So, this morning we wake up and it’s raining. This is good for the soil, good for the plants, good for the animals, good for the temperature, and it is also good because it means we can slow down (a little) and even get a hold of people like us who can’t be plowing in their fields today. I’ve been meaning to write a post here too, but haven’t had the time.
So what have we been up to? Our main project is probably getting ~11 acres of corn planted (12 if we can). What has that entailed? First, you buy the seed. This isn’t necessarily easy because it’s later in the season, and we’re trying to find non-GMO seed. Managed to find seed and even source it through a guy just down the road. Then, we need to turn fields of pasture into fields prepped for planting corn. This means having an implement to do the job. So, we bought what I think is a 12′ off-set disc from our friends over at Bronk Family Hops Farm. If you didn’t know, and I didn’t, an off-set disc is a heavy disc that you pull through the field and it is exceptional at shallow(er) tillage than a plow would be. Any other year, we would plow, but since we’re short on time we decided to disc instead and hope that meant fewer rocks to pick. It does mean that we’ll have to make several passes with the disc to make sure that we kill the grasses and alfalfa and sod that the field has been in for years. When I asked for advice around here, everyone I spoke to said we should spray the fields to kill everything. We’re not doing that, but we may pay for it by having lower yields, bumpier fields and more weeds. We also purchased an older 4-row planter that will do well for corn after a few minor repairs. The planter has a front disc that cuts a small furrow into the ground and drops some fertilizer in if you want (there are fertilizer bins above these discs). The next disc is set at an accurate planting depth and it drops one seed at a time into the furrow based on how far apart you want them. Around here, we’re looking at ~26,000 seeds per acre. We can’t plant much higher than that because our soils aren’t the best. If you plant tighter, your corn will compete with itself. Lastly, we purchased a 4-row field cultivator for $150! This was a steal. We got it home, replaced all of the shovels on it and even have new tires for it now, and we’re spending ~$300 for what’s basically a new implement now. A cultivator like this one is what you weed row crops with, especially if you’re not spraying. Four rows of corn spaced 36″ apart leave the majority of the field not in corn. Weeds will come up here, and they have to be dealt with. The cultivator pulls a series of small shovels through this area and rips the weeds out of the ground. Unfortunately, a weed like crab grass will grow anew on any cut segments (it’s a survivor!), so we’ll be propagating crab grass a little bit. The worst part is that we cannot weed the corn row itself unless we spray or we walk 11 acres and weed what would be just under 300,000 corn plants by hand. Needless to say, we won’t be doing that any time soon, not even on a rain day. So, our yield will go down because of that as well. We’ll see how this year goes, but I’m looking at it as a learning year that will be a good foundation for future planting. Of course, it’s roughly a $5,000 experiment, but it has a high potential pay-off. The only thing to find now is more land since we’ll need to be putting our land into a healthy rotation for the soil. That means, at best, we’ll get two years of corn out of the land we’re planting this year before we have to put it into something else (beans, hay, etc). If we are marginally successful though, we’ll grow most of the corn we need for our feed, and we’ll be able to insulate ourselves (and you) from the volatile commodity markets.
So, what else? Well, we got two cats (Smokey & Spur) from a local farm, and we’re hoping that they become expert mousers. They live in the arena, they’re very cute and they will soon be very deadly for a population of mice and rats that don’t know what’s coming. We also purchased two pigs from our friend, and we’ve got them out on pasture as well. They LOVE Alfalfa, and it’s fascinating to see how easily they stick their face into the ground and root up a foot or so of sod. They’re basically powerful shovels with hoofs. We planted 300′ of raspberry plants. We started our perennial garden by putting in a bunch of rhubarb. We’re monitoring the asparagus beds to see if anything we planted last year comes up. We planted seed, which is not the best way to go, but we harvested the seed ourselves…so it’s the free way to go. All four of the bee hives we had last year survived the winter, which is kind of a feat for the bees (I won’t claim anything since I purposefully don’t do too much to bother them) since this was a terrible year for winter bee survival nationwide. We have around 1,500 broiler birds out on pasture, 100 or so turkeys ready to head out that way (200 more are coming for Thanksgiving, these birds will be for market), and we’ve been successfully hatching heritage turkey eggs from our breeding flock for the last week. We’re up to 22 out of 25 eggs at this point I believe, with about 15 or so to go. We’ve inoculated 2/3 of our mushroom logs (we will have 100) this year, so next year we’ll have a lot of shittake mushrooms! We’ve successfully unpacked the barn from Winter, which is an endeavor. We’re also in the midst of converting a 25.3 cubic foot chest freezer into a refrigerator (basically plug it in with a thermostat temperature control on it and set the temp at 40F) so that we have enough space for the eggs that we’re getting…which is a LOT of eggs. We’ve got some Khaki Campbell eggs incubating so we can establish our own flock of those as well, and we’ll be hatching out some of our layers’ eggs too soon so we can start hatching out new layers for the next group of layers. Basically, we’re trying to control as many aspects of our operation as possible. Aside from farming, Maria has been busy lately with Worldbuilders. She recently went to the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas with some of her colleagues to work on the ranch, meet Heifer’s board of directors, do some teambuilding and basically strengthen the relationship between the two organizations even more. I have been busy with the Wisconsin Local Food Network, as I am part of the effort to plan the next annual summit. I also represented the WLFN at the recent Natural Product and Healthy Food Expo in Oshkosh, and I was able to participate in a panel with several major players in the local food movement and a couple of farmers like myself. It was a lot of fun. The farm also had a booth there, and we met a lot of new people and had a great time.
This post is getting long enough at this point, plus there are a lot of things to do today even thought it’s a rain day. One parting thought after a crazy ‘Spring’ is that I’ve come to expect that every new project comes with a hundred or so things I know about and a thousand or so that I don’t. That’s part of what keeps this farming thing an adventure, and one that evolves on its own with only a little bit of control from us. That lack of control is scary, frustrating and exciting. It makes your successes stand out a little bit more because it’s really just you, everything that Nature can throw at you, a lot of hard work and a little luck.
As always, thanks for being a part of our adventure.
Chris and Maria
What a day. It started out with the usual daily chores; feed and water the chickens inside, feed and water the birds outside, let the dogs out to do chores with us and walk them around the property and then finish whatever coffee is left over from the morning brew and figure out where to go next. Maria headed to the barn to seed more tomato trays, and Maria’s Dad (Terry) and I headed to the bee hives to take measurements for more hive stands since all of our hives over-wintered successfully and that, hopefully, should mean twice as many hives this Spring/Summer.
As we walked into the garage, we saw Maria talking on the phone but we had no idea who she was talking to. A few minutes later, she came into the garage, completely overwhelmed by something…but what? Obviously, given the title of this post, she was reacting to the fact that we had just received a phone call informing us that we were awarded a grant from Rick Bayless’ Frontera Farmer Foundation. If you don’t know who Rick Bayless is, you probably don’t live in the Midwest or watch any Foodie TV. He’s an incredibly influential force in the local food movement in general, but he is extremely well known in the Midwest for his food and for everything he does in the ‘food’ world. He also won Season 1 of Top Chef Masters. About ten years ago, he and his wife started the Frontera Farmer Foundation, and here’s why:
“The Frontera Farmer Foundation was established in 2003 to attract support for small Midwestern farms. Rick and Deann Bayless, founders of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, along with the restaurants’ staff, created the Foundation out of their concern for struggling farmers and the importance of local produce to the vitality of Chicago’s culinary culture. Small local farms promote biodiversity by planting a wide range of produce, are more likely to operate using organic practices, and add immeasurably to the fabric of their communities. By their artisanal approach to agriculture, these farmers insure the highest quality of food.
Nonprofit organizations devoted to the growth of sustainable farming are becoming more prevalent and necessary due to the increasing dominance of large corporations in the agricultural sector. Without small sustainable farmers, great local cuisine is unreachable.”
To make a long story short, we are going to use the grant to raise ducks for the Chicago market. The grant will help us set up infrastructure on the farm specifically for raising ducks. Any grant is an amazing contribution to our farm’s progress (thank you DATCP for this website and NRCS for our high tunnel!!), but this grant will also put a big spotlight on what we are doing here in Central Wisconsin. We hope that it will also help to draw greater attention to our friends and fellow farmers in the region who are farming in organic, sustainable, and/or environmentally friendly methods and raising their animals with the most humane and ethical practices. We are happy and proud to be associated with them all, and there are too many to list them here but please feel free to contact us if you think we can steer you in the direction of things you want that we don’t have (or have closer to wherever you are in Wisconsin). Of course there are also those outside of the farming world who are supporting the local food movement in so many other ways. For instance, if you’re not already familiar with Farmshed, please check out their website. We have worked with them for a while now, and we’re getting more and more involved each year because they and everyone working with them are doing some amazing things in our area, and a lot of cool stuff is in the pipeline as well. People in Central Wisconsin should be excited! I (Chris) am also very involved with the Wisconsin Local Food Network, which is a big umbrella for everything we’re talking about…..but I digress.
It’s pretty amazing that the first ‘real’ post I make on our website is about winning this grant. We are very, very, VERY excited about beginning to work with the Chicago market, and we are extremely thankful to Rick Bayless and everyone who works for his foundation for the incredible opportunity they’ve given us. We will really be able to use the grant to do bigger and better things for everyone—–in all of our markets. As more information comes out, we’ll be sure to share it with you here.
Thanks for being a part of our adventure too! You are a MAJOR part of what has got us to this point, and we hope you’re as excited about this as we are : ) We definitely could not have done this without you.
Chris and Maria