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Snow and Irrigation

Snow and Irrigation

The snow has returned, a welcome moisture to the land and a slowing down of the farmscape. We needed the pause to catch up on planning and paperwork, and the soil and crops needed the water. We had started to think about irrigating the garlic, and have been running sprinklers every day in the four production hoops.

We use a mix of sprinklers and drip irrigation in the hoops. Tender salad season benefits from sprinklers; the wobblers or mini-wobblers on posts work well to provide even coverage and the cooling effects that help keep the greens mild and tender.

We’re sowing seeds each week in trays in the propagation hoop and over the last two months Amber direct-seeded the production hoops. The harvests have begun to roll in from the earlier sowings and we are loving the incredible salad mixes. Now that all the hoops are full, we’ll begin filling beds outside and covering them with low tunnels to provide protection from cold and wind. The first round of brassica has been up-planted and will go into the soil in about two weeks.

The variable weather can play havoc with timing and stability of production this time of year. Instead of producing a harvest, cool weather crops can bolt and go to seed if they are exposed to too much heat or a lack of water. We find that some crops are very sensitive, so we sow them in winter and shift to less heat-sensitive varietals as we move into spring.

We cover most crops when they are planted out to protect them from the cold, wind, birds and insects. Low tunnels are about 42” wide and 30” tall, built out of 10’, ½” EMT conduit which is bent into hoops with a cheap, non-mechanical pipe bender. Baling wire runs the length of the tunnel, wrapped around each hoop and staked into the ground with rebar at both ends.

Frost blanket 14’ in width is used to cover the tunnel, which gives a good amount of cloth on either side to hold down with sandbags or other heavy objects. We also use t-posts or surplus metal 2×4’s we got at auction, but the sharp ends can cut the row cover so we’re shifting towards sand bags, which we can fill on farm.

We like the thicker frost blanket because it will last for several years and provides a greater layer of protection than the thinner row covers. The extra insulative value helps with the cold but means that we have to pull the covers off on warm days and be more aggressive with irrigation to keep things from drying out.

For narrower rows we also run mini-hoops made from wickets that are about 18” tall and 18” across. The legs bend out to cover the bed top and the 7’ width row cover provides shelter. These much lower covers are quicker to put in and have less potential for blowing open, so they need less weight to hold them down.

The mini-row covers aren’t tall enough to hold a large, fast growing crop very far into the season but will often provide the needed shelter to get through a cold spell or achieve enough growth so that insects can’t kill the transplants. We use them for squash plantings to provide warmth and protection from cucumber beetles, and to protect brassica and other tender transplants in the cooler months. During summer we’ll also use them to hold up bird/insect netting to prevent damage to tender fall crops when they are transplanted out.

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The medium-sized low tunnels end up covering a wide bed and providing shelter for weeks, and in some instances for the entire length of the crop. Cannabis seed plants outgrow the low tunnels after about 4 to 6 weeks, and the tunnels also provide shelter for interplanted salad mixes during that period.

Season extension and crop protection are one of the fundamental pillars of our farm. Because we operate on limited space and participate in farmers markets year-round (in most years), we need the ability to offer moveable, simple shelters to help bring high-quality produce to market. The conditions of our climate and microclimate, coupled with the pressure from insects and birds make for an intense combination of factors, but a simple layer of row cover or hoophouse plastic makes a world of difference.

We seek simple ways of producing more food of higher quality with less effort. Each year we apply new strategies, tightening our planning and crop rotations as we dial in the things we grow and the methods by which we grow them. There are many setbacks, but there are many great successes. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!

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