Notes from the work day April 2nd

At this work day, we got a new compost pile started, and cleared an area to start building permanent compost bins out of the wire we have salvaged from the fence. We began lining our keyhole beds with stones to define them, and building mini terraces across the slope with the larger rocks and concrete chunks we have dug up. These will stop the sheet mulch beds from gradually migrating downhill. We discussed renting a pole chain saw and large chipper to turn unwanted tree limbs into mulch.

Demolition of Shed and operation of Greenhouse; Notes from the Work Days March 20th and March 23rd

There was an old run in horse shed on the urban farm property. Due to age and improper construction, it was beginning to fall apart, and was, in any case, too small for our purposes. So we decided to pull it down, salvage what lumber we could, and build a new shed.

Here are some pictures of the project.

The shed as it was, a few months ago.

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The walls starting to come down. We still have to remove all the stuff that had been stored in the shed over the years.

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The roof collapses after being disconnected from  the back posts.

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After this point, we used a vehicle to pull down the front posts which the roof was leaning on, dropping it to the ground. (Unfortunately, we did not get a picture of this step.)

At the next meeting (March 23rd) we broke up and cleared away the roof and other debris, and dug out the posts.

At these meetings we also eliminated poison hemlock from the areas where we will be working, and tidied up the property. Our greenhouse vent arm seems to be working well, and lettuce is growing inside. As you can see, there was still some snow on the ground from the most recent fall, but the temperatures inside the greenhouse were warm and steamy, triggering the vent’s arm to pop open. At the next meeting we hope to plant Brassicas and other cool weather crops in the greenhouse for transplanting to the main gardens in April.

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notes from the work meeting, March 15th

We got one length of the wire fence up, which runs across the width of the property. It should keep out rabbits and groundhogs, and, with the addition of an electric wire, it will help keep out raccoons and squirrels. We still need to deconstruct and replace the fencing on the other three sides.
The fruit trees have now been ordered. They should arrive in the first week of April.
We got a lot of work done on the next set of planting beds. These will be hugelkulture/ raised beds. We are digging down about six inches, and then piling on lots of sticks, putting the dirt and sod on top of them, and layering on leaves, manure and wood chips. It will basically be a big thick sheet mulch. Since they are being built on a slope, we will edge the downhill side with rocks to form a sort of terrace. Unlike our last hugelkulture, it will not have a deep trench in the center, and it will be under two feet deep.
We are still removing trees and brush along the bottom of the property, generating firewood, and piles of sticks for hugelkultures.
There are two problems with our greenhouse. The beds tend to dry out too fast, so the batch of lettuce we planted germinated erratically. We will be solving this with a combination of more watering, clay seed balls, and self watering planters. And the entrance does not close well. So we will be attaching weights to the bottom of the flap door, and installing a PVC pipe and clamps along the vertical edge. However, it is much warmer inside than out, and the automatic vent seems to be working well.

notes from the work day March 12th

At this work day we removed and cut back cotton wood trees along the ditch and fence line. We want to get this done before our new fence is build. The fence project will start at the next meeting. We will use the sticks from the trees to make a large hugelkulture, and we will use sections of the trunks to stabilize a slope.

We discussed our fruit trees, which we will be ordering soon. And we found that it is difficult keeping surface planted seeds such as lettuce moist in the greenhouse, since we are not on the site every day to water. So we will be constructing self watering planters out of salvaged five gallon buckets, starting seeds in them, and then transplanting the seedlings into the beds. This way the surface layer drying out will not be quite such a concern.

Notes from the meeting of March 6th: planting

We made our first planting at this meeting: some lettuce in a sheet mulch bed in our greenhouse. Inside the greenhouse, we covered the bed with some row cover material. We were surprised at how difficult it was to attach the frame work containing our automatic vent to the hoop house, but we got it finished in the end.  There still needs to be some finishing of the plastic at the entrance and around the vent. We also did some planning for our fence, and started to turn and rebuild our compost pile.

I will post some pictures as soon as I can.

Notes from the planning meeting

We recently held a planning meeting for the year ahead. Here are some of the points discussed.

We chose two coordinators to lead meetings on the Lakewood Farm.

We decided that members will have to work a minimum of four hours in a given month for a share of produce from the Lakewood farm. Shares can be claimed in the month after they were earned. A number of shares can be gained by any individual or family. The share is simply to be an even division of whatever the Lakewood farm produces. Shares will be filled twice a week. If members join after our march first cut off, they can still ask for a share, but it will only be filled if there is surplus produce. 

We discussed varieties to plant. Some members are donating seeds, which will be a big help towards the desired diversity of varieties. Most members want tomatoes, and members suggested Mortgage lifter, Red Grape, and Roma as varieties which do well here.

The members want to plant lots of flowers among the vegetables on the Lakewood farmsite, which will give the site a cheery look. In particular, they mentioned sunflowers (edible, produce bean poles) and marigolds (good companion plants.) Flowers will also help to attract beneficial insects.

 

We will probably go ahead with our proposed seedling fundraiser. One of the members has a greenhouse, but the electric heater to run it is quite expensive. We could also heat a small section of our hoop house with a propane heater. One of these two methods could be used to start large numbers of small seedlings, which could then be potted up into larger containers in our hoop house. By that point the weather would have warmed to the point where the hoop house would be adequate.  It is possible that various parishes might let us sell seedlings on their grounds.

We will postpone the aquaponics systems and chickens till next year.

We need to fence in the garden site. We will use four foot chicken wire, with metal T-posts. Then we will string a wire higher up to deter deer. We may also buy a solar charger and run an electrified wire along the top of the chicken wire to stop squirrels and raccoons from climbing over. 

We will be setting up a safe fenced area for children to play in. One of the members might have some used playground equipment to donate. A sandbox would be fairly easy to set up. 

There is lots of interest in a root cellar, solar dehydrator, and other methods of preserving food.

We need to instal a permanent water line. Uncoiling and coiling a frozen hose is time consuming and difficult. Even in the summer, dragging out the hose would be a waste of time. This would cost about fifty dollars.

We will be saving our own seeds this fall.

We would like to experiment with alternative cooking devices; solar ovens, hayboxes, wood fired cookers.

There is interest in a calendar where members can list their own project and invite other members to stop by in an informal way.

Notes from the Meeting of February 19th, greenhouse versus 75 mph wind gusts

We had intended to plant in the greenhouse at this meeting. However, Lakewood, the town where the farm site is located, had winds gusting up to 75 miles per hour a few days before. The greenhouse was still standing, but the plastic had pulled out of the soil along one side. (Click here for a picture of the greenhouse.)

Fortunately, we had not relied on burying the plastic, but had also clipped the plastic to the end hoops. So it was all still there and undamaged. We spent about half the meeting reburying the plastic, deeper this time, and we rolled the edge of the plastic around heavier scrap metal pipe before burying it.

The inside of the greenhouse heats up nicely. In fact, it is too hot, so we have built a vent frame containing a mechanical venting arm. However, we have not yet attached it to the greenhouse.

We finished preparing the greenhouse sheet mulch, so we should be ready to plant at the next meeting.

Notes from the meeting of January 11th/ Swarms and Swarm traps

Honey bees (and their wild relatives) are in a lot of trouble. Beekeeping has never been easy, and is now extremely difficult. We hope to be part of the solution, by keeping bees naturally, thus reducing the stress they are exposed to. Of course, this will not help if they are poisoned by the dangerous chemicals our society is addicted to. (See this post.)

At this meeting we started work on our swarm traps. Swarm traps are a method of getting a free swarm of bees. Also, the bees in a swarm might represent valuable genetics. There is no guarantee of this, but at least they represent a cultivated or feral hive which was strong enough to overwinter successfully in the local area. To explain how the traps work, I will have to go into how a beehive works.

A beehive for all practical purposes is one organism, composed of a queen, who lays the eggs for the colony, drones, which are males, and workers, who run the hive and only live for a few months at most. (The queen lives for several years.) An individual worker (or queen for that matter) are helpless on their own. If there is good weather in the spring, a strong hive will raise a few new queens. The old queen then leaves with a large group of workers, known as a swarm, while the remaining bees rebuild their numbers. The swarm finds a convenient branch or post to settle on, and forms itself into a “ball” of bees. Then scouts head out in a five mile radius. They inspect cavities, looking for a new home. They then return to “report” to the swarm, in a special “dance.” The swarm then leaves their temporary resting place and flies to best of the cavities found by the scouts, where they began building comb, in which they store honey and the queen lays eggs.

A swarm trap provides an attractive location for a swarm to start building. It contains top bars, which are interchangeable with those in the top bar hive, for the bees to build on. It has only one easily closable entrance. They are generally hung in trees, and often contain lemon grass essential oil, which attracts bees and make them feel at home.

Once the bees move into a swarm trap, and have built some comb, the entrance is blocked at night, when all the bees will be at home, and the trap is moved to the location of the hive. Then the top bars are placed into the hive. The bees will stay with their comb, which forms the ‘skeleton” of the bee hive super-organism.

To improve our chances of getting at least one swarm, a large number of traps must be placed.  Of course, with the bee population dwindling, it is likely that even with a good number of traps we will not get any swarms. In which case we will buy a nucleus or a split to get started.

Greenhouse Construction Phase Two/ Notes from the Meeting of December 18th

At this meeting we got our greenhouse much nearer to completion— the plastic cover is now in place. We pulled it over the frame, and then rolled the edges around some scrap metal pipes, which were buried in shallow trenches along the sides. This should help to keep the plastic in the ground. We then cut short sections of black plastic pipe, slit them down one side, and used them to clamp the plastic to the end hoops. (Here is a link on an earlier page, where it describes the first phase of the greenhouse construction. Greenhouse construction )

Here are some pictures of the greenhouse.

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We still have to tighten the plastic a little, and put some duct tape under each clamp to stop them from abrading the cover. Then we have to modify and place a door, and attach it to the frame. We left the plastic cover loose at the west end, so that the door can be put into place. We will then attach the plastic tightly to the west end hoop. (Right now it is weighed down with landscape timbers.) We also have to frame a vent and attach an automatic vent opener, insulate the north, east, and west sides with bubble wrap, and pile a little more earth around the edges. After that, we can begin to instal hot frames and thermal mass.
The thermal mass will be large, black containers full of water. This will act as a sort of flywheel, absorbing the extremely high temperatures during the day, and releasing the extra heat at night to keep the greenhouse warm. Without any mass, the greenhouse would cook plants during the day, but rapidly freeze at night if the outside temperatures are much below thirty-two degrees.
The hot frames will be a second translucent structure inside the greenhouse. They will be sunk below ground level and insulated. Since they will only be exposed to the moderated conditions inside of the greenhouse, they will keep a fairly stable temperature. Extra heating will be provided inside the frames by means of compost and or electricity. For low cost electric backup heating, we could use an infrared bulb or a heat cable. These would be set to come on only if the temperature dropped dangerously. The hot frames will be used to start seedlings in the spring.
We also discussed remodeling the run in horse shed on the property to store tools and equipment, and our mason bee project. The shed remodel will probably be our next project.