What has a farming and ranching lifestyle taught us over the last ten months (since my photo round-up last October)? Patience, perseverance, and flexibility!
When we first moved to the Bitterroot Valley we were known around town as “the basketball player and the gymnast“. Slowly, ever-so-slowly, we’ve been swapping our athlete identities for that of farmers. It may be “those crazy farmers with weird ways”: reducing external inputs, growing diversity, building resiliency, and being disruptive thinkers… but, “farmers” nonetheless.
It’s a continuous journey — stepping back and observing with our VISION of a profitable regenerative operation in mind.
Here’s a “quick” recap of what we’ve been up to this past winter, spring and early summer (through 156 images):
I think I’ve explained before that water is everything here in the Bitterroot. Naturally it’s an arid valley with only 12 to 13″ of rain a year. What this area has done fairly efficiently is create ditch systems that capitalize on mountain run-off for agricultural irrigation. We are grateful for our access to water, but it does require an incredible amount of infrastructure and maintenance to get that water where you need it!
Last fall we spent lots of time winterizing, fixing, updating broken parts, and taking inventory of irrigation equipment.
Come spring, it was time to fix leaks (big and small), clean up and move wheel lines to new pastures, and take apart old pumps and pump houses (salvaging what parts we could) in preparation for new, more efficient systems.
When water starts to flow in the irrigation ditches, we need to be ready!
One of the biggest water projects this winter and spring was running new water lines and updating wells for the addition of geothermal stock water drinkers. Cattle need access to water at all times, and these drinkers pump water from below the frost line without the need for electricity. In preparation for Management-intensive Grazing (more on this in a future post), these geo-drinkers have been strategically placed in pastures.
Thankfully, we contracted-out the 8′ deep trenching itself, but WE did hand burry the initial layer of dirt over many of the water lines ourselves to prevent puncture and kinking of the tubes that backfilling can cause.
This spring we added a new form of irrigation called K-Lines to pastures on the farm that are oddly shaped, or on hill-sides. These flexible water lines allow you to pull strands of sprinkler pods up and down fields to disperse water over long 50 foot wide strips.
Most watering on the farm is on a “large-scale,” but some projects require more control. In anticipation of new fruit and nut trees this spring, we self-installed a basic small-scale tubing system with ball-valves to run hand-hoses off of — making sure our new trees were well watered from day one.
Late spring through early fall, it’s all-hands-on-deck every 12 hours to “move-pipe” (that’s the term for moving irrigation equipment to water a different section of the farm). We have all (kids included) become fairly competent at each form — wheel lines, hand lines, the pivot, K-lines, flood irrigation, and of course hand watering.
Irrigation is a big commitment, but incredibly necessary — especially early in the game while we work to establish better soil and more life that we hope will reduce, but certainly not eliminate, the need for water in the future.
Following water, comes the need for proper fencing! With an early focus on Management-intensive Grazing, we have prioritized an investment in new perimeter fencing, interior fencing and gating — all electric to keep grazing critters where they should be. But, before all new gates and fencing are up and running, the old fencing must come down!
The new perimeter fence now spans about a quarter of the property.
The semi-permanent interior fence is a simple system of fiberglass posts and poly wire that divide pastures.
The hand-gates we’ve been building and installing provide a safe way to break the electric circuit so people and animals can move from pasture to pasture.
While taking down fence and installing new fence, we found many buried “treasures” such as old plows and shoe soles!
Geodesic Dome Greenhouse
One of the most exciting projects we took on over the last year was building a geodesic dome greenhouse. We chose a kit from Growing Spaces and have been thrilled with the design and function so far.
Last fall we built the base, backfilled inside and out, and spread cover crop on the surrounding area.
Next came the structure — struts, hubs, and lots of bolts!
We added the vents, glazing panels and front door to close it in before winter. Our 3D model came in very handy to keep track of what shaped panels went where!
We had to wait until early spring to tape the panels and seal the dome because ice and moisture on the exterior would have made this already hairy task treacherous. I know that being an elite gymnast should have prepared me for slithering around on top of this structure, but it DIDN’T! Yikes.
Once the exterior was complete, we moved on to building the raised beds and the above ground pond. A mixture of top soil, homemade compost, and sawdust were used to backfill the beds — ONE 5-gallon bucket at a time!
Check out my future post on “What is a Geodesic Dome Greenhouse?” to learn more about it and to see how well our indoor oasis is thriving.
As you know, trees grow slow! Therefore, we’ve been highly motivated to get some roots in the ground. This spring we started the planting of our future “Food Forest” — and 7-layer edible space that mimics a natural forest with trees and plants that work together to keep each other thriving.
We staked out the location of each tree, dug lots of holes by hand, picked up rootstock from a local provider that we ordered over the winter, planted the trees with compost, watered, and crossed our fingers!
We also planted teeny tiny Ponderosa Pines, Rocky Mountain Junipers, and Big Sage “nubs” to one day act as wind protectors (shelter belts), oxygen providers, and animal habitats.
Maple trees now line our farm driveway, and thankfully they are about 12 feet tall — much easier to see and appreciate than their 8 inch cousins.
Each newly planted tree has also been protected with fencing. Why? Because we have lots of deer and elk and we want to give these trees their best shot at survival. They won’t be fenced forever — just while they are establishing themselves.
For each tree — yes, even the teeny tiny nubs — we pounded in three T-posts and ran welded-wire around the outside. We left a 6″ to 12″ gap between the ground and the bottom of the fence to allow small predators in — keeping underground burrowers, such as voles, and gophers, in balance.
Farming also requires learning how to operate machinery — big and small. Making our own compost mixture has allowed for everyone to get their fair share of tractor practice!
The “Three Little Pigs” were born last fall, and boy do we love them. They are our remaining pot-bellies and have been granted free-roam of the farm. They grew up fast, they travel as a pack, and they love to follow us all over the farm!
Last winter, our Nigerian Dwarf goat, Leia, had two kids! Chocolate and Oreo brought us hours of joy — bouncing and jumping with each step.
We have since found all six of our previous goats new homes and we look forward to bringing in new goats one day when we have a better idea of how we want to integrate them into our operation.
Calving season warms my heart — so many mamas and their new little ones. This year we were blessed with the rarity of healthy twins!
We are gearing up for a bigger chicken operation. On the horizon we will be building a chicken tractor or two for new layers, and hopefully some meat bird mobiles as well. In the meantime, our old hens, and those we hatched from an incubator are still treating us well with these beautifully colored eggs.
In May we brought home two “nucs” (nucleuses – or hives) of honey bees! The boys build a stand for our bee boxes and we inserted five frames of these little workers into each box.
No bees — no people! These little pollinators play a critical role in our ecosystem and we are thrilled for the symbiotic relationship that lies ahead.
We’ve had the pleasure this spring to welcome “JoJo” the barn kitty to the farm. We love her and she is a wonderful addition. She gets along with all the farm animals, keeps the mice in check, and likes to find the oddest places for a nap — like an old bird’s nest high in a tree!!!
He may not be a farm animal, but Deni is the farm mascot. He likes to play with the cows (they don’t like to play with him), he “works” hard everyday and gets tuckered out by the end of the day, and he always keeps watch over the farm for us!
Our future-cattleman are learning to ride and handle long adventures in the mountains.
Domestic animals are a prized part of our farm, but so is the wildlife that we are fortunate to enjoy!
We make sure to do all we can so the domestic and wild critters we care for live all their days as their best days!! And when it comes time to harvest or hunt, we practice utmost gratitude and respect.
Demolition, renovations, and new build projects continue — and probably will for quite some time.
Animal Barn Demo
Our 100+ year old animal barn has been deconstructed. Our first home to our favorite barnyard crew — a little sad, but it was time. Salvageable siding will be used by a local builder, but much of the structure was rotting out. This will open up space for future animals.
This horse-barn is a gem! We don’t know when it was built, but it’s structure is sound — it just needed a face lift. New roof (with red air vents and weathervane accents), new siding, fresh paint — old interior, original windows! We love our new old barn.
Our interface with the public: sell shop, commercial kitchen, and second floor living quarters. It’s ALMOST a wrap and we are thrilled!
We treasure the seasons and the scenery every-single-day!
Time off the Farm
We love being on the farm and we love doing what we are doing. We have also made a little time for off the farm activities, such as camping, fly-fishing, archery, and school sports.
Somehow we managed another year of homeschooling the boys and chasing them around through Cross-country, basketball, and track! We are so proud of how hard they work on and off the farm. Few days are a walk in the park, but we believe that’s what builds character, a strong family, and the strength to be a bigger part of a better way.
We are in this together!