Friday, October 1, 2010

Field Notes from the Farm -- August 2009

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

August 2009
Field Notes From The Farm

Before diving into this edition of Field Notes, we want to take a moment and thank all of you who have called or sent e-mails of encouragement and support.  And special thanks to those of you who have volunteered a day out of your busy lives to lend a helping hand on the farm.

BCS Tiller Rear Tine Tiller 160CC, 18-IN #712GX-5Our neighbor, Bridget, has been especially helpful with the loan of a BCS rototiller, Farmway seeder, wheelhoe and other items.  By the way, I used to own a TroyBilt 8HP rototiller and the Italian BCS is the better machine.  [Sadly, the BCS rototiller was recently stolen.  Poverty, drug addiction and crime are not only urban issues, but an unfortunate part of rural life as well.]

Spring and summer are the busiest times of the year on the farm.  Fields need to be prepared; seed needs to be planted; weeds constantly removed; veggies picked and taken to market.  It is not without its lighter moments though.  The tines on the rototiller were badly worn and needed replacing.  (The tines were basically like straight knives rather than L shaped.)  The rototiller has an 8HP engine, which is more horsepower than I have, but is the very reason I use the rototiller.  With the new tines in place, I ventured onto a piece of ground that has quiet a few rocks buried in the soil.  Previously, with the worn out tines, there would be a little shaking when I hit a rock.  With the new tines, it was an entirely different story.  The tines would force the rototiller up and over the buried rock.  In fact the tires of the rototiller would leave the ground and if we hit a second rock, the entire rototiller would leave the ground with me hanging on for dear life.  Man and machine literally flying . . . . a foot off the ground and four to five feet forward. I didn't know you needed a pilot's license to be a farmer!

A quick follow up note to the last edition of Field Notes regarding organic fertilizers.  As organic producers, we are required to use third party certified organic products.  We could not locate what we needed in New Mexico.  We eventually placed our order with Peaceful Valley Farm Supply out of Grass Valley, California. Our freight cost for this shipment was $894.00!  Does anyone in New Mexico see a business opportunity here?

Our application for organic certification is still in the pipeline.  We received a response to our application that enumerated ten items that required additional documentation and/or explanation.  Our reply was made within the week.

The next two projects are the Blackberry Patch and a new entry road to the farm.  The Blackberry Patch is a little over 10,000 square feet.  The basic grading has been done, but the final grading still needs to be done. Then there is the fertilizing, setting out of posts and wires to trellis the blackberries on and finally the actual planting.  We are looking forward to next summer when we will start picking! And Eating! Hopefully, some will make it to market!

The entry road is a big project.  It is about 1500 feet from the county road down to the area being developed as the service area for the farm.  Besides serving as the main road for the farm, it will be built to harvest rainwater and to control and direct sheet flooding.  The basic idea is simple enough.  The road will be crowned with the rainwater running off the road into swales on either side.  The swales will have check dams spaced at regular intervals and table grapes will be planted right behind the check dam.  Like most things, the devil is in the details.  How much rain do the grapes require to produce a nice harvest?  What is the spacing down the swales?  When we examine the weather data, how much will actually flow across the land ready for harvesting?

Then there is the other extreme.  Too much rain.  July 26th we were out on an errand and were forced off the road by one of the most violent cloudbursts I have seen in my 16 years in New Mexico.  The rain and hail were coming down so hard you literally could not see!  It was a whiteout!  The wind was nearly parallel to the ground and blowing so hard it was rocking the truck.  Some of the hailstones were large enough that it sounded like someone was beating on the metal of the pick-up with a sledgehammer.  The violent part lasted 10 to 15 minutes, but the entire ground beneath the Junipers was glistening with sheet flow and even the smallest gully was swollen by the running water.  The larger arroyos were violent cauldrons of rushing, boiling water.  Meanwhile, at the farm, only four miles away, the ground was dry.  Ah! Such is New Mexico!  [I was visiting when this happened and I can attest that it was wild.  Much unlike anything we have in Southern California.  I'll try and post some pictures later today.]

Clearly, the swales and check dams have to be sized to accommodate unusually large events.  This means a flow through capacity, but what capacity?  How do we keep the impoundment area behind each check dam from silting up in a heavy rain?  These are some of the factors we are trying to address before construction actually starts.  Searching the weather data for this area, the maximum rainfall event was about 3 inches in one storm.  The cloudburst cited in the above paragraph produced about half that amount.  We have about 12 acres above the acequia

Water is life.  Water in the arid Southwest has determined much of human history in the region.  Where we are situated on the Pecos River, there are no reservoirs upstream.  The flow of water in the acequia is entirely dependent on the previous winter's snow pack in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  We are now in a low flow situation as a result of last winter's low snowfall.  With acequias on both sides of the Pecos, during low flow the acequia on one side of the river is shut off for one week so the other side has adequate flows to irrigate.  The following week, the pattern is reversed.  The beavers in our acequia respond by plugging all the irrigation outlets, trying to maintain the water level in the acequia.  When it is our turn to irrigate, we have to clear the intake of old sandbags, sticks, rocks, leaves and mud.  It is an ironic twist actually.  The beavers are using the same materials that we used to plug the entry to their den, trying to encourage them to move on down the acequia.  We could trap the beaver out, but we choose not to.  It is part of keeping the farm in balance with nature.  Weather update: the weather bureau has definitely stated that an El Nino pattern has already established out in the Pacific Ocean.  That means our winter of 2009/2010 will be milder and wetter than usual.  Could be good for increased snow pack in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Food security is something most Americans take for granted.  With "peak oil" and "peak food" looming just over the horizon, the time of complacency will end rather abruptly in the near future.  With 3 billion people (China, India, Indonesia, etc.) aspiring to the living standards we have achieved in the Western world, demand will be going up just as the basic commodities are either maxed out or in decline.  Water is the heart of food security.  The wars of this century will be fought over water.  We live on the margin here at Earth Echo Farm.  We understand the vicissitudes of nature and try to cope in a reasonable and responsible way. Our hope is that we can provide for ourselves and have enough to share with family, friends and customers.

David and Valorie Hutt
Earth Echo Farm
Tecolotito, New Mexico

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