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.

Resting and Regrouping!


After a busy fall on the farm, we've been silent on the blog for a few weeks as we work on re-tooling the website and regrouping from the season.  We are working to get the 2013 CSA sign-up material up (hopefully this week)... it's held up as we decide which additional farmers market to add for 2013, since we try to space out market and CSA harvest days!

Folks have been asking what happens on the farm in the winter, and our answer is, "A lot!"  First, we do relax a bit, sleep in (well, farmer sleeping in, which means until 6 or so!), and eat a lot more farm food (since we have more time to cook).

We do still have a few things going on in the field.  This week's warm spell will likely be our last harvest window to get in the final turnips, radishes, carrots, and beets.  After these crops all come into the walk-in cooler (which now doubles as a root cellar), we will roll up all our protective row cover and call the vegetable fields done for the season!

Wood is a big winter project--right now we are bringing in the wood cut late last winter to split and dry further in the greenhouse.  We need wood for our house, for our greenhouse (we are switching from propane heat to a wood/oil boiler this winter), and for boiling down maple syrup.  Right now, we are just cutting wood at the south edges of the fields (which will reduce shade in the edges of the growing area) and in a section where some of the trees have lots of galls.  As the maples grow larger, we will start doing more selective thinning to improve the sugar maple stand (but that's a few years off!).

Out of the woods, we are working on a few building projects, including a permanent wash stand and storage area, a new hoophouse, a better potting area and propagation chamber for the greenhouse, and a slew of smaller construction activities.

The most important work we are focusing on now is in the office!  Besides working to revamp and improve the website, we are assessing how things went this past season to see where we can improve things for next year.  After this assessment is done, we start working on our crop planning.  This is a huge task since it essentially entails figuring out the timing of every planting of each variety of crop we grow--which for some crops is up to 20 plantings and 15 varieties!  We need to complete this by early January in order to get our seed orders in.

We'll get some more winter pictures of the fields up soon!

Chilling Out...

... in our new walk-in! Things have been busy at the farm with harvesting and flipping beds from spring to fall crops (not to mention the endless hours each day spent on irrigation).  But we (well actually, just Matt) finally did the big push on installing our walk-in cooler!  We haven't finished off the exterior yet, but so far, it's working great!

We use recycled 2 to 4 inch foam panels to insulate an 8x10 framed box (we did floor, ceiling, and walls).  There is a plywood floor.  Matt hung 2 layers of panels in opposite directions (so there are no gaps for cold air to escape) and used spray foam insulation to fill in any gaps.


We bought the panels from a place in Oneonta that recycles material from cold storage facilities (like apple storage warehouses).


They were pretty easy to work with.  It took Matt about three full days to build the insulated box, install the door, and set up the AC.


We just used a standard exterior door since it was easier to work with than a real walk-in cooler door.


For refrigeration, we used an air conditioner and a Cool Bot (check out their website here).  It's basically a little box that tricks the AC unit to go really low (like down to 32 degrees).  We went this route over a standard refrigerator largely for cost reasons.  First, the Cool Bot is much cheaper than a compressor (like a quarter to a tenth of the cost, depending on the compressor).  Second, it's cheaper to operate since you are essentially just running an AC unit rather than a whole large compressor.


So far, everything is working great.  We are excited at how much more efficient this should make our harvesting (and it will help us bring even higher quality produce to market!).  Plus, in the winter time, we can reverse the whole process and use the space as a root cellar so we can extent the CSA season!

Greenhouse Construction!


Last week (as every week in the spring seems to be) was pretty busy.... building our small (to be heated) greenhouse.  It's 17 feet by 36 feet (36 being the longest run we could fit in the yard without having to do some serious site work).  It's a lot smaller than the greenhouses I'm used to for the past few years, but it should hold us for a couple seasons while we get up and running, if we use caterpillar tunnels with it.  Our second, longer house is going out into the field over our tomatoes. Here's a quick run down of the process (though you may notice some steps seem to be missing... those would be the moments with lots of four letter words and grumpiness going on that we preferred to not capture on film!).  It took us about 3.5 long person-days (including all the material runs).

We have a Ledgewood frame (from NH) and they have great pictures on their website (without the frustrating parts edited out):  www.ledgewoodfarm.com.  Ledgewood makes a solid frame, but there is a bit of variability in some of the pieces sometimes (which leads to four letter word moments).  However, their price does offset a lot of the frustration!

Here it goes:  Unloading the bents from the moving truck (which was quite a scene... more pics on that in our next blog entry).  2 17 ft wide houses require the longest truck (26') to make things easier.

This is what two frames and all their metal parts looks like.  We had one frame intially (a small 17x20 one for seed starting), and then bought 2 17x48 frames, the three of which we are attempting to consolidate into one seed starting house (17x36) and one high tunnel (17x80), which means it's like a giant greenhouse puzzle figuring out what should go where.

We chose our site and greenhouse size based on it being the only flat area in the yard that isn't shady.  In 3 years, our goal is to do some pretty extensive site work for a big (30x100) house next to where this one is.

While this spot is temporary, it's still important (and makes your life easier) for things to be very SQUARE when you start!  Above Matt is laying out the first lines, before calculating diagonals to square things up.

Greenhouses are innately frustrating because it's so important for the base to be square and in line, yet you are pounding things into the ground with a sledgehammer, which is not the best precision tool.

If you are reusing older ground posts, make sure to whack them and get all the old soil and rock out (otherwise they are INFINITELY harder to pound in).  One thing we don't like about these ground posts is that they are so short, which is less than ideal on a windy site.  We will be replacing some in the field house with 4 foot ground posts for added stability.

Once you are all squared up and have cleaned out your posts, it's time to pound them in.

We made a spacer jig (four foot spacing) to make setting the posts easier.

When pounding, you need to use a large bolt or some sort of plug to distribute the force and prevent the ground posts from bulging or bending (though for some of these posts, it's their third installation and the metal is starting to deform a bit).

There will always be at least one large rock in your way, even if your site doesn't have any rocks.  Here Matt is joyfully excavating it.  (This is around when the four letter words begin for the day.)


One side finished and square:

Now it's time to assemble the bents (or "bows").  We have a picture showing them laid out on the ground, but then a gap in our pictures until the finished frame.  Usually getting the bows up isn't particularly frustrating.  What's hard is getting the purloins (the three cross bars) to line up across the house.

Here is the completed frame... the bows are all bolted into the ground rods, the purloins bolt onto the bows, and the cross pieces are wind braces that fasten onto various bows for diagonal stability.

Once the metal frame is done, it's time to add the baseboards.  We are transitioning to organic, so pressure treated material is out.  We used untreated boards, which should have at least a 5 year life.  We dug in the baseboard in places, and added fill in other places.

The baseboards bolt to the frame for added stability.

We opted not to do roll-up side walls and to just vent from the ends, but we may change our minds and add sidewalls later in the season.  We did wrap extra plastic around the baseboard in an attempt to have a tighter seal against drafts on the bottom (and hopefully extend the boards' life).  Here's sod going back onto the wrapped baseboard:

The endwalls can be the most frustrating (hence, no pictures of the process!).  We used plastic on them since our house is relatively short and we needed some light transmission.  They are framed out pretty lightly with a door in one end and just venting panels in the other end.

Here's the finished house... we couldn't take any plastic pictures since it took both of us to wrestle it down.  The plastic is attached to the 2x4s on the endwall and the baseboards by being sandwiched between the boards and pieces of strapping.  We left a little extra plastic since it was a colder day when we skinned the house, and we may need to re-tighten it in a few weeks.

Done just in time for the peppers to move on out...  Next week we will be filling it up about 70% as we pot on all the eggplants and tomatoes.  We only have a small propane heater for this spring (since it's going in so late), but hope to install a better system for next winter!