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'!

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