Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On Literature and Agriculture

"Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt" - Shakespeare (by way of Patrick Hamilton)

If ever there were an observation more pertinent to farming and our situation specifically I have yet to hear it. Reading Richo Cech's new book today I was reminded of the important role faith plays in all this growing business. We undermine ourselves, those around us, and Life itself when we doubt - lose faith. What is amazing and miraculous and I suppose expected is that Life continues on without us!

The 'weeds' we try and try to eradicate spring like the 'devil' from severed tap roots; discarded plants with roots laid to dry in the sun seem to flourish; yet we worry about the lettuce or tatsoi!

There is so much more to all of this, and while I maybe should write about it here - it's still forming and becoming - and I'm still having faith.

That there will be a home for our friends the plants, and for us.

I really just wanted to share that quote with you. It's entirely appropriate for us right now.

In Love, Light, and Faith,

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Water, water everywhere

Hallelujah, it rained. And the temperature dropped to April, so the frantic finding of irrigation has receded somewhat. We still need to develop an irrigation system, but the rain and cooler temps have bought us some time. The field actually stayed pretty wet even though it didn't rain for 2 weeks. Even as late as Monday, when we dug into the soil it was nice and wet beneath the dry, cracked surface. There were a thousand weed seedlings too, all yellow and white and underground - just waiting for a rain to bring them to the surface.

The "plan" is working out great! We have been planting into beds that Wayne made with his tractor. The "beds" the tractor made are more like guidelines really. They create pathways between them we can walk on and inside the beds we make them fertile, soft, and wet. Sounds lovely, doesn't it? We've been taking a hoe and carving out rows into the beds, sometimes planting into the furrow other times planting onto the hill. We planted the onions, leeks, kale, and broccoli into the furrow but the lettuce went on the hill. This will hopefully keep it cleaner. We knew the weeds were going to be challenging on 2 acres, but this planting method might work out great - the field has been undisturbed for a few weeks, and so as we hoe into the beds to plant, we expose all the weed seedlings just below the surface. We might be stirring up new weed seeds, but it feels good to be getting a handle on the weed problem when they are so little and easily managed.

We're learning more about irrigation systems. Another few options we've explored are using a hand pump or a treadle pump. The hand pump is cheap, which is great. I think it can hook right up to 2" hose of sorts (lay flat, pvc) and pump water up to a height of 10 feet. The treadle pump we could build ourselves, so it would also be cheap. Online I read it could pump up to 7 meters...the treadle pump uses leg power while the hand pump uses arm power. Then there's the 12 v DC pump which would be solar powered. We found one that can pump 22 gallons per minute which is great, and I think up to 22 feet. Of course you need other accoutrements with it; the pump is around $200 compared to the hand pump which is $90. Then there's the straight-piped gravity fed system. We could put a larger diameter pipe into the stream far enough upstream to get a "head" of 30 feet or more. A 3" pvc intake pipe should work fine. So we could bury the pvc pipe into the stream and use the bank essentially as a sand filter, carry the water downhill to the field - this may be a length of 1,000 feet or more - and it should have enough pressure to irrigate at least 1/4 of the field at any given time. I like this idea the best though it requires long lengths of pipe or tube. We haven't decided which system would be best. I forgot to mention the possibility of cisterns - we could put a 300 gal cistern at the top of the field, with a good 10 or 15 feet of head; we could put 55 gal drums in places, 5 gal buckets, all kinds of things. And lastly there is furrow irrigation, if we could get a flow of water into the field and dig furrows into the beds between the rows then it would just run the length of the bed. I like the simplicity of this design and the fact that it uses little petroleum products. Any suggestions or advice?

Thank God we're in Taurus. Aries was about to drive me mad and burn me up and set the world on fire! Did you see the pictures of the volcano erupting with red lightning in the sky in Iceland? That's how I felt! An email I got read: "such and such webinar cancelled due to volcano" - all matter of fact. The seeds sure are germinating well now.

We've had so much help at the farm, it's been inspiring. Last week a group of guys showed up and helped Gabe put in a deer fence (T posts, wire in 2 strands, solar battery). I don't know how we would have done that without their's humbling and encouraging. And friends and family came to help plant in the greenhouse and the field - worker/traders are coming...we're figuring this out as we go along, but here from the beginning we are reaching out to some larger community and are being answered and joined in this adventure - it's refreshing! We're meeting people we may have never met otherwise, and sharing in the joyful opportunity this land is lending.

I give thanks for the fertile Earth, the nourishing Rain, the fellowship of loved ones, the succulence of greens, the challenges that are making us grow both out and more densely within, I give thanks for the chance of Life that today was given again.

Love and Light,

Monday, April 12, 2010

Method? Madness? Both?

At this point I can say that if you go into farming, you're crazy. If you're not crazy, you'll become crazy. Fortunately for me, I'm mad, which is a higher level of crazy, so I'm OK.

Now that we have the most important item of business attended to, I'll tell you about what's so crazy: everything! No, really, imagine this: you spend every waking minute of your life creating seedlings that can get planted into the field, and then it's time to plant them into the field at the SAME TIME that you need to keep creating seedlings that you plant into the field, but now you're working on watering the plants in the field, and planting them, and watering the seedlings in the greenhouse, some of which need to be planted, and where was I?

Crazy, right. I'm crazy. No! I'm mad! I'm not alone. There are lots of farmers, so there are lots of crazy people out there, growing your food. It's not as dangerous as it sounds. We're crazy in the way that squirrels are crazy in the fall, you know, gathering nuts and stuff. There's just SO much to be done! :) And it's all GOOD stuff!

Do you want to just hear about what's happening? OK...well, we started planting in the field! We have 500 feet of broccoli, a few hundred feet of carrots and turnips (gold and baby white), peas, 500 feet of potatoes, some kale and onions, and mesclun. We hand-watered these babies and covered them with Agribon row cover, to keep in the moisture and protect them from foraging deer. We have a LOT of lettuce to transplant but we are dealing with a few things here: labor, water, and soil amendments, namely compost. We are stretched a little thin on the labor thing (see above); working on getting a gravity-fed irrigation system set up, and having a hard time finding 5 tons of good compost to spread on the field, so we are adding worm castings plus choice amendments to each planting (things like greensand, colloidal phosphate, lime, etc.) This is very time-consuming as we have to "truck" each batch of amendments in essentially in a wheelbarrow. And hauling water in 5 gallon buckets from the stream is hard. So...

The skinny on gravity fed irrigation: check this out

Look on the left side of the page for the topic, if you're interested.

I balk at technical undertakings, like hooking up my record player to my stereo, anything computer or cellphone related, and irrigation. But I'm hardheaded too, so I persist through my obstinance (sp?). And I've learned a LOT about irrigation the past few days.

In as many ways as we can, we'd like to be petroleum-independent. The old farming ways, that are actually new, are heavily reliant on petrol. Tractors, pumping water, synthesis of fertilizers, trucking things to and from the farm. All these things add up to a heavy carbon footprint. We are fortunate to have the ability to gravity feed water to our fields to support our plants in the ways they need. It's just a matter of designing an intelligent system to do this.

Which we can. I learned a lot from Tom at Snakeroot Organic Farm. Tonight I got confused while reading his informative discussion on the topic and just called him up and he spent half an hour talking to me about what to do at our farm. For nothing! He's just that kind of guy. Before that, I called Mollie LeBude from Forest Creek Farm and Nursery and she talked me through this irrigation thing too. Farmers are crazy, but they're pretty damn helpful.

Here's the dry details on our irrigation: we have a stream, a small one, about 30 feet above the field, so with 1/2 lb pressure for every foot drop of slope, we'll get about 15 pounds of pressure for our watering system. This is great! We can put a pipe in the stream with a filter, run it downhill for the 30 feet we need, connect it to some tubes that can be connected with smaller tubes and run into our rows with plants and they'll get water. We want to use "lay flat" tubing I think instead of the black plastic tubing Tom from Snakeroot uses. It's just a matter of what's available, really. Lay flat is blue tubes you see in fields. It's ubiquitous around here. I think I mentioned in an earlier post about how farmers need a wide range of skills and knowledge, and here we are learning that a basic understanding of physics is extremely important..

Knowing the diameter of the intake tube with the length of downhill slope will tell us how much water pressure we get, which will tell us how many gallons per hour (the tubes, called 'drip tape' that actually water the plants emit 1/2 gal per hour) we can muster. Or something like that. I have to finish learning this tomorrow. I'm tired tonight. I haven't had a day off since my birthday, and before that it was a long time.

How does this fit in the seasons? And living in the flow of the seasons? It's all madness now. The Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland was/is definitely an Aries. "Mustard?! Let's not be silly!"

my favorite clip ever!

There is so much more to say, but instead I'll just wish you a Very Merry UnBirthday!

And say Happy Anniversary to me and Gabe - we met a year ago today, and our lives have been forever changed from that merry meet.

Blessed Be!