Saturday, April 02, 2011

Garden Resources, Winter Meetings

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A quiet morning here on the mountain. The birds have not moved to the feeders yet, even though it's already 7 o'clock. The anemometer spins slowly at 2 mph as wet snow clings to everything. The temperature remains at 30.1° but I expect it will drop some as the sun tries to wake. Grey skies are prominent and the tall balsams sway slightly as if hiding groans from the heavy snow load. So far the electricity has been fine but I really am surprised we made it through the night. Snow accumulation was perhaps 5" so we escaped some trouble had it been deeper.

Despite the snow, we have been busy at Vermont Flower Farm. Tax time ended Friday as we signed off on the final compilations and smiled about the opportunity this year to fully depreciate some purchases. There has to be an easier way to handle taxes but we leave that to Montpelier
and Washington as we're not the least bit sure our desires or suggestions are ever heard. Operating a small business is difficult in the best of times and here in Vermont, operating costs are very expensive for everyone. This week IBM and reacted to the governor's health program plans by saying that there were other places they could move to that would cost them less. Moving two businesses and 4000 people out of Vermont has serious financial implications and those who say it won't happen/cannot happen should look again.

We don't want to move but some expenses become burdensome. The debate over Vermont Yankee and nuclear power in general is something for others to get into, but a possible rate increase of 19%-30% without them suggests we have to rethink energy sourcing and usage. The Washington Electric rate request of 24% for some Vermonters is not confirmed yet but just the thought has folks wondering what they'll do. Administrations across the country speak of developing jobs but keeping what we have in a little state like Vermont has to be considered.

One thing we do have in Vermont is a diversity of farmers. Although Gail and I raise flowers, we're farmers just the same and we experience all the nuances of farming. We don't milk cows, sheep, goats, water buffalo or yaks, but do work hard and accept sickness, bad weather and high fuel costs just the same. Putting on a coat is easier than writing a bigger check but both are part of the mix.

As you tour Vermont now, you'll notice more and more greenhouses. Growing flowers, herbs, vegetables...even berries, inside greenhouses increases each year and a recent federal program has encouraged that. The Natural Resources Conservation Service started a three year program last year that granted financial assistance with the purchase of high tunnel greenhouses. Despite reading about every resource we can, we ran into this program by accident last summer when we noticed a man in South Ryegate installing such a structure in his field. We stopped because we were curious and we got the details on the program. A month ago we found that our application was granted (one of two in our region) and sometime before summer ends we will have installed a 2100 square foot greenhouse at Vermont Flower Farm. If you are interested in high tunnel greenhouses or don't know a thing at all about them, the NRCS site is one place to start. The Cornell University high tunnel site is another great site that will inform you and get you even more curious.

So-o-o-o-o, with the prospect of a greenhouse, Gail and I have embarked on all kinds of educational exploration. We have already reported on attending a tomato grafting program at High Mowing Organic Seeds which we wrote about on this blog on March 21st: Tomato Grafting. That same day, High Mowing owner Tom Stearns gave a great presentation in his new high tunnel house. Tom showed a variety of greens he had planted the previous September, with harvest beginning in December 2010 and continuing with vigor to the day of our visit. They should continue to produce for a few more months. Very impressive and also tasty!

High tunnel greenhouses come in different configurations but the ones approved for Vermont have a peaked roof as shown to deal more effectively with snow load. If you look at the ridge line you'll notice additional trusses that assist with strengthening against heavy snows. The side walls end as 4, 5 or 6 foot straight walls so the snow slides off and piles. This is a bigger consideration than you might expect as the snow exerts pressure on the side walls and must be removed to prevent collapse from the bottom on in.

But Vermont is Vermont and it has snowed here before and that will continue. That means even high tunnel owners have lots of snow removal to consider and if a 2 foot storm is en route as we experienced this winter, you have no choice but to get out there and deal with the snow. This winter presented many bad stories about lost barns and greenhouses because sometimes it snows faster than the shoveler can shovel, the plow can plow, the sweeper can knock down snow.

Just the same, high tunnel greenhouses offer great opportunity to lengthen the growing season and provide a consistent flow of vegetables to local markets. These images show three of twelve new spinach hybrids that High Mowing is trialing. They are Space, Racoon and Giant Winter Spinach. They are very impressive in taste and production. Tom pointed out that the growing habit of Racoon is perhaps more notable as the leaves grow upright from the stem so moisture cannot accumulate on the leaves, fungal problems are less and harvest is easier for the crew with less bending and cleaner leaves that grow off the ground.

The meeting at High Mowing was an example of many held around New England to assist growers do a better job. Thursday Gail and I attended another meeting, this one in St Johnsbury and sponsored by NRCS. The topic was Nutritional and Disease Management in High Tunnel Greenhouses. Vern Grubinger and Ann Hazelrigg of the University of Vermont Vegetable and Berry Program presented excellent information and introduced those unfamiliar with Vern's site, The Vermont Vegetable and Berry Grower Page. The next program is on April 26th in Manchester NH on high tunnel berry production.

Already later than I expected but I hope these words have offered some new thoughts and some new sites for you to pursue. There is snow on the ground but within a month it will be looking different in most of Vermont. Continue to look for new gardening resources and interesting seminars. Who knows, a green house might even be in your gardening future!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the call from the kitchen said pancakes and strawberries are ready.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
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Writing on Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also at George Africa
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Helping gardeners grow their won green thumb!

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