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Back of Beyond Farm is a small, family run operation in Rist Canyon, Colorado. We work closely with natural rhythms to create wellness teas from indigenous and naturalized plants. 2013 marks our 4th year of supporting our community through tasty teas. In the year ahead, we hope to continue our work of not only producing healthful teas, but also exploring the edges of what it means to farm and be a part of a place.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

First Seasons:Harverst Feast

The table is set:
Tonight - wild elk sausage, smoked wild goose, and first harvests of wild pheasant. Hoping you have a belly full of good food and a soul stirred with the knowledge that you have a place in your blessed center of this Good Earth.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Solstice 2013

Light - Love - Joy - Peace - to all of you and to our Good Earth and all the creatures that share this blue-green gem of a home. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

First Seasons: Mark's First Elk Hunt

Seems like a long time ago when Beau, Mark and I set-off on what would be Mark's first elk hunt. I didn't pull a tag, so was relegated to guide and pack animal - a role I readily take-to.

Mark grew up, with Beau, hunting in Minnesota - close shots, thick woods. When we left camp, I failed to inspect Mark's clothing situation. 45 minutes later and into a steep climb, I became aware that not only was he too hot, but his pants were "swooshing" like starched corduroys. I think Beau noticed at about the same time because he ditched me and his little brother to take another route. I cherish these moments of the hunt: predawn, anticipation - kicking ass up the hill while the out-of-staters struggle for breath.

We had a fortunate wind - blowing hard, loud and straight from the West  - the direction we were approaching. When we crested the saddle, I spotted elk right away - in the open and feeding where they always seem to be. Mark couldn't spot them. For what felt like many minutes, I tried to get him to see the elk - 325 yards off. It wasn't helped by me constantly spotting more elk and one of them a huge bull. When it was all said and done there were 7 elk - all bulls, strung out across 100 yards of hillside, feeding unaware. We got to 250 yards and I asked Mark if he wanted to take a shot, fearing wind, Beau, other hunters would spook the herd.

He declined, asking to get a little closer. We had a good approach so I said sure, but be ready to shoot. We advanced to 200 yards and I asked again, then we heard Beau shoot. Now was the time. The huge bull ran then paused - Mark shot and missed. I told Mark to get to the edge of the cliff we were approaching to intercept other elk coming up the draw. Two bulls, both legal, hung up at 75 yards from the cliff edge. Mark got into position. I'll spare the details. Beau had shot a very nice 5x5 bull, not 20 yards from where he and I both got our bulls the year before. Mark didn't get an elk.

The three of us made "big into little" over the next couple of hours and hiked the first load of meat out of the wilds and back to camp - a grueling endeavor - making me happy for the missed shots of Mark. Though I wouldn't let him off easy. Many jokes were made at his expense.

Over the next few days they hunted and saw two more herds of elk - all cows. Mark relaxed and began the forgiveness process that is always hardest with ourselves. The hunt made me think of all the things that there are to learn when it comes to hunting - creating a search pattern (what do elk look like in low light at 300 yards) what to wear (layers of soft, noiseless, de-scented clothing) how to cut up the elk and respect the life that joins ours, what to bring and not bring in your day pack. Details - best learned while trying and failing.

It's all a part of first seasons. Learning, again and again, how to do what we've done many times before or never in our life. Writer Rick Bass poses that hunting make us a more creative and imaginative animal. We're forced to think of another being in a way we rarely think about ourselves - where are they, what are they doing, how to do I find them and so much more. I engage in all sorts of outdoor and wildlife related pursuits - but none grounds me stronger, roots me deeper than hunting. In sharing so many firsts this past Fall, I am overcome with how much I have learned. In the end, my greatest harvest of the year is the beginner's mind. I look forward to next seasons and putting that mind to work.

Friday, December 13, 2013

St. Lucia

Happy St. Luci's Day! This is one of the three "high" holidays between Thanksgiving and Christmas we celebrate in our home (St. Nicholas Day on December 6th and Winter Solstice on the 21st). A candlelit breakfast of sweet rolls and sausage and our Luci lighting the dark morning with her crown of lights and greenery.

Here's hoping you all fight a little light in your day!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Surviving the Freeze

Cold? This past week, for much of the US,  Siberian air has swept in and settled deep. Today we saw the wild Chinook winds blow and the streets do a little melting. But over the past five days, frigid temps have been the norm.

For most of that time I still had stuff to do outside - supervise pre-teens playing hide-and-go-seek at -5, sledding, Christmas Tree sales, Winter Festival Set-up and Take-down, and visiting friends picking out their holiday greenery. I used to get so cold - a problem for more than me. My dad spent his ice fishing, snowmobiling and winter escapades rubbing frozen toes and numb fingers. So, I've become a student of staying warm.

Much of this started in reading and studying The Winter Wilderness  by the Companion by the Connovers (Maine winter trekking guides). They spoke my language and I worked their ideas into a Master's degree. I've studied polar explorers and Scandinavian woodsman, trying to get the best idea for how to stay warm. Turns out, that the old German grandmas and grandpas that surrounded me growing up might have had the best ideas.

Every grandmother had a silk scarf (adopted by our local Cowboys) and all the old Germans from Russia grandpas wore outrageous fur caps. Heavy mittens were standard. I inherited my dad's old pair of "choppers" a few years back. Last Christmas I was gifted my Grandfather-in-law, Al's, fur hat. And the scarf was a new purchase - to replace the paisley thrift store find I'd worn elk hunting for years.

Here they are - appropriately ugly in this new streamlined - go-lite/patagonia world.

I've gone back to more natural fibers. Gore-tex is the partially hydrogenated fat of the clothing world (at least to me). Wool breaths - so does cotton! I spent a little too much on a cotton jacket from Fjallraven last year and waterproof it with their special beeswax. And fur and leather do on our bodies what they did on the creatures we harvested them from: keep us warm and allow our perspiration to get away. I put that cotton jacket through 4 days of down pours during the flooding, and only on the fourth day did a seam leak - quickly remedied with more wax. 

I find myself looking to the old ways and learning how to survive in our new, ever-changing world. Laying in bed last night, Jen said, "How did people survive in the winter?" I can't imagine it was always pleasant, but in my ugly hand-me-downs I get a little glimpse into how they did it. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

First Seasons: Home

For our kids, North Dakota looms like some mythical valhalla....a land of story, legend, fable. The setting of their parent's childhood escapades, falling in love and getting married. Their grandparents and great aunts and uncles, second cousins and more still live on the prairie. Going to North Dakota ranks higher than any other destination on their list. (I know many of you are cringing as I write this, feeling sorry for these poor, weak minded children!)

When we landed it was -3, 9:30pm at night and the forecast was for double-digit below zero temps by morning. At 7:45am we were standing outside my cousin Ron's farm office and the thermometer read -12.  Time to go pheasant hunting. 

For three days we walked tree rows, blocks of grass, sloughs filled with cattails, cut corn and creek bottoms. We saw hundreds of pheasants - most launching just ahead of us, some flying into the winter-low sun and confusing us as to whether they were roosters (legal) or hens (illegal). We hit SOME and we missed lots. Enough made it into our game bags to keep us hunting and not to lose heart. 

Makabe was a trooper - he made all the walks - shot as poorly as the next. He fought through bundles of clothes, wind-chill delayed response, thick gloves that wouldn't work the safety and covered miles of his North Dakota rootland. And he did it with his Grandpa. They've hunted together before, but never with Makabe carrying his shotgun. For me, to have these two together in the field, was the highlight of the trip (rivaled only by the single sharp-tailed grouse I was able to harvest - my favorite prairie bird).

At 71 and 10 they make quite the pair. Kids connect with grandparents in all sorts of ways. I am thankful that they connect this way - on the land - in the elements - making a meal out of memories.

When it was all said and done, I was the best of the shots. Not something to brag on and not an indication of a full larder, but enough birds to hold and feed us trough the Winter. Shared communion between me and my homeland, between Makabe and his roots, between all of us, across the miles.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

First Seasons: Little Juniper

Growing up my family had horses. I ended up doing some feeding and lots of "scooping", but never really got into horses with the same passion as my sister (this passion continues to this day - and is passing to her girls as well). My parents, being kind and thoughtful, asked what animal(s) I would like to raise. I chose dogs. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers to be exact.

What I didn't know (nor they) is that getting a Lab would have been so easier. We looked for months. Litters of Lab puppies came and went. We finally had to order a puppy from Nebraska. My first hunting dog. The years make memories sweeter, but one thing has become clear. She was a hell of a dog. Few dogs and boys got to hunt as much as we did and after I left for college, she and my Dad continued the Fall hunts for fowl and Spring and Summer hunts for moles and voles.

Since then there have been Labs. Chesapeake's are wonderful dogs and someday, maybe, I'll have another. But they are a little stinky (they produce a natural oil for waterproofing), a little aloof and territorial. Labs seemed safer as we moved from state to state and townhouses to the country.

Little Juniper joined us in May. Named for a stellar Lab we met a few years back and after a favored family tree. June. Juneberry. Junebug. She's been a handful - as lab pups are wont to be. But slowly, now in her seventh month, she's coming into her own.

Last week she went on her first real hunt. Along with two boys, I knew I'd have my hands full. The boys piled into the duck blind (after I broke ice and set decoys!) and the little dog and I went for a walk. Ducks flew, shots were fired, birds missed. We had a splendid, action filled Thanksgiving Eve.

Her first bird came in the last hour of the hunt. Low flying Canada Geese passed unscathed over the boys and kept their low flight towards me and the pup. Leaning back I pulled the trigger and 16 lbs of bird soared 75 yards into deep grass. We gave chase. When the pup spotted the running bird (geese can run - ask a golf player) she gave chase, pounced and held the bird there. She gave an attempt at a retrieve - but that wasn't going to happen. She stood there - over the bird. Waiting for me to come and retrieve what she had caught.

My first goose in almost 20 years. Her first bird ever. Walking back to the boys and then back to the car with a new dog outfront, having had her first true hunt, it became another - of a long line of shinning moments spent chasing wild creatures, learning with and from them. Connecting more deeply to place and each other - both two and four-legged.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


For tea and our Farm Members

For a pheasant hunt, at home in ND, with 3 generations 
For the one, sharptailed grouse, that waited too long 
For the Thanksgiving Eve Goose and Juniper's 1st bird

For all the Good Earth Provides

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

First Seasons: Pheasants

Oh, the first shots were awful. Big, bright, cackling roosters coming off point or flush from the old Lab or young Shorthair. Misses, not looked like a long day.

At 5:30am, the neighbors (Shane and Keston) picked us up and we started the day with a drive north, to Cheyenne and then just beyond towards Torrington. A beautiful morning unfolded, and with it the great conversation that comes on car rides with dogs and boys and the looming hunt.

We knew this may very well be Libby's last trip north to hunt. The end of many good seasons. The 12 year old Lab was struggling through shoulder pain, but still showed enough puppy with the puppy to give it one more chance. Bess, the year old German Shorthair that the Downing's got last summer had just returned from a trip to North Dakota to hunt and proved she'd learned a lot. Our first walk produced a stellar point from the young dog (boys shot and missed) and then a flush from the old dog (boys were to surprised to shoot). Ah, moments when you wish it were your hunt.

A few more birds flushed - some missed shots (I think I am remembering this right), and then, finally. The old dog wouldn't quit hunting as we tried to decide what to do. Her swirling tail telling us a flush was imminent. Kabe moved into position and then the flush and then the shot and then the tumble of bird heading back to Earth. Ecstasy. Elation. Relief. The rest of the day would be bonus for the perfect moment of old dog and new hunter. Mile-wide smile. At least two of them.

The walk, back towards the car, was full of excitement. Keston downed a bird. Others flushed wild. At the end of the block of grass we were walking Bess went on point, again. This time betraying the bird. Makabe shot and two roosters were in the game bag. Christmas dinner was secured.

The day got hot, the old dog proved wily in flushing birds the young dog missed. They both hunted their hearts out. We chased flushed birds, the boys got hot. There was an incident with dog and feces. And finally, one last walk.

We headed towards a short block of trees that had held birds in the past. The luck of the hunt had Kabe walking to the southern edge of the trees, Keston went north. Bess, betraying owner, hunted our side, pointed then ran after the running bird, pinned it and flushed the bird back towards us. One more shot (it seemed to take forever for Kabe to pull the trigger - my mind yelling "Shoot!") One more rooster. A limit.

The drive home was swell as well. The boys tired, but not sleeping. A gas stop and junk food feast. And then, at home, the celebration of sisters and mother. The floating of feathers, the encouragement of the little Lab, Juniper, smelling her first pheasant. Three beautiful birds and the swelling pride, confidence and respect of a growing hunter in his first season.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

First Seasons: To Hunt is to Shoot...

...and shoot, and shoot, and shoot. In late September,  Kabe and I went looking for a big fat Mallard Drake to pluck and roast for one of our Holiday gatherings (have you seen the price of an organic raised duck in the market??? Sheeese!). Colorado, like many states, offers a chance for youth hunters to hunt a few days before the regular season opens. It's an effort to attract folks to the sport of hunting and get them the chance to have a high opportunity for success. And hunter numbers are important whether you hunt, believe in hunting, or just like wildlife.

The way our wildlife management is set-up in the US is that hunters, almost solely, pay for managing wildlife. Your tax dollars don't. Plane and simple: hikers, climbers, bikers, bird watchers, campers, and trail runners don't fund wildlife - state wildlife agencies that manage species like Elk and Grouse also manage species like Herons and Preeble's Jumping Mice. Through a special tax on hunting equipment and the license fees hunters pay to help all sorts of species. So keeping hunting, across generations, is paramount to keeping a funding stream for the science and enforcement and habitat enhancements needed to support wildlife.

Back to the story.

Leaving the house at 5am, when you know you have hockey practice later in the day, is a little daunting for a 10 year old (he negotiated away from a 4:30am leave time). We set-up on a marsh in the middle of a State Wildlife Area (bought with hunter's dollars) and within a few moments the first ducks of the morning had ripped the air above our heads and landed just outside of range.

It was a good morning. Makabe learned that to hunt is to shoot and to shoot and to shoot and that going hunting and seeing game and getting shots does not mean that you'll be coming home with much to share. 18 shots later and dozens of views of twisting ducks, we were duckless, but wiser. The gift of these youth hunts is that the adult can't hunt. We coach. And in that experience I felt more akin to my Dad. I found myself using similar lines, "Are you aiming or just shooting holes in the clouds?", laughing, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder as we talked. For Kabe, it was fun and disappointing all at the same time. His Mom calls these feelings, "Double-dip Emotions". Mostly, in my experience, I find that it's what it feels like to hunt.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

First Seasons: 1st Harvest

Morning Doves don't make a large meal, but they make up for it in numbers and the chance to teach wingshooting with the trickiest of aerial acrobats. One of the first bird seasons of the Fall, Colorado has a decent number of doves. In recent years Collared-Doves and White-Winged Doves have also moved into the state - one from Eurasia and the other from the Southwest. It's the new global world we live in, where species hitch rides from continent to continent and warming temps allow northern expansion of original range.

Kabe and I headed out on a September Sunday morning. There were doves flying when we closed the car door, so he headed to where he last saw a small flock land and I went round about to where I figured birds would fly. We were both right. 

For 20 minutes doves where everywhere and when it all settled we each had a bird in hand. Enough for him to enjoy a celebratory dinner of his first harvest. 

It was clear, from this first success, that he was growing as a hunter - not only from the success of the harvest, but maybe more so for his gratitude for the life of the dove and thanksgiving for the wild protein that would become part of him. 

First seasons come in fits and starts - successes, learning, set-backs. The beginner's mind has so much to learn and experience. It's easy to forget that. And it's even easier to remember on a warming September morning walking back to the car with your son and a couple of wild birds in hand. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


This past weekend was just about right, as far as harvest time goes. Pumpkins to Jack-o-Lanterns, last of the beets  - beautiful and tasty, elk strips in the smoker becoming jerky. Some warm the spirit, others the belly. Harvest time - such a bitter sweet time as we watch the transitions happen from green to gold to gone.

Friday, November 1, 2013

First Seasons: First Hunt

Blue (Dusky) Grouse season opens September 1st in Colorado. It's become, somewhat, of a tradition to head into the high mountain valleys to chase these native grouse somewhere on or around Labor Day. This was to be Makabe's first hunt of the year. And 5 month old Juniper, our Yellow Lab pup, was coming along - not so much to hunt as to burn off enough energy to buy us a reprieve from tending her craziness the rest of the weekend.

Blue Grouse aren't known as challenging birds to hunt. Not overly scared of humans, they have been given the name "Fool's Hen" for their willingness to sit tight or hop into a tree and just stare at you. You can legally hunt them with slingshots and many have been killed with sticks and stones to add to the night's dinner. The hardest part is finding them in any numbers. We had one glorious year that keeps us coming back, but other than that, they are few and far between.

The strategy this time of year is to hunt along streams and seeps, places with green forbs for them to eat, berries to pick, and water to drink and keep cool by.

First hunt: we saw some grouse. But not one shot was taken. The highlight being the boys (we often hunt with our neighbors up the canyon) swimming in Sheep Creek to cool off and Juniper trying to take in all the new scents and sights (we trailed a cow and calf moose for some time). The other highlight, not shared by the boys, was the sampling of 9 different berries by the Dads. At least once I saw eyes roll as I yelled, "Shane, over here, gooseberries!". Not many, but variety and intensity of flavor.

Hunting is so much more than harvesting that species you set out intent upon finding. Some days you replace pheasant with flowers, or ducks with roadside apples, or elk with their droppings for fertilizer. The Good Earth is always ready to give. Sometimes it's just we're not open to receiving. It will take the boys time to realize that: they're fixated on "becoming hunters" and that requires the "kill". What I'll do is model what it's like once you have become a hunter - how it can shift - how it can become even more wonderful to be afield with so many more chances to put something in the "the bag".

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

First Season: Food from Field

Hunting is so complex. In it's politicized nature. In it's tie to guns, and their connection to violence. And, it is clear, that hunting is what allowed us to become human. Hunting provides the fats needed for the development (evolutionary and in individual development) of these huge super computers we haul around in our heads called brains. It is nearly impossible to explain, but nothing ties one closer to nature - has the power to make one an environmentalist/nature lover/nature understander/ecologist than hunting. From the track to the tripe you are invited to know another creature in a way that camera or binocular rival, but just can't quite capture.

In our family hunting is a culture that extends back, through story and ritual for generations. My Grandpa Hurkes harvested deer and elk of legendary proportions. My Dad and his brothers had the responsibility of hunting to feed their family - not an optional extra - but a real chance at protein. My Wakefield side of the family settled in the Wisconsin Big Woods and worked on and with the land to survive. To loose this sense of connection and responsibility to the wild world about us would be a failure on my part as a father. And while JoJo and Luci will take walks in the woods and field's this year, it's Makabe's first season.

I am heading afield in a new direction this year, not out-front, but 5-10 yards behind, calling out reminders about safety, pointing towards this sign or that. Calling on my training to train.

Monday, October 28, 2013

First Season: Introduction

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind, few. Here is the secret to the arts: Always be a beginner." - Zen proverb

This Fall has been so much about First Seasons - new beginnings. Personally, as a family, as a larger community. Time, floods, fire, transitions allow us the experiences of beginning again.

My mind has drifted from the Farm - with barely enough time to get it all done - it took everything I had to just do what needed to be done. And some due to the First Seasons around here - Makabe's first hunting season, his first season of organized hockey, friend Mark's first elk hunt, first time Jen and I have both been teaching full-time, first season of ballet for Jo and Luci. First season for little Juniper to chase birds in Autumn fields. Forgive me the silence and forgive me the new direction, for now, that this blog will bend towards. But it is all one conversation - how to raise food, family, culture in a place. How to root and be rooted. I hope you enjoy sharing our "First Seasons" with us.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Farming to Hunt

Personal opinion here (as most of those posted are!) It is my strong belief that everyone who hunts should grow a garden. The act of harvesting animal or vegetable - flora or fauna - are intertwined. All life begins with soil and sun. Reverence can come from the act of tending and harvesting. To harvest without having sown is a danger. It changes our perceptions and allows us to miss out on understanding the full-cycle. We might know it, but we might not practice it. And practice is important, to me.

So as summer wears on, thoughts turn, in this farmer's mind, towards the Fall and hunting. I find myself thinking about elk and pheasant and deer and duck as I tend plants, touch the Good Earth and prepare for the dark seasons ahead. Not to get ahead of the seasons here, but to know that the Winter winds are present, even in the Summer Sun.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

And Wildness Appears....

After bemoaning the lack of wildness (the Spirit of it at least) we had a wild weekend of bear and deer and cousins and trampolines.

On Saturday morning I took the dogs for a short hike behind the house. There is a belt, remaining post fire, 50 yards from the house, 25 yards wide, filled with down logs, thick Douglas Fir, moss, arnica, chokecherry and mountain maple shrubs. When the dogs and I got above this thicket, I spotted something I took first for the yellow lab, Libby, then when I noted she was at my heels, I immediately thought it a Mountain Lion, and then "it" turned and faced me, I saw it was a bear - very blonde, smallish.

Our neighbors had reported this bear hanging around their yard. And in an instant, wildness reappeared on our little farm. The bear ambled off and so did we. But the knowledge of her (or him) napping this close to the house, unseen, unheard, not disturbing us, brought back an overwhelming sense of mystery. Something I needed in that moment. Another gift of the forest.

And, I think, that's what we are all called to remember and hold least I know I am....that magnificent discoveries are right here, always - maybe napping - but present. In seeking to farm where and how we do, it's these moments that drive all else. With kids jumping on the trampoline, herbs growing on the mountainside, compost composting, a bear can exist and share home with us. Ah, wildness returns to my soul. 

Planting: Today is a fruit day, tomorrow and Thursday are root days. Friday a flower day. A week to do it all! It's in the Stars.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Sometimes it all feels a little too tame. A little, "Unwild". Even here, with reports of a light tan "grizzled" bear from the neighbors, dive bombing hummingbirds, deer tracks in the mud of the creek, with towering pines and scented fir, it feels a little, well, domestic.

We're missing pieces: Bison, Wolf, Grizzly Bear. I am ready for their return. I wait for it, an advent season without known end.

Years ago, when my family first started harvesting bison for part of our year's meat, my Dad put a bison skull on the compost pile behind the barn. It disappeared. Either the Earth swallowed it, or a coyote ran off with it. But my Dad looked for it, and on the prairie looking CAN be a little easier. No sign. I wonder if that's how things start to come back to a place? If a coyote running with a bison skull through the broad prairie below the rolling North Dakota hills can bring the Spirit back and when the Spirit is back, maybe then the physical body can return.

We farm wildynamically - because we're trying to cultivate a Spirit of wilderness in our herbs and in the mountain side and forest of the farm. Maybe this calling forth of Spirit will lead to an incarnation of the wild - maybe it will show up in a displaced Yellowstone Wolf or wandering Wolverine. Or maybe it will show up in me, or Luci, or Jen.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Indigenous Knowledge and a Sense of Place

So much of what goes through my mind - whether at home, work, or on the farm, is "How do I make this easier? What am I missing?" When I think about a new job and the struggles, and excitement of it all, it makes a perfect metaphor for the type of farming I hope to do. Starting a new job, you hopefully bring a set of skills to the position, but not always the sense of rhythm, culture of place, details and nuances of the specific work. You have to travel the course of the work to get to know it. It's so much easier when the people around you help, when the person before you is there to teach and instruct, when you have something to work off of.

When we think about farming - about feeding billions of people - not just calories, but soul and spirit, it's awfully hard to go it alone. We have extension offices, con-agra, sometimes an uncle or grandmother, Land Grant Universities, so much. What we forget is that we have the land itself. Farming is so much about one place - about the micro-climates and soil of that place. Models built off of Iowa loam or a Mediterranean climate work there! But not here.

Here, on this farm, I have to learn from the land. From the good Earth telling her story in season, failure and success. The indigenous knowledge of this place is held by the ancestors of Arapaho, Ute, Folsom man and so many more who lived from this place well and long before synthetic fertilizers. Wolves and elk, two kinds of bear, wild sheep and greenback cutthroat trout knew the land and how to live off it. And now, 150 years after all that's been undone, we're trying to rediscover. Agriculture cannot become a one style fits all mentality.

Let me give an example. Pastured poultry is an incredible movement. The chance for a humane, chicken being a chicken existence, for poultry is long overdue. But it won't work on this hillside without me eradicating the soul of the place. And while it's extreme to think of farming anything here, I venture it was as extreme when the first person decided to plant a tomato in Toronto. How do we farm anyplace well? And by well I mean, how do we reclaim that sense of place (or preserve it)? How do we engage the indigenous knowledge inherent in the land and previous generations of inhabitants?

If we're going to feed billions of people and retain our soul we'll have to answer these questions and answer them well, and in a hurry.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Tool Care

Not the sharpest tool in the shed - we use this to subtly subject our less-witted friends to torment. And we are equally tormented on a small holding, like ours, when a tool doesn't quite do its job.

John Seymour places tool maintenance firmly in these Winter months. Around here, we choose to do our thorough sharpening sometime around February 24th - The Feast of St. Matthias. Characterized by an ax, St. Matthias day seems an appropriate time to tend to saw, and ax, and knifes, and the cutting tools of shovels and hoe.

The Self-Sufficient Life runs a listing of the most practical tools for each job - from "Making use of Woodlands" to "Making Wine". The illustrations and descriptions keep it simple. A jumping off spot for experimentation and moving from novice to expert with the given tool.

We all have dreams of the best of tools - the $60 hoe or the $200 Swedish, hand-crafted ax. But, just as likely our tools come as hand-me-downs and thrift and rummage sale finds.

I like to run a rag soaked in linseed oil over the wood handles a couple times a year. And I soak the heads of tools in a sand and used oil mixture (contained in a five gallon bucket) at the same times. Some of our tools are used almost daily - ax in the Fall and Winter - hoe in the Summer.

Now is the time to get them into working shape - using a grinder and whetstone to take out nicks and bends.

The hope is that I'll never get labeled for having less than sharp tools in my shed - figurative or otherwise.

Friday, February 8, 2013

By the Seasons

The idyllic life is laid out on pages 24 and 25 of The Self-Sufficient Life. Season by season Seymour tells us what to do:

Winter: Repair work - fences, tools, sharpening. Awareness of animals needs in the cold. Slaughtering. Spring tree planting plans. Brewing. Enjoy your past year's labors.

Early Spring: Work the land when you can. Spread compost. Order seed. Plant trees.

Late Spring: Sow seeds every two weeks once weather permits and the forecast says it makes sense. Keep after the early weeds to save time later. Early potatoes should head into the Good Earth. Make homebrew for Summer thirsts.

Early Summer: Check your homebrew supply (seems to be a theme here!) Plant out tender crops - potatoes and squashes, if you have access to good dairy - make the cheeses and dairy products you'll need later in the year.

Late Summer: Drink homebrew. Pick, harvest, pluck and preserve. Wild berries, garden produce, bounty of other farms and gardens. Canning, freezing, drying.

Fall: Harvest root crops, make Hard Cider, pick apples and other later maturing fruits, cut and stack firewood, pickle remaining crops, clean-up the garden and fields, get your food stores all safely tucked away and cared for.

Our rhythm works mostly like this - it's just the way of the northern hemisphere. We throw hunting in there for the Fall and the meat prep that comes with that. Additionally, we do a lot of our firewood in the Winter. Our herb harvest has its season for every plant with May with nettles, October with rosehips and June fir tips. Other things may flux, but this is always the season for these herbs.

Think through your year now - make the plan, put it on the calendar and then adapt to make it happen.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Back of Beyond...a History

Mike J. Hurkes WMA:  30 acres; 7 miles south and ½ mile east of Moffit, along HWY 83; deer, pheasants, sharptails; map sheet 23.

What's in a name? Back of Beyond is an Irish reference to those regions where rock and wildness take precedent, some off-the-beat parcel of land, some unkept portion of earth. In choosing this name for our little farm, we're recognizing that our attempts at eco-farming are happening on the edge of where you might consider farming possible.

The roots of this farm are probably rooted in a few others that have shaped me over the years. Today I am thinking about my Grandpa Hurkes and his land in Emmons County, North Dakota. In a land of rolling small grain fields, sloughs, and the occasional tract of native prairie, there was this one piece of land - a sort of "Back of Beyond" (even though it ran right up against a state highway). It remains a haven for wildlife - mostly native wildlife - and as a kid it was a favored haunt for trapping fox or hunting pheasants. We once pulled a couple of dozen quills out of my hunting dog's snout after she had a run in with a porcupine down by a little water hole.

This Back of Beyond piece of land in an increasingly mono-cultured agricultural setting holds the space of biodivirsity for a large area - a refuge and a place from which to stage migrations into newly unkept lands. The health of the whole county - people, water, crops, soul - is supported by these few acres.

When my Grandfather died, my Uncle Jim made the effort to keep this corner of land sacred and the Mike Hurkes Wildlife Management Area was established. Our mountain farm has its roots in that unkept prairie corner and all other stretches of land we can call - The Back of Beyond.

Monday, January 14, 2013

He is as you have seen him...

Reading on a very cold January night always has the chance for revelation, introspection, new knowledge, or appreciated art.

The oldest Little Farmer and I are engaged in Tolkien. We've just landed at the open door of Tom Bombadil and I was captured by these words.

"He is Master of wood, water and hill. "

"Then all this land belongs to him?"

"No indeed! That indeed be a burden. The trees and the grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong each to themselves.."

And so it is. To image oneself too much in control of any piece of land is to invite a burden heavy. So I think - let the Good Earth belong to itself. Let me learn to master myself and in doing so come into knowing and balance with the rest.