Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Two Birds with One Stone

Lately on various farming forums, I hear “there aren't any lady farmers doing farming how-to videos!”

And, I get asked sometimes how I start seeds in the winter here at my farm.

(I can hear it now - As if N. Texas really has a winter. But really, it's not like it's hot here all year round either, so for seed starting purposes, yes, we have winter temps to contend with, even if you Iowa farmers think we're wimps because our average low is 10F and that rarely happens in most winters. Just for the record, this year I had two consecutive nights of SEVEN degrees F - and yes, it killed most everything I had planted.)

So, back to the two issues. Let’s tackle both of them with this one entry!

I guess this blog will kind of turn into a vlog - with the occasional video going forward - and eventually, once I master it, a podcast, too. But don't worry, you'll be able to access all of it from this one spot! So be sure to bookmark it! But, I'm definitely a lady farmer, and I'll do my best to show you "how to" do stuff. So there's my contribution to resolving the lack of lady farmers with how - to's on line.

Now, it takes a bit of time to edit videos and I'm just learning the ropes, (and farming about 3 of my 14 acres on my own full time, too), so they'll be pretty brief and a little amateurish for now. But you'll (hopefully) be able to get the point and learn something from them. Feedback is good - just be nice. :)

So here we go - and while after 10 years I don't profess to be a pro, quite the contrary, I still consider myself a rookie, I’m going to share with you how I start seeds in the winter on a shoestring budget! 😉

Here’s a little video on it I did.

But in a nutshell;

  • I bought a used waterbed heater on Ebay, although I’ve seen new ones for pretty cheap – like, $50 or less, 
  • I slipped it underneath an air mattress, purchased for less than $20 at a big box sporting goods store, that was filled about half way with water. 

 That's IT! 

This creates a nice big heated seed starting bed! 

I can fit a dozen flats of seeds on there, get them germinated and even keep them warm in the event of a deep freeze, by covering them with a frost blanket over night. 

The soil temp when I went in tonight after chores was a cozy seed starting happy 70 something degrees. That's just perfect for starting your warm season seeds! On a sunny day, you may have to remove them from the heated bed if the temp starts to get too warm. 

Easy peasy! Much less expensive than a half a dozen seed starting mats and/or a fancy artificial lighting set up. (My greenhouse is pretty simple, but even if you set up on a table in an extra room with a trouble light and a sunny south window, this will work.)

Now, I have to give credit where credit is due – this is not my brainstorm, but that of retired farmer Gene from Oak Ridge Valley. He was always very helpful and sharing in ways to help other farmers grow – and I wanted to pass on that knowledge in the same tradition.

So there you have it, ladies looking for a lady farmer on You Tube, and How To seekers for seed starting on a shoestring budget!

Farm On!

Here's to Spring! Hurry up!!


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Let's Get This Growing! The Continuing Saga of Acquiring an EQUIP High Tunnel

Wow, August of 2018 will mark my 10 year anniversary of breaking ground and diving into commercial farming. The above photo was taken right after the ground had been run over with a disk, rained on for 5 inches and then later tilled. It was right before we'd spread composted horse manure and used the little tiller and hoes to make rows.

The color of the soil, a light brown, is clearly indicative of how sandy the soil is here at Eden's. Contrary to the dark, "black gumbo" that most of Dallas County "enjoys", my farm is sitting on a deposit of soil quite unlike anything I'd ever grown in before.

As I've covered in past blog entries, growing on sandy soil has its challenges. Trying to keep nutrients available to your plants during flooding winter and spring rains, among one of the greatest.

Heavily mulching helps, to some degree, but even then, when the flooding keeps coming over and over, that mulch is often washed away, down the footpaths, with a lot of the topsoil.

The water rushes down those footpaths and erodes the rows' edges away, leaving little in the way of a solid bed on which to grow healthy plants; without first re-establishing the soil's biology. This process takes time, and so expensive organic amendments are added to aid the current season's crops.

If you'll remember, last year I was finally approved for a high tunnel through the USDA's NRCS EQUIP program. (Geez, how's that for a bunch of acronyms?) And of course, it comes right in the middle of peak growing season, when a farmer has nothing else to do than sit down and fill out paperwork, hunt down lenders (because it's not actually FREE, you have to pay for it up front, then be reimbursed from the USDA after inspection and approval), get it selected and ordered, find a contractor to put it all together at the time you can have it delivered, actually then have it delivered, inspected and then money is made available to you. So, yes, timing is everything. Unless your flush with a little over 10k.

Fellow farmer and friend Bev Thomas of Cold Springs Farm ran into a jam last summer upon being approved for her EQUIP tunnels and a bit of a, well, we'll call it a mix-up, with the FSA loan she'd worked for months to secure. (I'm guessing she might have a different way of describing the whole event, but I'll leave that to her.)

However, in doing so and mentioning the struggle to me, I remembered dealing with the DFW branch of Slow Money Texas and thought maybe they could help her out. So, I reached out to them and they put her in touch with a group out of Austin, the Austin Foodshed Investors.

So once I finally got through the fiasco of the much colder than I expected fall season, which followed a much warmer than normal early fall season, the holidays and a terrible cold I couldn't seem to shake, I, too reached out to these folks for help securing what they call,
"Small Batch Capital To Local Food Companies" so I could finally get my high tunnel ordered, installed and get growing in it in time for the 2018 season. 

Approx what my tunnel will look like
So far, the process had been less than seamless with my original NRCS agent taking a tumble and being out of commission for several months. My application may or may not have been delayed, but upon a conversation with some folks at last year's TOFGA conference, a new agent showed up in my driveway two days after the event ended. My conservation plan was updated and the application was approved within a few more weeks. Thank you, Michael. 

So now I'm on my way to join the ranks of hundreds of other farmers using season extending and more importantly in my case, soil protecting, equipment, in which to grow Real Food. 

I'm excited to see the results and quite honestly, I can't wait to get to hang out in my little plastic wonderland on days like today when the outside temp is below freezing. One of my favorite jobs before moving to Dallas from Chicago was a part time gig I had at the park district's conservatory and greenhouses. Winter raged outside, but in those greenhouses it was as warm as a cool day on a tropical island. I loved it. And I'm really looking forward to the benefits of having one in which to grow delicious vegetables for both my market customers and CSA members.  

Farmer Bev tells me it'll change my world, having a high tunnel in which to grow crops. And the bonus of getting a bit of a head start with the warmer soil gained under protection of the plastic, is pretty cool, too.

Keep it here and I'll chronicle the process. 

Hope to see you at this year's TOFGA conference, too. We can compare notes on growing, and I'll introduce you to Jarred and his company, so you can get your small batch loan, too.


Eat Your Food - Naturally!