Seed catalogs are rolling in and I'm amazed yet again at how quickly that area of my brain (and soul) is rejuvenated and ready for more. I mean, my work has slowed down considerably now, but it really wasn't that long ago that the work was still steady and the food was screaming to be harvested and stored. It reminds me that we are so resilient. We can be bone-tired one day and still find new energy and strength the next. Anyway, the garden has been gifted to the chickens for the rest of the winter and they seem happy about it.
She's happy, I swear it! Grumpy dinosaur chicken. Anyway.
I thought I'd share a bit about what farming looks like right now. My hours have decreased out at my job, however I still am poking my head in here and there to take care of stuff in the hoop house and to manage little projects. I have a small amount of cold-season crops growing out there. I planted probably a thousand cloves of garlic. I also started a native plant garden to encourage beneficial insects and all that good stuff. I love that it never fully stops. The pace just changes.
Our food co-op has a deal with me where I take a couple dozen buckets of their food scraps each week to compost out there. We made the compost bins out of old bunk bed frames. It works! Although, we've yet to churn out usable compost and I'd really like to figure out a way to manage it all better. The way things are set up out there, I don't really have reliable equipment or consistent labor. So my big challenge is to develop a fruitful garden without a ton of need for such things! It can be done, but it's difficult at times to think outside the box. This winter I'm going to consult with a compost expert and see what I can develop for composting- I'd like some kind of a no-turn vermicompost system that sort of takes care of itself…
Back at home we've made the shift back to Polliwog Farm. It feels good, honestly. We are focused on just the microgreens right now, and it's giving us an opportunity to slow down and figure out our respective roles and capacity for this work. I love that Jeff and I are bonding over this stuff again. We are a really good team. It's not always easy but always results in deeper trust and happiness and intimacy. I love the guy, truly. He also just got a new tech-support job. It's a really great opportunity for him, but it was a bittersweet choice. He loves his current job- small company, lots of freedom, great people. But ultimately we just got a lot of signs and it was like the universe was really pointing him in that direction. The job came out of nowhere and fit every single criteria we had, including Jeff's desire to work only 32 hrs a week! Anyway, so that's been exciting. He starts in a couple of weeks.
Anyway, back to the micros. We were planning on utilizing our little greenhouse and also renting some greenhouse space for the winter, but when we suddenly had a vacant room in the house, we realized that we could make do. But first we finally decided to do that painting that we kept putting off since we bought the house.
I got a $5 can of paint from the paint store out of their oops-I-don't-really-like-that-color returned stash. I can't believe how expensive paint is now! It would have been like $65 otherwise. Anyway, it was a little on the warmer side than I would have chosen (pink, anyone?), but it did the trick and gave the room new life.
We also refreshed and patched up the one wall that we had already painted.
Then we put in the wooden racks that Jeff built for our operation last winter. Each shelf is a plastic lined wooden tray that can catch water. It fits 4 of those growing trays per shelf. We have room for two of the racks in this room, so we're challenging ourselves to keep our operation going with that amount of space. So far so good!
On the longest wall we put up two metal racks for storage and all things farm related. It's not glamorous, but it works! This also serves as our germination station.
And crazy as it seems, we were also able to fit in a nice little office for me for all my various farm work. It's actually made a difference just to have this dedicated space.
We're focusing on growing most of the micros hydroponically now that they are indoors. I am a big fan of good ol' soil and sunshine, but I've been thinking more about where I believe farming has to go in the future, and I definitely think that we have to be open in this area. I know little about this method, just what I've been able to research over the past couple of months. The benefits for us right now are: less mess, less waste, less water, less to sterilize and clean up. I am interested in the method, but I don't really like the use of plastic growing mediums and liquid fertilizers. So I thought maybe we could make it all work by using paper towel as our growing medium and compost tea (which I've been wanting to try for ages!) as our fertilizer. All compostable! Doesn't it look cool? Here are some germinating red cabbage on 4 sheets of paper towel. They are sending out their fuzzy roots and will soon grab ahold of the paper towel.
Here's more red cabbage in a later stage.
Wheatgrass, still grown in soil since we sell the whole pot for people to cut it themselves.
Arugula. This was the one that got me feeling really good about our direction. We have struggled with arugula. We grew it for the flavor in our micro mix, but it was always kind of a waste of space- spotty germination, susceptible to mold, etc. Problem after problem with this seed. But grown hydroponically, with a humidity dome on top until established and a nice spritz of compost tea each day? Carpets of the stuff! I'm in love! A small and tasty testament to perseverance.
Compost tea. I'm sure I have even more to learn, but from what I can tell this murky liquid and I are gonna be good friends. It's so simple, too. Just a bucket of water, a few scoops of good quality compost, a bubbler from a fish tank, and a tablespoon or so of blackstrap molasses. Tea! I've been adding a little to each watering can and filling our spray bottle with it straight. The difference has been really wonderful. I don't know anything about how effective it is as a longer term fertilizer for larger plants, since most of these micros get cut at around 10 days old. I'll keep you all posted on this stuff, though.
I guess we're taking a slower more interested approach than we have in the past, when we were hurried for results and output. Now we have this space to think about stuff, take records, try new things. I'm very excited to think about food production being done in smaller spaces with less energy and resources. I really think the future of food is in those intensive and innovative methods, while the rest of our land will need to be dedicated to healing and perennial food systems- permaculture all the way!
We're still growing our sunflower and pea shoots in soil since their seeds are too large for the paper towel method.
The peas, since they are good and cold hardy, are out in the greenhouse for now. Their growth has slowed considerably since the light is so scarce in these months. But they taste and look better than ever.
Things got cold enough that we had to erect our low tunnel to give them some added protection. Now they are in there with a little space heater. We have better and even more efficient plans for this space, though. We'll keep you posted on what we come up with and how it works.
Jeff and I were visiting his mom and her partner out in Kalamazoo and we took the opportunity to leave the kids with them for an afternoon and take a field trip to a small family farm out that way. They grow microgreens too and do hydroponics, and so I took a chance and asked if we could visit and pick their brains. Oh my, was it wonderful! I went there with hopes to learn a lot about the microgreens, but we learned about so much more. The micros were actually validating. She had much of the same problems that we do, although we have a larger operation. It was encouraging to see that we are actually doing a lot of things right and that we're also charging too little. I don't know that we'll raise our prices just yet since we care about accessibility, but it was interesting to see that she charged double what we do for some things, and she doesn't even wash them!
The stuff we learned the most about was their whole hydroponic set up. It was just so much cool innovation and interesting reuse of materials. All trial and error and google. Just like us. They grow lettuces and greens year round in three hoop houses that are heated geothermally. They also manage to make a good living and employ several people seasonally. Jeff and I were totally enthralled, and it was an excellent bonding experience for both of us. We're both coming back from some burnout over the summer, and it's been nice to tap into the passion and the purpose and the intrigue in all of it again, together. I also loved how easy it was to talk to this couple about everything. We felt like the same stock. We also had funny similarities in terms of the division of labor between the sexes. We all have our strengths, and while Jeff was geeking out over tractors and geothermal systems, I was looking at the plants and the routine and the maintenance and all those details. They are the exact same way. Solidarity. I hope to keep in touch with them as we grow and learn new things.
Overall I'm feeling really positive. I worried that with all the change that we've gone through I'd feel like giving up, but it's been the opposite lately. I'm ready, baby.