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!