Thursday, January 21, 2016

Unity Farm Journal- Third Week of January 2016

The farm is covered with snow and it’s 10F.   The yearly 3rd week of January chill has arrived.   The chickens and guineas are roosted in the warm coop.  The ducks and geese are wearing their down jackets, swimming and pretending it’s balmy.   The alpaca are cushed to the ground to avoid the wind chill.  The pigs are asleep in their blankets on hay covered beds in the pig barn.  Who knew that “pig in a blanket” describes a real behavior.   They’ve not yet asked for sheets (remember Orwell’s Animal Farm)

As a first step in my University of Massachusetts Farm Planning, Marketing and Management course, we were asked to formulate our goals based on identifying life priorities from a long list of possibilities.    Here’s my top 5 priorities ranked in order

Family Happiness
Intellectual Stimulation    
Freedom/Economic security    

Using these priorities, we were asked to create a personal goal statement.   Here’s mine:

“To focus on family life while maintaining health and serving the community,  constantly learning/experimenting and having the time/economic freedom to continuously improve life processes.    The daily and seasonal rhythm of Unity Farm is the base of operations for all these activities.”

This is complementary to the farm goal statement I developed in 2015 as part of my Backyard Homesteading course.

“Unity Farm provides organic fruits and vegetables for the family and the local community. We have used  sustainable agriculture principles to empower the daily and seasonal rhythm of supporting the plants and animals. We have nurtured the property to be a healthier ecosystem than it has ever been.”

In the next few weeks, we’ll select the farming enterprises we want to pursue based on our personal goals, then develop a formal business plan.   Possible enterprises to model at Unity Farm include

Bees (pollinators, queen rearing, honey, mead, honey lager beer)
Guinea fowl (tick control)
Chickens (eggs)
Ducks (eggs)
Geese (watchdogs, weeding)
Llamas/alpacas (fiber)

Fuel wood
Fruit trees including fruit products such as Hard Cider
Nut trees
Cane Berries (blackberries, raspberries, etc.)

Vegetable Crops
Beans - Jacob’s cattle
Beets - Chioggia and Gold
Broccoli -Belstar
Brussels Sprouts - Doric
Carrots -  Napoli
Cucumber - H19
Eggplant - Littlefinger
Kale - Meadowlark
Lettuce - Winter Density
Peas - Sugar Pod
Peppers - Shishito, Jalapeno
Spinach - Bloomsdale
Squash - Kabocha, Zucchini
Turnips - Haruke
Tomatoes - Roma

Mushrooms - Shiitake, Oyster, Nameko, Gandoderma, Winecap

Workshops such as llama care, mushroom cultivation, and cider making

One of our most popular products at the moment is the Unity Farm Honey Lager - a 7% beer with 11 pounds of honey per keg and Cascade hops.    We provide the honey but in the past we’ve purchased the hops.   We’ll begin growing our own hops this Spring in the new 12x20 foot hopyard I designed based on the experience of Smith Rock Hop Farm and the engineering techniques I learned while building the zip line.  I placed 15 feet posts, attached 5/16 aircraft cable at the top running east/west and attached 3/16 aircraft cable at the top and bottom running north/south.  We’ll plant Cascade hops  4 feet on center and  on jute tied diagonally between the 3/16 cables.   We’ll expect a reasonable yield in our second and third years after planting.

It’s already time to start planning our 2016 germination schedule.   Warmth loving plants such as peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoli are germinated a month before planting.    How do you germinate seeds in cold winter?   By heating them.  There are two basic kinds of heating pads
1)  the Hydrofarm which is low wattage and meant for indoor use.  It heats a standard seedling tray about 10-20F  above ambient temperature.  Thermostats are optional
2)  the Redi-Heat which is higher wattage and can heat a tray to 120F.  Thermostats are required.

Standard seedling trays are 11x21 inches and the potting bench I built in the hoop house is 22 inches wide.   We’ve placed a 5 foot Redi-Heat pad on the bench, then placed 5 seedling trays in 5 leakproof trays on top of it.

Each seedling tray can hold 72 1.5 inch blocks of soil in a 6x12 pattern.   You may not be familiar with soil blocking, but it’s common in Europe.   The idea is that you mix 3 parts peat, 2 parts vermiculite, and 2 parts compost with water to form a paste.   Using a soil block tool you create a perfect environment for germination.   Blocks are placed directly into the ground after sprouting using tongs.

This year, our project plan for germinating, planting and harvesting is aligned with the temperatures we’ve experienced in the hoop house, our crop rotation schedule, and succession planting - cold weather vegetables planted in beds that will be occupied by warm weather vegetables.  We’ll be able to get 2-3 yearly harvests from each bed using 4 season gardening techniques.    I try to adopt the best techniques from multiple authors, but for winter New England vegetable growing in hoop houses, there is no better resource than Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Farm

The planting begins soon!

1 comment:

MargaretJ said...

John, I thought you might enjoy this story out of Nova Scotia about someone building a new type of beehive, looking to solve several problems and having remarkable results. ~ Margaret Jeddry