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A Glimpse Between May 2012 and March 2013

Posted 3/11/2013 8:06pm by Jacob and Katie Mullane-Bach.

We always have a semi-determined intention to blog as much as possible throughout the growing season to keep everyone up to snuff on all the farm happenings. That doesn't happen. Time escapes all notions within reality in the farm world of sun up to beyond sun down. A newborn and a homeschooling, self-proclaimed man-boy (Forrest not Jacob!) kept us all the busier this past year! We did discover the ease of using facebook to quickly update our "likers" on farm happenings, and this year we'll hopefully be hosting an intern who enjoys posting on the book of faces. Like us if you haven't already for those more regular, shorter, less detailed updates. Here's our effort to fill in the blog gap : )

 

 Our family: Jacob, Katie, Forrest, Freeda (above) at the Birmingham Farmers' Market. We regret to announce that we will not be selling at the market for the 2013 season. The market hours have been extended to a time that trumps the limit on what our family can give of itself. Our super, beyond organic, nutritious vegetables can still be found at the Royal Oak Market year round on Saturdays 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Thank you dearly for all your support and friendship over the past four years B-Hammers!

SO MUCH happens in preparation for CSA distribution and farmers' markets. We have had the incredibly fortunate of great dedicated interns and reliable CSA working shares to help us make it happen every week.  Interns Rose (bottom left) and Renee (right) were with us from the beginning of the season last year helping to seed, transplant, plant, weed, harvest and so much more. We're incredibly grateful to them and the other dedicated souls who shared their enthusiasm interning on the farm in 2012. Laura, Nate, Marisa, Allison, Evan, Rose, Renee, Joe and Anina...THANK YOU!! Adrian and Steve - Most reliable work shares ever!! Thank you!!

  

 

 Jacob and Rose transplanting basil plants in to the field (above right).  Filing her hoe blade to sharpen Renee intends to make the most of every arm swing in the chard field (above left). Check out how beautiful that chard stand is three weeks later (below)! 

 

 The brassica field was breathtakingingly healthy in 2012. The family of vegetables, which includes cabbage (above left), kohlrabi and kale (above right) among others like broccoli were all planted in same field. The year before, that same field grew buckwheat and rye in preparation for the heavy nutrient feeding brassicas. We rotate families of crop every year to help minimize pest possibilities. Adjacent to the brassicas was the past season's cover crop field of rye (bottom left) and clover. The seed heads (bottom right) of the rye shimmer iridescent blue and green depending on where they are in their growth. Truly a stunning plant.  

Below Jacob combines harvests of rye seed and and rye stalk (straw) with the 1962 Allis-Gleaner Combine harvester. Seeing the hopper fill up with seed for 2013 cover crops and hay fields was incredibly gratifying as it meant that we would be able to have one less off farm input for our soil fertility.

 

The thick mat of red clover above blankets the same ground where the rye was harvested from. Clover is a perennial that is also builds soil fertility by fixing nitrogen from the air into the soil. This season we will experiment with planting tomatoes and other crops in strips into the clover patch. The established roots of this "living mulch" and the shade cover provided by the leaves will help conserve moisture in the fields and prevent weed seeds from germinating. Another way we build fertility is with the use of worm or vermicomposting. Below Jacob is digging for red worms to show some of the group that came out for our first potluck of the season.

Despite the intense drought onions were fully bountiful last season. Water conservation is extremely important to us, so we use drip irrigation in the fields to bring water directly to the roots of the crop we're nurturing. At the end of the season we take all the drip tape out of the fields and store them for the winter until the following spring. The black tape can be seen to the left of the onions (above right) and to the right of the base of the celery (below left). The large pond below is used to irrigate the fields when needed. The contraption of pipes seen below is the irrigation pump. The water level of the spring fed pond went down quite a bit with last season drought, but the pond is almost fully replenished now.

  

The lifestyle of farming entails a fair amount of vulnerability. Our entire income (we've never supplemented farm income with off farm work) is completely dependent of the quality of our crops. When plants become stressed from lack of water, they become susceptible to pests and diseases. Our definition of organic does not include the use of organic approved pesticides and fungicides, so proper soil nutrition and adequate water are all the more important for preventing  crops from succumbing to illness. One can imagine how relieving a much needed rain feels to us! The photos from above and below are from one of those much needed rains, and did it ever rain! The ditches on the farm fill to the brim sometimes (above), keeping the fields from flooding. The best part after a much needed rain is a much desired rainbow!

 

 We love the signs that intern Anina created for the tomato rows. Cosmonaut Volkov and Moskovich are both Russian heirlooms. Anina took ownership over the nightshade field observations during her stay at the farm. Every week after our communal meal she had a full report ready of any signs of plant distress that needed to be addressed. Below Jacob leads the midsummer farm tour with Freeda sleeping in her favorite position.

 We had some beautiful tomato harvests last season though this photo was taken admittedly the year before by intern Lance who really has an eye and a great camera for capturing the moment. Here's his website if anyone is interested to see more of his beautiful photos.

There's so much physical exertion that goes into growing nutritious food! Take the above tomatoes for instance: After being seeded into small soil cells or blocks and provided proper warmth and water, the plants outgrow their original space and need to be transplanted into larger cells like what Renee is doing in one of the first pictures of this blog. That process may happen again if the plants outgrow that space. Then each tomato needs to be planted by hand in the field. Mulch that was grown the season before is spread around the plants and in the rows to moderate soil temperatures, conserve moisture and repress weeds. Stakes are pounded into the soil and trellising wire is put up. The plants are pruned at least once during the season. The stems of the tomatoes are clipped to the trellising wire 3-4 times during the season to keep foliage from touching the soil which reduces the chances of fungal disease. THOROUGH pest observation and consequent hand picking is essential if any pest issues arise. Harvesting and sorting is a daily task. Of course, at the end of the season all the tomato clips need to be taken off, the trellis wire undone and the stakes uprooted. There's A LOT that goes into growing organically that isn't always thought off initially. It's a hard discipline, but be assured that when the bounty is coming in fast and in abundance, farm meals are all the more satiating with a fuller sense of appreciation to boot! Below is a photo from one of the weekly meals, though all the food has already been ravenously devoured by these hard farming souls : ).  

 

  We're not all farm and no play. Forrest is inspiration to us all of the creative energies that we can explore once out of the fields.  Above is an ever-more elaborate raft that Forrest constructed during the season to take out on the pond. Below Forrest is using the spoke shave to make the peg of a chair. The child size schnitzelbank (shaving horse) seen to the right was made by Forrest and Jacob the previous winter.

 We also stopped along the way to marvel at all surrounding us. The photo above was taken the day of my father's sudden heart attack. As he laid in coma I felt at peace with the abundance of life and beauty in our space. Thank you a thousand times over to all at Genesys who nurtured him throughout his recovery. 

Below we are giddy and fascinated with our first sneak peak of the ginger growing trial. The taste was simply incomparable to anything we can find in these parts. Though we just received word of a partial crop loss from our organic seed supply we will be still be receiving half our initial order, and we're excited to grow enough this season for both CSA distribution and hopefully market sales as well. 

 

 One can never stop for too long when nurturing crops along their growth cycle, as many challenges and competitors are always in stride. We had this super huge, healthy planting of carrots for the last few weeks of CSA distribution. Unfortunately, deer also found the patch appealing and nightly went into the patch to decimate the greens from the tops of the roots (top left). The plant first grows healthy greens, and then pulls energy from them to further develop its roots. We finally put a solar powered electric fence around them, which did the trick, though the carrots were never quite able to get to a good size from that set back (top right). This year the fencing is going up first!

Leeks, however, sized up beautifully for the end of the season (bottom left). Their bluish green, bladed leaves sprawls carelessly over the soil that hill up around their base to "blanch" or whiten the bottoms. The leek patch was always a safe option for Freeda to play in as there aren't any spines on the plants, the leaves aren't toxic and she can't damage them in any way!

After the first hard frosts have laid to rest some of the more tender crops of the season, salad greens and other crops are at their sweetest. So as tomato trellis stakes come out of the field, hoops and row cover are going into the fields for frost protection. These beds of greens are some of our first successes with working out the kinks of our new seeder, the Jang. Now that we've got down the system, lettuce and salad mixes will, thankfully, be much easier.

Below is the finished pavilion that we introduced in previous blog posts. Having a consistent, sheltered space to wash and pack veggies has been an enormously well received changed in our lives. The drain for the wash basin (bottom right) flows into the pond so when we're done washing those greens that get dunked and dried before being bagged, the water just drains into the irrigation pond.

 

 

November can be tough days on the farm. Most of the interns have fled the colder temperatures and are writing update letters to us from sunny, warmer places of their choosing. But there is still PLENTY that needs done before the grounds freeze from the REAL cold temps. Above (left) Jacob is loading straw, most of which was grown in the rye cover crop field pictured earlier in the blog, to be used as mulch for garlic. This will be our first season with garlic for CSA distribution and market sales - a full 1/4 acre worth (below)!! Interns Nate, Allison and Forrest are in route to the garlic field (above right). Both Nate and Allison shivered with us through the entire month of November before moving on. Currently Nate is somewhere in South America continuing on a bicycle voyage from Alaska to Argentina.  

 

So now, an update from the previous blog post about turkey breeding. This grey slate turkey (top left picture in the left lower corner) was really determined to hatch out some of her eggs, and since her sister had been killed while roosting inside the perceived safety of the fenced in area, she decided to nestle in the tall grasses next to our home. She left only to eat and drink, which is when I snagged the picture of the eggs that she was sitting on (top right). Unfortunately, I woke up one night to hear the sickening crunch of an animal eating eggs outside the window. We scared it off, but all but four were already eaten. She persisted to want to sit there, so we put the solar powered, portable electric fence around her at night, but a few nights later it was the same sad story. We forced her back into the fenced in area to recover emotionally.

 

 Ok, I admit, we're not typically a muffin making family, but when forced to trial out kale recipes in the name of the CSA, then we happily welcome exceptions :). Wow! The recipe is from the 365 days of kale website, involves only 1/3 Cup of honey and is straight up yum. I think I quadrupled the kale in the recipe without any taste protests. If it wasn't for the odd farm duty of finding palatable ways for meat and potato eaters to enjoy their greens, I never would have trialed and shared this! Thank you world! Speaking of honey, as of last week our hive has survived the winter! We piled straw bales around it and didn't harvest any honey for ourselves as the hive was just starting out (top left).

 

Well, spring is almost here. The plants in the tunnel are beginning to regrow with the added daylength and warmth. We all have the fever to be outside as much as possible and nourish that which grows around and within us. Above (left) Forrest is helping by weeding a young planting of spinach. Freeda is mostly popping in and out from under the row covers in a delightful game of hide and go seek, but here she poises nicely in farm girl style with a trowel in hand : ). This is also the time for seeding to start. Towards the end of the third week in February Monica, a long time super farm supporter and former neighbor of the leased farm property of the past, came over with my dad (recovering splendidly from his heart attack btw), and we all began seeding the almost 100,000 shallot, onion and leek seeds (top right). Remember that $360 bag of shallots mentioned in the last newsletter? Fate chose that bag to be the one spilled in the tunnel during seeding. C'est la vie : )

Sprouts of napa cabbage and kohlrabi for early hoophouse growing (bottom left). Spinach seedlings sprouted in soil blocks (bottom right). This is our first year trialing this propagation method.

 

 Spring is still teasing us with its arrival as we've recorded only a handful of days above 30 degrees recently. The photo above was taken March 9th, and we recorded a temperature reading of almost zero degrees a week before that!! What a difference from last year's 80 degree warm up during the third week in March! We welcome these lingering days of cold for additional fine tuning of the edible forest garden that we're currently designing where the roughly 20 fruit trees were planted two springs ago. Ramial mulch (low ratio Carbon to Nitrogen wood chips) awaits the adventure (above)!!!  And so do we!!!!!!!