Growing the good stuff in Athens, GA since 2006

Monday, March 29, 2010

Leaf Bags & Pipe Threads

March 27, 2010

Farm update:
Let's see, last week we were industrious as usual. Built a gravel-based processing area so we don't have to stand ankle deep in mud while we're washing carrots and radishes this spring. Worked on constructing end walls for the new hoop houses. A task which, after a while working on it, we decided to defer until after we re-convened on how they should be constructed. We also decided to ride over to fellow farmer Jay Payne's place, Cedar Grove Farm, to see his hoop houses, which are quite similar to ours, and get some ideas. Jay sure does have some lovely lettuce mix growing in his houses right now, not to mention a spinach patch that could make cabbage patch kids all over the world green with envy. Always nice to visit a fellow farmer and see yet another way it can be done. I've heard it said that there are as many ways to farm as there are farmers farming, and I'd have to agree. The diversity of nature is reflected in those of us working with it.

In the realm of plants, we direct seeded turnips and cut lettuce mix (which I noticed today had already germinated only 5 days later) and transplanted over 100' of head lettuce starts. We also potted up tomato seedlings from 2" blocks to 4" pots. I can already tell they like it. More cukes got seeded and the garlic got weeded.

We also accomplished a nice chunk of work in the hoop houses that I had been putting off because it just wasn't an appetizing task. Mulching. Which, ordinarily isn't unpleasant, but after the leaf bags have sat in the rain for almost 2 months, becomes a bit of a slimy challenge. Yuk. But we prevailed. We hauled wheelbarrows and cartloads of leaf bags, we heaved and hoed, and in the end, one hoop house had all its aisles full of leaf mulch, ready to suppress weeds, retain moisture, and provide a ready supply of bed mulch for the crops to come. Only one more house to go . . .

And speaking of that one more house, we spent time this week re-working the beds to get them just right. Now is the easiest time to do tractor work in the houses -- the ends are open and there are no crops to work around -- so now is the time to get it right. And so we did. Painfully. It required a lot of hilling and re-hilling, discing, tilling. I kept trying to save myself steps, and finally I just gave in and did it the way it should have been done to begin with -- with all the implements and everything measured and marked out. It's amazing. Here's a math problem for you: if your hoop house is 28' across and your tractor has a wheel base that's 5' center to center of the wheels, how do you arrange the beds so that you end up with 6 of them that are 3' wide or more, each? The answer is that you make 4 passes with the tractor on the center beds, wheel tracks overlapping, and give the extra feet to the beds on the sides. I took the tape measure out and spray painted marks for my tires to go in--between foot 4 and 5, 8 and 9 and so on, and I did that for BOTH sides of the house so I could make my target line coming from either end. Never have I had to be so precise in exactly where the tires go on the tractor. Each foot is invaluable growing space, and maximizing growing space is what this project was all about. So I did. And now it's done. Thank goodness. Hopefully we won't have to do that again for a while. But hey, if so, now I know the process that gets it right.

On another side of the business, I got to learn more in the realm of irrigation. Did you know that a pipe thread is different than a hose thread? The threads are closer together on a pipe thread than a hose, and the two are definitely not interchangeable. Hmm. Good to know. Leads me to purchase things like adapters that go from one to the other so I can correctly connect my water filter to my pressure regulator to my mainline for my irrigation system. I talked with a fella from the Dripworks company where we're ordering our stuff from for quite some time about what all I needed to get to make my system work like I want it to. At one point I even drew out figures for myself to try and get a visual on what would be connected where and how many fittings of each kind I would need. Schematics. Graphs. What can I say, I like to organize my information visually. So anyway. I learned more things I needed to know, which leads to more things, which leads to more things like it always does. Pipe threads, number of gallons per minute, PSI, mainline, sub-main. Gosh, my vocabulary just grows every day. Kinda like the plants.

And, lest I forget, I also went over to UGA and gave a talk at the Sustainable Food Systems Symposium. I represented the producer side of the system, and it was quite interested to get up in front of the auditorium and discuss what "sustainable" means to me. Quite a lot, actually. Maybe that'll be the subject of my next blog . . .

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Brassica-rific & Fence-tastic

March 21, 2010

Happy Spring Equinox! Well, it's here. We've hit the mark where the days finally begin getting longer than the nights. All of a sudden, things are growing again, and fast. It's been a long winter, weather-wise, so I actually feel like it's time for Spring now. Bring it on.

Farm news:
Last weekend, March 13, we had a workday on the farm from noon-4pm. We transplanted cabbages, broccoli, and two kinds of kale! Brassica-rific. Nice to have all the extra hands to get the work done. I think we put in over 400 plants, and that's work that would have taken Patrick and I several days to do on our own. Serious thanks to the folks who came out and helped. The morning was beautiful, the afternoon, a bit stormy. By the time we were working on the kale, we could see a huge dark cloud on the horizon. The onset of rain sped us up a bit; the hail was just ridiculous. And to top it off, after we got soaked and rushed to finish up and pack our gear away, the cloud moved off on it's merry way and the sun came out again. Ah well. So it goes. We finished up the day with cups of hot tea and slices of homemade carrot-nut bread (thanks to the Joy of Cooking). Yum! I call it success.

In the past week, we've managed to finally finish our fencing projects. Since we planted all those new plants in the lower garden, it was high time to tighten up our fence to keep the deer out. We had 3 walls to build, and had finished most of 2 of them by Friday before the workday, so on Monday, we went back to work and got the last wall and the gates done. Installed a double-sided gate this time, which I'm excited about, so we'll have more options of getting the tractor in to that garden with ease and mobility.

We also re-set a wall in the big garden that had sagged since we installed it last year. We had tried to run it through the trees to save on buying fence posts--those 10-foot T-posts cost about $10/each--but that meant no top wire to hold things up. So this year we bit the bullet and bought more posts and installed a top wire. We also extended the gates more, again for ease of getting in and out with things powered by motor and mostly by diesel. And we patrolled the line to patch up holes were our 4-legged foes had found their way in. Those deer. There's smart, they're agile, and I've learned not to underestimate their wiley ways. They're a challenge for sure.

In the realm of plants, the workday was our first transplanting of home-grown seedlings. Our little babies, going out to field. Now, we've also transplanted chard. The greenhouse is full of lettuces for transplanting this week, as well as lots of baby summer squash, cukes, and tiny tomatoes. We direct-seeded some cilantro, arugula, and radishes, and the beets and dill and carrots that we seeded before have germinated. Garlic and onions are bursting forth with new tall green growth. Things are really beginning to rock.

Seed, plant, weed.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hoop House Construction, Continued

March 9, 2010

We finished the roll-up sides on the hoop houses yesterday. Quite the invention, these roll-ups. Lets you stand in one place and with the twist of a wrist open up 120' of hoop house wall. Pretty cool in my book. Not too difficult to install either.

Today, Patrick hooked up the gutter between the houses and I ran the tractor through. 4 implements this time. Sub-soiler, big tiller, single disc, little tiller. Managed to squeak 6 beds out of each house despite the fact that they're too narrow for the tractor to do all 6. We're just going to have to finish 2 beds per house by hand. I dented 2 upright posts in the process, though. The bucket on that tractor just always sticks out a bit further than I think it does. Oops.

We also planted beets and dill. Red and green like Christmas!

Now, we wait for the rain. I hear we're supposed to have it on and off for the rest of the week. I think it should just rain Wednesday. We'll see what the weather has to say about that. At least it's warm. Got my mandatory early-season sunburn yesterday. Somehow, I always forget how white winter leaves me, and that first warm day of the season I'm so excited to take my shirt off that I always overdo it. Sports bra tan, I have returned.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


March 7, 2010

Yay! We got the hoop houses covered with their giant 120' x 28' pieces of plastic Saturday. Finally! A gorgeous day to be out, not too much wind, and plenty of help. We started out with me, Chris, Patrick, Phil, Sarah, Mike, and Nick, then later added Shelly and Jim and 4 people from Jim's work crew. That's like, 13 folks. And a good thing, too, because those giant pieces of plastic are HEAVY. And it takes a goodly number of people just to get them to slide over the top of those houses. It took us about 3 hours and 4 ladders, but we got it done. Now, those two beauties just shine in the sunlight. Covered space. Wow. Season extension, here we come!

In other news, we planted potatoes and more carrots Friday. And I think some of the tatsoi germinated . . .

Friday, March 5, 2010

Planting, Snow, Planting

March 5, 2010

Let's see . . . we finished the steel frames of both our hoop houses last week. Had to bring in a couple of fellas to help us out seein' as I can't lift anything right now and Patrick wasn't at full speed either. Jeeze. But it was a beautiful day, and two sparkly new sets of hoops now stand in our upper field, ready to be covered in plastic. Which we were going to do last Saturday, but you know, a piece of plastic 120' x 28' sure does seem very kite-like when the wind kicks up. We could have gone airborne if we had tried, but the breeze dissuaded us, so no plastic as of yet.

Monday was beautiful. Gorgeous, sunny day. I got out on the tractor and tilled in the cover crops for the areas I want to plant in April. It takes about 4 weeks for that green matter to decompose, so I'm thinking a month in advance. That's farming for ya.

Tuesday it snowed. Again. In March. Weird. But we were prepared to work indoors, and so we did. We seeded tatsoi, tomatoes, and parsley. We cut potatoes to get them ready to plant this week. Second time this year that we've seeded on a snow day. Our greenhouse is packed.

Wednesday was another beautiful day. Snow sandwich. We pulled the last of the carrots to make way for potatoes. We've probably got 200+ lbs of carrots in storage now, ready to sell. We can finally retire the processing table for a month before pulling it back out again.

Thursday we seeded summer squash and cucumbers. This week is the first week of seeding summery stuff. So soon? Guess so. The greenhouse is officially overflowing, with 4" pots of summery stuff sitting on the floor, waiting to germinate.

Friday we planted potatoes--3 kinds, over 300 feet. I love potatoes. Yukon golds, red pontiacs, kennebecs. Ummmm . . . potatoes. And we planted more carrots. Roots roots!

That's it for the update for now. Tomorrow we attempt the plastic application again. Fingers crossed for no wind . . .