Thursday, April 30, 2015

More potatoes going in

I brought the team out this morning to pull the spring tooth over that grassy strip of old oats and peas.  They pulled beautifully and I decided the land was clear enough now to plant the rest of the potatoes.  I re-hitched Rosie and Sebastian in the afternoon and carefully opened two trenches with the turning plow.  Rosie & Sebastian seem to be my calmest duo for precision work. Anything involving Cassie these days seems to have a little too much exuberance.  She gets excited (or nervous) and then it's off to the races.  Anyway, for once we made a straight furrow! I gave them a rope to straddle on the first pass, which seemed to help.  Both team and teamster are getting a better feel for walking straight.  It was really fun to do this kind of "mass production" potato planting.  There are now two 120' rows of potatoes--wow!  Soil conditions are perfect and I expect they will grow very strongly.  What am I going to do with all those potatoes????

As usual my marking procedures are marginal.  From the North end , this second row consists of 15' of french fingerlings from Johhny's, then about 5-6 yukon golds, followed by 50' of red norlands, and finished up with kennebecs.  There were some additional kennebecs so I went into the next row and planted about 10' in that row on the North end only.  The rows might be a little squashed.  I was going for 30" width, but I kind of mis judged where the plow was going and I think it's pretty tight up against the potatoes I planted 10 days ago.  Oh, well.

I brought the tractor out into the garden for the first and possibly only time this season to open up that new strip that had just been "stumped."  Using the spring tooth and multiple passes I got it scratched up pretty well.  I know from experience that attempting to moldboard this kind of new ground is useless--the old tree roots lying below ground grab the plow and just tear the hitch to pieces, while the wheels spin and the furrow opens and closes.  So I will be cover cropping this strip and re-working it over the season, counting on good cover crops to drill down and open the soil.  The old roots will begin to rot and over time decompose, freeing up nitrogen to grow a crop.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Over the past week I pulled dozens of small stumps as part of one more garden expansion.  This work can be very, very tough and I was grateful that my body was healed enough from hernia surgery that I could do this.  Cool mornings made for good working weather and after about 4 days another 15' a 120' section was clear.  This is basically the last strip of land available in the area that I have fenced in for gardening.  It is good high ground and I have high expectations for it.  However, this year it will only be cover cropped for soil building.  It takes a substantial investment of time before the residual roots are rotted away enough so that the soil nitrogen is not all tied up in carbon decomposition.  I hope to plant prior to rains coming next Monday, and re-till sometime in middle to late summer.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Rabbit Proof Fence

I enlarged the perimeter this Spring and put a fence in that I hope will slow down the rabbits.  Last year rabbits were a plague.  They ate 96 pepper plants, two plantings of peas, two plantings of beans, half of the kale and kohlrabi, damaged the winter wheat, ate a row of beets, and even ate some onions!  The rabbits were everywhere.  It was common to see 6-8 rabbits in the garden every morning, and I counted as many as 20 on my walk from the house to the garden.  So something had to be done.

This fence is a mix of chicken wire, silt fence, and rabbit wire.  I used the silt fence as an experiment last year and it worked very well.  My hope is that the fence will slow down and discourage the rabbits, and I can plug leeks as I see them.  It will be a challenge but I have to do something.  I am also cutting brush outside of the perimeter to eliminate cover.  The perimeter now measures 113' x 186'.  I am also expanding the are under tillage and it should be 1/3 acre by the time I am done.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Leeks going in

My leek seedlings from Johnny's came in the mail today. The weather is miserable, but probably just the way leeks like it. About 45 degrees, wet, cloudy, and windy. So I stuck them in using a stick to poke holes every 4". Sticky soil makes for slow going. I will finish tomorrow.

Tomorrow: It actually snowed a bit while I was finishing up!  The ground is not perfect but I think these plants needed to get planted.  Frankly, they did not look that good in the box.  I will be curious to see how they do.  I planted all of them, even the really marginal ones, for a total of 104.  The purchase was for 50-60 plants so if that many make it I can't complain.

I am seeing overall that I need to get more aggressive with perennial grasses.  I have barely enough clean ground to get these early veggies in, but some ground (like this row of leeks) has significant live grass buried in it and I'm sure it will be miserable hoeing at some point.  The areas of oats and peas are the most disappointing.  This mix does not seem to cover and beat back grasses very well.  Also, so far in this field the peas have been very weak growers.  I am hoping that as the tilth improves that will change.  The strip of rye looks very clean.  Rye is known to be allelopathic and it has been very effective in conditioning ground and fighting back weeds in this field.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Potatoes planted

Put one row of spuds to the west of the garlic. The ground is worked up but some crabgrass will remain. However, my fingerlings in the root cellar can't wait. The row also included about 30' of red norlands from Margaret.  There are another 15 lbs to go in, so I will have at least 2 more full rows.

Rain started right on schedule at 6 pm the day of planting.  Supposed to get up to an inch, which will be just fine for the new plantings and these potatoes.

There is a stubborn row of bunching onions that never got harvested last year.  They are growing very strongly and I finally grabbed a couple to eat tonight.  12 month old onions taste great!  Have to eat them quick as I have plans for that part of the garden!

New Oven

My previous oven committed suicide going over the railroad tracks last year so I finally got around to replacing it.  Actually, I'm under the gun as we plan to use it for an event on May 6.  Given a 2-week curing time, I just barely made it!  I obtained a new trailer from harbor freight that is rated at 1100 lbs, but still managed to bust this limit.  I believe this unit weighs about 1400 lbs.  Nevertheless, it is much tougher than the last unit and I have high hopes for it.  Working weather has been near perfect.  The refractory mortar specifies avoiding temperature below 40, and all week it never got below 45 at night.  Eric assisted me this morning with the concrete cladding, which is still wet in the below picture.  I used 5000 psi pre mix and applied it at about 1.5" thickness, using a total of 3.5 80lb bags.  Can't wait to try this unit out!

The general layout is a layer of 2 x 6's screwed and bolted to the trailer, followed by a layer of 3/4" plywood, followed by a layer of tile backer, then a reinforced slab of concrete about 1.5" thick, then a base of 42 firebricks laid flat (would prefer them laid on edge to better insulate the wood below).  The brickwork used up the equivalent of 125 red clay bricks and slightly more than 2 50lb bags of refractory cement.  I am using medium duty refractory mortar from Menards and it is not drying real hard.  I think I will use the more expensive stuff from the brickyard next time.  The dome is poured on top of several layers of aluminum foil and reinforced by a piece of chicken wire.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Big Planting Day

Rain is forecast for tomorrow afternoon so it's time to get in the field!  The lower area are too wet to work, but to the East of the garlic the ground is ready.  This is slightly off plan, since the prime area is actually to the West of the garlic (right side of below photograph).  But that is the old oats and peas strip which is still contaminated with quack grass.  The East strip was daikon radish, but it is quite clean.  However, the only N it received was compost last year and compost over the Winter.  We'll see if that's enough.

Note also in the picture the garlic, which is coming up strong, and the Spring wheat just to the left.  The Spring wheat was planted April 1 with medium red clover in between each row.  It looks like the red clover has been planted too heavily.

Both strips (daikon and oats/peas) were worked with the spring tooth, as deep as it would go.  I had the disc ready but it was not necessary.  The soil is much improved over last year.  These strips had been plowed a couple weeks earlier and the rain had smoothed them down a bit.  The spring tooth dug up the quack grass very well.  The team strained to pull it , but never balked and did an amazing job.  To finish preparing the daikon strip for planting we went over with the spike tooth 2-3 times.  I was very happy with how the soil broke up and the seed bed smoothed out.  I did not spike tooth the West strip so that the quack grass clumps would stay up high and die out.  I also walked the strip and threw a bunch of clods towards the fenceline.

So I made 5 rows at 2' increments, going East from the spring wheat.  From West to East, it's peas in row 1, carrots in row 2, lettuce and spinach in row 3, radishes and beets in row 4, and onions (sets), swiss chard, and kale in row 5.  I will give the lettuce some help with hand watering but otherwise the plan is to wait for the rain to do it's thing.  The forecast is for rain and cloudy days next week, so I think it will go well.

The Earthway seeder ran well but had some weird problems with the peas.  They were jamming in the seed plate and getting flung out like a slingshot.  But the seed went somewhere and I'm sure I got something in the ground.  I'm so excited!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Seedlings so-so

As is usual, my flats do not look that great.  I use my own compost so the soil can be inconsistent in the small cells.  Interestingly, my own saved tomato seed (heirloom purple cherokee) is doing pretty well with the damp-off, and Amish Paste from Jonny's are almost 100% loss from damp off.

But it's so bad this year that I broke down this week and bought a bag of soil from Fleet Farm and started 3 new flats.  I made up another 251 cell onion flat, a 72 cell of peppers and a few more tomatoes, and a 72 of celeriac.  Have to get something going to plant!

The greenhouse experiment is going well.  Peas and radishes are the strongest.  I am making plans to move the greenhouse into the new garden soon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Plowing and planting barley

I wanted to plow down the oats and pea strip to work in the trash and stop some crabgrass from getting established.  I did not expect plowing conditions this early but it was just barely dry enough to go in and plow.  I ended up plowing two strips about 12' wide each.  One strip was the oats and peas trash, and the other was the Daikon radish strip to the East.  These two strips had the garlic and Spring wheat separating them, so I just one-way plowed each strip and left the garlic and wheat alone as a king furrow.

I was using three abreast with the evener modified to give Sebastian in the furrow more of the work, which meant that the plow tracked in the furrow better.  I did this work over two days and it ultimately worked a little better with Rosie in the middle.  I was happy with their performance but when they are taxed the team sometimes fans out and the track gets wobbly.  Nevertheless, it was our best plowing attempt yet.

Here you can see how well the trash was getting worked in.  I am pretty happy with this.

It was just dry enough to plant a strip of barley in the place where I originally wanted to plant the Spring wheat.  On the above picture this is on the far right, directly next to the Winter wheat.  At the far end the seed was "mudded in" just a bit, but overall the strip was in good condition for planting.  I interplanted medium red clover in the same manner as with the Spring wheat.  This is black hulless barley which I have been using in soup all winter.  It will be a real treat if I can make it grow.  The ground was simply worked up with the cultimulcher and planted.  It was not plowed.

Dadant called over the weekend to say that the bee packages had arrived.  So on Monday, April 6, I installed on package.  This was in some newly cleared ground just to the East of the field.  It's colder than I would hope for and I do not see any nectar sources yet, but I went ahead and installed the package.  It was in the 40's I would say, and the queen looked very lethargic.  We'll see how it goes!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spring wheat planted

I put in a small section of Red Fife spring wheat today.  The section is very small since I do not want to use up too much of this prime ground.  I wanted to put the wheat in the area next to the winter wheat, where vegetables were grown last year.  But this area is too wet to plant today.  There is rain in the forecast for the next few days.

Ground was worked up with a spike tooth (to spread out compost that was applied over winter) and then the cultimulcher, using all three donks.  I put the wheat right up against the garlic to save room.  I hope the wheat is not too tall to affect the garlic before it is harvested.

Using the Earthway seeder I drilled the wheat to 1" and made a second pass of medium red clover at 1/2" depth.  There were 6 rows of each, and the total strip is 5' wide x 120' long.

Yesterday and today I finally got to use my Christmas present Rogue scuffle hoe.  Wow, does it work!  The rows of garlic have a clean start to the season now.  Garlic has been poking up for a week or so.  I should add that this ground is just barely dry enough to be worked and walked on at this point, and nothing more.