Friday, January 23, 2015

Something tells me

 When Herman's Hermits recorded their hit "Something Tells Me I'm Into Something Good" back in the '60s, I'm sure they weren't referring to a shade house for an organic farm. However, working on just that project this winter has me humming that tune ... mostly in the fog. It's no huge project, only 30x30, but it will provide a little home out of the bright sun for tender plants coming out of the greenhouse. As a matter of fact, some of those little plants have already poked their heads out of the potting soil (see bottom pic). And with a tiny little greenhouse, they soon will need to make way for the stars of summer: tomatoes! Well, maybe some zucchini, cucumbers, melons, herbs, greens and watermelons. Last year it was a struggle to juggle all these various plants while waiting for that perfect moment to pop them into a nice warm spot in the ground. This year may be different, but only if the project is finished in time for the plants to make use of it. And we also want to sell our organic heirloom starts to gardeners right off the farm and this new structure will provide an appropriate place for them to be set out for perusal by browsers. And while something tells me I'm into something good with this project, something is also telling me this bleak midwinter is going to end all too soon. So I better get back to work!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

It's January? Better get out and weed the leeks!

I love leeks. They are the only member of the allium family to commonly stand on their own at the dinner table. And of course you can add a little potato and come up with a fabulous soup. So here you see my two little rows of leeks and a very necessary activity going on around them: weeding. All that rain, then a little sun and the unwanted vegetation has taken off. Who knows what might happen with a little warm weather. That would be scary. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Ready, willing and able

Eugene's dad brought his bee's back to my place this weekend. His timing was great. Two weeks earlier and he would not have been able to get them on the property due to floodwater. And I had no way to contact him! He's a jovial Russian guy about my age. Well, his bees are most helpful in pollinating some vegetable crops, like cucumbers, squash and melons. And of course they LOVE sunflowers and lots of the other blooms we grow. I expect he'll haul his hard-working bees off to an almond orchard for a few weeks at some point this spring where a farmer will pay a pretty penny to help insure a good crop and then he'll probably take them all the way home later in the summer, particularly if it's dry again this year. He lives quite a bit further north where spring hits a little later. By the way, if my head was see-through (my wife sometimes thinks it is) you could see that he brought two lines of bee hives this year, not just the one along the fence line.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Burn, baby, burn

Winter weeds are spring up all over our place and, being certified organic, the best ways to get rid of them are hand weeding, or flaming. Flaming is far faster but has it's limitations, the biggest of which is that if you let the weeds get away from you, the torch won't get rid of them. It just singes the tops. The flame is fabulous on just-emerged seedlings and progressively less so as the plants gain in size.
Unfortunately, no flaming was accomplished yesterday because this farmer forgot how to hook up the flamer hose to the propane tank's valve spigot. Sounds rudimentary, but maybe not as much as it appears. As it turns out, there are inside and outside threads! So yesterday it was hand weeding as my tender brain processed this problem. And then, this morning, I had an epiphany! Strangely, this IS the Epiphany, the day according to Christians when the Christ child was revealed to the world, or at least the Three Wise Men who had travelled from afar. So today, those pesky weeds -- like the ones under my shoes in the big photo -- will have a fiery adversary. And I will have fiery farming fun! And I may be kicking myself with one of those steel-toed shoes in the big picture for not figuring it out yesterday!!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The winter of our discontent

Every winter provides new challenges and for farmers, and the rain and freezing weather of this winter have not let this farmer down. In fact, the massive storms that pounded our parched region for a good two weeks left my place flooded. At left is the low spot at Singing Frog Farm before and after the storms. All that water didn't just evaporate, either. It needed help to move on down the line. But that's not all. Significant portions of planting plots ended up sitting in water for a goodly number of days, then suffering through three nights of freeze one of which had my thermometer sitting at 23 degrees. The result is seen in the before and after pics up one of my planting plots. Before the storms, green and healthy and after the storms flooding and freezes, brownish and struggling.  Let's hope for some warm weather to help it green up again before I plow it into the soil. So the deluge's positive impact at Singing Frog Farm may be to expedite creation of a retention pond to hold all that water ... a pond that just might be a good place to put some fish and crawdads, and which could be     ringed by native flowers and grasses, providing a permanent home for some very special little singing frogs! It's times like these that make one yearn for the warmer weather which hopefully is already on its way. Rows of tomatoes, corn, cukes, peppers, potatoes. In between dealing with the ravages of winter we've been plotting a bounteous spring and summer and are chomping at the bit to get back to the farmers markets. So here's to the New Year. May it be even more bounteous than the last.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Doing push-ups

3 rows of onions push up through plastic

Planting things through plastic used to make me think of the Hmong strawberry growers, who use that method extensively. For some reason, it didn't sit well with me. Then I realized that it was what they did before putting it down that bothered me: Fumigate with pesticides and herbicides so powerful they have to put skull-and-crossbones tape all around the field. This is because they plant the same thing over and over and over, so nasty plant-specific pathogens build up. But come to find out, there are other good reasons to use plastic. For instance, see that little garlic sprout coming through the plastic at lower left? That little sprout is going to grow up into a big, beautiful head of hardneck garlic. Planting through plastic keeps the weeds down ... important for a plant that's in the ground for almost 9 months. It also keeps the soil warmer, reduces water evaporation and results in higher mounds of good soil for the plant to put out its roots in. The key for me will be to properly dispose of the plastic, which is recyclable. If I do that using the plastic should have no negative affect on sustainability.

A little garlic plant begins its 8 month journey to maturity

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Covered California

One great thing about farming is getting into mother nature's head.
You have to. If you simply throw fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides at every problem, pretty soon you won't be a farmer any more. Or, if you have a lot of money, you will be a farmer looking for new land.
Mother nature wants you to take care of her, and if you do there's a chance she will repay you with fertile soil and bounteous crops. Nothing guaranteed, of course. She's very fickle. And although you may think you understand her, you may instead be suffering from a bout of arrogance.
This year, I have planted cover crops on almost all my plots. What is a cover crop? It's something that starts in the fall, grows slowly through fall/winter and takes of in the spring, getting maybe four feet high if you are lucky. And with the warm weather it will start to bloom.
And that's when you interrupt Mother Nature's cycle.
When it starts to bloom you cut it down, till it in to the ground, then wait at least two weeks before planting your cash crops. Why?
That's what I was wondering: What's the point? Turns out if you plant the right type of seed, the cover crop will pull nitrogen straight out of the air through its leaves and send it down through its cell structure to be deposited in nodules on the roots: Little balls of nitrogen for your cash crop to feed off. And if you mix that seed with another one with really aggressive root systems, that second one will scavenge your soil for nitrogen left over from last year's planting -- nitrogen that just might have been washed away by winter rains. This second plant pulls the nitrogen up from the soil and deposits it into its leaves. So when you plow it down, the leaves will break down and start releasing the nitrogen!
So why do you have to interrupt nature's cycle?  Because once the crop starts flowering, it will begin drawing the nitrogen up from the soil to support the flowering process.
I hope my cover crops will be at least as successful at delivering fertile soil to me as Covered California has been in delivering health care to the maximum number of our residents. I'd consider that a big success!