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.

 

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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Tending to the Time We Take

When I first traveled to Senegal in 2012 for a farmer to farmer volunteer project, it was during the heart of the rainy season in August. The smell of ocean, fish, palm oil and traffic permeated the air as I arrived in a foot of water at the airport in Dakar.

Since then, Senegal has continued to flow into my farm life and professional journey—and the suddenness of the Saloum's riverine current combined with the predictability of tides gives me pause in considering what is in greater demand now than our attention? What during our brief time on this planet do we need to attend to most? I carried this question with me as I washed ashore in Senegal this past November, supporting a Farmer to Farmer project working with the women farmers who are just getting started with organic vegetable production in Thiangalahene Village southeast of Kaolack. Starting anything new is overwhelming. Their are myriad tasks you need to tend to, let alone the possibilities to explore for your markets. What has helped in my own farm journey is having opportunities to learn and share knowledge, resources with other farmers and eaters for perspectives and advice as well as engaging expert knowledge. This is why I am so attracted to the F2F program model and so appreciative of the opportunity to volunteer—supporting my farmer peers with insights I have learned about what to tend to when getting started.

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Alphabet Soup of Farming Gratitude

I was out walking 'Up and Down the Hill' with my mother and a friend as part of the La Valle celebration this past summer and we were talking of relationships with our mothers and all the gratitude, headaches, tensions, and celebrations that come with it. My friend shared that in coming to terms with her mother's aging, she and her sister were putting together the ABC's of appreciation –a reflection of what they have learned and learned to appreciate about their mother over the years.

As I tuck in the farm for the winter months, exhaling from the frost-nipped fields, I thought I'd share in the ABC's of all the things that I have learned and appreciated from Mother Earth at the farm community this season beginning with:

Autonomy - and interdependence. Our food forests continue to subtley and not so subtely teach us about how to best design perennial polycultures of multi-purpose plants so we might share resources, create networks of mutual support in growing our own food, fodder, fertility, fuel, 'farm-a-cueticals' and fun. And like our orchard guilds, personally, I farm in part because I enjoy the autonomy in decision making, running a small business, and finding my niche. At the same time I reminded of how much as farmers, we rely on others to grow food in partnership with the land and our community.

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Prairie grass, Perseverance, Pumpkin Flower Vessels: relief, grief, and gratitude at first frost and last delivery

We had our first frost at the farm last Friday and myself (and I think farmers around Wisconsin) exhaled a collective sigh of both relief, grief, and gratitude. Relief that events at the farm will downshift to a more humane pace, grief for the passing of the squash that couldn't ripen, the dahlia blossoms that were cut short, descending into winter's decay, and gratitude for all the fullness, color, and bounty that this small corner of the world could produce such bounty!

I tried to capture all these thoughts and emotions in the last Flower CSA bouquet of the season and hope the pumpkin vase vessel will support the fall colors. A South Central Wisconsin seasonal bouquet would not be complete without integrating native prairie grasses.

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Simplicity, Gladiolus and the Magic of 3's

As August shifts to September with all the overabundance of fruit, flowers, and veg ripening in the fields, I thought I'd begin the month to celebrate simplicity in this week's bouquets and focus on the 'magic of 3's.

Farmer florists have a few patterns to draw from setting the structure for a bouquet. Like a recipe for a summer salsa (1 part hot pepper 3 parts sweet 5 parts tomato), flowers follow a similar recipe. Texture, focal, filler. 1:3:5. From here the variations are endless and sometimes chaotic colors emerge. So I've been playing with simplifying, finding beauty in the most basic of texture, focal, and filler. This week's bouquets will feature 3 flowers representing texture, focal, and filler and a play on 3 color types.

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Epic Saturation or Saturation in Love - Watery Metaphors and Fluid Boundaries when it Comes to Wedding Flowers

Epic saturation or saturation in love? That is the watery metaphor swimming in my brain as I reflect on this past week's floral floodgates. Many of you know that, in addition to flower CSA bouquets, I also love floral design and styling for weddings. The two flower services are mutually supportive and I am so grateful of the many ways your commitment to supporting sustainably grown and designed flowers from our farm's fields to your vase keeps us afloat through the season, come heat and highwater.

As a farmer, I am constantly being reminded of how and where to best intervene, when to take charge of the petal paddle, when to pause and re-direct based on what's showing up in the fields, and when to just let go and ride the waves of peak season on the farm. This past week's weather was a perfect storm of heat, humidity, saturated energy and a waterfall of petals, amplified by a challenging yet beautiful wedding flower gig. Here's a brief synapsis of how the flower forecast played out. (If you want the full account, I'm happy to meet up over hard cider at the next Field Table Dinner at Touchdown Tavern or the next Woodfire Pizza Night at the Branding Iron.)

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Flower CSA Bouquets Abuzz with Gratitude

Such fullness and momentum abounds in the flower fields as we head into the peak harvest season at the farm. A lot is abuzz at your flower farm and I thought this week is prime time for pollinator appreciation from field to vase at Hilltop.

While National Pollinator Week has come and gone in late June (week of the 23rd this past year), I find that mid-July is when the pollinator flower power really kicks in on our farm. So this week we are featuring flower favorites of the bees, butterflies and all of our pollinator friends seen and unseen. I’m hovering over a currant shrub as I write this, making notes with one hand with the other, meticulously plucking the black pearls of the fruit world into buckets wishing I had a third hand to simultaneously pull the weeds that pop through the mulch.

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A Look Ahead

As you can tell from looking in your share bag each week, the season so far has been unusual in its pace and general fecundity – cabbages, beets and currants have shown up weeks ahead of schedule; potatos and carrots (July 4 share) are as early as they've ever been; and virtually all remaining crops (cross your fingers) look to be vigorous and likely to produce at, or ahead of, schedule. We can thank June's heat and restrained but adequate rains for much the largesse.

One possible exception is cucumbers. Cucumber beetles – 1/4-inch long yellow- and black-striped sap-sucking insects – have descended on our little patch and begun chewing holes in the leaves. Their damage is not excessive in itself since the insects are so small. But they tend to spread viruses and other pathogens as evidenced by the yellowing and drying of a noticeable fraction of leaves even at this early stage.

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A brief journey to the center of the Earth and the Universe - Larkspur's spurious season at the farm

Admittedly, I'm still working on finding the sweet spot on our farm where larkspurs thrive and are fully supported. They're a bit fickle from seed to bloom. Larkspurs and delphiniums benefit from a cold period before seeding. This year, I had mixed results with germination, and the flowers that remained are gracing the fields. There's a balance in supporting these flowers post transplant. The spikey blooms, carried loosely in it's racemes, tend to want to flop and surrender into the atmosphere, perhaps in sync with its star-like shape. The flowers are worth the struggle in growing them in the fields. Their purple flowers attract butterflies and bumblebees, who hover over the blooms laden with pollen cargo. It's beauty in a bouquet packs an equal load of celestial wonder and marks the turning point from spring to summer in our flower gardens.

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"This Quilt is Covered in Dirt...On Purpose"

Urbanized populations are losing their connection to life-supporting soil. As farmers were letting the dirt speak for itself. 

You may have re-called previous musings on Soil and last season's Unearthing a Soil Quilt Project. Well like Amish Friendship bread, we had no idea what we and the soil have started. The story continues, and we are so thankful to the National Geographic Team for featuring our soil quilt project as part The Plate blog series.

 

You can get the dirt on the latest Soil Quilt iteration, from Whitney Pipkin, read on at:

This Quilt is Covered in Dirt On Purpose.

please feel free to share on social media @NatGeoFood and @WhitneyPipkin!

 

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Riding out the bumps and over the hump - CSA Underway

The start of year 23 at Hilltop has had its bumps, but been auspicious in some ways too.

The bumps include the first week of April which managed, with its Siberian cold, to kill our bees after an otherwise successful ride through the Wisconsin winter. In March, the workers thronged the entrance to the hive, enjoying the warm sun and searching for the first apricot blossoms and dandelions to appear. The following week, their exoskeletons poured from the frames of comb in piles as I lifted each from the box that had been their home.

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