Category Archives: Farm

Microclimate

Our property is located at the top of one of the eastern hills leading into Oregon’s coast range. South, east and west of the hill are deep valleys, and the upper hill, where the house and barns are, gets nearly full southern sun exposure.  All of this results in some interesting weather:  hot days sometimes up to 5 degrees warmer than the valley floor, and warm evenings as the warm air from the valleys rises up, pushed up by cool coastal winds.

What this means in practical terms is that our nearest weather stations never actually reflect reality.  So, this weekend, we installed our very own weather station on the farm!

It took a lot of assistance to get the station up on the post and properly aligned toward true south, but luckily we have some pretty great family.

The new weather station sits right between the garden and the barn, about 10′ above the ground.  The outdoor station measures rain, wind, temperature, humidity, and pressure.  There is an indoor display, but the device also tracks historical data and uses hyperlocal data to produce a forecast.   

But the best part about the new weather station is that it streams online through Weather Underground, so we can check our weather from anywhere, and so can you!

In other climate news, we’re loving our greenhouse this year, although we might have gotten a little carried away: not sure where these are all going to go in the garden!  

Spring Chickens

The south-most section of our garden space has been a battle zone for the last two years.  Although we sheet mulched as we did for the rest of the space, in that area the grass continued to be too much to beat back, and each spring would start again with a thick lawn.  So this year, we decided to take a step we hadn’t before, and till in the garden.  Ordinarily we’ve tried to avoid this, primarily because our garden is an old pasture and the load of weed seeds in the soil is pretty spectacular – tilling only invites new weeds!  

However, this year, we have a secret weapon in the fight:  our trial batch of meat chickens are ready to come off the heat lamp and join the real world!  We set up a fenced area for them, and put them on the newly tilled soil — they’ll help us scratch up any new sprouts that come up, and keep the tilled area from becoming a weed patch overnight.

And in return, we’re expecting to harvest 15-20 delicious roasters in mid-June, after which we will amend the soil with some compost and plant in a cover crop to keep the weeds down for the rest of the year. A couple hundred more square feet to garden, tasty chicken dinners… so much to be excited about!

Spring is for Babies!

It’s baby season here on the farm!!  The finally farm babies were finally born a few days ago, so the anxiety of the farmers has gone way down, and now we just get to enjoy adorable sleepy, bouncy babies.

Baby lambs…

…so many baby lambs….

baby goats!  Caitlyn finally had her twins, a boy and a girl.

And baby chicks! These guys are mostly meat birds, an experiment here on the farm.  Looking forward to seeing how pasturing works with these guys!

Growing The Orchard

One of the first thoughts we had about our property was, “this place needs more fruit trees”. We have a small orchard that we have certainly made use of, but this year we are finally making an effort to put resources into adding new trees and grafting onto the trees we already have. Apples, pears, wild cherries, and plums are the basics we have been working with up until now. This past week, we began increasing the variety of those fruits, as well as adding in citrus and figs.

Let the grafting bring! Here is a photo of one of our established apple trees (originally some sort of yellow delicious) that has  just been dramatically altered through some serious (much needed) pruning and the addition of roughly one dozen grafts for new apple varieties. Many thanks to Thaddeus, who had made this his project!

A gopher. A gopher…ate the roots of two of our fig trees! The anger and disappointment of it all. Sigh. But, we rallied. We made cuttings from the eaten trees and have set them in dirt to re-root. And, impatient, we bought an older tree at a local nursery to replace the 4 year old tree the gopher destroyed.  This is our new fig tree, planted back into the hill where the previous one sat, but this time equipped with a loose, chicken-wire, root protecting cage.  Round two begins.

Never ones to deny the kid his love of shoveling, we had Archimedes out helping us plant five new trees in the orchard. It was raining and the ground was so wet, but we got it done: a peach, a cherry, two persimmons, and two ume (Japanese flowering plum, the unripened fruit is used to make pickles).

Now the orchard is starting to take on more of the shape we have been wanting. This is a very exciting project for us!

A Brief Sunny Day

This weekend we set up some temp fencing on the steep hill between the garden and the house, and let the sheep come eat down the tall grass. We’re keeping them off the pastures to try to recover from the hard year last year, and they’ve been stuck eating hay for weeks, so they were pretty excited for the break. Well, the adults were, anyway.. the lambs took a little training before they figured it out…

But once the lambs got used to the idea, they settled right in on the garden steps and organized the cutest photo op ever!

While the lambs napped, we hauled compost to repair the garden beds, and pulled weeds. Last frost date is fast approaching!

Seeding

Now that we have a greenhouse, we can get a real head start on the garden.  Being able to do this is more important than ever, because the average temperatures in 2016 are expected to be even hotter than 2015, and that was the hottest year on record!

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Why does heat matter?  Well, plants don’t grow just through sunlight alone – differences in temperature change the speed with which plants mature.  Especially in our small gardening space, it is important to understand when a crop is done producing, so that it can be pulled out and replaced.  Being able to take advantage of ‘degree days’ means being ready with seedlings as soon as the last freeze happens, so that when the hot days come, we have plants at the right stage in development to take advantage of it.

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And what that means is:  seeding!!  Grandpa John and Archer helped mix potting soil and fill 4″ pots, and Megan has spent hours in the greenhouse setting tiny seeds in their first homes.  We’ve got cabbage, kale, chard, onions, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, leeks, and cauliflower started, with salad, arugula, carrots, snap peas and fava beans in the ground.   This summer is going to be delicious!!

Hard Numbers

Here on our little farm, we are lucky to have full time jobs to pay the bills (though on nice days we sometimes regret it) while we experiment with what makes sense for our space and our family. While we have a legal obligation to use several acres of our property for ‘farm’ use, our particular county in Oregon is relatively relaxed about what that means financially. And since it’s farming, after all, there’s no requirement that we actually make a profit.. but it would be nice to get there someday!!

In the meantime, 2015 was a year where we were very busy as a family, and our farm business suffered for it. 2015 was the second year we kept careful records of our sales and expenses.  Here on the farm we have five separate lines of production: Eggs, Veggies, Turkeys, Sheep, and Laying Hens.  In 2015, we didn’t actually make a profit selling to customers in any one of those lines!  But, our own family ate eggs, veggies, turkeys for Thanksgiving, and lamb, too.  Thanks to us, the business made a small profit in 2015.

We knew at the start of 2015 that we should probably raise our price for egg dozens, but resisted because it felt like a lot to ask.  Then feed prices went up nearly $1/bag, and the heat and age of our hens meant we actually had fewer eggs to sell during the year (we made more money selling eggs in 2014 than in 2015).  Comparative dozens in the store cost $7, and at least one well respected local farm (using the same feed that we do) is charging $9.50/dozen.

Although we charged our customers $5/dozen in 2015, after our costs, the price for the remaining dozens would have worked out to $15/dozen: obviously something needs to change with the eggs.  We’re making several changes in 2016, including thinning and updating our flock, setting aside space to plant chicken food to supplement their commercial (expensive) feed, and, raising prices for dozens to $6/dozen.

We are honored to be able to provide food to our customers, family, and friends, and we look forward to continuing to learn and grow our farm business!

Waking Up

We’ve had an incredibly busy February, lots of packed social weekends and travel and generally not a whole lot of sleep for the adults in the family.  But the winter months are fading away already, and the increased daylight is telling us it’s time to get serious about spending time on the farm, too.

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Sunrise over the garden and the new greenhouse!  Lovely to have clear mornings again.

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Our first lamb of 2016 was born this past weekend, making time spent on the farm cuter than before, too!  This is Eureka’s little boy – she always throws singles, but they’re huge!

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The new light and the warm February days are GREAT for the garden..weeds.   Our overwintered crops of brussels sprouts, collards and kale are getting ready to sprout rapini (my favorite spring dish), and the aisles have more green than the beds!

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Our first seedlings in the greenhouse!  So excited to see these babies poking up their heads. Welcome to the world, little eggplants.

Rat Hunting

Over the past year or so, we’ve noticed a significant increase in rodent issues in our barn, especially rats. We’ve increased the number of traps, both hand built and purchased, and while we had some initial success (20 rats in 2 months!), coming into the dark barn after lights out would still reveal several in the turkey coop, where the messy turkeys create many a delicious snack amid the bedding even when we raise the feeders at night. A few times a year we’ve knocked them back by trying to gas them with exhaust from the farm truck, thanks to a clever weld on the farm truck exhaust pipe that allows us to fit a garden hose on, and run into the coop floor. But because we have so many animals around, poisoning the rats was never an option.

So when we had the chance to have a crew of trained rat hunters come visit us, we were excited to give it a try!

The first thing we learned is that we made a mistake when we built our chicken coop floor. When we moved in a floor was already in place, and we enlisted family help to tear the rotting floor up and replace it. But when we built the new floor, we just put it at the same level as the old one, which is pretty much perfect for a rat castle, and not so great for ever allowing us to get in there and kick the rats out. Oops. This limited the hunting team’s ability to really go after the rats, as they were safely settled into the middle of the floor under the chicken coop, and unreachable. Glad we’ve put off building a floor for the turkey coop til now, so we’ll know to raise it up high enough to be able to get under it and make it less hospitable.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t catch a few! It was so much fun to see the dogs do what they were meant to do, and they clearly enjoyed it.

Guess we know what’s going on the task list for 2016… new coop floors!

Greenhouse!

Here in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, a garden without a greenhouse has limited function.  According to our gardening neighbor, the last frost date here on the hill is May 15th, which means there are a LOT of things we can’t start by direct-seed until mid-May (and who can forget the horrible June hail storm that demolished our garden back in 2013)

Our first spring on the farm, we attempted starting seeds in the house, but the location of the windows and the angle of the house really do not work in concert with one another (this is what comes of putting a pre-built house down at the only angle with enough flat land to support it), and the effort was a fail.  Since then we’ve been resigned to direct seeding quite late, or, just purchasing starts.

Thaddeus obtained glass windows to re-purpose several years ago, but distractions, travel, and other priorities have kept them from turning into a greenhouse long enough for us to realize that planning the greenhouse before the actual Future House really wouldn’t be a good idea anyway, since we don’t know yet exactly what Future House will look like, and whether we’ll be wanting to make significant earth modifications to that area during construction.

And then, this past fall, Megan’s stepfather Rich handed down to us his old tent structure, which he previously had used to tent a boat while working on it.  Thaddeus saw the opportunity to put up a quick temporary greenhouse using the tent frame poles and some greenhouse sheeting.  A little elbow grease with the tractor to flatten a spot, a trip to the supply store for the plastic and .. voila!  We have a greenhouse!


The greenhouse is between the road and the house, a good reason to wait to design it until we can make sure it doesn’t look horribly out of place as the first thing you see when you turn in the driveway!

The completion of the greenhouse brought home one of the truisms of farm To Do lists, which is:  for every crossed-off item there are at least two more new tasks to be done.  The greenhouse exists, but now we need (1) tables to support the seeds in order to (2) actually start some seeds, and I’d love to add (3) some new earth pots to hold peppers.. wish us luck!