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Third Year Summary: Planting 2014

March 11th, 2015 | Posted by toddh in Planting | Training - (Comments Off on Third Year Summary: Planting 2014)

Summary
At the beginning of this season I began by inventorying the seed and culling a lot of old and miscellaneous seeds. This task was to help formulate the seed order, but also gave the whole process a fresh start. We then looked at maps of last season’s crop rotation and quickly established the fields we would be using this year. Collards and kohlrabi found a more permanent spot in our field crop, but for the most part, the previous year’s crop plan was applied to this season. After establishing how many beds we would need, calculating the amount of seed needed is pretty straight for ward when you have previous year’s data. Ultimately, more seeds will need to be ordered at some point, and the plan will take on some minor changes.
Planting our first vegetable succession in the Big Garden Beds is an example of adapting the plan to use the ground available to us. The field beds we had prepared the year before for this spring were far too wet. So instead we planted them intensively in our permanent raised beds. The crops did great and even though the leeks stayed nearly all season, they did not disrupt our usually carrot and salad greens rotation in these beds.
The most notable aspect of planting this season was continuing and expanding our experimentation with our field crop production. For the past two seasons we have been planting our tomatoes into what we’ve dubbed this year “Favorable Furrows”. Kyle describes the method clearly in his planting summary; in addition to a challenge we faced using it that season. This year we also used this method to plant one of our vegetable successions. The results were great. The plants were quite vigorous and beautiful, and the weed/grass pressure was very manageable. This is achieved by rototilling the pathways with the BCS.
Each row got a pass down and back with the BCS hugging up as close to the crops as possible. Some of the pathways between the crops were treated three times and some only once. The pathways treated thrice had best results, but the crops were big enough that I was concerned about damaging them. The rototilling was done in second gear. The quicker pace prevented the BCS from tilling to deep. It did a great job of chopping up the vegetation just on the surface and leaving the soil and thus seed bank relatively undisturbed. The only spots that new weeds really shot up was right next to the crops in the furrow itself, but these pulled easily when a little bigger. Hand weeding was done only once and fairly quickly. In the future one might fit a scuffle hoeing not long after transplanting. Interested in hand tools, I tried a grass whip to knock back some later growth in the pathways. It worked ok as far as effort and efficiency, but ultimately wasn’t quite right enough. I suspect there is a better tool out there for this kind of work.
Particularly exciting aspects of this method was the reduction in time and equipment. Harvesting the cover crop for stray was done as usual. Then the riding mower was used to clearly cut out the field as low as we could. The furrow was ripped with a center shank on our IH 140. The goal is a trench as deep as the shank and roughly two shanks wide. This was done with a couple passes up and back. I found it helpful to try and get the shank just deep enough to peel the grass out of the way on the first pass. Subsequent passes shaped out the furrow and with moderate speed most soil was kept in or close to the furrow instead of it being thrown out far to the sides. Beginning a small scale farm, the low horse power cultivating tractor and BCS combo used to selectively prepare planting space might be a more accessible start to field crops then the equipment needed to prepare the entire field. With our standard field bed preparation, we use four tractors, some of which need to be much stronger and heavier. Recently, Mike presented me an article he found about deep zone tillage. After just briefly looking into I found examples of people using similar methods. So, we are looking forward to experimenting and improving in the seasons to come.
Crops
We were also constructing a new high tunnel through out the season with intention of growing more tomatoes. It was quite the building project and learning process for the whole crew. We managed to get the tomatoes in by the 15th of July, and raced to finish our end-walls before the frost eventually came. The trellising presented some problems and irrigating needed some fine tuning, but the plants did very well in the new production area putting out big beautiful fruits.  Additionally our cover cropping went well and as predicted this year. Most of the fields being seeded were close and somewhat in line with each other, making the process pretty easy.

Important dates
3/27 – First greens planted in green house – Needs about 2 weeks sooner.
4/11 – First vegetable succession in BGB
4/18 – First flower succession
4/23 – First salad succession
5/16 – Green house tomatoes – crew planting intro.
5/27 – Field tomatoes
7/15 – High Tunnel tomatoes
8/26 – Last beans and squash
9/23 – Last salad
10/3 – Last field succession – Needs to be one Moon cycle sooner.
10/23 – Last Green House planting/ veggies – Needs about 2 weeks sooner.
11/12 – Garlic – 6 beds, 1 row/bed

Conclusion
Focusing on planting has broadened the scope of my actions during the season. I was able to see clearly how each action or step informs the next: The crop plan and seed inventory leading to a seed order, having transplants depending upon the green house order forms being made and filled, the planting depending on the bed preparations, and ultimately it all coming together to form the products we take to market and support the farm. The process has been an exciting and intriguing part of the season, and has rounded out my understanding of the elements to farming.
This concludes my third year, and thus fulfills my internship at North Slope Farm. Having had no prior experience, I’ve learned everything needed to further pursue farming as a means to a very fruitful livelihood. The seeds have been planted and the vision I hold of my future has been greatly expanded through the time spent on this land and being apart of this farm. It has highlighted the dynamic rhythms of nature and solidified my desire to actively engage its intricate unending flow. The lessons to be gleaned are life long. Finally, the amount of amazing people I have met and the lasting friendships formed at North Slope farm, other farms, and in the this area through all sorts of different gatherings have been truly inspiring. I am grateful for the opportunity to be apart of a community and the future they are working so hard to grow.

Third Year Focus Introduction

March 19th, 2014 | Posted by toddh in Planting - (Comments Off on Third Year Focus Introduction)

 

Planting Focus 2014

Intent: My intentions at North Slope Farm from the begging have been to grow my personal skills and know-how through what I find to be inherently rewarding work relevant to my long term goals.  I am excited to be focusing on planting this year, which falls in line with my interests in farming. With planting I can focus on the rhythms of the season which help to establish the pacing of our successions.  I intend to gain a clearer understanding of the steps involved with developing and executing a crop plan.

 Tasks and Responsibilities:  I am tasked with establishing our crop plan for the season and placing our seed order, keeping us up with the planting dates and moon cycles, and providing our green house with order forms for each succession.  I expect to be doing more work on the tractors. In particular, tasks involved in preparing the beds for planting such as primary tillage, bed forming, tractor cultivation, and eventually cover cropping.  Finally I will compile the information gathered from my focus into a clear summary for future reference.

Soil Testing 2013

January 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Casey in Infrastructure - (Comments Off on Soil Testing 2013)

Map of Testing Sites

Copy of Report

Discussion of Soil Nutrient Management Plan, observations, challenges and hypothesis.

Second Year Focus – Greenhouse Summary – 2013

January 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Beau Young in Greenhouse - (Comments Off on Second Year Focus – Greenhouse Summary – 2013)

Beau Young

2nd Year Focus Summary – 2013

Crop Care Summary 2013

January 20th, 2014 | Posted by Kyle in Crop Care - (Comments Off on Crop Care Summary 2013)

Crop Care Summary 2013

KG 1/08/14

My intention when taking on the Crop Care element back in the beginning of 2013 was to increase the efficiency and regularity of the crop care activities on the farm. Looking back now at the end of the season I feel as though, for the most part, that goal was accomplished. Implementation of a Crop Care Task list combined with weekly field walks was a major aid in keeping up with the requirements of the crops and the pressure of the weeds. In addition, experimentation with various techniques for cultivation and care yielded some good results in determining more efficient practices. Finally, some end of the year number crunching produced a few key insights into required equipment that could be used for future planning.

The Crop Care Task List (pictured above) is a simple sheet to be used on field walks to note anticipated crop care tasks for the coming weeks. With headings for “Crop”, “Location”, “Task”, and “Priority” all pertinent information can be recorded and any pressing tasks can be added to the farm’s task list and brought to the attention of the rest of the crew. Hanging the list in an accessible area near our daily task list also encouraged crew to observe the list. Often times activities on the farm can get focused on one area for a period of time and as a result other areas are neglected. I felt having this fuller picture of the farm available for the crew without requiring everyone to take time out of their day for a field walk helped keep everyone oriented on the whole picture of the farm. Also, anyone looking for a job to plug into could simply consult the task list for jobs based on priority and/or whether progress could be made or completed by one person. Checking finished jobs off the list is also great for a sense of accomplishment. So looking back after a season of using a checklist for crop care my conclusion is that it is worth it. It only takes 15 minutes to do the field walk and create the list, which is certainly worth it given the benefits doing so yields. I think a Crop Care Task list is something I would continue to use in the future.

 

Crop Care Equipment Numbers

Drip Tape

We use 220’ field beds, adding together all of our plantings this past season we ended up with about 80 beds for a total of 17,600’. Add to that our flower field of (30 X 75’ beds for 2250’) and you get a total length of crop beds of 19,850’. We use 8 mil drip tape at 12” spacing, which comes in 7,500’ rolls. That comes to 2.6 or so rolls for a season of growing, a 3 roll order if we’re out.

Remay

Remay is a lightweight cloth material we use to cover crops in order to protect them from cold and pest damage. With the exception of a few more delicate crops we use remay at the beginning and end of our growing season. Experience has shown that we need to cover around 16 field beds at any one time as well as a number of our Big Garden Beds (8 or more). In the past we had used different width pieces for the different jobs, single row covers for the field and wider pieces for the BGBs. However having experimented with different sizes it seems 16’ width is ideal for North Slope. It fits the BGB’s without too much excess material left in the pathways. At the same time it can fit 3 field beds, 4 if they are spaced more tightly. Covering more beds with fewer pieces is much more convenient: fewer pieces to handle and store, fewer sandbags to haul, and quicker to cover/uncover crops. We reuse what we can and labeling the remay when it’s rolled up is a big help when it comes finding the right piece. For 16 field beds and 8 BGBs we would need around 1700’ of remay, or two rolls.

Tomato Stakes

The past few years we’ve grown about 8 X 220’ rows of field tomatoes. We use a combination of metal and wooden stakes with trellising to support our tomatoes as they grow. Every two tomatoes we have a stake, and every two wooden stakes we have a metal one. See Pattern Below:

M-t-t-W-t-t-W-t-t- M-t-t-W-t-t-W-t-t- M-t-t-W-t-t-W-t-t-M

t: tomato plant

M: metal stake

W: wood stake

With the tomato plants having a 2 foot spacing, we have a stake every 4 feet. 220’/4 is 55 stakes total. Dividing 55 by 3 gets you 18.3, that’s how many metal stakes per bed and (18.3 X 2) 36.6 is how many wooden stakes per bed are required for this pattern. When creating this order we round up and add a couple extra. 20 metal per bed X 8 beds is 160 metal stakes, 40 wood X 8 beds is 320. That is our yearly need for tomato stakes to trellises our field tomatoes, checking that against our inventory we know what we need to order for the next season. Last year for example, we used a number of our metal tomato stakes to trellis our blackberries and needed to order replacements.

 

Cultivation Tools and Techniques

At North Slope we use a variety of options for the cultivation of our crops, from hand weeding on up to mechanical cultivation using tractors. This past year we added a few new tools/techniques including a backpack flame weeder and an older BSC rototiller for cultivation. Below I will explain our practice and add my observations taken over the past year.

Hand Weeding

Hand weeding is one of the more tedious jobs on the farm and one of my goals this past year while focusing on crop care was to reduce how much of it we had to do. To achieve this I tried to time other cultivation activities for maximum impact. Even with good timing however, hand weeding is a necessity. Our salad mix and other crops in the BGB’s in particular require some hand weeding at some point. The best case scenario is to hand weed after a second scuffle hoeing, were the only remaining weeds are those growing tightly interspersed with the crop. Two crew hand weeding is probably the realistic minimum, however progress will be slow and therefore it becomes hard to sustain motivation and keep up efficiency. 3-4 crew would be a better minimum, to allow for some leap-frogging down the bed. 4-6 is better, as crew can work in pairs across from each other and still jump down the bed as they reach previously weeded sections. Working with an odd number it is a good idea to take turns jumping back and forth across the bed to keep the group together. Working close enough together for a conversation greatly helps moral. We have a variety of hand hoes, diggers, choppers, etc; however those seem most useful in perennial bed hand weeding, for our BGBs it seems hands are faster.

Scuffle Hoeing

We use scuffle hoes, or stirrup hoes, from Johnny’s. These are a great tool for cultivation, and it pays to have one for every crew member as a full crew scuffle hoeing can clear a lot of weeds in an afternoon. Scuffle hoes are best used when weeds are at thread stage, before they start getting hardy, and in drier conditions if possible. Scuffle hoeing in wet conditions can be less effective or impossible and disturbed weeds my also re-root if enough moisture is available. Scuffle hoes do a shallow cultivation that doesn’t bring up too much new weed seed. Two crew minimum works well, however one person can still accomplish a lot. Two people scuffle hoeing can usually weed one BGB (110’x4’) or one field bed in about 10-15 minutes. With a larger crew of 3-6 it’s possible to very quickly cultivate a couple of beds in a few minutes of down time between jobs or spend a half or a whole day really cleaning up the farm. In the BGBs we seed in rows diagonally across the bed spaced tightly so our 3 ¼’ scuffle hoes just fit between the crop, this makes for very efficient hoeing. It seems best to hoe initially right after germination and then again 1-2 weeks later depending growth. After the second hoeing, hand weeding is usually needed but quicker as the hoeing has cleaned most of the weeds. From here with quick crops like our cut leaf salad mix, ideally the crop growth out competes the weeds and we can get to harvest without too much more crop care. With longer term crops like carrots a 3rd hoeing may be possible but another round of hand weeding is usually needed. In the field beds, regular scuffle hoeing can be effective at keeping beds clean. In my experience two people working across from each other is the best set up, with each person hoeing perpendicular to the other creating an X pattern around the crop rather than each individually trying to fully clear around a plant by themselves. Extra crew can be added to leap frog and/or focus on the bed shoulders. In any case, communication is important so everyone knows there role in the process. When the crop is too mature for mechanical tractor cultivation this system works well with the BCS pathway cultivation. In both cases removing the irrigation tube or tape is necessary to be most efficient. Irrigating after hoeing seems to really boost crop growth.

Backpack Flame Weeder

For the first time in a while at North Slope we got the old propane backpack flame weeder down from the barn top and got it working. It was a bit finicky and difficult to get going, and seemed to cut out after 30 minutes of use, however we managed to use it to good effect. Carrots are slower growing and are harder to keep weed free as the weeds will germinate first, obscuring the rows and making scuffle hoeing difficult. By flame weeding at 5-7 days after seeding but before the carrots really start germinating most of these early weeds can be killed, and since the soil is not disturbed new weed seed does not come to the surface making for lighter weeding later on. Timing is vital with flame weeding, daily observation is necessary to find the right moment. However, once, while flame weeding a bit late, after the first carrots had already begun germinating, the results were not too bad as enough of the seed was still in the ground to give us a good yield. It seemed that one tank of propane would last us 3-5 BGBs and was fairly cheap to refill. It is not necessary to burn the weeds, the heat is what kills. A fairly steady pace should be maintained, moving the flame nozzle back and forth as you walk down the bed. It takes about 10 minutes to flame weed one BGB and the head start it gives the carrots is very noticeable. It will be 2-3 weeks before scuffle hoeing is needed and by then the carrots will be well established.

Wheel Hoe

We mostly use a wide scuffle hoe attachment on our wheel hoes for cultivating field bed shoulders and pathways. The wheel hoe’s efficiency depends greatly on soil conditions and level of weed growth. In the right conditions, dry but not too dry and weeds at thread stage, it can be a breeze to clean up a field after scuffle hoeing between crops. It takes 3-4 passes to clear from bed shoulder to bed shoulder, and in good conditions it took 2 crew wheel hoeing less than an hour to clean up a 16 bed field. The wheel hoe works best when moving at a brisk pace and can be a bit of a work out. In anything but ideal conditions however, the wheel hoe can be unpleasant to use. When going out to a field for weeding it’s good to bring them and test to see if conditions are good for use, however using the BCS was faster and more versatile in all soil conditions.

The Old BCS Rototiller “El Duce”

We use a BCS walk-behind rototiller as part of our bed preparations in the BGBs. Most BCS’s rototillers depth can be set and changed fairly easily, so cultivating can be done quickly when using the shallowest setting. We had an old BCS with a number of mechanical issues, however we managed to get running and used it this past season for cultivation of field bed shoulders and pathways. The older model we have is narrower and fit nicely down our pathways even, for the most part, with mature crops. This was a great benefit, because at a certain point crops become too tall for our tractors to mechanically cultivate. With the BCS we still had a quick and efficient way to keep those mature crops weed free. Taking two passes on a pathway lets the operator focus once on each bed edge and really get close to the crop. Soil is also tossed out from the rototiller in a way that can smother weeds another couple of inches into the bed. The old BSC also has functioning differential braking, allowing for a lot of fine control to get close to the crop. Combining the BSC cultivation with scuffle hoeing for field crops seemed to be an efficient way to control weeds in mature crops. Hoe after the BSC has gone through the pathways, otherwise you may end up hoeing more than you needed to as the BCS can safely get very close to the crop.

Special Instructions for operating the old BCS (El Duce)

Some important notes and warnings for anyone planning to use the old BCS in future: the old BCS is DANGEROUS! Only attempt to use it if you are comfortable and confident with machinery! Firstly, the clutch does not work correctly. You should still engage the clutch to shift, but do not expect this to work while the machine running. It must be rolled into place for starting, and started already in gear. Doing this with two people is safer, one to control the machine while the other pulls the start cord, however it is possible for one person to start it, just be sure to get clear when it starts moving which it will do as soon as started. Secondly, the gear selector rod is missing. Use a small hammer or rock (shifter rock) to tap the gear shift into position. The gears are no longer where they should be according to the machine’s indicator, nearly all the way tapped forward you should find 3rd gear which is best for cultivation and slightly back from there you should find neutral. Remember, only shift gears with the machine off as the clutch cannot be trusted! Thirdly, the safety shut off is also not reliable. Stop the machine using the choke, always have space to continue forward or turn. Do not operate the machine in close proximity to other people or animals because you cannot rely on it to stop quickly. Fourthly, the PTO cannot be disengaged. This means the rototiller will always be spinning, so BE CAREFUL. Throttle down and lift for making turns, but keep well clear of the spinning blades. Occasionally the PTO will disengage itself while working; it can be reengaged but not reliably disengaged. Be especially careful when loading and unloading from the ATV trailer if you do so with the machine running as the rototiller will also be running. It is safer to get two people to push it up the ramp manually. Even if loading or unloading manually be aware of the machine’s weight and be sure you can get clear should it fall. Don’t try to catch it! Finally, always pay full attention while using the machine. Even more so than the newer BCS, the old one is lighter and jumps significantly when it hits a large rock and I’ve had it both move backwards towards me and shoot forwards at considerable speed. Always keep in mind where you will go to get clear of the machine should this happen. Also, the choke pin may slide out while operating, opening the choke. You will notice the sound of the engine changing, be quick to push it back or you will have to restart the machine.

Even with all those difficulties I still enjoyed using the machine and I think it’s a great cultivation option, especially with a more functional model. However, I really would not recommend anyone with any doubts or concerns to use “El Duce”, it is not worth getting hurt for.

Mechanical Cultivation- Williams Toolbar

Two years ago North Slope Farm got a new cultivating tractor, an IH 265. Before this mechanical cultivation was done with the IH140 using a series of shanks, spiders, and sweeps, all individual implements that would need to be rearranged for each job. Since the IH140 is also used for building our beds this meant a lot of time changing the setup. Having two tractors meant having to do that less often. More than this though, the new 265 has a 3-point hitch letting us make use of our Williams Toolbar. The Williams Toolbar is a steel frame with a number of adjustable spring tines and two bars on which other implements can be attached. Having one implement you can dial in for a tight cultivation and leave set up is a great time saver. It can be picked up, quickly checked and tuned and ready for the field in less than 10 minutes. And once the operator is comfortable with the toolbar, cultivating a 16 bed field can be done very quickly. We plant two rows per bed for the most part so once the crop hits a certain size it becomes difficult to cultivate the center strip using the toolbar, however the toolbar can still clear the bed edges and pathways leaving only the center strip to be scuffle hoed. When the plants become fully mature it can be difficult or impossible to cultivate using the toolbar at all, as even the retracted spring tines will rip and damage some crops. However the easy adjustability of the spring tines gives some flexibility in quickly moving between crops of different size. The Williams Toolbar can be used at all stages of the crop, until they are too large to drive over, and works well enough that it can really be the only cultivation method needed for the first few cultivations. A quick touch up scuffle hoeing helps keep the few missed weeds from maturing before the next round with the toolbar and is fairly quick. The key with the toolbar, as with all of the other cultivation options, is with timing. The toolbar will eliminate thread stage weeds and be effective slightly beyond that point to baby/adolescent stages. After that however, as we observed while experimenting with the toolbar and bare fallowing some prebuilt beds, the toolbar is not effective at killing grown weeds.

 

Summary

Taking on the Crop Care element as a focus in my third year here was a valuable experience. I got to really be involved with the various crop care tasks and develop a good understanding of the needs of the crops. Being focused on crop care also helped me to hone my knowledge of weed varieties and learn and trial effective means for dealing with them. I also had the opportunity to gain experience managing a crew in the execution of crop care jobs, keeping task oriented and efficiently moving from one job to the next making the most of limited time. More than anything, having this as my focus drove home the preeminent importance of timing with regards to cultivation. Having done the planting focus and crop plan my second year and crop care focus my third year I feel I’ve gained some good experience in some key areas of farm activity, and  I feel having chosen these to focus on has prepared me well for my future career in farming.

Second Year Focus Summary 2013

January 7th, 2014 | Posted by toddh in Administration - (Comments Off on Second Year Focus Summary 2013)

 

 

Administration

This year as my focus I endeavored to engage myself in North Slope Farm’s Administrative duties. In my personal life I only have to perform these sorts of tasks in a minimal way. The farm has a well established and fairly clear way of organizing itself. Because of this, standard procedures have been formed for paying bills and capturing information. The work done during this focus has met the expectations expressed in my introduction, and has expanded my view of the farm. 

The Administrative tasks that I was most involved dealt with the finances. This included recording the market cash and other deposits, paying the bills, employees, taxes, and various other expenses, of which there were a few that stand out. These include equipment repairs, new green house plastic, Cow Pots, and our Bio Bags for market. These expenses are notable because they are not part of the monthly or weekly expenses such as payroll. There are more and more varied purchases during the beginning of the season. I also was able to fill out our annual organic certification update form. Colleen had completed the exhaustive application last year. So this year I only had to convey the same information as our practices have not changed since then.

The employees pay checks and bills were the most straight forward and familiar to me. These items form a rather regular expense to the farm and thus a rather regular schedule of paying. Pay day being every other Tuesday meant that this was also the day I would spend the afternoon in the office. Before writing any checks I would first reconcile our ledger with the bank statement. This would almost always take me some time. Not because the task is difficult but because I would have to do it several times before it came out right and I was sure of my math! Though it could be time consuming, sussing out any discrepancies can be gratifying. Ultimately any problems that occurred here were easily resolved. If we had not received a bank statement then reconciling was not done. After that I would add up each employee’s hours and enter them into our QuickBooks, which calculated the individuals pay for me. I would then write their checks which mike would later sign.

The bills followed a similar procedure and would often be done the same time as payroll. The bills however, did not require me to use Quick Books or the computer. I had to make sure correct payment on correct invoices. After paying each bill I would write the date and check number on the statement and file it in the appropriate location in the large red accordion file that sits atop the admin desk.

The taxes are an area that I am truly unfamiliar with. The taxes to me seem a complicate and somewhat overwhelming subject. Mike and I would complete these tasks together, and having gone through the process of paying them a few times has helped bring it into perspective. Paying the taxes and fees has been made relatively easy on-line; it is a matter of Staying current and having the right information to plug into to correct forms. This again is greatly aided by the established qualities of North Slope. We pull our paper files for paying taxes. Then we export pertinent information from QuickBooks into a summary to excel spread sheets. After that we follow the steps of the websites. Some sort of confirmation of payment is provided, and this we make sure to add to our files.

This focus has demonstrated to me the importance of good record keeping. There are bound to be variations in capturing some information on the farm due to the difference in the individuals recording it. This makes for a really great compilation of memories and experiences. Though some level of administration is going to be complicated, processing the financial information in a straightforward way will make it easier to access accurate information again when it is needed. It has helped broaden the scope of my understanding of farming at North Slope

Third Year Summary – 2013

October 30th, 2013 | Posted by RR in Equipment - (Comments Off on Third Year Summary – 2013)

Third Year Summary -2013

It’s coming to the end of my three year training period at North Slope Farm. The years have passed in the blink of an eye but the amount of personal growth and knowledge I’ve experienced and gained will stick with me for a lifetime. Organic farming is a trade that is simultaneously coherent and chaotic, exhausting and rewarding, liberating and nerve wracking, but overall it’s just pretty darn fun.  Few other jobs allow one to be outside enjoying the blue sky and bright sunshine; to make one’s own decisions about what needs to get done and when; or to see the final result (perhaps a shiny, colorful bunch of Swiss Chard) of hard work, all while helping the greater community and by practicing environmental sustainability. Training here over the years has begun to give me an understanding of how to balance the fun, the practical and chaotic nature of working and managing a farm. All potentially confusing tasks are broken down in to easily manageable elements: administration, infrastructure, compost, equipment, crop care, planting, greenhouse, marketing, harvesting and handling.  And our years are structured such that we can get the most out of our experiences. My first year here was a whirlwind of information since trainees are made to engage with small tasks in all of these elements in order to be able to pick which one to focus on during the second and third years.  The second year I had I focused on greenhouse duties.  For the third year, I chose to focus on equipment, not as a manager, but because they were frightening during my second year, and I needed more practice with them.

To allow me to get more aquatinted with the equipment, Mike often gave me the tasks of stale seed-bedding the Big Garden Beds, mowing and weed-whacking the sides of the BGBs, mowing the perimeter of the deer fences that surround our fields and then weed-whacking around the wooden fence posts, mowing the trails in “backyard” area and finally by occasionally assigning me to some light tractor work.

The two tasks I’m going to focus on describing are stale seed-bedding and mowing the perimeters of the fences. These are repetitive tasks for almost the entire growing season.

First on the docket is stale seed-bedding the Big Garden Beds. A good explanation of a stale seed bed can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stale_seed_bed

In order to prep the bed, we mow off the sides and then existing crop on the top using the Billy Goat, our walk-behind mower, and the weed-whacker:

Walk Behind Mower Weedwhacker

Then we till the remains on the top of the bed using the rototiller:

Rototiller

The result looks something like this:

PA180720

(*Note: This is a picture of field beds, but the top of the Big Garden Beds looks like that after rototilling.)

The next task was mowing the perimeter of the fence with the Kubota and scalping the posts with the weed-whacker.

This is our riding mower:
Kubota

When the perimeter and weed-whacking is done, it looks something like this:
Swale

(*Note: as the Flicker page says, this particular area of the fence is also mowed for water management)

I’ve found that any sort of mowing with the Kubota, Billy Goat or weed-whacker is accompanied by a complex set of instructions due to hazard avoidance and removal, making sure the grass-blower is facing the right direction (grass clippings can damage crops, or mowing through a build-up of clippings can cause equipment damage), and general efficiency of movement. So, I’m not going into full detail about the riding patterns needed to complete the perimeters with the Kubota, but just note that getting lost is easy (especially in the “backyard” areas), double-mowing and getting stuck in the mud and running over branches is easy when attention is lost.

Of course, there’s always a word of safety and caution before working with machines. Always know what safety measures are in place for the equipment that’s being used. It may be needed in an emergency or it may be engaged by previous user upon shutdown and maybe the reason for a machine not starting.  Remember to check all fluid levels (gas level and fuel type, oil, hydraulic fluid, etc.) and to grease any joints that need it. Since each piece of equipment is unique, it’s best to check the corresponding manual (which means keep the manual) if something isn’t working, or turning on, or if you can’t remember what type of fuel or oil to use. Finally, always use headphones, protective eye-wear, heavy-duty pants and at the very least, sturdy shoes. Overall, the experience I’ve had with machinery this year has made me a lot more comfortable operating them.The mystique and fear have almost vanished, and now I just need to keep practicing in order to be able to work with them intuitively.

Cover Crop Plan and Task Lisk 2013

October 3rd, 2013 | Posted by miker in Planting - (Comments Off on Cover Crop Plan and Task Lisk 2013)

click on scan below for more size options…

CoverCrop Plan 2013

Task List –

MikeR needs to maximize the opportunity provided by excellent weather and timing for Planting, and three Trainees who will be charged with Preparing for, and establishing our Main Blocks of Winter Cover Crops – Today.

The weather has been warm and dry, soil conditions are excellent and the Moon Stage will be “New Moon” in a few days – perfect for planting quick growing seed!

The Seed – Organic Seed purchased from LAKEVIEW ORGANIC GRAIN llc; Triticale Rye, Winter Pea, Hairy Vetch and Oats.

The Rye, Peas and Vetch will be mixed and broadcast on all the fields (see “Bare Fallow’ fields above) and this seasons productive beds, that are ready .  The Oats will be broadcast and worked into the Veg C south Field Beds, in preparation for next season’s first succession of field bed planting.

The Process – The Bare Fallow Fields have been prepared recently with our Cut Harrow, or Disc.  The goal is to crumble the soil in the preparation of a soft, loose seed bed.  The seed will be broadcast over the field, then gently (as possible) raked into the top few inches of the Soil.  Ideally we will then “tamp down” or lightly compact the soil surface to foster good germination of the seeds.

Additionally, we have cultivated all the field beds (with young crops) and worked up areas that have already produced crops this year.  These areas will have cover crop seed broadcast by hand, and the soil is being “worked” by our offset cultivating Tractor – International Case 265, and the rear attached Williams Tool Bar.  The Williams Tools bar is my preference for final raking of the seed into its seedbed, due to the light touch of its design and smaller operating tractor.  Finally, the Seed will be tamped down using our ATV pulling a ‘Roller” as well as a “cultipacker” which is pulled by our larger tractor and covers more ground.

The Challenge as a Trainer, is to be sure the job is done well and completely, while incorporating three Trainees into all steps of the Process.

2nd Year Focus Introduction: Greenhouse

May 17th, 2013 | Posted by Beau Young in Greenhouse - (Comments Off on 2nd Year Focus Introduction: Greenhouse)

Intent:  As my second year focus I chose the Greenhouse Element because it seems to me that it is the foundation of everything that springs forth during the farm season and therefore the management thereof is essential to an efficient and productive year. While there is an obvious standard operating procedure for greenhouse duties, my initial observation is that none of it has been converted into the form of a manual, or written record. My intent is to document the procedures and processes of greenhouse management on North Slope Farm that have been implemented for years and have stood the test of time in order to facilitate the educational process for trainees to be able to reference and at the same time help me to acquire and increase my own personal knowledge of the element which prior to this year was lacking.

Task and Responsibilities:

  • Evaluate the crop plan, order required seeds, create order forms for seeding as well as the space required to accommodate these orders.
  • Daily observations of temperature in seedling greenhouse, proper venting, proper heating including germination tables and minimum twice a day watering.
  • From seedling greenhouse plants should be rotated out to harden off before being planted in the field. Space is the primary limiting factor.
  • Insuring that market seedling orders are accommodated by extrapolating needs based on prior year data. An availability sheet with very little available seedlings for sale is tantamount to lost revenue.
  • Proper planning based on crop plan needs and market needs can help reduce crop/seedling losses by insuring all available plants go to market or get planted before they have a chance to wither and die in the greenhouse or during hardening off period. This means making sure the potting on orders are met before seedlings get to big for smaller trays, etc., as well as insuring wholesale and market orders are met with sufficient availability.
  • Crop plans change based on crop losses and weather conditions. Therefore, the ability to alter greenhouse plans and be proactive with changing crop plans/greenhouse plans is paramount and can significantly increase productivity and efficiency and drastically reduce waste and loss percentages.

 

 

Frost Damage to Tender Tomato Plants

May 16th, 2013 | Posted by miker in Crop Care - (Comments Off on Frost Damage to Tender Tomato Plants)

West Amwell, NJ

Certified Organic Farm

Field Report, MikeR May 16, 2013
Frosted Tomato

Frost Damage to Tomato Plant

Four ‘Field Beds’, about 400 Tomato Seedlings succumbed to mortal tissue damage due to freezing temperatures.

Lesson:  If planting tender crops before all risk of Frost is past – Agricultural Fabric / “Remay” must be utilized or at least on hand for easy application!

We were vigorous in our staking, when we should have been setting hoops and laying out the remay…

Frost Free date for our Field is now officially back to May 20….