Last month we applied for a grant offered by the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the USDA that helps cover the cost of the purchase of a high-tunnel or hoop house. Before we were approved for the grant, we purchased a used 72’ x 30’ high-tunnel. Thankfully, we were funded! Unfortunately, the grant only covers the purchase of new high-tunnels sold in kits. We are now buying a new 72’ x 30’ high-tunnel and will connect the used with the new to add a 144’ x 30’ high-tunnel to the 144’ x 20’ & 30’ x 48’ high-tunnels already in use on the farm totaling 7500sq ft. This huge addition to season extension space will improve our winter offerings greatly. We will be justifying your money allocated to us by the government by offering a winter CSA this year. We’ll also be eating a lot more fresh greens in December! The farm we interned at 3 years ago made extensive use of their two high-tunnels for a “four-season harvest”. Using passive solar heated high and low tunnels for season extension allow for the harvest of kale, collards, salad greens, spinach, carrots, bok choy, kohlrabi, etc. The farm we interned at two years ago did not use high-tunnels for season extension, but they still offered a winter CSA with root crops, onions, hardy brassicas and sprouts. We lived and/or worked at both these farms throughout the entirety of winter and were able to gain experience in winter share distribution. We are excited about the possibilities!!
Forrest is almost always game for going to the farm for yet another day of fun in the mud. On rare occasions he stubbornly wants to stay clean at home, and we need to convince him that by sitting idle he risks missing an experience. Seize the day, we tell him. Thankfully, an experience awaits him on days like these that reinforce the message. A few days ago during a dramatized lamentation of a need to go home, Forrest stopped in mid-wail to declare the existence of a snake. The chase was on. Triumphantly, he caught the snake before it made its normal elusive escape in the pond and over to the island. He occupied himself with the snake for over an hour finally choosing to let it go near the tomatoes. Commonly people ask us if we plan to home-school Forrest. This is his education. Life. As Robert Michael Pyle put it so well, “What is the extinction of a condor to a child who has never seen a wren?” If one can’t understand the world in their own vicinity, in their own reality, than how can we understand the bigger picture? Richard Louv wrote a book titled “Last Child in the Woods,” in which he investigates the amount of time children spend outside and the unwritten rules of society that keeps them in. The demographic location of the child’s home (rural vs. urban) didn’t influence the number of hours a child spent outdoors as much as he thought it would. It was the number of outlets and/or battery packs in the house that ruled as determining factor for reason to be inside. Continuously subjecting our cognition to stimili doesn't allow for internalizing the information we are constantly receiving. Further, the experiences are detached from us. We seem to be experiencing high speed car chases and gazelles in the wild when we're tuned in to The Screen, but we truly experience nothing. Choose life. Isn't that what all the bumper stickers say. Shut it all off. Get out. Live.
This is our first year having our own high-tunnels (on farm site) to experiment with season extension. As soon as the ground was thawed enough, we started double-digging (for explanation of that term check out past blog http://www.naturespaceorganics.com/blog/5079) and transplanting seedlings from flats into the soil. Beginning March 10th green onions, lettuces, salad mix, radishes, kohlrabi, beets, swiss chard, pak choi, chinese cabbage and kale began making their way into the soil. Dig a row, plant row. Dig a row, plant a row. So rewarding… We transplanted tomatoes into the soil on March 25.th Two nights later temperatures dipped down to the high teens. Even though the high-tunnels are not heated, temperatures didn’t go below 43º in the tomato micro-climate existing under a thick fabric row cover that rests over hoop frames. Water-filled black plastic tubing encircles the tomato bed and water-filled milk jugs are strategically placed throughout. Both serve as heat sinks during the day and radiate their heat throughout the night to mediate the cooling temperature. The row covers go on every night and come off first thing in the morning. Many other crops are covered as well. So we tuck the plants in at night and rise the morning with them. It’s very humbling to have so many lives depend on one’s consistency and commitment.
In the foreground are the tomatoes going down the center and romaine and bunching onions intercropped down the sides. In the background are arugula and other salad mesclun mixings.
Earlier, we blogged about the tomato grafting experiment a few days after the initial surgery with some good explanatory pics. http://www.naturespaceorganics.com/blog/5080 Sadly, the grafted tomatoes took a turn for the worst about two days after the blog was written. Upon researching as to a possible cause of death, though an obvious major factor was us not keeping their leaves misted enough (hydrated) to keep up with the high temps, we learned that a different style of grafting could have been more appropriate at that stage in the tomatoes growth. I, Katie’s, initial reaction was a twinge of a feeling of failure, but I quickly let those feelings pass. I used to be all theory and had a hard time putting anything into action for fear of not achieving perfection, but Rusty, the farm owner at the first farm we interned at, once told me that if I wasn’t making mistakes in life it was because I wasn’t doing anything. I’ve had to relearn to be a child and feel unabashed with experimentation. It’s not always the outcome or product that’s important, but rather what is learned in the process. Jacob, the eternal optimist, didn’t waste a second dwelling in what could have been, and instead found the seed packet for the grafting tomato variety, Maxifort, and began reseeding to try again if a few weeks. We’ll keep you updated on our second trial.
At the beginning of March on a warm, sunny, snow-filled day plastic was peacefully slipped over the frame to the 150’ x 20’ H2. Construction on benches for flats commenced immediately after. Within a day or two all the snow had melted inside. We have patiently waited the entirety of March for the soil to dry out enough to work it up for planting. April 5th it finally dried out enough and in the next day or two we’ll be transplanting peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, basil, cilantro, parsley and more greens for early and later season crops. The other half of the H2 is completely devoted to sheltering seedlings started in flats.
Last year we had to wait until mid-May before we were able loosen soil for seeding and transplanting. Surprise! This year we were able to do it at March’s end in many parts of the field. It’s really humbling realizing how much of our lives are governed by an unforeseen weather pattern that awaits us. This isn’t hydroponics; we have little control over the many external growing conditions for our plants. It’s interesting from an organizational and managerial standpoint in that we might anticipate having a block of time for accomplishing a task, say seeding, but if appropriate weather or a combination of weather patterns greet us that deplore other needs, then we must seize the day and push back prior tasks, obligations, commitments, friendships…sorry to everyone we suddenly stopped corresponding with…Anyways, we’ve got a lot going in the fields, already setting pace for the June 1st start-date we’re happily awaiting. More spinach, carrots, arugula, salad mix, lettuce, radishes, peas, kale, swiss chard, and Chinese cabbage have been seeded and transplanted.
After losing our tomatoes last year from the same blight that spread heavily across the eastern U.S., we decided we were ready to experiment with tomato grafting. Traditionally grafting is used with fruit trees. A honey crisp apple branch can be bandaged to a trunk of an empire apple tree and the wound will heal with the branch adhered to the tree. One tree, two different varieties of apples. The same can be done with tomato plants.
The variety on the left is Maxifort. The variety on the right is Brandywine. Both plants were seeded on the same day, in the same potting mix amongst equal growing conditions.
A variety of tomato is grown that has a strong, disease-resistant, fast growing root system. We used the Maxifort variety. Its fruit is not desirable. Another tomato variety that is known for its incomparable taste is grafted onto the vigorous growing plant.
It was definitely a time-intensive endeavor, but it was fun at the same time. And, hey, what’s a summer without tomatoes that aren’t drenched in fungicide, anyways?
First we cut the entire top off the strong rooted maxifort variety, leaving only a few inches of stem. Then the desired variety was cut just about the first set of leaves. A slit was cut into the root side stem, and a wedge was cut in the heirloom stem. One was placed inside the other, and tubing was tucked around the new partnership for the duration of the time the wound needs to heal. The first 5-6 days the plants remain in an intensive care unit with a controlled environment of high humidity, darkness and high temperatures. The photo inside the plastic container was taken three days after grafting.
We’ve mentioned a couple times now that we are using a more labor-intensive method of growing this season. We are grateful that we have a solid group of individuals helping us with this experiment via the work share program and volunteering.
As soon as the weather warmed enough to thaw out the soil inside high-tunnel 1, we began preparing the first bed for planting using the double-digging method. The name pretty much describes the process: soil is dug double deep. Labor-intensive: yes. Gratifying and delightful at times: yes. Something you ever want to do to an acre of soil in one season: NO!
Here’s the overview:
Step 1) Dig trench full width of bed. Shovel depth deep. Set soil aside.
Step 2) Prepare self for intensive and exhausting 4-6 hours of digging (for each 100 sq feet)
Step 3) Shovel in 2 in of compost into trench.
Step 4) Force spade or garden fork to full tine-depth and rock back and forth to loosen sub-soil, aerate and incorporate compost.
Step 5) Dig trench adjacent to 1st trench, this time, place each shovel of soil in open space from 1st trench on top of loosened, composted sub-soil. Keep soil layers intact during this process, like slices on a pie.
Step 6) Repeat steps 3-5 until bed space is completed.
Step 7) Place the soil that was set aside from the 1st trench into the final trench space.
Step 8) Rake bed smooth for easy transplanting or direct-seeding.
Step 9) Feel accomplished and prepare for another day.
Step 10) Sleep deep.
Too often I hear people comment that their kombucha addiction is straining the financial reserves. I say “too often” because ANYTIME this is happening is too often. Kombucha is extremely easy and affordable to make at home and involves very little time commitment. Forget that $4/16 oz price tag on the kombucha sold at retail stores, and wild ferment your own for approximately $1-$2 per 3 quart batch.
For those who are not familiar with the fermented beverage, the basic version is quite tasty, a bit like a sparkling apple cider. Different tea blends can be used as well to change up the flavor. There are many purported health claims associated with the drink, such as acting as digestive aid, relieving symptoms of allergies and yeast, and building immunology. For other alleged health benefits, investigate here, and further beyond in the worldwide web of fact and fiction.
Our first home-brewed batch was a fermenting success. The “mother” SCOBY ((Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria & Yeast) (it’s actually a lichen)) we were given had fed off sugar that was dissolved in tea and quickly grew a baby SCOBY that we could share with others. One time some friends of ours excitedly told us of the new drink they’d been brewing, passed on to them by anther friend. They had brought a baby SCOBY to share with us. Turns out the SCOBY they had brought to us was a great-great-grand baby of a SCOBY we had passed on to a unknown-at-the-time mutual friend. If you’re interesting in making some, live in the area and need a SCOBY contact us and we’ll share what we have. It’s bad karma to sell SCOBYs. Don’t try it.
If you’re interested in seeing a kefir making demo, there’ll be one this Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at Noon at the Old Hadley Town Hall in downtown Hadley at Lapeer chapter meeting of the Weston A Price Foundation. Contact GLO Chapter Leader, Kim Lockard, at 810-667-1707 KimLockard@gmail.com for more questions.
The Kombucha process goes something like this.
Step 1) Boil 3.5 quarts of filtered water in pot. Turn off heat once boiling.
Step 2) Dissolve 1 cup of granulated sugar into bowling water.
Step 3) Add 4 bags of black tea or an equivocal amount into water/sugar mixture and cover with lid.
Step 4) After sweetened tea has cooled, pour it into a glass gallon jar or ceramic bowl or anything of the natural world that can fit its contents.
Step 5) Add ¼ - ½ cup of kombucha from a previous batch to inoculate. If no kombucha is available for inoculation, add raw apple cider vinegar instead.
Step 6) Add SCOBY. Simply drop it into the jar. If will float somewhere in the middle of the jar. No need to give it a second thought.
Step 7) Cover opening of jar or bowl with breathable material. Cheesecloth is one option. I use bread towels. Any material whose fibers are loosely woven will work. Use a large rubber band to secure the material in place.
Step 8) Place covered jar in a warm, dry, dark place where is will not be disturbed for 7-10 day.
Step 9) After 7-10 days remove original and new SCOBY from kombucha. If the jar is in an unusually warm place or it is the summer, the kombucha will probably be ready in 7 days. In cooler locations, expect 10 days. The SCOBYs will be connected, but are very easily pulled apart with a fork. Store in canning jar or reused glass container covered in kombucha from freshly brewed batch. Refrigerate until next use (they keep a long time). Share SCOBYs with whoever is willing to take them. If you make kombucha consistently, you will never be short a SCOBY.
Step 10) Refrigerate kombucha and enjoy.
Starting plants from seeds is kind of like caring for a newborn or owning a pet. There is constant concern for their well-being. Do they have enough water? Is the soil temp warm enough? Are they getting enough light? Then there's the sinking feeling that may come upon finding a flat on the top shelf, in the back corner, that was missed and is now bone dry. Focus and constant care needs to be maintained.
For us, seeding time is the time of birth for each new season of the farm. Every germinating seed illustrates a magical gift that cannot be disregarded as mundane. All of the chemical and physical elements are there for the seed that give it the energy to break open its protective shell and stimulate the first shoot that will penetrate out of the soil and then form its first set of leaves. These leaves are called “false leaves” or cotyledons. They are usually small, are similar in appearance in most plants and fall off as the plant matures. As the seedling matures and forms its first true set of leaves the identity of each plant reveals itself. The kale forms their telltale little crispy wafers, the onion sends a single, long green stem, the chard open long willow-like colored leaves and the tomatoes give off their distinctive nightshade odor as the leaves are gently rubbed between the finger tips.
It's all germinating, looking, smelling, (and tasting) beautiful.
Tomato (top left), Swiss Chard (top right), Lettuce (bottom left), Kale (bottom right)
Flats are started indoors. When they are strong and hardy, they are moved out to the hoop house.