The hoop house is open!

The plastic is off and the plants are ready for the world.

Hoop houses are wonderful things, they keep the plants warm and toasty in the winter. Well they keep them from freezing over at least. A lot of plants don’t like it if their roots freeze. If they are in the ground they are mostly OK and can protect themselves unless there is a really hard winter and the ground really freezes solid. That is why sometimes plants don’t come back the following spring, the roots froze and the plant died.

If a plant is in a pot then it’s a whole different matter. The soil in the pot is isolated and it gets a lot colder than the ground, so its going to freeze a lot faster. This means that the plant roots will freeze and the plant wont be happy. IF you only have a couple of pots this can usually be solved by placing them in the garage over the winter months. If the plants die down in the winter they don’t even need light and can be stored under a bench or some other out of the way spot until spring comes around. Just make sure that they stay a little moist. IF they totally dry out they will likely die, roots need to stay plump and moist. Just slightly moist not wet. A little water once every two weeks is usually enough for a cold garage, if your garage is warm then you might need to water more often.

For plants that stay green, putting them on a table near a garage window is a good solution. Again keep just moist and everything is usually fine until spring.

If you have a lot of plants in pots like we do then putting them in the garage is not feasible. That’s where a hoop house comes in. Plants are placed under a plastic protection layer that is just enough to stop the plant pots from freezing in the dead of winter and keeps the plants alive. If you live in an area where there are commercial growers you will often see they have a lot of these hoop houses. In winter these are covered with either clear or white plastic. This is to protect their crops from freezing and keep their plants alive so they are ready for sale in the spring. IN most areas come early spring the plastic comes off of these hoop houses and the plants are open to the air again.

Hoop houses get HOT. For that reason they are often used to start crops, prolong growing cycles so plants can be grown earlier or later into the season and to grow crops that need a lot more heat than the region would normally give them. A good example is baby ginger which is becoming much more popular with CSA and other farms that sell at farm markets. Once it was found that ginger could be raised easily in hot hoop houses or high tunnels the market opened up for fresh and organic ginger.

Our hoop house at present is used just to keep pots from freezing. The weather has been all over the place this year so we kept our plastic on longer than we anticipates. But this weekend it came down. The plants inside have had free air passage for weeks now so the shock of being open to the elements should be lessened. We also try and do it when its going to be cloudy for a few days to allow the plants to acclimatize to the new light levels before they get hit with full sun.

open hoop house
hoop house frame wraped with deer fencing.

We had to wrap deer fencing around the hoop house structure to stop the deer wandering through. IF we don’t do this they just stroll through, knock over all the pots and ruin the irrigation setup. This causes a lot extra work having to fix it all the time. Deer are a real pain to small farm agriculture.

Some of our plants will find homes in the ground this year, but a lot wont. Its going to take a lot longer to prepare our new field that we had expected so we don’t expect it to be done until next spring now. So they plants must remain in pots until its ready.

Compost compost compost.

It’s the secret to a good soil and good crops.

No matter what kind of soil you have, unless you extremely lucky your soil will need improvement. Even if you are lucky enough to have good soil if you start growing things in it before long it will still need improving. For us, we have a sandy loam soil which in its natural state has very little organic material in it. Since we started our farm every year we add lots of organic mushroom compost every year to help improve the soil and move it towards a good soil structure that holds together rather than a sandy mess which will blow away in the first high wind. It’s a long hard battle but we are getting there.

Last week our new truckload of compost arrived so we can continue to add it to our field rows. We spent all Sunday shoveling compost onto our rows and are now finally finished! Hooray! For us it takes a LONG time to do because, at present, we have to do everything by hand. If we had a front end loader the task would be faster, but they are expensive and we cannot yet afford to purchase one. So its people power that runs our farm. After three whole day sessions we have completed all the rows in all our fields that needed compost added to them. This is not to say that all compost work is done, we still have sections of our new field to work on, repotting of larger shrubs that don’t yet have a home and more repotting to do. However all the field rows are done so its downhill from here (at least for compost, its all uphill for the rest of the farm work).

This year marks the beginning of moving around some of our perennials to give them new improved soil and allow us to amend soil in the field which has not been done in quite a while. The main field is easier to work with as we can take the tractor down the rows to put the soil on, however it needs more cart loads of compost since it has not been worked for a while, and next year will be back under perennials so it wont get much more apart from side dressing after that. So it took 12 cart loads of compost to do one row, which is a LOT of digging.

The last two weeks have had pretty good weather for digging, last Sunday was a perfect day to do this, it was cool and mostly cloudy which is excellent for hard physical work. It was also rather windy which we could have done without but hey, you cant have everything. This past Sunday was still cool but a lot damper since it had rained overnight but the humidity was still pretty low. We are all glad that the job is done, none of us like digging when its humid that really sucks.

The last of the compost pile is gone!

Now we can order more.

This weekend was for shoveling. All the rest of the rows in our fields need to have compost added to them ready for this years planting. Our mulch pile was getting low so we needed to dig all the remainder out and put it on the fields so we can get a new truckload ordered this week. Then we can do the same thing again next week. Hooray!

We have a small cart that goes behind the tractor that we have to fill by hand, then move to our side field then transfer it to the wheelbarrows, to transport it down to the rows that need it. It’s a lot of work. Sadly we don’t have enough space to keep our rows far enough apart to get the tractor down the side field rows it all has to be done by hand. If we had more land we could spread out a bit but as it is we need to use every inch that we have. Sadly this means more manual labor, at least at the moment, maybe later we can figure out a better system but so far we have not be able to do so.

Four truck loads got all but two rows in the field completed, by that time we were both tired and drained. There is still a lot of work to do before full planting can begin but we are on our way.

Potty for Repotting

It took all day to repot our trees.

I thought it was going to be a simple task that would take a few hours, but that was not the case.

We have quite a number of trees mostly hazelnuts and kousa dogwoods waiting to be planted. They have been waiting for a few years now, but since we have all the useless dead and dying trees to move out of the way first we don’t have space to plant them yet. – Yes we could have someone come and cut them all down for us, but it would cost a LOT of money, which like most people working a farm we don’t have. – So it’s a gradual process.

I had repotted the trees into the largest pots we had available, really large pots cost a LOT of money. However we were fortunate enough to find a wholesale nursery that was going out of business and had a lot of used pots to get rid of. They were only too happy for us to haul them away from them, so we loaded up our trailer and dragged them home. I know many people don’t like re using pots, but these things are large and expensive. Most wholesale nurseries do a reasonable job of keeping pests down, if they did not they would go out of business. Plus we could pressure wash them with bleach solution before we used them.

Our trees were getting bigger and they kept falling over as the pots were not large enough. Add to that that when we had them stood up the deer just love to come along and walk right through the middle of the bed and knock them all over again. A few years ago a bear wandered in and not only managed to knock half the pots over but totally destroyed the irrigation system we had set of for them. We needed a better solution.

line of potted trees and shrubs
Trees repotted in large pots

I decided to move the trees to the small berm that runs along the west side of our house. It is most likely the soil that was dug out to make the miniscule basement we have (but that’s another story). The area gets a lot of sunshine during the daytime so its perfect for the trees. We moved them all there after removing them from their winter protection in the hoop house. However this area is a little more exposed and it was a forgone conclusion that the pots would fall over. Never fear we had all the new super large pots.

Problem is that a super large pot takes a LOT of filling. I wanted to use the mushroom compost for most of the pot filling with a layer of our sandy loam soil on the bottom and the top to help keep the moisture in. Rather like a reverse Oreo. I had already done a few pots on my own and realized that it was going to be a two person job to get it done faster and effectively. Since we needed two soil sources, move the pots down from the berm, – its too hard to repot on a slope – then repot them and move them back with a hand truck. I filled and repotted the trees, Steve shifted them back. We both dug compost and he got soil from the field for the outer Oreo look and feel. Having soil on the top of the pot was essential as the mushroom compost looses moisture much faster than the soil does. A layer a couple of inches thick on the top helps to keep the moisture in and the plant happy. It was also important to use last years compost which had compacted down. The new stuff is light and fluffy, if we use that to fill a pot it compacts down during the next year or so and the plant is left with only about half the depth of the pot in soil.

Because some of the pots were quite large, it took a much more soil than I had expected and we had to fill three cart loads of mushroom compost and at least 6 barrow loads of soil to get the job done. We spent all day at the task and still did not entirely finish.

However now all the new trees are in much larger pots that wont fall over in the wind, and wont get knocked over by the deer. A bear could still do it if he is determined, we just have to hope he’s not. The trees will be fine now for a few years, and with any luck we will have their final home in the ground ready before they outgrow these pots.