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This Week on the Farm 3/25
Well it is officially Spring! The big greenhouse is full, the second greenhouse is running out of space, and we are in the process of cleaning out our third greenhouse to make room for everything that gets seeded this week. So far we have onions, leeks, scallions, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and bedding plants in the greenhouses. This week we add eggplant to the mix.
Our germination chamber is working well. We added a thermostat to control the heater. Outdoor temperature fluctuations were impacting how warm the germination chamber was getting. With temps near 90 some mornings we needed to have a better way of controlling when the heater turned on and off. By adding a thermostat to the system it now turns the heater off when it gets too warm and we haven’t had problems with super warm temps. Currently the chamber is empty, but I am hoping to get to the eggplant seeding later today.
The biomeiler is up and running. For those of you who are new to our CSA we built what is called a biomeiler last fall. Essentially it is a large pile of wood chips mixed with manure that is surrounded by hay bales. Within the pile there are coils of pipes that are filled with water. As the microbial life in the pile breaks down the wood chips it releases heat. This heat is transferred to the water in the piping and you can then utilize that hot water to heat a building, or in our case a greenhouse. We have pipes running underneath our benches about 18 inches below the bench tops and this releases heat near the root zone of our plants.
Very few of these structures exist to base our design off of, so there were a lot of kinks that needed to be worked out. We got the system running in early February, but we left for vacation and turned the system off. This was a bad idea since we didn’t drain the system. When we got back from Florida we realized that the pump had frozen and we needed to get a new pump. Once they got the new pump installed they also had to adjust the manifold on the outside of the pile because some of the fittings were leaking badly. As the compost decomposed it settled and this changed the height of the pile. We have a wire cage around the pile and the fittings got caught on the cage and couldn’t move with the pile as it settled. This caused the fittings to become stressed enough that they started to leak. It is a design issue that we will have to deal with next fall when we redo the pile.
The system is providing us with enough heat that it is significantly offsetting our fuel costs. One issue right now is that it is cooling off a lot more quickly than they anticipated. I think that part of the reason for this is that the manifold from the pile to the greenhouse is currently exposed to outside air temperatures. In order to fix the leaks they had to remove the insulation from around the manifold. In the next couple of days I am hoping to have time to replace the insulation to see if that will increase the temperature of the water coming from the pile. But there is a lot of other stuff to do still this week.
Tyler is running to Lake Mills tomorrow to pick up our bulk order of Chickity Doo Doo. We are borrowing a neighbor’s truck and we will be able to pick up the 7 tons of composted manure in one trip. We moved all of our other supplies out of our grain bin and we will be filling the grain bin with the manure. In past years we had bought the manure bagged since that was the easiest way for us to pick it up from the distributor and the easiest way for us to handle it. This year we are going to do a field spread of 1000 lb/acre in the spring so we needed a lot more of the material. We also just purchased a cone spreader that mounts behind the tractor. This will make spreading the Doo Doo a lot faster. We also purchased enough material that we can still side dress certain crops. We are both very excited to see how the field spread will impact fertility.
Shelbi starts work next Wednesday and Tyler’s parents are home from Florida. Spring really feels like it is here and we are itching to get into the fields!