Friday, May 28, 2010

Both Gardens - In!

I both both gardens in: the one at home in Chicago and the other in Wisc at our church-house. Nothing at the farm this year - we just aren't there enough to tend to crops. We would like to get some beds prepped and seeded with cover crops this year, but that involves buying a plow and we haven't focused on that (yet).

I planted all seedlings that I started myself. The weed pressure at the church-house garden is severe. In fact, it isn't just weeds - sigh... it is quackgrass and it is a formidable opponent for organic gardeners (all gardeners in fact).

I turned the soil with a garden fork and removed as much of the top grass and the roots as I could. I then went through it again with my Cobrahead (looove this tool!) and my hands and pulled every piece I could out. The soil is really friable and lovely thanks to the huge compost addition two years ago so it is almost enjoyable to weed quackgrass. The roots just go on and on!

We won't be back up for several weeks, so I am sure that it will take over the garden by then.

Meanwhile I'm doing some research on how to eradicate it without using Roundup. I've read that a cover crops can smoother it. A rotation of buckwheat, winter rye, buckwheat and winter rye again can almost eliminate it. The rye was sown at 175lb/acre in September and disced in April at knee-high. Buckwheat sown in May at 70 lb/acre and disced in full bloom. Repeat for a 2nd year.

All of this has made me realize that we better get shopping for a plow - I think we should get this cover crop rotation going on at least an acre at the farm this fall. Judging by the amount of invasives that we currently have (thistle, wild parsnip, burdock), it is pretty obvious that we will have quackgrass too.

One other note on quackgrass. I did hear that ducks love it and can clear a garden of it in no time.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I am doing some research on bio-char as a soil amendment. Anyone ever heard of it? Thoughts? Please share what you know in the comments.

I will report back what I learn.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Seed starting!

I was late starting my seeds this year and I think it turned out to be a good thing. I planted on March 31st, April 7th and May 1st. My seedlings are stronger than they have ever been. I think I am not fighting the heat-war by starting them later. I don't have heat mats so I heat up my seedling room (it is walk-in closet size) with a portable heater. This year I only turned the heat on once but the seedlings look healthy and strong.

I almost transplanted last week, but I had heard that we were going to get a cold snap. I am so glad that I have held off. Pushing the season on the front end - unless you have a hoophouse and row covers - doesn't seem to pay off. The cool weather seems to stunt the growth.

And in typical fashion, I started too many. I think I have about 35 chard plants, at least 15 kale starts. Not to mention 25+ tomatoes. Oh my - I really need to move to a farm! I updated the side bar with the varieties and numbers.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Buying a Farm

I recently read this article by Steph Larson, the policy coordinator for the Center for Rural Affairs (they do great work, if you aren't familiar with the organization. Check out the link - they are advocates for rural America on meaningful health care, high speed internet, environmental policy, etc). I had the good fortune to meet Steph last fall, which was before she had purchased her farm. We had a conversation about the fact that healthcare coverage is one of the biggest hurdles for us to overcome in order to move to our farm. We are currently insured through my corporate-America-job, and moving our health coverage to an independant policy; where we could be dropped or rates could skyrocket at any time terrifies me. Steph and I talked about contacting my local Wisc elected officials - which I did, but since I am not a registered voter in Wisc, they didn't care much what I had to say.

Anyway, I was happy to see that Steph finally was able to buy the farm. Her excitement for growing food, laying down roots on her own small farm and making it her own really resonates with me. It is just how we feel too!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Antibiotic Issue of Agriculture

The NYTimes recently wrote about Round-Up resistant weeds.

Approximately 70% of corn and cotton, and 90% of soybeans grown in the United States are Rounup Ready. However, the weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup, so guess what? All of those sustainable agriculture ads that Monsanto has all over National Public Radio are a farce. Monsanto's claim that using their Roundup Ready seeds reduces the need to plow the soil seem to be turning into a larger issue: the weeds are developing a tolerance to the RoundUp. An interesting quote, but biotech has never promised the other direction, in my opinion.

“The biotech industry is taking us into a more pesticide-dependent agriculture when they’ve always promised, and we need to be going in, the opposite direction,” said Bill Freese, a science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety in Washington.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Apple Tree

Last spring, a friend and I went to Garfield Farm for an apple tree grafting seminar. We left with 6 apple trees - which my friend graciously donated to our future orchard. I planted all 6 of them in our Chicago yard so that I could water them regularly and keep an eye on them.

Well, we must not be very good grafters, because only one lived. But the one that did - it is looking mighty fine! It is a Gala variety. It is still in my Chicago backyard and I plan to give it one more year of TLC and then it will relocate to Wisc with us.

Here are a couple of photos of the trusses from the hoophouse field day. I was pretty busy working so I didn't take as many photos as I should have.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Building a Hoophouse

We attended our first CRAFT field day two weeks ago at Peasants Plot. It was an afternoon learning about hoophouses.

The farmers of Peasants Plot received a grant to put up their houses - I think it was a SARE grant. First we had a potluck lunch and then we helped put up a house. We were happy to see a few familiar faces from Farm Beginnings class and an old friend on whose farm we helped build a strawbale building several years ago. The Peasants Plot farmers are installing two houses for tomatoes - they are hoping to increase their productivity of tomatoes. In the past years, they have had good harvests of cherry tomatoes but due to their growing conditions, have had problems getting their tomatoes in the ground long enough to have large harvests of tomatoes. They would also like to beat the tomato glut at the market and get an edge on the tomato market.

Todd (one of the Peasants Plot farmers) had already prepped the soil and the site as well as the hard part of laying out the ground posts and putting the bows and trusses together. The attendees split into two groups - one raised the trusses and screwed them together and another group put more trusses together. The house that we worked on was 30 x 96. That is quite a large space. Their location is interesting - they are in north central Illinois - it is flat! And windy! They plan to remove their plastic for overwintering.

We look forward to following their progress - they have promised to keep everyone who helped up to date on how it is working for them and how it affects their tomato crop.