Category Archives: Research

Winter is certainly here!

But, it took a long time to arrive.

I timed my final harvest of carrots down to about the last possible second.

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This was the first week of December and the ground hadn’t yet frozen.  If I had gotten to this job just a day or two earlier, it would not have involved snow.

As you can see, the chickens have been moved into their winter quarters inside the garden fence where I can run an extension cord to plug their coop in for supplemental light and a heated water dish.

The garlic seed is snugly tucked into the ground and poultry net has been strung around the garlic beds in case the chickens get over exuberant.

At this point, the sheep were still getting most of their nutrition from grazing.  As you can see here, the lawn was still quite green.  Plenty of forage was available in most of the pasture.  This is really remarkable.  Often, by mid October I am feeding hay because there is no forage left, but this year it just kept right on growing until it got covered with snow in early December.

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I take pasture photos at 6 standard locations on the first of each month as a form of research and record keeping.  This was the 12/1/16 photo of Paddock 1.

Today, we are experiencing a real winter deep freeze.  The benefit of weather so cold that I’m reluctant to step outside is that I do finally get around to the paperwork and computer projects that had been languishing when I was working on outside projects.

I’m very pleased to have finally made a bunch of updates to my little online store.  Have a look: https://squareup.com/store/autumn-larch-farm-llc.  There you will find soaps, sheepskins, raw fleeces, roving, yarn and more.

If you live nearby, save the postage and contact us to set up a time to stop in and do your shopping in person.  If you live farther away, this little online store is a great option for having a look at the products available and getting them delivered right to your door via USPS.

Stay warm and enjoy the vibrant sunshine that usually comes with the bitter cold.

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Filed under Farm, Fiber Arts, gardening, Getting Organized, Research, Seasons, Sheep

Photos for research and record keeping

Back in 2012, I decided to take pictures once each month from 6 positions on our pasture as a record.  I was hoping to be able to document improvements in the pasture forage quality.  I think some of that is happening.  It has also been interesting to see how differently a pasture can look on the same day from one year to the next.

I have included May 1st and October 1st here, from one vantage point and through multiple years.  Both of those dates can be quite different depending on the amount of warmth, rain, snow, etc.

May 2012 illustrates the early and warm spring that we experienced that year.  May 2014 shows how long it took to recover from the ‘polar vortex’.  Rain was obviously plentiful in the early fall of 2014.

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Filed under Farm, Natural world, Research, Seasons

Getting Organized…Hopefully…Yes!

This late winter/early spring has been sort of a perfect storm of get organized messages for me.

First, I moved everything out of my office in order for Chris and I to install new cork flooring there to cover up the rough attic planking that exists there.  I have vowed to go through everything and only put back what I truly need.  Now, this is a major hurdle because I am very likely to look at everything and think I might find a use for it someday.  I have, however, recycled a huge stack of paper, designated a bunch of useful stuff to go to St. Vinnies and found deserving homes for several other items.  Some things were beyond any useful life and did wind up in the trash.  And, a few pounds of dust bunnies were removed before the new floor went in.  Later this week or early next week I will begin the slow process of cleaning each item and setting it in a well thought out location in my refurbished office space.

In the meantime, I attended the MOSES Organic Conference in La Crosse, WI.  With my radar set to organize mode, I was bombarded with ideas to do just that.  I attended a pre-conference Organic University taught by Chris Blanchard of the Purple Pitchfork called Managing your way to Farm Success.  This course was a goldmine of worthwhile information about getting organized.  I came home with resolutions to get an annual inventory up and running (I’m well on my way to completion!) and to close open loops (the gates are repaired, tools are hanging close at hand in the hoophouse, and more) of nearly completed projects that can’t yet be checked of the checklist and get in the way physically and mentally.

On the suggested reading list for virtually every session I attended at the Organic Conference were the following: The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work by Ben Hartman and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®  by Stephen R. Covey.  The first one is a new book, but the second one is a surprise because it has been around for over 25 years.  It indicates to me that small scale organic farming has matured of late to a point where the how-to’s of growing are pretty well mastered and therefore farmers are taking a closer look at management and organization.

I borrowed The Lean Farm from the library and devoured it.  It fed perfectly into all the organizational thinking I had already been doing.  The principles behind the lean system were developed in the automotive industry by Toyota.  Ben Hartman has taken the concepts and translated them into the world of small sustainable farms.  And they make so much sense to me!  Basically the lean system roots out waste (labor, resource, etc.) to improve efficiencies.

Examining my own farm for areas where I spend a lot of time without gaining any value (sadly a long, long list), I decided to start by tackling my weedy garden paths and by creating a sheep handling area that could stay in place at all times.

I have been trying and failing to manage the weeds in my garden paths by laying down newspaper and covering it with mulch.  I spend time on it every year and never get all the way around the garden.  Therefore, I’m perpetually allowing weeds to go to seed and to spread by roots and rhizomes and this adds to the work year on year.  I have a friend who has had in place a type of landscape fabric that acts as a weed barrier and is also designed to withstand UV exposure.  I spoke with her to get advice on how to install the material to get the most from it.  I’m going to prepare a level substrate with gravel covered by a thin layer of sand and will avoid puncturing the fabric wherever possible by lapping it up onto my wooden raised beds and using batten strips to hold it in place.  I’m trying to avoid using mulch on top of the fabric because it always catches seeds and provides welcoming habitat for new weeds to germinate.  This fabric can’t be considered a permanent solution (even concrete isn’t permanent), but it should make my weed management system vastly more efficient with a relatively low cash and labor outlay.

There is a corner of our barn that can easily be retrofitted for a sheep handling area.  I’ve been researching sheep handling system designs and got good ideas from Use Sheep Behaviour to Your Advantage When Designing Handling Facilities, Sheep 201 and North Dakota State University Sheep Building Plans.  Rather than invest a great deal of money in panels and gates initially, I’m starting by using hog panels cut to length for chutes, gates, etc.  That way, I can try out the system and see if it works or not.  Later on, I’ll add specially made equipment where it adds the most to the efficiency of the system.

I have just started reading Covey’s book.  I’m certain that principles he writes about will add depth to the paradigm shifts that started for me this winter.  I know “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, but I’m happy to have this new lean farm lens to examine all my farming activities and decisions through.

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Filed under Farm, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Research, Sustainability

Can Knitting Improve Your Health?

I know that the answer is: OF COURSE!  But, it was fun to have my hunch reinforced through science.

Have a listen to the following 7 minute To the Best of our Knowledge segment: Can Knitting Improve Your Health?

You’ll hear about examples of therapeutic applications of knitting to control pain and improve well-being.  It can be rhythmic and calming.  The action of knitting and the end result of something you can use provides rewards to the brain.

I often find it hard to sit still in a conference or workshop and if I bring along a simple knitting project, I can work on that and pay even better attention to the proceedings than I could without the knitting project.

The knitting segment at the link above is part of a collection of stories broadcast on To the Best of our Knowledge on December 6th, 2015 called Handwork.

I’m sure there are many other activities using the hands that can provide the same benefits, but I have to say, knitting is my personal favorite!

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Filed under Fiber Arts, Health, Research

Autumn Larch Farm LLC in the news

http://www.agriview.com/news/livestock/architect-farmer-builds-local-foods-connections/article_3f86cae2-2b85-584a-af0e-2991ea846b4f.html

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Photo by Jane Fyksen

November 26, 2015 1:00 am  • 

PRENTICE, Wis. – Previously a commercial architect living in downtown Chicago, Jane Hansen moved with her husband, Chris Wallner, to Price County 15 years ago — to become a farmer.

She’s still building, but now she’s building connections in the local-foods arena. Though she stepped down as coordinator of the Wisconsin Local Food Network in April, she remains active and looks forward to the 10th-annual Wisconsin Local Food Summit, to be held Jan. 14-15, 2016, at the Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan Falls. She helped plan the first nine summits.

“We are excited that Jane will be assisting us in bringing local food to our state convention in January,” said Lloyd of Wisconsin Farmers Union’s Jan. 29-31 gathering at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton. “It is a priority for our members to directly support farmers and the local economy by buying local food for our meals together.”

Hansen raises sheep and poultry, and direct-markets artisan wool products and more. She named her farm Autumn Larch for swamp-loving Tamarack trees in the Larch family. The trees produce a second round of golden color in the fall after hardwoods have lost their leaves. The farm’s sheep are Coopworth, a breed from New Zealand that originated from mating Border Leicester and Romney.

“It’s a strong dual-purpose breed,” she said of high-quality wool and meat production.

The hardy breed fits her pasture-based management, which includes wintering outside with woods as windbreak. Although not certified organic, Hansen uses garlic to boost sheep immunity and stave off internal parasites. Year-round she feeds fresh-ground garlic in grain once a week, at the rate of one to two cloves per head per week. She deworms ewes by drenching with garlic juice. Each 150-pound ewe receives 5 cubic centimeters each of garlic juice and aloe juice with 20 cubic centimeters of water.

An avid learner and armchair researcher, Hansen uses an herbal “antibiotic” called artemesia annua — known as wormwood or sweet annie – to control liver fluke in her sheep.

“These are things I’m dabbling in,” she said. “It’s part of the buckshot I use to try to solve problems.”

Hansen sells lamb, tanned hides, fleeces, roving and yarn. A fiber artist herself, she knits and felts colorful wool handbags. Her ewes wear coats to protect their fleeces. The sheep sport names such as Hoglah, Tirzah and Micah.

Her laying flock of red hens supplies several customers with eggs. She also makes nine fragrances of soap and unscented “Not So Plain Jane” soap, which pokes fun at her name. Some of her herbal soap is wrapped in felted wool; no washcloth is necessary with the unique bath-and-shower product.

In addition to attending craft fairs, Hansen belongs to Countryside Artists’ Gallery in the Fred Smith house at the Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips. In 1948, Smith, at 62, started creating artwork that resulted in more than 230 embellished concrete figures in his yard. The concrete folk art is a tourist attraction, which is an outlet for Hansen’s products.

An avid market-vegetable grower, Hansen specializes in hardier produce such as salad greens, cabbage, onions and garlic. She extends her season with a hoop greenhouse. In October she planted about 1,700 cloves of garlic, some of which is braided. The cloves will be decorative in customers’ kitchens. Grocers also buy her garlic for resale.

One of many local-foods connections Hansen has forged is with the Phillips School District and Food Service Director Terra Gastman.

“I really enjoy working with Jane,” Gastman said of a farm-to-school partnership with Hansen. “She emails me each week and lets me know what she has available. We have made fresh squash for the kids several times this year. We have some saved to serve with our Thanksgiving lunch at school.

“The kids do notice when the produce is fresh. Fresh oven-roasted zucchini is a favorite. Jane’s fresh vegetables are a great addition to our lunch program.”

Vice-president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union’s Price and Taylor counties’ unit, Hansen is active in the farm organization’s local-foods promotions.

“Wisconsin is a leader in the country for work on developing a vibrant local and regional food system,” said Sarah Lloyd, Wisconsin Farmers Union special projects coordinator. “Jane Hansen has been an important leader in the network of farmers, organizations, agencies and consumers that are working on the issue.”

Visit AutumnLarchFarm.wordpress.com for more information on Hansen’s products. Visithttps://wilocalfood.wordpress.com/summit-2016 for more on the 2016 Local Food Summit. Visit www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com to learn about Wisconsin Farmers Union’s local-foods thrust and upcoming convention.

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Filed under Farm, Fiber Arts, Local Food, Research, Sustainability

Lamb update

We’re nothing if not consistent!?  Every year, we breed our ewes to a natural color (non-white) ram.  First two years, every lamb was white, even for our natural colored ewe.  This year, we have 7 lambs so far and they are all dark colored.  I think some are brown and some are black, but I will just have to observe and learn.  This winter when things are quieter, I will have to put some more study into color genetics to understand what is dominant, etc.

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Scout’s new best friend Chaplin

We’re so consistent here that even the cat who happened through and adopted us nearly two weeks ago is also black?!  He is fitting right in.  He is fast friends with the dogs and comfortable with the chickens and the sheep.

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Filed under Farm, Fiber Arts, Research

Weaving the Great Soil Quilt…

My friend, colleague and fellow farmer at Hilltop Community Farm, Erin Schneider, is convening a collaborative art-making project.  I’m curious about how it will turn out and have agreed to participate.

Erin sent me a square of sturdy, off-white fabric and instructions a few weeks ago.  Here are examples of results: https://parideazafarmart.wordpress.com/collaboration-with-soil/

For my contribution to the effort, I selected what I call the ‘driveway garden’ for ‘planting’ my square of quilt fabric because it has special meaning.  This garden is where we have buried two of our beloved pets – Pencil the cat and Banjo the dog.  Ashes of Pippin the dog are also scattered there in order for him to be near his mentor and leader Banjo.

This garden contains native perennial plants and shrubs and far too many weeds.  My care of the garden in recent years has been less than exemplary.  Digging a hole to bury this quilt square at least takes a small step towards removing some of the weeds.  As I worked, our very helpful laying hens began to take notice.  They cannot keep their feet out of loose soil.  I gave one a big white grub found in the hole.  After burying the fabric, I needed to place a few rocks, in part to mark the location, but also to discourage the scratching of chickens.P1000509 P1000511 P1000512 P1000514

I will be retrieving the fabric in 2-3 weeks and will post additional photos at that point.

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Filed under Farm, Fiber Arts, Natural world, Research