1. 17:17 30th Jul 2014

    Notes: 9

    Making Peace with Wet: Farming in a Changing Climate

    It’s July 2nd and we’re approaching our 60th hour of continuous rain, which pools and swirls in eddies along the horizontal expanses of the farm’s long, muddy driveway before plunging over its steeper slopes and hurtling toward the lower catchment pond.  To avoid overflow, the lower pond has been pumped a couple of times over the past day and a half, its contents transferred to one of the two upper holding ponds, themselves full to near-overflowing. The first few words of the famous line from King Lear ring in my head:  “Water, water everywhere… “

    After a the second full day of deluge yesterday, I sincerely hoped to awaken to the sound of silence, the rain’s uproar on the corrugated plastic roof of my cabin having stopped and the prospect of a day of dryness and – imagine – SUN stretched out before me. Alas, ‘twas not so. Instead, donning my rubber rain pants, Bogs, and puling on my oversized blue raincoat, I put my mind to the suffering of my Californian peers. My home state’s farmers long for the weather we’ve endured thus far this summer. I consider their plight - plodding through month after month of drought that has fostered arid conditions almost inhospitable to growing food – or anything! Too many have thrown in the towel over the past few years; others have been forced to scale back dramatically the acreage they plant.  

    Notwithstanding the immense challenges posed by drought, too much water also stymies farmers’ progress in bringing produce to market. For the first time in its 13-year growing history, Calypso’s Farm Managers, Christie and Susan, elected to skip a week of early July harvesting for the farm’s weekly CSA Shareholders. The water-laden plants and oversaturated fields stared back at us from puddles. Were we to have picked from the rows of lettuce, kale, collards, and herbs, we’d have jeopardized the plants’ growth for the rest of the season. Pelted upon almost incessantly for three days, the crops hunker down into a sort of stasis – a hold steady mode due to the lack of the energy provided by the sun, which drives the photosynthesis that powers their growth.

    We farmers, too, must hunker down and call upon our creativity to respond to the New Normal:  the unpredictability that renders even historically reliable, almost ritualized and eagerly anticipated occurrences obsolete. No longer does Susan explain, with reference to early July, “This is when the broccoli heads up and the sweet peas flower, when some of our favorite flowering plants burst into bloom and we start re-sowing fields where crops have already delivered their bounty.” Now, collectively we watch and wait, wondering when the sun will come and - once blissfully radiating Vitamin D and ultraviolet rays – how long it will stay.

    Fortunately, we celebrated the Fourth of July by marking Independence From Rain for six days, save for a few passing sprinkles. The fields soaked in the inches of moisture that had accumulated and again shone a dozen shades of green indicative of vibrant health. And, as if in solidarity with the sun, a handful of GIGANTIC orange-red poppies – the giant star’s veritable twins – turned their faces skyward in salutation. The sweet peas became a hairy mass of greenery racing toward the apex of their carefully-strung trellises, gaining several inches seemingly in the blink of an eye and donning delicate white flowers. By day three of sunshine, even the broccoli showed off new finery:  tightly composed tiny-nobbed heads that advertised delicious eating yet to come. With each passing day, a new variety of flower graced the fields:  here a Zulu Daisy, there a Cynoglossum, over there a Heliotrope, and tucked beneath the white Yarrow, a handful of lovely scented, bright fuschia Rainbow Loveliness blossoms. Christie, who manages Calypso’s flower subscriptions (weekly bouquet deliveries for a few dozen flower “shareholder”), reported that we’d begin harvesting bouquets on July 10th, inviting the party of color to rage energetically and uninterrupted.

    Just as the veggies and flowering plants shouted, “Huzzah!” and poured their zeal into growth, so, too, the garden’s favorite weed species crashed the Growth Party. Almost overnight, an ankle-high pile carpet of Chickweed spread itself over the newly-sprung carrot tops and insinuated itself into every open patch of dirt: between young beet tops and two inch-high lettuce leaves; criss-cross through the symmetrical green rows marking young bunching onions; woven across the floor of cabbage beds and becoming far, far too intimate with the fragrant, still-small oregano and thyme plants.


    EEEK! Chickweed, chickweed everywhere! Daunted by the Growth Party’s unwanted guest, we called in Reinforcements. A email blast to Calypso’s Shareholder and Volunteer mailing list brought a welcome stream of Weeding Whizzes to our rescue. In the space of four days, a number of capable, patient, women and children managed to bring some semblance of order to the chaos (or at least declared a state of detente with the Chickweed …). We pitched in alongside them, pausing only to resume our usual twice-weekly harvest schedule (YAY!). With equal gratitude for Weeding Whizzes and the sun, we plucked from the fields the first of the season’s broccoli, kohlrabi, baby chard, tender tiny beets, and also sage and marjoram, oregano and thyme. On July 10th, as announced, we also composed our first bouquets from this summer’s fields, lyrical symphonies of color featuring Yarrow, Dianthus, Parsnip flowers, Zulu Daisies, Cynoglossum, Heliotrope, Maltese Cross, and Salvia, sun-kissed and singing with colors only Mother Nature can furnish.

    We’re just a few weeks beyond that spate of ultra-wet weather, which dumped four inches on Fairbanks in just under three days. On July 23rd, Mother Nature whipped herself into a windy frenzy that I was sure would blow the well-fastened plastic roof clear off my cabin, hurtling it toward the Arctic Circle. Surrounded by the sound of birches and alders furiously gyrating, I dreamed I was Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, spinning atop a spiraling tower of wind … Upon awakening, my cabin was still firmly anchored in my wooded neighborhood and blue skies prevailed, though dotted with high gray-white masses that portended a possible change in condition. The wind raged on, sending empty harvest bins and the tarp on my fellow farmer-trainee, Chris’, tent in a million different directions. Had I not clutched snugly yet gently to the small bundles of Flat Leaf Parsley I gleaned from an over-full bed row, I wager that they, too, would have trundled down the path and wed themselves with Chickweed. Buffeting wind notwithstanding, harvest we did and – bonus prize! – remained dry throughout. Trudging down the driveway with belly full of lunch – saffron rice with freshly-harvested and stir-fried greens, toasted nuts and seeds, peanut sauce, and tabouleh salad – I felt the first few drops of rain on my face. The wind kicked up a notch, as if to say, “I mean business!” By the time lunch dishes adorned the drying rack, a downpour had commenced to accompany the wind’s raucous concert.

    Now, as we bid farewell to July with (gasp!) five consecutive days of glorious sunshine, NOAA forecasts another deluge to usher in August. We’re to see ever-familiar rain showers for most Friday, Saturday, and perhaps into Sunday. There’s an oft-cited truism, “Nature will have her way.” Indeed, farmers always work according to Her whims and fancies, and I suspect the next few days will be no different; we’ll rustle up boutineers, bouquets, and other floral adornments for two Saturday weddings and pray the fields dry out for Monday morning’s significant harvest. However, now we’re acutely aware that fickleness is Nature’s defining characteristic, including a penchant for throwing an overabundance of water on some while leaving others utterly parched.

    Welcome to farming in the New Normal ; ) .

  2. Harvesting Birch Bark

    We’ll post pictures of the crafts we made with this bark soon!

  3. Making Rose Petal Jelly and Rhubarb, Spruce Tip & Mint Jam!!!

  4. Bed prepping and planting

    The Farmers in Training have been hard at work for the past month and a half cleaning out the beds from last year, loosening the soil, replenishing nutrients with amendments and transplanting this season’s crops.


    Above: Chris clearing the bed of old, over-wintered brassica stalks


    Caitlin loosens the soil and old plant matter with a broad fork and Susan follows after pulling out old stalks.


    Using the broad fork instead of tilling protects our soil.  The broad fork gently creates space for air and water to permeate the beds without destroying the delicate soil structure we’ve spent years building.


    Old stalks!  They will go into the compost pile now….


    Susan and Scott work together to plant the baby broccoli.  Sus digs the holes with the correct spacing and Scott plops each little plant in its hole and “tucks it in” - presses the dirt around its roots.




    Above:  The Upper Field.  The white stripes are beds covered in Remay - which protects the small plants from any frosty nights and keeps root maggots away from our root veggies like turnips and radishes.

  5. Raising the first wall of the second-story fiber studio:

     A whole bunch of people raising the taller, heavier second wall:

    Framing up the fourth and last wall:

    The whole building is huge!  It towers over the other Calypso structures…

    Spacious and beautiful:

    As we worked the animals watched us from the yard below:

    The roof went on last week, more pictures will soon follow…..

  6. Meet the 2014 Farmers in Training!!

    Caitlin Brune

    I am a Baltimore native, transplanted to California at age 31 where I grew new roots.  I am a dedicated seeker of wisdom, a beauty worshipper and a devotee of Mother Nature.  When not farming, you can find me biking, swimming, doing yoga, reading and striving to remain faithful to my writing practice.  I’ve chosen to spend my summer at Calypso because I want to learn how to use the skills of a farmer to help people connect, heal, learn and reestablish true feelings of interdependence.  I want to work with the Earth in a way that sustains her and that helps to navigate the threats posed by global climate change.  This season I am looking forward to growing and eating food that I’ve helped to tend from a seed in the company of a community who appreciates and loves this wonderful process.  So far, I love the light here in Alaska, the mountains and preparing the fields to receive tiny seeds and baby transplants!

    Chris Campbell

    I was born in Minnesota and lived in Central America for a year.  I feel very passionate about food justice and sustainable living communities.  I am a cribbage fanatic, a chocolate aficionado.  I came to Calypso this summer to take the next step after my quarter life crisis and commit to making a living that returns what I take from the Earth.  I really enjoy working hard and being outside and knowing where my food sources are;  I am looking forward to making myself a well-rounded farmer who can have the tools to sustain himself by doing what he loves.  So far, my favorite thing about Alaska and farming is the sunlight and how quickly things grow here!

    Scott Curry

    I am from Anchorage.  I love the outdoors and staying active: nature walks, running, hiking and even dancing.  I am excited to be here!  I am interested in traveling the world while WWOOFing and after my summer at Calypso I won’t be totally clueless when I show up on someone’s farm to volunteer.  I am the type of person that learns by doing and experiencing, so being in an environment where there’s a bunch of people eager to teach me unique skills and trades is really awesome.  I love the mountains in Alaska and my favorite thing about farming, so far, is getting dirty.

  7. Spring Shearing

  8. Mark it in the calendars: April 23rd, 2014 - first crop - radishes, direct seeded in the fields!


    With snow still gracing the fields, the south-facing toe beds are warmed and bare.  Christie raked away the dead plant matter from last fall, added a little compost and Susan used the Earthway seeder to plant the first radish seeds!  Then they covered the bed with green plastic to keep the seeds protected from our still-chilly nights.  


    Meanwhile, some of the starts in the seedhouse have grown big enough to move into the greenhouse (besides, we are seeding more everyday, and must make more room in the seedhouse for all the new flats!)


  9. Building the new barn (with an upstairs Fiber Studio!)


    Tucked next to the driveway, the first story of the barn is all animals.  


    Here, Tom, Christie and Spencer are getting ready to trim hooves:


    Inside the barn is the chicken coop too:


    We have around 20 layer hens, one rooster, two ducks and one guinea fowl.   They spend the winter inside the coop, huddled together (where it’s surprisingly warm), and we provide artificial light for them so they will continue to lay eggs even when there are only a few hours of daylight outside.  


    Each egg box has an egg-shaped door we can open to check for eggs without going into the coop…

    Sometimes when you open the door you see nothing, sometimes you surprise a chicken, sometimes you find an egg…. !!

    This first-floor barn will have a giant porch overlooking the animal pen and down the hill through tall birch trees….


    Here’s how it looks with the completed decking:


    On top of the barn will be a fiber studio with floor-to-ceiling-shelving, big south-facing windows, a wood stove and plenty of room for spinning workshops.  Tom hopes to frame out and raise the walls soon….


    But before that Tom and Garrett built a bridge from the hay barn to the Fiber Studio porch! So fun!

  10. Filling the water catchment ponds with snow melt

    The snow is melting on the hillside and quickly running down the driveway.  This is the water we will use to irrigate our fields for most of the season so it is very precious…

    We use pick axes and hoes to dig trenches in the driveway slush to direct the snow melt towards the pond…

    The water flows into a bigger, deeper trench in the snowbank that runs alongside the driveway and funnels into a pipe…

    The water gushes into the pond….

    We set up the pump to move the almost-overflowing pond water up the hill into a bigger catchment pond…

    The farm (and therefore these photos) are very white/grey/black/muddy brown, but soon, SOON, there will be electric-greens brightening the treetops.  Three and a half weeks before the 2014 Farmer Training folk arrive!! 

  11. From now on, we will be posting about what is CURRENTLY happening on the farm!!  Yes, this means you are looking at what our Upper Field really looks like, right now!  Spring is here, finally, and we are watching the snow disappear before our very eyes….

    The bare ground means MUD!

    Certain places on the farm melt snow faster than others:  this is the huge compost pile we built last fall…..

    It’s steamy in the seedhouse, the windows are dripping with condensation….

    Inside, the seedlings are vibrant green and leaning towards the warm, bright sunshine.  

    Each day we plant more seeds in flats of soil blocks.  We keep these soil blocks moist until the seed germinate, then move the flats into the sun.  Soil blocks — free of constraining plastic containers — allow the new roots to grow thick and strong…

    These are our precious tomato plants.  They will stay in the greenhouse all summer — it is too chilly outside, even in the summer, for their liking.

    In pots we replanted carrots, beets and kale stalks (with root mass intact) that had been overwintered in the root cellar.  As these wake up and start to grow again we will leave them in the pots and let them go to seed so we can save their seeds…..

    Outside, work continues on the new animal barn and an upstairs fiber studio.  Tom and Garrett are building a big porch off the studio that connects to the hay barn (the structure in the background)

    We now just need the sheet of ice on the driveway to melt! (: 

  12. We go to Market!

    Twice a week we load up the market truck…

    And bring bunches of beautiful, fresh produce to the market in Downtown Fairbanks and in Ester.

    For FTP folk interested in selling produce at a farmers stand, this is a great opportunity to gain experience in transport, set-up, customer service and marketing.  We also have our CSA share pick-up at market:  families and individuals come to receive their weekly assortment of veggies, salad mix and herbs.  This face-to-face interaction between the farmers who grow food and the people who eat the food is so meaningful and crucial!

    And we sell bouquets too!  

  13. Square Dances

    Most people are wary of coming to a square dance at first—thinking they won’t be able to follow along, that they have two left feet, or won’t ever get asked to dance—but once they arrive, hear the music and start to tap their toes, they are hooked.


    The band is the ever-so-wonderful Lost Dog:



    The dance starts at 7 and continues on into the night…which in summer still looks like day.  We mostly dance in bare feet.  It feels better that way.


    The dances really aren’t hard, you get the hang of it pretty quick.  And everyone is just there to have fun.  There is lots of laughing, smiling, hand-holding and doe-si-doe-ing.


  14. The Art of Blacksmithing

    Tom’s new passion:  making things in his smithy.  And how lucky we all are that he loves to share this experience!  Tom is eager to invite everyone to swing a hammer.  FTP participants get a thorough intro and the opportunity to practice and make some tools —- blacksmithing and welding skills are extremely helpful to a self-reliant farmer.  

  15. image: Download


Spend a season at Calypso Farm! Apply for our 2014 Farmer Training Program.  Program info and application guidelines at www.calypsofarm.org!
    Spend a season at Calypso Farm! Apply for our 2014 Farmer Training Program.  Program info and application guidelines at www.calypsofarm.org!