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in The 'Stead

Week 47, 2019

Week 47, 2019

It’s about time for another update. We’ve had a lot going on and got a lot accomplished. This update covers  everything in the past two months.  Here’s what we have been working on…

Deer/Perimeter Fence

An 8 foot tall fence may seem like a really tall fence, but deer can jump really high if they want something bad enough. We have deer that frequent our land and haven’t had any problems yet. The fence is a proactive measure to protect our field plot from the deer, resident animals and dogs. In fact just last month our neighbor’s cows got out and could have done a lot of damage if it were not for our fence.

The plan with the fence is to build a traditional four foot tall cattle fence, plus single wire up to an 8 foot height. One thing was for certain, we did not want to use the common pressure treated posts. Concerns around toxicity were high on our list so we marked pressure treated posts off our lists early in our search. We wanted a natural post and have two options in our area: red cedar and black locust. While red cedar is rot resistant it is not as much compared to black locust. We were lucky and found a local seller  that was looking to thin out the abundance of black locust trees on his property. He was willing to cut the posts to size and deliver them to our home.

Once we got the posts on site we started digging holes and setting the posts. Whew – 36 holes in all! We have an odd shaped field plot and adjoining food forest area which made spacing irregular. Some math was required to space them out evenly along each side. We researched how to set the corners as there were a lot of inconsistent examples we found online. We used common measurements to figure out our corner braces or “H” braces. Our H-braces are spaced roughly 10 feet. H-braces resemble an “H” where 2 posts are set in the ground 10 feet apart (in our case) and a cross support is installed horizontally to tie the two posts together.

A corner post set into the ground.
Setting the corner h-brace posts.

A brace wire is used to transfer the force of the installed woven fence to prevent the posts from being pulled over. Without this wire the corner post would pull over in time and lean. Brace wire is strung diagonally from the base of one post to the cross support area of the other. The arrangement of this wire seems to be commonly misunderstood.

Finished H-Brace with the brace wire.
Brace wire is installed from top right to bottom left in this picture.

A proper “H” Brace has brace wire that goes around the base of the corner post and around the second post in the area where the cross brace is attached. This transfers the energy of the stretched fence from high on the corner post to down at the ground level. The stretched fence is essentially trying to pull the corner post out of the ground, making it much harder or impossible to do.

As it stands we have all the posts, h-braces, doorways and the 4 feet tall woven fence up. We still lack strands of wire above the woven fence and doors to finish the job. But at this stage we can be comfortable that dogs, cattle and other animals are kept out.

Finished bracing and posts awaiting fence.

Market Garden

Since our last update a lot has happened with our future market garden. This year we are doing a lot of trial and error so we get a sense for growing vegetables at this scale.

Irrigation

Hand watering the amount of beds and vegetables we plan on growing would be a pain that we simply do not have time for. We were caught hand watering much of our high tunnel before we could get our irrigation up and running. No fun! Irrigation should be the first concern if you are planning a new market garden. Annuals need water and if the water source on the property is not up to the task, you have to adapt or move on. Before we started building the market garden we did a test on out well and looked into a couple of other options.

Pond – We contacted a couple local contractors to do estimates for a roughly 1/8 acre pond in an area above the garden so we could mostly use a gravity fed system. The cost was significant and we were unsure if it would hold water long term. This may be something we do in the future but will not be solely reliant on it to water our market garden, unless of course it does hold water.

Rain Water Cistern(s) – This is a viable option for us. The system would gather rain water in smaller “totes” downhill from the house. We would use a float switch to pump the water uphill into the cistern. The cistern would sit above the gardens allowing for a gravity fed system. We will possibly research this project further over the winter.

Existing Well – Our well from all appearances is a shallow hand dug well. Luckily the diameter of the well is quite large so the water storage we have is substantial. We needed to evaluate the recovery rate and did a quick test by draining the well by a set amount of gallons and taking height measurements. Surprisingly we had good recovery.  By finding the recovery rate combined with the storage volume, we learned we could use the well for our irrigation needs this year. We are careful not to drain our well by spreading out watering times and also watering when we are not using water typically.

Our solar powered irrigation controls.

High Tunnel

Now that our high tunnel is up and finished we were able to start planting! The first task was to get the ground ready. Our beds are no-till, but to make those beds we had to till to prepare the ground and be able to work it (compacted clay soil). We took a pass with the tiller to break up the ground. Once the ground was broken, we measured and marked out our rows. The last step was to broadfork the rows, but not the paths. Once the beds were prepared and made we will not need to till again. When doing succession panting, we will be spreading a thin layer of compost on top of the beds and planting into that layer.

Tilling to level the area.
Laying out the rows and broakforking.

We had seeds we sprouted inside and the transplants went into the ground first. Next we direct seeded after we got familiar with the new-to-us Jang Seeder we picked up. The seeder makes quick work of seeding. We still need to become familiar with the setting and adjust accordingly but the first planting went pretty well.

Left: Store bought soil. Right: Living soil from Dirtcraft Organics.
Planting eggplants.

We were a little late in planting so our vegetables are behind schedule from where we would have liked them to be, but that was expected. We have four varieties of tomatoes, 3 varieties of peppers, eggplants, lettuce mix, rainbow beets, kale, swiss chard, zucchini, basil, cilantro and spinach. We were lucky to receive some tomato seeds from a local farmer that we get beef, pork and honey from. Two varieties, one he called “big red” that was an old local heirloom that dated far back and well adapted to our area, the other a roma tomato variety also well adapted to our area.

So far everything is doing good, we had a heat wave in the past few weeks where temperatures were over 95 degrees every day This is unusual for this time of the year (end of Spring). That temperature spike resulted in the tomatoes being a little stressed and our kale/spinach got sun/heat damage.

April 15, 2019
May 30, 2019
May 30, 2019
May 30, 2019

Seeing the impact the heat had on our plants and knowing that our summers get hotter, we chose to get a shade cloth to put on the tunnel to reduce the heat of the sun. We chose to go for a 30% cloth after much researching and hearing others experiences. Much more than a 30% shade cloth and the sunlight becomes part sun causing slow growth for vegetables.

30% Shade cloth installed.

We are trying something out this season that we have wanted to do but held back because of cost. As luck would have it- a local farm was selling turmeric seed! We wanted to take a shot at growing turmeric since we use lots of it. The chance to dehydrate or use the turmeric fresh would be great. Right now we have them in soil in seed trays waiting for them to sprout before we plant. Should be a few weeks and we’ll be ready to plant.

Five pounds of white turmeric.
Turmeric seed in seedling trays ready for sprouting.

Field Plot

The outdoor rows were the last on our list to do, after getting the fence up. These rows are also permanent and no-till just like in the high tunnel. However, because the rows are outside and we get some pretty crazy rains, we needed to raise the beds a bit to keep them from flooding. We are only doing four rows and will ease into the remaining area in the future.

First we tried to use the tiller, the ground was too hard and compacted. We then had to broadfork the whole area to break the ground for the tiller. Once the broadforking was complete we made a few passes in the area with the tiller to break up the big chunks of dirt. Once the ground was prepared we marked out the rows and shoveled the pathways onto the beds. This raises the bed and lowers the paths some, just enough to keep the plants out of the water.

Broadforking hard pack.
Laying out our 4 permanent rows.
Breaking up the pieces with the tiller.
Planting asparagus we grew from seed.

Though not ideal we seeded our first succession of seeds in the rows planting: Watermelons, acorn squash, carrots, beets, tatsoi, spinach and two varieties of beans. One variety of beans was also given to use by the same farmer we got tomato seeds from. The bean is a variety that is quite old, possibly even dating back to the “three-sisters” period. We’ve had to keep the beds watered 3 times a day to keep the soil moist with the 95+ temperatures we had in the beginning of June. We also planted sweet potatoes and asparagus in the beds at the beginning of June.

After those hot days got back down to normal cooler spring days we had a lot of rain storms. Areas close to us got 5+ inches in 3 days! All of the rain showed a problem with drainage on the rows. The water could not flow out and ended up flooding the rows up to the very top. We were able to get out there during a break in the weather to notice the flooding and correct the problem by digging deeper drainage to prevent pooling. Since that time frame, we have had good temperatures and occasional rainfall that have kept the beds moist. Shortly after we had sprouts coming up from all that we planted.

Unintentional flood irrigation from heavy rains.

Chickens

We finally got chickens! We  scheduled to pick up 6 pullets locally but ended up getting 6 more the following week. We got Golden Comets for their egg laying capacity. They are 12 weeks old now and may start laying in another 4 weeks (from what we read). They are still not full grown and we have been keeping them in the front yard for the time being. Eventually we will be moving them to different areas of the property, with the mobile coop and fencing. We wont be moving the coop for the remainder of the season and have given them full access to our fenced in area next to the new beds (seen in the pictures behind the coop). This is the area we are planning to build more permanent beds during this coming winter.

5 weeks old.
Boone meeting the new chickens.

Soap

We took the dive and got our soap “Mother Hiker Soap” up for sale on this website. We’ve been making and using our soap for over 4 years. We perfected the recipe over those years to be more responsible and less complicated with ingredients that are straight forward. We make all of our own personal care products, laundry detergents, and other products at home. We’ve made all these products because we feel like we can no longer trust big business to provide responsible products that don’t harm our bodies.

See our shop page if you are interested in purchasing.

Other Updates and Pictures

We got our 25 sweet potato slips in the ground and just in time for everything to get a nice rain.

We use the grass from some areas of the property in nesting boxes for the chickens and bedding under the coop. Currently trying to learn the skill of scything. Doing okay but definitely needs some work. It is a much more relaxing way to cut the hay, really quite. I would prefer to use it instead of mowing, but haven’t gotten the skill down enough to cut short grass.

Sweet Potatoes in the ground.
Scything hay for the chickens.

Our 25′ row of basil is producing an abundance of basil and we are trying to keep up with harvesting it (not happening). We’ve made a lot of pesto and given a lot away. Same goes for Kale and Swiss Chard, both are doing really well.

Basil Harvest, making lots of pesto!
Giving some of the excess produce away.

While pine trees are generally weak, our wooded areas are composed of tall 50’+ pines and a regrowth under-story of hardwoods. The land is previous pasture that was left to regrow and is very dense. The pines are starting to thin themselves out by the way of windfall. These two pine trees are in addition to the other dozen that fell last fall. This is a sure sign that the area is in need of management. We plan to slowly develop silvopasture in this neglected area, but will need to remove the pines left standing. A future project that will be a slow one for sure.

More windfall in our woods.
In desperate need of management(in the plans).

We’ve been getting visits from monarchs every year since we planted alot of butterfly weed around the house. We saw a coupe dozen of caterpillars 2 years ago and maybe just maybe we are seeing their distant relatives now. We grew the plants from seed and have collected seed every year since and spread it all over the property. Definitely a welcome sight!

And our first blueberries of the season a few days before June!

Some additional projects we are thinking about or in the process of doing are:

  • Gutters on the high tunnel to collect water and shelter the outside rows from heavy rain coming off the tunnel.
  • Rain water storage to serve as the main watering source for the market garden.
  • A covered spot for garden tools close to the high tunnel.
  • Building a small silvopasture system in our woods, thinning the woods, removing undesirable trees (large pines) and establish forage.
  • And more we haven’t yet started thinking about.

Thanks for reading,

By [email protected], June 27, 2019
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