Northern Exposure

It was a gorgeous day to be outside. After what seemed like a month of sub-zero temps, some of which was designated The Great Polar Vortex Event of 2014, it was ever-so-slightly above freezing this afternoon, and it felt like time to cast aside the long underwear and cavort wool socks-less across the prairie.

Yeah, right.

The trapdoor to the chicken coop was opened, and although the hens showed no inclination to actually set foot in that horrific white stuff outside, they did stand on the gangplank and eat it, and blink at that blinding warm-for-once thing in the sky. The feral cat-who-thinks-she’s-a-chicken stopped her shivering slinking-on-the-porch begging for food (which I had been giving her through the worst of the cold) and went off to forage on her own (probably at the feeder inside the chicken coop).

I clomped sloppily through the yard drifts in my snow boots for awhile–checking for girdling on fruit tree trunks (none), filling the bird feeders (empty), and generally taking in the warmth and sunshine. We had a couple of days of strong south winds at the tail end of the Vortex (the cold retreating north?) and it ripped two clappers off John’s wind chimes and tossed this pretty little nest on the ground.

photo 2 (2)I found one of the clappers, and I suppose the other will eventually be unearthed as the snow subsides. With the leaves off the trees, it’s probably a blessing that those clappers flew off–the first night it really blew, I could hardly get to sleep with all the clanging on the south lawn. We’ll know better to take them down next winter.

We haven’t gotten much snow this year, but what we have got has been re-arranged by the aforementioned wind into various striations of drifts and dips. Some of the wind-sculpture is really quite lovely.

photo 3(1)But, it’s tough slogging in regular boots–there’s no rhythm to the walking with a couple of steps easy and light, then floomph!–down into the deep stuff, then up on top of the still-hard crust that at next step whoa!–gives way underfoot. Much easier to strap on snowshoes for a proper survey of the prairie.

photo 1(1)Even though we haven’t got much snow this year, we still have a decent blanket on the whole of the prairie. While much of the vegetation that’s there is still pigweed and lamb’s quarter (the local SWCD planted the prairie last summer, when it finally warmed up), those stems and roots bind the soil, catch the snow, and secure the moisture. Snow depth ranged from about an inch way up on the top south-facing slope to six or seven inches where there were taller fringes of vegetation.

Not so on the cultivated fields that surround us–snow is melting fast there, and without substantial crop residue, there’s nothing to hold the moisture–or the soil. You can easily see the line between our prairie and the cultivated fields just driving by, and with another day or two of warm temperatures, the difference will be even more apparent, as more of the neighbors’ “black dirt” is exposed to the elements.

photo 3Meanwhile, we are the “beneficiaries” of our neighbors’ farming practices–in every nook and cranny of our snow-catching prairie, we’re also catching their exposed and eroding topsoil.

photo 1 (2)Now, I like topsoil a lot, but I’m not greedy–I’d much prefer my neighbors kept theirs–anchoring it with crop residue and even a cover crop so it doesn’t end up next door, or downstream. In case you think this is an isolated occurrence–only happening this year because we had so little snow–please feel free to read the blog of the former owner of this very farmstead from five (much snowier) years ago, appropriately titled, “Thanks for the topsoil.”

photo 1Sometimes I think back to that football halftime show where a woman’s nipple was exposed–how shocked and morally offended people were–and I wonder how much better off this country would be if we were half as up-in-arms about exposed soil as we were about an exposed nipple.

photo 5

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Conversations With The Land book launch at Montevideo Friday

Jim VanDerPol’s first book, Conversations with the Land, is out and will be launched with an author reading at Land Stewardship Project’s Montevideo office in the Milwaukee Road Depot on Friday, December 30 at 10 AM.  Books will be available for sale and signing.  Please come and join us, if you can.
Conversations with the Land was reviewed by LSP Communications Director Brian DeVore in his LoonCommons Blog earlier this month.

Ride share is available from the Big Stone County area–contact me if you’re interested: rebeccat@landstewardshipproject.org

Thinking about getting into farming? Farm Dreams is a good place to start

I meet all kinds of people who want to get into farming–whether it’s someone who wants to expand a backyard garden or cultivate a field for vegetable production, raise chickens to market eggs and meat, or get into larger pastured livestock production, organic grains, fiber, dairy, you name it! It seems like everyone has a “farm dream.”

But moving those dreams toward reality is a big step. How to get started, time, access to land, money, markets,–all those questions can cause a person with a farm dream to put it back on the shelf with a sigh–and without action.

Truth is, we need more farmers on the land to provide for an ever-growing demand for locally and regionally produced farm products and to strengthen our rural communities and economies. We need you and your farm dream!

Every year, Land Stewardship Project holds a couple of workshops that are helpful for exploring the aspirations of would-be farmers with a vision but without a clear idea of how to start down the path. The Farm Dreams workshop “…is the first step in planning an educational path toward farming and is designed to help people who are seeking practical, common sense information on whether farming is for them,” says Nick Olson, a Farm Beginnings instructor.

This year, the class is being held in Clinton, Minnesota (my fair city!) on Sunday, January 8th from 1-5pm. Class size is limited and the deadline is fast approaching, so pre-registration is required. The class costs $20 for LSP members and $40 for non-members, and it’s probably the best investment of time and money a farm dreamer can make.

Click HERE for the Farm Dreams workshop press release on the Land Stewardship Project website. For more information on the workshop (and to register), contact Nick at (320) 269-2105 or nicko@landstewardshipproject.org.

Hope to see you there!

Seeds for a New Season

Along with most of my furniture and canning/preserving equipment lost in the house fire this summer, I also lost my seed collection. A young woman who lived in my neighborhood happened by while I was working in the “smokehouse,” and she helped me count the bags and envelopes before we scattered much of it to the winds–116 packs total of flower, herb, and vegetable seed.

Because I had gardens growing in two locations at the time of the fire, I was able to save a little from this year’s crop–a couple varieties of tomato were all I really had time and space to keep track of. I tried three times to save Coyote Cherry before I remembered to drain and dry them ahead of when they started sprouting in the jar.

I also saved Santorini–a tomato I hardly ever appreciate ’til the end of the season, when I look around and realize they’re still pumping out those lovely little bright red thin-skinned ruffled jewels. Old Pink Plum, bearer of prolific clusters of rosy pink thick-walled fruits, was first to be saved–and last to provide house-ripened tomatoes from all the green ones I snatched out of the jaws of the first hard frost.

Poking around in other people’s gardens has yielded a couple small packets of herb and flower seed. That’s something to start with. On a whim, I saved a few seeds of Lavender Touch eggplant–a hybrid from Pinetree Garden Seeds I’ve been growing for over five years now.

But with the seed catalogs coming in, I’m a little overwhelmed with how exactly to start building the collection back. One part of me thinks I should order as much as possible as quickly as possible–what if civilization as we know it breaks down, and I don’t have a big insurance policy of food and medicine ready to grow?

The other part of me knows that it will take some time to develop the gardens here, and why rush to buy more five times more varieties of seed than I will have time and space to plant?

The end result will probably be somewhere in between the conservative estimate of what I’ll be able to grow this year and the panicked squirrel-hoarding order I’d make if I watched too much news. Though it will probably be closer to the hoarding end, if only because I feel so naked without a serious collection of seed.

In the last couple of years, I’ve made a serious effort to find solid open-pollinated replacements for the hybrid varieties I like. I’ll continue that effort, so the rebuilt collection is something I can (or in some cases, could if I needed to) grow out and save for myself.

The backyard is big, and the production gardens are in the planning stages (read: walking around talking to myself stage). I’m hoping to get some long raised beds tilled and built up back there early enough in the season so I can grow a quick green manure cover before putting in warm weather crops. I’ve got my four raised beds in place (unfilled as yet) that can serve for what early season greens, roots, and legumes I choose.

But I haven’t made those decisions yet.

The seed catalogs didn’t used come out until Christmas–or even the beginning of the new year, but they are starting to come earlier and earlier now–some precede Thanksgiving, even.

It doesn’t feel right to me when spring seed catalogs come out while fall harvest is still in progress. It feels like we aren’t being allowed any rest–like we’re being pushed to make choices that need a little more time and processing of what we learned in the current season. It feels like we ought to have a little rest, a little settling into the darkness, a little of the fallow time before we start chasing the tail of spring too earnestly.

Because of my move late last winter (and failure to change addresses for seed catalogs until a few weeks ago–after my mom started calling to say gloat she’d gotten hers), I’m getting some of that rest while the catalogs slowly trickle into my PO box.

In years past, the post-Christmas seed considerations were preceded by an inventory process that took up most of an afternoon and evening. This year, my self-gifted Christmas present will be sitting down with my farm journal and a stack of seed catalogs and starting to think seriously about what this first seed order of the 2012 season will look like–on an almost completely blank slate.

Do You Want to Farm?

Then this training program is for you! The Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings http://www.farmbeginnings.org program is now accepting applications for the 2011-2012 courses. The courses will be held in two locations: Hutchinson and Rochester, MN.

Farm Beginnings is a training program focused on getting more farmers on the land, farming sustainably. The 10-month program is intended for people of all ages interested in starting a farm business as well as established farmers pursuing a new farming enterprise. Farm Beginnings participants learn goal setting, financial planning, enterprise planning, marketing, sustainable farming methods and become connected to a supportive network of farmers and resource personnel.

Farm Beginnings classes run from late October 2011 to March 2012 (approximately two classes per month) and are led by farmers and other agriculture professionals. The in-class portion of the program is followed by an on-farm educational component that includes farm tours, field days and connection to the LSP Farmer Network. The course fee is $1500 for two people on the same farm enterprise (partial scholarships and flexible payment plans available). Interest–free livestock loans are also available for Farm Beginnings graduates.

The application deadline is August 1, 2011 and space is limited!

For more information on LSP’s Farm Beginnings course and to apply, please visit http://www.farmbeginnings.org or contact LSP’s Karen Benson at 507-523-3366 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            507-523-3366      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or lspse@landstewardshipproject.org.