Living With the Spooks

March 30th, 2017

I believe in a world of infinite possibilities and unlimited dimensions. When it comes to ghosts, goblins and strange phenomenon who am I to say these things don’t exist. Admittedly in my life time I haven’t had any encounters of the strange kind, I can not claim to have seen a apparition and yet our farms history is rife with stories of the ghostly kind. As a kid I would listening with arrested attention to the many stories my father, mother or visiting extended family would tell about their ghoulie interactions. The two favorite characters where Grandma Drake and Marsha the horse. The Drake family was the original homesteaders of this farm and old Grandma Drake was the last remaining member of the family when she died at a ripe old age, in the kitchen no less. As far as ghost go she was a good one, she was a protector, though I’m not sure how much help came from thinking those thoughts on the rare occasion when I was home alone. Old houses creak and grown, they take on a life of their own. As an adult I feel the spirit of past lives weaved into the very foundation of this home and so in a sense the ghosts of our passed do still roam the halls for it was with their hands by which our house stands.

Marsha the horse was an unfortunate casualty of an arrant lightning strike (so we where told) back in the farthest pasture from the house. Of course as a young child these stories shaped both my view of our house and of the way out there pasture, especially during the night. Inevitably during my adolescent years when this was a dairy farm I would find it my duty on a dark and stormy night to head down into the valley and find the one cow who didn’t come to the barn for the evening milking. Nine times out of ten she would be back in the haunted pasture, hiding in the shrubs, often with a baby calf, talk about perfecting the art of speed walking. Imagine being ten years old standing on the peak of a ridge, head filled with ghost stories, behind you the warm electric glow of civilization, below and in front, a deep dark valley occasionally lit by jagged bolts of lighting. I believe they call that building character!


The Farmhouse 1953

Happy Spring!

March 21st, 2017

Ahhh, Spring! At times it feels like this season will never be here, then all of a sudden one day you walk out the door and notice the new chorus of bird voices, you smell the distinct fragrance of an awakening earth, and there is a tinge of green in an otherwise gray/brown lawn. Then there is the noticeable difference in the strength of the sun, the warmth which soaks into your garments and warms our sensitive winter skin. I love Spring! All the planning and dreaming we do in the winter is finally put in motion, step into a greenhouse and warm rays turn into steamy heat. Our hands are finally in the dirt again and little green seedlings begin sprouting though potting soil on their way to developing into those delicious ingredients which will round out another healthy meal. This year I was able to plant in ground in my hoop house the earliest I have ever planted, February 6th. It’s my second year of planting in ground in a hoop house and I still have so much to learn. Admittedly it’s a bit nerve racking to think about those little seeds surviving some of these nights when the temperature is still dipping into the single digits. How can these plants even survive? This is often the question I have floating through my head as I make my way over to the hoop house on a frozen morning. But then I walk inside and am struck by the difference, yes it is still cold but the warmth is accumulating quickly and in the absence of a bitter cold wind the ground is unfrozen. Now days when I pop in it reminds me of late spring, warm, boarding on hot, especially if it’s sunny. The colorful salad mix, carrots, radish, spinach, asain greens are putting on rapid growth.

I hope you get a chance to celebrate this change of the season. As a gardener we live in these changes. As food lovers at the very least you get to go on this journey with me though my writing and through the bounty you see coming in your CSA share. Happy Spring to all of you, let us breath that fresh earthy air and take a moment to listen to the songs of Spring.



Our First Snow

February 15th, 2017

A muted sun filters through my bedroom windows, unbroken by shades or blinds.  I blink out the sleep and roll over, outside a blanked of fresh snow covers every surface.  Overnight the first snow as graced our slice of heaven.  I’m a snow guy, I have always been moved by the way a fresh snow storm changes this world.  It hides our blemishes, our unfinished projects.  It creates opportunity for new ways of having fun, break out the skies, the snowshoes, the sleds.  Let us build a snowman, or tunnel through the mounds of snow left after clearing the roads, or lets turn our ravine into a twisting turning luge.  But not today, today is just for walking.  I head outside and trek down
the driveway.  The wind whispers through the conifers lining both sides of Haucke Lane, a background sound not unlike the sound of a distant waterfall.  Snowflakes come small and wet, they tickle my cheek and nose when they alight on my skin.  I have so many fond memories that involve snow, from childhood days on the farm, from my days in Colorado or even from my brief stint at Whitewater where I shoveled sidewalks in the early hours of the morning as a side job.  I can remember bringing the cows in from outside on a cold blustery night, their backs would be covered in snow that would quickly turn into steam as they entered the barn.  Before long the whole barn
would be filled with a dense fog from 60 large bovine.  If it was a cold night that steam would combine with the vapor of the cows breath,  it would envelope the milking area and I would find a nice warm spot by a favorite animal, make a little bed out of the uneaten hay and take a nap under the watchful eye of mother cow.  Later in life as a ski bum, fresh snow meant fresh tracks.  Surfing down a hill, catching a face full of the white stuff as you blasted through a powder covered tree run.  Now snow means the end of a season, it means taking time in the morning to sip coffee and stare out the window.  It means seed catalogs in the mail and dreams of the season to come.

People of the Hills

February 15th, 2017

I have always been draw to the hills, whether ancient geological features such as the Occooh Mountains of Southwest Wisconsin or the Rocky Mountains out west.  I love the twisting roads, the hidden valleys the mystery around the next corner.  There has been times in my life when I have lived in flat country but I found myself missing something.  It wasn’t a clear emotion, more like a back of the mind something isn’t quiet right sort of feeling.  It wasn’t till a little later in life when I feel like I figured it out.  Hill, valleys, topography, this is where I find my heart drawn.  It’s funny because I have talked to people who grew up on the plains and they have the same feeling of
place in flatter areas.  One of the aspects of hilly topography I marvel at is all the different microclimates created by the changes in elevation.  Yesterday we received our first light dusting of snow on the farm but when I drove down into the valley it was all rain.  Just that small amount of elevation was enough.  On Friday evenings I play croquet with a group of friends.  Our court is nessled in a tight valley, if conditions are right you can feel a stream of cold are moving down hill and often at a certain time of day a fog will begin to form below us as the colder air moves over the warmer ground.  When the games are over and I return to my ridgetop perch I often find the air a couple degrees
warmer.  The first and last frosts of the year happen in our valleys before we see anything on the ridge.  The first year I gardened on a professional level I was working for a farm nessled in one of the bigger valleys created by the Kickapoo river.  We often had to pick hundreds of pounds of salad greens in a day by hand.  By the end of the year I was so tired of picking salad greens I rejoiced upon seeing that frost valley as I drove into work.  It was short lived joy though as I learned it wasn’t cold enough to kill or even damage the greens.  It was my first lesson in hardy vegetable production.  Whether it’s a ridge top view or getting lost in a valley I will always find my soul in the hills.

The Seed Catalog

February 19th, 2016

In mid-December, as we reach the darkest point of the year, a subtle change ripples through the fabric of time.  I stroll leisurely to the mail box, open its door, and find within a bulging stack of seed catalogs.  They are full color, glossy, descriptive beauties listing hundreds of vegetables, culinary herbs, flowers, perennial fruits, and trees.  With this one arrival, the mind of a Midwestern vegetable farmer is transported into the next growing season.  It is our reminder of the not too distant future, seed trays full of delicate new plants, the smells of spring earth, rain, the beginning of another gardening season.  I like to take a favorite catalog or two out of the stack and sit with a cup of coffee, sippin and flippin.  This is my dream-time walk-through, not serious planning yet, just entertainment.  I slowly scroll through page after page, reacquainting myself with old standby crops and exploring the descriptions of the new varieties. I gaze intently at the pictures, dreaming about that first ripe tomato or crisp salad, and the return of the warm sunny days of summer.  Once the dream run is finished, it is time to get down to business.  Now the more arduous task begins of seed order assembly.  This task includes comparing field logs with greenhouse records, past seed orders and the future season’s planting plan.  I’m part guided by emotion and art, and part by the farm bank account; it’s a balance.  Flipping between several of the most reputable catalogs helps me to discover the correct variety of plant for the correct growing application at the best possible price.  With variety selected, I begin building my current year seed list.  This list will include how many seeds I need to order and from whom, as well as the variety name, price, and planting date.

At this point, I have become warmly familiar with my favorite catalogs, like an old friend with whom I have a familiar ease.  I will return to these publications again and again throughout the growing season as nature ebbs and flows, for even the best laid plans are always subject to the mischief of Mother Nature.  If there is one lesson farming teaches you, well, it’s that we control very little of this life.  And at the same time, we really can control so much!  The very act of planting a seed changes the world.  I have always believed in the abundance of life, which is what perhaps brought me back to the farm.  This is why the seed catalog is such a powerful piece of literature.  I am forever amazed at the life that springs from seeds that arrived in the mail.  Each one of those little plants will first be nourished by me, then go on to nourish those who choose to eat it.  The seeds I choose and the plants we grow end up shaping the very farm around us.  We build structures, lay out fields, plant windbreaks, build soil, all for the care of those plants that came from seeds that came from generation upon generation of our ancestors’ care.  These seeds are our collective human mind, what we are capable of, and I can feel this history as I play my little part. 

Someday I dream of saving my own seed, learning what it takes to develop seeds specific to this farm, this location.  Learning the beauty of evolution, the seeds we receive are coded with a specific genetic identity, infused with information from a location, changed ever so very slightly from the year before.  If, in the future, I become expert enough to feel confident in saving my own seed, then those little packets of genetic code will take on changes based on this micro climate.  Microscopic bits of knowledge gained from the surrounding environment of this time and place, but for now I will content myself with the expert work which went into the seeds that arrive in my mail box.  More than likely I will always rely on the experts for most of my seed needs.  If I embark on the seed saving road, I revel in the thought of becoming a small player in our collective seed history for as long as those seed lines survive.  Until then, I will grab another cup of coffee, return to my catalogs, and indulge the seeds of a dreamer as I await the coming spring.    

Time For a Breather

January 17th, 2016

August is the month for this Wisconsin vegetable farmer when sleep becomes the most elusive.  Our growing season begins in early February with the firing up of our greenhouses and planting of all those vegetables, herbs, and flowers we hope to nurture to maturity.  Our start is gentle, one planted miracle at a time, and then it builds momentum through the spring, later adding field work into the schedule.  Then greenhouse, field work, weeding and finally greenhouse, field, weeding, harvest, delivery.  This schedule persist through late spring and summer.  By harvest moon our lives are a blur of activity with day and night stretching into one.  The harvest month, the phase when all of our time, love and tenderness come to fruition, and so we run, figuratively and literally from one task to the next, always pushing for this is make or break time, these are the moments that allow us to survive the other end of the season, the hibernation.

We are not on this journey through the season alone though, our farm, this land with its plants, animals and the very soil we tread also follow a similar path.  The awakening begins with those first warm end of February days, when the sun has returned to strength and begins to warm the surface of the earth.  Signs show up everywhere, in a blade of grass peeking through the brown, the running of the maple sap, that smell we all crave so desperately of fresh earth, of rain.  Then with explosions of emerald green, and those warm summer days that last forever.  Or not, eventually, in such subtle ways, fall begins to creep in, usually sometime in August with a night or two cooler than a person expects.  So begins our farms transition back to those months of rest and then deep hibernation.   

Sleep, that most precious of commodities, its roll in a healthy life is paramount. We sleep to rebuild our bodies and to clear our minds so that we are ready to receive all that is new the next day.  Our farm, our earth works in the same way though with a different definition of time.  For our farm a year is a day spring is morning, summer mid-morning, fall midafternoon and winter as night.  As fall approaches we begin to prep our farm for the slumber to come, we till under our crops as they begin to die, we add cover crop seed, plant our garlic, dig our tubers, mulch.  Field by field and row by row we add minerals and compost to feed all the life teaming in a spoonful of dirt.  Finally the heavy frosts and short sunlight hours cool the earth and life begins to move very slowly and finally for those brief few months it sleeps. 

This is where we find ourselves now, though this year has certainly been different from others we still find ourselves at the edge of fall.  In a week and certainly not more than two our field work will be complete and our farm will enter sleep mode.  So will this farmer, I will retreat to the house, return to the kitchen, continue my studies on how to make this a better farm.  I will analyze the past year, prepare a new plan, ogle the new seed catalogs as they fill my mail box and of course find time for some glorious nights of sleep.

Greenhouses and Imbolc

March 2nd, 2015


I open the door leading from porch to the outside and am immediately blasted by an air so cold it takes your breath away. During the overnight hours the snow has become crisp and squeaky/crunchy under my tread as I walk towards the feed room. It’s as cold now as it has been at any time this winter and yet the sun is shining and there is but a whisper of breeze. In all my bundles, a stomach warm with coffee I begin my daily ritual of feeding and watering hungry animals. It isn’t long before the work warms me under my many layers and the mind acclimates to the outside. Although the cold clings to everything, reminding us we aren’t out of the woods yet I can feel the strength of the sun re-turning, I find a sheltered spot on the south side of our barn and bath in the warm rays. What a lovely blue sky, lite winter blue, crisp, clear, white on the horizon, then baby blue, then almost navy at zenith.

This is the time of year Pagans would celebrate Imbolc, the first stirrings of spring and indeed if you look close enough you will see. Buds on trees have an ever so very slight bulge, our cardinal friends are singing a song that seems to ring with the harmonics of spring. In a day or two I will visit my maple patch and begin un-packing the supplies, and of course work has begun in the greenhouse. Work be-gins with a good spring cleaning, yesterday I cleared off old plant debris, then set about marking out my beds to start our first in ground plantings, carrots, radish, salad mix. Today I tackle organizing of the seed trays. We use our trays to start transplants like tomatoes, eggplant, head lettuce, pars-ley, chard, kale that will end up in our fields around the beginning of May.

With the feeding chores complete I refill my coffee mug and amble over to the greenhouse, time to get to work. I open the door and walk into the future. The temperature outside is just above 0 degrees but inside this little sanctuary it’s already 50 and climbing fast. If the sun keeps shining we will reach 70 or 80 soon enough. Time to layer down and join the early Spring, man I love this work!

The First Snow

October 14th, 2014

This year continues its trend of cool weather.  On Saturday morning my family and I awoke to a quarter inch of snow on the ground.  I kid you not!  Oh what a sight and so soon, but as an ex ski bum I can’t help but get excited when I see that first dusting of the white stuff.  Having looked at the weather report the night before I brought in a fresh load of wood and built my first fire of the year that evening.  What a glorious smell, wood smoke mixed with leaves and wet air.  Yesterday though as I was returning to my wood pile I was reminded that it is way to small, so starting this week I will be in the woods in earnest to stock up.  While the snow was beautiful it was also another reminder of how close we are to the end of the season.  So much to do, so many things to get out of the field before we call it quits.  There are beets, storage radish, Brussels, spinach, turnips, potatoes, sunchokes, not to mention planting garlic and other overwintered crops like leeks and green scallions.

The other day I was sitting at my desk in the office when a rather large bird flew past the window.  I didn’t give it much thought figuring it was just a crow but when I went back outside I was greeted by a familiar but rare call.  Sitting on the fence that rings our chicken yard was a beautiful Pileated Woodpecker, think Woody Woodpecker.  Over the last couple of years I have seen more signs of them and see them regularly but this was new to have one around the homestead.  I’ve been watching it for days now enjoying a late fall snack of overripe wild grapes.  Between the woodpecker and the Bald Eagle that flew over the garden this place seems to be for the birds.



Fair Thee Well

October 14th, 2014

Well we’ve come again to that time of year.  Today we packed our final CSA box of the season, the staff gathered to celebrate with cider and snacks as we reminisce another summer come and gone.  Thank you to all for your kind words, advice, encouragement as we have moved through the season, it means so much to me to hear from all of you.  It is you after all that make this farm possible.  As the rain was falling,  my feet where soaking and my hands were freezing I was reminded of how difficult a task this farming gig is.  An yet now I sit warm, weary from the day but content, so deeply fulfilled.  I do not know how long in the life my body will allow me to do this work but I intend to find out.  It is a gift to find happiness in ones work.  For me this work make life seem so much more real.  To actively participate in the growing of food that will nourish not only my body, but my family, my friends, my community, you, that means the world to me.  To know that not only are we growing nutritious food, loaded with all kinds of good stuff, but to be able to do that with any harmful chemicals or fertilizers so important.  Every day I am shown a world abundant with life, full of all the ingredients to sustain life.  Our world is such a beautiful place and so very forgiving, in the past we have taken this planet for granted, one could argue quite easily that we still do.  But I see that attitude changing and that change starts with food.  We can feed all the people of this world, give space to the wild things, celebrate our urban environment, have our cake and eat it to.  But it takes effort and it takes making the right food choices.  I hope to see you back again next season, I promise it will be even better.  See ya!


Changing colors

September 26th, 2014

Seemingly overnight our hills are full of color.  Bright  red, orange, yellow, and brown, with some green still mixed in.  What a beautiful sight to see and as I drive down Springdale Rd I watch the changing landscape marked by new piles of leaves freshly fallen.  A couple years ago I took a hike through our woods with a friend of mine. As we entered the woods along one of the paths I have constructed we were greeted by one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever experienced.  The day was sunny with a light breeze, the wind was strong enough to cause leaves to fall in masses and between the sunlight and the color of the foliage the woods became this enchanting place.  As we strolled the leaves continued to accumulate  and by the time we exited the forest there were a couple inches of freshly fallen leaves still brightly colored.

When it comes to fall colors every year is different.  This one has all the makings of an excellent year.  Warm and dry days combined with cold crisp nights make for wonderful color.  Other years are damp and dull.  I have also noticed that our trees here in Wisconsin’s mountains turn sooner, we can expect color at least two weeks before other places of the same latitude.  Time to get out the rakes.