Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cold Spring Start

The sun is out today and it looks like we will be having above freezing nighttime temperatures for awhile. A welcome relief here as we are itching to begin transplanting in the field in earnest. The greenhouse and cold frame are full, and we need to get these plants into the ground.

cabbage, broccoli and more
While we have had some minor germination problems, we are very happy with the greenhouse plants this spring. We make our own potting soil that is 50% compost. We believe that the plants should get their food out of this mix, just as they will be fed by the soil once they are in the field. The color of the plants is a good indication of how well they are doing, and right now they look vibrant and beautiful.

growing chard
To date in the field we have planted 1,200 row feet each of peas, carrots, beets and onions, 600 row feet of spinach, and 1,600 of potatoes. All this while the soil is still a bit cooler than we want. The graph below shows that we have yet to reach the comfort zone of 50-60 deg F. What is in the ground now can handle it, but we do not want to put the cabbage and broccoli out yet as chilling the young plants can be detrimental.

planting potatoes
Meanwhile the chickens seem quite happy. Our 53 hens (thought we only bought 50!?) are laying over 40 eggs per day. They were recently moved out near the orchard and are enjoying the spring grass coming up, and the bugs in the wood mulch at the base of the trees. It is nice to have some E-I-E-I-O on the farm.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fair Share Farm Awarded SARE Grant

After applying for a grant and waiting 4 months it is nice to open a letter that begins with the word "Congratulations!" So your CSA farmers will begin work on our project (deep breath) "Cover Crop-based Reduced Tillage for Fall Production of Cabbage, Cauliflower and Broccoli Using a Roller-Crimper and No-Till Planting Aid."

The grant will help us pay for the equipment necessary to implement this farming system, as well as provide funds for consultation by reduced tillage expert Dr. Ron Morse of Virginia Tech University. And as SARE (a USDA funded program) stands for Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education it will also fund us to provide farm tours and outreach so that other farmers can benefit from our demonstration of these techniques.

As the year progresses we will keep you up to date. Our first step is to build the no-till planting aid, or NTPA. We have disassembled an old two-bottom plow and are working on re-assembling it into the NTPA with Ron's help. There are still a few missing parts which we plan to purchase soon and get Step 1 completed.

Old toolbar ready to become a NTPA
Next step is to spec out and find a new tractor and grain drill, as well as purchase the roller-crimper. Meanwhile, the cover crops are waking up from their winter sleep and by May will be ready for roll down. We are looking forward to an exciting year.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Over the Winter Hump

Nothing like starting the growing season with record low temperatures. March 3 was the coldest day recorded ever for the month of March with a high temperature at only 5 deg. F. That was a warm up from the -7 deg. F that began the day. We spent March 2 doing all we could to make sure that the tender seedlings in the greenhouse and high tunnel were well-protected. It is times like these that the passive solar design of the greenhouse really shines. There were no casualties reported.

The high tunnel survives
Onions in the greenhouse
Lettuce to plant in the high tunnel
And as the sun gets stronger and higher in the sky the plants are indeed responding. The next big benchmark will be when the soil warms to the point where we can seed outside. Last year the peas went in the ground on March 15th. This year's crop will probably go in a bit later.

Also in the field are our biennial and perennial crops. We have yet to see the over 3,000 bulbs of garlic we planted peak out of the straw mulch, but expect to see them soon. Our overwintered leeks have completely died back after many a sub-zero night. We shall see how they do. And in a month we expect to be pulling back the straw from the strawberry plants. If this is a normal year we will be picking them in less than three months.

The farm crew is beginning to take shape. Dustin Bergman will start his farm apprenticeship on March 31.  We look forward to sharing our experience with the next generation of organic farmers.  If you know of anyone wanting to learn the ropes, send them our way.  We are still looking for a second apprentice. In the meantime, we've hired neighbors and friends, Linda and Jody, to work part-time with greenhouse and high tunnel work.  We are still looking for a full-time employee but for now they are picking up the slack.

Feeding oat seedlings to the hens (& 1 rooster)
The chickens are happy and have started laying. They are laying up to two dozen eggs per day, and they should be at three dozen soon. If you want eggs we have them for sale here at the farm. They are small to medium sized at the moment and are going for $4/dozen. Once the eggs are larger a dozen will go for $5.  They eat only organic, non-GMO feed along with the vegetable scraps we give them and all the bugs they can find.

Winter is almost over.  We won't miss the frigid temperatures, but we do enjoy seeing the signs of wildlife in the snow.  Our farm is not just ours, but belongs to many creatures great and small.

Wild birds hopping in circles