Meet this week’s vegetables:
- Salad mix
- Head lettuce
- Cabbage rapini
- Celery root OR parsnips — As our winter stores begin to drop very low (it is May after all), we figured we’d let you choose your favorite of these winter roots.
Lately, I have been feeling negligent when it comes to chronicling our current adventures on the farm. So much has been happening, and so much of it feels brand-new — at times, it feels almost as if we are starting the farm all over again, because we are facing such a fresh load of challenges, problems needing to be solved and infrastructure to develop. Between adding the new land (all 80+ acres of it) and the new enterprises, there’s just been … a lot.
So, this week I thought I’d discipline myself to giving very brief updates on the many moving parts of our farm right now — hopefully to give you a quick insight into the (fun) craziness of this particular spring:
Casey and I were noting yesterday that adding more enterprises and animals to the farm sure has put our vegetable growing into perspective. There is much to be done this week now that the weather looks like it’s going to stay dry for more than a day or two — fields to work, crops to plant (onions, potatoes, and more!), and more and more. This is the seventh time we’ve approached this big push moment in spring (which will last more or less through June), but it still builds in us stress and anticipation.
But now, with so many other bewildering challenges, suddenly the vegetable stuff seems less daunting this spring. We still feel the pressure; we still know that it will be a lot of work and that we need to do it well; but it’s not mysterious! So, this week amongst our usual harvests and the welcoming and tending of animals, the crew will be busy planting and much more. After what has felt like a drawn out end of winter, we are moving into the main season!
There was a sobering next chapter in the hive robbing story from last week. The hive in our south orchard that was attacked by another hive ended up in a state beyond recovery (either from the robbing itself, our intervention, or both combined).
The queen died, along with many workers, leaving the hive too understaffed to keep going. After a few days of watching the numbers go down, we quickly decided it was early enough in the spring to start again — we placed a mail order for another package of bees and re-installed the hive just this last Friday in a new location.
So far, the new hive seems to be doing well, and even though we were saddened by the loss, we learned more from that lost hive than the rest combined.
I’d say that Willa and Annie posed the biggest challenge to us this last week, as we have been trying to “make contact” with them in a significant way — to earn their trust and start working them through the daily milking routine in preparation for calving (mid-May for Willa!). Our advances were being consistently rebuffed, not out of fear, but mostly out of disinterest.
We felt that our strength in welcoming them home was in the lush green pasture we had to offer, but it also undermined the farmers’ main tool in dealing with animals: food bribery. For the first week and a half, Willa and Annie were uninterested in the “treats” we brought out (apples, carrots, etc.) — they investigated briefly and then wandering away to nibble more clover or oat grass. We were advised to buy some molasses and grain, which I’m sure would have worked, but we are stubbornly insistent on the principle that we grow our animals’ food (for financial as well as philosophical reasons).
Finally, this weekend we had a breakthrough, when I made our first “cow salad” — ground up carrots, apples, and corn mixed up together. This is something we’d envisioned making (albeit with something bigger and faster than our home Cuisinart), but for some reason we just hadn’t gotten around to trying yet. The results were great! The ladies licked their bowls clean, and now we have a treat and a tool for working slowly into routines (this week’s goal!). Hoorah!
This morning (Monday) we drove to the post office to pick up our new 300 laying hen chicks. They are settled into their new brooder home now, filling the room with raucous cheeping. In case you are wondering, yes the future eggs from the chicks will be part of the CSA — probably starting this fall when they begin laying!
We are experimenting here too with farm-based feeding (supplemented with store bought organic chick starter) — so some of their feeders are filled with freshly made mash from our own corn and store bought organic milk powder (plus a bunch of other yummy things that Casey threw in).
We’ve been successfully feeding our home flock of layers and ducks with farm feed of a kind since last fall, but we have to be careful with the chicks, because poultry have very specific feed needs, including a need for high protein feed when they are young. We’re going to be watching the situation closely and adjusting the feed to get higher in protein.
At this point, all these farm-made feeds are definitely not efficient (we need to fine tune our “recipes” and especially our production methods — a larger scale grinder of some kind is in our future), but both Casey and I are really jazzed by the work and the resulting food. It’s food. As in, it smells really good, is very fresh, and grew here.
Our three orchards have awoken for the season now and have been providing lots of good forage for our bees. We are still mid- bloom season, but we can already see nicely set fruit on the earlier trees (including plums, which have been slow to produce!).
It’s hard for us newbies to look at the initial fruit set and gauge exactly how much fruit will be produced. Last year, our two orchards that we planted here on the home farm produced enough apples and pears to keep our family in fruit all winter (we are just know eating the last half dozen apples). But fruit production does not increase linearly, so we expect to be surprised by the increase in production this year. Assuming all goes well with the season of course! (The farmer’s mantra!)
I won’t speak for Jesse and Emily, but our immediate farm family (Casey, Rusty and I) have all been in a funk during this extra cold, wet spring. It comes and goes, but we have all been eagerly awaiting more extended warm, dry spells (so as to get work done, but also just for the sake of our spirits). How wonderful to have the weather turn this Sunday and be able to catch up on farm and household outdoor tasks!
The defining activity in our life right now is SPRING. I suppose this isn’t a surprise given all the other updates above this one (and I’ve left out many of the less major details along the way).
I was thinking this morning as I rushed from unloading chicks to putting diapers in the dryer to freezing some chili I made this weekend to writing the newsletter to making more “cow salad”: “Wow — the sh*t has hit the spring fan!” But in the most delightful, productive, full of life kind of way. After all, on a diverse farm, sh*t is most welcome. As Wendell Berry famously wrote in The Unsettling of America:
Once plants and animals were raised together on the same farm — which therefore neither produced unmanageable surpluses of manure, to be wasted and to pollute the water supply, nor depended on such quantities of commercial fertilizer. The genius of America farm experts is very well demonstrated here: they can take a solution and divide it neatly into two problems.
Adding animals during the already busy spring push is certainly filling our life to the brim, but when we pause to ponder the implications for our farm — namely, that of two problems coming back into a solution — we can only feel radiating gratitude for all of it … for the sun whose return energizes all of us; for these stubborn gentle bovine creatures we are growing to love; for the future’s eggs; and for all the green growing things that fill our days.
Enjoy this week’s vegetables!
Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
… and the rest of the farm crew!
~ ~ ~
Next week’s vegetables (probably!):
Rhubarb • Head lettuce • Bok choy • Braising mix • Kale • Celery root • Leeks
~ ~ ~
I hope people will forgive me for writing a “review” of (or reflection on) a book that features an essay of mine, but I figured it’d be ok since my essay is only 1 out of 50 featured in the brand new Greenhorns: The Next Generation of American Farmers.
The book is a compilation of essays (including my own), written by contemporary new, young farmers here in America. The editors are all in a similar position, and I think they wanted to capture this moment in time — when a new wave of young people are moving to the countryside to work hard and actually make a living at it.
I’ve been looking forward to reading the book for months, anxious to read the other 49 “dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement,” and when my contributor copy arrived in the mail this week, I quickly started devouring it, hoping that it would be inspiring and interesting.
Yes, it is. It is also deeply humbling! For one thing, the essays are all fantastic. Casey and I have always noted that farming seems particularly well suited to literature (poetry and prose both) because of how grounded it is in specific moving scenes. You don’t have to farm long to have very real stories to tell and share — and this book is full of them. To have my essay included with such wonderful examples of thoughtful storytelling is humbling indeed! What an honor!
The book also gives me greater insight into the very movement it attempts to capture — Casey and I started our own farming path back in 2004, a time when there just weren’t that many “young” people farming. The first two farming conferences we attended in Oregon were mainly attended by folks with gray hair. This has changed, we know. As we’ve had our own nose to the grindstone, we’ve been vaguely aware that others have been doing the same — many of them starting after us even. Our main indication of how many young people have started farming has been again through the changing demographic at conferences (I wrote recently about the literally hundreds of young people at this year’s OSU Direct Marketing conference!).
But, still, it wasn’t until I sat down with Greenhorns that I began to fully understand — what we are seeing happening here in Oregon is happening on some level across the country. There are many essays from Oregonians (in fact, we might be the largest group represented in the book), but both coasts are represented, as well as farms from the middle of the country. These are farmers who are thriving … in spite of the inherent challenges of starting a farm (and a business) — the voices in this book are positive and optimistic about their individual farm futures and the food system and rural economies as a whole.
And, even though we are united by our similar situations, the voices and stories are each so distinct. Many essays had me crying out of a shared sense of experience; others left me feeling intrigued by the differences in our experiences. Clearly, this movement is large enough to encompass a diversity of people, places, and situations!
So, this farmer/writer can honestly say she enjoyed every last essay in this book. I’ll let another reviewer gauge how well the essays transcend beyond the farming world for interest, but I’d wager the themes of the stories are universal enough to catch anyone’s interest: striving to succeed against the odds, the joy of family and friends, the vagaries of nature and weather, and the pleasure of food.
If you are interested in participating more in the Greenhorns experience, I will be one of four Oregon writers/farmers at a Greenhorns book signing and discussion 7:30 – 9 pm this Wednesday, May 9 at Powell’s in Portland. I realize it’s a bit of a haul for many of our CSA members, but it’d be great to see some friendly faces there!