Week in Review — Staggering Progress!

What a Week!!

First off — the Big One.  Tuesday morning I received a call from the owner of the farm where I Market Garden… I am GO for the Uber Hoopty!!! That simple, and much desired, call broke the dam on all kinds of  items that I had sat on until now.  Final quotes are coming in from Rimol and Farm-Tek on 30×96 Hoop Houses, my Slow Money lenders all got calls and I finalized my loan agreements.  Emails went out to experts that I hope to collaborate with and I built the basics of my Kickstarter micro funding page (will release the project  next week).  OMG is this awesome.  Should break ground in 3-5 weeks on the Hoopty.  Odin’s Beard!

Also, big progress was made on the Gardening Workshop Finished the first draft of the outline for the Composting class.  This is a 2 hour class covering the basics of composting, and I will have 3-4 bins on site to demonstrate the various ways to build passive and hot piles.  At first, I was all -“how the hell am I going to talk about composting for 2 hours!”  At that, my wife laughed and laughed and laughed.  Of course she was right: the outline is 3 pages long…

Finally, progress at the farm.  Dropped 70 transplants into the GFC (Ghetto Fabulous Coldframe).  They are mostly oak leaf lettuce.  Its at least a week early, but the frost is out of the soil in there, I am antsy as all heckfire to start eating/selling fresh again, and I needed room in the germination table: these 3 flats had been decimated by voles or poor germination – leaving only 70 plants with true leaves out of 600 cells.  Also, the spinach in the small hoopty is up and several plants have true leaves.  With the sun forecast for the next week it is looking like  March harvest may happen after all.   Of note, the experiments in the small hoopty played out very well: putting a cold frame over the soil gave the plants almost a 10 day head start.  Putting large chunks of black bio char on the next bed got about a 2 day jump and stronger growth due to the 1-2 degree warmer soil temps.  The control beds are still germinating.  All good!  Shallots and Onions are up with some over 2″ tall and I have another 700 germinated lettuce seedlings and am continuing to start 200-300 a week.  Next week will see another round of onions, and the week after will be the tomatoes.  With the Uber Hoopty delayed I will not be in the ground on my April Wk 2 date, so I am starting later by about 2 weeks rather than have leggy vines.  On the coppice plantings end I started 36 fodder willow cuttings 3 weeks ago, and despite doing more than half the steps wrong, I have 75% of them sprouting.  In 2-3 years that will be an awesome amount of brush for compost shredding and worm mulch.  These things grow fast – most have 3″ of new branches already.  Dang!

Compost Update – Harvested 1.5 yards, about a third of the pile, from the winter bins last week to spread in the mini-hoopty’s.  The pile was about 1-2 turns from being done, but had cooked down enough that I am comfortable tilling it under once the frost is out of the ground.  Into that hole in the pile I began moving the half cooked pile from the small hoopty.  As I did this I layered in 6″ of snow between wheel barrow loads to increase moisture levels.  That pile is 153 degrees less than a week later and despite being on only one side of the water barrels, has brought the water temps up 20 degrees in one week back to 95 degrees.  I am certain we can make methane in this system. Jean Pain’s work WILL live on!

On the Energy Farm front I ran the math on how large my windrows need to be to achieve about 20 tons (80 yards) of finished compost .  The results are exiting and staggering: 10′ wide, 5′ tall, and 75 feet long … and I will need three!  Time to get the farmer’s old Oliver tractor tuned up, lube up the manure spreader and fill the dump truck with 10 loads of horse, sheep, lama, and cow manure.  20 tons of compost means about 100,000 lbs. of raw material.  Awesome!  Only thing I am struggling with right now is how to keep it moist during turnings- a commercial tripod sprinkler will likely be in my future.  Also, might lay drip tape on them after I turn them.

Prep for the Uber Hoopty means moving or chipping up a 30’x40’x8′ brush pile of 8 years worth of orchard and hedgerow prunings.  I have a used BCS Bio 80 shredder (pic) incoming to shred the compost crops later this year, but this job is likely too big for this chipper – it would take days and days.  Will likley be renting a trailer mounted chipper and filling the dump truck with chips.  And, yes, I am looking forward to that.  The Bio 80 is also made in a PTO driven model for the Grillo, but this one is 40% of the cost of a new one’s $1100.  With the left over money I can buy a Worm Wigwam. More to come on that!

On the renewable energy side my CSE partners have finished a distillation tower for a Charles 803 Ethanol Still and have sourced a massive stainless steel tripod mounted tank to act as the boiler to cook the wort and heat the ethanol for distillation.  Unit is nearing 75% complete.  Also we have a water bath methane digester just “laying around” (the farm is a magical place!) that will get final assembly in the coming months, and we are designing a Cyclonic Separator (does that sound cool or WHAT!) to hopefully purge the last vestiges of tar from our gasifier.  Add this all up  and we make the Market Garden into a true energy farm.

Things are stating to move at break neck speed – money is flowing in from my investors, and its flowing out even faster – I will have spent $15000 in less than a month.  OMG.  But I continue to hear from people all across the country how we are doing things that no one else is doing, and how inspirational that is.  Its scary as hell, but I am thrilled to be pushing the envelope and to have all of you along with me for support.  We will make mistakes, there will be failures, but we are doing something. Conviction + Action = Change.

Be the Change.


13 Responses

  1. I’d say you rock my world about 8.5 on the richter scale.🙂

  2. Amazing. Inspiring. How warm is it in the hoopty?

    • Thanks Sarah. Not sure which of the 3 hoopties you want, so I’ll give you all three🙂 The small Hoopty (11x25x7) gets up to 78 or so these days in full sun, but with only single poly it drops to about 10 degrees over ambient by nightfall and within 5 overnight. That said – soil temps have never dropped below 38 all winter and are now up to 43-45. Cloudy days still gets about 20 degrees over ambient. The large Hoopty that the germination table is in is 26x72x12 and is half covered in shade cloth as its primary use is a workshop. It has a much broader temp curve since it is full of so much thermal mass (some call it junk) staying warmer much longer into the night, and not peaking as high. Something I will try to mimc in the Uber Hoopty in a month.

      The mini hoopties are getting up to mid 60’s, but the ground is still frozen which is pulling temps down significantly, the one that is compost covered and has no white snow reflecting the heat is running 10-15 warmer. The cold frame is now frost free and peaks in the 70’s.

  3. When you have more time and you are further along in the process, could you give us a post or two on your experiences with the “slow money” thing. I’m quite curious about this alternative to bank borrowing and would like to see it applied in our smaller communities. And congrats on all the recent progress!

    • Thanks Julie. The biggest piece is to open yourself to the trust of others.

      My network has grown over the recent years and I have become close to a number of people with a shared value structure and desire for change. I made a presentation at my local sustainability group meeting and said I would be looking for local investment and was open to discussions. We have hosted Slow Money talks, and we do alot of cooperative ventures as a group already so trust has been built up over the years. 3 families stepped forward to invest about $5000 each. I offered 5% simple interest figured annually in arrears on a 5 yr loan – with payments deferred for one year so I could get the system working, drew up an agreement from some documents I found online and we signed them in front of witnesses. The heartfelt handshake and shared beers meant more than the papers to all of us, but should I get run over by a Grillo, the banks and insurance companies will want a paper as they descend on my assets.

      Knowing that the $2500 I will be paying out in interest will go to friends who trusted me rather than Big Banks who will use that money to screw me is awesome. For my investors, they get to see their money fund something they believe deeply in, but do not have the time and energy to see happen all by themselves. 2 of the 3 will be continually involved, raising the hoop house, planting potatoes, and helping me market, not to mention the landowners who have selflessly given of their farm to make this happen and the other partner who I now co-own the Dump Truck with.

      We are building far more than just a High Tunnel with some tomatoes in it.

      As you said, as time allows and the muse permits, I may post something more in depth. The learnings on the community side will likely prove far more important that any technical whizbangery we discover.

      Be the change.

  4. I was wondering if you had considered growing cold sensitive perennials in any of your hoopties? For example, tomatoes, if they don’t freeze, are a perennial vine that can live for 10 years or more. Ditto peppers, except they live more like 5 years, and can tolerate a bit more cold. I’m very much a firm believer in the importance of perennials in agricultural systems, although your particular system is much much different than those I generally daydream about.

    • Two more perennials that come to mind, runner beans and Seminole squash, have very long production periods.

      Runner beans go through a progression of salad greens, edible cut flowers, green beans, shell beans, dry beans, and tubers.

      Seminole squash apparently keep for 18 months, fresh…unfortunately, I’ve heard the vines get out of control easily.

    • Joel / Blake,

      I will be trying some cold sensitive perennials, but mostly Zone 6-7 stuff like Rosemary, lavender, and clumping bamboo that doesn’t quite make it here. Tomatoes and other tropicals would never survive the 20 degree temps we have now until we install substantial auxiliary heat and light (sub 10 hour days for 2-3 months). the light is something I will likely never do – the energy footprint is too significant in the months were the energy will be needed most for space heating / lighting of dwellings. This will be an annual based system for the near future with the perennial nature being in the soil ecosystem that will allow me to pull 3-4 harvests annually from the space. Fed with a steady stream of mulch and compost I hope to see huge bounty.

  5. Speaking of composting, here a couple of links to information about one man’s composting efforts that I find extremely inspiring and awesome. They are worth looking at just for the ideas they foster:



  6. I love stopping by to see what exciting and inspiring things are happening. Here in Massachusetts money is available to help small farmers build hoop houses. I love being able to buy local greens all winter long.

  7. Thanks for the thoughtful reply to my query!

  8. […] been writing about the MASSIVE amounts of compost we will be making this year – 40 tons or so.  That is flippin awesome in and of itself, but […]

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