Posts Tagged ‘farm’

Farm hour: preventing herbicidal drift from utility right of ways

January 28th, 2013 2 comments

zona organicaI didn’t know what to expect working with local utilities to prevent drift from chemical management of right of ways onto our organic farm.

Each of our local utilities who need access to the front of the farm had never dealt with a request like this, but each one totally understood my goals and appreciated my willingness to help them manage right of ways without chemicals.

The key phrase there is “my willingness to help them.” That’s a commitment to some work on my part. Luckily the right of ways are down hill a good distance from the fields we are certifying as organic, but we’ll have to dedicate some weekend farm hours to clearing brush.

Some practical advice I got from Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Cooperative was to make sure bilingual signs were posted. I can send them 50 letters, but a sign is all the contracted crews managing vegetation will see.

We got this embossed aluminum 12×18 “Do Not Spray” sign online. If you are going through the process of becoming a USDA Certified Organic farm, your certifying agent can help you with draft letters to neighbors and local utilities.

Farm hour: soil organics

January 25th, 2013 No comments

the orchard
a view of the organic orchard on the farm in Woodbury, Tennessee (Cannon County)

Ken asked me a little suspiciously where I got the soil samples I had him test. He said he hasn’t seen soil that good anywhere around here, and the organic matter for the farm soil is off the charts. It was low in potassium and magnesium.

That was great to hear, but it makes me want to do another test to be sure. My best guess is that the sloped field may have gotten over a 100 years or more of heavy leaf matter from nearby oak, maple and hickory trees. The soil I submitted was blackish in color with dark gray clay. Ken said it looked like someone dumped river bottom soil from a Mid West cornfield.

Another thing he saw was over the top cation exchange capacity. Normally he sees a range of 6-15 for Cannon County farms. We had a 36. It’s a great place to start for some very happy organic apples and blueberries.

Farm hours:

  • completing application for USDA Organic Certification
  • setting up a temporary greenhouse
  • setting up a cistern on the barn
  • cleaning the barn
  • turning the strip crop sections in field 3 and sourcing organic clover and rye cover crops

Farm hour: becoming a USDA Certified Organic farm

January 9th, 2013 No comments

soil tests
soil samples from four sections of the farm

It’s Winter. There isn’t enough light in the day when we get home from work to do much on the farm, so we’re taking a 15 hour online course from the Rodale Institute to apply to become a USDA Certified Organic Farm. Every night’s a school night until the days get longer.

We’re learning a lot. Even if you don’t plan to become certified the program is a wealth of information to suppliment and reinforce your interest in sustainable farm practices. One of the most important things I’m learning about is building soil fertility and conservation. It’s also required by the federal government for certified producers to have plans in place to achieve that, such as amending the soil with composts and both animal and green manures as well as using cover and rotational crops.

Hour by hour – we’re hoping to have a decent Organic System Plan hammered out this month for our farm’s application. One of the first steps was to get a baseline measurement of our soil, so I took samples from four sections of field (each section with a few sample points) and sent it off for testing through the local Farmer’s CO-OP. I can’t say for sure, but the soil looks amazing. We’ll see what the test says.

Farm hour: planning the organic garden

December 14th, 2012 No comments

Spring planning

Here’s what the garden looks like on paper as it goes from an idea to the planning stages: how much to plant, when to plant, where to plant and what our yields should be.

We’re in a multi-year process of becoming a USDA Certified Organic farm. One of the requirements to be certified organic by the USDA is documenting your source for organic plant and seed stock. We ordered and received our seed stock from Heirloom Seeds. Here’s what we’re planting so far, and any advice on keeping them healthy is welcome:

  • Roma tomatoes
  • Giant Beefsteak tomatoes
  • Kellogg’s Breakfast tomatoes
  • Lemon Drop tomatoes
  • Anaheim peppers
  • Serrano peppers
  • California Wonder peppers
  • Orange Bell peppers
  • Sweet Pickle peppers
  • Beaver Dam peppers
  • Jalapeno peppers
  • Pepperoncini peppers
  • Little Finger carrots
  • Agate (Edamame) soybeans
  • Shirofumi (Edamame) soybeans
  • Giant Winter spinach

Our organic apple orchard and blueberries are now planted and protected from deer and the compost operation now chugging along. The next big project that will start consuming our farm hours leading up to Spring will be constructing a large cold frame system or a very small green house to get a needed early start on planting.

Farm hour: making dirt

November 29th, 2012 No comments

orchard compost pile

It’s 152 degrees in the new orchard compost pile. This is the pile with pine needles and oak leaves added for more acidity. It’s layered with wood chips, horse manure and several gallons of rain water lightly sprinkled on each layer. This pile will become mulch for the blueberries in the Spring.

Farm hour: heating water with a compost pile

November 1st, 2012 No comments

There are a few videos on YouTube that will show you how to make your own outdoor hot water shower using the heat from a compost pile. The one above is the first one I saw using the Jean Pain method. I was surprised to learn not only how hot the pile can get and for how long, but that you can actually exchange the heat to water for other uses.

compost heatHeat is a natural byproduct of all the biomass interactions breaking down the pile. A hot pile can be around 160 degrees for a few days.

Our compost thermometer arrived today, so I checked the piles and found despite the recent freezing temperatures, the garden compost pile is at a toasty 97 degrees. The orchard pile is not doing so hot, but we’re about to add more fuel (leaves, manure, grass clippings and water) later this evening.

We do have plans for an outdoor shower, but we may use more readily available solar heat until we really need something like this.

Farm hour: quantifying what’s possible

October 30th, 2012 No comments

leaf harvest
One of three tarp loads of oak, maple, hickory and walnut leaves we gathered up for the orchard compost.

composting leavesThe orchard “mulchery” is set up. It’s 20 feet long, five feet wide and about 4 feet tall. If half the space is used, that should be 200 cubic feet of mulch. We added about 80 cubic feet of compacted, harvested leaves to use throughout the winter and started a pile with some of them today in the middle bin.

To start, I used a lot of the leaves, 15 gallons of cow manure from the neighbor’s field, grass clippings from today’s upper field mowing and about 8 gallons of water.

Water is going to be an issue until I can figure out an easier way to get it to the orchard. By the time my two five gallon buckets got there, I had lost about 4 gallons to sloshing.

upper fieldWhat’s Possible? I measured the space and determined if we use the entire space for blueberry bushes and apple trees, we’re looking at around 175 blueberry bushes and 32 apple trees. Using non-organic yields, the potential looks like this:

  • Apple:10-20 bushels per tree is 320-640 bushels of apples, 960-3200 gallons of cider or 13,440-26,880 lbs. of apples
  • Blueberries: 15 lbs. per bush is 2,625 lbs. of berries
  • Market: at current market value: $26,000 – $47,000

What’s Practical? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. We have about an hour of daylight each night and two weekend days of winter farm hours. We can’t eat all that, and we probably can’t process all that for others. Can we do this?

We’re thinking of starting with 8 apple trees and 10 blueberry bushes, but I’m mulching as though we’re doing it all.

Farm hour: garden and orchard chores

October 22nd, 2012 No comments

orchard chores

Vince got the chain saw and took down this dead tree in the upper field. This and a broken branch from the pregnant cedar became firewood. The smaller branches are in a pile to be composted.

The plantable orchard space is growing with every farm hour. It took maybe 30 minutes to get this tree out of the way. Thirty minutes here. Thirty minutes there – adds up to over 40 cubic feet of leaf and grass matter and 15 gallons of seasoned manure from the barn in the garden compost.

We can almost see the entire field as we begin mowing areas from where we cleared rocks and hidden tree branches. Then there’s starting the orchard compost, setting up rain barrels, getting some Shiitake mushroom logs going… the months away are small chores for now.

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Farm hour: harvesting leaf mulch

October 19th, 2012 No comments

leaf mulchThis is one Fall and Winter chore I think will really pay off no matter what we decide to plant in the orchard.


We’re going to need lots of good mulch, and I think we might have enough ingredients on the farm. I’m not really sure, but each evening farm hour gets us closer.

I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around how I can possibly produce as much mulch as we’re going to need for the garden and orchard, and then I found gold.

This evening’s haul was a dark, nicely decayed, heavy leaf matter raked from under some huge oak, hickory and maple trees that grow in the upper field fence line. There is no telling how much of this is here.

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Honoring the old ways through organic practices

August 14th, 2011 No comments

John Whittemore shares how organic and permaculture farm practices used by Short Mountain Distillery honor our agricultural heritage. You can hear the guys from the CO-OP putting together our grain bin in the back ground.

Short Mountain Distillery planted 7 acres of organic corn you see featured in this video. The test went very well, and John is busy planning 20 rotational acres of organic corn on Billy’s 300 acre farm for next year.