Saturday, November 17, 2007

Final Clean Up

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Already almost 8:30 PM and yet it seems as if I barely started the day a couple hours ago. I just walked Karl the wonder dog to quiet his restlessness. The slice of moon and half a sky of stars barely lights up the snow but I know he heard the deer coming through the woods and into the lower field to look for apples. Karl's ears are the best but his bark is annoying when I can't figure out what he sees. If it's not Gail, Alex or me, it is danger in his mind until he's had a good look-see.

It's 21 degrees out now and this is the most tranquil it has been in three days. It's either been raining buckets or snowing and blowing. The quiet is nice. And I am back to my thoughts about gardening at Vermont Flower Farm even though the ground is blanketed for the first time with 3 inches of snow.

When the hours of sunlight drop below 10 hours per day, farmers have to work faster to get outside work done. That's true here too. There are always a few things that do not get done before the snow and cold have slowed even the energetic to a halt. While some things slow down, other elements of time speed along unfettered by personal desires.

The bowl of apples pictured above was gifted last Sunday morning by our friend Eric from Massachusetts. I can't believe it's been a week already! Eric has a seasonal camp in Groton and he escapes city life for Vermont every chance he gets. This time of year the desire to get away is cautioned by dropping temperatures and thoughts of how to keep the wood stove going in a camp that is just that--an insulation-free camp. Eric has various records of "last weekend of the year to visit", "first day of the spring to visit" and "weekends I should have gone but didn't". Last week when we parted company he spoke of the possibility of coming for Thanksgiving. Gail welcomed him to join us for dinner but we all knew the weather would call the shots.

The Honeycrisp apples by the way are one I was not familiar with before Eric brought us a bag. They are terrific! They are crunchy, juicy and have a real nice aroma. The flesh is not colored like the Beacon apples Harold and Leila brought us a while back but it makes no matter as the taste is super! I've been told they are a Macoun cross of sorts and that explains the crispness that translates to a hard, noisy bite. If I hadn't told Alex to leave them alone until I got a picture, you'd be looking at a shot of the pottery bowl on the placemat.

During the past couple weeks I have been picking up here and at the new property, planting more fence posts, installing two gates, and configuring a new computer. I am pleased that everything is going well. A less than special project is putting up a piece of snow fence along the walk from the house to the vehicles. I don't like this job, never did, never will. Each year the fence reminds me of myself as it gets older and rustier and some of the cedar just falls apart. I can always think of why we probably won't need it this year but I always trust my experience and put it up no matter how cold it is on the day I pick. Yesterday the fence got from storage to as far as the walk. Perhaps tomorrow it will be erect by nightfall. It never turns out straight but it always slows down the snow from drifting over the walkway. Last year it looked like wasted effort until mid January when the snow that began to fall forgot to stop until late April.

A few days back I got the shade cloth off the shade house that we use to keep some of the hostas out of the sun. I purchased this pipe shade house from Rimol Company in Hooksett, NH a couple years back. Putting it up was a memory but it has been a dream since. The cloth weighs almost nothing and there are about 80 elastic ties that hold it onto the pipes. It takes longer to get the ladders ready than it does to do the job.

At the end of the growing season we line up all the perennials, in this case hostas, and cover them first with an insulating blanket we purchased from Griffin Greenhouse and then with 6 mil construction poly and old tires. The tires are for wind control on the plastic and they work well.

We also put 2 foot sections of 2" PVC pipe within the rows of potted plants. Each pipe gets a couple-three ounces of D-con for rodent control. Voles are the big concern as they don't hibernate but at various times chipmunks, mice and moles can be destructive too.

Yesterday afternoon I spent a couple hours getting the shade cloth off the south side and the roof of this wooden shade house. I built this a few years back so we would have a place to get miniature hostas off the ground. They are always potted in small pots, say one and 2 quart size, so having them at waist level made more sense. I never cemented the uprights in the ground because I figured that sooner or later it would have to be moved. It has some interesting curves to it now but it served the purpose well this year as it helped us move about 3000 hostas from our place to someone else's house. The Rimol pipe house will come apart with a set of allen wrenches and a crescent wrench but this house will take some work. For now they are both uncovered and no matter how deep the snow gets, they will continue to stand tall as spring approaches.

The list gets whittled down a little at a time. I began on the wood pile today after cleaning up the tractor. This year's wood has been drying for well over a year but the wood I have blocked and ready to split is for next year and maybe even into 2009. The Honda engine on the splitter took three pulls to start this time which isn't bad for an engine that has been sitting for a year.

As I walked around the gardens this afternoon, I looked up at a birdhouse I built four years ago. Birdhouses are a gardener's winter work. I always build a few when I get antsy for spring. Right now I am thinking about the last few chores and a few weeks rest. Our gardens are lots of work but we enjoy them. We know you enjoy yours too!

Good gardening thoughts,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener


Walter Jeffries said...

Hi George. I'm looking at setting up a greenhouse. I was googling and found your mention of Rimol. Have you any experience with theirs? I'm thinking about the Northpoint gothic 30' x X'. Our application is livestock housing and plants - we are thinking of using it as a winter space and rotating the animals through the different spaces. Pigs are our primary animal - in the summer their out on pasture, in the winter they have open sheds and hay. I would be interested in any greenhouse comments you might have. I've not dealt with a hoop style greenhouse before.

George Africa said...

Hello Walter;

Siting here trying to figure out how come I never listed your Sugar Mountain Farm blog when I check in with it quite often. I mention Wellspring and Old Shaw Farm too when I write but I'm remiss in mentioning some good writing and nice pictures.

As for greenhouses from Rimol I can only say the the customer service was very good, the delivery was two days later, all the parts were there with extras of some things including the elastic tie downs for the shade cloth. I am buying a couple more of these in April and am sure the service will remain the same as that is their reputation.

As for greenhouses, I think that this winter is a good one to think through when buying a greenhouse. My guess is there are too many greenhouses on the ground right now because they did not get cleaned off and wet snow and rain did them in. During a year with heavy snow, the snow slides off if all goes well but piles up along the sides. In time it gets heavier and heavier and forces in the plastic or the ribs.If you are over this way, check out the Curle horse farm at the bottom of the hill on Route 2 coming into Marshfield from Danville way.They put up a second house this fall and it's laying on the ground now completely wasted from the snow. The remaining one is showing some wear on the upper end too. These were in the 96 foot length range (my guess) but point out the need to consider snowload. They are not greenhouses per se but same construction except white plastic. They were used for barns as many farmers do now when they use the open concept. Also work well as a kiln of sorts for drying firewood or recently milled lumber.

If you are going to use them for animals I would do what I have seen a lot of farmers do and that's build knee walls four feet high so the animals can't get to the plastic. That would also put the plastic up above the snow for some time and would make cleaning the snow away that much easier. When snow comes off the traditional greenhouse it piles at the bottom, softens from the heat of the greenhouse and then freezes like rocks.

There are varieties upon varieties of covering but go with the good grade that costs more but is worth it. I don't care what anyone says, it's not a great day covering a greenhouse and if you're going for it, do it right so you don't have to do it again for several years. More and more progress is being made with the composition but 4 years is currently about the lifespan of the expensive covering. If you're going to do this, buy sooner not later as the prices are going up every day. Oil and plastic are both spelled the same way.

Best wishes!
George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Walter Jeffries said...

Aye, I did a post about that Marshfield barn with a photos. Not something I want to duplicate! The storm of '98 took out my old greenhouse, a simple 2x4 and plastic affair.

I'm incline to go with the twin-wall polycarbonate if we can swing the cost so that we only have to cover it once. My father has a greenhouse made of that and is quite pleased with it but it is a wooden frame rather the the metal gothic design of the Rimol Northpoint I'm thinking of going with.

What we're thinking about is making a space that will let us farrow in the winter better. We're doing okay with the open sheds we have and have been experimenting with a lot of different housing. The pallet sheds we've tended to use work. The pigs really liked the several greenhouse like versions we have done including the house end shed. The sows seem to 'cross their legs' in January and February resulting in only a couple of farrowings. Of the spaces we have, only a few of them are really good for the dead of winter when the winds and temperatures are worst.

What we're thinking of is a 20' or 30' wide by something long up on a foundation of 4' high concrete knee walls for exactly the reasons you cited - snow dumping height and animals messing with things.

This is primarily for pigs but also chickens, ducks and ??? during the worst weather in the winter. We want to build it big enough that we can rotate the animals through different areas of it over the years. They only need the space for the harshest months. The rest of the time it could grow plants which would use up the composting bedding and manure the animals will leave behind. This would extend our growing season a bit.

One of the thoughts we have is to build the greenhouse gradually in sections but if the cost is low enough we would do it all at once. I would probably do the foundation all as one unified bond beam pour in one shot.

Nice to hear that Rimol is a good source. I have had one of their catalogs on my bookshelf for years while I thought about this...

Walter Jeffries said...

By the way, George, do you know the width of that barn in Marshfield that collapsed at the Curle Horse Farm?