Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Help Thinning Seedlings

A few months ago I sowed some random beet seeds in a big tub in the greenhouse.  Since then I've read it wasn't really the right time to sow beet seeds, so they've been kind of neglected.  Yesterday in preparation for a full greenhouse by the end of the week we pulled that tub outside of the greenhouse.  

For whatever reason, the Monster decided to help thin out that tub and put his culls in the tub next to him.  The only thing I'm missing here is sound effects.  The whole process included deet, deet, deet, deet, deet.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Spring Interns' First Day

The farm has been part of the internship program of a nearby college for a few semesters now.  And while in some ways having interns on the farm creates more work for me, I definitely like the energy they bring to the farm.  The first year the farm became my full-time work was a bit of a culture shock for me.  Many weeks during the summer I didn't leave the farm except on market days.  Interns have become my link to the outside world.

Today was the first day of work for the three interns we have this semester and it could not have been a prettier day for them to start.  You can't ask for much more than sixty degrees, sunny and no wind in January.  

We finished killing spiders in the greenhouse and getting it ready to be filled by the end of the week.  We started lettuce, chard and pak choi seeds, we mulched on the grapes, 

and then I gave a few tractor driving lessons.  They took to the tractor like old pros.

In the meantime I'm training the Monster to take over the tractor driving lessons.

I think it was a pretty good day.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Picking up a Load of Compost

Since it rained all day today Bruce didn't have any concrete work to do so we drove down to American Composting in North Little Rock to pick up a load of compost.  Most places sell compost by the yard-usually in whatever increment corresponds to the size bucket they have on the front of their tractor.  Most nurseries have buckets that hold a half yard to a yard of compost.  This place was no different.  Just bigger.

The man pulled up to load our trailer with this piece of equipment.

Bruce just laughed when the guy said that scoop held ten yards of compost.  We needed a smaller scoop.  Luckily for us, they're in that kind of business.

This scoop held one yard.  We took four of them.  Four steaming, hot, wet scoops of compost.

We got the compost home and unloaded rather uneventfully, which is always nice.  Then I guess Bruce was bored because he showed back up a few hours later with a load of the mulch he's been dropping off occasionally.  

Now, back when we first began to build our barn we developed a nice drop-off point halfway down our driveway for big trucks to drop off big loads of stuff and still turn around without having to get off of our driveway in the grass, or mud as it is half of the year.  Bruce has backed a trailer into this spot many, many times over the years to drop off manure or mulch or random stuff.  Which is why I thought it a little strange that he backed beyond the point of staying on the driveway this afternoon when he showed up with mulch.  What I did not find strange was that it didn't take long for Bruce to get out of his truck to lock in his wheels.  

And then my cell phone rang.  "Tell III I'm stuck."  III had his back to the situation while in his never-ending quest to reinforce the "greenhouse from hell".  I took his picture too, which I'm sure he'll appreciate.

At this point I decided standing up on the deck taking their pictures from afar was more interesting than anything else I had to do at the time.  After all, the Monster was taking a nap.  And I've learned over the years that if you want to take pictures of a guy getting stuck that is not doing so in an attempt to show off, you should definitely take those shots when he doesn't realize you are taking them.  

Finally.  And an explanation from III...Bruce's four-wheel drive wouldn't engage.  So I guess he had bigger problems than simply getting stuck.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


The biggest challenge I face in January is scheduling how I plan on turning this

into this.

I realize that this is a struggle every gardener faces in the spring.  However, I feel mine is slightly unique in that I'm having severe growing pains.  Or maybe that is not unique.  Whether unique or not, I'm struggling.  

I have a teeny, tiny greenhouse, that, at capacity holds just over 2000 plants at one time (and that is a capacity that requires very skilled, dance-like moves by me in order to fulfill water demands).  While this greenhouse is great at warming up in the sun during the day, it holds basically no heat at night although I run a little space heater in it to attempt to keep it above freezing.  

To make up for the fact that I don't have a heated greenhouse, we start all of our seedlings that require warm temperatures to germinate in the house.  I can squeeze about 700 seedlings in on tables in our bedroom under florescent lights.  Once germinated these seedlings get potted up and move into the greenhouse.  When they are big enough they move onto a flat bed trailer for a week to harden off before going into the ground-sometimes they end up on the trailer longer than that if the ground is too wet to work.  

So last year I kept this tight rotation going, seedlings moved from the house to the greenhouse to the trailer to the field.  When one seedling moved on, another was started and took it's place.  I kept a super tight rotation up for three months last year and managed to get them all into the field.  

Enter this year.  III and I make plans to double our production.  However a bigger greenhouse does not enter the plan until next year.

It should be interesting.  I'll take lots of pictures.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mulching Blackberries

The weather was so nice Thursday, the Monster and I decided to finish up a project III had started prior to the opening of duck season.  Mulching our blackberries.

I have a friend/neighbor, Bruce, that barters odd jobs with me.  My end of the deal is always pretty sweet, it involves sitting in his air-conditioned tractors for a few weeks during the summer cutting hay for him.  I can't complain.  His end of the deal usually involves doing something for me that requires equipment that I don't have.  Sometimes it involves using equipment of his own....

Other times it involves calling in favors that other people owe him for the use of their equipment.

These pictures were taken last February when he brought in twelve dump truck loads of composted cow manure for me.  

This summer when the power companies started taking down tree limbs under power lines and running them through a chipper they dumped the chipped mulch at Bruce's place.  So on days where he has some spare time he brings us loads of mulch.  We started out using it to mulch around all of our berries but when that is done we will begin incorporating it into areas of the garden that need more organic matter.  

When the weather was nice on Thursday, the Monster and I worked to finish mulching the blackberries.

We actually managed to get half the row done before having to take a break to visit with the goats and play on the slide.

Then it was time for a nap.  I did have to finish this project alone, but at least it's finished.    

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sunset Last Night

I'll apologize on the front end for being no landscape photographer.  The sunset last night though was so spectacular it made me wish I were one.

I caught the very tail-end of it and while the colors in this picture are pretty, they don't even do justice to what I could see outside of the lens.  I'll have to work on this.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Grandma's Watch

My parents were in town from Iowa last week to hang out while III had to be in Alabama for work.  We were lucky with the weather for most of their trip and were able to hang out outside and at the park several of the days they were here.  The last day they were here though it was cold and the wind was blowing so we had to come up with indoor ideas to entertain the Monster.

Luckily, he loves to color with markers.  We discovered he also loves to eat markers.

As I was washing dishes I noticed green spit coming out the front of his mouth followed shortly by the inky end of a marker that he bit off.  Nice.

While he was coloring he was also skyping with his great-grandmother up in Iowa.  This is him blowing her a kiss at the end of their conversation. 

Skype is such a good thing.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Organic Application

After beginning this application almost three months ago, I've finally completed it.

And despite how intimidated I was by the process when it first began, the length of time it took me to fill out this application had nothing to do with difficulty.  I think subconsciously I kept putting it off because I just wasn't sure it was what I wanted to do.  

For the last few years when the subject of organic certification came up, I laughed.  I was adamant that I would not become organically certified.  Not because we weren't doing everything and more that is required of the growing process to become certified.  We were.  Until last summer we had never even used an organically approved compound in our fields.  We cover crop, rotate crops, compost, apply manure according to organic guidelines...we use manual and mechanical cultivation of weeds, we mulch with hay grown on our ground rather than using herbicides or even plastic mulch....we handpick or burn insect infestations rather than using chemicals.  And we do these things because we choose to, not because a certifying agency tells us we have to.  

I do not want to have to document and justify my actions to a certifying agency whose sole interest in our farm is based on the fees they collect to hold me accountable.  We have been nothing but transparent to our customers in Conway in our growing practices for the past four years.  It has served us well.  We have made invaluable friendships out of what I hope to be lifelong customers.  

However, last year we began selling in Little Rock.  The added time it took to include these markets into our schedule not only took away from time we had with our customers in Conway but also kept us from developing truly personal relationships with our new customers.  Surprisingly enough, taking our word that we used no chemicals still seemed enough for most of these new customers.  So, what changed my mind?

It has always bothered me to listen to growers that I know use conventional practices tell customers that they grow organically just to make a sale.  And I see it happen.  After watching that this summer I decided that I wanted to be held accountable to someone else to prove that we weren't saying we grow organically just to make a sale.  So despite my reservations about the organic certification, I think we are going through with it.  

Now that the application is complete, we'll see how long it takes to make it to the mailbox.   

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Online Farmers Markets

When we started selling vegetables five years ago we really had no idea how to start.  I knew I could grow things.  But I had no idea how to get involved in a farmers market and quite frankly was very intimidated by them.  Luckily for me I happened across this website  http://www.conway.locallygrown.net/welcome, a fledgling farmers market-perfect for a fledgling farmer like myself.  Since many of my friends are still confused about the way we sell through this market and others like it, I thought I would explain how it works.

Conway Locally Grown is an online farmers market...one of the first in a relatively new trend for farmers across the country.  The concept has really been great for both farmers and consumers.  In the case of Conway Locally Grown, the "Locally Grown" software allows a group of farmers (under the watch of a market manager) to list on Sunday the items they expect to have available on Friday.  The customers are then able to place orders from Sunday evening until Tuesday evening.  On Wednesday morning the farmer gets an email telling him how many orders of each individual item he sold and needs to bring to the drop-off location on Friday.  Then the farmers drop off their items, volunteers inventory and sort items and customers arrive between 3:30 and 6 on Friday afternoon to pick up their orders and pay.  

It really works great for small farmers like us.  Not only are we able to drop our produce off and continue on our way, we know ahead of time exactly how much we have sold.  We don't have to worry about spending time picking produce that may never leave our booth.  The downside to this type of market is that we miss out on making the relationships with customers like the ones we see every Saturday at our tailgate markets.  That is one of the reasons this blog came to be.  We are hoping that customers that merely know us through the internet can get to know us as well as the customers we see every Saturday morning.

Last spring we started selling in Little Rock and it made sense to pick up the Little Rock Locally Grown market as well run by the Arkansas Sustainability Network at http://www.littlerock.locallygrown.net/ .  It really was a great market for us last summer and we are looking forward to getting back there this spring as our growing season begins.

Finally, last spring we also added a new Locally Grown market called Farm2Work - http://www.farm2work.locallygrown.net/ .  The concept behind this market is a little different from the other two in that not only are the customers joining an online food buying club but their produce is being delivered to their offices.   Not having planted enough to accommodate that market last summer, we only sold through it for a few weeks but we are hoping to be regulars there this year.

I think that pretty much sums up my online farmers market experience.  Check out the links to learn more about these organizations....they are run by some pretty cool people doing some pretty amazing things.  We feel really lucky to be part of their organizations.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Is this a Guy Thing?

I feel like this is a guy thing.

Despite having it pounded into my head from my father at a very early age (those that know my father know exactly what I'm talking about), I pay so little attention to my wheels most of the time I'm pretty sure one could be missing and I wouldn't notice until I started down the driveway.  Which  makes me wonder if this behavior is inherited and just skipped a generation or if it's innately a guy thing.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Visit from Nana & Brampa

With III having to work out of town for the bigger part of next week, it seemed like a good time for Nana & Brampa to come for a visit.  Having not seen us since Thanksgiving, they brought the Monster's Christmas present with them.

Luckily the weather so far has been beautiful to be outside because we spent the better part of yesterday putting the present together.  The Monster got to help.

Brampa finished the castle while the Monster took a nap.  It's too bad the child doesn't like slides.