This year we turned this

Into this.

Completed field with crop rows.
Completed field with crop rows.

And helped to decrease the carbon footprint just a little bit.

But it was a heck of a lot of work!
More than we had anticipated when we started. It was not something we really wanted to do but the trees that the previous owner had planted were dead and lots of dead trees are a hazard. I was constantly afraid that a lightening strike would ignite them and burn the whole darn forest area down.
So they had to go.

The trees had been originally planted as an attempt at a Christmas tree farm. It would have been fine if the trees had been looked after, pruned and thinned, but they were planted then totally ignored. The result was a lot of trees with trunks anywhere from 6 to 10 inches in diameter and up to 30 feet tall, but growing about three feet apart! Its no wonder the poor things died off. We knew quite a few were dead when we bought the farm but its hard to estimate just how many when you cant walk between the trees. Which as you can see was impossible due to all the dead lower branches.

Dead standing trees. A fire hazard and impossible to walk between due to all the low dead branches.
Dead standing trees. A fire hazard and impossible to walk between due to all the low dead branches.

Then Hurricane Sandy came along and took quite a lot of the dead ones down. We had two rows of them totally collapse, but these had been planted between several rows of white pine (who uses white pine as a Christmas tree?). these poor things were totally shaded by the much larger white pines and had all died. Sandy just flattened the whole lot. Taking those out was easy we just had to drag them away and clean up the area. Cant plant anything there because of all the white pines surrounding it but it makes a nice storage space.

This other area had several trees come down in the hurricane but a lot were still up or half down hanging on those that were down. It was a total mess. There were also a few living trees still struggling there but those were not in good shape either. They were all mostly dead with just a few little fluffy green branches on the top of a 30 foot tree. These were not exactly helping to negate the greenhouse gases so planting something more productive and more CO2 absorbing was desirable.

Many trees had fallen during Hurricane Sandy and several winter storms.
Many trees had fallen during Hurricane Sandy and several winter storms.

The problem was that the job looked a lot smaller when you cant see through all the dead and down trees and cant exactly figure out how many trees you have to deal with. The only thing to do is start at one end and work your way through it.
So that is what we did. Out with the chain saw and get cutting, and cutting and cutting. The more we cut down, or cut up with the large downed trees that were blocking the area, the more dead trees we found. The small area we thought we were clearing turned out to be a bit larger with a lot more trees on it that we had expected.

Cutting down the dead trees with chain saw

Cutting down the dead trees with chain saw

The good thing was since a lot of the trees were dead dragging them around out of the way of the next work area was not too hard. So that is how we worked. Hubby on the chain saw and me dragging the trees, and taking the photos (hence no photos or me). Some trees were too heavy for me to drag and the largest ones we had to cut into pieces. Some of the trunks were large enough to put aside and hopefully find a different project to use them in. This part took a long time. Cutting down trees is pretty fast but dragging them clear is hard work and very time consuming.

Dragging the downed trees out of the work area.
Dragging the downed trees out of the work area.

Once the trees were all down, we hired a chipper and spent the weekend dragging them over and chipping them up. Dragging all the trees to the chipper was a monumental task and certainly gives you a workout. However it’s a pretty satisfying feeling to drag a tree over to that machine and watch it eat it up and spit out a lot of useful chips. Our chip pile grew to about 9 feet tall and 16 feet across. Wood chips have a lot of great uses on the farm for the most part I use them in the aisles between the crop rows to keep the soil protected and stop moisture loss and erosion but they have lots of other uses too.

Chipping up the trees to make useful woodchips.
Chipping up the trees to make useful woodchips.

Now these kind of balsam fir trees are VERY messy, they drop all kinds of little branches and bits of twig, even the live ones are messy. So the ground was covered with a couple of inches at least of little twigs, bits of branch and all kinds of other junk. That had to be raked up and removed. If we left it and ploughed it in the bacteria would love it but it would suck all the nitrogen out of the soil and any crop we planted would fail.
This task fell to me. It took me two weeks going out every day that the weather was good enough, raking and barrowing the frass out of the way. I thought the job would never end, and its not one I would choose to repeat.

Twigs and other mess left after the main clearing is completed.
Twigs and other mess left after the main clearing is completed.

Once it was finally completed I went out and marked all the tree stumps. When I counted them up we had 117! That’s a lot of darn trees!

Cleared area with tree stumps marked all 117 of them.
Cleared area with tree stumps marked all 117 of them.

We hired a guy to come in with a backhoe and dig out the stumps for us. He was delighted to do it and Hubby stood and salivated over the machine. Yes I know he wants one but they are pretty expensive.

The guy was very helpful and moved all the stumps to one side out of the area we had designated as a field before he left. However the cleared area was all rutted and a total mess, not suitable in that state for planting. We had to get our little tractor out and plough and flatten the area for many hours before it was in any shape to consider being called a field. The final flattening and leveling had to be done by hand with rakes. Fortunately we had help with that but it took a whole weekend of moving soil before I was happy with it.

The backhoe and some of the stumps that were removed. The field in a rutted mess now.
The backhoe and some of the stumps that were removed. The field in a rutted mess now.

Once that was done we had to measure it and figure out the spacing of the rows that we wanted to put in. We used string to show where the rows would go. Then it was compost moving time.
Our soil is sandy loam, its not particularly rich and has almost no organic material in it at all. This area which had had these trees on it most likely for about 20 years was going to be in very poor shape. So we knew we had to load it up with compost.

We buy mushroom compost by the truckload. We are fortunate to be relatively close to the Pennsylvania mushroom farms so a truckload of organic compost is not as costly as it would be elsewhere. Like everything if you buy in bulk it costs less. We had a truckload delivered but then we had to get it from the drop spot to the field. That meant manual labor. We had to dig it out of the pile, put it in our cart and drive it to the field, drop it on the row. Then repeat, and repeat and repeat. We hired help for this job. A lovely young women who was only too delighted to come shovel heavy compost. It was still several days work to get sufficient compost to the rows as I wanted a much higher amount in this new field than we use in our other fields since it was a first time around. We put compost only on the areas of the rows not in the aisles as this would have been a waste of compost and it increases the no till aspect of the farm. This is a method we have been using for years but is now being widely acknowledged as a more efficient method of farming.

Once the compost was in place it was rototilled in, then rows were shaped by hand using a rake to ensure they were exactly where we wanted them.
After that is was just a matter of adding the drip irrigation tape to each row and covering it with plastic mulch. We have found this essential for our soil type. The sandy soil does not hold water very well if left uncovered, plus its so fine that it will blow away in the wind. So the mulch ensures that the moisture says near the plant and the soil is protected.

Row preparation. The far row already has white mulch applied. The next rows have their drip tape and all have been rototilled.
Row preparation. The far row already has white mulch applied. The next rows have their drip tape and all have been rototilled.

We also use ground cover fabric between the rows to keep the soil covered and prevent erosion. This is where the wood chips come in. They get spread over the aisles before the ground cover goes down. This helps protect the soil and keeps it more moist, plus it fills in any holes and makes the aisle flatter and thus easier and safer to walk on.

With so much work required the field was not completed until mid way through the summer so a lot of the plants went in far later than I would have liked. We had underestimated just how large the task was and how much time it was going to take us to complete. But all the plants thrived and the field is doing wonderfully as you can see from our final photo which was taken in late September. Its year one so many of the plants are still small but they all survived even though they got transplanted late. The row in the foreground has already been harvested as have a couple in the center. Those wonderful yellow flowers in the background are part of our Hibiscus manihot row and as you can see the giant flowers are visible all the way across the field. I love this plant.

Completed field with crop rows.
Completed field with crop rows.

But the field is not finished. Right from the beginning we had decided to put our new production greenhouse on the first four rows of the field. That’s the four in the foreground. Hence the importance of making sure the field was flat and level. As you can see the greenhouse is not there yet. That project was not completed until the beginning of December, but that is story for another day.

So it’s been a busy year!

Showers And Thunderstorms Are Great Planting Weather.

So was memorial day weekend.

The problem with farm work is that it has its own timetable and it does not care about weekends or holidays. Spring is a very important time to get all the plants in the ground so they can get growing and flourishing. Memorial day weekend and other holidays often does not exist for farmers its too busy a time especially in the spring and the fall when there is so much to do.
For most people in the North eastern United state memorial day weather probably sucked, this past weekend was not that great either if you want to hang in the great outdoors. Memorial day weekend it was cool cloudy and rained a lot. Saturday night into Sunday we got nearly three inches of rain! It rained quite a bit on Sunday morning and then light rain for most of the rest of the day.
Perfect weather for planting. – at least on our soil.
When the heavy rain was over we were outside and hard at work. Our seedlings get transplanted into their own individual pots and grown on then planted in the ground as soon as we can. Cloudy days are perfect since it allows the plants to get acclimatized to their new surrounding without being blasted by hot sunshine.
We first cover or permanent beds with black/white plastic mulch. This keeps the weeds down and keeps the soil most and stops erosion. It also helps to keep down any soil borne problems from splashing on the plants. We put ours down by hand since our rows are too close together to use a bed forming machine. We use every inch of space we have since we don’t have a huge farm.

All the little plants have been transplanted to their new homes.
All the little plants have been transplanted to their new homes.

Then we have to hand punch the plastic and plant the plant. Memorial Day weekend was just the two of us, no one else wanted to miss their weekend even if the weather was not great. So hubby did the plastic replacement and I put the plants in. We replaced the plastic on all to-be-planted rows in one of our fields and got as many plants in the ground as possible. That was just under 700 plants! That’s only part of the planting there is a lot more to do yet.
This past weekend was a little different. Its put in plants until it rains so hard that you have to run for shelter. Then hang out in the hoop house which is the closest shelter we have. Oh and while we are there lets pull some weeds out of the pots in here too shall we. Then when the rain goes over its back out and more planting. Its not cold so the rain is not a bother and it really waters in the little plants.

It gets you in the back and the legs since its all bending over, but the weather was great. Sorry if others don’t think so but there are some people who do like cloudy and rainy weather. The plants certainly do. Just look at your lawn bet that growing tall and fast.

The roof is leaking!

This year we have to be ahead of he cleanup game.

It’s been leaking for a while now, but only a little bit. At first it leaked only a very small amount when the wind was from the south and a certain angle. We got a few drips once a year perhaps. We could live with that, we had to there was no money to fix the roof.

Then Hurricane Sandy came along and really shook things up a lot. During Sandy it managed to find its way down between the wall and produced a nice bulge on one of the walls which later of course all the plaster fell off of. Then fortunately it stopped again at least for a while. Then last winter it began to leak more and drips were coming down from the ceiling, creating a nasty pealing patch.  Not satisfied with that it decided to move the location of the drips around a bit, just to keep us on our toes I suppose. This meant that instead of having one drip tray in the room we had to have several located over several spots in one room. This room is of course the one we had chosen to keep all our books in. So we had to put plastic on top of the bookcases and drip trays along the top as well. Then it moved again and sneaked down the wall in the laundry room (only called that because the washing machine is in there, its more of a mud room come everything room really).

We agreed the time had come, we had to get the roof fixed. We got some quotes and decided on a roofer but got held up looking for someone to dismount our solar panels so we could have the roof redone. That was a bust. They wanted more to get the panels off and on again than it would cost for the roof! What a crock! Fortunately that portion of the roof is not leaking and is well protected by the solar panels so after calling around quite a few places and getting ridiculous quotes we have decided to go ahead and get the rest of the roof done, leave that portion and work on the panels ourselves later. Then get that portion done. The roofer has no problem with this either. It will cost a bit more but we cant wait around any longer and we don’t have time to do it ourselves this year.

So we signed the contracts, in celebration the heavens have opened and its been raining for two days, we have trays everywhere in the ‘library’ catching water.

Our main problem now is that we have to remove everything from around the house so that they can get to it. I use our patios especially the front one as nurseries for the plants that are not ready to go in the ground yet, or don’t have any space yet. We have a lot of plants crammed on our front patio. We are intended to move them to a temporary hoop house that we will be erecting to protect our larger pots of trees and shrubs, just make it a little bigger and put them in their too. However we had planned to have more time to do this. The roofers are coming in two weeks so we have to get the plants moved NOW.

Plants in patio nursery
Potted plants being moved from our patio nursery to winter protection area.

So before the big rain started we were out laying ground cover fabric where the hoop house is to go and moving some of the plants off the patio to the new area. I loaded up the small cart and we managed to get all the smaller plant pots moved over before the really heavy rain started. We got wet but not too badly.
Unfortunately there are still a lot of plants that are in pots that are too small to overwinter. So a mammoth repotting session was in order. We make up our own potting mixture using mushroom compost as our main base (because its cheap here) adding other elements like pearlite and vermiculite and other thing to get it more aerated and more attractive as yummy plant food. So Steve trekked in compost and made up the mix and I repotted. For six hours straight.

plant winter protection area
Laying ground cover to hold plants from patio in wintering area.

I actually like repotting and I love to do it when its raining. I work in our small ‘greenhouse’ not a real greenhouse yet (its on the wish list) but a screened in porch with plastic on the windows. There is a lot of ventilation available and its you can hear the rain pattering down creating a very pleasant atmosphere to work in. Of course every now and again you get wet dashing outside to either put plants on the patio or collect trays for repotting but it’s a small price to pay.

I finally finished around 7.30pm. All the small plants are now in larger pots and waiting transportation to the hoop house area. Then we just have to move all the other pots off the patio and into the greenhouse for the winter. We don’t usually do this until the end of October when the temperatures fall to freezing but this year with the roofers coming we have to be ahead of the game.

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.