January has been productive here on the farm. We felt lazy in December when the CSA finished, and then we kept putting off projects because of holidays. Lazy no longer. We’re back into high gear (mostly), trying to get projects done as fast as possible. The CSA begins again February 5, and we hope to have a significant number of items checked off our ‘BIG LIST 2008’ by then. What have we been working on? Here are some updates:
After building the shed roof for our washing area, we began working on the floor. After seeing a dangerous amount of stray vegetable matter pile up in our gravel last year, we wanted something ‘sweepable’ in our new wash station. Hence, we prepared to pour a concrete slab:
Katie compacted gravel into the frames Casey built. That was the easy part. The hard part was the pour itself. We’re still amateurs with all these projects, and we like to take time with even simple tasks. Concrete doesn’t allow any extra time for amateurs. It just starts to set when it’s ready. Moving and leveling the concrete left us tired and sore. As did the surface finishing …
We mostly used a ‘bull float,’ which is a fairly crude way to finish a slab, but we knew we didn’t need a smooth finish on this floor. Anyhow the bull float also left us pretty sore. The good news? The weather cooperated beautifully with our pour and the floor looks great (so far — we’re always nervous about getting too confident). Here’s a photo of our tubs and wash screen set up under cover:
We still need to finalize the drainage system and back fill our many muddy trenches (argh! winter!), but so far we love our new set-up!!!!!
This week we turned our attention to our second pole building project of the winter: a larger (24′ x 48′) structure for storing tractors, vehicles, some produce, a cooler, etc. At this moment, our tractor & implements are out in the rain, which is a huge bummer. Rain makes maintenance difficult, not to mention rain’s slow but powerful corrosive effect. We are very excited about having more adequate storage space.
We are not, however, building this structure ourselves. We’ve lined up a pole builder who contracts with Mac Lumber here in town, so we’ve been busying ourselves preparing the site for he and his crew to begin anytime in the next week or two (the kit was dropped off Tuesday morning). We had the site scraped and excavated and then spent yesterday carefully leveling and packing gravel. The finished product gives an exciting glimpse into the placement and size of the future structure:
Careful watchers of our blog will have noticed the frequent inclusion of random chickens in our photos. Yes, we have had a wandering chicken problem. In the months that we’ve had chickens around we’ve tried many different methods of containing them around their mobile house: inappropriate horse fencing (leftover from our house railing), six-foot tall chicken fencing (which the chickens climbed over within an hour of finishing building), and no fencing at all. Experienced chicken handlers will recognize that none of these are particularly well recommended methods of containment, so it’s no surprise that we’ve had chickens roaming around our homesite (and our neighbor’s property which is very close by). Our days provided many opportunities to pick up and move chickens:
Chickens are pretty darn cute and entertaining to ‘cuddle,’ so we haven’t minded too much. But spring approaches and we wanted a sure method to: 1. keep chickens from eating new growth in ours and our neighbor’s flower beds 2. ensure the chickens would lay in their boxes rather than in random locations around the farm 3. prevent chickens from depositing ‘fertility’ in our wash station.
So, we finally broke down and bought ‘the real deal’ in mobile chicken fencing: poultry electro-netting from Premier-1. We set it up on Sunday morning twice (note to self: don’t attempt new things before breakfast, coffee or reading the Sunday comics). The first time was a bit of a cranky disaster (moved the chickens far from our house; let them out; set up the fence; then couldn’t ‘shoo’ them back in), but the second time was a great success! We have had only one or two chickens get out each day, which is a small miracle for our Houdini-esque hens. A photo of the fence set-up:
Why does it work? For one thing, once contained, the chickens could immediately ‘see’ the white netting, which created the first barrier. They definitely knew it was there. Secondly, the netting hangs loose, making it difficult for them to climb without getting tangled (which they do not enjoy). And, finally, the horizontals are all electrically charged by the blue battery unit you can see in the picture. So, when a chicken does decide to ‘test’ the fence, she quickly changes her mind. We watched several hens ‘learn’ about the new fence the first day. After several days, they seem to understand that their home now has limits. Fortunately for them, that home still contains everything they need: shelter, nest boxes, food, water, and lush green pasture. And, now that we have mobile fencing finally ‘figured out,’ we’re planning to move them long before the pasture starts to disappear. And, now that the chickens are contained, we have plans to acquire a large beautiful rooster to keep the girls company. I think they’ll enjoy that.
Last winter our friend Rich of Mossback Farm gifted us several trees leftover from a restoration project on his land. We were pleased but totally stymied. We had no idea where we wanted to put trees. Our vision of the land was still developing, and something as permanent as a tree seemed hard to place.
This winter, we have a much more concrete vision of where our vegetable fields will be each year, how the produce will ‘flow’ up to the homesite, where our greenhouses will be placed, etc. Which means we also figured out where we wanted trees. And we realized we wanted lots of them.
So, a couple weeks ago we hooked up with Hofferts Nursery, neighbors of ours, and purchased 300+ trees to plant. Most of them were English laurel, a classic fast-growing evergreen hedge shrub. These we planted along our property’s western and southern boundaries. (We tried to establish a less well planned hedge in these places last year but didn’t have adequate water to keep it alive.) Here’s a picture of some of the laurels (the orange flags in the distance all mark more plants):
Although it will still be several years before this planting resembles a hedge, we are very excited about that prospect. We are looking forward to having more privacy from the road in our fields and protection from wind and potential chemical drift from neighbors. And, we both love the look of laurels in the winter: so green and alive!
We also planted more conifers and deciduous trees up around the homesite and along the northern property boundary: Colorado blue spruce, Norway spruces, a few oaks, and a cedar or two. We’ve also put in an order for the Yamhill County Soil & Water Conservation District native plant sale. We’re buying some neat native landscaping plants for around the homesite and more trees for the northern border, including our most favorite tree of all: Bigleaf Maples!!!!!!!! (I’ve always thought they are the friendliest looking tree.)
Other than these photogenic projects, we’ve also been doing a fair amount of paperwork: processing CSA sign-up forms putting together our seed order list. The folks from Nick’s Italian Café came out last weekend to talk through what varieties we’d be growing this year. With the help of their feedback, we came up with a list of exactly 200 varieties, ranging from Emerald PVP artichokes to Dark Green zucchini, including the new addition of perennial vegetables: asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, cardoons, artichokes, and rhubarb. We’ll begin sowing again once the greenhouses are built. Which is another project for us to begin soon …