Still checking on the ol' Whiskey Creek Blog huh? Even after all these months of silence? You're a true friend.
For those of you who know us outside of cyberspace I'll let you know that this is Jonathan giving you this little update. I didn't know where to start after such a long reprise from the blog. I got to thinking that because spring is really the beginning of the year for a gardner I would start there. Here's the thing about our perception of the seasons and something I am becoming more aware of now that I get to spend so much time in nature, both of the equinox and solstice, astronomically speaking, really represent the middle of the seasons. Think about it, the beginning of summer, June 21st represents the longest day and the slide back to less sun for this hemisphere. During our hottest months we here in the north are actually experiencing higher temperatures even though we are getting less and less insolation. What we identify as the signatures of the seasons is our perception of the ocean's and earth's radiant heat. So if I want to talk about spring I really need to talk about winter. So let me bring you up to speed.
We finished out last year planting our winter harvest too late. The things we direct seeded germinated haphazardly. Stuff we transplanted into the field just couldn't quit get over the hump in their life cycle to fruit and by November we were in the middle of one of the hardest frosts this part of the country had experienced in twenty years. Everything but our hardy kale, subterranian carrots and a few rinky dink heads of broccoli were wiped out. Irrigation lines shattered in the green houses and below ground. Even the quick moving waters of the Siuslaw froze from bank to bank. We just weren't prepared for such an extended period of such low temperatures. So I threw up my hands and we put things in order to rest in January and looked forward to an El Nino year (El Nino of course means... the nino).
By the time February rolled around you would've laughed in my face for complaining about the cold in the Pac Northwest. We had little rain and tons of sunny afternoons. It was an eerily warm winter (remember they were talking about using artificial snow at the winter olympics in Vancouver?) that we took full advantage of by tearing up all the irrigation we had put down in 2009 and re-laying it, deeper this time, into a new configuration. We started planting in early march and it was looking like El Nino was going to deliver a beautifully heavy early harvest and then...
April was a month of cold, wet, hail and no sun. For orchard owners, especially, this type of weather is the worst of both worlds. Warm early temperatures trick trees into blossoming only to have the blossoms knocked/rotted off by hail, rain and wind. Plus cool temperatures don't allow for pollinating insects to do their job. Local growers are looking at particularly poor plum and early pear crop.
It also presents some special challenges to us vegetable gardners. Try and plant too early when the ground is still too cool and the nitrogen ions, nitrites (NO2−), do not make the nitrogen available to most heavy feeding plants like the ones we have become so accustomed to eating . It's only after the soil warms up that the nitrites become available nitrates (NO−3) that you are going to see robust growth characteristic of a healthy plant. Also try and till too early while the soil is still wet and you run the risk of destroying the structure of your soil. You can set plants into soil with poor structure and when those first microscopic leading roots reach for nutrition they find nothing but a pocket air or a hard clump of clay. So this cold wet weather we are still seeing in May has posed some problems for us this spring. Luckily, we have green houses! We've had spinach growing in our second greenhouse since late march/early april and have been providing our customers with, all together, about 12 pounds of spinach a week for the past four to five weeks. The spinach has loved the cool spring weather and in a matter of weeks we end up with unbelievably succulant spinach leaves the size of your face
The lettuce we planted around the same time is just now coming into full maturity and we should see similar weekly yields as the spinach.
Another set back we have encountered has been the formulation of our potting mix. Because we are following the growing strategy of Maine gardener Eliot Coleman, we use soil blocks. Soil blocks are basically a moistened potting mix formed into cubes. By using these cubes we use less plastic than folks who use traditional pots, avoid root binding, and progessively build the fertility and quality of our soil as we set them out in the field. The ingredients to our soil blocks are mainly peat, compost, soil, and sand. Since we are constantly looking for sustainable solutions to our growing methods we thought that using the sand of the nearby dunes would make a suitable input for our soil blocks. Unfortunately we started noticing a few weeks after making a few of these soil blocks that the blocks were slowly turning into a cement like texture and our little seedlings were struggling to form roots. Big problem. We had thousands of plants in these little cement blocks. I was not looking forward to the long process of reformulating and testing a new mix in the middle of our biggest planting rush. Luckily Dad stumbled up on PottingBlocks.Com a website run by potting block guru and Oregon grower Jason Beam. Jason furnished us with some new tools, a lot of know how and he even came out to the farm to give us some tips on making our operation more efficient. We have to send a big thanks to Jason for all his help at such a critical point. We have a better mix now that will help us provide an even more nutritious product. So once we start to see the weather warm up I think we will see an explosion of growth in these new blocks.
Ironically, while I sit here complaing about the cold, know that I'm actually sweating in stifling heat as our tiny office has become a nursery for baby chickens who need steady temperatures of 80 to 90 degrees.
We aren't raising any of these girls for any commercial purposes but they will eventually fit neatly into the closed loop of sustainable living we think we are capable of achieving out here.
Anyways, there it is, the last six months of this crazy experiment we call Whiskey Creek Organics as the sun shifts in the sky it starts to feel like a beginning. Begin long days. Begin strong growth. Begin warmth and good food.