A wet couple of days

As I write this, it is pouring outside. Those of you in the Northwest will know that — in spite of a wet reputation — rain falls steadily during an Oregon winter, but rarely do we received drenching downpours. The last few days have been an exception. The rains have come in due west onto our farm; we can watch the dark clouds form at the horizon (beyond a band of trees), and then they roll in and dump on us. Last week of course we had a dry cold snap that kept the ground frozen for almost a whole week, so we probably shouldn’t complain about being able to harvest root crops again, but … it’s wet.

In between deluges (& some big wind too), we’ve been finishing our new greenhouse infrastructure. It’s taken longer than we had anticipated, which has made us feel antsy at moments — until we remember that our new greenhouses give us more than three times the space we had with our old flimsy structure. It should take more time to put together that much space and do a better job of it (which we hope we’re doing!).

As of today, the greenhouses are ready to use: the poly is on; endwalls built; benches in; etc. Here’s a picture (from the outside) of our primary ‘hot house’):

Eight foot-wide doors at either end slide easily for passive temperature regulation in the greenhouse (i.e. when it’s hot out, we open the door; when it’s cold, we close it). The black plastic covered bench on the far right holds about 70 flats and is heated from below with thermostat-regulated heat mats from OBC. We’ve used their low-wattage propagation mats since we started the farm, and we’ve been consistently pleased with good quick germination rates for some of the more difficult to start crops (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) and some that we like to kick start (onions, leeks). The rest of the three benches are unheated but will benefit from being inside the solar-heated house. At night, the temperature off the heated bench will drop almost as low as outside, but the plants will be protected from frost and hard rain (& most pests — hopefully we’ll be able to keep rodents and birds out this year!). Another view of the house, from the inside:

The greenhouse to the south of this one we’ve left open at the ends, to create a lower-cost, intermediary space for starts. Last year, in order to ‘harden off’ our plants before transplanting, we put them on benches outside — which we then had to row cover at night to prevent frost damage and keep bugs out. Instead, we now hope to use this cooler, but still protected, space for keeping starts between the time they’re almost full sized and when we transplant:

Since on our flood plain property we’re perennially short of covered dry space, both greenhouses will also double as storage & staging space in other times of the year. We can fit the Landini tractor in the open greenhouse, so we can use the tractor to dump larger objects there, including implements that we want to keep mostly dry in the winter. We can also get our row-cover and other random farm materials out of the elements. We also plan to use the open house for drying onions on racks this year (rather than under our walnut tree, where they are exposed to rainfall). The Gator fits inside the doors on the closed-in greenhouse, so we can store other items there.

The pole barn was finished last week as well, so that adds another 1100 sq ft on covered space to our infrastructure. After cleaning up stray nails from the construction site, we immediately moved our Landini tractor inside — Houdini finally has a real home! We still need to pour a slab floor in the pole barn to finish the task, but it’s dry at least during all this rain.

Now that we have more adequate storage space, we’re enjoying planning the best ways to organize our farm’s ‘stuff’ (there’s lots of it!). Having various degrees of ‘coverage’ helps make the task easy, since some items demand better storage conditions than others. So, the area below our house (insulated, wired, dry) will probably be reserved for items that need a more stable, enclosed area — onions, garlic, and some tools. The pole barn (the next driest space but not at all insulated) will house larger equipment that wants to stay dry and takes up lots of room. We’ll also probably put our winter squash there next year, and we’re going to build an insulated cooler in the pole barn as well for post-harvest storage. The greenhouses and our garden shed offer the least protection in terms of moisture, wind, and temperature — but they all still manage to keep rain off of objects. So, they serve an important function as well.

Yes, these are the kinds of detailed analyses that fill our daily farm conversations. Pretty exciting stuff.

On the horizon for next week: the start of our ‘early season’ CSA on Tuesday! The beginning of the 2008 CSA season marks the end of our uninterrupted work period (although January’s weather posed its own interruptions), but we’ll still have many work days each week free for projects until about March, which is when we start working the fields again. For now, we’ll continue fine-tuning our greenhouse system, finish the pole barn, start sowing, attend more farming conferences, and harvest for the CSA.

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2 Responses to A wet couple of days

  1. Chris says:

    Great job on the hoophouses! See you at B-Bush.

  2. Mark says:

    We built a walk in cooler (2×4 frame) with 2 layers of thick poly iso insulation and plywood. We cool it with an air conditioner and a CoolBot unit that tricks the AC into thinking it is warmer than it is. We can take temps down to 32 F if needed. You can find coolbot at http://www.storeitcold.com. It works great at a fraction of the price of buying a walk in cooler with expensive to operate and maintain condenser system.


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