The Charm Farm CSA

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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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