1.10.2013 Sitting and Plotting

I’ve spent so much time at the computer lately that I was rather surprised to find I hadn’t blogged in over a week.  So what does a small farmer do at the computer during the winter?  (if you can call 70° winter)  Short answer is: she plans, plots and schemes.

The chores on my farm calendar are few this time of year and consist of things that are niceties not necessities.  (Clean the barn.  Clean the tack.) So I spent a full day researching hops and another day researching grapes.  I ordered the grapes and they should be here around the first of March.  The hops I haven’t decided on yet.  I added some more trees to my spring order from Arbor Day – enough to fill out a double row in the windbreak I started a few weeks ago.  (That’ll be almost 80 trees in that one windbreak!)  I also did a spot check of my seed stash and ordered a few more packets to replace old seeds that are not likely to germinate.

Speaking of seeds not germinating, I had a packet of two year old leek seeds that I am trying to get to germinate at this very moment.  I am not hopeful.  I sprinkled about half of them onto a damp paper towel, covered them with another damp paper towel, put them in an unsealed bag and set on top of the freezer.  It’s been three days and the bag smells of leeks, but nothing has sprouted save some fine filaments of fungus.

The better part of this week has been spent on greenhouses.  You see, I have been toying with the idea of dumping my life savings into building a large commercial greenhouse and then filling it with hydroponic lettuce.  The return on investment has got to be better than what I get in the stock market!  However, I’ve never worked in a greenhouse and I’ve never grown anything hydroponically.  I think 2013 will be the year I stick my toe in the water.

After all my greenhouse research I have just about decided not to build a proper greenhouse, but rather a high tunnel (if you want to call 7 feet at the apex tall).  I say “just about” because I am very concerned about damage to the covering during a run of the mill windy day.  The structure itself is made of hoops of bent chain link fence toprail.  It should stand up to the wind quite nicely, but the plastic covering, even though it is stretched tight and laced in place, is worrisome.   It costs roughly $750 to construct a 12’ by 20’ structure, which is $2000 less than a similarly sized greenhouse.  You can see what I’m talking about here:  http://www.johnnyseeds.com/Assets/Information/HighTunnelBendermanual.pdf

While the subconscious is mulling all that information over, I have also been reading up on hydroponics.  (Oddly enough I don’t own a book on the subject, so it’s all been online reading.)  And oh, my, gosh! Is there a lot out there to read!  Lettuce is typically grown on rafts suspended over a thin layer of liquid nutrient in a system called NFT (Nutrient Film Technique).  But most of the sources I’ve read suggest using Deep Water hydroponics as a starting place/classroom to learn about managing pH, oxygen, nutrients and algae.  And hey, I’ve got a sunny window and I really miss home grown tomatoes . . .

Incidentally, after watching countless youtube videos on hydroponics, I’ve noticed we’ve been having a lot more low level fly overs by helicopters and the fighter jets from (presumably) Fort Pickett.  Federalis looking for my pot stash?

But I haven’t totally vegged out (though the body says I’ve been sitting for much too long.)  I set up walls of hay behind my beehives to block the north and west winds and covered the ventilated bottom boards, thus, theoretically at least, keeping the hives warmer and letting the bees conserve food and energy that would otherwise go to keeping warm.  Naturally, I got all this done just in time for the “January thaw.”

Bee wall

I’ve baked a lot of bread with my sourdough starter as I search for that perfect loaf.  I am getting very close.  I also have a house that is covered in a film of flour.

parsley bread

I also spent a day doing some book work.  The USDA sent me an ag census asking some questions about my farm.  Okay, they asked a LOT of questions, you know, after they threatened me with legal action if I didn’t send in a response by February 5th.  They want to know how many of this and how many of that, what kind of chemicals I use, what my tractor is worth and how much I get in subsidies, among many other things.  (To which my husband said, “You mean you could be getting subsidies?”)  Yea, I probably could but my ethics and the reams of government paperwork keep holding me back.

I’ve worked with Ophelia, but not as much as I should.  The ground has been very soggy after the year end 3 inch soaking that we got. (Not complaining.)  It’s time for a new lesson, but that means several hours of watching DVD’s on my part and right now my brain just isn’t in horse training mode.  It’s January.  It’s time to plan the assault on the new year.

My 2013 goals thus far:

  1. Route the downspouts, the backwash from the water filter and the condensation from the air conditioner into underground drainage pipe and down into the pond.  (Ya know, in the hopes that “the pond” will actually have water in it someday.)
  2. Route the runoff from the barns and coop out into the pasture.
  3. Learn how scythes, compost tea brewers/sprayers, hydroponics and greenhouses work.
  4. Prune my orchard for the first time and hopefully get an apple or two, and more than a handful peaches.
  5. Put Ophelia to work hauling stuff around the farm.
  6. Run irrigation lines to the orchard and the windbreak.  100 trees are a bit much to water by hand.
  7. Win more battles than I lose with the Bermuda grass in the garden.
  8. Relocate the butterfly bushes that take their role as doormen far too seriously.
  9. Replace the Milorganite bags on all the fruit trees. (Two years is the apparent life span on muslin bags.)  The Milorganite has done its job well.  We’ve got lots of deer that come through here on a nightly basis, but thus far they’ve left my infant orchard alone.
  10. Replace the fence on the west side of the farm.  (Yeah, like that’s gonna get done.)
  11. Break ground on a root cellar, if my husband and I can ever agree on where to put it.
  12. Make a profit off the bees and maybe, just maybe, a teeny tiny profit off the chickens.
  13. Finally grow some onions and improve the garlic harvest considerably.
  14. Install a covered porch on the side door stoop.  Aw heck, might as well dream big – all the door frames on the house are dry rotted and need to be replaced.  And while I am dreaming, paint the front porch.

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