Farm Blog

Thank you again for braving the blizzard to celebrate, connect with great food, and 'planting an orchard'! Just imagine all those future cherry trees (don't forget to squat:-).
I am so uplifted from all the good vibes, intentions, laughter and seeds shared and planted.

We were able to raise $850.00 in funds! This will go a long way, thank you! Additionally, with all the seeds donated today and from what I've gleaned from others, The women growers in the Sine-Saloum region will be able to plant out a couple hundred row feet/farm. In the past we've planted shared 'demonstration beds' ie since many of the farmers share space/land to grow on we've constructed seeds beds to trial different varieties, plant insectory herbs and flowers and share techniques. From there seeds are harvested and shared forward amongst the individual farmers. So in essence your generosity helped plant teaching/learning/eating/

sharing beds of veggie, herb, and flower goodness!
 

I will honor my commitment and extend the immense gratitude, generosity that was shared during the workshop with the women farmers in the following ways:

Work with NCBA CLUSA Farmer to Farmer Program to transfer funds and mail seeds.
I'll also email and share highlights, photos forward later this week in celebration of our workshop success.

I am tentatively set to travel there Nov/Dec. or January in 2016.

I also finally remembered the name of third grower group, JUBO (means widespread). If you're interested in learning more about how they got started, here's a link to an interview I did as part of my last Farmer to Farmer adventure in Senegal.

I Will keep you in the loop as the project evolves and thanks again for sharing your generous spirit!

For the chocolate lovers:
Becky Otte, who made the amazing truffles, has more of her chocolate goodness to share and is selling some of her creations just in time for Valentines. if you're interested send her an email: raonine@gmail.com

Also Here is a link to Roots Chocolate website.

For the Fruit Lovers:

I've enclosed a handout of some of the different fruits we grow at our farm as well as a flyer highlighting this season's events at the farm! We'd love to have you venture out and tour the orchard, come visit us (though not nearly as cool as the orchard poses we did during the workshop).

Thank you again for helping me transition from being a butterfly weed seed (ie wind pollinated, not knowing where or how my intentions, projects might stick) to more of an oak or cashew seeds - wherein I can deepen my awareness, provide support in the same place(s) in Senegal for the growers and in my backyard in Wisconsin:-). Here's to planting the seeds of the as yet to be imagined on and off the yoga mat! Wishing you all much abundance.

Happy Mid-winter!

Yours in hardy kiwi,
Erin


PS If you are into exploring the planting side as well as enjoying more local fruit creations, we'll be hosting a Local Fruit Tasting May 16, details on our website.

 

The Fruit and Flower Mood Board - a Season's Color Palette Reverie

The other day I received an inquiry to grow and design a flower feast for a 2020 wedding celebration. With 12 years under my belt, I continue to deepen my understanding of how to both read the landscape as a grower, align wedding dates with flower phenology, and read the needs and interests of clients and members.

June brought the ability to see green. Growth was the name of the botanical game and I found myself marveling at how the pears, peas, and poppies sprung from its original seed-coated horizontality, gesturing forever upward and outward. Onward with growth, mulch, and the subtleties of purple and pink. Pink pillows of peony blossom, cathedral spiries of delphinium racemes and the intimate splashes of pink on pistils on view when I paused to consider fruitset of apples and aronia.

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A Love Apple Lament: RIP First Generation Quince Trees

“There is no fruit growing in the land that is of so many excellent uses...serving as well to make many dishes...and much more for their physical virtues.” John Parkinson, Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris, 1629

This winter we experienced a bit of paradise lost with just one sole quince fruit holding steadfast to our 'orchard terrestris'. It is with great heart ache that we had to say goodbye to all but one of our quince trees. Allow me a lover’s lament and with it a longer than usual newsletter article.

I was making the morning rounds, loppers in hand, lamenting the role of grim orchard reaper, but reminding myself that just as we try to give the plants in our ‘care’ a good life, so too can we give them a good send off to the composted beyond. Working close to the land with my hands, having experienced the death of family and friends, I thought I knew a thing or too about life and loss. So, I planted white clematis vine at the base of a few quince trees that took on a dancer’s pose in its tree tomb stillness. I took comfort in imagining the ways that snow white flowers will entwine and embrace the quince in its dance with decay. I took solace in noting that a dead tree will harbor more life in the form of insects, fungi, and avian friends during the decomposition process than it will when alive.

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Wrapping up In Her Boots Podcast Series Talking Beauty

“The Earth didn't need to be beautiful, it just is..." Mary Oliver
One element that drives our farm, but is often overlooked, is beauty. We grow food and flowers as it connects to our passion for the Earth and people, builds bridges, softens spaces, and helps us connect, explain the mystery in between my hands where bouquets are born.

I am grateful and excited to wrap up the In Her Boots Podcast Series featuring our farm to talk beauty and celebrate the beautiful place that is our farm and our hearts. Happy Listening!

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Women Farmers and Regenerative Agriculture

I had so much fun sharing insights with Lisa Kivirist, Eco-preneur, Author, Director with the MOSES Rural Women’s Project, and all around inspiring human! Enjoy the third and final iteration as a guest on the In Her Boots Podcast series, geeking out on regenerative agriculture and all good things that emerge from our humble collaborations with the humus-sphere and fellow humans.

I am grateful to Lisa’s storytelling ingenuity and keeping me on course (am prone to fruit tangents).
Happy Listening!

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In Her Boots Podcast Features your Farmer's Story

One thing that keeps me going and growing 12 years into my farm tenure, is the network of farm women in our area, that I can lean into and draw inspiration from, share ideas with, and offer mutual support in times of stress and celebration. To me, this embodies our design intentions with food forests—perennial polycultures of multipurpose plants that share resources and create networks of mutual support. Whether it’s pears or people, we’ve been able to set up a strong underground root system and keep flexible shoots, in part because other farmers keep us propped up. I tried to capture this spirit in conversation as part of the In Her Boots Podcast with Lisa Kivirist, Eco-preneur, Author, and Director with the MOSES Rural Women’s Project.

I am grateful to Lisa’s storytelling ingenuity and keeping me on course (am prone to fruit tangents).
Happy Listening!

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Agency and the Allurement of 'Farmerhood'

While ice dams plague roofs, snow drifts cloak balsam roots, and the soil steeps in frozen stillness, I turn inward. Winter is not just a workout with the shovel, but also an exercise in exercising choice—if only to stir movement and heave the frosts of doubt that last season—the wettest, darkest on record for this farmers 12 year tenure stewarding Hilltop—threatened to erode the seedbed of my spirit.

Bone-weary, I fall back to the days spent pumping butternut barbels to meet the ossuary demands for the mid-winter dinner. Why do I persist? There is this lingering romantic myth in our culture that is perpetuated about farming. It goes something like this: Summer days are spent basking with butterflies and blooms, gallantly hoeing away weeds and cares, plucking peppers, and careening with carrots, so that come winter, farmers in the world's temperate regions, kick back, relax, sleep and feast the days away in a quiet merriment as there is 'nothing' to do. This world might exist, if only in fits and spurts, but do we really have control around our days, and who would really choose working 90 plus hrs a week in pursuit of plums? Life circumstances and societal demands of business plans, taxes, market analysis, crop plans, seed orders, grower conferences, 'off farm work to feed the farming habits and pay the interest on your operating loan', the unsatiable hunger of instragram and facebook feeding, and our longing to (re)connect with nature (ironically through social media datapoints and virtual realities) make it hard to take a step toward Enough.

What's a farmer to do?

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Flowers by the Numbers, 2018 Flower CSA Bouquet Breakdown

I picked my last bouquet today. It was a modest mix of mums, and a few lingering calendula, veronica, tansy, and '3rd generation delphiniums' that survived the frosts, a freeze and even snowshowers the other morning.

I am continually amazed at the intensity of color and optimism present in blooms. I continue to find hope imprinted in a ray of beauty. Late fall on the farm is a time to not just tuck in the flower beds with a bit of mulch and manure, dig up the dahlias, divide, transplant and seed spring blooming perennials, but also a time to reflect, on the seasons past. I would love to learn how the season fared for you?

Please take a moment to reflect and share the following:

What worked?

What didn't?

Would you do it again? Why or why not?

And for some context, the following are reflections on the season, where your flower share investment went, and what's in store for next season. You may want to settle in with a warm cup of coffee/tea, as by now you likely know that brevity is not a strongpoint:-).

Why a Flower CSA?

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Fibonacci Numbers, Sunflower sequence, and Mid-summer's angles of reposeFibonacci numbers, mid-summer's angle of repose

Happy August! Wow it's really August and we are already at the mid-point of the Flower CSA season. There is a point in the growing season that reminds of my days in Washington's North Cascades pondering alpine glacial geology while collecting native plant seed for restoration education projects with the National Park Service. We would be along the trails seed collecting Elymus glaucous (blue wild rye) and a slough of floral friends. Now and then I would stretch my back and shift my gaze from soil to skyline. The glaciers would 'sit poised' when viewed from a distance, like a well fed cat, cool and contented on its perch. That such a mass of ice, could just 'hang out' along a 60 plus degree slope without an ensuing avalanche is a marvel. In geologic speak, this point is known as the angle of repose – the steepest angle at which a sloping surface, (in the case of glaciers ice) formed of a particular loose material is stable. It's a marvel that an icy mass of material withstands gravity at such an angle--that such stillness from a distance—can mask all the movement taking shape, giving form to the Earth upon closer viewing.

In the botanical sphere of your flower farm, there is a similar angle of repose,

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This Growing Act of Beauty is For You

Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” Rachel Carson

I am trying to endure. April has been rough and exhilarating for your farmer. Rob has always been much more Zen about life's disturbances and I continue to learn from his fluid, grounding love. For me, I've been at the mercy of April's moods. On the one hand I am welcoming the snow and quiet and the chance to linger over coffee with friends, catch a film, read the backlog of BrainPicking's Newsletters, or dust off the canoe. On the other hand, snow and cold unsettles my circadian farmer rhythm. We should be hardening off our young larkspur and allium transplants and seeding spinach alongside sweet peas. Instead the seeds and seedlings stock-pile in our greenhouse overflow zone (aka our kitchen and dining room).

Cold and wet is great for fruit tree planting, grafting, and dividing perennial herbs. Yet this too has been hard to do since the frost refuses to leave let alone heave under the weight of the shovel. 2014 memories come to mind—a year without kiwi due to a lingering cold come May—the kiwi refused to fruit save for 11 brave berries. There is reason to hope amidst the fickle jet stream.

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Madame Butterfly a Floral Opera

I have been contemplating flowers and operas. Specifically the story of Madame Butterfly. I know, I spend way too much time thinking about flowers and am ready for the ground to thaw and start planting!

Ever wonder how flower varieties are named? This question nudged me as I paged through the seed catalogs and became mesmerized by the floral photo candy of Antirrhinum majus – Madame Butterfly var. My curiosity soon meandered to Giacomo Puccini's famous Opera, Madame Butterfly wherein the human Butterfly first took to the stage in Milan, Italy in 1904.

The unique double-petal flowers of Madame Butterfly snapdragons are no less dramatic than the opera's themes of cultural and sexual imperialism, and allow me to mingle the operatic and horticultural. Here is my attempt at the Snapdragon Opera of Madame Butterfly.

Madame Butterfly the Opera – summarized from the Metropolitan Opera website

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A Floral Feast Reflection...2017 Flower CSA Breakdown

I have always grown flowers – in my mother's garden, as part of my own garden landscapes, apartment balconies, and kitchen windowsills. When I started farming with Rob in 2009 (Rob has been a CSA farmer since 1993) flowers were always part of the field mix, work/life balance and experimentation, and soul nourishment. The last 4 years, however, I have been consciously shifting from vegetable production to fruit and flowers and this is my second season with a 'formal' flower csa program. I enjoy how it balances and compliments other areas and market channels for our farm including wedding flowers and fruit and vegetable share program.

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Eclipse, Eclat, and Eclogue, Just another Season at the Farm

Admittedly, I joined the frenzied eclipse goers who jockeyed for the viewing rights along the path of totality in the heartland to soak in, for two minutes, a celestial phenomenon by way of 370th Rd., just northwest of Ravenna, NE.

While Rob poured over weather maps for points of cloudless skies along the way, I poured over our 1909 copy of Webster's New International Dictionary, wherein I mused over different iterations of the word eclipse and how the word itself relates to the growing season. Luminous discoveries and intentions prevailed.

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Solstice Floral Inspirations

At 7:24 pm Tuesday, June 20, Rob and I exhaled into the horizon, celebrated the fullness of life and the potential it holds.

Abundance abounds around the Solstice.

At 7:24 am on Wednesday, making the orchard rounds, calling it 'insect monitoring', I gave myself permission to lay my head down under the eldberry umbels and stare at the sky as petals rained on my face. Overwhelmed by all this being and doing. I took comfort in the refuge of nature's fecundity, if only for a moment.

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Keeping Mechanics at Bay

Like my back, our pickup truck creaks a lot more than it used to, but still functions. I take this as an augury that another season of vegetable growing is possible; indeed, with an April share already behind us, it seems to have leapt underway.

Both back and truck are indispensable to the enterprise of farming, though I got along without the second for a number of years simply by using my Geo Metro as a truck instead. I hauled uncountable tons of compost to my farm in it, which eventually led to blowing two of the three cylinders, as you would expect from a vehicle rated at 550 lbs live load. (Incidentally, the car operated fine, if wimpily, on one cylinder). After having the valves replaced I was able to keep hauling compost for several additional years. The setup was fuel efficient and cheap, minus the valve-job.

The '97 Nissan pickup is also often overloaded since this is the most efficient way to move things, though perhaps not cheapest in the long run. Road gravel is the usual cargo which I find myself schlepping a dozen times or more each year from the local materials yard to throw, by shovelfuls, into the ruts which climate change + gravity conspire to carve down the slopes of our driveway.

Farming involves an awful lot of moving things against gravity, so I'm glad my back has lasted. Like the truck, it has slowed down but still moves, so I am thankful.

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CSA - For the Love of Fruit, Flowers, the Land and Community

While I am welcoming the snow's return, don't let the illusion of winter cloud the weather's reality these days. If you're thinking, "...it's too early for red-wing blackbirds to arrive at the ponds and too warm for February," yes, you are correct. The 68 degree F high temp this past Wednesday set a new record for the entire month at the Madison reporting station, besting the old mark of 64 degree F set on the 25th back in 2000. (Incidentally, the previous record for the day was 60 degree F, set in 1984). So that's five high temp records in a row, from Saturday February 18 on through Wednesday February 22. It appears from the instrumentation at both the Boscobel and Janesville National Weather Service Sites ---which hit 72 degrees F on Wednesday, that we've set an all-time record for the entire state for the month of February.

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2016 By the Numbers

2016 was a good growing year in many respects.

At 178 days, the frost-free period was exceptionally long, even after a relatively late last-freeze on May 15th. We harvested sweet peppers well into the month of November, after what was already a banner-year for the crop. Potatos also performed spectacularly despite over-planting and tight spacing, cranking out almost 300 calories per square foot. Many warm-season crops were 10 to 14 days earlier than normal. After a couple of beautiful broccoli harvests in late June and early July, we thought we might be headed for another 15-week season like we saw the previous year.

And then the rains came.

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Alphabet Soup of Farming Gratitude

I was out walking 'Up and Down the Hill' with my mother and a friend as part of the La Valle celebration this past summer and we were talking of relationships with our mothers and all the gratitude, headaches, tensions, and celebrations that come with it. My friend shared that in coming to terms with her mother's aging, she and her sister were putting together the ABC's of appreciation –a reflection of what they have learned and learned to appreciate about their mother over the years.

As I tuck in the farm for the winter months, exhaling from the frost-nipped fields, I thought I'd share in the ABC's of all the things that I have learned and appreciated from Mother Earth at the farm community this season beginning with:

Autonomy - and interdependence. Our food forests continue to subtley and not so subtely teach us about how to best design perennial polycultures of multi-purpose plants so we might share resources, create networks of mutual support in growing our own food, fodder, fertility, fuel, 'farm-a-cueticals' and fun. And like our orchard guilds, personally, I farm in part because I enjoy the autonomy in decision making, running a small business, and finding my niche. At the same time I reminded of how much as farmers, we rely on others to grow food in partnership with the land and our community.

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Simplicity, Gladiolus and the Magic of 3's

As August shifts to September with all the overabundance of fruit, flowers, and veg ripening in the fields, I thought I'd begin the month to celebrate simplicity in this week's bouquets and focus on the 'magic of 3's.

Farmer florists have a few patterns to draw from setting the structure for a bouquet. Like a recipe for a summer salsa (1 part hot pepper 3 parts sweet 5 parts tomato), flowers follow a similar recipe. Texture, focal, filler. 1:3:5. From here the variations are endless and sometimes chaotic colors emerge. So I've been playing with simplifying, finding beauty in the most basic of texture, focal, and filler. This week's bouquets will feature 3 flowers representing texture, focal, and filler and a play on 3 color types.

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Flower CSA Bouquets Abuzz with Gratitude

Such fullness and momentum abounds in the flower fields as we head into the peak harvest season at the farm. A lot is abuzz at your flower farm and I thought this week is prime time for pollinator appreciation from field to vase at Hilltop.

While National Pollinator Week has come and gone in late June (week of the 23rd this past year), I find that mid-July is when the pollinator flower power really kicks in on our farm. So this week we are featuring flower favorites of the bees, butterflies and all of our pollinator friends seen and unseen. I’m hovering over a currant shrub as I write this, making notes with one hand with the other, meticulously plucking the black pearls of the fruit world into buckets wishing I had a third hand to simultaneously pull the weeds that pop through the mulch.

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A brief journey to the center of the Earth and the Universe - Larkspur's spurious season at the farm

Admittedly, I'm still working on finding the sweet spot on our farm where larkspurs thrive and are fully supported. They're a bit fickle from seed to bloom. Larkspurs and delphiniums benefit from a cold period before seeding. This year, I had mixed results with germination, and the flowers that remained are gracing the fields. There's a balance in supporting these flowers post transplant. The spikey blooms, carried loosely in it's racemes, tend to want to flop and surrender into the atmosphere, perhaps in sync with its star-like shape. The flowers are worth the struggle in growing them in the fields. Their purple flowers attract butterflies and bumblebees, who hover over the blooms laden with pollen cargo. It's beauty in a bouquet packs an equal load of celestial wonder and marks the turning point from spring to summer in our flower gardens.

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