Spring 2019 Newsletter

Greetings lovely followers of The Grove!

Yes, quite a long time it has been since I offered my last ramblings of the goings-on of the The Grove. Under-promise and over-deliver is a good motto, so as always, hoping to do more content creation this year, but no promises.

So what’s new ‘round these parts?!?!

Renovations/Improvements

We have seemingly endless priorities here at The Grove, but we realized the need to elevate one priority even higher to meet the needs of our particular context – to improve the beauty and functionality of the property. A certain level of charm and mystique has existed since the days of the Olde Tyme Saloon, but certain design aspects and aesthetic characteristics have been lacking.

Before I go any further, an acknowledgement and gratitude of the colossal undertaking that the previous owners, Jim Kloss and Esther Golton undertook prior to our arrival on the property, is in order. Jim and Esther truly raised this incredible place from the ashes, as it was in very poor shape and in dire need of much more than a make-over. I’ve seen the pictures of the condition it was in before they took over, and you would be utterly amazed at what they did. With the help of others, they made the big, necessary moves like replacing the roof, gutting and refurnishing the entire upstairs and downstairs, new wiring, new plumbing, putting in a new septic and leach field, improved the foundation of the main cabin as well as the other log cabin, built yet another cabin, and had the vision to design that glorious main hall and all of its fascinating elements and engineering feats. Before I ramble on any further, the improvements that we’re about to talk about can be conceived only because of the passion and dedication that those 2 visionaries had for the place and their impressive renovative achievement.

North Wall

As many of you witnessed, we started working on the north wall of the main cabin at The Grove while my dad was visiting last summer. That wall was lined almost completely with windows that were all compromised in one way or another. Some of them were straight up broken, others h

ad seal issues and were taking on condensation. In addition to these shortcomings, the wall is north-facing, which means there’s hardly any direct sunlight coming through anyways – only lots of warmth going straight out! If that wall was on the south side, it would be a different story. So we took all of the windows out, replaced 4 of the 6 with new windows, and also made that wall thicker and more insulated, and as a result, much more energy efficient. Just a bit more trim work and the wall will be finished. It’s just drywall now, but I hope to add tongue and groove paneling at some point down the road.

Log Finishing

One major tasks of the north wall project mentioned above was the sanding, staining, and finishing of the vertical log posts and the horizontal header log that highlight that wall. I really do appreciate the rich, dark stain that currently distinguish the logs in the main hall. But as gorgeous as it is, if you look closely, most of the logs still have portions of bark still on them, limb knobs, scuffiness, and grittiness, and are otherwise unfinished. My impression is that the builders were so spent on the clearing, logging, and construction that when it came time to finish the logs, they just chose to slop a heavy dark stain on them to hide the remaining bark and blemishes. This project was a great opportunity to start the intimidating task of refinishing all of the logs on the property in a bite-sized section. I’ve chosen the method of grinding the logs down to bare wood with a 4.5” grinder, which is a very intimate interaction with every square inch of the exposed log, that actually requires a fair amount of finesse! But the logs look gorgeous, and now it’s hard to look at the rest of the logs without shaking my head and envisioning them looking the same way.

Barn Retrofit

It’s been no secret to us or anyone who’s visited The Grove since we’ve been here, that the barn has been bit of an eyesore. It’s getting even worse with the more farm “stuff” we accumulate. We totally admit it! Well, it’s time to do something about it AND utilize the space much more effectively.

The microgreens operation has expanded in capacity and in infrastructure. Last summer was the largest outdoor grow space we’ve had with a 26’x12’ greenhouse I made out of bent EMT (metal conduit). And following suite this year, we’re expanding once again. This time we’re going big and really beginning to tailor the infrastructure of the property to meet our needs. The plan is to retrofit the barn into a microgreens greenhouse as well as a mushroom production facility (see below). There’s much noodling still to be done on just how and what exactly will be done, but the main tasks are going to be cutting off a portion of the roof to add greenhouse plastic (perhaps polycarbonate panels in the future), turning the existing workshop into a germination room and possibly a mushroom colonization room, and installing all the shelving, sinks, and countertops for processing. The urgent step is getting the plastic up to make it an actual greenhouse, and then all of the rest will be done in phases throughout the summer. This is going to be a BIG project! Other possible upgrades down the road are laying a concrete slab for flooring, installing mushroom colonization and fruiting rooms, and refrigeration room(s). It’s really hard to conceptualize all the work this is going to take. One foot in front of the other.

Another project on the barn I’d like to complete this summer is adding a lean-to to the north and east sides of the barn. The aforementioned “farm stuff” needs a dedicated space out of the weather. We’ll try to use logs from our property to build as much of the addition as possible.

Bath House

The major bottleneck for nightly lodging, seasonal tenants, and larger events at The Grove is the lack of bathrooms on the property, particularly full bathrooms with showers. We have far too many overnight guests and too many large events for there to be so few bathrooms. We’re also finally getting slightly less comfortable with strangers in our (what should be private) living spaces. Figured it’d happen at some point.

After discussing all the options, I think we’ve decided that attaching it to the west gable end of the main cabin is the most practical and convenient place to put it. We initially wanted to put it in the middle of all the tenant cabins, but as a stand-alone structure that far away from everything else, it would require another septic, heating source, electric, well or water line, etc. Spendy! While folks from those cabins will have to walk just a bit further, it’s going to be way better than it is now and way more practical from a cost standpoint. AND, it’ll provide overflow bathroom use for events at The Grove.

Not sure when this one is getting done. We’re hoping we can at least start this year, but no promises. It’s a high-ticket item and will require outside help.

Farm News

Microgreens

As mentioned above, the microgreens operation continues to grow each year, and this year is no different. Over the winter growing season, we ended up moving the grow area from the extra downstairs bedroom into our downstairs living area, which helped both in ambient temperature for the microgreens, and ambient natural light and shelves of vibrant life for the human species living there. The number of members to the microgreens program was as high as it’s ever been and we’re back online with one of our favorite restaurants – 229 Parks Restaurant and Tavern just south of Denali National Park. The incredible chef/owner, Laura Cole, also seized an opportunity to take over the Muse Restaurant in the Anchorage Museum and all of its many associated catering jobs, which means more Anchorage action for us from a reputable venue and chef. We’re so lucky and honored!

We look to continue partnerships with Talkeetna businesses that will act as drop-off points for their employees and perhaps others. As of now, Talkeetna Air Taxi (TAT), The Talkeetna Ranger Station, Sunshine Clinic, KTNA, and Northshore Cyclery are all summer drop points for their staff this summer. A huge thanks to KTNA and Northshore Cyclery for being points of pick-up for others in the community! So if you don’t work downtown and are looking for a pick-up, reach out to either of these locations. Also, we plan on participating in the farmers market at the Fairview during Live at 5, and anyone interested in the microgreens program can always pick up there from 5-8pm on Fridays. And, you can always pick up at The Grove – 24 hours / 7days a week. To sign up, please visit our website at thegrovealaska.com. If you’re interested in being a pick-up location for your business employees or others in the Talkeetna area, please let me know!

Mushrooms

The thing I’m probably most excited about this year is the introduction of mushrooms to the farm. This will probably be a rather slow introduction, but it’s a product we’ve been thinking about and toying with for some time now. In the past, we’ve inoculated birch logs with shiitake spawn, which apparently isn’t the best wood to use for shiitake production. That coupled with Alaska’s climate prevented the logs from fruiting until years later, which makes me wonder about the viability of commercial outdoor production of mushrooms on logs this far north.

This summer and into the future, we’ll be focusing on Oyster mushrooms, supposedly one of the easiest of all fungi to produce indoor or outdoor. I’m sure I have a ton to figure out and trial, but it seems like oyster mushrooms are going to dovetail nicely with the microgreens operation, since it’s very similar in terms of grow cycles and growing conditions.

There will certainly be challenges. The best grow mediums for Oysters seem to be supplemented sawdust/wood chips or straw. Sawdust and wood chips are easy to come by in these parts, but they need to be steam sterilized for many hours which is both technology- and fuel-dependent. Straw only needs to be pasteurized in hot water, but is not as easy to come by up here in the north. It sounds like hay might be too “green”/not woody enough for reliable oyster production. I suspect that figuring out the right grow medium and how to adequately sterilize or pasteurize it will be the biggest hurdle to production. I think the new greenhouse is going to prove fabulous for growing mushrooms, which need certain gradients of warm, humid conditions for colonization and fruiting. At the top of the barn, just under the hot roofline should be great for good hot colonization, and the lower levels should be great for fruiting since temperatures there are slightly cooler and prone to frequent misting. This is going to be an adventure! Let us know if you’re interested in oysters mushrooms from The Grove and we’ll be sure to get you on the list.

Pigs

Pigs are coming back to The Grove! Oh how dearly we missed the pigs last summer. We’ll be picking up 10 piglets during the last week of April or first week of May and they’ll be hard at work again, digging, tilling, clearing more land, and making more pasture. They’re such incredible animals to have on the farm. I’m not sure which is the primary objective for us, the meat they provide us or the farm work they do for us. No, that’s not true. It’s been so long since we’ve had our homemade bacon, we’ve forgotten how valuable their culinary uses are! Needless to say, they serve many purposes at The Grove and we’re so happy to have them back.

Sheep

The newest species on the farm that we’re so incredibly excited about, is sheep! Our farm is about to take another large step in diversifying and becoming more and more full-circle. Being the permaculture farm that we strive to be, we realize just how important grazers are to the fertility and overall health and efficiency of a farm. Continually knocking the grasses, forbs, shrubs, and small trees back increases soil health by adding organic matter to the soil by way of proportional root die off, trampling by hooves, and of course, by what comes out of the animals back end. Not to mention, the vast majority of their diet comes back year after year and is essentially free! What an absolute godsend for a permaculture farm.

We are interested in using all 3 of the major resources that sheep offer, but we’re particularly interested in raising sheep for lamb (the other 2 being fiber/wool and milk). I’m very curious what the Upper Susitna demand will be for lamb. We’ve gotten very good feedback from the little surveying we’ve done. Please let us know if you’d like us to get you on the “interested” list.

The sheep should be on-site by early May and I’ve already begun preparing for them. I made a skiddable structure out of a couple of old log hewn logs and some of the greenhouse bows that I bent for my old microgreens greenhouse to move around the pasture for rotational grazing. It’s a 12’ x 12’ structure that should be perfect for allowing the sheep to get out of the hot sun and cold rain. More to come on the sheep in future newsletters and blogs.

Chickens

Chickens are going to be downsized this year, but will still certainly play a role on the farm. We’re going to move them out of the barn and are revitalizing the shed in the middle of the yard into the chicken coop. Hope they don’t make too much noise for our guests! They’ll continue to munch away on microgreens scraps and we can never get enough of the fertility and eggs they produce.

Meat chickens are still on our minds, but not for this year. We hope to implement them again maybe next year!

Other Stuff

Ok, here’s a rapid fire round of everything else I’m thinking of regarding the farm! We have excellent prospects for 3 farm volunteers this summer – Jesse, Jonah, and Hanna! They’re all incredibly positive, sound like they have good work ethics, and are all skilled in many ways that can contribute to the farm.

We’re now on Instagram – even though I think we only have 3 pictures on there as of now! If you’re curious, our Instagram handle is “thegrove34”.

We had by far our busiest winter in the “Events” realm, so thank you so much to all those who participated!

Ok, that’s it for now, folks. Sorry it takes so long to update, then have to do a year’s worth of catching up! Thanks for paying attention to us and for all of your support. The Grove continues to move forward, helping nourish body, mind, and soil! Hope to check back in with you all much sooner rather than later next time!

The Dream Continues

The Dream Continues

This message has been a long time coming, and to be sure, it’s been a roller-coaster trying to navigate the next chapter of our lives as a family. As you’ve probably heard, last winter we had planned on leaving the state to move back to Michigan and farm my parent’s 15 acres that’s been in the family for several generations. And as you’ve also probably heard…now we’re staying! The truth is we never wanted to leave Talkeetna, but time away from family, finances, energy, and logistics were all running short and we were simply running out of steam on our Alaskan dream. Luckily, it looks as though we may have scratched and clawed just long enough and through various twists of fate, may have made it over the proverbial hump. It certainly hasn’t been easy.

Nevertheless, the summer of 2018 was very good for us, psychologically and from a business standpoint for several key reasons, which began to give us the hope we needed. We finally finished our tiny house for nightly rentals, which gave us 2 available rentals on the property instead of one. Now only one more to go! We’re now beginning to optimize and leverage the structures on the property that have been so financially burdensome in the past. This “burden” is now working for us, which was the idea from the start, it just took longer than expected to execute! We feel like we have a lot to offer on this little farmstead and we’ve really enjoyed connecting with all the guests that have been drawn here. We’ve actually had a much greater reach within the small farm/homestead advocacy space than we’d otherwise have. It’s always been an objective of ours to support this movement and we’re loving this role as a demonstration site for people around the world.

We continued fine-tuning the microgreens business, although there’s always room for improvement there! Our sales weren’t necessarily greater, but we cleaned up our operations to the point where we’ve made it a much more efficient and viable enterprise for us. Now were looking to take big steps in moving that operation out to the barn next summer. More to come in a future blog there!

After a healthy break for Arlo’s first year or so, Mindy has gotten back to working full-time at the brewery in a new role(s) that she loves very much. Denali Brewing has been such a crucial piece of the puzzle for us over the past 4 years and we’re so grateful they’re such an accommodating employer for our family and our community.

And finally, Sunshine Station Child Care have proven critical in helping watch Arlo, and in no small way has helped pave the way for all of the former to happen by freeing us up. Raising a child has been such a humbling dose of reality for us, where we never thought we’d be handing him over to someone, somewhere else so much, but it’s just what needed to happen for us to be able to make progress. And he loves it there, and gets time with other kiddos and adults, and time away from mommy and daddy. Turns out all these things are good, just not how we envisioned it. It’s nice to surrender, or rather, alter, some of your values sometimes. And things rarely turn out as you plan them, as it turns out.

Taken together, all we think all of these things will give us the ability to carry the dream forward, give us the ability to get back to see our families more often, and provide us some space to breathe. Thanks for all your support and understanding, and sorry we’ve been so flaky. Talkeetna is our home for now, and hopefully for good!

Many more blogs on musings from The Grove to come in the coming weeks, months, and years. Stay tuned!

A Volunteer’s Take

A Volunteer’s Take

A week or so ago, our beloved Spring volunteer here at the farmstead, Kate Shavel said goodbye to us to head to her summer job of guiding adolescents into the maritime wilderness outside of Wrangell, AK. Kate was an absolute godsend beyond imagination. Her work ethic, toughness, strength, kindness, and overall good energy will be indelibly stamped upon this landscape.

We like to give optionality to volunteers that join us here at The Grove with how they can help us out. One option being, especially during the occasional rainy, wet, and cold periods that can descend upon us, helping create content for our followers. During one particularly cold and rainy day, after slopping around in the garden for a few hours, we suggested maybe she some in and do some indoor work, like writing a blog, since she enjoys writing so much. It’d didn’t require a whole lot of arm twisting before she was at the computer with a hot beverage, thawing out and giving a glimpse of what she’d been up to on the farm and what it meant to her.

Please enjoy the following blog from Kate Shavel, written on May 22, 2017.

Kate enjoying the sunshine one beautiful spring morning

I traveled North to Talkeetna, back to winter at the beginning of April, and was welcomed at The Grove by the sweet Knapp family, a warm and colorful lodge, snow on the ground and Spring on her way.

Waiting for the ground to show, I found myself splitting and stacking wood, and indoors, listening to music and planting a plethora of vegetables and trees from seed. We started brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, etc.), squash, herbs like fennel, basil and cilantro. And grapes, peaches, plums, cherry, and more!

We refresh ourselves with birch water, the slightly sweet and oh so alive sap from a generous birch tree and are reminded of the season of abundance to come with over wintered highbush cranberries and lingonberries. We nourish ourselves with beautiful microgreen salads and farm fresh eggs.

On earth day, at approximately 2:22 am, I got to see the Aurora for the first time! And was mesmerized by the eerie yet familiar beauty of it. Shadows, lights, shapes of wild animals flying across the sky…

I’m so grateful to have found this place and these people and to have enjoyed several weeks of meaningful earth based work. Some projects I’ve been involved with include: creating a hugelkultur bed, turning compost, shaping and amending garden beds, harvesting fiddleheads, cultivating gooseberries, planting a hedgerow of beneficial trees, cleaning out the chicken coop, and transplanting starts. I’ve also gotten to transform pig lands into new growable spaces. By this I mean- clear brush, fill in the pig dug holes and level out the landscape, bring in chicken manure, loosen the soil and take out rocks and roots and then create potato patches, onion beds, squash lands and other vegetable beds and pathways. 

The spring is now here in all her fullness. I am in love with the sweet fresh scent of the air. All the poplar and cottonwood buds exploding open, vibrant green everywhere. The days seem infinite with all the light leading up to solstice, and this imparts a wild energy full of possibility and potential.

Arugula Demotion and Introducing The Aurora Mix

Arugula Demotion

The acknowledgment is long overdue, and now it’s time to finally do something. My arugula crop, for whatever reason, has just not been performing as well as the others. Since I started growing it, there have been seemingly random poor batches of this variety of greens here and there. Some subpar quality, some poor germination, some slow growth, and quite often some early die-off, which then gets intermingled with the good growth, and just causes lots of headaches for harvesting and getting the yield you planned for, as you might imagine. Some batches are ok, but the bottom line is, it’s been just too unreliable in my system, which causes me to have to pull from other varieties to compensate and throws off an entire harvest that’s been calculated nearly to the ounce and drives me crazy when I’m trying to fill orders as accurately as possible. The crop might just be too finicky, it might be other variables my system (e.g. seeding density, temperature, etc.), and I’m convinced that my latest batch of seed was contaminated with mold spores that manifest themselves in the later stages of it’s growth cycle, which certainly doesn’t help anything and was just the last straw.

Arugula has been among the most loved varieties of micro greens that I grow (probably a close second to sunflower), so I’m not giving up on it and will likely continue to try at least a tray or 2 each growing cycle to see if it responds better to altered growing environments (e.g. the change to the greenhouse) and/or if I can get it’s issues figured out. But, I’ve decided I need to make some changes. I’ve bought seeds of a few different varieties of crops with a similar taste and spice as the arugula that might work better in my system and/or might just be hardier in general. These varieties include those in the mustard family like mizuna, tatsoi, (which I’ve grown before and have performed well) and others. There’s also a wasabi micro green, which isn’t a true wasabi, but also in the mustard family. I’ll be trying these varieties, in conjunction with the arugula, to compare yields, taste, reliability, etc. and hope to be able work these into your orders in addition to, or in place of the arugula. And of course, there’s always the reliable radish greens, which are equally spicy and delicious, and are much more reliable and will always be grown. Please let me know if any of you who ordered arugula for your share would rather not get anything other than arugula and I’ll be happy to try to accommodate. Or better yet, if you’d like to change from arugula to the radish or another variety, please let me know that as well. If it comes down to it, you’re welcome to cancel the arugula portion of your CSA and I’ll refund you for the remainder of your share period. Otherwise, look for a few different varieties in place of your arugula.

Introducing the Aurora Mix

Right along with the demotion of arugula in my micro green line-up, I’m very pleased to offer an addition to the program that’s been evolving in my head for some time. Let me introduce The Aurora Mix! My initial thought with the micro greens CSA was to offer folks an unparalleled level of customization to their micro greens weekly order, right down to the very ounce, which I think some people love. Others, I’m learning to find out, simply would just like some (any) micro greens and many would like a changing mix each week. Thus, I’ve developed the Aurora Mix option, in which you will be able to get in “Spicy” or the “Mild” version. The Aurora Mix will be a farmer’s choice, revolving mix of greens (at least 3, and hopefully 4 or 5) – whatever’s looking the best that particular harvest. The mix will always have a base of sunflower (because it’s a big, mild, sweet, and loved by just about everyone) and will always have some sort of color other than green incorporated into it for aesthetic beauty and phytonutrient enhancement. The “Spicy” Aurora Mix will contain either radish, arugula, or one of the aforementioned mustard greens (something spicy!) and the Mild Aurora Mix will simply be without this added zing. This will be a great option for those who are not picky about what they get and would appreciate new weekly mixes. It’s also great for me, in that I get to highlight the best looking crops that week in the mix.

I’m making The Aurora Mix available immediately – for you current CSA members, and of course, anyone else who’d like to sign up! If you’d prefer this option, I’ll happily figure out how much of the Aurora Mix you get as derived from the value of your previous orders. For all future orders, for simplicity and calculation expediency sake, I’ll be offering the mix in volumes of $5 value multiples ($5, $10, $15, $20, etc.), which should always be about the same volume overall. For an example of the Spicy Aurora Mix, one week might be 2 ozs. of sunflower (2 ozs. x $1.25/oz. = $2.50), ½ oz. of radish (1/2 oz. x $2/oz. = $1.00), ½ oz. of pea (1/2 oz. x $2/oz. = $1.00), and 1/8 oz. of amaranth (1/8 oz. x $4/oz = $.50) for a $5 order. Another example of the Mild Aurora Mix might be 2 ozs. of sunflower (2 ozs. x $1.25/oz. = $2.50), ½ oz. of buckwheat lettuce (1/2 oz. x $2/oz. = $1.00), ¼ oz. of kale (1/4 oz. x $2/oz. = $0.50), and ½ of purple kohlrabi (1/2 oz. x $2/oz. = $1.00) for a $5 order. Of course, these would be doubled and tripled for $10 and $15 orders, and so on. Also, you if you really didn’t like any variety, you’ll have the ability to opt out of that variety and I’ll be happy to replace it with something of equal value. Here’s to adding some pizzazz to your plates and palettes with the colorful, diverse, and ever-changing Aurora Mix!

6/9/2016

In the world of The Grove…

What a spring this has been for The Grove! The lack of news blogs is certainly not due to idleness! In the midst of a whole slew of projects we have going on, we have to keep in mind that sharing and communicating our ideas and happenings is no small piece of what we want to accomplish here. So, without further ado…

Summer, as usual, is the season where things slow down a bit at The Grove…event-wise, that is. Most locals are busy making hay, so to speak, while the sun is shining nearly 24-hours a day and the many tourists come through and need taking care of. This summer, nonetheless, will see The Grove hosting a ton of music. Here’s our summer calendar:

The other public event to note at this time is the annual Fall Yoga retreat hosted by the amazing Svia from Anchorage. This will be happening September 30 to October 2nd.

The Farm

Where to begin?!

Earthworks

Note the pond in the foreground and the future pasture in the background. And the pig structure with the blue tarp, which they have temporarily destroyed. Glad it’s not raining!
Probably the most glaring and visually dramatic project at The Grove is the excavation work that has been done by Sam McCullough. We had several logistical issues with the corner of the property behind the barn. First of all, half the barn would flood in the spring. And when you have animals in your barn that you’re trying to keep warm and dry, exposure to spring flooding is bad news. So that corner was graded out to drain off that spring run-off. Another flooding issue in the spring had to do with the driveway that went back to the frame cabin and further on to the far end of the property. The melt-water that made its way down from the parking lot and that West side of the property would turn that drive into a spring creek, making it impassible for cars and further eroding and damaging that driveway. Thirdly, and not an issue, but rather an opportunity, is the potential to send all that water down into the major depression in the landscape just off the drive toward the log cabins, where we had our pigs last year. We (well, the pigs) had been working all last summer to seal that draw for us to hopefully help create a pond there. I hope to delve further into this hydrological subject in future news blogs, but the main idea is that we really want to be able to hold water on our landscape as high up as we can. This allows water to slowly “seep” into the landscape, rather than simply and quickly flow off-site, or more accurately for our soil profiles in this area, quickly drain right through. It also gives us the ability to gravity irrigate down below, and the pond also acts, of course, as habitat for our ducks, produces a useful micro climate for growing, and affords us greater ecological diversity on our property–something we’re always looking to enhance. And lastly, we’d like to create some pasture on our property. There’s no quicker way to build soils and grow food, than with grasses. And this future pasture is aptly placed, directly behind the barn. I would love to see a cow or two subsisting on our property at some point down the road, and they need lots of grass!

Perennials

Perennial food production is now underway at The Grove! The benefit of perennial plants, of course, is that you take the time to establish them once, and they provide yields year after year after year. What a concept, huh?! And, most of them are super easy to propagate! So once we get them established, we’ll be able to spread them all around the property.

We’ve gotten several varieties already established. Some new permaculture friends from Anchorage were kind enough to gift us comfrey, good king henry, chives, and a gooseberry bush back in early May, which were promptly planted on our zone 2 south-facing slope out back. And just a few weeks ago, our order from Raintree Nursery in Washington state arrived with a variety of berry plants including cultivated varieties of blueberry, gooseberry, jostaberry, aronia, honeyberry, seaberry, and wintergreen. These have all been planted in the same zone 2 area and I’m happy to report that EVERY PLANT is showing signs of life after being planted! I guess the real test will be this coming winter and to see how they’re doing come spring of 2017. We can’t tell you how exciting it is to see decades of food being established and taking root right before our eyes.

In addition to the living plants that we’ve received, we’re also growing some trees from seed. We have 2 varieties of apple, Antonovka and Paradise, which are both very good cold-hardy, full-sized rootstock trees. And at least with the Antonovka, will produce a delicious apple true-to-seed. That is to say, you’ll reliably get a good-tasting apple from the trees planted form these seeds, which is rarely the case with most apple seeds. The vast majority of apples that are grown for consumption are grown on grafted trees. We plan to graft some trees as well, but it’s nice to know that with whatever happens to us, apple trees are being established that will produce food for a century or more for whoever ends up residing on and near this piece of land.

And not to be forgotten are our 2 grafted apple trees that were gifted to us by our dear friends Morgan and Margaret for our wedding last fall. They have made it through the winter and are indeed thriving! One of them has already grown about 8 inches!

It’s hard to see, the berry plants are are marked by the mounds of wood chips for mulch. The flags are laying out another possible swale.

Again, hard to see, but here is one of our grafted apples trees that made it through the winter!
Most of you have seen, or are at least aware of, the new life that has emerged at The Grove. We’ve had baby bunnies, goats, piglets, ducklings, turkey chicks, and chicken chicks. Nothing is quite as exciting as watching life multiply from merely creating the conditions for it to do so. I’m sure there will be an upcoming news blog on our current animal world. And for those of you who have signed up for a meat chicken(s), I’m planning on getting an email out to you all as well in the very near future. And speaking of, there are a few meat chickens left that as of yet are unspoken for. So if you’re interested in 1, 2, or 3 (I’m setting a 3 bird maximum this first time to spread the harvest around a bit), please let us know. Boy do they grow fast!

Micro Greens

The summer micro green operation is nearly in full swing and pretty well dialed in at this point. I still have a bit to do on the hoophouse, like putting in a shelf to increase capacity a bit more, but we’re looking good. The location this year isn’t quite as prime as last year in terms of hours of sunlight, but it’s so much closer to the house where the seeds are sown and germinated before they’re moved out to get their solar injection. Like last year, I’ve been bummed not to have some popular varieties, like sunflower and arugula, at the farmers’ market for folks, but I am really increasing efficiency and production, so I should have at least a little bit of just about every variety coming into each farmers’ market. Get there early because they do go fast!

If anyone is interested in becoming of a member of The Grove micro greens CSA program, please let me know and I can get you the form. Essentially, you commit to 12 weeks of greens and get exactly what you want each week. No need to hurry about rushing to the farmers’ market or worrying about me running out.

Here is our “unfinished” hoophouse full of micro greens.

Other Annuals

With our incredible mix of potting soil (spent micro green leftovers) and chicken manure, the beds we built from the barn leftovers from 2 winters ago have proven very productive. We got a very nice crop of baby spinach and arugula (direct seeded on April 11th!) as well as radishes (harvested last week), and now Tokyo turnips for this coming market. Our dwarf bok choi, did however, go directly to seed, so not sure what happened there. As soon as we get our chickens out to their summer abode in the woods and the ducks to their pond (more on this later…), I’m going to begin developing some new beds with the same material from last winter for next summer’s production to give it a year to compost.

Following the sequence/rotation here? That’s what’s so beautiful about a holistic system of plants and animals that re-cycle all inputs and outputs and continues to be productive year after year without having to purchase industrial fertilizers (organic or otherwise) and soils. It’s almost always there, with just a little effort to get it to where you want it. Yes, we are somewhat heavily inputting with the potting soil, but we knew we’d need to do that up-front with the lack of organic matter in our soils. Plus, we’re getting 3 uses out of it – micro greens growing medium, manure buffer, AND compost/bed material in the end.

Here’s our farm helper, Allegany Twigg cleaning out our bed of arugula for another crop.
So there’s a snapshot of what’s been happening and is going on now at The Grove, with oodles of details and ancillary projects happening behind the scenes. I can’t wait to share some of these, as well as future ideas and plans for The Grove in coming news blogs. I promise they’ll be a little more regular in the coming summer months.

Please contact with any questions or comments. We love talking about what we have going on!
All our best,

Graham and Mindy

3/29/2016

In the world that once was Bare Hands Farm…

Hope I didn’t startle anyone. Just because this is the final “Bare Hands Farm” newsletter, certainly doesn’t mean it’s “our” last newsletter. On the contrary, to your delight or dismay, there are many, many more to come!

Another winter gone by and a new spring and summer upon us. I’ve really missed writing these updates and communicating our ideas and passions to you all, but there just hasn’t been enough interesting to write about. The winter will always be the quiet time on the farm, at least as far as big, tangible projects are concerned. And this winter was even more quiet since I (Graham) was laid up for a large portion of it, recovering from ankle surgery. But now with the return of Spring, and us quite literally back on our feet, there is anything but a lack of stuff happening on the farm and much to share! So here’s to the return of that big ball of energy we call the sun returning to our portion of the globe and the ever-bearing injection of life that will follow, henceforth.

I suppose I should start by informing everyone that the name, “Bare Hands Farm”, will no longer officially be used to identify our farming venture here at this site. Lumping our farming/permaculture efforts into the whole that more simply is, “The Grove”, will make things much easier in many ways, including communication about what is happening at this site, and administratively, legally, and so forth. Also, we very much do envision an encompassing, full-circle offering of social and educational sustainability, as well as practiced demonstrations of sustainability, with respect to the gambit of systems, projects, activities, and events that take place here. Thus, from now on, we will refer to the location of this site, as well as the food and other natural production side of things, as well as references to all the other events that happen here, as happening at “The Grove”.

So in these days of increasing, but still scant, light, the propagation of life at The Grove has begun in earnest. Some of you may have seen the pictures of our 2 beautiful baby goat kids, that quite frankly, were bit of a surprise to us. We were doing our best avoid any contact between our large Saanen/Toggenberg mix buck, and our new (at the time) itty bitty Nigerian dwarf/Kashmir mix does right around the time of our wedding and hosting copious amounts of out-of-towners. When we acquired our little does, what we did not consider were the birthing complications that could occur with such a difference in size of the parents. The other way around would have been fine (i.e. large doe, small buck). Alas, in the chaos surrounding the wedding, Samson with all of his persistence and determination, did manage to get to one of our does, and about a 150 days later (or, about 2 months ago), we were brought Reginald and Archibald, our 2 vivacious little male goat kids. We noticed one day earlier in the winter that she was looking rather large in the belly, and sure enough, about a week later on a particularly chilly morning, Mindy came running inside with an armful of 2 screaming new-born goat kids to warm them up and clean them off. Anything but a disappointment now, these guys have been 2 rambunctious balls of joy. So sprightly and full of life. And growing fast! They’re almost as big as their mother already!

Next are our bunnies! And how appropriate for the Easter holiday season?! With 2 disappointing failed litters over the winter, we learned a lot, and this one was a big success. A litter of 7, so cute almost fake-looking, puffball bunnies. They’re just old enough (just over a couple weeks) for us to sarely handle and take some photo ops with.

And lastly are our pride and joy litter of 9 piglets from our beautiful gilt, turned sow, Gretel. A huge thanks to Steve and Anita Hill from Sunny Hill Ranch (the ones with all the amazing yak out on Montana Creek Road) for letting us barrow Wilbur, their young stud boar earlier in the winter to plant the seed, so to speak. Wilbur did a fantastic job, and as a result, our pig herd grew immensely in one fell swoop 2 Sundays ago. Being absolutely smitten with our pigs over the last year, we really, really, really wanted baby piglets, so we were crossing our fingers, but I was skeptical. Every time I saw Wilbur making his advancements (and believe you me, it was frequent!), Gretel was always very resistant. But as they say, it only takes once, when she’s ready! So now we’re blessed with 9 little grunting gremlins. Right now the plan is to keep all of them (except for the one we’re giving to the Hill’s for their gracious loan of Wilbur to us) to raise and sell. We’ll probably keep one gilt (a young female pig) to breed next year (along with Gretel again) and also one to butcher for ourselves.

When we sell, there are some legality issues that need considering. The main thing is that we cannot legally butcher our own meat and sell the cuts to the public. In order for us to be able to sell cuts in a retail-type situation, the meat needs to be processed in a USDA-certified processing facility, which to my knowledge there is only one in the state, which is state-run, and is now possibly on the legislative chopping block. So, the big thing we’ll need to figure out is if the buyer would like to take the pig live to butcher (or otherwise), or….something else. I guess the other options would be setting up a sort of U-butcher operation here on the farm for the consumer to butcher (I think this is a thing), or possibly us transporting the pig to the butcher, for the consumer to pick up at a later time. At any rate, there are some legality issues there that need to be navigated, but we’ll deal with those as they arise.

Ok everyone, as always, I’ve been long-winded, my fingers hurt from typing and your eyes probably hurt from reading. Much more in the way of news, subjects, blabberings, in the future, on subjects such as: hugelculture raised beds that will built this summer; the black locust, chinese chestnut, and mulberry trees that I have growing inside right now; other selected varieties of perennial plants and why we’ve selected them; the continuing formation of the pond, the jobs that our critters will be performing for us this summer; other plant varieties we’ll be getting in the ground; a potential plant nursery here on site; plant and animal breeding; and on and on.

Looking forward to sharing our trials and tribulations with you as we joyfully blunder through this lovely experiment of sustainable land design. We’re happy to have you along for the ride!

Thank you so much for your support and please contact us with any questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions.

– Graham and Mindy