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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Spring is just around the corner...

Happy Valentine's Day, Farmer Style!

A lot has happened since my last post. We got a foot of snow which has since melted and left a muddy mess. Valentine's Day came and went, seeds were ordered, delivered and some even started. We got a load of free wood chips and are moving along with the Greenhouse and High Tunnel construction. Let's go...

My phone rang at 6:30am the other day. Sure, during the summer I'm up at that hour trying to beat the heat. But it's still cold outside and I am just emerging from hibernation. I was not happy to hear the phone ring but I was happy I answered it. It was a local tree trimming business asking if I was still interested in wood chips and could they drop them off... now? I live 20 minutes from the farm and begged them to wait for me to get there. I threw on yesterdays work clothes and was off. They did wait and I got a free load of fresh wood chips. Score! These will make great mulch for the orchard trees, grapes and berries.

Soil Testing

Last week I collected soil samples from the fields and the orchard. I will send them off to a lab and compare the results with the soil tests from three years ago when EatWell bought the farm. I am hoping to see increases in Soil Organic Matter, Cation Exchange Capacity (a measure of how well the soil can hold nutrients where they are available for the plants) and a stabilization of pH. Our soil was slightly acidic which we hope to have made some correction by adding lime. 

Digging out soil Samples

To get a representative sample you dig out a little bit from 15-20 different spots randomly though out the field. You then mix all of that together and let the soil dry, mix some more and fill a sample bag with spoonfuls of that mixture. 

That clay is about 8" under our rich top soil

Samples bagged and ready to mail


All those seed catalogues and crop planning finally led to me placing a seed order and the seeds started arriving within days. It's amazing how you plan so long for something and as soon as you pull the trigger things start to cascade into place. 

Johnny's was our biggest order and first to arrive
Followed closely by Southern Exposure (on both fronts)

Seed Saver's Exchange always includes a
free packet of seeds. This one is a cantaloup 

Baker Creek came with a flier for a new movie. I love this Quote.

Starting Seeds Under Grow Lights

Greenhouse construction has fallen behind due to weather and other conditions. In the meantime my planting schedule had me starting the first round of Leeks, Broccoli and Kale on February 18th. Luckily I had some spare 8' Fluorescent lights from a home improvement project and was able to fashion some grow lights without spending any money. 

Gayle came out to help build a few things in my garage this week. We took two 8' long fluorescent lights and mounted them side by side on a piece of plywood. We then wired them together and added a plug. The lights did not come with reflectors so we covered the plywood with heavy duty aluminum foil. We made two of these units. 

We then hung one from the ceiling in the cool room and one under the top shelf to have two shelves to grow on. The cool room is not cool right now. It is just a very well insulated room so I have a space heater in it, set on low which is keeping the temp around 70 degrees F. Once the greenhouse is complete these trays and the heater will move out to it.

Small Soil Blocks

Now that we have somewhere to grow its time to start some seeds. We used two different methods. We needed to start 300 leeks and Gayle wanted to try out her new soil blocker so we did those with the small soil block press. Gayle mixed up a special combination of ingredients just for the small soil blocker and it worked great. She used the recipe from Elliot Coleman's book The New Organic Grower.  It seems that the key is to get the moisture level right and practice, practice, practice. We were able to fit 300 of these in one tray which was really valuable since we are starting under a very limited space with only 16' of grow lights.

For the Broccoli and Kale I created a more basic seed starting mix using 4 parts screened compost, 2 parts Sphagnum Peat Moss, 1 part Perlite and 1 part Vermiculite. All components were organic. I used 72 cell trays.

The weather was perfectly tolerable. Sunny and Cool

Here are the beginnings of our first crops of the season...

Broccoli- DeCiccio


And here is our first round of seeds tucked away warm and moist in their trays, under grow lights in the warm "cool room".


Some progress was made on the greenhouse this week and I hope to post pictures of a completed greenhouse next week. Fingers crossed. 

The 12' width of the greenhouse is on a slope that loses 2' over that distance so we have decided to build it into the ground. On the left you see a deep trench. That will be built up with 6x6 lumber and the soil dug out will level the ground inside the house. 

Greenhouse site prep

 We also spent some time in the garage constructing the remaining tables for the Greenhouse. Here's Gayle working on a 4'x5' table for the center. It will also be covered with wire shelving like the long tables from the last post which will run along the side of the house.

High Tunnel

After the Greenhouse is up and running we will put together the High Tunnel kit we got from Nolt's Produce Supplies. This is the 30' Wide by 72' long tunnel that we got the NRCS Grant for. I have been studying the instructions and was lucky enough to come across one under construction. I stopped by a local nursery, Shelby's Wholesale Plants, to pick up compost and trays for seed starting and we realized we had ordered the same high tunnel kit from the same supplier. They already have the frame up and an end wall built. So, this is what we are aiming for...

Puddy Time

Puddy is not a huge fan of the snow. She is a Georgia dog for sure. Still, she's pretty cute stepping timidly through the strange cold slush, especially since she is so easy to spot in it.

Here is what she is more fond of doing
when it is cold outside

Not too sure about these strange holes in the ground...

Monday, February 3, 2014

Groundhog Day

Okay campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties cause its cold out there...its cold out there every day.

"This is the one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather." - Phil Connors

Groundhog Day!

This winter, my first winter in the mid atlantic, has been wet and cold. People keep telling me it is colder than normal but I have little to compare it to. Having grown up in Florida anything below 75 is reason enough to wear a fuzzy sweater. That being said, this Friday when temps climbed to a balmy 45 I couldn't wait to get outside and do some work on the farm. It was downright warm once I started moving. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, I had a small crew and we made some great progress. The weekend was lovely with temps flirting with 55. As I type now though it is cold and wet again.

As you can imagine I was anxious to see what Punxsatawney Phil had to say on Sunday, and not at all surprised with his prediction that winter would continue for another 6 weeks. That may be a good thing for me since getting the greenhouse built keeps being pushed back because the ground is either frozen or muddy. Still, I am building tables and lining up trays and organic seed starting mix and finalizing the seed order. Once the ground is prepared the structure should go up quickly and everything should be ready to move in and get started. 

Community Forklift

Community Forklift

Community Forklift is an awesome green business in DC. They sell surplus, salvaged and green building material. They have everything from tubs and tiles to doors and dressers. This week I picked up two doors for the greenhouse ($15/piece) and some wire shelving for the greenhouse tables at $1/ft compared to about twice that at Lowes. 

Greenhouse Doors and wire shelves loaded up

I got the idea for the tables from this blog at Hansen Woodland Farm. The ones I have built so far at 16"w by 8' long. Next week I'll build the center table which will be 4'x10.
One Greenhouse Table Done

On the farm

This week brought some signs of life back to the farm. For one, Priscilla returned from her preventative maintenance at the shop. This means we can start up our composting operation again. It has been on hold since Christmas time. 

Friday Andrew and  Gayle came out to help me accept delivery of our Hoop House. This is going to be a 30' long by 72' wide structure. It arrived on a trailer in bundles. The driver slid the bundles off onto the ground. Some of them probably weighed 1,000lb. We had to take the bundles apart and move the pieces into the barn a few pipes at a time. They will wait there until the weather allows us to build in the new field. 

That's our hoop house! 
Andrew and Gayle moving it into the barn

Andrew and Gayle clearing the fence

While we anxiously awaited our delivery we cleared some fence line. This simple fence is not deer proof so we have to make some adjustments to it to protect our new field. The first step is to find it! Brambles and weeds have over run this whole fence line. We attacked with pruners and machetes and I rented a Billy Goat for a few hours. It is a walk behind brush hog. It worked great where the brambles weren't too high. 

Where the brambles were shoulder high and taller they would reach out and grab you. In this case they took my hat right off my head! We had to cut those down manually before we could take the Billy Goat through and it would finish the job.

Billy Goat

We also cleared out a carport on the side of the stables which can now be useable space. I may try keeping the mushroom logs there. They will be near water, shaded and easy to harvest. 

Puddy Time

Eating Snow

Bonus Poem, why not?

Work without Hope

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair--
The bees are stirring--birds are on the wing--
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

Yet, well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And hope without an object cannot live.

~Samuel Taylor Coleridge