High Tunnel and Snow!

We've been neglecting our blog a bit (in favor of Facebook, where we have loaded the Hartwood Farm page with pictures from this past season if you want to check them out!), but with our ongoing website overhaul (lots of new photos up in the gallery), we are trying to get back up on the blog horse and keep it more updated this next year! This summer of 2014 was another fairly crazy growing season here in Fenner/CNY in that it rained and rained and rained yet again. Unlike last year when we had tons of rain in the beginning of the summer and then it dried out, this summer it was constantly wet Mondays through Thursdays, before drying out a bit each weekend. The problem became that things would just barely dry out enough over Friday and Saturday so that we could get in the fields to till, cultivate, or seed on Sundays, but the rain would start all over again on Mondays. This made for *extremely* busy Sundays, somewhat weedy fields (since we prioritized planting over weeding!), and a fairly high rate of plant disease (since most plant health issues thrive in the cool, wet weather we saw).

Balancing the (very tall) ladder for the (very precariously perched) farmer!

We decided that it is essential for us to have some protection against all this rain and that we need to start investing in some high and low tunnels. This fall our big project was the high tunnel (which is essentially a greenhouse frame without any heating system). We bought a 30x96 Rimol Nor’easter frame, and as of yesterday (where we had to shovel about 5 feet of snow off of it!) we are pleased with it’s weight bearing capacity!

Canine manager checking out the frame and purloin installation.

We put the house in the flattest spot in the fields (the “advantage” of slightly rolling ground is that we had limited options of where the tunnel could go, so it was easy to place!). It’s aligned east-west, so the long side faces the rough south wind. (Oddly enough, we find the summer winds out of the south the harshest and most destructive here on the farm, so we wanted to protect against them. In theory, when the wind gets really bad, we can lower the sidewalls and it will flow up the arch of the tunnel.)

Building the new high tunnel--plastic day!

It probably took us 20 person days to get the tunnel sited and built, but we were doing it around the CSA and market harvests, so it might be possible to do future ones faster? Putting on the plastic was the hardest part (Fenner is a little too windy to unfurl a 150' x 48' sheet of plastic), but we had 8 AWESOME neighbors come and help with this exciting stage (THANK YOU all!!!).

Hayley using our specialized bow-balancing tool--it was definitely a challenge strong-arming the bows into place!

This winter, we have a rye/pea cover crop in the tunnel and are learning how it holds heat and handles snow. So far, it’s taken 50 mph gusts of wind, but we suspect we’ll get some 70 mph gusts before the winter is out. We don’t have power in the field, so it’s just got one layer of plastic. Judging from how it’s shedding snow (which is poorly), it may be worth investing in a second layer of plastic and some solar charging next year, since that will help it shed snow and wind better. We also see a snow blower in our future, since the sidewalls are quite a job to keep clear with a shovel!

Sunset through the totally completed frame--there is a truly impressive amount of hardware in this thing!

Our main goal with this house is to get an earlier and healthier crop of tomatoes for the CSA, then pull out the tomatoes in time to replant for next year's November and December winter CSA and farmers market greens harvests. Over the long run, if this house survives Fenner conditions, we would like to add several other high tunnels, and rotate our hens through them for winter housing (and fertilization!) since the chickens are not fond of walking in snow.

Shoveling the small greenhouse...

We plan on starting our tomato transplants in the house sometime between April 15th and May 1st, depending on how daring we feel. The house does not have any supplemental heating, so we probably won’t push it too much this year, but we would love to get some nice ripe tomatoes by July 4th!  We'll have more pictures inside the tunnel as things warm up in the spring!

Look for these tomatoes next spring!

March Snows Bring Warm Aprils?

Hopefully!  (With 10 to 18" coming down, our fingers are crossed that this will come true!) Either way, spring is on it's way at SOME point this month, and thus, seed starting (and Growing Season 2014's official start!) are underway!  We'll get going back on our normal blog posts now (we didn't have much going on during our much needed winter break) since summer is gearing up around the farm FAST!

This week's news includes seed starting, greenhouse prep, CSA shares, and translating chicken...

First the fun news!  Seed starting is under way--onions, early leeks, shallots, scallions, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and some flowers are in their flats and getting ready to germinate!  As you can see from the picture below (and our cramped seed starting pics on Facebook), we have them in the house on vast numbers of tables now set up in the living room and kitchen.  It's funny, 2 years ago we swore we wouldn't have this many seed flats in the house ever again after we upgraded our greenhouse heating system.  We are eating those words so quickly for two reasons--first, we wanted to start getting away from buying in all our onion plants and try out some new varieties from seed (and onions need to start a few weeks before we want to fire up our greenhouse).  Second, we were oblivious to propane supplies and prices early in winter and all of a sudden, cohabitation with ten thousand seedlings for a few weeks seemed like a quite reasonable prospect!

Onions (hopefully) germinating away under there!


The greenhouse is also looking good--we'll have details and pics on that in our next post.  We have fired it up a little bit (though we are waiting until this weekend for the official heater start day), have it mostly cleaned out, and are working on this season's upgrades (new floor and watering system!).  It's been wonderful working to prepare the house this week--even without the heater running, things get toasty during the day!

Sunshine as the only heat source is working well for daytime!


We do still have CSA shares available--Tuesday in Fayetteville, Liverpool, and Syracuse, and Friday in Fenner!  Give us an email or call if you want to learn more about the CSA or signup online.

Yummy--remember these?


And we promised you some chicken translation... Well, we are pretty sure we made out some F-bombs to the chickens clucking this morning.  The poor ladies were relishing the sun and warm temperatures as they managed to excavate some actual grass and dirt in their dooryard this week.  However, they are extremely under-impressed with this big snow and have been squawking to make their displeasure known (though the good girls keep on laying!).  We have promised them grass (and possibly a new house?) sometime in the next four weeks!  The farmers are also under-impressed with this storm, which is the first one blowing from due north, so it deposited a thigh high drift in the yard between us and the hen house.  Spring is coming, isn't it?  Our next blog will be set in the spring-like greenhouse at least!!!

Chickens digging out from the snow (before this most recent storm)

Harvest Days on the Farm

I know, long time, no posting!  We've had plenty to write about, but to be honest, this summer has been extremely rough in terms of weather and workload, so we only now are starting to have time to breathe (and eat and blog). Good thing we had semi-raised beds...

Since our last post, it pretty much rained from mid-May to mid-July (20 inches over 7 weeks--during those 49 days we had rain for 45), and then stopped raining and became cold--like veggies stopped growing 'cuz it was in the 40s at night sort of cold.  Things are still cooler and the summer crops are ripening slowly, but overall, we are feeling a bit more normal now.  We have a long blog in the works on our thoughts about this summer, but it's still a bit too fresh for us to write on it without excess profanity!  Short story, the lessons from this summer are that rain is worse than drought, bugs wash away in floods while plant disease washes in, and hoop houses are our next big investment!

Tomato flooding... and this was one of the less bad days of rain!  These plants look great now, by the way!

But as things are steadying out a bit, we do have time to start posting again, and thought we'd get back in with some pics from harvest days, since some folks have been asking how the day goes!

We harvest 90% of our crops on Tuesday and Friday mornings, for our Tuesday and Friday CSA and our Saturday market.  With tomatoes starting, we will sometimes harvest them the day before, because it's such a long process to wipe off the organic (late blight deterring) copper from the fruits.  On Monday and Thursday evenings, we cruise around the field and check out what's ready.  Most years, there will be 20 or 25 available crops, and we choose 8 to 12 for the CSA.  This year, we have typically had more like 10 to 15 crops ready, so it makes CSA choices quicker (though more annoying--we like having more options!).  We try to mix things up a bit so folks get a range of salad, root, fruit, and greens in their shares.  We have twice as many CSA members on Tuesday than Friday, but since we have the market Fridays, the two harvest days take about as long (though we also harvest more on Saturday mornings for market).

We prioritize crops for the CSA over the market, since we really appreciate the up-front support from our CSA members.  Most years we have plenty for both the CSA and the market, but this year we've been saving lots of crops just for the CSA (like our potatoes).

We start harvesting anywhere from 5:30 (if it's hot) to 7:30 (if it's wet) in the morning.  We start off with crops like lettuce and greens that don't like getting hot, and then finish off with things like tomatoes or cucumbers where you want the plants to dry off before you get in there and handle them.  We have started getting into the bad habit of sleeping a bit late this year since it's been so cold and wet (and we don't want to spread plant disease around by harvesting damp plants)!

Getting started early enough the clouds are below the windmills... they usually lift by mid-morning

Poor winter squash... this section flooded and spread some disease to these plants (causing them to die)

We usually harvest crops in batches and then haul them back to the cooler in the wagon (our most utilized tool on the farm).  Most crops get washed in super cold water to lower their field temperature and get off the dirt, though some things like tomatoes just get wiped down.

Veggies in the wagon

We have dreams of a real wash line for next year, but couldn't afford the whole building set up this season, so we are improvising a bit.  Matt did take the first step for a wash shed by putting a new door into the garage.  The walk in cooler is right inside the door, so this saves us the time of walking through the garage a zillion times each harvest day.  Since it has rained or been super cold this season, it hasn't been a problem yet for not having shade on the line.  We use two tanks and a series of drying/spray tables, and have landscape fabric underneath to keep the mud down.  Last year we had a mobile setup (with a tent) that we rotated around the yard.  This year's improvement of an actual line saves a chunk of time each harvest day.  Matt build a PVC tank filling valve, and we drain the tanks often to keep the water clean.

Matt washing the last tote of beets--check out the snazzy new door in the garage

We pack CSA shares in the garage using folding tables.  Last year folks might remember our CSA bags, which were cute but a hassle to pack (too floppy), handle (hard to quickly grab the handles), and stack (you couldn't).  This year we switched to boxes, which means we can pack 4 times as many shares per hour than we could with the bags!  It's been nice to see how small changes make a big difference in efficiency!

Share packing line in the cool of the garage

Weighing and bagging tomatoes for shares

Harvest supervisor and quality control officer testing a dropped carrot

Hopefully the weather stays "normal," the late blight stays away, and frost holds off until October so that we can re-start posting regularly!

Building the Mobile Coop and the Hens Arriving!

We are excited to have animals on the farm this year!  The first arrivals came Tuesday--100 pullets that should start their laying hen careers in the next few weeks.  We are pasturing the birds using a mobile coop and flexinet electric netting (which theoretically keeps predators out). This year we went with nearly full grown birds (rather than raising them from chicks) since we don't really have good indoor facilities to brood baby birds in.  We plan on getting chicks this upcoming fall to brood over winter for next year's addition to the flock.

Matt's been busy building the coop this past week.  We had hoped to use an old hay wagon base, but couldn't find any old bases near us, so we decided to just run it on skids.  The skids work fine and it moves easily with our tractor, but we still would like to get our next coop up on wheels.

Here's a close up of one of the skids (a bolted together 2x12 and 2x8) and the notched 4x4 floor joist.


It's pretty cozy for the number of birds that we have, but we felt like this would work well since it's just a seasonal pasture coop.

Half of the completed base--with skids, floor joists, and cross bracing.

Close up on some of the diagonal bracing.

More bracing!  Since this will be dragged over rough ground, we wanted to make sure the base platform stayed stable.


We needed it to be heavy enough to be stable in the Fenner wind, but light enough to move around easily.  The solid base should anchor it (in combination with some heavy duty anchors for storms), and the greenhouse top has very little weight.

Attaching the frame bents and exterior plywood sheathing (to deter larger predators).


The sides are 3/8" plywood to help deter predators.  We based our plan on this great Blackbird Organics design we found online:  http://theruminant.ca/2012/03/30/farm-glance-blackbird-organics-mobile-chicken-fortress/  The one change we made was to add the base for better wind resistance and to keep out any digging predators.  We've seen fox, coyote, racoons, random dogs, and mink on the farm, so we wanted to protect our hens as much as we can.

Arlo inspects the finished base.


Here you can see the boxes before the swinging access doors were added.  We have 24 boxes for 100 birds, but can add another row if this seems to be too few.  The openings all have 1/2" hardware fabric stapled over them against mink and weasels.

Adding in the nest boxes (some are different sized since we mostly used scraps of wood).

Door end with hardware fabric added to the openings (to deter the mink we've seen around the farm).


Here's a look at the finished interior.  It's mostly just a place for the hens to sleep and lay eggs, since they will be busy outside eating grass most of the day.  We shortly moved all these waterers up onto blocks so they stay clean.

Roosts ready for the move in day!


This is the transit box Matt built to go get them. We kept it fairly small so that they would be close to each other and not slide around in transit.  It worked really well, and the birds seemed fine upon opening--they were snug and warm despite the icky day!

Coming out of their transit crate (it's compact so that the birds don't slide around or get on top and crush each other!).

Opening up the crate--the hens are not sure about this new home.

Empty transit crate--it was two 12" levels, with each holding 50 birds.


The chickens spent their first afternoon recovering from their busy day in the coop, figuring out things like how to roost and bonding with their new home.

Making friends


Here's a picture of the completed coop.  We used a silver reflective tarp, thinking that would keep things cooler.  In this picture, the rain is keeping the hens from venturing out.  They've been pretty hilarious in the yard as they learn how to run, eat grass and bugs, and discover their wings.

The final shot of tarp roof, with rain curtains over the hardware fabric.  We just need to paint the exposed wood and let the hens settle into their new home and fields!


A few intrepid ladies are venturing out in the rain to check out other food options.  We hope the rain will break soon so the grass starts growing faster for them!  We should have eggs starting in a couple of weeks, once the layers start getting some spring grass!  We'll have more pictures of the hen exploits on our Facebook page (Hartwood Farm).

One of the field feeders Matt is experimenting with.  So far it seems to work well.

Seed Starting Days!

We've been busy starting seeds in the anticipation of it getting warmer at some point!  It's been so dreary, we decided to make a big mess in the hallway of our house and start the seeds there (so the pictures are a bit dark)...