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NRCS

Holy Market Season!

By | farm journal

Week 17

2017

Market Season is Here!

We kicked off this year’s market season with another intense series of events—opening day at Downtown Growers’ Market, the Sustainability Expo at UNM, and La Montañita’s Nob Hill Earth Fest. After a long few months being holed up down here working, building, talking to plants, and fretting over the bank account it was SO GREAT to see all the folks we’ve been missing, and have the money flowing in a much more exciting direction. And it’s so fun to send our little plants home with people to start their gardens! And after that whilrwind week, it only took two solid days of vegging out and soaking in gratitude to be ready to get back to work.

Sparkling Flavored Water is Launched!

After a whole lot of permits and paperwork and a few struggles with our new kegs and carbonating system, we finally debuted our flavored sparkling water. We brought two delicious flavors—Peppermint and Lavender—to the first market and they were a great success! I’m obviously partial, but I’m completely hooked. They’re so fresh and yummy. They just taste of plants in the most true and delightful way. We have a batch of Rosemary brewing to add to the selection tomorrow, and it is super tasty, too!

Progress in the Greenhouse

With the exception of the liliaceae, the last trays of plants stuck imprisoned in tiny plugs have been bumped up to larger pots. We cleared out enough space at our first few plant sales to make room for a new wave of big trays and I hope the poor ones that spent so long in such tight quarters will forgive us and grow big and healthy.

Meanwhile, the ginger has begun sprouting and a few have moved into pots from their flats while we try to figure out the best way to build a raised bed for them. As the lavender comes out, the ginger will take its place and fill up a large space in the greenhouse.

Solanaceae Recovery

The eggplants seem to be holding up well after tackling the aphids. No new mold has appeared and they continue to look strong and are growing consistently. They do, however, have a few holes now thanks to a couple tiny rogue grasshoppers.

It appears that the trouble with the tomatillos may have been entirely self-inflicted by yours-truly. Another search of the almighty internet revealed photos of plants with symptoms that look identical to what ours were experiencing and the problem was simply oedema–overwatering. With the troubled leaves removed, the new growth seems to be looking much healthier.

The tomatoes seem to be suffering from another issue, they are showing lots of yellowing and purple veins. Research led me to believe that may be caused by soil temperatures too low for the plants to metabolize nutrients. Kemper moved them into larger pots with added compost and gave them a round of fish emulsion to see if we can keep them a little warmer and supplement their nutrient needs. As soon as it’s warm enough for them to go in the ground, we hope they’ll be happy and healthy.

Plants in the High Tunnel

This week we picked up a load of compost from my brother at Soilutions and got our first bed—Chughole Meadows East—in the high tunnel double-dug, composted, and planted. Yay! We shuffled the original plan a little bit to get the most desperate plants in the ground first: beets, broccoli, and cauliflower. When I started beets to transplant, I expected to have beds ready to plant into by late March. Now that it’s nearly May… Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

It’s a ton of work to prep a bed that way with our solid hunks of clay, but the plants in Shady Acres that got the double-digging treatment are looking nice and healthy! So I continue to believe it will be worth it.

We’re also planning to implement better soil conservation practices through the winter. For any beds that won’t be growing fall and winter crops, we will either cover crop or apply alpaca manure and a heavy layer of mulch and allow it to compost in place through the winter. Completely abandoning the garden for six months as we’ve done the past two years certainly couldn’t have helped.

The onions, scallions, leeks, and chives (the last starts still stuck in tiny plug trays) are headed for the ground just as soon as we finish digging and prepping Orchard Estates East. We got partway through this morning before the rain came in and forced a tea and farm journal break.

High Tunnel Hijinks

By | farm journal

Week 14

2017

Construction Begins

The high tunnel arrived Monday and we’ve got the frame almost completed. The rafters and purlins went up quickly. It’s much easier the second time around. Especially with the scaffolding and chop saw we borrowed from my pop. It’s so so so helpful to have access to tools when we need them. We looked at a few possible configurations for our end-walls and finally settled on putting in a person-size door hung from two vertical 4x4s and a vent up high.

With the frame up, we can start marking and digging the beds and get some plants out of the greenhouse and finally into the ground this week!

The Tragic Mouse Massacre of 2017

We discovered mice were getting into seeds in the greenhouse again, so we set a fresh run of traps and gave a plea to all the mice to please find food elsewhere. The next morning there were three mice caught. And another one two days later. It feels so strange to be in charge of deciding that the plants live and the mice die. I do not think I’m qualified for that position.

Freezing Temperatures & Tons More Rain

The peach tree is full of tiny little fruit babies, and the lows according to the weather station got down to 25 this week. So far they’re still hanging on, miraculously! I hope they can make it a few more weeks!

And Shady Acres officially became Swampy Acres with a half inch of rain. We looked it up—that’s the total average rainfall for the whole month.

And then just to make it official, the hose we mended last week keeps busting apart and flooding Swampy Acres just to be sure we didn’t think it was about to dry out anytime soon.

CSA Modifications

With the setbacks from aphids, mice, and construction, we’ve fallen a bit behind on the planting and harvest schedules I initially set out for the season. We have plenty of eggs, green onions, and green garlic to start off our first week, but I was hoping for much more! Hopefully it won’t be too long before the radishes and greens are ready to join the ranks.

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 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!