Sunday, April 3, 2011

It's been a while since I wrote here. I've been getting little projects accomplished over the winter, but mostly doing research and preparation for the season. Obviously, the hoop house has been something I've been able to work on even in the cold weather. I was out digging up the beds in January and February. Even through the blizzard, during which by the way no snow accumulated on top of the hoop house because of the strong winds, I was able to continue working in the soil.

I've been keeping track of lows and highs in there all winter and the lowest temp recorded was I think around 4 degrees, but that was without using the row cover, a thin plastic fabric, which insulates the soil and keeps a warmer microclimate underneath. Once I'd planted, first small test beds in late January and then the first plantings of most crops in mid-February, I used row cover to add another layer over the beds to hold heat from the soil in overnight. During the sunny days I would roll back the row cover so the plants could get heat and sunlight.

So how did everything do? It's been a really cloudy spring so far and though with the return of the longer days in the past month the crops have been doing better, the lack of real sunny days has meant everything has been growing incredibly slowly. Up until the past week or so I'd felt like everything was on the verge of being ready and if we could just get 3 sunny days I could start picking. Even days when we've seen the sun it's been only for a couple hours or less. The last several days we have finally gotten some sun and I've finally harvested my first produce for sale. I've made up salad mix of spinach, mesclun (which is basically salad mix), and the many other miscellaneous greens I have planted in there. It has been really popular here, but so far I do not have enough to meet the demand. Next year I will be able to plant crops in the fall for spring harvest so the hoop house will be useful for season extension, but because I couldn't really start planting until spring this year and we've had this cloudy weather I may not get much of a harvest before it gets hot and everything bolts to flower.

The picture just above is one of the unusual crops I'm planting that is supposedly cold hardy. It's called claytonia, or miner's lettuce, and is closely related to the woodland ephemeral spring beauty, which is usually the first flower of spring in the Midwestern woods.

Speaking of row cover...I often look up at the sky on the infrequent sunny days we get in the wintertime and I see the view below. These contrails from jet plains are not just innocent wisps in the sky. They change the weather and the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth's surface. It may not seem like they could make much of a difference, but we have a lot of jets flying over us and I've watched clouds form on what would otherwise be a clear day from the remnants of contrails. You can see how these ones spread out. Under the right conditions, which seem to occur often, instead of dissipating they will grow and form thin cloud masses that cover most of the sky eventually. And I'm not pulling this out of my ass. Researchers have studied how this can affect the climate and the amount of energy that reaches life forms on the surface. Of course it's not really possible anymore to study the control of the experiment, which is a sky without contrails. This has only happened once since the widespread use of jet engines. During the only day when there was a nationwide grounding of all air travel in the US, September 11th, 2001, researchers were able to see the difference in cloud cover. Unfortunately one day was not long enough to base any climate change data on, but the effect on light transmission is obvious to anyone who can watch contrails turn into large overcasting clouds on an otherwise sunny day. Over 30,000 flights a day in this country alone can streak the sky with plenty of clouds. Here it seems to only take a dozen or so flights to put the sun behind a haze that I think significantly reduces light transmission. For organisms that for millions of years did not have daily air travel casting a thin fabric over their lives, I wonder what the repercussions could be. For a village that depends so much on solar power it's another reason, beyond the carbon footprint, to limit air travel.

It was a great year for maple syrup. After last year's pathetic yield, this year we got about 12 gallons off of the trees DR and Red Earth Farms taps. Because I put in a lot of hours tapping, I ended up with almost two gallons of maple syrup. It's delicious. I'll probably end up using it for a lot more than just pancakes since it is a local sweetener and I've got tons of it. The pictures below are of sap being poured into the boiling pan in the sugar shack at Sandhill farm. Sandhill boils down their sorghum syrup in this building using steam heating.

Last week we got more cold weather with a bit of snow, of course clouds and overnight lows in the low 20s. I'm glad about the cold because early warms spells like the one we had last week scare me because they can cause fruit trees and grape vines to break their dormancy early and then if we get a late freeze their blossoms or tender young shoots can be frozen. But I noticed the peepers stopped calling over the last few days. From my new house whose, windows look out on the cattail pond behind my garden the calls of these mating frogs is deafening. I don't mind it at all. The first time you hear it you know that spring is not far off. It is pretty amazing that once they start calling in late winter, it can get back down into the 30s and you still hear them out there all night long.

I've been doing a lot of cheesemaking lately, mostly mozzarella and feta. It's taken me a while but I think I've perfected feta. It's definitely one of my favorite cheeses, and now I can make more than I could imagine knowing what to do with out of local organic raw milk. I've been making delicious spinach and mixed greens salads with the little amounts I've been harvesting from the hoop house.

I finished the hatch for the cheese/root cellar under the floor near the kitchen. It's been staying just above freezing in there all winter long, which is perfect for storing root veggies. I expect it will hang in the 50s in there in the summer, which is good for aging cheese.

Over the winter I was able to finish installing and start operation of my irrigation system for the vineyard and hoop house. This solar panel directly operates a pump that pushes water up the hill from the pond to a holding tank. From the tank, gravity brings the water down to a hose in the hoop house. I will eventually have a drip irrigation system for the vineyard. I've already been using the system to water the beds in the hoop house. The whole system was mostly paid for by a cost share grant from the Department of Energy to help farmers convert irrigation systems and electrical fencing to renewable solar energy. I'm not sure, but I think it was part of the stimulus package. So if you are wondering if that stimulus did any good, it has made possible this hoop house and irrigation system that are growing local organic vegetables for Dancing Rabbit. If it is successful, it will at least help out my economic situation and it is definitely contributing to the building of a sustainable economy here. Go Keynesian economics! At least they are increasing the debt by funding some good things instead of just buying weapons and bombing people.

I'm thinking about starting a new blog. I would still keep this one going to give updates on what I'm doing at DR, but the new one will be more thought provoking and less like a journal. I plan to write about Dancing Rabbit, but I will be relating what we are doing here to larger issues. I will dabble in philosophy, economy, and ecology. Lately I've been writing a lot of these kinds of little essays. I've written some entries to this blog along these same lines in the past. I'm thinking of the two entries on the challenges of creating a sustainable economy here and the entry on the future of our vehicles at DR. I would like to draw some cartoons to illustrate some of the ideas in the essays. Some of the subjects I've written about recently are, the sustainability of cities, privatization of education and the inability of a market economy like the one we have in the US to successfully provide for the public interest, and extremes of opinion and philosophy and how groups close themselves off to new information. I also have a rather long essay I wrote a long time ago on the history of the automobile in terms of it's impact on the planet. I did a lot of research on the subject so it is really good information and I hope will help people who read it to see cars in a different way.

No comments: