Category Archives: Farming

Reducing Rodent Damage on your Farm

As the harvest season progresses and the air cools, rodents start thinking about stocking up for winter and finding a home. Across the US, rodents cause up to 1 billion dollars in damage a year. Don’t let that be you.

Lets start by getting our crops in without damage in the field.

Our number one recommendation is to clean up your fields. When we see issues it is usually because of piles of weeds, debris, and trash on field edges. This extends into the field- keep your crop clean. If rodents have no place to hide, the local raptor population will have a field day. Best of all, they don’t require health insurance or a 401k!

Plastic and ground cloth, while they keep weeds down and warm the soil slightly, do provide a home for these furry creatures. Think long and hard if it is worth the damage.

Agrid3 is a great Certified Organic bait. We put it in little bait boxes in the field for crops that tend to get hit (sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, winter squash) usually around August 1st. We will flag each location for as the crops tend to grow, the boxes tend to disappear until you hit them with a machine! We used to just use small wooden boxes but Eliot showed us how he has gone to using small tackle boxes with holes cut in each end.  8-12 boxes per acre work great. 

Eliot Coleman's tackle box turned into a rodent bait station.

Eliot Coleman’s tackle box turned into a rodent bait station.

Mousetraps in the above boxes or just a piece of 4” drainage pipe work great as well in the field but have to constantly be checked. 

I do show some pictures in my ebook here which show a few ideas… http://michael-kilpatrick.com/ebook-10-winter-growing-secrets-we-wish-we-knew-when-we-started/

Also, if you type voles into the search box of the Four Season Farming and Winter Growing Facebook page  a bunch of good info comes up.  

Once they are in Storage…

Again, clean around your building and provide no habitat for the little critters. Old plywood, piles of pallets, junk equipment, all provide great refuge from predators and warm winter homes. 

Remove other sources of food. Keep compost piles, grain storage or straw storage away from where you are trying to store food. A scorched earth policy.

Well-lit, cement floored, clean storage areas are always a good idea. Gives you instant knowledge if you have been breached! Dirt-floored, cluttered, dimly lit storage areas are just asking for trouble. 

We do not recommend bait boxes in storage. Too easy for a animal to eat the bait and then die somewhere in your carrots, causing all sorts of food safety issues. I would take the tackle box and put snap traps in them, making sure to check them every other day. 

And,  get a good dog. Most cats try to have too much fun with their food to be of much use. 

Radical new hoop house design to save you time and money (Edited)

Since being transplanted to Ohio and taking a short hiatus from full time farming, I’ve been wanting to do some backyard growing. I knew that I wanted a small hoop house, but the design was escaping me. So many of the different small houses I had built were too flimsy, or didn’t have a door, or just too much work. So I thought and thought, for around 3 months before I came up with this design. It has only been up for 2 weeks, so it’s not thoroughly tested, but so far, it seems to work.  Let me know what you think!!


 

After I shared this video, Eliot Coleman emailed me that he had used this design back on a house in 2002 to overwinter field crops. Good designs always reappear.

Eliot Coleman slanted endwall 2002

A similar house that eliot designed back in 2002

Do you have ideas to make this a better design?  Comment below!!

What we learned from our Overwintering Spinach Trial

For some reason I’m fascinated with spinach. Perhaps it’s the different colors, textures, and growth habits, but all of it intrigues me. We sell a lot of spinach on our farm: baby, leaf, and bunched.
Last year we decided to do several trials. One was in the fall comparing 8 different types, looking at growth habits, hardiness, and disease resistance. The other was a ¼ acre, 9 variety, overwintering trial, looking at the same characteristics. We are located in zone 4a, and can get quite cold during the winter.
The process started Mid-summer with identifying the area for the trial. We wanted well drained soils as spinach doesn’t like wet feet, especially during the winter. We choose a sloping, Hoosic gravelly loam that had previously been in spring greens. The field was tilled and fertilized, beds where made, and the Spinach seed was planted mid October, 3 rows on the bed, 18” apart. Seed spacing in the row was 12-16 seeds per ft.
After seeding, the spinach germinated and was cultivated once before winter covers were put on in late November for overwintering. We used one layer of Typar 518 or 2 layers of Covertan 30 weight. The winter of 2014-15 was severe, with good snow pack. The rowcover was needed, because when part of it blew off, that area died. (Thankfully it didn’t destroy all of any one variety, so we still were able to collect data from all varieties.)
Spring came on slowly, with late April snowfalls. We didn’t’ get out into the fields until April 12th when we fertilized the spinach with krehers 8-3-3, putting down 60# N to the acre. We were, however, able to check the spinach in late March as the snow receded.
One problem we had was that rowcovers on spinach can cause rubbing, or white spots on the leaves. We didn’t want to hoop the spinach, so we ended up delaying harvest by pulling row covers completely off. This was done approximately at the end of April.
early trial
We started harvesting spinach from this section the last week of April, and continued through the last week of May when the last varieties bolted.

The results: the field was evaluated on May 15th when all the pictures were taken. I evaluated bolting again at the end of May to confirm our earlier results and make any last minute observations.

A note about the pictures: We clear-cut the field early May for a wholesale order, that is why many of the leaves look a little ragged.

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Space- Solid all around spinach. A little slow growing and had a tendency for the bottom leaves to be yellow.

space
Emperor- Wow, what a great spinach. Early, tall, dark green. It did have a tendency to have deformed leaves and show some bottom yellowing. Bolted quickly as well, but for an early spinach this was great. We really like this variety for bunching. Scored low mainly because a low percentage of plants deform.

Emperor
Giant Winter- Bolted early, one of the quickest to size, but color wasn’t great. Leaves yellowed as well.

Giant Winter
Pidgeon- Best spinach overall. Sized quickly, took forever to bolt, held off disease and deformity was okay. Great color, easy to harvest.

pidgeon
Tyee – An old standard. Minimum score on all aspects was a 6. You can see why people still grow this.

Tyee
Racoon- Absolutely beautiful spinach (was our favorite in the fall trials) Very upright, easy to pick, bolted relatively soon though and flavor wasn’t great. Very good disease resistance.

raccoon
Bloomsdale- Older variety, grew a bit slower and bolted relatively soon, but scored best for flavor. Very savoyed leaf.

Bloomsdale
Regiment- Another nice variety. Not on our list to grow again since their are much better varieties.

regiment
Renegade- Second best score overall. Large leaves, slow bolting, relatively nice flavor, good disease and deformity resistance.

renegade

They say the proof is in what you grow next time, so here’s what we’re going to overwinter again. Space, Emperor, Pidgeon, and Renegade. Even though Emperor scored lower, it’s earliness and size were winners for us. Its all about what you want in a spinach, and as our overwintered spinach only has to last several weeks before the regular field plantings come in, we will take earliness and yield over bolt tolerance.

We also overwintered baby red Russian kale in the field. Of course it bolted quickly, but would have been fine for one cutting of early spring greens.

red russian kale

To check out more pictures of the trial, click here!  

What are you looking for in overwintered spinach? What varieties have you tried?

Can the boss work the hardest? PT 2 Tips to increasing worker effectiveness

In the last post, I talked about some of the reasons I feel that farm crews have a hard time operating at peak effectiveness. My main point was that good crew members, while wanting to work their hardest, don’t work as quickly as the boss because many times they are not sure exactly what is expected or required of them.

Cleaning beets with a Fells bunch washer

Cleaning beets with a Fells bunch washer

Here are just a few tips to building a great, more effective team, motivating them, and increasing their productivity.

  • Have clear expectations and instructions. Having and understanding a field map, knowing where the label goes on the kale bunch, etc. can save more money than you think possible. After I give instruction on a task for the day, I have employees repeat them back to me. It’s amazing what can be lost in translation, especially in under 5 minutes.

  • Have a clean, concise farm/crew handbook. There are so many reasons for a crew handbook, it deserves it’s own blog post. A handbook puts everyone on the same page and eliminates many mistakes by informing your crew before things come up.

  • Make them feel that you are all on the same team, because you are. Have a “we” mentality, not a “me vs them.”  If you complain about your crew, it will get back to them, and that is not winning with people.

  • Be organized in thought and space. Walking in and being able to go over how we want the day to go, what we wish to accomplish, and what tools and supplies need to be readied changes the game. Also, having supplies, tools, and equipment laid out clearly decreases worker frustration immensely.

  • Never ask them to do something you are not willing to do. When the weather is nice, the work load steady, and the crop clean, I rarely work with the crew. But when the weather is 34 degrees, sleeting and windy, the fields muddy and the orders huge and ominous, I am out there with them, encouraging them, working alongside, and feeling their pain.

  • Cull the bad apples. Once we had a crew member, who, when challenged to keep up with the rest of the crew in weeding, said, “we’re all winners, no matter our speed.” These need culled, for their sake as well as the crews moral. If a great crew member sees another getting away with shoddy, slow work, all sorts of problems will develop.

Work with them, sweat with them, bleed with them, laugh, and cry with your crew. It will go a long way to building an efficient team that can change the way your farm operates for the better.

What tips or thoughts do you have on helping your team operate well together?

Can the Boss Work the Hardest?

I was working with some of our younger crew members weeding swiss chard today. The chard had been planted on plastic, and because of our cold, dry spring had grown slow enough to let a few weeds take hold.Weeding carrots

I quickly moved through 2/3rds of the bed myself, plucking the weeks and dropping them into the path, knowing that the 90 degree day and steady wind would quickly shrivel them up. The crew members slowly moved through the other third, carefully making sure that no weeds were left in the bed.

My wife and I were discussing this at dinner. The crew members were working diligently and trying their hardest but not getting the amount of work done I was. I think there are a couple reasons to explain this:

  • You have probably been farming longer, and weeding more, than they have. Experience counts. You can identify, hopefully, all the weeds, and crops that you have growing on your farm, and therefore can work faster. Your muscle memory is trained, and weeding is probably at this point more like therapy.

  • You have more skin in the game. It’s your farm, you enjoy all the rewards (and disappointments) of farming. To them, it is a job. To you it is your life and, hopefully, passion.

  • As the boss, you usually have other jobs besides the physical, strenuous jobs that your crew does all day. I know when I worked for other farms, I tried to make sure that I paced my exertion so that I was still productive at 5 PM. As a boss now, I can spend up to 2/3rds of my time doing non-strenuous office or sales work. This allows me to sprint when I’m in the field. The crew needs to treat a work day like a marathon.

  • You know exactly what you want. Your crew is constantly evaluating, checking, and waiting for feedback. I knew that the very small weeds would never make it and therefore left them, the crew heard, “get the weeds out,” and therefore were going to make sure all the weeds were out of the field.

What are your thoughts? Other than the obvious, “you just can’t get good help these days,” what do you feel are reasons that crew members sometimes don’t work as efficiently or as quickly as you, the farmer, do?

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!

 

 

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
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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.

 

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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.

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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.