TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER – June 2017
The first cutting of hay is complete, snuggled nicely into the barn to await winter, when we will feed it to the cows. It’s a long process. It’s been mowed, raked, dried, flipped, and baled – an effort that stretches over a couple days. It’s then piled as high as possible into the truck and stacked in the barn. Taik always teases me that I am never home when it’s time to hay, because for some reason my work seems to fall on the same days. Unintentionally, of course…
Hives on a Hill
Our friend Jacob from Hives on a Hill Apiary has placed four of his hives on our property, and our new charges seem to be thriving. These hives were splits that he got from his current bees, which occur when the colony is large enough that a new queen is born and leaves, taking half of the population with her. Just weeks before, Jacob and I had peeked into his hives and seen that the split was about to occur. He showed me the signs that an experienced beekeeper can read: larger than normal cells dotted the comb with the new queens growing inside. Jacob has an interesting job. When people need swarms removed from their homes and property, they call him. As a result, the number of bees have quickly outgrown his yard space, which is why we are taking on a few of them here at Two Tracks. Next up: keeping bees healthy with mite checks.
Our garden has really grown this season. Right now we have strawberries, sweet potatoes, potatoes, salad mix, spinach, carrots, radishes, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, rhubarb, grapes, blueberries, blackberries, kale, onions, and asparagus.
I love asparagus, the way it tastes but mostly the way it looks after it has matured, like a forest of delicate tall ferns. To establish our asparagus patch, Taik first dug a trench and laid the root stock inside, filling it back up half way. We then waited for the plants to emerge from the soil. Once they were a few inches tall, he filled the trench in the rest of the way, to root the asparagus firmly and deeply in the ground. Now the patch should last for years to come. Our next challenge are the weeds, which we will combat with mulch.
We adopted a calf from Tantre Farm because the mama refused to let it feed, and had rejected it. So we are bottle feeding it for the time being. He has yet to be named, and we are open to suggestions!
Farm to Table Dinner
Two Tracks donated pork to Chelsea Farmers Market’s annual farm to table dinner fundraiser to raise money for the market. Chef Emily Vanderwaard made pulled pork tacos, coleslaw, beans, and rice pudding for the dinner. We held it in the greenhouse at Robin Hills Farm, with live music and prizes donated from the other vendors.
We are selling at Chelsea Market on Saturdays and Dixboro Market on Friday evenings. Stop by and say hi!
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER – May 2017 (click for PDF)
It has been so long since our last newsletter that I don’t know where to begin. We are ramping up for the 2017 season. Here are some highlights:
- We got a mortgage! We had purchased our farm on a 5-year land contract, which meant that in October of this year if we hadn’t paid for the property, or gotten a mortgage, we could have lost the farm. But we finally got a 30-year loan from the bank and are here to stay.
- Taik has chosen to quit work and farm full time. This is a new development and we are waiting to see how it goes (knock on wood).
- With the extra time to work on the farm, we are growing a few vegetables to bring to Chelsea Market, along with the meat.
- This year we will have beef, chicken, pork and Thanksgiving turkeys for sale.
Establishing a Herd
The newest additions to Two Tracks Acres include a Red Devon bull calf and a Red Poll/Angus heifer. Red Devons are a heritage breed that do well on grass, have a thick hide that is resistant to parasites and extreme temperatures, and are docile, short and stocky. Red Polls are born naturally without horns and are good for both meat and dairy. They are known for easy calving and are a gentle, very old breed of cattle. It was for all of these reasons that we chose these two calves to start our herd. Once they are older we hope to use them for breeding instead of meat.
Last season we practiced continuous grazing, which is a fancy term for letting the cattle wander anywhere and everywhere on the farm. This year we will use rotational grazing, by sectioning off paddocks with electric wire, and moving the cattle every few days. This prevents them from overgrazing by giving the grass a chance to grow back. When allowed to continually graze, cattle only eat the choice plants and leave the weeds, so eventually you end up with pasture full of weeds. Rotation encourages them to eat more of what is available without being so picky.
Jacob from Hives on a Hill Apiary came out to Two Tracks to place swarm traps around our farm. Bees often swarm in the Spring, and a swarm trap is basically a readymade box that makes an appealing home for a new swarm. We hope that they move in to the trap, so that we can put them into a proper hive and have ourselves some honey.
A swarm occurs when a strong hive splits in two. A new queen hatches and exits the hive along with half of the workers, leaving the old queen and other workers behind. This creates room and keeps the space inside from getting too crowded.
CSA and Markets
Two Tracks will once again be at Chelsea Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, 8 am – 1 pm. Come visit us! www.chelseafarmersmkt.org
Our CSA begins in June and runs through November. We now have a beef option. We have decreased the share size to 4 lbs at each pickup, and the prices are lower to reflect this. Sign up on our website at www.twotracksacres.com.
Until next time, Be Well!
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER – May 2016 (Click for PDF version)
CSA Pickup Starts Soon
We begin the CSA season the first week in June. If you are a member, please follow up with us to pick a day and time to receive your share.
Markets this Year
Two Tracks will be at the Saturday Chelsea Farmers Market again, which runs 8 am- 1 pm on Main St in downtown Chelsea. We will also be attending a new market this year – Westside Farmers Market at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. This takes place Thursdays 3-7 pm starting June 2. Come stop on by and visit us!
There is a spot next to our house that has been overgrown and ignored for some time, so we decided we needed to burn it. A controlled burn takes a few people to pull off – there should be someone able to reach every side of the area to make sure the fire doesn’t go beyond where it should. You start downwind on one end and light the dry grass on fire, which then makes its way over the entire area, leaving a blank canvass of field behind covered in ash. Our neighbor Ben, Taik and I soaked the edges of the fields with a hose and circled the area, ready with water to put out any rogue flames. But, there was nothing to worry about. We ended up with a cleared area, ready to be planted with whatever we please. I’m thinking buckwheat to crowd out any weeds that come back, for a great food source for the bees, and of course fresh buckwheat pancakes in the fall. Next year I’d like to establish some perennial clover and put some bees in the area.
Speaking of bees, I’ve been tending to some hives with my friend Germaine, a beekeeper in Ann Arbor. She took me out to check her hives this spring to see if any bees had survived the winter. Most hives had died. We pried open the comb and looked at capped honey and bee larvae cells, but no bees. She guessed some had died because of our unusual spring weather. When it warmed up the bees became active and came out from the tight bundle they stay in all winter to keep warm. Then we had another cold snap, which could have killed the bees since they no longer had the body heat of the winter cluster to keep them from freezing.
But not all was lost. As we watched the abandoned honey, I saw many native bees from other colonies land on the hives to eat the honey from the abandoned comb. This is a great food source to jump start the colonies that do survive the winter. I would never have recognized the native bee for what it was – they are smaller and blacker than the domestic honey bees most of us keep in our farms and gardens. A hardier breed, they are better adapted to surviving the harsh Michigan winters.
On another note, the city of Chelsea is now considering passing an ordinance to allow people to keep bees in their backyards. They are currently looking at policy from cities that already allow this like Ypsilanti. Hopefully we should see some changes soon, and more pollinators in our area!
Predator in our Midst
We had 100 chickens this spring, but a predator got 40 of them before they were fully grown. We never found out what the predator was, but I suspect a possum because it killed multiple birds at one time, and didn’t eat them all. Now we are extra careful to lock them in at night. Even though they are surrounded by electric netting, a determined animal can still get through.
Work smarter not harder – a motto I wish I lived by more often. But I managed to follow this advice with our new watering system. It’s brilliant – an automatic waterer for both the steers and chickens. A hose fills a barrel with water. Once the water reaches the top, it pushes up on a valve that turns off the hose, so that the barrel automatically refills as the animals drink.
We changed the chickens’ drinking apparatus to a nipple waterer instead of the upside down bucket. This is a pipe that hangs above their heads with nipples all along the bottom. The water fills the pipe and the chickens peck at the nipples to get the water. It took them a minute to figure it out, and we had to put their faces in the water to teach them to peck. But once one got it, the rest caught on quickly. I used to have to haul buckets out to the animals every morning full of water to fill their containers. Now I just make sure it’s working, and the rest takes care of itself.
Is it a Deer? A Plane? No it’s a…. Pig
The Grange Kitchen and Bar bought one of our pigs for their restaurant, which I delivered in two halves to the front door (their side door was blocked). After helping carry it in, Chef Brandon Johns and I took a trip to check out a garage that had been converted into a kitchen equipped to process deer and animals. The next day Chef Brandon taught a craft butchery class at the converted garage. He showed us all how to break down a whole pig into its parts, and then walked us through the process of making sausage, bacon, and various charcuterie techniques.
He also told me an interesting story. After I delivered the pig, the Health Department contacted him and said someone had called in a tip that they had seen a person bringing a deer into the restaurant, and were concerned about the food that was being served. So Brandon had to show the inspector that it was in fact legitimate, and a pig. Watch out, you never can tell what those passersby are thinking.
Until next time, be well!
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER – March 2016 (PDF version)
Once again the chicks have arrived, and it’s all cuteness and fluffiness here on the farm. We have 100 of them in the barn, though they’re so small I would not guess there were that many if I didn’t know the exact number. Taik and I also just picked up six baby pigs, a Hereford/Tamworth cross, so cuteness abounds.
Fencing and Paddocks
Although the calves have a nice little paddock to graze and a cozy barn to sleep in we are expanding their area tenfold. Taik and I just got a small loan from the bank to put up fencing around the farm property, and it’s about time! I’ve wanted perimeter fencing for a long while as another measure for keeping in rogue or stray animals. The pigs escaped from their enclosure? At least they won’t make their way into the neighbor’s yard now because we will have that extra fence. The turkeys are headed for the road? No worries, they’ll never make it past our newly erected barrier.
(Above: Me putting in fence posts)
The plan is to put up solid fencing around the perimeter, and further divide the area into paddocks for grazing using electric fence. If we move the calves every couple days, they won’t overgraze and the pasture will grow back more quickly. For now, we’re just letting them roam wherever they want, but if we get more cows the paddocks will be a crucial part of our grazing plan. By the end of this weekend my arms will be sore from pounding in posts.
Old Fashioned Baking
In the spirit of homesteading, I tried my hand at making my own starter for baking sourdough bread. Instead of buying yeast from the store, it’s possible to ‘capture’ the yeast from the air. It’s a matter of fermenting a mixture of flour and water, and the yeast in the air starts to react with the mixture, until you are able to use this as a leavening agent for the bread. My first attempt was unsuccessful and the bread didn’t rise much, but I plan on practicing.
There are two farm to table dinners in Chelsea this summer, and Two Tracks will be donating meat to both. These dinners are becoming more common as the local food movement grows. All of the farmers from market contribute something to the dinner and the menu is planned around what is available. The first one will be at the Chelsea Alehouse on Monday May 9, between 5 and 8. More details will be available on the Chelsea Farmers Market website soon (www.chelseafarmersmkt.org).
We are still accepting members for the 2016 CSA. Sign up to receive chicken, pork, or a mixture of our products from June through November. Please see our website for details and registration. http://twotracksacres.com/?page_id=11
Until next time, Be Well!!!!
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER – February 2016
Two Tracks will be continuing its CSA this summer 2016. We begin in June and run through November. The CSA will be similar to last year, with shares that include pork, chicken, or both. Please see the CSA page for more information and registration details.
GETTING READY FOR SUMMER – EQIPMENT REPAIR
Winter is a time for repairing, planning, and learning. I got a lesson in equipment repair with our neighbor Ben, who invited me to help attach new teeth to the sickle bar mower. This is a scary looking tool, and reminds me of the movie jaws. The toothlike blades slide back and forth to cut the grass for haymaking. Since the old ones were rusted and not very sharp, we replaced them with brand new steel triangles that run all along the blade, like attaching individual teeth on a large saw. This will allow us to cut and harvest a lot more hay this summer.
We’ve acquired a friend for our baby steer Short Round: another calf that follows him everywhere. The two are inseparable. These are Guernsey calves – a breed best for producing milk. Since they are males, it was easy to convince the farmer to sell us the pair because he can’t use them in his milk herd. However, they don’t grow as quickly or have as much muscle as the breeds meant for meat. We are excited to start researching heritage breeds and get some meat cows next time.
IN FOR THE LONG HAUL
I’m becoming better at thinking about the farm in terms of long term planting. We are putting in perennials each year; a luxury we have because we own our land rather than lease it. I wouldn’t want to invest a lot of money in perennials if there was the possibility we’d have to leave it all behind in a few years. This is an obstacle many beginning farmers face these days, with loans difficult to get and high land prices. It limits the products you are able to produce.
We’ve ordered grapes, and are looking into peaches and pears. Spring will tell us if the chestnuts survived the winter, and I’m hoping to put in a few more. We will be tilling the weedy patches on our land and sowing white clover to replace the messiness. Clover is amazing. It smothers out the weeds, adds nutrients and pulls nitrogen into the soil, and can act as a green mulch because it doesn’t grow too high. Once it’s established, I can plant perennials in the clover and not even worry about weeding or mulching. How awesome is that?
I love this time of year because it is full of possibilities, as I imagine the projects and things I want to complete over the upcoming year. Some of my big goals include putting up a large fence for the steers, and dividing it with electric wire into paddocks to improve our grazing plan. Applying for a loan to extend our 5-year land contract to a 30-year mortgage for our farm. Continuing to care for our growing family of what will include this summer: 100 turkeys, many many chickens, 2 calves, 12 pigs (maybe not all at once), 3 cats, a beagle, and of course Taik.
Time to get to work!
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER
September 2015 ((Click here for PDF)
We have turkeys! These bronze breasted birds are escape artists and have thwarted every attempt we’ve made to keep them in their enclosure. They have a large fenced in area but are convinced the grass is greener on the other side, so they escape just about every day. By now Taik has put up fencing two layers tall, adding a new layer after they scaled the old one, but we have yet to find a way to contain them. I know when they’ve gotten out because I can hear their gobbling all around the field, even though I cannot see them in the tall grass.
So, we are taking orders for Thanksgiving Turkeys! They are $4.50/lb. We estimate they will be between 17 to 25 pounds this year. Let us know if you want to pre order your turkey. Pickup will be a few days before Thanksgiving.
The cow has settled into his home. We’ve given him access to both the barn and field, but he prefers to stay inside away from flies during the heat of the day and come out in the mornings and at night. He expects treats now when we go to the pen, and will run to us when he hears us coming. I’ve been bringing him the fallen apples from our one apple tree, which he loves.
We’ve been able to hay the fields twice this season. It was difficult to get a tractor in this spring because it was so wet. You want a few clear days when haying because it needs to be dry when you bale it. Our neighbor Ben loaned us his tractor (we still don’t have one of our own – it’s on our wish list) and we cut about four acres worth of hay. Then we raked it into long piles, or furrows, and flipped it after the sun had dried the first layer. Only after it had completely dried could we come through with the baler (also borrowed from Ben). My whole family came over to help load the bales onto the truck and into the barn. We’ll use it this winter for bedding and feed for the cow.
This year was an experiment to see how much hay we can get off of our land, and if it’s enough to support the cow through the winter. How much we use this winter will determine how many cows we’ll be able to have in the future. Being able to produce all of the food the cow needs right here on our own land is a big step toward being sustainable. For our other animals we’ve had to supplement food by buying some from the nearby mill. We are also thinking of planting pasture more suited to grazing so that the animals can get as many nutrients as possible from the space that we have. What we have now is great, but I would like more diversity in the plants which would be healthier for both the land and the animals.
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER
May 2015 (Click here for PDF version)
The newest addition to Two Tracks Acres is our first cow, named Short Round. Short Round is a rescue calf who is blind and was having trouble navigating the larger farm where we first met him. Our own space is smaller, and the little guy quickly figured out how to find his way around our barn and fenced in pasture. His cautious exploration of the space was amazing to watch, as he became familiar with the location of the water, the salt lick, his food and the fence by nuzzling about. Short Round is super friendly without being pushy, and will follow us around if we make clicking noises at him. He is a brown and white Guernsey and we are excited to have him.
We’ve started going to Chelsea Market again and it has been very busy so far. In June we expect things to pick up even more when the music and market food assistance token programs, like Double Up Food Bucks, begin. My parents have come to help out a few times, and have made a statement by wearing a unique set of pink pig hats, complete with faces and wings. We tried to make Taik wear them too, but he insisted it would cramp his style. I think the customers really liked them though.
Our garden is alive and well with salad greens, radishes, garlic and more. We are growing mangels this year, a root crop – kind of like a beet – that can get up to two feet long. They are used for feed, and we plan to give them to the pigs this winter.
We have planted eight new chestnut trees. Part of our long term plan for the farm is to grow as many perennials as we can, and this year’s investment was in chestnuts, which were donated to us by MSU extension. If grown from a seedling, they can take about eight years to start producing, but ours were grafted – a chestnut branch attached to an adult root stock – so hopefully they will start producing nuts in 3-4 years. Chestnuts are wind pollinated, rather than pollinated by bees, so we had to be careful to place the pollen producers to the west of the trees that can only receive, and do not produce, the pollen that fertilizes the chestnut flowers. The wind always comes from the west, so we tried to be careful when planning our placement.
PICKUP REMINDER – CSA STARTING
Pickup starts the first week of June, Wed 6/3 and Sat 6/6. If you have not yet emailed me your pickup location preference, please let me know soon.
Finally, we would like to invite you all out to the farm for a potluck in June! Come see the farm and get to know us better. The potluck will be Saturday afternoon, starting at 5 pm, on June 20. Wear some sturdy shoes so we can walk through the fields and bring a dish to pass around. We are located at:
11845 Orban Rd
Grass Lake MI 49240
Until next time, be well!
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER
March 2015 (Click for PDF version)
Here we go. I hear the sandhill cranes cackling outside my window and I know it’s time to hit it hard again. Winter has been slow, as usual, and I am eager to get to the longer days and faster pace of summer. We have a couple changes in our routines this year. I am no longer at Capella Farm, but am working part time at Tantre Farm (organic veggies) and as the Chelsea farmers market manager. Taik is working construction, and in the evenings we come home and do what we love best: Two Tracks Acres.
DANGER ON THE ICE
The spring chores are upon us: tilling, pruning fruit trees, seeding peppers, lettuce, kale and collards, and my favorite: cleaning out the chicken coop. We had some trouble this winter watering the animals because the water iced over so quickly. At Tantre, the workers chop a hole in the lake everyday by the cow pasture so that the cows may drink. One evening while we were hacking at the ice, a cow got too close to the hole and slipped, falling straight into the water! The hole we were digging was far out on the lake, so it was too deep for her to get a good footing to push herself out. The cow hung onto the lip of the ice, with her lower half submerged while we scrambled to figure out what to do. I called the owner and he came to the rescue with a sturdy tractor and belt, which we wrapped around her, using the tractor to pull her out. After that episode, we dug the watering hole closer to shore, so if an accident happened again, the cows could just walk out of the shallow water on their own.
WHAT’S NEW WITH FOOD
We have many pigs this spring, which will give us a lot of meat for the summer. I need to order chicks soon, and the egglayers have started cranking out eggs again now that the days are longer. We still don’t have a trailer, so I rely on the goodwill of our fellow, more experienced farmers to help us out with equipment loans. A couple of interesting developments in the food community:
- Tillian, the farm incubator program in Ann Arbor, has more beginning farmers than ever with all kinds of businesses including beekeeping, a salad mix CSA, dried beans, hot peppers destined for the Brinery’s sriracha sauce and many more new and interesting projects.
- The Washtenaw County Food Hub has its community kitchen up and running, and will soon feature a little market with some local products. They’ve acquired more land and want to start investing in perennial habitats such as fruit and nuts.
- Farmers have a new set of food safety regulations to follow in the Food Safety Modernization Act that was just finalized. Although signed into law in 2011, they were still taking comments up until this winter. This is the most sweeping reform in our food safety law in the past 70 years, and focuses on the production (the farmers) side of things.
- Argus Farm Stop, a store that sells local products located on Liberty, in Ann Arbor, is rocking out a new model for selling produce. The store products are kept stocked by the farmers themselves, like a farmers market that’s open all the time. From their website http://www.argusfarmstop.com
Argus provides local producers with a new and different way to sell their products, allowing them to sustain and expand their businesses.
- Products are OWNED AND PRICED by the producer (no brokers or intermediaries allowed) so customers know where their food comes from.
- 80% of the selling price goes back to the producer where it belongs.
- We enable customers to buy from multiple farmers and producers in a single easy transaction.
Check it out if you’re in the neighborhood.
Once again we will be at the Chelsea Farmers Market on Saturdays this summer. Market runs 8am-noon starting May 6. We’ll have chicken, pork, eggs, and a small amount of vegetables in late spring. Pork cuts include breakfast sausage, Italian sausage, ham, pork chops, shoulder roasts, and bacon. The first vegetables of the year will be lettuce, radishes, spinach and salad mix. Everything is all natural – no nitrates or preservatives for the meat, and organic practices for growing veggies.
PICTURES FROM THE FARM
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER
Oct/Nov 2014 (Click for PDF version)
I’LL HUFF AND I’LL PUFF
I felt like I was in the story of the three little pigs when we began construction of the pigs’ house for the winter. Last year we kept the pigs in the barn and, while warm-ish, it was messy. I ended up cleaning their bedding quite often and it was hard to give them access to the outdoors. That is why this year we are changing tactics and bringing the shelter to them in the field. Taik and I built a straw bale hut in the middle of the pig pen out of the hay we bailed earlier this summer. So they wouldn’t eat it, we wrapped the sides of the hut in fencing, kind of like a fence wall. We filled the inside with more straw so they can snuggle down at night. Just in time too because frost is starting to show in the early mornings.
What do the Fourth of July and Halloween have in common? Garlic, of course! Plant by Halloween and harvest by the 4th of July. We started planting just before the end of October. Taik dug trenches with a hoe about four inches deep and placed each clove, pointy side up, in a long line down the trench. As a general rule of thumb, I try to plant seeds twice the depth of their size. So a two inch clove of garlic should be set in a four inch deep trench. We used the garlic we had grown last year as seed. That’s something nice about garlic; the seeds are super easy to save. However, if you are going to plant some yourself, don’t buy it from the grocery store. Buy it from a seed supplier or from the farmers market. In order to clean the cloves, most grocery stores douse them in chemicals and gauge out the dirt around the roots, which also destroys its ability to grow back.
The garlic will sprout up in the Spring and there’s not much to do to it besides harvest in July. However, sometime before July you must pull the scapes – or flower shoots – out of the middle of the plant, or else all the energy will go into the flower and not into the garlic bulb. They are also delicious and have a mild garlic flavor. I am looking forward to next year’s batch.
Sadly, the time has come for the summer farmers markets to close. This year has been great for us at Chelsea and Grass Lake and we are going to produce a lot more next year in order to keep up with demand. If you are like me and simply can’t wait until next year for your markets, check out Dexter, Ypsi, Ann Arbor, and Saline for the winter markets. Remarkably, you can still find greens in the dead of winter from those farms that practice hoop house production.
WINTER IS COMING
Winterizing a farm is a whole production. At Capella Farm, the process is similar to many other small diversified farms in Michigan. We needed to get everything prepared before the major frost set in, otherwise we would lose many of the crops. The ‘shut down’ process includes sealing up the hoophouses for the winter and repairing any tears in the plastic. We covered the crops that are still outdoors (cabbage, rutabaga, turnips, and choi) with row cover – basically a very large blanket to trap the heat. Then we pulled all of the crops that are ready – more turnips, radishes, parsnips – and put them into storage, where we can access them and clean them for market as needed. Then there is the mulching of garlic, leeks, and the remaining parsnips with straw in order to keep them from freezing. These crops will remain in the ground until spring, when we remove the mulch in order to harvest. Leaving them in the ground, rather than in the barn for storage, will keep them fresher.
Don’t forget to come visit us on turkey pickup day starting at 6 pm on Tues, November 25th. This is the last newsletter for a while, so thank you all for your wonderful support this season. We couldn’t have done it without you and we will miss working with you. Until next time, Be Well!
-Stephanie and Taik
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER
August 2014 (Click for PDF version)
The wheat was ready to harvest – the heads were bent over dripping with seeds, and if we left them any longer they would drop and we would lose the crop. Harvest time was now or never, so we asked our friend Ben to bring his combine over. It worked like a dream – for about five minutes. The machine cut the stalks and shook the seeds to separate them in the hopper. It spit the spent shafts out the side. It was wonderful, and then the belt broke.
Without a machine to harvest the wheat, I decided to use a scythe. This was slow work and knocked all the wheat seed to the ground where it got lost in the dirt. Finally I started pulling the stalks up by hand and laying them in piles. It was a hot, humid day and the work was exhausting. I experimented with banging the shafts onto a wooden pallet with a tarp underneath to catch the seeds, but it still felt like I was losing a lot of food. I have used this method to harvest rice while in Thailand and thought it would work similarly, but rice separates from the stalk much more easily than wheat.
With farming, as with many things in life, I’ve found that there is a point when it’s smart to call it quits; when the effort put in outweighs the benefits received. I’ve always been one to press this barrier and keep at a task longer than is practical. Taik took one look at me banging the stalks of wheat against the pallet and told me to call him when I was ready to load it into the barn. He, at least, has a better sense of what’s practical. I just couldn’t stand to watch the food go to waste, even though it would be pretty cheap to buy a similar amount at the grain mill. Sometimes it just feels right to do the impractical.
My sister got married last weekend and we did a “farm to table” dinner for the reception. Two Tracks, Tantre, and Capella Farm provided all of the vegetables for the occasion. Of course we had to plan an in-season menu, so we featured dill potatoes and roasted carrots along with steak or salmon. For a vegetarian option we made fresh sweet corn fritters with arugula and tomato salsa on top. Taik volunteered to cook and a bunch of friends pitched in and helped make it happen. I was stressed the whole time because there were 150 guests but Taik managed to pull it off, somehow. The dinner was delicious and the farm fresh ingredients took it over the top.
You may have heard that turkeys can drown when it rains because they look up and forget to close their mouths. Well, the rumors are true. No turkeys drowned per se, but one turkey at Capella Farm (where I work) did get water in its lungs after a thunderstorm because it forgot to close its beak. We asked for suggestions online for a cure and brought it inside the house to warm up. After rubbing Vicks on its nose and raw garlic on its feet (don’t ask, I think garlic is a cure-all) it seemed to perk up. Now I make sure our Two Tracks turkeys are in their pen when I know a storm is coming.
Thanks and Be Well!
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER
July 2014 (Click for PDF version)
I got a call from the post office that the turkeys had arrived. In the background I could hear the chirping of forty chicks complaining about being cooped up in a box for two days. I told Taik to rush over and get them situated in their spot in the barn. We had gone to a lot of trouble to set up the turkey area in preparation for their arrival. The difficult thing about turkeys is that they cannot come into contact with chickens, or even be in a place where chickens used to be, when they are young because they are susceptible to catching a disease called “blackhead” from chickens. We have a space set up specifically to house chicks, so we hosed it down and spread lime over the entire spot, to help cleanse the area. We were extra careful with our cleaning so as not to endanger the turkeys with chicken residue. I am happy to report that so far they are all very healthy and growing quickly.
We have forty turkeys that we will be raising for Thanksgiving. If you are interested in a fresh Thanksgiving turkey let us know.
New Coop and Ducking Chickens
Our egglayers used to have free reign over the backyard, strutting around anyplace they pleased, which usually included waiting by the front door and leaving chicken droppings for us to step on. In addition, they were wandering further and further afield, until I routinely found them down the driveway next to the road. It was getting out of hand, so we decided enough was enough and built them a new fenced in area. The area is still very large, but it ensures that they are kept separate from the house, the garden, and the road.
Unfortunately, two chickens don’t seem to get the message. They have discovered a way out (I still don’t know how) and escape from the fence every day only to return in the morning for a bit of breakfast with the rest of the flock. Taik believes that the rogue chickens are suspicious of our intentions to catch them because he sees them duck every time he passes by. I wish they would take a cue from the duck, which is quite happily living among the rest of the chickens as a member of the flock.
We are still looking for pigs. I mentioned in an earlier newsletter that a virus has hit many pigs across the country and they are much scarcer than they were last year. The porcine epidemic diarrhea virus has an almost 100% mortality rate for young piglets and has killed over 7 million piglets in the past year. Prices for young feeder pigs have tripled. The last people we got our pigs from said they had customers coming from all over the state – Grand Rapids, Lansing, Jackson – just for pigs from that litter. This development has made us seriously consider breeding our own.
The pigs we do have are troublemakers. A few weeks ago the large ones got out from the fenced in area where we keep them. Panicked, we followed the trail of destruction into the neighbor’s yard. There they sat contentedly rooting up his lawn. We tried to herd them and push them back home until our neighbor noticed us and came outside to help. He had a trailer but it was too high, and pigs are very wary of ramps. We eventually ended up building a pig “sled” with sides and a curved piece of plywood for the floor. I ushered them inside, and we dragged the whole contraption back to the pen.
The pigs have a certain way of greeting us by snorting and galloping about whenever we draw near. We recently combined two generations of pigs, and Taik believes that the elder one has taken the young’uns under its wing. Whenever he approaches, the little ones run to the back of the enclosure while the big pig swaggers toward him, not exactly aggressive but definitely in an attempt to intimidate (which it does rather successfully).
The height of summer yields an abundance of food. We have more beans, peppers, and peas than we know what to do with. Taik and I have spent a few afternoons in a hot kitchen blanching and freezing vegetables to store up for the winter. Don’t forget to take some time to preserve while food is plentiful!
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER
June 2014 (click for PDF version)
We need hay for bedding, and we have acres of field that can be used for haying on our property. The only thing we don’t have is a hay baler, or a sickle bar mower. These tools essentially cut and bale the hay when you pull them along the field with your tractor. I was determined to get this hay, so I decided that I would use a scythe if I had to. After about an hour of this and little progress, I gave up and we called our neighbor, Ben, for some help.
Ben brought over his tractor, a brush hog, and some trusty tools. When we bought the property, we inherited an old hay rake from the 1930’s. We tinkered with it and got it up and running. This machine combs through the cut field and pushes the straw into long lines, or windrows. Then we let the sun bake it for a day, and ran the machine through again in order to turn the hay over and dry the other side. If straw is not completely dry when stored, the decomposition can heat it up so much that it catches fire. Many barns have burned down this way.
The final step was to drive our truck into the field and load the hay onto the back with our pitchforks. We then unloaded it into the barn, hacking and coughing as straw flew through the air. I wasn’t sure how much we would get out of this endeavor, but just a fourth of the filed yielded enough for the winter. This, of course, means that next year we can get some cows! If we have enough to feed them through the summer and winter (which, we learned, we do), then bring it on.
Invasion of the Potato Beetle
It is the year of the potato beetle. It seems like every year has its particular pest, and this year the Colorado potato beetle has descended in full force upon our potatoes. It is an ugly, squishy red bug that eats the leaves of the potato plant and decimates it before it can finish growing the potatoes. Since we grow organically, we have to pick them off by hand. Every few days we comb through the potatoes and brush the icky things off into cups filled with soapy water (to stop them from crawling out). So far, we seem to be winning the battle.
Two Tracks has an extern this summer. She learned about us through a program at Kalamazoo College (where I studied) that links students with alumni.
Being at Two Tracks has been quite an experience so far! Upon arrival, I was greeted by a fleet of chickens, wandering around the yard as if they too operated the farm. After taking a tour (often accompanied by either a cat or chicken), I knew that these next few weeks were going to be exciting. I decided to do my internship on a farm instead of in a hospital, political campaign, or law office because of my interest in just, local, and sustainable food systems. At K College, I am involved in a student organization that strives to connect students with food grown locally and sustainably. Through my work with that organization, I have come to the conclusion that I would like to pursue a career in food systems. I then decided that having farm experience would not only give me essential knowledge on sustainable agriculture, but the opportunity to see if farming was the way in which I would involve myself in sustainable food systems. Being on Two Tracks is allowing me to see two sides of sustainable agriculture: produce and meat production. In the upcoming weeks, I’m looking forward to spending more time at Two Tracks as well as interacting with other community members involved in different facets of food production! – Greta Herrin
Chelsea and Grass Lake markets are going strong this year. Taik has been a market rockstar and we are nearly out of pork already, although we are due to get some more next week. The Grass Lake Diner – an excellent place to check out for breakfast/lunch if you haven’t already – has also been purchasing some vegetables from the farm. Hope to see some of you there!
Thanks and Be Well!
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER
April 2014 (Click for PDF version)
Spring is in the air. The chicks are peeping, the plants are sprouting, and I just got my first mosquito bite. Ahhh Spring.
Welcome old and new members to Two Tracks Acres 2014! We are looking forward to selling Two Tracks meat and maybe some veggies at the Grass Lake and Chelsea markets this summer. This is the next step in diversifying our farm, and we can’t wait to get out to some markets.
This winter was a difficult one and we are getting off to a slow start. We were finally able to move both the chicks and pigs to the outdoors since it’s become warmer, but let me tell you it was none too soon. The pigs have a new fenced in enclosure from last year. We rotated their pen and spread a cover crop over the old area, which should grow well on such fertile ground. Pigs have had a hard time of it this winter because there is a virus going around and farmers have lost many of their animals due to cold and disease. Two of our regular sources for piglets did not have any available (I think mostly because they lost litters to the cold) but it is a problem all over the country. Fortunately we got lucky and eventually found some, so we are ready to go.
A few weeks ago a “box o’ chicks” arrived for us at the post office. This is how they deliver chicks these days – in the mail. Surprisingly, they were none the worse for wear and were simply very hungry. We have also found a new source of non GMO corn for the chickens. This is exactly what we were hoping for, and although we won’t be able to start getting it until later in the season, we are eager to switch over to a product more in line with our values.
We have been working on the “homestead” and have added fruit trees, a vegetable garden, and a hoop house. Progress is good.
This year the season will begin the last Wednesday in May (May 28th) and Saturday (May 31). Please email your preference for pickup:
(1) Wednesday Food Hub evening
(2) Wednesday Tantre Farm afternoon
(3) Saturday Food Hub morning
I will soon send specific times when a volunteer (or ourselves) will be available at the pickup places to greet you.
If you are interested in a once a month pickup – getting all your shares for the month at one time – please let us know as this option is also available.
If you have not made your final payment, please send it soon before the season starts.
Thanks and Be Well!
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER
November 2013 (Click for PDF version)
So we’ve finally come to the end of the season. It has certainly been an adventure, beginning to learn how to run this farm of ours. The year started with us cleaning out the hay and manure from the old cow barn. Swept it away into a compost pile. Now we have a clear space to put the animals in the winter. The barn used to house dairy cattle, so the troughs and stalls are still there. We converted one into a place for chicks, with some heat lamps and a wire mesh top to keep out predators. We hope to turn the old milk room into a processing area, with a sink and oven for heating water.
This year we also tilled a part of the land to plant feed for next year’s animals. We planted some winter wheat and will be planting corn next year. Since it’s so hard to buy organic feed, we believe growing our own feed will be healthier and more sustainable to our operation. Next year is an experiment to see how much we will need to plant in order to feed the animals we have.
The rest of the land remains in pasture, which the chickens and turkeys enjoyed and the pigs are still pleased to have. Our barn roof needs mending and the house needs a lot of work, but isn’t that how it always is? This first year has been about getting to know this place, and next will be about improving and building.
We raised a few turkeys this year as an experiment. The largest was a 33 pound birdzilla of a turkey. Next year we want to raise more but will probably try a different breed or get them later in the year, so they won’t get as big.
A few friends came over to help us butcher and pluck them before Thanksgiving. The birds were so big that we needed two people to pick them up, and four people to pluck. Even with all the help, it still took us ten hours to do seven birds. (To put into perspective, it takes about a half hour to do a chicken.) The turkey on our Thanksgiving table was delicious, but I will miss them strutting around, feathers fluffed up, and their happy sounding gobbling.
We had hoped to go to the farmers market this year to sell meat, but we never made it because we didn’t have enough product to sell. Next year, it is our goal to raise enough meat to sell at one of the markets in the area.
We will be doing the CSA again next year, but we still need to figure out details. This year has been great and it has been wonderful working with all of you. Thank you so much! We will be in touch, and in the meantime, happy holidays.
Until next time,
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER
Believe it or not, it’s already time to start thinking about next year. What was once a hay field behind our house has been plowed and tilled so that it can be planted. Much of our land remains in pasture, but it is strange to look out the window and see soil where tall grass used to be. I had mixed feelings as I watched the tractor overturning huge swathes of soil; even though I am excited to plant, it feels strange that we are changing the landscape so drastically. In the newly tilled land, we will plant organic wheat for animal feed and for grinding into flour to make bread next year. At first I was worried about the plowing. After all, wasn’t the mouldboard plow largely responsible for the dustbowl? I learned that yes, plowing can be bad if done each year for a number of years. The heavy weight of the tractor, the overturning of the soil and disturbance of the topsoil, can cause the ground to become too compact beneath the first few feet in an effect known as hardpan. As most growers know, it is very difficult to grow plants in soil that is overly compacted because roots cannot break through, microorganisms are destroyed, and erosion can occur. However, plowing only once every few years and a good crop rotation including green manure and biomass can avoid most of these problems. Roots from cover crops that act as green manure can reach deep into the soil and loosen the dirt, while bringing nutrients toward the surface. They also add to the soil health when tilled under because they decompose into food for the next plants. Of course, there is always an argument for not tilling at all, a technique I hope to research further. For now, November first is our start date for sowing winter wheat.
How does a chicken hatch an egg? By teaming up with another chicken, of course! I mentioned in an earlier newsletter how Broody, one of our egg layers, was trying to hatch eggs with little success. I guess she solved that problem, because one day I walked into the coop and there were two chickens sitting together on the same nest. They tag teamed the incubating job for the required 21 days and voila, we have two baby chicks to show for it. Yay mamas.
FARMING CERTIFICATIONS: A BREAKDOWN
Maybe you have heard of some of these labels: Organic, GAP, MAEP, FSMA. These random letters are common in farming lingo. They represent different types of certification for farms, implying different production practices. But for those who don’t farm for a living, it can be hard to know how farms operate just based on these labels, without a little more information.
You have of course heard of Organic certification. An organic label is hard to attain, and rightly so. Organic practices must be followed strictly, with tracking and documents to prove that the only pesticides and fertilizers used are organic ones (much healthier compounds which quickly erode), that seeds are organic, and so on. You have probably also heard of mega farms that are organic, challenging us to define exactly what types of farming we support. Is organic sustainable if it applies to monocropping? And how about wise uses of water, soil, etc. That is why I encourage everyone to speak with their farmer or even visit farms in order to understand which practices their grower uses.
Some newer acronyms have entered the producer’s world within the past few years. GAP, or Good Agricultural Practices, is a voluntary certification that a farm can obtain which is considered one of the safest ways of growing and harvesting food. And, ok, I’ll just say it – I don’t like the GAP requirements at all. Most large institutions that order food such as Walmart, Meijers, U of M, etc, require a farm to be GAP certified before they will buy its produce. GAP guarantees that food is ‘super clean’ by keeping possible contaminants as separate from the food as is possible while in the field. Wildlife contact (including birds) with the produce must be controlled. All containers must be sanitized daily. The emphasis is on eliminating the bacteria and bad microbes that could cause disease. I have a few problems with this. The separation of farming from nature does not encourage a diverse ecosystem, but rather calls for the farmer to exercise even tighter control over the environment, essentially creating more work for the farmer and requiring greater artificial inputs to make up for the lack of natural diversity. Without a lot of biodiversity, soil – the heart and soul of a farm – is not alive. It requires microbes, bacteria, fungi, insects, and all manner of things to be healthy. Secondly, the record keeping required and the cost of implementing such a system are extremely expensive. Thus, small farms lose access to this market – even if they were able to meet the demands of quantity.
Another voluntary certification is MAEAP (Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program), which is much more accessible. It still requires a good deal of record keeping, but focuses on sustainable and environmental safeguards without being unreasonable. This includes tracking the following: crop rotation; application of water, fertilizers and pesticides; and soil quality. The CSA coalition, a group of CSAs working together in Ann Arbor, has adopted this as a baseline certification for their farms. It guarantees customers that their food is grown responsibly. Also, the coalition hopes to approach some key health insurance companies about offering membership rebates for those insurance members who join CSAs. The insurance companies cut down on costs by encouraging people to eat healthier, the CSA is more affordable for participants, and more food is bought locally. We are waiting to see how this project works and if the insurance companies are willing to accept MAEAP certification as an adequate food safety guideline.
Finally, FSMA, or the Food Safety Modernization Act, is a new set of regulations being required of all vegetable farms that gross over $500,000. In the past, there were no such laws monitoring growers. Unfortunately, the FSMA program tends to fall along the same lines as GAP in its requirements, while a little less strict. Public input is still being accepted at this time before the bill is passed.
I am not against government oversight of food production. The question I would like to raise is how far should the oversight go? Can the economy be self-regulating, with irresponsible farmers going out of business, or does the government need to protect us further? Also, do these regulations (GAP, FSMA) take us in the right direction for how we want our farming systems to operate, with cleanliness gained at the expense of biodiversity?
Thanks and be well!
TWO TRACKS ACRES NEWSLETTER
August 2013 (PDF version)
DUCKS NOW AVAILABLE
We have duck available! Finally, after weeks of being kept awake from all the quacking (ducks are very skittish), the ducks are ready for eating. If you would like one, please email me and I can deliver it with the rest of your share. They are 2-3 pounds (on the small side) and cost $20 per duck. Also, we sold some to the Grange in Ann Arbor – our first restaurant sale! – and the chef will be preparing them soon as a dinner special. I don’t yet know what dish he is planning, but I’ll let you know when I find out.
IDEAS FOR GROUND PORK
Those of you who receive pork have been getting a lot of ground pork in the share. I would like to suggest making it into sausage. Don’t be intimidated, it’s extremely easy. The easiest recipe, and one of my favorites, is a simple breakfast sausage with sage, salt and pepper. To take it over the top, throw in some fennel seeds. For those of you that like a little spice, try a chorizo recipe. I have included one for which I have had great success at the end of the newsletter.
The chickens have been busy and we have an overabundance of eggs at the moment. I will be leaving a few cartons at the food hub during pickup time for anyone to take. The cost is $3/dozen and we will have an egg money jar next to them for the deposits. Eggs are for one and all so get there early if you want some!
OUT WITH THE OLD
The farm underwent some major cleaning as we ditched the previous inhabitants’ junk (lots of porcelain bunnies) and made way for Two Tracks Acres junk (a lot of porcelain pigs). My mom, horrified by the state of the barn and the garages, insisted we order a dumpster and dedicated her and my dad’s weekend to helping us fill it. Now the place is spick and span and feels much more like ours, rather than someplace we are renting, with another person’s things filling up the spaces.
There are two fruit trees in our yard and while we were cleaning, the apple tree branch decided it couldn’t bear its burden of fruit any longer and snapped. The limb crashed down to rain apples all over the yard. We scooped them up, put them in the loader bucket, and fed most of them to the pigs. Since the apples weren’t ripe, we kept only a few to experiment with cider recipes. If anyone knows any, please tell!
THE CAT WHO THOUGHT IT WAS A CHICKEN
A new addition to the farm has joined us. For a time, Taik thought that our orange cat, Cattywompus, was extremely fast. One moment it would be by the garden, the next we would see it on the other side of the farm by the barn. Until we realized there was actually another orange kitten that had moved in. This newcomer is strange and I think it believes it is a chicken. I have often found it sleeping in the hen house at night, among the roosting chickens, and so far it only hangs out with the flock. With luck, I will be able to convince it to come to the house.
1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
½ teaspoon salt
1 pound 2 ounces ground pork
2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika – pimenton (I used a mix of regular paprika and crushed dried chili peppers, and it still tasted good)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Grind the salt and fennel together until fine. Put the pork in a large bowl and add the fennel, salt, paprika, garlic and vinegar. Mix together, and check the seasoning by frying a small amount in a pan to taste. Add more salt, paprika, or pepper if needed.
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