Suddenly, Spring

Two weeks ago, after months of snow on the ground, it seemed completely absurd to start seeds. Now that the ground is bare and the days are filled with sunshine, however, I feel like everything is happening at once. The spinach is popping, garlic is coming up, weeds are already taking over parts of the barn garden, and the goats are anxious to graze on the barely green pasture. GREEN PASTURE… ok almost green.

We are very excited to start the season – it’s been a long winter and we’re absolutely psyched that March is here in force. We have a few new projects for the year. In particular our new Farm Share. It veers away from the traditional CSA box-system and caters to the farmers market. This change means we that instead of planting for specific harvest weeks and amounts, we have a little more flexibility, and so do our members. We are full for the season (woo hoo!), and we both look forward to seeing you all at market.

This year also marks the beginning of my master plan to standardize our fields and make our lives that much easier. By 2016 we’ll have six fields that are all 120′ by 60′ making our crop rotations super easy: two beds planted last year = two beds this year. It also allows us to cut all the drip tape, weed mat, and row cover to the same length every year. This may sound lame. Trust me, it’s VERY exciting. Micah and Katie of Ginger Roots Farm in St Ignatius are letting us borrow a few hogs to tear up a new area of the pasture in a month or two. The hogs, doing what they do best, will clear the grass and open up the soil for cover crop seeding. That saves me from using the disc and tiller on a large section of sod, which is not fun for anyone (especially for Margaret who almost had a heart attack watching the tractor bump around on uneven ground last time I tried this method).

Oh, and SAVE THIS DATE! This summer on August 30th we’re teaming up with the fellas at the Burns St. Bistro for an official farm dinner. They’ll prepare courses with our veggies (and other local fare), we’ll give a tour, and then summer’s bounty will be served in the orchard. Set price per head. Keep an eye out for more information!

This week there’s spinach a week or two from harvest in the field, seeds in the soil, and seedlings in the greenhouse that are itching to get into the ground. We have a batch of broiler hens in the warm room, a couple mama goats gestating their kiddos, and layer hens out in the orchard. One of our three hives survived the winter, and I’ve harvested honey from the other two.

Margaret and I renewed our lease with Steve recently, and knowing that we’ll be here for at least another 5 years feels wonderful. It’s a kind of security and stability that I’m welcoming; it doesn’t have to be forever, but it’s long term enough that we can plan for the future and settle in with the plants and animals that we love.

Happy Spring and Merry Planting to all ye farmers.


A little photo update of farm life this second day of May.

First, a brief tribute to Steve Dagger, our landlord/caretaker. He just never stops. The intern/guest cabin looks amazing. When we first started talking about this project, I envisioned a hap-hazard shack. But this thing is a beauty. Steve has done a lot of work these past few weeks finishing the siding and putting up screens for the porch. We can’t wait to have people in it. With a fantastic wood stove (thanks Lindsay and Bob!!), it’s open for winter visitors too… just fyi.

outhouse 4
Our current visitors, Fennec and Orion, started the base for our new outhouse a few days ago and Steve topped it off today – perfectly level. He says he’d like to build a stone house one day, so if you want a stone house, give him a call.

This will eventually be a two-seater outhouse. Blocking off one side at a time to let the other compost (not to be used on our produce).

That’s the old outhouse in the background. Functional, but in desperate need of rebuilding. I take it back; the roof is definitely not functional.



May first (yesterday) morning, there was a fine covering of two inches of snow. It was possibly the most beautiful morning I’ve ever seen at the farm. As the snow melted, blue skies came out, and everything stood tall under the sun.


Then today. It was 65 degrees. Sunny. Gorgeous. The perfect spring day. You’ll see some of these friendly greens at market on Saturday, and more next week.


Our greenhouse has desperately needed some extra ventilation (it was over 120 deg in there in July last year… in fact I don’t know exactly how hot it was, because my thermometer doesn’t go any higher. But it melted our seedling trays). And now it has some. This attic exhaust fan (HomeDepot, $89) comes complete with thermostat. It doesn’t have a fancy louvre system to go with it, but for a low cost vent solution, this is it. I was able to use a jigsaw to cut through the polycarbonate and put a quick frame around it, which will be sealed later. I’ll need to build a little door or louvre to keep warm air in when we want it, but it’s already keeping things cooler.

Today’s second project was to rebuild the goat feeder. Tinkerbell enjoyed sleeping and eating INSIDE the old one, and finally busted it apart the other day. This is an altered version of what we started with. It no longer has bars for the goats to stick their head through (except for minerals), but the trough under the feed still saves a lot of fallen hay.

Also, Lucinda is due in 5 days. LOOK AT THAT BELLY.

And, finally, a honeybee on a grape hyacinth. My favorite.

bee on hyacinth 1


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.

The Chicken or the Egg

So when you decide to trim down a flock of laying hens, generally you cull the older chickens that are no longer laying (or laying sporadically). I’ve been told that good way to tell whether or not a hen is laying is to pick her up and feel between her hip bones. If her hips are wide – two or three fingers width – she’s probably laying. If they’re closer together, she’s not. Basically if you think an egg could squeeze through it probably has pretty recently. 

Don’t be fooled, though… eggs can get out of some real tight spaces. Robin and I culled the chickens today after checking all 16 hens twice over the last month. Four, we felt, definitely weren’t laying. Two young birds who we decided to give a chance, and two older birds who we separated last night along with our older rooster. 

When we butchered them this morning, however, it became very clear that my methods need work: both older chickens were laying. Inside one of them, an elderly bird, we found the set of developing eggs in the picture above (including the fully formed egg). In the other, a couple developing yolks. And so: two fingers of hip space is no reason to go carting birds off to the kitchen. However, both of those birds had other reasons to go. One was diarrheic and has been for years, and the other has a seriously nasty temperament. The flock will be better off without them, though we’ll probably get fewer eggs.

The thirteen chickens that are left, we hope, will all be laying within a month and our egg production won’t dwindle too much. If it does, then those of you to whom I promised eggs may be waiting longer than I meant you to (oops!).