Monthly Archives: June 2017

Augustus Fischer might be proud

Another great day on the farm today. It’s Civil War Days at the Fischer Farm but that didn’t stop me running the walk-behind tractor and getting my contour line ready for planting. Farmer John was out watering the pumpkins and gave me a quick run down on the Grillo tractor. I tilled the weeds out of the quarter acre pumpkin field and did a good piece along Grand Ave where I’m going for some kind of ornamental display, then turned my attention over to the 150 foot contour line that I’ve been fine tuning. Cannons and muskets were firing the whole time but there’s always work to do around the farm.

Found myself explaining what contour is a few times today and hope I did an all right job. I do have a full blog post drafted but as that’s turning into sort of a manifesto I haven’t finished editing it yet. The quickest explanation I can think of about contour is that it is essentially the shape that water makes upon the landscape, and that paying attention to how those shapes play out on the land can have big impacts in farming and in restoration. Essentially, soil is either being deposited or washed away, and there’s a line (or multiple lines) across every landscape where you can see this demarcation as the land goes from convex to concave. I picked one of those lines and decided to plant a row of sunflowers. A whole lot of surveying went into plotting out that line and a modest amount of site prep, but now it’s ready to get sown and tomorrow I’ll make it happen.

In addition to the hundreds of sunflower seeds I have ready to throw down I bought two flats of stiff goldenrod from Prairie Moon. They are a great nursery in Minnesota and I’m thrilled with the mixed flat of native perennials I ordered from them earlier in the year and planted in my urban garden. When I got the email that their remaining flats were on clearance I figured I would order a few more for the Fischer Farm. It turns out that the ten percent I saved on these flats doesn’t offset the twenty percent I’m probably losing in viability, as these clearance trays arrived looking much worse than the plants I ordered earlier in the year. Lesson learned, but I already knew better.

Fortunately I have all sorts of tricks up my sleeve and I’m going to share some secrets here. Okay none of it is really at all secret and I’m sure you can find this info all over the internet, but in case you didn’t already know, all parts of any plant in the Salix family pretty much are a rooting compound. These are the trees you know as willows. There’s even one in the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond that was reputedly struck in half by lightning, a fully mature tree, and both halves were replanted and are still there currently, decades later, looking lovely. Check it out sometime — it’s one of my favorite spots in Chicago.

Where this information comes in helpful to gardeners is that you can take willow branches, leaves, stems, whatever cuttings you can take, chop them up into lots of pieces and boil them for a while, let that water settle all the way to room temperature, and water in your transplants with this rooting compound, aka willow water. If you want to get biodynamic about it, and why not, right, add in comfrey, nettles, yarrow, and chamomile, in whatever ratio you have available, with a good dash of unsulphured molasses to really feed the soil biology. I have a pot of this brew on the stove right now and after it cools overnight I’m going to strain it into a two gallon pump sprayer. When I get out on the Farm tomorrow morning first thing I’m going to do is get all those goldenrod plugs in the ground and water them in with the hose. AFTER they’ve gotten a good soaking I’m going to go BACK and feed them the willow water biodynamic juice.

Why the two step soaking? Well for one thing I only have a two gallon sprayer and I’m watering a 150 foot row. But it’s also a fact of biology that dry soil doesn’t actually hold a lot of water. Whoa, crazy talk! I think about it like that Dagwood fellow from the Blondie cartoons. He could never eat on an empty stomach. If soil is too dry it’s actually just going to shed water. It’s about surface tension and hydrophillic action, field capacity, all sorts of mumbo jumbo. Once your soil is good and watered, though, then your plants can take a drink. If you’re watering your house plants you should generally water them twice, a little bit first and the rest later. If you’re feeding your garden, get the soil watered first, then go back in a while with your organic potions and fertilizers.

It’s been a really long day and I have a lot of work left to do tomorrow but if I don’t write it down it’s like it never happened. Also that pot is still on the stove and I needed something to do while that brew simmers so I hope that some of this was useful for someone. I look forward to landing a forty hour week job someday where I can actually farm and have a life and blog about all of it in maybe a more coherent manner. Until that happens good night and good luck everyone.

June update 2017

Still under a time crunch but feel I should get a few thoughts down before they vanish entirely. Spending a lot of time lately thinking about how to get the Fischer Farm started, and spending even more time lately working in the motion picture industry building all sorts of crazy pipe dreams. Can’t talk about that so much on account of all the NDAs I don’t remember signing, so I’ll have to reserve this space for farm dreams, which is kind of what the blog title was supposed to suggest.

Farming is real hard work and I’ve never had any illusions to the contrary. The Fischer Farm isn’t hardly ready for growing anything yet but sometimes you have to charge ahead just to get the momentum to do what you want to do. If it were up to me I would sow three acres in clover and let it sit two years while we figured out the rest of the plan, but right now we’re going 1/4 acre in pumpkins. Maybe. The seeds aren’t in the ground yet and I don’t know when I’ll have time to get around to it. I’ve got a farmer in charge of that 1/4 acre but he’s a little tied up with his own life these days. I won’t get into the particular setbacks that we’ve run into but there have been at least a few, and a lost day here or there is a big deal when you’re dependent upon the weather cooperating with a very limited schedule. There are bigger and longer term plans in the works, but I don’t want to spoil those details until they’re at least a little more fleshed out.

I decided to skip the Permaculture Design Certification course I was planning on taking this summer. I also bailed on a recent trip to KTD in Woodstock that I had been looking forward to since Winter. Both decisions were financially dictated. It’s feast or famine in the film biz, and while I’ve been working like a hurt dog lately, there were too many months in a row with no money coming in. Now I have to make up for lost time, and skipping town for two weeks just isn’t viable, even if it is in the interest of furthering other projects. Lama Karma was in town the other weekend, and while I was still too busy to even attend his teaching, I did at least get him to bestow a long life blessing upon My Bunniness. I opted to spend a small portion of the money that I won’t be spending attending the PDC and went in on an order of cover crop seed and two flats of goldenrod for the Fischer Farm. Thank you Johnny’s Seeds and Prairie Moon Nursery. Scored discounts on both orders. Somewhere in those two weeks I would have been gone I hope to find a day to get those plants and seeds in the ground.

My plot in East Garfield Park is looking all right even if the kitties and the workload haven’t been helping things along. I did get some more starts in the ground today, and the first Prairie Moon order I received is mostly thriving. The Liatris mostly got scorched but one or two are looking strong. Comfrey is thriving all over the yard and I have a few different strains of nettles growing. The chamomile is even coming back around now that I’ve got soaker hoses installed. Bought a new daisy, a Becky, and the seller told me she was pretty sure it was from Elite Growers. I keep track of that sort of thing on account of my years in the industry and watching which plants have thrived and which have fizzled in my urban gardens. I’m looking to cultivate several strong daisies after last winter killed off most of those I’ve had growing anywhere.

Tomorrow I’m heading to the Farm to build a bonfire that I’m going to light off on Friday night for Family Camp. Had a real successful work day at the Fischer Farm over Memorial Day weekend and camped over with a few of my friends. Decided after that weekend that it’s important to get to know all of the folks who have a connection to that place, and while I probably don’t have time to camp out again this weekend I can play Fire Marshall for a few hours one evening. Hoping I don’t get too much time off anytime soon on account of all those bills I still haven’t paid, but I have made some solid additions to my library lately and I’m looking forward to working my way through those texts eventually. Will be fun to report back.

That’s all I’ve got tonight. Haven’t really gotten down with adding photos to the blog lately so here’s a video. Not my work..

Loss Leader

This week I lost a number of seedlings. A tray I had been cold stratifying in the fridge up and germinated before I noticed and half of those babies died. Harvesting weeds for My Bunniness at 4 a.m. the other morning I accidentally uprooted the cilantro I’d been nursing from seed and had just transplanted. Today I came home and found that the neighborhood feral kitties had ransacked the trays I’d been hardening off and had planned to get planted tomorrow.

I’ve been working 60 hour weeks for too long now, and I’m keeping those hours low on account of I refuse to work weekends. Guys I work with are losing fingers and winding up in the hospital on an all too frequent basis. In the grand scheme of things I’m keeping my losses to a minimum, but there’s definitely a cost associated with keeping these hours. It’s heavy on my mind but I still haven’t come up with a better way to pay the bills. I’ll chalk my lost seedlings up to poor timing and note the experience, and I’ll continue to spend whatever spare seconds I can find throughout the week working out a better plan. It’s going to be a rough haul any way it works out. Hopefully I can still get those sunflowers planted this summer.

There are moments in all the chaos where tranquility just happens. On Saturday I got to drive a 1937 Allis Chalmers tractor around the Fischer Farm. I spotted a Monarch butterfly and tried to keep up with it for a while, jerking that big orange machine around the field as my target flitted and then vanished. It was but an instant but I’ll probably still recall that moment decades from now. Space gets bigger in moments like those and there’s room for all the aggravation and heartache to disappear. Almost room enough to lose sixty hours in.