The year in review; plans for the year ahead

A frost on September 12th damaged the Lakewood farm gardens, though some outdoor plants and the greenhouse continue to produce well, as the weather has continued warm. We have started cleanup, and will be rebuilding many of the beds. We have also planted some fall crops.

At our planing meeting a few days ago, we discussed many topics, among them the following.

Sheet mulch works really well here. It seems to hold water, once it get really wet. If it is built dry, it can stay that way. It also does a lot better if it is started a few months before planting. Some seeds seem to need mineral soil on top, not just compost. Greens are difficult to start in a rough mulch. Paths should be raised up to form borders around the mulch beds, especially on a slope, to keep water in. Chunks of wood and sticks seem to improve a mulch. The mulch should also be deeper the a foot, more like two feet. By spring, the foot of mulch we laid had turned into something more like six inches.

Our labeling system (plastic with permanent marker) broke down. Even if the marker was permanent the labels were not and they soon disappeared in a jungle or got pulled out. This lead to a number of problems: difficulty in seed saving, inability to harvest green when ripe tomatoes, difficulty telling if a bean was a green bean or a dry bean, or if a squash was a winter or summer variety. At very least, different types of the same plant should be segregated, so as to avoid this problem.

To solve this problem, we will be spending some winter meetings inside wood burning labels into some stakes.
Cherry tomatoes were a waste of time, since they were too difficult to pick and ended up smashed on the way home.

Planting a second batch of zucchini and cucumbers in July is well worth it.
Watering by hand was a huge chore. Pulling the hoses around ran the risk of damaging plants and was a big hassle. As well as increasing water storage in deeper mulch, we may switch to using an oscillating sprinkler on a tall pole for most of the garden. If the pole is seven feet high, it will clear trellises, tall plants, etc. This would only require one hose and could easily be activate and left on for the required amount of time. For many plants in an arid climate, overhead watering is beneficial. Tomatoes, dry beans, and some seed crops will need to be watered from below. For these, we will be setting up soaker lines. This would also eliminate the problem of over and under watering.
We really need trellises for tomatoes. Without them, the plants did wonderfully, but finding the tomatoes was so difficult that many rotted on the ground or were eaten by slugs.
The farm was not set up so that members could come and help out on their own schedule. We will be having a numbered sign in each bed, with a corresponding white board chart in the shed, showing what is planted in each, and what has to be tended, harvested, etc. We will also set up a logbook for member’s use. This will greatly increase our efficiency in use of volunteer hours.
Distribution of produce was more difficult then we thought it would be. We need drop-off/ pick-up points, each with an evaporative cooler or refrigerator. That way members could pick up produce on their own schedule, while avoiding spoilage. This will be important if we grow more greens, which members have requested. At the same time, each pickup point would have a member in charge to inventory produce and send out alerts as to the amount on hand. One member voiced concern as to a child potentially getting stuck in a refrigerator. To avoid this we would lock any refrigerators.
We have many projects planned, among them the following:
Mushrooms started in our sheet mulches would improve the conditions for our plants. Fall would be the best time to do this, and we will probably use oyster mushrooms, which have the best symbiotic relationship with garden plants.

Over the winter, we can get our beehives and swarm traps finished and set up. We will continue to salvage wood for these. If we build enough, we may try selling them.

We will add thermal mass and insulation to our hoophouse to extend its useful season. One of the members can get bubble wrap for this.

The members want to raise more flowers in the gardens next year. There are many edible, medicinal, and habitat providing flowers for us to use.

We may start raising geese on the Lakewood farm, rotating them through cover cropped sections of the garden.
There are lots of indoor building type projects we can purse over the winter, such as solar applications, aquaponics setups, alternative cooking devices, and many more.
Bare root fruit bushes, grape vines, asparagus, and other perennial plants can be installed this fall. Geese are used as weeders in orchards and strawberry fields, and thus fit in well with this.
Next year, if we are more organized, we can save more of our own seed, and work on breeding our own plants.
To get our Lakewood farm ready for next year, we have many things that need to get done this Fall. Among them are: starting some big compost piles; rebuilding all our sheet mulches so that they are two feet deep; building our shed; setting up an irrigation system and trellises; upgrading some of the fencing; general cleanup; and reworking our entrance area. We will probably use concrete reinforcing wire for tomato trellis.
We will be hosting an Advent wreath crafting event at OLMC parish in Littleton to raise funds for the SIS. This will be held towards the end of November.
And finally, we have a new farm site in Littleton, near Broadway and Littleton Boulevard. If you want to come and help please contact me for the address.
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Farm update for July

We got all of our spring planting done, but some things were put in very late. We will be using row cover to hold off early frosts, so hopefully we get a yield from everything.

Squash and zucchini are doing well, and we have already harvested a few. Our best variety is Costata Romanesca, which has constantly done well for me here.

Our tomatoes are looking pretty good. There is a small amount of fungal disease, but overall the plants look healthy, and are loaded with green tomatoes. We have harvested a few ripe ones so far. We never got around to staking or tying most of them, so some of the tomatoes will probably be lost to sitting on the ground. Then again, some sources claim that in a hot dry climate, letting tomatoes sprawl helps keep them from drying out and getting sun scald!

Our peppers and eggplant in the greenhouse are growing like crazy! They really like the tropical conditions in there.

Our beans, melons, and cucumbers were heavily damaged by bugs. Some melon plants survived, but we were already late planting them, since a first planting failed to germinate. So they don’t have that good of chances. We replanted cucumbers, and our third try, surrounded by cut-off yoghurt containers, is doing well. Either the cups kept off the pests (possibly pill bugs) or a natural balance had kicked in. (Due to a very wet spring, pill bugs and sow bugs have gone crazy, and did a ton of damage in my home garden. Due to the fact that we are not on the farm site at night, we can not actually assign blame to them there, but the damage looks similar and there are lots of pill bugs about. Pill bugs damaging plants is a much debated topic on gardening forums and websites.) We replanted beans. The bush beans are still struggling, partly because the mulch and compost we planted them in went hydrophobic. We sprayed soap to correct this. The pole beans are taking off.

All of our trees have survived so far, and are doing well, with the exception of a struggling nectarine. Fire blight hit surrounding mature trees heavily this year, probably due to the wet spring.

We had a beehive placed on the property, but it died. We will be trying again next year. Hopefully we will have our top bar hives done by then.

Despite the wet spring, watering has been a huge chore. We are experimenting with small scale PVC watering devices, donated drip hose, and Ollas; traditional terra-cotta watering devices. An Olla is basically just a unglazed pot buried in the soil. It wicks water out depending on the dampness of the surrounding ground, and the plant’s needs. We are also building some waffle beds, and using rocks as a lithic mulch. These are techniques used by native tribes in the desert southwest.

The heavy storms in the Denver metro have mostly bypassed us, with only a small amount of damage to the site. The lines of trees along the fences and creek have done a good job breaking the winds, sustaining a fair amount of damage in the process.

We are beginning planting for the fall. We are planting peas directly in the ground, and starting cabbage, broccoli, kale, and brussels sprouts at a member’s house.

Weeds have been a constant problem, especially bindweed. The bindweed was  not stopped by our sheet mulch, but it was slowed down considerably.

WIth the main planting done, we have been working on organizational projects. We have been setting up tool racks, sinks for washing up, and a work station. We hope to build a solar hot water heater and a reed bed for one of the sinks.

We are finally beginning to see a bit of produce coming in! There is not much yet, just a few cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and some greens.