Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
[ Member listing ]
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
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
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
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
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
Posted by Ann, Laura, and Kara
@ 10:44 AM CDT
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
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
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
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
Posted by Ann, Laura, and Kara
@ 02:50 PM CDT
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
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
Posted by Ann, Laura, and Kara
@ 09:50 AM CST
Right-click, copy link and paste into your newsfeed reader