Monday, March 30, 2009

Germination Mats

Fairly sure that this was NOT the intended purpose...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

And then it snowed...

I've been a little remiss in my blogging responsibilities recently, so here's a quick recap of the past week.

The bed prep work was completed in both high tunnels. In the big tunnel; salad beds, spinach, choi and chard are all sown and the irrigation system has been run for the entire tunnel. No pics 'cause it just doesn't look like much more than somewhat orderly soil.

Nothing sown yet in the original tunnel as it is all mid-season crops.

In a mad fit of early season tilling I hit the two pea beds and was able to get 1 row of each (snap & snow) peas sown before the rain.

Then the rain started and we got about 2" in 24 hours. I wont say that I wasn't having a few minor flashbacks to last season, but I'm optimistic that this will be a better year. We were more than happy to have missed the severe weather that plagued some areas of the state this time around.

The sunroom is taking on its normal spring "green fling" and its beginning to get a bit cramped in there. The cabbage, broccoli, garden huckleberry and ground cherry transplants have been sown and the largest tomatoes are about ready to move up to bigger pots.

On Thursday, we visited our friends at Coyote Run and were sent home with a significant volume of their lovely pullet eggs, which are too small to sell. SCORE! Since we butchered our old laying flock in December, and the new girls aren't laying yet, I've been missing fresh eggs. So what do you do when life (or friends) hands you 8 dozen little eggs? You make pasta, lots and lots of pasta!

Luckily my parents are out of town, so I was able to take over all the horizontal surfaces at their cabin for pasta-drying purposes. I made 8 lbs of our standard Herbed Wheat Noodles and about 2 lbs of a new recipe of plain semolina pasta. I've mentioned in the past that I LOVE my pasta machine, and this just reaffirmed my feelings, that little chunk of stainless steel and rollers is a beautiful thing.
Here's about 3/4 of the yield, it doesn't look like much,
but the table is 4' x 6'
And like the title says, after all this unseasonably warm weather, this morning we woke up to 3" - 4" of snow. You gotta love Iowa in the spring!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Something Old, Something New

With the recent beautiful weather and the impending rain, I've been pushing to get as many garden chores done as possible. The new high tunnel has been the priority because the earliest crops are scheduled to go in there and should have been sown 5 days ago.
Since we got the tunnel covered before the rain, I thought we were in good shape, then the frost came out of the ground and it was a muddy, compacted mess. GRRRRRR! So I had to wait until things dried out a bit, as working soil too wet will basically ruin it for the season.
Finally after several warm, windy days things were improving in there so given my patient nature (yeah right) I decided to help things along a bit. I attached the cultivator to my wheel hoe (photo above) and broke up the soil surface so that the air would circulate and dry out the lower layers. It was brutal work and I thanked my lucky stars that the rows in there are only 42' long. It took me an evening and a morning to get through all the beds, but by the second day things were really looking up.
Now it was time to bring in the big tools, no not the tiller...the really big tools! We hooked up my dad's Polaris Ranger 4-wheeler to the old springtooth harrow and pulled it the length of each bed, then unhooked it and carried it to the next bed. It was a little goofy, but it did wonders. The harrow lifts and aerates the soil without turning it is an excellent tool for improving air circulation and eliminating compaction while maintaining the established soil structure.
Finally yesterday things were greatly improved, so the composting stage wheelbarrow load at a time. Luckily the finished compost, which came to us from Reichert's Dairy Air a year ago, is fairly close to the tunnels, but it required about 18 wheelbarrow loads. Once the beds were composted, the "modern" tools came into play. I generally prefer not to till vegetable beds, but since these are brand new, they really required a pass with the big tiller. Now the beds in both tunnels have gotten their spring treatment and are all ready for planting...whew!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cue the Chorus

Regardless of what the calender says, Spring has sprung here on the farm. Last night when I walked out to load the wood-fired boiler for the night I heard the Spring Peepers for the first time this year. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the spring peepers are a tiny frog 3/4" to 1" long that live in wooded wetland areas. The males create a chirping sound (or a peep) to attract a mate, and let me tell you there was a whole heck of a lot of mate searching going on last night. Thousands of tiny voices raised in the dark. It is a sure sign of spring here and I laughed out loud when I heard it.

The bird song is another change on the wind right now, the migratory birds are on the move. We've seen (and heard) huge flocks of Canada and Snow Geese moving north in the past week. In the fields around the farm the Red-wing Blackbirds and Meadowlarks have returned in force are are singing out their territorial rights. The finches have been here all winter, but their songs have changed and we are now treated to long, complicated arias from the tips of branches.

So the calender may say that Spring starts on Friday, but here on the farm, it was sung into place last night.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Seedling Status

Just a quick photo summary of the crops in the sunroom right now...
A 'worms-eye' view of the basil seedlings (5 varieties)

A flat of 'Juliet' tomatoes
Shelves (17' each) of alliums (above) and the tomatoes, basil, eggplat and peppers (below)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Standing Tall

I'm a little slow posting about the new high tunnel progress this week. Partly because the progress has  slowed and it got damn cold, so other things took precedence.

So now here is the great unveiling...our two high tunnels standing side-by-side in all their muddy glory!

You can see the significant difference in their sizes. They are the same length but HT1 is 26' wide and 12' tall where HT2 is 42' wide and 15' tall.

The lovely cages in the foreground are year-old fruit trees being somewhat protected from maurading deer and rabbits. The giant martin house in the background was made a couple of years ago by my 93-year-old great uncle.

Again we want to take the opportunity to thank everyone who helped on both of these projects, but special thanks to our recent wonder-crew: Dad, Grandpa, Don, Patty, Lois, Ben and especially Paul. Also a never spoken enough thanks to Mom who always keeps us fed and hydrated during our big projects!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

High Tunnel - The Big One

With thunderstorms predicted for this weekend, we decided on a marathon dash to get the newest (and largest) high tunnel completed.  This tunnel is a different variety than the previous ones, it is called a "Colossal" and is nearly double the width of our previous tunnels. It measures a whopping 42' wide by 48' long by 15' tall. The ribs and top purlin had all gone in over the late fall and winter, so it was just a matter of completing the internal structure and skinning it.

In case you've never had the joy of installing a structure, the finishing and skinning can take the longest time and require the most specific weather conditions. Imagine lifting two 55' by 60' sheets of plastic over a domed structure in breezy conditions. You just can't do it. So we knew we had one shot yesterday and we pushed like crazy to get it done. Although "done" is somewhat misleading, as there is still at least a full day's work to actually finish the structure itself, we are covered and thus protected from precipitation which was the critical stage to accomplish.

As with past high tunnels, we were incredibly lucky to have the assistance of family and friends to get to this stage. Huge and heartfelt THANK YOU to said family and friends! Unfortunately, we were all so busy working that no one had the chance to take "work in progress" pictures, but here is a picture from the manufacturers website showing the completed structure.

For those of you who are mystified with the basis of all this "high tunnel" talk, a brief explanation...
We own two high tunnels #1) 26' x 48' and #2) 42' x 48'. They are structures that we use for season extension of our vegetable and herb growing for market and CSA. They are passive solar structures that allow us to grow certain varieties of vegetables in the ground year-round without additional heat or light. Here is a picture of our smaller tunnel complete with growing crops from December.
With the outside mostly complete on the Colossal, it is now time for me to start concentrating on the inside. There is much tilling and bed preparation to be done before I'm am ready to sow those new rows. According to my calendar, I need to be putting seeds in the ground in the tunnels by the 15th. Whew! Spring is coming fast!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Our Hero

If you live in our area, or have followed our farm communications for a couple of years you know about our friend/ neighbor/ farm worker Kristi. In 2006 she spent the summer working on the farm with us and we couldn't have hoped for better help. We had planned to have her back for 2007, but she was involved in a very serious accident on her own farm and her life took a serious turn from the direction she thought it was headed.

We have always known that Kristi was one of those special people that everyone should be so lucky to know, but now its official. This Thursday Kristi is being awarded as a Hero of the Heartland by the American Red Cross and we couldn't be more proud of her. Here's a clip that ran on a local TV station last night leading up to Thursday's big event.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Serious Sowing

Visions of produce to come...
There are now 17 flats of onions-related plants enjoying the nearly-spring warmth of the sunroom windows. And on the germination table are 14 flats of solanums sown yesterday. So what am I expecting to emerge from those 14 flats?

250+ Eggplants: Listada de Gandia, Mediterranean ,Nadia, Orient Express, Ping Tung & Rosa Bianca

350+ Peppers: Tiburon, Wenk's Yellow Hots, Ace, Golden Marconi, Islander, Mini Bells, Red Belgian, Red Knight, Sunray

450 Tomatoes: Aunt Ruby's German Cherry, Azoychka, Big Zebra, Blondkopfchen, Cherokee Purple Costoluto Sport, Dr. Wychee Yellow, Golden Rave, Japanese Trifele, Juliet, Mule Team, Paul Robeson, Redfield Beauty, Speckled Roman, Wheeping Carley, White Beauty

All will be well until they begin to germinate, and then the brassicas need to be sown...and then the real adventure begins. The sunroom starts to take on the tropical appearance (and feel) of the Pantanal region of Brazil!

Truly, spring must be on the way!