Thursday, October 24, 2013

Building Unity Farm - Fall Hoop House Planting

It's Fall in New England and the weather is turning cold.  Nights are in the 30's and days are in the 50's and 60's.   All the ferns in the forest are brown and most of the insects are gone.   On the farm, the apples are harvested, cider made, mushrooms dried, paddocks/pastures readied for winter, and the pace of harvest-related food preservation projects is slowing down.

We now turn our attention to Fall and Winter plantings.  Our 48x21 foot hoop house heats to 80 degrees F during the day by trapping solar energy under a 6 millimeter roof of UV resistant plastic sheeting.  We use barn fans to circulate air and hand cranked rollers to open the sides and prevent overheating.    The roof has a "gothic" cathedral shape which sheds snow and resists wind.

Over the summer, we built fifteen 4x8x1 foot raised beds and a gardening bench.   We brought water and electricity to the hoop house via a 200 foot trench from the house.   We placed a foot deep foundation of alpaca manure under each raised bed and now we're filling the beds with compost, moss, and perlite

In our first 2 beds we planted 200 bulbs of garlic, which will overwinter and produce new bulbs in the spring.   We've grown garlic for many years and enjoy bulbs of oven roasted garlic brushed with olive oil.

In our second 2 beds we planted romaine and oak leaf lettuces.   The heat of the hoop house should enable us to pick fresh greens every day during the winter.

In our remaining beds, we'll plant additional lettuces, kale, spinach, chard and other cold tolerant plants, keeping our kitchen and our barnyard stocked with fresh greens.   The ducks and the alpaca really enjoy a fresh head of romaine.   For the ducks, we chop the lettuce and mix it with water, creating a soup which they can easily slurp.

As the days shorten, we'll have less light to work in the hoop house, so I'll add 2 pendant galvanized barn lights which will enable us to pick fresh salad greens in the evening after the work day.

It's our goal to become increasingly self-reliant over the next year as well as sell many of our products - honey, mushrooms, apples, blueberries, and vegetables at local farmers markets.   Although we've been farmers for a year, this will be our first winter with a hoop house, so I'm sure there will be many lessons learned growing vegetables as the snow begins to fall.

1 comment:

Rob Piscitello said...

John, glad to see you're doing all sorts of interesting things at the farm. Have you heard of aquaponics? I was wondering if you could use a small portion of your hoop house for a small setup? It allows you to grow tilapia in addition to vegetables with very little irrigation or chemical fertilizers.