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Sometimes it hurts to ask..

** Top edit, 8/2/17 – I stand by everything that I have written below, although after calm reflection it appears there may still be a solution in the works. I have decided to give things a few more weeks to shake out, but farming happens on a time table, and there ain’t no such thing as making up for lost time on the farm. If things are not crystal clear in short order, I’m going to have to hurry up and figure out what my farm plans are going to look like for next year, because next year is gonna be too late to ponder what I want that to look like. And, go.. **

I have never put a lot of stock in the old saw that “it doesn’t hurt to ask.” If the answer is “no”, it probably just hurt to ask. You’ve just allowed for “no” as an outcome that you’re willing to accept, and set a precedent for “no” as the default outcome for all future asks. Sometimes, it’s better to just get shit done and take responsibility for the consequences. Act now, apologize later. So long as no one is getting hurt, and no laws are getting broken, you’re probably better off just taking the initiative, especially when permission is just a formality.

I’ve grown increasingly frustrated this year with an effort that I’ve been involved with, which I’m going to quit calling out by name. I’m not deleting old posts and any ape intelligent enough to use the interwebz will be able to scroll back and figure out what I’m talking about, but this is my blog and this is where I go to discuss my successes and failures. My failure this time, if it is one, was investing a great deal of effort and some amount of money where I knew there was very little chance of payout. I made a calculated risk because I saw enormous potential, and I knew that a great opportunity was just sitting there neglected, waiting for someone with a plan to come along. I don’t necessarily regret my involvement. There comes a time, though, to cut your losses and focus your attention elsewhere. Farming especially is about the bottom line, and I just don’t see any possibility of any actual farming happening where I’ve been spending my time. Maybe the culture will shift, and maybe some personnel will change, and if the winds look favorable I might give it another go, but in the meanwhile, I’ve got actual work to do. One thing that’s for damn sure is that I’m not going to become a better farmer by just writing about it. Sooner or later, someone’s got to get their hands dirty.

There’s plenty of potential lying around my own city block waiting to get realized. The steaks are smaller here, and there’s still plenty of bureaucratic hurdles to deal with. I’m not running a few hundred chickens in East Garfield Park (those damn laws again), but I can get real work done here and quantify actual results. It’s one thing to count your chickens before they hatch, but if you’re not even growing any chickens, well, maybe it’s time to come up with another plan. I can just barely make room for a late season harvest if I get to work right away, so who wants to bet what I’m going to do next? Stay tuned for more rock and roll..



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..