Thursday, September 24, 2015

Mother Earth News Blog Post #5 Community Education Through Farm Tours

I wrote a brief post about the Sustainable Living and Farming Tour that happens every year in Leavenworth. Here's the link to the post.
Community Education Through Farm Tours

An introduction to row covers 2015

Summer is taking its swan dive into fall. The weather is cooling off and nights in the Upper Valley have been dipping down into the 30’s . There has been a bit of talk around the area about how to best protect crops when the weather begins to chill. There are several options available and it partially depends on your budget and ambitions.
Floating row cover is available for purchase and comes in a number of thicknesses. This cover is essentially a white, spun polyester fabric that allows light and water to penetrate (the thicker the fabric, the less light transmission) but protects plants from excessive cold or heat just like an insulating blanket. The covers can be lain directly over the plants and can ‘float’ on top of them. However, this is less than ideal since the leaves that are touching the fabric still tend to be harmed by the cold. A better solution would be to do one of the following things in addition to using the floating row cover.
For those who planted a movable garden (containers, pots etc…), the first thing to do is move those planters closer to the house at night. The warmth from you home will help to protect your plants. Also, move the planters to the down-wind side of the house if possible. Cold mixed with wind can desiccate your tender plants leaving them limp, lifeless and stressed.
If your plants are in raised beds, consider building a hoop structure to cover the entire bed. If the raised beds are made out of thicker material (boards of the box are at least 2” thick), you can drill small pilot holes spaced every 12-18” with a ¼” drill bit. Then, you can take a stiff wire that is the same diameter as the hole (such as ¼” bailing wire) and you can bend a half-circle that fits snugly into the corresponding holes on opposite sides of the bed. This will create a ‘hoop’ over the top of the bed that is strong enough to support a light-weight row cover or contractor’s clear plastic. A quick tip, the wire hoops can become floppy if they are either too tall, or the span across the bed is too far. This type of hoop works well for beds that are 4 feet across or smaller. Larger spans will require a different plan.
If your raised beds are larger than a 4 foot span or if you would like to create a structure that is a little beefier, galvanized electrical conduit can be bent into a sturdier hoop structure. To secure these hoops, it works best to sink a pipe ‘sleeve’ into the ground on the outside of your beds that the bent conduit hoop can slide into (just like the wire slides into the holes in the example above). To create the pipe sleeves, purchase galvanized pipe that is of a diameter slightly larger than the diameter of the conduit so that the conduit can easily slip into the pipe but there is not so much extra space that the conduit is loose or rattles inside of this sleeve. Cut the pipe into 18 inch lengths and use a sledge hammer to sink the pipe into the ground leaving 6-8 inches of pipe exposed out of the ground. This will set the pipe deep enough that it can withstand wind and weather and will leave an above ground section to support the hoop.

For most home gardens, these simple hoops combined with a cover will be enough to stave off the cold for a few additional weeks….enough time to harvest all those tomatoes! Good Luck and Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Retirement of a Generation of Farmers

**I wrote this short essay as part of our farm's CSA newsletter this week. I thought it would be best to share it on the blog since the gravity of it's contents is something to be considered among a broader audience than just our CSA. Maybe you agree?

Yesterday, I was once again reminded that farming is a very special career choice. I openly admit to getting frustrated at least once or twice a summer (maybe 3 times!) with the workload and lack of time off. Willy is much better at coping with it than I am and he certainly takes the brunt of the work upon himself. Often, he is at the farm literally from dawn until dusk with me arriving at a more civilized hour and leaving before it is time to make dinner. He really, hardly, ever complains. He loves his work and feels an almost parental attachment to the fields and the crops. While most people enjoy a few days off every week (that little thing known as a weekend), Willy may take off a 1/2 day now and again but never, ever more. The idea of leaving the farm for an overnight (or 2!) does not cross his mind. Indeed, he has told me regularly that he doesn't feel like he has to go to work when he gets up in the morning. Farming to him isn't work, it has become who he is.

So it is with great sadness yesterday that I was reminded that more than a handful of very dedicated farmers in our area are retiring this season with no one stepping in to replace them. This isn't the type of job you advertise for. There rarely is that one special person who wants to step in and 'buy the farm'; accepting the responsibility, long hours and low pay that come along with this commitment. Farming as a career choice makes very little sense; it is a lifestyle choice, or nothing.

To put our predecessors lifetimes into perspective, Grant Gibbs just celebrated 40 years of farming on his homestead in Leavenworth. 40 years of fighting the weather, building the soil, scrambling to find help, and persisting against all odds. Those farmers who are retiring are some of the pioneers of organic agriculture in this region. Watershine Woods, Jerry Pipitone, Ken Toevs... (and across the state Terry Carkner, Nash Huber and others...) they have all decided that it is time to move into the next phase of life. An entire generation of farmers who's time has come and gone. The gap that they are leaving behind makes me feel nauseated and humbled. Farming is a career built on experience. Year after year an accumulation of knowledge increases one's skill and chances of success. Those who have spent a lifetime in the soil hold a wealth of knowledge greater than any doctorate degree can decree and broader than any book can hold. So who is left to turn to for advice and support when these scholars are no longer available?

'We are all counting on you now.' was the message I was left with yesterday after discussing this situation with my dear friend Kim Lohse (another pioneer in her own way as she, in her retirement, continues to champion for local food) 'But no pressure!' she says with a smile. And isn't that the truth of it? One generation retires and the next must step up and try and fill their shoes. But I don't nearly feel ready to lead the charge. Somehow, an entire generation gap has presented itself between those who are retiring and our younger generation who are still learning the ropes. Where are the farmers who come in between? An entire middle-age missing from farm life.

I sincerely hope that our generation and the one following us can pick up the slack. I don't really know if we can, but I know that we will try. I am continuously inspired that there are people like my husband who find that their place in life comes with calloused hands and dirty work clothes. With any luck, there will be more choosing this path behind him.