Farm update: April 15

Things are getting busy here at Quiet Farm! The weather is (mostly) conducive to working outside, and we’ve got a list of projects lined up. More trays of seedlings are potted up every day, we’re working hard on finishing the chicken house so we can bring pullets home, and plans for installing our game fence are coming together (I get to drive an excavator!).

Deldee 02 sml

Run, Pony, run. But not right at us, please. It’s scary when you do that.

Temporary Pony is alive and well and running around our pasture at top speed while performing complicated dance moves. Someday soon she’ll leave for her new home, but she’s certainly provided plenty of entertainment (and no small amount of terror) during her time here.

Granola Bars 01 sml

And they freeze well, too.

We’re outside for much of the day now, so I’ve been making granola bars and fruit smoothies to keep us fueled. Most storebought granola and energy bars definitely have a “health halo;” they claim to be healthy but are actually loaded with sugar and other junk ingredients. My homemade versions usually start with a nut butter base and contain plenty of seeds, dried fruit and oats. If you haven’t made your own energy bars, give it a shot; this cookbook is a great place to start.

Bones 01 sml

Maybe we should start CSI: Western Slope?

Since the weather’s been nice, there has been a lot of raking and pruning and sweeping and tidying outside. We have found so many fascinating things while cleaning up our property: hammers, bullet casings, gorgeous quartz stones, gardening tools, bird nests, old glass and of course bones. The circle of life is very real on a farm, and it’s always interesting to see what’s hidden under piles of rotting wood and buried in abandoned irrigation headgates.

Garlic Shoots 01 sml

After a six-month nap, the garlic is ready to face the world!

The garlic I planted last fall is peeking up through its straw mulch. I only planted one small bed – maybe sixty or so cloves? – and with the way we eat garlic, this won’t last us long, especially because I’ll need to save the largest cloves for next year’s planting. But the green garlic is delicious sautéed with eggs, and it’s so pleasing to see something that’s been dormant for six months come back to life. Spring is truly the season of rebirth and awakening.

Orchard Wood Piles 01 sml

Ready for burning if the weather demands.

We’ve had some distinctly cool nights, but the orchard fans have only come on once thus far, at about four in the morning. Our neighbor’s peach orchard is prepped with spent wood for burning if the temperature drops too low. These trees have already budded out and a hard frost would be devastating; peach trees are much more sensitive to early cold than the hardier apple trees we’re surrounded by. Just know how much work goes into each bite of food you eat, friends.

Hopefully we’ll soon have a completed chicken house to share. Have a terrific week!

Farm update: April 8

QF Purple Flowers 01 sml

The hills are alive…with weeds! But we call them “wildflowers.”

The snow is finally gone at this elevation, even though plenty can still be seen on the mesa. Our pasture is coming back with a vengeance, and we spend our days walking the land, looking at what plants are coming up and trying to decide whether they’re helpful or harmful to us. Since we bought Quiet Farm at the end of a blistering summer in the midst of a hundred-year drought, pretty much everything was crispy and dormant. We hadn’t yet determined what bushes and trees might survive, and what would need to be removed. We’re giving everything a generous opportunity to stage a spring comeback before we tear it out.

Continue reading

The cranes are here!

Crane Days 01 sml

There are so many benefits to living where we do now, including but not limited to lots of fresh, local fruit in the summer. But just now, coming off a long, dark winter, we’re most excited to see one of the true harbingers of spring: the greater sandhill crane on its annual migration between New Mexico and the Yellowstone ecosystem (northern Idaho and Montana).

Cranes 03 sml

Greater sandhill cranes are big, gorgeous, elegant birds; adults stand about four feet tall and have a six-foot wingspan. They’re most easily recognized by their sooty gray coloring and the red patches on their eyes and head, and that they flock by the thousands. Their plumage can take on a rusty red sheen, because they often preen by rubbing their feathers with iron-rich mud.

Cranes 04 sml

In Colorado, a flock of about twenty thousand birds gathers in February and March in the San Luis Valley, where they rest and forage before heading further north. About five thousand of these birds then make their way straight over Delta County, where we live, often stopping at Fruitgrowers’ Reservoir just to the east of our farm.

Cranes 05 sml

Greater sandhill cranes are the oldest birds still living today; fossil records from two and a half million years ago indicate that they’ve changed hardly at all. Rock art and other artifacts in the San Luis Valley show that cranes have been important to the region’s people for as long humans have inhabited the area. Their annual migration is a sure sign that we’ve survived another winter, and spring is on its way.

Cranes 01 sml

Sandhill cranes sleep in shallow, calm water to keep themselves safe from predators, so a reservoir like Fruitgrowers’ is a perfect stopover location. These birds are opportunistic feeders; they most often eat plants and grains, but they’ll also feast on invertebrates and small mammals, if available. The Western Slope and the San Luis Valley offer thousands of acres of fallow cornfields in which to forage.

Cranes 02 sml

The cranes are most active at dawn and dusk when they “commute” to and from their daytime feeding grounds. The population along the Platte River in Nebraska is so large – half a million birds – that the cranes’ noise can drown out normal conversation. Sandhill cranes have a distinctive call, and the birds can frequently be heard even when they can’t be seen. The cranes are often spotted along the same transitory route in fall, but they rarely stop over in Delta County. Local experts believe this is because the reservoir is dry in the autumn, so there is no place to for the birds to sleep safely.

Cranes 09 sml

Although sandhill cranes aren’t quite as demonstrative as the famous dancing prairie chicken, the birds will perform for their prospective mate. Sandhill cranes mate for life and can live up to twenty years, a remarkable lifespan for a wild bird. These cranes don’t nest here in Colorado but instead lay their eggs up north; the female typically lays two eggs and the male guards the nest. It takes a month for the eggs to hatch and two months for the chicks to reach maturity, although only one chick usually survives.

Cranes 07 sml

We are thrilled to share space with these magnificent birds, and we look forward to their migration every spring.

P.S. If you’re interested in seeing the cranes in huge numbers, the two best locations are Monte Vista in southern Colorado and along the Platte River in central Nebraska. Both are definitely worth the trip!

Cranes 06 sml

 

 

 

 

 

Farm update: February 18

Despite the snow on the ground, spring is in the air. We’re entering the freeze-thaw cycle (also known as mud season) and our quarter-mile driveway is the worse for it, but all around us, things seem to be softening and readying for growth. We’re excited for spring, friends. This winter has offered much more moisture than last year’s punishing drought, and we’re looking forward to seeing how our fields regenerate once the snows have disappeared for good.

Snow Tracks 01 sml

One of our favorite winter activities has been watching for wildlife across our land; the persistent snow has made tracks easy to see. We’ve spotted coyotes, foxes, rabbits, raccoons, ground squirrels and of course our nemesis, deer. We are trying hard to learn this land, to know what lives here now and what was here before us so we can figure out how to best live in harmony.

Continue reading

Things that are great, vol. 2

Modern lives contain way too much negativity, a cycle perpetrated by a fear-mongering media looking to sell us stuff we don’t need. In the interest of combatting that mentality, then, we present our second “Things That Are Great” link round-up, highlighting news stories and trends that we think are worth celebrating. (Read our first positive link collection here!)

Sheepsies 01 sml

Photo clearly not taken in Colorado.

If you had to guess at the largest irrigated crop in America, you might well assume corn or soy. You’d be wrong; however; according to a 2015 NASA study, lawns represent about 40 million acres in the U.S., or about three times as much land as corn. All this grass comes at a steep price: 9 billion gallons of water per day, plus hundreds of millions of pounds of fertilizers and pesticides and other chemical treatments, all of which eventually end up in our water sources. And yard waste, including grass clippings and leaves, represents the largest single occupant of our landfills, too. All this for a crop we can’t even eat? Ridiculous.

02 February

Thankfully, though, forward-thinking companies are working to change that antiquated attitude. All across the country, edible landscapes are “unlawning” America. Converting pointless, thirsty lawns into healthy, local human food? Yes, please. These edible landscapers often face a lot of resistance from restrictive HOAs, but progress is still being made, albeit slowly. If you’d like to replace your lawn with native plants, check with your local extension agent – they’re often the best source of information for what will grow best and still look nice in your region.

Continue reading

A helpful guide to Quiet Farm wildlife

Fuckin' Deer 02 sml

Lots of people move out to the country to escape from society and get closer to nature. (We did.) This is all well and good, but more often than not that human-wildlife interface becomes difficult for both sides. On the Front Range, for example, dozens of black bears are killed by wildlife officials every year because they show little or no fear of humans and are regularly caught breaking into homes and businesses to scavenge for food. Many more are hit by cars. Mostly, this is because we continue to encroach on the bears’ territory, and because ignorant humans continue to place unsecured trash in places where the bears can access it.

Fuckin' Deer 03 sml

Here on Quiet Farm, then, one of our biggest challenges will be how to live in harmony with our local wildlife, rather than against them. For us, deer pressure will absolutely be the largest issue we face. There are thousands of deer in the nearby area, both whitetail and mule; we’re also surrounded on three sides by apple orchards, which attract deer and lots of other creatures who love fresh, crunchy apples, too. As we plan our vegetable beds for next season we’re still debating how best to protect those vegetables from the deer; these animals can do thousands of dollars of damage in one hungry night and we have no interest in opening an all-you-can-eat salad bar.

Continue reading

A crash course in irrigation, vol. 2

Hello, could everyone please put on their interested faces? We’re going to get into the nuts and bolts of learning how to run ditch water on our farm, and we know you won’t want to miss a single moment.

We ordered our water two weeks ago; today is the final day of the season we can have it. We’ve called for half a foot for two days, the minimum we can request and hopefully enough for us to test our gated pipe and our repairs. There will be no more testing this season after this run, so we need to learn all we can.

QF Irrigation 11 sml

At the headgate before sunrise.

The morning of the irrigation call starts with a pre-dawn alarm and a drive to the headgate (about a half-mile north of our farm). On the stile post we find a metal tin with the day’s water requests: where the water is going and in what quantity. The paper below it lists which households are on which ditch lateral (west or south).

QF Irrigation 12 sml

This is the Stevens and Linder ditch ticket; there are four requests with the totals listed (names underneath ours removed for privacy). All four of the day’s requests are located on the west lateral so the first task was to shut the headgate to the south lateral, thereby directing all the water to the west.

The ticket shows the quantity of water requested by us (.50 or half a foot), the corresponding gauge chart conversion (.47) – to be remembered to help set the flow gauge on our property – and lastly the water shrink to be expected due to ditch loss (6%). Requests three and four on the ticket won’t suffer the 6% water shrink because they’re on decree water and it doesn’t apply. Those folks have senior water rights which allows them decree water (free and separate from their water shares) even at the end of the season. For almost everyone else this season, there was no decree water at all; the reservoirs are too low to allow it. We’re supposedly in a hundred-year drought, but even that is a misnomer; we’ll almost certainly see a drought this severe or worse again in our lifetimes. Extreme drought is the new normal here, and learning how to properly manage our water rights will be key to our longterm success.

Continue reading

Farm update: October 22

Panorama 01 sml

We are enjoying spectacular sunrises and sunsets here on the farm as the weather seems to settle comfortably into true fall. The days are crisp and the evenings are chilly – but we finally figured out our tricky gas stoves, so we’re staying toasty when we’re inside. We don’t have a furnace in our farmhouse, so we keep warm with the stoves plus lots of layers. A near-constant simmering soup pot and frequent bread baking help too.

Garlic 01 sml

I’m pleased to report that next year’s garlic has been planted in the arugula (and grass and thistle) bed. Garlic is a fall-planted crop in our climate; we typically plant it in mid-October and harvest it the following July. Our good friend and farming mentor Lara generously donated this seed garlic to Quiet Farm; one of the many cool things about garlic is that it adapts to the microclimate in which it’s planted. This means that within a few years Quiet Farm will grow entirely unique garlic, which we’ll then pass on to other farmers. (If you live in the Lafayette/Boulder/Louisville area, you should join Lara’s CSA next year. She’s an amazing farmer and has taught us so much, and she grows truly spectacular vegetables and herbs. We think the world of her.)

Hallway Floor Contrast 01 sml

Look at our gorgeous pine-and-fir floors!

The Quiet Farmhouse Major League Very Serious Renovation Project is kicking off with a vengeance, and we started by refinishing some vintage hardwood floors. We were disappointed to only find salvageable floors in a small part of the original 1901 house, but we opted to save what we could. The floors had been dark stained and then used as a careless dropcloth for later painting projects, and they were in rough shape. We’re so pleased with how the sanding and refinishing turned out, but now comes the difficult decision of what sort of flooring we’ll install in the rest of the house.

NRCS 01 sml

Government paperwork is good for insomnia.

Another task on our to-do list recently has been to apply for a season extension grant through the NRCS. There is lots to learn about applying for grants as a small start-up farm, but we’re hopeful that this grant will assist us in building hoop houses (also called high tunnels) to extend our growing season. We’re quite lucky because, unlike many other programs for small farmers, this grant will still be funded whether or not our government manages to pass a new Farm Bill before they go on yet another unnecessary vacation or campaign trip or whatever it is they do while not doing their jobs. (And on that note, please could everyone remember to vote in the upcoming midterms? Astonishingly, only 37% of eligible voters managed to make time for this in 2016. Your small farmers thank you.)

Brittle 01 sml

Pumpkin spice what?

While avoiding the news I’m diligently testing recipes for my “Fall Treats” class this week at Broomfield Public Library. Though I’m not at all a fan of sugar, especially the quantities consumed in the average American diet, I think an occasional homemade indulgence might be permitted. This here is a chile-spiced brittle with pecans and toasted pumpkin seeds, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you. We’ll taste curried pumpkin soup and other delicious fall things, too. Not registered yet? Go here!

This week I’m in seed school and N is painting our walls. We hope to have positive irrigation news for you next week, and I hope to see many of you in class on Wednesday evening!

 

 

The Farm Series: Western Culture

Western Culture 01 sml

Now that we actually have a farm, we can get a bit more serious about researching where we’ll obtain our animals. We plan to raise dairy goats and laying hens, with the intention of producing enough milk, cheese and eggs to supply our own kitchen as well as our cooking school. Because healthy animals produce healthy food, it’s essential that we know exactly where our animals come from.

Western Culture 07 sml

We still have a lot of work to do on both our chicken house and our goat barn to get them ready for animals, and we don’t plan to purchase any until next spring. We want to make our reservations now, however, so that when we’re ready we’ve got animals waiting for us. Small dairies especially need to know in advance how many animals they can sell during a given season so they can plan their breeding program.

Western Culture 11 sml

Continue reading

Farm update: October 8

Hi! How was your weekend? We survived our first Applefest and we think we’ve made all of the necessary repairs on our irrigation system so that we can call for water in two weeks (more on that soon). I made yogurt, but I’m still searching for a source of truly local milk that I can get basically straight from the cow. Most of the cattle around here, however, are raised for meat, not dairy, so I’ll keep on looking. Here a few other things we’re up to:

Storm Clouds 01 sml

It was all very dramatic here for a time.

We were thrilled to have nearly a week of cool, damp weather (the mesa got its first snowfall!). This is such a rarity over here that you could almost hear the valley’s farmers cheering when the rains came. The high winds destroyed our flagpole (N rescued the flag) and the heavy rains helpfully identified some heretofore unknown leaks in our house, but we are still inestimably grateful for the moisture. Even the pasture came back a bit, with tiny green sprouts everywhere. Water is life, make no mistake.

QF Seedlings 02 sml

Quiet Farm’s first official crop! I’ll sell them as fancy microgreens and charge a fortune.

Speaking of tiny green sprouts, I attended a women’s farming conference last weekend in Estes Park and I planted some arugula before I left so that I could say in all honesty that I’m a farmer! Spicy, peppery arugula is one of our favorite greens, and it grows so well, especially in spring and fall, that I used it to test the soil fertility in an existing makeshift raised bed shoddily constructed (not by us) from cinderblocks. The arugula sprouted beautifully – along with tons of grass and possibly some thistles. Since there is no grass (or thistles) nearby, I’m at a loss to explain this, but now I have to painstakingly weed my tiny arugula. Pro tip: know your soil before you plant. This is not a good use of farm time.

QF Seed Saving 01 sml

Local sunflowers drying for seed harvesting.

This spring I attended a seed saving class, and I’m looking forward to participating in an even more intensive teacher training in a few weeks. Saving seeds is an important part of food sovereignty; if we really want to opt out of our industrial food complex, we need to own the seeds, too. So we’re working on building up our own Quiet Farm seed bank, and we’re collecting, drying and storing seeds whenever we can. Once we grow our own vegetables, grains and herbs, seed saving will become an even bigger task each fall.

QF Compost 01 sml

Our compost pile. It’s not pretty, but it’s so valuable.

Just about any gardening or small-scale farming book you’ll ever read will extol the virtues of compost, and we’ve got ours started. We identified an otherwise unusable plot about equidistant between the kitchen and the future raised beds, so it’s easily accessible to all. We began with lots of old straw bedding and manure from the animal pens; we’ll need to clean the pens out anyway before we purchase our goats and it makes a beneficial addition to the pile, especially since the manure is well-aged. All of our kitchen waste, leaves, weeds and other organic material go in, too. At the moment we’re watering it frequently because it’s been so dry, but we’re hoping for a long, wet winter and it will be perfect for building up the fertility of our raised beds next spring. As a rule, never let even a scrap of organic material leave your property.

This week we plan to tear up the oddly rumpled carpet in our sun porch and replace it with some durable and water-resistant flooring, since it will shortly become a mud porch. We’ll repair two broken window mechanisms and patch our newly discovered leaks. We may take down a couple of dead trees, and hopefully establish our woodpile, too. Thanks for reading, and have a lovely week!