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 :)

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