Friday, June 29, 2012

Warehouse Progress

Enter the new digs. We have re-taped and added a coat of mud and some texture to what will be the office and break-room of our new facility. Doors have been hung or re-hung, patches made, and we are ready for a coat of paint
The new office has a view of the floor.
The floor is still cluttered with tools and a thousand things that we have collected over the years in preparation for setting up a more formal packing facility.
The list has expanded and contracted, but our short term objectives and long term goals have remained the same since day one.
The new covered area, that will be used for washing, is being inspected today and we will pour concrete on Monday. The painter is coming down to go over  the details, and though I am jokingly sticking to my original projected start-up date of July 1, we are making good progress and it will not be long before we are setting up the refrigeration and completing the installation of new high efficiency lighting.

Nothin' Left To Do

About a week ago The Organic Mechanic paid us a visit. I got a phone call from a local farm and was introduced via email to Thomas Kamiya.


Mechanic breathes life into farmers, machines

Capital Press
ROCHESTER, Wash. -- Thomas Kamiya proudly points out a rototiller that was underwater for four days during a 2007 flood.
"We clean up, start up, it runs," he said. "It's a miracle."
Less miraculous are the lessons he teaches his students. The Japanese-Canadian retired as a heavy duty mechanic in 2009, and he now spends about six months a year teaching young organic farmers how to maintain their equipment.
Until this summer, Kamiya has taken his class on the road only in Canada. Now he's working his way south, through Western Washington and Oregon. He's hoping someone in California will invite him to continue south.
Kamiya came to Canada from Japan in 1975, studied at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and started working at Finning International, a heavy equipment company based in Vancouver, B.C. There he settled into what he calls "The Canadian Dream" -- a wife, two kids and a garden.
Since he retired, he has shared his knowledge with 123 farmers and counting. He is now 67 and has no plans to retire again.
Why focus his teaching on organic farmers?
"Organic farmers support public health," he said. "They are food doctors. They are a 'farmacy' -- that's with an 'F.'"
Many young farmers have come from non-farm backgrounds and never had to learn technical skills.
Kamiya said he teaches life skills in parallel with mechanics. "Maintenance is good for the machine and for life," he said. "You shouldn't need to repair it. That means you didn't do maintenance."
Taking care of machines need not be difficult, but it is all-important.
"One minute of checking for leaks before start-up can save you a thousand dollars," he said.
A 1958 Farmall Cub now runs well after he taught a young farmer how to troubleshoot it. He called the repair and parts manual "the machine's Bible."
This machine should last another 20 years, "but without maintenance, tomorrow morning it's gone. You have to make it last. They're not making these anymore." 
Student Drew Schneidler said any of Kamiya's student had better be ready to work.
"He's a traveling teacher, not a traveling mechanic," he said.
Schneidler farms next to Helsing Junction Farm, where Kamiya stayed during his visit to the area. The young farmer has confidence to do things he earlier would have hired out to a mechanic.
"Before, I could tinker. Now I can figure out anything wrong, at least with smaller machines. With bigger machines, at least I get in the ballpark."
Kamiya doesn't charge for his services, asking only for a place to plug in the van he travels and lives in.
Any donations go to relief efforts in the earthquake- and tsunami-stricken areas of Japan, where he plans to teach next summer.
"I want to build a bridge from the U.S. to Japan," he said. "I want to bring hope from heart to heart." 

I ended up on the phone with Thomas and told him that though we may not need any maintenance work I would be delighted to meet him. He came down to the farm on Saturday and stayed until early Monday morning. I know he was a bit frustrated by  the fact that we made him take Father's Day off. This man really likes to work. I think he was duly impressed by our maintenance program and completely baffled by the safety measures we take here. He was unwilling to believe that we had not  had a fire when he saw that we have fire extinguishers in all our buildings and field and delivery vehicles. After searching and searching, meticulously going over our tractors,  lawn mower, chainsaw, weed-eater, pressure-washer, and two generators, Thomas was finally able to point out one grease fitting that had not been serviced.

My daughter took a real shine to Thomas and his elegant manner and thoughtful approach to an intentional journey are inspiring.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

It's Just a Box of Rain

Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

Look for awhile at the China Cat Sunflower
proud-walking jingle in the midnight sun
Copper-dome Bodhi drip a silver kimono
like a crazy-quilt stargown
through a dream night wind

Krazy Kat peeking through a lace bandana
like a one-eyed Cheshire
like a diamond-eye Jack
A leaf of all colors plays
a golden string fiddle
to a double-e waterfall over my back

Comic book colors on a violin river
crying Leonardo words
from out a silk trombone
I rang a silent bell
beneath a shower of pearls
in the eagle wing palace
of the Queen Chinee

In his Box of Rain, Hunter writes:
"Nobody ever asked me the meaning of this song. People seem to know exactly what I'm talking about. It's good that a few things in this world are clear to all of us."

Field Walkin'

If you work here at the farm you will eventually come into my office or hunt me down in a field or in the shop. If you break down you will come to me, if you get stuck, you will try to find me, if it rains you out you will look for me, if you finish something you will call me, if you don't finish something you will try and find me, if you are confused, don't understand, don't have what you need, have more than you need, lose what you had etc. you will try and get hold of me. The buck stops here. On a good day I am grateful and even keeled, I try to handle these situations with a level head and a sense of  humor...on a good day. I tell myself that I am in service to our customers, that our subscribers and market shoppers want to know that their food is being grown with their best interest in mind; not only regarding our farming practices but also in the general vibe here at the farm. But know this: I not only have problems brought to me, I actively seek them out.

I spend much more time looking for unhealthy plants than I do standing at the end of a row or field and patting myself on the back. Oh, and I find them. It is our belief that prevention is far more appealing than trying to correct a problem, so I spend a lot of time observing plant health, and trying to stay ahead of pests and cultural requirements. The following set of pictures shows a little of both.

 Here our Chard is getting hit with a bit of Cucumber Beetle pressure. Despite how awful this plant looks, they should pull out of it as soon as they begin to grow faster than the beetles can eat. They just need a bit more heat. We usually cover these early planting with row cover, but opted out this year. Time will tell if this was a fools move.

 Luckily, the Chard is near our perennial flowers and after looking at it, I was treated to an eyeful of blooms and buds.
 The flowers are coming on just in time to make bouquets for our first CSA delivery. As a matter of fact I have spent a few hours a day for the past few days training our new flower cutter. For better or worse, cutting flowers is one of those farm jobs at which I undeniable excel. I have spent a whole lot of time cutting flowers over the years and fancy myself among the fastest. It makes it difficult to teach any other way but to have someone watch me and then dissect the procedure. It is all physical memory, and if you ask me how I cut flowers I cannot answer, I just have to get out there and do it.

I do a complete field walk every week; every field, every crop, nearly every row.
I pack a clip board around and make notes on the health and vigor of plants, record the presence of pests and diseases, monitor variety trials, and watch for safety concerns. I get down and dirty.

And occasionally, with a little encouragement, I goof off a bit.
 Last years leeks have all gone to flower and the field is otherworldly. Who could resist getting in the middle of this bizarre landscape?

My Weather Station

Lately every day seems to bring these foreboding clouds. BawFaw is in the back ground and I find myself constantly checking the weather by glancing at it and taking note. Some days it will rain all day on BawFaw but not in the Valley, usually we are not so lucky but if you keep your eye on it you can stay out of trouble and plan at least the next 30 minutes to an hour.

Know The Warning Signs

LMFAO has nothing on these boys.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Onions are in!!!!!

Okay, they have been for a while and I have just been a bit lazy getting around to blogging. Well, not so much lazy as busy...

Last year I posted about how we plant our onions. For many years we grew our onion starts in open flats and then the field crew would go through and lay them out on the beds about four inches apart and then go back and literally poke them into place in  the row. This has long been one of the most difficult and uncomfortable chores on the farm and we have been trying to come up with an alternative to the back straining job of setting this crop in the field.
One of the biggest challenges is the shear number of transplants necessary. You see, we grow somewhere between 80 and 100 thousand onions. We have always started them in open flats in four or five rows, and in doing so can fit between 800 and 1500 plants in a flat. We can not use our transplanters with these open flat grown starts; the one that can grip these plants can not plant them closely enough, and the one that can plant them closely enough can not grip the plants. Even if we did have a planter  that could handle it, our cell trays only hold 128 plants. A quick glance at the math says we would increase the necessary square footage in the green house by at least eight times and probably closer to ten if we tried to grow the onions in our 128s.

But after too many years of doing this by hand, and not getting any younger we compromised. We purchased new flats specifically for our onions. They have 405 cells rather than 128, so in theory we only double or quadruple the necessary square footage for propagation, then we reduced our planting numbers a bit expecting a better survival rate in the field. In short we wriggled our way into being able to use our transplanter.

One of the draw backs is the fact that these cells are tiny, and I mean tiny. They are about the size of a cocktail ice-cube. We had to adjust our planter accordingly, so all the slop that is usually acceptable in these simple machines had to be chased down and taken out. Then there is the fact that we like to plant onions no more than six inches apart, so our ground speed had to be reduced to a mind numbing .25mph. Logic dictates that the faster you go, the more important it is to pay attention, but I am here to tell you that there is a distinct bell curve to that paradigm. When you start traveling well under normal walking speed, about 3mph, things get dicey; the mind begins to wander.

So, here we are all loaded with plants. Because the starts go in so close, we also push the limits of the capacity of the tractor to transport enough plants to get to the end of the row and back before needing more flats. The bucket of this tractor is loaded as well, and we can carry eight flats on the carousels.
Despite all the sniveling, and the feeling that after twenty years of farming I can still fall flat on my face when it comes to doing something new, we muddled through that first day.

By the middle of day two we seemed to be getting things dialed in, and when it was time for our last set of seven or eight beds I think we were all comfortable, and the need to go back through and fill in or to find buried plants and liberate them from the soil, was all but gone.

The final result was a planting that was set better with significantly less fatigue than we ever thought possible.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Transplanting the Solanacea

 When we finally get a string of decent weather and enough ground prepped to feel as though we are getting ahead it is time to transplant our solanacea; the tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.

 The first thing we do is mark beds and fertilize using one of our old Farmalls. Above you can see our beds marked with a band of fertilizer in the center of each one. We start the tomatoes and other solanacea in the greenhouse in February. They are grown first in an open flat, then transplanted up to a 128, then transplanted again into a four inch pot. That allows us a good head start trying to get these heat loving plants to produce in our cool maritime climate.

 Over the years we have developed a strategy that seems to produce a decent yield in all but the worst seasons. Above you can see the jungle of tomato transplants ready to go out. We grow a large transplant then strip all but the top leaves before we transplant them into the field.

The plants are stripped and ready to go out. We use a very old style single row planter that allows the people planting to place the plants gently by hand. They lay the plants on their sides and let go just as the discs of the planter are ready to cover the tops of the plants.

Jesus and Gilberto untangle and place the plants in the row.

 And here is a lucky camera shot showing how at the end of each plant set, the tops are left exposed and the entire length of the stem is buried.

This method buries the stem which is almost 2 feet long in some cases. The stem will grow roots at each intersection where the leaves have been stripped and create a very stout plant with a large shallow root system with ready access to fertilizer. The end result is shown above. After a few weeks we will come back in, trellis the tomatoes, and hope for some long hot summer days.