Tuesday, March 31, 2009

So Long High Tunnels

We got the high tunnels down this weekend in between rain storms, and I have the plastic drying on the driveway as I type. As you'll see, we didn't get it down soon enough to avoid the bok choi or the tatsoi bolting, but everything else seems to be doing well. The February planting of turnips, radishes, kale and beets are doing well, and everything else is green and growing.

Early spring here in Maryland is a tricky season. We can be 70° F one day and 42° the next with night time temps still dipping into the 20s° occasionally. Cold season crops don't like high tunnels in hot weather, and that's one of the drawbacks of our homemade tunnels: the sides don't roll up, and the end venting is inadequate at best on warm, sunny days. (I need to get me one of those cool thermometers that El has.)

You can see the tunnel skeletons in the background of the picture above, but that's our neighbor's house in the photo, not ours. This is our house, looking pretty barren at the moment. It sits directly in front of the barn, and it's a nice, short walk out there for winter chores. Soon, we'll be moving all the animals back out onto our rotational pastures.

You can see the tunnel frames in the foreground. These lean against the side of the barn until they're needed again. The advantage to taking the plastic down, besides prolonging its life just a bit is that it helps prevent salt build up in the soil by allowing the natural rains to thoroughly flush it. Our tunnels are up between November and March. Plus, our summers get so hot that without being able to roll up the sides, we'd be hard pressed to grow much of anything in there. I'll be using the new tunnel again with shade cloth to try to grow lettuces through the summer.

My plan with the tunnel to the right, our first one, is to plant a buckwheat cover crop, till it in, solarize the soil, and have it ready for planting late fall/ winter crops by August. I've been dealing with some pest and lettuce disease issues in parts of it, so I'm hoping this will eliminate much of that non-chemically while also improving the soil. I'll till in the buckwheat, and the solarizing will help break down the organic matter, making its nutrients more available for the plants. Buckwheat is a fast growing crop, so it suits my needs particularly well here, in addition to being good at taking up phosphorous in the soil, one of the problems with Maryland soil in general, and mine in particular. So, it'll satisfy those fellas in charge of nutrient management planning.

I thought I'd post a photo of our set up for folks to see. If you click on the photo, you'll be able to see the captions I photoshopped in:


Our lot is shaped like a giant L: you're looking at the short part of the L and the long part extends out to the left past the market garden. I would guesstimate that the house, barn, and two winter pastures take up about 1.75- 2 acres; the rest we use for the market garden and summer rotations. Here's a picture of the kids and the dogs running through those pastures back in December:


That's the mobile chicken coop off to the right side looking like a solar panel.

And here are some parting shots of the tunnel plantings:


13 comments:

Jenny said...

Fond memories of one year ago!!!

el said...

Danielle I *love* these overviews of land use. It's great to see how things fit together!

Hey: one thing I have sown with my buckwheat for a quick green manure is oats. I am always looking for more "bulk" because our soils are clay and buckwheat's great but isn't meaty enough for our needs. I've tried rye too but have had problems with it being too enthusiastic (and of course returning). Oats are easier to kill.

I do lament the idea that I can't solarize the soil of the greenhouses like you're able to. I just kind of buck up and deal with it by making sure each bed gets another 2" or so of fresh dirt plus lots of compost between crops. But yes it is nice if Mother Nature does the work for you isn't it!

Happy spring: looks like you've done quite a bit already.

From the Farm said...

Hi,

I was wondering how do you move the chicken coop and how many chickens it can hold? Thanks,

Christy said...

Things look really different there in the winter. I was going to do some hull-less oats this year. You tried those right? How did it work out for you?

Danielle said...

Jenny, we miss you! Big Boy moved like a dream again. He's such a good pig.

C'mon now, El, you posted a lovely comment but no inside info on where you got that wonderful thermometer of yours!?

FtF, our mobile coop is built on an old boat trailer, and it comfortably holds about 35-40 chickens or so. We have about 50 now, and we attach an outside roost on the high side to accommodate more birds. It was featured in a recent flier on CSAs by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Jim was supposed to post about that, but I guess I'll need to do it.

Christy, the oats did well, but I never did find a convenient way to thresh them, so they all went to the animals as treats. That's likely what we'll do again next year because they're good to have in our garden rotation.

From the Farm said...

Danielle, thanks for the info. It looks small on the picture, so I was wondering. And yes, a post about the coop (with lots of details and pictures :) would be very interesting. Leon

el said...

Whoops! It was a gift from my mom. I googled "Min/Max. thermometers" though and found a bunch; the one I have was probably under $20, knowing my mom ;)

Danielle said...

Leon, here's a link to a post over on my husband's blog about the coop construction. It has photos and all.

Danielle said...

Ooops, forgot to say that we attach the extra roosts on the long, tall side. We don't bother to close the birds up at night, obviously, which lets them get up bright and early even when I don't.

Jim's able to move the trailer easily with the tractor. We try to move it about once a week or so, depending upon how the pasture looks under it.

Alex Polikowsky said...

So you don't have prblems with raccons or other animals and the chickens?

Danielle said...

Alex, not so much. Jim's in charge of depredation, and that helps. We also have field/ goat fencing and hot wire around the whole perimeter.

In the past, we've used electric fencing for the chicken paddock as well, which gives another layer of protection.

From the Farm said...

Danielle, thanks! I will be building a similar thing soon, so that's very helpful.

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