Friday, August 22, 2014

A Quiet Day


There are some days here on the farm where it is just quiet.  It might be environmental factors, like air pressure or humidity, but some days are just quiet.  Maybe it’s the blanket of clouds in the sky, holding the noise to a minimum and allowing the Earth to nap.  All I know is that it is quiet.  No people asking me questions about what to harvest or when.  No dogs barking, frogs croaking or chickens cackling.  No trucks or tractors on the road.  No sounds of distant combines.  Just quiet.
 
And birds.  I can hear the little twitter of birds but even they are soft background whispers.  Not like the loud honking of geese in the spring and fall or the shrill cries of crows in mid-summer as their young get old enough to fly; just the occasional flutter of wings and soft chirps as they go about the business of finding food – be it bug or nectar. 

Even the ever-present North Dakota wind is quiet today, preferring to keep things to a small breeze, just barely enough to move the leaves on the top of the trees. Not even a sound from the softly fluttering wind sock.  Usually you can hear the trees moving and swaying, the leaves rustling together and the branches waving.  But not today.  Today is quiet. 


The outside world has all but disappeared today.  I can feel it.  No phone calls, no IM Yahoo’s, no pings from the email.  Just quiet.

I have struggled to maintain the quiet.  I turned off the fans in the bedrooms.  I turned off the fan on the furnace – no need for air conditioning today and the temperature has stayed a comfortable one so need to move more air.  I have left all devices on stand-by for later use – no radio, no television.  Just quiet.

This is a day for a book.  This is a day for a nap.  This is a day for drawing or painting a picture as the world sits quietly to be immortalized in charcoal or ink.  This is a day for prayer and silent reflection or meditation. 

This is a day.  A quiet day.  For tomorrow we shall resume our regularly scheduled chaos and clatter.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Chaos Town edition.

Many of you are farmers or producers, so many of you will know when I say this is the time of year when we all live in Chaos Town.  It's this time of year that always gets to me.  The stress level gets high and that one little extra thing always threatens to push me over the edge into either a trip to an insane asylum or alcoholism - which ever I can achieve faster. The kind of chaos that makes me think my best friend is Curios George

 This week has been full of those moments. 

The looming disaster as our well decides whether or not it wants to continue to work this hard in dry times is top of the list.

The health inspection that happened yesterday and then had to go through two separate health districts for approval - two who each have their own ideas about how we should do things - so we end up trying our best to do it all.  This time around it is the need for an 'approved food grade' hose with approved 'food grade' fittings on the end for filling our wash tubs - which by the way get filled with the same water we drink, water that is tested two to three times per year and is treated with a sanitizer to ensure food safety and filled from the garden hose that I drink out of all the time.  Haven't died yet but then again maybe I just have a phenomenal immune system. 

Or how about the fact that the Health Dept. insists that we need a 1,000 gallon septic tank on our little restroom in the barn?  Yes, the little sink and toilet that will use a total of about 3 gallons per visit and that will only be used when and if we have tours or classes.  Maybe a total of 100 times per year.  And guess what?  The usual box stores and home improvement places are not allowed to sell 1,000 gallon plastic holding tanks in ND.  I could go concrete but then how would I get it in the hole?  Guess we'll be sneaking one in across the state border - right after I blow my project budget and fork over the extra $400 for it.


Or how about the fact that we have grown so fast this year in our number of customers that we're short on a few things.  Yeah, that would push me over the edge.  I've found a grower with large plants in the varieties I need however he's 162 miles one way away.  Our new dependable vehicle is tied up two days a week running deliveries and we are tied up two other days a week harvesting and maintaining - leaving very limited time to go get these little gems - especially when we need them NOW!

Today my issue is GreenSource Windows out of Minnesota.  http://www.greensourcewindows.com/  They very kindly came and put in four new windows last year - did a good job from what we could see and were good at customer service at the time.  However in the -28 degree cold snap of January, one of the windows snapped.  Just snapped.  No one touched it, it just broke.  Getting a replacement on their warranty has been grueling.  Contacting them has been a nightmare and although after many many phone calls they did say they would be here today to install a new one - it's late afternoon and not so much as a phone call.  I think I can feel myself drooling and talking to myself as I slip into a  psychotic break. 

These are the kind of things that make me put the running suit on the dog because I shouldn't be the only one who's miserable.


Things aren't ALL bad.  A few things that were threatening to give me the proverbial shove off the cliff this week have been fixed - woohoo! 

The rat that I've been trying to catch in the barn for almost a month is now deceased.  On Sunday I proclaimed to the whole family that it had now become a family mission to rid the barn of the rat.  It was a battle I could no longer fight alone.  The guys went 'hunting' on Sunday with no luck.  However - our barn dog Millie was listening to my 'this is a team effort' speech and Monday night she took it upon herself to rid the farm of the vermin.  She was awfully proud and I was awfully relieved.  PS - the rat was a male - we checked.  We're hoping we was a lone bachelor but we (Millie and I) are keeping a watchful eye - and ear - out just in case. 

We did get the Carmine Jewel cherries picked - beat those birds out and that's good.  They are now gently soaking in a nice rum.  It's turned a delightful shade of red and when they're done soaking they are headed for a coat of dark chocolate.  MMMMM, can't wait.  They make me happy.

We also picked a bucket load of fresh raspberries.  Got them all in the freezer for later eating  pleasures - later when we're not in Chaos Town and we can really enjoy them. 

I also got invited to a wine tasting event tomorrow.  Sounds like great fun and maybe a little relaxing is just what I need.

The third succession of dill and basil are up and the zinnias are starting to bloom. Maybe its time to do another recreation of a famous painting...

And of course, I have my family - Tall Dark and Handsome and the Boy stand beside me daily, hold me up, pour me another drink and some days the fact that I love them more than anything in the world is all I really know for sure. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Kickin' It Into Gear With Diversity.

Things are really moving right along here at gardendwellers FARM.

The cover crop we put in of winter wheat is coming along nicely and received a mowing this weekend so that the weeds, which are also in there and doing well, don't get too tall and go to seed. 
This cover crop will grow a bit more and then be cultivated in to add organic matter and help build the soil.

The perennial flower bed - a simple pleasure of mine as it does not contribute to anything but beauty here on the farm, is in its third season and starting to really look like something.  The yellow iris and peonies, gas plant and chives are combining to make a lovely show along the driveway.

We've had several pans of rhubarb bars and you can see that the rhubarb is in full flower.  I just love rhubarb in a flower bed, it anchors the ends so well.  Soon this bed will be filled with daylily blooms, coneflower and a variety of others followed in fall by the asters and Joe Pye Weed.  Season long color.  The zinnias are planted on the other side of the driveway and the two will make the perfect entrance to our little farm.

I'm just giddy about the orchard this year.  We finally have the weeds under control, all the straw on the beds and just about every fruit or nut in the orchard bloomed this spring so we're hoping for at least a tasting of everything this year.  The first to give us that is the honeyberries.


Honeyberries are in the honeysuckle family, look like a football shaped blueberry and kind of taste like a blueberry.  They are full of antioxidants and are very good for you.  Ours have quite a few berries this year and Sunday we got the bird netting out and so far have successfully kept both the birds AND the vegetarian barn dog Millie out of them!

 
I got a new toy this winter and have been having fun trying it out.  I got a Brix meter.  A Brix meter measures the sugars of things - like fruit - and can help you determine when it has reached its peak of ripeness.  It is also a good indicator of plant and soil health.  So far, the honeyberries I've tested are ranging from 12 to 15.  A reading of 12 would be an average fruit but 15 is very good and ready to eat.

Last week we were informed that we have received a North Dakota Division of Tourism Expansion grant.  We will use these funds to complete the restroom facility in the barn.  This will allow gardendwellers FARM to host larger tours once again.  We're very excited to be inviting guests back to our operation and hosting events.  The guys have been working hard on building walls and insulating the new restroom and last night they had a major step forward when they got the water line in from the well to the barn.  The good news is that the existing old line - that used to water cattle in the barn - still works as does the hydrant.  No need to trench in new or to buy a new hydrant!  WOOOHOOO!  Now all that is needed is a trip to a big town to get the necessary holding tank, systems and a little more wiring.  Can't wait!  A big thank you to the Division of Tourism for helping with this project.

Another major hurdle this summer will be completing the rest of the irrigation system that will take water directly to the field.  We have an NRCS contract to assist with the technical expertise and funding and hopefully soon will have water spigots right at the edge of the field.  Up to now, we have had to run a garden hose from the house all the way to the field - it's slow, it's tedious, and by the time you finish watering everything you need to start all over again.  What a time saver that will be!

Last but not least, we finally got the hops in.  After years of putting things in the ground in a hurry and most often not doing it quite right, I have decided that taking extra time and doing it the way it should be done is the wisest choice. (With Age, Comes Wisdom, as Uncle Jim Wilkie used to say.) So they got put on teepee's.  Hops grow up from the ground each year.  They can grow to 25 feet in one year.  The best and easiest way to harvest them is to have them on a single ling and cut them off at the ground each fall.  With the teepee system is it easy to do just that.

We have started with just 8 plants, four Willamette and four Nugget.  We have some Cascade hops on the hill - not planted as neatly as this of course.  Hops form rhizomes and once established it is easy to multiply the number of plants you have simply by harvesting those rhizomes.  Each teepee now holds 4 plants but can hold up to 8 or 10 and we have plenty of room to add more poles if need be.  Each set of hops was mulched with newspaper and then straw to keep the weeds down, hold soil moisture and still allow us access to dig rhizomes in the future.  Since the hops die back to the ground each year, we're hoping we will not have winter mouse trouble with the hops the way we do with our other woody plants.  Eventually we hope to sell our hops to North Dakota breweries and home brewers.

So you see, even though we are a culinary herb farm, and we will ALWAYS be a culinary herb farm, we believe in diversity.  Diversity makes for a healthier eco-system, business, and world.  Having fruit and hops and bittersweet and mushrooms and nuts keeps us from being totally wiped out by any strange new disease or pest that might come along and have a hankering for only one species.  It gives our business a back up plan in case Mother Nature decides its just not the year for herbs to grow well - something to tide us over in rough times.  It gives the birds and bees and other living things places to live and things to eat and makes the soil richer than if we were cultivating a mono-culture.  Diversity is key and that's what we strive for.  Herbs will always be who we are and what we do - but we have a back up plan just in case!
Until next time - keep on weedin'!

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Small Equipment for a small Farm

I think spring is finally here.  The barn dog is beginning to blow her coat and the fields, ours and those around us have begun filling with equipment on the move.


So what type of equipment does a small farm like ours use to plant an acre or two?  That's a question I get a lot through my work at Dakota College ECH.  At gardendwellers FARM we wondered the same thing when we first moved to this fabulous place in 2011.  We were unsure of what type of equipment to best manage all that we needed to do without spending thousands upon thousands of dollars for many different pieces of equipment.  We also didn't want to use our John Deere garden tractor and tiller for all of the weeding and maintenance required.  So we put the question out to our Facebook followers and we soon had the answer.

A Plotmaster.

Yes, folks, that's right...it's called a Plotmaster.

This handy little piece of machinery pulls behind our ATV and does many jobs - all at once or by themselves.  As you can see, it has two sets of disks, a drag, a roller, a seeder and we have another attachment that will plow when we need it.

We've used this wonderful contraption for two years and we love it.  By using the disks and drag we can keep our fields weed free and looking good with minimal effort and in a small amount of time.  The plow has helped to break into hard or cold ground and this weekend we used it for the first time to seed.

We grow sustainably.  That means we need to care for our soil in the best way possible.  For us, that means no chemical fertilizers so instead we use green manure and compost to ensure a healthy soil environment.  This year we have chosen to green manure winter wheat.  By planting winter wheat in the spring instead of the fall, the wheat will stay shorter and not head out.  We will let the wheat grow to a desired height then disk and drag it back into the soil where it will decompose that add tilth to the soil and a fertile place for worms to romp - if worms can romp.

The Plotmaster works well for seeding.
It has a seed hopper that fits most sizes of seed and works well with the wheat.


 It took a little bit of adjusting to get it worked out so the seed was laying down correctly and covering up abut very soon the Boy got it right and finished the seeding of our green manure in no time.

Then Barry went in with the John Deere and the tiller and made a great new spot for the chives.  

Together we replanted the chives that accidentally got dug up last fall and with the dividing we did on them we ended up with over a wheelbarrow of chive plants leftover!
Then it was time for a little fun break and a few kisses between the Boy and his favorite girl.




Friday, November 29, 2013

An Epic Duel

An epic duel has ensued at our normally peaceful farm and I'm not sure what to do about it.  I'm hoping our readers and followers can help us out.

You see, the favorite nursery rhyme is playing itself out right before my eyes.  Yesterday the barn dog discovered a cat.  Black and shivering, overtly skinny the black little bundle decided that our barn was the place to spend Thanksgiving.

Now first, let me say that I am NOT a cat person.  Definitely NOT a cat person.  Their lack of obedience, loyalty and self centered nature is not for me.  Don't get me wrong, I love other people's cats and a soft kitten purring in your palm is a hear melter no matter who you are.  But as for keeping a cat, I don't know how and don't know that I want to know.  But lately, with the field mice finding homes in our out buildings, I have to say I have considered getting a farm cat, for the mousing factor alone.

Here's why I have not yet gotten a farm cat.  I believe in spaying/neutering and vaccinating our pets.  This is a vow I take seriously, the vow to properly care for the animals under our care.  If I were to spend the money to vaccinate and spay a cat and then, as cats do, it decided that the pastures - or mice - were greener on the other side of the pasture and thus wandered off to another farm or to live in the wild, I would be angry.  I have never had a cat.  I don't know how to make a cat stick around if it lives outdoors or prevent it from leaving - even if it did like its home here, at some point, wouldn't it want to hunt elsewhere?

So when Millie the Barn Dog in doing her job decided that the black intruder in the barn had to go, I was really unsure of how to deal with it.  This little black cat looking so weak and emaciated but yet with clear yellow eyes and even in her sad state a shiny black coat tugged at my heart strings.

The duel started in the barn where Millie fretted out the cat and grabbing it by the tail pulled it into the yard.  The little black bugger growled and hissed, Millie barked and the duel was on.  The En Guard was first followed by the Attack by the gingham dog and a Parry by the calico cats razor sharp claws.  On and on until it caught the attention of Tall, Dark, and Handsome who quickly pulled me from the house to decide how to end the battle.  With no other decision except total annihilation of one participant or the other on the horizon, separation seemed the only answer.  The gingham dog was thus pulled kicking and screaming to the shop and the calico cat was left to wander off into the woods.

(I would have included photos in this blog post but all you would have seen was a blur of black and white and tan.)

It was Thanksgiving after all so my heart got the best of me and once inside the house, looking at the poor shivering creature still sitting in the snow, I decided it wouldn't hurt to feed it just a little.  I quickly warmed some sausage we had in the fridge and put it into a bowl but by the time I got it to the woods the little black cat was gone.  Later, when Millie was released from her prison in the shop she used what the Lord gave her to sniff out where it had gone but found the sausage instead.

This might have been the end of the story.  Except...
You see Millie the barn dog has an outside kennel with a doggie door that allows her free access to her inside kennel where her heated dog house and heated water bowl and food bowl reside inside an enclosure in the barn.  Every morning Millie appears in the outside kennel around 7:15 or so, just before I go to work.  This morning, no Millie at 7:30.  No Millie at 8:00.  No Millie at 8:30.  That's when I got worried and went to check on things and you guessed it.  The little black furball had taken up residence in the barn again.  I'm hoping the cat found it warmer than the outdoors and with the abundance of mice I'm hoping it found a meal or two overnight.

Here's where you come in.  I removed Millie from the barn - she's pacing outside the barn door as I write.  What's your opinion?  What should I do?  Let the Duel ensue or try to keep the cat around to act as mouser for those little varmints that Millie just can't reach?  Millie does mouse - some - but as a larger dog there are places she just can't get to.  If your suggestion is to let the cat stay - do I need to feed it or just ensure that Millie doesn't kill it?  How do I end this duel so it doesn't end like the nursery rhyme?  Please chime in.  Or the Dutch Clock will be retelling his tale.

The Duel

  by Eugene Field
The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'T was half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t' other had slept a wink!
      The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
      Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
            (
I was n't there; I simply state
            What was told to me by the Chinese plate!
)
The gingham dog went "Bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "Mee-ow!"
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
      While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place
      Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
            (
Now mind: I'm only telling you
            What the old Dutch clock declares is true!
)
The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, "Oh, dear! what shall we do!"
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
      Employing every tooth and claw
      In the awfullest way you ever saw—
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
            (
Don't fancy I exaggerate—
            I got my news from the Chinese plate!
)
Next morning, where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
      But the truth about the cat and pup
      Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
            (
The old Dutch clock it told me so,
            And that is how I came to know.
)


- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/22063#sthash.Zj1cOFYW.dpuf

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hitting Oil at gardendwellers FARM

It's time for another installment of "what do gardendwellers do?"!

So, what DO gardendwellers do when its the first snow that stays for the season?

The first thing I do is look at what's left and says "Man!  I hate to see this stuff just go to waste."  And then I set about putting Tall, Dark, and Handsome to work getting the still together to take the rosemary from the high tunnel and turn it into essential oil and hydrosol.

This is the rosemary right AFTER I picked - so you can see we still have a bumper crop left - but not for long with the cold weather.

Yes, we have a still.  If you're a fan of the show Moonshiners then you're familiar with the concept.  Except we're after what others in North Dakota are after right now, oil - not moonshine.  AND, our oil is not black - but it is worth a lot and if you try to buy a barrel of it you'll be paying way more than you would for a barrel of crude.

We got our still as a part of an APUC grant back in 2007.  We were trying to determine if essential oils from herbs grown in ND would yield more than other herbs and if there was a market for them.  In the end, we learned a few things:

One - getting oil from herbs is a difficult and time taking task.
Two - separating the oil from the hydrosol (the water containing the oil) is a difficult art to learn.
Three - finding a market for it once you have oil or hydrosol is just about as difficult as the first two.

If we could find a market for it - this would be an excellent way to utilize the herbs we have at the end of the season or even during the season - the ones that are not quite high enough quality to go to the grocery store shelves.  Instead, many times these herbs just feed the compost pile. 

So, I got a wild hair and decided it was time to try the still again.

First, you pick the rosemary and wash it.  Then you set up the still.  Then, once you remember how it all goes together like a puzzle and figure out all the steps so you have the gauges and outlets all facing the right way - you pack it full of herbs.


You have to pack it as full as you can.  Really stuff it in there.

Then, we use distilled water in the tank.  Using distilled water ensures there are no impurities in our hydrosol or oil.


Then you put the 'beak' on it and connect it to the condenser.

The condenser has coils inside that the product steam flows through.  It's purpose is to cool the steam back into the distillate which is separated hydrosol and oil.
 

After these two are connected you add the final piece of the puzzle - the essencier.  This is a special piece of equipment that helps to separate the precious oil.  Learning to use this piece of equipment is the key to the whole process.

You can see that one tube goes into a clean gallon jug, we use the ones from the distilled water.  This tube will collect the hydrosol.  The other little tube going into the small jar is for the oil.

Then you just plug the thing in and wait, and wait, and wait.  The whole process takes about 6 hours and needs to be tended the whole time.  There is a spout coming off of the condenser, if that begins to spout steam, you need to draw water from the condenser and replace it with cold water.  If you are losing steam, you are losing oil.

Eventually, little drops of water begin to fill the essencier.  It takes a lot of time to get to this point and even more to fill that essencier.  Some times we will pre-fill the essencier with warm water to speed up the process but that's not really recommended if you want really good hydrosol or oil.


The esssencier has a little tiny hole in the top where the oil collects.  There are set screws that you need to monitor and raise and lower according to the level of hydrosol and oil.  We're not very good at using these screws and usually end up with a high quality oil and then a lesser quality oil in the end.  In this photo you can see the really rich rosemary oil on the top of the jar and the lighter oil on the bottom.

Oh how I wish this blog had smell-o-vision!  At this point in the process it really is beginning to smell great!  Holy Rosemary its strong this year!
 

In the end, after hours of tending and adding water and removing oil we have over a gallon of hydrosol and over a pint of oil.  It's great stuff because the herbs have been cold, making them keep all of their oils in the plant instead of transpiring it out like they do in the heat of summer. 
 
After a few tests, I have decided that the hydrosol still has an amazing amount of oil in it and the essential oil is awfully pure too.  Very pleased with this batch!  Now if we could just find a market for it.

Right now, online, you can find other herb growers that sell rosemary hydrosol for $7.00 for 3 ounces.  That makes our product worth about $500.  The oil sells for $7 to $8 and ounce.  That makes what we have in oil worth about $150.  All totaled $650 worth of product - but its not worth anything if you can't find anyone to buy it.

Hydrosols and essential oils are used in bath and body products, in candles, in homeopathic remedies and in many other ways.  They smell great.  Heck, you could even dump a bunch in the bathwater if you just want to treat yourself some time.

So here's the thing- if you  know of anyone who uses hydrosols or essential oils - send them our way.  We've got some GREAT rosemary product that we'd love to get rid of - I'd even make them a good deal!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Voice of a Woman Farmer


I’m almost 51 now.  I realized this in the shower this morning as I was thinking how good the warm water felt on my aching knees and hips and how I wished I could be our little black dog who lays in the sun all day, gets fed when she wants it and gets played with on her terms.

 
I’m old enough to remember rotary phones, manual typewriters, black and white television, computers with paper punch cards, DOS, party lines, riding in the car without a seatbelt and biking without a helmet.   Old enough to know that kids should play outside – play – tag, kick the can, freeze tag and kick ball. 

I’m old enough to remember the burning of bras and the entering of women into the workforce en mass but I wasn’t old enough to understand the revolution.  At my age, at that time, I would have much rather burned the body pillow size sanitary napkins and the belts used to hold them.  Now, bras are decorated and pink is worn by our NFL athletes and you have to be ‘Tough Enough To Wear Pink’. 

Seems the bras have come out of the closet and women’s issues are no longer a silent curse to discuss in hushed voices in dark alleys.
I’m old enough to have been told by my high school guidance counselor that women didn’t belong in the landscaping or forestry industry.    But I was wise enough not to listen.  I have worked in male predominated fields all my life and done my share of working on the cracks in that glass ceiling.  Every landscaping company I worked for, with all the men I worked with, I had to work harder, lift more, sell more, and carry more just to be considered an equal.  I have to admit, when I was younger, out-doing my male counterparts was a source of pride. 

One day at a landscaping company I worked for in Minnesota, the mother of three of the men I worked with came in and stated she just had to see what we were doing as ‘the boys’ were coming home and falling asleep on the couch and in the recliner instead of going out to play baseball and hunt and fish.  It felt so good to know that they had been working hard to keep up with me!  But of course, at almost 51, I now pay the price with varicose veins from lifting too many heavy things a 5’2” gal ought not to lift, and bad knees and shoulders that just won’t lift those things anymore. 
So what does all of this have to do with gardendwellers FARM?  I’m getting there, bear with me.

Recently a farmer I work with through Dakota College atBottineau blogged about her experience as a woman farmer.  Her frustration at being marginalized shown through her words like the beam of a flashlight on a cloudy night with no moon.  She’s 33.  She’s a farmer.  She’s also, by the way, a mother, a wife, a community member with lots to give (and she does) but the acclaim for the success of their farm goes to her husband – every time.  It’s frustrating, for her and for me.  You can read her blog post here: http://www.riverboundfarm.com/blaahg.html

I thought we had come a long way – but in reading her blog and upon more consideration, I see that we have a long way to go.  I began thinking about my neighbor.  She works side by side with her husband.  She drives the tractors, works the cattle, tends the crops.  In addition, she is a fabulous mother and a very involved and giving community member for our township and the small towns that surround us.  And yet, when describing to locals where we live, listeners always respond “Oh, you live near the (insert the husbands name here)’s place.”  Why isn’t it ‘her’ place or ‘their’ place?

At gardendwellers FARM, Tall, Dark, and Handsome and I have always worked side by side. 
With sales at farmers markets, our customers have always seen us as equally a part of the business and man are they quick to notice if one of us is missing from the day.  Our customers expect to always see us together - like some sort of odd Siamese twins.  We usually don’t get called by name but instead are called the ‘gardendwellers’ or the ‘dwellers’.  I have been lucky to feel equal in every way.  Most of the media people we have come into contact with have been very balanced in their approach to the stories they tell about our farm.  However, there was the one.

I, like my friend, experienced a media person – a male reporter – that insisted Tall, Dark, and Handsome take the day off from working road construction to be at the farm when he came to interview us about gardendwellers.  We obliged.  Throughout the whole interview, the focus was on Tall, Dark, and Handsome, even though my son and I had been the ones to run the operation for most of this summer.  I suppose I could have stolen the show by putting on a bikini and laying myself over the hood of the tractor but then you know for sure that the focus would have been on the tractor. 

My point is this; while I have had my share of ‘struggles against huMANity’ in my almost 51 years, I’m awfully lucky to live and work with a man that sees me as an equal, to have customers that recognize we are a team and that’s how gardendwellers operates, to have a life where I do not feel marginalized. 


A life where I am the one who is asked to serve on committees, to teach classes and to share my passion. 
Believe me girls, I’ve been there, I know what it feels like to be the one whose work goes unnoticed, and it’s no fun.  (I worked for 6 years as a manager in a landscaping company with an almost absentee owner and every day even repeat customers would come in and ask for Jeff instead of speaking to me first.)  Somewhere along the way, like my friend, I found my voice.  I began to speak up, toot my own horn and call the little bastards who wouldn’t recognize me as an equal on the carpet.  It’s not until you speak up that you begin to realize your true potential.  Find your voice.  Speak loud and clear and don’t let the cavemen get away with not realizing that you are the glue that holds that farming operation together – not just the cook and baby watcher.

In two weeks I will be speaking at the National Women Foodand Agriculture Conference – Cultivating Our Food, Farms, and Future in DesMoines Iowa.  It will be days filled with women who have found their own voice.  It will be invigorating.  I’m going to keep this problem that our North Dakota women farmers have in mind while I’m there.  I’ll look for answers, and if I find any – I’ll try to implement what I’ve learned when I return to my home state and farm. 

 

 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why I Have a Dog Part 2.

So I've already written about why I have Ida Done It Anyway - our little cocker spaniel house dog - who by the way now has two of her three legs in Rally Excellent through the AKC - heading for the final leg in a couple weeks.
 
But I haven't written about why I have dog number 2 - Don't Coddle the Barn Dog, A.K.A Millie.  And yes, that is her official name with the AKC Canine Companions - American Mixed Breed registry. 

Although we got her second, second hand so we're not sure exactly WHAT kind of dog she is, we were told she is half Australian Shepherd and half German Shepherd, both herding breeds with good instincts.  The Aussie I believe as she certainly follows the Aussie rule number one: If it's on the ground, it's MINE.  That includes gloves, mittens, unused soaker hoses, frogs, tools, and anything else left on the ground unattended.
 
Millie's job description was always to be:
  •  Live in the barn
  • Keep the barn, farmyard, orchards and production field from predators
  • Don't get underfoot
  • Don't bark unnecessarily
  • Don't bother the neighboring farmers
She's done a pretty good job of bothering the ground squirrels and gophers enough to keep them from the yard and production lot.  She has caught a mouse or mole or two and she loves chasing the birds out of 'her' barn.  She has befriended the chickens and loves them dearly.  She doesn't bark unnecessarily and thus far hasn't bothered the neighboring farmers except this spring when she also thought it was her job to keep the ducks out of the wet spot in the field across the road.

However, this canine has exhibited some unforeseen vegetarian attributes.  She showed signs of vegetarianism early on but now, with my personal vegetable garden in full swing - she has become the ultimate veggie thief - going so far as to forgo the expensive dog food the Boy purchases for her in preference for vine ripened tomatoes, peas, cucumbers and the like.

No veggie is safe:  (sorry for my shadow in the photos - I'm no photographer and catching her in the act is no easy task - she's gotten pretty sneaky)

Peas are good.

Cherry tomatoes grow right at mouth level - how convenient!

Vine ripened tomatoes are the bomb and she knows exactly which ones are ripe.

Speaking of choosing only the ripe ones, when it comes to raspberries, this dog knows a thing or two.  One day Tall Dark and Handsome was very concerned as Millie had 'blood' all over her head.   On further inspection the 'blood' was raspberry juice from a run through the raspberry patch.  On hot days, she goes out and lays in between the rows and eats what she can reach. 

Lately, as our mushrooms go into their fall flush, a mushroom has been just the thing for breakfast each morning.  That's what's left of the white stem laying on the ground, the head of the mushroom is in her mouth.

So far she has shown no signs of being an 'Herbivore' but that is only because she is not allowed in the herb production lot.  To follow Good Agricultural Practices and the Food Safety Rules we need to follow to pass inspection, no domesticated or non-domesticated animals are allowed in production areas - thus we need a dog that is trained to stay out of them and trained to keep other animals out as well.  A very important job on gardendwellers FARM. 

So - why I have a dog part 2 - to cull my tomatoes, to keep my from eating too many sweets covered in raspberries, to ensure that I do not have to spend too much time picking beans, peas, cucumbers or cherry tomatoes and to trim the mushroom bed.  Oh, and maybe to keep those pesky birds out of the barn. 

Don't Coddle the Barn Dog, AKA Millie, in her winter coat, taken January 2013.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mushroom Extravaganza!

This spring we have been blessed.  Well, maybe its overwhelmed more than blessed...
You see, all of this rain has brought about a flush from the mushroom bed I installed last year.  Now we have an overabundance of beautiful, tasty, wine cap mushrooms.  With my several posts on Facebook regarding what we'll do with them, one person requested a blog post about our experiences.  So, this one's for you Annie!

First, let me just say that growing mushrooms is easy - even in North  Dakota.  I purchased peg spawn from Field and Forest http://www.fieldforest.net/store/index.php?main_page=page&id=3&chapter=0.  They were rather inexpensive and you can grow wine caps on wood chips or straw.  They are also great because they have a very distinctive wine or brown 'cap' to them, making them easy to identify if other species come up on your bed.

Wine caps grow on many different types of wood chips. For best results make it at least 40% hardwood, and aged no more than 3 years.

Peg Spawn is just as the name implies comes as a little wooden peg covered in white 'mushroom sperm'. 



Prepare your wood chip bed so they are at least 4 inches deep on top of well drained slightly scuffed up soil. 

Mine is right next to the barn where cattle used to be so the soil is rich and filled with composted hay and straw - how perfect!  Now all you have to do is toss some water to them during dry times.
 
 
After several months of sitting and stewing (get it, stewed mushrooms?) they will start to poke their little heads up. 

Then more little heads will appear.

And if you have a wet spell like this spring - a lot of little heads!


I like to pick them while the cap is still nice and round instead of being flared out.  Once the mushroom cap flares out they are getting ready to 'spawn' or send out their spores so if any of them get ahead of me and get to the spawning stage, I like to just leave them go.  I'm not sure it is true but it makes sense to me that the ones I leave are spreading spores for next year.

Once picked, I store them in the fridge in a paper bag.  Storing mushrooms in a plastic bag or container just holds too much moisture and they get soggy, slimy - yuck.  So into paper bags it is.

After we eat our fill on the grill, in salads, sandwiches, wraps, sautéed with steaks, deep fried stems and what not, I dehydrate the rest.  These will be perfect in soup and stew this winter. 

Wine cap mushrooms have a very distinctive taste - nuttier than a portabella and very woodsy as they would say on Food TV.  I like it.  I have noticed however that when cooked, they take on the flavor of whatever they are cooked with and amplify it - the MSG of the mushroom world!

So that's it - you'll want to be sure to check them twice a day when they are in season as they grow really fast.  They will show up early in the year and if you're lucky once again about September in our area.  You should refresh your bed with new wood mulch every or every other year and add new spawn every other year to keep it going. 

So Enjoy and remember, mushrooms for Fun Guys!