Our New drying Shed – Part 2.

It’s on its way to being great.

The shed is in place. It still needs a lot of work done on it to make it into what we really need but most of that will have to wait until the winter and early spring. For now we needed to get it so we could use it immediately.

So. First we pressure washed the whole of the inside, a wet job but at least its hot weather so we dried off fast.

After leaving it two days to completely dry out we put a white tarp on the floor to catch the seeds. We want to put down proper flooring later but finding the right stuff at the right price is going to take some time. We are not paying to price for flooring for the shed!

Next it was put up the shelving for the drying racks. Does not look like much but it took all day to put these in.

Finally we could add the drying racks and get some material in their to dry off. It get pretty warm in their so it should only take a day or so before the material is really dry. This extra capacity is really going to speed up our farm performance.

herb drying in storage container
Phase one of our new drying shed.

Since we have no ventilation at the moment we are leaving the main doors open to the air and only shut them on threat of rain, which sadly has not been very often these past few weeks.

So we also had to add some deer fencing across the doors to stop the critters getting in. It’s a bit unlikely that a deer will jump in there but not impossible. Fortunately we have not seen any bears this year but its guaranteed if we assume they have gone that one will get in there just to prove us wrong.

Its not perfect yet but its getting there. The next installment on this project wont be until the winter or early spring when the harvest is over.

Shelves in herb drying shed
First shelves in our new drying shed.

Take Care with the use of Chemicals

You might be killing your crops.

Small ripening fig fruit.
Small ripening fig fruit. Photo courtesy of libreshot.com

I volunteer at our local master gardener hotline, it’s a way to help others with garden problems and it keeps me on my toes.
Last week a couple came into the office with a problem and my partner discussed a solution with the wife the husband noticed a jar of fig cuttings that my hotline partner had brought in for me. This prompted a different question from him.

I am not getting any figs. Why not?

I explained to him that figs are only produced if the tiny fruit (actually at this point the flower) is pollinated by the fig wasp which has to burrow into the fruit to get to the ‘flower’. If you don’t have fig wasps you don’t have fruit.
Thus if you have a neighbor who is an avid sprayer for all kinds of insects without any real discretion then you are going to kill off the wasps before they get to your figs.

As I talked his head hung lower and lower and at the end he admitted that he was indeed a broadcast sprayer, killing all the insects that he found in his garden. Thus he had no figs.

This is just one example of what can happen if chemicals are used in a arbitrary manner. If you kill all insects because you think they are bad and will damage your plants you kill good insects along with the bad. You might want to kill aphids on your roses and spray everything around you ‘just in case’. If you do that, to begin with you are going to get wind drift. Even of very still days there is usually a bit of breeze which will carry the spray to some other plants. If you absolutely have to spray never do it on a breezy day.
You are also going to kill every other insect that the spray gets near, that means the ones on the ground under the plants, the ones on the neighboring plants the ones that have come in to eat the aphids that you are trying to kill and those that are just looking for a nice rest before they fly or crawl off somewhere else.

Many of these insects are your friends, just like the fig wasp. The ladybugs on your roses or the lacewings are eating the aphids not making more, you kill them then you kill your biological control.

yummy fresh figs
yummy fresh figs, thanks to the fig wasp.

I am not saying that you should never spray. There are certainly times when its necessary, but it should be done carefully on as still a day as possible and as precisely as possible. Spray only the plants that really need it because they are infested. Don’t just spray for the heck of it ‘just in case’. Keep the use of chemicals to a minimum. Your garden will love you a lot more and you will be rewarded.

Where Are All The Bugs?

My windshield is Clean.

This weekend we took a road trip, not a really long one just up to the north of the state to visit a festival. It was fun so we stayed late and drove back in the dark. A lot of it is on smaller country roads. We had been going for a couple hours before it hit me. There was not one bug splat on the window. There were no bugs being caught in the headlights as they zoomed past.

Then I realized that I had not had to clean bugs off the windshield at all this year! Where have all the bugs gone?
This is really bad. If we loose all the bugs then we are really going to be in trouble. No bugs, no pollination no food. We might not like bugs, we might think they are creepy and unpleasant but we need them, without bugs there will be no food.

There is a lot of fuss going on about the reduction in bee colonies and how the bees are dying. This is certainly true, but its not just the bees that are dying its lots of different insects. I have certainly noticed a vast reduction in the number of insects on our farm this past year. Where plants used to be covered in pollinating insects there are few if any around.

Certainly bees are important but bees don’t pollinate all flowers. Take a look around almost any garden and you will see that different insects visit different flowers. Most plants with umbel like flowers , that means flat open flowers like Dill (Anethum graveolens), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Queen Annes Lace (Daucus carota), and a multitude of other plants don’t attract bees. I have never seen a bee on our Yarrow, Fennel or Dill, not on the Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) or Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) either. I have seen a multitude of other kinds of insects all over them. So if we loose those insects then we don’t have any more of any of these plants because there will be so seed to perpetuate them.
The same is true of many plants, rarely do I see bees on our holly bushes, or the euphorbia’s, euonymus or boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) but there are usually dozens of other plants.

bug on boneset
Single bug on Boneset.

Most people maybe will not notice the lack of flying insects or even be happy about it but it will take its toll. If we have no seeds for our herbs then our cuisine and our herbal medicine will suffer. So think very carefully before you get that insect spray out in your garden and spray it around arbitrary

We also really have no understanding of the life of these chemicals and how they affect other systems. Something may have been manufactured to kill a flying insect or specific pest but what happens when it hits the ground. How do the soil insects and microbiota (all the tiny tings that live in the soil) fair. It has been well documented that Glyphosate (Roundup) will kill everything in the soil basically making it sterile and thus fairly useless to plants, what I wonder are all these other chemicals doing.

It might not seem like a big deal, many insects eat a lot of stuff that we don’t want, they are our garbage disposal. They eat the dead leaves, animal carcasses and just about anything organic around the world. If there were no insects, bacteria and fungi then nothing would decay and we would be drowning in garbage and smelly waste. We need all these animals even if we think they are creepy crawlies without them our world would not survive, and we would die quite quickly. We may not realize they are there but without them our life would really not exist. So we need to stop the chemical spraying our ancestors got along fine in agriculture without tones of toxic chemicals so can we. Please do your part, don’t spray unless you have to and support campaigns to ban toxic chemical. Make this world a better place of us, our children and grandchildren.

I hate ants!

At least ants that bite me.

Black ants. Photo courtesy of libreshot.com
Black ants. Photo courtesy of libreshot.com

Some ants are fine, they go about their business in my fields and we ignore each other. However there are some that are not so indifferent. They bite they don’t sting, they bite with their nasty sharp little pincers. I was lead to believe that ants would only attack if they were around the nest area. Well the ones on my farm have not read the literature and they will bite anywhere anytime.

There are two different varieties of ant on our farm that bite. The problem I am having at the moment is with some black ones. They are about half an inch long all black and they LOVE raspberries. They think that the raspberries were put there for their benefit and they don’t want to share. I really don’t mind sharing my crops in a small part with some insects, they have to eat too and as long as they only take a small portion that is fine with me.

These guys are different, and they are vicious. They swarm up over the raspberry bushes and chew on the fruit meaning that I get less fruit. Well that’s OK I never get to use it all anyway. However when the decide to bite me because I want my share then all bets are off on ‘Mr. nice guy’ and I want to go to war. These guys are certainly at war with me.

They run up your hands, bit any bit of flesh they can find. If my legs brush the bushes they bite those. IF I lean over to pick something and they get on my T shirt then they run up it and bite me on the neck. I cant get any workers to pick raspberries because on one wants to go in the field and get attacked. I don’t blame them.

Fresh picked raspberries
Freshly picked raspberries

I really don’t know how to control these nasty creatures. I asked the eorganic experts and all I got was ‘get traps from home depot’ (this is paraphrased). Huh! I’m a farm I can’t use a ton of ant traps in my fields!

Normally I use beneficial nematodes to help control the ants but this year its been so dry that they poor things have just dried up with the soil and cant get to the ants to do their job, so the ants have flourished.

Anyone got any ideas? Remember I have two 190 foot rows here, not just a tiny patch.

Our new drying shed. Part 1.

The container arrives.

Drying herbs, and especially material for seeds is time consuming and takes a lot of space. As our farm has grown so has the amount of material that we need to dry. For many herb farms it’s a one step process. They gather the herb and dry that for sale. For us its two step. We gather herbs to dry but we also leave a portion and gather that for seed.

This takes a lot of space, more and more as the farm grows.

So we need a new place to dry our plant material. After some discussion we decided to do like many herb farms do and use a shipping container. These wonderful extremely versatile boxes have a multitude of uses and one of them is as a drying shed. We decided on a 20 foot model to begin with, although I think we will need a larger one later we have not cleared enough space for such a container as yet.
After walking around our property and discussing locations we agreed on one near the front of the property as a interim. We are restrained at present where we can have things delivered because the house is situated between the driveway and the fields with trees around it making it almost impossible to get large vehicles back into the field areas. So things have to be delivered to the front and then we have to move them, or they have to stay in front it we cant.

Our shipping container fortunately can be moved later. At present we have chosen the only remaining sunny location that is not being farmed to put it in. It was also ‘lawn’ – read short green stuff. So there was not a lot of clearing to be done.

We needed to put down wooden beams to place the container on but that was all.
The container arrived at 8.30am Monday morning. The driver was an expert and easily maneuvered his truck to line the container up between our marker sticks and drop it on the wooden beam that we had put in place to receive it.

The trucks they use have mechanical sliding decks which allow him to raise and lower the container off the back of the truck and slide it into place. It was almost worth buying one to watch the guy install it!

Location for container
Location for the new shed with wooden support logs. Back on is in place and sticks mark the exact position where the container will be placed.
Container arrives on truck
The container arrives strapped on the back of truck and is slowly backed into position.
Straps are removed.
Straps are removed.
Container is now backed carefully into place with extreme accuracy.
Container is now backed carefully into place with extreme accuracy. The truck driver is really good at this.
Moveable truck bed slides the container back and down to allow for easy placement.
Moveable truck bed slides the container back and down to allow for easy placement.
backing container into position.
Truck is backed up a bit more to lower the back end of the container.
adjusting the container positon
A little more sliding and lowering to get the container right on the mark
Container is dropped perfectly onto the back log.
Container is dropped perfectly onto the back log.
Front log is pulled under the container before it is finally lowered into position.
Front log is pulled under the container before it is finally lowered into position.

So we have the beginnings of our drying shed. We just need to pressure wash the inside and let it dry before we can start installing our stuff.

Labor Day Is When You Labor On Your Lawn.

At least most years

For those of us in the northern part of the country especially in the north east the general rule is to work on your lawns in the fall. Labor day is when you labor on your lawn makes it easy to remember.

However with the ever rapidly changing climate that might not be so true anymore.

Normally here in the northeast labor day marks the ‘end’ of summer. Its not really true of course we have always had bright warm sunny days through September and October but the temperatures tend to cool down a lot. The historic averages are in the high seventies with a few minor clips up to the low eighties in the early parts of the month. Most of it tends to be cooler with a little more rain and the temperatures drop overnight giving more of a cold snap.

This is the signal to most plants that winter is approaching. The leaves on the trees begin to turn lovely shades, or for some just brown and drop off. Some trees drop early. Annual plants also know that winter is coming, they are producing their hard coated seeds and spreading them as far as they can ready for next spring. What they are not doing is germinating and growing more weeds now.

That is a great advantage to the lawn grower. Grass seed will germinate now and if done so it will have less weeds to compete with and get a head start before the winter comes.
This however all depends on lower temperatures and more rain. This year the meteorologists are predicting a warmer fall than normal which is following a time of much drier weather so everything is upset. Fall may be later, and wont be anything like as spectacular as it normally is.

Lawns are still under stress. There has been a lot less rain so many have gone somewhat dormant. Its not the time to put down new seed or do anything intensive on the lawn that will stress it more. This year Labor day is NOT the time to labor on your lawn, and it probably wont be until at least the third week in September.

For those who lavish their lawns it may be a disappointment. For those of us who just accept a lawn and do a little to help it then it means that this labor day can be used for something else. Hopefully something more enjoyable. So go have fun, labor on your lawn later.