July 2016 Farmer Notes

Farmer Notes

Sitting here in the kitchen on a Sunday: Mid-day, mid month, rain falling, a cool breeze thru the screened windows, 65 degrees. This sums up how different this July has been for us here in the Methow; certainly in comparison to the past two years.  There are lightening flashes and thunder;  I’m hoping the moisture out-competes any new fire start-ups.  Hummingbirds, adult and young, joust at the feeder hanging under the eaves and a young doe pauses down by the edge of the creek, perhaps with a fawn nearby?  This is to say, I’m liking July this year and July isn’t always this farmer’s favorite!

Indeed, it has been perfect grain growing weather.  Without a day above 80 so far, yet some sun and wind along with scattered showers, our grains are “grooving.”  Our earlier plantings have hit boot stage and are beginning to pop while our later plantings are reaching flag-leaf.  At both stages we apply an organic foliar feed high in plant-based nitrogen with traces of phosphorus.  This really helps the grain heads fill and finish with the uptake of all the other nutrients in the soil.  It’s been a busy time running around to the different fields: feeding fish and sugars at earlier growth stages, and now putting on the finishing goodies.  We’ve been irrigating in between applications, plus we’ve had sporadic rain showers to help us out.  By the month’s end, most all of our irrigation will go on rest.

The cooler weather keeps the plants from stressing and so this should increase yields as grain heads fill gradually.  We want the intense heat and sharp eastern Washington sun eventually, like right after fill, so that our crops cure and finsih evenly.  August is generally good for this, but who really knows what Mother has planned…?

One thing we have planned at Bluebird is continued business growth, as we’ve had each year so far. One of the challenges we’re facing in this small valley, however, is the lack of suitable farm ground.  For us, suitable farm ground means fairly heavy soils and land that can be easily brought into certified organic production.  We’ve struggled to obtain either in our little mountainous valley.  To be sure, there are a few other large scale growers, but it is all hay, not organic, and none have shown much interest in another market.  The good news is there are a lot of grain producers within two hours of here and we’ve met a few wanting to, or who already have, transitioned some of their soils into certified organic.  A couple of these growers are using some of our stead-fast strategies: Cover cropping, biological fertility, and tender care with an eye toward quality and nutrition.  This year is the first year we’re partnering with two family farms to grow our hard white and hard red spring wheats.  Tom Stahl of Waterville, Washington (roughly 100 miles from us) is growing out hard white while Jay and Chuck Goldmark up on the Okanogan Plateau (about 70 miles from here) are growing out hard red.  Both of their crops are coming along well and I think they are even having fun at it!  We sure look forward to turning their efforts into fresh milled, high quality goods to pass along to you.

Expanding the market for other organic family farmers in our region has been an “outside” goal of Brooke’s and mine since we began Bluebird 12 year ago.  Well, lo and behold!  We’re excited to begin work with experienced producers who have been growing grains for at least 3 generations.  As with everything farming, it takes forethought and planning and so the conversation with Stahl/ Goldmarks has been ongoing for a couple of years or more.  The prospect of long term relationships with both growers and increasing certified organic land in Washington feels good.

By “subbing” out our wheat this year, we’re able to concentrate solely on our ancient grains on the fertile acreage that we manage here in the Methow.  Our Einka farro, Emmer farro, and heirloom rye are going strong.  As mentioned, I hope for a good yield as we work hard to assure the usual high quality.  Meanwhile, we’re getting down to the bin-bottoms right in time for new-crop.  Fear not, we have enough supply to make it through for all you hungry customers!   We may take our rye before the end of the month, but harvest won’t begin in earnest (given the current weather) until well into August. This is about “normal” compared to the past two years when the valley was hot, dry, and on fire and we were combining by the second week of August.

I hope this finds you all enjoying some summer activities, wherever you may be.  We’re grateful to you all, grateful for our health, and always are thinking about the social challenges each of our societies continue to face daily from around the communities in our own country, to all those elsewhere.

Yours, Farmer Sam