Now that our new rows are built we are finding deer and coyote tracks through walking through them. It’s time to fence the new plot. Since it is an expansion of an existing plot we need to build it prior to opening it up to the old section. It needs to happen quickly, but after completing so much fencing since we moved onto the property it’s becoming second nature.
While our first fence posts were put in using a post hole digger, we now have a tractor with an auger to dig the holes for us. We use 10 foot wooden posts at the corners and 1 or 2 in between corners depending on the overall length. They are buried 3 feet down and with the clay soil there is no need to use concrete. The soil hardens enough to keep it steady and if we need to remove a post, it’s much easier to do. T-Posts are used between the wooden posts to keep the fence flat and steady. We use 6 foot field fence with 2×4 inch openings. This leaves 1 foot at the top of the posts to string wire if needed. Luckily the deer haven’t attempted to jump the fence so we haven’t had to add the wire, but if we did we would add pieces of orange nylon marking tape as visible flags to deter them.
Next we add 3 foot tall 1/2 inch wire cloth, AKA rabbit fence, to the bottom of fence on the outside. We use a very sharp bamboo shovel to dig a thin trench right at the base of the fence to bury it a couple inches down. Zip ties are used to attach it to the field fence. This also prevents most squirrels and rodents from getting in.
The wind is a problem on our property due to the small valley going through it. A small price to pay for the extra beauty of the land. Unfortunately that means we need to create a wind break. Shrubs and trees take years to grow so we need an immediate resolution. Bamboo screens are attached to the outside of the fence at the windiest points. It works like a charm.
The fence is finally done and the total area is now 2/3 bigger than it was. We have a lot of work to do!
Watch us using a tractor for post hole digging on the farm’s YouTube channel:
As part of our decision to use the no till method on the farm, we purchased a broadfork to help turn the soil without tearing up the soil micro bacteria with a rototiller. The extremely sharp blades are 12 inches long and you can buy them up to 16 inches long. Using your body weight you step down on the broadfork and pry up the soil. The bed in the picture is the oldest bed used and as you can see it’s terrible clay soil. This tool works.
The next step will be for us to add more organic material and blend it in. We covered the bed over the winter with straw but it was a very dry winter and the idea is to keep the moisture in the bed. These old beds are going to need a lot of amending with compost and we may add sand.
Working on the soil is a lot of trial and error and requires a lot of patience. Fortunately each year is better than the previous year so we are moving in the right direction.
One of the things that has always bothered us is how much plastic we use when growing seedlings. We usually grow in the standard 72 cell 6 pack trays. What if you could plant your seedlings without using all that plastic? Well, you can with a tool called a soil block maker. This year we decided to buy one, and just reuse our trays to hold the blocks and stop using the plastic 6 packs. Although our original intent was environmental and cost, we were surprised to find a few added benefits.
There are multiple soil block makers out there. They are basically molds you fill with very moist soil to form planting cell without the plastic to hold the sides together. It also leaves an indentation to place your seed. After you place your seeds in the indentation, you sprinkle a little soil on top and water. I’ve heard you can also use the soil right out of your garden. This is supposed to result in less of a shock to the plant on transplant since the medium is the same. Not purchasing seed starting soil can also save you money if you are on a small budget.
We were planting tomatoes at the time of transitioning between our last 6 pack insert and the first tray of soil blocks. The last tomato tray was planted 3 days before we started planting in the soil blocks so those plants had a 3 day head start. The first benefit we found was we could fit more plants in the trays, and the seedlings have more soil than the 6 packs allowed. The second benefit was the soil blocks germinated faster and at higher rate. Every soil block germinated. They are also growing faster than the ones in the inserts regardless of the 3 day head start! I took a picture of the side by side comparison.
The only downsides to this new method we’ve been able to see so far is you have to get the consistency of the soil just right or the block will break apart. You also have to water very carefully so you don’t erode the soil. A lesser issue…I like to plant multiple varieties in a single tray while I’m testing which varieties sell best. Without plastic walls there is no way to keep a plant marker standing upright in the tray. Not a big problem but it annoys me.
All in all I’m excited to see the end results on transplanting. I’ll give you an update then!
See a demonstration of the soil block maker starting our first tray on the 5280 Artisan Farm YouTube Channel:
Can you see it in the background? That is the expanded bed which is twice the size of the original plot in the front of the picture. It’s finally almost done.
We took off the black plastic, added some organic top soil amended with composted manure and tilled it in. There was so much half dead grass tilled up that we had to rake it out, till again and rake again.
We plan to keep the rows static, using a no till method going forward . Double digging to build the rows by hand last year was too much work so we looked for more automated ways to build the rows. Unfortunately, row builders are costly and if we plan to rarely rebuild the rows, we didn’t want to spend too much money. After measuring the tractor we found the distance between the tires is 30 inches and the tires themselves are 18 inches wide. A perfect match for the 30 inch rows we were planning to build. We bought a pair of 16 inch discs and attached them to the front bar of the box blade and tested it out. For a system that was red neck engineered it worked very well.
Finally, we purchased a high grade permeable weed block and covered the rows to reduce the chance of weed seeds taking root. This is our first year trying a weed block. Since 90% of our time in the garden is spent weeding, this is an important next step to reduce our work.
Now it’s time to take a little break before working on the irrigation.
Watch our expansion progress on our YouTube channel: