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Monday, March 29, 2010

Crop Mob

Last Saturday we had a crop mob of sorts. 8 people from Earlham College who are joining the Farm Share Initiative for April and May (and maybe beyond) showed up at 2pm ready to work. And what work we did!

A crop mob is a group of people who get together to go and help out for a day or half day on a small farm. they work for no money but often the farmer will give the group food fresh from the field or cook dinner. This new movement is based on the old idea of the barn raising, get a lot of people together with tools and do a big project. Our crop mob arrived at 2pm and we planned to weed asparagus, mulch asparagus, raspberries and blackberries plus move the hay wagon. We got everything but the blackberries done and Eugene did those a bit after they all left.

We started out with weeding as many beds of asparagus as we could. Eugene and i figured that the northern most beds would be too wet to weed and we were right. But we still got 8 or 9 beds weeded out of 12.

Nate and betty helped with weeding. But soon enough Betty had to be tied up as her idea of weeding was either digging holes in the asparagus beds or lying in the middle of the bed. Nate, on the other hand was a good boy, stayed out of the beds and got the bulk of the attention.

weed, weed, weed

Eugene shows a crop mobster the intricacies of weed pulling

Many hands make for light work. We all had a good time enjoying the war and sunny day, talking about stuff ranging from politics to farming.

Once we got as much weeding done as we could it was time to put down the straw mulch

Betty helps mulch

About half way done here. It took less than a half hour to leisurely mulch 12 asparagus beds. Weeding and mulching these things would have taken the two of us about a day. But when you have 11 people the work goes much more quickly.

After we got the asparagus all done we moved the hay wagon that holds things like row cover hoops, irrigation pieces that are not in use (which right now is 90% of the system), hoop house parts, etc.. The wagon has not been moved in a couple of years and has become quite delicate. Now it lives about 50 feet to the east.

Taking the last of the straw which was loose in a big ole sheet of plastic over to the raspberries in order to mulch them.

Here Eugene and Tory are bringing back the plastic sheet used for loose straw and behind them are many mulched beds of raspberries.

Beautifully mulched beds of asparagus. In 4 hours with help we got 20 beds mulched and ready for the season. We ended the day with local cider made with hierloom apples that we bought at the farmers market last weekend. And they want to come back and bring even more people. How cool is that?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dogs Hunting Voles

This video documents the events that lead to the video of the vole swimming for it's life. The dogs are hunting for voles in the piles of brush that Eugene is burning.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Vole swims for its' life

We were burning garden trash, asparagus and raspberry canes that had been sitting by the fire pit for up to 3 month. The piles of brush had many voles living in them and this fact has been driving the dogs crazy for a while as they cannot get to the varmints.

But today was different, the piles came apart and one lucky vole made its' way to freedom.

Soil Test Results

Got our soils tests back from Spectrum Analytic. We did two tests one for what we call the top field, which is where the bulk of the market garden is (around 3.5 acres). And what we call the bottom filed the which is at the bottom of the 40' pitch

What we found is our soils need lots of improvement and that there are big differences between the top area which is listed on USGS maps as badly eroded. Probably due to the fact that the field is at the beginning of a water shed which means it is a drainage area and thus has lost lots of top soil over the years. Add to that the fact it is also a terminal moraine which means there was a glacier on that very spot about 10,000 BP grinding away the soil. And there was probably a huge flood at some point judging from the deep ravine running through the middle of our property (most of which is now a pond) that was obviously cause by some sudden scouring-like a flood cause by an ice dam breaking withing the glacier as it was melting/retreating.

Test results for the top field

The top area is good on pH, Calcium, Copper, and Manganese. It is high in magnesium and iron and low in Potassium, phosphorous, sulfur, boron, and zinc.

Test results for the bottom Field

The bottom area is good on boron, copper, manganese and zinc. It is high magnesium, Calcium, and iron. It is medium on potassium and sulfur. It is low on phosphorous. the pH is very high, almost off the charts so we need to get the soil a bit more acidic.

We also found the the organic matter is much higher in the bottom area than the top-2.5% vs 1.5% (and we are pretty sure we have greatly increased the OM in the top area over the past 5 years)

We thought we also had gotten a nitrogen test for both areas but it seems we did not. But still there are reccomendations for applying nitrogen and it seems we are good to a bit low.

It is real nice to know all this information about our soil. No longer are we just taking blind stabs at feeding the soils and hoping we are doing something good. No longer will it be a complete mystery why some crops do poorly and others okay. Now we have the information to start doing some real improvements to these soils. Boo Yah!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Farm Share Season Approaches

It's been raining the past 36 hours. We have gotten over two inches and it has removed all traces of snow from the farm and made everything a sodden muddy mess. But through that mass of mud are signs of spring. The yellow crocuses have popped up and are in full bloom. They will soon be followed by dark violet and light violet and finally white crocuses. Daffodil spikes are shooting above the ground enmasse (I should have dug them up and divided them last fall but didn't which should mean a really nice display this year).

Along with the flowers we have some early herbs waking up in the market garden. Tarragon, chives and garlic chives have all emerged and should be ready to harvest about the same time as the first week of the farm shares and that is exactly what I hoped would happen. Some years these things come in earlier than other years Though, this looks like an average year.

This makes me happy as I usually have some anxiety early in the farm share season that we won't have enough variety to would be able to fill orders imaginatively and well. I should not worry as we have been starting the farm shares in early to mid April and have never had a problem making really nice shares from the early crops. And yet I do. This year it looks like we will have much to choose from for the first few weeks including the afore mentioned chives and tarragon. Plus thyme, cilantro, spinach, broccoli raab, heirloom lettuces, spring mix, parsnips, radishes, arugula, popcorn, garlic, potatoes and leeks.

You may have noticed the April shares will be heavily on greens. That is because that is what grows in the spring and what you eat when eating seasonally. As the season goes from early spring into spring than summer the produce selection will change. May is usually heavy on peas and asparagus in addition to the greens. June is heavy beets, zucchini, broccoli, raspberries mid way through and greens.

As the weather gets hotter the weight of the shares gets heavier as the food changes from leafy to greens to more substantial fruits and vegetables such as squash, tomatoes and melons.

That is the nature of our business.

if you have an interest in joining our farm Share initiative there is still some room. See our CSA page for all the gory details

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Buy stuff

You may have noticed that there are ads on this blog. These are there in order to generate money to make it somewhat worth my while to keep updating the blog. There are two kinds of ads Google Adsense which I very little control over (though I was able to block all Monsanto ads from showing up on this blog, much to the dismay of the people at Google who tell me how to best get people to click on the ads here and have written me many many notes telling me I am not a great capitalist because I block certain corporations from appearing here. Too bad, I have standards that are not negotiable)

I also have products from Amazon that I am selling through this site. These, unlike the Google Adsense, I have full control over which items will appear on this blog. And today I updated my offerings to include non book items for the first time.

There are now 3 non book items
Food Inc-this is a must see film if you do any eating at all in this modern world. For the savvy locavore there will not be much new (though I was still shocked by a lot of this film because you so seldom see graphic images of our industrial food stream). This movie was nominated for a 2010 Academy Award, BTW

Zyliss Salad Spinner-if you are getting into eating locally or just love salads your kitchen is not complete without a salad spinner. I use mine many times a day. It is a Zyliss spinner that is at least 12 years old and still going strong. It is not like the model listed here as mine has a pull string (which they do not seem to make any longer-Amazon does list the pull string type as out of stock and not getting any more)

Excalibur Food Dehydrator-this is the BMW of dehydrators. This model is their largest and will do around a 1/2 bushel of food. I use mine heavily and love the results. I highly recommend this product

A note on some of the the books
The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook is excellent, I have a copy and have learned much. If you are a farmer and want to be truly profitable get this book and make a better living you need this book in your library. I give this a hearty thumbs up

The New Organic Grower Another excellent book, a classic on how to set up and run a small diversified organic farm. Eliot Coleman is a master market gardener and a really good writer. this book, more than any other got us up and running and we still refer to it a lot. If you are a market gardener or serious organic gardener this book should be in your library

Soil Testing

A soil test gives you a good idea what your soils need to be healthy and productive. they are an important tool for farmers. And yet this is something we have not done on this farm until now.

Why haven't we done soil testing? Partly because it is a pain in the ass to do. It is not hard to take soil samples but it is time consuming to do, even the 2 tests we did involved taking 30 soil samples which took around 3 hours. Partly because we had some many other things to do on this farm such as putting in thousands of perennials, opening up 250+ beds, etc., etc.. So soil testing was put on the back burner.

But last November after attending the Wisdom of Berries workshop in Columbus we decided it was rather important that we get some testing done on our soil to see where we are. And it helped that we got information for a well recommended soil lab in Washington Court House, OH.

So Sunday enough snow had melted that we could go out and take soil samples and that is how we spent our Sunday afternoon

Eugene is clearing away the top 2" of soil with a pointing trowel (which he used for archaeology projects)

Plunging the soil probe 6 inches into the soil

A soil sample

Sample goes into the bucket where it will be mixed with other samples from the area. here Eugene is using his trowel to get the soil out of the probe. We quickly learned to use a finger to push the dirt out of the probe

Another soil sample. I believe there was a bit of contamination at the top of this sample and Eugene is knocking that off so it does not go in with the other samples and thus contaminate the batch

Samples ready to ship to Spectrum Analytics

We sent these samples off Tuesday and should have the results by early next week. I will endeavour to scan the results and post them here.

Monday, March 08, 2010

2010 St Alphonso's

I see a lot of people are coming to this blog to learn more about the 33rd (or 34th and year ten was repeated according to my T-shirt collection) St Alphonso's Pancake Break fast. It will be May 22nd at Hannon's Camp America. Don't know the band line up but you can join the St Alphonso's Pancake Breakfast group at Face Book and get the newz as it breaks.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Boulder Belt Goes Solar (Sort of)

It's been a while since I wrote about the farm here. I seem to be into 420 character Face Book Status Updates these days more than blogging. If you are a face Book denizen and are not a Boulder Belt Farm Fan you can join the group by using clicking here.

Something new on the farm. Eugene bought a solar collector back in January from Harbor Freight and made an wheeled cart for it, bought a deep cell marine battery and last week hooked up 3 of our florescent ballasts in the seed room.

The solar panels gives us up to 8 watts of power. Not a lot but enough to run some grow lights. So now 6 our of 20+ lights are now off the grid on sunny days. It's a small step and yet a big step. We are seriously considering switching to LEDs as they can be run on a 12 volt system easily. And they use a lot less energy than any other kind of light so it would likely be possible to run 100% of our grow light needs 50% of the time off the grid. But a small LED grow light system that will light up a 5 square foot area costs around $200 and the bigger you go the costlier they get. We can buy and power hundreds of fluorescent tubes for the same money. BUT LEDs do not have mercury in them and all fluorescent lights do which means they serious issues and are not nearly as green as they are touted to be. LED's have a steady light, florescent lights have constant flicker that some believe to be detrimental to the health of living things. LED's have other advantages but they are new, expensive and will mean redesigning our seedling room. So we have have not made the leap to LED's quite yet but likely will before the seed germination seasons is over for us.

Eugene is also tinkering around with tractor and auto lights as they are all 12 volt. So far he has had zero success as the one light he bought was defective and the Eaton, TSC did not have any in stock yesterday when he took the bad light back. Oh well, we have lots of time to tinker with this new system and figure out just how it will be best used on the farm. We plan for this to lead to more solar arrays and wind generators as well. We do realize that, like learning to sustainably farm for a living, there will be a fairly steep learning curve. But hey, it will keep us out of trouble and eventually with enough power when the grid goes down

Monday, March 01, 2010

A CSA Film...

I seem to be starting the new month with Youtube videos. This one I found about 7 months ago and than lost the URL. This morning I found it again and had to share. This is a funny short film on CSA. I would like to stress that we DO NOT run our CSA this way (no night soil on our crops, no weeds or rocks disguised as tomatoes or eggplant in the shares)

Buy Buy American Pie