Thursday, January 17, 2013

Three Bros. Farm and Orchard: A Growing Season in Review

After years of daydreaming, planning, reading and practice,
this year, Matt and I hired an accountant, registered a farm name
 and created an LLC (limited liability company).

And thus was the birth of
Three Brothers Farm and Orchard.
The images I am sharing tell a sweet little picture story of our growing season for 2012. Some of the images are specific examples of our farming practices and some are sights evident of seasonal change, like laundry drying outdoors (or indoors depending upon the season). I have provided captions with little tidbits of information and dates and such, but this is primarily a pictorial review.

March fog.
At Otis' 3rd birthday in March, the kids took it upon themselves to help prepare the garden for planting. This is a good example of what our early spring plating site looks like. You can see some apple trees we over-wintered in the background in a fencing cage and the chicken tractor in the far background. We often use the chickens to scratch up the garden space during the off season.
 We successfully collaborated farming efforts with our close friends, the Ginzel-Hill family! Jerry and Melissa, along with their daughters, Ailee (9) and Ada (6), spent many, many hours working our land with us in exchange for produce, eggs and free-range chicken meat. It was a fabulous arrangement we will continue this year as well. Here Otis and Ada were playing while Melissa and I worked in the garden in April.

A Cedar tree fell in a strong, Spring storm. Matt cleaned it up and kept the trunk. He turned it into the post for our dinner bell, which lives in a flower bed by our back porch. It is a great tool for calling kids in at meal or chore times and they will often fight over the right to ring it!

First flowers of the season!

One surprising evolution that came with mostly full-time farming was the change in work attire! As an at-home mom my day to day attire fluctuates drastically depending upon the activity planned for the day. While farming this season I found that almost everyday I wore work jeans, gloves, boots, sunglasses and some sort of hat or hair scarf. It became pretty boring, pretty fast. I began wearing more work skirts and purposefully wearing  "fancy" earrings to shake things up!

Keeping Otis busy while working in the garden was sometimes a very hard task. When there weren't other kids to play with and/or I was doing a very tedious or fragile task, like weeding seedlings or transplanting seedlings, it was a necessity to help him find entertainment. Worms worked every time, and not just this year!

Though we are attempting various no-till methods for our growing space, we have found that we do still need to occasionally, especially when working ground that was not worked in recent years (like in this photo). To Matt's right you can see a patch covered in straw. This is our small strawberry patch. It started in 2011 with 15 plants and grew in 2012 to 75 plants! Our harvest amounted to sporadic handfuls that never left the patch, but we are hopeful for this season.

A rare moment of rest.

Due to Matt's diligence and persuasion, we added "Josephina", a 1949 International Harvester FarmAll tractor, to our farming equipment menagerie. She has a 60" belly mower that has reduced our mowing time to only 2.5 - 3 hours a week, which is significantly less than before AND we have a few "ground working" implements that I cannot name specifically. The kids enjoy rides and I enjoy driving her. Though I was initially reluctant, Josephina has been an excellent work horse for her age and she adds a bit of nostalgia, in which I am always happy to indulge. 

In previous gardening years we have attempted various versions of a children's garden. None were particularly successful and this year was only slightly so. We planted a pole bean teepee (seen in progress here), a few tomato and basil plants, a square of corn, and a small patch of sunflowers. The boys were excited to help in spurts, but for the most part I found myself having extra space to weed and water. In the end we had a kid sized harvest. Overall it was a better experience for them than it was for the adults, but we will do it again!

Knowing how much I love good, organic greens early and late in the season, I planted three raised beds, 3' x 6' each, with a variety of hardy greens (It was also an attempt in modest marketing. Sustainably grown and organic greens are hard to come by locally here. There is definitely a solid niche to be filled.)  I planted Swiss Chards, Spinach, Arugula, micro-greens and lettuces of all kinds, including a popular spicy mustard blend. I spent SO many hours weeding, watering, harvesting, washing, sorting and bagging the greens! They were the first harvest to be sold, outside of eggs, and were quite popular. A neighbor of ours boasted that her sons would not eat greens before trying ours! Anytime I began wondering why we were working so hard for little return, remembering her comment would help me finish weeding that last row before turning in on a long day.

We've been keeping chickens on our farm since 2008 and it has been an ever evolving practice filled with lessons and learning. We love it despite the harder aspects. Predators were a HUGE issue in 2011 with frequent raccoon attacks. 2012 provided new challenges with weasel attacks! While Matt was traveling in June we lost 8 baby chickens in an attack and 4 more were injured. I nursed them back to health with herbs and constant attention. We set up a "chicken hospital", as the boys called it, in the garage with heat lamps. They would help me wash the wounds and tend to them. Each one was given a name and eventually they were returned to the larger flock. For a few months after their return outdoors, we could call them by name and they would come to us! It was astounding to me and a solid reminder of how intelligent all species really are.

We had record temps in Mid-Michigan this summer. To beat the heat I did most of our cooking outside over an open fire, in the smoker that Matt and Jerry made, or using the gas grill. In this photo I am cooking some rabbit that Matt killed near the garden. The boys liked to joke that it was Peter Rabbit we were eating, but as it turns out, Matt is Mr. McGregor!

If we can't grow it for our family we try to source it locally. U-pick fruit is the most affordable way to acquire larger quantities of fruit, especially for preservation. I took the five kids (my three plus Ailee and Ada...we've become an oddball family) to a near-by strawberry farm to pick in June. It was a great afternoon until we lost Otis, who was later found hiding behind a barn pooping in his pants, but not before the other 4 kids and I ran up and down the berry fields yelling his name in panic. We ended up freezing nearly 3 gallons of berries.

One of my more popular lettuces called "Deer Tounge". It was deliciously thick and juicy!

This may have been the first meal entirely from our farm and homestead. Lettuces with radish and homemade farm cheese from our raw milk (the milk comes from another farm about 25 miles away). We are still occasionally eating meals entirely grown on the farm from preserved food.

We lost this large tree due to old age and slowly over the summer Matt and Jerry chopped away at its fallen pieces all summer and we continue to enjoy the heat it provides this winter.

In July we endured a number of days without indoor running water due to our main sewer lines being clogged with tree roots. We washed all dishes outside and created an outdoor bathroom in the back acreage! The boys got a kick out of that.

Sam has slowly taken on more and more responsibility in the care of the chickens. It is his daily job to take them kitchen scraps and collect eggs. He is expected to help whenever we have a large chicken project and, after some disgruntled arguing, he is quite adept at his job. We had little rain this year, but one day it was particularly rainy (and obviously warm - no pants) and Sam was a bit pouty about having to complete his chore. You can see the chicken tractor in the way background with the blue tarp.

As friends and family came to visit us this summer, we would rope them into helping on the farm, one way or another, but always with the promise of a cold drink and hearty meal after. In July we saw friends from Vermont and here you see David pulling weeds one evening.

We took the time to install a drip-tape irrigation system this summer, which is the black line of tape you can see on the left side of the image. Our efforts were rewarded during the many dry weeks of the summer. It is a much  more efficient watering method and our mildew and mold issues were reduced.

Greens, greens, everywhere!! It really was the season of greens. In June I started up the Back Porch Farm Stand. Once a week neighbors and clients could stop by and purchase eggs and veg on the back porch. It was more work than I had anticipated, but we kept it up for most of the growing season. I took this image one evening after a big, pre-farm stand-day harvest.

We had a lot of camp-outs and sleep-overs with the Ginzel-Hill clan, and it was common for us to cook a weekend breakfast over the rekindled late-night campfire. Mornings are beautiful here on the farm, especially with a good cup of coffee and a fire.

This is a harvest of Chinese cabbage that Melissa, the kids, and I turned into Kimchi. It was a large task and my first time fermenting cabbage and veg this way. It turned out amazing and we are still eating it!

Melissa is an artist in addition to her many other persona. Amidst the hard work, down time was sprinkled here and there, but when it was here, this was a common sight for us around the farm.

Milo and his pal, Pandora.
Pan lived with us for a few months and brought with her a lot of energy and mischief!

We grew sweet corn and the popping variety. Both were successful and we're still eating them! We did a three sisters planting with the corn and here you see Melissa harvesting dry black beans.

Our laying hens transitioned from moveable chicken tractors to a larger free-range area enclosed with a moveable, solar powered, electric fence. Every month (or when the ground showed signs of distress) we would move the whole lot to a new area of the farm. They lived all over and loved having constant access to grass and dirt and bugs.

Our kale survived frost and snow and became sugar sweet!  Just this past weekend we had our January thaw and Matt, the boys and I harvested the last of it filling a full bushel basket! I've been eating it everyday with our fried eggs on top!

After we harvested the remainder of the winter greens last weekend, we moved the chickens, for the last time before spring, onto the garden. This year we are continuing to let them free range and they are SO happy here. We are collecting an upwards of seventeen eggs per day and our, previously stalled, egg business is up and running once again. We have a Facebook page and if you are located in the area, please think of us when you are in need of sustainably grown garden goodies!

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