Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tempting Fate

I've been up reading more Eliot Coleman since 5 this morning, listening to Brad Barton's predictions of low 20's for morning after next, and deciding how courageous I am going to be in the garden. I'm not much of a gambler, really.

I've decided that after my morning reminder calls for December CSA installments, attaching the plastic door and window to the greenhouse and getting the frost cloth ready for the new seedlings/plugs, I'll be harvesting the lion's share of the tomatoes. Just not going to risk all of them. Low 20's is pretty low.

I will, however, leave the darker green ones in there. It is supposed to be sunny for the most part on Wednesday, which should warm it up in the hoop house pretty good. The plants will be covered with frost cloth, just as before, and this will of course be a good test of this procedure for future crops - I just don't want to risk our best crop of tomatoes to this relatively untested system - untested here anyway. Eliot Coleman wasn't growing tomatoes - he was growing cold season crops.

Speaking of which, we are going to seed some beets in the greenhouse since the ground seems to still be so saturated as to prohibit the roots from surviving. I know we all loved the beets we grew last year, and of all the root crops, those are among the ones that can be transplanted instead of direct sown only.

I'll erect some more makeshift low tunnels and keep trying for carrots, but we're not seeing much in the way of help for getting the soil to dry out - as more rain falls as I type. As well, the daylight hours and sun's angle are not in our favor. They should be ready for our late winter harvest, if we can get them to germinate.

The green cutting onions are getting there, Mesclun mix is coming along nicely as is the Pok Choi. Brussels sprouts and cabbage seem to take forever, but we'll have them in the late winter and the strawberries are doing their thing, too. Garlic is up, and we're going to just replant the fall/winter herbs in transplants, same as the beets. We've lost 2 seedings to the rain and I'm not going to try a third. Cilantro, Fennel, Dill, Parsley will all have to be started in the greenhouse this year.

Irish Potatoes, sweet and red onions and all of the warm season seeds will be ordered right after the holidays. The seasons all roll together in North Texas as there is little break on the part of the farmer, even though the harvest seems to end. Seeding warm season crops in the greenhouse begins in just a few weeks, while the winter crops are still in the ground growing and just starting to be harvested. Early planting is done in order to get a jump on any early heat we may be in for this spring that retards growth of early warm season crops or makes them bitter with too much warmth. With the newly gained knowledge of these small portable hoop houses, we should be able protect some beds from late frosts and risk getting some things out a bit earlier as I am able to afford production of these simple units. I should have enough materials to cover 2 rows right now, once the last of the tomatoes are done. (They are made with PVC pipe, some wood and hardware, covered with greenhouse plastic & floating row cover.)

Fall 2009 has been a roller coaster ride in the organic farm world of North Texas for sure. All of the organic farmers I spoke to in our area have experienced the same fate, or worse, as Eden's Garden. Washed out fall plantings, rotted, stunted warm season fall plants, poor to no germination for fall and winter seeds and most of us didn't have the fall harvest of crops we should have had. It was very disheartening, considering the great weather and high hopes we had going in to the season....abruptly coming to a halt Sept 10th with that first gullywasher - will I ever forget that date?

We are all at least a month behind in our planting, and it is the hardest time of the year to make that up.

In the "old days" we'd be relying on our canned goods, root cellar crops and the little bits we could manage to scrounge up from what did survive. Fortunately today, we have the corner grocery. And, after 7 hours of stripping leaves, some basil I put through the food processor and into little containers in the freezer, you'll have some "fresh" basil paste, too. :)

KUDOS to those who are able to support local, small farms in good times and bad times just the same, and to the farmers who never give up or stop encouraging each other to go on and plant again, a retired couple I know, joking how it would be just as risky to gamble their social security check at the casino - and be drier, warmer and possibly more fun.

The farmer has no control over rain fall, excessive or otherwise, hours of day light or the temperatures. We can only do so much to try to accommodate for these natural occurrences when they become adverse. The rest is out of the farmer's hands. This is why many a farmer is also working a full time job to feed, house and clothe himself/herself and the family. If they have no crops to bring to the market, they have no income. Several of these poor seasons in a row, has put many a farmer out of business entirely, sending the fertile soils back to the banks to become housing developments or shopping centers. Losing yet another local source of food and learning for that community, as well as a family's livelihood and home.

This is why a committed CSA support group is so very important to the survival of a small farmer. I've worked full time off the farm and come home to farm in the dark. (I suppose that is why there are lights on tractors?) It makes for very, very long days and short nights, long weeks and months. I am not sure how long one could endure such a schedule. Fortunately, I only tried it for 7 months and hope never to have to return to that schedule again.

Because with CSA, everyone involved is taking a small bit of the financial risk that is spread out if things go south, yet reaping the same bountiful rewards when the harvests come in.

With CSA, small farms can survive as the farmer works tirelessly to adjust rotations, research, re-plant, build new soil beds and re-plant some more. Praying for favor from the elements.

Ah, but the sweet, nutrient dense and fresh rewards that result from the hard work and patience - are priceless.

Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Deep Organics - Double Insulation

The results are in! Looks like tomatoes for Christmas my friends! Yahoooo

check out the last 2 videos.

And inside....

Double insulated Hoop Houses ROCK!

Marie Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The First Freeze

This morning at about 5:30 it was 32.2 F. About an hour later it was up to 32.4 F, so it looks like tomorrow and maybe Saturday morning will be the real cold ones. This gradual dropping over 3 nights is actually better than a sudden swing in dropping temps overnight, and helps to harden plants off, or acclimate them. This is much better than to shock them from 60 degrees to 28 degrees as it sometimes does in N. Texas.

Late blooming fall tomatoes and assorted squash are hunkered
down in the mini hoop house to escape the frigid weather.

The plant plugs, little tiny seedling plants, that were ordered came in from sunny CA yesterday on the Fed Ex truck. They are sitting on the back porch for right now to get conditioned to Dallas weather gradually. Today, I'll move them outside and back in tonight, doing the same tomorrow. Then Saturday, we'll put them in the greenhouse - once the freezes are past - until we can get them in the ground. The beds are ready, just need the top inch or so to drain off so we can level the rows off and plant.

In addition to what is out there now, we will be growing 3 different types of lettuces, artichokes, which are a perennial plant that harvests around May, meaning we'll have artichoke plants growing every year getting better and better, and another round of broccoli.

Plants this time of the year grow very slowly as we barely have 10 hours of actual useful sunlight a day. But they do grow. By putting in a second round of some things, we should be able to have better successive harvests and early harvests in the spring - late winter.

On the recommendation of a fellow farmer, I'm currently reading a couple of books about winter farming by Eliot Coleman who grows all year around up in Maine where it gets way below 0 degrees F in the winter. If they can do it, I know we can. We just have to keep in mind we can't make the sun shine more hours a day than it is, so there will be some slow time here until February, when the daylight hours increase sufficiently more again to spur new rapid growth. He offers some great insight on this subject and a whole list of cool veggies I'd like to try here, too, that combined with some of his techniques, should widen our offerings of winter produce of mostly greens.

The crops we got in before the days shortened are looking good. The Pak Choi and Mesculin mix is covered up just because I didn't want to risk it if we got sleet or whatever they don't predict. It won't kill the plants, but it can make them look sorry and get soggy as they thaw back out. Ever eat frozen lettuce? Ick. Saturday, we'll uncover them and give them a shower with fish and seaweed and let them soak up some sunshine.

IF you happen to be one of those folks who rakes up your leaves up into bags and drags them to the curb - AND you don't use any chemical fertilizers or herbicides on your lawn, you can bring those leaves over to the farm. We will put them in our compost piles. (I would rather try to encourage you to mow them and leave them on your own lawn as a free fertilizer and cover/protection for it, but if you do rake, we'll take them and help keep them out of the dump.)

So that is the farm report from the weather bunny for the day. Tomorrow and Saturday are the real tests for our hoophouse'd tomatoes. I'll take some pics and open it up and see what's what in there later today, but I think they are all nice and toasty in there. Well, relative to being outside they are toasty. :)

Snowflakes made a brief appearance at Eden's Wednesday
morning, accompanied by another inch of rain.

Don't forget, this weekend is a meet and greet at 12:30 after market day. New potential CSA supporters are coming to see the farm, meet me and they'd love to hear your story about why you help support Eden's Garden and eat local, organic (clean) food.

Eat Your Food - Naturally!