Hi Folks, Max Speaking. As we begin to wrap up 2016, and especially since we didn't post much this year on our original farm blog, we thought we would outline some of the farm highlights of the year.
We started the year with our brand new 14x32 foot greenhouse -- quite an upgrade from our previous Harbor Freight 6x9 foot house! Lots of room to grow microgreens now...
We quickly realized that once the days got warmer, we would need a shade cloth to keep excess heat out of the house during the day. We bought an 80 percent reflective shade cloth which works quite nicely. It came in handy on summer days that got up to 112 degrees...
Deirdre took a trip for a friend's wedding in January, so I had Siobhan all by myself for 4 days, including two farmers markets! Nothing like a seasonal cherimoya, a tricycle and a family of baby dolls to keep a little girl happy on a long market morning!
The next day we had another market, so this time Siobhan wanted to bring her violin and busk by the stand just like she has seen her parents and cousins do as well. She earned $6 in about 5 minutes, and she doesn't even know how to play yet!
Toward the end of January, we shaped a lot of new beds. For the first time, we shaped beds all the way from the center of our 1-acre leased property (where the greenhouse and main washing station is) to the edge by the ranch road. 32 beds in total at the time this pic was taken. At the time, we were digging them all out by hand with shovels, after making one pass with the rotary power harrow mounted on the back of our BCS walking tractor. Even though you see our 4-wheel tractor in the background, it did nothing to help us, because it is too big for our 30-inch bed system, and it was not even starting at the time we made the beds.
We helped Siobhan shape and plant her own 10-foot garden. Proud future farmer. (maybe!)
Even though we are in the middle of a drought, we still had at least one rainy market that month. Rain is great for plants, but not for market customers. You don't see too many customers traipsing around the market today, but a farmer and her daughter are making the most of it!
February: Up until now, the only storage we had on the farm were some portable "garage" tents from Harbor Freight, which were set up directly on the soil, with just a dirt floor. Once the rain came, they got extremely muddy, and the stakes came out of the ground in windy weather. It only took dragging a 17 foot tent back home out of neighbor's orange orchard once to convince me that we needed to figure out o more permanent solution. Since we lease the property, we didn't want something all that permanent, so we settled on a wooden floor, secured by concrete pier blocks, with new tents bolted into the frame. I recruited my two brothers and a friend, and we completed most of the job in one day. I finished the rest myself another day. We used a bunch of old pallets as the support for the floor, built a secured frame around them, and then put plywood over the top which tied everything together. Having just built a similar frame for the greenhouse a few months earlier helped a lot when designing this one. We now have 36 feet of very usable storage and workspace -- this really turned out to be a great investment.
Happy Valentines Day from First Steps Farm! Micro Amaranth and Endive make a nice valentine flat. This brought a lot of traffic to our market booth!
What the heck!? How did SHE get up there?
Spring crops growing in mid-February.
Deirdre and our worker Gillian filling orders for Ojai Valley Online Farmstand in our awesome new packing tent. No dirt floor to get all muddy! The wooden floor has been amazing, especially during rainy days!
Mid-March. Crops of Garlic, Lettuce and Arugula. Gillian is weeding in the background.
April: Up until now, we only had two normal sized refrigerators for our produce. This really wasn't enough for our needs, between the produce sales for the webstore, and our own produce. We found some descriptions online of projects where people took a trailer and converted it into a walk-in cooler on wheels using an air conditioning unit and a "Coolbot." We bought a 5x8 trailer in April, and started the project ourselves. It got placed on hold for several months, and we only finished it a month ago. More details on that in a post of its own later... below my brother Tom using a sawzall to cut the whole for the AC unti.
In may, we got permission from the Ojai Market manager to bring more than just microgreens. Thi was great news for us, because now we are allowed to bring and offer for sale all our vegetables. We kicked it off with beets, kale, lettuces, green onions, cilantro, salad mix and arugula.
We experimented with growing sunflower microgreens right out in the garden, instead of in greenhouse flats, and it worked pretty well!
June: Declan was born! This put farming on hold for a while -- except for the essential chores and harvesting to keep things going. Deirdre will be posting the whole story of Declan's birth from her perspective in another post...
Three weeks old -- Declan's first time at the farmers market!
July: I tried out some yellow sticky traps to catch some of the flea beetles ruining all our arugula crops. Zucchini, Curly kale and cherry tomatoes grow in the background.
Declan, 6 weeks, at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market.
When we decided to have a 2nd child, it sounded like adding more craziness to an already crazy schedule and life. Ironically, since Declan was born, we have ended up getting more done than ever before, because it forced us to be more organized and efficient with our time. For the last year or so, the farm had been largely my project, with Deirdre helping out only on webstore packing days, and at markets. Since Declan's birth though, we have managed to get out to the farm as a family multiple times a week, and Deirdre has taken a much more pro-active role in planning and working on the farm. It can still be a HUGE challenge to get both kids out the door in a timely manner, and keep them both happy and out of trouble, AND try to get some work done at the same time, but we committed to getting out there as a family every morning even if it felt impossible. It has been getting more manageable the more we do it.
Since the farm got a little bit neglected around the time of Declan's birth at the beginning of the summer, there was some serious weed clearing to do as the first part of our "back to the farm" family adventure. Clearing weeds and driving them over to a burn pile on the ranch was what we did for the first few days.
What do we do with our kids while we farm?? Anything that will keep them happy and safe! I even was able to get some tractor work done with Declan strapped to my chest. Working with him on our back is a now a normal part of our workday, whether on the farm or at the market.
Napping in the shade of tomato vines.
Siobhan watering some of our transplants.
Siobhan picked 6 bunches of turnips all by herself, and sold them at our market booth. She is not shy at marketing, and sold them all in about 15 minutes! She used her money to buy a popsicle and popcorn from two of our neighbor vendors at the market. Declan was trying to eat the greens...
Need to keep a market baby contained? Just pop him in a box!
About the Authors
Max and Deirdre Becher farm together on First Steps Farm in Southern California. They love farming, raising their kids, playing music, contradancing, cooking, and working together to create a vibrant culture of celebrating life. See it all unfold right here!