is how I have been approaching the art of cured meat. Foodstuffs to be fermented all respond similarly to the basic principles of inoculation, temperature and humidity control, and time duration, yet there is an infinite number of variations that will result in dramatically different products. It takes at least a few trial runs to find a particularly delicious creation, despite what the Boston Lager label says. This refinement process is the landscape I am currently trudging through. I don’t exactly run a delicatessen here on the farm, but if I did, I wouldn’t be ashamed to stock my fresh sausages and corned beef. Admittedly, I would do a few more batches of bacon and salume before they found their way to the meat counter.

Despite writing this on a Tuesday on the tail end of March, it feels much more like the first week of February, as I watch the snow acccumulate in the corners of the windows. Dani and Butte, the two young ladies who ensure that our dairy fridge is stocked each week, were a little slower to leave the barn after milking tonight. Having gotten a taste of some of the first spring growth of the pastures, they are understandably frustrated with this perpetual winter. This is a big week for the litter of piglets- they get weaned! And for the unlucky chaps (only two out of twelve), they have to go through a small surgery to graduate from boar to barrow. I’ve been framing up the endwalls on the high tunnel weather permitting. This is one of the last structural additions. Hopefully the tomato and pepper seedlings will get off my back and into the tunnel soon.

One of the more interesting aspects of the CSA for me is its evolution as a living, breathing manifestation of all facets of the farm. We’re certainly weilding tools and walking upright, but we haven’t built any Pyramids, not yet, anyway.

St. Pat’s Day Preparations

Hopefully, upon reading this, you have a chunk of corned beef brisket in your hands yet may have some questions of how to prepare such an item.  With the help of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, we will get through this in fine form.  Firstly, decide whether you would like to prepare it in the oven, on the stovetop or a combination of the two. Next, soak the meat in cold water for a couple of hours. If unable to do this because of time restrictions, opt for the boiling on the stovetop method which entails simmering it very gently for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours depending upon the size of the cut. Add desired vegetables in the last half hour. If using the oven, bake at 300 degrees for a comparable timeframe wrapped in foil with accompanying vegetables. If using both, boil the meat for the allotted time and finish it in the oven with the veggies. Slice the meat in thick slices and serve alongside some hearty mustard and a good, dark beer. Send a cheers out to The Charm Farm.