6 more days until sprout season

Sprout season is just around the corner!

I just finished interviewing 8 potential apprentices and will be making my decision today.  Not an easy task picking from a group of very enthusiastic candidates – but I think I have made a decision…

The site is looking great and I can’t wait to get rolling on production.

I am going to need to source some new seeds as the organic seeds I have been trialling did not perform very well.  I have a conventional sample on its way that I can trial with my first or second batch.

Still hoping to increase production by 25% this year as well.  With all the hype around urban farming since November, I hope that means some increased sales.

More pics. of the site:

Setting up for 2011

So I started prepping the sprout site for the season.  I’ll have a few changes this year, but nothing too drastic.

Today I rebuilt the prep table and built a permanent cover over it.  This will make it easier to maintain and much easier to work in adverse weather.  Additional cover will still need to be put up for harvests, but this makes tray prep very easy:

Next I will build some storage space so I can keep all my equipment at the site – including trailer sand coolers, which I used to take home each day.  I will also have a freezer on site for ice.

I have had about 25 applicants for my apprenticeship position which is a bit daunting!  I won’t be able to interview everyone, but going through the applications should be fun!  It’s a pretty good mix of applicants, but only 1 or 2 males applied – the rest are female.  Same thing happened last year.  I am still not sure why that is though. Probably for the better – men are pigs anyway…

I will have to find a new seed source this year as the company is out of the stock I used the past two years.  It was such good seed – whatever will I do?!  I am trialling an organic variety right now, but the seed was small so I am not optimistic.  It would be nice to use an organic seed but they are just so crummy!

 

Site Secure for Another Year

Well I have really neglected this blog!

But I am happy to say that I have now secured my sunflower sprout site for another season which is a nice relief. And a bonus on top of that is even though I offered, I will not be charged any rent for the season.  That makes me happy!  Though I have to say that I kind of wanted to pay the rent so I could at least feel some security in that I was paying for site and service and thus had an alley for complaint if need be.

But most issues that have come up we have been able to resolve, so I am not too worried about this.  I will be using some electricity this year so will probably buy a tracking device and pay for that.  I need power for early and late season heat as well as a small freezer which I will keep on site this year.  I hope to run all my activities from the site so I do not have to move my coolers back and forth between another site, which gets a bit tedious.  I had been hoping to build a shed at the site, but so far that seems like it won’t happen as the manager is afraid it will attract a bit more attention than he would like to the site.

 

 

 

Bad weather, but decent sprouts

Well, the weather is still crap, but with the heating cables the sprouts are still doing decently.  They are still only about 70% of what their potential is, but I have planted extra trays to make up for it.

I thought I would post a picture of the new sprout site, to show its urban context.  The location is only about a ten-minute bike ride from downtown and only five minutes from my house!

I am meeting with a catered next week which would be my first foray into the catering world.  I had not thought much about caterers before but have now identified several who fit the sunflower sprout profile!

That’s it for today.  I’m preparing for the biggest harvest of the season tomorrow and finishing up a grant application so need to get back to it!

Weather Sucks

Well, the weather really sucks right now for growing sprouts so I have been utilizing heat cables as a supplement.  They work very well and really improve growth.  Depending on the day temperature I either leave them on just at night or all day and night.  They have definitely helped salvage a few batches!  As I have been busy getting things up an going this year it has been more difficult to pay attention to the weather forecasts for making adjustments to sowing dates.  And, of course, the forecast is only good for a day so making adjustments is difficult.  Though I have learned that early growth is important in setting a good foundation for later growth.

Last season was so hot the main issue I had was over mature sprouts.  This year it is the opposite so far.  But I am still a few weeks ahead of where I was last year, so the weather will improve.

Back to the Blog

Well, I have been a very naughty blogger (insert spanking joke here), so I am going to try and give an update to bring ya’ll up to speed.

After a difficult search for land I finally found a spot about 5 minutes from my house.  The location is perfect for sprouts – good sun, fenced and secure, access to water, and otherwise non-gardenable land.  It is basically across the road from Strathcona Park.

The New Site and a cold apprentice!

This season I have taken on a part-time paid apprentice which has made work a little easier and a bit more rewarding.  So far she has been very good and has contributed to to the process.

The season has been off to an erratic start.  My goal is to double production this year, so there is a lot of pressure to produce sprouts.  I started the season several weeks earlier than last year which has given me a chance to work out some kinks (insert another spanking joke here).  But it has been difficult since the weather has  been cold which results in a much smaller (though still good quality) sprout.

I have made a few improvements to the sprouting bench and expanded it by one section , allowing me to produce  over 100 trays a week if wanted (not wanted).  I have built doors on hinges that may access a little easier and added some light mesh to allow for cooling on hot summer days.

Artsy shot of the growing bench.

But the sprouts have been very popular so far and I have added 3 new restaurants to my client list with more to come (I hope!).  I will also be targeting catering companies soon.

My biggest change this year will likely be my switch to organic seeds.  I had trouble sourcing the seed last year and I think I now have a good source of reliable organic seed.  It is a little bit smaller, but actually grows fairly well and uniformly.  My first trials were OK, but I did not have the optimum sowing rate.  But I have 30 kg to work with so hopefully I get it right soon.  If the trials work out with these batches than I will continue with the organic seed and apply for organic certification.  If they do not perform well enough than I can return to the previous stock that I used.  I would really like to stay with the organic seed as conventional seed is subject to lots of chemical use.

The first market this year was not great as we did not have a very good location.  But the second market was much better and we sold out by 11:30 (which is way too early!).  But we got lots of regular customers back and they were all excited to be buying sprouts again.

The production manual’s first version is finished and I have actually shared it with a few people.  As this season progresses I will modify it to take into account changes I incorporate this season.  I received a 96% grade for the manual as part of my directed studies project which is reassuring!  But I have yet to meet with my professor to get his feedback – which is way more valuable than the grade.

I am also in the process of applying for a grant for the business this year.  We should have the business plan done this week.  I would use the funds to develop a marketing plan, upgrade the growing benches, cover my start up costs, and develop a product recall plan.  It has been a good process writing the plan and has given me a glimpse of the future.  The goal right now is to double production again by 2013 and to introduce new products including pea shoots (in process), wheat grass (soon), micro-greens (oh, where to start?), and vegetable starts.

Well, I hope that is a sufficient update after a long absence.  I will do my best to keep things a bit more up to date!

On the lookout for land!

Well, after a very successful season I am pretty much fully wrapped up now.  I should have my production manual finished within the next 2 months and will soon start doing seed trials for next season as I am considering trying to get my production Certified Organic.  There may be a few challenges since I am urban-centered, but I am confident I will be able to adequately address any concerns of the Certification Committee.  I am now more concerned about finding good enough certified organic seed.  This year I used a hybrid seed that performed so perfectly it is almost hard to believe (though I will give my production method a bit of credit as well!).  I am not as concerned about volume of production as I am about uniformity.  The sprouts this year were so uniform the trays looked like a perfect carpet of sprouts.  Quite beautiful.

My big challenge right now is still finding an appropriate urban location for production!  I have been too busy lately to do a thorough search, but I do have a few potential spots.  I am just holding out for something a little closer to home!

Deconstruction

Well, I have started taking apart the sprouting system to store it for the winter.  It was the first time I had been out to the set up in a fgew weeks and it felt pretty strange to not be growing sprouts!

As promised I have a video for you of me on my bike leaving the market for the last time.  Go to: http://www.vimeo.com/6868149 (be sure to turn down your volume before playing the video!).  I will also have some awesome pictures that a friend took one day at harvest so I will put together a little picture show as well.

I have yet to find anyone to build me a mechanical sprout harvester!  I presented the idea to an engineering class about to embark on year-long projects but had no takers.  I have one other approach I can take and if that does not work I guess I am stuck with the machete. I don’t mind.  I mean by this point I am the sunflower sprout samurai.  But the mechanical system would allow me to harvest sprouts at the market which would be a great display.  We’ll see what we can do!

A week without sprouts

Well, the sprout season is over and the downtime is nice.  But I am already looking ahead to next season.  My biggest challenge will be finding a piece of suitable land in the city for production.  I do have a few leads but still have some looking to do.

I will also be making a few changes to the system.  Nothing too major – just some improvements.  Including:

- Enclosing the sprouting bench with a mesh as well as the coroplast.  This way the coroplast cane removed when it is quite hot and the mesh will do a good job of keeping bugs out while still allowing for air flow.  I did not have any bug or insect problems this year, but they were able to get into the bench.  They can be a disease vector so if it is easy to keep them out then I will do so.

- Improving storage facilities.  I will enclose the tray transfer bench below and use it to store the harvest bin (for cleaning), harvest supplies, and buckets for soaking and rinsing seeds. Extra trays and tarps can be stores here as well.

- I may make some wooden platforms for the harvest to keep the area cleaner (depending where I end up).

- I will try to slightly increase the size of he harvest area to make manouevering a bit easier.

- I may build a stacked germination bench where trays go when they are covered and before they hit the sprouting bench.  With this model they would be covered by something other than another tray which will reduce the risk of cross contamination between batches.  I will likely also do some winter greenhouse trials to see the difference between growing the trays without weight on top and with excessive weight to see how it affects sprout quality and overall sprout weight.  If I used the germination bench without a weighted cover it would make things very much easier.  The weight just seems to really improve sprout quality and size.

- I will definitely be using a lighter soil mix next year, though still have several yards left from this season to use.  I can mix it with perlite to lighten it up.

All done!

Well, that’s it.  The season is now over! 2500 bags of sprouts later!

I am now about to get into writing about the project.

It feels good to be done, but I am already thinking about next year.  I am still hoping to get a mechanical sprout harvester designed and built (though this is becoming less and less likely).

My challenge now is finding a piece of land for next season.  I have a few leads, but really need to look around well for the ideal piece of land.

I have a few more videos and pictures still to post just for fun.  Here are the remnants of my last harvest!

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The dreaded manual

Well, now that production is mostly under control it is timeto start writing the production manual for small-scale and urban sunflower sprout production.  This will be quite a project and wil include an annotated version of the Code of Practice for the Hygienic Production of Sprouts (CFIA document) and all documents referenced therein; a step-by-step production manual; a short DVD showing the production in action; and a commentary paper meant to accompany the manual and detail the challenges of production.

I am hoping to get this done by December since that is the end of the semester in which it is due, but Icould see having some challenges with that!  HOwever I am working with my neighbour who will help edit and format the project for me.

This week I am going to try and implement a few improvements to the system.  I am going to raise some of the harvest set up a bit more off the ground.  This should make the work a bit easier on the back and also more hygienic.

Onward and Upward

And on we go still.

Just did the Saturday market today after doing the Friday harvest by myself for the first time.  It took two of us six hours to do the harvest and it took me seven on my own.  Go figure.  However, I find it was easier to keep the harevst area cleaner with two of us and there was less switching between tasks, which often means an extra hand washing.

The sprout project is going very well at the moment. Sales are good, production is good, and most glitches are being rectified.  Here are a few things we have worked out:

- Switched from bleach to “Aseptox”, a no rinse sanitizer that is basically like hydrogen peroxide and breaks down into oxygen and water.  Much better for the environment and still affordable.

- Controlling algae in trays.  getting some algal growth in the covering trays which are full of soil, but with no plants.  I now cover the covering trays with an upside down tray that has no holes to prevent water from getting in.

- Refined machete harvesting to get less waste and a cleaner cut though I still miss the odd few trays.  Not sunflower sprout samurai yet!

- Switched from making ice blocks to reusable ice packs.  This saves time and water and the ice packs seem to stay cold quite long.

- After many adjustments to seed planting density I think I have now found the optimum density.  It is quite a bit less than what I calculated from my trials but my harevst volume is increasing as the density goes down.  This allows for taller sprouts and bigger cotyledons (though it is hard to tell how much of this is weather).  The lower density also seesm to be resulting in more hulls popping off the sprout, making them easier to harvest and process.  Basically I have reduced planting density by almsot 30%!!

Some glitches still to be worked out:

- Need to build a little storage box for buckets to keep them cleaner and more organized.

- Could use better aeration on the benches as temperature get up past 40C.  This is good for growth, but seesm to lessen sprout quality.  I think this will wait until next year as I hope the hot spell is almost over.  It also means more financial investment and I am loathe to spend any more money.  I can see now where the flaw in my design was and it is easy to amend.

I will be working with my neighbour to start writing about the project and developing the production manual.  She will help me with outline, planning, layout, and editing in return for cutting down a tree in her yard.  A good deal I think.  This production manual will be a big job so I hope I can find the time once the semester starts again.

I still need to meet with myrpofessor to over the production as there are a few issues where I would really like feedback on including sanitization.  Especially of the seeds.  Typically seeds, are sanitized beofre they are soaked to indue germiantion, but I think they should either be done afterwards, or both before and afterwards.  Since microbial growth will occur during soaking, it makes snese to do a sanitization afterwards as well.  I do not think this will affect germination as the seeds are still fully encased in the hull at this point.  I also need to know if I can use the Aspetox for seed sanitization.

I ma also starting to look ahead to next year which means finding another place for the sprouting set up.  I would also like to do more collaborating and this looks like it might be in the works.  I’ll keep you posted on this.

Yikes, it’s hot!

I wish I had the time to update this blog mroe regularly, but the sprouts take a lot of time. Let’s go over a few glitches we have come up against and worked out. As a start we are still having great success with the machete as a harvesting tool.  We have also refined our setup so as to lose less sprouts in the  machete follow through and keep more hulls out of the cleaning and rinsing water. I am trying out a new santizer that seems to be working well.  The sprout equipment needs to be kept clean to avoid contamination so everything is cleaned and sanitized regularly.  I was using a mild bleach solution which works very well, but because we are working outdoors I did not want to risk accumulation of bleach in the soil over time.  It took me a while to find an alternaitve that I thought would work, but finally I have found one thanks to the home beer-brewing industry. It had not occurred to me to look to home brewers for sanitizer, but once I found it of course it made total sense.  The one I found is a powder (One-Step) that when mixed with water basically forms hydrogen peroxide (H2O2).  It breaks down into oxygen and heat so is good for outdoor use.  It kills microorganisms by inundating them with oxygen.  I am not quite sure how that works, but it seems to be working well.  It is also cost-effective.  I have not yet used it for sanitizing seeds, but i think it will be fine. Usually seeds are sanitized after being rinsed, but before being soaked to promote germination.  It is this soaking process that increases the risk of microbial infection in sprouts which is why the seeds are sanitized before soaking, – so there are no s to breed during this process.  But it makes mroe sense to me to be sanitizing the seeds after they have been soaked, so you can nesure you have eliminated micoorganisms before you sow the seeds.  Actually, sanitization should probably happen both before and after soaking to ensure there are no pathogens present.  As long as the sanitizer does not affect the seeds after it has started to germinate this should be fine.

Ahh Damnit, I wrote a bunch of stuff and it got lost when I tried to publish this page…

It’s too hot to do it again. Sorry.

More Success

Well, the past few 2weeks has been a wild ride!  I shift between being elated and overwhelmed with anxiety.

The sprouts have been selling well at the market.  I do 2 markets each week – Wednesday and Saturday.  The Wednesday market has been inconsistent so it is hard to determine production levels for that market.  Last week it rained, which really kept people away.  The Wednesday market is a new one so it does not yet have the following and dedication that the Saturday market does.  I think my bag sales over the past 3 weeks were 32, 54, then 24.  So who knows what to expect this week.   I have a big harvest planned for Tuesday, so here’s hoping for good weather and happy customers!

The Saturday market just keeps getting better.   Last week I sold over 110 bags and harvested my display trays when I ran out.   I amalso getting a lot of repeat customers who tell me they love the sprouts.  That has taken a lot of the stress away as I am constantly fretting over sprout quality.

I am loving getting all my gear loaded up to take to the market on my bike.  This Saturday I had three coolers and 5 trays, so it was a real show!  It is a blast crossing some of the busiore streets and seeing how people in their cars react to this big bunch of sprouts going by on a bicycle!

On the production side things have been up and down as well, though are now quite smooth.  The weather plays  a huge role in sprout quality and size, so it is hard to know what i am going to get each week.  even though the cooler weather results in a smaller sprout, they are of better quality (more tender).  I really keep an eye on the forecast and can shift my production one day if need be.  As the summer goes on, I may add a  day to production to ensure I get enough growth each week.

I had a bit of growth problem one week and realized it was that I did not have any drainage on the additonal bench section I added to production.  Once teh drainage was in, groweth seemed to normalize. However, one batch alsways seems to do better than the other.

Another challenge has been dealing with keeping things clean as we harvest.  The system is getting pretty good, but it is hard to keep things off the ground.  Any thing that hits the ground has to be sanitized and cleaned – so it is a hassle.  Tonight I build two small tables to put supplies and coolers so we can keep things off the ground and clean.

We have also revolutionized sprout harvesting!  Instead of using scissors I am now harvesting sprouts with a machete!  One foul swoop and the whole tray (well, most of the tray) is harvested instantly.  Here is a video for your viewing pleasure!

After a few weeks with the machete my technique us getting pretty good and we get a much more consistent and clean harvest.  We do lose some sprouts on the machete follow through, but the time gained is worth the loss of sprouts.

So this will be another big week of harvesting ansd then I am taking next week off to go camping adn to a music festival.  I am looking forward to the break, though am a bit nervous about losing the production.  But I think it will be worth it!

More soon, including a video of me on my bike heading to market and the production area as we work.

Off to the Market…

I feel bad that I have not been keeping this blog too up to date, but here we are again!

I have now done my first two markets.  The first one was on Saturday and I sold out before the market was over.  The second was on Wednesday and did not go as well.  It was the first market in a new location, so it may take a while to get established, but it still went OK.   Here I am heading to my first market with a trailer full of gear!

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And here I am explaining the sprouts for the umpteenth time!

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Success and Catastrophe!

Well, we are now rolling with the sprouts!  I did my first harvest on Friday (May 22) and harvested much more than I expected.  12 trays gave me 78 bags!, which is 6.5 bags per tray – much more than the 4 I predicted.  I sold 36 bags to local retailers and a few to passers by on the street outside my house!  It looks like the retailers will be regular buyers, so that is nice.

With the first harvest it too a while to get into the swing of things.  I could not remember all the systems I had used before, so it was a bit slow.  But once I got going it was more smooth.  I did all the harvesting at the Farm and then I did the bagging at home.  In the future the bagging will be done at the farm as well.

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But of more interest in the past while is the minor sprout catastrophe that occurred about a week ago.  I came to the farm to see that one of my benches had collapsed!  I’ll let the video explain the rest…

So what does this mean?  Well, I am considering just continuing with one bench for now to see how it goes.  The operation will still run a profit and I should be able to pay off the expenses and make some money this year.   After doing my first harvest I realized that harvesting 54 trays would be a huge undertaking and that is a lot of sprouts to sell. However, If I get regular supermarket sales and they sell well at the market, then I can quickly put the bench back up.  But I would definitely need to hire someone to help me.  I may do so anyway
as it would make things go more than twice as fast.

So to end on a good note, here is a nice picture of a full bench with a batch ready to be harvested in 2 days and the second batch which will be harvested in 4 days:

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Just a few glitches

Well, after a few test runs, which are still running, the system seems to be holding up pretty well. But there are a few glitches still – mostly in process, but a few infrastructure problems as well.

As I am preparing the batches I am noticing little sources of potential contamination. For example, the buckets I amusing to soak the seeds are often touching the ground. This is not a problem in itself, but when I store them they store inside of each other and thus can contaminate each other. I can remedy this by having two or three buckets which are storage buckets. These buckets will be used as the base buckets and not for production.

The other problem is drainage on the benches. The coroplast sheets are holding up pretty well, but they do bend a bit and there fore the water pools. I had wanted the benches to drain to a specific spot, but am now realizing that with each watering only a small amount will actually end up on the benches so I will just drill holes in the coroplast and have the water drain to the ground. Because the ground is covered with bark mulch it will drain away easily

The benches are also a bit wobbly because the synthetic lumber is a bit flexible so I need to brace the legs. It is an easy fix and inexpensive, but just more time. I also have not put in rodent security on the legs but have seen non problems. I was going to put in a platform that would make it hard for them to climb over, but now I amthinking of using aluminum sheeting that they cannot climb up.

I am finding that my seed density is too much so I need to do some adjustment there – so much for the trials!  Also I had a few irrigation glitches: the timers was not fully shutting off  and the microsprayers were the wrong ones.  SO I ordered new sprayers from Wes-tech in Victoria and realized that the timer was on backwards.  I had thought this would be OK, but apparently not – so it willnow have to be upside down since they are designed to account for water coming from above (from a spigot), whereas I have water coming from below

I also need a large tarp to cover the soil pile. This will prevent birds from pooping on it. I will use another tarp for the harvest table. I have been using a lumber wrap on the potting table and it has been working well. It makes it easy to clean and to switch from doing the soil to seeding the trays without mixing the two. One of the key things I am trying to do is not let any sunflower seeds hit the ground. I do not want to make the area a concentration of protein for rodent and bird pests. I watched a young squirrel sit and wait as I was seeding the trays yesterday which made me nervous!

Here’s another picture just for fun. These are the trays as I am getting ready to fill them with soil from the pile:

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First Batch Started!

And we’re off. I have started my first batch of sprouts so we are officially in production. I did only 13 trays to start off with which I am going to sell in front of my house this Saturday. I will also approach some grocers to see about regular sales to them as well. I have a bit of adjusting to do to the system, but otherwise everything is basically going according to plan. The watering system needs some upgrades (some better micro-sprayers) and the benches need a bit of stabilizing, but all in all my obsessive planning has paid off. Almost makes it a bit boring!

Here is a pic of the skookum new sprout production area:

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Here are the first sprouts coming up:

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Ready to go

Well, I have officially have one bench all ready to go. Now I just need to find someone to sell sprouts to. The first market is not until June 6 so I would like to do a few test runs before then. Perhaps to a few supermarkets or restaurants and SPUD. Here is a picture of the almost finished first bench and the rest of the area as well as some action shots of the soil coming! I pick up my sprouting trays on Monday so could do my first batch in Tuesday for a next Friday harvest. I am thinking I could even set up in one of the local parks and just sell the sprouts to the public!

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And here is the soil, but I can’t find the action shot so it is just sitting there!

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building benches

Well, after a reinvigorating week in Mexico, (cough, cough) I am back at it!

Today I started with bench assembly.  My friend Dale, who will be helping me with production was helping me build benches today.

Before starting bench assembly we covered the sprouting area with bark mulch.  The mulch was free (left over from a UBC event) so I thought I would take advantage of that resource.  The mulch not only makes the area look cleaner but it will also help with water drainage which will help avoid standing water problems.  We were lucky that Tim was at the farm and was able to use the tractor to dump the mulch right in the area, saving us a good hour or so of work.

After spreading out the mulch we started working on the benches.  The first order of business was determining the height of the bench tops.  we wanted to get the optimum height to make  lifting and moving the trays as easy as possible.  We found that having a higher bench top felt easier and so settled on a  height of about 41″ This will be slightly different once the benches are placed, but we have lots of room to play with.

So we started by cutting the bench legs, which are made of synthetic lumber and getting them ready to mount the bench tops.  We then screwed support braces to them and moved them and the bench tops to the sprouting area.  we also were able to use a large unused bench that was on sight as a potting bench for the trays.

Tomorrow I will be picking up irrigation supplies and some urbanite (broken up concrete pieces) for the base of the legs.  I also ordered the compost sand mix which will likely be delivered on Thursday.  I will lay out some cardboard and lumber wrap to place the compost on.

I hope that I will get at least one of the benches built tomorrow which will feel really good to have done.

I also talked to one of the organic food delivery companies today (SPUD) and after a good long conversation they said they would be interested in taking some sprouts.

So things are looking up.  First market is June 6, but I hope to et some batches in before then as a trial run….

Here are some pictures of today’s activities and perhaps the first picture with me actually in it!

Here is my buddy, Dale, looking cool as fuck as he prepares to torture another piece of lumber with his stunning good looks

Here is my buddy, Dale, looking cool as fuck as he prepares to torture another piece of lumber with his stunning good looks

Here I am, happy as hell to see these benches in place.  Behind me is the tray prep bench, while the harvest table will be in front of me.

Here I am, happy as hell to see these benches in place. Behind me is the tray prep bench, while the harvest table will be in front of me.

irrigation is in…

Well, The irrigation line to the sunflower and no-till area wen tin last week.  I spent a day on a machine digging trenches and then had the Farm apprentices to help with the installation and filling of the trenches.  Here is the water line leading to where the sprout harvest table will be:

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So I basically will not be doing any more work in this area until May 2nd or 3rd when I will remove the cut blackberries and dig out the root balls.  Then I will mulch the area with bark mulch and set up the benches.  Once the benches are up I can install the irrigation system.  I still have a bit of design work left to do, but can basically do that as I go.

Market Dates Established

I got my market dates confirmed yesterday and I will be doing at least 35 markets this year.  I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!  I had budgeted 40, but 35 is OK – and I will not have full production for all of them as I wil sometimes to two in a weekend (Sat and Sun.) so will likely just split up my weekend harvest between the two.  I also hope to be selling at a few other places so am planning for a very busy summer.

I also have the feeling I may end up building some more benches.  With 2 more benches I could try to do a daily or bi-daily production for fresh restaurant sales.  This also offers a bit more flexibility with my other markets.  I have also been considering getting some heating cables to extend the seaon a bit longer.  However, this takes me into the school year which could be a challenge.

8 more days and I am taking a little trip to Mexico which will be a welcome break.  I had thought that I would have to rush back into production when I returned, but my first market is not until june, so I have a bit of a break.  However, I may try to do some production for supermarkets or local CSAs to get an early harvest and to test the system.  Oh, and to get some income coming in!

Here Comes the Seeds, doo doo doo doo

Today, the first batch of seed arrived!!

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The seeds - Sitting outside my house!

It was a bit crazy receiving these big bags of seeds today. I guess I really am committed to this project! I have not yet established a good storage space at the farm so the seeds are currently being stored in a second floor closet at home:

The strangest things happen in closets...

The strangest things happen in closets...

I also talked to the company today about a soil mix which should be done by next week, but I need to prepare a space for it.
I have also designed a sign for the market:

sprouts-sign

I think we may just end up painting out own sign, but this at least gives us an idea of a design. And speaking of design I have not yet posted the area layout for the sprouts here (which will also be part of the no-till Project), so here it is:

Already outdated layout...

Already outdated layout...

I have changed the layout a bit. Now, it will be the soil pile, then a work bench for seeding and preparing soil trays, then the two sprout benches across from each other, as opposed to side by side, and then the harvest table. This keeps the soil prep area and harvest area separate for hygiene.

This is where the area is at right now:

Tomorrow I will also find out which markets I will be selling at. I have already been thinking about other places to sell the sprouts that might help diversify my options. Since I have only one type of crop, I am very vulnerable to unexpectancies!

Reflections

I am currently running two personal projects at UBC Farm. The main one is developing a model for urban sunflower sprout production under the direction of Brent Skura; the other is the development of a permanent “no-till” field at the farm. It is the no-till project that is the focus of my CSL, which has also led to a third contribution to the farm: irrigation design and installation.

The no-till project is taking place in two areas on the farm: on a small patch of grass just north of the caretakers’ trailers and south of the UACKGP field in a field which is now currently in blackberries! I started the project in the smaller area in February where I took some soil samples for analysis and then mulched the area with plastic. With the help of Graduate student Melissa Iverson, I took samples to test for bulk density, infiltration, pH, and organic matter content. Thus far I have only run the tests for bulk density. This garden area will be used for the farm’s caretakers as a plot to grow their own vegetables.

In the blackberry area I also started by taking soil samples in random areas. At the moment the area is still full of blackberries, but I am preparing to go in there with a machine and take them out! We are just waiting for the ground to dry. It is my hope that both of these areas will make a contribution to the production and teaching capacity of UBC Farm.

In conjunction with developing the ‘blackberry’ no-till area is the installation of irrigation to the area as well as two other areas on the farm. I told Tim I was happy to contribute 15 hours to the irrigation project, which would include design and management of the project. As I have previous irrigation experience, this is turning out to be a big benefit to the farm.

The no-till project is becoming a great way to get familiar with the farm’s soils, which I was also able to do with our farm project testing soil variability. The data I am collecting will also help contribute to the continued monitoring of soil at UBC Farm. I have also become much more familiar with the flow of the farm and after only a few months of working on the farm am already feeling very familiar with the land. One of my main objectives for coming to UBC was to be involved in the farm, both as a contributor and a learner, and the no-till project is proving to fulfill both of those goals.

The irrigation project is similar in that it allowed me to both contribute and learn. The time designing the system has helped me better get to know Tim, as well as the farm and its crops. I have also been able to utilize new technology for irrigation design which helped make the job easier as well as producing a useful irrigation map and plan for future projects. Below is what I was able to produce using Google Sketchup, which I basically call software crack since it is so addictive. One map is the overall irrigation plan and one is the underground connections, which help for parts purchasing:

field-map-2009-irrigation

Overall field view of irrigation layout

Underground connections for purchase planning

Underground connections for parts purchasing planning

Overall, there are a few things that have really stuck out for me in these projects so far.

One, is getting acquainted with the farm. Having operated a farm for several years myself, and then having spent the last 2 1/2 years in school, getting back onto the land has been very fulfilling. The fact that I am learning something new ever time I step onto the farm, and many times also get to teach someone else something new, makes my experiences at the farm very rewarding. This has made me very aware of my judgments and biases regarding farming, and especially soil management, which I am often critical of. Just seeing how hard everyone seems to be working towards developing a truly sustainable system has been very inspiring

The next thing that stood out was a reminder of the amount of work it takes to maintain a farm. The planning, implementation, and management of farming systems can be very time consuming because farms are such dynamic systems – especially farms like the UBC Farm, where so many different people are involved at so many different levels. However, it seems like this dynamism at UBC Farm may be working against its ability to be more profitable, and perhaps more sustainable. With so many projects and groups with which to organize and communicate it seems that it is hard to prioritize the soil and crops because there are so many other things to do relating to academia, tours, apprentices, volunteers, etc,. that crops and soil may actually be getting neglected. But, to be honest, until I have spent a whole season on the farm, this is difficult to know for sure.

Third, is to see how much the farm is contributing to student learning. Granted, it is up to the student to make their learning experience the best it can be, but what a great opportunity for those of us who are wanting to learn more about sustainable farm management!

And fourth, but not least, is feeling a really good opportunity to contribute my own experience to the farm. I can easily get intimidated by others in the agriculture field and often question how much I have to offer. But I have had so many conversations with people at the farm that have been such amazing exchanges of information that is helping restore my confidence in my past experience (its amazing how sitting in a classroom for years studying agriculture can make one forget what they know about agriculture). I am so much looking forward to many more conversations with students, faculty, volunteers, and anyone else involved at UBC farm to continue this exchange of knowledge and ideas.

At this point, I am not sure how I feel about the CSL component of the course overall. While I think the idea is a good one, it seems it might need a bit more direction. It was easy fr me because I had some projects I was already working on , but noticed a lot of students struggling to find a project to get involved in. Of course, perhaps this has nothing to do with lack of direction and more to do with lack of motivation.

See you in the fall!