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.

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.

Farm Update: Bees, Beds, Voles, and Veg

The giant puzzle is complete! Ok only a third of it, but that third is as big as our dining room table. Winter is officially over. The spring season has begun.

Steve and I started pruning the fruit trees last week, a good learning experience for me as I’ve never managed an orchard before. We have apples, pears, plums, apricots, cherries, and grapes to think about. The apples and pears get pruned first, the apricots last. I’m excited to be more involved with the fruit this year as we barely assisted at all last season.
Warm enough to know for sure now: the bees are alive and well! During a cold winter, bees will go into a hibernation of sorts. Shutting down their bodies and the hive until it’s warm enough to move around and fly. A warm winter, like this one, has meant that the bees are more active… and they eat more.

You can see the mouse guards I put on the fall are still in place. Even in the warmer weather, the critters are hungry.

The three hives at the farm have gone through almost all of the honey they stored up last summer.

I resorted to feeding them honey and sugar in January when the hives were hopelessly light. Now that spring appears to have arrived, the bees are working for their dinner.

All three hives are bringing in willow-yellow pollen and looking gorgeous.

Two hives are fabulously strong, and the third is sluggish but not in terrible shape for the season. If it rains for a week I’ll have to feed them again, but for the moment they’re holding their own.
This week we put into action our plan for early vegetables. Because we don’t have a nice big hoophouse/high tunnel to seed things in before it gets warm outside, we’ve had to come up with a different system.

So we’ve built a temporary hoophouse over two of our beds. You might call this a low tunnel. We bought a huge roll of “heavy duty” plastic and 3/16″ steel hoops from Nolt’s Produce Supply and put them up on Thursday.

The hoops are fantastic: it’s not easy to find strong, sturdy, pre-bent hoops. I tried to make my own this winter and failed miserably. Nolt’s offers 5′ and 6′ hoops relatively cheaply and pre-bent. A much better deal than buying wire and forming it myself. The plastic, however, I’m a little disappointed with. “Heavy duty” apparently means tissue paper thin. It did survive through a wind storm yesterday, but it’s just not strong enough to last until May. If it calms down today and tomorrow, I’ll go out there with row cover and reinforce the plastic. It’ll keep the ground warmer and the tunnels stronger in the spring winds.

We do have two small hoophouses that we have seeded with greens (mostly for ourselves). Unfortunately, there are a group of smart ass little critters who refuse to be tricked by my traps. If you have a mouser you’re looking to get rid of, we are in need of a good cat on the farm.

Everyday the greenhouse gets greener. Onion, cabbage, kale, collards, asparagus, and other seedlings have begun to take off in the sunshine.

Soon these boring brown trays will be infant vegetables. Some of them are already in the few days it’s taken me to pull this post together.

And some great news. Our 2012 Farm Share pick up will be at 1500 Burns Street, next to the Missoula Food Co-op! We’re really excited to be in this space and can’t wait for share season to begin. A huge thank you goes to the Missoula Co-op and the NMCDC for working with us and supporting the farm.

We still have lots of open shares for 2012, so send us a membership form and get ready for a great season!

Brought to you by the letter G

This month we’ve been seeding veggies and watching tiny plants pop up through the soil. It’s hard to believe that these little guys will feed both our CSA and market customers, but if we do it right they’ll feed us too!

Baby Kale about 5 days old. That same Baby Kale now 15 days old.
Baby Eggplant! 7 days old. Baby Chard 5 days old.


You may remember our post about planting Garlic way back in October. What started as an ordinary clove has now grown into a 5 in stalk. Some of the garlic we planted is hard-neck Spanish Red, known for strong flavor and large cloves. Some of the garlic is Russian Red, a soft-neck variety brought to our farm from the Ukraine many years ago. Soft-neck varieties are known for being easy to peel and for storage length.

All told, there are about 500 of these little guys are growing strong right next to the barn. I thought we lost an entire row due to the construction of our new greenhouse, but Margaret reminded me that we only planted three rows… not four.

Garlic Planting Time!

Fall is time for raking it in. For converting mountains of apples into cider, and piles of tomatoes into sauce. For squirreling away the excesses of summer for cold winter nights. But ironically as a farmer and gardener its also time to think about spring.

Today Tracy and I drove up to Dixon (still living in town working our day jobs, unfortunately) and put in 80 bed feet of cloves, root plate down, shoot up. About four-hundred and eighty heads of it! The first 25 feet was Russian Red, with a pearly pink skin and small to medium cloves. This soft-neck variety will be perfect for storing and braiding. The second 55 feet of bed were taken up with Spanish Red hardneck, cloves more elephantine in size.  We only planted the largest cloves, making sure not to peel back any of their protective skin.  And if you like to get technical they were in three rows, twelve inches apart, and six inches between cloves in-row. We’ll mulch with straw before the first hard freeze and hope for the best.

Next June we’ll pull out forty heads for green garlic for our CSA members, and then about three weeks later we’ll cut the curling scapes off the hardneck, fry them up, and eat them!  And when the plants start to yellow and brown in July we’ll pull them up and hang them in the barn where they will cure.  They’ll be ready for eating or in some cases planting again for the next year’s crop.  And so after one exciting tractor ride (I drove for the first time!) and about thirty minutes of kneeling in the dirt Tracy and I had successfully planted County Rail’s first crop!

— Margaret