Here and there

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Cultivating garlic on the straddle row

Was able to finally get out to visit my friend Chandler in Walla Walla. Been trying to get out there for a couple seasons and finally just did it; things aren’t going to get any less busy around here for awhile! Great to see their new farm and how they’re doing things. One of my goals is to use horse power for our farm soon. I’ve been learning for the past 4 years but since none of my teachers have been row croppers, I haven’t really seen how to apply horses to the row in real life. Hayshaker Farm is gettin after it, farming 6+ acres of row crops with a team of Belgians. Great to see everything and ask 101 questions, probably more actually.

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Loooong rows!

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Cultimulcher

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Another straddle row cultivator

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Planet Jr seeder

Meanwhile back at home the Morels are showing up in the woods. Almost had to fight a deer off last night, well… something like that.

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Found in the back forty

The field is shaping up nicely, will be putting in Alliums this week. These 100′ beds look tiny compared to the 500+ footers I was looking at this last weekend.

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Got the electric deer fence up last weekend too, so far so good.

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Things in the hoop house are looking great. Always nice when ‘it works’ in a new place; the miracle of plants! Lots of quackgrass to pull, but other than that I can’t complain. Oh, well, maybe radishes are too ahead of schedule. But other than that…

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Alliums hardening off for this weekend’s planting.

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Things are moving forward, a little bit at a time.

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Routine

Things are slowly taking form on the farm. Both hoophouses are up and running, and getting filled. The third is on order but will not be shipped for a few weeks still. I was hoping to have it up by now but it wasn’t in the cards, which is probably fine since I can spend time on other things in the meantime.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when thinking about how much needs to get done in a season, so keeping your mind focused on the near future is much more helpful. Beds get tilled, seeds planted, row cover gets put on, and before you know it you’re harvesting. We have just 5 weeks before CSA and Market start, kinda scary, but also I’m worried that our radishes may get too big before then. I’m always worried about something!

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Beets and spinach will be planted out soon.

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Lots o green

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Benches getting full. Transplanting time.

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Hoophouse is filling up. Starting to look like soil in there.

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Future hoophouse site.

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Seeded our first main field bed.

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And the rest will follow

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Top-down fever!

A couple months ago I was trying to find a good resource for wood burning information and came across woodheat.org . It’s a fantastic source for tips and wisdom on using wood as heat for your home. They push for efficient and clean burning. Those two work together, if you’re burning cleanly then you’re also burning more efficiently; smoke that goes up the chimney without being burned first is wasted fuel. New wood stoves introduce air at the top of the stove so you get a secondary burn on the gases and smoke before it goes up the flue. This gives you more heat from your wood, keeps your flue cleaner, and creates less air pollution.

One of the coolest things I came across was the ‘Top-Down’ fire starting method. Looks like it shouldn’t work, but it does, and it’s glorious. It creates less smoke (both up the flue and into your house!), keeps you from having to babysit your fire and constantly open the door to feed it, heats up really quickly, and you get a good hour (maybe 2 with a bigger stove) of heat before you need to reload.

Woodheat.org has lot’s of info too, but here’s my photo essay:

From bottom, build your stack from big to small, ending with kindling. You want space for air in between the pieces, but also don’t want the wood too far apart since you’re wanting good contact between layers so the fire spreads downward well. Knotted newspaper helps keep the paper from blowing off.

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Light the newspaper…

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Top layer takes awhile to get going and is the most important step. Once it’s rolling you can walk away. Well, if you’re door is open all the way then you may not want to walk away…

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Once the top layer is going then it quickly spreads downward.

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Third and fourth layer are rocking. My stove doesn’t draft too well until the system is hot (brick chimney), so I can’t close my door all the way until the bottom layer is fully burning. Usually once the top layer is going I close the door just so it’s open a crack, so I don’t get embers flying out but I still good good air into the stove. I left it wide open for photos.

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It takes a while to get the hang of it, and does take a little more time up front to build but. it’s worth it! About 5 minutes to build it, and make the sure the top layer goes, then you’re good to go. I normally watch it anyway, because I’m a nerd that way!

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Hillbilly hoophouse, part 2

A few more pictures of our hoop houses. Here is our bench that has hoops so we can still cover the seedlings as they start getting too tall to lay covers right on top of the plants.

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Built a 10′ table for the 2 new HydroFarm heat mats we bought. Slightly more commercial and heavy duty than the older style mats we have. They also ‘piggy back’ together so you can run several in a line. A bit more handy than the old style.

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Our bigger 20×48′ house is up and covered, we will start planting into this next week. This size fits 5 beds on 4′ centers. We just ordered another one this size, but won’t be coming till the end of next month unfortunately. Guess we should have ordered it a while back! Live and learn.

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Hillybilly hoophouse, Part 1 (lessons in makeshift propagation)

This time of the year is go-time for seed starting. We start seedlings in the propagation house, and we start planting directly in the ground in our other hoophouses. This year we are behind in the direct seeded hoophouses since we still need to put them back up after the move. Our propagation house is up and running though, and with seeds planted, hurray!

This is a brief explanation of our propagation house and how we do things. I don’t think this is the best system, but it has worked for the past 4 seasons with it getting better each season. For small growers, or homesteaders it would work fine, but for a bigger market garden you would want to do something different probably, or if you are in a colder climate. (Lately, Local Roots Farm and Josh Volk have been instagramming their propagation systems which are much more advanced than ours and would be what you’d want for a bigger operation, check em out!) My dream is put a wood stove in the propagation house with concrete tables about it to hold the heat. Fire it up at night and you’d be good to go until morning. The Nordells are a good example of folks who do that.

This is our 20×20 propagation house. It isn’t heated and only has one layer of plastic so bottom heat for seedlings is a must when germinating.

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Bottom heat for us comes from these heat mats.

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They are are hooked into a thermostat that you adjust for what temp you want. Foam board underneath helps to not lose heat under the mats. They are not powerful enough to keep your seeds at 70 degrees all night this time of year without some top insulation, so at night we throw a layer of plastic on top and on cold nights some burlap coffee bags. (pictures to come in a later post) Johnny’s just started selling a more ‘commercial’ version of these mats that plug into each other so you can link up to 5 in a row. We just bought a couple so we’ll see how they do, they’re supposed to be more powerful and tougher. Now we’ll have almost 20 feet of heat mats which will double our capacity! I’ll post pictures of the new ones when they come.

Close up of the thermostat.

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There is a probe that you stick into your soil, not pictured here. Fairly simple and cheap, I have seen bad reviews of them but this will be our 5th year with this one and it’s worked great. Just bought another for back up, just in case.

Our set of makeshift benches.

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We started with just pallets, and then realized slugs can climb pallets but don’t climb tables as often. So each year we build another table as we expand, and the tables our better each year too as I learn more about building. This year I’ll build a full 10′ table to accommodate the new mats. As the seedlings grow we move them to the unheated benches to make room for the next round of seeding. I find that ‘hardening them off’ in this way makes for a pretty stocky and tough plant, as opposed to keeping them on heat most of their lives. They may grow slower though, so there’s the trade off.

Our soil blocking station.

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Trays of soil blocks ready for seeds.

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We use soil blocks because we were set on it from the get go, thanks to Eliot Coleman. They are a bit slower then filling plug trays, especially getting the soil to the correct wetness for successful blocking (more on that later if you want). They do provide more soil than a plug but are more finicky too. We may try some plug trays this year and see how they work. The biggest complaint of soil blocks I have comes when transplanting, they take more handling and time than plug trays do. Blocks are said to prevent transplant shock though, due to ‘root pruning’, and that would be the upside. As we expand I’m sure we’ll do more plug trays and can compare.

This is our tall table for seeding. Taller means you don’t have to bend over at all while meticulously seeding the trays.

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From the seeding table the trays go to the seed mats to germinate. During the day the trays easily stay up to temp, at night it’s time to add top insulation. Pictures to come.

Keep doors closed with a hillbilly door latch and you’re good to go!

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Community

Moving is hard. Harder than I think it is, if that makes sense.

We are very fortunate to have great friends and family that have been a huge help the past couple weeks. When I read stories of folks who ‘got back to the land’ all by themselves I wonder how they did it. Or the settlers of generations past who set out to find new land to live on, sometimes on their own, or with maybe a handful of families. I’m not like that, I depend on the help and support of our community quite a bit.

I wanted to get the new garden site tilled up while this dry weather lasted to get that old sod to start breaking down. Luckily I was able to hire a neighbor to do some discing for us, since we don’t have any equipment beyond a walk behind rototiller. Getting that old sod to a seedbed is going to be quite a process, I’m extremely glad the weather has been dry enough to get the process started. Thankful for good neighbors!

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Neighbor discing for us!

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Tank is supervising from his new found roost. He thinks he’d like to drive the tractor…

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There it is 3 hours later.

Sod is broke, check.

The propagation house also got finished yesterday thanks to several folks who came to help throughout the weekend. Now we can start our seedlings, only one week late. Not too bad considering.

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Framed and ready for plastic.

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South side done, shadows getting longer…

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North side just about done.

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Finished! Just in the nick of time.

That was the first of three, and the smallest. One. Foot. In. Front. Of. The. Other.

It takes community.

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Creature comforts

I’m such a detail minded person that I get caught up in the minutia of each step of moving and forget about how hard mentally it is to move a home and now a farm. Just the reality of being in a new, strange space is fairly exhausting;  getting home and not feeling all that comfortable and normal is tiring. We’ve been trying to unpack, paint, move stuff, erect greenhouses, eat, sleep, keep warm, work our town jobs, etc. and at the end of the day we’re beat physically and emotionally. I didn’t really think about the emotional side when planning ahead, but it’s a biggy for us. ‘Home’ to us is so important to our overall well being, both in terms of practicality and routine, getting everything done, but also mentally and emotionally.

So, with that in mind I got home first the other day and thought we needed a good, comforting meal. Cooking to us is a big part of life and farming, and is essential to making a home.

Baking bread is a weekly or semi-weekly event for us. I’m a bit of a bread nerd and a few years back I decided to only make naturally fermented bread rather than use commercial yeast. I also bought a grain grinding attachment for our Champion juicer a few years ago and try to grind all our own grain as well. This week since everything was boxed up I cheated and bought some Bob’s Whole Wheat.

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Bench rest before final shaping and proofing.

Cooked greens are a must this time of year. (So is beer!)

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Collard greens are our staple through the winter. They survive even when kale gets zapped.

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Sliced.

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In to the skillet with butter and garlic, then some braising liquid. Bread rising on the left.

Roast potatoes.

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Our potatoes got some cold damage and insect damage this year so peeling is a must.

Forgot to get pictures of roast chicken and the finished meal, but you get the idea. (Don’t want to make this a full on food blog…😉 )

Add a fire, and some cuddly cats.

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Who, me?

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Top down burn.

It’s almost a home!

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