ClearSpan Pro “High Tunnel 1” Construction Summary: April 2014 – November 2014
In the 2014 season, NSF purchased two 30’x100’ high tunnels to expand production and season longevity. In this summary, I’m going to lay out our construction methods, talk in layman’s terms about the construction phases, and look into the true cost of the high tunnel including the equipment rentals, labor, and materials.
Looking back at the notes, it was evident that the construction was broken down into six phases. Throughout this summary, I’ll delve into each specific phase in more detail to both provide a record NSF can share with others and for my own learning reinforcement as I oversee the construction of HT1’s twin, HT2.
Phase 1: Map out HT1, confirm dimensions, excavate ground post holes, set ground post holes
The first phase of the HT1 involved what any build calls for: site and design. Siting HT1 was done by MR using his understanding of NSF land contours, solar access, and accessibility to irrigation. After the general location was decided upon, the crew set out to confirm the dimensions of the greenhouse using the 3:4:5 triangle method. This method is as such: any triangle whose sides are in the ratio of 3:4:5 is a right triangle. To properly use this method of measurement, we measured from our first corner post along one edge 3 feet. We marked that measurement. Again from the corner post, we measured along the adjacent edge 4 feet. Finally we measured diagonally across. If the measurement was 5 ft then the triangle is a 3:4:5 right triangle and the corner is ultimately square. We repeated this step for all four corners. Next, we strung the batter boards 3 feet from the construction to maintain permanent line attachments where we could continually confirm, square, and level our measurements. It was critical to have accurate measurements early on as the rest of construction was supported by these measurements.
Here at North Slope Farm, we deal with a subsurface sheet of shale that is impenetrable by hand. In order to excavate the 34 total ground post holes, we first rented a hand hydrologic auger as seen in the picture below.
The auger pictured above simply lacked the power to dig out the holes efficiently, so we eventually rented a skid steer with an hydrologic auger attachment and aimed to dig the holes to 3’. Most holes were dug to three feet, but a few holes hit bedrock before the three foot mark. We lived with the results and moved on. After the holes were dug, we filled the base of the holes with concrete and set the ground posts. To make sure each post was plumb, level, and the correct height, we confirmed each of those variables with two East to West string lines and used a level to assure posts were plumb. Once all variables were in check, we added a bit more concrete then back filled the holes with soil.
Phase 2: Rafter, Rafter Struts, and Purlin Assembly
After setting the 34 posts, the next step is to mount the rafters to the posts. Before we could mount the rafters, we had to first construct them on the ground. All rafter assemblies consisted of four rafter sections joined by a single chevron at the peak.
Once we put together the rafters on the ground, we then moved on to attach them to the posts with the help of the John Deere bucket.
After lifting a rafter up to the corresponding posts, we aligned the mounting holes and attached the rafter to the post with a bolt into each mounting hole. This is being demonstrated by AM and RM in the photo below.
After the second rafter was in place, we attached the ridge purlin and set the first ridge purlin in place by aligning the pre-drilled holes with the studs of the rafter chevron, and securing the purlin to the rafter using ¼” nuts and washer. The ridge purlins continued to be added as we added more rafters. (During this construction, we waited until all rafters and all ridge purlins were in place before we started to add the support purlins. Looking through the instructions after the fact, we saw that it is best to install all the purlins as the rafters are being installed. For constructing HT2, this point of reference will probably help troubleshoot the stubbornness we experience when attempting to attach the support purlins.)
To attach the rafter struts, we took a strut and loosely attached it to the ground post flange using the 5/16” fasteners provided. Once loosely attached, we pulled the rafter strut up into position to be aligned with the rafter hole and corresponding hole on the strut. We inserted the bolt through the rafter hole and through the mounting hole on the strut, added a locknut and tightened to secure the strut to the rafter. We would do the same on the opposite side of the high tunnel. It is important to attach the struts before you begin to attach all the purlins. They don’t have to be fully tightened, but having them attached is crucial. In the photo below, AM demonstrating how to loosely attach a rafter strut to the post flange.
With the first three rafters assembled, we began to mount the first under purlin and secured it to the rafters using the ¼” x 1” bots and nuts. At some points, a purlin and a rafter are used to attach cable assemblies. To do that, we installed the rafter cable plate between the rafter and under purlin.
Phase 3: Cable Installation and Diagonal Struts
The first step to attaching the cable is to attach the eyebolts to the frame. Next we measured the distance between points A and B and cut one length of cable from the roll to the determined length. It is imperative to account for the turnbuckle and the extra cable needed to install the clamps. After doing that, we created the turnbuckle assembly. To create the turnbuckle assembly, we used the diagram on pg 22 of the instruction manual(see photo below).
The assembly uses a combination of thimbled ends, cable clamps, turnbuckle and turnbuckle jaws to create a tensioning cable that ties each rafter to one another to create a seemingly hurricane-proof design. Below, you can see we used the back of a trailer attached to an ATV as our turnbuckle assembly workbench. This works great as the work bench is mobile and moves along with the crew as needed.
To attach the turnbuckle assembly, open the turnbuckle to its extended position and check to see how it fits from point to point on the frame. From the diagrams on page 22 (here’s a link to the PDF of the instructions) of the instruction booklet, we attached the first cable to the frame in the location the cable was measured and created for. In the first photo below, JT and TH demonstrate how we used the scissor lift to attach cables to the frame.
We repeated this step on all the cables. Finally, when all the cables were attached, we tightened the turnbuckles. It’s important to not over tighten the turnbuckles as you can pull the posts out of plumb. In the photo below, AM is demonstrating how we used a long screwdriver to turn the turnbuckle to tighten it down.
To attach the diagonal struts for additional support, we used a vise grip to bend each flattened end of the strut to have the ends of the struts flat against the frame when installed. We positioned the diagonal strut in between the end rafter and the interior rafter with the strut bent end nearer to the rafter on the end rafter and the other end near the bottom of the post on the interior rafter post. Think “diagonal” strut if that sounds confusing! We mounted the struts by drilling holes then inserting bolts with washers through the mounting holes.
Phase 4: Frame Check, Poly Latch U-Channel on End Ridge, Attach Ribbon Board & Double Poly Latch U-Channel to Sides
Before moving forward from here, we made sure all frame members were properly secured, that all bolts and screws were tight, and to cover up any sharp edges or fasteners, we cut 12” pieces of repair tape and taped the tops of all interior rafters to protect the plastic. We also cut 4” strips of tape and taped over each rafter splice. To install the Poly Latch U-Channel on the end ridge, from the peak, we attached u-channel to top of rafter every 12”. We made sure to cut the last section flush to the bottom end of the rafter.
To attach the ribbon board to the base of the rafters, we used 5/16”x5” carriage bolts. We had to countersink the bolts because the ribbon board we used was thick (a bit wider than 2”). We installed all the carriage bolts then tightened them at the end. We used self-tapping screws and carriage bolts to attach the double poly latch u-channel.
Phase 5: Cover Frame with Plastic and Secure
We woke early in the middle of the season with all hands on deck to get the plastic over the frame. We started out by tying ropes to one end of the plastic and throwing the ropes over the HT until we stood on the other side with the rope over the ridge of the HT and attached to the plastic on the ground. All we had to do was pull together, right? Wrong. Heave, ho! We gave it our all, but it proved too heavy and difficult! We stood confounded, MR running up and down the HT trying to push the plastic up into the air with a broom or piece of wood. In the end, we started to flap the plastic up and down – creating the “billowing” effect – which allowed the air to get under the plastic and there it came over the ridge and down to the other side. Success!
We secured the plastic on the ridge first. We used the JD bucket to access the peak of the HT. From the peak of West end, we wiggle wired to lock the plastic into the channel.
Next we secured the opposite end. One person wiggled while the other tried to hold the plastic taut to create tension.
Thirdly, we locked in one long side with wiggle wire to create tension for the opposite long side. On the opposite side, JT, TH, AM, and RM worked together: two persons held the plastic taut while one applied the wiggle wire and the other one drove our mobile scaffold (the ATV and trailer). We then cut the excess plastic.
Phase 6: Baseboards & Roll-up Sides
To attach the baseboards, we established the layout, trimmed the boards to length, drilled holes, and then used u-bolts to attach the boards to the posts. To date, we have yet to set up the roll-up sides.
Phase 7: Endwalls
To build the endwalls, we started by measuring out the holes for upright posts. Once measured out, we dug the holes, added concrete then set the posts to plumb and level. We backfilled the holes with more concrete and soil we dug up from the holes. Then we set the horizontal cross bracing. After the cross bracing, we started to attach the polycarbonate paneling.
Master carpenter, and friend of the farm, Ric Stang oversaw JT, RM, and TH as we cut and pieced the paneling together. We had to open the H-channel with the hammer on some of the pieces as the paneling had to enter the h-channel from both the top and the side. We also tried a soap mixture to create some lubrication. Paneling was set by self tapping screws and washers. We had to cut the excess paneling around the end walls to fit it flush to the frame. We used a box cutter to lightly score the polycarbonate, then repeated the light scoring until the poly could be bent. After it folded back, we would be able to bend it back and forth until the piece we wanted cut came off. This was very effective.
NSF High Tunnel #1 True Cost:
In hopes of determining the true cost of purchasing and constructing HT #1, we’ve gone back to the receipts and notes to add up the numbers. At first glance, the high tunnel materials (frame & endwalls) were 75% of the total cost. Equipment rentals tallied 8% of the total cost, worker wages was in at 8%, and additional materials cost 8%. Overall, the numbers below tell us that the true cost, albeit high, is justified with the majority of the capital spent on physical infrastructure, equipment necessary to complete tasks (efficiently and safely) and worker hours. To see it through as a profitable investment, we will have to continue to record data regarding the harvests recorded in HT1.
|Skidsteer & Auger (fuscorentalworld.com)||971.00|
|Scissor Lift (fuscorentalworld.com)||565.65|
|Endwall concrete (wamsnj.com)||138.39|
|Concrete for Post Holes (wamsnj.com)||240.00|
|70 U-Bolts (http://www.finkles.com)||354.96|
|Ribbon Boards (Sweet Sourland Farm)||466.50|
|Baseboards (Sweet Sourland Farm)||345.00|
|Finkles misc. (finkles.com)||84.59|
|Drill bits (finkles.com)||102.56|
|30’x100’ High Tunnel||8,220.00|
|Worker wages (approximate)||1,700.00|
JT – 3/6/15
Second Year Focus Introduction: Crop Care
Crop care is a major element throughout day-to-day life on the farm. Once seeds are sown or seedlings planted, they need attention, care, and tending. As with anything biological, certain conditions produce healthier lives for the living organism, and our crops at North Slope are no different.
After deliberating over a few different elements, I choose crop care as my focus for the 2015 season for multiple reasons: it’s importance to the farm operation, how it was overlooked at times during the 2014 season (only due to not having someone dedicated to this element), an opportunity to be an advocate for the crops, and ultimately to gain an intimate understanding of how best to efficiently manage the crops in conjunction with worker hours.
Importance to the farm operation:
Crop care is imperative. Once the crops are in the ground, they need attention in order for them to thrive. Plant vigor comes with providing the crop with the most optimum opportunity to excel, and to do that, we must control to the best of our abilities the moisture levels (especially during drought-like conditions), weed pressure, cold weather barriers, and pest control. Questions that will arise that must be dealt with: best irrigation practices, best cultivation practices, timing of cultivations, and pest protections.
Overlooking Crop Care in 2014:
During my first season at NSF, I felt there were a couple case studies that were stark reminders to me of the importance of crop care. During our carrot harvests, we had some beds that yielded 100 lbs and others that were closer to 500 lbs. Same size beds. Incredible variety in yields. After discussions as a crew, it seemed highly likely that the difference in yields came down to a the consistency of irrigation. The second case study was the lack of vigor our field tomatoes showed. They produced a lot of fruit, but the plants never truly grew with much vigor. This, too, could be attributed to a lack of focus on getting irrigation to the crops when they needed it the most. Without someone focused on crop care as their element, irrigation and weed pressure (especially in the carrots) were overlooked. From these first hand experiences, I grew convinced that crop care is an incredibly important element on the farm.
Which leads me to the reason why I chose crop care as my element. As the Crop Care Manager, I will lead the charge for making the environment more ideal for our crops in the ground. Having someone on the farm focused on crop advocacy should bring more awareness to the day-to-day needs (immediate and long term) of the crops in ground.
Managing crop care efficiently:
In order to manage crop care efficiently, I’ll be using the Crop Care Task List created by Kyle to be filled out during a weekly field walk. In this field walk, I plan to make notes on crop care issues to take on for the week, and will translate those notes onto the chalkboard in the office to share with the crew. This will allow us to stay on top of weed pressure by scuffle hoeing in the BGBs at the right time, allowing us to attempt different cultivation methods in the Field Favorable Furrows, and, hopefully, get out the flame weeder to kill off early annual weeds in our carrot beds. Open communication is crucial in order to manage any element of the farm efficiently.
Field Favorable Furrows:
One aspect of the farm operation that will be applied in-full this year is the use of North Slope’s minimal tillage technique colloquially known around NSF as Field Favorable Furrorws. The technique to cultivating our crops with the FFF hasn’t totally been set in stone, but I project that we will continue to utilize the technique developed last year. Last year, after we planted into our furrows, to cultivate in order to suppress weeds, we would run the BCS in-between the rows as close to the plants as possible in order to both kill newly germinated weeds and to chop up the remaining cover crop. I believe we ran the BCS a second time and also hand weeded by crawling up and down the rows on our hands and knees extracting the weeds.
I would like to try and incorporate the wheel hoe into the mix. I think the first cultivation should be with the BCS in order to break up cover crop, but the second cultivation pass could be tried with the wheel hoe. The hand weeding for the third cultivation was relatively quick and efficient.
Flame Weeding the Carrot Beds:
When our carrots are given the right environment to thrive in our BGBs, they exist in that space as if they were made for it. In order to create that perfect environment, we must focus on two obstacles: getting the carrots an appropriate amount of irrigation and to suppress the weed pressure early before the Galinsoga fights for BGB supremecy. This season, I believe we should implement the flame weeder as a major tool in our carrot growing arsenal. If we can knock back the weeds early, we’ll bank on getting the carrots established before the weeds. Once the second set of annual weeds begins to germinate a few weeks later, the already established carrots will give us an easy framework in which to scuffle hoe around.
Tasks and Responsibilities:
Irrigation – Crop Care Element requires constant attention to irrigation, especially during drought like conditions during peak summer. A constant rotation schedule should be put in place in order to accommodate all BGBs, greenhouses, and fields.
Mulching – Some crops (tomatoes) receive straw mulch to suppress weed pressure and to cover the soil to dissuade slash back onto the crops.
Weed Control – Crops perform best when weeds are knocked down in their early stages. Observe best time to cultivate, and get crew on board to accomplish the task. Using scuffle hoes, flame weeders, hand weeding, and the BCS down the paths of the Favorable Furrows.
Pest Control – Looking for both rodent and insect damage, and, if damage is noted, take appropriate action to alleviate damage. With rodents, prevention is key. We’ll try to keep up to speed on mowing pathways of the BGBs and making sure the electric fences are in working order and charged over night. Last fall, we lost most of our collards and kale due to a major aphid infestation. This year we’ll try to combat that using a light weight, light permeable insect netting to quell aphid pressure.
Trellising – Making sure plants are able to be supported as they grow vertically. Having clips, tomato twine, wooden and metal stakes, and trellising for peas.
Frost protection – Laying out hoops, applying remay, and securing them with sandbags during the first few months and last couple months to fight off potential frost damage to crops.
As a small crew, it will be imperative to stay on top of our crop care and handle cultivation, irrigation, pest protection, and weather protection in the most timely fashion. I envision days where we’re scrambling to fit all of our crop care needs into the day, so consistent and comprehensive communication with the farm manager and crew about the crop needs will be critical. At the end of the day, I believe with someone focused on crop care, we’re setting ourselves up for a season of harvests that meet our market demands from both the BGBs, high tunnels, and the Favorable Furrows.
Monthly Summary– July 2011
Logs reviewed and summary prepared by MR, July 10, 2012
General Observations: Just over an inch of rain is recorded for this month, with a Heat Wave noted by mid month. Lightening storms chased the crew from the fields at least twice but the brief showers simply increased the humidity. Early in the month we were appreciative of the mild heat and weather as tales of Woe registered from the South and West – both Drought and severe Flooding. During the heatwave hours were adjusted to harvest earlier and break early, though Infrastructure and Handling continued on until their responsibilities were completed. It is a busy month, catching up with large weeds, trying to get final planting for fall production in and harvesting the newly yielding crops of Tomatoes.
Equipment 40 hrs: Mostly the Kabota, mowing, also Ford 4600 rototilling and mowing, JD2240 Chisel and Moldboard Plowing, and the IH140 bedforming. 3 hours of the Walk Behind tiller and 1 hour of weedwacking noted. Sad signs of aging equipment reared their head, the JD Loader blew its seals on one of the Cylinders which had to be rebuilt by Everitts Equipment in Ringoes. The Kabota also lost its muffler but a replacement was quickly retrieved from the Kabota Dealer in Titusville; Mid-State Equipment Co.
Administration 43 hrs: This months expense for payroll was $6,000, for 7 employees, (2 part-time). 2nd Quarter Employee wages (April-June) was $20,386 compared to Market earnings by Mid July of $39,541. So this is the time period where financially the farm starts to tread water. To get to this point the farm has “borrowed” $30,000 from Savings, which it pays back slowly over the course of the season. Training time focused on BD and Primary Tillage, as well as discussions of the responsibilities of a third year Trainee. Each Trainee must post summaries of their intended focus and a summary at the end of the Season. Notes and photos taken during the season are critical to a meaningful summary, as well as beneficial to all, in understanding the activity of others. Also of note, Black Bird Meadows (@ NSF) began harvesting crops that were sold to North Slope and resold at our Markets, initiating the practice of providing market outlet for individual “Agricultural Ventures” on the farm, undertaken by Trainees and Contract Farmers. The Farm Manager is responsible for maintaining cooperation and synergy with these ventures and it was great to have ST take on the opportunity. ST (Black Bird Meadows) also hosted the Chef/Owner of Sprig and Vine,New Hope,PA, for a farm visit as they discussed the coming harvest and delivery schedule.
Infrastructure 98 hrs: KG and RR were given review training of the finer details of moving the Chicken coops – Please see – “Pastured Poultry -Factors to consider”. Primary Tillage was a significant focus, providing trainees (mostly BD, but also CH and ST) with multiple opportunities to Chisel Plow, Rototill, Moldboard Plow and Disc as well as bedforming with the smaller tractor. Fields Veg C south and Mid were plowed and disced and Veg B mid and north were plowed and rototilled. CH noted that her first round using the ‘Cut Harrow’ (disc) she did not allow it to go deep enough and might not have been nearly as effective in churning under weeds as it should have been. A second round of Harrowing at a deeper depth was required. Veg B south had been previously plowed and this month was bedformed 4 times, over the course of the month, to maintain “stale seedbeds” with the last pass to incorporate the summer cover crop seed of SunHemp and Oats. McGearys Organic Fertilizer was also purchased from Rosedale Mills,Pennington,NJ. It was stored in the Barn, elevated on pallets, with a plastic vapor barrier below and plastic sheeting to cover. (*by next season, the unused fertilizer became a major food source for rodents – requiring alternative storage, alternative fertilizer or immediate spreading).
Greenhouse 14 hrs: The last of the greenhouse seedlings were planted out by the end of the month. Activity in this Element was weeding and mulching Yardlong Beans and Cucumbers in Ralphs House and Much trellising of Greenhouse Tomatoes in the Farmhouse Gothic. Trellising and Pruning of the Greenhouse Tomatoes was a weekly task at minimum. Irrigation was also critical. ST was monitoring the Farmhouse Gothic, using the soil moisture sensors. ST noted the reading from 34 (“Irrigate”), then 1.5 hrs of irrigation to a reading of 4 (“saturated”). Missing from the notes was how long from a reading of Saturated back to “good”? We have a history of letting the Greenhouse crops get too dry, then flooding them. About an hour every two days would probably be best, but hard to sustain with lots of other water use to coordinate.
Composting 16 hrs: 26 cubic yards of Compost spread on 12 Field Beds and 9 cyds on 6 BGB’s.
Planting 59 hrs: 7/2 seeded Flowers (10 beds), 7/6 seeded 4 varieties of Winter Squash using Minimum Tillage and Mulching Strategy, 7/20 Seeded Lettuce into Big Garden Beds (BGB), 7/27 Transplanted last of the Greenhouse Seedlings to MulchField SEsouth (beets, scallions, chard and kale), 7/28 direct seeded summer Squash and beans in Mulch SEs, 7/28 seeded Bolero Carrots in BGBs. Also seeded Sun Hemp and Oats into fallow field VegBs and lightly cultivated then rolled with ATV and Roller. A crop Failure of the Hakurai Turnips was noted due to Overseeding. The pinpoint seeder that we use was set to allow multiple seeds per divot on the axle, it was determined the appropriate setting is to singulate the seeds, ie one seed per divot on the seeder axle.
Crop Care 188 hrs: Irrigation was the watch word for the month with 34 specific entries in the Log, or more than one zone being irrigated every day. On average we can irrigate 15: 100’ drip tubes, or 16: 200’ drip tapes, for up to 4 hours, in the BGB/Field Zones or 1.5 hours per zone in the Greenhouses. Weeding of BGBs and care and cleanup of the Kale/Chard/Beet beds. Cleanup of spring beds- hoops and bags from remay tunnels long overdue. And of course; Trellising of Tomatoes! Additional attention to Tomatoes included Trampling and Rolling the vegetative growth between the Tomato beds. It was noted that a roller/Crimper that could be pulled by the ATV would be a nice, low tech method of managing fallow beds without the use of a mower or the requirement of bare soil tillage. However it is done, controlling the growth between the Tomato Beds requires a solid strategy – enough space for mower or alternative control! Hardcore cleanup of BGB edges and pathways also noted. Machetes or serrated long knives are nice for cleaning edges of crops on top of the BGBs pre harvesting/weeding (field salad, carrots).
Harvesting 417 hrs: Basil 101 bn, Beans 156 lbs, Beets 400 lbs, Carrots 525 lbs, Chard 375 bn, Eggs 75 doz, Field Salad 335 lbs, Flowers 134 bn, Garlic 72 lbs, Kale 135 bn, Parsley 115 bn, Radishes 33 lbs, Scallions 245 bn, Strawberries 12 pints, Squash 640 lbs, Tomatoes 1,520 lbs. The first tomatoes were 7/7 – 3 pints cherry tomatoes and 1/5 tray of Greenhouse Tomatoes. Bulk of the yield was at the end of the month. We moved the old box truck to its place by the Tomatoes, to be used as a shady harvest/sorting area. Green Bean harvest was assessed as approximately 100 #’s main picking per bed or 50#/100’ (half of what Rodale’s Garden Problem Solver, p18, estimates) – Assumming 50 of our beds per acre – 5,000 #’s per acre, if we want to gross $20,000/acre, our bean crop value should be a minimum of $4/# wholesale, or $6-$8/# retail! Increasing the yield must be accomplished to reduce unit cost. Carrots were also noted as yielding 135-160# per BGB. Assumming 40 BGB’s per acre; 6,000#; (1/4 the estimated yield of Rodale); Wholesale value should be $3/#. Ideally we should work towards an increased yield up to 300 #/ BGB to get our cost value more in line with market value – currently at $2.50/# retail (1.25# wholesale value).
Handling 136 hrs: The Crew rotating thru the washing station, no one expressing particular interest. Scallions has become a major ‘to do’, usually leading to a shady spot designated for stripping and bunching. One day the notes express some pleasure at “cleaning scallions poolside”! Quote from Farm Manager, “As tomatoes come on, with Flowers and Fruit, the cooler and AirConditioned Office are FULL. Our time is Fully Required, how these elements are managed can ‘make’ or ‘break’ the operation. There can be little or no waste, Freshness and Quality Must be maintained and old produce Cleared Out!” Discussion focused on maintaining a system of what produce is just harvested vs ripe and ready for market. In particular, the Tomatoes are harvested with two levels of ripeness and they must be kept separate in storage to ensure the ripe ones go to market and ripening ones move forward for next market, without extra handling (confusion).
Marketing 161 hrs: First week markets were noted as being “off” from last year $500 down at WWCFM and $1,140 down at Summit. By mid month we are making runs to Solebury Orchards for their Peaches, then nectarines and apricots, to add to the blueberries. We also purchase weekly deliveries of Organic Blueberries via Zone 7 – produce distributor. By the end of the month Cherry Grove Organic Farm decided the Hopewell Market did not yield enough sales to continue, which helped increase our sales just in time for Tomato season. The Hopewell Market was always marginally viable for multiple growers, a basic problem for small town Farmers Markets – how to bring in a diversity of producers when the demand is low. RCM noted a check of Bio-Bag inventory and confirmed that our usual supplier, DinPak.com still appears to be the best – Copy of invoice filed in Marketing Element Folder. Biodegradable Produce bags cost .10 each, and bags with handles cost .14 each, plus shipping! Non Biodegradable produce bags cost about .01 per bag. North Slope takes a major financial hit to provide our customers with Ecologically Responsible packaging; no doubt we will be rewarded in heaven.
Hopewell– $442, $575, $886, $933; Total: $2,836
WWCFM– $875, $1,100, $1,920. $1,920, $2,485; Total: $8,300
Summit– $1,361, $2,088, $2,935, 3,000, $3,360; Total: $12,744
Total July 2011 Market Income: $23,880
Special Projects 24 hrs: In cooperation with NOFA-NJ, we planted SunHemp, a trial species introduced by the NRCS for a potentially high Biomass, nitrogen fixing, summer cover crop. We seeded a field section with Sun Hemp and oats, intending late summer nitrogen fixing and weed suppression, followed by “Winter Kill” then Spring Planting next season. Also of note, Black Bird Meadows began to harvest more Napa Cabbage than the Sprig and Vine needed andNorth Slope was able to provide an additional market outlet. The discussion focused on pricing – to encourage the farmer (ST) to set their wholesale value, whichNorth Slope pays then marks up for resale at our markets. ST started with market research and established a wholesale market rate of .85/#. His cabbages averaged 1.5# or $1.28/Cabbage. NSF estimated a good Retail Rate of $3/Cabbage and offered to pay $1.5/Cabbage wholesale. This process builds on our Marketing assumption that the wholesale rate ought to allow as much as a doubling in price from Farmer’s price to retail sale. ST also noted in log, “Started Kabota [to mow special project field] and muffler fell off.” Ah, the trials and tribulations of shared equipment, it was noisy but at least it cut the grass!
Weather: Hot and Dry with T-storms threatening towards end of Month.
Week 1: mildly hot and dry.
Week 2: 90*F, hot then .8” long drizzly rain (very much needed). Then another .3”.
Week 3: Heat Wave – 105*F.
Week 4: High temps, some showers and increased Humidity to finish the month.
Grafted Heirloom tomatoes were trellised with the double leader technique. Each tomato plant’s leaders were pruned except for two which were clipped to its own individual string hanging from the top of the hoop house. This provided adequate airflow for the plants and made it easy to harvest in an efficient manner. We mulched the beds and aisles with hay for weed suppression and to prevent soil from contacting the plants. The outside rows were non grafted indeterminate red slicing tomatoes. We trellised and pruned them using the same method for the grafted tomatoes. Soil moisture sensors were placed in two of the rows to inform us when and how much to water. On average we watered once a week for about an hour. This changed according to the weather. On hot weeks we watered twice a week and during rainy periods we did not water at all. A humidity chamber was built for the newly grafted tomatoes. This consisted of a tent of plastic under the greenhouse table. Cardboard was placed on top of the table to block light out. This created the right environment for the grafts to heal. I learned this method from the first farm I worked at: Blooming Glen Farm.
How to Graft: Grow seedlings of heirloom and rootstock so their stems are about the thickness of a pencil. Cut the top of the root stock off. Cut a downward slit on the rootstock with a matching upward slit on the plant you want to graft. Insert the cuts together and plant into a single pot. Hold plants together with graft clips and mist the cut with a spray bottle. Place under the humidity chamber for 3 to 5 days. Pull the plants out and cut halfway through the base of the heirloom. Twist tie the plants to a skewer for support. Water the base of the plant gently to avoid soil splash. Place the plants back into the humidity chamber for another 3 to 5 days. Take the plants back out and cut all the way through. Now the root stock will be attached to the heirloom. There are some variables to this procedure. Observation of the plant’s health is vital. Slowly introduce the plant back to full sunlight before planting.
Root Stock: Maxifort
Heirloom Tomatoes: Brandywine, Striped German, Paul Robeson, and Black Prince
Non grafted Tomatoes: New Girl
4 beds planted: 2 Outside beds new girl, 2 inner beds with grafted heirlooms (1/2 of bed for each variety)
Single row planting at 18” spacing
3/4 seedlings were planted
4/22 to 4/27 tomatoes grafted
5/13 tomatoes planted
7/12 first harvest
9/23 last substantial harvest
Yield from 300 row feet of tomatoes:
Seeding – 1 hr
Grafting – 16 hrs
Planting – 1.5 hrs
Trellising – 30 hrs
Harvesting – 32 hrs
Clean up – 12 hours
Crop Plan Intro 2011 & Third Year Summary
The goal of producing the Crop Plan for NSF is to create documents that will aid in planting vegetables for three farmers markets. The plan will be based on the 2010 plan which gave us a good record of what and when vegetables were grown. This information also aids in our crop rotation plan. In 2011 new fields were opened up from fallow ground and new employees were added to the farm crew. Creating simple maps that include important information of the plan is vital for accurate record keeping. Calculating the amount of beds to be planted and where and when they would be planted is where I started.
Producing the crop plan will provide me an intimate relationship with crop varieties and quantities needed to run a successful small farm operation. In years past I have been involved with greenhouse production, crop care, planting, and marketing. My desire to create the crop plan has come from the dream to one day own a farm (or mange one) in the future. Deciding how much to plant, where to plant, and when to plant can be produced on paper; however the variability of the season always plays a factor. I have read many books on the subject (Eliot Coleman and John Jeavons being a huge influence) but actually implementing the plan in reality is the experiential learning I am searching for. This past season we experimented with winter production and extending the season. The results of that special project can be found on this website under “Special Projects”. This taught me that with perseverance and dedication good results will show however there are always realistic barriers in the way.
Grafted tomatoes in a hoop house will be another minor focus. Last year I experimented with this process with moderate success. This year I was determined to prove this method was valid and had the opportunity to grow in the farmhouse gothic hoop house, which had prime conditions for sunlight, size, and the ability to trellis the plants to 14 feet tall. The goal is to track worker hours and yield which will give us hard numbers to base its feasibility.
I love the local food industry, organic farming, and how they are all connected. Last winter I decided to take a part time job at a restaurant in New Hope, PA called Sprig and Vine. I worked as a dishwasher to understand the back of the house operations. During my work there I was able to form a relationship with the chef. It was not glamorous work but we had lively conversations about unique vegetables and local farming. Through talking with the chef and pouring over seed catalogs while working on the crop plan I had a eureka moment; growing vegetables for one local restaurant on a half acre. I discussed with MR and he provided guidance and support to “rent” a half acre from North Slope Farm. Alongside working on the crop plan for NSF I also created a plan for my own agricultural enterprise Blackbird Meadows.
This season had its challenges with unfavorable weather. The spring was very wet which led to a delay in being able to plow the ground. During the middle of the season we experienced very little rain with high temperatures. The end of the season went out with a bang as hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee left most of the Northeast flooded. Some of our crops got damaged and it ended the high yields on our tomatoes. The rain did not stop through September which left our fields fully saturated and we ended up with the same challenges as the beginning of the season. The crop plan was written during the winter without the knowledge of what the weather would be like. Dates for seeding in the greenhouse and out in the field would be our guideline to stay on track to supply for three farmers markets.
North Slope Farm has big garden beds, field beds, two hoop houses, and a heated greenhouse. The BigGarden Beds are 4 foot wide by 100 foot long. They are raised beds that get prepared with heavy compost application, broad forked by hand, and then roto tilled with a walk behind tractor. We build the soil with these techniques and they have proved useful by having good drainage and high germination rates. We generally plant lettuce, arugula, spinach, tat soi, and carrots in these beds. Sometimes quick crops such as radishes and turnips are also planted. We seed across the bed for easier hoeing and a higher intensity of crops. Our field beds are about 220 feet long and about 16 rows across. This equates to fields that are divided up into plots under a half acre. Each succession we plant takes up one of those plots. This allows for proper management for crop rotations. The hoop houses are used to extend the season. This year we planted grafted tomatoes in one hoop house and used the other hoop house to start the season with vegetables planted in the winter and to grow yardlong beans during the summer. Our heated greenhouse is for our seedlings for sale and to transplant out in the field.
We plant by phases of the moon. There is a lot of mysticism that surrounds this method but to me it has a very sobering effect on how to plan for the year. During the new moon we plant direct seeded crops in the greenhouse for transplants or out in the field (green beans, radish, turnips, carrots, lettuce, etc.). During the full moon we transplant our seedlings out in the field. Since the moon has an effect on gravity it is believed that the new moon keeps water closer to the surface due to lack of gravitational pull (which helps germination of direct seeded crops) and draws water down to the roots of transplanted crops during the full moon. These theories are being practicesed more indepthly through Biodynamics.
The plan for the field needed to be changed at the start of the season. The wet spring forced us to plant field crops into the big garden beds. We practiced intercropping kale with radishes and swiss chard with turnips. A month later we were able to get into the field to continue our original plan. Some seeding gaps in the plan reflect low yields and not enough vegetables for the market. We have determined that planting lettuce in our big garden beds will give us a constant supply of lettuce for the market, almost not having enough some weeks. There was a gap in planting lettuce by a month and a half. We felt the missed lettuce as did the customers at the market! Our 5th succession was also behind. We kept the 5th succession in the crop plan open to interpretation as the season went on. This proved ineffective because it produced another gap in seeding which left us short on supply around late august. The dates of seeded vegetables can be seen in the harvest summary. It is important to write out the full plan even if it changes to keep everyone on track. During July it is very busy. Tomatoes require a lot of attention and the farm is buzzing with activity. This is the time that following a plan drawn out during the slow winter months would provide beneficial guidance for the farm.
The grafted tomatoes were successful. We had tomatoes early, they were efficient to harvest, and produced a good yield for such a small space. For more information check the hoop house tomato post on this website.
Blackbird Meadows taught me a lot this year. I produced for one restaurant mostly by myself. I had about ¼ acre in production while the rest was in cover crop of clover, oats, and oilseed radish. I formed 25 beds on the half acre plot and planted vegetables in every other row. The other rows were planted in cover crop. This was an experiment that yielded mixed results. The downside was more management to the cover crops that did not produce income. The positive side resulted in weed suppression and hopefully better fertility and soil for next year. Working on the field after work at NSF and almost every weekend proved to me that agriculture is my passion. I was able to grow crops I was interested in (Chinese cabbage, baby carrots, head lettuce) and understand the weekly demands of a restaurant. This helped me fully realize the importance of a crop plan for projecting yields and keeping a steady supply of vegetables throughout the season. Blackbird Meadows ended early due to running out of space and challenging weather at the end of the season. I feel it was successful in truly understanding what it takes to run a small farm. I produced a website and documented everything I grew and harvested. This was a great addition to my resume and gave me the confidence to seek opportunities that will help me grow as a farmer.
3/4 – Seedlings first started in Heated Greenhouse
3/4 – Seeding for grated Tomatoes
4/6 – Planting for peas direct seeded in field
5/3 – First succession of carrots
6/1 – Missed opportunity to plant lettuce
6/29 – Crop failure for Radish and turnips (too hot)
7/1 – Missed opportunity for 5th succession transplants
7/6 – Winter Squash direct seeded
7/8 – First tomato harvest from Hoop House
8/23 – Last succession of transplants for the field
– Arugula amd Tat soi direct seeded in big garden beds
Monthly Summary –_July_, 2010
___RR__: Logs and records reviewed, and summary prepared 6/30/11
General Observations: When I think of July, I think of sitting on the porch after a long day of with my hand wrapped around a cold drink. And I imagine that’s just what the crew did last July after a long day’s work. With a massive heat wave and drought that brought 99-100 degree days, threatened crops and changed work hours to a 6am start up, a bit of relaxation must have been necessary. Thankfully, however, July didn’t seem to be all that bad. The month brought along the first exciting harvests of tomatoes, sungolds, eggplants, carrots, cucumbers, and garlic. Chickens were taken care of, equipment problems seemed minimal, the 3rd succession of crops was planted, and other issues seemed to find quick solutions.
Equipment 20 hrs: July seemed like a month with few equipment problems. The John Deer had a bit of trouble starting one day which postponed composting and planting in a field. MR fixed it later that day with a jump start from the Ford and the battery charger. There was also mowing going on early this month. Maintenance was necessary for the Farmhouse and Ranch yards, waterways and for the cluster area. Field beds were also mowed down.
Administration 13 hrs: The website had some difficulties working and delayed the posting of the July 2009 summary. (The 7/09 summary eventually got posted. Just scroll down and click on “next page” until it pops up!) Other administrative duties included payroll, bill-paying and the quarterly tax statement. Non-financial tasks were out of the ordinary. MR gave a two hour tour to farmers from Philadelphia on 15th. On another day, someone stumbled upon the old North Slope Farm logo on the computer and had plans to revive it.
Infrastructure 38.5 hrs: Our chickens were movin’ on up. The older girls got moved to fresh pasture. The young gals were given a new home in a bigger coop, within which, they were described as, “content and adventurous.” Heat and drought made bringing water to both groups of chickens a critical task. The office and shoop (an equipment storage facility), including the compost toilet area, received a clean-up and it was discovered that the shoop needed a new cover.
Greenhouse 2 hrs: Ralph’s house (the name of one of our greenhouses) was home to the tomatoes and some garlic beds last year in July. This particular greenhouse was cleared of weeds as workers harvested garlic. The remaining tomatoes received constant trellising.
Composting 7.5 hrs: The field we know as Veg B South had six beds composted in total in preparation for planting the 3rd succession of crops. Fruit trees such as the Asian Pears and Clem. trees also got composted.
Planting 21.5 hrs: The 3rd succession was planted by CH, SJ and ST. Crops included the transplanting of basil, fennel, red beets and zinnias on 7/2 and gold beets on 7/6. The 4th and 5th successions of field salad were direct seeded on 7/6 and 7/28, respectively.
CropCare 134.5 hrs: Weeding, weeding and more weeding. One bare-fallow field needed a hard weeding down the center of its beds after several passes with mechanical cultivation. Doing so was noted to promote less weedy beds for next year. Another bare-fallow field was weeded of big plants and then needed weeding of the smaller plants. Experiments regarding weeding and worker hours were conducted. It was concluded that worker hours were less when weeds were smaller in size. It was also concluded that philosophical discussions made the work go faster.
Harvesting 312 hrs: Last July they harvested: Kale (285 bunches), Scallions (176 bunches), Squash (396 pounds), Garlic (6 rows), Radishes (56 pounds), Zinnias (169 bunches), Tomatoes (25.5 trays), Sunflowers (39 bunches), Greenbeans (263 pounds), Field Salad (300 pounds), Sungolds (284 pints), Cucumbers (205 pounds), Carrots (184 pounds), Eggplants (64 pounds), Flowers (500 bunches).
Handling 66 hrs: The walk-in cooler was broken! RCM had a difficult time moving crates around and finding storage. She eventually settled on using the display cooler for blueberries. Dried loose-leaf tea was packaged and the harvested garlic was cut and stored. Also, ST, RCM and SJ received a detailed flower harvesting introduction. Fun handling observation: 17 pounds of wet salad mix becomes 12 pounds of salad mix after spinning! (5 pounds of water spun out).
Marketing 141 hrs: Garlic, cherry tomatoes and tomatoes were sold wholesale to Nomad last July. The Farmstand was also open and its revenue for the month totaled $297.00. Each week there was any combination of chard, salad, snow peas, scallions, beans, garlic, squash, eggs, blueberries, beets, cucumbers, sungold cherry tomatoes, and other tomatoes. Other markets are West Windsor, Summit and Hopewell.
West Windsor: (7/3) $1431.75, (7/10) $1328.00, (7/17) $1763.00, (7/31) $2111.50
Summit: (7/4) $2,200.00, (7/11) $2,500.00, (7/18) $2630.00
Hopewell: (7/7) $466.00, (7/14) $530.35, (7/21) $523.50, (7/28) 723.56 (Yea for tomatoes!)
Special Projects 9.5 hrs: Some of the fruit trees, sadly, did not do well in the heat and had passed on. Another special project involved discussing the future of our website.
Monthly Summary – April, 2010
Rita: Logs and records reviewed, and summary prepared 3/25/11
General Observations: As a new trainee at North Slope Farm, I learned that last April was filled with all sorts of excitement. The weather was interesting as the month started with a sunny heat wave followed by a thunderstorm that led to dry, cooler days the rest of the month. So much cooler, in fact, that there was a frost warning on the 23rd. Weather didn’t stop production, however, and among the usual tasks that accompany the start of a growing season were challenges, experiments and special projects. From equipment repair to greenhouse issues, newly planted fruits to chicken coops, the crew was kept on their toes all month.
Equipment 26 hrs: Minor issues with the JD tractor on the 7th resulted in the creation of a sheet of instructions regarding where to grease the zerks. The same tractor had problems toward the end of the month when it started leaking hydraulic fluid.
On the 8th, a tire for the Kabota was repaired and put back on.
An old trailer was resurrected from weeds and given new tires. Its purpose is to carry a water tank to water remote fields.
Finally, the ATV had work done on its ignition system.
Other tractors were used to mow the Market Garden and Grain Field.
Administration 54 hrs: Summaries for April and May of 2009 were started and finished during this month. Other administrative work included correspondence with CowPots early in the month regarding certification potential, and orders of organic corn seed and tomato grafting clips. Also, a cost estimate data for the BGBs and Top Dressing Garlic were created on the 8th.
Infrastructure 78 hrs: The water source and system changed this month, and a fence was taken down around the compost.
Irrigation was created for many areas on the farm including the strawberry, arugula and lettuce beds, as well as the fruit cluster and the Farmhouse Gothic. Later on, the strawberries got a new supply line so it didn’t have to keep switching with that of the Gothic.
Finally, the permaculture field, once overgrown with brambles, saw an amazing transformation after being mowed on the 29th.
Greenhouse 110.5 hrs: It was a rough month for the greenhouses. An aphid infestation overwhelmed the Red Russian Kale in Ralph’s House. Plants and planted tomatoes (Taxi, Paragon, Arbasen and crimson summer) were removed from R.H. on the 14th.
On the 23rd, snails were found to have eaten 65% of the planted tomatoes on the east bed of R.H. and those tomatoes were replaced. A possible solution to the problem would be to feed the snails beer.
Composting 47.5 hrs: The fruit cluster, apple trees, garlic in the 579 Field, the BGBs and Veg B North all received a layer of compost.
Planting 171 hrs: Many crops were seeded, direct seeded, transplanted and potted this month. Most notable plantings were the Chester Blackberries along the north edge of the composting area, 9 more apple trees on the South East edge of the fruit cluster.
Planting of grapes and Hardy Kiwi also garnered excitement from crew members.
April also held the seeding of the 3rd and 4th succession of seedlings for sale at markets, planting of crops for the Kitchen Garden and the 1nd succession of veggies on the 8th.
CropCare 151 hrs: Tea plants were weeded and peas were trellised.
Beds were prepared for arugula and lettuce. This included, mowing, forking, tilling, raking, rolling and finally seeding the field. The 579 field, which had garlic planted, was cultivated, composted and mulched. A threat of frost on the 23rd moved the outside tomatoes and flowers into a truck.
Harvesting 21.5 hrs: Swiss chard and salad mix were harvested for market sales this month.
Handling 2 hrs: Chicken eggs were washed and packed on the 16th.
Marketing 53 hrs: North Slope Farms participated at the Wednesday Farmer’s Market at Hopewell (?) during this month. Some days were better than others in regards to sales and turn out. Both factors seem to be correlated with the weather… such as less people coming to the market during a thunderstorm.
Produce continued to be delivered to local restaurants this month.
Special Projects 99 hrs: The lucky girls had BD building and improving on their homes (chicken coops/tractors) the entire month. And a routine for chicken chores was either created or reviewed on the 20th.
Administration – Introduction
- Systems Management Desk
- Computer and Projects Desk
- Farm Managers Desk
- Filing Drawers and System
- Postings, Messages and Chalk Board
Time Tracking: (See Time Sheet by Element) Record hours by element, (form on Systems Desk). HalfDay; is any day where you work 4 hours or less. FullDay; if you work 6 hours or more, you are entitled to a total of one hour “personal time” that is paid, (usually we take 1 hour lunch breaks, but you are free to structure your break time to meet your needs.) Record your “lunch hour” with the days, primary activity.
Systems Data Management:
- Bills and Receipts
- Master Data Form File
- Harvest Records
- Planting and Seed Records
- Printer / Copier / Fax
- Message access #: ____ , Passcode: ____
- Heater / Air Conditioner
Notes and Questions:
Computer Use and Codes: Access Email, WordPress and Flickr. “ WEB” Folder in Filing Cabinet
The Email, WordPress and Flickr gateways are located on desktop and in the favorites dropdown list.
Security Statement: To promote easy access by our Guild Community, you have full privileges of editing pictures, text and content in these programs. Always LOG OUT before closing these web sites and you will help protect our system. Do not change your username or password without notifying the farm manager, the farm will always need to maintain management of your access. Do not jeopardize our computer system by accessing web sites that may not be safe. Only download material whose origin you know and trust. Your actions on this computer are noted and tracked, protect our on-line reputation by acting responsibly.
Monthly Summary – March 2010
Prepared 3/4/11 RCM
General Observations: Spring is coming. Looking back on last year’s log reminds me of the somewhat chilly start we had: snow on the grown, freezing nights and some windy wet days. But soon the weather began changing and warm temperatures by the afternoon kept our spirits up as the green began appearing. Chickweed salads with the fresh tangy green were enjoyed by crewmembers. Of course this spurt of green growth also meant there was plenty of weeding and such to start off our season and prepare for. Fortunately, after a long winter off, the NSF crew was ready to get our hands dirty again.
Administration 126.5 hours: Numerous ’08 summaries had yet to be finished and posted on the website and the general crop plan for the current season needed to be smoothed out and seeds ordered. A lot of time was spent in the office trying to get ready for the coming season… which on a cold wet day in March can be very pleasant when sitting next to a small heater. There were also bills and payroll to be paid and general organization of farm business.
Infrastructure 67 hours: General repairs on the farm after the winter had to be done. The seed shed foundation was fixed up and stuccoed, helping make the root cellar more efficient, protecting the Insulation Boards. Loose roof panels were repaired, as was damage from the winter and a rain/wind storm to the greenhouses. Power supply line to Greenhouse #1 was protected with Electrical Conduit.
Greenhouse 143.5 hours: First and foremost the heated greenhouse needed to be put in order for spring use. We began to utilize new cowpots (biodegradable) in the greenhouse for seedling sales at market as well as some of our slow-growing veggies like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. March was also the beginning of SEEDING! Lots of trays were prepared for our first succession of planting and seedlings were prepared for selling at market and whole sales vendors such as Whole Earth in Princeton. Everything from kale and swiss chard to nasturtiums and zinnias were being seeded to be ready for the coming spring. New metal flashing sheets were placed on greenhouse cinderblock table legs to help create a slick surface to deter mice from climbing onto the tables and foraging for planted seeds. Ralph’s House Greenhouse was also prepped for planting, beds were cleared and forked and transplanted into. The greenhouses were very busy in March
Composting 14 hours: Lots of sifting compost for our seedling trays.
Planting 44.5 hours: Began planting some perennial Fruits, strawberries, blackberries and asparagus. Also seeded peas.
Crop Care 63 hours: Beds needed to be prepped after the long winter, both in greenhouses and in the field. Everything from clearing beds of weeds, broadforking, rototilling and seeding. There were lots of beds in the tea garden and market garden that had to be cleared. Lettuce grown in the heated greenhouse during the winter was transplanted into a bed in the unheated Ralph’s House. Fruit trees were also pruned.
Harvesting 15 hours:
- Week 1: lettuce and arugula from our heated greenhouse
- Week 2: Kale from unheated greenhouse
- Week 3: Chard and kale from unheated greenhouse
- Week 4: Kale, chard, lettuce and tatsoi
Handling 6 hours: Cleaning products and prepping for our weekly Hopewell market.
Market 46 hours: RC was trained and drove the box truck for the first time to Hopewell Hopewell 3/3 $81, 3/17 $133, 3/24 $206.74, 3/31 $246
Special Projects 36.5 hours: Chickens needed a new traveling coop built for the young 09 girls. Egg washing and finding enough egg buyers in the winter (through wholesale to the Bent Spoon in Princeton).
- Week 1: Snow still covering the ground but days are getting warmer with freezing nights
- Week 2: Beautiful, warm days with rain in the forecast
- Week 3: Rain Storm with some high winds, followed by warm sunny days
- Week 4: Mild temps with rain forecasted, sounds like Spring