Friday, May 9, 2014

When Hoop Houses Go Awry

Remember those super awesome hoop houses that I mentioned a couple posts ago? The ones that we slaved away on from dawn til dusk for four days straight? The ones that looked so good because of my partner's great design? Those? They collapsed...

There was a slight flaw in the design because we wanted to use all pvc piping to save on money. Basically, there was a little spot where water could collect from rain and as it collected the water weighed down the pipes creating a larger spot to hold water... The one pictured here ^ was the worst. We used a different size plastic and the ends were able to lift up to create deeper pools so it was pulled all the way to the ground. Some pipes were just bent a bit, but there were eight that were snapped in two.

You can see how it made a big water bucket here ^

And so a new project began. We had to figure out a way to stop water from pooling without getting rid of the pipes that were collecting the water in the first place because of how much support they gave to the whole structure. What we really needed was a way to stop the pvc from bending so that only a small amount of water could collect before rolling off. It was a really good thing that our first idea worked so that we didn't spend any extra money on something that was useless.

What we did was buy posts for every other domed pipe so that it would be stopped from sinking any lower and making that water shelf. We also made little platforms to keep the posts from sinking into the ground. Then we got pvc connectors and cemented the broken pieces back together. Now they look better than ever and are even stronger! Now we know for next year and wont make that same mistake again.

So beautiful :)

It has rained a couple times since the fix and they have stood up great!

Monday, May 5, 2014

What is Permaculture?

So the plan was to write three blog posts about permaculture for my class, one in April, one in May and one to bring it to an end in June. Well I started writing and realized that there was way too much awesome stuff to cram into only three posts. The first one was on soil, which I am really interested in because there is just so much I didn't know (and much more I still don't)! But I realize that I didn't introduce permaculture at all. So this post will be a quick introduction to what permaculture is in the first place.

There really isn't a single set definition of what permaculture is (making this post a bit of a challenge)... If you google the definition it'll tell you that it is "the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient." That is not a wrong or bad definition but I would say that it is incomplete. 

Permaculture can be either permanent-culture or permanent-agriculture. Permanent meaning ultimate sustainability where agriculture can be done year after year forever and make the land and ecosystem healthier, while never diminishing land anywhere. Many operations claim to be sustainable but are only taking into account things that happen on site and not other areas that are affected. I am very skeptical of products or businesses that claim to be sustainable.

The way it achieves sustainability is by mimicking the natural world and allowing Mother Nature to do a lot of the work for you. It is letting food grow just as it would in nature and creating a space where as many aspects of a complete ecosystem can be expressed all the way from the bacteria in the soil, to the top predators roaming your land.

Because permaculture has both the 'culture' and 'agriculture' it is not only a way of growing food but also a way of life. It is growing food for a better world and trying to bring that better world into every aspect of your life. 

You don't have to grow food to be a permaculturalist. You can support people who are doing permaculture, or just make your life more sustainable by trying to follow nature's lead in other ways. 

In what ways are you a permaculturalist?

Flying Over First Light Farm

This is not a real blog for today, I'll do a longer one later but I really want to share this with you guys! One of the people who has a mini farm also has a little helicopter thing with a camera attached and he took a video flying over the farm. We're hoping he does this every month so you all can see how the farm is growing :)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

First Night on the Farm

I spent my first night out at the farm this week :) I haven't moved in yet, I was just camping for the night, but it was still very exciting! We stayed in the trailer though, which is still floor-less on one side, but on the other side, it's pretty nice... just a bit dirty... but for camping it's great!

I stayed out there this week because we were building the hoop houses for the tomatoes and were trying to get three built in four days (which we accomplished but it was a lot of work!) We worked until 8 at night and then were up and working again by 8 in the morning. They turned out great!

Staying the night let me experience things that you really can't during the day. We were working until it started getting dark but thankfully we stopped in time to fully experience the sun set. I was so entranced by it that I completely forgot about taking pictures, for which I am now kicking myself! We got to walk down to the lake and watch the sunlight reflecting off of the water, and in that beautiful lake we saw beavers! We had been trying to keep an eye out for them sense last week when we spotted some chewed up branches and beaver channels in the tall grass. A beaver channel is where they dig out a path so they can get to food sources more easily. Here's a nifty video about beavers if you're interested :) My partner is really into using beavers to restore ecosystems, so I've been learning a lot about all the awesome stuff they do. Their dams create an incredibly diverse habitat that acts as a nursery for lots of different species and can help regulate rivers so they flow steadily all year round. They're basically amazing, so getting to see them at the farm was pretty darn cool.

When we were all getting ready to get to sleep (in the trailer all locked up) we heard a pack of coyotes! That was exciting! At first I couldn't tell for sure if they were coyotes or screaming children, they have a high pitched screech, but then they started barking so that was easy to tell. We were pretty certain that there were two packs or a pack and a single coyote that were on opposite sides of the lack and trying to get to each other. They barked and howled back and forth across the water getting closer and closer to us until they met up and headed back away. It was good to learn early on that they like hanging around the valley at night, so I'll have to be careful. That will probably be easy though with no electricity so once it gets dark, there really wont be any reason to stay awake. Late night bathroom runs will be tricky...

Friday, May 2, 2014

Let's Talk Permaculture!

Do you remember how I said on my first blog post that part of the reason I am doing this blog is for an independent study course? Well this is my first post on the super awesome things I have been learning in my free online permaculture class. But don't worry, it wont be boring because it's permaculture and that is about as awesome as it gets!

It's not exactly a class so much as a free collection of lectures from different classes organized into different topics. (If you're interested in learning more about permaculture, I would highly recommend checking it out here!) So far my favorite lectures are done by Larry Korn who was a student of and worked under Masanobu Fukuoka. If you don't know who that is, you should find out! He basically started permaculture by observing the plants, land, and animals seeing in what ways they thrived.

The very first thing that Larry stressed was how important it is to not turn the soil, which is something that farmers do everywhere, by plowing, disking or tilling and often all three over the same piece of land again and again. You see, soil is an entire ecosystem all its own with  trillions of microorganisms and organic matter and bugs and stuff, so when you turn the entire ecosystem on top of itself, bad things happen, just as bad things would happen if our houses were turned upside-down. One of the worst things that happens when we turn the soil is the introduction of oxygen. All the little bacteria and living things need oxygen, and all the decomposing organic matter (dead plants and roots and fallen leaves) need oxygen to break down, but when there is too much in the system they essentially get burned up. We're the same way, we need oxygen to survive, but too much is poisonous. The organisms die and the organic matter is used up faster than it can be replenished. Not to mention, going back and forth on the soil with a large tractor compacts all the soil underneath creating an impenetrable layer where water can't drain and organisms can't live.

So what is the big deal with the bacteria and microorganisms? I mean, who cares if they are there or not? As it turns out, they play a really big role in the health of the soil and the plants that we want to grow in it. All of the nutrients that plants need to grow comes from these organisms which is why industrial farms need to add so much fertilizer, they have destroyed the soil ecosystem by plowing and other poor practices.

So, if plowing is so bad and turns out to be harmful to the plants that we want to grow, why do we do it? Partly because we don't know how else to do it and partly because it's easy. It is a fast way to get rid of all the plants that aren't wanted so they don't have to compete for space or nutrients. Now companies make ridiculous amounts of money providing fertilizer that they want everyone to think that there is only one way to grow food so that they can continue making money off of us (I could rant about how much I dislike fertilizer companies for days!).

I'm realizing that I could go on and on about all this stuff for much longer than I thought, so I'm going to have to break this up into a few different blogs...

On another quick note, I'm so sorry that I have been so off schedule, I have been spending this whole week out on the farm helping build three big hoop houses and camping out. I'm going to have to write a whole other blog on my first camp out of the season cause it was AMAZING!!

We are going to grow so many tomatoes!!

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