Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sleep Tight

So, things are really ramping up on the farm.  This warm winter is pushing everything up, including strawberries.  They've been blooming since December and it's already time to worry about frost protection.  This past weekend we had an arctic blast again, therefore it was time for either a) overhead irrigation or b) row covers.

See the black spot in the middle of the flower  - that's what the frost does to the berries.
Last year we did some overhead irrigation but it's not our preferred method of frost protection.  You have to put so much water on the field and everything becomes a sloppy mess.  Not to mention there are some diseases that are spread easier by the water running through the field (it touches one plant, and then runs down the plastic infecting every plant in it's path [like Outbreak for berry plants, did you have to watch that in hs biology?  I did.]).  So this year we got enough row covers to cover all of our berries, thanks to the helpful folks at the Soil and Water, and Saturday was our first time putting them on.

Saturday morning we had the help here pulling weeds out of the strawberries and off the plastic (there are some that grow up the sides of the plastic, eventually covering the berries.  You see the problem.  I have pics, but that's probably another blog for another time).  The Husband was running around as usual, and I was ditching the water that fell Friday out of the middles (there are places it's shin deep).  We should have been filling rock bags to hold down the row covers.  In the past we've used sandbags.  This year we have this roll of netting that we are supposed to cut to the appropriate size and fill with rock and tie both ends.  it sounds easy right?  Yeah, in theory it is.  In practice, that netting is cumbersome to stretch and difficult to tie.  I got the idea to use zip ties instead of tying them (it's that kind of plastic that it doesn't matter how tight you get it, the knot can slip out).  Still, me working alone was not producing enough bags.  After lunch we got everyone involved, and still it was not going smoothly (and it was driving me crazy).  That's when the Husband decides that we need to lay one out to see how many rock bags we need.

Alright, so remember how windy it was Saturday?  Well, these covers are the texture of that black landscape fabric you put down for weed control, just a little thicker, and they catch the wind like you wouldn't believe.  We load the roll of material like a spool on a contraption mounted on the end of a forklift, and The Husband and another worker grab the end and walk Santa-style to the end of the row.  Again, it's a lot harder than it sounds.  The rows are narrow-ish and uneven, not to mention the covers catch the wind like a sail on a boat, so not only are you hauling the weight of the covers (which are surprisingly heavy) but the weight of the wind blowing them around (alright confession time - I did fall in the mud.  I was holding one of the covers so one of the workers could hold it down for a shovel of dirt when the wind unexpectedly got in it and it dragged me down.  I had to laugh at my own self at that one.  Too bad I didn't have the camera out then).  When we got to the last row near the path, The Husband got the idea to tie the end of the cover to the gator so he could drag them out with it, it actually managed to work (despite me saying 'this is going to be bad' like a mantra and cringing).  Too bad we couldn't do that every time (I did get a short video, but I had to stop filming to make sure it didn't tangle, so it really wasn't worth posting).  Once we, they, get them out we have to spread them out to cover four rows.  At that point we realize it's going to take 40 - 60 rock bags per cover with this wind and we have 20.  The Husband comes up with the practical if not far-sighted idea (now we have holes about every foot or two, some of which are almost a foot deep, that we'll have to fill in somehow so you won't break your neck in the field) to use shovel fulls of dirt to hold them down.  It takes all afternoon, but we manage to get almost all of the rows covered.
There's more than one way to skin a cat

The Spool - Forklift contraption
It reminds me of snow...without all the mess.
Yesterday we took them off, but it looks like first of next week we'll be putting them on again.  It won't be as hard, just pulling them over the rows, but still I hate it.  Still, we have to do what we have to do, and yesterday The Husband found one of the first potential berries.  So get your mouth right, 'cause we'll have berries the first of April!

First berries :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Plan D

So, I believe I promised a post on the lovely potato planting experiment.  Let the hilarity ensue...

Thursday the Husband informs me that Saturday we're going to set out the first half of the potatoes we want to set.  This means that Friday, we had to cut up 10 50lb bags of potatoes so we could plant them.  With sweet potatoes, you just plant the entire potato in the ground (actually you kinda lay them on the ground tightly packed together) and cover them with plastic.  In a couple months, voila, you have plants you can transplant in the field.  With white potatoes, we have to cut the potatoes into pieces, making sure each piece has an 'eye'.  We started just before 9 am and he finished around 3 pm.  So my carport looked super lovely with pieces of seed potatoes spread out on tobacco sheets everywhere.  

Diligently Cutting
Saturday morning started out at 90 mph as usual.  We had people coming at 10 to help get them set and we had to get them sprayed with insecticide and loaded on the transplanter before they arrived.  The Husband had this grand idea to transplant the pieces just like you would a plant.  He even rigged up this PVC pipe thing to make sure the piece got down into the setter without the worker having to lean all down to do it.  Well, we got the potatoes loaded and the people on the transplanter, and we went about ten feet before the first one yelled that his piece was stuck.  For the next five feet I think we stopped every foot with someone getting stuck.  It was decided at that point, after much heartache and colorful language, that The Husbands lovely invention was a dud.  We jerked them out and the workers had to lean down and place the piece in the setter.  That worked for about ten more feet.  They didn't quite understand the object of what The Husband wanted to do, and the pieces kept getting stuck.  So when plan A and plan B failed, The Husband implemented the never-before-mentioned plan C and yelled for me to drive.

I've driven a tractor.  I drove the hayride some last year and will probably do so again this spring for our farm tours.  Driving a tractor is one thing, anyone can drive it in a straight line, it's like mowing grass.  Driving it with a trailer isn't difficult either, you just have to watch your turns.  Driving it while it's hooked up to a machine that is carrying eight people who are planting things in the ground is another.  Not only do you control the direction and speed, but this machine moves up and down to control the amount of dirt knocked off the row and implants potato pieces.  I already have two strikes against me: a) i'm not coordinated, just ask anyone who has ever seen me attempt any sport whatsoever except maybe skiing, and b) I have my irritated Husband attempting to explain this to me on the fly.  I do okay except for the raising/lowering the transplanter part.  Apparently there is this 'sweet spot' you have to hit between knocking too much dirt off the row and not enough, and amazingly I cannot determine where that spot is while The Husband shouts directions at me over the hum of the engine.  I'm either knocking so much dirt it's slowing the tractor down or I'm not knocking enough.  I don't want to give the poor folks on the transplanter motion sickness, but for some reason even though I'm being super easy every time I push or pull on the lever to raise/lower the machine it jerks up and down.  At any rate, I only drive for a row and a half, at which point The Husband decides he can't take another meltdown and since it's not working that well anyway he abandons the transplanting idea and breaks out the buckets.  I maintain that if I was properly schooled in the whole knocking off dirt thing it wouldn't be difficult to do.  The Husband maintains that I am banned from the transplanter. 

View from the Top
Sometimes you have to cut your losses
In the end, it was really quicker for us to do it manually i.e. plan D.  The Husband drove the tractor down the row knocking it off, the workers placed potato pieces, and he went back with a cultivator to cover them up.  Problem solved.  Potatoes planted.  Now in three weeks we get to repeat the process, hopefully without so many bumps in the road.

I really hate to know what plan E was...

Monday, February 13, 2012

A piece of the puzzle

Not all of my 'jobs' are glamorous like pulling weeds or thinking up new ways to chunk pumpkins. I'm also chief errand runner.  Today I had to go to Agri-Supply in Greenville (I could have gone to Garner, but I hate that store and I hate going to Garner) for plow parts.  I hate going to parts stores.  First off, you get there and the place never looks quite on the level.  There's never anywhere to park.  There's a minimum of two doors, neither of which are clearly marked.  Then you get in and the place has this smell.  It's difficult to describe, something between grease and oil and diesel fuel and mixed with thirty year old dirt and dust.  Every single one smells like that, regardless of you're going to pick up a starter or plow points.  Even the chains like Advance.  Inhale deep next time you walk in one.  You'll see what I mean.

Then comes the worst part of all.  You walk to a counter surrounded by men that you just know are looking at you like a complete idiot and attempt to tell them what you need.  I learned the hard way, I now request specific descriptions (this in itself is perilous for those of you who know The Husband.  He is the king of long, rambling stories that end up confusing more than informing.  Especially about something I know nothing about so I am completely dependent on his knowledge.  Yeah.  Scary.).  Still though, they never fail to ask a question I never anticipated and I end up saying words like 'thingy' or using phrases like, 'I think it's the thingy that goes on the end of the thing' and sounding like the exact stereotype I try to avoid.  

Finally, after at least two phone calls (because he never fails to not answer the first one) and a lot of blank looks on both our parts, I have the part and I'm praying it's right.  Today wasn't so bad.  I had a diagram to show the guy at the parts desk and he went exactly to the right place and loaded up my cart.  The place did smell like the grease-dust-oil combo, and there was perma-dirt on the floor, but everyone was very nice and helpful (much better than the one in Garner) and I think we were in and out of there in twenty minutes.  All in all it was one of my best part store experiences hands down.

So this is probably not one of the most illuminating blogs ever, but it does go to illustrate a point. A puzzle is made of many pieces, we needed the plow parts so the plow would work correctly and the ground would be right for the vegetables we're going to plant and grow for you to eat.  Getting the plow right was just a piece of that larger puzzle.