Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Little Hoop House That Could

By Steve:

After many years of dreaming, scheming and research on various forms of hoop house design and construction we got tired of "analysis-paralysis" and just did it the easy way (small, cheap and simple):


So how did we do it? Well, first we decided to solve a number of problems simultaneoulsy. We had some raised beds in the back part of our garden and that area had proven too wet so why not use the soil and boards from those raised beds to create the base and growing beds for our hoop house? We could then move the garden fence to just behind the hoop house and transform the back (wet) part of the garden into what it wants to be (wetland). Below is the completed base with part of the planting beds being solarized and part planted to long-season sweet potatoes. Behind that you can see some prominent yellow flowers - those are Jesrusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) - great for pollinators, great for people (tubers are edible and delicious)!


Fast-forward and here we have the frame up, the ends framed and the door and window installed. The door was pulled from someone's trash, the window was re-purposed from our house, the plastic was a gift from our brother-in-law. We had to buy hardware and hoops. We opted for PVC to do the hoops to simplify the process. We don't anticipate strength issues as we are not in many-feet-of-snow-per-storm country and, for wind-abatement, we can tether it to the garden fence if need be. 


At the last minute, we consulted our handy Polytunnel Handbook and opted to hold down our plastic on the sides by digging a trench and burying the plastic in that trench. For good measure, I added some gravel to the trench bottom to act a bit like a French drain. We like this trench method because, if you need to tighten the plastic, you can simply walk on the backfill a bit. 


Here is the finished interion complete with gravel floor, small hoops for extra protection using row covers and lots of greens!


So we've gotten the old raised beds moved and transformed into a hoop house. What about that garden fence that needed moved so that we can restore our wetland behind the garden? 


We did that too!




Back to the main point - we now have our easy, simple, cheap hoop house after all these years. Our advice to others with similar desires: go for it, keep it simple and have fun!


Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Seriously Cool Red Cedar

Today is the day to write about one of our favorite native Ohio trees: Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). This fabulous tree grows throughout eastern N. America and is a true pioneer of recovering lands. Luckily, it is growing its beautiful self all over our recovering old field.



We practice some serious gratitude when witnessing a native, beneficial tree able to grow quickly, strongly, in all sorts of soil and in sun and shade.


Apparently this tree is difficult to grow in pots. but it sure transplants easily and with almost no shock. We moved more than ten around our property in places where we wanted windbreaks and privacy with zero issues. We planted them densely on the NW corner of our house for winter winds; soon this area will be nicely filled in and offer a great buffer.


Leavin' the magical leaves! One of nature's best gifts....


When we moved here, we initially planted Colorado Blue Spruce and White Pine because our local SWCD offered them and these native Cedars are hands down superior in every way. They outgrow these other conifers every year and with almost no mortality. If we had known this would happen, we would not have planted those other species, which aren't native to this area and are telling us they are not nearly as happy (except for one anomaly White Pine, which is happy as a kitten).



Red Cedars sometimes get a bad rap because they "invade prairies and pasture lands," but it's really all about management and the land's current hydrology, browse factor, etc. Keep them out of the prairies so the prairies can be prairies and pasture can be pasture, but let them grow in old fields and fencerows and yards and recovering forest. Eastern North America had a magnificent, spectacular forest once that we can only dream of and yes, we feel overwhelming grief for what was carelessly destroyed, but we don't dwell in that part of our knowledge because we can't. Instead we plant and plant and plant.


Reforesting a piece of land takes a long time so those trees that are early successional are key to foster slower growing species and to give one hope that the forest will return. That's what Steve and I are called to do...plant. I don't think we've ever been so drawn to anything like this other than hiking and exploring this infinitely interesting and beautiful natural world. There is redemption in such a hope-filled and important act like planting trees. We humans can't turn back the clock, but we can go forward with respect for each other and all life and take significant action to do what is right and to fix what is broken.


Red Cedars provide us with soul-satiating green in a season lacking this life-filled color, while also offering important food and shelter for all sorts of wildlife. We have Cedar Waxwings frequently feasting on the berries, American Robins nesting in them in the warm season by the DOZENS, and potentially Saw-whet Owls resting in them during migration. (Thanks to Stanley Stine with Twinsburg Parks and Recreation for this sweet little tid-bit.)


There are all sorts of little grass nests under these trees from different mammals and beautiful Bagworms hanging from limbs here and there (no they have not ever killed the trees here or ever caused significant damage and even if they did, the trees would most likely recover. One of our oaks regrew all new leaves after complete defoliation by native Datana caterpillars last year.)


The wood smells fabulous and is long lasting. The beautiful, blue, berries (actually, cones) are medicinal, edible and used to flavor gin.


Wow! We are smitten, I guess. Well, really we are smitten with just about everything wild and free and functional.

Thanks to Stanley, again, for sharing a film we want to watch that is completely relevant to this post: Call of the Forest.

We wish you all a joyous harvest season and some significant time outdoors.

For fun since you might have some extra time over Thanksgiving or just need to jam while cooking, here's some tunes I've enjoyed while writing this post:

Lera Lynn Wolf Like Me

Indigenous Things We Do

Mandolin Orange Old Ties and Companions

Samantha Crain Equinox

Joni Mitchell Woodstock

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Fall Happenings on the Farm: Produce, Late Flowers, Bumble Bees and Mother Trees

Tonight will be our first fall frost for growing season 2017. This is almost a full month later than we frosted last year. We had a super warm spring, cool summer, very dry summer and fall and everything is confused: we have strawberries flowering and fruiting right now...at the end of October! The chickens are dealing with the cooling temperatures by hanging out on our porch pooping everywhere. They just want to be near us...it's endearing and quite comical.


Beautiful autumnal colors are showing up daily here on our farm. The Asters and Goldenrods continue to feed the bees and the migrating Monarchs and Painted Ladies. We are incredibly grateful for these hardy natives whose seeds travel through the air and germinate all on their own and can somehow compete with aggressive and invasive European grasses. A friend gave us the new Goldenrod guide out from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and we highly recommend you get yourself a copy. It's fabulous and gives much deserved attention to the importance of goldenrods.


Interestingly, we have some Asters, Fleabanes and even Tomatoes that germinated on the North side (no sun side) of our house and are all flowering and setting fruit. Here you can see the shade shadow:


and the blooms:

Arrowleaf Aster (we think), Fleabane & Tomato:


and yes, fruit! Indeed, we have a happy tomato plant flowering and fruiting in FULL SHADE. This observation fits with the one we so often make: there is usually no one right way for anything, ever.


Our right way for acquiring winter squash this year was to visit the Owl Creek Produce Auction since our homegrown winter squash were killed by the Squash Vine Borer Moth. If you've not been to a produce auction near you, we say seek one out. The deals are incredible - we got oodles of winter squash all for less than $0.50 ea. and these will keep us through winter and the next growing season.


Finally, we made two really interesting observations this fall and made short videos to share.



Soon we will write about our high tunnel, lean-to greenhouse and one of our most favorite native trees: Eastern Red Cedar. Thanks for keeping up with us. We feel like our network of friends and supporters are like the Mother Beech roots and our lives are so much richer for your presence.