Monday, February 20, 2012

The First "I Think We Over Did It" Day of the gardening season.

Every gardener knows it, they know how it feels.  The everything hurts even my hair feeling after the first nice day of working outside after a long winter of inactivity.  That's how Barry and I feel today.  Even though we weren't planting, hoeing, tilling, or mowing, we were working towards this year's gardens.  You see, our new place has come with a wealth of work to do and not all of it directly related to our herbs.

Yesterday's chore looked something like this.  In fact, it looked worse than this because I took this picture half way through the day (so much for my commitment to document before and after photos of our work on the new farm). 
Actually, when we started yesterday morning there was a HUGE pile of broken wood in there too.  The kind with nails of every shape and kind all bent kitty wampus from when the wind took the structure down many years ago.  We spent the better part of the day removing nails and moving the old wood to a burn pile except the wood that was good enough to burn in the wood stove.  Pause here to give me an "awww" for ripping my favorite work pants in a nail.
Then we went to work removing the trees that had grown up in the space and in the end it looked pretty good.
It looked good, but we didn't.  Sore,  tired and by 6 PM almost unable to move. we realized we had experienced the first 'we-over-did-it' day of the year.  But by that time, the sun was going down, there was a good cloud cover moving in and although we hurt, it was a good hurt because we knew we had truly accomplished something. 

Our hope is to finish cleaning this up and then use the metal siding we take out to build a new wash/pack room in the barn and then use the old cattle gates in the barn to put on the poles you see in the photo for a new grape arbor.  We believe in recycling - mostly we're just cheap.  The spot will be perfect for grapes with shelter and plenty of sun and soil that should be rich as cattle were the last things to trod this soil.  Hopefully some tasty grape jelly will be in the future again in a year or two - for now, I just want a good hot soaking, or maybe a back rub and definitely some aspirin.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Wishing we could predict the weather.

Nope - didn't take this picture recently, it was actually taken a few years back, but it seemed appropriate today as I was thinking how I wish I could predict the weather a little better.  Impressive isn't it, the power of weather. 

You see, we have a TON of things that will need doing this spring and while we've had lots of offers for help, to truly get the help you need to PLAN.   Something the weather doesn't always allow you to do.

We've got to coordinate with Scooby to do some dirt work, coordinate with others who have volunteered to help move the high tunnel, the shrubs, the fruits and other things so that we can get them all moved to our new location.  We've got to prepare for moving these things - like building a new arbor for the grapes, hops and bittersweet.  Like mowing and tilling and building a new wash/pack into the barn so we can move the cooler before moving the shed.  We need to prepare, till, and mark out the beds for the fruits.  None of which can be done when Mother Nature keeps her weather plans to herself. 

Over the years we've been really lucky with weather.  Everyone of our planned events has had great weather - never been rained out yet - but I don't like to count on luck.  I'm usually not that lucky.  That might explain my reluctance to visit a casino, dog track or even friendly poker game.  Usually when we've won something, it was because Barry bought the ticket.

There's lots of old wives tales out there about how to predict the weather.  Just a couple weeks ago we were told of one I hadn't heard before.  It requires a North Dakota grown onion cut into pieces and waiting to see what rots, what wilts and then predicting the upcoming moisture based on the results.  This gal told me her onion predicted significant moisture in March and April.  Rain I could take, snow storms - not so much. 

There's the whole ground hog thing - which of course doesn't ever work for us in the northland because from ground hog day to spring is ALWAYS more than 6 weeks up here. There's the one about the width of the bands on the woolly worm caterpillars.  There's something about when you see the first robin or when the first pussy willows show up - that might be a little more predictable but with the geese coming back already across ND, I don't think I'm willing to bet my tilling schedule on them this year.

My weather predictions are usually more short term - like sending the dog outside.  if she comes back in wet, it's raining.  If she comes back in white - it's snowing and if she doesn't come back at all - the sun is shining and her nose has found a squirrel to chase. Speaking of the dog - she has a new suit to help keep the cockleburs and thistle out of her long hair, she's not real thrilled about it, but that's a story for another day...

It's hard to plan when you don't know when the frost will leave the ground, when the snow will leave the field and when the ground will be dry enough to till.  Maybe there's a lesson in there somewhere.  A lesson about living in the moment, making hay while the sun shines or learning to be flexible.  All I know is that my to-do list is always longer than the 24 hours in a day and the best laid plans (schemes) of mice and men often go awry.  So if there's anyone out there with a fool proof way to tell the weather - say about four months out - please publish it so we can all PLAN our spring!

Monday, February 06, 2012

You Can Drill for Oil, But where do you Dig for Carrots?

In North Dakota, we hear a lot about the effects of the oil boom on the eastern part of our state.  We hear about the condition of roads, the burden on schools and social services.  We hear about the lack of housing and the burden on local infrastructure.  We hear about the shortage of workers.  One thing we don't often hear about is what it is doing to our food systems. 

With my work through the Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture at Dakota College at Bottineau, the North Dakota Farmers Market and Growers Association and as a member of many local foods committees and associations across the state and a producer myself, I hear a lot about local foods and our access to fresh produce as North Dakotan's. 

This past weekend I attended the Local Foods and North Dakota Farmers Market and Growers Association annual conference.  It was energizing, empowering, and optimistic as many producers and local food proponents from all across our great state got together to increase the availability of local foods.  Then, yesterday, I attended a Super Bowl party.  I met a young gal from Dickinson.  She sent me the photo above.  She told me her story.  It went something like this...
"I dropped into our local WalMart on Friday to quickly pick up some baby carrots, some lettuce and some pre-cut apples.  I got to the store and couldn't believe what I was seeing.  I took the photo to send to my Mom as the produce shelves at WalMart were mostly bare."

Keep in mind folks, the shelves were not bare because WalMart was cleaning, changing shelving or otherwise doing maintenance.  They were bare because demand is outpacing supply.  Demand is outpacing supply because of the influx of additional people into our communities with the oil boom. 

What does that say about our food system when a mass distributor like WalMart can't keep up?  What does that mean for our home town groceries?

We talk a lot about food desserts and how a food desert is a place without easy access to fresh produce.  In the past, we have not included Dickinson in this desert.  But I think we have re-draw the map.  This sure looks like a food desert to me. 

This is a call to action to all local producers in the western part of the state and a wake up call for all of us.  We need to grow more of our own produce, extend our seasons and make sure we can feed our own - the young, the old, the newcomers, and the oil workers.  It's just as important as making sure we have roads.