Nice…and cold!

Garden at the end of April

Looks pretty good from here, the bottom end of the field is well-prepped and partially seeded, but the weather is COLD. As forecast, this time, the cold snap arrived Sunday, and we’re now treated to daytime temperatures around 5°C (40°F) or lower, and, after the incredibly warm last couple of weeks, what seem like FRIGID nights going down to -7°C (20°F). Seedlings are piling up in the Milkhouse, but I’m waiting until the cold breaks, which should be around Friday, to start moving things out to the greenhouse. On top of the usual everything-to-do-at-once of April-May, the late melt-off followed by instant mid-summer weather were a little disorienting, and germination of the early direct-seeded crops is SLOW, first hindered by the dryness, now, not helped at all by the sudden cold… Next, I still haven’t settled plans for help this season (people in the field!), which makes a BIG…psychological difference, head space, whatever, it’s harder to focus when you can’t even estimate what will get done each precious day. There’s quite a line-up of potential volunteers, and one person coming later in the week to check things out who may stay on for the season, but it’s all UP IN THE AIR until it’s happening. And these are the few weeks that largely set the quality of the entire season… So, the Almost Overwhelming days are in particularly fine form this year… Of course, take a deep breath, think about it, and really, what’s to worry: tiny farming is all about long odds and doing the improbable… That sounds kinda cool to me! :)

Peas appear

Sugar Ann sugar snap peas

The first peas suddenly popped. A bit of welcome action in the field, amidst all the dryness and slow germination. These are Sugar Ann snap peas, edible pod. There’s 1000′, double rows, 3-4″ row spacing. They’re coming up well in stretches, but a lot haven’t yet appeared. Well, there should be some real rain tonight! On the right of the pic, a fine example of PIGWEED doing its stuff as well, keeping pace with the gardening effort all on its own. (Yes, lying on your stomach in the dirt is the easiest way to get the macro centered on these little guys!)

Big rototiller breakdown

Dustcap torn open

This is the not-good look of torn metal, not something you want to see on gear that’s both fairly essential to the tasks at hand, and ALWAYS expensive to repair. Right in the middle of some very satisfying tilling on Thursday, I heard a mild, unalarming scraping-squeaking sound coming from the rototiller on the Kubota compact tractor, so I stopped to check, just in case. When I rotated the tines by hand, I noticed the shaft had a lot of play on the left side, you could move it up and down a good inch or two. I cleaned off some wound up bits of plant and then dirt from the end and found the cap protecting the bearings had been split and peeled back. Uh-oh. It turned out to be not great, but could’ve been a lot worse. Somehow—not enough grease, or dirt finding its way into the bearings and gearbox, or both, or…something else—the shaft that drives the tines had completely pulverized the bearings and had been rotating directly against metal! Imagine the heat, the tortured, red-hot metal-on-metal—but it was still tilling real good… In the pic below, you can see where it ground out its own path, that extra piece of  hole on top of the larger one. It had burned through the tiller housing, another plate behind it, and a heavy die-cast fitting that supports the shaft (that bolted-on square piece in the pic above), and jogged up enough to split the dust cover. Man!

Gearbox open, shaft removed

Of course, PARTS are always at hand, it just takes cash and a call to the tractor dealer, and presto, delivery by next day. Like an expensive little miracle… I hate buying parts, you need ’em, have absolutely no way to tell what they’re “really” worth, and they cost a fortune. This little boxful: $400 (well, besides the 4-bolt flange bearing, oil seal plate, bearing cover, and a couple of other bits, that includes the annual air and oil filters, and oil…). Anyhow, that’s the way it goes: things break down, gotta be fixed! This morning it was put back together, like nothing had happened at all…

Tractor parts

Potting up

Big Beef tomatoes

Many things are going on at once, and one of them is potting up seedlings and moving them out to the greenhouse. Already, onions, leek, parsley, lettuce, and the first trays of cauliflower and broccoli are out there, all of them hardy enough to take whatever cold comes along. What’s really going to use up space once they’re potted up are the tender tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. I’d like to’ve had them all done by now, BUT, there’s going to be a cold snap for 4-5 days starting early next week, a couple of nights may go down as low as -8°C (18°F), and I’m concerned that row cover and the kerosene heater may not be enough protection in the unheated greenhouse. So I’m waiting, potting up a few every day and finding room for them under the lights. I started with the Chosen 100, my earliest 100 tomato starts, 25 each of Big Beef (above), Juliet, Striped German and Stupice (in order, two hybrids and two open pollinated heirlooms). They’ve gone into 3″ peat pots, with a mix of peat, compost and soil, and I’m also hardening them off outside. The rest of the toms were started a couple of weeks later. They’ll move from 72- to 38-cell trays, all part of the spend-less-time-on-transplants experiments… Waiting on weather forecasts is a bit of a risky way to work, it’s really not a good idea to delay anything at this point in the year, I’ve found it’s generally better to get on with things and deal with problems as they come up, not try to second guess the future. But I have so much else to do, I’ll take the chance and wait a couple more days to finish them all…

Garlic the Reliable

Garlic at the end of April

The garlic is looking great, here in unusual shades of green thanks to a bright yellow sunset. They’re doing pretty much the same as this time last year, and the year before. I read somewhere that garlic reproduction from cloves is cloning, so the garlic we’re eating now is genetically identical to the original varieties from thousands of years ago. Dunno, sounds cool and kinda reassuring, even our weird weather doesn’t seem to affect these guys. Gazing over the garlic patch on a warm evening after a satisfying day in the field, it’s almost enough to make me believe that all’s right with the world, and Blue Fox Farm‘s motto, “Farming like there’s a tomorrow” (it’s been running through my head all spring), is just amusingly paranoid wordplay. Maybe… And then I think about filling up the tiny tractor (diesel just hit $1.25 a liter, that’s $4.70 a US gallon, good thing I don’t use much…), and the bizarre weather (from mid-summer conditions in mid-spring, we’re plunging back to way subzero nights in a couple of days), and, well…it’s good to be working in the garden, and the garlic looks great! :)

Chicken check-in

Chickens at three weeks

A week after their arrival, the chickens at three weeks old are doing fine. They settled in no problem, eat like maniacs, drink a lot, and I guess they’re too young to fight, ’cause they’re all getting along. I’ve been cycling through music—a radio is always on in the chickenhouse, to scare off PREDATORS—started with a couple of days of country, then a stretch of classical (they go a little crazy during big, building crescendoes), and now it’s rock (“’80s, ’90s and whatever”…a weird-format local FM station). So far, behavior seems pretty much the same no matter what’s playing—the experiment continues, maybe they want custom mix tapes. And they’re growing. They started off about the same size, but there are definitely some big guys now amongst the White Rock Cornish X, and the Frey’s Special are all at the smaller end, faster-feathering, too (there’s one on top of the waterer). They’re all getting along, but Bob noticed a red pecking spot on one of the White Rocks, so I’m gonna be watching the blending of the breeds: I read that sometimes the WRs get pecked (attacked?) because they’re slower to feather than others… The gang (the posse, the flock!) does keep busy, exploring corners and cracks, piling up and napping in sunlit patches, zipping around, drinking a lot, and of course, eating…

Chickens hanging out

Definitely a lot of eating…

Chickens at feeder

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