Thursday, October 30, 2008

Demise (probably) of Hoophouse #2

Ah, well. It was a valiant effort. But the hoophouse (shown in the video below) is no more. At least, the plastic has been demolished. The winds we experienced over the last two days were just too much for it. Tuesday morning we thought it might have survived, and by the afternoon it looked like a tornado had come through. Todd tried his best to save it, but after a struggle, he just took the sheets of plastic down.

Last night a low of 30 F was predicted, so we just covered the plants directly with plastic and old sheets and weighted those down with logs. We haven't looked yet to see if all that's still on. But a cover closer to the ground has a better chance. The only drawback is that the covers can chafe the little plants as the wind blows, sometimes rubbing them out totally.

So what do we do now? Todd is researching flexible polycarbonate panels, which are seriously pricey. We'll probably try one more time to apply the plastic sheeting, since we still have quite a bit of it, and reinforce it heavily with clips. In our latest attempt, we only used clips on the ends and the join the pieces in the middle. Supposing we applied clips to every hoop, it might make a big difference.

The last time we tried to build a hoophouse, in the Spring, even the PVC pipes were cracked by the wind. After the first wind storm, there were pipe ends sticking up through the ripped plastic. It was such a disaster. I only wish we had pictures to post, though I'm not sure I could bear to look at them. This time the pipes are still in place and not at all compromised, so I am taking that to mean that our overall design has improved.

It might be that cold frames are the answer for us. We have a few old storm windows that we're going to use to make a few cold frames, but that limits the space in which we can grow considerably. But a huge part of farming is adapting to the climate. If the wind is our biggest foe, then we just have to grow around it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Meet the chickens

These are our lovely chickens that we raised from 1 day old baby peeps.

Political Interjection

Is anyone else concerned that convicted felons are allowed to serve in the Senate? Is anyone else concerned that in most states, convicted felons lose the right to vote? The only silver lining may be that Ted Stevens has lost the right to vote for himself (I hope someone is on top of that at his polling place, considering the hassles us regular folks get to deal with).


Here is a short video of the hoophouse.

And the Wind Sets In

Last night the wind started to howl for the first time since last spring. The weather report predicted a "breezy" night, which for us seems to mean 40 to 50 mph gusts. Technically, we can't say how strong the gusts are, since we don't have a wind gauge, but in the past it's been strong enough to blow open the front door and blow panels off the greenhouse. I don't think I experienced very much wind in my life before we moved here in 2006. But since then I have decided that it is my least favorite weather event.

I woke up about 5 this morning, which is good for me, because normally when we have a wind storm I can hardly sleep. But after I got up and used the bathroom, I couldn't go back to sleep. Then I realized I had trapped one of our cats inside the bathroom, and got up to let her out, and then I just decided to get up and get the fire going again. So as I'm stoking the fire, I realize that there's a bit of a breeze in the living room. I jumped up and ran into the kitchen, where the door was wide open. That's when I realized that only two of our five (indoor) cats were accounted for.

I ran back to the bedroom and woke up Todd, who was pretty much awake anyway, and we threw on some clothes and shoes and grabbed the flashlight. We went out into the front yard where I immediately saw our hard-to-miss (even in the dark) orange tabby Maine Coon cat, Pooker. He is a total scaredy cat most of the time and I don't know what he was thinking going out the door. He is about as equipped to be an outdoor cat as I am a fashion model. He immediately ran towards the front door and I let him in. Todd rounded up the other two, our somewhat adventurous girls Luna and Baby Girl, who seemed plenty happy to be back in the house. We were so relieved. I had visions of combing the whole farm for hours, calling cats that hardly know their own names (or frequently choose to ignore them). So now everyone is happy and warm inside the house. And the door seems to be staying shut.

In other news, our backyard hoop house seems to have mostly made it through the night. Last Spring we tried to build one in the field where we plant our crops, and it lasted about two days before the wind ripped it to pieces. We managed to salvage most of the material and we decided to try it again on a smaller scale, over a raised bed in our backyard. We put the plastic on last Friday, so it's had about four days of no wind, and all the plants inside are looking healthy and happy. (We planted chard, lettuce, scallions, leeks, and various brassicas.) We knew last night would be a test. Todd went to let the chickens out this morning and he reports that there are some rips in the plastic, but the plastic is actually on the structure, and he thinks we can repair the damage and prevent further damage by adding more clamps to the PVC pipes. So we'll try that once the wind settles down, probably tomorrow. We've learned through experience that it's no use trying to manipulate giant sheets of plastic when the wind is blowing. You might actually lose your mind trying.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Saving Electricity

This summer we set ourselves the goal of reducing our electric bill so we can supplement with solar power. We have done enough research to know that we can use solar effectively, but our only limitation to how much solar power we can get is how much power we use (the more you use, the more panels you need, and they are pricey!). During the month of August, when we first started seriously exploring this idea, we casually started paying attention to turning off lights and not using the AC (which we hardly need anyway, since our house is fairly well shaded). We got down to about 750 kwh that month, from around 800 or so. Starting with our September billing cycle, we made a conscious effort to not use what we didn't need. Here are some of the ways we reduced our use.

We built a clothesline. I had been wanting one for some time, and we just hadn't gotten around to building it until September. Using a clothesline means timing your laundry correctly. I learned to check the weather and do a load the night before a nice day, so I could hang it out early the next morning. Our line isn't in the sunniest spot, but if it's a bit breezy, it takes about half a day to dry a full load. I washed a bunch of secondhand baby clothes one day and hung them all out at once. They were so adorable! So for the entire last month, we haven't used the dryer. It's a little dodgier now that it's getting cold, but still doable.

We switched every light in the house to fluorescent bulbs. We noticed immediately that they seem dimmer, but that's because they take about 30 seconds to achieve full brightness. Now we're totally used to them.

We made a habit of unplugging things. In my office, the computer, printer, DSL modem, router and so on are all on a power strip. We make sure to turn it off every night or if we're gone all day. We keep the microwave and toaster unplugged unless we're using them. The TV is more of a challenge, since we have Tivo, and for anyone who has Tivo you know that if you unplug it, it takes about 10 minutes for it to reboot. So that we've just left on, though we're thinking about the power strip plan for the whole TV/stereo/Tivo thing. It might be a drag, but I'd rather save power. And, we're watching less and less TV lately anyway, so I'm ready to scrap the whole thing, but Todd is not a fan of that idea. If he can't watch the Chargers, he is not a happy man.

We turned our water heater thermostat down. The label on the device was not especially technical, with heat levels labeled as hot, A, B, C, and very hot. Ours was set at very hot, which Todd estimates to be about 140 F. We lowered it to hot, which we think is about 120 F. It works for the shower, but it's not ideal for a bath. But we don't take that many baths anyway, and we can always raise the temperature a few hours before we want to take a bath, if need be.

The basic idea is that anything that produces heat uses a ton of electricity. Today we got our bill from September and we had lowered our kwh to 568. That's almost 200 kwh. Our bill was about $90. We are super proud of ourselves and will keep thinking of ways we can conserve. But we wanted to share these ideas with you so that you can lower your bills and your electricity usage. Remember that in Virginia, the chances are your electricity runs on coal, which is incredibly destructive to the environment. And we may be huge Obama supporters, but even he needs to realize that this "clean coal" notion is total BS. So every little thing you can do to reduce your impact makes a huge difference when we all do it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Winding down the season

It's fireplace time! The last few nights of frost have had us scrambling to get row covers on our crops (mostly greens, which will survive, but we want to be extra safe). We said our final goodbyes to the zinnias and peppers, which are always are last holdouts of summer. We have two more weeks of CSA and one more festival and then we are done with our season. It's sad, in a way, but also a relief. We can hunker down and prepare for winter.

This notion is especially appealing since I'm 29 weeks pregnant and starting to have a hard time with farm maintenance. It's been a month or more since I've been able to hoist myself onto the back of our truck, and kneeling down to harvest is getting increasingly difficult. I can't imagine that there was a time that I could actually get my knees to my chest. And once I get down, well, getting up is a whole other story. So my attention is turning toward more domestic issues - baking, sewing, nesting - all activities that accommodate my growing abdomen.

But we are also getting ready for next year. We're going to build a new greenhouse this winter, and we just had the site leveled (yes, it will be big enough to require a level site, unlike our other, smaller, slanted greenhouse). Hopefully it will allow us to expand not just the amount of vegetables that we grow, but also the products we can offer. We're planning on selling annual bedding plants in the spring to give ourselves a little early season economic boost. We've also expanded our field to almost one full acre of production, which is about double what we've been using for the last two seasons.

So we've got our hands full. Hopefully we can get everything done before the baby's due (January 8). We've also got to get all the stuff we need for the baby. Today we went to Target and stood baffled in front of the car seat and stroller display. How do parents decide these things? How do they decide them on a budget? And since we don't know what we're having, we are constantly struck by how gender specific baby items are. Even the receiving blankets are color coded.

But back to fireplace time. We just installed a used woodstove fireplace insert in our living room, which should keep us nice and toasty through the winter. We've got plenty of wood, winter squash, canned tomatoes and pickled okra, so we're ready to hibernate! We'll do our best to keep you posted throughout the winter on our Spring CSA plans. Enjoy!
Tuesday October 21

Just started a blog for our farm in Fort Valley Virginia. My wife and I started the farm 2 years ago. We sell produce, cut flowers, and farm fresh eggs.