Sprung.

A little photo update of farm life this second day of May.

First, a brief tribute to Steve Dagger, our landlord/caretaker. He just never stops. The intern/guest cabin looks amazing. When we first started talking about this project, I envisioned a hap-hazard shack. But this thing is a beauty. Steve has done a lot of work these past few weeks finishing the siding and putting up screens for the porch. We can’t wait to have people in it. With a fantastic wood stove (thanks Lindsay and Bob!!), it’s open for winter visitors too… just fyi.


outhouse 4
Our current visitors, Fennec and Orion, started the base for our new outhouse a few days ago and Steve topped it off today – perfectly level. He says he’d like to build a stone house one day, so if you want a stone house, give him a call.

This will eventually be a two-seater outhouse. Blocking off one side at a time to let the other compost (not to be used on our produce).

That’s the old outhouse in the background. Functional, but in desperate need of rebuilding. I take it back; the roof is definitely not functional.

 

 

May first (yesterday) morning, there was a fine covering of two inches of snow. It was possibly the most beautiful morning I’ve ever seen at the farm. As the snow melted, blue skies came out, and everything stood tall under the sun.

 

Then today. It was 65 degrees. Sunny. Gorgeous. The perfect spring day. You’ll see some of these friendly greens at market on Saturday, and more next week.

 

Our greenhouse has desperately needed some extra ventilation (it was over 120 deg in there in July last year… in fact I don’t know exactly how hot it was, because my thermometer doesn’t go any higher. But it melted our seedling trays). And now it has some. This attic exhaust fan (HomeDepot, $89) comes complete with thermostat. It doesn’t have a fancy louvre system to go with it, but for a low cost vent solution, this is it. I was able to use a jigsaw to cut through the polycarbonate and put a quick frame around it, which will be sealed later. I’ll need to build a little door or louvre to keep warm air in when we want it, but it’s already keeping things cooler.

Today’s second project was to rebuild the goat feeder. Tinkerbell enjoyed sleeping and eating INSIDE the old one, and finally busted it apart the other day. This is an altered version of what we started with. It no longer has bars for the goats to stick their head through (except for minerals), but the trough under the feed still saves a lot of fallen hay.

Also, Lucinda is due in 5 days. LOOK AT THAT BELLY.

And, finally, a honeybee on a grape hyacinth. My favorite.

bee on hyacinth 1

 

DIY Low Tunnel Bender

This season Margaret and I are going to try and increase our production a little. We’re interested in growing more on the small amount of space we cultivate. While many farms in our region are taking advantage of the NRCS cost-share high tunnel program, we’re taking a different approach. I want to extend our season a little, but I don’t want to tie up a portion of our land in permanent plastic. So I’m building low tunnels instead. A 6’x100′ tunnel will span two beds and can be put up and taken down in a couple hours. Moreover, to cover the same ground as a high tunnel, low tunnels would cost about a 15th of the price.

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These low tunnels are built with standard 1/2″ or 3/4″ EMT electrical conduit, available at most hardware stores for as low as 1.90 per 10′ piece. This stuff is soft enough to work without heavy equipment, but strong enough for a small tunnel. The key is bending the conduit. Johnny’s Selected Seeds sells two different “Quick Hoops” pipe benders: one for a 6′ wide by 3′ tall tunnel, the other for a smaller arc, 4′ wide by 4′ tall tunnels. While they work well, they’re costly. $59 before shipping. So after calling around to some buddies to borrow one, I realized I could build one. Thanks to this awesome post by the folks at IttyBittyImpact, I built a perfectly functional bender in about 10 minutes from wood scraps on the farm.

The basics are simple. Cut out a portion of your circle then sandwich that piece between two boards. Lastly, screw in a brace on one end of the bender to hold your conduit in place while bending.

Detailed steps to building a Low Tunnel EMT conduit Bender:
1. Determine the radius of the tunnel you’re building. For the 6′ wide by 3′ high, the radius is 3′. For the taller and narrower tunnels, the radius is 2′.
2. Build a giant compass. Either cut a piece of scrap wood or piece of string to the length of your radius.
3. Attach one end of your compass to something stationary (or have someone stand on it). With the other end, trace a portion of your circle on piece of 3/4″ plywood.
4. Cut out your circle. This is what the conduit is going to be bent around.
5. Sandwich this bit of circle between two boards (at least 2′ long and 1′ wide), ensuring that the boards exceed the rounded edge of the plywood so that when you’re bending the conduit you have an easy track to follow. Screw it all in place.
6. Place a block of that 3/4″ plywood between those boards on one end of your new bender. Leave enough room to fit an end of conduit between the brace and the rounded edge of the plywood. Screw this securely in place. This brace holds the conduit in place while you’re bending it around the circle.

1 radius measure
Raduis measure – I just held one of end of the radius measure in place while I traced the circle onto a piece of plywood. Then cut it.

1.5 bottom board

2 putting together

5 hole for pipe endHere’s that hole between the block and the plywood arc that holds the EMT in place while it’s being bent. You can see that I used two pieces of 1/2″ plywood to make my arc instead of one 3/4″ piece.

You’re done! Clamp this baby in place and put one end of your pipe in your bender and bend away. Place one end of the 10′ conduit into the bender. For a 6′ hoop, you’ll need to bend the entire piece so start with the end of it even with your brace. Bend it around and then feed about a foot through the brace end of the bender and bend again. Repeat until you’re half way through and then pull the conduit out of the bender and switch sides. This helps keep the circle even on each side. (For 4′ hoops, you’ll feed about 4′ of the conduit through the bender before bending and you’ll only need to bend it once or twice).

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7 bending 1

8 bending 4

9 imperfect hoopsYou can see that the hoops aren’t perfect, but they’re close enough.

10 hoops

Next get yourself some plastic (Johnny’s has 10’x100′ pieces for about $80, or cut Nolt’s 24’x100′ for $90 in half) and set ‘er up. If you experience high winds, you’ll want to dig in one long edge of the tunnel.

I’ll till the soil, seed it, and set drip before putting up our tunnel. I’m experimenting with some micro sprinklers for early greens, but the rest will be watered via drip tape or tubing. The plan is to grow our early crops under tunnels and then take them down, till, and re-seed (salad, arugula, or other fast greens) for a second harvest. With the warm February and March we’re having, we should be able to get a jump on the season and make better use of our land in early spring.

Winter Projects

When the snow falls, it’s time to go skiing. When the snow melts in November and it’s bitter cold with nothing to play on, it’s time to get busy on indoor projects.

Steve has been the number one winter projecteer, building all kinds of awesome things. We tore down the animal stall in the barn to install a brand new design. Steve just started putting down the floor today.

He built us four gorgeous greenhouse tables for the new space along with a stand for the water tank.

I’ve been working on a new hay feeder for the goats that finally came to fruition.


This design allows for hay to be eaten up without much or any waste. The goats stick their head through the grate and munch away without pulling the material out and scattering it all over the floor (a recurring problem).
It also has an added bonus for mineral distribution. Goats need salt and trace minerals available to them at all times, but if they step on or soil any of it, the goats won’t touch ’em. This way, I could build into the feeder a small tray for salt and minerals that is available at all times and can’t be knocked over or stepped in.

So far, they haven’t destroyed the feeder and it seems sturdy enough. Win.

The other big project I’ve been working on is organizing the new tool shed. I have all the tools hung up, out of the way, and sharpened.

It feels really good to seem them all organized in the new space. The shelves need filling, but that will happen as we clean out the old greenhouse and barn loft. 

We’ve canned (preserved) as much as we had the energy for, and have all the potatoes, squash, onions, and fruit we need for the winter. 

The fire had been burning hot all last week, but with this warm streak it stays cool.

Finally, the most boring and laborious tasks need to be done too. All the information we recorded this summer (what we planted, where it went in, when we harvested, where it was sold, etc.) needs to be complied and sythesized. With all these little bits of data, we can more accurately plan for next year. Which needs to happen sooner rather than later – seed catalogues have started rolling in and the sooner we get our order in, the more likely we’ll get what we want.


…And don’t forget about winter market! Tracy’s still making brioche, sticky buns, challah, and lemon poundcake, and the farm still has potatoes, onions, squash, and hot peppers for sale. 

Bee Boxes

Many of you know that I’m obsessed with bees and beekeeping. This year I made my own bee boxes (i.e. bee hives). My boxes are a variation on the Warre style hive. There’s a great explanation about this kind of hive, as well as plans if you’re interested in building your own at TheBeeSpace.

The coolest thing about my boxes is that they started out as old worn down Langstroth hives. These are the hives you’ll see honey producers and many hobby beekeepers use, they’re by far the most common.

I took these old boxes, tore them apart, and trucked them to Home Resource – Missoula’s totally awesome re-use lumber and household appliance store that has a professional wood shop in the back where you can rent time… which I do. There I sanded off the worn and weathered wood until the boards looked almost like new.

Because Langstroth boxes are so much bigger than my Warre hives, I was able to saw off the split finger joints and make stronger new joints. The wood looked nice, and the boxes looked really nice, but it wasn’t until I painted them with lindseed oil (for natural preservation and protection) that the beauty wood really came through. Most of this is cedar.

Regardless, the bees arrive Friday. If you’re in the area and you want to be a part of the process, let me know – it’s quick, painless, and really thrilling.