Monday, October 4, 2010

Field Notes From The Farm -- December, 2009

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

December 2009
Field Notes From The Farm

October 28th!  We finished setting out the last of the 4299 transplants for the winter to early spring greenhouse crops.  We use a dibble board to mark the location of each plant in the 3-foot wide growing beds.  The dibble boards themselves are all set up on a hexagonal spacing and it is amazing how the numbers explode as the spacing decreases.  At a 12 inch hex spacing, there are 310 plants per bed; 8 inch spacing, 748 plants; 6 inch spacing 1370 plants; 4 inch spacing, 3171 plants!  We don't plant any closer than 4 inch!  You can visualize hexagonal spacing by thinking about a square that is 12 inches on each side.  Then draw two diagonal lines across the square.  At the intersection of the two diagonals is where we place and additional plant.

That's too wordy.  Let me try a visual representation.  The * marks represent the square spacing.  The + marks the extra plant inserted to achieve hexagonal spacing:

       *            *            *            *            *            *
       *           *           *

             +           +           +           +           +
  +            +          +

      *            *            *            *            *
 *            *            *          *

[I assume this "diagram" made sense when originally typed out, but I fear it's been lost in translation.]

The crops are a medley of winter flavors.  We will be harvesting 5 different kinds of lettuce, 3 different kinds of chard, 3 different kinds of kale plus loose-leaf spinach and bunching beets.  All of this is happening in our 30' X 72' unheated, high tunnel greenhouse.  The greenhouse itself gives 4 to 5 degrees of protection from the winter cold.  Inside the growing beds are covered with a heavy row covers suspended on wire hoops that are taken off each sunny morning.  The row covers offer an additional 8 to 10 degrees of protection.  Combined that is 12 to 15 degrees of protection from the cold as well as shelter from the winter winds.  We have a few volunteer tomato seedlings sprouting in the growing beds and we have left them as a "biological markers".  To date, we have had a low of 21 degrees outside and the tomatoes are still doing fine.  It will be interesting to see how deep into the winter our biological markers survive.

Excuse the commercial plug, but we have been asked by several of our Santa Fe readers where they can find our organic produce.  On Saturday, December 12th, we will be at the El Dorado Farmer's Market from 10 AM till 2 PM indoors next to Subway, across the street from the Agora.  Starting on Tuesday, December 15th, we will resume deliveries to La Montanita Co-Op in the Solano Center in Santa Fe and will be there for the rest of the season.  Production at first will primarily be Kale and some Chard, but by January we should, weather permitting, be in full production and all the crops will be at La Montanita.

Work continues on other fronts.  For the NRCS grant to plant 1000 trees and shrubs in the hedgerows to encourage wildlife, we have placed an order with L.E. Cooke Co. for barefoot trees and shrubs to be delivered next March.  We have also purchased seed from Plants of the Southwest of 20 different natives.  We are researching what pretreatment each species requires before their seeds are put into cold stratification for the winter.  (Cold stratification is placing the seeds in some moist medium like peat moss and then putting the bag of seed in the refrigerator for two to three months to simulate the exposure seeds would receive if they were outside in the soil through the cold winter months.)  The new entry road is nearing completion with the major open item being the placement of five steel culverts.  As we build the road, the grape vines are being planted in the ditch alongside the road.  We have determined that the grapes will receive adequate irrigation during the growing season placed at an 8-foot spacing.  Rainfall harvesting such as this will work in the long run, but the grapes may need supplemental irrigation until they are fully established.   Plans and cost estimates are nearly complete to apply for building permits to install new utilities, including septic, to locate the travel trailers with permanent hookups and for the construction of our first storage building.

What is really special about this time of year are the new seed catalogs!  Seeds really are magical.  Beside their own peculiar genotype, seeds represent hope for the future.  You just need to savor the description of one delectable variety after another.  The possibilities are overwhelming!  Reality has to set in.  We do not
have the land or the energy to grow everything.  We are looking at the possibility of expanding the number of varieties we grow of sweet bell peppers and eggplants.  Try these descriptions on for size.  Rosa Bianca Eggplant is an heirloom Sicilian variety with pink and white blushed skin with a delicate mild flavor, creamy consistency and no bitterness. Considered by gourmet chefs to be one of the best.  Well suited for all your cooking needs, great for Eggplant Parmesan.  Or try this description: a bell pepper named Sweet Chocolate. It was bred by Elwyn Meader of the University of New Hampshire and introduced in 1965.  It ripens from green to chocolate on the outside and brick red on the inside.  It has thick, sweet flesh.  Add to this, from a grower's point of view, Sweet Chocolate is remarkably early, heavy yielding and tolerant of cool nights.  Sounds like a winning combination.

We find ourselves in a conflicted position.  We see the financial tsunami headed toward all of us in the next year, but we remain unreasonably calm.  We sit here on our land, delighting in the new seed catalogs, viewing our progress of the last year and full of hope for the year ahead.  We are optimistic.  We encourage all of you to call Seeds of Change and order a seed catalog. (1-888-762-7333)  Plan a vegetable garden for next year; put your hands into the soil, plant some seed and make some magic happen.  You may not be able to feed yourself entirely, but, if nothing else, it will literally give you grounding, an anchor if you will, of what is real and beautiful in this crazy world of ours.

This will be our last Field Notes for this year.  As we have found joy in our farming endeavor, we wish you all the best of everything and that you may also find hope and joy in the New Year.

David and Valorie Hutt
Earth Echo Farm
Tecolotito, New Mexico

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