The 'Urban' in Urban Farming

Some days aren't that glamorous, but you still have to get stuff done. Even the boring stuff.

I'd like to forget about the obvious fence line that runs the entire length of our field.  Truth is, my gaze sprints up and down the line once or twice before I even realize it.  I'm looking for missing slats on the west fence that was just rebuilt last year...or if there's more graffiti on the old fence line to the south.  [Oh geez, please don't let our fence become a tagging war zone!]  If we see something shiny in the distance, we assume it's a fresh beer can from someone's outing the night before.

We've got two different neighboring apartment complexes to either side of the fence line.  We think before our presence existed in the field it must've been a thoroughfare for any passerby or person looking for a shortcut to Redwood Road.  Lots of weeds and piles to block the view.  Lots of holes in fences to squeeze between.  As we invest more time in the field, naturally we've become more aware of activity.  And garbage.  The amount of rubbish carelessly tossed over the fence is so silly, given there are dumpsters the offenders have to walk past to throw it over the fence.  

This morning the field was frozen, so we decided to fire up ole Bessy and clean up what we could... we'd seen garbage build up for a few months now.  Not surprised but always amused by the findings.  We are eons from where we started!  Our annual garbage pickup is easy compared to the layers of filth we first encountered 4 or 5 years ago.  Did we see ourselves doing this when we started? No. But it has to get done.  Our persistence has already paid off. So we go on!

State of the Beehive Address

First order of business: a shoutout to our local pollinators!  We thank you for being self-sufficient and hardcore.  You show up no matter what and shake those booties all day.  Thank you for doing what you do well!

We also just ordered 2 hives worth of honeybees to arrive April 15th. Beyond jazzed over here!  We had bees for the few years previous to 2016 and loved it.  Most of it anyway.  The way they ebb and flow during the season is nothing short of a miracle.  We are so stoked to have them around again.   

Charlie parading the ladies in April 2015

Charlie parading the ladies in April 2015

The entirety of 2015 proved to be a sad year for our ladies.  We had seven hives, the most we'd ever had at one time.  One by one they dissolved into a crime scene hosted by the local yellow jackets hungry for bee carcasses and their liquid gold.  Weak colonies? Disease? CCD?

By the onset of winter all the hives were empty.  We had an inspector from UDAF come check them out and results came back negative for any of the typical bee epidemics.  We ended the growing season with no real answers to what happened.  

Alas, we try again.  

Closing the Loop. Thoughts from 2015.

One of the goals we are always reaching for is working with all local customers and vendors.  As a small (small!) business we feel honored when folks want to buy our product at the market or say they like supporting local farmers, especially when there are plenty of other options.  It's also a beautiful position to be in when we can offer food we are very proud of to people that have been looking for it!

We imagine that if we appreciate local business and feedback then other businesses feel the same...maybe, maybe not.  Going into our second year at farmer's markets it is obvious to us that the market community is one of the most valuable things we have going.  (Friends and family are a given asset!!)  The connections we've made at the market have already proven to be invaluable.  Local foodies, neighbors, chefs, home-cooks, agricultural entrepreneurs (agripreneurs?!), and so many more that it's overwhelming! Hence, this post!  

We left the market today with a sense of pride for what we're doing, and of course, our community. Hopefully by being transparent about who we choose to partner with will give you an idea of how we like to do business and encourage you to keep supporting "small"!

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This is juicing pulp collected from a local coffee shop.  It went straight into our compost to help achieve a nice balanced soil.  Many of the same nutrients those vegetables needed to grow will be going straight back into OURS!  And the pulp wasn't sent to the landfill.  Hooray!

Water on the Brain

It doesn't matter where you're trying to grow. The fact is that water is a necessary component to this whole operation.  I doubt I need to elaborate.  Just imagine how cranky you'd be if you didn't get water for days.

This winter, and now spring, has really thrown us for a loop.  Based off historic weather trends and patterns, this year is very screwy.  This is our third week of overcast and rain, making it the wettest May to date.  Typically it's in the 90s and sunny as can be.  Since our snowpack was far less than desirable, we'll take any precip we can get! No complaints here.  However, just because it's been monsoon season for us Utah folk does not mean we are taking our water situation lightly.   

I like to imagine we are at least somewhat aware of our environment and what we're up against trying to cultivate life in this valley.  We didn't name our farm High Desert for the hell of it.  Our elevation, rainfall, climate, they all play a part!  We are always looking for more ways to reduce our mark.  

*A quick side note is an encouragement from us! If you have turf/lawn/grass please read up on these watering guidelines for the summer.  Many people over do their watering... by far! Grass is pretty tough stuff.  Save your MONEY. Save WATER! https://extension.usu.edu/yardandgarden/htm/lawns/establishment/

This year we are trying to hook up as many of our crops as possible to soaker hoses and drip irrigation.  We have used flood irrigation in the past, but would prefer to stay away from this if possible.  If it's not done right there can be flooding and muddy messes and erosion.  This method also waters everything.  Yes, it waters your crops.  It also waters every weed seed! Since we don't spray for weeds we were dealing with man-eating, spiky, invasive weeds all season.  This was a few years ago now when we started our growing venture with 7 acres of corn...!!!  A lot of water is lost through evaporation as well.

Soaker hoses and drip lines help us put the water where we want it and how much.  We've put shut-off valves to most rows so we can control what row we want watered also.  We are not watering potential weed forests and it also helps keep splashing of potential harmful pathogens to a minimum.  Also, many vegetable plants benefit from not letting their foliage get wet.  This helps reduce potential spread of viruses, spores and bacteria.  

A down side to the soaker/drip lines is that it needs to be pressurized.  That's how the water is squeezed out of all those tiny holes.  Right now this means we are using culinary water from the city (expensive).  We are in the process of figuring out the feasibility of a solar pump for our open irrigation ditch.  We could use that water on crops like corn or tomatoes, crops that are not as delicate and susceptible to nasty pathogens, like lettuce.  In the mean time we'll just keep plugging away!

Another project in the works is water catchment, which is now very legal and awesome. We have a few prominent structures around the property that could be wonderful for this.  

Romantic? Depends on the day.

I don't consider myself a farmer.  A grower might be better, but still feels weird too. I really don't know what else you would call what we're trying to do though.  For some reason, to me, those titles are attached to a grand picture of rows upon rows of tasseled corn or acres of melons.  Except for the whole Dodge endorsement, I love this commercial... don't judge me.

Obviously these days are a-changin! And I don't believe monocropping is the answer.  It actually causes a lot problems.  That could be a stand alone blog in itself.  Anyhow! One thing I am %100 sure about is the amount of time, physical exertion and drive it takes to want to show up psyched to keep growing things.  This is especially true when bugs are eating everything, the irrigation ditch gets shut off, again, and people are insisting that Walmart sells their corn for $2/dozen.  Well, I'll tell you what to do with that corn.  

Charlie and I spent a good portion of today worrying about the crops we've already planted and feeling grateful for the ones we haven't planted.  All we could do was watch, really. With gusts up to 50 mph and then a rainy/slushy snow, we're hopeful tomorrow will bring us good news.  Maybe not all the cabbages will have been crushed under the weight of the snow on top of the frost cloth? We'll do it again tomorrow.  It's not that romantic or pretty. 

But I wouldn't change any of it.

Ladybugs on Parade

The go-to for small talk about the farm tends to gravitate to the funky winter we did, or did not, have. While it was nice, kind of, to have such a mild winter the fact is that we are in for more of a drought nightmare than before.  Sure, we didn't have to shovel snow or deal with inversion air as much. So that was great.  But if you really loved this winter, then move to Arizona because the rest of us are praying for a heap-o-snow to bury us all.

On a not-so-gloomy topic, the lady beetles are going bananas right now, and have been for some weeks.  Wether we noticed this just from being in the field or if there really are more than usual, it's been humbling to watch those little things crawl over everything.  If you're unfamiliar, lady beetles, especially in larva form, are voracious aphid eaters.  This may be a bitter sweet moment.  We may have unseen aphid  colonies everywhere already. Doh! We've been wondering how things would play out from such a mild winter.  In the mean time we'll just enjoy the little lovelies and their sweet, sweet omen.