Sunday, April 19, 2015

April 2015 : More Farmland

So once again, it has been almost a year since my last post. Similar to last year, it is not lack of activity that prevents me from posting, it has been another surge in activity.  Last spring, while working on the newly acquired farmland, a real estate agent stopped and started a conversation with me. Never the conversationalist, and less so when I am operating a chain saw, my only memory of the conversation was another parcel would soon be offered for sale. Not intending to buy any more land, I forgot about this conversation for nearly six months.

But then I realized the land for sale was the more of the same prime Geauga County farmland that we already owned. Thankfully the seller and I were able to negotiate a deal and we worked together over the next four months to close the deal.  Now we are the proud owners of an additional 10 acres (22 acres total) of historic farmland.

In recent years all the acreage has been leased to dairy farmers who have maintained an alfalfa / corn rotation.  Some years the corn is harvested for grain and other years chopped for silage.  Expecting the land to be re-purposed from farmland to housing at any moment, tenant farmers have not made any significant investments in the long term health of the soil.

Drawing on my years of experience building the health of neglected soils, I cobbled together a cover cropping strategy to nurse the soil back to health.  The acidic pH and lack of organic matter prompted a decision I never thought I would (or even, could) make.  My next posts will introduce the rusty iron equipment that have been given new life.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

June 2014 : Not Stalled Not At All!

Here is a photo of the raised beds, covered with black plastic mulch, transplanted to cantaloupes, with winter rye growing down the row middles.  Completely by accident (maybe at this point, by habit) my previous photo was from the very same spot but it looked much different.

The previous photo showed raised beds with 100% surface disturbance which translates to 100% weed emergence.  This photo proves I finally found a technique to lay the mulch, plant the cash crop and keep the cover crop.  A flail mower is used to manage the cover crop residue.  In addition to all the benefits the roots provide, when the winter rye is flailed, it thick residue will smother the soil surface.

Let's hope the cantaloupes go on to bear many fruits.  The blossoms are out but I have not seen any bees.

Although it has been over a year since my last post, it is not lack of activity that prevented me from posting, it has been another surge in activity.  Last spring, while researching farm transition plans, vacant land values, and appraisal methods, I noticed 12 acres of prime Geauga County farmland were for sale.  Not the land I had intending to buy, but a great alternative if I couldnt buy the orchard that surrounds our current house.

Thankfully we were able to negotiate a deal and now are the proud owners of historic farmland.  The land had been part of a dairy farm and crops alternated between alfalfa and corn.  More recently the land had been leased to another dairy farmer who continued a similar rotation.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

May 2013 : Blossoms

Here is a photo of the raised beds.  No, it's actually a photo of the beautiful apple trees in the background.  Last year was such a devastating year for fruit and the trees have a natural reaction - to come back stronger the following year.  This year the blossoms were most numerous and fragrant than anyone can remember.  All cultivars blossomed at the same time, too, for an extra point on the that-is-so-awesome scale.

Onions were transplanted a few weeks ago and have happily adjusted to life in the field.  The first stand of sweet corn has been planted and so have beans and edamame although the dry weather may delay germination.

Rainfall is forecast for this week so that will encourage germination.  It will also help put the finishing touches on the raised beds.  Once the beds contain sufficient moisture I can make one pass with the rototiller to prepare a smooth bed then immediately cover with plastic mulch.

Monday, April 29, 2013

April 2013 : Twigs

Here is a photo of a raspberry plant.  Really.  I understand the theory of planting dormant, bare root nursery stock.  But Nathaniel asked why we were planting twigs.  Normally we direct sow seeds or transplant green leafy plants with a root ball so this was a fair question.  All the peat enriched soil is under the surface while the clumps are on the surface to prevent crusting.  Eventually 4 - 6" of mulch will be added.

We planted 12 raspberry plants and 6 blueberry plants.  The raspberries are the Heritage cultivar while the blueberries are Bluecrop, Patriot and Herbert culitvars.  Heritage raspberries are ever-bearing which really means they can produce two crops a summer depending on pruning techniques.  Blueberries need multiple cultivars for proper pollination and maximum fruit set.  These cultivars also ripen early, mid and late season for a steady supply.

It will take at least two years for the twigs to establish and bear fruit.  Even when these plants reach maximum bearing capacity there will never be sufficient harvest to take to market but plenty for the kids to eat.  These plants are more for learning the art of pruning on a small scale before attempting to produce on a field scale.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

April 2013 : Field Work

Here is a photo of the tractor and the subsoiler engaging the soil.  The subsoiler works to a depth of 24" but does not invert the soil.  In fact, when performed properly, subsoiling barely disturbs the surface. Last year's mistakes inadvertantly proved the benefit of subsoiling to me.

Of all the mistakes I made, last year's biggest mistake was making passes 60" apart when passes should be 30" apart.  In effect, half the field was subsoiled.  Remember the hot, dry summer?  The sweet corn stalks that grew over or close to the subsoiler passes were noticeably more vigorous than the stalks that grew between the passes.

Over the winter I also learned how to set up the three point hitch and adjust attachments.  The hitch has several adjustments and the most important to a subsoiler is the angle of the tip.  A properly angled tip will pull the attachment downward into the soil.

Another mistake I am willing to admit was over inflating the rear tires which reduced traction.  Proper inflation of the rear tires is only 14 PSI.  I inflated the rear tires to 36 PSI, which is the proper inflation of the front tires.

But correcting all those mistakes, this year subsoiling was performed, almost perfectly.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 2013 : yumions

This is a photo of our red onion transplants.  Starting onions was different than starting our typical peppers and tomatos.  Onions are started much earlier in the season and are started in smaller cell trays.

The transplants are ready for the field in 8 weeks from sowing.  The onions are ready to be harvested 125 days later.  Seeds that are sown in trays February 24 can be harvested August 24 under usual growing conditions.  The trays contain 144 cells and each cell contains 3 seeds for a total of 432 seeds per tray.

That is an awful lot of tedious hand seeding!  I was a bit annoyed performing this labor on a cold February night particularly when I realized we wouldnt be grilling these onions until Labor Day.  But the yummy thought of red onions motivated me to finish.

Another month will pass before additional transplants are started.  Thanks to the onions early start, all the necessary supplies have been replenished and all the starter trays and tools have been sterilized.

Monday, January 7, 2013

January 2013 - Closed

Here is a photo of the field ... all the vegetables harvested, plant debris flail mowed, soil subsoiled and seeded to winter rye cover crop.  Now it's frozen and partially covered with snow.  The cover crop was seeded later than ever - October 18 - but had sufficient germination and fair top growth.

I look at this photo and see the weed seed bank.  Research has estimated up to 3,000 viable weed seeds exist in the top six inches of each square foot of soil.  Our weed management practices have reduced but not eliminated that seed bank.  We shall meet again ...

While planning the crops for this upcoming season, I have decided to try grafting some tomato plants.  The concept is simple, start two tomato plants; one for good roots and one for good fruits.  A few weeks after planting, cut the stem of each plant and use clips to hold the good roots bottom to the good fruits top.  This technique is typically applied to heirlooms to improve plant vigor.

The bad news is my favorite heirloom seeds are becoming very scarce!  I will fess up - at the end of a growing season, saving seed is at the bottom of my list.  At that time, I gladly trade extra sleep then for couple extra dollars in seed packets later.  The problem is that Nyagous seeds are surprisingly scarce.