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This Week on the Farm 10/13
We were hit with an unexpected frost last Thursday. When we went to bed Wednesday night all of the weather stations were predicting a low of 39ºF, so we didn’t get up during the night to check temperatures. When Tyler woke up at Thursday morning the thermometer in the kitchen read 32ºF. Usually the outside temperature is a few degrees lower than what our thermometer reads, since the thermometer is somewhat protected from the cold by our bird feeder, so he knew he needed to act quickly.
When he saw the temperature he hurried out to the field to turn on the sprinklers, but the hoses were already frozen solid, so using our irrigation was not an option. Since we knew we didn’t have much time to waste before temperatures dropped dramatically he came inside and got reinforcements (me and one of our workers). We hurried back out to the field to get as many tomatoes into the packing shed as possible before we lost the entire crop. The tomatoes at this stage didn’t have a ton of leaf cover to protect them from frost (unlike the peppers) so we focused on the tomatoes closest to the ground where they would be warmer and less likely to be damaged already.
All of this was done while it was still dark. We used head lamps and the lights on our truck to pick by. We ended up being able to harvest enough to put the same amount of tomatoes in Thursdays box as we did on Tuesday. Of the tomatoes we brought in only a third were usable that day. Another third showed water soaking from frost damage and another third were not ripe yet. These ripening tomatoes were saved for this week’s boxes so everyone can get a few more tomatoes this week.
The frost Thursday morning did take out all of the tomatoes that we didn’t harvest. The pepper crop was saved by the leaf cover that was still in place. However, Friday night’s temperatures were also supposed to be below freezing. So after we got all of the boxes packed on Thursday, Tyler’s dad went out and started gleaning all of the usable peppers from the field. By the time Tyler and I got back from delivering the boxes to the Valley he had almost harvested all of the pepper varieties. We helped him finish up as dark set in. Friday night’s frost did end up killing all of the pepper plants, so I am so grateful to Don for going out and harvesting the peppers.
We spent Friday morning sorting through all of the peppers to make sure we were only storing undamaged peppers and also so we could figure out how many peppers we had harvested. This week you have a mix of bell peppers, sweet, and hot peppers in your box. If you don’t think that you will be able to get through that many in one week (fajitas with lots of peppers might be a good way to use them up!) you can freeze them for use later this winter. Make sure you have removed any excess moisture after you wash them so you don’t end up with freezer burn. Then just cut the tops off and remove the membranes and seeds. You can either store them as halves, or cut them up into smaller pieces and place them in a freezer bag. I use frozen peppers in sauces, chili, baked dishes, or fajitas all winter.
Our row covers worked well through the cold nights and protected all of our greens. Thankfully we haven’t had any extremely windy conditions and the covers have stayed in place since we put them out. Some of the crops (like our mustard greens) have actually started growing more quickly since the covers trap the heat during the day. The rest of this week is supposed to be mild, so that should help. Although after last Thursday’s forecast debacle I am not very trusting of the weather stations!
We had a chance last week to start harvesting our Jacob’s Cattle dried beans. Two years ago we started growing dried beans. That first year we had about two hundred feet of plants that we shelled by hand. Last year we increased the number of feet of row that we planted. Because of the increase we bought a mechanical bean sheller. This worked well, except for the fact that you had to manually pull all of the bean pods off of the plants. After spending a lot of man hours pulling pods we decided to make the investment and we purchased an old combine from the 1960s.
The combine works well to thresh the pods, but when we tried to use it to harvest the beans directly from the field the sickle bar ended up cutting most of the pods in half because the plants were too short. We lost a lot of yield because of this.
We had hoped that the bean plants would be taller this year because we inoculated them with nitrogen fixing bacteria, but the plants were still short (although yield per plant was higher on average). Because of this we decided to pull all of the plants by hand and then bring them back to the combine and just toss the plants into the combine.
This worked very well. We have about a third to half of the beans harvested. The beans are currently in one of our greenhouses drying out so that they don’t mold in storage. We found out last year that adding this drying step really increased the shelf life of our beans. Hopefully this wet weather lets up soon so the plants dry out and we can finish our harvest.
We have some big news here on the farm. On October 25th & 26th we are partnering with the Madison Area Permaculture Guild to host a workshop to build a biomeiler. A biomeiler is essentially a compost heater. The basic design is a straw bale outer frame that holds layers of green wood chips and sometimes mixed with manure. The heat from decomposition is harvested by tubing that runs throughout the pile. The tubing is filled with water that pulls the heat from the pile. That hot water can then be circulated via a pump into whatever structure you are trying to heat. In our case we are going to use the hot water to heat our greenhouse using under bench heating. If all goes well the biomeiler will offset our heating costs by about a half.
Every year you have to rebuild the pile, replacing the straw bales and the woodchips. The piping, fittings, and pump can all be reused, so total cost of building/maintaing the biomeiler is far less than using just LP to heat.
If you are interested in finding out more, visit our Facebook page where there is a link to the event and a more detailed description of a biomeiler. Tickets for the two day workshop are $50/person and single day tickets are $35. The ticket money will help offset the cost of building the biomeiler. If you are interested in coming to the event email me or follow the link on our Facebook page.
The tentative schedule is construction of the biomeiler on Saturday the 25th and construction of the under bench heating/hook up of the system on Sunday the 26th. The hours on Saturday are 10am to 5pm and on Sunday, 10am to 4pm. Tyler is very, very excited about this project and if you are too you should come join us!!
Sorry no pictures this week! There was just too much to talk about!