Pennsylvania Conference Recap

I was recently in PA for an all day conference on winter growing, season extension, wholesale, and food safety. I presented three times and we also heard from Cathie, a local grower and a Bill, representative from Wegmans supermarket who was talking about the great oportunities for growers of all sizes to sell to the wegmans family of stores.

My first talk was a standard winter growing and greens production.

Second talk was on Field systems and season extension. I have fun doing this talk as I get to discuss equipment, and show beautiful pictures of vegetables.

The last talk for the day was on Farm Planning, Wholesale markets, Food safety, and washing and packing. This was a lot of new material for me, and is the talk which took the most work. It went very well though.

There was signifigant interest in our annual bed strawberry system. Here’s the link to the slideshow that I have done on this.

Another question was the source of our supplies. Here’s the link to our resources page.

http://michael-kilpatrick.com/resources/

A grower also had a question on the bags that we use for our wholesale lettuce mix. They are from Uline, link here.

If you are a grower near a Wegmans, and they have stores in Western NY, PA, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and the Carolinas, you should look into sales oportunites through them. They are a very farm friendly company, and have employees whose sole job is to travel seek out new farms to sell to them. Definately worth a call or email.

Many thanks to Beth at the Blair Conservation District for organizing this event!

 

 

What I learned from today’s Field Walk

Today was the first real field walk of the season. Frankly, the ground has been covered with snow before today and we just couldn’t get out in the field. There are so many reasons to do a field walk, but the biggest is that you get a real idea of exactly what is happening on the farm, in the moment.

Today there wasn’t too much to see. There were still patches of snow, lots of mud, and cover crop starting to green up. The compost piles were finally thawed, and that’s good because people are starting to ask about buying it.

A couple key takeaways:

  • The overwintered spinach looks great. Other than the section of cover that blew off, its green and growing. Hopefully, we can get in there later this week and fertilize and cultivate. Interestingly, the spinach that we harvested last in the fall is for the most part alive as well, especially the Space and Red Kitten varieties. It had no cover on it. I’m still trying to figure that one out…
    150403_4631

    overwintered spinach under covers

    150403_4635

    fall planted and harvested spinach that’s hanging on for dear life

  • I hate voles. They created significant damage in row covers as well as some of the overwintered crops. Granted it was a hard winter for them but why did they have to create holes every 2 ft in that brand new cover as well as destroy some overwintered cropping? Agrid3 and bait boxes do a wonder on these guys. I’ll have to set those up as well.
  • New drainage is working excellent. I am disappointed that we won’t be here longer to benefit from the money we put into the drainage project, but for this spring it will be great. No ponding in the lower fields and a 8″ deep flow was making its way into the river with no erosion. It does need overseeded with more grass, since last year’s take was a bit sparse.
  • Scallions are bulletproof. Two different locations, different dates and soil types, survived. Not looking forward to cleaning them (overwintered scallions usually have lots of dead lower leaves on them) but it’s amazing how hardy they are. No covers, even in -25 F, and they live. We need to clean them up, fertilize, and row cover them to push them along.

Hope you have enjoyed this mini-tour of the farm. I usually do 2 a week. One early in the week to get a feel for what we’ll be harvesting, and a Friday walk to come up with the task/work list for the week. That gives me a few days to get supplies, plan out the daily schedule, and organize our efforts.

Imagine…

Credit: Daily Gazette PHOTOGRAPHER: PETER R. BARBER

Credit: Daily Gazette PHOTOGRAPHER: PETER R. BARBER

Imagine.

Imagine a city that has a farm within the city limits. A large, 166-acre farm. A farm with around 120 acres of open farmland for growing crops, 40 acres of woods and streams with opportunities for silviculture, and several acres of outbuildings and farmyard. A place where community can learn, grow, and share in the excitement of food.
Imagine if this property was divided into several farms. One would be a large teaching farm that would bring in the nation’s best and brightest farmers to train the next generation of eager farmers. There could be classroom teaching time, but also plenty of space for students to actually get their hands dirty, to experiment, trial, and learn by doing. After students had graduated from the teaching farm, they could start their own incubator farms, a 1- to 3-acre plot where they would farm on their own, but with supervision from the staff at the school. Another possibility would be farmshare, where farmers could long-term lease 5-acre blocks of land.
Imagine if this farm had a large year-round farmhub building. This building serves as the region’s year-round farmers market, with wide corridors, plenty of parking, and heat in the winter. Also included is a 6-day-a-week store for the regions farm products, where after a farmers market, farmers can drop off their extra products for sale during the week. This will allow community members who can’t make a farmers market access to fresh, local products all week long.
Imagine if another aspect of this building would be crop storage and a processing kitchen. When farmers have extra tomatoes, basil or green beans, they could turn them into salsa, pesto or pickles. The storage facility would allow farmers in the area access a climate controlled storage and distribution facility.
Imagine if a large community garden was a part of this. Where community members from all socio-economic cultures and walks of life where invited to learn how to grow their own food. Where classes on beekeeping, orchard pruning, soil health, tomato pruning and more would happen. Where there would be access to water, compost, a mentor’s knowledge and more.
Imagine a location for summer camps to teach kids about farming and food, and how their food choices influence so many aspects of their life and their community. Where students from the surrounding high schools, colleges and technical schools could come out and learn how food is produced.
Imagine if this farm was landscaped beautifully, with fields of flowers and sunflowers, native plants and trees, windbreaks of curly and pussy willow, dogwood and redbud. That it had trails for walking, hiking, and cycling, picnic spots. Boardwalks along the stream and marsh, where families could check out the frogs, turtles and other wildlife that call it home.
Imagine, a blank slate, where the possibilities are endless, and we are allowed to dream and create  a very, very special place.
That is my vision. And Saratoga PLAN made the first step of that vision possible yesterday with a press conference announcing the planned purchase of the Pitney Farm on West Avenue in Saratoga Springs. We’ve been working on this project for five years now and we will continue to work on it for another 50. In fact, I don’t believe that it will reach its full potential in my lifetime. But that is why we are starting now, so that our children, and grandchildren can work this land for generations to come.
I want to thank fellow farmer Sandy Arnold, Saratoga Plan, and the Saratoga Institute for their part in helping all of this to come to fruition. We’re a great team, and I feel that the right players are at, and are being invited to, the table to make this work. We’re not sure what parts of our vision are feasible, and we will make the next year a time of research, discovery, and planning to see what is possible. Feel free to reach out with thoughts, ideas and concerns. We want the community’s involvement in this project.
Till next week,
Michael

Workshop Review: Chris Blanchard’s “Run Your Team”

231632_origNOFA-VT does a great job organizing a calendar of workshops and tours. This workshop was another home run for them! Managing people is always one of the hardest parts of business, and I’m always interested to hear another farmers take on this difficult subject.

Chris Blanchard is a former farmer of 25 years, and is now an educator, consultant, and speaker. You  can learn more about him and what he does at his  website, PurplePitchfork.com . I highly recommend checking out his Podcast as well.

Chris started off the morning by having us all introduce ourselves and say whether we were a good boss or bad boss. It was interesting to see what people thought they were and why. Then Chris opened by telling us that his farm used to be known as the “Yelling farm” and no one wanted to work there. This is what made him really focus on learning to manage people.

Here are the takeaways that I got out of the conference:

  • Screen your potential employees by creating hurdles for them in the application process, i.e., employment application, references, showing up for interview on time, etc. At KFF, our farm, we had an online application, interview, and then checkout day that the applicant had to survive, before getting hired.
  • Tell the rules- UPFRONT. Have an employee handbook, do a walk-around the farm and show them where things are and the procedures that help the place run.
  • Blurry edges make crappy work. Define the job so there is a clear expectation for how and why things are done. Use SOP’s, directives, checklists, etc… Common sense isn’t as common as we would like to think.
  • Establish authority by following up. To often we tell someone how to do something and then 15 minutes later they are doing it their way. You need to follow up 15 minutes later and retrain (if they don’t understand) or reprimand (I’m just going to to do it my way).
  • Fire well- don’t drag it on by just giving them the rough, miserable jobs so they want to quit. You owe it to them to let them move on into a job that is better for them.
  • Order Propagates- keeping things organized encourages the workers, speeds everybody up, and helps you find thing later.
  • You don’t know what you  don’t know until employees show up.

Overall, I really enjoyed the workshop. Chris is a fabulous speaker and entertaining. I came away realizing I had a lot of work to do to be a “good boss” but Chris gave me many tips to help me on the journey.

 

Speaking Engagement: Maximizing Profits through Year-round Wholesale Production

_MG_74701I will be speaking in East Freedom, PA on April 9th. The event is sponsored by several Pennsylvanian agricultural organizations and is FREE!  It will be a full day event with me covering several topics.

  • Winter vegetable production- I will cover what we have learned in 10 years of winter production. From varieties, to tunnel management, to seeding dates, you will leave this workshop knowing how to grow during the winter months.
  • Season Extension- In this workshop, I will cover how we s-t-r-e-t-c-h the season to provide greater product diversity in the spring and fall, as well as cool season crops during the mid-summer heat like spinach and lettuce. The emphasis will be on larger-scale wholesale quantities. Yes you can have spinach from April to December from the field!
  • Wholesale marketing and food safety- In the last couple years our farm has scaled up, received certified organic status, and focused heavily on food safety so that we could sell to larger, wholesale buyers. We’ll talk about our journey and demystify wholesale markets, GAPS, and food safety!

This is my main speaking engagement of the spring, don’t miss it! Attached is a flyer of the event. April9_Flyer

Greenhouse Radiant Heat at Fox Creek Farm

Raymond Luhrman owns Fox Creek Farm CSA with his wife, Sara. The 350 member CSA has pick-up sites throughout the Capital District. For more information about the farm, visit their website, www.foxcreekfarmcsa.com. He recently was having problems installing his greenhouse heating system and shared the feedback he received as well as pictures and diagrams.

From Raymond:

Two weeks ago I posted a question regarding the suitable materials for greenhouse radiant heat. I experienced lots of little leaks at couplers with 200PSI black poly. PEX would not work well because of the lack of UV resistance. Thank you for everyone sympathizing with hunting for leaks – and thanks for all the suggestions. I put quite some more time in the house, but right now it is not leaking, and it’s germinating the first plants.

 

In this post:

 

1. The replies I received (in general, folks like Trueleaf products form California for bench heat, and don’t use PVC adapters when using black poly).

2. What I ended up doing to resolve the problem

3. Sketches of the plumbing plan, plumbing wiring plan, and the other climate control (overhead heat, venting) for your reference.

 

 

1.      Replies:

 

I feel your pain.  We used pex for a heated table, keep the pex covered as much as possible and no issues after 3 years.  Anyway, that is not your situation.

 

At the risk of being simplistic, I wonder if you have seated the poly hose well enough onto the pvc fittings.  Try to get as many barbs into the hose as possible.  It is extra stiff this time of year, and a heat gun (like for stripping paint) can warm up the tube to a more flexible state, then cram the sombitch home.  Use a couple of radiator clamps on each junction.

 

Perhaps you have done this already, just my idea for a first step.

 

Next thing, perhaps the pvc barbs have cracked?  Are they tensioned or stressed?

 

Is your antifreeze mix right?  It is bloody cold.

 

I hate chasing leaks.

Raymond  the 200PSI 3/4 could be your problem.  While heating the pipe to install barbed fittings, the torch heat weakens the sidewalls of the pipe and channels are created when you install the barbed fitting.  Because it is 200 psi pipe the wall thickness is so great that regular worm clamps do not apply enough force to close the now grooved pipe fully around the fitting.  There are 2 solutions.  One  change to regular ASTM 3408 or 3608 pipe being in the 100 to 125 psi range.  This pipe with thinner side walls will close better with clamps.  Or the second use the pipe you have, cut or take out all the fittings you put in and reinstall them using LIQUID TEFLON. This product is the same as teflon tape but goes on as a paste and will fill the grooves you created inserting barbed fittings into the thicker walled pipe.   I sell this product in pint containers for $24, however if you need to find it locally the hardware store might have it, or home depot.  This stuff is like never seize, one can lasts a long time and it is good to use on all barbed and threaded fittings.    Hope this helps.

I’d avoid using poly barbs – the brass ones allow you to heat the fitting and and crimp the water line much more securely

 

Raymond, The problem with black poly is that it expands and contracts with temperature changes. The same with poly fittings. The best way to get a seal using poly pipe is to use brass fittings.  There is UV protected PEX that works but you must use the proper fittings. As long as you have an expansion tank with pressure safety valve(so you don’t get too high water pressure and blow everything apart) and water supply(either live water or a storage tank) a few drips are not a big issue.  I personally use all sweated copper for my germination house boiler system, with valves to drain it at the end of the season. ed.

We use Truleaf  products for bench heating,  They are in california.  Their bench heating kits work great.  We have had them for over 10 years.

 

The one thing that jumps out at me is the use of pvc barbs. If you use stainless barbs you can really clamp down on the black poly. Also, heat the poly as little as possible to start with a tighter fit. Good Luck.

Is that black poly good for hot water?  Maybe things are expanding with the heat.  I’ve usually used CPVC, which is a heat-rated version of PVC, or Pex, which I think you can get in a UV-rated version.  The Pex is so much easier to deal with than anything rigid.

 

its all sometimes very frustrating! try double hose clamping, using a good nut driver to really tighten.  many of those fittings are ever so slightly not the right dimension.  brass fittings sometimes the same. sometimes better.  best advice is to slightly warm the pipe end with a little butane/propane hand torch(don’t over do, just a quick couple of seconds, always moving). immediately put the fitting in and tighten.  the softened plastic allows you to really tighten more around the barbs. also, the lower psi piping is easier to work with….  ie 100psi, less black plastic that you are trying to compress.

 

 

Raymond, for the past five years we have used an excellent product from True Leaf Technologies in California. They sell their UV-protected tubes in 1000’ spools from which you can cut your own lengths. They  make an L-shaped barbed start that you insert into holes drilled into CPC or standard PVC pipe. Use the smallest drill bit and it will be leak-free. Very easy to order online.

 

2.    What I ended up doing:

 

I replumbed the house using the WIRSBO system PEX. ½ inch PEX fits nicely in ¾ inch 200 PSI black poly (it would also have fitted in lower grade black poly), taking care of the UV issue. Using a limited amount of black electrical tape to shield PEX that is not covered by black poly or insulation materials. Using plastic T-s, elbows and ¾ to ½ inch reducers. 30% glycol in the system for freeze protection. I considered getting the better metal adapters for the black poly, but those things are expensive! As I was initially planning on using PEX (but the guys at the plumbing supply place advised against it for reasons of UV exposure), I already mailordered quite some PEX fittings anyways, so that was sitting in a box while I was setting myself up for that black poly disaster.

The PEX does not leak, the 90 degree bent supports make for a very nice flow through the pipes, and everything is working fabulously.

 

3. Technical plans – someone asked to share the plans – they are attached greenhouse plumbing and wiring. They work for us – you may want to consult with a plumber and/or electrician if you are not confident with these kind of projects”

Raymond was also kind enough to share some pictures

Greenhouse bench layout

Greenhouse bench layout

The Radiant heat setup- Note on-demand flash water heater.

The Radiant heat setup- Note on-demand flash water heater.

The Germination chamber

The Germination chamber

Next week I’ll write about the advantages of radiant heat in benches for transplant houses.

 

Kilpatrick Family Farm equipment sale

As you may know, we’re relocating our farm and selling off some of our equipment. We are doing a facebook sale starting this Saturday and End Tuesday, March 10th at midnight.  All items are on the Facebook sale page where the bidding will take place Here:

 

https://www.facebook.com/kilpatrickfamilyfarmsale

 

If you want more information on the sale, terms, trucking, etc… and to see everything laid out in spreadsheet format on google drive here.

 

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1JaURBm1g_d2OMBQMHaRWU-MFAmUgiHxANQm01Vs1feA/edit?usp=sharing

 

Items are sold as is/where is. You are more than welcome to come and inspect item anytime after March 5th.  At conclusion of sale, highest bid wins unless it doesn’t meet my reserve price (which is not the ES price ((that is only what my research shows they are going around)). Buyer will be informed of winning bid within 24 hours of close of sale.

 

Equipment inspection:  Our address is 9778 State Route 22, Middle Granville, NY 12849. Please call before coming to look, we are closed Sundays.

 

Bidding: Please bid by commenting below the item for sale. If you have questions or can’t figure facebook out, emailing me your bids are okay.

 

If you have questions, comments, about sale in general, please ask them in the top post on the facebook page, so everyone can see the answers.

 

Best, Michael

Greenhouse Winstrip Tray Poppers

Here’s a video I made last summer to explain how our greenhouse tray systems work. Enjoy!!!

 

How to Build a Poor Boy Germination Chamber

Someone asked me the other day how we germinate seeds here at Kilpatrick Family Farm. I figured a quick blog post would be in order to show our cheap, and easy method.

The outside of our germination chamber

The outside of our germination chamber

We have heated benches in our smaller transplant house. I’ll do another Post on these latter, but the short version is that a 30 K BTU standard water heater is used to heat water which is pumped through small tubes on our benches. This system keeps the root zone warm, which is the most important part for strong growth.

What is needed for good germination?

Seeds need 3 things to germinate. Moisture, Heat, and in some cases light. We wet the trays before they go into the germination chamber. While in there, we either cover them with rowcover or germination domes to keep the moist. Heat is supplied by the heat tubes running underneath. The probe that powers the heat system is sunk in a small pot in the germ chamber. For those crops that need light, we’ll either place them on the top in the chamber or bring them out after a couple days. That is enough time to give them a jumpstart.

The guts of the heat system.

The guts of the heat system.

Here is a closeup of the tubing running under the bench and germ chamber.

Header for the heat tubes

Header for the heat tubes

What our cheap germ chamber does is concentrate that heat to a temperature which most seeds germ quickly at (80F). This is done through a few sheets of 1″ and 2″ foam board held together with great stuff and a few long roofing nails.

Heat box closeup- note the nails in the corner pinning it together.

Heat box closeup- note the nails in the corner pinning it together.

Here’s a shot of seedings just coming out of the germ chamber. We’ll stack trays several high in there for a capacity of over 100 trays.

140325_3168

Tomatoes just out of the germ chamber

right now the chamber is chock full of ginger germinating!

Ginger starting in the germination box

Ginger starting in the germination box

During the summer, when it is too hot, we germ in the cooler or a cool basement room.

New Hampshire Bubble and Barrel washer workshop

Here is the slides from the talk I did in New Hampshire last week. We built bubble washer kits and built one barrel washer in the afternoon. I also talked about washing sheds and efficiency. longer and better blog post to follow.

Page 1 of 512345»