Week Fifteen – Greenhouses are Confusing!

By April 18, 2016 April 25th, 2016 farm journal

But people are amazing!

Virtually all of our attention lately has been devoted to deciding how to proceed with our greenhouse and how it fits in to the farm as a whole. I took an entire day to update and refine our scale site drawing first envisioned and created by Kemper. I printed it out and stitched it together and stuck it in the frame he got so we have a two-foot by three-foot drawing to scribble on and try out ideas. It’s awesome!

We’ve also gotten a ton of insight and advice from some magnificent growers. We had Barbara and Ross over to share their thoughts about greenhouses since they’ve built and managed many of them. Ross suggested starting with the plastic-covered hoop-type and avoiding the costly panel construction—partly because our intense UV exposure here degrades the panels and makes them vulnerable to hail damage, and partly because the up front cost is so much higher and we might do better by starting with something smaller and building up. He also gave invaluable tips about the types of vents, thermostats, and sprinklers that have held up best to the humid conditions inside a greenhouse.

Today I visited Michael Reed who also had some super great suggestions including building up a thermal mass using earth or straw bales on the north side to passively moderate the temperature. He agrees with the chorus of wise responsible grown ups who have counseled us that it makes most sense to start simple and learn as we go. We talked about how to gain the most solar benefit by choosing where and how to orient the greenhouse and even how to fill it inside so that we can layer plants and save space while still allowing each plant the maximum exposure. And he also takes down his plastic and replaces it with shade cloth during the summer, so he supported that idea.

Last week we also had a visit from Fergus and his crew of farm staff & interns at Los Poblanos. They came down to see our place and talk lavender. They have a situation in their field that’s remarkably ridiculously similar to ours. Along the southern edge of their field (where there’s a driveway lined with tall cottonwoods) they’re having issues losing lots of plants. But they, like us, aren’t sure if the shade is entirely to blame. It was also a culinary variety planted on their southern edge that’s less tough than the Grosso, and they also suspect that because of the design of their irrigation system that it might be getting less water than the rest of the field. They’re going to try re-planting and increasing the amount and consistency of water by splitting their field into zones. Hopefully we’ll both get some answers.

It’s so reassuring to get so much loving attention, information, and encouragement from so many amazing people.

And speaking of homeless plant starts, we’ve started putting the trays of plant starts outside as much as we can but have to watch over them to make sure they’re not gobbled up by alpacas or chickens… which has us drawing more lines of fences throughout the farm plan to keep everybody where they belong. Meanwhile, Kemper suspects that the yellowing leaves we’re seeing on some of the starts are from over-watering. And Jon agrees. And so I will have to try not to be so overbearing and protective with the water. And the spinach starts, which have hardly grown a full set of leaves are already bolting.

In the garden, things are waking up and reemerging all over the place. We have cilantro that’s popping up despite the fact that I snatched up as many seeds as I could to save as coriander. The chard is spreading everywhere. Carrots are finally starting to pop their heads up, and the radishes are looking great. The peas are taking their sweet time grabbing onto the trellises. It looks like they popped up in a hurry and are now taking a two week break before doing any more growing.

Kemper and I made an agreement this week that may turn out to be the very best thing that’s ever happened on this farm. We’ve designated the area of the orchard North of the house as the experimental zone. It’s where we can try weird seed and new ideas and Kemper can put anything anywhere without worrying that I’ll freak out. And it might just turn out to be the most wonderful, wild, magical spot.