North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

  (Hayward, Wisconsin)
Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
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When the Snow Clears

Springtime archaeology is in full swing.  Removed is the white blanket of snow, leaving behind the dog droppings, fallen branches, spilled chicken bedding, and the skeleton of last year’s garden.  Jacob (one of our summer interns this year who is staying with us for a week to see the farm in springtime) arrived just the other day, and we’ve set to work attacking the archeological mess.

First it was the branches—bits and pieces from the old spreading maples in the yard that were already a mature stand in an old farm picture from the 1940’s.  There’s the blown-off dark chocolate twigs from the silver maple by the bird feeder to collect, the barren sticks from “instant habitat” harvested for last year’s escapist pheasants to be thrown from the hen yard, and then there’s the great limbs ripped from the red pine next to the barn from the November ice storm to drag away.

So we’re bending and picking, bobbing like ducks in puddles as we load the back end of the golf cart we call “the Blueberry” and haul them to a pile near the compost bin.  Last year because of hay shortages, we had to buy quite a bit to get the sheep through the hard winter, which means that this spring there won’t be any old hay laying around for mulching.  So what, as organic-style gardeners, are we going to do?

Well, we’ll have to try using something else.  Last year, with so much of our time needed at Farmstead Creamery, there just wasn’t enough hours to get all the weeding done.  We’ll be experimenting with some plastic mulches this year (a reversible black-on-one-side and white-on-the-other to customize for warm or cool-loving crops).  But there’s still all the walkways and more to cover.  How about running these branches through our chipper and making our own mulch?  But the little pile from yard waste wasn’t going to go very far, so it was time to tackle some other spring projects to add to the horde.

Along the lane up to the farmhouse, Grandpa had planted black spruce and a few odds-and-ends pine volunteers to serve as a living wind and snow barrier.  Before, drifts would pile across our private road, making winter excursions to the homestead rather difficult.  These trees have now grown considerably, though several times smaller than the towering maples.

Our first trimming of the roadside pine stand came after a young and exuberant Lena (our sheepdog) chased a wayward rabbit into the thicket and poked her eye!  It did heal, with treatment, but all the branches up to Lena height had to go.  Last summer, I pastured our new flock of ducks beneath the trees, which offered both shade and protection from flying predators.  But the crouch-height branches made for intricate zig-zagging of electric mesh fence to keep from grounding out and face-poking late night duck chases to convince the white feathered beasts to go to bed!

Hence, in our search for chipping material for mulch and in an effort to clear more fence and headspace for shaded duck pasture, Jacob and I broke out the hand saws and went to work at the half-dead lower limbs.  The breeze was brisk from the northwest, encouraging us to stand upwind of our endeavors or risk a faceful of wood shavings—eyes, nose, teeth gritty with bits of bark and pulp.  We drug the severed limbs into the lane, creating a hedge of tree parts.  A chainsaw probably would have speeded the process, but such powerful and dangerous machinery is not my forte.

After clearing the way (and the view into the sheep pasture beyond, which was an added bonus), we piled the branches onto the dump bed of the Blueberry.  Some awkward specimens caught the wind and pulled us around or spread wide so as to make stacking a stable pile quite a feat.  In the end, Jacob walked behind as “spotter” while I drove slowly to our pile, backed up, and we used the release lever on the dump bed to push the whole mess onto the chipping pile.  Nine or ten loads later, we had the project cleared out.

Today, however, was busy as ever at Farmstead Creamery.  With the previous snow dump, various booked events had been postponed…all to the same day.  We also had our first major delivery of aquaponics lettuce to the area hospital and CSA shares to prep and send off for pickup, as well as a meeting with a drinks purveyor.  Jacob was going to be on his own for springtime farmwork for the day as the rest of us held down a DNR fisheries meeting, the lunch crew, and deliveries with our helper Kelli.

So we scoped out the bones of last year’s raised-bed garden.  Armed with empty feed sacks to collected the battered remains for anti-cutworm cups (made from former yogurt, soda, and milk containers from dumpster diving) and a couple styles of rakes for removing old vines and dead weeds, there was plenty of ground to be covered.  Last year, we had spent weeks of time forming wide raised-bed rows (at least two to three times as wide as our previous formations), with in-ground soaker hose still in place. 

This year, instead of tilling the whole project over and pulling out and reburying all that irrigation, we’re trying a top-dressing compost method, covered with the plastic mulch where we can.  In the walkways, we’ll split our paper feed sacks that have been piling up from all winter so that they unfold flat the long way, lay them down in the walkways, and cover them with our chipped mulch.  In the end, our hope is to have a seriously lessened weed load so we can focus on our real passions—growing great local foods—instead of constantly waging war on the things we’d rather not be growing.

But first, we have to make order of the chaos of autumn’s remains.  With eagerness and tenacity, Jacob attacked the garden, filling bags upon bags with cutworm cups and heaping piles of debris onto either far end of the garden to be hauled away.  By lunchtime, half the space was cleared.  And by 5:00 in the afternoon, only the last few rows remained.  We were pretty impressed, Jacob was pretty hungry, and we were all feeling great about the progress made these last few days.

Of course, you still don’t want to see my springtime to-do list, but at least we’re making progress on all those things that need attention when the snow clears.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com

 
 

Mud Season

In Wisconsin, they say we have four seasons—Summer, Winter, Deer Season, and Mud Season.  This year has seen a good-old-fashioned kind of winter, with plenty of snow, lingering bouts of cold, and little reprieve until lately.  Everyone is wishing for spring, with warm, sunny days, green, flowers, and an end to shoveling all that white stuff that won’t stop falling from the sky.

But somehow in our poetic waxings of springtime weather, we forget the less-than-elegant part that comes with it:  Mud Season.  It starts when the snow begins drip-dripping off the roofs.  You know it’s coming for sure when you have to start shoveling water out the front door of the barn.  And Mud Season is in earnest when you have to ask the milk delivery truck to stop in the front parking lot rather than at the service entrance—so the axels of her truck don’t sink out of sight in the softened gravel.

The pat-a-pat of rain outside the window is a sure sign of spring flooding.  We scramble about the garage, picking up our bits and pieces of winter carelessness—empty feed sacks, cardboard boxes, wayward buckets, and anything that’s worth saving from the creeping tide of snowmelt that seeks every crack and crevice to seep inside.

 

Winter boots trade out for high-topped rubber muck boots (otherwise known as Wellies), and it’s an on-again-off-again relationship with Yak Tracks…followed by a half-hour search for that one you must have lost somewhere while doing chores.  The snow is crystalline, chunky, and slowly revealing the lost bits and pieces buried in all the winter storms.  There’s where you must have spilled a little feed or where that mysterious hammer went off to.  The melt-off makes its own form of springtime archaeology.

The gathering mud sucks at my boots, drags at my sled filled with fodder and feed, and pulls our little car around on the twisting, soft lane.  Snowbanks slump and settle like piles of disappearing quicksand, and our sheepdog Lena can hardly bound across the yard without falling through the crust and floundering about with a strange mix of panic and glee.

My first robin, spotted alongside the road yesterday, pokes and pries for any bit of food.  White swans honk as they fly overhead.  I glance up to find them in the gray skies, misstep, slip, and land in a puddle.  Mud Season offers that funny parody of “oh good” and “oh dear.” 

One year, the frost was deep in the ground, despite plenty of snow.  And then it rained, and rained, and rained.  Our turkey coop, which sits in a low spot in the barnyard, was soon encircled by a moat.  More rain, and the water continued to rise.  When the tide began to seep into the front door of the coop, we knew we had to act.  Running to town in the truck (there was no way we’d make it out the half-mile driveway in the car), we dashed to the rental center in town to pick up a trash pump and several lengths of fire-fighter hose.

With shovels and hoes, we dug a low spot in the crusty snow below the water for the pump to set.  Chunks of bobbing snow, like gathering mini icebergs, bumped against our rubber boots as we stretched the hose out towards the hill beyond the yard that slopes down to the marshland.  But when we plugged in the well-battered beast, it pulled the water so hard that all the ice collected and choked the system.  So we bared our teeth against our freezing feet, standing nearly knee-deep in the frigid mess, armed with canoe paddles to keep the icebergs away.  Plumped hoses carried gushing water past the woodshed to blast down the hill in a torrent that washed away channels of sod beneath the snow. 

It continued to rain, and for two more days we had to extend our rent, wade the tide, and keep our canoe-paddle vigil.  We’ve since made some landscaping adjustment, but a turkey coop moat is still an annual spring occurrence.  The turkeys hardly seem to mind, so long as their house is dry.  Guess that’s what those long legs are for! 

The ducks are absolutely thrilled with the warming weather, and I’m sure they were out dancing in today’s drizzle.  Water!  They burrow their bills in the crystalline snow, prancing back and forth.  Oh for the day when they can take a bath in their kiddie pool again!  And mud?  Bring it on!  One of these nights, I’ll come in to the coop to find a flock of brown ducks.  Oh dear, well, at least they’re enjoying themselves.

But despite the flooding, the mess, the slipping and sliding, and all the rest, Mud Season reminds us that spring is on its way.  There may still be a few more snows before we’re through with winter’s grasp, but the sun stands stronger in the sky, the banks are receding, and someday eager blades of grass will poke through the mud, followed by crocuses with their cheerful purple faces.

Just recently, our first pair of lambs were born—a sure sign of the spring season.  My chick order is in to the hatchery, we’re planning the garden, and every day new smells greet me during chores.  Nature stretches, yawns, and slowly begins to move forward in the cycle of life from the cold depths of winter.

Keep your spirits up, watch for puddles, and enjoy those quirky moments that are all a part of Mud Season in the Northwoods.  I’ll be shoveling water out of the barn again tonight, for sure, but it’s all part of the process.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.nort
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2012 Offers new promise and internship opportunities

2012 Summer Season and Internships Opportunities

 

Have a passion for animals and plants?  Wondering if the new practices of local and sustainable agriculture might be an ideal lifestyle for you?  Looking to stay active and be outdoors this summer?  If these ideas appeal to you, then a summer internship at North Star Homestead Farms, LLC might be an exciting opportunity for you.

 

Tucked in the boundaries of the Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin, North Star Homestead Farms is a model representative of small-scale, intensive, sustainable, humane, and wholesome agricultural practices.  Our pursuits include pasture raised poultry, sheep, and hogs, as well as a large market garden for CSA and Farmer’s Markets, honeybees, fruit production, herbs, and a small commercial bakery.  Our focus is on building community, connecting people with the land, maintaining transparency, and giving great service.  Owned and operated by three enterprising women, North Star Homestead Farms, LLC offers a constructive environment for personal growth, learning, teamwork, and humor in the everyday rigor of farm living.

 

2012 is going to be a busy season at the farm, with the opening of our Farmstead Creamery & Café, and we are in search of eager hands and positive attitudes to help make this season successful.  While previous farm or garden experience isn’t necessary, we’d love to hear your story and why you may be interested in being a part of our farm’s enterprise.  We are looking for interns who are available for four months (approx. mid May through mid September), though we are flexible for extenuating circumstances, such as beginning college.  Due to changing labor laws, applicants must be 18 years of age or older.  A modest stipend is available to interns, but the real value you will receive from this experience is learning-by-doing—building real knowledge and skills in this growing, exciting food and cultural movement.

 

Accommodating rooms are available in our renovated farm house, and most meals will be shared with the Berlage family.  Wi-Fi is available on the farm campus, as well as unlimited long distance phone service (within reason, of course).  Our goal is to help you have a fully integrated experience of homestead living.  In return, we expect our interns to work eagerly alongside us, to listen to our council and advice, and to practice responsibility and self motivation.  Small scale, localized food production offers an environment to gain personal skills that can serve you in any field, including problem solving, public interface, teamwork, leadership, work ethic, and meaningful goals.

 

We hope that the opportunities available to summer interns at North Star Homestead Farms, LLC are exciting for you, and we would love to talk with you further and introduce you to life on the farm.  Please contact us at the above information to receive an internship application, and we are of course happy to take any questions you may have.

 

Hope to hear from you soon!

Laura, Kara, and Ann Berlage

North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

 
 
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