WA Weather – Wet

Farming in the wonderful Pacific Northwest is a good way to become mental.  We love it; the weather really keeps things interesting and your “plans” ever changing.  Here in Washington State it rains in spring.   We are hunters and hopefuls for a mildly sunny, dry day.  Last season in a single day we experienced sun, rain, sleet, and snow.  This year back in February we experienced some great sunny weather.  I and other farmers in my area thought we might actually get an early spring.  I heard some talk of farmers turning over their soil and beds, but I also heard some other advice to wait.  If we actually owned a machine to turn over soil I probably would have, but because I have to hire local labor to come work our rented ground we decided to wait.  We feared that if we tilled the ground now we would be throwing away our cover crop and allow the ground to become saturated with spring rains.  As we waited, we were able to do our first direct seeding of the year over at the Lincoln property.

The date was February 16, the sun blessed our lives and we planted a very successful seeding of a 100’ of Heirloom Mesclun Mix with our terrific tool, the Five Row Seeder (an Eliot Coleman design I believe).  We didn’t have full trust in this tool due to lack of experience with it, but now after seeing the Mesclun mix pop up in perfect uniformity, we are sold and excited about it’s use.

A few days later Sara took advantage again of the dry weather and direct seeded, by hand (testing hand seeding vs. the five row seeder), another 100’ row; oriental greens, different salad mix packets, arugula, spinach, and beet greens. We watched our home grounds dry up real nice in that stunning span of two weeks.

On the last day of the two weeks we made the decision to jump on this dry spell and we got our new farming area over at the Lincoln Property roto-tilled by our tractor friend Roger who calls himself “Green Machines Farming”. We decided to leave our cover crop at Home to grow and protect our soil.  The new area over at Lincoln which Roger rototilled for three hours, on the very last day of our dry spell, is a plot around 100’ x 60’.  It was used for flowers by the last farmers on the property but had gone unkempt.  Roger tilled in the grass and we had a nice new dry area.  Some clumps remained and the soil looked average at best but now we had some dry space to work up and plant.

Our dry ground lasted 10 hours and the rains that had gone missing for the last two weeks arrived.   I was upset with the rains and therefore tried to show his strong hand and purchased the largest tarp I could lay my hands on. In a matter of three hours I laid a 85’ x 50’ tarp down and erected a double row, row cover.  The tarp is big, and blue, so I apologized to the owners of the land and promised it would only be on the grounds for two weeks.  It’s been three.

Oh well, that’s farming.  The row cover went over the two strips of direct seeded crops.   We call our bed’s strips and the rows in the beds, rows.  I created this row cover by pounding in 50 3’ lengths of rebar. One rebar on each side of the bed spaced every four feet.  Covered the 1’ of rebar that was left sticking out of the ground by bending 10’ lengths of 3/4” electrical conduit over the bed, and then covered it with 4mil painters plastic.

We have heavy winds so I planned on burying the edges of the plastic but as I went to dig my trench I discovered a fault in my quick idea and actions of creating this row cover.  I didn’t plan out for the proper width of the plastic.  When I purchased my roll of painters plastic I had limited choices a 10’ wide or 20’.  I got a 10’ and in pouring rain I discovered that I lacked the proper width to bury the edges like I had planned.  I had enough, barely enough, to bury the edges at all.   I only got this length by crawling on my hands and knees under the plastic, at this point held on by spring clips, and shoving the PVC pipes as deep into the ground as possible.  Hurray I gained a few inches and then in the wind, by myself, I buried one side of the row cover very well and then the other. Too bad it’s the windy side, I buried just enough.

Due to not having any help to secure plastic in a wind and rain storm I lost the windy side to the wind as I was just about finished and had to make a retry.  I was too proud of our work of direct seeding the rows to let them get saturated by soaking rains and I managed to bury the edge with success on my second attempt.  I lasted two weeks before a mighty windy storm ripped the plastic from under the soil.

We re-did it and it remains ok!

I am aware that my low quality painter’s plastic will break down into gross little flakes over time but I plan on that not happening in our fields.

(Side note: Sara is a wonderful cook and I’m now enjoying a delicious piece of pumpkin cheese pie, made from our pumpkins last season.  The pumpkin is an Heirloom, as we focus on saving, supporting, growing, and selling Heirloom varieties.  Open Pollinated and Heirloom seeds are the only seeds we will ever considering buying.  More on that later…)

So back to the story, we have lots going on right now.  Mainly waiting for the rains to stop and the sun to show its lost face, as we have around 35 flats of crops started and ready for transplanting.   I have hope that we can till our home grounds soon but the rains keep on pouring down.

Lincoln is pretty much filled with new transplants, thanks to our work of covering our beds with straw we provided an area for early spring plantings.  So much for an early start, this year is now behind last season which every farmer in town complained about last year. Despite the weather we have lots of wonderful things going on.  Here’s the break down of the major actions taken so far this year:

•  We built our very first Seed Starting Greenhouse 32’ long and 12’ wide

•  Built a seed germination table the length of the greenhouse on one side

•  Built a post germination table the length of the greenhouse on the other side

•  Fenced our growing area at Lincoln, darn bunnies!

•  Seeded up lots of trays of Heirloom variety seeds

•  Tore down an old and broken PVC/wood frame greenhouse at Lincoln.  Lasted 8 years!

•  Started seeding up our large selection of Heirloom Tomato starts.  This is our second year with Tomatoes.  Last year we seeded around five thousand plants to sell as starts and planted and harvested another 300.  (We ended up winning in our Farmers Market Tomato taste off, proud of that!!)

•  Worked up raised beds and planted:  Onions, Leeks, Garlic, Kales, Salad Greens, Lettuce, Peas, Pac Choy, Tatsoi,  Bok Choy, Cabbage, Spinach, Arugula, Broccoli Raab and radishes.

Ok time to work.  Our work days right now are from 8am till around 10pm.  Long days out in the cold/rain followed by nights in the tomato propagation  potting up our Heirloom Tomatoes for this season.  It’s a challenge to say the least to pot up five thousand tomato plants and not have them become too overgrown in their flats!