Tag Archives: greenhouse

March is greenhouse month

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In mid-February, right after my birthday, Ben gets the greenhouse started. Every Monday, he seeds a new round of flats. The flats are germinated in the house, either in a cool guest room, or in a closet we have newly outfitted with a space heater and metal shelving. Some seeds, like tomatoes, germinate best in the heat, others, like lettuce, in the cool. Once the first seed leaves show themselves, the flat gets whisked out to the greenhouse where the sun shines. We heat the greenhouse, but only barely; we want our plants to be hardened and ready for chilly spring conditions, so we only heat enough to keep the nights in the forties.

We’ve started longer term crops, like the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant that won’t be ready until July, as well as some of the first crops that we plan to have in our first CSA share, like lettuce, kale, and the gorgeous napa cabbage you see in the photo. The weather forecast says it will be staying a bit warmer at night early this week, and so we plan to transplant that napa into the field. Also going into the field early next week are carrots, beets, turnips, and radishes.
We’d like to share a few other highlights from our crop plan with you. Last year, we increased the area planted in tomatoes, which allowed us to really load up the CSA shares with tomatoes for a few weeks in late August and early September, so we plan to repeat that. Another change we made last year that we plan to keep was our switch from bush beans to pole beans. Pole beans have better flavor, are more productive, and are easier to pick. We think those positives outweigh the only downside of the time we have to spend setting up and taking down the trellis. We delivered far more beans in the shares last year than ever before, even as we had less area planted in beans.

New this year, we’re trying for some fall broccoli. Even the best broccoli farmer I know says that there’s only a 70% chance of broccoli every year, but we found the space to give it a shot. Another new crop this year is celery, which we’re looking at as sort of an experiment. From what we’ve read, Virginia’s climate is borderline too hot for celery, which takes a long time to grow but prefers cooler weather and plenty of water. We made some irrigation improvements last year, and we found a space for it close to the edge of a field where it will receive some morning shade, which may help it keep cool. So if we get some celery or broccoli that we like the looks of, they will make it into our CSA  share, and show up at market!

It is not to late to join our CSA!  Bring the fruits of our labors into your home, and sign up now–we would love to have you!

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Bakery/Shed 3: Hello walls

Construction projects are notorious for going over budget and off schedule. Somehow this winter, it seems the stars have aligned over our project; apart from rest and rain days, there has been no down time. Credit for working that magic goes to our contractor Craig Swingle.

In the last half of February, Craig and Ben framed the walls, and Ben laid the drainpipe and moved a bunch of gravel around. He helped finish waterproofing the foundation, then he and I filled the area behind the retaining wall with rocks and gravel.

Then the sheathing went up. It looks like the oven is outside the building, but it will be tied in with a concrete floor, shed roof and wing walls.

At some point, we took a break to start farming again. We put the plastic on the greenhouse and started seeding for the 2016 season.

The last steps in this phase were placing the beam over the little “hallway” to the oven, and building some stairs up to the bakery.

The building has to sit high off the ground because of how we built the oven. Last year, if you recall, we were scrambling to get the oven built, and didn’t think through how it would tie in to the rest of the building. In building it on the high part of the pasture, we essentially fixed the finished floor height for the rest of the building.  Early next week, we’ll show you the roof.

A spring snow

About three inches of snow fell last night. Coarse, wet, heavy spring snow. On nights like these Ben and I tag-team through the night to keep the high tunnel and greenhouse free of snow. He stays up to the wee hours, and then sets an early morning alarm for me.

This morning, the greenhouse looked like an abandoned museum exhibit, with the dim first rays filtering through the poly walls to settle on the gossamer row cover draped over our seedlings. Many of them are garden starts to sell at our first markets in April. There are tomatoes, of course, and lettuce, and three generations of basil, herbs and flowers. But there are farm seedling there too. All of the farm eggplants and peppers have been seeded, most of the spring brassicas, our first tomatoes, and our chard. We will seed more today–our second generation of farm lettuce, the first dill, and flowers for sales, including, incredibly, the first sunflowers.

This last night, the snowy one, was the first that we dared to leave all of our cold-sensitive seedings out in the greenhouse. Last week we risked first one flat, then four, before we felt confident enough in our wood stove and the little electric heater under the bench. There is no perfect solution; either we carry sensitive flats in every night, disturbing roots, exposing them to our next clumsy move, and depriving the plants of the first rays of the sun, or we risk that cold, or chilling injury, sets them back.

There are also seedlings in the bakery. Yesterday the rye sprouted, and today, wheat. I am working on developing a dense, Danish-style dark pan bread, which is a complete departure from most of the bread I make. I am going for toothy, dark, and moist, a bread that makes a meal with bit of smoked trout and dill. It is recipe-development time at Little Hat Creek Farm. I’m learning the behavior of flours from Carolina Ground and Woodson’s mill, tweaking current recipes, and increasing my repertoire of skills. This will be the first sprouted grain I have tried. Last week I experimented with fermenting flaked grains before mixing them into dough, which resulted in an impossibly tender crumb in the barley almond bread.

So go ahead and snow old man, you can’t stop the force of spring that has begun. It may look, and feel, like winter out there, but the true story is told by the first daffodil two days ago, the expanding buds on our Nanking cherries, and the little peepers peeping their spring song.