March 2011

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Ordinarily, we’d be going full-tilt boogie out in the fields at this time. But as we’ve already noted this has been an unusually slow start due to the bucketload of rain in early March and the late arrival of two of our interns, Katt and Adam. The weather is back to normal now–gray and cold–and we’re back at planting and getting things underway for the new season.

But we used the intervening down time to do some remodeling on our big yurt so Katt and Adam, will have a dry, comfy home when they arrive this weekend.

After the heavy wind and rain this winter we thought the yurt looked a little beaten up.

But Louisa, that amazing Jill-of-all-trades, used the downtime during the early March downpour to break out her sewing machine and, working on her dining room table, turn out a brand new set of outer panels for the struture. When the sun finally shone for a few hours yesterday the crew turned out to finish the facelift.

And, voila, the old girl looked as good as new.

Louisa, Hiram and Tess

There’s something special about a yurt. They are fairly mobile–in a pinch you can break it down and lug it off to another resting place (yes, we’ve done that.) With the wood stove glowing it is warm and cozy–tee shirts inside when it is snowing outside. And there’s nothing like the sound of rain on the roof when you are tucked in bed at night.

We make it a practice and a point of pride around here not to throw things away if they have some life left in them. We’ve got vehicles that are older than their drivers and CSA boxes that have held generations of produce. Our tools aren’t very shiny, but they’ve lasted a long time.
And the yurts–Trusty, Lusty and Gusty–they’re survivors too. (Gusty, on the windward side of the yurt meadow, is the one with the facelift. As for the other two–use your imagination.)
All it takes is a bit of tender loving care and things tend to hold up just fine.
Goes the same with the farmers too.
Persephone

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rain

In a word–rain.

Rain yesterday, rain today, rain tomorrow–rain forever, maybe. Plus thunder and lightening. The Seattle Times says we’ve had as much rain in the first two weeks of March as we normally get during the entire month. We’ll all probably look back wistfully on this gullywasher of a month when things dry out in the late summer, but it is hard to get the things in the ground when it is pouring like this.

How bad is it? At lunch today, Rebecca said she’d prefer to stay indoors this afternoon and work on her taxes.

Persephone

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Our greenhouse measures 25 feet by 50 feet, not much of a footprint, even for a microfarm like ours. But at this time of the season it is the hub of the universe–at least our universe–the place where nearly everything gets its start.

It is still cold outside–close to or below freezing most nights. With all the apprentice yurts occupied,and their wood stoves fired up and wafting gentle smoky plumes, one side of the yurt meadow has the look of a busy small factory. But the real factory–a food factory–is running inside that greenhouse on the other side of the meadow. No smoke there.
More like fog. It was so warm in the greenhouse this morning that when we came in from the cold to take this picture of Louisa tending some pepper starts our camera lens fogged up.
But fog or no, it’s a pleasant place to work on a chilly morning and the farmers and apprentices are spending lots of time in there whipping up our soil mix–actually a soil-less, sterile seed-starting mix made with coir, perlite, and, in various permutations, lime and organic fertilizer. We don’t reveal the exact composition of that special sauce, we’re kind of like McDonald’s and Coke in that respect.

We’re also experimenting with a new sterlile soil mix we got from Specialty Soils  in Covington. Plus, we’re trying a variety of growing platforms this year–plug flats, seedling trays and regular open flats to see which work best for different crops. Some flowers, for instance, dont like their roots disturbed and we’ve got them in the plug flats and seeding trays. Other things like cauliflower, basil and some herbs we plant in open flats.

baby Chinese Cabbage in plug flats

In recent years, many farmers have switched completely to plugs and seedling trays because they use less mix. We still go with the open flats because…well, because they work and you don’t usually mess with success. Also, plug flats need more water, which can tie you down to the greenhouse in the early spring when they need a lot of tlc.

We’ve put more emphasis this year on growing starts for home gardeners–more variety and more diversity. Hard to say whether its the sagging economy, rising gas prices, or people just are getting more interested in growing some of their own food, but there is a noticeable boom in home gardening taking place.

We’re all for that, even if it means losing some of our Farmers Market veggie sales to home gardeners. But it should also prove instructive to those newbies–coaxing produce from the ground up is a lot trickier than it looks in the seed catalogs. Nice to get a running start with a tomato, pepper or basil start. We figure the trend will help make people appreciate what we do too.

In truth, however, we think the world would be a better place if a lot more home gardeners experienced the pleasure of nurturing and tending their own starts. We’d gladly cede some of that business–right now, our own little food factory is maxed out.

Persephone

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Looks like the NY Times discovered a trend in the making with this piece today on more young people getting into farming. But you already knew all about it if you read our Oct. 8 post, Greenhorn Gathering, or any of the other post last year by and about our own crop of new farmers.

If you didn’t catch the Times article, take a look.

Persephone

This year’s season began at 11 Wednesday morning when Debbie Jauch drove her black and silver Kenworth dump truck through the farm gate (sending the watching chickens into a dither of feathers and squawks), spun the 105,000 pound behemouth into the lower pasture, and, in a nifty bit of dump-truck artistry, laid a huge pile of compost on the precise spot Rebecca and Louisa had selected.

compost dump

Ms. Jauch’s arrival was a kind of seasonal sign–like the first robin. You need compost to get a farm going and while we have plenty of the stuff sitting in steaming piles on the lower pasture, Rebecca and Louisa are still uneasy about its provenance. We know for a fact that some of those piles contain aminopyralid and clopyralid–two very potent herbicides made by Dow AgroSciences that, while they are harmless to humans, could cause much damage to some of the plants we raise if they were spread out on the fields.

We know this because, after a long hiatus since a state Ag. Dept. inspector tested those piles last summer, we were finally sent a report showing what was in the piles. Bad news there–trace elements of both herbicides, which made their way from some eastern Washington hay and wheat growers, through a horse farm that supplies our compost manure, and into our piles. Dow has since said it plans to tighten controls over their products to cut off that process. We’ll see how that works out, but meanwhile we’re pondering what to do with our existing piles.

Thus, the arrival of Ms. Jauch and her dump truck. Rebecca spent the winter scouting around for compost we could be certain was herbicide-free. Turns out that is almost impossible since most compost sellers either don’t know their product can still be tainted (Washington banned the spraying of clopyralid on lawns a decade ago to keep the contaminated clippings out of compost, but failed to do anything about hay) or they don’t test and therefore don’t know what’s in there. We’ve heard from loads of other Washington farmers and gardeners who have had compost contamination problems similar to ours.

Ms. Jauch’s compost came from Cedar Grove, a composting company that says it doesn’t allow manure in its product. It’s amazing what goes into compost–we’ve had sellers tell us they’ve found everything from particle board to ground-up plastic in their material. In any event, Ms. Jauch’s compost was black, with a rich, earthy aroma. We hope nothing else was in there. 

Ms. Jauch and her dump truck were barely out the gate before things began humming–new beds being measured out, beds turned over, seeds being sown. Two of our new interns–Tess Faller and Hiram Peri–got their foul weather gear muddied up for the first time. The other two, Adam Favaloro and Katt Tolman won’t arrive until the end of the month. We’ll have a more complete introduction then.

In their stead, Joel Sokoloff, one of last year’s interns, will be filling in for a couple of weeks until he moves out to Chimacum, on the Olympic Peninsula, to his next farming gig at Red Dog Farm. We got them all to pose for a quick snapshot.

Hiram, Tess and Joel

Meanwhile, Louisa was firing up her tractor to begin prepping part of our lower field for a new raspberry patch. Last year, that field was the domain of our sheep, but things never seem to stand still for long around here. We decided to forego sheep this year and raspberries seemed like a pretty good alternative use of the pasture. They grow well in our cool summer weather and there is an almost inexhaustible demand for fresh berries and for jam.

Plus, there’s not much that beats picking your breakfast off bushes right outside your door. Still, it was kind of sad watching that lovely green pasture disappear under Louisa’s box scraper. It didn’t take long to go from this.

                                        To this:

                           To this:

So it goes: A little lime to improve the soil, a bit of rain, some rototilling and planting and, voila, a new raspberry patch.  Agricultural statisticians tell us we’re losing about an acre of U.S. farmland every minute to developers. In our own small way we’re working to reverse that trend.

Persephone

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