Notes from the meeting of August 22nd

This meeting was held on our farm site in Lakewood. Due to a number of factors, we were unable to get any sheet mulching done. However, were were able to talk over a lot of things, and we will hopefully get the sheet mulching done next time. (This time the truck which was supposed to be delivering wood chips broke down, and we got a call to that effect about fifteen minutes before the meeting was due to start. But they think they can get it to us by next week. )

A schematic plan for the land was drawn up and debated. I will be posting this, but I have decided to refine it a little first.  Its main feature was the arrangement of the orchard so as to leave sufficient solar access for a self-heating greenhouse.

For those who might not know, sheet mulching means laying down a layer of overlapping cardboard, which smothers weeds, and then piling on about a foot of mulch. A blend of high nitrogen and high carbon materials are used, so it is rather like composting in place. It eliminates all digging, and a lot of weeding, watering, and fertilizing. However, even though we are using this method for our first garden on this site, we will have a few other types for comparison. This especially since some members at previous meetings have expressed an interest in other styles, among them waffle gardens and Biointensive/ French intensive.

Among the points discussed were the following:

It is very important to use crop rotation. To do this, we will have to section off various types of crops, though we can still use companion planting, as suggested at a previous meeting.

We can take advantage of the land slope to grow both water loving and dry tolerant crops. Among other things, corn was suggested for the higher land.

We will use Open Pollinated (OP) crops only for community plantings, but hybrids can be used on member’s individual plots. All Heirlooms are OPs, but not all OPs are heirlooms. New OPs are being breed all the time, by small companies and individual plant breeders; they will be the heirlooms of tomorrow. OP means that a strain is not hybridized or GMO, and will come true from seed.

The fence is in worse shape than we thought, and will require large amounts of work, and potentially quite a bit of money, to get it back into shape. However, the funds might be able to be generated by building and selling beehives. We will see.

A member suggested putting composting worms in any compost piles. I think this is a good idea.

Among the crops suggested, besides all the standard vegetables, were corn, potatoes, strawberries, melons, and grapes.

We could grow rare heirloom corns, thus saving valuable genetics from extinction.

We will use key-hole beds. These are rather hard to visualize or describe; you can find images online. They save on path space, look interesting, and can function as sun traps . .  or the reverse.

We will put in some sitting areas out in the field.

Here is a link to my earlier post on Permaculture, which influences the emerging layout of the land.


Notes from the meeting of August 7th

This meeting was held on three quarters of an acre owned by a member in Lakewood. They will let us use the land as a community farm or garden.  We walked the land, and then had a discussion about our course of action.

We are looking for woven wire fencing, round or square posts about eight feet high (to allow them to be buried) and cardboard. Cardboard should be in large sheets, such as the boxes appliances come in, should be free of holes, and should not be glossy or highly colored. All staples and tape should be removed, and boxes should be folded flat.

We decided that no member must contribute to any project on the land which they are not interested in. Labor can be easily devoted to whatever members are most interested in, and nobody has to give money (except perhaps to pay for the water.)

The owners will have final say on anything which happens on the land. They will let us use municipal water and electricity, if we pay  them for their increased bill. We may also be helping them with various projects around their property.

Several members have told me that they could give between four and six hours a month, some on weekdays and some on weekends. So I think the minimum should be set to four hours a month. This counts family hours. For instance, if four family members come and work for an hour, that would be your monthly share.  Also, shares time can be paid in money or materials. We have not yet worked out the exact equivalence between them.  Time requirements may be waived for a number of reasons.

We hope to have three or so coordinators eventually, even though we put off making the decision. We need something like this for two reasons; first of all, for security, and to answer to the owners. The coordinators will have keys to the land, and will set up work times, so that the owners can be sure that only people who belong on the land end up there. Secondly, to  make day to day decisions on the ground and direct labor.

The conclusions in the previous two paragraphs have not yet been finalized.

We got a basic idea of where we would put various elements on the land. It is too vague to draw a map, but it is good enough for now, and will let us get to work.

We also decided not to limit operations to any particular size; rather, we would get started, and see how far the available time, labor, and materials get us.

Here is a list of the projects/ ideas which members proposed and the group adopted.

Growing flowers for the parish altar. One of the members is also willing to do this in their yard. This is important, as flowers cost a lot of money, and are generally treated with extremely toxic chemicals, since they are not for consumption and have to look perfect.

We will build a greenhouse if we have enough money and labor. This will give us a stable, sheltered microclimate. It will be mostly or completely heated by solar gain. We will try to keep the cost low, perhaps as low as six hundred dollars.

We will start an orchard, as the owners kindly offered to pay initial costs for a few trees. Obviously, this means that they can decide what kind of trees and how many are planted. It is important to plant trees as soon as possible, even though we will not permanently control this piece of land. This will give us time to experiment and find out which trees work best, and then if we acquire a permanent site, we won’t have to try and figure it out there. Instead we can use grafting stock right off our original trees.

Keeping chickens for egg production is not possible on this property. However, another member may be willing to start a chicken farming project on their land. And we can keep other poultry, both for meat and for their beneficial effects on the land. The owners have kept geese in the past.

We can compost on the land, so long as we keep it neat and contained, away from the owner’s house, and don’t compost food scraps. We will probably build a straw bale bin composting container.

One of the members suggested protecting young seedling beds with straw bales and simple hoop house structures, which sounds like a good idea.

We will use several garden styles on the land, to find which works best for each plant. However, the first style will be sheet mulch or wood chip gardening, in which a layer of cardboard is laid down to suppress weeds, and then wood chips and other mulch is laid on top. In the spring, vegetables are planted straight into the mulch. No weeds, very little watering, and no digging. We can probably get wood chips for free. Other styles may include raised beds, hugelculture, waffle garden, and french intensive or Biointensive gardens.

We will be keeping bees in top bar hives. If individual members want a Langstroth hive, they can certainly procure one and place it on the land.

We will be building aquaponics systems in our greenhouse. Aquaponics combines a tank for fish with a gravel filled grow bed full of pants, which filters and aerates the water. It is the best use of greenhouse space, as it produces two to three times the amount of vegetables a soil garden produces, and the fish are an added bonus. We could raise tilapia or trout. We could also use one or two of the units to raise koi or fancy gold fish to cover costs. The style of aquaponics we will be using is fairly cheap, as it depends on salvaged elements.

One of the members suggested raising and selling ducklings in the spring. We could also do this with rare breeds of chickens. (No collecting eggs; they could be hatched by the chickens if we chose the right breeds.)

Down the road we may use solar panels.

Our first projects are sheet mulching the garden area and rebuilding the fence.