Here are a few things that have been going on around the farm lately:
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of planning. Winter is the time of year when the farmer decides what he will be growing for the next year. On days like today, 35 degrees and sleeting, sitting inside and planning is a great idea. I thought it would be an easy task, but as I have found out, there is more to it than you might think.
To farm organically, you have to practice crop rotation. This means you don’t grow the same or similar plant in the same plot year after year. Since each plant draws differently upon the soil, rotating the crop families helps the soil remain healthy. I’ve worked out a 10-year rotation, which means the same type of crop will not be grown in the same field but once every 10 years. This also helps to confuse the pests, which makes sense, because it has certainly confused me.
Once the rotation is planned comes the fun part, selecting the varieties of seed to purchase. The creativity of those that name vegetable varieties amazes me. Here’s a sample of some of the varieties that I’ll be growing this year:
Provider Bush Bean
Detroit Dark Red Beet
De Cicco Broccoli
Fordhook Giant Chard
Black Beauty Eggplant
Lacinato Dinosaur Kale
Red Russian Kale
Arkansas Traveler Tomato
Cherokee Purple Tomato
Moon and Stars Watermelon
It’s not just the planting date that must be planned. Date to break ground in order to get the soil ready, date to seed transplants and date to set out transplants all have to be planned. For some beds, there will be multiple crops, so this is all planned twice. Plus, there are cover crops to be under sown with the cash crops, but I’ll save that for another blog.
Although it has been more difficult than I originally planned, it’s been a lot of fun. Next year should be easier, as I’ll just have to make adjustments to the rotation, not build it from scratch.
I’ve also been working on my organic certification application. The application process takes some time, but it is not too cumbersome. I knew I was going to get certified organic so I had been researching the certification requirements for a couple of years.
There are a number of small farmers out there that grow organically and could be certified organic but choose not to. One of the biggest reasons is the paperwork involved. Everything you do must be recorded, from each time you till the field to every transplant you plant out to how many pounds of tomatoes you harvest each week. I must admit, it seems a little overkill, but coming from a finance background I can see that most of the paperwork will help me better assess my farming business. Had I not spent the last the last 10 years working with records similar to the ones I’ll be keeping, I probably would forego the certification, as well.
I love Craig’s List. It’s a free web-based classified ad site that has gained in popularity over the past several years(www.craigslist.com). I have made numerous purchases for the farm on Craig’s List. The latest being a greenhouse.
For the past couple of years, I’ve just put my seedlings into sunny spots around the house. With the exponential increase in production I’ll have this year, I needed a different option. It’s only a 6 foot x 10 foot greenhouse, but I think if I put in an extensive shelving system, I can get quite a few seedlings in there. It came with exhaust fans, a heater, and thermostat. It should do for a couple of years.
I’m planning on putting some old 60 gallon barrels in the greenhouse and filling them with water to provide thermal mass. The water will absorb heat during the daytime and radiate it back out at night requiring the heater to work less. Here’s the progress to date. I’ll be putting the plastic on this week.
Audrey, Dad, and I just got back from the Southern Sustainable Agricultural Working Group’s (S.S.A.W.G.) Conference in Chattanooga. It was a great experience where I met many small farmers from around the South. Many were organic, some were not, but most seemed to be committed to producing quality food for their communities.
I learned many new growing techniques and ways to help my farm become more sustainable. I have been overwhelmed at how eager small farmers are to share what they have learned. You don’t see that kind of cooperation between competitors in the corporate world.
Construction has officially started on Dad’s house. They have roughed in the road to the top of the hill where his house will be. Here’s Finn on the bulldozer.
At last, I’ve been able to actually plant some seeds! The first tomato seeds were sown in soil blocks which will be placed in the hoophouse in March. Grow little seeds, grow!
The last two days have been spent cleaning out the hoophouse in preparation for sowing mesclun mix. I learned how to do this at the S.S.A.W.G. conference and I’m anxious to see some winter crops. Hopefully, in about a month, I’ll have my first mesclun mix for sale.
More to come …