Saturday, September 25, 2010

Field Notes From The Farm -- February, 2009

Here's the second in my Dad's "Field Notes from the Farm" series:

February, 2009

Field Notes From The Farm

January and the beginning of February have been devoted to two major efforts.

The first effort is production planning: What crops are we going to grow this year?  Which are the best cultivars for our soil and climate?  What are the planting dates?  Harvest dates?  Which field do we plant them in to establish a realistic crop rotation for future years?  How do we handle the predation (from our point of view) of insects and other larger herbivores?  How do we build soil fertility?  Where is our market?  Who do we sell to?  Can we make a profit doing all these things?  So much for the stereotype of the dumb farmer. (Unless dumb is even thinking we can do it.)  All of this information and planning also forms the information matrix necessary to make our application to become Certified Organic Farmers.  More on this aspect of the farm in a later Field Note when we have finalized our plan.

The second major effort has required seat time on the tractor.  The water for our Farm primarily comes from our irrigation ditch which bisects our property.  In Northern New Mexico, these irrigation ditches are called acequias.  The word is derived from the Arabic word as-saqiyah.  The Moors brought the word and the technology to Spain and the Spanish brought it to the New World.  Our farm is in Tecolotito which is part of the Mexican land grant of Anton Chico dating to 1821 and our water rights are dated 1836.  We all know that water flows down hill if left to its own devices.  However, there are many areas in the arid West where water flows uphill to money.  But in our rural community, water still flows downhill.  The problem from a farmer's point of view is how fast the water flows.  If the grade is too steep, the water rushes by without being afforded a chance to soak in.  If the grade is too shallow to nonexistent, you get standing, stagnant water, mosquitoes and bog plants.  What you want is a Goldilocks grade, not too steep, not too shallow, you want it just right.  This brings us back to the tractor.

In one of our fields, the grade was too steep.  Major land forming was clearly in order, but we had a scaling problem.  Most agriculture land forming efforts are achieved using laser levels and large land planes.  These work well if your field can accommodate such large equipment, but ours is a small farm and the fields are small.  The field in question is only one and a quarter acres.  Our solution was to grade the top end of the field into a grid of 20 foot X 20 foot pans, the grid being 6 pans by 6 pans where we can control the water by having it cascade from one pan into the next.  Each one of these pans will host a peach tree and be intercropped the first few years with vegetable and grain production.  The lower half of the field will be graded off into one larger pan of 120 feet by 110 feet and planted to 250 Blackberries.  Clock hours logged: 120.

Valorie made a very telling observation about my tractor exertions.  She pointed out that Walt Disney and I were both born on December 5th.  That makes us both Sagittarians who like to dream big dreams.  He created Disneyland with its different themes of FANTASYLAND, FONTIERLAND, etc.  With all my tractor work, I am creating FARMLAND.

Our 30' X 72' greenhouse is up and growing.  This is a high tunnel poly greenhouse, high being about 12'.  The only heating is solar, but if it gets too hot we can roll up the side vents to cool it down.  The vents are screened to minimize insect problems.  We have five large growing beds inside and these are covered in turn at night with a spun cloth row cover over wire hoops spaced four feet apart.  The aspect as we leave in the late afternoon is five large, segmented caterpillars, each 3' X 62'.

Each cover affords four to six degrees difference above the outside ambient temperature.  So between the greenhouse cover and the row cover, we can gain eight to twelve degrees above the outside temperature.  If the nighttime temperature drops to 20 degrees, our plants inside will be exposed to temperatures of 28 to 32 degrees.  Quite a difference.  Lettuce will withstand temperatures down to 20 degrees.  (Just don't touch the leaves when they are frozen.)  When the sun comes out, the leaves thaw out and the lettuce starts growing again!  We have Asian greens (mizuma and tatsoi), beets, carrots, onions, turnips, chard, spinach and five different kinds of lettuce.  We can see that lettuce will be our main commercial crop.  We are only two weeks away from taking our first crop of lettuce to market!

One of the wonderful things about a small, rural area such as ours is the sense of community and cooperation.  We continue to find new friends and their talents and varied backgrounds continue to amaze us.  Trading or bartering is very much a part of rural life -- a bag of salad greens for a dozen eggs -- equipment loans for veggies -- labor trades such as electrical work for help with some plastering.  The possibilities are endless and totally under the radar of officialdom.  Government statistics use earned income as a measure of how rich or poor an area is.  But what happens if you own your house and land outright.  You don't pay rent.  You do not have a mortgage payment.  You don't need as much income.  You are poor.  Yeah, right!  The richness of our lives is added to every day by the support and cooperation of all our new friends.

David and Valorie Hutt
Earth Echo Farm
Tecolotito, New Mexico

P. S. A Trivial Triumph!  When going about my daily routine, I seek ways to amuse myself and stay on task.  I usually prepare a protein drink for breakfast, which always includes an apple.  Prepping the apple requires cutting it into quarters in able to remove the seeds, etc.  When cutting the apple, I try to split the stem of the apple.  Splitting the stem in two is a routine accomplishment, but last week I was able to split the apple stem into quarters, not once, but twice in one week!  Ah, life is sweet!

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