Ours isn’t a farm in the traditional American sense of the word. The mind tends to think red barn, flat fields, cows and pigs and chickens. Ours is more of a steep rocky slope that we’ve carved just over an acre of vegetable crop beds and rows. We grow intensively with approximately 24” bed tops and 8”-12” paths. Many of our paths are only suitable for foot traffic, so we hand distribute most of our compost and amendments from wheelbarrows at the end of the row. Our longest rows are less than 100 feet long, and we have a great many small beds and skinny rows notched into the hillside. A series of terraces, steps down the steepest part of the hill. A seventy foot greenhouse covers one of the terraces and holds two 30’ beds and one 10’ bed on the south side and a four foot wide hardware cloth/2×4 tables runs the length of the North wall. On the upper slope we have two more 10×20’ greenies for salad/leafy greens in the cool seasons and various hot crops in the summer. A 10×30 hooper serves for early summer carrots/beets, and will be planted again next winter with greens and salad mix. Everything we plant out right now is covered by hoops and spun row fabric to shelter them from pests, weather, and to avoid transplant shock. There are currently 19 different shelters built for vegetables, ranging from large greenhouses to single row covers. We use PVC to make the hoops of larger structures and heavy gauge wire to make wickets for the smaller ones. We are hoping to acquire metal conduit to bend into hoops that are capable of holding a snow load off of a larger remay structure. Plastic sheds snow so weight is less of an issue, but the remay isn’t slick enough to shed so the weight will often flatten our structures. Metal conduit with a baling wire purlin wrapped around each post and anchored to rebar driven well into the ground at each end makes an unsmashable hoophouse for those who live in snow country. If you don’t get much snow, PVC will work awesome.
We try to maximize the amount of crops we can do in every inch of space we have. Beds rarely sit idle, because as soon as one crop finishes (sometimes even before it finishes) there is something waiting in the wings to take its place. We are continually starting seeds throughout the course of the year. Year –round we start salad mixes every couple of weeks. But they are difficult during the heat of the summer, requiring shade cloth and extra overhead watering. Radishes, kale, collards, various mustards and Asian greens grow best in the cool months but we push the envelope on both ends in order to maximize the variety and nutritional profile of the crops we offer. We’ve found that the best and most productive brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco, cabbage) are started sometime in July. This is predictably difficult because seed trays require watering 3-5x/day during the heat, but it is truly the way to get the best winter vegetables. I found that starting seeds for larger winter crops much later than the middle of September wasn’t much worth the time unless they’re going to be kept in the greenhouses for their duration. Leafy greens and salads we start heavily throughout the winter, even during the “Persephone period” when the sun dips so low on the horizon that growth shuts down. Here on the farm, this is from early December until the middle of January, although there is a noticeable change in the days as soon as the 27th of December.