This past year has been one for the record books weather-wise here in the Pacific Northwest. A game changer on many fronts. Not so much in a bad way, I think a better description would be …uh, challenging. New things here on a larger scale have been drip irrigation in one of the outside gardens in addition to the greenhouse. A win-win on all fronts. I’m pretty serious about growing our food, not just the meat aspect but the potatoes too. With a warmer summer, we can expect wins and losses that are different that what we normally experience. I’ve seen a gap in pollination in some cucurbits due to 100°F days but we’ve been enjoying melons much earlier due to those same 100°F days. In western Oregon we always experience a Mediterranean-like summer, we are used to three months of dry weather with no rain, but as I look around at the trees, I see it’s not the summer dry that is hurting us its the winter and then spring prolonged dry spells that are making the difference. The big fir trees are wilting, not noticeable to the eye, but each day as a I drive to the cows, I have to drive through these trees, limbs that barely brushed the cab two weeks ago are now wiping across the windshield midpoint. That’s at least six inches, that’s noticeable. They’ll be fine, but it’s telling, we are in a moderate drought. (Changed to severe drought as of August, 13, 2015.)
A life saver this season has been transplants. Most folks think of starting seeds in the early spring and planting their gardens and then they’re done. But transplanting more crops this year instead of direct seeding has made a true difference in what will be our fall, winter and into spring food supply.
Successful transplants come from having a system whether it be flats and corresponding inserts that fit those flats, to soil blocking and everything in between. I have no experience with soil blocking, so I’ll write about what I know, production type flats and inserts. I like them, mostly because of the uniformity. That’s important to me. I have X amount of space to start my plants, uniform size flats allow me to plan better for our food needs. Where you can get creative with flats and inserts is the cell size in the inserts. I use 200, and 48 cell packs the most. I also have 128 and 72 and I don’t seem to use those as much if at all. I must say too that if you’re worried about having extra plastic lying around, I’ve had some of those cell inserts for 20 years. Of course, I store them in the dark when not in use, and I handle them carefully. I want them to last.
There are challenges to seed starting whether it be in the spring or in the summer. Sort of the same, but not really. In the spring you are hoping for light and warmth, and in the summer you are hiding from those things. I learned a long time ago, to start my first starts in the unheated greenhouse without lights. I tried lights, but what happened was I had plants ready too early to be planted when the real conditions were not right. Too cold, too wet, too early. I also experienced damping off in some of the weak plants. Now I cool my heels and wait impatiently, no lights, but I do provide bottom heat. What this forced patience yields are hardy plants that are not leggy and starved for heat and light too soon, but ready for the rigors of the vegetable garden. It’s also nice too, because I am no longer chasing the sunny window and moving flats, the flats stay put. Also the mess of potting soil etc, stays in the greenhouse where it belongs, and miraculously the damping off disappeared too when the plants were healthier.
Once the hot weather hits, I move my transplant starting efforts to outside the greenhouse on the north end. The end wall provides enough shade so the heat doesn’t cook the seeds, and once germination has taken place there is still enough light to grow good seedlings.
While I normally transplant all brassicas and greens, this year I have transplanted crops that I have never needed to transplant before or at least not during the summer. Extras on the transplant list this year were more successions of cucumbers, summer squash, kohlrabi, and recently peas. Normally in July I start direct seeding these crops for another succession. But in reality starting the transplants was much easier. Our heat in June and July was hot, hot, hot. Keeping the soil wet enough and cool enough for seeds isn’t that easy especially when these succession crops are fill-ins. Lettuce bolts, you pull that out, fill in the gap…without irrigation everywhere that would mean hand watering a spot here, and oh yeah, over there too. With flats of transplants, I find them easy to take care of. Rather than the same amount of plantings scattered over two gardens, the flats are right where I have to walk past on the way to many other tasks. It’s easy to turn the hose on when it’s right there, not so easy to get that same hose out to the garden for twelve broccoli plants. Or remember to do that after a day of hay hauling.
I still love to direct seed, and some crops don’t tolerate transplanting, but I have to say expanding my summer transplant list in this drought year has been a life saver for the garden and this gardener.
My how the garden grows when you don’t blog about it. I snapped a few photos of the jungles and deserts here so you could see I haven’t been totally twiddling my thumbs. For the record I don’t remember having such a dry summer since the 70’s when you had to ask for water in a restaurant. Anybody reading remember that? Other things from the era, you could only buy gas on odd/even days depending on your vehicle license plate, and businesses were required to shut off lights at night after closing. Imagine that. We should be doing some of those things now me thinks. Saving energy? What?
Anyway, here’s this afternoon’s walkabout right after I “saved” Jane from her drylot.
This is the best place to start right next to the garden. At one point this was all garden too, but we were selling at farmers markets then, so the extra space was needed. I’m standing right at the edge of the garden, and the following photos were taken just by facing a different direction and then wending my way past the garden into the greenhouses and onto the next garden.
Hopefully this grass will grow a bit more and make some second cut hay for Jane. We clipped this in May to combat a weed that spreads with haymaking, so while yield will be down, quality should be up and we didn’t reseed acres of pasture with rhinanthus, a grass killing weed.
Just a quarter turn with camera and there is the garden, formerly the dryland garden before the drip irrigation was installed. I have watered three times since we installed the drip.
Here we are today in the same place, the garlic has been harvested, and the plants are taking off, the water has helped a great deal, but since it has cooled down from 90’s every day, the vegetables have really done well. From left carrots, parsnips, beets and celeriac.
We have cut back some on our plantings, normally I plant in blocks of four rows with things like corn and potatoes, so to keep to my rotation plan and wanting less, we have dropped the corn and potatoes to three rows. This garden gets a good breeze so I think, I will be okay with corn pollination.
One row of dry beans this year and a pollinator row of flowers and herbs made up from whatever seeds need to get gone from my seed boxes. You’ve heard of old cat ladies? I’m an old seed lady. Bags, envelopes and jars of saved seeds of all types. Make a furrow and throw them in. And somewhere there is a scanty row of rutabagas about to be swallowed by winter squash. Not sure what I am going to do about that…
The end, and three fallow rows because I have planted less. I’m doing a bare fallow here and since the garlic has fallen out at the other end, I will wrap my rotation, and start with garlic here on the first row, then each year the garlic will begin its march across the garden.
It’s funny I enjoy these sunflowers in the greenhouse from outside more than when I am inside. When I am inside I am always working and not taking in the “view”. This view greets me every time I walk up the hill to the greenhouses and I actually love it.
Now inside you see why I don’t notice the sunflowers at the other end. This is a crazy place. Strawberries, peppers, cukes, melons, tomatoes and one row of brassicas on the morning sun side of the tomatoes.
And this view from the other side, in the land of lost brassicas. There are just about done, I have a few more heads of cabbage to harvest and some broccoli with side shoots coming, and then this row is coming out so we can weed, and then have room to harvest the tomatoes.
Farming with Draft Horses Benefit
Belle Mare Farm – Willamina, OR – Sunday, July 19 – 4pm to 8pm
Enjoy a Horse Team Demonstration, Dinner, Silent Auction and Music to Support Scholarships for Beginning Farmers to Attend a 3-day Horse-Team Farming Workshop
Celebrate the craft of farming with horses at Belle Mare Farm in Willamina, OR on July, 19 from 4-8pm! This event will feature horse team demonstrations, a farm fresh dinner, and music by The Ivie Meziere Foss Trio and proceeds will raise money for scholarships for beginning farmers to attend an upcoming 3-day horse-team farming workshop with Don Yerian and John Erskine, masters of the age-old techniques of farming with horses.
When: Sunday, July 19, 2015, 4pm – 8pm
Where: Belle Mare Farm, 18100 SW Mendenhall Rd., Willamina, OR
Why: Support the future of horse farming while having a great time!
How: Tickets are $75. To purchase tickets, register and pay below.
This celebratory event is centered on local food, farmers and chefs, and especially the draft horses that work on farms. Attendees will learn about, and talk with, horse-powered farmers – from bright-eyed newbies to wise and experienced elders – and begin to understand the practicality and spirtuality that ‘horse powered tech’ brings to family-scale sustainable agriculture.
- Meet and mingle with Don Yerian, horse-farming expert and one of the instructors for an upcoming three-day horse team workshop this event is raising scholarship funds for
- Watch a horse team demonstration on the farm with a team of Suffolk Punch geldings that Don Yerian raised and trained
- Tapas featuring farm-fresh ingredients from Willamina local producers including: Yamhill River Farm, Dancing Faun Farm, Mama Tee’s Farmstead, Belle Mare Farm and 47th Ave Farm
- Award winning wines featured in a silent action: Wines from Horsepower Vineyards, Big Table Farm and J Wrigley Vineyard. See a list of the Silent Auction Wines for the evening here.
- Enjoy live music from The Ivie Meziere Foss Trio
This event is brought to you by Friends of Family Farmers, Belle Mare Farm, and 47th Ave Farm. All proceeds will go towards scholarships that will be made available to beginning farmers attending an upcoming horse team workshop led by Don Yerian and John Erskine.
Event LocationBelle Mare Farm
18100 SW Mendenhall Rd.
Phenologically speaking, we are two weeks ahead due to our dry and warm spring. We’re cutting hay and picking raspberries, those two yearly tasks normally commence on or around the fifth of July depending on the rain. Compressing tasks means we aren’t quite ready to be thrown into haymaking or berry picking mode just yet. But here we are.
Also this means that I had to get cracking on the drip irrigation installation or wait until there was a break in the haymaking. Sometimes there isn’t a break in haymaking, we’re hauling and mowing at the same time, so I decided to just get the irrigation off the list this weekend while Hangdog was mowing hay.
I took before and after photos of the garden for documentation, not so much of the drip irrigation itself but to show a good look at the garden that was planted in early May and has not been irrigated. Normally this time of year we are lucky to have a dry enough stretch to do a lot of planting, let alone have to irrigate. Farmers I know started irrigating just so they could plant in May. We are having a dry year.
I can’t say enough good things about Dripworks, even if you don’t plan on using drip irrigation their catalog is full of information and I like looking at all the plumbing fittings. They are in California though, so there may be an equivalent on the east coast that would make more sense to order from since the price of shipping has to be taken into consideration. Also many of these supplies can be found at Home Depot or Lowe’s too.
Since this is temporary I just hooked the mainline to a garden hose. If we decide to make it permanent we will trench in a line and a more permanent hookup. The simplicity of drip irrigation is astounding, there are fittings for every application imaginable for the home garden. I purchased a filter, pressure regulator (I’m using municipal water for this), mainline, drip tape, and fittings to attach the drip to the mainline. Easy peasy. The simplest way to see what you need for your garden even if you are buying locally, is to go to the Dripworks website and look at the kits that would fit your application, then just scroll through and see what you think you need. There were several things in the kit that I couldn’t see a use for, and some that I needed instead. My garden is laid out in row crop fashion, so that really simplified things. One mainline, enough drip tape to water each row, and the fittings to match. My garden is always laid out the same, so I will be able to reuse this for many years if I take care of the supplies. The most important thing to do is take care of the drip tape. Here is a great article by a colleague showing how to make a drip winder.
I decided to build in some flexibility by putting shutoff valves at each line. I did not install any lines for the potatoes, they are fine without irrigation. With the shutoffs I will be able to reuse this mainline for this garden even though next year the potatoes will move in the rotation. The hardest part of drip irrigation installation is the planning ahead. Also with the shutoff valves I may choose to stop irrigating a certain crop while continuing on another. Well worth the $2.00 price tag to save on water.
While I’m not totally convinced that drip irrigation is what plants really want, since they are designed to take in moisture through their leaves also, I think that like many other things in life there is always a tradeoff. I want a more automatic garden this summer, and this is the way to achieve that goal in the time being. If I take care of my supplies this little system should last me years, especially if we go back to dryland gardening.
Blogging is a lesson in humility, a mere week after ranting and raving about dryland farming and irrigation, I’m here eating my words! I’m extending the drip irrigation from the greenhouse to the dryland garden. Yup. You see farming is like driving down a curvy mountain road, or actually driving up a curvy mountain road, you just never know what is around the next corner.
It seems my hubby who’s been complaining of back pain has some serious stuff going on. What that means for me in the short-term is I need to pick up some slack in his department, so he can continue to do the things I can’t or don’t feel skilled enough at to perform. So for me to pick up that slack means I need to let things go that I normally do, like tend the garden. Not totally let the garden go of course, but make the garden a little more automatic so to speak. Dryland is like organics, you spend a lot of time doing hand work, so drip irrigation will give me some leeway on thinning and weeding, since I won’t be relying so much on reserved soil moisture to keep the plants going.
This is a bummer on several counts, of course my better half doesn’t feel so hot, and I will miss writing about how awesome a dryland garden is, but drip irrigation is pretty awesome too, and hopefully this is just a bump in that curvy road. I know for a fact that today at 90°F I would have much rather been weeding in the garden instead of hauling and stacking firewood.
Why do I do it? Because it works. I know I can feel you all cringing right now… . Yes, Virginia, you can garden without much irrigation, I’ll add the disclaimer, at least here in my locale you can, everyone loves to tell me it won’t work. I like to practice this lost skill of dryland farming/gardening just because I think it’s a skill that may come in handy. If I set the garden up in such a way that it can still grow food without irrigation, I will be ahead compared to setting it up for irrigation and then not being able to deliver.
I know how my gardens look to some being all bare and such, but I don’t want to apologize for growing my own food, in my own way. And really if you strip away all the BS about slow food that you hear these days, I would really want to raise my hand and say, what about growing some food with less irrigation? What if? The slow food mantra would have you believe that if you grow your chickens four more weeks, and your cattle one more year before you kill them while you’re sucking the well or spring dry for the garden, that that qualifies as slow food. What about slow veggies? Obviously I’m talking farmstead scale here not market gardens, and I do use irrigation on some of our food crops. I’m just saying what if, what if folks explored using less and concentrating on some high calorie crops that store well. First I know many will have to get over the carb phobia they have, I mean potatoes and squash are pretty high on my “the end is near” list of crops. No water, no processing and store for months and up to a year. If you’re hungry and food and water were scarce, I bet that carb hating feeling would be out the window.
So where to begin? First with garden preparation. If you want to start a garden, you should be working on the 2016 garden right now. Most folks worry about weeds the most in their gardens. I do too, I am borrowing that soil for part of year during the growing season, so I want the plants I want to thrive, to that end I need to remove the competition. Weeds. Especially if I am going to sparingly water. So if you’re planning a garden right now, it should be twice the size you need, one half for growing your immediate food, and the other half for weeding. The weeding side you work on all summer too, mining the weed seeds out as they appear, maybe a little cover cropping, and more fallowing, basically making a stale seed bed for your overwintering cover crop. This takes equipment of some sort. There is no free ride, if you grow your food you see the consequences of what you’re doing right now. Is does no good to preach against tillage and buy your food, tillage is happening somewhere on your behalf. The first year breaking new ground is a bear, you will have weeds you never even thought of. But if you make a double garden and peck away with one and diligently weed the other, you will have an easier time next year when you swap and rotate one into garden and the first one into the weeding/fallow regimen.
A couple of things I should point out, is no raised beds and no wheel tracks from the tractor. If I make raised beds I will need to water more. Certainly a permanent raised bed makes sense in some cases, but if I form beds out here, I am just putting my plants in jeopardy in a no, or scant water situation. Raised beds are good in the cold, wet spring to warm the soil, but here in Western Oregon where we have a Mediterranean climate with maybe only a chance of a rain in the summer, raised beds are plant murder or a solid marketing plan for the drip irrigation company.
As for wheel tracks, seeds like a firm seedbed, weed seeds love a firm seedbed. So when you till, start at one side of your garden and as you work your way across till your wheel track, my tractor is wider than my tiller, so I have it offset. You will put a path in there anyway once you start planting, but until your vegetables get established it’s just easier to not make hard paths. They are the hardest to weed because the soil is compacted where the equipment traveled or where you walk to tend and harvest. Of course, if you have nice walk behind tiller, no worries it will do the work. I use a hoe, so I want the dirt as soft as possible, so it’s easy to maintain my dust mulch.
Besides removing weed competition, wide spacing helps in dryland farming/gardening. The plants have to be able to seek out soil moisture. If you crowd your plants, or plant at recommended spacing in the seed catalog, your plants will need irrigation. I have to say here I’m not against irrigation, but it’s not necessary in some cases if you’re willing to use a little more space, select correct varieties, and keep the garden fairly weed-free.
The potatoes need hilling, which is moving the soil up around the stems where the future potatoes will form. I don’t need to weed the potatoes because the action of hilling does that work too. I can either cover up the little weed seedlings around the potato plants, or if there is grass I will pull that out.
Certainly you could use equipment here, but I’m talking farmstead gardening so a hoe will do the trick especially if the soil is loose and friable. Hoeing is not drudge work, unless you make it so. I hoed five rows today in the hottest part of the day, sun hat, water, and a sharp hoe. Not a problem, I got hotter hosing off the pigs when my garden stint was done.
The usual order of business in keeping up the garden is to keep the paths clear with the hoe, and hand weed and thin the vegetables in row. I like to clear the paths first so the weeds die in the sun, and then hand weed. If I weeded and thinned first I would be moving all that trash with my hoe as I scuffled the blade around. It may not seem like much, but the trash makes it hard to cleanly slice off the weeds in the paths, and may cover them enough that I miss them. I’m a lazy gardener, I don’t want to move anymore soil or weeds than I have to. That’s also why I garden on the flat, I’m only moving a little bit soil by hand, not wheelbarrow loads of mulch. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s attitude about the work more than anything that determines what and how you make your garden or farmstead hum and chug along. It’s all labor, it’s just how you do it and how you see it in your mind. Garden of Eden type gardens are still work, just different work. I’m happy to weed in place instead of hauling around carbon I don’t have. My soil is here, if nothing else it’s free. Farming and gardening is just materials handling folks. Take this and put it over there and move that over here. Materials Handling.
On the lazy gardener front too, spacing is important for ease of hand cultivation with a hoe. My corn is planted in hills or groups in row with room to hoe in between, which translates to ease of weeding if I can slice off a weed with a sharp hoe as I walk down the row, rather than bend down or crawl along tediously weeding between closely spaced plants. I have the same amount of corn plants in the row I would if I planted the plants single-file and close together they are just easier to manage in hills.
So it’s not really rocket science, it’s just a subsistence-type garden like all the homesteaders used that settled this location in the 1800’s. Piped water was a luxury, and saved for household and livestock use. I am not giving up my drip irrigation or my sprinklers anytime soon, but I’m the kind of person who likes to practice skills so I don’t forget how to do them. As it stands, we only have one garden that is dryland, one is watered occasionally, one greenhouse has drip irrigation and one greenhouse is hand watered. There’s room for all in my garden tool kit.
Finally some normal June weather. Everybody (animals, plants and humans) is breathing in a sigh of relief with several days of rain! I just did a walkabout this afternoon between showers and snapped a few photos of the garden crops.
Over the past weekend we were able to get most of the garden planted except rows left open for fall crops. I felt pretty smug on the weed front on those hot sunny days. Now with three days of rain I’m not so smug anymore. There is nothing like real irrigation to germinate seeds, whether it’s weed seeds or garden seeds. I look at this and see only weeds, but actually the plants look pretty good if ignore the pesky weeds, most of which will disappear when we thin the vegetables.
Dryland garden plantings in order in the photo starting at the bottom:
Music garlic, just showing the first tips of scapes.
Red Cored Chantenay, two double rows (Jane).
Turga parsnip, one double row (Jane).
Lutz beet, one double row.
Cascade Ruby-Gold flint corn, Welcome TSW sweet corn, three rows.
Purple Viking and Desiree potato, three rows.
Uncle John dry bean, one row.
Pollinator row, dill, cilantro, zinnia, calendula, centaurea, sunflowers, marigolds, cosmos, cerinthe, torch and I forget…mostly anything I find in my seed box that needs to get gone.
Joan rutabaga and Gilfeather “turnip”, one row. (My dogs go bazacko for Gilfeather)
Sweet Meat, Musque de Provence winter squash, Spookie pumpkin one row.
Dark Star and Cocozelle summer squash, and hills left open for Naked Seed pumpkin which is giving me fits and starts and may not happen this year.
Three fallow rows.
Ugh, I’m really struggling here with weed management. Seed plants and early planted dahlias are giving me the fits here. It’s funny what you see when you’re on the tractor, you find things you lost in a field and kaboom ideas hit you too. I decided next year, NEXT YEAR, I will use plastic mulch on my replanted crops for seed. Saving seed is a messy business if you like the look of a weed free garden. In fact so much so, that seed companies tell you that if you think you want to save seed for them as a business consider this, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game than gardening. Tall, unruly, ugly-looking plants and weeds are your future if you want to do any biennial seed saving. Keep that in mind.
There isn’t much see here since it’s all above the keyline and it’s almost all direct seeded except a small brassica planting. Next garden post I should have something to show for our work. More carrots, beets, parsnips, cucumbers, summer squash, and some flowers got planted out this weekend in this garden.
A lot of our garden action is still going on in the greenhouses. In a span of a couple of weeks, outside we planted winter garden, then summer garden, and now we’re working on our fall garden seeding which puts us back in the greenhouse. Gardening is like that, first you have nothing planted and then all of a sudden you have no room to plant anything, and you’re seeding more for the final planting of seeds whose fruits you will eat this winter. I told my family the garden season was over this weekend, and summer hasn’t really begun! They covered their ears. Rantings of an old seed lady, I’m not into cats, so Old Seed Lady will have to do and actually fits me much better.
I swear you would not believe we eat kale three times a day, have enough to supplement the hens and baconators and these plants keep rewarding us with phenomenal growth. There is just something about the hen-pecked compost that the brassicas love.
Sugar Sprint peas are about done,.
In the other greenhouse (we call it the lone wolf), with drip irrigation and plastic mulch, we don’t spend a lot of time in here. I turn on the drip once a week, and other than attempting to prune and trellis tomatoes and pick strawberries we don’t come in here as often. You could view that as a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.
Same greenhouse, different view. Strawberries, peppers, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes and a row of brassicas on the cool edge make up the plantings in here. While we aren’t spending a lot of time in here right now, that will change as the solanums start to need harvesting.
So that concludes the “garden” tour this first week of June, I hope things are growing well in your gardens too!