Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Covercrop Update

With our recent (and thankfully substantial) rains those of us who are not looking out at new ponds in their fields are probably seeing quite a bit of green in our pastures, vineyards and gardens.That green could be exactly what you've been waiting for, or a new mass of weeds.

If you planted a mixture such as our organic Biobuilder, you should see a lush diverse assortment of pulses and cereals from a few inches high to up to two feet tall by this time of year. If you planted Vinemate, you might feel disappointed by it's meager few centimeters of growth. Don't worry. Vinemate is a permanent covercrop mixture; intended for years of growth with remarkably low maintenance. Biobuilder is exactly as its name suggests; a rapid growing green manure blend intended to create biomass and add organic matter.

The key to understanding the spring time management of covercrops is knowing that the faster a plant grows, the shorter its lifespan and the longer a plants lifespan is, the longer it will take to establish itself.

BioBuilder is about to blow up with these recent rains. You should try to mow or trim it back once things dry out a bit. This will return green leafy material to the soil to become green manure. Letting bio-builder grow to seed is a bad idea as it can rob nutrients from your soil both while seeding out and again during the decomposition process. Mow again in late spring; your Biobuilder will have lived out it's lifespan.

Your little Vinemate shoots are fine. It is busy building a strong root system to survive the hot dry summers to come. You are probably seeing small plants with two to four leaves that look nothing like the weeds that can be towering above it. Come March, many of those weeds will flower and at that time, you can safely mow vinemate, but no lower than six inches. This will injure the weeds and release the perennial plants. By June you'll have dead weeds and green vinemate, happily creating biomass in its roots.

Extra special thanks to John Snider from PGG Seeds for information and motivation on this blog!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Severe Weather - Erosion and Flood Control

Just a quick post to let you know: It's raining.

And it's raining hard. According to the NOAA, The Navaro river is expected to flood by this evening, we can expect 6-12 inches of accumulated snow between 2000-3000 feet, and 1-2 feet above 3000ft. Here in Ukiah, the streets are wet, the puddles are deep and we are all hoping for the rain to fall as heavily as possible without causing damage to low lying areas.

We have thousands of nylon and burlap sandbags ready to go, and our friends over at Granite construction are operating a fill station at their landscape supply center just down the road at 900 Talmage.We also have wattles and erosion blankets available if needed.

For up to the minute NOAA weather updates, go to www.noaa.gov. For community status updates, listen to KZYX&Z, 91.5, 90.7 and 88.1 FM.

Try to stay high and dry today, everybody!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Incredibly Cheap DIY Seed Starting Setup!

As we sit and hope that our incoming storms are big enough to fill our lakes, and not our floodplains, I've been running around thinking about nothing but gardens, gardens, gardens! Seed catalogs, garden layouts, germination temperatures, start dates for perpetual harvests; the list is endless! I can't wait for spring!

In order to get an early jump on the season and avoid the issues from last year when we lost nearly ALL of our starts to a mistake and a freeze; I opted to set up a cheap seed starting room over in the small engine shop.

I started with two shelves in a dark corner of the shop; piled high with forgotten boxes and random piles of books. I wish I had taken a picture before clearing it out, as half of the lower shelf was out of sight. But this picture, taken after cleaning and running electricity to the area will have to do.

You can see a combination hygrometer / thermometer in the right side of the photo. I wanted to test to see how wet and cold this corner got normally without lights or seedling mats, so I set this up the day before putting the area together. Overnight as the first of our storms hit, the corner varied from 49-52 degrees and 85-89% relative humidity. As damping off occurs around 90% humidity, I expect that I will have to do something about that before sprouting. I will wait to see what the addition of lights and soil heaters do to the humidity and will work from there.

In order to give a hint of insulation and reflectivity to the walls, I went for super cheap. I cut up a few used pallet bags from our pellet stove fuel. By carefully pulling apart the top seams and cutting the rest with a utility knife I was able to get two 3x15 foot white plastic sheets. I used a steel straightedge with the knife to cut away the freyed plastic and cut the pieces down to size. While the thin plastic will not do alot to keep heat in, I hope that since it is airtight, it will allow cold nighttime air to move down the wall to the ground without hitting the plants. I will know more by checking our temps tomorrow.

I reused some old rubber flooring for matting to cover the shelves and prevent water from the top shelf from dripping down onto the light below. I avoided cardboard and metal, since we would be dealing with electricity and water and figured to keep a second conductor out of the mix. I know they will be well separated, but hey; better safe than sorry.

For the lights, I used two types. One is a $10 4' fluorescent shop light fit with two full spectrum bulbs. The two lights above are 8" reflectors (like brooder lights) fitted with 150w Gro-Spot floodlights. (Which we hope to have in stock sometime this week.)

The idea is that I will use the low intensity fluorescent for seed starting, and then move more developed plants under the gro-spots. The grow spots are clamped onto an old six foot piece of 1"x1/4" flat steel, fittid into place with deck screws so I can adjust lap height as I go. I also have the ability to add three more lights if needed.

49-52 degrees is a bit cold for some of the plants I want to get a head start with, so I added two seedling mats. The seedling sprouter single and two tray mats. (19.99 and 39.99 respectively) they will raise the soil temperature 10-20 degrees above ambient, so we should be getting 62-72 degrees at peak. I'm hoping the lights will keep the area a bit warmer as well. (Again, we will see as we go)

I opted out of a timer for this set up, since seedlings are going to need about a 14 hour cycle. Since I'm here from 730-4, I should be able to go the first week by simply turning ont he lights when I leave and off when I get here. There is nearly no ambient light in the corner, so I am not worried about darkness during the day.

To set up a simple 72 seed starter kit of your own, drop by and pick up the following:
8" Reflector - 8.99
150w Gro-Spot bulb - 10.99 (back-ordered as I write this, expected in by Feb 1st)
Super Sprouter Seedling Heat Mat - 19.99 single tray, 39.99 double
Seed Starter Green House Kit - 6.99

Alright, lets grow!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Livestock Swap?

Everything is still int he works, but it looks as if we will be having a monthly livestock and animal swap on the second Saturday of each month beginning on Saturday February 13th! Keep an eye out on the blog or check out the newsletter for more information as we work it out!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

MCFS Garden Planner!

Now that the first of the year has come and gone, I have my eyes firmly set on spring. Planning the upcoming garden, getting seeds selections set, preparing for chicken arrivals, and a ton of other things. Even on a cold rainy day like today, the work begun now in preparation for growing season keeps sunshine in my mind.

I sometimes have a hard time keeping things organized, and my seed start plans are generally an incomprehensible mess of chicken scratch in one of my pocket notebooks. This year, with multiple gardens under my care, I have dedicated myself to at least making organization easier. To begin with, I created a very simple spreadsheet to track both indoor and outdoor start dates based on the last frost.

This easy to use spreadsheet will automatically fill in calendar dates to start your seeds. Just look for the blue and yellow boxes and put in your first and last frost dates and the calendar will update to give you an idea on when to get those seeds going.

To find historic first and last frost dates for most major cities in California (even Ukiah is in there) you can visit the California master gardener webpage. Other states can be found through your county extension web pages.

MCFS-Garden_Planner [Excel Formatted]
MCFS-Garden_Planner[Open Document Format]

If you lack a spread sheet program, you can download one for free from www.openoffice.org that will open the Open Document format.

Happy planting! And please feel free to contact us with suggestions and corrections!