Archive for May, 2008

Veggie Outpost 2

Produce shelf in convenience store cooler

Last year, a little experiment with veggie sales in a town 12 miles (19km) away didn’t go so well. I guess you could sum it up as No Quality Control. This year, in line with the tiny farming trick of thinking SMALLER, I had the sudden idea to put some veggies in at the convenience store three minutes down the road in the village. This is now the only store for quite a ways around, and it has the post office where everyone in the village picks up their mail. Since I’m always meaning to get the farm stand fully open, putting veggies out a couple of minutes away hadn’t quite made sense, but the way it came to mind now was a little different. If I could get a single shelf in one of the coolers, this would be an interesting, easy way to learn about veggies and refrigeration, and even be able to watch a mini version of the supermarket, convenience-shopping experience, by seeing what sells, the effects of labels and pricing, and…whatnot. All on the most casual level. Refrigeration is, of course, yet another of those many worrisome topics that come up along with Peak Oil and the generally somewhat alarming state of the world, BUT, fridges will likely be around as long as any number of other taken-for-granted things, I figure, so whatever’s learned from a little, low-impact experiment like this should be worth it. It’s an extremely simple set-up, with a small sign taped to the inside of the cooler door, hand-labeled bags, and an honor-system account book for inventory. I also like the idea of super-fresh garden veggies popping up in this most unlikely place, just below the shelf where a few supermarket-purchased veggies are kept for resale. Outpost 2, the Shelf, has been open for around three weeks now, stocked with ones and twos of mesclun and spinach, a few radishes, some herbs. I’m by there every day anyway, so I check the veggie condition often…and things are selling… Interesting enough…!

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Just radishes…

Rinsing radishes

The only thing new for the farmers’ market this week were a couple of rows of Rebel radishes, with their signature flea beetle-bitten leaves—today was nothing like the busy Friday harvest days to come… Radish is the only brassica crop I grow that doesn’t have to be row covered against FBs. They grow so fast that the damage doesn’t hold ‘em back much, and most people around here don’t eat the leaves… Here, they’re bunched and floating in one of the rinsing tubs. They could’ve used a few more days in the ground to get BIGGER, but they’re light and perfectly crisp as they are. Tasty! (Guest photo by Shannon.)

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Potting for market

Potting tomato seedlings for market

With the recently warming weather, field crops have started to grow more quickly, but nothing but radishes will be ready for this Saturday’s farmers’ market, and the early lettuce in the greenhouse has gotten pretty low after two weeks of harvesting. This is a first: by the end of May, mesclun and usually spinach have been ready in the field. Not this time. Sooo, we decided to fill out the week’s market stand offerings with seedlings. Selling my extra insurance seedlings at the market is something I’ve avoided until now: for the few dollars more, it didn’t seem worth the chance of complaints if anything goes wrong (I’ve heard people blame all kinds of things on the plants they buy)—usually, I’d sell or give only to people I know. There’s always a first time, so Shannon potted up and labeled a couple of dozen spares. We’ll take a walk on the wild side and see what happens… :)

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Frey’s vs White Rock

Chickens: Frey\'s vs White Rock

At this point, it’s safe to say that I’m no fan of White Rock Cornish X chickens. Without a doubt, they convert feed to meat incredibly…efficiently—compare the lone Frey’s Special Dual Purpose at the top center of the pic, surrounded by hulking, waddling White Rocks two and three times its size. What they gain in meat, they lose in basic chicken-ness… This first flock of mine are lumbering birds, with no taste for the outdoors, no built-in scratching skills, they’re definitely not up for dust baths or foraging through tall grass. They sit around, eat like crazy, drink, and, here and there, just kinda spontaneously DIE. I’ve learned a lot from this first go-round with meat birds, and I haven’t entirely rejected the White Rocks—I’m saving my final…evaluation for after they’re off to the slaughter in 2-3 weeks. More to follow…

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Good germination

Spinach: good germination

With all the rain, and things finally warming up at night, the evening walkaround was good today, with a fair bit of GROWTH now on display. The third seeding of Spargo spinach (above) is doing very well indeed. Carrots, beets, green onions, chard are all coming along. Most everything is pretty cool… And all of this without irrigation, only some of the mesclun beds were ever watered. This is more like it!

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Row cover everywhere

Row cover on spring transplants

It was impossible to capture all the floating row cover outposts scattered around the feel in just one shot. This pic shows maybe a third of the area under the light, white, spunbond polyester protection. Right now, it’s being used as protection from two separate things: frost and bugs. Let’s see, it’s on all the cucurbits (so far, that’s cucumber, summer and winter squash, and pumpkin) to protect from the cold and striped cucumber beetles, on tomatoes against cold (and coming off in a few days), on the brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, and the like) against ravaging flea beetles but not the cold (coming off when the plants are fairly big and can withstand the FBs). I’ve used row cover from Year 1, far as I can remember (there are NOTES and even pics…somewhere). Initially, I really didn’t like it, it looked so…unearthy, synthetic,…not part of the garden. BUT, the alternatives, like planting later, ending harvest earlier in fall, temporary wind breaks and cold air channels, trap crops, and all sorts of complex interplanting (so one crop protects another), encouraging beneficial insects, more elaborate timing (basically, closer second guessing of insect cycles and the weather), not to mention a completely adapted, semi-permaculture set-up where everything is at home no matter what, were all way out of what I could handle as I dove into tiny farming with the intention of heading to the farmers’ market in the first season. Floating row cover lets me extend the season by at least a couple of weeks at each and, and I can avoid all pesticides (and there are some killer insecticides allowed even in certified organics) and a lot of bug grief (stemming from lots of LOSS). I still don’t really LIKE row cover, though, the way I like, say, my Sneeboer three-tine cultivator or even the Horse rototiller (I can understand how the Horse is built, get if fixed, or do without). More and more lately, I wonder when FRC will become insanely expensive, or real scarce, or just plain run out… It’s as oil-based as they come, and kind of in a high tech product class of its own. This year, in a small fit of…paranoia (?), I actually ordered a new 1,000’x14′ (300mx4.3m) roll, even though I have enough for this season at least. It’s not much of a stockpile, but, carefully managed, it could get me through 3-4 more years along with what’s on hand, at this tiny farming scale… Oh, well, the more you know, the less you need is what I believe. I’m learning as I go. Keep farming long enough, and I’m sure I’ll get beyond the cover if it doesn’t run out on me first…! :)

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