Ah, the Home Garden…

Setting up the home garden

After quite a bit of talking about it, and last year’s false start, a Home Garden is suddenly in place in one corner of the field. The idea is to have a small demonstration veggie plot, to encourage people to grow at least some of their own stuff in whatever space they have. Why? Well, it seemed like fun. Located by the farm stand, it would be an extra little attraction to farm visitors… Just a thing worth doing… Anyhow, last year, I staked out a section, but didn’t get too far in planting anything in it, a couple of tomatoes and a few potatoes… This time around, I’d been chatting with Shannon, who has a lot of permaculture-based ideas, from reading and interning, so I asked her to plan it out. The final design was done really quickly earlier today (it was a busy month…), it’s more a freeform, jumbled garden with a permaculture flavor: all annual veggies, no rows, lots of interplanting, a herb spiral on a mound (a mix of annuals and perennials), an anti-pest barrier of alliums (onions and garlic chives) around the perimeter, and three little keyholes, which are dugouts that you can kneel in to garden within reach around you, as an alternative to working from paths. At about 10’x20′ (3x6m), it’s fairly small. One cool thing: the home garden layout is entirely unlike the rest of the market garden, which is all flat, linear and grid-like, lots of rectangles and squares and straight paths. Now, we have a deliberate elevation and CIRCLES! To make the mound, I dumped a few buckets of compost using the Kubota compact tractor, and raked it into shape. We then added stones for the spiral, and Erin and Mike dropped in and helped plant it out, using odds and ends of transplants and also seed, with Shannon directing. The rough plan is to have Lynn and Raechelle develop and tend it over the season (Shannon leaves tomorrow after a solid month in the field).

Planting the home garden

At just over two acres of veggies, the tiny farm is really small by most any modern agricultural standard, and starting up a MUCH TINIER space is its own private…thrill for me. It’s so…opposite! ;) It’ll be interesting to see how Home Garden 1 turns out as the season rolls along! Any way you can, getting your hands dirty is what it’s all about… (Guest photos: top by Shannon, below by Erin.)

Getting hands dirty

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.)

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… :)

Free-range chicken

Colonel Saunders on the tractor

Guest post by Shannon: This is our pet chicken who is named Colonel Saunders. He almost died in the chicken house a couple days ago so we rescued him. He’s very dramatic and plays dead (but not on demand). He’s very chill and doesn’t give us any problems. Mike thinks the colonel has some brain damage due to a recent stroke but I think he’s smart. He gets to live on his own, with lots of space, we feed him whenever he asks (by tapping incessantly on his food dish), and he hangs out with us while we work. I dyed his top feathers yellow with dandelion flowers so we could tell him apart from the rest.

The Colonel at home

Not THAT cold…

Sweaters and tuques in the field

It’s not really as cold as the picture might make it look, but May continues to be an overall chilly one. The hats and extra layers are more a personal preference, but I’ve been wearing a lined flannel workshirt over my regular clothes much of the time. Here, as Lynn and Shannon sort seed for numerous smaller plantings in the herb garden, it’s about 60°F (15°C), cloudy and the kinda damp that can give you a shiver if you’re not a little bundled up. Shannon, sporting an illustrated, ear-flapped cap brought from her travels (it gets cold, especially at higher altitudes, even near the equator), has been back in Canada for less than a month after spending two years on farms in Central and South America, and is still getting used to the local weather. Lynn, in hoodie, vest and classic Canadian cold-weather headgear, was just…chilly! The slowdown in both crop and weed growth from the cold is quite noticeable, still, things are definitely moving along now… Weed watch, and the start of serious WEEDING, is on…

Photo shoot!

Posed photo: Shannon, Raechelle, Mike

What a funny thing: an instant photo shoot in the field! A few days ago, I (reluctantly) did an interesting-people-in-the-community interview/profile for one of the local newspapers, and early today, I got an email asking for a photo, or the columnist could come out and snap one. They were on a same-day deadline. I said I’d send something along in a couple of hours. Shannon (who’s here every day till June) was working with Raechelle, here on her day-a-week, so I asked them to come up with the photo concept, location, and do the, uh, art/set direction—anything but a typical, kinda impersonal shot of a guy with a field in the background. Karen (Bob’s partner) had dropped by in a wheelchair, her first time at the farm in weeks since breaking her leg. She takes nice pics, so I asked her if she’d do the shoot, and wheeled her into the field with my camera. The concept was: S and R would pretend to mulch the garlic (the mulching’s done, but it’s the only really visible crop in the field), and I’d be around, holding a…well, digging fork (closest thing to a pitchfork, I guess). Anyhow, Karen snapped away, and for an alternate they came up with feet in the air. We emailed both, with a tighter cropping on the top one so it’s about square, with the left chopped out. I found it quite hilarious, because in a past life, I’ve attended and organized “real,” sometimes ridiculously expensive, studio and location photo shoots, with creative meetings, stylists, props, shooting permits and cops detouring traffic, the whole bit. Recreating all the basic parts in an hour or so, in the field, with whoever was around, was great! Devolution on the tiny farm… :) I wonder which one they’ll pick… (Guest photos by Karen.)

Kicking up heels in the garlic beds

Onions and potatoes go in

Planting onions

A satisfying planting day: all of the onion sets (around 2,500) and 300 lbs (136kg) of potatoes are in.

For the onions, Raechelle (first day in the field), Lynn, Jamie (a new CSA member), Shannon (here for a month), and I made quick work of the onions: Stuttgarter yellow cooking and yellow Spanish.

It’s amazing how much fun people working together in a garden can be, there’s a positive, happy, energy that I think comes from sharing time in the dirt (maybe that’s just the tiny farming romantic in me, but I think not… :). Plus, potentially tedious tasks are done in no time!

For an encore, Shannon and I polished off the potatoes, finishing just as the sun set and another chilly evening set in. This year, I used the furrower attachment on the Horse walking rototiller to plow what turned out to be excellent trenches, in ground that had been tilled up about a week ago. Varieties are Yukon Gold, Chieftan (red), and Kennebec. In this batch, all varieties were about chicken egg-sized, so, no need to cut ’em into pieces. In-row spacing is 12″ (30cm), between row is 24″ (60cm), with a bit wider path every two rows. We covered them by hand-raking. In all, 40 x 50′ (15m) rows, which is about 2000 plants.

Every year, I’ve tried a different potato approach. Last year, I made much shallower trenches with a hoe. As far as set-up, this time around was the best yet.

The onions are in a bit later than usual, I’ve had them done as early as mid-April, but no worries, and potatoes are around the usual timing. I grow a relatively small quantity of both of these crops, they always sell out, and they feel like a good fit for CSA and farmers’ market from the middle of summer on, so having them at the absolutely earliest date isn’t that important at this stage. And what would tiny farming be without lots of room to improve?! :)