Tag

learning the hard way

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.