Becoming a market garden

Wowza has it been awhile since I last wrote. I’ve started and stopped many times. The last few months have been a fury of emotions as I come to the tail end (hopefully) of my 2-year existential crisis (What am I doing? Why? Is it enough? Does it matter? And does it align with my evolving values?). Now I’m ready to rock and roll. Let the pendulum swing baby because this life that I want to live is about to take shape.

First things first — what have we been doing on the farm this summer?

Ready for it? Drum roll please….(dum-dum-dum)…we’ve been building a market garden!  Man oh man has it been a lot of work. I’m super pumped to share with you what we’ve done so far, what we’re learning, and why we’re doing it.

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“So…for a friend who’s asking, what is a market garden?”

I’m super glad your “friend” asked because I’m dying to tell you them.

Now, it’s possible that if your “friend” googled “market garden” they may get a slightly different answer, but in a nutshell, this is how I understand the term (remember, I’m learning too). A market garden can vary in size, many being anywhere from an 1/8 of an acre to 7 acres or larger. The crops are typically a variety of veggies (or flowers) and sold direct to consumers through a farmer’s market, farm stand, CSA, and even restaurants.

Apparently more goes into a market garden than meets the eye, which is why we’re a bit behind schedule and why Nick’s tanned and toned bod is looking so good — but I digress. You’ll just have to see it for yourself ;). Anyway, keeping it as brief as possible (sort of), here are the steps, with photos, we’ve taken so far in building our market garden.

Step 1: Preparing the land — tree roots and bulldozers

As you may remember from a previous post, our property isn’t ideal for farming, even on a small scale. It’s heavily wooded and very hilly. So, before we could get started with the garden, we had to cut down about 40 trees, pull the roots and level the ground. Nick cut the trees then once the ground thawed we hired people with big equipment to pull out the roots and start leveling.

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Starting the leveling

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Almost done!

Step 2: Picking rock — dollars and buckets

Oh the amount of rock that had to be picked out of the 1/2 acre dirt pit that would soon become a garden. And it just keeps coming up! Nick got creative and started paying the boys $1 for every 5-gallon bucket they filled with rock (not worth it in my opinion, but the kids took to it like a fly to poop).

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Rock pile from picking rock

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Rock pile from picking rock

Step 3: Testing the soil — calf poop and compost

This is something we should have done prior to buying the property, but alas we didn’t. Live and learn I guess. And that’s what we’re doing — learning by living. We don’t really know what we’re doing. In theory, yes, but in practice it’s a whole different ball game.

The soil test consisted of filling a few containers with dirt and sending them out to get tested by experts. Based on the results we needed to add a dash of this and a dollop of that to create the perfect recipe for growing nutrient rich veggies. So we add crushed limestone and compost to start.

Some day we hope to make our own organic compost, but in the meantime, we’re dependent on others. Turns out compost is hard to find around here — especially the amount we needed to get started (24 yards). In the end we purchased calf poop from a nearby farmer. Zero waste and supporting local. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Step 4: Making the beds — playtime and tractors

Now, this is the step that got Nick all sorts of jacked. He finally got to play with his own big equipment (Ew gross! Not that!), a walk-behind tractor.

For our market garden we’re using a no-till permanent bed system. This is because we have a large amount of clay in our soil which can water log the crops if there’s nowhere for the water to flow. So, using a permanent bed system allows the rainwater to run off the beds in small trenches that runs down into the pond or slowly gets absorbed into the ground. There’s more to it than that, but I usually tune Nick out at that point. It is interesting though — REALLY!

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Nick playing with his big equipment (AKA walk-behind tractor)

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After all the beds were made

Step 5: Covering the beds — weeds and waiting

We’ve decided that it’s important for us to be responsible and respectable stewards of the land and all living things, which is why we’re choosing not to use chemicals, and also why there’s clover all over our yard. For that reason, instead of spraying to kill our weeds, we covered the beds with a black tarp. Without sunlight and with the intense heat, over time, the weeds and grass all die off. We’ve had our garden beds tarped for the last couple of months (minus two beds for test crops). And it appears to be working!

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The garden beds covered in black tarp to kill the weeds and grass underneath

Step 5: Building a greenhouse — sledge hammers and metal posts

This isn’t done yet, but we (Nick) did get the frame of the greenhouse up. And let me tell you, watching Nick work that sledge hammer has done wonders for our marriage. I’m telling you, that I just can’t tell you what that does to me.

Moving on…

We bought the frame of the greenhouse from a friend of a friend. The next steps, so Nick tells me, are to level the inside of the greenhouse, put the ends on, and then cover it all in plastic walls. There’s a few other things that’ll go into it too, like a fan, possibly insulation, etc. The greenhouse will be used in addition to the outdoor garden beds.

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Greenhouse skeleton. This will be used to grow cucumbers and tomatoes.

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Evening close-up of the greenhouse

Step 6: Growing test crops — baby roots and lettuces

We’ve reluctantly come to terms that we won’t get to a point of selling veggies this year. Everything is taking longer and has a bigger learning curve than we anticipated. That being said, we’re using this year as one of learning and are taking the opportunity to grow a few test crops, including carrots, radishes, beets and three different types of greens. They were planted about two weeks ago. Now we wait and watch and learn.

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Seeding the garden beds for our test crops

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Greens mix

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Radishes nearly two weeks in

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Radishes a few days in

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Rows of tomatoes

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Tomato

Step 7: Finding our market — farmers markets and co-ops

Deciding to wait a year to start selling our veggies has allowed us the opportunity and time we need to find our customers, know our competitors, and determine our niche. We’re doing that by traveling to farmers markets, finding co-ops, and talking to people. This is where I get to shine. Nick shines everywhere else.

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I don’t have any pictures of the markets so this raspberry from our apple orchard will have to suffice

As in life, nothing is going quite as expected. Sometimes it’s better or easier and sometimes it’s worse or harder. That’s when we tell each other and ourselves, that this, the painful learning and growing and joy of going after a dream, is the adventure we’re after.

Snowed in, sludge water, and rotten eggs

Moving to the country has definitely been an adventure, to say the least. And there have been, well, adjustments to learning how to live out here. It definitely hasn’t been easy, but it is kind of fun, even when it’s not, and even when it makes you want to puke.

Snowed in

Let’s talk snow for a minute. Snow in the city is a nuisance, snow out here is, “OMG! I’m totally, no, seriously, I’m trapped in my house!”

With 600+ ft of driveway roughly 9-12″ inches deep in heavy wet snow last week, shoveling the driveway was out of the question. So how have we been handling the ridiculous amount of snow we’ve been getting? By hiring a legit snow plow to plow us out. But what happens when your hired snow plow is broken? You wait until another can come plow you out. And in the case of last week, we waited two days. Which means, unless you’re going to walk to town in 3 ft of snow, you’re S.T.U.C.K. A big bummer when you’re out of groceries. Let’s just say we got real creative in our meals.

Lessons learned:

  1. We need a truck with a plow
  2. Stay stocked up on food in the winter
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Part of our 600+ ft driveway

Sludge water

Now this is my favorite least favorite longstanding issues since moving to the country. We have well water. NEVER have I experience well water like this before. And before I continue, yes we did have the well inspected, and yes it passed inspection.

Two weeks into our new home, our perfectly clear water turned yellow and started tasting like a bloody mouth (e.g. iron) — just trying to paint a picture with your senses here — you’re welcome. Then, sludge water happened. Ew!

Here’s how it all went down. The boys needed a bath. As the tub filled up with yellowish water, the boys started blaming each other for peeing in it (hey, it definitely wouldn’t have been the first time). Then something really gnarly happened. It turned into murky brown water that can only best be described as diarrhea water. Are you gagging yet? I even have photographic evidence, if you dare to take a peek.

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Sludge water

The water did the same thing to my whites in the laundry, turning them all a disgusting brown. More grossness.

Lessons learned:

  1. The water filters we were having changed out twice a month weren’t cutting it
  2. We need a more permanent solution for our water – which we’re still trying to fix
  3. The rust will clog up the drip lines for the garden, so unless we can get the rust out, we can’t use our well water for the garden

Rotten eggs

Yep, you guessed it, or maybe you haven’t, but this is another paragraph on our well water.

Don’t you just love the way you smell right after stepping out of the shower? Like lavender soap, rosemary shampoo, and maybe even rain. But definitely not rotten eggs, right?

Well, that’s how WE smell when we get out of the shower. Like rotten eggs. In fact, that’s how our entire house smells when we shower. Which doesn’t bode well for the girl with the sensitive smeller (e.g. me).

Now imagine you’re about to take a big gulp of ice cold water and just as you do you catch a big whiff of, what was that, oh yeah, rotten eggs. Yum!

That’s my life people. And I’m okay with it, for now, but gosh darn we better get this water thing figured out soon.

Lesson learned:

  1. The water softener we got just ain’t cutting it

This is just the start of all the fun things we’re adjusting to out here in the country. Stay tuned for more.

To Be Continued…