Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The pilot farm has begun!

Today it is official: I am officially the tenant of half an acre of real life farm land!

I've been working on it for the last week, ever since making a verbal deal, but as of today there's nothing to hold me back. This site I've chosen for the pilot farm has one huge thing going for it: location. It's just a couple minutes from my house, even by bike. It is one corner of the berry farm that has been here since well before any of these subdivisions. These days all that is grown there is blueberries and Marion berries in modest quantities. There's a lot of land that has mostly grown strawberry in recent decades but which used to grow pole beans and other things. I'm working with two fine fellows in different capacities. One I'll call my "Land Mentor" because "landlord" sounds so archaic to me. He owns part of the farm including what I'm on. He knows a lot about working on the land but doesn't call himself a farmer. The second person I'm working with I'll call my "Farm Mentor" because he's been working the berry farm for more than thirty years, from back in the days when they could sell off the back of trucks to the canneries to the modern day when his clientele are mostly people who make jam at home. Between these two men they've got five tractors for various purposes and loads of wisdom, both of which they've offered to me in generous quantities, albeit ones that don't interfere with their semi-retirement. They also own water rights on the nearby slough, and a big pump that can provide more water than I know what to do with.

The Pilot Farm is divided into three distinct topographic areas. One is the relatively flat area consisting of fill -- clay loam and rocks -- that I'm going to build my greenhouses on.

This is what it looked like this morning right after I started the lease. Farm Mentor mowed it the other day, and I had been digging up blackberry root balls. Then Land Mentor came out with his 4 wheel drive Kubota tractor -- which is older than me and also cleaner -- and scraped off a lot of the sod and leveled things out a bit.

Once he was done I used my push mower to mow down the rest of the grass under the first greenhouse as short as I could. I'm going to cover this area with non-woven geotextile cloth topped with 2-3 inches of crushed rock. This should be enough to kill most of the grass and give me a nice area to work with.

This is where I'll be spending most of the next couple months, setting up the first greenhouse.

The next area, just west of the greenhouse pad, is a swale. Here you can see Lily performing a worm assessment. We pushed quite a bit of the sod into part of it so we will see just how wet it gets. If it isn't too bad I will probably build up some of this area for planting.

Beyond that is the farmed field. Here is Theo looking for a good spot to start his worm count. I only have a small part of this at the moment -- perhaps 3,000 square feet.  But that is enough for me to grow plenty of great food. It's good soil with excellent structure. It's been tilled repeatedly, and is easy to work. Of course this disturbs the soil structure quite a bit, which has its own downsides. I'm looking forward to using it as a starting point for soil building. Piles of leaves and wood chips and horse manure are going to be accumulating soon. In a few years I hope to have a bigger version of what I have in my own back yard -- lots of excellent beds that don't need tilling.

A quick note about crops. This land had been used to grow strawberries, until the prevalence of root weevil became significant enough that the plants were only lasting a couple of seasons. A long break from growing strawberries (and mint!) is prescribed. Conversely, it's time to give my yard a break from tomatoes and potatoes. I don't have much room to rotate things so I've re-used beds almost every year. So all my tomatoes will be at the farm this year, and I'm going to plant new strawberries in new beds at home. I love strawberries for the kids to graze on.

So, there you have it! There is a lot of work to do in the next year. Next December I can rest. Until then, it's time to build, plant, and grow!