Final Report for FNC10-810
Of The Earth Farm operates a seven-acre orchard. The orchard was established in the early 1990s and hosts 30 varieties of heirloom and hybrid apples, six varieties of pluots, two varieties of peaches and two varieties of Asian pears. The fruit is sold at local farmer’s markets, to U-pick patrons, and to Of The Earth Farm Distillery for the production of fruit brandy. From 2005 to 2010 annual and perennial bedding plants, 200 varieties of herbs, and over 60 varieties of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes were sold through a 30 foot x 100 foot retail greenhouse. Three smaller greenhouses were used for plant propagation to supply the retail location. In 2010 and 2011 wholesale herbs were also grown at the retail location and marketed to Kansas City area grocery stores and restaurants.
Of The Earth Farm is a four member partnership including Jim C. Pierce, Sarah Burnett Pierce, Patricia Sappington Pierce, and Jim D. Pierce.
Jim C. started the orchard 15 years ago and has managed and performed all responsibilities necessary for fruit production. He has been in charge of the tomato transplant crop, engaged in sales, and performed daily production tasks at the retail location. Jim C. helped in construction of all four greenhouse structures. He is retired from the U.S. Postal Service.
Sarah previously helped create Heritage Farms Partnership to market organic meat and dairy products raised and produced on the family farm. Her responsibilities included marketing, sales, production and monitoring federal and state regulations. She used this experience at Of The Earth to manage the wholesale herb project. During the off hours from her day job, Sarah manages the accounts and required government records for Of The Earth Farm Distillery, LLC. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in International Agricultural Development and an Associate’s Degree in Farm and Ranch Management.
Patricia was an integral part of the retail greenhouse operation. She has grown and marketed herbs and plants to sell at local farmer’s markets for 15 years. Patricia has been in charge of production, engaged in advertising and sales, and helped in construction of production structures. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Art Education and is currently a Library Assistant at the Ray County Library
Jim D. holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Horticulture and has provided management for greenhouse production and labor for the orchard. He has a diverse work history that has included many different types of construction. Jim D. has been the project lead in the construction of all four greenhouses. In his spare time, he creates fruit brandy, un-aged rye distillates and other spirits for Of The Earth Farm Distillery, LLC.
PREVIOUS SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES
Of the Earth Farm strives to practice low impact orchard production. This has been done through the utilization of sprays that break down fast and the implementation of a minimum use spray schedule. Organic controls were utilized during the 2011 growing season, but the cost proved to be prohibitive. Scouting is practiced for insects and fungus. Efforts are made for spray selection and schedule to be based on these findings instead of implementing a blanket spray regimen.
Retail greenhouse production was done without a spray schedule. Instead infected plants were removed from the premises to reduce further infestation. The wholesale greenhouse production utilized organic sprays, such as Neem Oil. Insects were minimized through traps and the introduction of protozoan laced wheat bran for the control of grasshoppers.
• Have profitable small-scale winter greenhouse production of raspberries.
• Address the issue of the non-existence of sustainable, local fruit production during the winter months.
• Extend the greenhouse growing season without the use of expensive conventional heat sources.
• Share information gathered with other fruit growers and youth.
This project was to examine the viability of extending raspberry greenhouse production through the use of an Earth Contact Solar Greenhouse (ECSG). Raspberry varieties were selected based on production potential, disease resistance, and fruiting time. The Nova variety was selected for spring production and Heritage for fall. Initially, there were to be three sets of potted brambles; the first would be in the ECSG from mid-October to December, the second and third sets would overlap to produce continually from March to May. However, it was determined that the size of the ECSG limited number of pots that would fit and two larger crops would be easier to market than three smaller crops. Thus, when the bare root raspberry plants were received and potted in April 2011 they were divided into two groups of 200 potted plants each. The plants were set aside on a level area covered with weed barrier in a location sheltered from the wind. As the summer weather turned into drought conditions, the plants were watered with a hose 1-2 times per day. Despite the frequent watering, the 3 gallon pot size was still not able to retain enough water for weaker plants. As a result, 70 of the 400 original plants were lost due to the drought conditions.
The remaining 150 Nova primacane raspberry brambles did bloom and produce 10 quarts of raspberries. The large, flavorful, and sweet berries were greatly enjoyed! The production was not at a level that sales were considered this first year.
The building site was chosen based on location to other buildings and the amount of dirt accessible. The building site was laid out and marked off in the spring of 2011. A neighbor was hired to spend 5 hours dozing out the ECSG footprint and using that dirt to create a bank on the uphill side. The finish work for the excavation was done with a small tractor and bucket throughout the remainder of the construction.
Used tires were sourced through local tire shops for free. The only requirement was that a statement was signed to certify that the tires were going into a building project. The tire shops needed this documentation to show to the EPA inspectors. One sidewall of each tire was cut off using various electric saws. After burning up a reciprocating saw and a circular saw, it was determined that the best option was a jig saw. This was used to remove the sidewalls of the remaining tires. The tires were sorted into similar size categories. Beginning with the larger tires, a line was laid in the ECSG footprint along the north wall. The removed sidewall faced upward. The small tractor and bucket were used to scoop dirt into the tires. A tamper was rented to tamp the dirt into and in between the tires. This process was repeated until the tire wall stood 6 foot tall. Each layer was set back from the edge of the layer below to help stabilize the wall. The dirt in the footprint is heavy clay. The 2011 summer drought conditions followed by a wet spring in 2012 halted further wall construction until late fall 2012.
While the ECSG construction was delayed the raspberry plants were moved onto weed barrier closer to the building site after the 2011 season. A spitter irrigation system was set up and the plants were watered 1-2 times each day during the summer months and as needed during the winter months. A good crop of was produced from the remaining 180 Heritage plants in May and June of 2012. Picking was done every second or third day. The pots were in rows on the weed barrier and picking could be easily accomplished by 4 people in about thirty minutes. A total of 34.75 quarts were produced over the three week season. These were sold for $4 per half pint at the Richmond Farmer’s Market in Richmond, the Mercantile Exchange in Excelsior Springs and The Elms Resort and Spa in Excelsior Springs.
The Nova plants were expected to begin blooming in mid to late August 2012. However, the extreme heat caused them to bloom in early July. The bloom set was extremely poor. The few resulting berries were small and quite tart, despite the frequent and adequate watering. The production levels were so low that picking could not be justified. It is estimated that less than 1.5 quarts were produced by the 150 plants over the course of the two weeks of production.
The remainder of the tire wall was constructed in the winter of 2012-2013 when there had been enough moisture accumulation to work the dirt. The tires were layered in the same manner and taken to a wall height of 8 feet. After installation of the freeze proof hydrant, tires were also layered along the west wall that is 8 foot at the north end and slopes to 2 foot at the south side. The end walls were constructed of used hollow square aluminum bar and vinyl plastic. The ribs from a recycled high tunnel were placed every 6 feet. One end of each rib was attached to a brace post driven into the tire wall. The other end was attached to a brace post driven into the ground at the sound side of the structure. The ribs were covered with a single layer of plastic and secured with wiggle wire. A thermometer that records the daily interior and exterior temperatures has been installed. Not enough information has yet been collected to create any data reports.
The heavy snows that were received in the area in March 2013 indicated that the ribs should have been spaced every 3 foot instead of the current 6 foot spacing. The 12-14 inches of wet snow accumulated on the ECSG, as the embanked architecture seemed to create more drifting on the structure and thus, deeper amounts of snow. Fortunately, the structure did not collapse. Perhaps, if the isolative blanket that was purchased had been installed on the structure prior to the snow, the snow could have been removed with the raising of the blanket. It was originally thought that this blanket could be raised and lowered with a hand operated crank system. However, this snow showed that an electric option for the winch would need to be available.
The melting snow uncovered a construction flaw that will need to be addressed. The majority of the snow melt absorbed by the embankment combined with any run off from the structure itself appears to be seeping through the north tire wall and filling the footprint of the ECSG with water. There have been up to 6 inches of standing water in the structure after the plastic was installed. A possible solution to correct this issue in future similar construction would be to place perforated drainage tiles behind the tires during construction of the tire wall. A solution that is being implemented on this structure is to install a guttering system to prevent the run off from entering the structure. A perforated drainage tile will also be placed at the base of the tire to divert any further seepage from the embankment. Due to the standing water, the raspberry plants have not yet been moved inside, though the chilling hours have been reached.
• Jim C. Pierce managed raspberry plants, helped in ECSG construction and conducted raspberry sales.
• Sarah Burnett Pierce managed record keeping and project budget, assisted in ECSG construction and helped with raspberry harvest.
• Patricia Sappington Pierce assisted in raspberry harvest and sales.
• Jim D. distributed information to 20 area small farmers associated with the Lincoln University Small Farmers Outreach Program and 5 community members.
• Dr. Sanjun Gu incorporated information into a power point presentation given at the Minority and Limited Resource Landowners Conference to approximately 35 small farmers. This same presentation was given at the Missouri Organic Association to approximately 40 small farmers.
• Construction of the Earth Contact Solar Greenhouse was completed. Discovered issues arising from the Missouri soil composition differing from that of the studied Chinese ECSG models. Possible solutions are being researched prior to implementation.
• Gathered preliminary temperature data appears to indicate that ECSG will stay above freezing throughout the Missouri winter months. More data is needed.
• Supplied quality raspberries to local farmer’s market, retail outlet, and restaurant. Production records show that a total of 44.75 quarts of raspberries were distributed.
• Shared the concept of the ECSG with area small farmers. Increased awareness of alternatives to conventional greenhouses and high cost heating methods. Several found the idea interesting, but no one has pursued construction of a similar structure to date.
The initial plan was to more aggressively share the ECSG concept with area landowners, fruit growers and youth after construction was fully complete and at least the first set of raspberries were blooming or producing inside the structure. At the time, it was agreed this stage would prove to be easier for others to envision implementation of the concept in their own operation. The construction and weather issues proved that more information could have been assimilated if third parties were brought in throughout the implementation process. This would have allowed for greater public exposure to the concept and perhaps provided more solutions to issues with a wider pool of minds addressing the topic.
What we learned:
• Tire wall on embankment appears to provide a good heat bank source that prevents interior night time temperatures from dropping below freezing.
• Clay soil types pose additional obstacles in construction of the ECSG.
• Some type of tiling or gutter system needs to be included in the greenhouse design to prevent tire wall seepage and flooding of the floor.
• The stabilization of the internal temperatures indicates that growing season could be easily extended in both the fall and spring.
• Good indicators that unprofitability of small scale winter production could be overcome.
Effect on our farm:
• Made us aware that we can extend the growing season affordably.
• Niche markets, such as raspberries, should continue to be explored.
• There is a possibility of growing vegetable crops year round as well.
Did you overcome your identified barrier?
• The unprofitability of small-scale winter greenhouse production was not conclusively overcome. However, there were many good indicators that with some small project modification, it could be overcome.
• The non-existence of local fruit during the winter months was not overcome during the time of the project. The ECSG does show potential to, at least, reduce this void.
• Information was not distributed as planned or to all groups intended. The informational pamphlet, article, and tours were planned for after construction was completed. The long construction period did not allow enough time for these to take place prior to the end project date. However, we plan to continue to share information and promote this concept past the life of this project.
• Extended season at much lower cost.
• Reduced fuel usage and carbon footprint.
• Possibility of opening new niche markets
• Produce more local food
• Long construction period due to weather extremes
• Isolative tarp difficult to find. The one purchased for this project was sourced in Canada and is actually a concrete curing tarp. Many U.S. options were cost prohibitive or too heavy for raising and lowering.
• Possibility of continued or unresolved drainage and seepage issues.
If asked for more information or a recommendation concerning what you examined in this project, what would you tell other farmers or ranchers?
We all agree that the ECSG is a good and viable solution to the high cost of small-scale greenhouse production. There are some construction issues that still need to be resolved and more data needs to be gathered regarding internal temperature fluctuation. However, cost to heat is zero and all to-date information indicates that the growing season could be significantly lengthened. Ease of management could possibly be improved by reducing the size to 30 feet x 50 feet. This would greatly reduce the isolative tarp size so that one person could raise and lower it, as needed. We plan to continue to modify and use the ECSG for production purposes.
Methods for telling others about this project and its results and with whom the information was shared:
• Farmer to farmer communication – five area community members who are small farmers.
• Personalized contact with 20 Lincoln University Outreach Extension small farmers.
• Submission of information and photos for inclusion in the power point presentation given by Dr. Sanjun Gu during two conferences to approximately 75 small farmers and minority landowners.
• Customer contact through Farmer’s Market booth with approximately 75 patrons.
Methods for telling others about project events:
• No events were able to be held.
What plans do you have for further communicating your results?
• Information will continue to be distributed to Lincoln University Outreach Extension small farmers. Tours will be given upon request.
• Data will be made available for future presentations given by Dr. Sanjun Gu.
• Communications will continue with local community small farmers. Tours will be given upon request.
• Project obstacles and issues will be shared with others interested in constructing an ECSG in an effort to help with improvement and success of the structure.