It’s sunny but cold these days; think Winnipeg in September. I was planning to harvest some greens for New Year’s eve munching but that was not to be. The greens should be fine by the middle of next week when temperature are forecast to rise a little.
This blog has been particularly quiet recently because we went on a little vacation to California (where we hoped to escape West Coast Rain) and subsequently to Arizona (where we were successful). We saw lots of mega agriculture in both places but California’s Salinas Valley was particularly interesting in terms of its scale. Miles of plastic-covered raised beds which, among other things in the summer, produce 6 million heads of iceberg lettuce per day. It’s a terrible waste of water, fuel and soil, of course, to grow such a water-dependent low-nutrition crop only to have it shipped to Boon Dock, Newfoundland yet my Industrial Engineer mind was fascinated just the same.
While on vacation, we had a lot of time to talk about all things farm. We brought a seed catalog along and, on a few of the longer drives, made lists of what we will be growing for plant starts and for growing in our fields. The situation we have now is so much different compared to last year. We’re starting at the beginning of the season as opposed to the middle. We’ll have high tunnels (rodwilling), chickens, lots of infrastructure already built (more time to concentrate on growing) and just a whole year of mistakes and successes in our recent experience to learn from.
Which brings me to a list of New Year’s resolutions:
Not that we had any choice in the matter last year, given our late start, but we will have a much greater selection of produce this year. People must have been disappointed last year at our limited selection. We compensated with baking and preserves to the extent we could – and I will still bake bread this year – but we hope to shift the focus to unprocessed food this year.
We will only grow greens under cover to avoid soil splash, fallen conifer needles that float in rinse water and are hard to remove, and, for brassicas, airborne pests like the cabbage moth. The washing machine as a greens spinner, in theory, works well but ours has a leak which causes an electrical ground fault so I have to fix that by spring.
Polyethylene-covered low tunnels worked poorly for us in the fall/winter, as far as I can tell. Even using twice as many sandbags as prescribed, the plastic still blew off during wind storms (80+km/h). I will have much more on this in a future post.
We will grow potatoes using only top quality seed which we will plant much earlier so as to avoid the disease we encountered on the Yukon Golds last year. We will grow more fingerlings as they were a hit plus we will experiment with a couple other varieties for which we can obtain organic seed.
Tomatoes will go in our high tunnels and, compared to them being outside partially under a large maple tree, we’ll have more heat retained over night, less chance of blight and more light. We didn’t sell any tomatoes last year, a crop that can really pay the bills if done right. I had meant to talk more about our tomato growing over the summer but was overtaken by events. This will be my next post.
We’ll continue to grow Hakurei turnips to radish size except I’ll probably seed them even closer than before using multiple passes of the precision seeder as per Haliburton Ray’s suggestion. He harvests several bed-feet at a time, bunching the ones that are the right size and composting the ones that are too small or otherwise unsellable. Last year we painstakingly selected individual turnips and waited for others to catch up. Seed bought in bulk is too cheap to worry about economizing it. After harvesting, say, 6 feet of a bed, we can immediately reseed with something else, instead of waiting until all of the crop in a bed is removed.
We will probably not grow many green onions or, if we do, it will not be via transplant but rather direct seed and, again, in a dense planting. We will, however, grow lots of bulb onions which fetch attractive prices and, apparently, were in relatively short supply last summer. We also had no trouble growing or selling our bulb fennel so we’ll do much more of that.
We’ll be on a bit of learning curve for our summer plant starts for sale (tomato, pepper etc) in terms of varieties and quantities but Pauline’s made a lot of notes on how to improve the winter plant starts based on our experience. First, people wanted many more broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts starts than we had for sale. We will also grow out more large brassicas ourselves for produce sale. We have to do a better job protecting our brassicas from cabbage moth this year and, to accomplish that, we will ONLY plant brassicas of the same growing characteristics together. Last year we had all kinds of plants in our brassica beds, for example, green onions, turnips and radishes. We had a cover over the brassicas but it became too much of a pain to uncover and recover every time we wanted to harvest a few radishes. This year we’ll do a whole bed of large brassicas, cover them and leave them for several weeks before fertilizing, spraying (maybe) and weeding. Also, we need to give these large plants more room.
We didn’t have any flowers or herbs last year but this year we’re starting early enough to do so. We may not do so many herbs as to make a big crop out of them but we will start enough to sell and to eat. We really want to make the farm a little prettier and more attractive to pollinators by planting lots of flowers. How exactly we accomplish that in the context of operational efficiency remains a mystery to me. I suppose we’ll just interplant them amongst crops that have similar lifespans (e.g. tomatoes, rather than radishes or peas). And, of course, they can’t be under a low tunnel.
I haven’t quite figured out what our wash station should look like yet but I have some ideas to make things more ergonomic. Last year we placed a sheet of corrugated tin roofing on the ground upon which we garden-hosed things like turnips and radishes prior to bunching. There wasn’t much room under the apple tree to build a dedicated wash stand last year but this year our wash area will be moved adjacent the chicken coop. I will probably extend one side of the coop roof several feet to cover a large wash area under a couple of conifers about 8′ from the coop. In that area, I would build a counter height slanted metal wash stand and run a water supply to it. I would then copy Pauline’s observation from her volunteer day at the UBC Farm of an overhead sprayer that stays on while both of the worker’s hands are freed up to handle the produce.
We also need a bar fridge to set up at the farm stand. In it we will put eggs, greens and other heat-hating foods.
All in all, a satisfactory 2010. Not much money but much learning occurred. I think I’ll be disappointed if we don’t triple our sales in 2011.
Happy New Year!