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Hoop House

One Full Year

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One Full Year

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All has been quiet on the blog front but on the farm things keep buzzing along. It's winter so the grass isn't growing, the hoop house is full of chickens so there are no veggies in sight but the laying hens are still giving us eggs and we have a freezer full of grass-fed lamb so we head over every week to the West Seattle Farmers Market. We are so happy to be apart of a very vibrant community of farmers, food producers, and dedicated market shoppers. It's been nice to make connections with people as passionate about healthy food as we are, and it has motivated us to do even more in the coming year. We have also had fun recipe testing and writing so we have recipes to share with market shoppers that work well with our grass-fed lamb. We've tried to find or create recipes promoting the nose to tail eating that we appreciate and also work with cuts that people are unfamiliar with or tend to shy away from.

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Despite having a booth at farmers markets and loyal customers, I still can't quite believe that we made it through one full year of farming. Technically we moved in the year before but we were just fencing and learning how to take care of our sheep so we didn't really feel like full fledged farmers yet. It wasn't until we started having food to bring to markets that it really started to sink in that we did it. We went from city slickers who had a couple raised beds, bee hives, and a gaggle of laying hens to full time farmers with hundreds of chickens, almost 40 sheep, 12 head of cattle in our care, plus turkeys and pigs, and a not so small market garden where we grew an array of fruits and veggies in. It still blows my mind that we produced thousands of pounds of food for ourselves and hundreds of other families with a small amount of resources and only a couple months of interns on the farm. We also finished a quite massive irrigation project in the middle of our growing season and with three little boys under 6 years old it means that Farmer Matt was left with the majority of the work (farm related anyway). So how do we do more and keep a sane family life? The internship model didn't work out because we didn't have the proper amount of time to teach people that had no experience. So for the upcoming season we are hoping to find an apprentice that has at least a couple seasons worth of experience working on farms and is passionate about starting their own farm-- someone who really wants to see and take part in the nuts and bolts of what takes to start a farm from the ground up. Farmer Matt read Joel Salatins' book "Fields of Farmers" and it inspired him to rethink about how we teach on the farm and not give up entirely on helping inspire future farmers. (I am hoping he writes a review of the book for our blog because the model Polyface Farm has could really revolutionize sustainable farming.)

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Our biggest hurdle besides the fact that we have a limited amount of land and hands on the farm is that we have no buildings. There were horse shelters here when we moved in and we modified them so we now store hay there. We built a small three sided shelter for the sheep during the winter and there is one shipping container where we keep tools, poultry feed, and fencing. Spring can have extremely harsh weather in the Kittitas Valley, so last winter and spring we raised our chicks and pullets in our hoop house. We had to move them out early so we could get vegetable starts going and even with many heat lamps set up in the chicken tractor we lost dozens to cold weather. Luckily there is a National Conservation grant for sustainable farms to obtain large hoop houses so we started the process and hope that it might be the answer to our space issues and be a great place to grow even more heirloom tomatoes.

So what are the plans for next season? We are going to double the amount of laying hens we have. People love our eggs as much as we do so we want to try and keep up with demand. We will also raise more Red Rangers chickens and heritage turkeys, not a huge amount but the right amount for our rotational grazing farm model. This year we raised pigs on pasture just for ourselves and one other family but we might raise a couple more next year for sale. We are currently breeding our Scottish Highland Cattle and would love to increase our breeding stock but think we are at capacity to also have enough forage for them through the growing season. I am very excited that sometime in the Fall of 2014 we will have grass-fed beef for sale for the first time.

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Our next big project is to come up with a value added product using the vegetables and herbs we grow that would complement our grass-fed meats and also make our farm more financially sustainable. Small farms like ours that don't have unlimited resources really count on things like jams, hot sauces, and spice rubs to bridge the gap and make farming viable.

I can't list everything we learned this last year but I can show you a little clip of  highlights of our first year of farming.

Looking forward to starting our second year of farming and all the things I am sure we will learn, experience, and enjoy. Happy New Year to you and yours from everyone at Green Bow Farm!

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Joy and Pain

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Joy and Pain

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Planting I can't hear those two words without the song getting stuck in my head and now the part "it's like sunshine and rain" has a whole new meaning being a farmer. A good rain means growth and more forage for the animals. Pain is having below freezing temps mid April after you have dozens of seed trays started in the hoop house without a good way to keep them warm. Rain is no longer a pain.

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I should really start with the joy of the last couple weeks. We had our first of many lambs born on the farm. It happened less than an hour before we were having a community potluck for the first time. So minutes after we welcomed her into the world we then shared a bountiful and tasty feast with some new friends and introduced her to all of them. There was no drama with the first birth only the beauty of seeing this ewe take on her new role as mom and the little lamb latching on right away like a champ. It was also a huge relief to see how easily it was for Lulu to transition into her new role as protector for the new lamb, never leaving the pairs side and even keeping Bella the border collie from playing too rough. The second birth was also uneventful but the lamb hurt one of his legs the second day and was abandoned by his mom in the pasture. Matt brought him back to his mom and kept an eye on him and slowly the lamb healed up and the ewe was no longer abandoning him.

First Lamb

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Our third birth was one of the ewes who was huge and we suspected she was going to have twins, which is unusual for the first year of breeding. She did have twins but she quickly abandoned the second lamb born and head butted him away, not letting him latch on. It was heartbreaking to see not only his mom but all the ewes do this to him. Luckily we found a local farm that dairys and was already bottle feeding goats and sheep that was willing to take him on and bottle feed him until he is ready to come back to the pasture. We noticed the ewe that had given birth to the twins was showing signs of pneumonia so we gave her some medicine but by nightfall she had died. It was shocking how quickly it all happened and then we had another lamb on our hands with no mother. So now our new farm friends at Parke Creek are bottle feeding both of the twins for the next couple of months and in exchange we are going to raise some turkeys for them. We are still awaiting the arrival of at least 6 more lambs and hoping we have learned a thing or two from the first four births on the farm. This has gotten us interested in doing all of our own breeding so we think our next flock of laying hens will be homegrown.

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While all these births were going on we celebrated two birthdays in the family and also had to put to sleep our long time companion and rescue dog, Cooper. I could think of no other title for this post because I have never had a time in my life that was filled with so much joy and celebration but also the pain of losing animals that we loved. We can look at the death of the ewe a little more pragmatically but the death of a incredibly loyal dog you have known for over a decade is a little harder to get over. We had hoped he would spend his last couple of years enjoying life on the farm but by the time we got here his health was declining and we just did all that we could to keep him comfortable.

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We had yet another experience this week where we felt we took one step forward and two steps back. It was always a part of our farming model to have pastured poultry and we were excited when we got over the hurdle of finding a place that we could process them and also be able to sell them at farmers markets and restaurants. Then we started to look for business insurance and found that there was only a couple companies that would allow us to raise pastured poultry but they were going to charge us so much money that the only way it would be financially sustainable is if we were raising 500-1000 birds a year. We had been planning on just a couple hundred including turkeys. We don't have the right kind of land that it would take to raise that many and we honestly just don't want to raise that many. So we are back to square one, raising chickens and turkeys that will most likely be for ourselves and rethinking our farming model. We do have some exciting plans to bring pastured pigs and cows to the farm in the future but for now we are enjoying our first lambing season, busy moving chickens around the pasture, and looking forward to some planting in the next couple of weeks if it stops snowing.

Birthday Party

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Nose to Tail

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Nose to Tail

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Butchering Ram When we went to pick up our Icelandic Ram from the breeders they offered us a second Ram that they couldn't use for breeding because his horn was growing right into his eye. He was a young Ram so we decided to use the opportunity to learn more about butchering and finally get to try the Icelandic Sheep meat we have been hearing so much about. There happened to be a Lamb butchering class at Farmstead Meatsmith so Matt headed over to Vashon Island to learn as much as he could. Farmstead Meatsmith is a small family run business that teaches small farms and homesteads how to harvest and butcher their own livestock. Last season Matt attended a Farmstead Meatsmith class on Pig butchering that was hosted at a small farm in our area and he was able to learn a lot about their Nose to Tail philosophy. The philosophy of Nose to Tail is a fairly new term but like most things its roots are much older and go back to how everyone used to farm and eat. The idea is that you use everything that you harvest from an animal and not let anything go to waste. It's partially about being sustainable but it also says a lot about the respect you have for the animal that will feed your family.

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The Ram was not here long but he did spend time with our puppy Lulu who still doesn't like being in the paddock with the other Ram and Ewes while they are breeding. To be honest, when Lulu was in their paddock she spent a lot of time trying to play with the Ram and he let her know immediately how uninterested he was. The other Ram on the other hand tolerated Lulu and her puppy play.

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Another project we added to our list was 70 free bales of old straw we found on the local farm exchange. Of course it was all loaded and unloaded by hand by Farmer Matt, so not entirely free but totally worth it because we now have plenty of straw for mulching our enormous garden, filling the hoop house while the chickens winter in there, and we are going to use some of it to make bays for piles of compost which will also double as a small windbreak for the garden this spring when it gets incredibly windy around here. We are anxious about our first full season of growing vegetables here because everyone we have talked to said it can be incredibly challenging. We have planted trees that in the future will help us with the wind but for now we are hoping the right placement of the more delicate vegetables in the hoop house and heartier vegetables and root vegetables outside of the hoop house will help.

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The most exciting new is that the hoop house is done and the Chickens are moved in after so many months of work. The doors were covered in plastic thanks in part to wiggle wire which made this diy hoop house possible and the finishing touch was Farmer Matt's mobile Chicken roost. He made one that could fold up and be stored easily up against the side of a building once spring comes around and the hoop house is used for gardening. Moving the Chickens into the hoop house was a two day and night process, which included Farmer Matt running around at night with a headlamp pulling Chickens out of trees and putting them in their new home. For some reason they have a hard time being moved. Even with their food, water, and nesting boxes all being in the hoop house they still didn't quite get that it was their new home and they would wander all around the yard looking for their chicken tractor. Things really are slowing down around here but we were finally able to find some local help so we are going to try to get another pasture fenced in before everything starts to freeze. This year the winter has been more about rain than snow which is unusual for this area. We really want more grass for all of our Ewes to graze on once spring comes around so the strange weather pattern is working out in our favor. For now its all about looking forward while at the same time trying to make the most of the resources we have available to us in the present.

Tractor and Straw

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Power In Numbers

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Power In Numbers

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From a very young age I have memories of being on a picket line in downtown Minneapolis when my mom and her fellow union coworkers were striking against the phone company that they worked for. Many years later I chose to work for a cooperative natural food store that was unionized and eventually took part in negotiating a union contract with a small group of people all trying to collectively be a voice for a much larger group of people. When my son was born it seemed like a natural fit to be apart of a cooperative preschool even though it wasn't always the most convenient fit for my work schedule. I won't tell you that any of these experiences were easy or perfect but each time I walked away with a wealth of knowledge, enriching new relationships, a feeling that my voice had been heard, and an overwhelming conviction that people have power in numbers.

Farming has not changed this conviction, if anything it has shown me how even more reliant we are on friends, neighbors, and complete strangers the more we strive to learn skills that will make us a sustainable farm. These skills are seen by some as means to be completely self-reliant but I think the idea that any one person or family can be completely self-reliant is a myth. It's partly the upcoming election, and partly from reading one too many farming blogs that focus more on how to keep the neighbors from learning that they are stock piling food instead of growing food for their community that made me feel like this was an important thing to be said. It also comes from a great appreciation we as a family have of the three different weekends having groups of people come out to the farm and help us accomplish building two shelters and one hoop house. Not to mention our immediate neighbors, and community loaning us tools, giving us advice, offering help, and a warm welcome to our new town. We did not move to a rural area to get away from people and become autonomous but instead to broaden our community.

Really the hoop house is only 90% done but the hard part is behind us and the rest is about tweaking how the sides of the house will come up and installing the doors on both ends. Here are some pictures of our progress.

We hope that we will soon be able to give back to our friends and community by producing the most delicious and nutrient rich food we possibly can. I hope there are other ways that we will be able to give back that we can't even conceive of yet. No matter how self-reliant we become this will always be a part of our bigger picture.

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Give them Shelter

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Give them Shelter

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This weekend was not the first and definitely not the last of what will be many work parties on the farm. The weather was perfect and we had two extra sets of hands to help us finish a half way started project and get a new one going. This piece of land has only had horses on it for the last several decades and the only buildings are a couple of old horse shelters. They were spaced out perfectly to frame out a third shelter in between them and we also added a fourth shelter on the end. After all the hard work this weekend we have one shelter for the sheep, one for hay, one for straw, and one for farm equipment. Having so many helping hands when it comes to roofing and framing are a necessity and we can't thank our friends Diana and Kieth enough.

Our new project is a DIY hoop house kit that utilized a bending mechanism to make your own hoops instead of buying the hoops and everything already assembled. The difference in price was huge and with a little makeshift work table made for the bending mechanism on the bed of the truck all of the hoops were made and the foundation finished. The only thing left is to frame out the ends of the hoop house and put the plastic on it. We have a couple more sets of hands coming out over the next several weeks so hopefully it will be finished in time to shelter the chickens in over the winter and by next summer the hoop house will be bursting at the seams with tomatoes, peppers, and anything else that could use some extra heat. We were planning on another shelter built closer to house for the many farming tools and equipment that we seem to be accumulating but it might have to wait until spring. Its hard decision to put money and time into so many small temporary shelters when what we would really like to do is build a barn.

Besides being a productive weekend it was really one of the most beautiful ones we have had since the Table Fire Mountains started. The mornings started out around 26 degrees with a smokey haze still in the air and by afternoon it would be up to 86 degrees outside and clear enough to see all of the mountains and low lying hills surrounding us. I also got a chance to meet some very nice farmers at our local farmers market this weekend and found out about a monthly meeting they have during the winter. They are planning a farm tour of the Kittitas Valley in May and said we were welcome to join. Everything always seems a little more doable when you've got a community of people to reach out to for help or just to bounce ideas off of and we had that in abundance this weekend.

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Barefoot and pregnant on the farm

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Barefoot and pregnant on the farm

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The 8 week countdown begins. 8 weeks until the baby arrives give or take a week or two and about the same for the first frost.  The first time I was pregnant I had lists of all the things I wanted to do to get the house ready for the baby and lists of the many pieces of must have baby gear that all the books insisted we would need. This time around I am not sure if its because I'm more experienced at having babies or because I am so preoccupied with the farm but we have no lists. We do have about three lists of projects that need to be done on the farm. The possible future projects, the near future projects, and the must get done before it gets cold and the baby turns our world upside down list. We are making some incredible progress for only having been here a couple of months but with each passing week I get slower and need more rest which means the whole farm slows down. We have two different weekends of friends coming out to work on projects and an auger that the boys preschool teacher lent us so I have a good feeling we will get our list done before we bring home the baby and the ground begins to freeze.

Matt has made some progress on fencing, finishing off a second paddock in the pasture closest to the house and also finishing fencing and a gate in the front yard so we can move the sheep to the many acres of green grass near the house, provided we also use a portable electric fence to keep the sheep out of trouble (ie: eating what little we have growing in the garden). We finished a grant proposal for installing a more modern irrigaition system for the whole farm. Right now we have flood irrigation which was a good system when our smaller piece of land was apart of a larger farm and it really did flood the ground with all the water that was needed. Now with all the acreage split up into smaller parcels there doesn't seem to be enough water volume to irrigate the land the way it once did. This funding from two different sources would cover a significant amount of the materials needed and a small part of the labor costs but we would still be putting a large portion of our own money and labor towards the project. The best part of this project is it would allow us to use land that is now sitting empty, expand the variety and number of animals we have on the farm, and we could begin to truly practice the intensive rotational grazing that we are interested in. It might even allow us to grow our own hay someday on one of the small pieces of flat land we have in the back pastures.

We also put together a design and order for a hoop house that is on our must be done before the ground freezes list.  This will allow us to have a good space to winter the chickens in, it will provide some much needed fertilizer for our garden, and be a good place to begin vegetable starts in the spring.  This is one of the more exciting projects on the list, most of the other projects are about building winter shelters for farm equipment and straw. That and bringing in and moving another ton of hay into the shelters to feed the sheep this winter.

It's a daunting list but one that will be well worth it once spring arrives and we'll be ready to really start farming full time. It feels crazy to be doing all of this when we are about to have a newborn but it also feels like it's just the way it was meant to be. I was born during a time that my mother moved back to her parents farm in Missouri and spent the first part of my life and then every summer after that at on their farm until they sold it almost a decade later. Spending so much time on my grandparents farm and having such beautiful memories of my childhood have really informed who I am today.  A huge part of those memories are of my incredibly strong, fierce, loving, hardworking, and capable grandmother. She raised not only her own children on that farm but a had a huge part in raising several of her grandchildren on that farm.  She is who I think about when I start freaking out wondering if I will be able to handle all of the responsibilities and challenges that we have taken on. She was an anchor for me growing up and continues to be to this day, many years after she passed away. Here she is on her farm and her beautiful smile.

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