Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2015 Garden Progress

This time of year is very busy around here, especially with trying to get our farm business off the ground. Of course I still try to find time for learning opportunities. I've also decided it is time to get more involved in the community and recently attended the first meeting of our local Historical Society. On top of all of that we are growing our most ambitious garden yet.

So far I am very pleased with how the garden is going. We have onions, luffa, cabbage, carrots, garlic, arugula, spinach, basil, ground cherries, cress, lettuce (leaf and head), mustard, peas, potatoes, strawberries, sweet corn, and sunflowers in the ground now. Over the next few weeks we will be adding tomatoes (several varieties), peppers (also several varieties), more sweet corn, popcorn, peanuts, paprika, watermelon, cucumbers, green beans, and pumpkins.

Part of what has been keeping me so busy is that we have added several new permanent beds to the garden, and also had to clear a spot for the expansion. By the end of the year I expect to have close to 1,000 row ft planted. Several of the crops we are attempting are brand new to us, so it is going to be interesting to see how everything goes. This is definitely an experimental year. I hope to have some excess to sell at the farmers market. More importantly, though, I hope to produce a significant portion of our own food. Next year we will focus more on crops for market, depending on what does well for us this year and what we see is lacking at the markets we sell at.

Monday, April 20, 2015


Since my last update there has been a lot going on. We have started selling at the farmers market in Richmond, which has been keeping us busy. After four weeks at market we have pretty much figure out the changes we want to make and things we want to add, so it is calming down a bit.

We started out selling homemades soaps, baskets, and bags at the market. A couple of weeks ago I dehydrated some garlic and started selling that. There seems to be enough interest to justify doing some more. We are hoping to have a few plant starts available this weekend.

I don't think that we'll have a lot of produce to market this year, but we do hope to have a bit extra that we can sell. We also plan to make some value added products later in the year such as jams/jellies, breads, etc.

It is an exciting time here at the farm. We have a lot of work to do, both on the business side of things and on the farm itself. This years garden is our most ambitious yet. We still plan to get chickens before the year is over as well. We also have a couple of structures to build before the year is over. For the business we need to get an online store up. The Richmond market will start being 2 days a week next month, plus we plan to add another market in June and do a couple of scattered events. It should be an interesting year.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Blizzard of 2015

Ok, so blizzard is a bit of an exaggeration. Nevertheless, we are currently in the middle of the worst winter storm to hit this area in 20 years, and the worst, by far, since Andrea and I moved to this property.

The snow began on Monday and continued, sporadically, through mid-week. By the time it was finished we had twelve inches of the white stuff on the ground. To go along with the snow temperatures plummeted, hitting lows that haven't been seen in this area in two decades, and setting records for this time of year. It was nearly 10 degrees below zero last night, and we are expecting the same tonight.

Fortunately we have weathered the weather, at least so far, without problem. The flexibility of my job meant that I didn't have to worry about trying to get out. There have been no power outages, and the water hasn't frozen, so we've been comfortable staying mostly inside.

I did try to get the truck out a couple of days ago, but only managed to get it stuck in the driveway. I eventually had to push it into the yard, out of the way, with the tractor. Today I spent an hour using the tractor to clear the driveway and a path past the shed to make walking easier.

Jen hasn't had it quite so good, since she has had to walk up to feed the cats daily. The climb up the hill is bad enough in good conditions, and much worse in twelve inches of snow. I tried driving her up there on the RTV early in the week, but we didn't make it very far before spinning out. I'm not even sure that the tractor would make it up there right now.

All in all it has been an enjoyable week of being snowed in. I've taken some time to get out in the snow, but have mostly stayed inside, enjoying the view of the snow through the window. On one hand I look forward to seeing dirt again, when the snow melts, but on the other hand I dread it because I know that it will be mud I see, not dry ground. At least Spring is getting closer with every day that passes.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Meadow Creature Broadfork

Last month I ordered a broadfork from Washington based Meadow Creature. I had been wanting a broadfork for a while, since haring Cheryl Long, of Mother Earth News, rave about it during a workshop on garden tools. I had a chance to try it out this weekend and was thrilled with its performance.

I purchased the 14" broadfork, which, according to the Meadow Creature website, is their most popular option. I nearly chose the 12", due to the lower price, but ultimately decided that I should go with the version I thought would serve me best, since I intend to be using the tool for many years.

When the broadfork arrived I was very impressed with both the tool itself and the care taken with packaging. It was shipped in a perfectly sized, very thick, box, with pieces of plywood lining each end, with holes drilled for the tines and handles to fit into.

The first thing I noticed when I removed the fork from the box was it's sturdiness. At 22 pounds it isn't a light tool. Simply grasping the handles and lifting it is all that it takes to realize how well made it is. Unlike other broadforks, with removable wooden handles, the Meadow Creature features metal handles that are welded to the rest of the unit. This was a important factor in my decision making, as I wanted a tool with handles that I didn't have to worry about breaking.

Now that I have used the Meadow Creature broadfork I am convinced that I made the right decision. It is not only simple to use, but requires surprisingly little effort. I broke several roots while using it, some that were close to 1/2" in diameter. I was told by someone selling a broadfork produced by a competitor that on unbroken ground I would need to make two passes, only working the tines halfway into the soil on the first. I was able to bury the tines of the Meadow Creature deep into my clay soil and break it open with fairly little effort. 

I made three passes with the fork in a 30' long bed. Once I got used to the process the second and third passes took approximately 20 minutes each. I couldn't have tilled it that quickly with my rototiller, especially not to the same depth. The fork is wider than I need for the layout of my beds, but that doesn't create a problem. 

The Meadow Creature broadfork is a quality tool, with a price tag that reflects that. It is a sizeable investment, especially for anyone who hasn't used a broadfork before and so isn't completely convinced that it will be the right tool for his/her situation. Shipping is also expensive, although it is easy to understand why when you see the size and feel the weight of the box. The shipping charge is one reason I very nearly purchased a different broadfork, as I had the opportunity to buy it from a vendor at an event I was attending. In fact, there is a cheap broadfork available that doesn't cost much more than I paid to get my Meadow Creature shipped. A quick glance at the comments, though, verified my assumption that it wasn't cut out for the task I needed it to perform. In my opinion a broadfork is one tool that is worth the investment. My guess is that a cheap broadfork is barely better than having no broadfork at all. 

I would, without hesitation, recommend the Meadow Creature to anyone considering buying a broadfork. Yes, it is more expensive than some other options, but the build quality make it well worth paying a bit more. Plus, the lifetime warranty means that when you buy the tool, you're buying it for life. In this age of planned obsolescence, how many other items can  you purchase with confidence that it will outlast you?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Shampoo-Free Update - 2 Weeks

I have been shampoo-free for just over two weeks. There hasn't been any change since my last update. Things are still going well. I haven't encountered any issues attributable to not using shampoo. I feel that my hair looks the same without using shampoo as it looks when I do use it, and others have told me much the same. If anything changes I'll write another update, otherwise I don't see much use in continuing to write about the experiment until several months have passed and I'm able to draw a conclusion.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Chair Saver - Update

Back in July of 2013 I wrote this blog entry about The Chair Saver Kit. It has been one of my most popular entries. Unfortunately, shortly after posting that blog I started having problems. Eventually the Chair Saver was no longer helping at all, so I had to abandon it.

My current office chair, which I've had for nine years, started sinking recently. I considered the options and decided to give The Chair Saver another shot. I ordered it earlier in the week and it arrived yesterday. I installed it this morning and so far things are looking good.

The kit has changed since the one I bought in 2013. The original kit consisted of four one inch rings and one half inch ring, allowing adjustments between one half and four and a half inches. The new kit contains only three rings, one each in two inch, one and a half inch, and one inch sizes. The max height works out the same, but  there is a bit less overall flexibility in the adjustments. My chair required the maximum height, though, so that was fine for me. The new kit also seems to be made of strong plastic than the old one, which makes me optimistic.

The chair onto which I installed the kit seems better suited than the last one I tried it on. The plastic cylinder cover on this one was able to be pulled down, exposing the entire cylinder. This made it not only easier to install the rings, but also much easier to securely wrap everything with duct tape once I finished. This was a step I had missed originally the last time, but was recommended for users above a certain weight. By completing this step from the start I am hopeful it will make a difference.

I plan to regularly update this blog entry as time passes to share my perception of the product as I gain experience with it. So far I'm pleased, but the same initially true with my previous use of the product.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Thoughts on Zero Waste Grocery Stores

I recently read an article about a zero waste grocery store in Berlin called Original Unverpact. I really loved the idea so decided to write about it.

The idea behind the grocery store is that the only things that would be packaged, such as some liquids, would be packed in reusable containers with a deposit fee to encourage shoppers to return them to the store. For everything else shoppers would need to provide their own containers, which they could fill from bins containing the various items.

Perhaps I'm so interested in the idea because we already do some of our shopping in this way. We purchase several items from the bulk food section of the Good Foods Market, using glass jars as containers. This works out wonderfully for us.

As I see it there are many advantages to a zero waste grocery store.

First, buying from bulk food bins allows the customer to buy exactly as much as he/she wants. If you need a lot, just take a larger container. No more needing to buy multiple packages of the same item. If you need just a little or want to try something, get as little as  you need. No more buying more than you want because that is how the item is packaged. No more paying more because you bought the smallest package, which has a higher per unit price.

Second, it is entirely possible to use the same containers both in the store and at home. Instead of getting home from the grocery store and opening packages so the contents can be transferred to a storage container, why not just take the storage container to the store? We use various sizes of glass jars, depending on the items. These work just as well for storing the items as they do for transporting the items home from the store.

Third, this sort of store could work very well within a local foods movement, especially in allowing smaller producers to get their products into the store. One issue facing small businesses is that many grocery stores only want to buy large quantities of an item, rather than buying smaller quantities from multiple sources. In some cases this requires a third party be added to the system to purchase smaller quantities from multiple sources, then combine and package those and sell them to the retailer. This is not only inefficient, but negatively impacts the profits of both the producer and the seller, as those now have to be shared with a middle man. A zero waste store, however, could easily purchase smaller quantities of items from various producers and combine them into one bin.

Fourth, and somewhat related to the above, would be the movement away from "brands" within the grocery store. This also removes the need for brands to compete with other products on the shelves, so no fancy packaging (which wouldn't exist anyway in the store) and no in-store advertising. In fact, if the zero waste model became the norm it could put an end to the advertising for almost all foods, which would have many benefits.

Fifth, a zero waste store could, and should, change the way we approach shopping. Rather than just quickly going through a store grabbing packages of products we would be forced to slow down. While this may be viewed by some as a negative, I consider it a positive change. I believe it is worthwhile to slow down and really think about each thing that we buy. Our purchases should be meaningful, and this is especially true for food.

Obviously, in addition to the benefits I've listed, there is the big benefit of reduced packaging ending up in the landfill. That is the primary purpose behind the idea of a zero waste store, although I think the other benefits could be just as important.

I'd like to see the zero-waste concept applied to all types of stores, not just grocery stores. It could easily be applied in department stores for most types of products. The benefits in other types of stores might be different than those for grocery stores, but I still believe the concept could work. We just need for someone in the US to prove it can be done by opening such a store.