Spring Farm Projects

After transitioning onto our land in Hurdle Mills last year, this year we are focused on really improving how we grow flowers. How? Better handling, better cultivation, and happier farmers. Building our hoop house last winter really helped us meet our goal of improved germination. This spring we are focusing on three new projects: irrigation, landscape fabric mulch, and refrigeration.

Early spring flowers with irrigation.
Early spring flowers with irrigation.

Irrigation: This isn’t something we can easily capture in a photo, but having drip irrigation has made a huge difference. Last year, we grew flowers relying only on the rain. This year, with some assistance from George at L’il Farm, we are using drip irrigation. Although it is still only spring, we have already noticed a difference. Our plants are growing taller and faster, which makes sense. If plants, like us, are mostly water and they don’t have enough water, they will be small and not as healthy.

Landscape Fabric: We have a huge problem with yellow nutsedge on our farm. This perennial weed grows back faster than we could possibly pull it out, and we were feeling discouraged and desperate. We needed a solution that would allow us to spend less time weeding and more time growing and selling flowers and building our house.

Zinnias, Celosia, Tomatoes, and many other plants growing in landscape fabric.
Zinnias, Celosia, Tomatoes, and many other plants growing in landscape fabric.

We decided to use woven landscape fabric as a mulch. Using a form that we made, we used a propane torch to burn holes in this durable material. We transplant into the holes, which we still have to weed once or twice, but the transplants quickly shade out the small opening in the mulch. And unlike traditional agricultural plastic, landscape fabric can be reused for many years. The landscape fabric also warms the soil in the bed, and combined with our irrigation, we have found this benefit to greatly increase the speed our plants are growing. We will definitely be using landscape fabric as much as possible in the future.

Using a torch and cardboard form to burn fabric. We have stopped using the foil, which isn't worth the trouble.
Using a torch and cardboard form to burn fabric. We have stopped using the foil.

And landscape fabric has increase our efficiency in another way, too: We found we weren’t planting at the density we thought we were. By standardizing our bed width and planting at the proper density, we have really increased the number of plants we can fit in each bed, meaning we need fewer beds for the same number of plants and greatly improving our efficiency.

"Chief" Celosia growing in landscape fabric.
“Chief” Celosia growing in landscape fabric.

Refrigeration: We have been told time and again that nothing will improve the quality of our flowers or our farm profitability as much as having a cooler. Having a cooler allows farmers to pick flowers at the perfect stage and store them for a couple of days until they can be sold, as opposed to picking them just before sale even if it isn’t the ideal stage of harvest. This reduces waste and improves quality.

With inspiration from our friends Lee and Dustin Pollard, who are opening a food truck and catering business called Lost Boys, we decided to buy a used commercial reach-in refrigerator. We found this fridge on Craigslist. It was in our budget and was a lot easier for us to deal with right now than such a big project as a walk-in. It will hold everything we need it to for the foreseeable future. After that, we expect we’ll be able to build the walk-in cooler that we will need, but while we’re building our house, it is simply too big of a project for us to take on.

Our new two-door reach-in commercial fridge.
Our new two-door reach-in commercial fridge.

We are so excited about everything we have going on here at Spring Forth Farm. Adding irrigation, landscape fabric, and a fridge will allow us to spend more time on other farm projects such as planting, harvesting, and soil improvement. With more flowers and more time, we can also increase our sales. We are excited to share that our flowers are now at Haven Salon in Hillsborough.

And we are slowly starting to work on one other project: Woody Perennials.

We know that offering a wide variety of perennials is one way we can set ourselves apart from other local farms. Adding these plants is a long-term project, but this year we were able to start with two, Chinese Snowball Viburnum (Viburnum macrocephalum) and four colors of Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii). Since we have such wide open spaces on the farm, we also hope that these woody shrubs will act as windbreaks, helping reduce the force of the wind on our flowers.

It has been a busy and eventful spring on the farm and we are excited about where all of these new projects can lead.

Spring Forth Farm.
Spring Forth Farm.

Weed Control

April showers bring a lot more than flowers, they also bring a host of weeds that thrive on the disturbed soils of a farm. We have long-term plans for weed control that include no-till practices (which keep weed seeds buried and minimizes the soil disturbance that weeds love) and burned landscape fabric mulch.

However, we can’t implement either of these strategies immediately and we have a noxious perennial weed that we just can’t kill: nut sedge. Nut sedge grows from an underground tuber, which inconveniently stays in the ground when you try to pull it up. It just regrows in a few days.

While we save up to buy landscape fabric for our annual beds and search for other permanent solutions, we are grateful to the good folks at Counter Culture Coffee in Durham for providing us with the poor farmers’ alternative: burlap coffee sacks.

We are spreading burlap around our perennials such as these willows. We like burlap because it is a natural fiber that will ultimately decompose, meaning we can just pile mulches on top of it, and it is reusing what would otherwise be a waste product. We are hopeful this will greatly reduce our nut sedge problem in the willows, where it was worst last year.

Curly and Pussy Willows in burlap.
Curly and Pussy Willows in burlap.

Our New Hoop House

We have taken a short break from the house this month to build a small hoop house for ourselves. The main purpose of this 12×28 structure is to give us a place to start seedlings for the farm. However, we also built two 2-foot wide raised beds to grow winter vegetables for us to eat. yDSC_0090 We drew a lot of our design from Alberta Home Gardening (1, 2), but made a few changes. The main change was to build each hoop out of a single piece of PVC, since the hoop house we were borrowing last year broke at the joints. We tried building a caterpillar tunnel without any joints.

If the first version of the PVC caterpillar looks too weak, well, it was. The day after we finished we had a wind storm with gusts between 40-50mph and two of the hoops broke. We doubled the hoops and added purlins. We’ve had windy days since then and the reinforced hoop house stood up just fine. That was a HUGE relief. Here are step-by-step photos in case you want to build something like this.

1) We laid out the edge of the beds, staked them down, and put in rebar to slip the PVC over.

2) We put a 2-foot leg on each end of each hoop to give us more growing room at the edges, then put the hoop over the rebar and used metal straps to attach the hoop to the frame. (We didn’t want a joint at the top where it would be weak, but there is a lot less stress on the joints at the sides.) Each hoop is made of a 20-ft section of 1″ PVC. DSC_0019 3) Designing the end walls was a challenge for us. We based the end wall design on the design from Alberta Home Gardening (1, 2) and we are pleased with how sturdy the end wall is. The solid end wall does cast shade, so we’ll have to see if that is a problem or not. We used a hoop to trace the shape onto the plywood and used pipe insulation on the edges of the wood to protect the plastic.

4) We bought energy-efficient IR/AC (Infrared/Anti-Condensation) plastic from Farm Tek. The IR/AC plastic is only marginally more expensive than standard plastic and can have a big impact. It was breezy, almost too much to get the plastic on, but we did. We attached the plastic to the end walls using plywood laths.

5) We created the “caterpillar” by pulling 3/16″ polyester rope back and forth in an “X” pattern. It took two ropes, each running the length of the hoop house. We used eye bolts at each hoop to pull the rope through.

So here is Version 1 of our hoop house. It may not have been strong enough, but dang, the caterpillar tunnels look neat and nice. DSC_0076DSC_0075Sadly, it wasn’t rigid enough. With 40-50mpg gusts of wind, the hoops bent all the way down to the ground and broke where they were strapped to the frame.

Lesson Learned: A much more rigid, stronger material is needed for a caterpillar-style hoop house without any purlins connecting the hoops. DSC_0084 6) In order to reinforce the hoop house we added two purlins running the length of the hoop house. We also doubled up every hoop. (We’re not sure if the purlins would have been enough on their own, but we couldn’t take any risks with the wind wreaking more havoc.) We added rebar for the extra hoops and connected each hoop pair with several zip ties. The purlins end in Ts which are strapped to the end walls. The purlins are attached to the hoops with 2″ drywall screws and zip ties.

DSC_01007) We built doors out of simple frames and ends of plastic. xDSC_0092 8) Once the doors were on, we began filling the beds. The beds were sheet mulched with cardboard and newspaper, then filled with layers of leaf mold, top soil, and compost.xDSC_0099 Mr. Bingley loved having piles of earthy black piles lying around the farm in the winter sun. zDSC_0096Now the hoop house is finished. It has survived strong winds at least once since we reinforced it and done well. We will build tables and a heat mat to start our seedlings (we’ll post about that soon). For now, we are excited to have completed this, look forward to starting a bounty of spring flowers and veggies, and can’t wait to eat out of our two new beds, and are eager to get back to working on our house. yDSC_0113yDSC_0089

Our Roof is On!

It is amazing to realize that one year ago we were doing this:

Frolic renovations, mid-January 2014.
Frolic renovations, mid-January 2014.

And today we are here:

Our house with the roof on, mid-January 2015.
Our house with the roof on, mid-January 2015.

We loved working with Frank Edwards and his crew from Frank E Construction. They did a fantastic job on our roof, and even installed our stove pipe while they were up there. We are so glad that we didn’t have to get up on that high, high roof!

The house before the roof.
The house before the roof.
The porch and north roof on the house.
The porch and north roof on the house.
Installing the roof on the south side.
Installing the roof on the south side.
Installing the roof on the south side.
Installing the roof on the south side.
Installing the roof and stove pipe on the south side.
Installing the roof and stove pipe on the south side.
Installing the roof and stove pipe on the south side.
Installing the roof and stove pipe on the south side.
The finished stove pipe.
The finished stove pipe.
Finishing the ridge cap.
Finishing the ridge cap.
Finishing the ridge cap.
Finishing the ridge cap.
Finishing the ridge cap.
Finishing the ridge cap.
Finishing the ridge cap.
Finishing the ridge cap.
Our house, with the roof finished and stove pipe installed.
Our house, with the roof finished and stove pipe installed.
We are so happy with our roof. Thank you, Frank and crew!
We are so happy with our roof. Thank you, Frank and crew!

We have been blessed to work with excellent, small, family companies on this project and we’re glad we get to add Frank to the list of people we recommend to everybody.

August DIY Wedding

DSC_0016
DIY flowers for a late summer wedding.

We love providing flowers for DIY weddings and events. We work with DIY clients to select colors and provide a variety of fresh seasonal flowers for the event. More information is available on our DIY Wedding page. Please contact us if you have a wedding or event coming up and would like to talk about Spring Forth Farm flowers.

 

At the Iron Horse

A new wedding venue is opening up in Cedar Grove, not far from Spring Forth Farm. Iron Horse Events is a beautiful site for a farm wedding, with barns, a pond, and a lovely old farm house. Iron Horse Events had an opening Open House this week, and we were delighted to do the flowers.

We started by making examples of bridal bouquets.

Our seasonal flowers included a variety of table arrangements in mason jars and several bud vases for small tables.

And of course, the farmers had a good time. (We made the corsage and boutonniere, one of our favorite things to do when we go out on a date as well as for brides and grooms.)

DSC_0077

Thank you to Heba Salama Photography for the photo. (Heba and her husband also own Fig & Honey and they did an amazing job with the food. We can’t wait to go to their new restaurant.)

We are really looking forward to future opportunities to provide flowers for this amazing venue. If you are interested in Spring Forth Farm flowers for your wedding or other event, please contact us to reserve your date.

An August Wedding

Bridal Bouquet.
Bridal Bouquet.

Even though we’re working like crazy on our house, we’re still taking breaks to help people celebrate their weddings. August is a fun month to be a flower farmer, with the summer annuals in high production, and there is a bounty of colors and textures to choose from. When the bride wants a bright summer look it is just a joy to make the bouquets and arrangements. Here are photos of our most recent wedding.

We are already taking reservations for next year. If you want to talk to us about having Spring Forth Farm flowers for your wedding or other event, look at our Wedding FAQs and DIY Wedding FAQs and please contact us to find out more.

 

Bridal bouquet by Jonathan.
Bridesmaid’s bouquet.
Bridesmaid's bouquets.
Bridesmaid’s bouquets.
Corsages by Megan.
Corsages.
Boutonnieres by Megan.
Boutonnieres.
August wedding bouquets.
August wedding bouquets.