Sogn Farm Project

Keyline Path Progress

By Bob | July 31, 2015 |

Lovely progress on the keyline path. This provides access to the wooded hillside on the north part of the farm. The green line shows the portion now complete and the blue what I hope to finish this summer. We shall see!

2-foot contour map showing the plan for the keyline path.

2-foot contour map showing the plan for the keyline path.

Just for fun, here’s a video shot from Doris driving from where the blue and green lines meet (cherry tree corner) out onto the field.

Berm’s Progress

By Bob | July 31, 2015 |

It’s fun to watch the berm on the near west field mature – even in a short time the difference is noticeable. Here’s a brief gallery of images from the initial forming of the berm (October 2013), the addition of first fruit trees (Spring 2014), daffodils blooming (Spring 2015) and additional fruit trees. It’s coming along!

Berm Planting Progress

By Bob | April 28, 2015 |


So how’s the new berm doing? More fruit trees planted and mulched, thank you. The berm now sports a mix of apples, cherries, plums, pears and serviceberries. It’ll be fun to see what thrives.

Here’s the current listing, west to east:

[Planted 2015]

Apple: Roxbury Russet

Apple: Cox’s Pippin

Cherry: Gisella

Cherry: Gisella

Pear: Aurora

Pear: Potomac

Pear: Harrow Sweet

[Planted 2014]

Apple: Snow Sweet

Apple: Honeycrisp

Apple: Haralson(?)

Plum: American

Plum: Mount Royal

Plum: Pipestone



Cherry: Evans Bali

Cherry: Northstar

Cherry: Mesabi

[Planted 2015]

Apple: Enterprise

Apple: Cox’s Pippin

Apple: Roxbury Russet

Pear: Aurora

Pear: Potomac

Pear: Harrow Sweet

Apple: Enterprise

Apple: Goldrush

Apple: Pristine

Apple: Goldrush

Beautiful Farm Looking for a Farmer

By Bob | February 25, 2015 |

The time has come to find a real farmer. In the four years since we bought this place I’ve had a great time cleaning up the mess and beginning to restore the soil and infrastructure. While I do hope to continue to be involved in the future, after this season (already under contract) I’d like a real farmer to begin moving this farm towards the diversified, productive and successful enterprise it wants to be. With plenty of time to plan and prepare, now is the time to find the right person for this wonderful farm.

About the farm:

Situated in the lovely Sogn Valley, our farm has about 30 acres of rich deep silt loam and another 25 acres of woodland, stream and farmstead. Though not certified, the land has been managed organically for the last four years. A historic barn has been updated with a new roof, electricity and more, a newer pole shed is in good working order and a small office has been built with heat, a bathroom and electricity. In 2013 keyline berms and swales were dug/built in one field to address water issues and a mixed perennial orchard begun on one of the berms.

About me:

I am an academic, musician and investor with keen interests in sustainability, resilience and access to land for human-scale diversified farming. I also have profound concerns about climate change, the economy and resource depletion. I have business experience and expect a return on my investment.

About you:

Enthusiasm tempered by experience. You’ve worked with successful small farms and been involved not only in planning, planting, harvesting and sales but also in the financial aspects of farming. You know how to produce and read both a balance sheet and an income statement, have a practical understanding of working with people and of the impact of government programs on small-scale agriculture. You love the work and know what you’re getting into.

About the future:

It is my hope that one day you will use the profits earned from the farm to buy it from me – but that’s a long story. We should talk!

If you might be the person for this farm, look around this website to see get a flavor for what we’ve done so far and where we might be going. Then use the contact link at the top of the page to get in touch.

A Keyline Drive

By Bob | May 12, 2014 |

With the help of some teen muscle, access to the woods and upper prairie is improving. A while back I posted about a natural access route along a contour line. We've been working to open up that pathway and here, for fun, are two video clips taken from Doris (the electric UTV) starting up in the woods and finishing where the path opens onto the largest field. Thanks to Lolo, Smack and their friend Nathan for making such great progress on Sunday and to Nathan for shooting the video.

Keylines at Work

By Bob | March 26, 2014 |

Spring melt and runoff is beginning and the first test of last autumn’s keyline work is visible. As the snow melts, the upper berm becomes clearly visible. Viewed from another angle water can be seen accumultating in the swales on the uphill side of the berm – just like we wanted. I’ll continue to monitor through the spring melt, of course. It won’t be long till we can plant that berm with mixed permaculture-flavored plantings . . .

Keyline looking west

Here is the upper berm peeking through the snow.

Keyline looking east

Another view. Note how the water is collecting on the uphill side – exactly according to plan.

Keyline Accomplishments

By Bob | November 3, 2013 |

Gorgeous! A terrific crew of volunteers enjoyed fascinating presentations by Dan Halsey bookending a day of practical implementation of Keyline Design. Our near west field has new berms and swales and a rock (those were big rocks!) outflow by the culvert to slow and spread the flow of water during major rain or runoff events.

Here is a view of the field with the swales highlighted and the rock installation circled. I wish I had an arial photo to show the actual shape and how the berm/swale combinations follow the contour. Now we have to wait for a big rain or the spring runoff to see how it all works!

Swales marked

And here is the ‘Defensive Berm’ near the pole shed. The berm is highlighed with red, it stands about 12-18″ taller than the field – the exaggerated countour of the berm is shown in green. The blue marks a new and appropriatedly sloped channel for any water that does make it over the berm or into the area. It sends the water away from the viewer and into our intermittent creek.

Last Berm Marked

And here’s a gallery of photos of the day.

A humongous “Thank You!” to everyone who participated. We are so lucky to have you all in our circle of friends!

A Solution to the Permaculture Puzzle

By Bob | October 23, 2013 |

A while ago I challenged folks to create solutions to the erosion and water management issues on the field just west of the barns. This Saturday we’ll begin to implement techniques we hope will address those challenges. Dan Halsey of Southwoods Forest Garden created this plan. With the help of some heavey equipment and a number of friends, we’ll be creating the rock-lined catch basin at the culvert outflow and building two swale/berm combinations and a final barrier berm.

farm plan

If you want to come and join us, Dan will be giving an explanatory talk at 9:00 (with coffee and donuts, of course) then we’ll head out into the field and use a laser level and other tools to flag the field for the machines, then finish off the berms/swales with seed. Lunch will be provided and a potluck dinner and bonfire will follow. Should be a fine day to get up close and personal with keyline design.

Hope you can make it.

Scary Photo

By Bob | August 22, 2013 |

The adage ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’ seems true on our farm: disturb the soil and in a few days something will grow – desirable or maybe not. The ‘weeds’ around the strawberries and garlic were pretty awesome this year. . .

IMG_0537But this image scares the bejbeebers out of me. This is a field on the farm just east of ours which, like many fields in SE MN this year, never got planted because of the wet spring. It’s now the second half of August and what’s growing here? Almost nothing. That’s downright creepy. The years of conventional (likely GM) corn and beans and the chemical cocktail that goes with that have killed the soil. Almost nothing is growing. And there are thousands of acres just like this across Minnesota. What do we think we’re doing?

A Permaculture Puzzle

By Bob | July 18, 2013 |

Want to help with the farm design? Here’s a challenge for you.

The field immediately west of the farmstead (the one that you see in the header photo) appears flat until you look closely. In fact, it’s a gentle valley channeling water north and then east – straight at the pole shed! That’s why I found four inches of ice in the pole shed last March – and why it filled with topsoil in last summer’s huge rain. As you can see from the contour map, the shape of the land sends water right at the pole shed!

Water flows on the Near West Field

Water flows on the Near West Field

field contour map

2ft contour map of the Near West Field

A helpful principle to keep in mind is that water naturally flows at right angles to the contour. The effect of this is to concentrate and channel water along the blue arrow in the second image. In addition, the road acts as a dam collecting water from the hillside to the south. During large rain or runoff events that water is funneled through a culvert indicate with the orange arrow. During ordinary rains and snow melts this culvert doesn’t get any flow, but a serious thunderstorm and – whammo! – big time water rushing onto the field with serious speed and power. (You can see some images from last year’s big rain here.)

So this is the design challenge: what is the best way to construct berms, swales, dams and/or rain gardens to control the water as it moves across this field in order both to minimize topsoil loss and to increase the dwell time, and thus absorption, of the water? At the moment I’m pondering a rain garden at the culvert opening, a swale/berm (to be planted in perennials, but that’s another blog post) somewhere towards the middle of the field and possibly another berm just west of the pole shed to divert any water that does make it that far. But those are general thoughts. If you’d like to have a go at a specific design, please do! I’m open to your ideas. The other factor to keep in mind is that the field will be in alfalfa for the next few years (and may well be used for grazing beyond that time), so access for machinery to cut and bale hay (or for critters in the future) must be included.

Thanks to any budding keyline designers who want to try their hand at this. I hope you enjoy the challenge!