Monthly Archives: May 2011

Prime Time

This week marks the unofficial start to many home vegetable gardens here on Salt Spring (and much of Canada).  And, just in time, the weather is making like it wants to cooperate with a forecast of normal temperatures for this time of the year.  Update: maybe not.  Grrrr.  Anyway, hopefully people will come out anyway.
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I got a bit of a newbie scare last week.  I thought some of our tomatoes had contracted the dreaded fungal disease, “late” blight.  Some leaves on some plants turned a dark colour and the stems on those plants also got tiny spots on them.  The plants most affected seemed to be those on the top shelf of the transplant tunnel.  I had been warned of blight by Linda in her most recent edition of Linda’s List.  Uncovered tomatoes and tomatoes in poorly ventilated greenhouses were most at risk.
A couple of days earlier, I had started transferring some plants from the transplant tunnel to the big tunnel (which has more volume) but hadn’t gotten far.  Last year a farmer friend had gotten blight because of a too-humid greenhouse and then had been duped into using a non-organic fungicide on them, thus rendering all the produce from that greenhouse non-organic for 3 years.  Not that we were at risk of losing organic status (because we don’t have it to begin with) but I was concerned about having to spend a lot of time and effort fixing a crop that hadn’t even been transplanted and then possibly losing a significant portion of our income due to lower yields.
Happily we were able to get Linda herself to look at a sample plant; she pronounced it healthy…but sunburned.  Sunburned?!  Yes, sunburned.  Indeed, it looked as though I had put those leaves in the oven and had started to bake them. But why, in the middle of the coldest spring on record, would they get sunburned. 
But maybe that’s the key.  The plants were relatively well acclimatized to cold and to wind (with an oscillating fan doing its best impression) but perhaps not to sun which, when seen at all this spring, wasn’t very intense…except maybe for that one hot Saturday, our first market, April 23.  That day it did get warm and was sunny all day with a moderate-high UV.  And I had just installed greenhouse cooling misters which I proceeded to use immediately since the interior temps were approaching 30C.  Maybe the tomatoes, being at the highest point in the tunnel, with not much ventilation, after months of weak s UV weren’t used to all the heat and UV light, especially in conjunction with fine droplets of light-magnifying water on their leaves.  Still, if it happened back then, I’m surprised we didn’t notice until so much later.  Maybe that’s another danger of putting plants on the top shelf; not only can’t you see how dry the soil is but you can’t see the tops of the leaves.
Anyway, the tomatoes all look really good otherwise.  The tomato half of the big tunnel is fully planted.  We have a few hundred more plants to sell as starts and, judging by our recent sales rate and a projected bump higher due to May Long Weekend with excellent weather forecasted (Update: ok, not so much), I suspect we will sell most of them.  What looked like an absolutely ridiculous number of tomatoes a week ago, looks a whole lot more reasonable now.
And I haven’t yet written about the trials and tribulations of planting in the big tunnel.  Next time?
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In other news, I just found out yesterday that our order of sweet potato slips (like seed) from New Brunswick won’t be coming after all due to a recent crop failure there.  I really hoped to have something a little different this year for the health food store and for the chefs but I guess they’ll have to be happy with white beets and blue tomatoes.

The Pen is Mightier (and other updates)

I’ve blinked and two weeks have passed.  Since my last post, my dad has arrived from Calgary .  Turns out that keeping him busy keeps me busy:  Plus, as usual, every completed job spawns two others, hence the paucity of writing (I’ll make up for not having written by using words like paucity; nevermind, I almost used ‘dearth’).  But stuff is definitely getting done.  We replaced all the various portable and make-shift tables with my el-cheapo spruce stands.  For about $100, we build enough surface area to hold 140+ trays of plant starts.  We also installed another level of shelving above the existing counterheight level to create room for a couple dozen more.  Despite all this extra capacity, the tunnel is beyond full. 

 The big tunnel is now nearly done: the rollups on both sides and one upper ventilation window has been installed (both windows will eventually get heat-activated opener pistons).  Funny (IMHO) story: I was thinking that the 3″ PVC sewer pipe acting as the ridge purlin (top spine) would be good for collecting extra-hot air that has risen to the top of the tunnel.  While bouncing this idea off of friends Paul and Ron and asking whether they had seen a 3″ exhaust fan on-island, Paul walked away for a moment and returned with pretty much the perfect item, lightly used on one of his previous projects.  I figure I can drill a bunch of holes in the bottom of the pipe and use the fan to suck air out to the atmosphere for perhaps 50 cents per day of hydro in peak summer. 

We are adding to our chicken flock little by little.  The 5 chicks we picked up a little over a month ago have outgrown their indoor cardboard pen so it’s time to get them out to the farm.  Dad’s been busy the last few days constructing a maximum security pen-within-the-big pen to house smaller birds and keep them from getting mauled by raptors and by the mature birds in our flock.  To accomplish this, he installed a combination of T-posts, lumber and plastic deer fencing to make an overhead barrier.  The question that will remain unanswered until perhaps December is whether wet snow will fall through the 2 inch grid or accumulate and bring the whole structure down.   Despite this question mark, someone driving by actually stopped in today to take a closer look and said he would copy the design for his own farm.  Dad said I should have told him it was patented.

 We have opened the market stand a number of times with generally decent results and have attended two Saturday markets, one really good and one not so much.  We’re still experimenting with market stand hours and considering opening the stand on Saturdays, particularly if the weather is good.  I think some people like the idea of the Saturday market but don’t actually like going there themselves.  We might even consider opening on Sunday now and again.

The weather is definitely improving but it’s been weeks since we’ve had an above normal temperature day.  It’s hard to put a value on having had the transplant tunnel to increase day time temperatures on many of the days this “spring”, but suffice it to say that it has enabled us to grow thousands of dollars worth of plant starts we would not otherwise have been able to.  We got up to about 16C last Saturday, just as Dad and I quickly installed our freshly received greenhouse misters from the irrigation store.  Opening the valve for about two minutes drops enough finely misted water to make the interior climate a lot more comfortable.  Of course, it’s not about the people in it but the plants.  Probably in a few weeks we’ll take the ends off for the summer but right now the night lows are low enough that keeping the ends on is a good idea.

 Any day now our sweet potato slips should arrive from New Brunswick.  I plowed in the wheat/pea/vetch cover crop a few days ago in preparation.  Perhaps another quick rototill the day they arrive to kill the few remaining strands of cover crop and in they go.  I want to use a polyethylene cover to increase the heat but I’ve grown weary of it constantly blowing away and I can’t seem to figure out a way to keep it on.  I may just use reemay to increase the temps, particularly night temps, a little higher.

I’ve begun planting tomatoes in the big tunnel.  Covering the tunnel with poly has had little effect on soil moisture or, in any case, it is simply a mud bath in certain places.  You’re really not supposed to work wet soil but I just had to rototill in order to kill the orchard grass and canary reeds that used to live there.  Then I used the rotary plow to make (relatively dry) hills and (relatively wet) furrows.  A more recent photo would show lots of puddles in the furrows.  I really wasn’t planning on doing this but it really needed to be done.  The tomatoes don’t like wet feet (few veggies do) and they need to be planted out soon (or put into larger containers).  The tomato planting is actually pretty complicated so I may do a whole post on that.

But for now, you’re mostly up to date!