Spring is the time of re-birth. While the weather warms, the native plants pop up, and the critters are out and about on the farm. We are welcoming these species as we beginning to learn how to work with them, and how they benefit the farm.
Last season we started a major permaculture project with Resilient Spirals. This project included installation of water features, perennial gardens and fruiting trees and bushes among many other things. There are many objectives for why a farm might take on a project like this. Although there are several reason we began working with Resilient Spirals, one of the principal reasons was to add more diversity to our farm. Keep in mind diversity doesn't begin and end with perennial gardens and cultivated plants. It's very much about attracting more species of the fuzzy and non-fuzzy variety. Although it's still a little chilly for the bugs (non-fuzzy's), we are already getting our first taste of the diversity we are creating.
As of late one of our freshly dug water features has become home to a nutria (pictured here). Nutria's also known as swamp rats, live in areas with fresh water. These mammals are native to South America, and were introduced to the United states between 1870-1930. Before we implemented these water features we had never seen this species on the farm. In fact we didn't even know what it was before it made a home here! As we shift into summer, this nutria will get to work, eating bugs and managing the aquatic plants and roots native to the shores it lives on.
As we've watch the ecosystem continue to diversify we have welcomed geese, mallards, kill deer, and sand hill cranes. With the farm being on very low land prone to flooding in the wetter months, it is no surprise these water birds are attracted to this ecosystem. You might think these birds bring little benefit to a farm, but in-fact they do their part. Geese and mallards are both mainly vegetarians, grazing on weeds in the early season. Mallards, geese, sand hill cranes, and kill deer chip in on the pest control, and we are happy to have them! There are a lot of bugs out there and we could really use all the help we can get.
Being that it is still early in the season this is only the beginning of the diversity to come. Watching this ecosystem unfold is fascinating. It feels like every living thing has a purpose here. Even us humans. Working alongside mother nature to produce food for our community.
With the ability to transport food long distances and supermarkets on every corner we can easily become unaware of what food is in season where we live. Think about this: we can purchase any fruit or vegetable we can imagine any time of year from a grocery store. That means most of us are probably eating strawberries in January and pumpkin in June. But let's be honest, those strawberries are not that tasty and there's something about pumpkin that doesn't exactly suit an early summer meal.
Michigan is second only to California for its agricultural diversity. That is incredible! That means that Michigan farms can grow most anything. In order to accomplish the most diversity in crops you will need structures like caterpillar tunnels and hoop houses. Using these structures extends the growing season to more closely mimic the environment of other big agricultural states like California.
We are so fortunate to not only live in an agriculturally diverse state, but to live in an area that is rich with local farms and local food communities. As one might expect, all the diversity of crops will not be available locally all year round. We live in a state that showcases all four season. Those seasonal changes bring new weather patterns and temperature changes that support different crops at different times of the year.
As some of you may have noticed while visiting the online store in the recent weeks, we are mostly offering greens and a small amount of other crops. The reason being, that crops like greens and radishes prefer to grow during seasons with cooler temperatures and shorter days. Not only do these environmental qualities enable the crop to grow well, the occasional cold snap helps the greens and radishes to develop a much deeper flavor.
As the weather warms and the days get longer, more and more crops will be transplanted from our propagation house into the field and into our season extending structures. The diversity of crops grown on the farm will increase and the diversity of crop found in your CSA boxes, as well as what is available on the online store, will also increase. Keep in mind, however, any crop that thrives in cooler weather will not stick around forever.
Soon, the heat loving long sunny day crops will be in abundance. Things like peppers, herbs, summer squash and, of course, tomatoes are just around the corner. It is an important reminder to enjoy what is available now and not take it for granted. It also a great reminder that we are fortunate enough to live in agricultural abundance! Take this opportunity to support your local farmer and get to know what foods are growing in your community throughout the season.
As the saying goes, spring comes “In like a lion, out like a lamb”. Today, this proverb has never rung more true. As we continue to see and feel the ferocious effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, it forces us to evolve. Evolve our business, our practices, and the way we interact with our teammates and our community. It can feel very chaotic in a time where things feel so uncertain, and change is constant.
Placing our feet back on the ground, we remember why farming is so magical. Mother nature presses on, always. Constantly reminding us that tomorrow is a new day, and opportunity is all around us. Our seeds are successfully germinating, the seedlings are growing strong in our propagation house, and our hoop houses are thriving. Everything we could ask for this time of year when spring is still battling winter, and we are patiently waiting for warmer weather.
Continuing to evolve our practices, we have consciously brought safety and cleanliness to the forefront. We have a small crew so these new practices have been simple to implement. Practices like wearing face masks while working in the field, harvesting, and washing produce is the new norm. As we always have, we continue to use sanitizer water to disinfect harvesting tool, produce soaking tubs, and more so now, pre-order bins and frequently touched surfaces. In addition, let's just say our hand washing game is on point. We do all these things to ensure safety for our team, and our community. We believe it is the most important that we are healthy, and can continue to provide the necessary service of growing, and providing food for our community.
We are uncertain about the status of open air farmers markets. As a response, we are emphasizing our CSA's and the use of our virtual store as the best options to provide for our community. It has not only provided food for families, it has also given us the opportunity to reach a market of people we could not attract before. Being able to order fresh local produce in the comfort of your own home is becoming more and more popular. We are excited by these new outlets, and we hope you are too. We are SO grateful for all the support we have received. It is a wonderful feeling to do what you love and feel the support of your community. Thank you all!
With the season coming to a close we find ourselves reflecting on 2019 thus far. It has been a unique season rich with growth and studded with successes and failures. While reflecting we consider things you might expect like: crop successes & failures. pest control, weed suppression, our CSA, and the wonderful people that work here. But, 2019 brought some much bigger things along with it. Things that will improve Gateway farm for the better, both in an environmental aspect, but also further our connection with the land, the native species, and our community.
In early summer, Mary Emmett the owner of Gateway farm and Plymouth Orchards & Cider Mill met with Bridget O'Brien and Charlie Brennan of Resilient Spirals. Mary always had a vision of creating a beautiful and peaceful farm with plenty of educational spaces and opportunities for the community. After meeting with Bridget and Charlie, and learning more about their specialties in permaculture and landscaping designs, they hit the ground running. Once they created the new design for the farm and met with the township, Bridget and Charlie's first order of business was earthworks. Things like grading the land, and preparing it for new structures like hoop houses and event spaces, as well as implementing permeable access roads to navigate the farm more efficiently. We all pitched in clearing invasive species and poison ivy along the fence line. Discarding the overgrown vegetation created great opportunities for passers-by to sneak a peek at the farm. Once the fence was cleared Resilient Spirals with the help of Integrity Landscaping created a natural barrier out of native plants and fruiting trees running along the fence. This natural corridor will not only protect the farmers and crops from the noisy road, but it also provides birds and other critters with a tempting food supply other than our crops and newly planted seeds.
Now that the necessary permits have been approved, Bridget and Charlie will move forward with their design and create two water features on the property. They wanted to incorporate water features into the design as a way to add relief back into the landscape after being flattened for years as a driving range and more recently as a farm. These water features will also help drain water away from production fields in addition to extra water storage used in irrigation. These water features are both beneficial to the operation of the farm as well as acting as a habitat for native plants and animals. They plan to build up berms around each water feature in order to create natural microclimates. Each water feature will have its own unique characteristics and benefits. One will feature an edible perennial garden, while the other a native species habitat and covered wooden structure to act as a gathering area for the workers and community. The Resilient Sprials crew is incredibly intentional with their design. Although we are still at the beginning stages of this project it has been very interesting and exciting to see how everything is coming together. As hard as it is to wait, things will halt over the winter. As things begin to thaw in the spring they will asses how the water moves on the land and move forward from there. I look forward to sharing the journey of this project with you in the newsletter and on social media next season! Find more information about Resilient Spirals on their website http://resilientspirals.com/about/ or on social media at https://www.instagram.com/gardenjujucollective/.
As the morning frost become more consistent and the days get shorter, things on the farm slow to a halt. Similar to the sound a record makes when you turn off the machine without lifting the needle. The caterpillars and grasshoppers that were once pest, seem to move like molasses. Some vegetables can't take the weather, crippling to the frost and becoming squishy versions of what they once were. Others brace themselves, rooting further into the ground and processing their extra starches into sugar as a last resort. This not only ensures a few more weeks of life for the crop but, brings out some of the unique sweet flavors hiding in hardy greens and root vegetables during the fall.
Although we move quicker than the caterpillar on a frosty morning we also wear more layers. Not a single day goes by without an extra pair of long johns. Even so, things are slowing down for the farmers as well. We spend less time harvesting, and more time cleaning up and organizing. We have removed the crops lost to the frost, and have begun preparing those fields to be planted in next season. Extracting things we learned over the last few years we have improved our technique to include a light tilling, laying compost and worm casting, and covering the entire field with a large tarp for weed suppression. We are finishing new structures like the caterpillar tunnels to buy us some more time in early spring, and preparing the hoop house for overwintering crops like spinach, kale, and lettuce mix to extend the growing season even further.
During the winter months is when most of the planning happens for the next season crops. As we reflect on this past year and the years that came before, we take away as much knowledge as we can. These experiences, failures, and successes are intertwined in our planning process and then tweaked and challenged into new experiments. As our vision for the farm expands we research new ideas and techniques to map out how to integrate them into the next season. It's refreshing and exciting all at the same time.
Although spring feels like an eternity away it will be here before we know it. There are a lot of plans and changes in the works for the future, that I look forward to sharing some of those changes with you in the next newsletter. Until then, thank you so much for subscribing to the newsletters, supporting our farmstand and continuing to make our weekend markets so special. We are incredibly grateful for our community, and the opportunity to share our love and passion with you.
When you start waking up to frosty mornings, fixing yourself another cup of something warm and throwing on an extra layer, it's time to admit that the season is almost over. Not to mention, the end of season work that has been filling our days for the last few weeks. Things like preparing beds for the following year by lightly tilling them, laying compost and covering with a large tarp for weed suppression. We've been planting lots of over-wintering crops like garlic, and preparing the hoop house with rows of brassicas, onions and hearty lettuce mix. As well as pulling out crops like peppers and summer squash lost to the frost, and covering others that will last a few more weeks. These task feel like a sigh of relief and a breath of fresh air.
With the season coming to a close, the weekly farmers markets are wrapping up this weekend as well. This was the first season we attended the Dixboro market and what a blast it has been! We have met so many new faces and mingled with the community in an intimate way. The market is small, but with many unique vendors to make up for its size. We loved being able to supply a community minutes down the road with our produce and introduce ourselves in a meaningful way. This was also our second season attending the Plymouth farmers market - which is always such a treat. It's great to connect with old friends, chat with new people, and continue to educate the community on what we are doing on the farm. The appreciation from our community warms our hearts, and bring abundant purpose to what we are looking to accomplish at Gateway Farm.
Michelle (pictured here) has been a constant, representing the farm at these markets. Although, you may have also conversed with Teresa, or John on different occasions. These team members bring their own personality to each market and make our booth a fun and inviting place to be. We are grateful for their hard work and their enthusiasm about connecting with the community.
Although our produce will no longer be available at the Plymouth Farmers market or the Dixboro Farmers market, our self service farm stand is still a great outlet for us. We try to keep it stocked with all the seasons offering, and will continue to do so even as the season dwindles. It's a great spot to check out as you're passing by after work, or taking a drive on the weekend.
Worms are a big thing around here. How could they not be? We are surrounded by mineral-rich soil, organic plant matter, and a constant supply of decaying wood and leaves. All of which are on the list of red wiggles' top 5 favorite things. We are such worm freaks, not only are we rich with worms outside, but we are constantly sustaining a colony of worms inside our barn as well. They live in a homemade cedar box, filled with shredded paper scraps and fest on old lettuce greens and weeds. After removing the lid, and peering in from above it may seem as if not much is going on. However, there is a whole ecosystem below the surface, one which is incredibly important to the supporting infrastructure of the farm.
The worm obsession has been constant since starting the farm in 2017. We didn't always have success cultivating them either. We lost a few colonies at different times for a variety of reasons. But, we continue to value experimenting and finally figured out how to use these little guys to our advantage. It all started last season. We planted and harvested a whole field of rye with the intent of using it in our windrow compost pile. We continued to add more organic matter and rotate the pile as the season pressed on, and as unexpected rain and cool weather pushed its way in. Unfortunately, we were unable to sustain the desired temperature range in our compost pile, and it ultimately was a failed experiment. This left us scratching our heads about what would be done with all this organic matter? After sleeping on it all winter, we had an idea. In spring, we added a small colony of worms to the compost pile and kept an eye on it in the following weeks. We covered the pile with straw to keep the little worms warm enough to survive. After a few weeks, as the weather warmed we noticed the worms were beginning to multiplying and knew we were on to something. As we continued weeding and maintained the farm throughout the season, we added more green organic matter to the pile and continued to add more straw as well. Now at the tail end of the season, we are finally seeing the results of this failed experiment turned success. We got worms lot's of them, and red wiggler worms can eat about half of their weight in food every day.
Inside the compost pile, worms eat both microorganisms and bits of organic material, which come from the weeds and greens we introduce. Once ingested, those organic materials get ground up by the worm's gizzard and broken down even more by enzymes and microbes in the worm's gut. What comes out the other end is teeming with nutrients and bacteria that are beneficial for plants, along with valuable plant growth hormones and humic acids that enhance plant growth. We then sifted out these worm castings by pressing the organic material through a screen and collecting the casting below. We have since used this valuable fertilizer on our overwintering crops in our hoop house and on our newly planted garlic beds. We have collected a ton of worm castings and plan on using the fertilizer on all of our crops next season. We can't wait to see the results!
Autumn brings with it many wonderful things. Beautiful fall colors, abundant harvests and depending on whom you ask some of the best weather occurs this time of year. This autumn brought with it something we never expected, but have quietly been working towards for some time now. For the last week or, so we have noticed that just about everything around us is covered in a thin white silky veil. From the grass to the fields and crops, and even stretching further onto newly planted vegetation, everything is covered in cobwebs! Nothing is safe from these little guys. Even a sweater left outside will be completely covered within a few hours. These spiders move quickly, often traveling with the wind, and it's starting to feel like we are constantly brushing them off of each other. This may sound like a nuisance or even a nightmare to some, but the truth is these little guys are so valuable, and we are happy to have them here.
Over the last few seasons, we have been implementing and planting a wide variety of native plants, perennial bushes, and shrubs. All of these things in conjunction with the surrounding trees and Michigan prairie are great amenities for attracting spiders. Using natural mulches like the wood chips we use for our paths, and straw used for mulching beds are some of the best shelter and protection from the element as far as a spider is concerned. Tall grasses and cover crops not only amend our soil, but they also act as a swift highway for particular species like jumping spiders to navigate through. As the spiders begin to settle in and make a home here, they gotta eat! And that is when they truly begin their work for us. Most spiders are indiscriminate diners. Therefore, they eat mostly whatever they can catch. However, there are many pests we deal with on the daily that a spider would happily eat. These include aphids, armyworms, spider mites, leaf miners, flea beetles, leafhoppers, caterpillar, and cucumber beetles. There's more good news! Even if a spider doesn't actually eat the pest, some bugs will vacate an area if a spider has recently moved in. As if things couldn't get any better, our new friends will overwinter outdoors and will be hungry and ready to eat as soon as the weather is warm enough to attract their favorite foods.
These spiders are truly a gift. They may not be very large, but there is power in numbers and by the looks of it there's a lot of these little guys. As we continue to work in a way that respectful and patient with the land we continue to watch our farm evolve. With that evolution, comes ever-changing and robust biodiversity, challenges, and learning opportunities.
A few weeks ago we left the farm after harvesting for the weekend markets to attend a global climate rally that was being held on the University of Michigan campus. The efforts of the climate strike resonate deeply with the crew and the signs of climate change are beginning to be more apparent with each year that passes. The more time we devote to working directly with the land the more it sinks in just how intertwined our work is with mother nature. Although each day is different, on any given week we may watch the weather move in overhead, see birds and bugs migrating, and then get ambushed with unexpected rain. The stability and predictability of the climate is what farmers have used for many years to navigate their growing season. With such unpredictable changes in the weather, it's becoming harder and harder to anticipate what the challenges and successes of each season will look like.
Heres what we know, climate change is affecting the world in a lot of ways. The planet is warming, more rain is falling. There are colder winters and warmer summers. And all of this is having a profound effect on agriculture. This year, Michigan corn and soybean farmers were devastated by soggy fields and potential crop loss in what’s been called the third-wettest season on record history. That's a lot of rain folks! You may be thinking to yourself, rain is good, we need rain. True, but too much rain also has its drawbacks. More rainfall worsens soil erosion and improves breeding conditions for crop-damaging pests, creating harder growing conditions in the soil, and more likelihood for crop loss. For example, our tomatoes turned out to be quite a conundrum this season. We started the seeds earlier than the season prior assuming the conditions would be similar. The conditions were drastically different, arguably the complete opposite. We were unable to get the tomato starts into the ground until the beginning of June, putting us at least 2-3 weeks behind. The cold wet spring created difficult conditions for the transplants to root, attracting more pests and bringing hardship to the plant's life early on. The result, not many tomatoes and a huge learning experience for us.
As we continue to wrestle with the effects of climate change, we learn more about the land and innately become more intimate with mother nature. The season's weather conditions, directly affect our ability to be successful. That being said, we are always learning, adapting, experimenting, and challenging ourselves to come up with new ways to overcome these challenges. All the while, gaining new knowledge about the repercussions of climate change and how they will affect us in the future. May we make an effort every day to stay aware, get educated, adapt, and always look after our mother, mother nature.
As the days become shorter and the temperaturesbegin to drop, you can put yourself in a funk thinking that the supply of fresh vegetables from your garden and local farms is no more.Well, I am here to put your mind at ease and remind you that there is still hope for fresh vegetables as the colder weather approaches.
Just recently weharvested all of our winter squash. The varietiesweharvested included delicata, butternut, and spaghetti. Since pulling them from the field, we have stored them in our shed, which is an environment naturally conducive to curring. Certain crops like potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, garlic, and onionsrequirecuring prior to storage.Curingis a process of holding produce in specific climate conditions for a shortduration before moving to very different storageconditions. The warmer temperatures during these late-summer-early-falldaysallow for the outer skins of certain types of vegetables to dry and harden prior to storage, thus preventing premature rot.
Storagecropshave many advantages.Storagecrops have increased our income and profit by extending the marketing period for crops far beyond their final harvest. Winer storagecrops include but are not limited to beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, russel sprouts, cabbage, radicchio, kohlrabi, leeks, radish, celeriac, and turnips. If you are looking to experiment with storagecrops, youprobably don't have to search too far to find an ideal storage location. Many excellent storage options can be found in a basement, mudroom, or garage. If you are extremely prepared, you may evenhave a root cellar cure your produce in for winter!