Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Winter chores

The days have started to get longer now; even just a few minutes will help. I can now get my chores done before it gets dark. I don’t want the hens to have to get down off their roosts then get back on them so at least now they can get their afternoon snack before it gets dark. It’s not just a matter of giving them a snack, but rather intended to get them exercising before they roost for the night. Getting exercise before nightfall will keep help them warmer during these cold winter nights.

The seed catalogs are arriving daily now and my thoughts turn to projects for the upcoming growing season. Maybe this year I’ll get the fruits trees and blueberries mulched like I have been wanting to. Perhaps I’ll reinforce the deer guards I built for my fruit trees. I’ve got a hedge of rose bushes I’d like to get some compost on and some ornamental bushes to plant. And, yes, I’ll have a small garden this year.

We were in the local grocery store over the past weekend. Peg picked up a sad looking bunch of beets, three to be exact, for $3. I didn’t raise any beets the year so we didn’t put any in the root cellar, and no, we didn’t buy these either. We did store carrots and rutabagas and will next year as well, but we have to have our own beets. And to think of all the beets I’ve left in the garden the past couple of years! Fresh, new potatoes will be high on the list of things to plant along with summer squash and zucchini, onions and green beans.

I built a raised bed last year and I’ll use that for early season greens again this year. The bed is three feet high and 4 X 8 feet with 12-inch sides. I put plastic hoops over it to support floating row covers – to exclude the insects and the ducks and chickens. Last year, and this year too, I’ll start mixed greens in April and harvest through May. In 2010 after the first flush of greens were done, we planted all the flower starts we had left over from the window boxes and assorted planters and it was quite nice all summer; kind of a hodgepodge of plants. I think I’ll build another raised bed this winter for summer squash next summer, and perhaps potatoes - we’ll see. The best thing about these raised beds in that I can plant a month earlier than in the garden, however, the bad points are the cost of filling them with potting mix and the fact they leach out fertilizers relatively quickly. Perhaps covering the soil surface with poly will help. They’re also extremely heavy so when you fill them make sure that’s where you want them.

On the farm we are planning our 2011 growing season. New and better ways of accomplishing our given workload are taking precedence right now. We picked up another cultivating tractor to aid us in weed control and to work primarily in the tomato breeding workshop. It’s a John Deere 850; a 1980’s vintage, two-wheel drive tractor with a bucket on front. This tractor can be narrowed so it will easily fit down between the rows of trellised tomatoes. The bucket will be handy for carrying supplies and cultivator parts as well as moving rocks (yes, we have a few) out of the field when cultivating.  Our new tractor is currently getting a fresh coat of paint so it’ll look brand new.

We’re scheduled to buy a new bedformer in March. Our old one was purchased in the early 80’s and was used when we bought it. I wonder how many hundreds of miles of raised beds it has made in its lifetime. Well, anyways, it’s time for a new one; one that makes beds that are raised a few inches. Raised beds promote air circulation and dry out quicker after a rain event so diseases are kept in check. Our current bedformer is headed to the steel recycler as soon as our new one arrives.

And one final big project we’re doing this winter is upgrading the electricity supply to greenhouse # 3. In the early spring months we run many heat mats and may want to run lights in this greenhouse during the winter months, so we’ll need more power going out there. We’ve had issues with not enough power out there for several years now. Nothing quite like finding out on a Monday morning that the power went out sometime during the night. There’s always a chance of that happening anyways but as long as we do all we can to prevent these occurrences we’re OK.

Fun projects we’re lining up for next spring include replacing the poly on greenhouse 3, reinstalling the benches in greenhouse 2 and 3, and trialing new planting flats in the greenhouses. The calendar says we’re approaching the middle of January, and spring seems like a long way off, but we’ll be planting in six weeks or so, so it’s not as long a winter as we may think.

Until next week, Brian.

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