Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Florida Weave Ain't a Haircut

It's a tomato staking/trellising method! I stumbled upon this lifesaver through my bandmate, Jessica, who used to work at Red Basket Farm. She couldn't recall the name of the technique, but gave a good 'nough description that given a little googling it was no problem to find. Eventually, I used the following website and went from there.


I'll admit hammering these 35 fence posts taught my right forearm a lesson, hauling around the straw bale for a stool, as these were six foot posts and even with my Chacos I'm still about a half foot short. Hindsight being what it is, next year, I'll do the post installation just after tilling. Besides this learning curve, the Florida Weave rules. I really couldn't imagine caging or staking 100+ tomato plants.

Also in the above photographs, you'll notice that some of that hardwork, me and Kuchna put in several months back with the perennial flower bed is actually paying off. There's a huge assortment of colorful legumes and a couple sunflowers in the photo. As of today, I've got some multi-colored poppies and some white starry asters springing up. When putting in a perennial flower bed for the first time, it's really difficult to discern what is and what is not a flower or weed. So, sometimes you need to let the weeds go a little extra long before you know for sure and pull them.

Ryan Kennedy and I also planted 29 raspberries along a 55 foot hedge two weeks ago. The raspberries were bare-root and have yet to break dormancy. I planted them at twice the suggested spacing. So even if I lose half of them, I'm still good. If you can't tell, I don't trust bare-root plantings.

Lastly, the weirdest thing happened to me on Friday the 25th. As a precursor to this story, I just want to clarify that when you do this urban farm thing, people stop and talk to you, like all the time, seriously. People ask what you're doing, where you selling the vegetables, do you have permission from the city, etc. And then in general, they let you know what you're doing is great.

However, Friday was a little different. I was doing an extreme morning watering, as I was about to visit Rhode Island for the weekend. Then some guy pulls up, and parks illegally on Sprecher, and is yelling something akin to an introduction. It turns out he was introducing himself as a delegate of the SGI Community Center that borders the farm. With the introduction came a booklet-the kind I thought until now that only evangelical Christians gave out to people or left in bathrooms.

Immediately there after, came the requisite, "what ya doing here?" I let him know I was putting in a farm. The reaction was a mocking scoff from this spiritual man, who still hadn't taken the time to even get out of his car. Then the tone got a little insidious, when he asked the next requisite question, "does the city know you're doing this?" Of course, and I let him know that I have a five year lease with the city.

Then his tone changed, like a complete one-eighty to overly friendly (though the dude never got out of the car), as he let me know about SGI. Apparently, they're a Buddhist group. Their spiritual leader has over 100 honorary doctorates. They believe in world peace. They want to change the name of Crossburn Park to their spiritual leader's name. AND THEY WANT MY FARM TO EXPAND THEIR ASPHALT PARKING LOT!

WTF? Really? Really.

Hopefully, SGI respects my lease and that's the end of it. We'll have to see.

Ending on a positive note, I went to Melt the other day and was more than pleased to learn that they had switched take-out containers to a 100% compostable type made from sugarcane fibers. Matt Melt pretty much does everything right, and it's great to see an example of such green leadership.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Farm Hand Profile: Michael W "Birch" Birchler

I thought I'd try to make this whole blog thing more interesting by stopping a little bit the talking about myself, and instead introducing some of my trusted, weathered farm hands that I've mentioned here or there and along the way. I intend to make this "Farm Hand Profile" into a series.

First up (appearing in chronological order as to when I actually got some physical labor and sweat units out of the them on the farm) is Michael W "Birch" Birchler. Oddly enough, I met Mike 2,200 miles away in coastal Oregon at a another best friend's wedding, whose sister just so happened to live in Lakewood, who Mike eventually married. ?

Mike's hankered down in some really crappy weather throughout this Winter and Spring. There was this time in February when the snow was a foot deep, and we had met up for a beer. Subee-1 was weighted down with several hundred pounds of coffee grinds, and I was griping about needing to get those out of the car. And no sooner had I said "I just need to go dump them on the farm," than we were off at one o'clock in the morning in that foot of snow to the farm in order to christen the grounds with the first of many formerly caffeinated amendments.

Throughout the Spring, we've gone on leaf humus runs. These "runs" tended to correspond to weekdays that we were both off, and it was raining. Our best day, we totaled 18 32-gallon garbage cans of humus. In terms of weather, it was one of the worst: a balmy 58 degrees with either drizzle, fog, rain, storms, or an in between stage. Shoveling humus in the rain is sludgingly heavy and literally brown staining. It gets on everything. And when you finally get in the car, the car immediately fogs up from the aerobic activity of the humus and the dankness of the air. Good times.

Besides these laborious duties, Mike has also contributed with other fun tasks like rock/foundation digging, sulfur spreading, trenching, mowing, and the always risky watering.

As you're starting to see, Birch is quite the asset. His up for anything personality and his zen-like in the moment-ness has allowed the farm to move forward despite the weather and regulatory hurdles. And for that I thank him. In the meantime, I'm trying to get as much sweat and backache as possible out of Mike. 'Cause come August when all those psychedelic tomatoes are coming in and needing picked, Mike is instead going to be busying himself with his very first newborn, which I guess is a fairly valid excuse to not help out on the farm for a while. Now if you ever wanted to help Mike this father-to-be, I know he'd be glad to sell you an iPhone. Just get in touch.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Networking Week in Review

It's been a week since the Farm's been in and yet no sprouts of corn, beets, or potatoes. The starts seem to be assimilating nicely, but from what I can tell I'm mostly growing rocks. I swear that every time I water, the rocks multiply and grow in numbers. The next workday will be a "fill-a-five-gallon bucket with rocks day before you are permitted to go home". However, my immediate chore right now is watering, which takes about an hour. After last night's downpour, I have at least one day off.

Apart from the watering, last week was filled with networking, which is something that used to make me completely gag/feel sickened in the realms of corporate business/suits/golf, but has turned into quite a pleasure now that I'm dealing with grassroot non-profits, other non-profits, entrepreneurs, foodies, and farmers.

On Tuesday the 1st, Frank Skala invited me to give a 15-minute urban farm presentation at the monthly Friends of Euclid Creek (FOEC) meeting. FOEC is a watershed group trying to revitalize Euclid Creek. As a watershed group, FOEC supports things like dam deconstruction/rebouldering, rainbarrel workshops, bioswales, and rain gardens. However, FOEC also supports a much more generalized environmental view, and hence my invitation. The presentation went great and generated applause from the 25 or so people in attendance. They seemed to get a real kick out of "Old Husher" and my speech segues were smooth.

Wednesday was a power day, starting early at Cleveland State University, where I met graduate student, Keith Peppers. He sat down with me all formal-like in a music sound room complete with a drumkit and that soundproofing stuff on the walls. There was a table in the middle of the room, adorned with a huge microphone and a Marantz digital recorder and two chairs on opposite sides. And in this weirdly sterile, soundproof environment, I gave my oral history in the form of a question and answer regarding my choice to become an urban farmer with Mr. Peppers.

Immediately afterward, I went right down the street to what is probably the coolest screen printer in the U.S.A, Jakprints, to do some market research on women's t-shirt cuts. During my visit, I also learned that if I bring in five pounds of recycled paper, then I'll get 10% of my order, which is alotta mullah when you have eight screens.

In the early evening, I caught up with Jim Doughman for some beers of JumpStart Inc, which is a non-profit Northeast Ohio technology investment firm. He wanted to talk just to see if he could possibly assist in any way. Pretty early in our discussions, he came up with a couple potential funding opportunities and list of several individuals. By the end of our pitcher of Moondog ESB, Dan Young (mobile-app guru of DXY Solutions) was chatting with us about mobile-apps that could assist in picking orders.

Wednesday ended at Lakewood's Bela Dubby coffee house. Wednesday night is "Noise Night" at Bela Dubby and is quite the draw (to my surprise). Both, my friend, Chris Wood, and artist-buddy, Steve Kuchna were going up there. So I had no choice. Chris wanted to buy tomato plants, and Steve had art for me.

Saturday was another good day. It rained a boatload, thus reducing my workload. When I got to the Farm that day, my nice rake was laying there right next to the plot. Apparently, Mike and I had forgotten it the day before; and obviously, no one had stolen it either. For as many warnings as I have gotten from the multitudes of various resources, the rake should have been stolen in theory. How's that for creating vibrations?

Furthermore, it was Little League Marching Day down the street. Eventually, these little kids all marched up Sprecher in their various, green, orange, red, or blue uniforms past the Farm. I was watering while this was happening, and then all of sudden, I had a man making a beeline directly to me. I should have recognized him, but in his civilian uniform of shorts, baseball hat, and sunglasses, I had no clue. It turns out it was Cleveland City Council President, Sweeney! After quick introductions, he gave me a verbal pat-on-the-back, and I returned it with a business card, and he proceeded with the March.

Today, Kuchna and I will be making the last tweaking of the "A Farm in Cleveland?!" t-shirt artwork. Ordering will commence!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Amended, Trenched, Fenced, and Planted: Plot on!

It was a pretty intense Memorial Day weekend. I felt like it needed to be an ante-up, all-in kind of weekend, no more dilly-dallying. My 100+ heirloom tomatoes needed a place to go. I don't think I could have picked a worse weekend in terms of weather 85 degrees, overly sunny, and dankly humid. My hair didn't dry all weekend, even after showering, and it didn't seem like I could drink enough water.

So the general plan for the weekend was trench on Friday, fence on Saturday, and plant on Sunday. The whole process ended up extending one extra day into Monday. I woke up early on Friday and secured my afternoon rental of the Ditch Witch from Alternative Rental and Service. The Ditch Witch is a terrifyingly looking machine with a two-foot long chainsaw-like blade. The blade is attached to another contraption, which allows it roll. The whole purpose is to cut a two-foot deep trench so that the fencing can be buried in order to keep out the four and two legged critters. My main concern being the groundhogs.

Mike "The Foreman" Birchler helped on Friday, which without his input, none of this would have gotten done. There were times when the Ditch Witch cut like room temperature butter, and you could literally daydream of all the future produce. And then there was the other 80% of the time, when we were cutting out part of the buried asphalt driveway, or hitting large metal pipes, or clogging the blade with bricks, or getting stuck in the dirt. There were some places that I just had to compromise and go less than the ideal two feet deep. Hopefully, groundhogs can't burrow through rock. I performed most of the trenching, but Birchler kept my lines straight, dug up the nuisance rocks/bricks/pipes, hauled the kicked up rocks/bricks/pipes, and was a good general support when I was hurling f-bombs at the Ditch Witch. I think we both got a few more hairs on our chest that day.

Saturday, the work posse started late (work posse being defined here as me and Brandon Scullion). The sun was out in full force, helping to re-burn Friday's sunburn. The task at hand was to put up the critter fence. 25 fence posts and four 50-foot lengths of fence. We thought no problem. Mike and I did all the hard stuff the day earlier. Or so we thought...

It turned out that everything about the fencing besides driving the posts was difficult. One of the least joyful tasks was latching the fence to the posts in the trench. Basically, you had to lay on your chest in the piercing-sharp rocks and dirt, while plunging your hands into the trench, hoping to see what you were doing. Then there were the edges of the fence that seemed engineered to cut flesh. I'm just glad Brandon and I are up to date on our tetanus shots. The last fencing chore was to simply backfill the dirt back into the trench. It hadn't rained overnight or anything, but that dirt settled, and what was allotted an hour for backfilling ended up taking us three more sweat-soaked hours.

Sunday was the fun day with a bigger group of volunteers than ever, including mainstay, Brandon, my old lady, Sarah, her yoga partner, also named Sarah, and Cosmic Marijana (who is a real person/artist, and not a pot reference). Ryan Kennedy came through for me again with another couple bails of straw, which were slated for Scandinavian-styled potato growing. Sunday, we managed to plant 10 pounds of yukon golds, 112 tomato plants, a handful of cukes and small squashes, and thirteen melons.

The tomatoes were laid out in seven rows of sixteen tomato plants. The first three rows comprised of four cultivars (Principe Borghese, Amish Paste, Jersey Giant, and Japanese Black Trifele) in an orderly fashion. For the next four rows, order was thrown out the window, and the 20+ cultivars were planted randomly. I guarantee I will have the most psychedelic tomato patch in all of Cleveland with reds, purples, yellows, whites, and stripes. August looks to look amazing. The melons were put on 4-mil black plastic to absorb as much heat as possible. I can't wait to see how they prosper in the full sun of Old Husher's Farm.

On Monday, Brandon and I finished the plantings with four rows of corn, a row of onion and basil, blue pumpkins, and beets galore. Now we just had to name the plot itself for the sake of reference. My crew and I threw around a lot of names; some of them were generic like Plot A; others were whimsical; but eventually I settled with the obvious no-brainer, "the Old Plot." The Old Plot being the first is subsequently the oldest (duh). That evening I treated the crew to a seven pound pulled pork shoulder on the grill. I went all out for them, and besides the shoulder I grilled a cabbage stuffed with bacon and bbq sauce. There were three homemade bbq sauces on hand (North Carolina vinegar, South Carolina mustard vinegar, and classic bbq), as well as some Texas Pete's if people needed some kick. Thanks yall.

As for the soil amendments, I just want to state for the record in digital print (so that I can personally forget) the amending. We added 28 32-gallon garbage cans of leaf humus, an approximate literal ton of coffee grinds from Loop, 46 pounds of sulfur to drop the pH to a slightly acidic level, and 35 pounds of rock phosphate. I'm avoiding green sand, lime, and ash because my potassium levels are extremely high.

Looking ahead into the near future, I intend to plant my raspberry patch and paw paw orchard within the next week. Subsequent major watering will follow. And then onto new plot development.