The future of Chert Hollow Farm

Following 2015’s sabbatical, we will not be offering a CSA program in 2016 or the near future. After three years, we weren’t able to reach our desired CSA membership goals, despite offering a variety of unique benefits including share customization, home delivery, and an especially wide variety of produce and herbs. Given that we left the farmers market in 2011 (also after three years) because our sales were averaging well below production, this places us in a trap going forward: it seems that we can’t sell the volume of produce necessary for a full-time farm in this area, but the time and financial commitment to a farmers market or CSA doesn’t work without that volume. Continue reading

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Homesteading fundamentals class March 19 2016

On March 19, we’ll be hosting a class at the farm called “Homesteading Fundamentals” through the Columbia Area Career Center; registration here. If you aspire to increase your level of self-sufficiency, this course is for you, whether you are an urban apartment dweller or someone who already has calluses from working the back 40. Structured as an extended farm tour that will range from fields to kitchen to orchard to woods to bookshelf, our goal is to provide inspiration and a multitude of ideas such that everyone will head home excited to try something new as spring begins.

We’ll draw on our decade of experience growing vegetables in Missouri, as well as knowledge we’ve gained through experience with composting, starting an orchard, woodlot management, forest farming, and permaculture. Raising animals for meat, milk, and eggs is another part of our homesteading repertoire. In the kitchen, we ferment, freeze, dry, and can a multitude of homegrown or locally produced ingredients so that our diet is rich in local foods year-round, including homemade cheese, sauerkraut, wine, pickles, sausage, canned tomatoes, an abundance of produce in season, and much more.

We intend to focus our time on the topics of most interest to participants. Here’s a laundry list of possibilities: Continue reading

Natural events, January 2016

Our monthly birds/natural event post series began in January 2011, so this post begins our sixth year (archive to old posts on the Landscape page). We started the series because most of the topics we felt compelled to blog about oozed pessimism about the country’s bizarre and dysfunctional agricultural system. We felt we needed content with a positive tone, what Eric calls “fuzzy bunny” posts. Perky, feel-good posts aren’t quite our style, but we figured that even if we wouldn’t coo over their fuzziness, we could at least write about bunnies, and the hawks that eat them, and the ecosystem that otherwise surrounds us and into which our farm is integrated. And so began the natural event post series. The style has evolved over time, from short posts featuring a bird list to longer, photo-driven posts featuring observations that caught our attention and especially those caught on camera. We enjoy doing these, but we don’t get paid for them and they take a fair amount of time to prepare, so if you like these posts, please consider commenting and/or sharing with friends.

January 2016’s weather was moderate. Temperatures did drop below zero, but warm days were numerous, as well. The pond froze but never reached a thickness that we were comfortable venturing out on; will this be our first Missouri winter without outdoor ice skating? Precipitation totaled less than an inch, some in the form of light snow. The ground was free of snow for much of the month, but a snow on Tuesday January 19th that persisted to the weekend was great for capturing tracks.

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Natural events, December 2015

The excessive rain in Missouri made national news in December, with flooding in St. Louis and along the Mississippi. We received more than ample rain here, though not as much as some. Temperatures averaged well above normal. Though south-bound Snow Geese typically start to fly over us in November, our first observed south-bound Snows this fall appeared on December 1. Yet on December 31, we saw a small flock of Snows heading north. Fortunately, contrary to the implications of the geese, the National Weather Service is forecasting much needed normal-to-below-normal temperatures for the coming weeks.

dec_natural_crop_growth Continue reading

Natural events, November 2015

November was mostly warm with a couple of wet spells, including a short-lived first snowfall. At times we wonder if we’ll run out of new & interesting discoveries or photographic opportunities for these monthly posts, but so far there’s always plenty to find or learn on our walks around the farm’s landscape. Read on for November’s spiders, fungi, parasitic plants, and more.

nov_natural_spiderwebs Continue reading

Natural events, October 2015

October was warm and dry, continuing in the pattern of September. The first two-thirds of the month brought 0.11″ of rain, and given the last rainfall of > 0.5″ had been all the way back on September 12, things were getting pretty crackly. Thankfully, the last nine days of the month gave us about an inch and a third with a gentle, soaking delivery. We technically saw the first frost crystals on October 3, but a killing frost was slower to come. The morning of October 15th brought the first crop-damaging frost (on a night that had been forecast above 45 until a few hours before dark). The next two nights, which had been forecast as clear and in the 30s, didn’t yield a single ice crystal, and instead we woke to dense cloud cover. Such is weather.

oct_natural_sumacSumac is about as reliable as it gets in offering a nice show of fall color. Fragrant Sumac on the right. Some of our maples put on nice shows of color, as well. Continue reading

Natural events, September 2015

September was warm and dry, with less than an inch of rain for the entire month. The contrast with our deluge-inal spring is startling; it will seem very strange if this long dry spell ends up drawing the annual precipitation average back toward “normal”. One thing about Missouri weather, it’s a textbook lesson in the danger of relying on averages for accurate information about a system.

sep_natural_more_caterpillars

Monarch caterpillars were present, though we saw fewer caterpillars than last year, in spite of allowing lots of Common Milkweed to grow for their benefit. I (Joanna) found the Hermit Sphinx (Sphinx eremitus) caterpillar on wild bergamot while pulling snakeroot in a goat paddock. The black spot did an impressively good job of making this look like an empty, hollowed out shell of plant or animal origin, perhaps a form of mimicry to convince predators that there’s nothing to eat here. It almost tricked me, but a second look convinced me this was a caterpillar worth bringing back to the house for ID and a picture. Since it eats mint family plants, I decided to keep it in a jar with some munchies from the herb garden. Turns out that the specimen had been visited by a parasitoid wasp, perhaps Cotesia congregata? Interestingly, the Hermit Sphinx’s relatives, the tomato-eating Tobacco Hornworms have been minimally present this year. Perhaps we can thank parasitoids for that?

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When habitat and harvest collide

This post also appeared in the October 2015 issue of the Columbia Audubon Society’s newsletter, The Chat, which Eric edits. 

Red-bellied Woodpeckers used to be one of our favorite local birds. Colorful and flamboyant, they enliven our feeder in winter and patrol our woods in summer. We love how they chase Blue Jays away from the birdseed yet leave smaller birds alone, how they sidle along our porch railing with heads cocked, how they stash food in the woods through a conveyor belt of looping flights. Their brash and distinctive calls enrich our soundscape year-round. While conducting timber stand improvements in our woods, we’ve left abundant dead snags to support the woodpecker population. Then came the great fruit massacre of 2015.woodpecker_fruit_1

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Sorghum syrup, part of Missouri’s agricultural and culinary heritage

The September issue of Feast Magazine includes a feature story by Eric, which begins

What would you do without sugar?

This was a very real question for Missourians and their neighbors in the late 1850s. In the years leading up to the Civil War, Northerners became increasingly concerned with finding a source of domestic sweetener that wasn’t linked to the South, where sugar was produced and shipped up the Mississippi River. The answer was found in a new use for an old crop: sorghum syrup. You can still taste this piece of regional history today through the work of sorghum syrup producers across the Midwest, including Sandhill Farm, a certified organic producer in northeastern Missouri.

You can read the full story online in two formats, either as straight web text or the full magazine layout (with photography). This was a fun story to work on, highlighting a common ingredient in our kitchen and a farm we like and respect.

This story was born from a conversation with Stan Hildebrand of Sandhill Farm, who told us that they produced 500-800 gallons of sorghum syrup per year, and sold it as far away as Asia. On one hand, that’s a victory for international trade, but on the other, it struck us as odd that a local producer would NEED to market their product that far away. After all, our own two-person household uses a gallon of sorghum per year, and if even a fraction of Columbia residents (much less St Louis or Missouri residents) matched even a fraction of our consumption, Sandhill would sell out locally in no time. Sorghum syrup could, should, be a bigger part of the local-foods picture than it is. So we set out to learn more, and tell the story of this unique product and its Missouri roots. Continue reading

Natural events, August 2015

The remarkable thing about August was the pleasant stretch of weather late in the month, with highs not exceeding the low 80s and lows not exceeding the mid 60s. We enjoyed many lovely August dinners on the porch, amazed by the comfortable temperature and low humidity. Typically, Missouri August comes with amazing food and miserable weather, so to enjoy eating August food in pleasant weather outdoors was a delight! Precipitation moderated in August (in comparison to the soggy months preceding it), though the month managed to give us both too little and too much rain. The bulk of the month’s rain came in a 2.89” one-morning dump, with the rest of the month contributing only about three-quarters of an inch, for a grand total of 3.67”. All in all, not a bad month, given what this state is capable of serving up. We haven’t hit 100ºF all summer (and we’re hoping it stays that way).

Which of these things is not like the others? The answer is below the break (along with many more photos).

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