Spud-tacular Start

Things are getting a slow start at the MArket Garden this year.  The soil is quite cool and most of the farm completely waterlogged.  However, I was able to get into the potato patch the past two weekends.  Below is 100#’s of potatoes – 50 each of Yukon Gold and Kennebec.


720 row feet of potatoes

720 row feet of potatoes

The Grillo does OUTSTANDING work in this application.  The Berta Rotary plow will cut a 1′ wide, 1′ deep furrow through the soil, neatly mounding everything to the right.  I then rake out the furrow to an even depth (not really necessary) and plant the seed spuds.  Then comes my favorite part, I turn the Grillo around, putting one wheel on the mound and cut the next furrow working my way back up the plot.  As I work along, the plow throws some of the soil from the new furrow up over into the seeded furrow neatly burying the seed, and leaving enough soil mounded between to “hill” the plants as they come in.  The result are seen above.  Working at a leisurely pace, I can see 360′ (40-50#’s) in a couple of hours including chasing chickens out of the plot and stopping to chat with the other tenants.

Soil prep on this plot was done about a month ago – it was planted with a rye/vetch mix last October and very heavily grazed by 100 chickens and 2 dozen geese all winter.  There was very little top growth, but decent root mass.  More importantly, there was significant manure, so I tilled it in lightly with a rototiller to get the soil breaking that down.  That is the only fertilizer this plot has received in 2 years.

Counting that hour of tilling, I have about 5 hours of work so far in this plot.  There will likely be another 5-10 in hilling and weeding, and it will take me about 10 hours total to harvest it.  Worst case scenario, I about 25 hours for 800-1000#’s of potatoes, which I can sell for $2/lb.   Time to market will be another 5 hours in delivery.  That works out to 30 hours of labor.  Seed was $200, cover crop about $10, and fuel less than $2.  Net Profit will be about $1500.  That works out to $50/hr.  I love growing potatoes.


625,000 Calories on 1/10th Acre

Well we are officially 3 weeks in to the Great Potato Harvest, and the Yukon Golds are about done. They are sizing up nicely -with a few rare lunkers coming in at almost a full pound –each. With today’s take of 170 lbs we are officially at 575lbs in, and my best guess is about 5-600#’s of Carolas left, on top of the last 150#’s of Yukons. Add in a hundred combined of Green Mountain and Buttes and I just might break 1500#’s yet. The pic is from the first batch of baby Carolas 2 weeks ago they are continuing to add weight -I am getting about 25% more poundage per Carola hill than the average Yukon hill.

On top of that the Carolas are living up to their billing as the “Brandeywine” of potatoes. Super moist and tender, they all but melt in your mouth after roasting, frying in a skillet, or soaking in a wet curry. The Yukons are much firmer and have been perfect for our potato salads. It took 3 weeks, but we are slackening our passion for potatoes -we had gone almost 2 weeks with them at 2 of 3 meals per day. Still, they are carrying a meal a day most days.

And that is why I like spuds -they are what I call a “calorie crop”. It is difficult to just eat Peppers, Cucumbers, or Tomatoes etc as a main course -even for vegetarians. But Corn, Potatoes, Squash etc can anchor a meal. It is also said that Potatoes pack more energy per acre than any other crop. My 4500 sq ft (1/10th acre) will net 625,000 calories if my figures are right (26 calories per ounce for 1500 lbs). That is ALOT of calories!! Considering this is harvesting at baby weight, and/or using low yielding varieties like Yukon I don’t feel bad about being significantly off the typical yields of 30,000 lbs per acre conventional. A field of Purple Viking left to maturity would come very close to that.

So next time That Guy at work says we can’t feed the world organically, shove the figure of 6.3 million calories per acre at them and be comfortable that there is still 4 million calories of production on the table!!


Hoop House Phase #2

Kory has been pointing out that I am overdue for some Hoop House shots, and that is mostly because I am overdue for getting into the Hoop House! April here was VERY wet- with decent rains every other day like clockwork. Soil work was out of the question for almost the entire month. About a month ago we moved the Hoop House off the greens we overwintered in it as it was too hot for the Spinach and mache –pictured in the background behind the trash can (full of Comfrey Compost Tea!). At this time in a smooth system it would have been placed over fresh ground ready to plant, but the ground was not prepped, the Grillo was not in yet, and the soil far too wet for anything bigger. So it sat as a solar heated shed for a month as the soil dried out. The second shot shows the weeds to the south of the house that thrived in the warm, moist air. The ground to the East was turned by the Grillo -more on that in a post this week (hopefully!).

The trick was to till all around the house, and then move the structure with the help of 2-3 others. If you click on the pics to expand them slightly you can tell that the structure is free standing, but stoutly built. It is essentially riding on 4×6″ treated lumber which serves as skids, frame and foundation. We are getting better at it: basically you get 2 people per side to prop it up with 6′ levers (pipe, pry bars, whatever) and slide planks under it. Then you lift it again and put some rollers under it -we chopped up some old fence posts last year. 3 per side do it nicely. Then the teams switch to front and back with the back team pushing with their levers, and the front team steering. The ground is not level and we typically fall off the planks a few times, but start to finish we can move a 500#, 12’x25′ structure 30 feet in about 30 minutes w/o a tractor. Nice.

So what’s in it? 37 Peppers (Valencia Orange) and 20 Tomatoes( Isis Candy, Oregon Spring, Cosmonaut, and Brandywine). The peppers are on the perimeter as they only get about 2′ tall, and the maters are in 2 rows down the middle. Temp in the house at the time of this shot is 92 degrees with an ambient outside of 68!

The Tomatoes will be allowed to grow in fairly densely, but are spaced close enough to pick from 3 sides. The paths will be between the peppers and the tomatoes on all 4 sides. As the tomatoes grow I will string some baling wire across the inside of the hoop house about 6-7′ up and then drop jute twine down to another wire line. This will allow the tomatoes to be trained up these for air circulation and ease of picking. I should have tomatoes 4-5 weeks earlier than if they were planted out.

Key Learnings:

  • Plan your moves. My ‘maters would be 3’ tall now if I had moved the house onto prepped ground
  • Plan your space. Due to lack of time I just through the plants in -with better planning I could easily have fit 20% more in
  • Plan your plantings. Next time I will surround the Mini-Maters with lettuce transplants. That way I would be harvesting from the soil for an extra month until the tomatoes fill in.

Speaking of tomatoes here are some better shots of the transplants. My first transplants were a decided failure -all spindly and sad. My farming mentor stressed the need to up the intensity so I doubled the lights and this is what I have now! These are the first batch -about 4-5 weeks old and well over a foot tall. They are in 2.5 inch pots and getting a bit root bound. One thing I MUST get better about is not fretting about culling the seed trays. I let 2-4 tomatoes fight it out in there -I planted the trays heavy due to old seed. But come planting time the transplants then have to be teased apart, damaging the roots excessively and hogging time like crazy. The next day I went back to my home transplant rack and counted 96 more pots -each with 2-4 plants in them. My goals are only for 110 plants… I started pinching.

When it comes time to plant the tomatoes, I had great success with trenching them. The transplants are about 12″ tall, but I pinch off all but the top sets of leaves. I then dig a long, shallow hole big enough to fit 3/4’s of the plant laying it down, and then carefully bend the last bit above the soil so only the top 4″ are showing (at right). Tomatoes will root anywhere the vine touches soil, so the 8″ of buried vine will send roots out within days, and removing the leaves helps prevent transplant shock. The shallow trench also keeps more of the tomato roots near the soil surface which is the warmest soil in this critical early time -even in a hoop house.

MUCH to learn, but Hoop Houses are absolutely incredible tools for stretching growing seasons up here in Wisconsin. The Hoop House uses about 350 sq feet. With 1600 sq feet you could set up a path grid of 4 400 sq ft spots and rotate the house around it as you overwinter spinach, get a jump on an early set of tomatoes, and leave 1 more for melons/squash in the open air, and the fourth in cover crop.
Ah the possibilities!

Even if you weren’t growing food, the joy of walking into 90+ degrees of humid air thick, with the heady aroma of tomato plants would be worth it on the crisp May Days!


The Money!

Placed another BIG Fedco Order this morning. Like $367 big.  That might not be a Grillo, but it is amazing all the things needed to tool up for market gardening.    Included in this order are two set of 600′ of drip irrigation complete with regulators, etc -one each for both farms.  Also included is 10#’s Japanese Buckwheat for weed smothering and benificial attractant, 2# of Dutch White Clover for undercropping, a broccolli knife for lettuce harvest, etc etc.

Obviously the drip irrigation is the lion’s share of the order.  But the regulators and main lines should be around for up to ten years with good storage and care, and the “T-Tape” lines should last several seasons. They claim they can last up to 5-10, but 2-5 seems more reasonable.  The freedom and accuracy that the drip irrigation will give me is worth (almost) every penny.  Irrigation is now a matter of flipping on a spigot and letting it run for an hour or so while I harvest or weed instead of spending an entire evening a week watering each plot.

I had about $200 budgeted, but after spending 10 hours planting potatoes and figuring on the $2000 in harvest I am hoping for, $50 in annual irrigation seemed like a good insurance policy.  The kicker with starting up this operation is the incredible upfront costs.  I am getting dang near $6k and haven’t sold a dime in produce yet.  Luckily I have a diversified “farm” business and the barrels are offsetting most of this.  Some things need to be considered:

  • I am sparing little to no expense -we are relatively cash rich, but time poor right now in Suburbia with our Real Jobs so I am choosing to buy quality (the Grillo) instead of used fixer uppers as I need the tools, irrigation, what have you to start the first time, every time.  I get about 90 minutes a day in the field once you factor out my Real Job, transit, and dinner with the kiddos…   If you are in the reverse this could be done for a fraction of the cost.
  • I am front loading the expenses.  When we move out of suburbia to the townships I will need what little cash we will have for payments, livestock, fencing, tools and the hundred other things that will pop up once we have land.  Going in with my irrigation, tillers, hand tools, etc paid for (and lessons learned on!) will be a big advantage.
  • I am building things that aren’t on the balance sheet, like dirt under the nails knowledge, time with mentors in the field, and perhaps most importantly: my market

Doubling my mortgage once we have land means that gardening for profit stops being an academic excersize with the first bank bill and I need to have a working business plan in place before I do that.  If we get anything larger than 1-2 acres (and I want 5-20) I will need to be able to demonstrate to a banker that I can (and have been!) generate income from growing vegetables.

Even though the bills are becoming a bit stressful as we edge in and out of The Black on the balance sheet YTD it all becomes moot every time I fire up the Grillo, pull the soil over the potatoes, or transplant a romaine.  “Find something you love doing, and then find a way to make money doing it”  Add in the very real aspect of I am helping a dozen people eat a percentage of their food locally while gathering information to help hundreds others do the same and I am feeling pretty good depsite the sore back and pocketbook.

Be the Change


Potato Planting

The forecast was for still more rain, but it has been spotty and much of the rain missed my farm plots so it was back to the gardens. Wednesday night I was able to get 4 rows planted with help from the family, but much time was spent determining layout and a decent way to do it. Tonight I was able to get 5 rows planted in about an hour or so with the help of the Grillo and my experience from Wednesday. At the picture at left (click on it to enlarge it some) you can see the trench dug by the Grillo (background) and how the rotary plow throws the soil to nicely cover the previous row. the inital trench does need ot be slightly pulled out with a rake for proper depth, but the soil is so fluffled that it is easy work.

The beds are about 50′ long so one row is about 55 plants. Between the two days I have 9 rows in; about 500 plants! It looks like 190 pounds will work out to about 8-900 plants or 800 row feet -thats allotta spuds.

I love potatoes for many reasons. They are a “calorie crop” that can form the base of a meal- tomatoes, etc are mostly sides; they store forever; they are easy to grow; they are a blast to harvest -its the garden equivalent of scratch off lottery cards; and you can get two crops in one season.

This weekend I will get the remaining 80 pounds planted and will seed the “aiseles” with carrots and buckwheat. Time and weather permitting I will re till the true market garden beds and make the final call on weather to plant them with veggies or plant a smother crop. Next week will also hopefully see the hoop house replanted, in a new location, with tomato and pepper transplants.

Potato Prep

In the last post I showed the beds about 30% done. I have spent another 5 hours in them since then and the main, flatter bed is ready to plant, and the mound is about 75%. So after spending an evening putting the finishing touches on the beds with the kids {Mia was at a work dinner so they tagged along for 2-3 hours. Usually it is only Sprout, who is 6, is possessed of a healthy fear of getting lost, and is becoming self sufficient so we manage fine. Our daughter, Bird, is 4 and Knows No Fear. Numerous escapades ensued: the first started with the yelled exclamation “Look Daddy a Dead Bird” With my daughter holding up a distinctly un-alive and rather mauled robin. Guess its bath night!} We came home for dinner and after getting the kiddos to bed I hit the garage to prep the taters.

Prepping potatoes is simply sorting through them to make sure they are all ready for planting. This is the time to cull any “off” potatoes that are rotten or very soft. It is also the time to sort through them and cut up the larger ones. At left is a shot of my highly unscientific sorting process. Using my apple crates as a makeshift table, I went through my 200 lbs one tater at a time. True “seed” potatoes are shown at far left -golf ball sized with several eyes. At right are larger potatoes that could be planted, but most choose to cut in half to stretch the harvest. The trick to cutting is to ensure you get at least 2-3 “eyes” per half to ensure good growth. Last year when I only planted 4lbs that meant meticulously hand turning each large “Seed” to ensure proper placement. With 200lbs on deck and it being past 9 (I get up at 3am) effeciency ruled the day -I cut them in half, but if one end was sprouting I wne toff center to give the sprouting half a smaller chunk as I knew it had enough eyes.

Once you start cutting up seed potatoes you need to let them “scar”. This is simply storing them with decent air flow for a day or three to let the cut potato flesh to “skin” over. Last year this meant leaving them on the kitchen counter. With 50x the amount this year, I stacked them in bunches of 20-25lbs in apple crates and stacked the crates 3 high (at right) alternating them to allow each to breathe. I will start planting the Yukon Golds tomorrow as none of them needed cutting. The Carola’s, Green Mountains, and Butte’s will go in by Monday weather permitting.

Speaking of weather, it is freaky wet here. Maybe this is not much wetter than normal, but now that I need to be out prepping soil I am VERY cognizant of soil moisture levels. I will not be able to get into the true Market Garden plot for weeks since I will need to retill it knock the quack back. This all adds up to no carrots, beets, etc. not to mention the 800 lettuce transplants! Time for plan B.

Plan B makes so much sense it should have been plan A: All of the above will be planted in between the potato rows. I will stretch the rows out to about 18-24″ centers and run rows of lettuce and double rows of carrots/beets in the space. These will be out of the way by the time Potatoes shade them out. This is what they call intercropping, and its slick -if I can pull it off.


Sub Acre Ag: Bed Prep

I have spoken much about the fabulous compost mounds at one of the farms I will be at so I figured it was time to post some pics. At left is a shot of the mound I will be working. It was about 7′ tall about a month ago, and I hacked away at it for several hours with a rake and hoe to make it into the flat(ish) mound you see now. This is the newest mound on the site, and there are still patches of raw leaves mixed in. This mound had unstaked tomatoes on it last year with squash mixed in in no particular order. I have pulled off the top foot or so of compost which seems to have eliminated most of the weed seed -it has laid bare for 2 weeks with almost no new germination!

To give some perspective of the fertility Mecca I have stumbled upon, look at the sheer amounts of compost available at this farm. To think that 10 years ago it was perfectly common for leaves, the raw materials of all these mounds, to get buried in a land fill!! The mounds are spaced to allow the valleys in between to be flooded during the drier months from uphill ponds that have refilled with the spring rains. The mounds then self irrigate by capillary action. The owner seems to have read some Permaculture books!

In January, I had planned to use the tall mound that I leveled as well as the nearest mound in the background. That mound is being used by the super sweet (and helpful!) Hmong couple that also uses the mounds, but the owner gave me a second plot-I was a bit concerned at first… The pic at right about as close to a “before shot” as I can get. Imagine 1,000 more of those 8′ weeds covering a hodgepodge of moguls form 4′ to 6′ tall. The good news is that it is still compost -just 10 years old. but in the mean time it had hogs on it intermittently and sat fallow last year (hence the weeds)- both good for a fertility standpoint. The owner rough cleared the ground with a Skidsteer- honestly I don’t know how else it would have been made tillable. It was still pretty beat up, but the end product was very nice -hell its 3000 sq feet of compost 2′ thick!

At right is what it looked like after about an hours work this past Sunday with the Grillo and Berta rotary plow. You can see the tilled soil on the right and my “test” trench on the left. The Grillo is every bit as good as I’d hope. As it turns the soil (albeit this soil is DIVINE!) it fluffs it remarkably -the end product is essentially a double dug (first you throw it out to make a trench, and then throw the soil back on top) 18′ deep and amazingly light. Doubt me? If I stray into the tilled soil when I was walking behind the Grillo and I sank almost to my knee! I finished this plot tonight -with some double work to try to level it a bit better it took only about 3 hours to till up 3000 sq feet with a novice operator. In that time I only used about a third of a gallon of diesel. I want to switch to B99, but I can’t use enough fuel to refill the tank! Working the Grillo is certainly much easier than using a pitchfork, but its not a spectator sport. The Grillo and plow weigh in almost 350lbs, and you have to steer it -manually. Both times I have tilled I have needed to stop after about 90 minutes as my arms were shaking with fatigue and I was dripping in sweat despite the 45 degree temps.

Here is a better shot of the tilled ground. Fluffed, light, and over a foot deep!

There are some hazards of working at the farm. First off its wet. Here is one of the chickens making the most of it:

Next there are geese seemingly everywhere -the flock is over 24 and growing. At almost every turn there is literally a mother goose hissing you warning for being to close to her clutch of eggs! If her warning is unheeded, Daddy goose is on his way to give you the old “What for”!

The Insanity of April is behind me. I am out of Rain Barrels until late May (I have picked up, built, and delivered 69 in the past 6 weeks- that is over 160,000 gallons saved annually!!) and the speaking engagements are behind me. For the next several months I will be able to focus on parenting and husbandry (both agricultural and otherwise). Looking forward to it!!

I have about 4 posts in the queue- hoping to catch up this week. In the mean time, the moral of this post is that NONE of this would be possible if I hadn’t reached out and started to work in the community on Sustainability issues. If I hadn’t become active I never would have found this resource in unused and freakishly fertile land


Woodbury County, Iowa: Organic Mecca

I have passed on numerous intersting business models for smal scale agriculture, typically in Urban settings.  And while getting more farming infrastructure in our cities is critical, equally as important is saving the rural, family farms of our country.    While here in Jefferson County, WI we have enacted some very strong land use laws to restrict sprawl ( you only get one or to “splits” per property) it is really a bandaid that is not addressing the root problem.  The average farmer is at or near retirement age, many (if not most) of their children are moving to cities for better prospects, and while there is a rising tide of young, enthusiastic would-be farmers (myself included) the start-up costs of even a small farm are often insurmountable.  I figure to start a small 5 acre farm w/equipment in the county I live in would costs at least $350,000 (fixer upper) and net me less than my current job while doubling my mortgage.  Should I want to grow organic commodity crops like wheat or hay, or start a dairy on much large acreage (even a small scale 100 acre farm) the cost gets up to $750,000+ with a run down house and 30 year old equipment, but the economic prospects are not much better than a small, intensive vegetable operation.  This is completely untenable -trust me I check the listings weekly, and have crunched the numbers ad nauseum.

But there are areas of light: the Pacific NW, the coastal regions of Maine, Viroqua County WI, and oddly enough  Woodbury County, Iowa.  Woodbury Organics has produced a short video on You Tube as a marketing tool to get the word out for the incredible efforts they are doing in their county.  When I found it, 5 months after it was posted, it had only 310 views.  Watch it, rate it, and add a brief comment…there efforts need WAY more recognition.  Also, check out their Letter to the Public on their site.     Here is a short list of the great things they are doing as an organization and/or have gotten enacted in their County -the first two blew me away:

  • 3 year 100% property tax refund for conventional land being converted to organic to offset loss in revenue while in transition
  • Low/Zero interest loans availible to new farmers -including (I still can’t believe this) 5 years with no payments so when us greenhorns lose the first several harvests as we’re educated in the School of Experience we don’t lose the farm… literally.  When I did a quick search I could find only one farm still for sale in this county… compared to the current trends that is incredible.
  • Cold Storage available in their warehouse
  • Active and extensive marketing support extending even to Whole Foods 200 miles away including a special local “brand” logo for food produced within 100 miles of Souix City, the larges close urban market.
  • Classes, seminars, and the critical support of knowing you are not an organic island in a Monsanto Sea
  • Vibrant Farmers Market and a supportive local food community

Add all this up and you can easily see why the County won a Sustainable Community Award this past October in a nationwide contest.   These are not  Crunchy Urbane Post Modern Hippies.  These are  rural folks in a county where the average farmer is 70, and they are fighting like hell to keep their county alive.   Makes you proud to be an American, which is reason enough to watch the video.

Be the Change!


Chicken/Rabbit Tractors: Sub Acre Ranching

One of the most perplexing challenges of my Sub Acre Agriculture project will be to consistently and sustainably increase fertility in the soils to optimize yields over time. While this can be done exclusively through green manure cover crops, it is more efficient to combine a planned cover crop rotation with livestock manures. Andy Lee states in his book Chicken Tractor, that while he was at Intervale Center in Vermont he saw yields increase in one year with manure to the levels it took 4-5 years with (very) heavy compost applications. As this system is designed to be used in small landholdings, specifically medium to large Suburban yards, traditional livestock such as goats, horses, and cattle are not really an option. That leaves smaller critters -specifically poultry and rabbits.

Rabbits are a great option if you want to eat them for meat: they breed like, er, rabbits, they have manageable feed needs, and their manure is “cold” which makes for great vermi-compost and can even be directly applied to your beds (though wait before applying raw manure to any food crops!).  If, like us, you are not into eating your livestock you may go the route that Patti, the Garden Girl has chosen and raise Angora’s for fiber while still getting all the fertility benefits of the manure. She keeps them in rabbit “tractors”, portable pens that are sized to fit in her small raised beds so they apply their manure directly onto her gardens. Slick! Plus they are dang cute and very gentle around little ‘uns.  Think of them as a functional petting zoo!

We will be using chickens as I want to leverage several very useful attributes of being a chicken: scratching for food, pooping, laying eggs, and eating bugs. When confined to a small space, chickens will scratch to bare soil in their search for seeds and critters, all the while manuring as they go. In a traditional chicken pen this leads to hardpan and toxic levels of nitrates which can kill the soil. The trick is to let the chickens stay put long enough to prep the ground without damaging it-in other words you need to move the birds. Enter the Chicken Tractor. Much like Patti’s rabbit tractors, chicken tractors are moveable pens that house, feed/water, and protect the chickens while confining them to a specific area. In our case the beds are planned to be 3×40’. So our “tractors” will be 3.5′ x 12′-ish with roughly 10′ exposed to the ground allowing the birds to be moved down the beds eating, scratching, laying, de-pesting, and manuring as they go. The tractor will be mounted on 2×4 skids, perhaps with wheels on one end if it gets too heavy -I want it to be one person portable, and will be wrapped in poultry wire with a hutch for laying on one end.

Initially the Sub Acre Market Garden was designed to include the chickens within the rotation-moved as needed to strip off a crop and prep the ground for the next. This was proving to be very complicated: Where would the chickens go from late June to August when the majority of the beds were in crop? Would the chickens be able to scratch down the perennial covers like red clover? How in the heck would I maneuver the tractor into the middle of a diversified bed? Lots of problems. Thinking within this rotational framework was proving fruitless, and was sapping critical time and energy, so I broke down the rotation and rethought it from scratch. The solution I came up with was permitted by the fact that I have virtually unlimited space at the farm (20 acre farm, .1 acre garden). I now plan on laying out 2 gardens that mirror each other. The first will be tilled this spring with the 48″ tiller on the owners Kubota -this should be the only time that tines hit soil in this project. The beds will then be planted on a modified rotation, basically removing the perennial covers (Red Clover/Alfalfa) that were intended to add fertility-replacing them with the missing legumes like dry and snap beans. Covers will still be used, but they will be annuals like buckwheat and oats to keep the soil covered in between plantings in the Spring/Fall beds. Come fall the beds will be sowed with a rye/vetch or other winter hardy mix.

Meanwhile in the “mirror bed” will be the more locus for actually building fertility.  Cover crops, unless left in for more than a year, typically only maintain fertility when used in a vegetable rotation.  Taking the “mirror” bed out of production will allow it to be under cover for a full year, building critical root systems, while also adding fertility and building soil ecology through active additions of animal manures.  Goal is to add at least .25% organic matter each rotation.  Not only will this boost yields, it will also sequester roughly 2.5 tons of CO2 per acre!

To get things going, I will do a rough sheet mulch to remove the pasture grasses, and that will then be planted with a PVO mix (Peas, Vetch, Oats) on parts and Sudangrass on others to build fertility and smother any remaining plants. Planting both (and any others that you can recommend) I will be able to experiment with a variety of crops for ease of incorporation and their ability to sync with this system. Into this I will use a system of mowing (hopefully with my new scythe!) then chicken tractoring to harvest the lush growth and manure the beds all year. The chickens will be moved frequently enough to not kill the mixes until late in the season. Seeing as both the PVO mix and the Sudan Grass are capable of putting on 4 tons of biomass per acre I should have plenty of extra growth for supplemental on site composting to provide compost for our Eco Victory Garden projects. In 2009 these beds will be prepped for the veggie gardens that will rotate over. Beds that will hold early spring crops will be fall planted with a crop that winter kills like Oats. The mirror beds may also be used to grow winter fodder for the chickens by letting some oats go to seed. Making the paradigm shift to the Mirror Beds has completely freed my thinking to move onto other, more practical matters like Chicken Breeds, veggie cultivars, pen design, and problem solving how the heck I plan to grow 1000 transplants without a greenhouse! Expect a flurry of posts on these topics in the coming weeks before I start being forced to spend less time posting and more time doing.

I have already begun meeting with my restaurant clients to get their inputs and commitments. 2008 is shaping up to be a great year! To say that I am stoked for Spring is a huge understatement!

-A very excited Rob

Be the change!!

Urban Farming Thoughts

A reoccuring theme on Onestraw is my faith in Suburbia’s ability to produce enough food to make it a viable alternative the ag land it paved over.   It is an undeniable fact that our current urban planning system is completely addicted to the automobile and cheap oil.  My example is typical.  I drive 19 miles to work -each way- and the closest grocery store is literally 7 miles away.  And that is a Super Walmart.  Crap.  We typically drive to Madison to Whole Foods in our once a month Shopping Trip to stock up, and do weekly trips to a Natural Foods store near our Church (25 miles away -the density of Unitarian  congregations is not what it should be) for Soy Milk, Eggs, and other stables that we run out of more often.  Granted our town is small (2012 souls), but even 60 years ago it was a vibrant community.  My dream is that it can be again -a big driver of that is rekindling local food production.   Thanks to some fellow Stumbler, I stumbled upon (what a great idea!) some really great sites and ideas lately on this front.

First off there is Your Backyard Farmer.  Started by two women in Portland, the basic business plan is an “on site” CSA.  They will come to your home (or business!) and build a garden.  They will then tend it all year leaving the produce on your porch weekly for about $40/wk.  That is a little steeper than most CSA’s here in WI, but think of the upside to the consumer: no driving to delivery sites, free landscaping, and after you are done with the contract you have great friable soil in your own yard!  Year one they grossed over $2000 weekly on just their 50 gardens, not counting market sales and consulting.  Would work best in dense urban markets to limit drive time, but regardless: Really Exciting!

Second cool resource is the Mini Farms Network.   Very similar to a site that I had envisioned creating before I ended up deciding to continue blogging in this WordPress format.   Good high level introduction to small scale food production focusing on Raised Beds, low input, and appropriate technology (hand tools and bicycles).  Very informational and inspiring site.

Final Resource of the week will be the Ecological Farming Association. I, like many sustainable farmers (the term I typically use), am continuing to struggle finding an appropriate term for what I do.  I am “beyond Organic” in so far as they now have Organic Oreos and Cheerios.  There is a fundamentally difference in how I grow food than those growing 500 acres of veggies in a monocrop, controling weeds through intense cultivation, etc.  This is not to say that reduced spraying is a HUGE first step, but I feel that in many “industrial” Organic operations, the term Organic has moved closer to the status quo while myself and other sustainable farmers (to be!) remain committed to more wholistic ideals.  Ecological Farming is a term that is gaining momentum and includes the systems thinking that is inherent in most sustainable farms.  Still exploring this site, but it is very encouraging.

Even as I am ramping up specific planning (moved from veggie rotations to cultivar selection this week!) it is very encouraging to keep abreast of some of the other fantastic work that is being done out there!

Be the Change!


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