Finally the winter is over so we are ready to plant! Some of the transplants we had inside for weeks were starting to get too big and leggy. We had already been acclimating them to the weather by taking them outside and bringing them in when it got too cold. We are so happy we didn’t take a risk and plant them before Memorial Day when we experienced a late freeze. It would have been devastating to lose almost 1000 seedlings! You can almost depend on a snow storm in late May every year. It’s just hard to predict when the last one will be. Next year we are going to do row covers to allow us to plant earlier, hopefully.
The last seedlings planted were cucumbers you see in the picture. They are the perfect size and should do well. The expansion requires so many more plants it’s going to take a lot more time. So armed with gloves, a shovel, a knee pad and a bag of compost, we spent 3 days planting seedling. We always grow extra because not all transplants will survive. When one dies you plant a spare. We found the black fabric absorbed so much heat that we lost more transplants than usual.
The only transplant that did not do well was the beans. They were too leggy and fell over in the first rain. Luckily we had plenty of seeds and re-planted, a little late but they came up quickly and did just fine.
Due to the drought and the heat absorbing black fabric, we had to hand water the seedlings until their roots grew long enough to reach the subsurface drip tape. It was an added step but once they reached their water source they grew quickly.
I can’t wait to see how much produce we get out of this new expansion!
We’ve always planted lettuce, beet and carrot seeds by hand. The lines have never been that straight and the density of the seedlings were inconsistent. Working on our inefficiencies again, we researched seeders and found this easy to use model. While our clay soil made it a little difficult to smoothly roll the seeder and perfectly drop the seed, it was still far better and faster than our previous methods. There were a couple rows we weren’t sure had enough seed so we just went over them twice and will thin out later.
After each row was done we hand tossed compost over the seeded lines. It puts the compost right where it’s needed. We believe in putting plant food right on the plants we want to grow, not amending all the soil unless we have an area where compost is needed for texture.
Now that the rows are quickly seeded, we need to hand water to keep the seeds moist until they germinate. Then continue watering until the seedlings get big enough to reach the soaking of the subsurface irrigation. No watering overhead. We don’t want to be watering the weeds. It’s a waste of water.
It won’t be long now before we have our first plants!
Watch us running the seeder on our YouTube Channel:
The biggest inefficiency we’ve had since we started growing vegetables is the amount of time spent pulling weeds. Since we manage the plot naturally we do not use herbicides. It requires pulling by hand with small tools or a hoe. The stirrup version we purchased this year is now our favorite method. While the straw we used last year significantly reduced the weeds, we now have a plot 3 times the original size to tend to!
The biggest decision we made to save weeding time was to purchase weed blocking fabric for the first time. It was actually cheaper than we expected, even for the heavy duty version which is supposed to last for 3-5 year. It’s a little more complicated to use than you’d think. Rows aren’t perfectly straight but the fabric is so laying it down by hand can be a little awkward. There are a lot of metal clips you need to push through the fabric into the clay soil. Then there is the question of how do you put plants into the ground under the weed block?
I’d seen farmers take a knife and cut an X in the spot where the plants would grow, pull the folds up to expose the soil and pop the plant in, folding the fabric back down around it. After doing research online we found the best way to create the holes without doing a lot of damage to the fabric. Burn holes leaving no sharp edges that could easily tear.
We started with a spare piece of plywood and drew circles with a compass spacing them the distance we wanted our plants to be apart from each other. For instance, in intense gardening tomatoes are planted 9 inches apart. We drew one circle and then measured 9 inches from the center of the first hole to find the center of the next hole, using a yard stick to keep them in a straight line. We drilled the holes out and now have a template or stencil for the holes. This 9 inch template can also be used for zucchini which is planted 18 inches apart. We even added a second line to the template to plant beans 4 inches apart or by burning every other opening, making holes for basil planted 8 inches apart.
Burning the holes is easy. Using a small propane torch, we laid the stencil down on the row and rapidly burned the fabric showing through the template. I say rapidly because we don’t want to start the template on fire!
We didn’t put any fabric down on the rows with lettuce or root vegetables because it would be difficult with the intense gardening method (I’ll explain in a future post). Those rows will still require a lot of weeding.
Now that the holes are burned, it’s time to start planting!
You can see how we burned the holes in our weed fabric watching our YouTube Channel:
The farm plot expansion brought on many new projects, one of which was extending irrigation to the new locations. Since we were already making changes, we decided this was a good time to invest in a higher end subsurface irrigation system. With the dry heat it saves a lot of water and brings it right down to the roots of the plants. But first we had to get the water out there and it wasn’t going to be easy.
Going to the distribution box we found two leaking valves and a cracked manifold. Every project results in unexpected costs and of course, delays. A store trip dragged the timing to the next day and it took multiple tries to get everything set to full pressure with no leaks.
With the new valves in place, we dug a trench with the tractor and laid heavy 3/4 inch poly pipe to the new expansion and brought it to the surface with a simple 3/4 head. From there we added a filter/regulator combo and then ran softer distribution pipe down the ends of the rows and connected in the drip tape to it for each row. Some rows had multiple drip tapes inside a single row, such as the 4 internal rows of carrots inside a single raised bed. We laid 2 drip tapes on that one. Two rows of carrots in the middle, then the drip tapes on either side, with one more row of carrots on the outside.
We had difficulty getting consistent depth for all rows, mostly due to soil inconsistency. Laying the system down manually by digging a trench, covering it up and smoothing out the row again took a lot of time. If sales go well this year we will need to consider getting a walk behind tractor with attachments for laying tape and smoothing the rows. It will almost be a test to see which rows do better based on depth.
After pressurizing the system we let it run for 45 minutes and watched for evidence the drip tape was working. We could see circles forming proving that our project was a success!
Unfortunately we ended up with a late freeze this spring a week after we installed the nucs .The storm killed just about all the bees in weaker new hive. The other new hive, although in better shape, took a big hit. We did an inspection on our existing hive that had survived a winter already and it stood up to the late freeze with no issue. We combined the remains of the two weak hives and hoped for the best.
After the empty hive was cleaned out we decided the existing hive was so strong that we would split the hive. We took a few frames from the strong hive and moved them into the empty hive. One frame included queen cells so they could hatch their own queen. It seems to have been successful but only time will tell. The bigger concern is if the newly combined second hive we bought this year will survive. Only time will tell.
Watch as we inspect our first hive in the spring to see how they did over the winter. It’s on our YouTube Channel:
Last year we purchased 2 hives and 2 nukes. Nucs are boxes that contain 5 frames full of bees with a queen, a little honey and brood to jump start a new hive. Everything seemed to be going well as one colony was thriving, creating and filling comb rapidly, but the other seemed lack luster. As winter was getting closer we did an inspection but couldn’t find a queen in the weaker colony. We tried to re-queen it but after the next inspection it was obvious she did not take The frames were being built with odd patterns and random fills. Yellow jackets and ants were raiding their hive. There wasn’t enough food to make it through the winter. We decided to save the bees that were left by breaking open the hive and joining them with the other colony. The thriving colony scavenged the left overs from the open hive and were well prepared for winter. Come spring, the hive looked fantastic!
This spring we purchased 2 more hives and 2 more nucs. One nuc was thick with bees and had a lot built on their frames. The other had healthy bees and a clean looking frame set but not nearly as many bees. The installation went well.
Watch as we install the new hives on our YouTube Channel:
Our farm is in an area that is notorious for last spring snows. We woke up one morning to 8 inches of wet snow on top of the coop. We’ve had snow accumulate on top before but it was dry and quickly fell through the 2×4 inch openings of the field fence ceiling. As you can see it almost caved in. Our quick and dirty temporary fix from the last snow was pvc pipe arched over a wooden beam for support. Unfortunately it didn’t hold this time and the pvc cracked. Luckily we have never had a full collapse!
This time we decided to replace the pvc with EMT conduit. The set up is still the same but is much stronger. Here is hoping it won’t cave in next winter!