Tuesday, June 28, 2011

vision - Driftless Area, WI

The Driftless Area is gorgeous.

The Kickapoo River Valley from Ontario through Wauzeka, and all the side canyons.

Viroqua is an awesome little town, with two local and sustainable restaurants on the main drag, a stocked, quality food co-op, a bookstore with the best selection of homesteading/ organic farming/ permaculture books I've seen, and a Waldorf school that has brought hundreds of families to the region to stay. El and I realized we're a consumer demographic.

The land is gorgeous, circumvented by the glaciers that flattened the rest of the midwest. Industrial agriculture never got a foothold because the land is just too rumpled, too full of nooks and valleys, the farms too broken up. So it was poor for a while, until the Organic Valley Cooperative turned it into the organic dairy hub of the world. The Kickapoo River is the windiest river in the states, snaking around through its ancient floodplain taking its sweet time to meet up with the Wisconsin then dump into the Mississippi. The Kickapoo Valley Reserve formed after a bungled government flood-control intervention left La Farge with an unfinished dam and a lot of relocated families and ire in the community. It is co-managed with the Ho-Chunk Indian tribe.

Each farm has its domain. As an example of an ideal local property, take this:

* 221 acres.
* 3 homes, a big barn, a few other outbuildings, and the original sandstone settler's cottage that needs some fixing up.
* 2 ponds full of fish.
* Several springs.
* An entire miniature watershed following a side canyon of the river canyon and its three little headwater canyons.
* A pasture up top, garden space all around the homes and ponds, a pasture in the canyon, and a pasture down in the river's hundred-year floodplain.
* Lots of woods everywhere else.
* $800,000.

We saw this place on the side of the road and drove in to check it out. Found the listing later: 15287 Turfan Rd., Gays Mills, WI.
"221 acres of natural beauty. This property has 57 acres along the Kickapoo River, 2 very large ponds with fish, 167 wooded acres in the MFL, and 3 homes, a 34x56รข€™ pole building and barn used for entertaining all immaculately cared for. The newest home/chalet has over 3000 sq ft (4BR, 2.75 bath) and overlooks the largest pond. Excellent retirement home or family retreat. This property has it all. Rentals properties could be sold for $150,000 reducing overall investment."
The questions remain: what to do with this land? How to make it pay? How to avoid isolation?

I imagine something like seven families going in on it. That's 30+ acres per family for $115,000 each. 20% down on a 15-year loan, so a $4900 mortgage. $900 per family. Add to that cooperative fees for tools, land management, facility maintenance, and such, and each family might pay between $1100 and $1500 per month, depending on whether we're paying or installing power systems individually or collectively and so on. My thought is that each family would need to come up with this amount regularly. People could establish ventures to make the land pay -- for example, we might collectively own and operate an inn or bed & breakfast while also using the barn as a venue for weddings, concerts, or retreats, meanwhile having it all in the midst of a working farm. We could potentially all earn all of our income on-site, but we wouldn't have to. We would just need to make the minimum payment every month, and could do so with an outside job. Key notions: Economic resilience. Pooling resources. Diversifying revenue streams. Having a powerful tangible asset. Creating value. Generating Surplus. Hard work. Communication. Cooperation. Success. Setting an example. Participating in the resilient communities network/ movement.

A final thought on how to do it: run it as a business? As a cooperative business? As a nonprofit organization? As a land trust? Research this. A good legal model for striking the right balance between cooperation and independence, with clear but flexible boundaries. More on this here.

More resources:

Center for Regenerative Society in the Driftless Area
Driftless Folk School
The Driftless Food and Farm Project
Driftless Area Initiative
Whole Trees Architecture
The Wormfarm: A working farm in the Driftless Area with artist residencies.

Peach Disease

Discovered this grossness on our peach tree:

As far as I can tell from googling, it's got perennial canker, also called Valsa canker, Cytospora canker, Leucostoma canker, and peach canker. Leucostoma cincta or persoonii -- not sure which, not sure it matters.
Canker eradication. During the pruning operation, remove all cankers on small branches or limbs, making a thinning cut at least 4 inches (10 cm) beneath the edge of the cankered zone. On large scaffold limbs or the trunk, it is possible to surgically remove cankers during the late spring or early summer, when the wounds will heal most rapidly. Although this is a time consuming procedure, it is particularly useful for eradicating canker from young orchards in the early stages of disease development, before it has a chance to spread. It should not be practiced when cankers affect more than half of the branch diameter.

Surgery should be performed during dry weather, preferably when no rain is forecast for at least 3 days. Using a sharp knife, remove all diseased bark around each canker, plus a 3/4- to 1-inch (2-2.5 cm) margin of healthy tissue around the edges; it is not necessary to dig into the hardwood, but there should be no brown inner bark that remains. To heal properly, the finished cut should have a smooth margin and be slightly rounded at the top and bottom ends. It is not necessary or helpful to cover these cuts with a wound dressing.
Gotta do some serious surgery. It's really widespread on the tree. Lots of oozing.

summer garden

Started thinking about the garden in the days before coming back from our trip to WI. Couldn't wait to see it. Come home to find it in pretty good shape.

Chard is harvestable and being harvested. The one remaining deer tongue lettuce has not bolted! I can't imagine it's very good at this point. I want it to bolt so I can save the seed. The spinach is all gone, the mizuna, and the new lettuces are coming in nicely but still have 2-4 weeks till maturity, I'd guess. The dill and cilantro are doing great. Mike's been pinching the flower stalks off the cilantro and says its still good. The mesclun patch could really be torn out and re-seeded. Ah, for time!

The tomato plants are big and healthy and desperately in need of caging. Wojtek bought the 6" wire mesh so now we really have to get on it. The peppers are little but look good. My squash seeds have sprouted and the one transplant at the garden is doing really well. The beans that languished in their mudballs for weeks/months on the deck and at the garden have really gotten twiny! They are searching for a trellis and wanting to grow!

DISAPPOINTMENTS: All the luffa plants look terrible. None have grown and most have yellowed and died. Even the one in the big pot here has not grown, nor has the squash next to it, though the squash seeds have come up in the other pot. I wonder if this is because of having their roots disturbed? Supposedly they don't like it, but I did fuss with most of the roots a bit because they were potbound. The basil plants looked great at first glance when I got back. Twenty-five or so had survived and most were big. On closer glance, they were absolutely covered in thrips and aphids, which they must have contracted from my un-dealt with diseased houseplants. I tossed all the basil plants into the yard waste bin, and several pest-ridden houseplants with them. With the other pest-ridden houseplants, I went on a cut and cure binge, pruning them down and spritzing them thoroughly with neem oil. Fingers crossed.

The broccoli looks amazing. All the main crowns were harvested while I was away, but there are side shoots galore. The peas, too, are really putting out. The tall ones need to fatten still, but the shorter ones are snow peas. I am going to stir-fry with broccoli, snow peas, and the one remaining bok choy for the house meal on Thursday.

NOTE: Before I left for the trip, on June 10 I believe, I planted the beans in the back of the East bed, and hilled up a part of the bed for squash, transplanting the healthiest of my starts and seeding the rest. I also planted the big pots at home in the backyard, up against the chicken run and the South side of the house, with luffa and squash. I don't remember which squahs seeds I planted where, but I've got Oregon Sweet Meat and something Buttersomething.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

break in the flow

The greens are about done.

Even the perpetual greens patch has gone stemmy. The mizuna and rabe has gotten tougher and bitter. The spinach is bolting and the deer tongue lettuce is starting to. Yesterday I pulled one of the last lettuces up. It was full of little slugs, fugitives from the loss of habitat. I think keeping a clean garden with no weeds and compost instead of layered mulch helps keep the slug population down, perhaps a lot. There were also a couple spiders in the lettuce, also fugitives of habitat loss. I made sure they escaped to go back to their good work. I stepped on the slugs. Sorry dudes. Conditional love.

The new seedlings are coming along in the garden, but it will be at least 2-3 weeks before even the chard is harvestable.

The broccoli's coming out.

The beets are fattening.

The peas, finally, are flowering.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

the greens perpetuate

"Perpetual greens" is what is says on our garden map. That is the mission! We failed at first by planting all our lettuce and greens at once, but now we're popping/seeding lettuces in as we pluck the first ones out. Today I went down and direct seeded a bunch of lettuce in the old lettuce rows. Only three lettuces remain in the ground from the orginals. In each spot I seeded, I first scooped out a bit of soil, threw down a handful of compost, pressed it firmly but not hard to restore capillarity, tossed 8 or so lttle seeds loosely onto each spot, came back with a heavy sprinkle of compost, pressed it down lightly, and watered.

I also planted the beans, which have been growing dutifully out of their mudballs for weeks now, sitting outside on a tray. I planted them with two sprouting next to each other. We will see how they do.

Still no flowers on the peas, though they're four feet tall or more. Too much nitrogen? Mike thinks so.

I fertilized with fish emulsion today, 4 tbsp in 2 gallons of water, mostly doused the little lettuces and beans, and gave a bit to the other new plantings, including the chard, bok choi, tomatoes, and peppers.

I "up-blocked" the little basils on Tuesday night. There are now thirty or so 2" cubes with the little basil cubes stuck in them. Some of them had a long root that had hopped to the little block next door, which I had to cut. The stems of some of them have shriveled, though not fatally. I have been waiting too long to upblock. I think the right time to do it must be within a couple days after they sprout, though the roots seem to reach the edge of the block and tell the plant to just freeze and wait until there's more soil. I added more peat moss and compost, measured in handfuls and guessed, a bit more moss than compost. The new cubes hold together really well. Their sides are sheer, they're hard.

Time: ~ 2 hours (including basil up-blocking)