Farm report

It’s been awhile since I wrote here about what we’re doing on the farm. Here are some of the things that come to mind.

  • Last November we planted 1/8 acre of garlic, about 8000 cloves. With the previous crop a lot of the cloves didn’t germinate, but this time around most of them came up, maybe 90%; if so, that should yield about 1800 pounds. We planted it in raised beds covered with black plastic, the rows between mulched with unwanted hay; if we decide to grow garlic at this scale yearly, we will probably switch over to using porous reusable landscape fabric with holes for planting burned into it. The garlic is thriving, and should come out of the ground in early July.

  • It was a very wet winter. The water was welcome after last year’s drought, but it also made spring plowing an iffy thing. Luckily there were a couple of dry stretches where Chris was able to till and to build enough raised beds to see us through the spring. We will try not to press our luck again, and instead be more diligent about building raised beds in the fall for the spring.

  • We dried off our two milk cows in early March, and we really miss the milk. But it did allow us to for once get away from the house as a family—for a day trip, anyway. We expect one to freshen the last week in May, the other during the following week.

  • One of this year’s projects is to try selling direct to the public, both at a farmers’ market and through home delivery. So we’re planting a variety of crops in order to have a selection available. Among the new crops is strawberries. We ordered 300 plants, and planted them in two fifty-foot raised beds covered with the landscape fabric I mentioned above. If they do well, we’ll not only sell them fresh but also processed, in particular as the barely-sweetened preserves that we’ve come to like.

  • About two weeks ago we planted one hundred pounds of seed potatoes, about 600 all told. Just the month before I had read an article about greening up potatoes before planting, by keeping them in indirect light at around 70-75 degrees for up to a month. We decided to try it, and set the seed potatoes out on some wire shelves in the kitchen for about four weeks. Nearly all of them sprouted, and I’m hoping the head start will help provide a better harvest than we had last year, which was pitiful. We planted them in mulch again, this time using some unwanted hay (too hard to get enough sorghum mulch from fifteen miles away). If it works, I don’t know what we’ll do next year, since I expect all hay, unwanted or not, to be in short supply.

  • Chris has built us a homemade greenhouse, using nine metal hoops that Jerome Lange had but didn’t need; he made them by getting thirty-foot lengths of pipe, then bending them around a silo. Today he secured the second layer of plastic over the hoops; now all that remains is to put up some makeshift doors using sheets of plastic that can be pulled back. The greenhouse is 18 x 48 feet, and about ten feet tall. That is much more space than we need for seedlings; we will probably use at least half of it as a cold tunnel, for winter crops.

  • Chris is also building a set of compost bins, with which we will implement a composting plan found in one of Sir Albert Howard’s books. Compost has become increasingly valuable to us, and as the mountain of compost we bought last year continues to shrink, we need to learn to create our own.

  • The hens are laying around 30 eggs per day, or about 17 dozen per week. We started providing them to our neighbors; our pastor and our elderly next door neighbor get them for free, the rest pay $1 per dozen. Customers include two Amish families.

  • We’ve decided that we eat about fifty chickens per year, so we plan to raise seventy-five, with twenty-five to either give to friends or to sell. What we sell will go for a low price; it is one more small opportunity to provide our neighbors with good, affordable food.

  • Given our experience with our first beef cow, we expect that the two we are raising now will end up around 1000 pounds by late fall when we send them to slaughter. One will feed us for a year, and we’ll be looking for folks who might want to buy some portion of the other. Another two calves will be along in about six weeks, though we hope at least one will be a female, in which case we will raise her as a milk cow.

  • Likewise, we expect one of our two pigs will supply a year’s worth of pork, and so we’ll be looking for folks who might want some portion of the other.

  • Tomatoes will be an important cash crop for us this year: romas, Carolina Gold (yellow, low-acid), and cherry tomatoes. Seedlings were started yesterday in the greenhouse. We will try to produce them throughout the season via successive plantings. We may also try to process some of them for sale.

  • Raised beds really are the way to go; the soil stays loose, they retain moisture well, yet also drain quickly after a heavy rain. But they are difficult to build by hand. The rotary plow attachment for our BCS tractor has been a real blessing for this; it’s still hard work, but probably requires 1/10th the time and effort to create a bed.

  • Keeping the cows on pasture all winter worked, but they tore up the ground significantly. If the funds are available, this fall we will probably build stalls where they can spend the winter. This will also keep the manure out of the field (where it doesn’t break down in the cold weather) and concentrate it so that we can feed it into the composting system.

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6 thoughts on “Farm report

  1. Thanks for the update Rick, I have been wondering how things are going. My garden is rather pathetic at the moment but this is only my second year and pathetic is actually better than I faired last year. I saw this on NPR last week, sounded very interesting. Using charcoal to improve soil quality. You can google “Mingxin Guo Charcoal” and find a few articles on the topic.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89562594

  2. We love the raised beds. I’ve gardened 1000 square feet of traditional garden and 1000 square feed of raised bed/square foot garden. The raised bed is a clear winner. Better returns, easier to work, we do all the work by hand, and easier to build micro-climates. I’ll never go back to straight rows again!

    Kim

  3. It’s like looking into a mirror! We have just started our foray into chickens (layers and meat) and are planning on getting some hogs in the near future and goats further down the line.

    We are also trying our hand at vermicomposting which has the added benefit of producing protein-rich worms to feed our chickens! (We’ll see what this transplanted city boy can do!)

  4. Good to see the farm update. Makes me miss even more that I am going to be off the farm this year. Long story that doesn’t need to be brought up here – but it is the fact. Keep up the good work and keep us posted on how things are going. How much does the garlic go for when harvested? Interesting process regarding the potatoes.

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