Fieldwork: Day 1

Pounding in stake to mark hoophouse location

Sunny and quite warm (not as chilly as Mel’s deep-winter-ready, ear-flapped headgear might suggest). Probably 50°F+ (10°C) in the sun. Not the first nice, dry day this season, but this one became this farm’s official first fieldwork day of the year, just like that. We were only out for around three hours (including a walk to check on the beehives—there are some bees!—and the creek), but got a lot done, so it definitely counts as work in the field!

First, we selected a spot for the greenhouse, moving it from where we’d originally planned, to a more sheltered, overall all more PLEASING site. Pound in stakes at the roughly measured-in four corners, and admire the spot. The stakes are graphite tent pole sections Bob got at a yard sale long ago; flagged with orange surveyor’s tape, they’re great field markers. Normally you can just push ’em in, but here, Mel is using a mini-sledgehammer (above), because the ground is still frozen from a couple of inches (5cm) down…

Sorting out the hoophouse pieces

Next up, sort all the hoophouse pieces. The steel ribs and braces are on the right. There’s a surprising amount of wood involved, and that’s now divided into what goes where. And then, we dumped all the hardware out of the barrel it’d been moved in: a bucket of assorted, screws, nuts and bolts, plus springlock (wire that attaches the plastic to the frame) and aluminum springlock channels.

A surprise find: the last five potted wintergreen plants (Mel is chosing some to take home). I’d put them in the barrel on top of a bunch of parts when we were moving the greenhouse, and forgotten them there. After spending an entire winter totally exposed outdoors, and the last couple of weeks tumbled down into a barrel full of wiry metal, they’re still alive and looking cheerful. Tough and pretty. With minty berries…

And so, the return of the greenhouse is underway. The GH is sorely missed and really needed! Just gotta wait till the ground thaws, so the area can be tilled up and the 3′ (0.9m) t-bar anchors that keep it from blowing away can be driven into the ground…!

Different kind of compost heap

Organic compost on skids

Back to cold and wet, with a bit of snow… Today was an interesting first in my brief tiny farming career: compost on skids! Fertility delivered! How convenient… This is about 5.5  tons (5,000kg) of fully composted, certified organic cow and sheep manure (half and half). According to the people who make it, at this point there’s no appreciable difference between manures, it’s all just high-grade compost now. Our organic certifier agrees: it’s “legal” to use any time, unlike any type of manure, which has to be spread a minimum of 90 days before veggie crops are planted. So here it is, from around 65 miles (96km) away, via flatbed truck and forklift up the drive…

This is a one-time thing, part of what we’re doing to start the market garden from a hay field plowed late last November. Unlike at the old farm, where cow manure was well-aged and plentiful, available by the ton, there are so far no animals here.

While I like the idea of animal manure, and find DELIVERY kind of odd and offputting, the current reality does force one to really think about hidden costs. The cows at the old farm ate far more hay than the farm produced, which meant buying in, so all of that free, on-farm manure wasn’t exactly free, or on-farm. Factor in the total cost and complicated logistics of raising and selling local beef, and the relatively low return, and manure on a tiny farm can seem quite unsustainable.

In any case, maintaining fertility here is a whole new game. Green manure, compost, and a small amount of on-farm manure, from chickens first, are this tiny farm’s future. And today’s delivery is the kickstart. Here we go!

After the rain, again

Sunset after rain

Outdoors: waiting! Today was a cold, dark, wet, oppressively gray day, and then, at the last minute, the sky cleared for a beautiful coppery-golden sunset. I headed outside to check out the light, and for the first time this season, caught that delicious summertime sun-comes-out-after-the-rain feeling. It’s especially sweet when you’re growing stuff because it means: A) it’s sunny again, and B) you got rain! Simple pleasures. What could be finer (with the Weather)? In the photo, the end of the moldboarded section of the south field—it’s all gently thawing out…

Kale in survival mode

Hairy kale roots

At first, it looks like some sort of horrible, fuzzy mold, about to devour your newly germinated seeds. But when you get really up close, it turns out to be superfine, hairlike extensions growing from the radicle. These kale sprouts pushed themselves right out of the seedling mix, probably because they weren’t pressed in and covered deeply enough.

Kale, broccoli, cauliflower and other brassicas do this in a very visible way during a surface emergency, sending out a mass of fine root hairs in search of water. Root hairs are normal below ground, but I’ve only really noticed them growing exposed on brassicas, other newly emerged seedlings with bared roots usually seem to just dry up. An unusual glimpse of what plants are up to with their vast root systems down below.

Given half a chance—a little surface moisture—these guys can actually manage to burrow down and root themselves. Pretty cool trick.

Onions in the sun

Onions getting a first taste of sun

Beautiful day: 50°F+ (10°C) in the shade, over 60 (15°C) in the glorious sun! Couldn’t resist putting SOMETHING outside, so out went the first three trays of Red Wing red onions. Set them out around 10 am for a couple of hours, on a stack of lumber (the plywood is for re-flooring the upper barn), just outside the seedling room door, facing east.

This isn’t regular hardening off, just a kinda day trip, because I’m not sure when the greenhouse will be up. Normally, the plan is to get the hardy seedlings ready for moving out there sometime in April, but depending on the weather, they may stay indoors longer than usual. So, I dunno if back and forth between full-on SUN and WIND, and then the pale, fan-stirred world of the fluorescents, will freak ’em out a bit, but I don’t think so. It hasn’t done in the past! And I’ll keep putting them out every nice day from here on in…

This is the inquisitive, kinda impatient gardener at work, more than any sort of pro market grower on a rigorous production schedule (dunno if I even really have one of those anymore)—I like seeing indoor-started seedlings get outdoors, meet the real world, even for a minute, even if it’s arugula in the snow… Fun with tiny farming!

Fresh at last!

Baby green onion harvest

It’s a start. Whenever they reach 3-4″ (7.5-10cm), I trim back the onions to about 1″ (2.5cm), and now they’re thick enough to collect and EAT! I don’t have the greenhouse up yet, so didn’t start lettuce REALLY early, so it’s not a whole seedling trimmings salad like last year… But these baby greens are great: tender, with a delicate onion flavor and just a bit of bite. Taste-wise, they’re easily over-powered by stronger, heavier foods. We tried them on burgers and in a salad, but they’re best more on their own. My favorite: quite finely snipped and sprinkled on a boiled (farm) egg, with only salt and pepper. Tastes like the garden!

New eggplant (and peppers)

Vittoria eggplant seedlings

Today I peeled back the plastic on Vittoria, the first eggplant to show up for the season. So far, seeded a week ago, there’s Dusky and Vittoria eggplant, and Ace, North Star and Gypsy peppers, and they’re all just beginning to poke up. These seedlings are ahead, with a little more than a day’s growth.

Peppers and eggplant tend to germinate unevenly, at least in my particular lighting set-up, usually appearing first in the rows directly under the lights, and then making their way to the outer edges of the trays. I’m not sure if it’s the slight differences in light, or in heat from the lamps, that a couple of inches make, but it seems pretty clear that it’s one or the other, or both. Sensitive little guys. There’s a spread of up to a week between first up and mostly germinated… Adding to the unevenness, some varieties come up faster than others.

Give ’em all a few weeks, though, and they all usually even out, either indoors, or in the field…

Useful details? Maybe! :)