Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Corn-Beans-Squash, and lipstick on a pig...

Earlier sunsets couldn't have come too soon. All of the harvesting, weeding, and soil preparation for next year's beds made for some long days in July and August. I thought I'd share a few quick pictures and updates. Here's a picture of our 600 row feet of sweet corn, two types of pole beans and various squashes (and a few watermelons thrown in to see how they would do).
Not too bad for our first attempt. This is a photo from late July. It looked fairly orderly back then. Now the rows are nearly impassible with squash and beans running amok and a few corn stalks getting pulled over in the chaos. The corn has done great, beans are everywhere, and the squash vines just keep on spreading. The squash in the southern-most row seemed to get too much sun, and the watermelons south of corn row 2 (out of 6, 1 farthest north and 6 farthest south) was a bit too shaded. Looks like next season we'll try the CoBeSqua in a series of northeast to southwest diagonal rows, where we had our potatoes this year. We'll have to see how that changes the overall shading of paths. There will also be more space between the rows of corn. I may even try a double row of corn to see if that helps them stand up better.

Our friend Scott has been teaching us some of the ways that Native Americans have traditionally managed their "Three Sisters" mounds (he calls our variation on the theme "the three amigas"). Here's a picture of how great his look:

Yeah, that's him, shaded by the monstrous corn, partially hidden by the out of control peppers, and the huge tobacco plants in front. Did we mention that he's 6 feet tall? Scott's garden plot always looks much better than the rest of the farm. He's a great teacher and we've learned a ton from him.

It's been a challenge to find farm partners who fit with our beliefs and goals for the farm -- we'll miss him and his influence here when he moves on from Ithaca.

We hope to find someone who will take his plot for next year, but our friends who rent next door -- and who grew potatoes on our side of our shared fence -- it looks like they might be moving, too. sigh.

On to a more light-hearted topic: The funniest photo of the week. "Lil' red," who is no longer a little pig, had quite a feast with the left-over elderberries after we made the latest batch of syrup. And yes, the purple pigments from the berries kept their color on her snout and mouth for a couple of hours. Even longer than the spa-quality clay stuck on her forehead. She's one glamorous girl!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Family Farm-ing

June flew by. Late plantings, setting up irrigation "systems" (and I use that word loosely), and learning to move our 3 not-so-little-anymore pigs around the pasture kept us hopping. Speaking of hopping, we have several rabbit families invading our farm from the various hedgerows and neighboring properties. Seems that young beans and peas have been their favorite snacks so far this month.

We hosted my sister here for a few days last week which along with the semi-regular weekly visit from my parents made for an interesting "family farm" feeling. Mom worked with her flower beds, Dad did a terrific job weed whacking the out of control undergrowth in the orchard, and Sis put in several hours moving hay into position for mulching potatoes and mulched the paths in the 3-sister's planting area. It was great to see how much got done in a few short days.  Here's a picture of Sis and some of the potato beds.
I finished mulching up under the potatoes this morning. We're told that the potatoes will produce additional tubers up in the hay, and to harvest, we won't have to dig so deep to get them out. We'll see how this works out. If nothing else, it sure was lighter than hilling with dirt (by hand). 

You can see the buckwheat row in the left hand side of the picture. I'll cut them down before they go to seed, and replant for a second buckwheat cover crop for this year.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spring Tilling with the Jeep Tractor

Yes, that's my 94' Jeep Wrangler with a set of discs tilling up some sod around one of our cherry trees for new planting beds (more on our permanent bed designs in a future post). Last November we bought a 3 point hitch that is part of the "Dirtworks" system from Kolpin Powersports. Since we're working with narrow permanent beds and "forest farming" areas, we're not plowing up acres of field at a time, so the smaller scale attachments (called Category 0) work perfect for us. And since the system attaches via a standard two inch receiver (with some additional bracing) it was easy to use our existing farm vehicle.

We tested the chisel plows and disc attachments in the fall, and the rows that we broke up are so much lighter and dryer than the surrounding soil. Our field has been used primarily for hay over the past few decades, and the soil is compressed, heavy clay, with lots of rocks (hence the stone walls popping up all over the farm). But the Kolpin pops on and off the Jeep pretty easily, and we've been able to plant over an acre of berry bushes and trees in the past two weeks.

We'll post more about our adventures with the Jeep Tractor soon.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tree Gate Farm Shovel-Leaning Party

Ok, so it was really a tree planting party, but you have to love Mark D, and our neighbor Julia's shovel leaning form while supervising Sharon as she digs a hole between our dying evergreen wind block.

We had beautiful weather, and an extremely energetic crew of 8 adults and 4 kids join us this Saturday for a few hours. It was great having friends help dig holes, remove rocks, plant trees, add leaf mulch, cover with cardboard (to reduce weed pressure), top with wood chips and water heavily. The work went so fast, that Sharon and I were having a hard time keeping everyone occupied.

Thanks to everyone who joined us for a nice sunny day of planting. We got ALL of our serviceberry, choke cherries, and red cedars planted (except for the few we potted for reserves). Monday saw Sharon and I planting out 60 high bush cranberries that our friend Scott brought us. He showed up Sunday with a trunk load of  trees left over from a seed/sapling give-away that he was a part of. He brought us white ash, green ash, black ash, white walnut (aka butternut), black walnut, nannyberries (aka sheepberries), and the high bush cranberries. Later, we stopped over at our friends at Red Tail Farm and they had a bundle of black locusts they had been given, and decided they weren't going to plant them afterall... When we get those in the ground it will make a total of 75 black locusts we've planted as well. :-)

I guess I'd better get back out there...only 465 more holes to dig!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Spring Tree Planting

Sorry for the dearth of posts recently. Along with all the usual farm chores, the prepping all the new beds and planting areas we hope to establish this year has been keeping me quite busy. Many of our starts in the hoophouse are popping up, and the typical last frost date is coming up quick (May 10-20 depending on who you ask), so it looks like an even busier few weeks to come. We're having friends over Saturday to help us plant some of the new Tree Gate Farm trees. On the 4th, we held a mini-tree planting party to help get the kinks out while planting 35 black locusts along part of our Western property line. Someday that should provide us with a regular supply of posts/fire wood through pollarding. We'll also mix in some of our cherry and serviceberry trees, and plant some shade loving ground covers and shrubs. Tomorrow we'll be planting choke cherries, washington hawthorns, red cedars, and serviceberries scattered among several of our forest gardening plantings.

If your not familiar with woodland farming or "forest gardening" check out the website of one of my favorite resources: Edible Forest Gardening by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier. As we develop various hedgerows and tree planting clusters we frequently look to these two volumes for ideas on planting combinations and selecting the best species for our goals. I'll post photos after the event.

The tradition of farmers and their families getting together for tackling large chores as a group is as old as agriculture, but inviting today's non-farmers to pitch-in is relatively new outside of CSA membership. The "Crop Mob" effort in North Carolina has gotten some press of late (New York Times) and an Ithaca Crop Mob effort has just been formed, and a bunch of new ones are popping up around the country. Definitely an interesting concept, but we think of our farming effort as still to small to accommodate a large group of relatively untrained helpers. I found a lot of good ideas for hosting a successful event on a blog called "Cricket Bread" by one of the NC Crop Mob members/co-founders. Maybe in the fall we'll host a larger event...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Seeds have arrived

Update: Last of the season's seed orders have arrived. Greenhouse is topping out at over 90deg on sunny days, and we'll be firing up an old potbelly stove to boil some sugar maple sap tomorrow. We have about 15 gallons of sap already from the 5 trees we tapped. More pics of the greenhouse later this week.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Our first attempt at making maple syrup

A red forest gnome helps us put in the first taps into some of the sugar maples in the woods (thanks, Dad).

We put two buckets in lone trees in the woods beside the pasture today, and tomorrow we'll put some plastic taps with lines in a few of the trees closer together by the timber barn. In the first four hours, the buckets had about two gallons in them. That should make oh, about a 1/2 cup of syrup after we boil it down. There's plenty of kindling on site, and we have the mostly completed evaporator that Jeff designed for just this purpose.

It still needs a chimney and the pans should have more of the baffles to add more metal surface area to more evenly heat the syrup. We'll try it without the baffles this year, and refine the system before next year.

Farmer Sharon spent the last two days at a Native Plant Symposium. When she got home, we hacked down a multi-flora rose, distributed by state agencies a generation ago and now a scourge on the landscape. In a few more weeks, we'll plant elderberries, choke cherries, and black locust trees in various groups around the farm. The snow is still too deep for us to try the "new" manure spreader we purchased...so the 10 tons of chicken manure remains in the driveway under a tarp. How's that for a welcome mat?

Friday, February 5, 2010

The oinkers are coming, the oinkers are coming...

Yes friends, we've decided to add 3 piglets to the farm this year. So in usual Tree Gate Farm fashion, we're borrowing fencing, building a makeshift pen till they're ready to go outside full time in the spring, and shopping for the best breed that likes to dig. One of their purposes, besides being raised for meat, is that pigs moved through the field in a moderate sized enclosure, will dig up many of the perennial weeds and grasses before we move them to the next pen. Don't worry, the pigs actually like doing this. It's part of their natural behavior, and we'll supplement their diets, and give them a good movable structure that provides them with shade during the day (did you know pigs can get sunburned?) .  After the pigs are done digging (and pooping) in one spot, we'll level the soil a bit, and seed with a seasonally appropriate cover or green manure crop to improve the soil and get it ready for additional plantings. We'll add pics and more info when they arrive.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ithaca: Local Food Resources

Here's a quick compilation of some of the online resources we use:

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County's Agriculture page
Cornell Small Farms Program

Local Food Blogs
Ithaca's Food Web
Eating Ithaca
Eggs on Sunday

Local Groups
Sustainable Tompkins
Green Resource Hub of the Finger Lakes
IthaCan- "Preserving food at home, strengthening our community."
Edible Finger Lakes magazine