Thursday, August 7, 2014

Gleaning

With the end of the CSA season and a trip to Iowa for a little vacation under my belt, I'm hoping things have slowed down enough for me to do a better job of keeping this blog up to date.  With that said though, I'll be realistic, life happens.

I'm excited about something that has happened on the farm for the last two weeks and it has me wanting to share it.  I like to give food to people.  Giving food to people who appreciate it is something that makes almost any gardener happy.  Asking money for the food I grow was a really hard transition for me several years ago.  It was a transition that was necessary for us to grow as a farm, but it was hard.  Sometimes it still is hard.  I get really excited when someone else is excited about something I've grown and still want to say "Take this! Because it still amazes me that I can grow something this fantastic!"

For several years now we have donated our excess produce on Saturday morning's to a women's shelter in Little Rock.  I really didn't put a lot of effort into this donation though until this year when one of the volunteers mentioned how much the cooks at the shelter appreciated the food and found ways to use all of it.  That was all of the affirmation I needed.  Since then we've picked extra on Fridays with the intention of donating.  When our CSA season ended a few weeks ago we were left with a surplus of produce on Tuesdays as well.  A friend mentioned taking it to the food pantry in Vilonia for their Wednesday morning pick-up.  So we have.  And they have shown a lot of appreciation for the food.

Over the course of the last few weeks though, it's obvious to me that our small farm runs on a small enough profit margin that I can't continue paying my helpers to pick a large amount of food to be given away.  A friend helped put me in touch with the Society of St Andrew.  This faith based program coordinates a huge network of volunteers that go into farmers' fields and orchards at the end of harvest, glean what remains and distribute it to food banks across the country.  This is a fantastic program! To our farm this week they sent a group of volunteers from Michigan that were going through a program called Harvest of Hope to glean eggplant and cherry tomatoes.  As they were gleaning, a truck from the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance arrived to take everything immediately to the food bank.


Over the course of the morning I had a chance to visit with the man in charge of the Harvest of Hope program and the man delivering to the food bank about the possibility of planting extra next year specifically for them to harvest.  I'm excited about the possibility of helping them in the future.  I also came away with some thoughts about setting up our own small network of volunteers branching out from our CSA community.  Throughout the summer I have moms volunteering themselves and their kids for picking cherry tomatoes or retirees offering to help pick a little bit.  I now see a niche these people could fill on the farm.  I'm so excited about all of this! 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Raising Beds

After a frustrating start to the week, an awful lot got done around here yesterday thanks to the help of the college students, the loan of a trailer from another farmer and Robert taking two afternoons off from work.

Last year we bought a new piece of equipment for the farm that raises beds, lays irrigation and covers it all with plastic mulch.  And while that is a pretty fantastic piece of equipment that can do a lot of things in a short time for us, we've found that to make it work the soil has to be just right and every setting has to be spot on.  If either of these conditions is not met the results are more than frustrating.  The most frustrating part of using this equipment though can be knowing that our lack of farming experience is usually the biggest factor we need to overcome.

Tuesday morning met me with a series of vehicular and trailer malfunctions that kept me from picking up the load of fertilizer we needed to get on the ground before raising beds.  After giving up on what should have been an easy errand to run, the boys and I made our way on to the farm we buy meat from.  My morning was salvaged when my farmer friend sent me away not only with meat but with a trailer hooked up to my ride and I was able to pick up fertilizer.  Thank you!

Shortly after I made it back to the farm, two interns and a volunteer college student showed up despite being on spring break.  Robert came home from work early and we all set in to pull beds.  With the bed raiser already on the tractor and all of the necessary adjustments made the night before, this should have made for an easy afternoon.  Instead, it turned into several frustrating hours that went no where.  No matter what we did or what adjustments were made the plastic continued to pull up out of the dirt resulting in an extremely messed up bed and a lot of work to be done by hand.  The frustration of using this piece of equipment is always made worse knowing that we are usually in a time crunch to get beds raised before the next rain comes and we have to wait for dry ground again.  After a long day working I sent the college students on their way.  Robert stayed with the tractor.  He came in at dark, successfully having raised one bed.  Now we were ready to go.

Wednesday morning started with greenhouse work.  With the greenhouse busting at the seams, we moved every flower and every remotely cold-tolerant veggie transplant to the caterpillar tunnel until it had no open ground left in it.  This made just enough room to sow trays of spaghetti and butternut squash, cucumbers and the first round of sunflower seeds.  We finished sowing the last of eight rows of green beans...8 more rows than I feel like picking but worth all the work when they make it to a kitchen.  Early afternoon Robert made it another short day at the office and came home to direct the bed raising show around here.

With the help of the interns and Milan, the entire north field of beds was fertilized and and covered.  Gus and I were literally no help.  We did provide some moral support while making laps around the north field taking pictures.  Have I mentioned Gus doesn't like to stop moving?  When I do stop he cracks a little whip and lets us all know about it.  My contribution to the afternoon is simply documentation.







Saturday, March 8, 2014

Catching up Since January

So much has happened around here in the last two months!  I've put off writing any blog posts because the things I have to write about deserve so much attention but I can't seem to find the time to give it.  I'm going to try to catch up on some of it in one post.

The biggest news and the reason everything else slowed way down around here in January was the arrival of our newest farmhand, Baby Gus.


Now almost two months old and with the arrival of some warmer weather. he's starting to join us in our work around the farm.  


The second major happening on the farm in January was the completion of our high tunnel project.  


We're excited about the season extension this 30x72 foot structure is going to give us early in the spring and late in the fall that we haven't had before.  A blog post dedicated to building this high tunnel will come in the very near future.  

Finally, the reason we are not only caught up around the farm but ahead of where we've been in the past has to do with the arrival of our spring interns that started work out here in February.  This will be our fourth year as part of Hendrix College's internship program and we are more involved than ever.  

In the past we have hosted as many as three interns on the farm during a semester.  This semester we are hosting five in addition to hiring two of our former interns as part-time employees on the farm.  They have been a super crew and a pleasure to work with.  They all have taken on major roles on the farm and have made working out here a team effort.  Not only do I appreciate the help they provide but I really enjoy the energy and company they bring every day.  And Milan does too.


I'm excited that they also want their voices heard.  Soon they will begin writing blog posts for me regarding their experience here at the farm over the course of the semester.  A great way to help me keep up to date with this blog and provide more than just my perspective.  

That catches me up on major news.  Now to begin the process of catching up on our spring planting progress.  Today though, it's way too pretty to stay inside on the computer!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2014 CSA


Finally, an update on the upcoming CSA season!  Check out the info on our 2014 CSA page to find out details about becoming a member of our 2014 CSA program that picks up weekly baskets of goodies directly from the farm.  For those of you that want to pick up your baskets in Little Rock from Robert, contact me before signing up for the CSA so we can discuss details.  For those of you interested in the possibility of a Farm-to-Gym program, drop me an email and hang tight, more info to come soon on this exciting opportunity!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

High Tunnel

Since I missed posting anything about this project in September, I thought I better get some pictures up on it soon.

We found out in May that we had been approved for a grant through the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) to help us put up a high tunnel on the farm.  The objective of the program we were joining was to help farmers extend their growing season as sustainably as possible by giving them a structure to grow in.  Once we actually complete the high tunnel, it will allow us to grow plants earlier in the spring and later in the fall than what we could in our fields.

So after a busy market season, at the end of August I finally got around to researching tunnel options and ordering a tunnel from a company in Missouri called Hummert.  Two weeks later a large truck arrived carrying a 16-foot, 4000 lb crate.


Then it became a matter of putting together a large jigsaw puzzle.  Robert began by hauling the bow pieces over to the barn to put them together on the only flat surface we have around here.


Then the thirty foot wide bows needed to be hauled back to the tunnel site.


Once the bows were completed, it was time to put the posts in the ground that were going to hold these bows in the air.  We had been told by several farmers that this was going to be the most difficult part of the process.  After much deliberation, we decided the best way for us to put these in the ground was going to be to augur out holes part of the depth and then pound the posts in the rest of the way.  Because we only pounded them in part of the way, we also decided to reinforce each of them with a little concrete.  We were fortunate when doing this that Robert's job requires him to use survey equipment and that he has access to all of that equipment.  He was able to use GPS and aerial photography to lay out the tunnel on the computer ahead of time and then stick pin flags in the exact spot we needed to put each post.  Then after auguring out part of the holes we were able to stick the survey rod down into each of the hollow posts and know we were putting each post exactly where it needed to be.  Twenty-six posts later we were ready to figure out how to put the bows up.


The tunnel we chose from Hummert measured 30x72 and is almost thirteen feet tall at the peak.  Part of the reason we went with this tunnel rather than the one they offer that is two feet taller was that we weren't sure how we were going to lift the bows thirteen feet let alone up to fifteen feet.  Like most farm projects, this one just took a little bit of scrap lumber and some engineering.


And it actually worked.



The first night we managed to get up four of the bows before running out of daylight and the other nine went up rather quickly the next day.


Progress continues in the next post...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

New Peeps

Because we have a tendency to put a lot on our plates at one time, things around here tend not to get done until they absolutely need to be done.  Every little thing seems to get prioritized and placed either on the list of things that absolutely must be crammed into today or the list of things that can be put off until tomorrow.  The mobile chicken coop was no different.  Work on it slowly plugged along throughout the summer until we made a decision on the first of August to order a new batch of chicks that would be shipped the last week of August.  And then we had a deadline.  Despite working on it throughout the month Robert was still hard at work finishing it up the day the big chickens needed to move out of the big coop in it to make room for the peeps that were coming in the mail.

We decided to do the move in a two night process.  Our biggest concern was how hard it was going to be for our very conditioned chickens to figure out how to roost somewhere other than the coop they had spent their entire lives roosting in.  Watching them through this process Robert decided it was slightly akin to a smoker quitting cold turkey.  They struggled.  But only for a few nights.

Because this coop was not designed with enough space to keep the chickens penned up in it during the day we decided to move only twenty hens into it the first night.  We picked the birds that seemed to be the escape artists from the chicken yard.  While I have never seen a big yellow Buff Orpington bird outside of the chicken fence, we have a group of colored Aracaunas that have routinely made their way up into the barn to lay their eggs and drive me a little insane on a daily basis.  These are the birds we figured we'd have the most trouble keeping in the new chicken yard so we moved them first.


Waiting until dark meant it was relatively easy to pick these birds off of their roosting ladders, clip their wings and load them into bird boxes to be hauled to the new coop.  Having stayed in there one evening, Milan got his first chance to pick up eggs out of the new laying boxes which he was pretty pumped about.



Moving on night two took a little longer when one our horses decided to have a bellyache in the middle of the process requiring a late night trip to the vet to pick up some medicine leaving Robert to catch birds and clip wings without any help.  Despite being past our bedtime it got done.  

Milan and I spent the next morning cleaning out the big chicken coop and preparing feeders, waterers and lights for the incoming peeps.  No phone call came from the post office that day, but our phone rang bright and early the next morning to "come get these peeping chicks!"  So I did.


75 new peeps.  25 Plymouth Barred Rocks (a new breed for us) and 50 Aracauna chicks made their way from Cackle Hatchery in Missouri.  Well, 73 anyway, two just didn't make it through the mail.