Garlic Planting

It's the time of year for garlic planting. I wrote a long post last year describing the process, and am pretty much following the same routine this time around. I'm using the now vacant potato bed. The season of potato cultivation followed by the chicken cleanup patrol results in low weed pressure and slightly depleted fertility, which makes garlic a good fit (garlic is very sensitive to weeds and a light feeder in terms of fertility).

After lightly tilling in some amendments, the last step is to loosen the soil with a broadfork like above. It is very labour intensive, but aerates the soil without inverting the layers, which is much better for the soil ecology. Once the soil is prepared, individual cloves can be planted. Cloves are painstakingly selected by hand based on size and overall quality. Friends and family who have visited the farm around this time of year have all been roped into clove popping. Miraculously, they have still wanted to return for more visits...

Little hands make for good clove popping. Below is photo from 3 years ago, when we had just moved to the farm and were still living in a tiny trailer while building our house.

That's 3 year old Rose, working hard to pop and sort cloves while 8 month old Sylvia tries to figure out which end of the garlic bulb to put in her mouth.

Hilling Potatoes

Hilling potatoes always makes me appreciate how much work a small tractor can get done in a short time.  The usual way to grow potatoes (although there are many alternative techniques) is to plant the seed pieces a couple of inches deep and then repeatedly mound or "hill" the soil up the growing plant. The reason to do this is that the tubers are formed along the stem above the seed. If they are exposed to light, they turn green and are inedible. Also, the stem has the ability to continue producing potatoes on any part in contact with the soil so continually burying it can stimulate a larger yield. If the seed were simply planted deep to begin with, the plant would expend too much energy reaching the surface, so hilling is a good solution. As an added benefit, it also prevents weeds from growing.

This would have been a back breaking amount of work to do by hand:

I'll be hilling a couple more times. Other than bug scouting, that's about it until I start checking for new potatoes, ideally in early August.

Potato Planting Day, Year 3

Over the past three years that we've been here we've created an annual spring tradition of planting potatoes. This year, the optimal day for planting fell on Mother's Day, so we expanded our usual little group of four to include Eric's family, who drove up on a beautiful spring day last weekend.

Barnhorst men (Eric, his dad Dick and brother Kevin) prep the field.

First the tractor creates furrows for the potato seed, then rock dust is sprinkled over the soil in advance of the potatoes being planted. The rock dust adds several trace minerals and potassium. Potato "seed" is actually just potatoes! We use a mix of saved potatoes from last year's harvest and purchased organic seed potatoes.

Naturally, the kids' favorite potato seeds are the funny shaped ones.

Rose, as always, is a determined little helper in the garden. Give her a row to plant and her favorite gear (kid-sized gloves and a little foam kneepad are her essentials) and she will slowly and diligently plant until the row is done. Interrupt her at your own risk - she will be unhappy if you pull her away before the task is done. Sylvia is still our wild child, but each year she gets a little more focused and a little more calm in the garden. We're still trying to teach her to walk in between the garden rows rather than trample across everything, but this year for the first time she did some real helping... for a little while anyway until her attention shifted to climbing in and out of the garden cart.

Hard at work. Do not disturb.

This year we finished in record time thanks to our extra helping hands, so don't worry that we spent the holiday toiling in the field. We did work up an appetite, though, and enjoyed a lovely Mother's Day dinner later that evening.

Happy belated Mother's Day and happy potato planting season!

Seeding the Field

The greenhouse has been bursting full of seedlings for a while, but now the outdoor beds are warm and dry enough for some direct seeding. It's been hard to wait, but working the soil when it is too wet is bad for its structure and cold soil is a recipe for rot, even with cold hardy plants (like peas).

Below you can see some remnants from last year's garden that haven't been incorporated yet. There are cabbages and cornstalks here and in the far right background you can see some kale. I'll take the cornstalks off the field and compost them separately (to avoid the repeated soil disturbance that would be necessary to break them down in place) but the rest will be incorporated.

I generally choose to leave unharvested crops in place until the spring if there isn't time for a cover crop to protect the soil - the roots hold the soil in place and prevent erosion and contribute to the organic matter. Cornstalks also catch snow and hold on to it which insulates the ground to some extent and provides water. The downside of leaving the plant matter unincorporated is the risk of harboring disease - something I need to watch out for with this method.

Here's the Jang seeder in action. First plantings of spinach, beets and peas are in!

Here's the Jang seeder next to the Earthway. The Jang is a huge upgrade over the Earthway - it makes a more consistent furrow, more accurately picks out one seed at a time, and allows you to set the plant spacing independently of the seed plate. That said, I still use the Earthway for planting large seeds, marking rows and planting cover crops, which are all tasks that it does well. In the picture below, I'm pointing to the gearbox that allows independent adjustment of the seed plate turning rate, which is driven by the front wheel.

Spring is here!

Potatoes: A Family Affair

Last spring we planted a test patch of potatoes and it turned into a lovely family afternoon out in the garden, teaching Rose how to carefully place the cut and prepped potatoes in the ground to sprout and teaching Sylvia... how not to trample things. This year Eric said, "I really want to turn this into a family tradition," which sounded like a great idea.

Put the camera away, Mom, can't you see we're trying to fight over who gets to drive this thing?.

Not quite the fun family activity we were hoping for. Instead Sylvia continued her singular toddler quest to find the most dangerous activity at any given moment and Rose was mostly annoyed at me for trying to capture the magic on camera.

Good times aside, the work still had to get done. Props to Eric and Rose for getting every last potato planted while I chased Sylvia around.

Rose was happier not to have to share the mower.

Good job Team BarnCo!

Potatoes are in!

Mushroom totems

I'm trying out an interesting oyster mushroom production technique this year. In the early winter I cut some poplars out of the woodlot and dragged them to the driveway. The next step was to cut some short lengths that could be re-assembled into standing "totems":

Cut Logs

Each totem is about 30 inches high and made up of three separate pieces - two larger on the bottom and one small on the top. 

After taking them out to a shady spot, I re-assembled them piece by piece, with mushroom spawn (sterilized and inoculated sawdust) sandwiched in between each layer. Then I tied on a paper lawn waste bag to help hold in some moisture.

Log with spawn on top

Re-stacked - one covered and one uncovered

If all goes well, we'll hope to see some oyster mushrooms in the fall or next spring. If it works out, I can see scaling up to include mushrooms in the CSA shares in a year or two.