Tag

chickens

Learning Everything the Hard Way

By | farm journal

Week 13

2017

Greenhouse Management

Running things manually in the greenhouse has been working out so far, but is severely limiting our ability to go places. Our system currently requires us to be around to open up covers and turn off heaters in the morning, turn on fans when the temperatures start to rise, roll up the side vent or turn on the wet-wall, monitor the water level for the wet-wall, and monitor the plants periodically throughout the day and rotate them though the water as needed. Then we turn the cooling systems off and start closing things up as the sun goes behind the trees in the afternoon, and finally close up the covers, turn on heaters, and set mousetraps each evening at sundown.

This is all fine except that the way we turn each of these things on and off requires dragging extension cords around and trying to dangle them across things so they can reach all the plugs they need to without leaving a connection somewhere it will get sprayed by the dripping wet-wall.

And until today, we had only one hose running to the greenhouse and garden which meant turning valves on and off and disconnecting hoses and sprayers anytime you wanted to water anything. This afternoon we were joined by my incredibly knowledgeable and patient dad who helped us cut, mend, and rearrange hoses so that we can have water in all the places just by switching valves on and off! It’s amazing!!!

So far many of the plants are getting to look really nice, so it has all seemed unquestionably worth it. AND THEN … within this week we’ve started encountering problems left and right. We found sun-scorching on several trays of brassicas (though new leaves appear to be doing better now that they’ve been moved to a shadier location.) Then there’s the mysterious problem with the tomatillos (the leaves are getting bumpy, blistery spots and the plants are dying.) My frantic obsessive research is leading me to the hypothesis that the damage is caused by thrips? But they’re SO small I’m having a very difficult time confirming this idea. A strange grey-ish mold is appearing on the eggplants. Aphids have appeared on the eggplants and several of the brassicas.

UPDATE: My dad brought us a magnifying glass, which allowed me to (I think) confirm the presence of thrips, which we have attempted to treat with a Neem spray. I also discovered that everywhere I witnessed mold on the eggplants, I also saw aphids. A little googling led me to believe we were getting ‘sooty mold’ which grows on the sweet excrement the aphids leave behind. So we are trying ladybugs to control the aphid population and hopefully also curb the mold.

High Fives for High Tunnels!

Our high tunnel is ordered and on it’s way! It’s scheduled to be delivered Monday!

Meanwhile the only bed we have ready to plant is still Shady Acres. We got radishes and carrots seeded, and kale, lettuce, arugula, and collard greens planted out this week.

Thank goddess we have Callan to call on. She’s going to come over this week and help me prep beds so we can prove that two hot ladies with shovels and broadforks can do the job in less time and money than one rented tractor!

Water Falling from the Sky

We recorded our first rain on the weather station this week—0.18 inches over two days.

Thankfully not enough to turn “Shady Acres” into “Swampy Acres,” but if we don’t install gutters on the loaf I expect that will happen soon.

How much would can a wood-chipper chip

Kemper rented a wood-chipper to chew up lots of branches we’ve had lounging about and get them composting. He cut and sawed and dragged and pulverized Russian Olives and Siberian Elms from all corners of the property along with lots of pieces of the dearly departed Juniper we removed last year. Now we have a glorious pile of wood chips to compost with.

Let It Be Spring

By | farm journal

Week 12

2017

Ostara Blessings

To celebrate the vernal equinox we continued a tradition we started two years ago by decorating and then burying eggs around the farm as blessings of fertility. A few eggs went into the post holes that were left open after removing the fence that was where the new hoophouse will be going. We put our special water blessing eggs right down all the way into the water table. Sin agua, no es vida!

Peas!

The peas are popping up in Shady Acres and looking happy! And the garlic alongside them is making up for lost time. It’s all already a couple inches tall. Perhaps the March planting will work out?

Greenhouse Filling Up

This afternoon I seeded and transplanted twenty one new trays… It’s so satisfying to see the rows fill up just like we planned.

Kemper has been working hard to try to get the wet wall running. It’s been getting up into the nineties inside the greenhouse every day and the lavender are starting to send up buds. We’re hoping if we can get the temps down they’ll put their energy into more foliage instead of flowers.

Ginger

And we added a whole new crop to the greenhouse this week—Kemper ordered a huge batch of organic ginger from Hawaii. The timing might work out just right to have it fill in the spaces that are opened up as the lavender gets planted out.

Juggling All the Things!

By | farm journal

Week 11

2017

Juggling Plants and Animals

We planted peas and garlic in the beds we double-dug last week (now named Shady Acres.) The garlic popped up within a few days but we’re still waiting on any sign of the peas.

The baby chicks have started spending the days outside in the old hog cage to keep them safe from all the full size creatures.

We’re trying to keep up with transplanting seedlings into larger pots as they’re ready… Most of the brassicas and all the tomatoes are now in 2″ and 2″ pots and looking happy. I had to separate lots of little ones that had come up two in a cell, and they all seem to have adjusted just fine.

I also re-seeded as many of the mouse-acred plants as I could and the new ones are popping up and happy.

The plantings that are supposed to be going into the outdoor beds are falling behind, though. Something about not yet having a fence to keep out hungry beasts…

Strange Warm Weather

The apricots and peaches are in full bloom. Yerba mansa is waking up. And I spotted a full size grasshopper in the garden. All before the first day of spring. The next few decades are going to be a weird ride.

Real Estate Subdivisions

We’re been talking for years about assigning names to parts of our farm that mimic real estate subdivision names and we’ve finally settled on them. We’ll put up adorable cheesy signs eventually. But for now it will be helpful to have a system to refer to each bed in our crop plans and record-keeping for our organic certification.

And then after choosing our names we also found this magical tool that made my day…

Weather Station

Kemper got us a super sweet weather station so we can monitor temperature, humidity, air pressure, precipitation, wind speed and direction, soil and air temperature inside the greenhouse, and soil temperature in our planting beds outside! It can alert us when certain high and low temperatures are reached, and we can check it remotely. It’s the coolest. Kemper pretty much doesn’t look at anything else anymore.

FORMS FORMS FORMS

So so so many forms! Remember that time the state named us Bluefly Forms? Yeah. This week is all about job sheets, specifications, land history forms, environmental health permits… the list never ends. Our biggest obstacles currently are trying to navigate the opposing requirements of the NRCS and the Organic Program. Planning out our fencing has proven especially tricky. The NRCS requires either treated lumber or cedar. The organic program prohibits treated lumber. Cedar is really really hard to find (and expensive!) We are also allowed to use drill-pipe but the NRCS wants it painted and the organic program prefers that it isn’t. Navigating one set of rules is hard enough! The intersection of the two of them is just exhausting.

We have also discovered an amazing phenomenon in which every time we look deeper into what it will take to build out our projects or get closer to ordering them, they get more expensive. Every single time. The list prices actually go up, we remember other parts we need, another requirement comes to light… My original pricing research that showed each project being achievable within the reimbursements are now looking quite different.

Baby Chicks and Double Digging

By | farm journal

Week 10

2017

Three New Recruits

Our egg production has gone way up with the warmer temperatures but I’ve been wanting to add more green to our egg rainbow since last year. So with the arrival of the first batch of chicks at the feed store I was ready! And I love the way they bring new life and spring and beginnings right into the house in the most joyous and palpable way. And so we got three new chicks, all Americanas—Dr. Naylor, Francesca, and Turtle. And they’re SOOOO FLUFFY!

Transplanting & Re-Seeding

The first batches of transplants went into their big kid pots this week. It’s so satisfying to see neat little rows of happy teeny plants. It really shouldn’t be so surprising to see how many plants come out of a 200-plug tray when you spread them out, but it’s quite a lot!

After some time to recover from the mouse devastation (and one culprit caught) I have begun re-seeding the trays that were wiped out. Peppers seemed to be a clear favorite of those hungry vermin, and the spinach and cilantro suffered, too, along with marigolds and zinnias, but those may have simply been collateral damage being next to peppers. I reseeded as many as I could with what seed I have left, and set a tight perimeter of traps around the fresh trays.

Double Digging

We started to prep our first planting bed for peas radishes and carrots (and really really late garlic because… Do what you can!) The area this bed is going into is directly north of the Alpaca Loaf/Chicken Coop, so it’s been getting a huge amount of water from the still-un-guttered roof and now also from the greenhouse, and it was heavy clay to begin with. I could hardly get through the surface with the broadfork. So we decided to give double digging a try and add lots of compost. It took both of us half the day to finish the first 4′ by 22′ bed, but it does look rather more inviting for baby veggies now. Time will tell if we find this amount of labor pays off!

After all that hard digging we took the shovels over to the garden to compare how our mulching and manure and compost and clover have done, and the soil there is much healthier! Darker, better aggregate, less compaction… It’s going to be a walk in the park to prep those beds by comparison!

All About Seedlings

By | farm journal

Week 9

2017

The Greenhouse

We started building our greenhouse in November… It was all-consuming and fun and empowering and frustrating and it might never ever be all the way done.

The best part of it by far is the rad high-hose we installed so we can water everything without dragging a hose down the aisles. It’s THE BEST!

We’re still working on getting gas and electricity hooked up, so we’re getting by with extension cords and space heaters for the time being. We’ve got the cold sensitive plants in mini-tunnels that get tucked in at night, and so far that’s keeping everything happy.

Seedlings Everywhere!

We have a couple thousand lavender transplants slowly waking up from their winter slumbers. They all have strong root systems so we’re just watching to see them explode in growth above the soil.

Getting our annuals going has involved a bit more heartache…

First, I ordered all the seed I could think of and got so excited when they all arrived I just started putting them in trays… 100 or 200 of everything. And then I started realizing I was about to run out of real estate for seed trays and was going to overrun the garden with all those plants. Then, we went off to Colorado for a weekend and left our brave and wonderful farm sitters to deal with our shabby high-maintenance system. Most of the trays of starts didn’t make it through the hot afternoons. But the time away gave me the chance to finish our garden plan and come back with more realistic numbers for each variety we’re growing, including some to sell at plant sales, and enough to support our very informal trial run CSA that we’re putting together for this year.

Planning, Planning, Planning

This overall farm plan has proven indispensable again and again. We’ve used it for the conservation practices we’re implementing through grants from the NRCS, for our Organic Certification, for our planting numbers, and sometimes just to look at and daydream.

The solstice drawings helped us figure out the best placement for our greenhouse and high tunnel to maximize their solar gain. The high tunnel is scheduled to go up by April.

Now we’re using the placement of the high tunnel to lay out our planting beds for this coming season. I drew up hexagonal plant spacing for each bed and used it to calculate how many seedlings to start. It’s been a little challenging to know when to start a lot of these seeds since we need to have some ready for our first event in mid-April but our planting out date for frost-sensitive plants won’t come for a few weeks after that. I’ve just been working really hard to keep detailed records. We’ll do the best we can with what we have this first year and with enough notes, we’ll be so much wiser when it comes time to do this again next season.

Those two ideas have been my mantras through this planning phase. It always feels like we’re behind the curve and behind schedule. Deep breaths! Move ahead! And take detailed notes!!!

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

And then there were mice.

After several days of moping that we lost so many seedlings, I put myself back together and got excited about planting anew with more appropriate numbers. And now I’ve discovered that I have inadvertently created a five star mouse retreat. It’s the bleakest time of year and here we have this warm cozy little spot with a breakfast bar of seeds that gets replenished every day!

Those crazy little rodents dig up each seed leaving a mess all over my neat, carefully labeled trays, and eat half the seeds right out of their shells. It looks like a massacre.  A mysterious, tragic massacre. It took me a few days to understand what was happening, and my first reaction was devastation and rage. And then I tried to imagine those furry little guys coming upon this feast and holding my precious seeds in their teeny tiny little paws and thanking the heavens above for their unbelievable luck. It’s a little less painful when I think of it like that. But then I set mousetraps… because the world is cruel and confusing.

The Chicken Miracle

Almost a year ago we built this awesome new chicken coop into the same structure we built to house our alpacas, our tiny hay barn, and our planting benches. Only… we never finished securing it against predators. And the chickens never got the memo that it was where they were supposed to sleep. And we never did much about it, because for a year we hadn’t seen any evidence that raccoons or any other critters had been bold enough to come into the yard thanks to the dogs and alpacas.

That changed a couple weeks ago when Kemper woke up to the sounds of raccoons. He went running out with Remy the guard doodle and chased them off, and we collected all the sleeping chickens within reach and had them spend the night in a teeny cage in the kids’ bathroom.

Miraculously, all ten chickens were accounted for the next morning. We spent the next two days installing chicken wire and transformed the place into a fortress. Now, with the irresistible lure of chicken scratch every evening at sundown, we’re finally getting those ladies into the groove.

Week Twenty-Two – When’s Winter?

By | farm journal

Madness and Overwhelm!

The snap peas are finally producing! They’re still only about 18″ tall but, full of delicious little peas. The radishes, meanwhile, went quickly from delicious to pithy and bolted. I harvested and ate as many as I could and sorta thought I could let them hang out in the ground and keep pulling them as needed, and then all of a sudden they were all goners! In the fall I’ll try to do small batches planted in succession and continue that throughout the spring. For now, though, we’re leaving the flowering radishes in place. The bees are loving them, and if we get a few volunteers out of it, we won’t mind. I also pulled a few carrots and they’re petite but normal-shaped and sweet and tender and DELICIOUS. I have a feeling we’ll be swimming in them soon, and I plan to cut some into coins to freeze for steaming later, pickle some, and eat and eat and eat them fresh! The broad-forking plus alpaca manure plus addition of loose sandy soil seems to have overcome the hard-pan-clay troubles we’ve run up against in the past.

Molly M. came down two weeks ago to help us clone for a while and the next week I went over to her place and helped her move a big compost pile. Her farm inspires me every time. She produces so much delicious food in her third-acre. No tractor. Just good practices. And she lent me One Straw Revolution, which was a great read! Lots in the book that applies very specifically to the climate of Japan, but nevertheless there were some great principles that would apply anywhere. He laughs at people who make compost. Instead, he just puts the rice straw back after threshing and lets it compost in the field. Might not work so easily here with our limited moisture, but I love the idea of interfering less.

The cloning is progressing. The propagation-tunnel had to be modified to half its planned size because we didn’t have enough plastic to cover the whole thing, but it seems to be working well! Molly helped us get a nylon cord wrapped over the top and we hung a few micro-sprinklers from the spine of the tunnel.

Markets have been going pretty well despite our insane lack of preparedness. We’re doing half the booth with BlueFly stuff and half promoting the Community Farm and the Maze. Our laser-cut plant stakes are continuing to sell well and aaaaaaany day now we’ll be able to start harvesting lavender. It’s sending out tons of gorgeous buds. And meanwhile, in the heat-island that is Albuquerque, we see lavender in full bloom everywhere we go and must work really hard at being patient.

The alpacas have been doing the most phenomenal job of keeping the field clean and trimmed. They were given an enormous head start, of course, by Kemper, the mower, and the weed-whacker, but as things are greening up there are hardly any weeds creeping their way into the plants. I’ve sworn for the past two years that we’d do a good hand-weeding right before harvest so we don’t have to pick out as much from the lavender once it’s cut. And it looks like that might actually be manageable now! And *knock on wood* the salsify hasn’t had a chance to come up out there meaning we hopefully won’t be picking those fluffy little seeds out of each bundle!

We DESPERATELY need more secure fencing. And a better layout. Right now the alpacas’ favorite place to hang out (and poop) is the small courtyard area right outside our front door. And while it’s hilarious to wake up in the morning and see them chilling right out the window, it’s not so awesome that they’ve eaten every green thing there down to nothing, and the poo pile… well. So we need a fence that keeps them just a hair further from the house, and also a more secure one around the back. An alpaca-proof, dog-proof, giant-steer-proof, non-chemical-leeching fence! Trouble is, that will cost thousands of dollars. Cue the NRCS funding to support our rotational alpaca grazing. And then cue the news that our amazing, super representative at the local NRCS office is gone. We were supposed to get contracts and be able to start work in April. It’s now June. We have a meeting next week. Fingers crossed we can get rolling after that. We also desperately need the micro-sprinkler system!

Still waiting on the shearer. Hoping he can make it this coming weekend. These boys look hot! They spend a lot of the afternoon loafin’ in the shade.

The rye in the garden rapidly got taller and thicker and started going to seed. Kemper mowed it but it was impossible to get around the corners of the beds and between the garlic that’s still all over the place, so there are some place we’re still taking it down by hand. He wishes we’d done clover only. Hopefully in the long run it helps the clover get established better and we won’t spend the rest of forever fighting rye grass in the garden.

The baby chicks are roaming free and their travel is growing day by day. I’ve been trying to put them in the new coop when it’s just dark enough that they won’t try to relocate themselves. No idea how long (or even if) it’ll take to get them to go there on their own. But I do enjoy tucking them in at night.

A week ago we planted the tomatillo, eggplant, and tomato starts into the bed that the sweet peppers were massacred in. Must have been too cool, because everything in there now is happy! A bit disorganized, though, since I was planting around the mysteriously-still-green stems of the peppers hoping they might somehow make a miraculous comeback. We also decided this time to leave the mulch off so that the dark soil can absorb the sun and stay warm. Who knows if that would have made enough difference for the first batch. Been debating naming that bed Pepper Deathwatch or Winter Wasteland instead of whatever crappy subdivision name it was destined for before. Sunset Gardens? Orchard Park South?

This past weekend (Memorial Day) we got a few more beds broad-forked, added magic alpaca beans, threw a layer of the Soilutions mix (compost, wood chips, sand, and perlite) on top and planted lots of the remaining transplants—green chile, Jack and Evie’s flowers, and cabbages which will likely just bolt since it’s so late and hot but I put them between a trellis of peas and a row of garlic so they might have a chance with a little shade and mulched them to try to keep the soil temp down.

Then we put up another row of trellising and planted Scarlet Runner Beans (my first saved seed!) and I broadcast the onion seed I never started in the bed beside them. I have severe doubts that I’ll get even a single onion, but the seed doesn’t store well, so there’s really nothing to lose!

I also planted new carrot seed in between the beets that are almost ready!

I’m daydreaming of a plan that lays out how often to plant a new section of something based on the season and how much we can eat at a time and also magically considers good companions and times when overlap like that with the beets and carrots would be beneficial. With as much space as we have out there we could be growing a TON of food. We just have a lot of kinks to work out on our way.

Week Fourteen – So Fresh & So Clean

By | farm journal

Put alpacas, chicks, and plants out… Put them in… Repeat!

We’re in a pretty good rhythm taking care of all the things lately as long as we stick around during the day. Being away means the chicks are locked up in their cage inside and the alpacas are stuck in the back and the plant starts spend the day in the hallway leaning toward the sun. But putting the plants out has had its downside, too. Lots of them are showing signs of sun-scalding. Hopefully with careful watering we can keep bringing them out for full sunshine without cooking them to death and if we can, they’ll get tougher and tougher.

We got our first rain in months Friday and Saturday. Didn’t add up to much, but it’s crazy to think how long it’s been. It was the longest dry spell on record since 1895.

Our big new area of growth and difficult decision-making is in our lavender nursing capacity—the greenhouse we’ve been chomping at the bit to build has been helped along by a contract to grow a couple thousand lavender plants for Robert, who’s building a lavender farm and retreat center outside Belen. So now we’re weighing all the possible ways to best nurture that many plants. A huge kit greenhouse on the existing slab that joins with the house? A partially-underground area with a shorter roof made of double-wall plastic or poly panels? A custom designed glass greenhouse? In-floor heating? We have a couple months before the starts will need to be under shade and a few months more after that before they’ll need to be protected from cold.

This weekend was a flurry of organizing and cleaning up thanks to a visit from Robert. His coming by was a great excuse to put away all the loose ends and scrap piles that have been haunting and torturing me for months. Kemper nearly finished weed-whacking all last year’s weeds from the front field and now you can see there’s lavender out there—not just scruffy rows of mystery growth! Our farm hasn’t looked this clean since we got married. Evie even remarked that our house “looks like a farm now.”

The infrastructure support continues to increase our efficiency (and my sanity) thanks to a huge effort by my parents and brother who spent all Friday in the drizzle helping us organize inside the garage and now when we need a tool or material we can just walk right in there without tripping or ducking and find it on a pegboard! No searching, digging, head-scratching or cursing necessary! It’s a miracle!

Kemper and Leon also put up a smooth two-wire fence around the poppy mallow test area Friday to keep the alpacas out. (And Decoration already found his way in…) Guess we need three or four wires!

The dedicated attention we’ve been able to put toward the farm, the insane amount of help we’ve gotten from my family, and the opportunity to grow plants on contract are transforming our farm in the most exciting way. Every day it gets closer and closer to the way it looks and feels in my dreams.

Week Twelve – The Infrastructure Party Continues

By | farm journal

The ‘Croncost’ is Sorted!

We mathed our compost bin design plans to death and figured out a size for which we’d have enough scrap tongue and groove lumber to build the three-bin system and it’s awesome! We were limited in material choices since treated lumber and recycled palettes are against the policies of the organic certification, so it was super exciting to be able to make it work with approved materials without having to buy anything new. It will likely need to be rebuilt in several years because the wood will break down quickly under those conditions, but it should serve us well in the meantime!

We’re fairly certain the majority of the peach crop was lost in the freeze last week. Time will tell if we get any.

Week Eleven – Tractors and Power Tools

By | farm journal

Building and Moving and Harrowing

Kemper borrowed Tyler’s disc and hooked it up to the Ford 800 to try using it as a harrow. He set it barely down and ran it across the grass-ish area south of the garage to see if it would break it up just enough to establish new grass seed. He’s pretty confident that it’ll be just the right amount of soil disturbance.

Kemper and the kids broadcast the Purple Poppy Mallow seed in the northernmost section of the field (after stratifying them in the refrigerator for a month and then soaking them for 24 hours in hot water.)

Friday Kemper fixed up the drip system in the lavender field so it’s finally getting the full pressure but we’re DYING to get our new system in place. Especially since the pipes running from the pump just gave way and are going to need a temporary repair…

The chicken coop now has roosting bars and a door! Which is how we discovered that Remy can fit through exactly the same size opening as a chicken! He’s been sneaking in to steal eggs and I spent an hour adjusting the doorway and testing it on chickens and Remy until finally deciding they are the same size. Sigh.

The peach tree is all blooming and we had a low of 28 Saturday and are expecting another freeze Wednesday. We’re hoping desperately we still get fruit.

Week Ten – Chicks!!!

By | farm journal

New life all over the place!

Week Ten :  Babies and more babies!

The awakening continues, with plants in the trays growing bigger by the day, peas just barely popping their heads up in the garden, clover becoming a gorgeous green carpet in our pathways… (Though it’s pretty hard to check on the peas when we can’t quite walk in the pathways just yet. Thank goodness that won’t be a problem once the clover is established enough to handle year-round foot traffic.)

And: WE GOT MORE BABY CHICKS! The two little Maran pullets were promptly named ‘Cheep’ and ‘Hush.’ They will lay a dark reddish brown egg. Time will tell if we’ll be able to tell the hens apart from our Barred Rocks, though! And now, to round out the egg rainbow, I just need to find a couple more green layers! I plan to get 2 more, but as my mother pointed out: that ruins our fibonacci sequence! Before yesterday we had 1 cat, 2 dogs, 3 children, 5 alpacas, and 8 chickens. So now I guess I have to make it all the way to 13 chickens and get 8 of something else. (Did someone say guineas???)

 

We continued work on the chickens’ new coop and finally have finished nesting boxes! They’re awfully cute! And I’ve already collected 5 eggs from them. Last step is to figure out how to hang our roosting bars and ramps. That’s a bit challenging — we decided to use stripped branches from the old juniper Kemper cut down, but deciding how to orient and fasten those funny, crooked things is really hard! And we have a little work to do to smooth the rolling of our home-fashioned barn door. Leon, Kemper, and my dad designed and built it using old skateboard wheels and a discarded closet track.

We also decided we desperately need a three-bin composting system, but we’ve pretty well used up most of our scrap lumber. We could get pallets, but we’re awaiting a response from the Organic Inspectors to find out if that would be allowed.