07. March 2017 · Comments Off on The Time for Ambling is Over · Categories: season update · Tags: ,

Back in 1776 when Adam Smith wrote THE WEALTH OF NATIONS, agriculture dominated the economy. In comparing work on farms to work in factories, Smith noted that farmers tend to amble from task to task.  We have to admit that over the last three months there has been plenty of ambling here at Hunters’ Greens.  But as Chief Production Officer, Jim has announced, “the time for ambling is over.”

A March Goal

A March Goal

Jim gets this feeling every spring about this time. Since he took up his obsession with day length, he has realized that March 21 is a magical date.  Between September 21 and March 21, we fall into a light deficit relative to our more southerly neighbors, including California and most of the rest of the United States.  But between March 21 and September 21, we have a light advantage.  Plants that are established will continue to live and produce a modest surplus for humans to harvest during the winter months, but if you want something to GROW, the light side of the calendar is more critical to us than most of the country.

Getting excited about growing plants in January is pretty pointless. In February you might amble through some preparations.  But on March 1 you better start getting ready and hit the soil with your feet running.

Which brings us to the second thought that hits Jim at this time of year, it’s the, “I have to do this, before I can do that,” thought. This year it involves electricity.  A while back we bought a vintage Airstream trailer.  Diane has always admired them and one day Jim realized he’d like an office where he could escape the pets and “All Classical 89.9” and get some writing done.  So he assented to another of Diane’s dreams.

Airstream Project

Airstream Project

As the fall rains arrived we realized we needed at least a light bulb in it to fend off the mildew.   Jim had shut down the green house for the winter, so the monster hundred foot extension cord he used to light it became available.

Last month as Jim began to amble towards starting some onion plants, the consequences of that choice hit home. So before he could start onions, he would have to electrify the Airstream.  After ambling through researching how to do it for a couple weeks, the “oh it’s March feeling,” took hold.

Yesterday, he forsook his ambling morning nap and rushed through his dog walking chores and headed out to see his friend Patrick at Grover’s Electric. Patrick coached him through the most economical choices and Jim came home with 120 feet of wire and conduit.  In the midst of further dog sitting interruptions he began threading the wire through the conduit, and had the run laid out in a couple of hours.

After Jim had served a delicious dinner of Brussels sprouts and carrots in a dry fried noodle stir fry, Diane asked Jim how he was going to spend the evening hours while she attended her cats. The coals of the “March is here,” feeling were still glowing dimly at that hour, but the sun had fallen low in the sky.  “Well, I might write an essay for the web site,” Jim wheedled, but we both knew better.  After all, March is not June, when Diane will call Jim in at eight and he will whine that he needs to get one more row of onions planted, and she will come help him finish in jig time.

21. February 2016 · Comments Off on And So It Begins… · Categories: season update · Tags: , , ,

AND SO IT BEGINS…

Every winter a moment arrives when we realize that the dark days of hibernation are over. It is a bittersweet moment. The opportunity for leisurely outings will decline slowly at first, and then become rare. On the other hand, the depression of being cooped up indoors will begin to yield to the joy of moving our muscles outdoors again, then the satisfaction of the tiredness of a good day’s work and on to the exhaustion that will have us yearning for hibernation again.

This year the moment came with the forecast of four dry days with highs in the sixties. Four days is usually just enough to dry the soil enough to begin working it again in preparation to plant. With the wet winter, we are late planting the garlic, and so we made plans and began preparing for the effort. But alas in the words of one of our favorite farmer- poets, “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley!”

This year’s MOMENT reminded us of Nathan Lane’s character in the cult comedy MOUSE HUNT. With hubris, the self confident chef lights the duck l’orange and boasts “Timing is everything! Attention to detail — vital!” Behind him, a cockroach from a box of cigars crawls into Mayor Kinkle’s lobster almondine, sealing Chef Ernie Scmuntz’s doom.

The question is, “When the moment comes, will you be ready?”

Digital Camera

Little Red Stripped for Cleaning and Lube

For weeks Diane had been nagging Jim to install the new drive belt on our aging Troybilt Horse rototiller. Jim kept searching for the new belt we had purchased at an auto parts store, but couldn’t find it in the usual places he would store it. As the first sunny day came to a close, he finally found it stored with the auto supplies rather than the farm supplies.

Now Jim had already come up with a temporary fix, that would have allowed him to till up an area for the garlic, but he has developed a certain pride in keeping up on the maintenance of his farm equipment.

Initially he planned to roll and “drive” the tiller down to his work area in the granary that would provide a dry place to work, with electric light so he could work late if he needed to get it finished before the rains returned. Rolling down the hill he realized a tire was low making the rolling difficult. It was getting dark, and his search for a hand pump that worked proved futile.

The next day, he found a pump and filled the tire and continued the roll to the granary. He hit a bump a few feet away from the granary door. In the pause the bump created, he decided to change the belt first, so he could boast to Diane about completing the tardy task. Then he would finish the maintenance and till the garlic bed when it was dry enough.

He laid a tarp in the wet grass, for comfort and to be sure he didn’t lose any tools or parts in the grass. Then he went to look for the maintenance manual to review the procedure for changing the belt. It was nowhere to be found. He had an old version that called for removing a part to aid the clearance needed to stretch the belt over the pulleys. That wasn’t part of the new instructions, he was pretty sure, but whatever.

He got the belt changed, but in doing so, had loosened and removed a couple of parts that now left the belt in the tight “drive” position, with no ability to loosen it into neutral. Something was amiss. He went looking for the new manual again and found it had fallen behind the five gallon bucket of hydraulic fluid he had laid it on the last time he was using it.

Jim consulted the new manual, but the pickle he’d gotten himself into wasn’t described in the book. Eventually he managed to pry the belt off and follow the instructions to get it back to the way it should be.

Next our work was interrupted by an event at which we thought we could market our CSA shares, since we are looking to increase our numbers this year. This meant dragging out our display boards we hadn’t used for years, printing up brochures and business cards, physically cutting and pasting a color picture on the brochure, so we wouldn’t have to pay for color copies, and preparing a display basket of produce to highlight our wares.

These things always seem to come along during the week the sun is out.

Meanwhile, the four sunny days got re-forecast into two sunny days and two cloudy days with a slight chance of showers on the the third day.

By now the tiller was in pieces. The maintenance manual warns that you can’t accurately adjust the belt tension before you clean and re-lubricate the moving parts of the control lever. Jim knew he could fake it, but the pride in maintenance kicked in. He thought to himself, “A small farmer maintaining his tiller is like the soldier cleaning his gun, attention to detail — vital!” He dug out an old pair of briefs for a rag, a couple old tooth brushes to scrub out the caked dust that covered the machine, mixed with residues of lubricants. A fresh can of WD 40 completed the cleaning kit. He laid down to get the appropriate parts at eye level and began scrubbing them to a polish.

Each morning through this dry spell he would go out and dig a shovelful of dirt from his prospective garlic patch and perform the squeeze test. If you squeeze a ball of soil together, then drop it, it is ready if it falls apart. If it clings together in a sticky mass, you will only make more sticky masses by tilling.

On the third day, one corner of the patch passed the test. A few years ago, he would have started turning the soil over by hand and leaving the turned clods to dry further, but at a creaky 57, the task looked daunting. He went to the barn to check on the Farmall. The spring toothed harrow was attached to the big tractor. The harrow will begin loosening the soil without churning it like the tiller, then the loosened soil can continue drying until it is ready to till.

On the other hand, the Farmall is very heavy, and driving it across the surrounding moist soils is bound to cause compaction. The next question was will it start? Or put another way, “When the MOMENT comes will YOU be ready?”

Often when the Farmall sits for the winter, the battery drains down, and it doesn’t have the oomph for a cold start. Jim cleared away all the other equipment between the big red tractor and the doorway, checked the oil and antifreeze and climbed up to the high seat that put his head near the joists of the loft above. He pulled out the electric switch and tapped the starter pedal. The Farmall roared to life. Old faithful!

Gingerly Jim stuck to the most sod covered routes to the garlic patch. He carefully planned how he could harrow the area in the minimum number of passes, avoiding the fragile beds that had been cultivated in the fall. Within fifteen minutes he had loosened a small triangle of the driest soil. It wasn’t a lot, but it was a start.

The soil would have to dry another day to be ready for the tiller. A few sprinkles fell that day, but nothing serious. Jim returned to tiller maintenance.

There was a lot of caked dirt and grease. He was going to do it right. Besides, by now it was beginning to look light we might not get enough sun to take the next step. The now “mostly cloudy” was being re-forecast as light sprinkles with rain to follow the next day. At the end of the day, Jim threw a tarp over the tiller to keep it dry in case the forecast was off.

By the next morning the forecast was for rain in the afternoon. But rain in the afternoon in Portland can be rain in the morning in Brush Prairie, and it was. The tarp stayed over the tiller for the next two days. This morning Jim went out to finish the job. He got far enough that he could wheel the tiller into the granary. Some cleaning would have to be done before there would be room to work. In pushing things around, he knocked over the antique living room light that doubles as a shop light in the granary. The milk glass shade covering the empty mogul socket shattered into a few large chunks and a thousand tiny shards.

Timing is everything! Attention to detail — vital. Back in the Movie, after the dust settles, Ernie Scmuntz whines, “I can’t control everything.” To this Jim would repy, “Hell, Ernie. I can’t control anything!”

And so IT begins . . .

05. May 2012 · Comments Off on Farm Update. May 4th, 2012 WAITING TO WORK THE SOIL. · Categories: season update · Tags: , ,

Dear Faithful New and Returning CSA Members,

Thank you all for your support and participation in this year’s CSA season.  At this point, we’re closing in on 20 shares.  We could use 10 to 15 more, so if there are folks you might know who might be interested, spread the word.  I’ll attach the brochure again, so you can print one off or forward it to someone.  Remember that we are offering a finder’s fee this year.  Diane and Jim are still negotiating whether we can offer her paintings as premiums.

The first delivery is about a month off.  The spinach crop is already starting to swell its leaves.  We have chinese cabbage and baby bok choy coming along.  Perhaps we should start discussing how to use bok choy now, since it is one of the things that many people are mystified about how to use.  Jim likes to float it in soups.  It can be substituted in our creamed chinese cabbage recipe.  You can use the stems for dip scoops.  Any one else have ideas to share?

NEWS FROM THE FARM: WAITING TO WORK THE SOIL.

The weather this spring has been challenging to say the least.  Waiting for the rain to stop and the soil to dry is a regular spring pastime around here, but this year has taken the cake.

Over the years, Jim has experimented with a host of strategies in the face of wet soil.  The basic problem is that if you try to work the soil when it is too wet you just compact it and make clods of mud that turn to clods of “brick”, and refuse to be tilled up.  The rule of thumb is that if you press some soil in a ball and drop it, if it does not break apart, it is too wet to work.

In addition, the soil survey for Clark County warns that our particular soil is prone to “panning”.  This means that when you work it, if it is too wet, the layer just below your plow, harrow or tiller becomes hard and compacted.  At its worst, this can inhibit roots and even water from passing through the pan.  So, Jim is cautious about working wet soil.

This year, he stood by and watched, when during a dry spell, his neighbors harrowed and disked their fields and planted a wheat crop.  One might think that seeing the experienced farmers working their soil would have given Jim the permission he needed, but not doubting James.  He observed that their soil looked cloddy.  He reckoned that as berry farmers, maybe they weren’t so expert in preparing for a wheat crop.  He held out, making occasional tentative passes across his fields working just the dry first couple inches.  Meanwhile the wheat crop is up and growing.

Jim reckons it takes three warm sunny days in a row to dry the soil enough to work.  That has rarely occurred this spring, and even when it did, the soil didn’t seem to be passing the test.  In the past, he has tried covering areas with tarps and plastic sheets.  Last year he hand dug some areas, piling up the rough blocks of soil so they would be exposed and dry.  This year, his new strategy has been to till down the couple of dry inches (others have said you can “work it down from the top”).  When he gets a couple of inches pretty well tilled up he takes a rake, and rakes up a narrow bed, and then he plants into that bed.  His theory is that if you can’t dig down to make room for the roots of the plant, why not pile up some room, and maybe with some compost blended into the top layer, the lower layers will soften up with time and biological activity.  So far the spinach and Asian greens seem to be going for it.

The other part of the strategy is to plant all of the early crops in one or two small fields and leave the larger fields to dry dow until its just the right time to work them.  Often Jim will plant a row of this here and a row there in the areas he had planned to rotate each crop into that year, but this meant that he was now limited to working those fields with the tractor in one direction, rather than being able to harrow one direction, and then harrow at ninety degrees, so that the soil would break up more completely.  When you have to harrow just one direction, you drag furrows, but the ridges between the furrows don’t get broken up.  But time is running out on this plan.  It’s to the point that crops that need to be rotated into the big fields need to get started, so pray for a warm sunny week ahead.

Now as a farmer, Jim is totally self taught, so its possible that all that he has just shared is a bunch of hooey.  So if you think you know better, in the parlance of South Park, “Call shenanigans”  and we’ll “get out the brooms.”