The weekend was beautiful with temps reaching the low 50s. Seemed like as good a time as any to prune our fruit trees. A couple years ago we planted 2 plums, 1 peach and 1 cherry tree. None had really been pruned since planting since we wanted the root stock to get established. The peach tree has been through the wringer. After first being planted it got run over by the trailer, snapped near the base and managed to miraculously bounce back and even produce some amazing fruit last year! Given it’s rough life so far, it has grown lopsided and was in need of a trim. Our farm mentor explained that we should prune it to look like a vase and remove any branches that are overlapping where they might shade out each other. We did our best and I think the results look pretty darn good! We’ll have to wait til summer to see how they fill out and if they bear any fruit, but I’m super excited to see how things turn out. And, since we don’t want to waste anything on the homestead, we cut up all the pruned branches and placed them in a growing hugelkultur bed.
I recently finished reading The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman. This book is going to be a game changer for our farm and I cannot wait to begin putting some of the practices in this book to use. I’m also giddy because we got to meet the author and hear him speak at the Young Farmer’s Conference earlier this month. What a treat! He is super down to earth and easy to talk with, open to answering questions, and an all-around nice guy. I also loved learning (from his book and his talks) that leaning his farm has meant growing on less land (5 acre property with less than an acre under production) and reducing the number of crops they grow, while at the same time becoming more profitable. Thanks, Ben, for sharing your insight! I should note, too, that we got to meet Steve Brenneman, who owns the Aluminum Trailer Company and is a lean coach. He is a CSA customer of Ben’s and helped Ben implement lean practices on the farm. Steve’s factory is highlighted in the book as well.
The basic concept behind lean is to eliminate non-value-added waste (muda) and put your customer at the center of all that you do. In a previous job, I received some training around lean six sigma and got to the level of green belt. I had thought about lean on the farm, but never to the extent that this book proposes. Ben simplifies lean, saying it’s about looking at your product/service and asking, what is my customer willing to pay for? The answer shows you the value-added elements of your product and everything else is waste. The waste activities may be necessary for you to get your product to market, but if the customer isn’t willing to pay for that, then you want to try to minimize that as much as possible.
Some of the lessons I hope to apply this season include:
- Applying 5S to the farm: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain
- Identify and eliminate physical waste
- Allowing customers to tell us what they value
- Value stream maps to see what a customer is willing to pay for and reduce/eliminate waste
- Rooting out process waste:
- uneven production and sales
- unused talent
- Tools to get rid of waste:
- minimize moves
- lighten the load
- don’t overdo
- 5 why’s
- shorten cycle time
- choose technology with a human touch
- order supplies just in time
- benefit from expertise of others
- Tools to remove farm management waste
- practice production control
- cut costs to grow margins
- replace low-profit items with high-profit items
- maximize fixed costs
- level the load
- use metrics to measure work
- balance creativity with discipline (15% rule)
- Use pull selling – have available what customers want when they want it
- Kaizen (continuous improvement)
The book is full of applied examples of all the above concepts as well as case studies and pictures. I highly recommend it for current farmers. As we look at growing in limited space, we want to be profitable with the land we have. We are not looking to grow and get bigger; rather, we are looking for a good life in which we grow quality food for ourselves and our customers. We want to work smarter, not harder to make that happen. The Lean Farm gives us a number of tools we can employ to help make that happen. There are several ways we can lean our farm to make it more efficient, less wasteful and more sustainable. Thanks for this great resource, Ben!
It’s been a while since my last post and I wanted to share a few pictures from the farm. We are conducting a lot of experiments this year since we are taking the year off from growing for market. One thing I have learned is that taking a year off does not mean we have no work to do….in fact, there is likely more work since we got so far behind this spring and are having to play catch up. When you don’t grow veggies, something else moves in to take root in all that beautiful soil. Weeds are in abundance and have set their roots, spread their seeds and taken over the plot at Lark. We planted a bunch of sunflowers and a bed of carrots. A few weeks ago I decided to clean up 4 beds near the hoop house and plant greens. I should have left the soil for a week or 2 to let the weed seeds germinate, then weed them out and then plant, but I didn’t. And, the results are horrendous….lots of weeds along with the beautiful greens. The greens have also been heavily hit by flea beetles so they are all filled with holes. I may have to just start over with that area.
We are enjoying rhubarb and had a lovely spring crop of asparagus. The herbs are all in full swing and make a lovely addition to almost every meal and drinks. Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are off to a great start in the hoop house. More pics of all this to come.
Today, I planted a bed of okra and sweet potatoes. My hope with the latter is that the vines will shade out any new weeds and we’ll also get some sweet potatoes out of the deal. Thanks to Bruce C. for the awesome slips and okra starts he gifted us.
After another long, cold winter, we are coming out of hibernation. February is said to have been one of the coldest on record and I’m all too happy to see it go, though old man winter is a reluctant traveler and seems to be wearing out his welcome in March as well.
This year we plan to focus on infrastructure and soil building at our home plot and do not have plans for going to market or growing for market. Of course, we will still have a home garden and will experiment with a few new plants. We also hope to add some perennials to the mix, including raspberries and perhaps figs. The decision not to market farm this year was not an easy one. We are both working full-time jobs and have a new family member. We are fostering a 6 month old baby boy. Last year we became licensed foster parents and the experience has been incredibly rewarding, albeit somewhat frustrating (due to the situation not the baby – he’s great!). So, that new responsibility takes up quite a bit of time and market farming is just not realistic this year. Though, I still can’t stop myself from getting excited by the beginning of spring, one of my favorite times of year. I love seeing the bulbs emerge from the soil and hear the birds chirping. And, we have started seeds in the basement. Here are a few pics of spring in these parts:
We are keeping the plot in Lakewood and will put it under cover crop. We are confident that our soil is a living system and want to keep it that way. Putting in a cover crop will keep out the weeds and build the soil structure even more, especially after nearly 5 years of intensive growth there.
Last year we saved some seeds from one of our butternut squashes and early in the season I planted them in tiny pots in the basement. Those 15 seeds turned into about 100 squash! So exciting to watch them grow through the season. And, right now, with this warm spell, they are continuing to flower and put on new fruit.
The new area in our backyard now has a nice cover crop mix of peas and oats. In late June we planted buckwheat, which matured through the season and was cut and tilled in during the month of August. After that Spink drilled in the mix of oats and peas, which will fix nitrogen, build a nice deep root system and winter kill leaving great organic matter behind. There is still quite a bit of buckwheat in there too and we think that will be okay. The condition of this soil is so much more amazing than that of our Lark plot. We are super excited for growing veggies in here next spring!
Wow, the buckwheat we put in as a cover crop has reached ~3 feet tall and is full of pollinators. It is just an awesome experience to both watch and listen to all the activities by bees and other insects now that the buckwheat is flowering. There are so many honeybees out there! We put the buckwheat in as a cover crop to help build this area of land that we plan to plant veggies in next spring. The buckwheat is a rapid growth weed suppressor that also helps make nutrients more available to plants, particularly phosphorus. As it breaks down in the soil, it releases these nutrients. It also attracts lots of beneficial insects.