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Muddy Blog

Posted 2/15/2013 4:01pm by Mark Werner.

Join the crew at one of the only organic vegetable farms in South Dakota. Located in the heart of the breadbasket yet still on the fringe of the organic food movement, Muddy Pumpkin Farms seeks creative and hard-working individuals who are passionate about local food.

Previous experience in farming is not required but encouraged. Apprentices will be involved in all aspects of small-scale, diversified farming including planning, planting, irrigating, weeding, harvesting and direct marketing. Special emphasis will be placed on building soil tilth, producing compost and organic pest and weed control. Applicants should be comfortable in leadership roles, able to keep good records and have strong communication skills. Experience with equipment maintenance is also appreciated.

Change may start on the coasts and in the cities but there are few landscapes where a new way of farming is more essential than South Dakota, home of the richest soils and biggest tracts of farmland. Be part of the reworking of the hinterlands from mega-tractor industrial food systems as you grow food for local restaurants, farmers markets and local reservation schools. Our farm located on 700 acres of pristine prairie hills situated above the meeting point of the Missouri and White Rivers. Across the Missouri is one of the nation’s largest food deserts including the Pine Ridge Resrvation, one of the world’s poorest places. We are transitioning the pasturelands into a diverse patchwork of permaculture, orchards and vegetable crops as we explore the transition to organic and/or biodynamic certification.   

The last two years suggest that our location is a climate crucible of sorts, prone to sustained droughts and incredible heat. These extremes are likely a portent of the future, not just for our little farm but conditions that farmers around the globe will face. For this reason, we place great value on crop diversity, water conservation and saving the seed of the heirloom plants that thrive the best through the extreme seasons. If you can farm here – on the fringe of alternative food culture and through the extreme summer weather -- you can farm anywhere.

The position is paid. Stipend amount will be based on experience. On-farm housing in a new (still under construction) lodge is available.

Apply here.


 

 

Posted 4/4/2012 5:38pm by Brett Werner.
 

Happy spring from Muddy Pumpkin Farms, where the early warmth caught us all a bit off guard! My favorite way of talking about "feel good" weather anomalies is:

We're going to enjoy the mild winter and the early spring. We're going to get busy planting and transplanting. And we're going to appreciate the chance to get outside earlier than usual. But the thought of these weather patterns creates a bit of anxiety in the larger scheme of things. We enter the growing season worried we could see a late frost or too little rain. We worry about the role played by cold winters and deep frosts in keeping certain insect pests at bay. And we wonder what a more volatile climate might mean: prolonged droughts and harder rains, more violent storms or earlier springs, or maybe just a warmer, gentler version of what we've come to know. Despite these anxious thoughts, we can only enjoy the coming of spring, the greening up of cool season grasses and the unexpected over-wintering of our kale plants, and the blossoms on the wild plums and not-so-wild cherries.

Central South Dakota has been a land of extremes as far back as I can remember it, and certainly for longer than I've been around, but the weirding of day-to-day weather, here and across the country, makes life more and more difficult for those who work most closely with the land and weather. For now, it's safe to say that many of the things we're seeing here around the farm are arriving early, 4-6 weeks early (and we're not talking in the hoophouse). The feel of spring is here, and we'll celebrate the end of winter by planting seeds in the warmth and wind.

cherry blossoms

The cherry bushes bloomed.

 

growth in the hoophouse

In the hoophouse, early signs of life and green sustenance. (In our kitchens, we've been enjoying the early bounties of spring: wild greens like nettles.)

 

solar oven preparation

Last week Matt's experiment in sustainable living and science for kids was a mini solar oven, which he and E built and tried out.

 

solar oven outside

The weather was pretty good for using a solar oven, though the angle of the sun will only improve its functionality as we approach summer. Up at ~44 degrees north latitude, we're still waiting for some hard-hitting sun rays.

 

new cover crop planter

Here's Hal unloading the new cover crop planter, which we're excited to use for green mulches and soil building.

 

soil blocks

And just in case you wanted to see some real pre-garden work, here are the soil blocks we're preparing for transplanting. Usually this time of year, we're yearning for the last of the snow to melt, for a little hint of green in the grass, and the feeling of a little warm sun on our faces. This year, spring has come early, so we're going to enjoy it the best we can. Lots of hard work ahead...

Posted 4/3/2012 11:11am by Mark.

Spring brings back the words of Wendell Berry. Read aloud, or in your own voice:

At A Country Funeral
Wendell Berry
 
Now the old ways that have brought us   
farther than we remember sink out of sight   
as under the treading of many strangers   
ignorant of landmarks. Only once in a while   
they are cast clear again upon the mind   
as at a country funeral where, amid the soft
lights and hothouse flowers, the expensive   
solemnity of experts, notes of a polite musician,   
persist the usages of old neighborhood.
Friends and kinsmen come and stand and speak,   
knowing the extremity they have come to,   
one of their own bearing to the earth the last   
of his light, his darkness the sun’s definitive mark.
They stand and think as they stood and thought   
when even the gods were different.
And the organ music, though decorous   
as for somebody else’s grief, has its source
in the outcry of pain and hope in log churches,   
and on naked hillsides by the open grave,   
eastward in mountain passes, in tidelands,   
and across the sea. How long a time?   
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide my   
self in Thee. They came, once in time,
in simple loyalty to their dead, and returned   
to the world. The fields and the work   
remained to be returned to. Now the entrance
of one of the old ones into the Rock
too often means a lifework perished from the land   
without inheritor, and the field goes wild   
and the house sits and stares. Or it passes   
at cash value into the hands of strangers.   
Now the old dead wait in the open coffin   
for the blood kin to gather, come home
for one last time, to hear old men
whose tongues bear an essential topography   
speak memories doomed to die.
But our memory of ourselves, hard earned,   
is one of the land’s seeds, as a seed
is the memory of the life of its kind in its place,   
to pass on into life the knowledge
of what has died. What we owe the future   
is not a new start, for we can only begin   
with what has happened. We owe the future   
the past, the long knowledge
that is the potency of time to come.
That makes of a man’s grave a rich furrow.
The community of knowing in common is the seed   
of our life in this place. There is not only   
no better possibility, there is no
other, except for chaos and darkness,   
the terrible ground of the only possible
new start. And so as the old die and the young   
depart, where shall a man go who keeps   
the memories of the dead, except home   
again, as one would go back after a burial,   
faithful to the fields, lest the dead die   
a second and more final death.
Posted 3/23/2012 1:01pm by Brett Werner.

 

 

Vinny

Vinny says hello! (and check out my garlic!)

Welcome back to the Muddy Pumpkin Farm Blog as we begin the 2012 growing season, albeit earlier than we thought. Spring came to Muddy Pumpkin Farms early this year, as it has across the midwest. For more information, check out Jeff Masters' weather blog where he has highlighted our close neighbor Winner, SD for nearly hitting the state's all-time March high and gives some insight into why. We'll be doing our part to monitor the weather here at the farm from now on with our new weather station (we'll even try to integrate it with this website so you can see real-time what our weather is like: expect lots of wind).

Hal and Matt installing the new weather station

For us, an early spring and mild winter has allowed us to make good progress on the bunkhouse we're building. Matt and Hal have stayed busy since they got the footings in the ground in January, and now it's starting to really look like a house. We can't wait to show you the view as things begin to green up a bit.

Bunkhouse 3

Hal and Matt building the new bunkhouse

Hal measuring the bunkhouse rafters

The newest member of the family is Emma, a puppy from our cousin Heather, who is friendly, stocky, and excited to meet everyone. Charlie (the older dog) tolerates her well enough, as does Burt the cat, and we all like having a young pup around the farm.

Emma on a dewy morning walk

As you can tell, both Vinegar (Vinny, up above) and Emma enjoy patroling the newly sprouted garlic, our Montana Giant variety that came up earlier than we had expected. The garlic is probably the most interesting garden-related news have, but it's good news since at least in the short run, an earlier spring means earlier produce. Our tomato and onion starts are coming along nicely, and we'll have more news soon.

One last note, that might be a little bit trendy, but also is quite important, close to home and further away.

Last night I was watching "The Kennedys" on PBS's online American Experience archives, which by the way, are amazing. The documentary was well done, and one of the important storylines (for me anyway) was the time Robert spent on the Mississippi Delta among poor, hungry Americans. And it was striking and somewhat relevant in light of the upcoming release of the movie Hunger Games, which offers a heroic tale of not just a dystopian future, but also a disturbing present. And hunger is not something far off in time or space, weighing on distant others and fantasy-obsessed young readers. Because of a variety of background economic conditions and streamlined, even threatened, school food programs, hunger is back on the Mississippi delta 45 years later, and prevalent across the country.

Here in South Dakota, we hope that you'll support food banks and pantries. Support organizations that are working to improve and fund school lunch programs, including farm-to-school programs like those coordinated by Dakota Rural Action. And lobby your congressional leaders to make sure that tax dollars are getting spent on important programs like keeping children healthy and food secure.

 
Posted 3/13/2012 12:12pm by Matt Werner.

The little starts greenhouse is up and running as well, heating up to 100 the last few days. Big greenhouse has been seeded with spinach, baby carrots, rainbow chard and some salad greens. The garlic is coming up from under the mulch, a full 3 weeks before the first garlic emergance of last year. Soon we will be starting trays of micro greens and culinary herbs, medicinals such as goldenseal . Goldenseal has to go through a stratification process, first standard germination heat to approximate last September and then a month in the fridge to replicate the winter chill. 

 High Density Onion Starts

Above is the high density onion planting. These trays are pretty much just Pro-Mix and a little compost. Heat mats for around five days to get a high % germination. If you are going to start you own onions, try buying a bulk pack, 1 ounce, for around 7 to 10 dollars from a real supplier - it is cheaper than store packets by a factor of around 40 to 1. For example, the Yellow of Parma seeds at Baker Creek is a good buy for some heirloom Italian seed while Everwilde seed has even better prices on other quality onion varieties. This will give you enough extra seed to get a nice dense set of onions and not waste your media. 

Posted 1/21/2012 1:03pm by Mark Werner.

The farm internship description is ready for the 2012 season. Fill out the application here and we'll get back to you soon!

 

Muddy Pumpkin Farms, a diverse vegetable and melon farm located above the confluence of the Missouri and White Rivers in South Dakota, seeks interns for the 2012 season. We grow an array of heirloom vegetables, berries, melons and herbs on 5 acres of a 700+ acre ranch for a CSA, local schools, restaurants, food banks and farmer markets that span the state. We are chemical free and transitioning to organic certification. We are far from any city.

We are seeking creative and hard-working individuals who are passionate about local organic food. Previous experience in farming is not required but encouraged. Interns will be involved in all aspects of small-scale, diversified farming including planning, planting, irrigating, weeding, harvesting and direct marketing. Special emphasis will be placed on building soil tilth, producing compost and organic pest and weed control. Applicants should be comfortable in leadership roles, able to keep good records and have strong communication skills. Experience with carpentry and equipment maintenance is also appreciated.

The dates for the internship are flexible (May through October) but we require a commitment of at least 12 consecutive weeks. A monthly stipend can be provided, and on-farm housing in the new bunkhouse is available. All farm workers are given access to all the vegetables, melons and herbs they can eat.

A large library of books is available on topics such as sustainable agriculture, bio-dynamics, permaculture, homesteading and food justice. Materials and expertise for preservation and canning are available on the farm. The farm is home to a small herd of Hereford cattle, friendly cats and dogs, Thunder the horse and (soon) a flock of chickens.  Opportunities to visit and learn from some of our sister farms include a hydroponic tomato operation, raw milk dairy and apple orchard.

 

Posted 8/14/2011 2:26pm by Brett Werner.

We wanted to give you a little update on the melons that are starting to arrive at markets. We try to wait for them to fully ripen on the vine so they're ready and tasty when you get them, but if anything, we may give you the "wait a day" advice on some of them.

In addition to losing most of our sweet corn to four-legged pests, we've also lost some melons and other plants to hail in the last week. We did get some rain though, and that has helped our plants significantly.

We have many varieties, all of them exciting to try, and we've enjoyed the taste of all our new kinds. We try to select more for taste than for long distance transportation or long time storage, and we think it pays off when the melon touches your taste buds.

One of the most photogenic varieties is the Moon and Stars watermelon, a big, beautiful plant with yellow-speckled leaves and yellow-speckled fruits, too. We lead with this one because it is just stunning to see out in the field.

Moon and Stars

Moon and Stars

The Moon and Stars were mimicking last night's full moon and the Perseid meteor shower, which we thought was quite appropriate.

Many of the rest of our melons begin with C today. Of course we love cookies at Muddy Pumpkin Farms, but just now we were thinking that the next time you want a bit of local and healthy refreshment on a warm South Dakota day, remember that C is for melon, and not just for cookie. That's part of eating with the seasons, too, and we're all for that.

Moroccan Charentais: USDA Trial

Moroccan Charentais (USDA Trial)

We don't have much information on this melon since it is a trial from the USDA, but we're told it's a Moroccan Charentais, and we're excited to try it. The more expected look of a Charentais melon is the following.

Paris Charentais

Charentais Melon

Charentais melons were developed by the French, and are now most often grown in northern Africa. They are a so-called refined cantaloupe, and it'll be a treat to eat them here in South Dakota since "Charentais production in America is limited."

Cream of Saskatchewan

Cream (of) Saskatchewan

Cream (of) Saskatchewan is going to be a difficult melon to get to our friends at the markets, but we're going to try, and it may be a good choice for you to pick up on your next visit to the farm. This is a Russian heirloom, brought to the western Canadian prairie and thriving here in the long days of South Dakota.

If you haven't already noticed, melons come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and the same goes for their fruit. The diversity of colored fruit is amazing, just in this short selection of melons. And the outside colors range from greens (dark and light) to yellow with white stripes (and even green with yellow stars) to grey to orange. And if you're used to spherical and oval shaped melons, you'll enjoy the oblong ones and the Crenshaw's teardrop shape.

Crenshaw Melon

Crenshaw Melon

This Crenshaw melon isn't quite ready--it'll probably be turning yellow in 3-7 days. Crenshaws are one of the most sought after melons for their great taste. People just rave about them, and we're excited to let you give them a try this year. Check out this site with nutrition information for Crenshaw melons, along with a video at the bottom describing when they're ripe. I hear they are both sweet and spicy, which sounds fantastic.

We do have some ripe Galia melons now, and the first picture of Galias are the green, unripened ones, followed by the yellow ripe one that I picked just after taking its picture.

Unripe Galias

Unripened Galias

Ripe Galia

Ripe Galia Melon

Galias are one of our earlier melons, and they taste great. Look for them at markets this coming week. Our Chamberlain-Oacoma CSA shares received a Sun Jewel melon on Saturday, and some market-goers in Rapid City got the chance to purchase them, too. Sun Jewel is an Asian melon, which was bred from these Korean Chamoe melons, which in East Asia get sold in boxes or plastic wrapped pairs.

Korean Chame Melon

Korean Chamoe Melon

So there's a visual taste of some of the melons headed your way in coming weeks. We expect to have Galias available this week, but come early to the markets. We may even have a few choice Moon and Stars watermelons for those who want a little bit of nature's art: a sight to see and a taste to savor.

Posted 7/31/2011 8:58pm by Mark Werner.

Alexandra, one of our WWOOFers has been blogging her way across the country as she works on organic farms. The Road to Happiness, her photo-heavy and food-centric blog, provides a window into the daily life on the farm here at the Muddy Pumpkin.

You can read about our evenings in the kitchen stuffing zucchini, baking up raspbery kuchen and canning dill pickles.

Or you can see great photographs of our new favorite pastime: cliff jumping into the flooded Missouri River.

Some more posts by Alex about Muddy Pumpkin:

Below, photo highlights of the last week at the farm: Alex and Matt cliff jumping, Trombonchino heirloom squash blossom, yellow moon and stars watermelon vines, golden bantum open pollinated corn against a backdrop of thunderstorms and hoop house.

Cliff jumping

Trombonchino blossom

Moon and Stars Watermelon

Posted 7/25/2011 2:27pm by Brett Werner.

Muddy Pumpkin Farms introduces the 2011 crop of melons, beginning with a sweet, yellow-fleshed favorite, Yellow Doll. Get them early and often!

Yellow Dolls

Though we've been having to take a few more water and lemonade breaks throughout these hots days of midsummer, the melons haven't taken a break. They're growing really quickly.

Flowers to melons

What I like about this picture is moving from blosson to baby melon to big melons, though Yellow Dolls are by no means "big melons." Speaking of blossoms, our melon patches are humming with the sounds of bees.

Melon Bee

The bees are pollinating the melons like crazy, and we love them for it. While it's possible to hand-pollinate melons, we wouldn't want to do it with as many blossoms as we have.

We picked and ate our first melon of the season, a Yellow Doll, which wasn't quite ready, but really close in terms of sweetness. First we iced it.

Baby Doll on Ice

Then we sliced it. 

First Yellow Doll Slices

Then ate it of course. It was kind of yellowish white rather than light yellow.

Some of the first melons we'll be selling are Yellow Doll, Galia, and Black Tail Mountain.

Yellow Doll is the one described above, and will average around 5 pounds for us. It doesn't have too many seeds and you'll find it sweeter than the small red melons you'll get at the grocery store.

Galia melons are a very interesting cross between a honeydew and a cantaloupe, and were one of Brett's favorite melons of last summer.

Blacktail Mountain (seed link) is a small, red-fleshed watermelon developed by Glenn Drowns (formerly in Idaho, now in Iowa where he started the Sand Hill Preservation Center).

Sprite melons are tiny. And sweet. We think you'll love them.

As is the case with most early season produce at farmers markets, you'll want to visit our booth first thing to make sure you get them. Once we're in prime melon season, we'll likely have lots available, but for now, you'll want to stop by right away.

Blossom and Hoophouse

The hoophouse is still in full swing, growing some big tomatoes and peppers. It feels like a jungle in there.

Inside the hoophouse July 25

And the field tomatoes are coming along nicely. We'll have lots of tomatoes available soon, to go along with melons, so it's officially the height of the summer produce season.

Field Tomatoes July 25

And lots of peppers, so get your salsa canning materials ready.

Peppers July 25

In other news, our good friend Cory Heidelberger spent some time in Washington, D.C. to advocate on behalf of Dakota Rural Action, the South Dakota organization that promotes and supports local food and healthy communities.

Despite the flood below, it's terribly dry here atop the hills. The trees are wilting, the grasses are turning yellow, and the grasshoppers are gathering in the corners of the garden.  In the last month, our neighbors have gotten three rains with a quarter to half inch accumulation, but each time the farm has received but a few errant drops.  We've been keeping the plants alive and thriving, but the longer we go, the harder it's been. This growing season (since planting in May) has included ~2 inches of rain outside of the 3-4 inches we got between June 21-26. Rain has been fewer and farther between, with extreme events comprising most of our totals, which meant more runoff and less infiltration (useful rain). The two week stretch we're in right now is an extremely warm stretch, not rivaling 1934 or 1936 (or 1976), but it's getting tough out here. On the more positive side of things, we've been able to keep most things weeded, watered, and pest-free, without the use of dangerous chemicals or wasted water.

 

 

Posted 7/19/2011 2:28pm by Brett Werner.

In need of a marvelous thought experiment with practical implications on this hot sunny afternoon? Try this. Consider that the food you are buying from our farm is quite literally the reorganization of our soil and water with the help of sunlight into basil and arugula, potatoes and onions, and our favorite watermelons. That's why we care so much for the health of our soil, and are continually astounded at the variety and richness of the foods we grow. We try to keep chemicals out of our soil and therefore out of your food.

seeds

Our CSA shareholders and farmers market friends get a taste of our food, and in a way, they therby get a taste of Muddy Pumpkin Farms' soil in its beautifully altered form, transformed by a little seed into a plant which has such unique roots or fruits we just want to share them with our neighbors. But since you can't taste all that's going on at the farm this summer, we thought you might be a little curious about what else is happening here, what you might see if you dropped by for a visit.

 making zucchini

First of all, we have our perennial crops, including fruit trees and brambles: apple, pear, raspberry, chokeberry, elderberry, cranberry, and cherry. Having fresh raspberries so close at hand is quite the treat, mixed with ice cream, or baked into a sweet kuchen, which LeAnn made yesterday.

zucchini plants


We play card games like Pitch, which we played last night. We have done some kayaking on the Missouri and White Rivers. This is a great way to beat the heat, as is swimming at our favorite watering holes. The Missouri River reservoir is finally on its way down again, but it has done its damage, and our fields remain dry. We are currently spending lots of time trying to keep everything watered and alive in the midst of this heat wave. Drip irrigation is an effective way to water around here, but we'd prefer rain.

 

We go to markets to see all our neighbors. That's you! Come see us and buy our produce. Tomatoes and melons will be arriving shortly!!! We think tomatoes will be ready for market this coming week, and the first melons to mature will likely be Yellow Dolls. If you haven't tried a Yellow Doll, you'll be in for a treat.

 

We are building some new infrastructure, which comprises the backbone of our operation. Matt is working on a wash house and a cold room. Mark is exploring novel outlets for local, homegrown, and healthy food, like restaurants and schools.

 

All this makes for busy lives at the farm. Last week we welcomed Alex, another WWOOFer, as she joins Chris in helping with the daily grind of weeding, watering, and market preparing your food.


zucchini wheel


We're in the height of zucchini season here, so on off days when we aren't going to market, we have to find creative ways to eat or preserve these healthy summer squash. LeAnn has made some batches of bars (just substitute grated zucchini for carrots in a carrot bar recipe). She also made Brett's famous chocolate zucchini cake, a purple ribbon winner at the South Dakota State Fair and printed in A Taste of Prairie Life by Loaun Vaad: email or message us for that recipe. We froze bags of zucchini, some sliced and some grated. Matt stir-fried it with other garden veggies to put on rice. And last night, Alex and Mark baked a variation on this recipe for stuffed zucchini, only they used quinoa rather than millet (our preference) and ricotta rather than feta (not our preference--we just didn't have any feta on hand).

more zucchini

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