The first thing I did was purchase materials to build a hoophouse. In the process of building the hoop, we (my mom and I) decided we had enough space cleared in the yard to combine the two hoophouses into one long one. The SARE hoophouse is now twice as long as the proposed. My SARE hoophouse let me overwinter a lot of things, as well as extend my delivery season past last year’s date of Thanksgiving, to December 15, and my personal harvesting all winter. My SARE hoophouse let me overwinter carrots, radishes, beets, chard, lettuce, spinach, tatsoi, mustard, cilantro, [learned cilantro makes a great winter crop in Kansas], cress, mizuna, arugula, oregano, thyme, sages, and bunching onion. The start it gave me by allowing my vegetables to over winter let me deliver a total of 5.66 pounds of produce to one person in two deliveries in February, consisting of a braising mix (mustard greens, tatsoi, radish greens, and beet greens) a baby salad mix (encore salad mix, baby carrot tops, baby mustard greens, two kinds of cress, baby tatsoi, and small spinach) a bag of just spinach, herbs (cilantro, oregano, thyme, and lavender) and a root bag (daikon radishes, scarlet globe radishes, beets, and carrots) and to top it off, sprouted mung bean and lentil sprouts. It also enabled me to deliver 14.75 pounds of produce in four deliveries in March to two customers consisting of again, a braising mix (mustard greens, tatsoi, radish greens, kale, and beet greens) a baby salad mix (encore salad mix, baby carrot tops, baby mustard greens, two kinds of cress, baby tatsoi, wood sorrel, and small spinach) a bag of pure spinach, herbs (cilantro, oregano, thyme, summer savory, wild garlic leaf, and lavender) along with radishes and carrots, and to top it off, sprouted mung bean and lentil sprouts. Each delivery also came with a informational newsletter about the vegetables they were receiving. The SARE hoop is allowing me to plant earlier than normal arugula, more salad, parsley, and transplant tomatoes earlier than normal.
Last fall I was delivering to one weekly, one bi-weekly, and one monthly customer. Now (April 20th, 2013) I deliver to three weekly customers and one monthly customer.
Around the beginning of December 2012, I ordered my worm bin. I did not include worms in my grant proposal, so those came out of my own funds. They cost about $20. I followed the instructions that came with the bin, and soon my worms were happily munching away. The worm bin has not totally lived up to my expectations. I had hoped it would almost eliminate the need for my compost pile, but it has barely made a dent. It is still in its beginning stages, as I have yet to add a second tray, and although my expectations have lowered a bit, I am still excited at the long term possibilities. Sometime in the far-ish future, I would like to get two-three more worm boxes. I researched worms (I love to learn about things) I found that one species of worms that is good for the worm bin (Lumbricus rubricus) is considered invasive in the eastern parts of the U.S., as there were no natural worms found in that ecosystem of forests. I also found that the other recommended species (Eisenia foetida) have not been found to be invasive. As I live in the Midwest, where that kind of forest ecosystem is not found, it would have been fine to use Lumbricus, but just for safety’s sake, I chose to use Eisenia. In my research of what to feed them, I learned that I should never put any pine products into the bin, as it will kill the worms. I learned that the moisture level for this particular bin needs to be slightly damp, but in other bins, you can just dump gallons of water on it and it will be fine. I learned that worms do not like oils, such as ones found in salad dressings, and they don’t like fatty food like butter. I had read not to put meat in, but the only reason I found was because it attracts predators. I decided to experiment and put in some leftover fish that had gone bad in. After a couple days, it began to look pretty bad, not smell so good, and strange mites had begun to live with the worms. I sacrificed several worms when I scooped it out, so decomposition has slowed down. I also learned that the softer the food that the worms eat, the better.
This summer was an especially hot one, and I learned that drip irrigation is not something you can rely on to water the plants enough in Kansas drought. The water does not seep very far from the hose, nor does it go very deep. I have decided that although sprinklers are less efficient, they water a much larger area, and cool of the plants with the water on the leaves.
My continued use of intercropping, companion planting, and intensive planting in my hoophouse has worked really well over winter. Integrated pest management is so far so good. I did have an aphid problem near spring, but they went away as soon as I began to water more often. I’ve noticed lady bug populations I moved into the hoop are happy. The birds visit my garden throughout the day. They will like it when the plastic comes off.
Some other major things I learned are: larger hoops blow more than I had expected in wind. Wind will seep though any crack in a hoop hose and make the plastic billow and begin to tug free; 10 foot PVC hoops need extra vertical and horizontal support for when it snows, to ensure the plastic doesn’t blow free, and to keep the wind from seeping in. Burying the plastic ends is the best option, and the central beams of the tall hoop need to be combined into one rigid beam next winter for strength against snow.
In October, I invited all members of the community garden to come watch or help assemble the SARE hoophouse. Four members came. I showed them how it was done, discussed what it was good for, what its weaknesses were, and what I was growing in it. (I also told them who funded it). In January I also invited the pastor of my church and his wife to come see it. They were amazed at how green, hot and humid it was inside the hoop during the cold and dry weather when most everything outside was dead. We are planning to help implement a church garden, and use hoophouses to overwinter the produce. The church is observing mine to see how successful it is.
WORK PLAN FOR 2013
My plan for next year is to buy and install the rain barrel; continue using the grant-funded hoop to extend the season and feed more people; continue maintaining my worm box; use some of my worm box residue to make an experimental insecticide; demonstrate the hoop assembly for my 4-H club and the city community garden. I’d like to demonstrate my wormbox at my 4-H club meeting, at the 4-H project fair, at the Garfield Elementary School, and at 4-H day. Of course I plan to continue adding Doorstep Harvest customers.