Things are really starting to get moving at the Market Garden. Last week saw the first seeds sown into flats, and I am VERY pleased to report that the first Oak Leaf lettuces are sprouted! And in only 5 days!!! These seeds were bought essentially on a whim – I had forgotten a packet at home and was at Menard’s for something else. Seeing organic Oak Leaf seeds for $2 I figured wth? That $2 will seed 4 flats of 200 -enough for a 3 x 60′ foot bed (spaced for small heads). Not too shabby! The 3 flats that have yet to sprout were planted with pelletized seed from Johnny’s – a Jericho Romaine and a Red Butterhead. They look to be 2 days behind the pure seed – likely due to the clay pellets needing more time to soak up water.
First lets talk about the compost heating method. This is the same pile we started back in the first week of December to mimic Growing Power’s techniques in using Hoop Houses to allow for 4 season composting. At home, my piles, even my monster 4 bin system, freeze solid by Christmas. Will Allen’s Hoop Houses cut the wind and gain enough btus during the day to stay hot all winter. Our pile is still truckin along at 120-130 degrees without turning and is going on week 7. having that kind of heat is dang useful. So when the time came to start my lettuce for the cold frames, rather than unroll the 12′ heat mat, I scraped the top of the beds flat and nestled in 4 flats of lettuce.
The two scraps of lumber are to prop up the greenhouse plastic I keep over it at night to lock in the heat from the pile. This will stop once the rest of the flats germinate as its wicked humid in there and mold is already creeping in. Mold. In January! Here is a “proof” shot of the soil temp under the flats. This is a 24″ compost thermometer run horizontal under the flats.
A bit more on the compost pile. While we haven’t fully turned it, we have primed it a bit. Every week we add about 10 gallons of material by digging a hole in a section and pouring in two buckets of gorp from the coffee shop. We then cover this will about 4″ of leaves. As the pile dries out we shovel snow onto the top and this seems to be keeping it nice and evenly moist. The worms are loving it – we are seeing our first hatchlings now which is super exciting. The wigglers move around an amazing amount in search for the conditions they want – the right mixture of food, temperature, acidity, and moisture. Its super fun to try to guess where they have moved to on any given day.
The compost pile has been used for the past months to melt and heat all sorts of things. First off, we buried two 55 gallon drums in the piles while we made it. The thought was that we might need to heat the barrels with the gasifier to keep the pile warm enough for the worms. Yeah Right!! The pile has since heated the water up to as high as 110 degrees, and is still at 102. If you have read any Jean Pain, you will be thinking what we are – if you can get 55 gallons of water to 100-105 degrees, you can make methane (stay tuned on that one!!). A few weeks ago I went and dug up 5 cu ft of soil from one of our compost planting beds. These beds are the end product of 10 years of composting municpal leaves on the farm. The most mature bed is about 50×50 and is pure leaf compost (decade old) for about 18-24″ deep. It is GORGEOUS. I took a pick axe, hacked through the 4″ of frost and excavated a wheel barrow load of this compost/soil for my seed starting mix. That soil was really dang cold and had chunks of frost in it, so I filled up some 18 gallon tubs and tossed them on the compost pile. 3 days later they were all thawed out. Awesome! Today I decided to take the time to make a Big Batch of seedling mix, and managed to take some pictures. I am not real finicky – I basically take 3 parts compost soil to 1 part peat moss and then soak it down with a thin fish emulsion mixture. Before I add the water, I sift the mix twice (1/2″, then 1/4″) to make it very fine. The flats I am currently growing in were unsifted – this batch is for soil blocks. Here is my sifter which was built by the farm owner:
The top tray has a 1/2″ grate on it and is nested on top of a 1/4″ screen. Both are simply hardware cloth screwed to the bottom of the frames. The Sifter frame is 2×2 pine with 2×4 bracing around the top. The plywood is 1/4″ and provides alot of stability. The internal “chutes” allow for a reduction in the sq footage so that a rubbermaid or some other container can catch the product. Because they are angled, you still have enough room on the top for a good push/pull stroke. I built one of my own at home and sized it to drive my smaller wheel barrow under it and skipped the nested sifters, opting for only the 1/4″ – though if I were to do it again I would compromise for 3/8″ in the name of speed. The results?
The peat moss gives it fantastic texture and prevents the mix from drying out. I have some conerns about the peat moss – its not exactly renewable. At the same time, one bag gets me enough to do something like 1-2 yards of potting soil which will let me grow upwards of 2000#s of food. Next season I will have a shredder for the Grillo and will try to grind up some leaves into ittty bitty bits (shredder comes with a 3/16″ screen)to mimic this and will do a side by side. Leaves are more readily decomposed, so those little bits may tie up nitrogen. Time will tell. In 30 minutes I made about 5cu ft of potting mix. As is usual with home made products it should prove to be superior to store bought. Why? The compost soil I used was never pastuerized to kill “harmful” organisms. That means that my seedlings will be living in a rich soil food web of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and worm casings (which will hatch alone with the seeds!). All in all it was a great few hours on the farm.