Tag Archives: propagation

Nursery Greenhouse – Phase 2!


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

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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.

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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…

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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!

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Suddenly Summer–Time for Bees and More Planting


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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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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!

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Rocking that bee-hoodie Rosie!

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

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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Filed under Antique Barn, CSA Shares, Farm Animals, Four Season Gardening, Greenhouse, Uncategorized

Maine Town Declares Food Sovereignty


I am sharing an important post today from the blog “Food Renegade,” about a town in Maine that has declared Food Sovereignty.

To quote the first paragraph: “Sedgwick, Maine has done what no other town in the United States has done. The town unanimously passed an ordinance giving its citizens the right “to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing.” This includes raw milk, locally slaughtered meats, and just about anything else you can imagine. It’s also a decided bucking of state and federal laws. Read the whole article here: http://www.foodrenegade.com/maine-town-declares-food-sovereignty/. Please come back and share what you think about this after reading…

Meanwhile, here on our own farm…

Yesterday's rain melted away most of the snow cover.

Yesterday’s rain has melted away most of the snow cover.

Inside the large hoophouse, all but one bed is planted.

Inside the large hoophouse, all but one bed is planted.

Emerging mesclun mix.

Emerging mesclun mix.

Michael is working on a cold frame where we will experiment with propagating some starts this year.

Michael is working on a cold frame where we will experiment with propagating some starts this year.

It is hard to imagine, but soon these rows will be brimming with life.

It is hard to imagine, but soon these rows will be brimming with life.

Inside the small hoophouse, the first bed of carrots has emerged.

Inside the small hoophouse, the first bed of carrots has emerged.

We will harvest full-grown carrots by the time we give out our first shares in June.

We will harvest full-grown carrots by the time we give out our first shares in June.

The same view of the barn as yesterday's post so you can see how much snow has melted!

The same view of the barn as yesterday’s post so you can see how much snow has melted!

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Filed under CSA Shares, Farming and the Laws, Four Season Gardening, Greenhouse, Planting, Spring

Hoophouse Planting — First Carrot Crop of 2013


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After last week’s nearly three foot dump of snow, and this weekend’s additional 4 inches, Spring seems just a rumor. DSC_0397

But not inside the hoophouse, where it reached a high of 90.6, stayed there for almost an hour and then began to drop. DSC_0398

Earlier, the beds in half the hoophouse had been turned over with the broadfork. This day, we raked out clumps of dirt and roots and smoothed the beds to prepare… DSC_0401

The hoppers of the six-row seeder were filled with pelleted seed…

DSC_0405The beds must be fairly smooth for the seeder to operate correctly. We use a short handle on the seeder that helps avoid any damage to the hoophouse walls.

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A small amount of moisture is added to the planted beds.DSC_0432As the sun begins to go down, the temperature drops rapidly, but the humidity has risen.  This is good!

DSC_0429We hurry to cover it all with a layer of black plastic. This keeps in the moisture, and helps promote even germination.DSC_0435

We install hoops over the two rows, topped with a layer of agricultural fabric. Each layer gives the advantage of a zone further south of added warmth. Since the hoophouse is unheated, this is necessary for successful germination. The carrots will come up anywhere from two to three weeks. Once they’re up, the black plastic will be removed, and we will plant a second succession of carrots. By the time we move this hoophouse in April, there will be two well-established crops for harvesting well into July!

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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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