2016 Outlook & Owls

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]What does a vegetable farmer do in February?As the 40 mph icy gusts scream across the open fields, we’re hunkered down in the farmhouse. The woodlot provides a little shelter from the wind, but our hilltop is one of the windiest spots around. We live outside during the rest of the year, but what do the farmers do in winter? They plan: Huddled around the farmhouse table, we’ve been looking at last year’s successes and failures and thinking about what we’d like to achieve in 2016. For example, we’ve taken a few years off of growing potatoes and winter squash, and we’re looking at how to incorporate them into our crop rotation this year. We’re also looking at how to use our limited acreage more efficiently while continuing our cover-cropping ‘green manure’ practices to keep feeding the soil. We will also be using row cover to organically combat some of the pests that can affect growing. Row cover is a thin, translucent fabric that helps deter flea beetles which make those tiny little holes in some greens. It is also another safeguard from potential deer damage.
We have also been listening to the owls in the woods at night. It was mating season for the owls in January. Year after year the owls have returned to our small patch of woods. They have become our signal to the start of good new things to come for the each year. This year, like every year, we have so much to look forward to, to problem solve, and to revel in. This is what those great horned owls sound like and have to say about this year on the farm.
Hear their calls here: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/sounds/Owl_GreatHorned_Duet.mp3
.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/1″][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]Certify
2016 is the year that we plan to become officially ‘certified’ organic. Now that we are landowners, we can tie the bow on our long-term investment through USDA organic certification. A piece of land has to meet a variety of standards to receive organic status, including 36 months of continuous organic management. We’ll reach that milestone in August, and plan to certify soon thereafter. There’ll be a big party, indeed!
Organic certification is just a label, to be sure, but it’s a label with trust, and it lends credibility and authenticity to our farm and farming practices. Organic certification is a holistic status, one that encompasses a philosophy of soil and land management. The organic farmer is not certified simply by which chemicals she does or does not use; rather, she is encouraged to farm in harmony with nature and her neighbors.
Right now, we are completing farm-system plans, seed lists, field maps, and more in anticipation of this summer’s certification. It’s an exhaustive, but worthwhile, process.

Build
New projects this year include-

Laying hens: We’ve got 50 Black Star, Red Star, Barred Rock, Pearl White Leghorns, and Rhode Island Reds coming in March. (Yes, baby chicks get shipped via U.S. mail, right to the Montrose post office!) They’ll get their start in the barn, and then move to their new home in a mobile ‘eggmobile’ in the woodlot, where they’ll peck at fresh grass, grubs & bugs all summer. We’re building the eggmobile from an old wagon frame and figuring out a plan for keeping the chickens safe from predators. Eggs should start rolling in sometime around September 1.

Strengthening the windbreak: We are planting more trees this year to combat the strong winds. Part of our plan is to create an ‘edible windbreak’ for future crops, including elderberries, hazelnuts, serviceberries, seaberries, highbush cranberries, mulberries, and more. Non-edible trees & shrubs include: hackberries, swamp white oak, red splendor crabapple, quaking aspen, red osier dogwood, black locust, golden willow, Black Hills spruce, et al. We’re purchasing many of these trees through our county soil & water district’s tree program, which provides tree seedlings to everyone at very affordable rates. Check it out for yourself, and plant some trees this spring!

Finishing the pack shed: Last year, we put a lot of work into our veggie wash and pack area in our shed, and we’re planning on finishing the job this year with interior framing & steel; insulation; and some functional doors.

High tunnel: We’re putting up a high tunnel this year, which is a greenhouse-like structure that allows us to grow crops into the fall & winter. This will open a lot of possibilities for extending our season into later markets, and protecting our crops from potential herbicide drift. We are funding this project through a matched-savings initiative in the Land Stewardship Project’s Journeyperson program. Groundwork will start in early spring, and we should have the tunnel up and operating by mid-summer for fall markets.

Collaborate
Members of the Crow River Sustainable Farming Association (CRSFA) met in January to tackle the task of recreating our local food system. Through good discussion over great food, we devised a strategy of marketing the Crow River region as a destination spot for farmers and local food enthusiasts. Imagine the potential of small, locally oriented farms, butchers, mills, processors, restaurants, wholesalers, food hubs, grocers, and more – right here in our region. It’s an inspiring concept, and a notion that is becoming a reality little by little.
The CRSFA is doing good work, and they need more volunteers and voices at the table. To find out more about getting involved, visit www.sfa-mn.org/crow-river

Growing
And, of course, we’ve been growing and getting to know little Albin. He’s six weeks old now, and cuter than ever. He’s a happy baby with a couple of happy parents.

We’re firing up the greenhouse in March. CSA registration is open. Spring is soon..[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”1563″ img_link_target=”pretty_photo” img_size=”500 x 500″][vc_column_text]Winter winds on the farm. You can’t see them, but their there!
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[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”1571″ img_link_target=”pretty_photo” img_size=”450 x 450″][vc_column_text]Certification Process: Spending a lot of time with spreadsheets to help us organize our seeds, field plans, and crop rotations.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”1564″ img_link_target=”pretty_photo” img_size=”400×400″][vc_column_text] Re-use and Build: The old wagon we are using for the base of the traveling chicken coop has seen better days, but it still has good tires, and ok steering. Perfect to reuse for a chicken coop. To add: floor, walls, roof, and varmint proofing!
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