We are thankful that although we continue to have rain showers nearly each day, each storm is bringing less rain, allowing us to transplant and direct seed a few crops for fall. With our current crop rotation, it just so happens that our fall crops are growing in our sandiest (meaning driest) field. We are thankful to have built a deer fence around that field as it just might pay for itself this fall alone if we are able to harvest tasty greens.
Just a couple weeks ago we transplanted our fall crops, then covered these crops with floating row cover, all this work done to simply prevent them from being devoured by flea beetles and harlequin bugs. Over the years we have accumulated an assortment of row cover each with a different weight and weave, only because as we phase out old sheets replacing them with new, our suppliers keep changing the brand and weight they sell. It seems the best type that has worked so far, with the longest usage, was one made by DuPont that we last purchased around 6 years ago. We are using this type for our baby boc choi and have noticed a lot of flea beetle damage so we will need to phase this type completely out of production. Our fall crops must be transplanted mid July through August so they mature before it gets too cold for them to grow. While the row cover prevents bugs from destroying our crops, it also raises the temperature of the plants a few degrees, which is great for our Spring season. However, with the fall crops that are transplanted during the peak heat of summer, this protection creates the risk of loosing these crops to overheating. We estimate that we have lost half our fall broccoli crop to overheating as we try to figure out which row cover works best for our summer season. The row cover that we used for our broccoli is a tighter weave, and heavier in weight, so it seems to not allow as much airflow, meaning that we will not be using this type during the summer anymore. The lighter weight row cover worked well but it seems to tear fairly easy, which to us doesn’t seem very sustainable, since it only lasts a couple seasons. It would be nice if all row cover was created equal, with some kind of rating, just so the farmer can figure out which should be used each season as new brands and types become available while others are discontinued. Floating row covers do have a rating but the rating doesn’t seem that helpful from a sustainability aspect. Perhaps that is too difficult with so many different climates and conditions around the country.
We normally leave our crops covered for a couple weeks after transplanting. It is always a surprise to see what has survived being covered for a couple weeks. We were pleasantly surprised to see that most of our fall crops seem to be doing well.
The weeds really do LOVE THE HEAT under floating row cover. The weeds grew so much faster than our crops these past couple weeks that our cultivating tractor couldn't do it's job in removing the weeds.
Here Chris is removing floating row cover from our fall crops. We leave a few of the crops, like baby boc choi, covered for nearly their entire life. Chris is super efficient using the wheel hoe when weeding our crops.
George rolling up floating row cover. He is GREAT at unrolling the fabric because he is tall with a large arm span so can straddle the bed with the roll while the rest of us put rocks to hold down the cover. George has BEEN AMAZING this season in writing our newsletters and helping to care for Sassy. Carl and I have so much enjoyed having the year off of writing the newsletters each week and hope that when George is off running his own Farm To Table business that Carl and I can continue producing his quality of newsletters.
Slyvestre hand weeding. He is among the most efficient of us at pulling weeds by hand. Because the soil is so wet, and the weeds so big, the farm crew hand weeded nearly all the fall crops. It beets spraying herbicides so that we can keep the biological life in our soil healthy.
pic – crops weeded
YEAH FARM CREW for working so hard at a first pass in weeding the first succession of our fall transplants. Mostly likely we will be weeding most of these crops once again and we have more to plants to set out so this will be an ongoing job for the next month.
We are beginning to harvest eggplant but our yield is VERY LOW. We think this may be due to the blossoms falling off, rather being pollinated and setting fruit, because the bees don't come out and play in the rain!
We are thankful to be harvesting greenhouse peppers that are incredibly sweet. We have a lot of culls we think because our greenhouse irrigation system is delivering too much water. We fixed our well pump and forgot to adjust our watering system to compensate for icreased water pressure.
We direct seeded arugula, beets, carrots, turnips and beans. Direct seeding is placing seeds directly into the soil rather than transplanting. Here I am using the our earthway seeder to seed french filet beans.
Journal, I am sorry that I have not written lately, but our computer crashed and I didn’t have the software that I am accustomed with to downsize images for use in this journal. We just purchased a new computer and Carl has loaded most of the software so I am back!
We have only had four rain free days during the past month, and this amount of rain, it is proving very difficult for us to maintain a high level of production on this small organic farm. In these rainy conditions, weeds sprout and grow very rapidly, which can ultimately out-compete our crops for sunlight and soil nutrients. We at MHO don’t use of any synthetic herbicides and pesticides to control weeds and pests that are harmful to the health of our customers as well as the environment. Instead, we rely on more traditional means of weed management. Normally we prefer to use our cultivating tractor to control weeds, and using this tool, we are able to weed our crops in a fraction of the time as most any other means available to us for controlling weeds. When the soil conditions are too wet for our cultivating tractor, we must use a hoe to scrape away the weeds from our plant beds; however, when our fields remain saturated, the soil tends clump around the blade of the hoe and we cannot slice through the weeds. At this point, we are forced to pull weeds out of our beds entirely by hand drastically increasing the labor require for crop maintenance.
Since we do not have enough labor or hours here at MHO to hand-weed all of our field crops, we have been forced to make some difficult decisions about which crops to salvage and which ones will simply be mowed down because of too many weeds. To make matters even worse, the cold, wet soil slows the growth of our crops and is causing broccoli and cabbage to rot in the ground. The rain has drowned so many of our first beet and carrot seedlings. With all of the hard work and love put into each and every seedling, these conditions are very mentally challenging for even the most experienced farmer.
As insurance for our CSA Shares, we are trying to make a decision if we should plant our succession of summer squash in the greenhouse or if it should be planted in the field. If the rain continues for the next month, much like it has for this year so far we would be better off planting this crop in the greenhouse, but if the rain subsides and the sun begins to shine we are better off planting this crop in the field. Planting greenhouse crops in the middle of summer is risky due to the possibility of overheating, but what we have discovered over the years on the farm, is that every seed we plant is a gamble!
A farmer using a Farmall A tractor to cultivate crops. This is not us doing so because I don't have a photograph of us cultivating but this means of cultivating quickly removes the weeds and using this method our crop can normally out competes the weeds. This is the same model of cultivating tractor that we use.
The farm crew weeding and thinning a crop of beets in the rain. We normally don't do this type of work in the rain but had to in order to save the crop.
Our onions with weeds! Carl was able to use our cultivating tractor to cultivate a few times which is why you don't see weeds between the rows of onions and only between each onion plant. Normally we hand weed our onions once because we are afraid that we would damage the bulb with a hoe.
George hand weeding onions!
Chris weeding onions!
Sylvestre weeding onions!
We have seeded our fall crops since our last journal entry. Seeded are kale, broccoli, collard greens, boc choi, tatsoi, cabbage and probably a few others!
Prior to farming both Carl and I spent our life writing software, assisting companies in automating and streamlining their processes or manually done tasks, thus saving them money and time which allowed them to grow and flourish. Doesn’t it seem crazy that we’ve never evaluated our business from an automation standpoint?
When the Palm Pilot first made its debut, I ditched my day timer that had been a part of my life for a good 20 years, in favor of the Palm. The Palm went with me everywhere and I had all my contacts on it, appointments, meeting notes, my dream places to visit, my dream list of things I would like to accomplish, an ongoing list of books to read, etc. I even used the Palm for record keeping (although in a pretty archaic format) the first couple years while we farmed until the Palm bit the dust. I couldn’t financially justify purchasing a smart phone because out here in rural America we didn’t have data coverage. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that we actually could get a cell signal yet our signal strength was never strong enough for data and still too expensive. Because we spend so much of our time here on the farm without a strong cell signal, Carl and I have never yet entered into the world of smartphones and texting. We figured why bother with such technology if we couldn’t use it for receiving calls, emailing or texting because we had no data coverage, not to mention the smartphone still had a screen too small for the record keeping we do on the farm. So I must admit we are technologically a little behind the times.
Perhaps us being technically behind the times will be changing with the introduction of the Nexus7. Carl has been trying to talk me into this computer after he read reviews about it, then while at the store he showed me it, and I was sold after seeing how big the screen resolution was. The tablet can run software for displaying and editing spreadsheets, so now we can realistically export our reports from our PC and have them on the tablet. I am fascinated by this little computer and now am interested in one day having a smart phone.
Our hope is that we go paperless this season and I think the Nexus7 will actually allow us to do this. It is complete with a development environment so we are hoping one day to have a thin version of our farming software on this computer.
Here is an article that makes for an interesting read, and just another reason to buy local in supporting a regionally diversified food system, helping to protect the US food system from being impacted by extreme weather conditions such as droughts and floods. Also interesting is this article about the science of junk food being addictive and I found it astounding that in 1979 James Behnke of Pillsbury organized a meeting, with companies producing unhealthy food, to discuss what can be done for the health of America. Yet nothing has been done since that meeting and today, twenty four years later, junk food continues to be subsidized by our government.
For the past 13 years we have been using this printed report, generated from the software we wrote, used as our farm journal for tracking those items seeded in the greenhouse. We are trying to get rid of our paper journals so this report is going to be used on the tablet.
For the past 13 years, we've always used this printed report, generated from the software we wrote, for tracking those items transplanted or direct seeded to the field. As we go paperless on the farm this report will be used on the tablet.
For the past 13 years, we've always used this printed report, generated from the software we wrote, for tracking our harvest. As we go paperless on the farm this report will be used on the tablet.
Paper generated for our record keeping after a season of farming.
The tablet with our Seeding schedule. It is taking me more time to organize seeds for seeding and complete tasks because I am learning this new tool. Too bad I wasn't born 20 years later and this tool would already be a part of my life because I would have grown up with this technology. When the Palm Pilot was first introduced, I ditched the day timer for the Palm, and it was life changing. I have been slow to adopt new technology on the farm. I think the tablet is the first portable computer with a large enough screen to do what we do here on the farm.
Making Transplant Soil Mix! It is that time of the year to begin seeding and growing seedlings for our 2013 season. We are using a concrete mixer this year to save time! We bought the mixer for the cabin but will use it for soil mix making when we have a lot to seed!
Filling flats. It feels good to have my hands in the soil once again!
We like to fill a lot of flats before we begin seeding and this year we started seeding with about 150 flats filled. We do this so we can fill our greenhouse as quickly as possible, with seeded flats, because with the greenhouse full one is germinating seeds rather than wasting propane heating air.
Notice that we are using plant tags for labeling flats! We have always been rather neurotic about information included on our flat label such as variety, date, supplier and lot number. The computer program we wrote would print flat labels according to our production schedule. That would require us to tape the label to the flat then remove the label once the flat has been transplanted. Now we are just using one plant tag for each flat with plans that the plant tag will also be used in the field. We have always worried about the plant tag falling out then not knowing what was seeded in the flat and yesterday morning I did notice one tag that was on the ground and I think our cats are to blame for the plant tag falling out.
Harmon would rather be hiking than seeding. Half way through the day he went back to our house so he could sleep on the couch.
Spotfoot is not afraid of heights. I wish I had a bit of her personality in me.
This Valentine’s day we decided to make gnocchi as our main entrée along with steamed spinach and sweet potatoes for our sidedish. Is it right for two people to eat a 1/2 pound of fresh spinach for one meal? Perhaps, if one knows the individual who grew the spinach, otherwise maybe it is a bit too risky. Once again a top news story is the recall of spinach that has been shipped all across the country. I wonder if the new food safety rules can eliminate problems with a situation such as this most recent recall of spinach? I’m curious about this mostly because if you read this article you will note that manure is in the air across these central valley farms that supply much of our country with veggies. With the proximity of farms growing our veggies to CAFO’s, I am not sure how they can keep pathogens out of our food if manure is indeed in the air and I also wonder how the farms in this region become “Certified Organic”. USDA Certified Organic food must not come in contact with fresh manure within 120 days of being harvested. The food harvested in California’s Central Valley will have a “manure particles”, that are coming from the air, so manure must be coming in contact with the food as it is being harvested. We make it a practice to spread fresh manure into our fields in the fall of the year prior to that field being planted early spring. Our spinach, grown here on our farm is still healthy, even though critters such as rabbits, deer, cats, dogs, rats and mice might wander across our spinach patch. Not to mention, only perhaps 80 families per week might eat our spinach while it is in season, so if some rat or mouse spread a disease, we would not make most of the country sick because we are not shipping across the country.
So act on food safety today and purchase your food locally from our highly diversified farms here in Western North Carolina by joining a CSA or shopping at area tailgate markets!
Our Valentines Day Celebration complete with gnocchi, steamed spinach and steamed sweet potatoes. Is it right for two individuals to eat a half pound of spinach at a meal? We did and love it! Our gnocchi, made with German Butterball potatoes, were melt-in-your mouth deliciousness.
Just a few ingredients commonly used in our meals this time of the year (used weekly). We made Aloo Saak which is an asian indian dish. Along with this we had homemade Naan and rice. We are proud that 80% of our food is what we have grown and raised.
2500 Strawberry plants to weed! One would think that weeds don't grow during the winter. Henbit and chickweed flourish in the winter so we must remove these weeds from around each strawberry plant. We probably have this issue because we use landscape fabric as our weed barrier, which is used for several years, rather than disposable plastic.
Do you see a strawberry plant in this hole? Normally we weed our strawberries late January or early February; however, we must make a note to begin weeding in December. We think because of global warming (warmer winters) the weeds are growing much faster throughout the winter.
This strawberry plant has been freed from the henbit! This is the strawberry plant in the previous photograph. It makes you think that nothing so sweet as strawberries come free and requires patience and work. Hopefully come spring our patience and work will pay off.
Production note to self: Weed strawberries mid December because the weeds are growing much faster earlier in the winter. It took 25 hours to weed all strawberries which was completed 2/11/2013.
Last week we had four days of rain so we used this time for seed planning and then finally placing our seed orders. Early January we decided that we would decrease our production level by half with hopes that we will be able to juggle production along with building the farm vacation cabin rental. Then the catalogs arrived in droves, complete with mouthwatering photographs of incredible looking veggies, all with the caption; “Best Tasting, Highest Yielding, Grows in any weather condition.”. So yes, of course we had the urge to grow EVERYTHING in the catalog. That is winter for you – when it is cold and the weeds aren’t growing – one thinks they are capable of doing almost anything. Quite a few hours into our planning session we knew we weren’t actually cutting back on our seeds and varieties, so we took a break to regroup, and started the process over. I am proud to say that we ended up decreasing our seed order by 1/3rd which is a HUGE accomplishment for us!
This past summer while we were sawing our trees into lumber for our timber-frame projects, we noticed that our lumber was not consistently sized. Meaning that when we had plans on cutting an 8x8x12, it was actually 8x8x12 in some places, while in other places it was 7-3/4x8x12 or 7-7/8x8x12, with varying sizes along the length of the timber. What does this mean from a sawyers perspective? It means that we had either sawn through knots, were using a dull blade, that our saw mill wasn’t level while we were sawing, or all three of these. The beautiful thing about building using timber-framing construction is that your lumber does not need to be consistently sized because the size is factored into the layout for the mortise, tenon and dove tail joinery. These timber framing techniques were probably designed this way because our forefathers were using hand tools and I expect it was nearly impossible to obtain consistently sized lumber when hand hewing logs.
What we noticed during our limited time sawing so far, was that we would level our mill which has 8 leveling feet with 4 on each side, before sawing each tree. When rolling a tree onto the mill, the mill would slightly move, probably because our mill was leveled onto cinder blocks directly in the ground, therefore offering a little flexibility from the weight of the tree onto the mill. We even noticed that if we were able to roll a tree onto the mill and the mill remained level, then after making the first cut and using the winch to turn the tree for our next cut, the mill would slightly move because of the force of the tree. We don’t think we would have this problem if we were sawing smaller trees.
So after we finished edging our backlog of boards with live edges, we decided to take time out of our schedule to pour concrete piers that will allow us to bolt the mill onto the piers, hopefully yielding more consistently sized timbers. Before making the decision to build concrete piers, we discussed our plan with Edward Zimmerman who designed the mill, as to whether he thought it would be structurally sound for the sawmill to be bolted onto piers because we understand that one wants a little flexibility with mill movement so that large trees do not break the sawmill frame. Edward thought it would be fine because he has already designed this needed flexibility into the leveling feet so that our sawmill frame should withstand the sized trees we are sawing. I will post his design feature in a following journal entry once we get around to bolting the sawmill to the piers. We know that our lumber will never be perfect because we are working with mother nature. And although accurately sized lumber is not important for timber frame joinery, we like consistent lumber for stick building, and it seems we always have a building project in the pipeline for this type of construction. Not to mention, since we are not very experienced at cutting joinery for timber framing, consistently sized timbers will speed up the labor spent on layouts. These aforementioned concerns was our justification for pouring concrete piers.
In preparation for pouring concrete piers, we moved the mill, which was fairly easy because our mill is portable. After that, Carl graded the pad using our tractor so that the individual piers would be easy to level with one another and the mill would be positioned at a height allowing us to easily move trees onto the mill and lumber off of the mill. Normally, for any construction project, Carl likes to make batter boards for squaring a pad; however, I was pleased to say Carl relinquished a bit of perfectionism for this project and we simply put nails in the ground to square the area for the piers. We then dug 8 holes so that we could poor a pier for each of the leveling feet. When we built our equipment barn, we made wood forms for pouring concrete piers; however, this time we purchased cardboard forms from Lowe’s saving us a bit of time. After setting the cardboard forms, we mixed concrete and poured the piers, and now they are curing while we wait for warmer and dry weather to move the mill back onto the pad.
Moving the Sawmill
To move the mill we first use the log turning winch to jack the sawmill up so the wheels could easily be attached. We leave the bolts for fastening the wheels to the sawmill in a bracket on the wheels otherwise we may not find those bolts amongst our gazillion parts on the farm. The winch is positioned opposite as it is used for turning logs.
Carl bolting wheels to the sawmill while it is jacked up. Once the wheels have been connected, we raise all the leveling feet so they don’t drag the ground. One would want to completely remove the leveling feet if the mill was to be hauled on the highway.
Once the wheels are attached, while the jack is still holding up the mil, you want to slide the engine to the back of the mill and raise the trailer hitch. I don’t have a photograph of this because we forgot to do this! After the trailer jack is sturdy, you want roll the sawmill engine to the center of the mill and bolt the engine to the frame. The bolts are left in the sawmill frame so that they can be easily found when moving the sawmill.
We used the tractor to move the mill out of the way while we pour the concrete piers.
Site Preparation and Digging holes for Piers
Normally Carl builds batter boards when pouring concrete footings or for building structures. This time we simply used nails to mark the corners and squared the site using these.
We marked the center of each footing with a flag so we had an idea as to where to dig the two foot deep hole for the footings.
For each hole we start out using the PTO auger on the tractor but end up digging the old fashioned way with the digging bar and post hole digger. Here Carl is using the digging bar for loosening dirt and rocks. Someday I am going to count how many holes have been dug on this farm between 2 deer fences, our equipment barn, greenhouses, and a wood shed. Perhaps we might qualify to be in the Guinness World Records for digging holes.
Carl using the post hold digger for removing loosened rocks and dirt.
All the holes dug for the footings after only a day and a half of work.
Leveling the Forms and Pouring the Concrete
After the holes are dug we used our laser level to check that the depth of the holes were close enough to begin setting the forms. We either added dirt or dug out additional dirt out depending on the level at each hole.
We then set each form into the hole and added removed dirt until the form was level. We back filled around the form preventing it from moving when filling it with concrete.
We used our laser level to verify the final height of the form and adjusted it according to if we needed to push it further into the earth or if it needed additional dirt to bring it up. This form we added additional dirt into the hole.
We bought a concrete mixer to mix the concrete. I should count how many tons of concrete we have hand mixed on this farm. We finally justified purchasing a mixer because it will be needed for block work when building the foundation for the farm vacation cabin rental. The concrete can mix while we are doing other jobs allowing us to multi-task. We also have plans on using the concrete mixer to add in micro-nutrients into our soil mix.
All the concrete piers filled! We finished the first four the previous Sunday afternoon and then had 4 continuous days of rain preventing any outdoor work. This Sunday on Jan 20 we finished the remaining 4.
With temperatures expected to drop down to the teens after finishing these last 4 piers we decided to cover with hay for additional warmth hoping that the concrete sets and is strong enough to prevent our sawmill from moving when dealing with heavy trees.
We also used plastic hoping to get a bit of thermal gain with the sun. We have not yet uncovered them to find how these last 4 piers cured.
In between seed planning and setting piers we have been using a bit of our off season to enjoy hikes in the woods. Here the sunshine made an incredible appearance through the forest after 4 days of rain and a dusting of snow.
Harmon giving us that look that suggests that we quit taking photograhps and actually hike!
That is what I have been the past couple months. I have been having a rough time setting aside time to update our journal. Probably because there is so much work to do outdoors that I find it difficult to prioritize indoor responsibilities such as keeping our journal updated.
Well…. Our fields have been very dry this past month with Carl irrigating a couple days each week which makes for a long work week. So we were praying for rain. Last Tuesday our prayers were answered. It rained… and rained…. And it has been raining for the past 5 days. We’ve had a few inches of rain this past week and now we are praying for dry weather once again. That is the farmers’ life. Praying for rain… Praying for dry weather…
Our priorities changed a little bit these past couple weeks…. We have a BEAUTIFUL onion crop and the plants were beginning to die back, around three weeks earlier than in previous years, so we have pulled down all the garlic from the drying racks to make room for onions. We’ve harvested our Candy (yellow), Sierra Blanca (white) and Cabernet (red) onions, and are pleased that most all of these onions are curing on the drying racks. This is our best onion crop in 6 years providing that they all cure in our humid weather conditions. Our onions are HUGE, SWEET and BEAUTIFUL! Meanwhile, we have additional successions of seeding that needs to be done, crops that need to be seeded directly into the field, crops that need to be saved from the weeds, all in trying to keep up with our “production schedule” that was made in January before our season was underway. All these variables is what happens when running this small farm. Priorities are constantly changing, the crops and the weather dictate the “Priority of the Day”, so we the farmers must be flexible with mother nature. Our Candy onions are SO big that they required additional curing racks so Carl made a couple additional racks. Most of you who have been CSA members or market customers in the past probably are well aware that the Candy onions are ever so tasty and probably sweeter than vidalia onions! Last week we spent some time hand weeding carrots and beets so hopefully these crops won’t need much more attention before they grow into delicious edible food.
Just last week We also spent time hand weeding the sweet potatoes, which wasn’t on the “to do list” for that week, but the weeds grew back quickly and we are pleased this crop is just beginning to vine, and I must confess that we spent a half day weeding them for two consecutive weeks. We couldn’t believe the weeds grew back within a week, and you would think that after all these years farming, we would be used to weeds growing back ever so quickly. But each week we still are amazed how quickly the weeds grow. We prioritized our sweet potatoes over celery and celeriac but hopefully these crops will make our priority list again in the next week or so. One thing about sweet potatoes grown on an organic system, they require hand weeding, because they are vines we are unable to tractor cultivate this crop. Using a conventional system, weeds are controlled using herbicides, which makes it a lot less labor intensive.
We are thankful that we decided these past couple weeks to prioritize harvesting onions. We beat the rain. Had we left them in the field they may have soured with all the moisture. Not to mention, they would have been much harder to cure, especially if they would have absorbed the three inches of rain.
Carl driving the trailer to the field. Of course, Kaiser has to help with almost any farm job!
Carl, Danielle, Justin, Allison and Emily pulling onions from the field into harvest bins that are loaded onto the trailer. The onions are then placed in curing racks on tier poles in the barn.
Sierra Blanca onions. We love this onion and couldn’t get seed for them last year. It is supposed to be a spicier onion but our crop this season is sweet. Our onions will get spicier as they cure.
We are running out of curing racks. Normally we don’t have plant sale plants taking up rack space right now but we are hoping to sell a few plants on the Farm Tour.
Julie putting cabernet onions on curing racks.
We ran out of rack space, and rather than leave the onions in the field with the forecast for rain, we loaded them onto the trailer.
Our candy onions on curing racks. We are thankful to have them out of the fields and in the barn curing!
Just another photograph of a few of our candy onions curing!
A typical candy onion. We are worried about them curing correctly because they are big BUT THEY ARE SWEET!
Bagheera climbing up a tier pole! Danielle and Justin saw the kitties doing their job and eating a rat this week.
Production Note to Self: We pulled down garlic on 7/2, 7/3 and 7/4. Began harvesting Onions on 7/5 and 7/6. We’ve noticed that our fruit set on peppers isn’t very high yet but are hopeful with the cooler weather that we will get some fruit set. Our sweet pepper crop is a little behind in ripening and we noticed that the irrigation was turned off in the greenhouse. This is our first year for automating greenhouse watering and we need to add a job to check greenhouse irrigation a couple times each week.
Can you believe that us farmers’ are thinking about fall just upon summers arrival? We are now beginning to seed our first succession of fall crops which includes broccoli, kale, collard greens and cabbage. We are seeding transplants so we are once again filling up our propagation greenhouse benches. This is GREAT news to us on the farm because once we have completed seeding our first succession of fall starts, we are beyond our peak workload for the season, and we FINALLY have time to breathe a little easier. That means that most all of our winter squash, peppers and eggplant have been transplanted to the field and we are nearly ready to dig our first planting of potatoes.
The past couple weeks the crew has been DOING A LOT OF CROP MAINTENANCE. Weeding beets, carrots, cabbage, flowers, squash. You name the crop, and it has probably been weeded, at least a couple times! The crew also finished digging and hanging all the garlic, about 3 weeks earlier than in years past, mostly because the plants were beginning to die back. We prioritized this job over seeding our first succession of fall crops because our garlic seems to have a problem with fusarium for the second year in a row so we figured it is best to get the garlic out of the field. We have contemplated whether we should quit growing garlic but can’t imagine not eating this delicacy. Even if our garlic is not prime, and has fusarium, it has so much more flavor than that purchased in the store. So… For now garlic will remain on our production plan.
Our onions growing! We had about 4 days where our onion crop was relatively weed free and they are now too large for the cultivating tractor which means us farmers have been hand pulling the weeds removing their competition and we are hopeful for a GREAT crop of onions this year.
Garlic on the trailer. A couple people use a digging fork to dig the garlic up, very carefully, so that the bulbs aren’t damaged. A couple others brush off the dirt and place the garlic on the trailer. We let the garlic dry a bit in the sunshine before placing it in our curing racks. This allows the dirt to easily fall off.
Danielle placing garlic onto our curing racks. We used to hang it in bundles from the tier poles but have found that the garlic will dry faster and better using the curing racks. Our guess is that in our humid climate our garlic needs a little better air flow.
Justin placing garlic in our curing racks. It is a bit dangerous climbing on our tier poles and not for those who are a little nervous of heights. Justin is a Rock Climber so this is a piece of cake for him!
We also fenced in another area for additional pigs and picked up a few more little piglets. The Marscheau’s, in Edney South Carolina, bred and raised these feeder piglets for us. They seem very socialized thanks to the attention they and their children have provided these piggies.
The Marscheau’s bred and raised our piglets until they were weaned. WE THANK THEM! The Marscheau’s live in South Carolina which is just as close as many pig breeders in North Carolina. Here are the babies sleeping in their stall.
The babies’ mommy. This sow is a Yorkshire resting in her stall.
The babies’ daddy. This boar is a Hampshire and the Marscheau’s purchaseed this breeding stock from Indiana. HE IS HUGE!
The pigs home on our pasture and we are thankful that these little ones have been raised with a water nipple. They will be living in a tent the remainder of the season.
The pigs enjoying grass. They haven’t eaten much grain because they absolutely love their grass and pasture. It is EXCITING to watch the pigs eating grass!
The farm crew made some great accomplishments this past week in transplanting our winter squash and peppers out to the field. We hope to be transplanting some melons but the plants are not doing very well.
Danielle and Emily planting winter squash, very carefully, trying not to disturb what fragile root system each plant has. The entire farm crew worked very had this past week planting both peppers and winter squash. Our winter and summer squash plants aren’t doing so well and are dampening off. Perhaps it is too much water but we are thankful to have transplanted them and hoping they will grow and fruit now that they are out of their little cells of dirt and into the field.
Justin watering in our peppers. After transplanting them, we like to give them a treat, and for them it is fish emulsion. Last year the critters ate SO MANY of our sweet Italian roasting peppers so say your prayers that they save some of these peppers for market sales.
Emily processing the last of our spring salad mix. We are contemplating seeding a summer crop because we lost a succession of lettuce due to germination issues. Our propagation greenhouse has a new watering system that we are learning.
Allison processing beets. This was our first harvest and her and Justin made some BEAUTIFUL bunches for market. Thanks to all our customers who purchased beets this past week at market.
This love affair of mine has been going on a couple months now, ever since early February when I was sawing black locust for heating our greenhouses, and I must say it is still going strong. For you readers to understand this love affair you must know a little about our saws and the wood we are sawing.
Last year, while embarking on our endeavor to harvest trees to build the vacation cabin rental, we purchased a STIHL 441 model with a 20 inch bar, with much more power than our 026 model and capable of felling trees up to 36 inches in diameter. It could probably fell a larger tree, but we have limitations with our sawmill in milling a tree any larger than 36 inches in diameter, so we haven’t yet tried felling a tree any larger than that. When we first bought this saw, Carl provided training for me in using this saw and one instruction that he emphasized very strongly was, “You must be very careful using this saw because it has a lot of kick back.” Since that time I have been very nervous about using the new saw so we nicknamed our 026 model the she-saw and the 441 the he-saw. The saws are named such because I use mostly use the 026 while Carl uses the 441.
Black locust is a very dense and among the highest BTU’s of all wood that we have growing here on our farm so we like to keep a stockpile of it in our wood shed for heating our greenhouses. Someday we hope to establish a wood plot, planting and growing trees specifically for firewood, and black locust will definitely be one of those trees included in our woodlot. Because locust is so dense, sawing locust can dull your chain rather quickly, so almost every day after sawing locust trees Carl must sharpen our chains. I haven’t yet acquired the skill of sharpening chains which is why it always falls on Carl’s “To Do” list. Another astounding fact about black locust is that it has a stronger psi compression rating than concrete with black locust having a maximum crushing strength rated at 10,800 PSI compared to concrete (the strongest on market) at 7,500. Also, the modulus of rupture which is the fiber strength at rupture, black locust is far superior at 19,400 PSI while concrete is 4,000 PSI. We are thankful that we constructed our equipment barn using black locust posts because it is supporting a top floor!
My love affair with the he-saw started early February while Carl, Danielle and Justin were working on the new greenhouse pad and I was sawing locust using the she-saw. The she-saw blade was so dull, and I didn’t want to bother Carl with sharpening the chain, mostly because he was instructing Danielle and Justin in squaring the greenhouse pad and setting the corner posts. So that day I started using the he-saw and was amazed at how much wood I had sawn in such a short period of time. The he-saw has so much power allowing me to quickly cut through dense locust trees with the chain staying relatively sharp all day. I have noticed that while using the he-saw, I am less likely to get my chain stuck while cutting, mostly because the he-saw cuts so quickly I am nearly done sawing through the tree before it can bind from the pressure of the tree.
A little off topic but worth mentioning is that almost daily it seems as though there is always an interesting article written about the mass production of our food. This week I would recommend this article if you eat agri-business meat! The article is very scary and just another reason we grow and raise our own food.
Carl snapped a video of me using the he-saw to cut a black walnut tree that we took down because it is along our new fence line. It is so sad looking outside our trailer windows and not seeing the BEAUTIFUL Black Walnut tree. Gwen Clemens suggested we have Jack Dalton turn this walnut into salad bowls. So that is our plan so that this tree is always a part of our lives!
Our stockpile of locust, that Julie cut using the he-saw, and ready for splitting. This wood will be used to heat our greenhouses come winter. That is, if winter comes again.
What has the farm crew been doing these past couple weeks? Danielle and Justin have been potting up a lot of plants for our upcoming markets and seeding additional successions of greens that we hope to be selling into early summer. The entire farm crew has been transplanting additional succession of greens, planting potatoes, transplanting tomatoes for our greenhouse crop, replacing cucumber plants because a few died off from what we think was phytophthora, weed eating between strawberry beds, preparing our fields for transplanting those seeds that have yet to germinate in the greenhouse and those that are nearly ready for transplanting to the field. Carl and Julie have been clearing the fence line for the new deer fence and are proud that the fence line is completely cleared! We hope to have Alvin take his bulldozer and grade our fence line this next week because the perimeter of our field is very uneven after pulling trees out that the deer would certainly find a way in. We just finished our annual “deep cleaning” of our walk-in coolers where we pressure wash the entire cooler and shelves then scrub the walls, ceiling and shelves. In addition, we pressure wash and sanitize our harvest bins (which is done throughout the season). The entire farm crew is very busy and I am certain to have missed a few jobs that we all have done!
We covered strawberries Friday afternoon. Let’s hope the blossoms and fruit set survived the frost early Saturday morning. We are expected to have another deep frost Tuesday night so say your prayers!
We re-covered our little baby seedlings of beets, lettuce and spinach. Mostly these crops tolerate a frost but not just after sprouting which is why we covered them. We uncovered them Wednesday because the temperatures were never dropping below 50 at night only to recover them on Friday with a freeze warning in the forecast.
We are thankful that the Swiss Chard, transplanted last Tuesday, was uncovered yet survived the frost. We love this “Bright Lights” variety.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) growing in our forest. Don't worry Townes... I did not eat it and It is still growing!
The end of our winter kale crop that is going to seed. We are thankful for this kale as it fed us all winter long!
The end of our winter collard green crop that is going to seed. We are thankful that our collard green crop fed us all winter long!
Beautiful scenery while trying to find morel mushrooms. THANK goodness Carol Dreiling cultivates mushrooms or I would never be eating tasty mushrooms because I only found a few morels!
The last couple weeks in February Danielle and Justin cleaned and sterilized a few hundred flats and flat inserts, made a lot of soil mix, filled most all of these flats with soil mix, and then put a seed in each cell of each flat. This is the first time that Carl and I weren’t involved in the bulk of the seeding and we must say, they did an excellent job, because it looks like we have a high germination rate of most everything seeded.
Although January is spent finalizing our seed order which means evaluating all 230 cultivars we grow and then figuring out many ounces of each seed is needed to feed our CSA and tailgate market customers. After that, February is spent preparing our production schedule for the entire season; which is making our “dream plan” in deciding for each of the 230 cultivars we grow, where in our growing areas they will be planted, when they will be seeded, and how much will be seeded to meet our sales goals. That also means trying to decide which cultivars we want to cut back on when our “dream plan” requires an extra 1/4 acre of land that we don’t have allocated for production. Cutting back is the hard part for us because we want to grow a lot of everything!
But you know, to us, the season officially begins when we see the first sprout appear. Even after 12 years of farming it is exciting to see the first seed sprout for the season. We place seeds in the soil and most of the time we cover the seed with soil, water the seeds daily (I must admit, we water several times daily.), then finally a sprout appears out of the soil. It is a miracle. We think of the seed sprouting like a birth so to us this is the birth of a new season and we are all excited of the possibilities.
Look at all these flats that Justin and Danielle sterilized. Then they made soil mix and filled the flats with the soil mix. Finally, they labeled the flat and placed a seed in each cell of all those flats.
Our first sprout of 2012 signifying that our season is now underway! A sprout is kind of like a birth if you were to think of it in those terms so it is the "Birth of a new season". Photograph by Danielle Keeter.
Gus the adventurer found a crawdad eating an earthworm. Photograph taken by Danielle Keeter.
Production Note to Self: Seeded onions and first brassicas 2/23 and 2/24. Justin and Danielle filled trays 2/22 for the first pass of seeding.