Thursday, July 7, 2016

Unity Farm Journal - Second Week of July 2016

As we scale up production of fruits, vegetables, honey, mushrooms, and compost, the key to our success is automation.    It’s challenging for two people (my wife and I) to run 15 acres of organic agriculture and support 150 animals part time using only handtools and muscles.  

Last year, we produced 50 pounds of honey.   This year we’ll produce 1200 pounds

Last year, we did not sell compost.   This year, we’ll bag up 10,000 pounds

We’ve added automation slowly, only in resposne to market demand for our products.   For honey extraction, we’ve used a hand cranked centrifuge, which is great for 50 pounds.    Hand cranking 1200 pounds of honey extraction is not practical.   This year, we’re moving from a 4 frame spinner to a 21 frame electric spinner.    Given that high quality local honey sells at retail for $15-20 per pound, we should be able to recover our investment in a reasonable timeframe.

As I wrote about last week, compost production requires a trommel to screen out rocks/sticks/debris.   In the world of compost sifting, there seems to be two extremes - a hand shoveled sifter (great for 50 pounds) and a commercial screener (great for 50,000 pounds).   What do you do in the middle?  You build your own electric screener.    This week, I’ve ordered everything I need to build the screener pictured below.

Motor in a farm grade housing

Two 5/8 2.05” pulley type A

One 5/8 9.25” pulley type A

Two 5/8 pillow blocks

12” keyed 5/8 shaft 

Three Type A V-Belts

The 1725 rpm motor will be reduced to 30 rpm via the pulley system.

1725 x 2.05/9.25 * 2.05/26 = 30 rpm

With automated honey processing and automated compost sifting/bagging, Kathy and I will be able to keep our customers happy while also keeping our day jobs.

This week, the guinea fowl had 25 babies - called keets.    Guinea fowl are horrible parents and we immediately removed the keets to a brooder.   Twice a day I reached under the moms (there were 5 sitting on the communal nest) and retrieved the new hatchlings while being attacked by defensive adults.    Here’s what a guinea fowl injury looks like.   I assumed there would be an ICD10 code for that, but it seems that searching on Guinea Fowl injuries only results in industry comments about me.

This week we planted 576 basil plants - 288 in the hoop house and 288 outdoors.   There seems to be a market for bunches of basil and kitchen garden basil  pots throughout the summer.

Now that we’ve been running Unity Farm for a few years, I have a perspective about the difficulty of being a small farmer.   It’s captured beautifully in this post.

"Fungus. Blight. Weather. Pests. Parasites. Disease.

Farming is the act of living every day with the goal of keeping other things -- plants and animals -- alive. It may not be the fast-paced, dramatic lifesaving work of Emergency Department personnel, but it is work nonetheless. And it's a daily task. We don't take off a couple of days a week and decide that the plants and the animals will be fine on their own for a while. If we don't water, feed, weed, control pests -- things die. And sometimes even when we do water, feed, weed, try to control pests and disease -- things still die.

It's the hardest part.

It's the part, I think, that makes most people quit. It's the part that makes me think about quitting. It's the part that we ultimately have no control over but to do all we can and hope and pray that things work out. But sometimes they don't, and like the poem says, all we can do is dry our eyes and say, ‘maybe next year.’

That's life on the farm. "

This weekend we’ll be finishing the compost trommel, moving chickens and guineas to different levels in our brooders, and picking blueberries.    The puzzles to solve are endless and exhilerating.

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