June showers bring…

It’s been a crazy few weeks and we’re finally getting caught up on all the planting, weeding, seeding, and harvesting that’s been on our list for ages. Our new intern, Heidi (you may know Heidi from the produce dept of The Good Food Store or as HipHop dance prof at The Missoula Dance Collective, among other things), has arrived and is a stellar worker. We are SO happy she’s here.

The goats are loving the luscious grass selection and the kiddos (Enrique, Loretta, and Little Bit) are growing fast and getting super playful. We’re making goat cheese and yogurt often, eating each at least once a day.

Our Farm Share (CSA) begins this week, and we’re super excited to see old and new members at pick up. Just like last year, we’ll be on the green outside the Missoula Food Coop/Burns Street Bistro every Tuesday evening until mid-October. We’re even scheming to partner with the Coop for recipes and other delicious treats – yum! This week includes rhubarb, mint, and asparagus (the last, the very last of the season). This year we’ll have monthly newsletters. June’s is below, with a few choice photos for the springtime.

June1 June2

Back in the Saddle, Again.

So here we are in another year. The sun didn’t explode, the snows came, and firewood still burns hot. Margaret and I took November and December off to relax, travel, and not think about the farm. The first two we did totally successfully, the last task we did only marginally well.

Thanks to our buddy Bob, we were able to take off for 2 weeks and drive down to Texas to see family, to ride our bicycles (!!!) around Santa Fe and Austin, see some fantastic live music, and eat incredible tacos. No joke, the best tacos we had were found at The Velvet Taco in Dallas. I think I was the only one giggling. Either everyone else shoving tacos in their mouth was already over the joke or didn’t get it. In December, we spent the holidays and New Years with my family in Idaho and toasted to 2012 on the ski slopes.

The goats have been bred, both to freshen in May. Lucy is fat and bossy as ever, the kids are growing nicely, and Ke$ha is still the farm sweetheart. I butchered our whether, Bruno, in early December along with a number of older laying hens from which I made gallons of stock.

Percy the cat had a little trouble with his usual acrobatics and ripped a hole in his belly that we had to get sewn up. He didn’t seem to mind either way, but now he has a gigantic scar to show off to the ladies in town. Since his stitches have been out, I’ve seen him jump from the car port roof to the greenhouse and back again multiple times. I’ve also seen him slide off the roof of the greenhouse on a slippery layer of new snow, landing on his feet. After boring weeks of recovery, he started leaving serious carnage around the house and barn: mice bodies, frozen to the ground, heads staring blankly from a few inches away. He has become an excellent barn kitty, and increasingly skilled at sneaking into the house to snooze by the stove.

Our indoor plants are thriving with all the attention we’re giving them now that they’re our only greenery. I broke the lemon tree pot and built a new, larger, container for it filled with aged compost and plenty of water. It looks healthier than ever and is growing lots of new foliage.

I’ve been reading books galore and catching up on some of the better tv shows out there (and my fair share of really bad shows). We’ve been making all kinds of delicious winter-y dishes with our stored, canned, and frozen produce and have been enjoying experimenting with making cheese from Pattie’s extra milk (thanks, Pattie!).

When she’s not filling in at the Good Food Store, Margaret has been whirring away on her new sewing machine, making me a couple incredible vests and fixing up all kinds of stuff in the house. She also carved a super cute holiday card linoleum print of Coda running with a zucchini.

Now that 2013 has hit in full force, we’ve been pouring over seed catalogs, editing the website, and recording all our 2012 info. We harvested almost 13,000lbs of produce this year, not including plums, apples, or pears! 850lbs of arugula, 1,300lbs of salad greens, and 2,500lbs of english cucumbers.

We’ve lined up a full time intern for 2013, in the hopes that we’ll get more time to enjoy the farm and more help to make harvest and production more efficient. You’ll meet her this summer, she’s super.

Next season will see a few new things from County Rail. We’ll be trying some specialty greens on for size (in addition to our arugula and mizuna, of course) and we’ve decided to cut our losses and quit doing things that don’t work for us. Melons, for example, are falling by the way-side to make room for other stuff we grow well. Support our neighbors at Dixon Melons, instead.

We’re keeping our CSA small at 25, and thanks to a hugely generous donation from a local philanthropist, our SNAP members will get an incredible deal on their shares this season. Check out the SNAP page for details.

Margaret and I are psyched to be heading into our third season. Pommes de Terre has brought us nothing if not the feeling of home, fulfillment, and community. Farmers always say that next year will be better, and dog gamit, so it will. We’re always learning new tricks, tackling new challenges, and tweaking our system to make it more productive and sustainable.

So here’s to 2012, and here’s to 2013 in all it’s day-dreaming winter glory, for “January is just the tail end of a dog called Spring.”

Spring Update

With the third market of the year behind us, we’re officially running through spring in Montana. Summer is just around the corner (though it feels like it’s already here with the recent hot and dry weather) and we’re really pleased with the season so far.

This week we’ll be planting almost everything in the greenhouse out into the field (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, corn, melons, etc.) and if you’ve been looking for a time to come up and volunteer for a few hours, this is the week to do it. Any day, any length of time. If you’re here during lunch or dinner, we’ll feed you.

 We have a beautiful crop of garlic up and will be harvesting scapes in a couple weeks. There are three varieties out there. The one pictured is the german hardy, great for storage. The others, russian red and spanish red, are lighter in color.
 Finally, salad! Our first salad greens bed was harvested for market this weekend, and we’ll be selling the next harvest to the Western Montana Growers Coop tomorrow.
New chicks! After  an unfortunate Saturday evening, we found ourselves six hens and one rooster short of our original flock. So we bought a few new chicks to replace the ones we lost. Egg production will be dangerously low for a few months while these little ones grow into themselves, but we’re working on it. The little yellow one with stripes in the front is an Ameraucana (blue eggs) and the dark and yellow behind are Marans (dark brown eggs)
 This year in an attempt at an earlier and stronger corn crop, we started it in the greenhouse. These little guys, along with the cucumbers adjacent, will be transplanted out into the far garden this week for harvest in August.
The tomato corral expanded a bit this year to accommodate all our tomatoes. The corral allows the plants to harden off without damage by the strong winds that are common during these months. They’ll go out to the field this week as well, under hoops and row cover.
 Our asparagus came almost  3 weeks early this year, and we’ve stopped harvesting as of last Friday. It’s a good 4.5 ft tall now, enjoying the sunshine. These enormous stalks are already starting to fern out to regenerate nutrients for the roots. Thanks to everyone who helped us weed these beds this year – you made a HUGE difference!
 If you came out for planting day, your efforts were not in vain. The onions look great (if currently a little weedy) and the purple asparagus (above), sunchokes, and potatoes are popping out of the ground. Thanks for your help!
 Rhianna (above) and Bruno are doing mighty well. We’ve been milking Ke$ha each morning and the kids get access to her all day. It gives us some milk for all our efforts without taking much away from the growing goats. (Thanks Robin for this and the following picture!).
 Until this week, we had been taking the goats on short walks around the farm, getting them used to being out and about, acclimating the kids to Lucinda our other doe. This meant that we spent a couple hours every afternoon laying in the grass with baby goats nibbling on hats and using our legs as a jungle gym.
 Huge dork that I am, I now have over 100 pictures of the bees on our lilac bush outside the house. This is one of the best. They’re loving the weather and couldn’t be better. Margaret and I had a brief but scary incident last weekend when I screwed up and accidentally trapped a few thousand bees in one box, making them absolutely irate by the next day. When we opened them up again, they attacked without hesitation and both of us got stung 5-8 times. All my injuries were to my face, which meant that it was extremely puffy and little uncomfortable for a few days. Margaret hardly reacted, lucky. Moral of the story: always approach the hives prepared, preferably with a veil.

Updates and Planting Day! April 29.

Man it’s beautiful out here. The sun is shining, it’s at least 60 degrees every day, and the nights aren’t cold enough to do any damage. That’s pretty phenomenal for April in Montana. And thanks to the weather, we’re harvesting asparagus almost two weeks earlier than last year. As long as it holds out for a few weeks in May, our market customers will get their fill. Until then, if you want asparagus let us know! We have buckets of it.

Lucinda Williams, our most rambunctious goat. Here she is on top of the shelter shed we moved out to pasture for protection from sun and rain. She prefers to lay on top of it rather than inside.

It’s still early, but there’s a lot more than asparagus out on the farm. We have six beds seeded and planted in the field, two beds of very happy green garlic, and more on the way. Despite the agreeable weather, everything is covered with either plastic or row cover to help retain heat. All plants take extra long to mature in early spring, so we’re hoping that the joi choi, kale, salad, arugula, scallions, and root veggies will be ready come market (starts May 5 under the Higgins Bridge in Missoula! Saturday from 8-1pm).

Joi Choi looking lovely out in the far garden.

All those little guys need water, though, and until our irrigation ditch is turned on we’re left to water by hand. The far garden has six hoses stretching out from the well to the planted beds and every few days we spend two hours walking along and sprinkling everything. It’s exhausting. I’ll be happy when the irrigation board opens the ditch and we can pump through our hand-line. It’s not as efficient to do it that way (more water and not as concentrated where we need it), but it’s so much less time and work. Moreover, we’ll be able to seed our cover crop of peas, oats, and vetch in the newest of our four fields as soon as the water comes on. I’ve been itching to get it in the ground.

Purrseus the cat! Seen here cuddling wild mint, which has a catnip-like effect. This legendary feline hero whose defeat of various archaic mouse-sters provided the founding myths of the Twelve Olympians. (Perseus was the Greek hero who killed the Gorgon Medusa, and claimed Andromeda, having rescued her from a sea monster sent by Poseidon in retribution for Queen Cassiopeia declaring herself more beautiful than the Nereids).

The greenhouse is about as full as it can get, and we’ve moved many of our bigger seedlings into our two unheated hoophouses which get a little more sunlight than the greenhouse. If the temperature threatens to dip below 25 overnight, we move most of it into the greenhouse until morning to be on the safe side. A little extra work is worth ensuring the survival of hundreds of little veggies.

Baby asparagus in the hoophouse, ready for transplanting to our new patch. Those little ferns have little roots in their pots, and over the years they grow to a giant network under the soil and the full grown ferns reach 5 or 6 feet tall. These won’t go out until we’re sure the frost won’t get it, and we won’t even harvest asparagus from them until 2015.

Finaly, the most important announcement! We’ve scheduled our annual Planting Day! We invite you all to join us on April 29th starting at 1pm and continuing through the afternoon. We’ll have a potluck dinner around 5pm, as well as a short meeting for any Farm Share members who make it to the planting day (we’ll have another meeting in town for those who can’t make it up).

Remember to wear long pants, and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. Bring gloves if you think you’ll want them and definitely sunscreen, water, and layers–the weather changes quickly this time of year. We’ll be planting all of our onions, shallots, leeks, asparagus, and potatoes. Remember to bring a dish for dinner, and a plate and fork for eating.

We look forward to seeing you! If you can’t make it for planting feel free to come for the potluck anyhow. We’d still love to have you.

Directions to County Rail Farm from Missoula, MT
Take Hwy90 West toward CDA then merge to Hwy93 towards Kalispell and Flathead Lake. Go North about 27 miles passing through the towns of Evaro and Arlee. Turn Left in Ravalli at the blinking light onto Hwy200 towards Thompson Falls and the National Bison Range. Go a little less than 2 miles and turn left on Pommes de Terre Ln, just after a stretch of sheep and cow pasture. It’s a small gravel raod which leads to wooden barn and tan house, that’s us. You will be able to see both from the road before you come to the turn-off. Please follow signs for parking.

Winter Projects

When the snow falls, it’s time to go skiing. When the snow melts in November and it’s bitter cold with nothing to play on, it’s time to get busy on indoor projects.

Steve has been the number one winter projecteer, building all kinds of awesome things. We tore down the animal stall in the barn to install a brand new design. Steve just started putting down the floor today.

He built us four gorgeous greenhouse tables for the new space along with a stand for the water tank.

I’ve been working on a new hay feeder for the goats that finally came to fruition.

This design allows for hay to be eaten up without much or any waste. The goats stick their head through the grate and munch away without pulling the material out and scattering it all over the floor (a recurring problem).
It also has an added bonus for mineral distribution. Goats need salt and trace minerals available to them at all times, but if they step on or soil any of it, the goats won’t touch ’em. This way, I could build into the feeder a small tray for salt and minerals that is available at all times and can’t be knocked over or stepped in.

So far, they haven’t destroyed the feeder and it seems sturdy enough. Win.

The other big project I’ve been working on is organizing the new tool shed. I have all the tools hung up, out of the way, and sharpened.

It feels really good to seem them all organized in the new space. The shelves need filling, but that will happen as we clean out the old greenhouse and barn loft. 

We’ve canned (preserved) as much as we had the energy for, and have all the potatoes, squash, onions, and fruit we need for the winter. 

The fire had been burning hot all last week, but with this warm streak it stays cool.

Finally, the most boring and laborious tasks need to be done too. All the information we recorded this summer (what we planted, where it went in, when we harvested, where it was sold, etc.) needs to be complied and sythesized. With all these little bits of data, we can more accurately plan for next year. Which needs to happen sooner rather than later – seed catalogues have started rolling in and the sooner we get our order in, the more likely we’ll get what we want.

…And don’t forget about winter market! Tracy’s still making brioche, sticky buns, challah, and lemon poundcake, and the farm still has potatoes, onions, squash, and hot peppers for sale. 

Butchering a Goat

We slaughtered Leo on Friday (thanks Robin, Dylan, and Steve for your help – couldn’t have done it without you), and I butchered the carcass yesterday. Literally. I feel like I really screwed up some of the cuts, but for a first attempt, I think it went alright.

I didn’t photograph the slaughter, but I did take some photos of today’s process.

After skinning, we left the carcass to hang in our cellar (45-50 degrees F) for a little over 24 hours. The meat had dried slightly on the outside, forming a protective layer over the inner, more tender, pieces. I have another photo of Coda looking curiously down from the stairs, but it didn’t show the goat as nicely.

Tools are important. I think I went a little overkill on the number of knives I sharpened, but it was nice to have choices. The big bone saw was Jane’s grandfathers, and while it probably needs a professional sharpening, it made the process 200 times easier.

Much to Margaret’s dismay, I brought the goat into the kitchen to butcher. There’s just not another place with a long flat space, easy access to water and sanitary equipment, and good light. His hanging weight was close to 30lbs, but by the time I weighed each individual cut, it came to about 20lbs.

This is the diagram I was following. In the future, I’ll watch a few more youtube videos and do a little more research before I get the carcass from the cellar. While it was helpful, this diagram left me with many questions.

And here we are. Some of the cuts came out very well … the easiest ones like the legs. Others I did a pretty rough job with, having trouble sawing through the spine on several occasions. The guy in my youtube video must have a really really sharp saw. He did things in seconds that took me 10 minutes and a fair amount of frustration.

The girls (Lucinda and Ke$ha) seem unaffected by Leo’s absence. While he was a sweetheart with us, he was a bully around them and the place has been just that much less chaotic the last few days.

A pot is still simmering on the stove from yesterday afternoon, making goat stock. I picked apart the few bones with meat on them for dinner last night – goat tacos. It needed more lime, but the meat was delicious.

If you’re interested in butchering, check out Mark Dommen’s video. He goes fast, but it’s helpful to see someone do it in a professional setting. I didn’t manage to load the entire video until after I was done, but I would recommend it. When I find a book that’s more helpful than that little diagram, I’ll post it. If you’re reading this, you know how to butcher, and you’ll be in Western MT next fall, hit me up.

Lucinda Williams and Leonard Cohen

My friends and family know how much I love animals. I’ve worked with livestock in the past: shearing sheep and processing both fowl and ungulates. When we started talking about the farm just under a year ago (whoa), one of the most prevalent questions was “Will you have animals?!” The answer was always yes, we’d like to… but not this year. It seemed completely unrealistic to start out with livestock our first year in Montana, first year on this land, and first year farming on our own. Yet, here we are only a few months into the season and we’ve adopted two kids. Lucinda and Leonard (Lucy and Leo) are the beginning of a small milking herd we hope to establish over the next few years. This summer, we’ll acquire another doeling to overwinter with Lucy. If you know someone looking to get rid of their baby goats, let us know. I’m particularly interested in La Mancha goats, the ones without ears, but I’m flexible. By the time winter comes along, if we haven’t become overly attached to Leo, which is a distinct possibility, we’ll slaughter him. But we try not to talk about that.

Lucy (with the collar), Leo, and Coda get acquainted.

Lucy (left) and Leo (right).

Lucy and Leo are the kids of Blaze, Ploughshare Farm’s best milker. They are 4 month old French Alpine dairy goats, known for their excellent temperament and cold hardiness. Currently they are mowing down some of the brush in the chicken enclosure. We’ve had only one escape so far and they were incredibly agreeable, following us back to the gate without question or wild hairs. In the meantime, we’re trying to keep up with the vegetables that are growing almost as fast as the weeds out there. If only we could train the kids to eat the weeds and leave our crops…

You may think to yourself that there’s no way these big goats can fit through that little door… you are wrong.

We seem to have a growing menagerie of black and white animals.

There will be a Bootstrap! post about the kids soon. I’ll link it when it’s up.