The fourth week of March/ the first week of April

Due to bad weather, we did not get as much done these weeks as usual.
In Littleton, we got the vegetable garden tilled, to create a better seed bed than was left by the tractor, and we got the fencing around the vegetable garden mostly set up. We planted rhubarb, lemon balm, and peppermint in our herb garden

We planted several hundred beet mix seedlings started in Littleton in the tilled beds in Lakewood. We also mulched some paths and cleared vines, weeds, and sticks from some of the fence lines in Lakewood.

In Littleton, we planted our fruit trees ( 1 meteor cherry, 1 montmorency cherry, 1 honeycrisp apple, 1 Red McIntosh apple, 1 golden delicious apple, 1 sweet 16 apple, 1 summercrisp pear, 1 Lucious pear, 1 Reliance peach, and 2 Italian plums, mostly on semi-dwarf root stocks.) We also spread lots of leaves and pine needles in the vegetable garden as mulch, and planted sugar snap peas, both from seed and as transplants, and Sugar pod 2 snow peas from seed.

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The third week of March

In Littleton this week we rented a trencher and installed a water line and frost proof hydrant. We were donated a bunch of plastic storage units for our tools and supplies. Somebody also donated a picnic table and benches.

We planted flats of Sugar Daddy snap peas, Purple top white globe turnip, Yellow Granex onion, and radishes in the Littleton greenhouse under row cover, using our standard potting mix. We planted some small news paper pots of Sugar snap peas. (The greenhouse is unheated: however, at this time of year the double coverage should keep things from freezing.) We planted about 250 sweet peppers (Marconi Red, Jimmy Nardello, Ampuis, California wonder red, California wonder orange, and a few others) and 100 eggplant (Early black and Black Beauty) in plastic six pack with our standard mix. The peppers and eggplant are now in a heated frame at my house.

We started to pin down landscape fabric in our work area, which will eventually be covered by mulch or gravel.

In Lakewood, we decided that the old compost/ mulch area was unsightly and not very functional. We started the process of tearing down the old bins and forking out the compost materials. (Things did not decompose very well; they seem to have dried out.) We will be building new bins in the shade of the greenhouse, screened from view by a grape and kiwi arbor. We forked over 300 square feet of the beds that we rototilled last year to remove the grass, and re-mulched the paths. We also started gathering and piling all the rocks and concrete chunks on site to build a raised rock flower bed.

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.

Rocket and TLUD cook stove experiments

The Saint Isidore Society has been building small cook or camp stoves out of salvaged cans.

IMG_4119 IMG_4118 IMG_4112

(Pictures of our TLUD stove No. 2)

So far we have built four stoves: rocket stove 1, which was almost exactly like this instructable; it used four soup cans and a #10 can, and vermiculite as insulation; rocket stove 2, which was like number one with a chimney twice the height; a small biochar TLUD stove out of a soup can and another, slightly larger can, which was rather like the one on this site; and a larger and more robust TLUD.

Before I get into the results of our stove experiments, I will give a brief description of the principles behind each kind of stove.

Rocket stoves utilize abrupt right angle bends, an internal insulated chimney, and certain critical proportions to create an extremely efficient, nearly smoke-less burn. They can keep a few small sticks burning for a long time, unlike an open fire.

TLUD biochar producing stoves heat biomass in an oxygen poor environment, producing wood gas, the volatile components of organic matter. This gas is then mixed with preheated air, which produces a clean, efficient flame. They can burn agricultural waste, pine needles, etc., unlike a rocket stove.

Our rocket stove 1 burned cleanly, though it did produce a little smoke, especially when starting off. It boiled two cups of water in a covered pot in ten minutes. (For comparison, an electric stove with a glass top boils water in about six minutes.) We also toasted some marshmallows.

Our rocket stove 2 burned faster then number 1, and also produced some smoke. It boiled two cups of water in five minutes. However, we used two cotton balls dipped in alcohol to start this, and there was probably still some alcohol burning when we put the pan on. This may have skewed results. The first stove’s cotton balls had burned out a long time before we put the pot on, so those results are reliable.

The TLUD stove burned a soup can full of pine needles for about ten minutes, completely charring them all. It produced a hot, clean flame, but we did not try to boil water. The alcohol cotton balls we used to start it burned for ten minutes before the needles started to char. (In a TLUD the starter sits on top of the fuel and the charring moves down through it.) The small amount of pine needle biochar produced was not worth doing anything with.

We built another biochar stove out of two cans, (TLUD 2) a good bit  larger then the first one, and loaded it with wood. It burned well for twenty minutes with no smoke, but then went out abruptly, producing a lot of smoke. When we put it out and dumped it, we found that it had only charred the wood about half way down the can, so it probably could have kept burning for a while. The gas flame was beautiful, and looked just like a propane burner.
We did some research and found a few things that might have put out the stove prematurely. The fuel was too tightly packed, and unevenly loaded; a taller chimney would have drawn in more air; it should have been shielded better from the wind. So we tried again, this time loading the fuel until it could just barely rattle when we shook the can (the last time we had really wedged the fuel in), we put another can on top as a chimney, and we stacked bricks around it to keep the wind off. This time we got twenty-six minutes of clean flame and no smoke. When the fire went out we were left with about a cup of biochar, which we will use for potting mix.

Next we will retry our experiment on rocket stove 2 without the alcohol effect, and outfit both rocket stoves with shields to direct more heat to the pots. We will be building a larger and more robust biochar stove fuelled with wood instead of pine needles. We will probably be experimenting with larger rocket stoves and with a haybox cooker used in conjunction with rocket or TLUD stoves.

Planting has begun!

Over the last few meetings, we got a lot done! We rented a rototiller, and broke up 1500 square feet, addition to the 1500 square feet of sheet mulch beds we already prepared.  We will plant into this area immediately, and mulch it latter. This will speed planting, since mulch supplies for our sheet mulching have been hard to get recently.
On Saturday, lots of members came out and planted 250 tomato plants. There are still some more to plant, but the biggest ones, which urgently needed to get into the ground, have all been planted. We prepared a lot of planting areas, and are almost done with the fencing project. We are digging big holes in unprepared grassy areas and filling them with manure. We will plant vining winter squash in these and let them help smother the weeds.
Next week our squash, melons, cucumbers, beans, lettuce, peppers, and eggplant will be planted. Because we got off to a slow start, we are waiting till late Summer to plant cool weather crops, except for lettuce. We have some heat tolerant strains of lettuce which we will be trying out.

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 October the 17th

This meeting was held on our farm site in Lakewood.

We got another hugelkulture started at this meeting. At present it is a large half dug hole, with a pile of cut up brush next to it. We hope to finish it next time.

Also, we found it is very hard to build hugelkultures with our current number of members. The amount of ground covered each time is very small with this technique, whereas sheet mulching is faster, letting us compete more beds before Winter sets in. We probably will not build any more of them this autumn unless we can find some more local members. (Our membership is scattered across the Metro area.)

One of the reasons that hugelkulture building is so difficult here is that there are a lot of rocks in the soil, some of them very large. These take a long time to move, with only a small space gained for each. They will, however, be very effective at forming warm microclimates once we get them out.

We could, of course, do sheet mulch beds instead of hugelkultures. However, hugelkultures have a lot of benefits, particularly on this site.

And it would be easier to build hugelkultures at ground level, and pile imported top soil over them. But there is very little high quality top soil in Colorado, it costs money we don’t have, and the beds would probably be more drought prone that way, since roots would be less likely to move below the preexisting surface.

We plan to replace our rather messy temporary sign with something more elegant, especially so the neighbors don’t have to look at a piece of painted plywood against a tree all the time.