Friday, February 23, 2018

Building infrastructure for 2018

2018 started with a nice long vacation with family. Escaping the cold weather for a few weeks in a warm place feels like a blessing. Getting in the mode of work and actually working took me good three weeks. After ordering my seeds, I started planning the big tasks. Since I am adding infrastructure improvements to the farm that are more permanent, planning and budgeting for them in the order of priority was important . Meanwhile, the monsoon like spring season is stalling a lot of outdoor work.

Building a basic, unheated high tunnel for spring transplants is a key project for me this year. While I don't do deep winter farming, having a small space dedicated to seed starts in cool spring months would give me the required leverage for early season production. It is a long term cost effective infrastructure for the farm and now is the time to put it up. I sourced the high tunnel from Farmtek, a company that also supplies greenhouse structures for commercial growers. It is a 12 foot by 50 foot high tunnel that has to be assembled on the desired location. This desired location on  my farm is muddy right now with constant rains but when it dries, it receives the most amount of sunlight in all seasons and is adjacent to water supply. Assembling this structure is actually less than a week's task (2-3 days) but here for us, everything takes longer than usual. The endless trips to hardware stores to find the small things and not having the right tools in addition to needing two person to do the job amounts to the additional time it takes to build a structure. Moreover, carpentry and dealing with materials is a skill I am just starting to understand. Don't laugh when I say I didn't know what a self tapping screw was (and that it doesn't always self taps itself in some places). I will write the review of the high tunnel and it's assembly details in an additional post.

This year, I am expanding the growing space by adding 8000 square feet area into production for longer season crops. Preparing this additional area is another project at hand. While some of the land preparation started last fall, additional preparation including building beds will happen this summer. At any given point, I try to keep my production area limited to what can be managed by 1-2 person at a time. Keeping small also helps me focus on growing crops well while keeping other production aspects in balance.

Experimenting with using wood chips on the farm is another soil building measure I am excited about. I have read and heard a lot of benefits to wood chips for soil if managed properly. Two trees were cut on the property last year and I asked the tree services to dump the fresh wood chips right here. The quantity isn't a lot. The plan is to spread the wood chips on the outer periphery of the new growing area as an edging without mixing it in the soil or bringing them close to the crops. Once they decompose in an year or so, I will see the results and decide if wood chips are any good for my soil in the long run. With using wood chips, or any other external input, one has to be careful with where it is sourced from and what it is composed of.

Installing a new deer fencing is the third important project for this season. Deer are abundant around here and without a fencing in the new 8000 square foot growing area, the crops will be devoured and trampled long before they can grow. Solar powered electric fencing is my first option for fencing. It is inexpensive and fast to put in place. The fencing is well inside my farm and hence, should not be a concern in the neighborhood. More on it later.

Extending the water supply to the new growing area is an improvement I haven't been able to think about clearly. There is no well close to the new growing area. Extending the well water supply there either by putting a PVC line or digging a new well might prove expensive and a task in itself. It rains quite a bit here but some years can be different than others. Having an irrigation source close to growing area then becomes a necessity. I have not yet figured out how I will tackle irrigation to the new area. In the existing growing area, which is water logged currently, I have simply connected hose pipes from supply line. From the main hose pipe, I connected secondary pipes to extend to the desired areas. This takes care of 10,000 square feet of area. The major improvement needed in existing growing area is laying proper drip irrigation to save time on hand watering heat sensitive greens. Hand watering the entire growing area takes a lot of time in summer and should not be used much on commercial scale production for the same reason.

The fourth important project this year is making a small dedicated washing station for vegetables. Till last year, after vegetables were harvested, they were washed in a water tub filled with cold water. The way it was setup was neither ergonomic nor efficient. Lot of bending, moving and shuffling harvest crates, water not draining properly and other limitations made me change the setup. The new wash area, once built, will take care of a lot of kinks. It will be efficient and things will be quick to move in the new setup. The washing station will be utilized mostly for clearing dirt from root crops and hydro-cooling greens. Nothing more elaborate.

Lastly, the current indoor germination room for transplants is also expanding to accommodate more plant starts. That means more shelves, more lights and heat mats for the solanaceuos plants. The indoor grow area is in the basement of the house, simple setup to get a head start in spring before moving them to high tunnel. Later in the season, I plan to do more direct seeding than transplanting. Direct seeding crops fits more in the equation at this time as it is logistically easy to start seeds directly in the ground and the practice is a better fit for my farm operation.

Spring isn't far. Let's get growing.