Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Much Rains Makes for Muddy Harvest

We've had some awesome storms here in the last few days.  Hot, humid weather seems to make the clouds boil then burst forth with waves of rain followed by high winds to push it along.

All total, we've had over three inches in the last three days.

This photo is the one I took, just before I did this...

Just goes to show that chubby old ladies like myself that move at less than 2 miles per hour should not try to out-run storms moving at 35 miles per hour.  We're hoping it's just a bad sprain but if it is not better by Monday they will do an MRI to see if I did more damage than the awesome storm photos were worth.  Look out world, I might be selling 'awesome storm photos' in color, glossy, 8X10's  with descriptions on the back to make money for the doctor bills.  (Some of you may notice a slight reference to Alice's Restaurant in that last sentence!)
Yesterday when we came home from the doctor (for the aforementioned issue) the rain was coming down so hard the fields were literally running like little streams.  My heart was in my throat as I looked at the herbs in the field laying so flat and wet, hoping that some sun today would show me a better picture.
And, for the most part, it has.  The Spearmint took kind of a hit with some of the new tender leaves sustaining tears or rips, but most of the rest of the herbs survived their immersion just fine.  Luckily we have a high tunnel and the very tender basil, lemon basil and precious rosemary were inside - they look GREAT!
It has made for a muddy mess today and with it being harvest day, there is no time to just sit around and wait for things to dry out.  You still have to call customers, take orders, and then begin harvesting.  It means washing the herbs more times than normal to ensure they are clean and being careful to only pick those you know didn't take too much abuse in the wind.
It also means very special footwear, or lack thereof,  for our harvest workers:

As for me, I'm sidelined today.  Just sitting here icing my knee and wondering if there was any way I could play in the mud too!
Until next time - Live Life Well Seasoned!

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Another Year of Harvest

Last week began our first harvests for 2015. 

Unlike conventional large farmers, our harvests are weekly and start in June and end hopefully in October.  It's a stressful time.  It's tough to wait to hear from your customers that the product they received is what they expected.  You work really really hard to plant, water, weed, then water and weed some more, and then harvest, package and deliver a high quality product.

This year, some of our product is being delivered to a grocery warehouse where it is then shipped to stores in Minnesota and North Dakota that we just can't get it to ourselves.  That was REALLY nerve wracking...to put your product in the hands of someone else and hope that all went well.

When we called for orders this week, we found that indeed our herbs had landed in the grocery stores safe and sound and everyone was happy.  Our Minot customers especially, who have been with us for many years, were happy to have us back.

We were glad to have our summer help, Amber, back again.  It meant that we finished harvest and packaging yesterday in record time and even had time to go out last night and pick some of the Carmine Jewel cherries that were ripe.  Having time to do anything else on harvest day is almost unheard of here, making it an especially nice treat.

The one worry we've had lately, how dry it was, is not an issue anymore with two inches of rain soaked into the soil in the last three or four days I'm confident that we're ready for the heat wave coming our way in the next week.

We've got some busy times ahead with groups visiting and touring the farm and taking classes here and the Farm to Table Dinner and Social to prepare for, we'll have our hands full.  We love hosting people and teaching them about herbs and we still have a few open days, so if you have a group that would be interested in visiting or having a class, please contact us.

For now, remember to Live Life Well Seasoned!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

So What IS a Farm to Table Dinner?

The gardendwellers FARM Farm to Table Dinner and Social is sold out for this year.  We are taking a waiting list as a few folks have not yet paid for their tickets and just in case someone has a crisis come up and can’t make it – so if you know of someone who is wanting to be on the waiting list, please have them contact us. 

The tickets went fast, we knew they would.  Who doesn’t love a good picnic with beer?  But while we’re sure some signed on for the great North Dakota brewed beer, there’s more to a farm to table dinner than just the beverages. 


Farm to Table dinners are a way to connect the people that grew the food with those that are eating it.  It’s a way to showcase what a region or area has to offer, good things that fill our bellies and make us joyous for the bounty that comes from a place so beautiful.  It’s a time to meet new people, taste new tastes, and learn about new things. 

gardendwellers FARM has done dinners on the farm in the past.  We’ve featured our herbs used artfully in well prepared dishes and paired with beer or local wines.  These were fun events but they weren’t true Farm to Table Dinners like the 2015 event. 


Pictured in the photo: Stephanie Blumhagen of Meadowlark Granary gives us an inside look as she and her Dad plant the wheat that gets ground into flour that gets made into our dessert for the Dinner!  Doesn’t she look just like her Dad?

This year, it’s a true Farm to Table dinner, with as many of the ingredients as humanly possible sourced from farms, producers, and businesses that we know personally and that grow and create right here in North Dakota.  Of course we’ll use as many of our own fresh herbs as possible, but it’s also flour, bread, vegetables, meat and dairy products that are nothing but North Dakota goodness.  Before each course we’ll be telling you about each dish, where the food came from, and how it was made. 

In the coming weeks, we'll be telling the story of the ingredients in this year's dinner and along with that - the story behind the farms and small businesses that produce them.  Like the Meadowlark Granary, County Line Meats, The Double Batch, Slavic Heritage Farm, Pride Dairy, Fargo Brewing Company, and more.  Stayed tuned is we introduce you to our friends in food and keep you up to date with what is going on at the FARM.  Until then, Live Life Well Seasoned!


Monday, June 01, 2015

It's a Fast Paced World For the Farm Dog

It’s the last week in May and first week in June.  All of the crops have been seeded, the fruits are far from ripe and the weeds have not yet become an issue so it’s one of the few times that we have within our season to take a moment and do something for fun.

This past weekend was Devils Run Car show in Devils Lake so we took a little time to enjoy all the classic cars.  We also took a day to enter Millie the barn dog into an Agility trial in Minot.  With not much other than baby seedlings to photograph or write about this week, the Agility Trial gets the spotlight.

It’s tough being a barn dog in a competitive dog world.  Millie, A.K.A Don’t Coddle the Barn Dog, has successfully taken and passed basic obedience, advanced obedience, foundation agility, introduction to agility courses and her Canine Good Citizen test.  She’s at home in the local bar, in social situations, on the ranch and has been asked to be tested as a therapy dog.  However, when faced with over 50 other ‘citified’ dogs, house dogs with owners who pamper them and who live in houses and get baths and regular treats and have ready access to training facilities; it’s a hard row to hoe.

Agility is also a confusing, involved, and intense sport – not one to be taken lightly and certainly not one for every dog or owner.  If it were not for the caring spirit and encouragement of the Action Agility volunteers and club members, the day would not have been nearly as enjoyable.  Thanks go out to all of them for putting on a great trial and making it fun!
The bottom line good news is Millie was able to take home a third place finish in her Touch N Go class, a fourth place finish in Jumpers class and a fifth place finish in Tunnelers.  She finished every single run with not a single fault - meaning she didn’t make any mistakes that could have cost her points and she correctly completed each obstacle.  She made friends with a horse at the show grounds, was able to beat out an extremely pampered pooch who’s owner thinks the world revolves around her high priced pup (and Millie was free), she got to spend the whole day with Adam, AND she was the only dog there who was able and WILLING to kill the garter snake that was lurking at the show door waiting to terrorize every participant and small child entering or exiting the show building; saving many lives – if not skipped heart beats – in the process I’m sure.  She also earned a new admirer who had a soft spot in her heart for ‘farm collies’, those working dogs who really do WORK for a living and are an integral part of any farm or ranch.  These things all made it a worthwhile day.

Above: Adam and Millie take a break from the ring - Millie enjoys a belly rub while wondering why she can't just go play with the horses in the pasture next to them.
The bad news is she did not do a good enough job to earn any points towards an Agility title.  She (and Adam), was just too slow to make the necessary course run in the allotted time.  Now while this might make her sound slow, keep in mind that there were over 50 dogs in each class she entered and no more than 14 made the run in the allotted time without faults to qualify for points.  So; she was not alone.

Above: A courtesy at the show was to offer a raffle drawing to those that did not receive a qualifying score - as you can see, there were more than a few entries in the jar.
A whole day without being able to chase the pigeons off the grain bins, the swallows out of the barn, and the gophers out of the field or check the chickens and sheep is tough for a dog like Millie.  Putting on some speed to race to my call and protect me from harm and alarm when I almost step on a snake or spot a mouse in the barn is her true joy and forte’.  Racing to jump over a bar or sprint through a tunnel – not as much. 
Above: Adam and Millie wait ringside for their next turn to try a few tunnels and jumps.
This summer Millie will continue to practice her Agility training but she’ll also concentrate on Rally and Regular Obedience where speed is not such a big factor but accuracy is.  By August we’ll hopefully be ready for the ring again and Millie will enjoy another day of trials where she can hopefully make more new friends and maybe even save the day…if there’s a mouse or snake around.

Post script note:  Not all dogs entered in the agility trial, in fact not many, were 'pampered pooches'.  Many are great athletes, that like human athletes, train hard for their sport.  They were a joy to watch and it was a pleasure to get to know them and their owners.  A dog with a job - or a sport - is a thing of beauty.

For more information on Agility dogs, training, and events, check out http://www.action-agility.com/


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Another Season for gardendwellers FARM

2015 brings another season for gardendwellers FARM.  This year we're pretty excited as we have taken on a few more grocery stores and we're back in the business of inviting guests and visitors to the farm.

Although this spring has been crazy, one minute 70 and sunny and perfect planting weather; we've also had our share of cold.  Last weeks rains brought us over 3 inches of total precipitation with 3.5 inches of snow.

Today the weather is better and back to sunny and warm.  We're banking on tonight being the last of the damaging frost and we'll be hauling butt planting after Wednesday.

The high tunnel is already planted with Basil and Rosemary and has escaped damage during the cold weather.  That puts us on track for first deliveries to our customers the end of June.  The parsley, fennel, and thyme seeds in the field are just coming up and they too survived the snow and cold.  Soon they will be joined by their friends marjoram, oregano, winter savory and sage.  We also have over 200 mint plants just begging to be planted.

We're super hyped about a few other things this year as well.  One of which is our Farm to Table Dinner and Social that we will hold in August.  We're proud to announce that Fargo Brewing Company will be joining us for the evening where owner Aaron Hill will talk about the brewing process, their business, and how it pairs with the food we'll be serving.  Watch our website and facebook page for more details as they become available.

The dinner will be about more than just food and beer.  The food will be sourced from small farmers in North Dakota, those that actually touch each and every piece with love and caring.  We will also have some of the farmers and businesses on hand that evening so guests can visit with them about how they grow and produce their products. 

We're hoping for a nice evening so we can pull out a few of the lawn games and let people socialize and enjoy the farm while they are here.  We need to take time to enjoy our meals, and this will be a great way to do just that!

We've also been working quite hard on the new website design.  If you're reading this on the new site, please feel free to leave us some feedback about the new site.  It's never too late to change things and constructive criticism is always welcome.

The orchard was blooming heavy but with the freezing temps I am afraid we'll have lost some of our potential for a big fruit harvest.  Some things like the black currants will be just fine, however I am worried about the Carmine Jewel cherries and the apples as they were in full bloom before the snow.

For now though, all I know is I can't wait to get the seedlings and transplants out of my living room!  As you can see, they've gotten quite leggy waiting for Nature to get her act together.

Happy Planting everyone!  Hope to see you at the FARM this summer.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Special Video Blog for you!

So this time I decided to try something new - a video blog!  I buy all kinds of kitchen gadgets and up until now I have not found one that was worth the money but this one has me so excited I went out and bought three more!  If you cooking, herbs, kitchen gadgets or just don't have anything else to do for about 5 minutes, please watch!

And as always, Live Life Well Seasoned!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Why Buy gardendwellers FARM Herbs?

So here it is, the post about how gardendwellers FARM herbs are better than others.

I could spend a lot of space and words to tell you the benefits of buying local.  To explain why buying local supports small farms and farming communities, keeps farmland farming and productive and how it boosts local economies, but when it comes down to it - it's your money and you want a good product for your money.  I've never heard anyone sit down to a good meal and say, "My, this tastes like it boosted our economy by $100!"  Nope, never heard that!

What you want to know is "Am I getting my money's worth"?  So, let's take a look.
To conduct random quality tests, I regularly buy back a package or two of our herbs when we make deliveries to our customers.  By that time, our herbs have been on their shelves for a week.  I also regularly purchase herbs from our competitors.  Since the package I bought yesterday was dill, today we'll just take a look at dill but in future posts hope to also cover basil and mint, our two other biggest sellers.

This is the package of gardendwellers FARM dill I purchased yesterday in Minot:


These are photos of our competitors product.

Because we hand pick every piece we can ensure that our customers are not paying for a lot of stem that is not useable in their dishes.  Nothing against this particular competitor, but I was pretty flabbergasted when I opened up this package.  Let me assure you - like any consumer, I take a pretty good look at what I am buying and I TRY to buy the best of what is on the grocers shelf, even for this comparison testing.

You'll see that in our package not only was there a lot more useable product, but also the quality is better.  That's why we want you to buy gardendwellers FARM fresh herbs - because the quality is better.  And you deserve the best.

If you have recently purchased our herbs, especially mint or basil or thyme - please send us photos.  We'd love to compare your results with our product to our competitors photos.

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!