Thursday, September 24, 2009

Winter Veggies

Okay, Part II: Cold Frames
We farmers have the veggie bug, and we've got it bad. The short growing season in Vermont just isn't long enough for us to get in our full helping of cultivation and little greenlings (a.k.a. baby plantlets). So, we do the only natural thing, extend the growing season as much as we possibly can! How? Cold Frames! This way we can keep growing mesclun, onions, leeks, carrots, and asian greens even after there's a blanket of snow outside.

So, the other week I threw together a prototype of a cold frame out of some spare wood we had left over from the tomato trellises. Here is Ben being his own interpretation of Vanna White.

My cold frame is 8 inches tall in the front, and 12 inches in the back. It's got a storm window for the top(also called the light), and I just sized it to fit the window perfectly. There aren't any hinges on it, and I didn't include anything to prop it up because I wanted to be able to completely uncover the cold frames on the random warm days of fall. I plan to prop it up with different sized pieces of wood later on in the season when neccesary. Keeping it simple.

This is the cold frame uncovered in the green house, all ready for me to direct seed carrots into... and then me actually seeding the little guys.

Each cold frame will have its own thermometer mounted in it so we can carefully monitor each one's temperature. We want to do this to make sure that we prop them open when they get above 70 degrees. When you're transplanting into cold frames, it's important to keep in mind that the plants you start in seed pots aren't used to really high temperatures. Plants that are tolerant to colder temperatures from the beginning will do better over the winter of freezing and thawing.

Now, keep in mind that I have never grown anything in cold frames over the winter. All the information I have shared here I learned from Eliot Coleman. He came to the NOFA Winter Conference last year and gave a wonderful, informative workshop on his winter harvesting. He also has a great book called "Four Season Harvest" that's a fantastic resource for this kind of winter food production. I recommend him highly.

That does it for now, but I'll write more on baking and the approaching end of the 2009 growing season in the next few days! Stay tuned! Same veggie time, same veggie channel!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Preparing for the Cold

Fall is upon us, with our flowers starting to close up shop and the threat of frost in the wee hours of the morning. But even with the season’s end on the horizon, there are still many things going on on the farm. Let me catch you up on what you’ve missed… there’s a lot so I’ve broken it up into sections. Today I will do the pigs, and over the next few days I'll post about the cold frames, the end of the season, and the baking I've been doing! Okay, onto the good stuff...

The Pigs

Well, let me start by saying that they continue to be hilarious and lovable. We are having great fun with them. Last week we built them a new house on skids. I have included step-by-step pictures so you can see all the little pieces that fit together…

This is the base frame the rest of the house sits on...

The bare-bones frame and walls going up...

Ben putting the trough on after the tin roof had been attached...

We built them a new house because they are far too big for the other house they’d been in all season, and they were beginning to show us how bored they were in that same pen... ripping down their tarp, nosing branches onto their fence, etc. So, we called up our mentor Steve to see if he’d be willing to lend us some portable sheep netting and a couple batteries, he was.

So, we hooked up our pig house behind the truck and I took off driving over small boulders and through waist high weeds toward the site of the pig's new home. With Ben guiding me I was able to pull the pig house back behind the barn and back the truck out of there safely without falling off the cliff right next to me... all it all, it was quite a successful off roading experience.

Once we had the house in place, we set up the sheep netting, hooked up the chargers, filled the trough with food, filled up the water bucket, and got ready for the pigs to make the big transition the next morning.

The next day, with mom and dad along for the adventure, we all gathered around the pig pen, each at our stations, ready to help the pigs get acquainted with their new house. Ben distracted them with some corn while I snipped off the ties that held the end of their old fence in place, opened it up, and connected the (non-electrified) sheep netting to each side of the opening. Then Ben called the pigs over, showing them the new opening.

Now, I had thought the pigs would go charging through the opening into their new pasture land, so excited at the site of new soil to plow up with their little snouts. Not so. Those pigs stood at the opening of that fence, where the electric fence had been, sniffing the air, rooting in the soil, and not moving an inch. I had read that it's thought pigs associate some level of magic to these electric fences, and while I don't know if I quite believe that pigs even understand the concept of magic, it certainly seemed that that hypothesis wasn't far off. Those pigs knew that they had gotten shocked at that exact spot before and weren't about to risk that happening again.

After a while Flo Jo got over her fears and went alone, into the unknown wild of the new pen, grunting happily the whole way. Meanwhile, scaredypants #1 and scaredypants #2 were still in their old pen, grunting at Flo Jo, probably getting a report of the new digs. After Flo Jo had collected a sufficient amount of data, she headed back to the old pen to have a chat with the other two. But even after their pow-wow, they weren't sold. So they settled in to take a nap under their shade tarp. Ben and I had already been out there for an hour or so, and mom and dad had gone inside. We were running out of patience. So, we took down their shade tarp which stirred them up, but they still weren't crossing over. After trying watermelon, cracked corn, and pig pellets, we finally gave in and hand fed them corn chips. This did the trick!

After just a couple corn chips, backing up after each one, I was able to lure all of them over the "magic" line, and into their new home. They were rooting around and grunting happily almost immediately. So what we thought would be a quick 2 minute transition, turned into a 2 hour coaxing game of lure the pigs with tasty treats.

And now the pigs are happier than ever...