Early April farm happenings

Spring has finally arrived in our valley, and with vigor. In just the past week of warm weather, an intense flush of green growth has invigorated the grasses, weeds and wildflowers everywhere we look. Lots of spring birds are arriving, while a diverse chorus of frogs provides background ambiance.  The very slow start to spring pushed our outdoor work far behind as we waited for the soil to dry & warm. Finally, last week’s dry spell allowed us to undertake a marathon week of bed prep, seeding, transplanting, and more, exhausting ourselves thoroughly while enjoying finally moving forward with the growing season. This important work was cut off by the recent swath of strong storms which dumped over 2″ of rain, very heavy at times, and caused various problems with flooding and erosion (with minimal problems in the growing area, but roads especially aren’t pretty). And, of course, this once again slows down our planting & seeding plans while we wait for things to dry out.  We  could really use a nice, long stretch of pleasant weather, however unlikely that is in a typical Missouri April (the upcoming forecast has repeated rounds of rain again). Read on for some photos of early spring on the farm, and a glimpse of the first new crops of the year. Continue reading

Bird list & other natural events, March 2013

We could not imagine two months much different than March of 2012 and 2013. Last year we basically had May in March, getting the natural & growing season off to a worryingly early start. Now the opposite is true; it stayed so cold and snowbound most of the month that we’re as far behind now as we were ahead in 2012. Compare the two monthly temperature graphs below for March 2012 and 2013 in Columbia, from the National Weather Service. The average high for March 2013 (47.5 F) was lower than the average low for March 2012 (48.4 F); for reference the normal average is 55.3 (high) & 34 (low). The paired photos in this post also vividly demonstrate the difference.

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Crop production strategies: resilience to cold spring weather

The current cold & wet spring situation means that CSA distributions are not going to get off to as early a start as last year. We hate that this sounds like an excuse, but the reality is that soil temperatures dictate our ability to successfully plant, and those have remained below critical thresholds. Adverse weather tends to make us think though strategies that can help us to better handle a repeat of such conditions. What follows is our current analysis of the options, along with what we’re already doing and what we plan to do differently for the future; these plans reflect our philosophy of low-budget economic & environmental sustainability. Continue reading

Contrasting spring weather & CSA implications

It’s hard to imagine a more striking contrast in weather conditions than the springs of 2012 and 2013 here. Last year, spring came absurdly, worryingly early and forced us into an unexpectedly quick start to the growing season, distributing CSA share #2 weeks before we expected. This year, three strong winter storms within a month have shut down our progress toward spring preparations and planting, and will delay the 2013 CSA season as much as last year accelerated it. To date, the average high for March 2013 (46ºF with a few days to go in the month) is lower than the average low for March 2012 (48.4ºF). To illustrate these wild swings in weather & growing conditions, here are two sequences of photographs from the two years, taken at the same locations within a day of each other. Continue reading

Life without milk: a year-long experiment

In the immediate aftermath of this spring’s goat troubles, we were disturbed and disappointed to face a year without abundant fresh milk. We’ve come to rely on this for so many aspects of our diet, using 2-4 gallons a week in season for cheese, yogurt, custards, cream sauces and more, while preserving it for off-season use through freezing it whole, and freezing or aging cheeses. Yet replacing this amount of milk & dairy products from off-farm sources doesn’t fit our budget or lifestyle. Discussing this, we also began to realize that an enforced change in diet could be a really interesting opportunity to broaden our cooking horizons, in a way we’d never choose on our own. Continue reading

Home maple production

In a rare moment of insanity this winter, we decided we weren’t doing as many different things as we could, so invested in some maple syruping equipment. For the past month or so, we’ve been learning maple management on the fly and generating multiple useful products that improve our on-farm food diversity. Here’s a quick look at how this useful homestead project went. Continue reading

March to-do list

We made good progress on our last to-do list until events of late February threw all sorts of wrenches into the works. Joanna was thankfully never called for jury duty, but we both came down with a strong and long-lasting cold/virus that really cut into our productivity. Two major winter storms will have short- and long-term effects; tending to goat health issues was another unexpected drain. Here’s what we expect to be up to in March, as we enter the true beginning of the vegetable season. Much of this is dependent on the snow melting with reasonable speed, and the ground not remaining a muddy mess all month. On the other hand, we don’t want to see another absurdly warm spring like 2012, with all its attendant concerns. Continue reading

Recent goat miscarriage: possible causes & implications

In the background of all else going on this winter, we’ve been quietly considering and addressing some concerns with the goats, which came to a head on Thursday night with a miscarriage of three kids. We’re writing up a long description and discussion of these events and our analysis of them for multiple reasons: for our own records and use, for the openness about our successes and problems that is quite important to us, and for the use and reference of other small farmers seeking the same answers online that we so often do. We know that such openness has the potential to make us look like bad managers, but the reality is that sometimes bad things happen in farming. Analyzing the situation and reflecting on things we might have done differently is one of the ways we learn to do better in the future. And if this is helpful to others in a similar situation, then we deem it to be information worth sharing.

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Bird list & natural events, Februrary 2013

Well, February will certainly be remembered around here; it was quite different from last year’s absurdly warm & dry month. After a  first three weeks of stable, moderately moist, unremarkable weather, winter remembered its existence for the first time in two years and dropped two major winter storms in our laps within 5 days. The remaining week of February was quite memorable, not least because of the excellent birding produced by so much snow. Though the short-term damage and inconvenience are real, in the long run we’ll be very grateful for this much moisture added to the soil as we hopefully begin recovering from last year’s drought. Read on for this month’s extra-long bird list and some fun photos taken at our feeder. Continue reading

Handling winter storms on a homestead farm

Two strong winter storms over the past week offer an excellent chance to examine how a farm like ours can both benefit and suffer from winter weather. While these storms created a variety of problems for us, our long-term focus on diversification and self-sufficiency in both business and personal life really paid off under these conditions. Here’s a look at what happened, and how it’ll affect us in both the short and long term. Continue reading