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cover crop

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 Sixteen – Holy Earth Day

By | farm journal

Back to Back Festivals!

The madness started Thursday with the UNM Sustainability Expo, which meant we were running around all day and night on Wednesday trying to get ready and remember how to pack up for outdoor events. I worked for hours on sewing little pouches stuffed with lavender from our feed and seed sacks, but didn’t get enough done to take them. We bundled up the last of the 2015 lavender harvest that had been carefully boxed away and took that along with all the plant markers and some notecards. Double-tabling for BlueFly and the Community Farm worked pretty well. We had another event for RGCF at Civic Plaza Friday evening (which was nearly rained out) and the Coop’s Earth Fest with both tables again on Sunday. The plant markers were a big hit everywhere and we sold all but three bundles of lavender.

Sunday our table was next to Mandy’s Farm selling their eggs, vermi-compost (with my logo—yay!) and Alpaca Beans!

Harvested the first few radishes from the garden! There were so bright and beautiful and juicy and yummy! And they grew SO FAST! Definitely going to plant more! And the peas are finally grabbing onto the trellises after a few weeks of hanging out at the same height. And while we were out there checking on all the plants we discovered raccoon prints in the mud. I didn’t think they were still getting in (thank you dogs and alpacas) but I can’t argue with a fresh footprint.

Saturday we got all the sweet and poblano peppers transplanted in the garden. There are so many more than what I originally drew in my plan, but I also had them drawn a little too far apart. So there are nearly 96 plants in one 4′ by 22′ bed. I broad-forked it to loosen it, then Kemper added another layer of alpaca beans (he had added and turned in lots of them a few months ago before we covered the bed with a thick layer of alfalfa mulch) and then a layer of our Soilutions mix on top. It has a little sand, some partially composted wood chips, some compost, and some perlite. We mulched back over the top after all the peppers went in, and it looks gorgeous.

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.

Week Nine – Falling Into Place

By | farm journal

It’s working!

Week Nine :  Plant Babies!

Starting new seeds might be my favorite part of this whole gig. It’s so amazing to put those little pieces of magic into some soil and then see them pop up as living, growing beings! Sunday we started several more trays including spinach, kale, lettuce, basil, and holy basil.

Several of the little guys we started last weekend have popped their heads up. The cabbages were first, followed closely by the cauliflower. A couple days later we got the tomatillos and eggplants and then the tomatoes. The chile and sweet peppers still haven’t made any signs, but the teeny little celeries are starting to pop their cute little crooked necks up today! We have two tables now with florescent light fixtures (one with purple plant bulbs and one with regular cool white) and space heaters, but I think the lights are to far away from the plants (and maybe too low wattage) to be accomplishing the amount of light those little babies need. They’re already rather long and leggy. (Which, of course, has us dreaming of a greenhouse just as much as ever!)

We’re looking at plans and a budget to build a prototype greenhouse using stock panels, PVC, or 2x4s and plastic sheeting along the south side of the hallway. I just finished charting the position of the sun throughout the year (azimuths and noon-time elevations for the solstices and equinoxes) to try to estimate wether we’ll get enough sun for it to be a functional space or wether the structure on the east side will impede its performance drastically. But that is, after all, the purpose of the prototype. If it works, we’d build it earthship-style with wood beams and glass panels and hope that we can vent heat into the house in the winter and out in the summer.

The radishes in the garden are also popping up! And so are what appear to be new baby clover in the pathways!

We also finished measuring, staking, and mulching the remaining beds in the garden and since it’s getting confusing trying to describe exactly which section we’re referring to, I thought it would be great to name each set of beds as if it’s a crappy subdivision. We could have ‘Wolf Berry Park’ and ‘Orchard Lane’ and ‘Tunnel Gardens’ and eventually ‘Sunset Place.’ After those beds were happily covered under mountains of hay mulch, Kemper, Jack, and Evie seeded the rest of the pathways with cover crop.

I scored a couple blackberry plants thanks to Mick, a classmate from the Mother Course who works at the Hubbell House. He said they were getting torn out, so I think we’re going to put them in the orchard and build on our bramble collection.

This week’s class at Las Huertas covered crop production planning and was a great overview to the principles that should guide those decisions. Sean is so amazing at bringing a balanced and wise perspective to what always seem to me as daunting and intimidating processes. He talked at length about fitting the production to the business plan and not vice versa, showed us tools for calculating seeding rates for different crops, emphasized the importance of thorough notes, and spent a lot of time talking about the observations and factors that should inform the plan. Then he asked us to come up with a goal or vision or mission statement to serve as a guiding focus for our decisions. I have a draft. With any luck, Kemper and I can agree on a vision for BlueFly Farms and let it guide us through the coming months and years.

The biggest of the apricot trees we planted last year is flowering and gorgeous, and the peach has a thousand buds getting ready to burst. Meanwhile, along the whole valley, the cottonwoods are still asleep but the tippy-tops of all the elms are glowing florescent green. The cranes seem to have all gone home. And cucumber beetles are appearing throughout the garden.

Looking forward to celebrating the equinox and the bursting of life and the goddesses of fertility and the miracle that is Spring.

 

Week Eight – Better Late than Never

By | farm journal

Holy Catch-Up!

The Last Twenty-Three Weeks . . .

Seems as soon as the maze started last fall, the farm journal was the first to go! Not much was happening here, anyway. Tomatoes and peppers being stolen by the chickens, marigolds drying up in the field. Hopefully this year we’ll be able to continue managing apples and the garden and attending market (by sending a proxy?) through October.

In November we tackled and built the Alpaca house, and the herd arrived here December 6! We adopted all five and renamed them Luis, Cielo sin Estrella, Linoleum, Decoration, and Bill. They’re the best! They seem like such a natural fit on our farm it’s hard to imagine we haven’t always had them. They happily cruise around all day and eat the grasses and weeds wherever they can find little tender green parts. They don’t care for the lavender, just as we’d hoped, and we’ve seen them reach in with their dextrous tongues and pull bits of grass and bindweed out from the centers of the lavender plants! And our hearts explode with joy!

After delivering apples to Santa Cidre for cider, we were able to supply several hundred more pounds of apples to a Swan Kitchen, a local business that cooks school lunches and sources their produce locally. And when there were still some left after that, we brought them home and borrowed Roger’s grinder and press and made our own hard cider. We didn’t measure the beginning and ending sugar content to calculate the final ABV, but I would estimate it came in right around your average ass-kicking, back-country moonshine. It was quite strong. We’d like to try again in the fall and pay a bit more attention to those details.

In January we got all our paperwork filed with the NRCS in order to receive funding through EQIP for a long and exciting list of infrastructure improvements! We’ve been through several versions of the overall plans and have settled on a 30′ x 48′ high tunnel, micro-sprayers for both the lavender field and the west garden, a water storage tank, new irrigation pumps, two stock-watering locations, bat houses, and internal cross-fencing to support rotational grazing. It’s so exciting to see how it all comes together to create systems that allow us to do the work we want to do!

Meanwhile, the saga of the pair of us functioning like a two-headed monster has continued, with battles over the best location for the high tunnel, the number, size, and arrangement of beds in the garden, and the choices and placement of the plants we intend to grow.

The garlic that we intended to plant in November or December finally went in the ground in February. Kemper read someplace that it’s still an acceptable time to plant it. We’ll see what it’s able to do!

Kemper borrowed Jon’s walk-behind tiller and mixed in a generous layer of alpaca beans along with what was left of last year’s compost load from Soilutions into the plot that we’ll be growing in this season and which will be the site of the high-tunnel in the fall. We’re really hoping that those added nutrients and the increased organic matter will start turning our poor, sad clay into magnificent, loose, fluffy black gold! We also agreed to switch to flat beds with clover-covered pathways. Sean gave a great talk at the Organic Farming Conference about how that strategy has been working at Nepantla Farms, and I’m excited to do it here, too! We chose four-foot beds with two-foot pathways by kneeling on the floor with rulers and masking tape. That’s the smallest pathway we can fit in on our knees, and the longest distance we can reach into the center of the beds from each side. I’m hoping and wishing that once we get these beds established we can broadfork them and add compost each year but leave the pathways untouched except for mowing!

The permaculture class I’m taking, Michael Reed’s Mother Course, is about to wrap up and I’ve got a head full of ideas and approaches to try. What I’ve appreciated most is the way the class has forced me to turn many of my preconceived notions upside down and consider what nature is doing whether I like it or not. Every elm tree is providing a micro-climate for the plants that surround it, cycling nutrients, and cloud seeding. Bind weed is a pioneer of erosion prevention. Talk to your trees. Eat your weeds. Nature always has the last word.

Week Eight : Seeds!

Despite my constant vows that we would have a greenhouse by this winter, we didn’t. And without a greenhouse (or any budget to work with) we’ve been a bit behind schedule, but with our tax return I was finally able to place a big seed order from High Mowing and it arrived last week. (The discount we got more than paid for our annual NYFC membership dues.)

We spent an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon potting the indoor starts on our lovely workbench in the shade (miracle!) and we decided in the absence of a greenhouse to try our trays of starts in the hallway against the south-facing windows with supplemental florescent light. Which will be a great plan assuming that we are actually able to get light fixtures mounted and working before those little babies pop up. This batch of starts includes red and green cabbages, celery, cauliflower, red, yellow and green sweet peppers, green chile, poblano peppers, brandywine tomatoes, tomatillos, and eggplant.

Sunday we finished measuring and staking out the beds in the future high-tunnel area and gave them one more good loosening with the broadfork (which was made easier by the fact that Kemper had just tilled, but I thought was really a fun workout and a zen sorta way to spend a while soaking in some sunshine.) We planted snap peas, carrots, radishes, and beets. We spaced the carrots and beets within the beds using a cardboard template of hexagonally arranged holes to maximize the plants within each bed. The format of the cardboard left a bit to be desired, but I’d like to try again with a laser-cut one.

After the vegetables were happily tucked in, we broadcast white clover and annual rye grass throughout the pathways to function as a permanent cover crop and living mulch.

We reached the end of our budget on the alpaca shelter before finishing the chicken coop, so we’re slowly trying to finish that up using scraps and leftover materials. Last week we built a franken-post by notching and bolting together the sawed-off tops of the other posts. It’s crooked and a little short, and I can’t believe for the price and the time I didn’t just buy one more post. I’m still secretly debating tearing it out and redoing it. It seems such a shame to tack such a sloppy piece on our otherwise solid and gorgeous little barn.

We heard back this week from Western SARE, letting us know we didn’t receive the Planting in Trenches grant that Kemper applied for, and were both incredibly relieved. We’ve got enough to keep up with now with the lavender grant and all our NRCS projects!

So here’s to another year of growing and learning and learning and growing!