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

DIY Low Tunnel Bender

This season Margaret and I are going to try and increase our production a little. We’re interested in growing more on the small amount of space we cultivate. While many farms in our region are taking advantage of the NRCS cost-share high tunnel program, we’re taking a different approach. I want to extend our season a little, but I don’t want to tie up a portion of our land in permanent plastic. So I’m building low tunnels instead. A 6’x100′ tunnel will span two beds and can be put up and taken down in a couple hours. Moreover, to cover the same ground as a high tunnel, low tunnels would cost about a 15th of the price.



These low tunnels are built with standard 1/2″ or 3/4″ EMT electrical conduit, available at most hardware stores for as low as 1.90 per 10′ piece. This stuff is soft enough to work without heavy equipment, but strong enough for a small tunnel. The key is bending the conduit. Johnny’s Selected Seeds sells two different “Quick Hoops” pipe benders: one for a 6′ wide by 3′ tall tunnel, the other for a smaller arc, 4′ wide by 4′ tall tunnels. While they work well, they’re costly. $59 before shipping. So after calling around to some buddies to borrow one, I realized I could build one. Thanks to this awesome post by the folks at IttyBittyImpact, I built a perfectly functional bender in about 10 minutes from wood scraps on the farm.

The basics are simple. Cut out a portion of your circle then sandwich that piece between two boards. Lastly, screw in a brace on one end of the bender to hold your conduit in place while bending.

Detailed steps to building a Low Tunnel EMT conduit Bender:
1. Determine the radius of the tunnel you’re building. For the 6′ wide by 3′ high, the radius is 3′. For the taller and narrower tunnels, the radius is 2′.
2. Build a giant compass. Either cut a piece of scrap wood or piece of string to the length of your radius.
3. Attach one end of your compass to something stationary (or have someone stand on it). With the other end, trace a portion of your circle on piece of 3/4″ plywood.
4. Cut out your circle. This is what the conduit is going to be bent around.
5. Sandwich this bit of circle between two boards (at least 2′ long and 1′ wide), ensuring that the boards exceed the rounded edge of the plywood so that when you’re bending the conduit you have an easy track to follow. Screw it all in place.
6. Place a block of that 3/4″ plywood between those boards on one end of your new bender. Leave enough room to fit an end of conduit between the brace and the rounded edge of the plywood. Screw this securely in place. This brace holds the conduit in place while you’re bending it around the circle.

1 radius measure
Raduis measure – I just held one of end of the radius measure in place while I traced the circle onto a piece of plywood. Then cut it.

1.5 bottom board

2 putting together

5 hole for pipe endHere’s that hole between the block and the plywood arc that holds the EMT in place while it’s being bent. You can see that I used two pieces of 1/2″ plywood to make my arc instead of one 3/4″ piece.

You’re done! Clamp this baby in place and put one end of your pipe in your bender and bend away. Place one end of the 10′ conduit into the bender. For a 6′ hoop, you’ll need to bend the entire piece so start with the end of it even with your brace. Bend it around and then feed about a foot through the brace end of the bender and bend again. Repeat until you’re half way through and then pull the conduit out of the bender and switch sides. This helps keep the circle even on each side. (For 4′ hoops, you’ll feed about 4′ of the conduit through the bender before bending and you’ll only need to bend it once or twice).

6 bending 2

7 bending 1

8 bending 4

9 imperfect hoopsYou can see that the hoops aren’t perfect, but they’re close enough.

10 hoops

Next get yourself some plastic (Johnny’s has 10’x100′ pieces for about $80, or cut Nolt’s 24’x100′ for $90 in half) and set ‘er up. If you experience high winds, you’ll want to dig in one long edge of the tunnel.

I’ll till the soil, seed it, and set drip before putting up our tunnel. I’m experimenting with some micro sprinklers for early greens, but the rest will be watered via drip tape or tubing. The plan is to grow our early crops under tunnels and then take them down, till, and re-seed (salad, arugula, or other fast greens) for a second harvest. With the warm February and March we’re having, we should be able to get a jump on the season and make better use of our land in early spring.

Baby Cedar Waxwings

This nest appeared in one of the apple trees this summer and before we knew it, the chicks had flown the coop so to speak. They were super cute while they were around, though. I think we all checked on them every day as we walked by for fear the dogs/cat/predatory birds/dinosaurs had gotten to them. Luckily, mother nature was kind… we think.

Harvest Party Pics from Cassie James

We didn’t get many pictures of the work portion of our party, but Cassie did… Thanks for sending these over, Cassie! They’re awesome.

Work Crew!

Harvesting Potatoes.

Tracy with a bucket of dry beans.

Dry bean pickin’. Instead of cutting off the entire plant, we decided to use our massive help crew to pick dry bean pods individually. It made sorting the beans from the chaff just that much easier.

Shelby listening to the band.

Picking edamamae! This would have taken us a full day if we didn’t have all of this help. THANK YOU THANK YOU!

Coda helped with the potatoes by digging. DIG DIG DIG DIG DIG.

Family Photo Shoot September 2012

After harvesting and packing up all our pumpkins, we decided to take a little photo shoot. Caryn, Diego, and Sarah were visiting and helping that day. A real occasion!

Tracy, Coda, Sarah, and Sophie.
Dylan and Steve
D-Money and Steve-o
Caryn and Margaret… again.
Caryn and Margaret
Family: Margaret, Tracy, Dylan, Steve, and pups.
Family: Tracy, Margaret, Dylan, Steve, and pups.
Tracy, Margaret, Coda, Sophie.

Harvest Party 2012 Photo Shoot!

We had an awesome time on Sunday! Thanks to everyone who came and worked, came and ate, came and danced. An enormous thank you to Caroline, Brian, and Jeff for their tunes – y’all made the night!

Sophie in her party wear.

Mmmm potluck. Thanks for amazing food, y’all!

Steve at the cider press, and Dylan showing the kiddos where he hiked St. Mary’s peak.

Shelby, Kiatlin, Achillea, and Tracy eatin’ the good stuff.

Emma and Margaret

Tracy and Margaret (photo credit: Shelby)

The South Paw Band! Brian, Jeff, and Caroline.

Rotten tomatoes for the tossin’

Adelle at the tomato toss, trying to avoid her brothers’ aim.

Henry and Adelle at the tomato toss.

George threatening to throw at the camera (he didn’t).

Cassie hit the bulls-eye.

August Picture Show

This year we got our salad and arugula started early and have been incredibly successful selling them through the Western MT Growers Coop. We’ll be paying about 1/2 of our expenses for the year with greens alone. These little guys will be harvested next week.

Cherry Tomatoes! These sweet reds are just one of many varieties we planted this year. Sungolds, of course, are the favorite… always.

Our popular Ruby Gold heirloom tomato is just starting to come on… it’s sweet and amazing in caprese salad.

Basil, an important ingredient in just about every dish we make this time of year. The landscape fabric here helps keep the soil warm and moist all season long. We re-use the fabric each year as well as the drip hose underneath it.

Many of you know we’re building a cabin for future interns and long-term help.

Despite some delays, the frame is almost completely up and Dylan and Steve are starting on the roof. With luck, we’ll have it enclosed by the first real frost.

Onions starting to dry out for harvest. We’ll pull some and get our hanging system set up, then pull the rest during our Harvest Party in September.

Peppers! You may remember last year that our peppers were never of decent size or color. Finally, we have red peps and lots of ’em. These are paprika peppers: dried and ground they make (duh) paprika.

Ring’o’Fire peppers turning red in the field.

Lipstick sweet pepper.


All these peppers mean roasting is imperative. Tracy spent the evening roasting rounds of peppers on the grill and then peeling and freezing them.

Lipstick, poblano, anaheim, and a few other of sweets!

We have yet to perfect the art of harvesting watermelon at the right time, but boy aren’t they perty?

I just couldn’t resist giving this little solitary bee the spotlight.

If the bears don’t get to ’em first, we’ll have some table grapes for snacking in the next two weeks.

Our artichokes are small but they’ve got big hearts and big flavor. And for artichokes in Montana, what more can you ask for. Steam and eat with a butter garlic sauce.

The squash patch is huge and thriving. Winter squashes look great and will be ready in another month or so.

Corn! The first batch was delicious and the next is almost ready. Another great grilling veggie.

English cucumbers are another of our big sellers through the Western MT Growers Coop. The cattle panel trellis helps these guys grow long and straight.

Celery, growing big and juicy in its straw mulch. Recommended with peanut butter and raisins.

Planting Party Pics

Thanks to all our friends and members who showed up for our annual Planting Day on Sunday! We got a ton done and we loved having all of you up to the farm. AND thanks to our volunteers on Tuesday – the asparagus is looking mighty fine.

 This year each variety is labeled in the field so we know for sure what when we’re harvesting (… the things we learn).

 Emily and Robin planting Calibra onions in wide beds that have been tilled and (mostly) weeded.

 Tate (with baby Aloura), Kisha, and Mila were rock stars planting almost all our potatoes.

 Yvonne, Nancy, and Lindsey in the onions. These ladies planted all our leeks as well!

Purrseus being helpful as usual, overseeing the planting.

 Garlic, beets, joi choi, chard, cabbage, and lots of other fun things in our early beds. A few of them ready for harvest this week – come to the first Clark Fork Market this Saturday and see them featured at our stand!

County Rail Bling!

Now you can show your County Rail pride and support our SNAP program in one go! Thanks to the awesome folks at Zoo City Apparel, we have a selection of great t-shirts for sale.

$14 for Farm Share members, $16 for everyone else. 100% of the profit helps lower the cost of our SNAP Shares. All colors come in a variety of sizes, and the blue and purple shirts come in unisex as well as ladies wide neck styles.

Steve (silver cotton), Evan (asphalt cotton), Robin (purple 50/50 ladies), Margaret (blue 50/50 ladies, Tracy (gold 50/50 unisex).

Thanks Steve, Robin, and Evan for being in our t-shirt photoshoot!

Let us know if you’d like one of your own – we have a limited supply so don’t wait. We’ll also have them at market (starting Saturday May 5! …which is also Ke$ha the goat’s due date).