We have some exciting news on our journey to provide gaston county produce, our last big project is underway! It’s now been 69 weeks since we started this journey, here is a run down of everything going on in the last four weeks.
In The High Tunnel:
We had our first hard freeze with two nights of 20 degrees(very abnormal) two weeks ago. Luckily we were prepared and were able to cover our crops with row cover we had on hand. In Eliot Coleman’s book “The Winter Harvest Handbook” he uses a similar setup all winter long to protect crops in Maine. The basic setup is to have a high or low tunnel with a row cover underneath. Each layer provides about 2-3 degrees of cold protection and if the outer layer freezes over night the ice acts as insulation that can protect the crops even more. We cover the crops during the afternoon heat to trap more soil heat under the row cover over the night. It worked well and we had no damage to crops. Kale, collards and onions all remained uncovered in the tunnel, as they can handle a freeze and are protected from frost.
Not much else is going on in the tunnel and we have not had a need to use the row covers after those two cold days. Our temperatures are just barely getting below freezing and the high tunnel is enough protection. This time of the year has made us very grateful for building the tunnel. There have been many mornings that would have required us to cover our crops with low tunnels, to then uncover later in the day every time the temperatures get cold. Everything is doing great for our first winter, and our carrots look to be on time. We have been harvesting collards, kale, lettuce and beets for weeks now, with successions of lettuce ready to harvest every week going forward. This leads to an important point about winter growing and harvesting, the 10 hour day.
10 Hour day
Winter time for us is harvest time as plants do not grow or grow very slowly, it is almost as if the crops are stored in the ground allowing them to be harvested for weeks. Once plants reach maturity in the ground they will effectively “store” all winter long with the right timing. We planned to have our plants reach maturity by the 10 hour day. What is the 10 hour day? This is the point where there remains only 10 hours of daylight or less, this time is generally recognized as when plants will no longer reach maturity. Our 10 hour day period starts on November 28th and goes through January 13th, a relativity short time compared to our friends up north. This means that during a month and a half our plants will not be growing. Our work turns into protecting the plants from hard frosts and freezes allowing us to harvest during that time. As long as we plant timely and plants reach maturity before the 10 hour day they are harvest-able throughout that time.
We also intentionally plant or seed some successions of vegetables later(they will not mature before the 10 hour day) to allow the plants to become established but not yet mature. These “teenager” plants are established enough so that they survive our 10 hour day period and cold. Once the daylight hours become more than 10 hours the crops will continue growing giving us a head start on harvesting in late January through March.
Nothing is growing outside except for the garlic now. Our last bunch of lettuce was getting bitter and damaged by the frost. We cut it back(we leave roots in the ground to decompose and feed the soil) and fed to the chickens, who always appreciate lettuce!
Though nothing is growing we are doing a lot of prep work for next year. We got the remainder of the irrigation system(started here) in and began to work on the permanent beds for the rest of the plot. We have 16 additional permanent beds of varying length to build over the winter. We are aiming to get them done before the end of the winter so that we can add lime to the beds and they can rest before we plant in the spring.
We started the work by staking out all the rows and paths, this took much longer than expected with our odd shaped plot. We then dug the paths out and raked that material on the top of the beds. We are trying to create as little disturbance to the soil as possible doing this. However, this is necessary for us to dig down the paths to avoid our beds from washing out when we get heavy rains. Current plans are to fill the paths with wood chips to prevent erosion of the paths. Where we live, it is not easy to come by wood chips from tree services, but we are constantly on the lookout for a relationship with one!
The chickens are are on their last move before we move them to their permanent spot over the winter. Still producing 9 eggs a day from 11 chickens, thought they would be slowing down this winter!
The Big News!
We have officially started on our wash/pack/processing shed! We’ve already poured the concrete and framed up the shed. Things are moving along and hope to have it finished up soon. Then we can start building the cooler out and getting the wash/pack stations built.
Mother Hiker Soap
We now have our shop up and running with soaps, lotions and lip balm! Trying to keep up with the demand and we started shipping as well.
Mike is going to create a new coffee table out of some pieces of wood we’ve kept over time. These two pieces have an interesting story to them. The stump is a Red Cedar tree that we dug out by hand, we are not sure how but we did it! We wouldn’t have dug this beauty up but there is a very long story related to natural gas companies and eminent domain. It is a beautiful piece of wood that we’ve kept covered for the past 3-4 years not knowing what to do with it. The large round was cut out of one of the large Red Oak trees that a tornado took down at Mike’s parents. He cut it out of the bottom of one of the larger trees knowing one day we would use it for something. We’ll be cutting the stump shorter to get down to a coffee table height and setting the round on top of that, simple but beautiful.
Thanks for reading,