Monthly Archives: March 2011

I stand corrected

I did a radio interview a while back in which I babbled for an hour about a bunch of things including the then-imminent construction of the first high tunnel.  In that interview, I think I said that I figured it would cost around $600 to build.  This comes up now because a farmer-friend, after seeing the finished product, is considering such a structure herself.  So this is as good a time as any to set the record straight.  Or, straighter, at least.

I’m a decent record keeper but far from an infallible one.  After consulting with The Spreadsheet, I came up with a figure of $885 for materials but this did not include the polyethylene cover that I used from my existing stock of materials.  Poly is roughly 10 cents per square foot, no matter the dimension.  So if you add enough poly for the sides and ends, the total is ~$1020.

Having said that, this tunnel has centre shelving in it for the seedling trays; a significant expense…and one that’s hard to price out after the fact because lumber just kind of gets mixed up from one job to the next.  People who use this design for growing out their tomatoes and cukes will not incur this expense or, at least, not all of it.

There’s also the impossible-to-calculate debits and credits for ‘shop supply’; that is, bits and pieces from my existing hardware that I paid for long ago.  On the flip side, there are lots of similar things that got charged to the project that I did not use up and which will make future projects cheaper.  I also bought a few good quality tools that will be used on future jobs.  Conversely, my existing tools – and I think I used ALL of them – experienced wear on this job; that cost was not accounted for.

I bought almost all of the materials from Windsor Plywood, mostly in gratitude for ‘Peter’ finding an appropriate material for the anchor posts.  But their prices for that common (in turns out) pipe was about 60% more than I found it for in Victoria (for the big high tunnel I’m currently building) although I needed a whole day, a truck and ferry trips to get it.  On the other hand, that Shopping Spree had lots of purchases in which to share the total trip cost. 

Windsor’s lumber is also about 15% more expensive than the comparable product at Slegg.  Having paid my dues at Windsor, I’ll probably continue to drive the extra 3 minutes to shop at Slegg for the second tunnel.  Oh, and Slegg’s hardware – if they have it – is generally cheaper. 

There are two significant design changes between the two tunnels.  One is the shelving for the transplant tunnel which will not be in the big one.  The other is the use of roll up sides on the big one instead of removable ends which I wrote about in my previous post.  So far we’ve got $1660 sunk into supplies on the new one plus, say, $220 for the cranks which we paid for a while ago.   Add miscellaneous bits and pieces: let’s call it $2000.

The alternative I was seriously considering last fall was the Haygrove system which promises a cost of 75 cents per square foot.  The catches?  First, that price only applies if you get an acre worth.  For the smallest unit that could reasonably fit on the property, I was looking at $9k for 5000 square feet or $1.80/sf.  Secondly, shipping was not included and was quoted at $5k.  Third, those numbers didn’t include tax.  Finally, even if that still made sense, the Haygroves are not rated for snow load.  So just for the cost of shipping and tax on shipping of the Haygrove, I can build a large winter-rated high tunnel, a winter-rated transplant tunnel and have $2k left over to invest in Vegas or the stock ‘market’.  The square foot cost for the big high tunnel I’m building, including tax, should be less than $1.15.

Plus – and this might be the biggest factor eventually – I now know how to build a high tunnel.  Given the proliferation of the 100 mile diet, sustainability, yadda   yadda yadda, there may be a local market for construction of these tunnels which could conceivably pay pretty well compared to growing vegetables.  If nothing else, it’s something to pass the time in the winter when there’s less to do on the farm (i.e. after all of our own infrastructure is built).

The difference between basil and chives


Basil and chives are both yummy, green foods.  Both are sold at the local supermarket.  And, for a certain young checkout clerk, each can be confused with the other.  Happily, there is a difference: their 4-digit produce code, eventually remembered.

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I just had my first cup of nettle tea a few days ago.  Pretty good, although part of it is knowing that, like most wild plants, there’s all kinds of good stuff in it including perhaps the ability to counter nuclear fallout.  Thanks to friend Lara at Nettledale Farm for the concoction.  She will dry enough to last much of the year, not only in tea but in soups and other cooking.  Nettles (like the chorus of the Pacific chorus frog) are coming out in great numbers now. 

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While at Nettledale Farm today, I observed the combustion of John’s enormous burn pile.  Unlike Dubya’s seemingly endless Crawford, Texas ranch-brush that required burning, John’s pile had a purpose: to burn out a ginormous maple stump. 

Starting a fire, while child’s play in the summer, is pretty hard this time of year; it’s like lighting a wet sponge on file.  He used a propane Tiger Torch to get some dry wood burning and, after several hours and many dry wood refills, the saturated stump wood released its water and began to burn.  One side of the stump was definitely on fire but, with a 15′ circumference, we’ll have to see over the next day or two whether the fire travels throughout the stump and its roots.

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Last Saturday we all trekked out into Ganges to observe the super moon.  Like the Super Bowl, the hype did not live up to the actual show but it was still interesting.  Our new belief system requires that we plant root crops like carrots, beets and turnips at times like this but that stuff will have to wait another 29 days because the ground we’re using for those crops is still saturated.  In any case,  I might find a different belief system before then, especially if the rain stops. 

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It was sunny…yes SUNNY all day today but,  generally, it’s been pretty darn wet around here recently, even unseasonably so.  It’s been so wet, in fact, that the large high tunnel project, for which materials have been sitting around for three weeks in frantic anticipation, had been on hold for fear of all the trampling of wet soil that would have to be done.

But no longer.  The job has to get done, compacted soil be damned.  We need to plant tomatoes in about a month but, before that, the soil has to stop getting rained on so  that I can till it a few times to kill the grass that’s been living there for years.  I started the project yesterday and have made good progress, considering it hasn’t been the only thing going on at the farm (for example, I planted a hundred foot bed of salad greens, radishes, turnips, arugula and spinach, 15-25′ of each).

The new high tunnel will be a close likeness of the transplant tunnel I already built (and which is now nearly full of tiny plants), using the same basic supplies and procedure, only this time I plan to do it a little better.  I’ve figured out how to get the anchor posts to line up a lot more uniformly and have taken into account the gentle slope towards Mt Belcher.  Because this tunnel’s length will be much greater than twice its width, I’ll be using roll-up sides instead of having removable ends.  This adds quite a bit of  expense in that, to make it fancy-shmancy I’ll be using aluminum channel and wiggle wire at the top of the roll-up to fix the polyethylene to the PVC hoops.  The roll-up gear boxes are not cheap either.  None of the supplies are.  Unless you compare it to the alternatives I costed, in which case it becomes cheap again.

So far all I’ve done is pound in the anchor posts on one side and half of the other.  Mind you, I would have gotten further yesterday had it not been for the trenching I did along 40′ because of a small hill.  And only after doing that did I realize that I could probably skip that step, at least initially, and wait until the polyethylene is almost ready to be installed before I have to take into account terrain undulations. 

My goal is to have this project done in 3 weeks.  If it were the only thing going on, I’d say two.  But we’re moving to a swank new rental – with no lower neighbours! – on Tuesday.  We’re receiving a bunch of strawberry starts which need to be planted at about the same time.  And many hundreds of potatoes and a small number of peas need to be planted soon too.  Plus I need to build another chicken coop for some new ‘special’ birds the kids are getting.  Plus, plus, plus. 

Ah well, all in good fun.