Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Skeleton Crew

On Sunday afternoon, a dozen willing workers descended on Tree Gate Farm to help us erect the frames of two USDA-funded hoop houses. Dean took care of all the paperwork -- we certainly couldn't have afforded the houses otherwise. Yet while we paid the Mennonite farmer who fabricated the components when he delivered them late last week, the USDA releases the grant funds only after the houses are built and inspected by USDA reps. That's where the work crew came in: Like an old-fashioned barn raising, assembling a greenhouse is emphatically not a two-person job.

Mark (TGF's official director of acquisitions) shuttled back and forth to the shop for sundries demanded by the work crew while the rest of us picked up at the farm gate, where the fabricator had unloaded all of the components from his flat-bed trailer.

Once the pieces were laid out, roughly in place, we tackled assembly. Think some combination of Tinker Toys and paper dolls: Stand up the end walls, then drop tabs on the ends of the arches into pre-drilled holes in the tops of the end walls. Each (rather heavy, rather awkward) hoop took five sets of hands. Assembly was the easy part. Our clay-rock soil made twisting the ground anchors a two-person workout, as did attaching the tracks that hold the wiggle wire that anchors the plastic. Turns out steel frame isn't quite as accommodating of a tek screw's self-tapping spire as the aluminum track. Even so, with a half-dozen power drills and at least as many bits, we finished in time for an early chili supper.

Mom served as official event photographer (thanks, Amelia, for catching a shot of her, hard at work):

The chickens came out to help, too:

Like a red barn or a black-and-white holstein grazing rolling, green hills, the welded-steel frames of the hoop houses cry out that this is a working farm. The view will change again once we've built the end walls and hung the plastic in place, a chore that can only be tackled on a day so calm even the gusts never exceed 5 mph. In the next few weeks, we'll create "hot beds" of raw horse bedding and manure hemmed in place by square bales of mulch hay. On top, we'll lay trays of seeds to germinate. As the piles begin to decompose, they'll generate the soil heat that crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants demand to kick-start germination. Also slated for plasticulture: ginger, licorice, lemongrass, cucumbers. Oh, the fresh flavors of summer -- they're six months away, yet, but we can taste them already!

More photos available here.

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