Free range chickens

Freedom ranger broilers getting in some final grazing before butcher day at Bear Butte Gardens in Sturgis.

October is starting off extremely mild and beautiful! Other than some wind here and there, the temperatures have been very nice and the days allow for final gardening chores of the season to be accomplished.

This is the month where we get all of the drip irrigation lines pulled out of the gardens. We roll up any landscape cloth, plastic mulch, and row cover that needs to be put away, and we haul manure and compost into the gardens before snow flies. The forecast looks like we should have at least a few weeks to get everything accomplished.

We like to leave as much roughage in the gardens as possible through the winter to provide natural protection for the soil and keep building that biomass. This year we planted our tomatoes into a garden that was sweet corn last year. We did not till the soil whatsoever or even remove the corn stalks. We simply added some compost a few months before planting, let the snow lay down the corn stalks, and then put up our tomato trellising (consisting of cattle panels and T posts). We laid the drip irrigation, and then transplanted the tomatoes in the ground amongst the corn stalks.

We had some significant wind not long after transplanting, and those corn stalks helped buffer the young tomato plants. Once the plants took hold and started growing they did great!

We count this as a successful experiment with leaving roughage in the garden and then rotating a new crop in as the tomatoes did not seem to suffer whatsoever from last year’s mess in the garden.

This is also the time we contemplate our garden vegetable crop rotation for next year. We can identify gardens that need more manure and compost and take care of that now. We can also remove header lines, drip lines and trellising and move those items to the appropriate garden for next year’s crop so that the infrastructure items are in the right vicinity in the spring.

We started out the summer with an apprentice who helped with garden prep and transplanting and seeding. That position ended in June and then we had Michelle, her sister, and a nephew working in the gardens and greenhouses the remainder of the summer.

In 2021 we plan to hire a new apprentice early, possibly in January. Michelle and that apprentice will get seeds ordered, the high tunnel greenhouse prepped for February seeding, and all of the soil blocking equipment and supplies ordered for starting seeds indoors.

The apprenticeship is an 18-month commitment and certifies the apprentice in diversified organic farm practices. Anyone who may be interested in the position can send questions and qualifications to Michelle@BearButteGardens.com.

In the more immediate future, we will begin harvesting our broiler chickens this weekend and will continue each weekend until we are finished. We have only about 100 birds to harvest, but have discovered that getting some of those tasks done takes a little longer now with the new farm stand and kitchen to manage.

The freedom ranger broilers are definitely at a nice size for butchering, and we look forward to having farm-raised, certified organic whole chickens to sell to our customers over the next several weeks.

Michelle and Rick Grosek operate Bear Butte Gardens in Meade County, S.D. They submitted their report Oct. 2.