Member Potluck & Harvests Begin

   Last Sunday we had our inaugural member potluck, and it was just as wonderful as I'd hoped! We toured the growing fields and pet all the animals, and it was a joy to meet our new community. It reminded us why we do things the way we do them: a direct relationship to the people eating the food.
    This spring is wild. We had deeply cold soil temps throughout March and into the middle of April, snow flurries and a good little freeze the night of April 16th, pushing us a couple days past our 'frost-free' date. We've had spring plantings in the ground since March 15th, but they hadn't budged for almost a month. And then, suddenly, the sun shone and the soil started warming up, and everything leapt. We hit high 80s last week, and will be in the 90s this week, just three weeks after we were consistently freezing. Plants are sprinting to catch up, and some of our first brassica plantings are bolting, or going to flower, because of the rapid change between extremes. That means they're mostly lost, though we will harvest some rapini and flowers. We always expect to lose some things, but it still makes me pout for a day or two!
    The kale, cabbages, lettuces, and carrots all look great, peonies are on the edge of bursting, and the pastures are turning the kind of green that grows before your eyes. The chickens, goats, and cows are all luxuriating in the abundance of food. The humans are, too--I've eaten about ten radishes a day for a week. We start share distribution this coming Sunday/Monday, and we'll see our market customers again this Saturday, and the menus at our favorite restaurants are featuring our produce again… It feels good to be back in the swing of things.

Spring Springing & BioChar

    In the last two weeks, the wheat fields out here greened up significantly and the millions of hard red droplets on the maple trees burst into bloom, getting us all very excited for spring to settle in (and back on our allergy management regimes).
    We got a dry, warmish window last week to get some beds prepped and get our first round of cabbage, kale, broccolini, and lettuce plants in the ground, as well as some carrots, radishes, turnips, and arugula seeded. We're off to a good start!

    In the meantime, we've spent a good amount of hours this winter clearing old barbed wire fence lines, brush piles, and thickets of invasive plants out of grazing areas, and we made a lot of burn pile material, so I just tried my hand at making Bio-Char.
    I was inspired to try making Bio-Char by an article in Growing for Market, a monthly publication chock full of small-scale farmers' reflections, ideas, reviews, and descriptions of techniques and tools they've used. Bio-Char is just charcoal made from untreated lumber, brush, or timber. The idea is that instead of burning your brush all the way down to ash, you burn it in a low oxygen environment (managing a high temperature burn in a barrel with no oxygen coming in from the bottom) to make charcoal, stabilizing the carbon for, hopefully, centuries. The carbon is sequestered when you use the charcoal as a soil amendment, and the charcoal also provides structures, pore spaces, and ionized surfaces in the soil that, theoretically, increase microbial activity.
    I've seen a few companies selling Bio-Char, and I've done a little research on it previously. I do not buy the idea of a Bio-Char industry, because harvesting forests for the express purpose of burning them into a soil amendment, or worse, a biofuel (therefore building an industry around this process), is antithetical to the goals of carbon sequestration (namely, mitigating climate change). The only time I think Bio-Char makes sense is when people are dealing with lots of brush piles, which happens to be our situation. We don't leave the brush piles lying around to decompose because they create dead spots in pasture, keep us from mowing the area, and allow more unwanted shrubs, trees, vines, or invasive blackberry to grow where they sit. So we burn them. I thought maybe making charcoal would be a better alternative than burning it all down to ash.
    I also don't know, from the various study summaries I've read, if this stuff actually works! Is the carbon stable for thousands or even hundreds of years? Does increased microbial activity occur, and if it does, does it contribute to more rapid breakdown of humus in the soil and therefore a release of carbon that offsets the amount in the charcoal? Will the initial application of positively charged fine charcoal particles lock up available nutrients in the soil?
    We're going to try amending one marginal section of one growing block in the field, and it may be decades before anybody can tell whether or not it was a good thing. How's that for delayed gratification?
    I remember seeding tens of thousands of onions--four seeds per cell in plug trays--one cold, dark February with a farmer I worked for, and he said, "Farming is like counting to ten, really, really slowly." Those onions wouldn't be planted until early May, and they wouldn't be harvested until late August, and they wouldn't be distributed to CSA members until the winter months that followed, after curing. You know the steps, you just have to wait a really, really long time to get to each of them, and hold your place in your mind at all times. Bio-Char as a soil amendment seems like about the longest, slowest trial I've ever undertaken. It may even be that one lifetime isn't long enough to know the results.
    Soon, though, with fields to till and seed and water and weed and--at last!--harvest, I won't have time to think about it.
   

December December

It's finally winter! With sub-20° nights lately, the farm is looking a lot like it's supposed to in the winter. Days are short, and nights are long; we're in our Persephone period where day length is shorter than ten hours. It doesn't just change the rhythm of our days, it affects the life of plants a lot. Below 10 hours of daylight, and with regularly freezing nights, the vast majority of plant growth comes to a standstill--a few things in our high tunnel will continue their slow re-growth, like spinach and lettuce, but pretty much everything outside in the open fields is just holding. Meanwhile, however, aphid reproduction remains steady! So we've cleared the last of our storage crops and stripped our cold weather greens of what they've got left to give us, and the rest is for the goats and chickens to clean up.

Both mobile chicken coops have been moved onto the growing fields for a month of all-you-can-eat grub and aphid buffet. We get the chickens onto the fields at this time because the pest pressure ends up overwhelming the crops anyway, and the chickens and goats can break these pest cycles by removing all of the host crops as well as taking out a good portion of the population. Meanwhile, they capture the nutrients remaining in the growing plants and compress them into slow-release fertilizer (poop!).

We'll move the chickens out the first week of January, to make sure we're not putting any more raw manure down on our fields after that. We'll turn the open beds under, plant a spring cover crop or continue to prep the fields for planting a few months later.

But for now, it's the resting period for the fields, and the planning period for the farmers. Nutrient management plans to consult, varieties to select, planting schedules and crop rotation to iron out, and upgrades and fixes to get to, so we can do it all (a little bit better) again next year.

20171211_155606.jpg

Fall Open Farm Day Part Deux

We had an open house in October, but the weather couldn't have been much worse! Thank you to those of you who came out, we had a good time and the chickens and dogs enjoyed the attention. But the weather has been so beautiful every other day, and the hillsides are glowing with fall colors, and the animals are getting all fluffy with their winter coats, and many of you didn't get the chance to come out and enjoy the farm! So we're opening the farm up again next weekend, Sunday, November 12th from 1-5 pm. 

We'll be ready with coffee and hot chocolate. Wear your boots and jackets and bring the kids, but leave pets at home (our dogs love meeting people, but not strangers with four legs--their job is to guard their territory, after all). Come on out any time, we'll give tours on the hour-ish, and we'll have produce and eggs for sale. You can see where we'll do on-farm CSA distribution next year (all members have the option to pick up on the farm every week!) and see where we grow all the wonderful vegetables that make their way onto your plates.

Get in touch with us at team@winslowsfarm.com for directions. See you then!

Kasey Peters
Farm Manager
Winslow's Farm

20171106_150112-1_preview.jpeg

Winslow's Farm is located in Augusta, Missouri.

Website Design by EngageTaste