Farm Blog

Thank you again for braving the blizzard to celebrate, connect with great food, and 'planting an orchard'! Just imagine all those future cherry trees (don't forget to squat:-).
I am so uplifted from all the good vibes, intentions, laughter and seeds shared and planted.

We were able to raise $850.00 in funds! This will go a long way, thank you! Additionally, with all the seeds donated today and from what I've gleaned from others, The women growers in the Sine-Saloum region will be able to plant out a couple hundred row feet/farm. In the past we've planted shared 'demonstration beds' ie since many of the farmers share space/land to grow on we've constructed seeds beds to trial different varieties, plant insectory herbs and flowers and share techniques. From there seeds are harvested and shared forward amongst the individual farmers. So in essence your generosity helped plant teaching/learning/eating/

sharing beds of veggie, herb, and flower goodness!
 

I will honor my commitment and extend the immense gratitude, generosity that was shared during the workshop with the women farmers in the following ways:

Work with NCBA CLUSA Farmer to Farmer Program to transfer funds and mail seeds.
I'll also email and share highlights, photos forward later this week in celebration of our workshop success.

I am tentatively set to travel there Nov/Dec. or January in 2016.

I also finally remembered the name of third grower group, JUBO (means widespread). If you're interested in learning more about how they got started, here's a link to an interview I did as part of my last Farmer to Farmer adventure in Senegal.

I Will keep you in the loop as the project evolves and thanks again for sharing your generous spirit!

For the chocolate lovers:
Becky Otte, who made the amazing truffles, has more of her chocolate goodness to share and is selling some of her creations just in time for Valentines. if you're interested send her an email: raonine@gmail.com

Also Here is a link to Roots Chocolate website.

For the Fruit Lovers:

I've enclosed a handout of some of the different fruits we grow at our farm as well as a flyer highlighting this season's events at the farm! We'd love to have you venture out and tour the orchard, come visit us (though not nearly as cool as the orchard poses we did during the workshop).

Thank you again for helping me transition from being a butterfly weed seed (ie wind pollinated, not knowing where or how my intentions, projects might stick) to more of an oak or cashew seeds - wherein I can deepen my awareness, provide support in the same place(s) in Senegal for the growers and in my backyard in Wisconsin:-). Here's to planting the seeds of the as yet to be imagined on and off the yoga mat! Wishing you all much abundance.

Happy Mid-winter!

Yours in hardy kiwi,
Erin


PS If you are into exploring the planting side as well as enjoying more local fruit creations, we'll be hosting a Local Fruit Tasting May 16, details on our website.

 

Avoiding the Hazards: 2018 Retrospective

I've often likened vegetable farming to golf -- each year a completely different course, unknown in its layout and length, with novel demands on one's skill-set, exhilarating to engage (inevitably) no matter how draining and demoralizing the final tee. If this comparison is apt, I can say the back nine were especially hard on us in 2018.

Farming is famous for its yearly gauntlet of perils, primarily involving the vicissitudes of weather and markets. At Hilltop, we can at least be thankful to avoid the latter since we sell primarily retail.

But Nature swings a large bat.

As growers, we hedge against calamity in whatever ways are possible – row-cover in the Spring, seven-foot deer fencing, water-catchments to bridge the droughts, obsessive mulching to hold soil-moisture and protect against pounding rains. Much of our preparation is geared toward managing the hydrologic cycle.

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A Vote with our Shovels, 2018 Fruit Results, Planting Optimism with Perennials

We harvested our last quince the other day. It held steadfast stemming from its home perched on the limb of the tree, surviving the frosts, a freeze, and even a few snowshowers earlier in October. This lovely 'love-apple' fruit marks the end of our harvest season. We have been enjoying the slow sweet ripening on the counter diffusing and seducing with hints of flowers ready to be cooked in the kitchen. When you catch a nostalgic scent of springs past, cut and simmer quince with your apples for a hearty sauce, or enjoy solo, slightly poached and drizzled with honey-invoking the spirit of Aphrodite and Venus – honoring the culinary traditions from Apicius to your Grandma's orchard, and marveling at how such an ancient fruit has been overlooked in today's kitchen. You may also be asking why quince fruit was overlooked on the fall fruit menu this season. Our harvest was minimal yet beautiful and unfortunately we did not have enough fruit to extend into fruit market shares or much for our retail quince lovers.

Not to be a fruit tease, we wanted to share how the fruit season as a whole fared and would love to hear from you! Please take a moment to let us know how we did and we will do the same

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Flowers by the Numbers, 2018 Flower CSA Bouquet Breakdown

I picked my last bouquet today. It was a modest mix of mums, and a few lingering calendula, veronica, tansy, and '3rd generation delphiniums' that survived the frosts, a freeze and even snowshowers the other morning.

I am continually amazed at the intensity of color and optimism present in blooms. I continue to find hope imprinted in a ray of beauty. Late fall on the farm is a time to not just tuck in the flower beds with a bit of mulch and manure, dig up the dahlias, divide, transplant and seed spring blooming perennials, but also a time to reflect, on the seasons past. I would love to learn how the season fared for you?

Please take a moment to reflect and share the following:

What worked?

What didn't?

Would you do it again? Why or why not?

And for some context, the following are reflections on the season, where your flower share investment went, and what's in store for next season. You may want to settle in with a warm cup of coffee/tea, as by now you likely know that brevity is not a strongpoint:-).

Why a Flower CSA?

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Fibonacci Numbers, Sunflower sequence, and Mid-summer's angles of reposeFibonacci numbers, mid-summer's angle of repose

Happy August! Wow it's really August and we are already at the mid-point of the Flower CSA season. There is a point in the growing season that reminds of my days in Washington's North Cascades pondering alpine glacial geology while collecting native plant seed for restoration education projects with the National Park Service. We would be along the trails seed collecting Elymus glaucous (blue wild rye) and a slough of floral friends. Now and then I would stretch my back and shift my gaze from soil to skyline. The glaciers would 'sit poised' when viewed from a distance, like a well fed cat, cool and contented on its perch. That such a mass of ice, could just 'hang out' along a 60 plus degree slope without an ensuing avalanche is a marvel. In geologic speak, this point is known as the angle of repose – the steepest angle at which a sloping surface, (in the case of glaciers ice) formed of a particular loose material is stable. It's a marvel that an icy mass of material withstands gravity at such an angle--that such stillness from a distance—can mask all the movement taking shape, giving form to the Earth upon closer viewing.

In the botanical sphere of your flower farm, there is a similar angle of repose,

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Flowers as Self-Care and Nourishment

A Guest Blog Post I contributed to the Leek and the Carrot

Every once in a while, I get a nudge of encouragement and invitation to creative play in a flower farming industry that provides endless challenges through all the beauty. A huge thank you to Lauren Rudersdorf, the talented writer, farmer, and soil sister behind the Leek and the Carrot and Raleigh's Hillside Farm. It is an honor to be a guest blogger and share acts of beauty and flower mojo with you. And if you haven't already, her blog one to follow in all it's culinary ingenuity and farm-her authenticity. Thank you Lauren!

It must have started with plucking a daisy’s petals, in my mom’s garden.  Mindlessly chanting, “He loves, me, he loves me not,” as I plucked petals daydreaming of a crush I was too awkward to approach in my gangly teenage years. It’s interesting to note that the daisy, along with several thousand species of aster family members, usually have an uneven number of petals, so if you start with ‘(s)he loves me,” that’s probably where you will end up! Maybe the flowers seduced me, as I plucked the petal love. Regardless, the theme of love and trust has stuck with me as I love flowers and continue to learn what it means to trust in their wisdom as a flower farmer.

I have always grown flowers – in my mother’s garden, as part of my own landscapes, apartment balconies, and kitchen windowsills as I worked my way around one mountain peak to the next in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska Interior as an outdoor educator and native plant restorationist, and later returning to my Midwest roots, wherein among other adventures, I fell in love with a farmer and well, a Farmer Florist was born. When I started farming with my husband Rob at Hilltop Community Farm in 2009 flowers were always part of the field mix, work/life balance, experimentation, and soul nourishment. The last 7 years, however, I have been consciously shifting from vegetable production to fruit and flowers and this is my fourth season with a ‘formal’ flower csa program and 11th season with wedding flower work. I enjoy how flowers balance and compliment other areas and market channels for our farm including our fruit and vegetable share program.

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This Growing Act of Beauty is For You

Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” Rachel Carson

I am trying to endure. April has been rough and exhilarating for your farmer. Rob has always been much more Zen about life's disturbances and I continue to learn from his fluid, grounding love. For me, I've been at the mercy of April's moods. On the one hand I am welcoming the snow and quiet and the chance to linger over coffee with friends, catch a film, read the backlog of BrainPicking's Newsletters, or dust off the canoe. On the other hand, snow and cold unsettles my circadian farmer rhythm. We should be hardening off our young larkspur and allium transplants and seeding spinach alongside sweet peas. Instead the seeds and seedlings stock-pile in our greenhouse overflow zone (aka our kitchen and dining room).

Cold and wet is great for fruit tree planting, grafting, and dividing perennial herbs. Yet this too has been hard to do since the frost refuses to leave let alone heave under the weight of the shovel. 2014 memories come to mind—a year without kiwi due to a lingering cold come May—the kiwi refused to fruit save for 11 brave berries. There is reason to hope amidst the fickle jet stream.

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Orchard Music

"To listen to trees, nature's great connectors, is to learn how to inhabit the relationships that give life its source, substance, and beauty," David Haskell, Song of Trees

We have been listening to, singing with, and growing fruit trees and flowers since 1993--growing and nurturing neighbors, and fruit forests throughout this 24 year time frame and would love to welcome you into the farm foray--we promise we won't make you sing and dance. We will let our fruit and flowers sing a symphony for your tables.

At the start of another season, as we wake up from the dream state of winter-- here are some of our farm's favorite music we invite you to tune into.

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Madame Butterfly a Floral Opera

I have been contemplating flowers and operas. Specifically the story of Madame Butterfly. I know, I spend way too much time thinking about flowers and am ready for the ground to thaw and start planting!

Ever wonder how flower varieties are named? This question nudged me as I paged through the seed catalogs and became mesmerized by the floral photo candy of Antirrhinum majus – Madame Butterfly var. My curiosity soon meandered to Giacomo Puccini's famous Opera, Madame Butterfly wherein the human Butterfly first took to the stage in Milan, Italy in 1904.

The unique double-petal flowers of Madame Butterfly snapdragons are no less dramatic than the opera's themes of cultural and sexual imperialism, and allow me to mingle the operatic and horticultural. Here is my attempt at the Snapdragon Opera of Madame Butterfly.

Madame Butterfly the Opera – summarized from the Metropolitan Opera website

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FRESH Start

In the short lull between seasons that we get at the top of the year, my mind is sometimes directed toward the wider landscape in which our CSA and others operate.

Generally unseen by CSA customers are the support organizations that provide help with visibility, marketing, professional development and skill-sharing necessary to the farms which grow their food. Fair-Share, the organization that provides these services in much of southern Wisconsin, is probably familiar to eaters as the sponsor of the annual open-house at which CSA farms advertise their wares to potential clientele. In its earlier years the organization was known as MACSAC (Madison Area CSA Coalition), a group of eaters as well as farmers who came together with a mission to educate the public about sustainable farming issues in order to help kickstart the CSA movement in Madison during the early 1990s. Given the solidarity and general bon ami that exists within the community of CSA practitioners, it might seem hard to imagine that there was a brief period of schism and dissension back in the first decade of the millennium.

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Reckoning

Better late than never.

With squirrely and uncooperative weather from almost start to finish this growing season, analysis of 2017's production – like all the rest the year's work – got pushed back by several weeks. But I've finally had a chance to compile the numbers. They are rather uninspiring.

While this growing season's rains (33.05” in total) were not quite as miserable as 2016 (37.88”), they were still 40% over the historical average for the April through October period. And, as usual, the specific timing of the rains was what was most significant. While last year's deluges came almost exclusively after the middle of August, 2017's were heavily loaded toward planting season – we were already 10 inches ahead of 2016 in the short period from the start of April to the end of June.

Cold weather accompanying the rains in the critical third week of May slowed drying and made soil preparation for popcorn and peppers an ungodly slog, especially since both crops were slated for a section of the garden with heavier, more clay-ish soils.

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A Floral Feast Reflection...2017 Flower CSA Breakdown

I have always grown flowers – in my mother's garden, as part of my own garden landscapes, apartment balconies, and kitchen windowsills. When I started farming with Rob in 2009 (Rob has been a CSA farmer since 1993) flowers were always part of the field mix, work/life balance and experimentation, and soul nourishment. The last 4 years, however, I have been consciously shifting from vegetable production to fruit and flowers and this is my second season with a 'formal' flower csa program. I enjoy how it balances and compliments other areas and market channels for our farm including wedding flowers and fruit and vegetable share program.

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No Sun, No Food

We thank our subscribers for bearing with the hiatus in food-delivery during what is typically the pinnacle of vegetable production so that your farmers could go on a fishing expedition out west for a view of the “great American eclipse” (a term which slightly irritates me). The last time we missed a late-summer delivery was when Erin and I got married in 2011. Best that these interruptions are kept to a minimum if for no other reason than that they double-up the harvesting work in the adjacent weeks.

Not that you missed much.

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Eclipse, Eclat, and Eclogue, Just another Season at the Farm

Admittedly, I joined the frenzied eclipse goers who jockeyed for the viewing rights along the path of totality in the heartland to soak in, for two minutes, a celestial phenomenon by way of 370th Rd., just northwest of Ravenna, NE.

While Rob poured over weather maps for points of cloudless skies along the way, I poured over our 1909 copy of Webster's New International Dictionary, wherein I mused over different iterations of the word eclipse and how the word itself relates to the growing season. Luminous discoveries and intentions prevailed.

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Solstice Floral Inspirations

At 7:24 pm Tuesday, June 20, Rob and I exhaled into the horizon, celebrated the fullness of life and the potential it holds.

Abundance abounds around the Solstice.

At 7:24 am on Wednesday, making the orchard rounds, calling it 'insect monitoring', I gave myself permission to lay my head down under the eldberry umbels and stare at the sky as petals rained on my face. Overwhelmed by all this being and doing. I took comfort in the refuge of nature's fecundity, if only for a moment.

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Of Tides, Foxtail Lilies, and Vase Life Tips

I woke up from the mystery of the night thinking of flowers and the resurrection of the morning, of tides and foxtails.

Rainwater dreams, muffled by the excitement of distant thunder (maybe Tuesday into Wednesday we will see rain?). This past week was tidal. Washed ashore from Ghana and teaching—beached at the foothills of my flower beds—I traded sand for silt loam between my toes, ripening mangoes for a hearty saskatoon set, and bright pink red hibiscus petals for equally showy peonies. No time to linger, the blossom tides are peaking.

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Keeping Mechanics at Bay

Like my back, our pickup truck creaks a lot more than it used to, but still functions. I take this as an augury that another season of vegetable growing is possible; indeed, with an April share already behind us, it seems to have leapt underway.

Both back and truck are indispensable to the enterprise of farming, though I got along without the second for a number of years simply by using my Geo Metro as a truck instead. I hauled uncountable tons of compost to my farm in it, which eventually led to blowing two of the three cylinders, as you would expect from a vehicle rated at 550 lbs live load. (Incidentally, the car operated fine, if wimpily, on one cylinder). After having the valves replaced I was able to keep hauling compost for several additional years. The setup was fuel efficient and cheap, minus the valve-job.

The '97 Nissan pickup is also often overloaded since this is the most efficient way to move things, though perhaps not cheapest in the long run. Road gravel is the usual cargo which I find myself schlepping a dozen times or more each year from the local materials yard to throw, by shovelfuls, into the ruts which climate change + gravity conspire to carve down the slopes of our driveway.

Farming involves an awful lot of moving things against gravity, so I'm glad my back has lasted. Like the truck, it has slowed down but still moves, so I am thankful.

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What does it mean to be a Farmer Florist?

While I was vending at the Reedsburg Food Fair this past March, a Heather Stanek, a fair-goers asked me, “What does it mean to be a farmer florist?” I've been ruminating on the question since. Meanwhile, the daffodils carpet the earth in sunshine, the apricot blooms burst in our orchard (please no 'ice days of May), and the peonies poke through the soil, giving me a nudge to wake up to the question and give it the attention it deserves.

A flower farmer: one who both grows flowers and designs with flowers with love and care from field to vase. Since I love doing both adding flowers to the farm flow is a natural fit.

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CSA - For the Love of Fruit, Flowers, the Land and Community

While I am welcoming the snow's return, don't let the illusion of winter cloud the weather's reality these days. If you're thinking, "...it's too early for red-wing blackbirds to arrive at the ponds and too warm for February," yes, you are correct. The 68 degree F high temp this past Wednesday set a new record for the entire month at the Madison reporting station, besting the old mark of 64 degree F set on the 25th back in 2000. (Incidentally, the previous record for the day was 60 degree F, set in 1984). So that's five high temp records in a row, from Saturday February 18 on through Wednesday February 22. It appears from the instrumentation at both the Boscobel and Janesville National Weather Service Sites ---which hit 72 degrees F on Wednesday, that we've set an all-time record for the entire state for the month of February.

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Tales of a Senegal Beekeeper

..for so work the honeybees, Creatures that by a rule in nature teach

The act of order to a peopled kingdom."

- William Shakespeare, Henry V 1599

“When you work with bees, they put something in your heart,”Adema Senghor, President of the Toubacouta Beekeepers Association, shared with the ~16 aspiring women beekeepers that gathered in Missirah, Senegal to wrap up our farmer to farmer training on beekeeping and plan next steps for their apiary. Adema graciously offered tips gleaned from over 25 years experience as a beekeeper in Senegal. Both he and co-founder Moussa Manne with the Toubacouta Beekeepers Association had agreed to share with the women how they got started with beekeeping as well as commit to supporting the Missirah women as mentor beekeepers. They are also the purveyors of the award winning 'Sur de Saloum' —prized honey from the mangrove blossoms and other petals sipped from native trees and cashew groves in the 'La Paletuveire' (French word for mangroves and the coastal plain forests that shape Senegal's Sine Saloum Delta).

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2016 By the Numbers

2016 was a good growing year in many respects.

At 178 days, the frost-free period was exceptionally long, even after a relatively late last-freeze on May 15th. We harvested sweet peppers well into the month of November, after what was already a banner-year for the crop. Potatos also performed spectacularly despite over-planting and tight spacing, cranking out almost 300 calories per square foot. Many warm-season crops were 10 to 14 days earlier than normal. After a couple of beautiful broccoli harvests in late June and early July, we thought we might be headed for another 15-week season like we saw the previous year.

And then the rains came.

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