This week was filled of what I am primarily interested in from many levels: seeds, planting, and composting. My interest is, of course, sans animal wastes, but for now, this is the process I am learning and there are applications for every element of knowledge. I have found an Intentional Community (http://www.ic.org) that is entirely raw and vegan that utilizes another form of creating organic compost, which I am anxious to eventually put to use. At this point in my apprenticeship/internship, I am a bit more comfortable around the farm and feel as though I am fitting in better than I had at the beginning, and I feel as though I belong there and can contribute a little some piece of knowledge when an opportunity arises. This is more of me acclimatizing myself to my surroundings rather than the energy surrounding the farm. And this is probably the case with most people in new surroundings.
On Monday, I began planting Pok Choy (a Chinese and East Asian short, but oblong leafy green cabbage-like vegetable) and Swiss chard seeds in 50 row nursery seed pots. The Pok Choy was a few years old so it received approximately six seeds to each seed pot to insure against non-germination of the older seeds. The Swiss chard received two seeds to a seed pot, given that they were not so old. Once the seeds were labeled, dated, covered with previously mixed compost potting soil, and lightly watered, they were placed outside in the sun or in the hoop house. Later in the week, additional seeds were planted in seed pots but for now there were seeds to be planted in plant beds. Before that, the plant beds near the half hoop house attached to the greenhouse/library and the whole Hoop House greenhouse had to be prepped. It was a small bed but it needed to be weeded, shoveled, aired, and raked to prepare the bed. And three rows needed to be furrowed to plant rutabagas, turnips, and radish seeds. Later in the morning, Paul and I visited the Haven where I room to prepare part of another row bed to plant beet seeds. Paul also added posts to the adjacent bed and haphazardly strung string to slow down the bird or birds’ (possibly a cardinal) attempts to get at the seeds. Paul also planted Kohlrabi seeds in an adjacent bed after I left. The seedbeds were covered lightly by hand or hoe and watered. The previously planted potatoes were also covered with hay to insulate against the next few days’ night and mornings’ drop in temperature.
While I don’t plan to train my cat (who will be named Gatto when she finds me) as a yard/hunting cat, rather than as a house cat, this is the way of Paul and, to a lesser extent, the Haven, so the Haven’s cat, Meow Meow is kept outside to hunt birds, rats, and other farm animals that interfere with plant-raising. But this is also the natural way of cats and other carnivorous animals. Interestingly, there is a strict vegan intentional community that my best friend had planned to move to, but they will not accept her Cat, given that Cat is not a dietary vegan. While I understand their policy, I do not necessarily agree with it. This also means when I have Gatto with me, I will have to look carefully at vegan intentional communities to determine what would be best.
Wednesday was taken up by adding chicken-and-sawdust to the goat-and-hay compost pile in the garden just outside the goat pen. But while I was working the compost pile, I discovered some wild herbs-as-weeds (since weeds are in the eye of the beholder, and many so-called weeds have herbal medicinal value) growing in unused plant beds, including henbit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamium_amplexicaule) and vetch (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astragalus). I didn’t have a whole lot of time to research either of these, but I did discover that henbit is favoured by chickens and, as a member of the mint family, is one of the edible varieties. But while it is edible, it isn’t a choice bit of edible greens as I discovered Friday morning.
Cleaning out the barn and hoop house (Paul cleaned out part of the chicken hoop house so I could finish up) proved a little lengthier than I had anticipated. The chicken roost room where most of the manure/sawdust is housed proved to be deeper than I had anticipated so I had to return for three or more trips with the wheelbarrow to finally reach the dirt floor. I learned a few weeks ago that the combination of sawdust and chicken manure is used to accelerate the breakdown of the carbon in the sawdust and the ammonium, phosphorus and potassium in the chicken manure to create a richer fertilizer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compost). The sawdust also helps to collect chicken manure more easily and uses sawdust in ways that plants can benefit as I describe above. Combined with the goat manure (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and straw that has already begun aging for a few months, the chicken manure and sawdust additions will create an even richer mixture for plant compost in the future.
As I learned that morning, the goat and straw compost (and other compost types) pile parasites and organisms, when they are breaking down into compost, heat up and literally cook the contents, creating a grayish substance in the compost that almost smokes. However, this batch was too dry according to Paul so I added the chicken and sawdust (partially to get rid of the sawdust that is piling up at the saw mill that will need to be added to the chicken coops) in layers between the goat manure and straw and thoroughly added water. I learned late that morning that Full Life Farm has no organic certification (though Paul and Terra use no harmful or poisonous chemicals). The certification is too expensive, and there are no benefits unless you have a larger farm that is selling wholesale to Whole Foods or another chain. To qualify as organic, homemade fertilizer (such as what I fed earlier) must heat up to 160 degrees twice. If not, raw manure can be added but not after 90 days before harvest. Most of the customers know that the produce is organic and they don’t seem to mind. On another note, I just discovered an article that mentions that the plants and trees around Chernobyl are not decomposing properly (http://www.blacklistednews.com/Forests_Around_Chernobyl_Aren%E2%80%99t_Decaying_Properly/33716/0/38/38/Y/M.html) given that the organisms that are necessary to the breakdown of trees and plants are not able to exist in those conditions. Paul also let me know that mites are irritating the chickens, but the chickens are not subject to hazardous or dangerous conditions. The best solution for the chickens was dipping their feet up to their legs in vegetable oil to literally drown the mites. I saw the results of the oiled feet when I discovered the oil on the eggs a few days later when I was cleaning the eggs for delivery to the local CSA (http://www.localharvest.org/csa/)
Friday began with panting Calendula, Carmen Hybrid sweet peppers, Fennel (Finnocchio in Italian), Amish Paste Heirloom tomatoes, Celebrity Hybrid Tomatoes, and California Wonder Sweet Pepper. Anywhere from one to three seeds each was planted, depending on age as well as cost of seeds. While the hybrid seeds are not as healthy for anyone, Full Life Farm must also adhere to the dictates of the local market. Frankly, he is able to sell the hybrids because there is a demand for them. During the seed plantings, Terra and Paul were discussing the seasonal needs and planting techniques culled from various seed catalogues. I had a change to look at oe that has been around forever, The Seed Savers Exchange (http://www.seedsavers.org/) which has modest membership fees. There are other exchange lists that anyone can access (http://higherperspective.com/2013/11/list-100-heirloom-seed-suppliers-2.html and http://www.halcyon.com/tmend/exchanges.htm) and there are even free exchanges in those above links, including the oldest, Heirloom Seed Swap (http://www.heirloomseedswap.com) which is completely free.
Midday, the egg washing began but earlier water was heated over a wood stove to prepare. The water has to be slightly warmer than room temperature, but certainly warmer than cold storage eggs to open their pores and clean off the dirt and excrement. If no one is aware, Full Life Farm is entirely off-grid, meaning that they do not rely upon the common utilities that everyone else chooses to pay for each month. Any electricity that is needed is either generated from the solar or used via the mechanical gas-powered generator. Any warm water or heat that needs to be generated is through the burning of firewood.
At the end of my day, I was given a tour of the house [foundation] that will be made of earth bags, cob, and a combined solar water heater/house heater which I read about and became intrigued about the possibilities years ago. Such a water heater will heat the house when it’s dearly needed on extremely cold days and nights during the winters. Up until now, due to the cold weather, the house foundation has been covered to protect its integrity. While the house will not even be finished before I leave by the end of the summer, it will begin to be built very soon because the winter weather is, hopefully, about to end.