Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Is it Just Me or is it Hot in Here?

You probably recognize our farm logo pictured above. Pretty, yes, but also purposeful. The image actually comes from a sunflower here on the farm.

I caught this bee at work one morning during a tour of the fields. The sunflowers have long been a favorite of ours because of their beauty, their long history in agriculture, and also their resilience. After the flooding of 2007, the next spring, throughout the Valley down river of the farm sunflowers sprouted from piles of mud and debris. During these dog days of summer when the temperatures reach into the 90s and even over 100, the sunflowers just soak it up. They do not require any of the pampering that other plants do to make it through these periods of adversity.

They have volunteered in our potatoes this year and their stunning display as they serenely follow the sun in its arch across the sky each day without complaint is a real inspiration.
Just like our Hannah, who last Tuesday braved record temperatures in downtown Chehalis at the farmers market. Thinking ahead she provided cold water and even a sprinkler on the street to help cool off the brave customers that made it out that day. When she returned to the farm that evening she reported record temperatures of 113 degrees confirmed by two thermometers on banks downtown. Even King 5 news showed up apparently noting that Chehalis was the hottest spot in western Washington according to their radar observations.

Kahout Road

We lease the Kahout Road field from local resident Werner Klee. It is at the end of a county road bordered by the South Fork of the Chehalis River and timber land. I often joke that it is like a petting zoo. It is common to see deer, elk, porcupine, raccoon and coyote. If you picked up the field and shook it all manner of wildlife would drop out.

We have consistently suffered substantial damage in this field, and have had to make careful crop choices based on the dining preferences of elk and deer.

The first year we farmed here we watched our corn disappear over night, and witnessed the methodical munching of each heart out of the center of thousands of heads of lettuce.

A year later after moving the lettuce and corn I was marveling at how quickly the crew had harvested a crop of peas only to later find that it was not the crew but rather a herd of elk that had reduced a once lush field of green to spent vines and hoof prints.

We now use this field for a rotation of broccoli, celery, beans, and onions. The elk seem to leave these crops alone-go figure. We have also been fortunate in that Nil, who often plants corn across the river from this field has used his fields for barley and wheat for the past couple years. The corn is such a favorite that the herd could easily wipe out this field just marching across from the timber to get to it.

We also use a combination of carefully placed mylar ribbon and fuse line to discourage t he elk from entering the field. Though nothing, and I mean nothing, will stop a herd of elk from doing exactly as it pleases, they are agitated by the flash and movement of mylar ribbon. Fuse line is a series of fire crackers which we weave into a slow burning rope. The line burns at rate of about one foot per hour then lights the fuse of the fire cracker and they go off periodically. We make these up to pop at dusk and dawn and carefully place them in areas where the elk enter this field. I believe this is an effective deterrent if done consistently and conscientiously.

Apart from a few hoof prints we have never had any damage in the alliums (onions, leeks, and shallots) though it makes me uncomfortable just writing about it.

Beans too seem to escape damage, with the exception of the soy beans which we actually plant as a decoy. Deer love to nibble these from the top down, and in my experience if you provide them with an ample supply of edamame, they will leave the other varieties of beans alone.

This picture you may remember from an earlier post as Patrick gets his first go 'round on the seeder tractor.

A few weeks later they have formed a nice stand of beans.

Garlic Harvest

Carpathian Garlic is originally from the Carpathian Mountains in what they refer to as the Garlic Crescent. It is the only garlic we grow. We used to grow several different varieties. I would sell them at market and everyone would ask me to describe the different types and their attributes. The Carpathian is a large bulb with several large cloves that peal very easily, it is an oily variety with a bold very traditional garlic flavor, not hot like the Asian varieties, stores well......."And the others?" Oh those, yeah, they're uhhhh.....yeah.

So after a few years of that we concentrated on Carpathian.

At least ten years ago I bought my first Carpathian from another farmer who grew only garlic. He had several varieties and I bought a few and trialed them. I had seven pounds of Carpathian, the largest bulb no bigger than a ping pong ball. After growing it out for a few years I had a crop of about 800lbs, the average size well over 2 inches in diameter. I would put about 200 lbs of seed back in the ground and sell the rest. The average bulb weighs in at about 1/4lb and will yield 8 or 9 cloves to plant. I was then consistently harvesting 1200lbs or so every year.

In 2000, when I moved from the Independence Valley south of Rochester I took the Carpathian with me. I rented a trailer on a dairy farm and worked as a remodel carpenter in Seattle while I shopped for farms and tried to save money. I planted about 5o lbs just to keep the strain, and when Heidi and I finally did find this place the Carpathian was the first thing to go in the ground.

It took two years just to get enough stock to sell and still have some seed. Then, in the winter of 2006 just when we were getting back up to speed we had to plant our garlic in a marginal field that we leased from some friends down the road. We planted our 200lb bench mark, then watched in horror as the field we planted filled with water and remained a lake for almost two months over winter.

We managed to harvest about 35lbs of usable product the following spring. It is from there that we have once again slowly built up our garlic crop.

We harvested our garlic last Saturday the 25th of July, pretty much right on schedule, and we are curing it in our shade house. In a week or so we will clean and sort it and it will be ready for market. We will select out about 500lbs for seed and plant in mid September for next year. I have already chosen a site that is high and dry.

Carpathian really is a wonderful variety. I believe it is the best culinary garlic available; oily to the point that it once flooded and shorted out a friend's dehydrator as he made dried garlic to grind for garlic powder. As if that were not enough: the Carpathian Mountains border Transylvania making it quite likely that garlands of this particular variety were once worn to ward off vampires. It has been a real pleasure to enjoy such a long, rich relationship with this particular crop.

Pe Ell McDonald Road

Boistfort Valley Farm covers about 35 acres. We own 20 acres we call the "home place" where the house and barn are located. Of that we cultivate about 10. We also lease a large remote field from Werner Klee on Kahout Rd. This field totals 45 acres or more of which we cultivate about 12. Those twelve are a beautiful big rectangle that run from the river to the road. The soil near the river is a Chehalis mix; sandier toward the river and getting heavier as it slopes up to the road. Heidi's parents, John and Vicki, own 25 acres on Pe Ell McDonald Road. We also farm about 15 acres there.
The PeEll McDonald field is a real cocktail of soil types. It is very difficult to manage as it transitions from type to type with distinctly different textures and watering requirements. It is however a nice long field that was the recipient of years of dairy manure pumped from the pit on a nearby dairy. It grows beautiful brassicas, and for the past three years has also been home to our squash and corn.
Young squash soak up the sun at Pe Ell McDonald, later becoming the Sea of Squash you see below.
Brassicas, like the kale below, as well as broccoli and cauliflower do well in this phosphorous rich field.

Our corn, not quite knee high by the fourth of July, is loving the warm summer.

A note on acreage: though by most standards Boistfort Valley Farm is tiny, we are the largest farm of our kind in Lewis County, and probably one of the largest CSA/direct market farms in western Washington. I am always reminded, when speaking of acreage, of the metal sculptors I hung out with in Cincinnati in a past life. These guys where a breed of artist that one rarely meets. Macho to the core, so poor they used to melt down their previous work to get material for the next. I remember one late night in an abandoned warehouse turned studio listening to them judge each others work by gross weight, not artistic merit or some fine sense of the aesthetic, but tonnage.
I will always judge our success on the quality and taste of our product, our ability to communicate with our customers, and the quality of the environment here at the farm.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

BVF Awarded Conservation Grant

Great news for the farm arrived recently in the form of a press release and a congratulatory email from Kathy Jacobson at ESD113. We have been awarded a grant through Fish and Wildlife to plant over 2000 trees and restore over 2000 feet of river bank and riparian buffer along the South Fork of the Chehalis river where it wanders through the farm. The ESD113 program's mission; "To help low income youth reach their educational and employment goals". The map below outlines the proposed scope of the planting, those of you familiar with the farm will recognize this lower field and the river.
We are very excited to continue our outreach and involvement with the youth of Lewis county. We already employ a young woman at the Chehalis Farmers Market through this program. She has proven a real asset to the farm, and I believe she really enjoys the real world experience of working at the market. My hat is tipped to Hannah for all her hard work in making this relationship with our community a reality. The press release follows.

March 18, 2009

Don Stuart, 206-860-4222,
Kathy Marcella Jacobson, 360-464-6722,

Local School District Receives Grant:—Students and Community Volunteers Will Save Salmon and Farms

Chehalis, Washington—The Educational Service District 113 (ESD 113) has received a grant that will allow it to help save both salmon and a local farm. The project will use ESD 113 students, and Chehalis River Council and Chehalis River Basin Land Trust volunteers to restore over 2,500 feet of riparian salmon habitat on the Boistfort Valley Farm. The project will provide much improved habitat for salmon while, at the same time, stabilizing stream banks and providing a vegetated (should this be a vegetation) buffer to reduce flooding.

“This is a big gain for both the fish and the farmer” says Kathy Marcella Jacobson, Chehalis Basin Education Consortium Coordinator for ESD 113. “Our work will prevent valuable farmland from eroding into the river and the new trees will create a natural barrier to minimize the damage from future floods. And, it will improve habit for fish and create a wonderful educational and volunteer experience for the children and citizens of this community.”

The grant comes from the Pioneers in Conservation program which pays for projects on farm and forest lands that help both the fish and a farm or forest business. “If we are to save our salmon,” says Don Stuart, of American Farmland Trust, “we need to also save our farms. This program shows how viable farms and healthy salmon go hand in hand – each can help with the survival of the other.” American Farmland Trust is a national nonprofit that helped create the Pioneers in Conservation program and currently assists with its administration.

Funding for the Pioneers in Conservation program is provided through the Washington State Conservation Commission and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). NFWF administers the program. A new round of Pioneers grants has recently been announced for a deadline of March 31, 2009. The new request for applications and details about the application process are available on line at the NFWF website at:

For further information about the grant and project, contact: Kathy Marcella Jacobson, Education Service District 113, 360-464-6722; For information about the Pioneers program, contact: Brian Ferrasci-O'Malley, Evergreen Funding Consultants, Phone: (206) 691-0700, Email:, or ▪ Cara Rose, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – Western Partnership Office, Phone: (503) 417-8700, Email:, or ▪ Don Stuart, American Farmland Trust, Phone: (206) 860-4222, Email:


American Farmland Trust is a national nonprofit organization working with communities and individuals to protect the land, plan for agriculture and keep the land healthy. As the nation's leading advocate for farm and ranch land conservation, AFT has ensured that more than a million acres stays bountiful and productive. AFT’s national office is located in Washington, D.C. The phone number is 202-331-7300.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Strawberry Festival

A heartfelt thanks to everyone who made it out to the strawberry festival this past Saturdy the 27th. We had agreat time visiting with old friends and making new ones.
The old apple trees provided some much needed shade that day.
Pickled Ochra graced us with their wit, grace, and musical acumen. They are on the fast track to becoming the Boistfort Valley Farm house band.Natty donned her strawberry dress ala' Lizzy and made the tricycle look so good that......Even her mom couldn't resist taking a spin.
The real guest of honor was Dianna's hard working chocalate fountain that single handedly laid waste to pint after pint of berrys and was responsible I am sure for more than one tummy ache; but what a way to go.

Spring Home Tour

Boistfort Valley Farm is proud to have been chosen to take part in this seasons Visiting Nurses Home Tour. We enjoyed the afternoon with the help of the Visiting Nurses staff and volunteers. A steady stream of wonderful folk from the surrounding community was greated by volunteers and Boistfort Valley Farm's own Hannah Johnson, and toured our home and the surrounding fields.

Though we have a modest home, I believe everyone enjoyed the trip to a working farm, and was truly inspired by the amount of effort that went into our recovery from the flooding of late 2007.

Cultivating is.....

Probably the single greatest task in organic agriculture is keeping on top of the weeds. As with many other things here at Boistfort Valley Farm we favor the simplicity and versatility of older equipment designed at a time when farms grew a variety of different crops and the equipment met the needs of that type of diversity rather than being highly specialized.

We have two Farmall Super As. One was built in 1949, the other in 1953. They have offset steering which allows the operator to look down directly between their and view the rows of plants and the tooling as it passes over the soil. They also have independent belly mount and rear hydraulics which allows the driver to keep the tools in the ground until the end of the row, then lift the belly mount stuff and continue cultivating with the rear tools until that part of the tractor has passed over the end of the row before lifting the "track erasers" which are cultivating the paths between the beds.

We have an arsenal of shovels, sweeps, knives, discs and tines which we can attach to the tool bars of these tractors and adjust for each individual crop, and for crops at different stages of growth. We also use these tractors for furrowing and for hilling potatoes. The only change I would ever dream of making to these beautiful and versatile machines would be the addition of power steering, and a more comfortable seat. After a few hours on the tin pan of these tractors you know you have been on a tractor.

Our second Super A is outfitted with a Buddhing Basket Weeder. This is one of the greatest examples of simple and effective low tech equipment. It amounts to two sets of "baskets", which closely resemble hamster wheels, mounted on a frame. The forward wheels run across the ground and drive the rear units via chain. Because the front sprockets are larger than the rears, the rear baskets turn at a much faster rate.

So the front baskets penetrate the soil and disturb the weeds, then the rear baskets come along and literally toss the weeds out. This gentle action doesn't displace much soil and is indispensable when it comes to weeding tiny seedlings and slow growing crops like carrots.

Because all our crops are planted by seeders or transplanters that are set up on standard row spacings, we are able to set up the cultivating tractors to match and the weeding, though still a daunting task, is made possible. Timing is everything when it comes to managing this aspect of the farm. A good rule of thumb is that if it looks like it needs to be weeded it is too late. Patrick is on a cultivating tractor no less than ten hours a week right now, on a constant slow rotation from bed to bed and field to field trying to keep up with that strong flush of weeds that follows on the heels of good early summer weather.