Chert Hollow Farm is a sustainable homestead farm growing certified organic produce near Columbia, Missouri. In addition to vegetables, the farm manages dairy & meat goats, poultry, small grains, fruits, timber, and more as part of a diversified model that emphasizes economic and environmental sustainability. We feed ourselves year-round by raising, processing, and preserving our own meat, milk, cheese, eggs, vegetables, some fruits & grains, and more from our land.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Mid-winter work

After returning from a much-needed and -enjoyed early January trip to visit family and friends, we've launched ourselves into number of important winter projects.


JANUARY CSA DELIVERY
Immediately upon returning home, we got to work putting together the first CSA shares, including setting up the inaugural online member survey. Our goal is for this system to allow limited share customization, helping members have some control over what they do and don't receive, while not being too complicated for us to manage. Two share sizes plus ten or so items plus three options (none, standard amount, extras please) is already a significant amount of complexity, but we're trying the system out this year because we really like the value it creates for everyone involved.

Shares were delivered on Monday and Thursday afternoon, with only one small hitch that was easily corrected. It took about 2 hours each day to do the delivery route, a significantly shorter time expenditure than going to one market, though higher mileage. Saving us more time, one of our employees will generally be doing the Thursday delivery route for us, paid as an independent contractor for the off-farm work. She likes the idea, as she'll be working here Thursday mornings anyway, and it means we only have to come to Columbia once a week, a significant time savings for us.

We've received a couple good comments already, so I'm hoping everyone enjoyed their pulse of fresh winter vegetables (and purchased eggs, in some cases). We'd certainly like to hear of any concerns. Although storing all these crops until now creates a higher risk and workload for us, we also really like getting some product to members right away. It makes their investment more real; no one has to wait five months to get any return on the up-front payment, and it buffers any future crop failures or issues through the rest of the year. So far, so good for the 2012 CSA.

SEED ORDER
Before leaving on our trip, Joanna especially worked long hours putting together our fairly complex seed order that juggles six or more seed companies and ~150 varieties. In addition, we save our own seed for many other items, but still need to integrate those stocks and any leftover seeds from last year with the rest of the order. Developing the seed order inherently requires putting together a realistic planting plan for the coming year, which is a large task in itself as we balance crop rotations, work schedules, weather/climate considerations, CSA needs (which are quite different from market needs), and more. Effectively, to make a cost- and resource-efficient seed order requires planning out much of the next year, and needs to be done by early January so we can get the orders submitted in time to get everything we want. With the continued growth in both small farms and gardening, more pressure is placed on the seed-supplier bottleneck every year and many items vanish quickly (particularly so as organic certification requires us to seek out organic seed whenever possible/practical). Most of our orders are now submitted, and are arriving. The first indoor seed starting (onions) is already only a few weeks away.

We used results from our December survey of CSA members to guide the seed order development. For example, with respect to pepper heat/spiciness, only one household of twenty voted for habanero-level heat, so most of the hot peppers that we grow will be in the low-to-moderate heat category. (We were thinking about skipping habaneros altogether until we tasted an amazing habanero salsa while traveling and learned that the almost tropical fruitiness is a characteristic flavor of habaneros; so we'll grow one or two plants.) From the survey, we also learned that many members seek out bitter flavors, so we're going to trial a couple of new crops that tend to be on the bitter side: escarole and radicchio. Joanna isn't especially fond of bitter flavors, but then again, neither are most insects, so these crops are likely to have fewer pest problems than some alternatives. Radicchio has a reputation for being finicky, though, so we'll start by trialing a smallish quantity this year. We had several members comment that they would love to get any fruit we can grow. Hopefully the strawberries that are in the ground will produce enough for distribution, and we're tentatively planning on a small watermelon patch, though they tend to be space-hogs for the yield anticipated. We're also increasing blueberry and fruit tree plantings that will hopefully pay off with fruit in future years. And in spite of an already complex seed order and planting plan, Joanna always enjoys playing with a few new things, so this year some new herbs are on the trial plan; these include shiso, cumin, anise, and bronze fennel (some of which can be grown for seed, but all of which have edible leaves).

WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT

Behind the scenes, we're developing a new farm website that uses a Wordpress platform to integrate our blog, general farm information, CSA member information and utilities, and a better recipe/advice section. It's a major upgrade to our online presence, but takes a lot of programming, design, and content development. At some point in the next month or so we expect to have enough done to bring it online, at which point this blog will go dormant as a content archive and all activity will move to the new site. In the meantime it means we'll be competing for computer time while balancing our roles (Joanna does most of the background programming & structural design, I'll be doing most of the writing and layout). It'll probably take us a year to really get all the new content put together, but we at least need to get enough done for a respectable online presence.

OUTDOOR WORK

Weather and indoor work permitting, we have a long task list on hand for outdoor infrastructure work. There are several more acres of overgrown land we'd like to clear of cedars entirely, and/or thin out for better pasture, given the growing goat and chicken population. The image above shows the orchard area; most of the visible cedars are on the clearing list. I also have to build a new, strong fence for this area, which will have more trees and other fruits going in this spring; other pasture areas could use some fencing work as well.


Another view of the new chicken shed above the orchard; that thick mass of cedars needs to go, so the area can regrow in a better pasture mix that chickens and goats will enjoy. We'll be saving the few hardwoods in that mix, which should really benefit from more sun and growing room to hopefully become good shade trees. We're also working with some neighbors to set back the thick cedar groves south of our entry road, which currently prevent the winter sun from warming and melting any snow and ice on that steep hill.

Whenever we get enough cedar logs collected and milled, there are a wide variety of possible projects requiring wood. We already have a request for some nice lumber for raised garden beds from a past wood customer. High on the list is enough lumber to build a smallish passive solar greenhouse for seed/plant starting, to get that work out of our basement and away from expensive grow-lights. In addition, I'd like to be able to improve the goat barn by adding battens along the walls (thin planks to seal gaps between the original boards) to improve the interior comfort. I also want to rebuild most of the doors, which were originally built with really ratty lumber because that's all I had left from the year's milling when the rest of the barn was built. Then I need to build new milking stands for the (expected) larger milking herd this year, making it possible for two people to milk at a time. The new chicken shed also needs more work, including finishing battens and building a solid confined run so the birds can have fresh air on days when hawks are around (right now we're just using less-than-ideal chain-link panels). Any logging we do generates branches to chip into mulch that needs spreading on paths, and various types of firewood that need to be hauled and stacked.


INDOOR WORK
Many small but important indoor tasks might be tackled this time of year, such as tool cleaning and sharpening, packing barn improvements, recipe research/writing/editing for later CSA use, finalizing the planting plan (& improving the long-term rotation plan), organic certification paperwork, tax preparation, and more. 

1 comment:

Delanie said...

I love reading your blog. We have the dream of owning land someday. Reading this blog helps to keep the dream alive. Thanks!