Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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The grower in all of us

It has been a bad two grow years, economically, physically, environmentally and emotionally.  We have our doubts.  This winter has been a low point for me when talking about future growing efforts and sales. I have heard the saying, "when one door closes a window opens". I never understood that, does it mean I am suppose to climb out the window or let the fresh air in to reduce the odor of defeat.

But as spring nears and the stinkbugs begin to fly around the inside of the house, my feelings change.  We are cutting back drastically in an attempt to reach the black this year.  Yes, we still might not make it, but I still see potential and my internal clock is starting to wind. I have opened up the rain water collection tanks, we are only planting a few things and we have increased egg production.  A thousand strawberry plants will start to produce, eggs are sold into the future and corn will not be planted near BMSB areas increasing the potential for yield. I came across this poem from Alexander Pope, titled "An Essay on Man", and it just struck a cord. 

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;

Man never Is, but always To be blest: 

The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home, 

Rests and expatiates in a life to come. 

I like to think he is talking about spring as well as humans, and I could not have said or explained it any better. Despite what we will face, we look to the future because of this feeling.  Yet, it is just a feeling that Spring brings and jump starts the grower inside of all of us.   

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Slow Starts

We have to tear down the high tunnel and get four hundred strawberry plants in the ground, then fifty plus blue berry bushes and then half-acre of lettuces and another half-acre of potatoes planted.  We had hoped to have half of the lettuces and some tomatoes already planted in the tunnel but when the tunnel came down everything stopped.  We were getting ready to plant inside the following week.  The Tuesday before planting it snowed, which in and of itself was not bad.  The fact that it caved the roof in was.

We now have a four ton twisted mess of steel to safely disassemble and pack into a roll-off trailer.  The operative word is “safe” given the different stress and tension points in the structure.  The high-tunnel was put together like an erector set.  There are thousands of bolts, nuts and screws to un-tighten.  However, there is the inherent danger of someone getting hurt if we are not careful when working around steal that has stress pressure.

Much like bucking a tree and cutting it up, you have to be aware of what part of the tree is under tension and where that tension is coming from.  Is tension coming from the top or tension pushing up from the bottom?  The way to cut each type depends on knowledge and the will to live a long life.  While cutting you can bind the saw or worse have the force of the wood under tension released towards you.  Basically, hurting or killing you, I do not know of any other options when that occurs.

Given the fact that we have to plant spring crops, we will have to split the crews with two planting and three tearing down.  I need to till the area for planting, at night, draw up the plant location and turn our most senior worker loose with her own help, while the rest of us safely bring down four ton of twisted metal and cut it up to fit in the roll-off bin.  The goal is to minimize air space and fill the bin, as tightly as possible with metal.  

At this time, you are probably thinking about insurance and if it was covered or not.  Yes, it is covered, they sent out the adjuster, and then a structural engineer and now the go-ahead to start de-construction has come.  No matter, we will suffer a loss because we insured the thing for less then it cost us to put up.  Do not ask I would just come out looking bad in the end if I answered.

If you have read our exploits, you know deconstruction is my forte.  Nevertheless, to do this crushes dreams we had.  I mean we were really looking forward to using the high tunnel to get the first tomatoes, or corn, strawberries and other crops earlier.  We were eating fresh Maryland tomatoes in  December so, we know what is was like to extend the growing season.  When the structure came down it brought with it a lot of plans and things we wanted to test.  Tomatoe for instance and rain.

My hypothesis is that acid rain would leave chemical residues on tomatoes and leaves outside (duh!), while tomatoes, using drip irrigation in the high tunnel would not.  The true evaluation for me would have been what is in the tomato itself.  What I really wanted to know is when compared do the tomatoes themselves have any levels of chemicals in them.  If so, what kind and how do the levels compare from the control group to the experimental group. 

The control group gets overhead watering naturally (outside) while drip irrigation at the base of the experimental plant (inside), comes from one of our four three-thousand gallon rain collection barrels.  At least that was the original test plan.  For now, we will table the idea and get to it at another time.  In the mean time:

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Planning the garden, is something that we really enjoy, emotions get involved, words might be said and past experiences brought up and used as salvos.  Each person pushing to have their favorite fruit or vegetable planted.  It is all done in good fun and eventually we find ways to add a vegetable here or more fruit plants there. 

We'll be using field two which the chickens are now on and tearing the grasses to shreds and dropping their fertilizer.  We've used them as weeders and feeders and will start to move them off to the next resting field.  We started out with six Rhode Island Reds that were seventeen weeks old.  They weren’t organic but they were being raised organic. 

Layers are supposed to start laying eggs when they get to about twenty one weeks of age.  So at the twenty week mark I started looking for eggs.  Each day I would go out check the egg door only to be disappointed.  This went on for fourteen straight days.  Each evening after work I’d check for an egg.  Here we are going in week twenty-two and I’m not seeing anything.

So, I thought what if I give them an inspirational speech?  Show them what they are here for and hopefully get them thinking about their true calling in life.  We had gotten carry out from the local Chinese restaurant the night before when I got this brain storm.  The next day I took my materials out to the hen house and put one object on the edge of the pen and the other at the opposite end.

The chickens were out and curious as to what was sitting on top of their pen.  So I started my speech.  I told them how we were a small farm and they were here to help and that we were helping their species by ordering and using them in our system.   Then I pointed to the left and explained to them that this was an egg carton.  I explained what they needed to do in order to fill the egg carton so we could make money to help with their costs.  Then I pointed to the right hand side and explained that the object sitting on the corner was a Chinese take out container and it could contain General Tzu’s Chicken, or Broccoli and Chicken and so on.   I gave them a choice they could fill one box or the other.  I explained that it was up to them as to what choice they made but that we needed to make money somehow.

I left both boxes there so as to continue the intimidation.  This was all in good fun but our records show that they started laying a few days after that.  I know deep down that I had nothing to do with there productivity but I love the coincidence none the less.

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