Tag Archives: compost

Almost Ready


DSC_0604A view of the new nursery greenhouse from the street.

DSC_0607The steep pitch sheds the snow pretty well. We still need a warm, calm day to install the second layer of plastic.

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A great deal has been accomplished in the past few weeks. Tables have been built…

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And topped with wire for good drainage.

DSC_0683Shelby/Vanna, shows off the tables that are all done. Moisture-proof wiring and lights have all been installed. Black painted barrels are ready to be filled with water, once the compost is in place behind the north wall. The barrels will absorb heat from the sun during the day, and then give it off slowly during the night.

DSC_0685This is the blower with a thermostat for circulation of air from inside the greenhouse, through the compost behind the wall and back inside. About half of the compost is on site here, being mixed and readied.

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Meanwhile, there are several roofs to be fixed. The shed roof was in horrible condition, leaking badly and nearly ready to collapse.  Once this project is done, we will have a pitched dormer over a new loading dock accessing the back door of the cooler. They are also building some dry storage for boxes of tomatoes, onions, and other things that don’t go into the cooler, but which need a cool dry place away from the sun. The next roof on the list is the one over the chicken coop.

As part of the long range plan, we will move the chickens out of the barn completely and use their space for something else. Arks, or moveable chicken tractors will be built so the chickens can be moved about to forage and fertilize, and then parked next to the barn where they’ll be easily accessed during the winter months.DSC_0681

New timbers and framing were needed to keep the roof from falling in! This project happened just in time before the foot+ of snow we are getting today, and the potential for even more big snow forecast for Sunday!

 

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Filed under Compost, Farm Hack, Four Season Gardening, Greenhouse, Spring, Sustainability

Greenhouse Progress…


DSC_0567 Neat, huh? The concrete on the North side has been painted black to absorb more of the sun’s heat.

DSC_0568The blower has a temperature controller to turn it on to a certain setting.

DSC_0564Soon, a compost pile will be built to cover this welded steel tube to circulate air pulled from inside, through the pile to be warmed, and then back into the greenhouse. DSC_0562Meanwhile, Andrew and Conor from Black Earth Compost brought their clatterbox. It’s not really called a clatterbox, it’s a device that’s going to help them to screen out the fines to bag up the compost for sale. It’s going to be an infernal machine. Loud and clackety. But it should do the job once it’s all welded up. Check them out at www.blackearthcompost.com.

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Did I mention that half the compost is for us to use on the farm? So far they’ve made about 200 cu yds of rich, black, nutritious “black gold” for our gardens and fields.DSC_0571

All of these young men are coming up with innovative “farm hacks” on a daily basis.

DSC_0570The Spring-like weather of late has made the ground approaching the compost into a quagmire. We will be putting down some stones to create a road out there. It’s time to build that road, as we plan to keep hosting these folks in their endeavor. It’s become a great partnership! Yesterday, Andrew and I went around to a few restaurants in Gloucester and met with great success. We’ll be bringing our vegetables this summer to Plum Cove Grind in Lanesville. They are going to use some for their salads and lunch offerings, and also sell retail, as well as become a drop site for CSA shares.

The Gloucester House wants our veggies too. This is huge, as this very busy seafood restaurant serves 1500 on a busy Saturday night. At first I was skeptical that this would be a good fit. But they assured us that we won’t have to supply all their veggie needs, and they will be happy to work with us on whatever we can provide. They will even come to the Cape Ann Farmer’s Market on Thursdays to pick up their order! They plan to develop some “local” offerings, such as a salad with our greens mix, along with whatever other vegetables we can supply them throughout the summer. This is a wonderful development for us. It’s going to be a big year!

DSC_0572Meanwhile, inside the large hoop house, the spinach is ready for harvest. Delicious!

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Burned carrots and many lessons learned…


This is a cautionary tale, which may help someone else, and which may yet have a happy ending. There is so much to learn, and we, humbly, are still learning. So stay tuned…

This is a story that unfolded over a period of days, put in perspective by the horror unfolding with the Boston Marathon bombings, and the weeklong manhunt to catch the perpetrators. (Lesson 1: It’s only carrots, after all…)

Last week, we took delivery of about 20 yards of compost from a local facility where its made. With our hearts in Boston, and one ear tuned to the horrific news reports, we kept to our regular work routines and began applying the new compost. We used it to top dress the carrots in our two hoophouses. These, if you remember, are the carrots planted in February and March. The first plantings were coming along nicely, and had grown to about 3 inches.

Once I began working in the small greenhouse, I became concerned about a strong odor from the compost, which I described to Richie, doing the same thing in our larger greenhouse, as “animal,” of urine, or ammonia. Did we get the wrong stuff? I called the trucking company that had delivered it and was told they had already been in touch with the head of the compost company after a previous query about the same odor. He had reassured them that the compost was completely safe to use. The compost was still working, they had been told, but it was ok. Ok to use in an open field, and to be tilled under before planting, I now realize in hindsight. My application to tender baby carrots was another use entirely. (Lesson 2: The “experts” don’t always know everything. Go with your gut.)

However, allowing myself to be reassured, I covered the carrots with a layer of reemay cloth, and closed the greenhouse up tight for the night as we are still getting below freezing  temps at night, and must still protect the beds.

Here is what the carrots looked like when I put them to bed:

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Here is what they looked like the next day:

DSC_0920Severely burned carrot plants…Ouch! It looked like we had sprayed the crop with Agent Orange! And there was a definite line of demarcation of healthy plants remaining where I had left off the previous day. I immediately called the trucking company and they promised to follow up.

I don’t mean to indict compost with this story. In fact, the compost we were delivered IS perfectly fine and we will use it with great confidence on our fields. To gardeners, compost is “black gold” because of its many benefits in the garden. Compost is a great material for garden soil. Adding compost to clay soils makes them easier to work and plant. In sandy soils, the addition of compost improves the water holding capacity of the soil. By adding organic matter to the soil, compost can help improve plant growth and health. Composting is a most important tool for an organic gardener.

(Lesson 3: Compost is not compost, is not compost.) Too much green matter in relation to brown in a compost pile can result in excess nitrogen as the bacteria consumes the green matter, which results in the formation of ammonia gas when the compost is new. This eventually dissipates, harmlessly, into the air. The resulting compost is fine and safe to use. It is safe even to use while it has this smell, as long as it is being tilled into the ground. In fact, it may add some benefits in the short term. But it is not so good to use on tender plants in a closed environment. This I now understand in hindsight…

I definitely compounded my first mistake in using the unseasoned compost on beds which I then covered with cloth inside a tightly closed greenhouse. I inadvertently captured and concentrated ammonia fumes around the baby plants. Once this had been discovered, we began ventilating, and watered heavily, which stopped the ongoing damage.

In our big greenhouse, where we had also top dressed with the same stuff, the carrots are fine. Why? We have since come to the conclusion that there is more air circulation in the larger house, and the compost had been applied a little more thinly.

This really feels like a significant setback. Here we have a crop with potential worth of several thousand dollars. Part of that worth is centered around producing locally grown carrots weeks ahead of anyone planting them outside, and for which we can charge a premium price at the markets where we sell them.

This morning, we were paid a visit by the head of the compost facility, who I am pleased to say, came out here to see what I was talking about. I think he learned a few things from me. He was surprised to see carrots growing in an unheated greenhouse. He hadn’t heard of Eliot Coleman and was not familiar with the concept of moveable hoophouses. I told him: “You will soon be seeing more of this, hopefully, as more farmers learn how to extend the season using this method. I want you to be able to warn others so they don’t make the same mistake that I did.”

As for the carrots, “Wait and see,” he said. “You will probably be surprised. We see this when the compost is applied to broadgrass.” (Turf. I am not suprised that his biggest customers are landscapers applying this product to lawns.)

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This morning, I am slightly encouraged about the carrots. There does seem to be vibrant healthy growth coming from the middle of each plant which survived. The smallest plants, however, did not make it, so there has been loss. But it is not the end of the world. This is farming. We will replant.

To repeat Lesson 1: Its only April. There will be carrots. And no carrot is important, really, when compared to what we lost in Boston last week.

Keep calm and plant on!

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Nursery Greenhouse Phase I


Every spring without fail, we make lists of all the things we want or need to do on the farm. Our lists always contain more items than any of us can accomplish in any given year, let alone the short couple of months we get once the snow starts retreating, and before the temperatures warm up enough for planting. Once that occurs, the hectic life of farming swings into full gear and some of our intentions fall by the wayside or get put off until next year. Over time, we have begun to learn how to assign priority to these tasks and choose one or two important projects each year. We are also learning to work in phases. DSC_0870

Phase 1 of our new fixed nursery greenhouse began last week. Unlike the other two, this greenhouse will be heated to start our seeds. We will also use it to raise potted plants for sale, and perhaps microgreens in the off-season. We have not even begun to figure out everything we will use it for! Very exciting! The north wall will have the composting facility behind it to help to insulate the greenhouse. We also plan to use barrels painted black inside, filled with water for a heat sink. Initally, we will heat with a propane heater, but eventually Mike hopes to build a rocket heater with a cobb, a masonry structure formed around the vent pipe of the stove which will run down the length of the greenhouse. The idea is to build one fire to heat the cobb, which in turn, gives off heat throughout the night. The propane then becomes the backup…

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The giant rock at the corner is here to stay. Made a good footing! DSC_0803 DSC_0826

Seeing Todd in shorts, you wouldn’t know that it was a blustery 40 degrees all week. The wind never stopped blowing!DSC_0804  DSC_0809

Crushed stone and then a poured footing… DSC_0840

Then the wall building began. DSC_0838

Phase 2 will involve building knee walls and anchoring the other corner pipes. We hope to have the plastic on before long, and we will have a staging area for hardening off plants. We will still use the Sanderson greenhouse for the next few weeks to get our babies growing!

A few more new things on the farm…

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Meet Wyatt, Mike and Desi’s new farm dog — a rescue mutt with a really sweet personality. He’s an awesome buddy for Charger, and even Grammie likes him!

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Also, a new paddock for Prudance and Ruby.  They are very excited about their new space to roam! DSC_0865And last but not least, I uncovered the garlic today. Looking good!

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More Greenhouse Planting Means Spring Can’t Be Far Behind!


DSC_0519Come, take a walk through the snow with Shelby to find out what happened in the large hoophouse Saturday!

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The snow was over her froggy boots!

DSC_0522Inside, things were very different!

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She found that everyone was working on something. Richie was using the broadfork to loosen and aerate the compacted soil…

DSC_0513Then, papa worked with the broadfork and Uncle Mike pulled weeds from the onion bed…

The remaining spinach, red lettuce, mache and bunching onions had been harvested. Most of these crops had been harvested for shareholders before Christmas, sold at the last farmer’s market in December, and fed our family during the winter months. Time now to clean it all out so we can plant again! This time: carrots, more lettuce, bunching onions, and spinach for spring!

DSC_0527Ok, I can do this. I remember the rake! Mimi taught me how to use it last summer!

DSC_0529See? You use it to make a path on the dirt!

DSC_0531 And break up clumps, like this!

DSC_0532And then we use this stirrup thingie to get out the weeds!

DSC_0533See? It makes a real nice path on the dirt too!

DSC_0534So many weeds we need to dig out! I can definitely help with that!

DSC_0537We get down to our shirtsleeves and the real work begins. The temperature is a perfectly comfortable 72 inside, while outside its in the low 40s.

DSC_0539We are putting all the weeds into the crate to give them to the chickens. Yay!

DSC_0542A little minute of rest first please…Whew!

DSC_0543Look how many weeds the chickens are going to get!

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Good dirt to grow things in!

DSC_0550Now, me and Papa bring the weeds to the chickens.

A whole bed of bunching onions is growing nicely. We planted them outdoors in September with the other crops before the greenhouse was moved over them in November. On this day, we planted a second bed of carrots, and a large bed of mesclun mix. Soon, we will also put in more spinach here, and a third bed of carrots in the small hoophouse.

A very productive weekend indeed, thanks to everyone’s help!

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A New Crop of Carrots!


Last week, I began removing all the remnants of last fall’s plantings in the greenhouse.

Even on a cloudy day, the first thing to do in the hoophouse is to remove your coat!

Finding worms is always a very good sign of healthy soil.

The chickens get to eat any leftovers. Nothing goes to waste!

On Sunday, Bill used the broadfork to loosen the soil. Then, Ross and Mike added compost and prepared the bed for planting — they put 12 rows of carrots in a 3 foot wide bed which was two passes with our 6-row seeder.

This year we are using all pelleted carrot seed. Carrot seed is so small that when you broadcast, it necessitates much thinning and waste of seed. This way, there’s hardly any thinning needed. This more than makes up for the added cost to purchase pelleted seed.

The bed was lightly watered, the soil tamped firmly to ensure no air pockets remained around the seeds, and then covered with black plastic. This cover will remain until the seeds have sprouted. We’ve found this method results in the best germination rate. Old timers used to cover their carrot seed with a board until germination!

We are filling this hoophouse entirely with carrots this year . Ya-ya’s, Napoli, Rainbow, and Danvers Half-Long varieties will eventually grow in the four beds here, with plantings at two week intervals from now until March. Once these babies have gotten a good start, by about April, we will move the greenhouse to the next plot where we will grow, among other things, about 100 feet of ginger. This normally tropically-grown crop is a new experiment for us. We really enjoyed the ginger we got from Noah Kellerman of Alprilla Farm last summer. He successfully grew it in his hoophouse in Essex last year. His ginger was delicious and gorgeous, and an awesome market draw.

The boys are making great progess on the construction of the second, larger greenhouse, and they are on track to getting it put up in time to plant an early greens crop inside. This greenhouse will also be moveable, and will be also used to grow tomatoes, eggplants and peppers this summer, after it’s moved off the early crop. Next, I’ll try to get some photos of Michael welding the steel used for the skids, or skis…

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Doing it…


 

Ah, sweet spring! So much has been happening here that I hardly know where to begin. I hope to keep this blog going despite the myriad challenges and complexities of getting this whole operation up and running. (Fortunately, I have lots of help!) The good news is that everything we put into place last year and all the knowledge we’ve collected so far has made this spring’s work seem a little less daunting. But with all the excitement and care of a new family member, Grammie has little extra time! I hope to persist with the writings and photos whenever possible!

Last week ended with a spring burn on the last day burning is allowed. What is it about fire that brings out our inner pyromaniac?  

Meanwhile, with the advent of warmer temperatures, the plantings in the greenhouse have exploded in the past couple of weeks. After mulching with a thick layer of compost, the carrots have doubled in size, and we are cutting lettuce and baby chard, kale and beet greens, and pulling up a few bunching onions to go into our salads every day. I’m noticing a craving for greens has taken over my longing for all the warm soups and stews and root vegetables of the past season.

Carrots in the greenhouse have doubled in size the past week!

Deer tongue lettuce. One of our favorites!
 

 

We’ve weeded out the asparagus bed and layered it thickly with compost as well. We are already being rewarded with many sweet stalks. The adjoining rhubarb bed is also growing like mad and soon we will be enjoying the tangy bite of rhubarb pies and crisps from the patch. We even use it in sauces for our main dishes!

The asparagus bed has been weeded and composted. The rhubarb is coming up.

Shelby is going to be a real farm girl! She's already spending time with us as we hoe and rake and do the work on the farm. Pretty soon she'll be helping!

 
The first succession of peas got planted in the U-Pick area about a week ago, and they are already coming up. We’ll be putting in another planting in a few days. Our CSA customers can save a little money and have some fun picking their own peas, green beans and cherry tomatoes this year, as well as fresh herbs from a new area we’re planting just for this purpose. People can also opt to have us pick these items for them along with the rest of their weekly veggie pickup for an added charge.
 
We are very fortunate to have a number of friends who like to come and help us. On Sunday they helped us to plant 36 raspberry canes on the slope in front of our house. Within the next two or three years, we hope for a bountiful harvest of one of our favorite fruits! 

We planted 36 raspberry canes. Nova, a summer bearing, and Heritage, an everbearing variety.
 
Our latest acquisition was a six-row seeder designed by Eliot Coleman. We used it yesterday to plant beds of lettuce mix, spinach, and arugula. Oh yes! Once we figured it out, it worked like a charm and will save us much time and backbreaking labor.  We also plan to use it to plant living mulch such as clover between the rows this year. Living mulches add nutrients to the soil, keep down weeds and retain moisture. The bees love it! And an added benefit of planting clover is that it can be walked on! We will mow it every so often to keep it under control. It dies when frost comes, leaving the soil areated. It will also hold the soil in case of flooding, which has been a problem in some areas of our gardens in the past. (Not this year, fortunately…)  

Michael and Ross trying out the new 6-row seeder.

Cleaning up the beds and adding compost to plant lettuce, arugula and spinach.

Michael, Ross, Richie and Paul worked hard all afternoon clearing out all the weeds in the lower part of the garden where they'd taken hold!

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