To Till or Not To Till: Lessons Learned from Inexperience

Jonathan and I work very hard to research and learn about every aspect of anything new we introduce into our farm systems whether it is a new kind of flower or a new system of managing our permanent raised beds.  But there is no way around it: we are young and inexperienced flower growers and we have made several mistakes over the season that have taught us invaluable lessons.

Fall DIY bucket
Late fall flowers

We are currently in the process of transitioning our farm over to “No-Till” management.  We created permanent raised beds on the farm and we believe that the fastest way to return tilth, health and life to our soil is to never till the beds.  This was an idea that I (Megan) had been thinking about for a while but simply had no idea where to start.  What is “no-till” farming you might be wondering?  Well, it is a method of farming that does not disturb the soil life and the soil layers with a tiller.  It is more of a natural process of farming that is less invasive to the soil.  It relies heavily on cover cropping and it also helps to reduce weed pressure on the farm by not turning over new weed seeds with the tiller.  This year we ran across 2 different resources to help us get started.

Bare Mountain Farm in the Willamette Valley in Oregon runs a 2.5 acre cut flower farm using no-till methods.  They have been posting their trials and what they have learned on their blog. We stumbled across their blog and I instantly felt that we had found a gold mine of information for how to begin this unusual method of farming.  They are willing to answer any of our questions and are such an inspiration for Jonathan and I as we start out figuring out what No-till means on Spring Forth Farm.  Thank you Tony and Denise!

The second resource we found was an organic farmer in Quebec who uses a no-till system on his farm in conjunction with silage tarps.  His name is Jean-Martin Fortier and he wrote a book called The Market Gardner where he details a lot of his farming practices.  He uses an old European method called “occultation.”  This method uses large black silage tarps to kill weeds and speed up decomposition of organic matter on beds instead of tillage.

Well, we jumped off the deep end!  We bought a silage tarp, stopped tilling and started tarping.  Here is a photographic journey of what to do and what not to do!


(Above) We learned that we have to mow down everything before we put on the tarps or it doesn’t work.  We felt a bit sheepish that we didn’t mow first.  We will from now on!

BEFORE tarping

(Above) When we bought the land in Nov 2013, it was formerly in tobacco and was left as a bare dirt field.  We hastily seeded fescue and clover to prevent soil erosion.  We made a rookie mistake and let them all go to seed!  Fescue became a terrible weed in our new beds and we will be dealing with it for a while to come.  So, we tarped the beds to see if it works when done properly.

AFTER tarping

(Above) Wow! after 4 weeks, the tarps killed the initial flush of weeds.  There is a much smaller flush coming back, but it is more manageable.  See the tarps in the left-hand part of the photo?  That is what they should look like on the beds.  Found earthworms for the first time in our beds too.

Seeding cover crop

(Above) One of the biggest hurdles we are trying to figure out with the no-till system is how to get cover crop seed to germinate in beds that have crop residue in it, without tilling the seed in to get good soil contact.  We tried putting a straw mulch down over the newly seeded beds this year.  We will let you know if it works.

Newly planted beds of garlic and onions

This past week we rushed about seeding beds of onions, garlic, and flowers before more rain came.  In the process of doing this I gasped as I realized that we had a whole box of ranunculus corms (bulbs) that we had not planted yet.  We ordered this flower in a fever of excitement over the summer even though we had never grown it before and knew that our soils were less than ideal for this flower.  We would also need to build a temporary greenhouse tunnel over the bed for the crop to survive the winter and bloom in May.  We decided this past Saturday, after much back and forth and tears (on my part!), to nix the crop and cut our losses.  It was simply too overwhelming to figure out how to build a greenhouse tunnel this winter.  We had taken on too much this year on the farm and with the home building in the mix, something had to go.  This was yet another reminder to grow our business slowly and to carefully weigh each new crop or farming system before we add it.

Even though we have made lots of mistakes this year, we have had lots of successes too.  We are already looking forward to improving and fine-tuning the management of Spring Forth Farm for the 2016 season!

Stay tuned for more updates on the no-till experiment.

Black-eyed susans
Just planted a lot of black-eyed susans last week to grow through the winter and bloom in June!

December Update 2014: Windows, Doors, Stairs and Wreaths

This December has proven a busy one for Jonathan and I as we continue to work non-stop on our home.  We are also planning the farm season for next year and working our full-time jobs.  Finding a balance of work and rest is a constant struggle for us.

We got a late start on our wreath-making this season, thus only making a couple of wreaths for the practice of it.  We used all vines, greenery and berries on the farm.  Next season we hope to actually make some wreaths to sell with dried farm flowers and greenery.  This is Jonathan’s first wreath ever given to my sister for her front door!  I love how wild it is.  We have a long way to go with the wreath learning but are off to a good start.

Jonathan's first wreath
Jonathan’s first wreath

Early December we completed our stairs.  We plan on building a recessed bookshelf in the living room that follows the staircase.  The stairs were extremely challenging and we couldn’t have done it without the help of accomplished carpenter, Daryl White in Hillsborough. He helped us lay out the stringers and Jonathan and I built everything else on our own.  Thanks Daryl!

Down the stairs
Down the stairs
closet under the stairs
Closet under the stairs
Megan installing stair treads and risers
Megan installing stair treads and risers

We are also quite excited that we finished installing our windows and doors on December 27th and they are just gorgeous!  They are energy efficient casement windows and we are delighted with the way they seal out the cold and let the light into the house.  It certainly added character to the house to see them go in!  Thank you Jeremy Coerper for teaching us how to install our windows and doors.

South view of the house
South view of the house
Jonathan Caulking windows over the kitchen
Jonathan caulking windows over the kitchen
South side
South side
south side windows for passive solar heat
South windows for passive solar heat and winter light
winter light
Winter light
front door and windows leading to the porch
Front door and windows leading to the porch
A happy Jonathan
A happy Jonathan!!
More windows!
More windows!
Megan caulking windows in our bedroom-to-be
Megan caulking windows in our bedroom-to-be

Coming next (if the weather will ever cooperate): The tin roof!

Stay tuned for a January update with more photos!

Approaching Winter

Winter approaches and we are excited: it is our first chance to plant trees since moving onto our land. One day we will have a fruit orchard and ornamental trees will grow around the farm but with the house project we’re starting small the year.

We planted three of one of our favorite trees, the native red maple. These trees flank entrances to the farm and we look forward to when we enter under the gateway of their branches.

With winter approaching our thoughts are also on next year’s flowers and next year’s weddings. We started preparing for our first wedding of next spring right after our last wedding of the fall.

Megan uses the Gravely walk behind to mow the beds.
Megan uses the Gravely walk behind to mow the beds.

Megan prepared our beds by mowing down this year’s flowers with our Gravely walk-behind tractor. The mower is very powerful and it easily took down the husks of the summer annuals. We planted some beds into cover crops and planted hardy annuals such as poppies, snapdragons, feverfew, and larkspur into others. They will grow strong roots over the winter for a profusion of spring blooms.

Hardy annuals in the ground for spring's blooms.
Hardy annuals in the ground for spring’s blooms.

The farm may sleep through the winter but as we approach winter we are preparing for spring and for a lifetime on this land. Planting trees is an optimistic activity. We already dream of next spring’s blooms and future summer’s shade.

October Building…..

October has been a very busy month working on our farm house!  We installed 1/2 inch rigid insulation all around the exterior and we started the housewrap.  Jonathan and I are spending a lot of time making sure our house is well sealed and can work efficiently.  We also built our 30ftx12ft porch!  Can someone say party porch?

We also trenched in the water line and electrical wire for our well to our house, a nice long distance of 250ft!  That was exhausting.  While we were at it, we installed 2 frost-free hydrants for farm irrigation.

Stay tuned for the November update… might include doors, windows, stairs, a well house and more!!!!!DSC_0006



A beautiful Fall Wedding

So it has been silent for a few weeks on our blog front!  We have been busy this fall planting tiny flower seedlings and sowing flowers for next spring.  Some of these flowers include snapdragons, icelandic poppies, queen anne’s lace, love-in-a-mist, larkspur, black-eyed susan’s and more, oh we can’t wait for the spring blooms!  We have also been working hard on our house (a photo post on that to come later with updates) and been making bouquets for weddings!  Our last wedding of the season was mid-October and we were delighted to have the opportunity to make 2 bridal bouquets for our friends Erin and Grace.  Jonathan and I each made a bouquet and we remarked how far we have come in developing our style of bouquet making.  Floral design has become one of our favorite aspects of growing flowers.  My goal before frost: learn to make a flower crown with the remaining flowers of the season.

We are now taking reservations for the wedding season 2015, so if you know anyone getting married who is interested in fresh, local blooms for their day, send them onto to Spring Forth Farm!  Enjoy the photos of Erin and Grace’s bouquet!

We are particularly pleased to feature our lovely dahlias in these bouquets
The Right bouquet uses curly willow. We are learning to grow all different varieties of willows for use in our floral design.

DSC_0051 DSC_0054 DSC_0058 DSC_0059

As The Season Ends….

Farmers on a date!
Farmers on a date!

Well folks, we are coming to the close of our first season in business as Spring Forth Farm.  What a fabulous first season it was with more weddings than we had counted for, some nice publicity, regular florist and business accounts and more.  We will be reflecting more on all things farm related later this winter once the farm is put away for the winter.  I am making our last flower deliveries to our florists Victoria Park Florist in Chapel Hill and Pine State Flowers in Durham.  We also delivered our last bouquets to Radius Pizzeria for the season.  Thanks so much to our wonderful clients and customers.  Jonathan is back at the farm today seeding fescue and clover seed in our fields so the rain can help it to germinate.  We are cleaning out beds, planting cover crops, and seeding flowers that grow through the winter.  We look forward to some downtime as it gets colder, to reflect on the farm and plan for another great season next year….and of course more time to push forward on our home building!

Installing roof decking on the south side
Installing roof decking on the south side
Roofers installing the roof decking
Roofers installing the roof decking

The house building is keeping us busy right now of course.  At the beginning of September I went back to teaching and Jonathan returned to the fire department after his month-long vacation in August when we were framing the house.  The time to work on things has been scarcer and we are adjusting to a new rhythm.  We did a very smart thing and hired experienced roofers to install our roof decking and roofing paper and the relief at seeing the roof go on was palpable.  We are now focusing this next week on installing rigid insulation and house-wrap on the exterior of the house.  It will feel great to get the house dried in and to focus on building the porch, interior walls, stairs, and installing windows and doors.

This year has held so much Jonathan and I and Spring Forth Farm.  I can only imagine what next year will bring!