Bear Butte Gardens greens

Greens grow in the high tunnel green house at Bear Butte Gardens near Sturgis, S.D.

We have been having a few typical springtime windy days at Bear Butte Gardens this past week. Gusts up to or beyond 50 mph are not uncommon.

In between the wind we are receiving manageable amounts of moisture, so far 2.06 inches for the month of May. The grass is growing well and the dandelions are blooming – both good things when you have bottle lambs that were recently weaned and bee hives full of hungry worker bees.

We have a little standing water here and there in the low spots, but nothing unusual for this time of year. The gardens vary between being a little too wet for planting to being just right after the wind dries the surface soil.

We start our first crops inside greenhouses, both into trays for starting seedlings in soil blocks and also directly into the ground in our high tunnel. This year we started seeding onions into trays about March 1 and those onion blocks are now being transplanted into an outdoor garden. Once those first onions are seeded it is a steady progression into a variety of direct-seeded cold-hardy greens in the high tunnel like arugula, winter density lettuce, mustard greens, and tatsoi, as well as radishes, hakurei turnips, carrots, and beets, and then beans.

We have even thrown in some okra this year which has germinated, but is now looking forward to warmer temps inside the high tunnel for optimum growth alongside the beans. Now that we are basically at our safe date (May 20) to plant outside we are taking our indoor seeding schedule and repeating it in the outdoor gardens. We have already transplanted cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and kohlrabi outside, as they are frost-hardy in the spring.

We have begun sowing parsnips and beets outdoors. The peas and fava beans have germinated and started to grow outside as well. We are prepping for planting potatoes late this week.

We are probably about a quarter of the way through outside planting and we like to wrap up by mid-June, so we have a lot to do over the next month. We feel very happy about our planting progress so far this year.

We have a new apprenticeships on the farm (diversified organic farm manager), and it is nice having that extra set of hands working alongside Michelle as she gets the springtime seeds sown.

We are definitely ahead of last year’s schedule with all of the extra moisture and cold temps in 2019. Our rains and frosts have been very average this spring compared to most springs.

Since we are a certified organic operation, we handle weed control through non-chemical methods. Inside the high tunnel we use some plastic and cloth mulch for certain crops. Other crops, like arugula, we just try to get in early enough that the cash crop out-competes the weeds, but we do a fair amount of hand weeding as well.

In the outdoor gardens we use large tarps as weed control for potatoes and plant into holes burned into the tarps. We also use plastic mulch and landscape cloth to eliminate weeds in rows in some gardens. The good old stirrup hoe is frequently used in other gardens. We have been gradually converting to less tillage and more utilization of cover crops as often as possible to compete against weeds as well.

We have been keeping busy taking pre-orders and deposits for quarters of beef this spring with the new interest in local foods. We have also ordered 125 broiler chicks that will be raised in chicken tractors on pasture for butcher late summer to try to put a dent in demand for local chicken.

Our new and old customers are excited about getting their first CSA vegetable shares from us this week and we are excited to get the CSA season under way. We are feeling positive about the heightened interest in local food and see that as a silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud. Our community of Sturgis is slowly opening up food establishments again after a couple months of curbside pick-up and home deliveries.

We are personally excited to get our new farm stand and commercial kitchen businesses opened up in the next month or so. We will be using the patio of the new farm stand for our first CSA pick-up later this week!

Michelle and Rick Grosek operate Bear Butte Gardens in Meade County, S.D. They submitted their report May 18.