Tag Archives: greenhouse

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.

DSC_0605

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

DSC_0611

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.

DSC_0679

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!

 

5 Comments

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.

DSC_0563

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!

2 Comments

Filed under Compost, CSA Shares, Farm Hack, Greenhouse, Sustainability

Covering Up Ahead of the Storm- Phase 2


Happy New Year! On the first day of 2014, in the waning hours of daylight, some very good friends braved the cold to help us get the first layer of plastic on the new nursery greenhouse. We wanted it to get it on ahead of the giant N’or Easter that is snowing down on us today.  They’re predicting over a foot of snow, and now we won’t have to shovel as much to continue working! There’s still lots more to do before we can make this a working, heated nursery!DSC_0488

Over the past few days the guys have been preparing: framing in the ends and installing double channel over the curved arch, and along both sides. Later, they’ll build removable end walls to allow venting in the heat of summer. For now, they’ll seal off the ends with plastic, and install a person-sized entry door. The knee-wall on the south side of the house is open framed, and the extra plastic will be rolled up on a system that will allow more venting along the entire side.

Before the plastic installation, a small fire gave off just enough heat to warm our hands.

DSC_0465

Meet Colton Russell, our newest farmer, born two days before Thanksgiving. He came outside to check on his father’s handiwork. It won’t be long before he’s pitching in on one of the many projects around here.

DSC_0467

Bill and Mike and Dan are installing the last pieces of double channel that holds the plastic in place.DSC_0469

It was a bit of a challenge to hold on to the giant piece of plastic during installation. Under ideal conditions, you want a calm day with no wind. Yesterday was not bad, but not quite ideal. Most of the day was cold and windy, but the wind died down enough late in the day to make this operation at least possible. We fought with a few good gusts to keep everything in place long enough to install all the wiggle wire that holds the plastic firmly in place inside the channel.DSC_0475

Nancy noted that the temperature was warmer inside, mostly because it was out of the wind.

DSC_0485

While all of this was going on, Andrew and Justin (two of the Black Earth Compost guys who do our compost operation here, more on that later…) delivered their skid-steer, a machine that will allow them to push compostable materials against the concrete wall along the north side of the greenhouse. But before that, a large steel manifold will be bolted in place along that wall, to allow warm airflow from the compost pile to passively heat the greenhouse.

Leave a comment

Filed under Four Season Gardening, Greenhouse, Sustainability

Nursery Greenhouse – Phase 2!


It’s happening! Work is underway again on our new heated nursery greenhouse.

DSC_0420

It is that time of year, when we finally have time to work on projects that we can’t get to during the busy season of planting, harvesting and marketing. …(and then there’s Christmas and all its related activities…)

You might remember Phase 1 from this earlier post.

DSC_0416

When this is all done, we will have a place to call our own that we can walk to, after several years of hauling soil and seeds and trays to an offsite greenhouse in the next town over.

This is even more exciting, as we are experimenting with sustainable methods to heat it. There will be a double, inflated plastic layer that fastens into this double channel…

DSC_0424

And it is to be heated by a pile of working compost that’s soon to be built behind the cement block wall on the North side. Michael has welded up a steel tube manifold that they’ll bury in the compost. The two open ends will emerge through the concrete wall inside, at either end of the greenhouse. A fan will blow air into one end, and out of the other end will come air that has been heated by the compost. Since compost gets up to 165 degrees, we should see a significant warming effect inside the greenhouse on the coldest of winter nights. This blower will be set up on a thermostat, so it only kicks on when the air cools to a certain level. We will also use a woodstove for a backup.

By February or March, we plan to start growing trays of onions and leeks and celery. We will definitely be getting back into using soil blocks too!

3 Comments

Filed under Four Season Gardening, Greenhouse, Sustainability, Uncategorized

Suddenly Summer–Time for Bees and More Planting


DSC_0003

The sun sets over the farm. The rows are laid out with drip tape and plastic, using our “new” bed layer, all ready for planting melons, cabbages, and eggplants. We will slowly convert all of our irrigation to this system which saves water and reduces weeding. We will wait another week to plant the heat-loving melons, eggplants, tomatoes and peppers though, as nights here still hover just above 40. We need nights in the mid-50s for these plantings. It is so hard to be patient!

In the meantime, several successions of cold-loving crops have gone in, such as onions, (more than 3800 of the sweet Walla Walla variety, plus more bunching onions) spinach, kale, chard, beets, turnips, lettuces and greens. All this on top of the protected plantings of carrots greens and onions started in February and March in the two hoophouses, which were moved last month. The two houses are already filled with their summer crops.

DSC_0030

Artichokes, a new crop we’re trying out this year, have been planted inside the small hoophouse. Since this photo, a row and a half of cayenne peppers also got put in. You can see the garlic growing on the other side of the hoophouse.DSC_0013Rosie was game to try out the new two seater planter we got on loan. Our maiden voyage was to plant 600 strawberry plants for next season.

DSC_0022

Rosie and Bill took their positions on the back while Mike drove.

DSC_0019

After a lot of trial and error they got it done. We still need to learn how to set up and use this tool properly!

DSC_0014

Each person alternatively drops a plant between two revolving discs which open up the ground and put the plant in the proper position. It was a little bit daunting, but in the end, much kinder on the knees! We hope to use this planter to get all the broccoli and cauliflower in.

DSC_0009Meanwhile, in the large hoophouse, the tomatoes are growing very well. We’ve also planted a bed of ginger along one side, and will grow pickling cucumbers on a trellis along the other side. We are working to maximize valuable growing space inside the hoophouses.

DSC_0008The mesclun mix is ready for its third cutting! Romaine heads are getting bigger, in time for our first CSA shares which begin June 10. Bunching onions will make a delicious addition to our first shares, along with baby spinach, radishes, and fully grown sweet winter carrots!

DSC_0081And in the middle of all this activity, the bees arrived! We lost all four of our hives last winter. One we knew had a weak queen. We knew we had at least two swarms,  maybe three, last summer. Two of the hives hung on until nearly spring, but didn’t make it. We were left with two broodboxes full of honey, which we will put on the hives in September to help get our bees through next winter. We are about a month late getting the two bee packages in. However, we have enough hive equipment to give these new bees fully built out comb in two deep boxes, which should help them along. If you are starting from scratch, it takes the bees quite awhile to just build comb on all the frames, so we are hopeful that the bees will have an advantage this year. Our main intention is to get these bees pollinating our crops. Some honey at the end of the season is really a bonus for us!

DSC_0056Two of our interns, Rosie and Alisha (doing a great job as photographer, which is why she is not in the photos! Thanks Lish!) helped install the packages. It was a first for both of them, and quite exciting!

DSC_0034This was a first for me, as well, installing packages without Mike and Bill’s input. But we did ok.  The queens must be accepted by the hive (by smell,) so they come protected in little cages that you hang inside the hive. They chew their way out through a candy plug. By the time they get out, usually, the hive has accepted her. We will check in 7 days, and hopefully remove the empty queen cages. In another 7 days after that, we check once more to determine that the queen is laying capped brood. Fingers crossed!

DSC_0031

Rocking that bee-hoodie Rosie!

2 Comments

Filed under Bees, CSA Shares, Four Season Gardening, Greenhouse, Planting, Spring, Uncategorized

And… Away We Go!


First, a shot of the small hoophouse in its new position where it was moved on Sunday. The carrots underneath the hoops are recovering nicely from the compost burning, thank goodness! The house was closed up and black plastic was spread over the soil to warm it in preparation for the next crops to be planted soon: artichokes and hot peppers!DSC_0959

Last night, the large hoophouse was moved into its new position. It will house tomatoes, ginger, basil and parsley.

DSC_0947

See the tractor in the distance? Two 200 foot lengths of cable are attached to the back of the tractor. The cables run through pulleys screwed into two short posts that have been put at either end. This keeps the greenhouse on an even plane as its pulled by the tractor.DSC_0949

And there it goes! The preparation to make the move took longer than the actual move itself…DSC_0950

Which was, literally, over in seconds…DSC_0952

Like buttah…DSC_0954

Afterwards, the hoops and reemay cloth were replaced over the crops, since our nights are still hovering in the 40s. They are probably fine without this protection now, but we don’t want to take any chances of a freeze. Plus, the crops underneath will be hardened off to the direct sun over a period of days. DSC_0962

Spinach and lettuce has already been planted in the rows alongside the greenhouse, and here, Mike is preparing a few more beds so we can plant beets and turnips today.DSC_0965

As the sun goes down, a parting shot of the whole picture.DSC_0966

As I went home, here’s the new view from my house.

3 Comments

Filed under Four Season Gardening, Greenhouse, Planting, Spring, Tractor

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:

DSC_0919

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.)

DSC_0935

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!

1 Comment

Filed under Four Season Gardening, Greenhouse, Lessons Learned, Planting, Spring