We've been working on putting new beds in. These raised beds are formed by running my Rinaldi Power Harrow behind a BCS 853 walking tractor to loosen the soil. Then, I measure to see where I want my beds and paths. I scoop the dirt from the paths up on to the bed to create the extra height for the raised bed. It allows more topsoil and depth for the plants to grow in, and very clearly marks where paths are.
We've been continuing to harvest twice per week from our first spinach bed, and the lettuces to the right will be ready for an initial harvest this Monday. The spinach bed was very well weeded a few days ago, and the plants were cleaned up, to keep them producing as long as possible. Since we have very few things planted at the moment, it is in our favor to spend extra time making sure we can get the maximum amount of crop out of each bed before tilling it in and planting something new.
Below, in order from right to left are: lettuces, spinach, carrots (did not germinate well, we will till them in and start over), beets, turnips, spinach, spinach, arugula. The 2nd to last bed is a combination of lettuces, green onions and French breakfast radishes. The bed at the very end is being watered to help the weeds germinate, at which point they will be tilled in very shallowly and the bed will be planted with a thick stand of mesclun mix.
This morning I harvested 6 lbs. of spinach for Ojai Valley Farmstand customers. It marks the first time we've sold a product grown on the farm, beside the micro greens, which are grown in flats rather than in the ground.
What's the best thing about a family farm? Finding a place for every family member to contribute something! There's a job for everyone here... even the smallest of us. Washing spinach, loading it into the box, and spinning it in the salad spinner are all tasks a 2 year old can lend a hand with. Of course, I usually need to finish the job myself! But we're growing more than just food here. We're growing future farmers.
The bed of spinach planted back around Thanksgiving yielded a first trial harvest today and yesterday. We cooked some up last night with butter and slivered almonds and it was delicious! Very exciting. Customers of the Ojai Valley Farmstand CSA and Webstore will get a chance to try some of the debut greens next week.
I got all 330 feet of PVC glued, and connected to the tap and hose bibb at either end. Now, we've got plenty of water pressure with no leaks right in the middle of the field whenever we need it.
The task at hand is getting irrigation set up on the farm. The only water source is a tap located across the ranch road. Up until now, I have been running hoses from there over the road, and watering everything by hand with them. Installing proper irrigation will be a big time saver, and pave the way for more beds to be planted.
The last few days, we dug a shallow ditch from the existing tap over to the middle of the field by the greenhouse, where I will set up a hose bibb. Tomorrow, I will be laying out the PVC piping, and hopefully get the hose bib hooked up before the end of the day.
From there, we need to set up drip tape lines for the beds, and a drip system for the micro greens as well.
The farm work is most enjoyable with the whole family, and there's often a task for everyone, even the smallest of us!
In the background you can see my BCS 853 walking tractor with a 30" Rinaldi Power Harrow attached.
Well, it's been two months since signing the lease... and my last post! Here's what's happened on the farm in that time, with some photos.
11/06/14 -- The first two things to go on the property were a mini greenhouse and a shade canopy, which also protects from rain. I erected the greenhouse with the the hope of moving the micro green operation from my home to the farm. They are delicate little plants, and cannot be left outdoors when temperatures fall below 40-50 degrees. The shade canopy serves as a basic temporary farm-center for storing tools and packing orders. I took advantage of the shade and wind-break of the tree, which is located near the center of the acre.
11/18/14 -- After setting up the mini greenhouse, I found a better one with hard plastic sides, and a bigger size, from Harbor Freight Tools. It has room to house all my micro green flats, with room to grow, and some extra space for starting transplants to go out in the field. It took several days to complete, including constructing a solid base out of 4X4s and concrete pier blocks anchored in the ground.
11/25-27/14 -- Around Thankgiving, I used my BCS 853 walking tractor and a Rinaldi Power Harrow attachment to make my first two beds. The first one is 60 feet long, with three rows of lettuce transplants started six weeks earlier. I have a rotary plow attachment to help in digging a furrow for the paths on either side of the bed, but I do not have it set up yet. I used a shovel to hand-dig out the paths, and threw the dirt up onto the bed, to build up the soil where the crops will be growing. Once the dirt was mounded up between the paths, I ran the harrow over it once more to level and shape it. The harrow is 30 inches wide, and prepares a ready-to-seed bed in just one pass.
The second bed is 75 feet long, and was direct seeded with three rows of spinach. For direct seeding, I used an Earthway seeder, which opens the ground, drops the seed, and closes it back up again in one pass. Together with the power harrow, which prepares a perfect seed-bed, I can prepare a bed from bare ground and have it seeded in less than two hours. Once I get the rotary plow hooked up, it will take significantly less time.
12/12/14 -- December 12th, I learned an important lesson about wind: it can blow things over. Hard lesson, but now I know I need to anchor the shade/rain tents with more than just a little stake provided with the kit. We got several inches of rain over a few days, with strong winds the night of the 11th. The ground became wet and saturated, and did not hold the stakes against the wind. One tents was completely ruined, and ended up in the neighbor's orchard. The small greenhouse was also somewhat damaged.
12/13/14 -- Over the first week of December I was able to put in 4 more beds, each 75 feet. They were direct seeded with carrots, beets, turnips and spinach.
I also built a shelf in the greenhouse which holds 48 10x20 inch flats. All the micro greens are now growing in the greenhouse, pictured below. Soon I will build a similar shelf on the other wall which will house another 48.
12/25/14 -- Christmas day was the first day that had warning of freezing overnight, so on our way from one Christmas celebration to another, we stopped briefly at the farm to cover the beds with floating row cover for frost protection.
12/27/14 -- The spinach and lettuce are growing very nicely now. The spinach should be ready for a first harvest in about a week, for baby spinach. We are really looking forward to that! The carrots, beets turnips and 2nd bed of spinach have all germinated. My almost-two-year-old daughter (pictured below) tried to help by weeding the spinach bed!
So, my resolutions for 2015? Install drip irrigation, a storage shed, a 2nd greenhouse shelf and... ...post more often to my blog!
Today is a very exciting day, and one I will remember for the rest of my farming career. After two and a half months of conversation and working our details with the Long Family of Ojai, I met this morning with the three siblings that own the property I am renting. We all signed a one-year agricultural lease, granting me the legal right to begin my farm on their land.
Many people think one has to own land in order to farm. The opposite is true however, as Joel Salatin points out in his newest book Fields of Farmers. "...the main thing we need to remember is that you don't have to own land; all you need is a piece of land to control." Most people don't know that approximately 40 percent of farmland in the US is not owned by the farmer or operator who actually works the land. For a beginning farmer like me, there are many advantages to renting over owning. Those include flexibility of location, affordability, and freedom from worrying about property ownership issues, which allows one to focus energy on actual farming.
Salatin points out that "owning land and running a farm are two separate businesses." By leasing, I am choosing to focus on the latter. The skills and experience I will gain on leased land can be transferred anywhere.
It might sound funny, but even after signing the lease, it's hard to believe that this one-acre parcel is open for me to begin operations. I've been thinking and planning for so long, it's almost become a habit. Now it's time for thoughts to give way to actions.
My wife Deirdre and I will both be overjoyed to move the current farm and online webstore packing central our of our 540 sq. ft. downtown duplex onto an area of better size! Our neighbors have been very tolerant these last months, as we started growing micro greens in flats on the driveway, pack 20-30 produce orders per week from the house, and have filled up the entire house and yard with agricultural supplies. Every Monday and Wednesday, our living room turns into a packing house. Items sitting either in our front yard, or lying somewhere around the house include: a greenhouse (unassembled), bags of starter mix, seeds, seed flats, hand tools, hoses, shade canopies, tarps, a rotary plow, a rotary power harrow, waxed boxes, a precision seeder, a 5-gallon salad spinner etc... the list could go on and on.
We're ready to move the operation, and get our house back!
Our driveway micro green operation. The flats are taken down from the shelf each day for watering.
8 flats of soil, soaked and ready to be seeded. The average micro green is ready for harvest in two weeks.
Hello and welcome! My name is Max, and I set up this blog to document the development of my farm in Ojai, CA. Although organic gardening and homesteading runs in my family, I do not come from a family of farmers, at least not in recent generations. My dream to farm has roots in childhood gardening and chicken-raising, love of nature, love of good food, fascination with production, desire to be self-employed, and an overall awareness of the importance of the farmer's vocation.
My single biggest mentor (although I have yet to meet him in person) has been farmer/author Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, who wrote in his book You Can Farm, "The prerequisite to a successful farming operation is to believe that it is possible." This is simple wisdom. Deep down inside, I have always been a dreamer and although the number of dreams far surpasses the plans that actualize in their wake, I owe it my dreaming heart that I even have a chance at farming at all.
Salatin continues: "Every facet of our culture disparages the notion that farming can be enjoyable and economically viable. ... Our culture lacks vision in almost every arena. How do you get vision? You have to be passionate about something. You must visualize the life you want to create and then be disciplined enough to get there."
When I first read this, my soul lit up with hope. I had certainly encountered society's skepticism that farming was a career anyone would freely choose to enter into. When voicing my dream to farm, I was rarely met with encouragement. I was more often warned that it was hard work, low pay, and land is too expensive if it's not already in your family.
Fair enough. I knew it would be hard work. The fact that people thought hard work would deter me from farming, or acted as if I thought it would be easy, I actually found somewhat insulting. I love working working hard. It makes my life meaningful. There are few things more satisfying than going to bed knowing that you worked your hardest that day.
Salatin was the one that first showed me that if one is willing to work hard, and stays committed to his vision, a successful farming career is a viable reality. "It doesn't matter what your background, your socioeconomic status, your age or your current living condition; if you have a yearning in your soul to grow things and minister healthy food to people, to live an agrarian life with your children and grandchildren playing around your feet, then an opportunity exists for you."
He continues with the advice DO IT NOW! "You've just got to decide whether you want this life badly enough to forego weekend indulgenges, summertime swims and recreation, to begin something in agriculture NOW. ... You can grow something, even if it is a plant in a windowbox. ... Are you spending weekends watching TV and going to the mall, or working on a nearby farm - at NO pay - to learn about it?"
I took this advice to heart. I grew a garden on my dorm room balcony in college, and planted clandestine veggie gardens around the campus. I spent my spare time reading books about farming. When home on breaks, I volunteered at a local organic farm, and made it my goal to work the hardest on the crew, despite getting paid nothing except free veggies and a salad-bar lunch at the end of the end of the day. Ultimately, through the relationship I cultivated with the farmer during those volunteer days, I was able to launch my first farm business "Ojai Valley Online Farmstand" one year ago, which started by selling this farmer's cosmetically blemished produce at discount to friends and community members. He couldn't sell them, and I wanted to get my foot in the door of farming. It would never have developed if it was not for taking Salatin's advice "Do something NOW!"
Fast forwarding from those early dreams to the present day, I am only days away from signing my first lease for a one-acre property which will be the site for my future farm. Ojai Valley Farmstand is now established as a successful small business, with approximately 50 customers, delivering to 3 nearby cities, supplying products from 5 different farms, and growing bigger every month. I sell home-grown micro greens twice weekly to local restaurants, and have other chefs and caterers lined up to become customers as soon as I can expand production. My dream is becoming reality, and faster than I had ever dared to hope. It has taken many sacrifices and hardships, but these pale in comparison with the joy of reaching a life's dream.
So, I commence this blog on the eve of the birth of my farm. I don't know whether my primary aim is simply to document the journey for myself, or to share it with others, but at any rate, the blog will do both. I invite you to join me on my journey to a successful family farm, with stories and pictures, recipes and anecdotes along the way!