Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Quick Update

So I'm going to try to make this update brief since I feel like blogging takes a lot of time and I don't have extra right now, but I really want to get up some pictures of the changes happening with my projects this season. We'll start with the successes.

The vineyard

All this rain has been great for the vines. They need plenty of water when they are getting established and this season has provided it steadily up until the last couple weeks.

Many of the vines have been growing so fast I was forced to get going on putting up the trellises. They went up just in time and now many of the vines have reached the trellis wire and some have even fully filled out their allotted space on it. I'm hoping that by the end of the season nearly all the vines will have filled in their space so next season they can produce a full crop.

These are locust posts harvested from nearby Sandhill farm. They are an organic rot-resistant alternative to treated posts, and they look a lot more organic too.

This year there was a small crop, which was just enough to test the sugar content, monitor disease, and assess the impact of deer and bird grazing. The grapes didn't get to the sugar content I was hoping for before the birds ate them all, so at least I know birds could be a problem. Some varieties got as high as 20 degrees Brix, which if fermented to dryness would produce a wine with 10 percent alcohol. I'm hoping to have between 22 and 24 Brix so that I don't have to add sugar to make a stable wine. It's hard to say if there were more grapes if the birds would not be a huge impact, but I'd rather not take chances so I'll probably try to be prepared next season.

I had a scare earlier in the year with crown gall damage, but think I've figured out why it was a problem. Last winter I protected the trunks of the vines with foil to keep the critters from girdling them. When we got an early spring and it didn't seem to be letting up I thought it was safe (by late april and after about a month and a half of warm weather) to take off the foil. Then of course in early May we got a couple late frosts, so I think the trunks that had been protected were not hardened off enough to deal with the cold snap. Some must have been damaged and the bacteria of crown gall invaded and eventually stopped up the nutrient flow in the vine causing dieback or just death in about ten vines so far. I will be more careful in the future about taking off the protection too early. Although it has been a really wet year, fungus did not attack the grape bunches at all that I could see, probably because there is still a lot of open space for airflow in the vineyard.

The chickens are still going strong producing eggs. I've been feeding them compost from the Mercantile, which has diversified their diet considerably. They are getting plenty of egg shells to eat so they won't lack the stuff they need to make strong shells on their eggs.

My experiment with meat chickens has had its ups and downs. That cold snap in May happened the week I'd bought my chicks and they weren't liking the cold weather. They are a fast growing hybrid breed (Cornish rocks) that seems to thrive in maximum heat and is weakened by cold conditions. Temperatures that my laying chicks survived killed off most of my meat chicks. I ended up with 7 out of 25 I'd started with. Next year I will get them later in the season, if I decide to try them again. They have been delicious though, and I've been making some of the best chicken I've ever tasted.

Barbecued chicken, grilled summer squash and eggplant
I'm thinking about giving up on chickens for now because they are such a time sucker and they offer very little in return since I only have 7 layers. If I were doing them on a large scale and winter housing wasn't such a problem, it would be a more efficient practice. Maybe eventually I will try something like miniature sheep, which don't need quite as much protection in winter as chickens and may be easier to feed. I've read about people using them for mowing and fertility improvement in vineyards. They are a big commitment though.

This season I also expanded the vineyard planting, adding four more partial rows of white wine grapes. In the space not occupied by vines I will be putting in a 30'x36' hoop house for season extension. I will be growing cool weather greens like spinach, mustards, and possibly carrots along the lines of what Eliot Coleman does on his farm. This project was partially inspired by a government grant that will pay for 90% of the cost of the hoop house and by my desire to have an income source that will have a faster turnaround than the vineyard. It will also give me a way to garden for more of the year. I may be able to harvest crops into December and plant new ones in February. The ground needs some serious soil improvement before it will be suitable for growing vegetables. I plan to add composted manure and minerals and turn them into the soil before setting up the hoop house in September sometime.

Another part of the project is an irrigation system. I was able to get a cost share grant from the DNR to pay for 75% of the cost of a tank, pump, solar panel, and piping to the pond from the tank. I will draw water out of the pond to fill the tank using a solar powered pump, then gravity will take water downhill to the hoophouse and vineyard. Since the hoop house doesn't allow water in, irrigation is needed somewhat during portions of the growing season, though it's likely water will percolate through the soil from outside the hoophouse given our perched water table.

The house

Work has continued on the house. The first thing I did was to build the stairway, which was a considerable project since I had to make the treads and risers out of rough cut local silver maple. Often I needed to saw a straight edge on it before using the table saw and planer to make it look like real boards. I'm very happy with the finished product though. The maple is really pretty wood.

Most of the interior scratch coat of plaster on the walls is done. Drywall has been installed on the second floor ceiling and blown cellulose will be happening soon. I'm still working on putting on the rest of the joint compound, or "mudding". But the upstairs looks like a real room now.

The power system took an unnecessarily long time to put together and get online. The panels had to be mounted on the garden shed, which was a project in itself. The components had to be ordered from many different places and each time I thought I had everything I needed I found I needed to order something else. It's all together now though and there are lights, outlets that can run the planer and circular saw, and even a ceiling fan on the second floor. It's nice to have that power system for building. I probably should have put it together before starting the framing and kept it in the garden shed. The system is about 16 times the size of the system in Wisteria Lodge, so I will probably have power to spare. It also has an inverter that can be tied to grid so when the grid-tied power co-op is set up here, I can feed excess power into it and use that power in the winter when power is low here.

The power system is tucked under the stairs

The trim on the first floor is also done and the cantilever outside enclosed and insulated. I used the same silver maple as the stairs for the trim. I bought a pile of boards from a local guy who removes trees and mills them for $62. I'm running out of good boards from that piles and will probably use the rest for firewood this winter.

The enclosed cantilever

The new door has made the house look a little more professional. It replaces an interior door I slapped on late last year to keep out the elements. This one is insulated and lets in light. Eventually the front door will be a homemade wooden door to fit the rustic look I'm going for with the house.

I'm starting on the earthen floor now. First I have to put down the insulation. I'm using light-clay straw, the same stuff I used in Wisteria Lodge and the south wall of this house. From reading about it, laying the insulation layer of straw is difficult because the finished product has to be firm and not too spongy. The only information I can find about it just says it is a complicated process and doesn't explain how to do it. So, using the same principle used with light clay straw in walls I'm just applying pressure from the top using pallets to compress the straw until it is partially dry. It seems to be working, but I'll have to see if it dries firm enough. This is a good time to do the floor because it takes a long time to dry and needs hot temperatures.

I still have to enclose the gables, plaster the south wall, put in the wood stove, do the soffit, hang the gutters, put in the wood floor on the second floor, and put on the finish coats of plaster at least on the inside. I think I can make it livable by October so I can rent out Wisteria Lodge this winter. Some of this I can do while waiting for the floor to dry.

The garden

The garden has been miserable this year. I'm not alone in this. Everyone around here, including farmers and gardening Mennonites have had a horrible year because of the rain. Crops just sat in the ground for the first few months of the season barely growing. Only in the last couple weeks have my peppers and onions taken off. It's not because of a lack of hot weather either. We've had plenty of that, just like the Farmer's Almanac predicted. Carrot and potatoes rotted in the ground despite my attempts to avoid the saturated soil by holding off planting until June. I have gotten some stuff out of the garden. It was a great year for strawberries. I sold many quarts of strawberries here. Garlic did well too. Lately I've harvested beets, onions, summer squash, cukes, and eggplant. I've been selling greens too.

This was the onions in June sometime. When I harvested them last week they were about the same size.

Overall though, I'm not sure if it would be better to focus less on the garden because it seems like such a waste of time in terms of payoff and I need to get in that house this fall.


Anonymous said...

Dan, I am sure someone else has already mentioned this but I'll say it anyway.

In regards to both your last blog concerning the economical state of DR and your latest quick update. Have any of the others considered organic soaps and hair care products as a means of generating continued revenue? Perhaps organically made clothing? Tea and even cofee (not too sure how they'd do in the Missouri climate outside of a greenhouse.) I have been looking at as many ways to generate a sustainable income for DR as I can.

I heard you have a good bit of land that could be purposes for these tasks but as I am not a resident (yet..hopefully) I don't want to seem like a "back seat driver."

Just offering my ideas.


IMLOT said...

On the subject of meat critters, have you considered...rabbits? I don't know how that might go over in a community so named, but they are really efficient, quiet, and productive meat critters.

We're planning on raising them starting this spring. Their housing will include a "rabbit tractor" with a slatted floor to allow for fresh food foraging.