The second week of March

 Two weeks ago, we finished building an Eliot Coleman style high tunnel/ greenhouse, with two automatic vent openers. The frame was built of 20′ rebar rods sheathed in PVC pipe, with the ends buried in the ground.
We got a lot done this week.
In Lakewood, we planted seed lettuce, lentils, and peas in the greenhouse under row cover. The lettuces were various heat tolerant types. By planting them in the greenhouse, we will be able to select for the most heat tolerant plants to save seed from. Before we planted, we hauled all the old mulch and compost out of the greenhouse, since it might be harbouring slugs, and spread it around the trees. We also repaired the bridge over the irrigation ditch.

In Littleton, we planted Early Flat Dutch and Copenhagen Market cabbage, Waltham 29 broccoli, and a beet mix in flats in the greenhouse, under row cover. We used our standard potting mix, a blend of peat, compost, and perlite amended with lime, bone meal, azomite, and organic fertilizer.

We also cut up bushes to make a truck access, spaded the other half of the greenhouse beds, rebuilt the greenhouse doorway, and dug a ramp so that we can roll wheel barrows into the greenhouse.

A farmer kindly brought his tractor and chisel plow in to break up the vegetable garden area. So we now have 10,000 square feet of broken ground. (About a quarter of the whole field.) Since the weather is dry and hot, all the grass should be dead in a day or so. We will have to get to work quickly to take advantage of the open ground before weeds do. Part of the garden will probably be mulched in preparation for planting, part will be sown with a cover crop before tomatoes and squash are planted at the end of May, and some beds will be worked into a fine seedbed without mulch for planting cool weather, small seeded crops like lettuce.

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New Littleton Site! Helping to feed the Carmelites!

The Saint Isidore Society has been allowed to use a new site; an acre field located near Gallup Street and Littleton Boulevard in Littleton CO. We will be growing enough produce for the nearby Carmelite convent, as well as for the participating members. We hope to eventually plant fruit trees and bushes, as well as a large vegetable garden.

Our site in Lakewood will be moving into its second year this spring. We will be continuing  our operations there as well as developing our new site in Littleton.

We have already erected the frame of a greenhouse on the new site, which should be ready for use in a week or so. It will be very much like our Lakewood greenhouse featured in earlier posts here: an Eliot Coleman style hoop house with a plastic cover.

If you want to participate, contact us and we will send you the exact location of the site.

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.

Work day notes

I have fallen behind in posting updates about the progress on the farm. In the last few meetings we have: reorganized what is left of our brush piles after renting a chipper, turned our compost pile, laid out quite a few beds, planted some potatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and peas, got rocks and concrete laid to outline some of the beds, moved some of the tomato transplants out to the greenhouse,  repaired two of the wheelbarrows, mowed parts of the field, done a lot of cleanup, set stakes to protect the new trees from pedestrians and vehicles, dug up some concrete, planted lemon balm around broken concrete in the irrigation ditch (to help stabilize it), continued work on the fencing, added a second automatic vent to our greenhouse, (with only one, the greenhouse overheated severely,) and continued the work of using up our many piles of mulch, leaves, and manure.
Our greenhouse survived the late snows earlier this week, and the tomato transplants inside are all safe. However, one of the heated frames at my house, which still held over two hundred tomato plants, malfunctioned, and we have lost over a hundred of them. Depending on what members want to do, we may buy replacements, or do without.
Then new vent opener is at the bottom of the greenhouse, on the opposite side from the existing one, to create a chimney effect.
To plant potatoes, we laid out cardboard, and built sheet mulch beds in the usual way. But we included potatoes in the bottom layers. As they grow, we will be adding more mulch, instead of trenching and hilling. We used some actual seed potatoes, (which are less likely to contain disease organisms that can kill or stunt the crop) but the price was too high, so most of them are just organic potatoes from the store. After much searching online, it seemed that most people can get away with doing this. Also, a disease can still show up in other ways, even with certified seed potatoes. A disease showing up is much less of a disaster for us then for a commercial farmer, who is depending on potatoes.

Rogation day

One of the priests from our parish come out to lead the Rogation day prayers. The Rogation days are an ancient custom,  held to call down God’s blessing on the crops, and to ask him to ward off disasters of all sorts.  We processed around the field chanting the Litany of the Saints, and Father sprinkled the land with holy water.

We pray that God will protect our farm against the Hail storms which are all too common here in Colorado, and that we have an abundant harvest.

Trees planting: notes from the work day, April 23rd

We got our trees planted today! The weather cooperated, with a nice even cloud cover. We planted three standard pears (Moonglow, Stark Honeysweet, and Starking Delicious), five semi-dwarf apples (Candycrisp, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Enterprise, Goldrush, and Co-op 31 Winecrisp, ) two apricots, one standard and one dwarf (Harglow and Stark SweetHeart), two semi-dwarf plums (Stanley Prune and Green Gauge), A standard nectarine (Stark SunGlo), and a standard peach (Redhaven.) So with the addition of a five in one apple and a five in one plum planted earlier, there are now 16 fruit trees on the property. We will probably be planting two cherry trees as well. We bought bare root trees, which tend to have better root systems, and soaked them in kelp emulsion, which contains growth hormones and trace minerals. We did not use any fertilizer, which tends to spur trees into rapid growth before their root systems can handle it. We added inoculant to start the growth of mycorrhiza, beneficial fungi which grow into the roots of trees. Most trees have fungal allies of this sort, and need them for survival. The fungi spread over wide areas and act as a vast transport network, joining trees and other plants together into one functioning root system. This greatly enhances a new tree’s ability to take up water and nutrients, especially phosphorus.

 

Notes from the Work Day, March 29th

At this meeting we started rebuilding our compost pile for the spring. We got more logs and branches out of the ditch, and more tree trimming done. Half the fence along the North side of the property is now clear of the old wire and debris, and the posts have been dug out and straightened, ready for the new wire. Our logo has been painted on our new sign, so now we just have to set a post and get a hanger for it. We set dates for upcoming projects, and discussed tree planting, fence repairs, bed edging, compost bins, and other topics. A load of deciduous tree mulch was delivered, and another of evergreen mulch. We will be using the evergreen mulch immediately for paths, and mixing the deciduous tree mulch together with manure to create a hot compost pile, since this will kill any borers present in the chips (if any.)