What the heck have they been doing on the farm?

Although you wouldn’t know it from our blog, it has been a very busy summer on the farm. We’ve grown more flowers than ever before and we have been planning and preparing for an even bigger season next year. Our heads are dancing with visions of sugar plums and deep loamy soil. Of course here in Hurdle Mills we only have red cement that passes for clay. But we’ve already started taking the steps that will transform our clay soil into sugar plums — or at least friable loamy clay — with time and love. The farm is still too wet to work in, but the sun is shining at last. While the soil dries out, here are some pictures of what we’ve been working on:

The farm and house.
The farm and house. This summer’s flowers are in the front with new fields for next year in the back.
Some of next spring's flowers growing in landscape fabric for weed control.
Some of next spring’s flowers growing in landscape fabric for weed control.

The most exciting projects we’ve been working on this year have been investments in soil health. We have started a heavy rotation of cover crops that will add organic matter to the soil and help break up the clay, making it more friable. We have also experimenting with no-till agricultural practices. Tilling “burns up” organic matter in the soil and destroys the soil organisms which build healthy soils and grow healthy plants. In order to make our no-till work, we are using “occultation,” a process of using tarps to create an environment that encourages decomposition. We learned about this method from Bare Mtn Farm in Oregon and from Jean-Martin Fortier in Quebec.

We have been using cover crops to build our soil.
We have been using cover crops to build our soil.
Occultation is a techniques that uses tarps to speed decomposition and build soil.
Occultation is a techniques that uses tarps to speed decomposition and build soil.

While we have been planning for next year, our flower business has been growing by leaves and blooms. Our DIY Buckets have been very popular this year. We have started offering buckets of foliage as well, which really makes the flowers stand out and is an economical way to make the flowers go further.

DIY foliage bucket.
DIY foliage bucket.
Fall DIY bucket
Fall DIY bucket
Fall DIY bucket
Fall DIY bucket
Four-bucket fall DIY wedding
Four-bucket fall DIY wedding

In addition to doing weddings and events, we do weekly arrangements for businesses. Here are a couple examples of our business arrangements. In addition, we are considering starting a flower CSA subscription program next year with pick up near downtown Hillsborough. Are you interested in getting weekly flowers for your business? Would you like to join the flower CSA? If so, please contact us.

Fall arrangement.
Fall arrangement.
Fall arrangement.
Fall arrangement.

Now you are up to date on the farm. While the soil dries out, we are trying to get as much done on the house as we can. Our goal is to get our rough-in inspection by the end of the month. What does that mean? Stay tuned for our next post, “What the heck have they been doing on the house?

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.

Website Updates

Fall Bridal Bouquet
Fall Bridal Bouquet

Have you been wondering what it is like to work with Spring Forth Farm for your wedding? Wonder no more! Check out the comments and reviews from our past wedding clients.

We are already booked for several weekends this summer. If you would like our fresh flowers for your wedding or event, please contact us to reserve your date.

We’ve also added galleries of bouquets, DIY weddings, and boutonnieres & corsages so you can have see what our flowers and designs look like.

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

Perennials, Revisited

This is an exciting weekend at Spring Forth Farm. We are doing flowers for our first weddings of the year, and we congratulate Brandon & Kelly and Hayley & Jay. (Look for photos of the wedding flowers sometime next week.) It isn’t too late to order fresh, seasonal Spring Forth Farm flowers for an event or wedding this season, but we are filling up. Please contact us if you are interested.

This past March, we wrote about our trip to Maryland and brought back a truckload of peonies, hydrangeas, and other perennials. We barely fit them all in the truck.

Our truck, overflowing with perennials for planting.
Our truck, overflowing with perennials for planting.

Now, they have been planted, taken root, leafed out, and to our delight they are blooming! Here is a photo update of this excitement on the farm.

We were most excited about the peonies.

Peony in bloom.
Peony in bloom.

We brought back fifty established plants, each one a mystery. We knew we had pink, white, and burgundy, but we had no idea how many of each, or which plant was which. With the stress of the late transplanting and without irrigation, about half of our peonies aborted the buds, but that means about half bloomed! We were so excited about these sweet-scented balls of color. Most of the ones that bloomed were pink, but we expect we have more burgundy and white that will bloom next year. We are learning so much as we grow this year, and the importance of irrigation for these crops really hit home this spring.

We also brought back hydrangeas, which are starting to grow flower heads, and curly willows. The willows have been growing in trays but we’ve started planting them and are really looking forward to this great crop. Here are before-and-after photos of the hydrangea, stored in our straw pile for planting in March, and now in May.

Here are the first of the rooted willow cuttings being planted out.

When it comes to plants, we get excited about different things, but we both like to experiment. Jonathan was particularly excited that we brought back two dozen eremurus roots, also called foxtail lily. These are sort of an experiment – we don’t know if they will survive the late summer rains – but we hope they do so we can offer these unique spires next year.

We are really excited about nurturing and growing these perennials on our farm and dream about adding many more varieties of perennials to the farm over the next few years.