Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Adventures in Farm Maintenance

First a quick CSA update: I’ll be posting 2012 CSA info here soon. It looks like I’ll be adding a drop site in Minneapolis and Menomonie. Also, lamb and goat meat will be available at the next meat delivery, Sat. Jan. 14. We should have that meat back from the butcher early next week, at which point I’ll post a price list for you to peruse. Also on meat, there is still plenty of ground beef left but we are sold out of all other cuts.

It’s high time for a farm story…don’t you think?

In the fall after the CSA is done, the garlic is planted and the fields are cleaned up we usually set to work on maintenance projects…there is no shortage of those around here! After all, I inherited a rather dilapidated farm. Don’t get me wrong, I think the farm is really cool but it’s definitely a work in progress, my husband Cass says by the time we retire (in like 40 years or so) we should have a real nice place here.

So last winter I enlisted my dad to help me with some structural issues in one of the barns. I wanted to get the barn shorn up so that I could have it roofed the following spring. At that time, the roof was the original tin one and it leaked terribly sending a cascade of water or snow down to the lower level which confused cats, dogs, chickens, cows, sheep and goats alike. Why is it raining inside? I’m sure they all asked that question whenever they came into the barn to get out of the rain and found it raining there too in spots.

The barn I tackled last winter is the oldest structure on the farm. It was already built when my great grandparents moved here in 1927. No one knows who built it or when exactly it was built. Several folks estimate that it is at least 100 years old.

The barn is dug into the ground on two sides. The other two sides have been built onto over the years. In the 1950’s my grandpa built an addition onto the old barn. We call that barn “the new addition” it’s the newest building on the farm.

Also at some point in the 1950’s my grandpa bought a building at an auction and then hauled the whole works to his farm where he deposited it right next to the old barn. That building was used as a milk house and calf pen for many years. I now use it as a packing shed for the CSA.

So if you can imagine it, the old barn (which is also the tallest building on the farm) is connected to two other structures (the 1950’s barn and the auction-bought shed-thing). Because of this situation I felt it was very important to fix up the old barn otherwise it might bring down other buildings as it decayed.

My first step was to clear out the haymow. It had been used as a storage area for old junk…errr, I mean treasures for quite a number of years. Underneath the treasures, was a layer of loose hay about one or two feet thick. The loose hay effectively hid all the holes in the floor and made clearing out the hay mow really pretty exciting. I just never knew if I was standing on the floor or a layer of compacted loose hay that could give way underneath me at any second. Luckily, due to my cat-like reflexes and some strategically places boards I never made the plunge to the lower floor.

Anyway, after hauling away a lot of junk and pitching out a mountain of ancient hay I was ready to assess the situation. I learned that two major beams that ran from the hip in the roof to the floor of the hay mow were completely shot and just sort of dangling there. A section of wall near one of these beams had rotted off at floor level. This 10 foot section of wall waved in the breeze. Additionally, both of the main sill plates (pretty major boards that support the roof rafters and wall studs) had disintegrated in spots as well. And lets not forget the holey floor.

After patching the floor so that I could actually walk around up there, I had my dad over for a consultation. We decided that one of the big beams could be salvaged but the other had to go. The sill plate could be patched and once we had the sill plate patched we could nail the waving-in-the-breeze wall back together.

While all this may seem straightforward, this project took about four weeks. It involved fabricating (from scratch!) several giant metal brackets, modifying a pole jack, the use of several bottle jacks, buying customized lumber at a sawmill and really quite a lot of swearing.

At every turn we had to jack up parts of the barn in order to remove damaged pieces and put new lumber in. If you’ve ever jacked up a building you know how creepy this can be. The building makes all kinds of noises and sometimes you can even see it moving which is really pretty freaky when you are standing inside it! As a result I always get nervous when the jacks come out.

One day my dad and I were working on tearing out the beam that was totally rotten. My dad was up on a ladder prying nails out of where the beam joined the roof. He asked me to go get something out of my garage. I was in a state of nervousness since we had had to jack up a major portion of the barn in order to get this big beam out. So I scampered out of the barn and jogged over to the garage.

While I was rummaging around in the garage, I heard the most peculiar sound…hopefully I never hear this again. It was a series of snaps...real quick like giant dominos falling…about 20 of them or so. At about number 10 I thought “oh my God the barn is falling down and dad’s in there standing on a ladder!!!!”. So I ran out of the garage just in time to hear three big crashes.

As I skidded to a stop in front of the barn, which appeared to still be standing, my dad stuck his head out and said “Holy shit, I think your machine shed just fell over”. Sure enough, it did…damn it. Sometimes it’s like pissing on fires over here…seriously.

We went up to look at the machine shed which had been built by my grandpa in the 1950’s. I had known the shed was in bad shape and also in serious need of a new roof. Cass and I had attempted to stabilize it for the winter by cutting down a tree and bracing the log inside the building. But apparently that was not enough. We’d had plans to restore the building…I sorta wanted to turn it into a party shack.

Even though I was bummed that the building had fallen over, it was interesting to see how it had happened. One wall had leaned out to such a degree that it simply broke free from the rest of the structure. At that point each of the roof rafters snapped in turn (that was the domino-sounding thing I’d heard). After all the rafters snapped the wall that had originally separated collapsed (the first big crash), then the two other walls fell in succession (the other two crashes).

After we finished surveying the damage, there was nothing else to do but go back to working on the barn and hope a similar fate wouldn’t become of it. We headed back up to the hay mow and very soon my uncle, who lives down the road about half a mile, came hurrying up the driveway in his jeep.

He had heard the machine shed collapse. But figured it was the barn that had gone down since he knew we were working on it. We all had a good laugh at the irony of trying to keep up one building while another falls over.

In May I hired two roofers to come put new tin on the roof. It looks great! And doesn’t leak! We put 450 square bails up there this summer…sure feels good to use the old barn. As for the machine shed, the rubble has been cleared and we were able to salvage some pretty nice lumber. Miraculously, one corner of the building is still standing. Perhaps a party shack is still possible….

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

2011 CSA Survey Results

It finally looks like winter around here! That means it will soon be time to start thinking about the 2012 garden (I already got a seed catalog in the mail!). Before I start that though, I’m going to spend some time thinking about the 2011 garden. And the best way to start that is to go through the 2011 CSA survey. Eighteen shareholders responded to our 2011 CSA survey. That works out to about 30% of our members. Thanks to everyone who filled these out. They are very educational for me and I appreciate your input. Below you’ll find the questions, the answers, what folks said and some of my insight. - Eener

1. On a scale from one to ten how satisfied were you with your CSA season? One would be not at all and ten would be very much so.
The most popular response to this question was an eight. One person gave the season a five, two people gave it a 10, four people gave it a nine, two gave it a six and two gave it a seven.

2. Was there anything in your box that you didn’t use because you didn’t like it?
The big winner for this question was okra; seven members listed it as something they didn’t like. In second place were melons which received three dislikes. I have a suspicion that some folks got melons that were either too ripe or not ripe enough, it’s hard to gauge when melons are just right.

Several items got two votes these were: hot peppers, kohlrabi, radishes and horseradish. A bunch more got one vote those were: fennel, eggplant, mustard greens, sunflower seeds, beets and very small potatoes. Interestingly enough, six members said there was nothing they didn’t like.

From this question I think it’s clear that there is no need to plant okra next year. It also appears as though we’ll need to work harder on harvesting melons so that they get to the members at the right eating stage.

3. Was there anything in your box you didn’t use because you didn’t know what to do with it?

Ten survey responders said there was nothing in their boxes that they didn’t know what to do with. Okra and horseradish received two votes each. Kohlrabi, seven top, turnips, tomatillos, fennel, sunflower seeds and hot peppers received one vote each.

4. Was your box in a cooler or entryway at your drop site?
This question was split about 50/50 which is good. The reason I asked it is because I’m wondering if there is any difference in quality between boxes that are put into a cooler or those put into an air conditioned entryway (see the next question for that answer).

5. Did your box get to you in good shape? For example, was anything squished or wilted?

All survey responders said their boxes got to them in good shape. As a result, I do not think there is much of a difference between picking up from a cooler or entryway.

6. How did you feel about your pick up time? Would an earlier or later pick up time be better?
Fifteen members thought their pick up time was fine. Three mentioned that earlier pick up times would have sometimes been more convenient.

7. Do you think you got a fair amount of produce for the price you paid for the share?

Fourteen members said yes to this question. Here is what the other four responders said:

“No. Probably weather influenced.”

“It seems we got more last summer than this summer. This may be a result of the difference in tomato output mostly.”

“Would have liked to receive a bit more, including Brussels sprouts.”

“It would have been nice to have larger amounts of an item than small amounts of many items.”

The tomatoes did really terrible this year and lots of folks were disappointed. They are one of those crops that really add a lot to a box and it’s really awful when they don’t do well. In 2010 we had a bumper crop of tomatoes. Brussel sprouts also did poorly this year. Many of the plants didn’t produce any.

Dividing up the crops is always interesting, especially with half shares. A couple of other folks made similar comments about variety versus amount. We want everyone to get everything and sometimes it’s hard to pack everything into the boxes in useable amounts.

8. Here is a list of what I harvested this year. Any major favorites or major dislikes? Suggestions for new things?

Green Onions, Onions, Peas, Beans, Rhubarb, Spinach, Leaf Lettuce, Head Lettuce, Mustard Greens, Herbs, Flowers, Cucumbers, Cherry Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Broccoli, Kale, Swiss Chard, Garlic Scapes, Garlic, Potatoes, Carrots, Kohlrabi, Turnips, Turnip Tops, Beets, Okra, Tomatillos, Sweet Corn, Summer Squash, Sweet Peppers, Hot Peppers, Winter Squash, Pie Pumpkins, Melons, Soybeans, Shelling Beans, Sunflower Seeds, Green Tomatoes, Horseradish.

On the major favorites side of things tomatoes scored highest with eight votes. I think it’s safe to say that what few tomatoes we had were really good. Garlic scapes came in second with six votes. Winter squash was third with five votes and soybeans were fourth with four votes.

I’m surprised about the soybeans, last year they didn’t get a very good review and I had considered just dropping them for 2011. Now I’m glad I didn’t. Many, many other crops received one or two votes each.

On the major dislikes side of things okra was the clear winner with four votes. Kohlrabi came in second with four votes. Shelling beans and sunflower seeds tied for third with three votes each. Other things on the major dislikes list included: flowers, turnips, beets, mustard greens, eggplant, kale, swiss chard, turnip tops, lettuce, tomatillos and green tomatoes.

Ironically, all the items that received one or two votes as a dislike also received one or two votes as a favorite (funny how that goes).

9. Anything else you would like to add?

Here are some things people added:

“I would suggest less variety per box and more volume per item to make a substantial dish.”

“More squash.”

“This was our first CSA ever and we loved it!”

“Fewer beets.”

“Sure missed the tomatoes. We get things happen though.”

“Even though we got a lot of Kale, I really loved it.”

“I became a convert to kale chips this year. Can’t get enough.”

“It would have been nice to have larger amounts of an item then small amounts of many items.”

New crop suggestions for 2012 included: sweet potatoes, parsnips and raspberries.

I tried sweet potatoes in 2010 and it didn’t go the best mostly due to the type of soil I have. But perhaps with some research I could find a variety to try that might do better here. I think parsnips would be a great thing to try. I’ll put that on the list for 2012. We are starting to grow raspberries. For now they will go to full share members only.