Bay Branch Farm

a vegetable farm in lakewood and cleveland, oh | we grow food


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Germination chamber

Last year Spink built a germination chamber complete with grow lights. Unfortunately, the lights (LEDs) produce too much heat and the chamber has no way to cool down, so he made some modifications and now we just use it to germinate seeds and then move them to heat mats to grow a bit before hardening off and transplanting outside. The germination chamber can hold up to 12 – 1020 trays on 2 shelves (with option to add another shelf in the future). There is a heater inside (white plate) plugged into a temperature controller, a small fan to keep air flowing inside, and a humidifier outside with cold, moist air pumped in to the side via a drilled hole. The entire chamber is insulated.

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The inside of the germination chamber (6′ x 3′ x 2.5′).

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The temperature and humidity controls.

When we realized the lights make it too hot, Spink built a chamber on top of the germination chamber for the starts to go once they pop up. This is where they go to be under lights. Lights can be moved up and down depending on the height of the plants. In the picture below we moved the lights down closer to the seedlings. This is where they stay for about 3 to 4 more weeks before potting up again or transplanting outside, depending on the plant.

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Once seeds germinate they are moved under lights and onto heat mats.


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Hoop house update

Last season we talked about removing the plastic from the hoop house. It had given us 6 great seasons and was showing wear and tear, plus I wanted to flush out the soil under plastic with a good soaking rain and a season of snow. The more we discussed it, the more we liked the idea of moving it completely. We disassembled it and moved it to our back yard. The best thing about having a hoop house right behind our house is that we can easily vent it on a sunny day and close it back up when the sun goes down. Speaking of venting, we are installing roll up sides on the updated version, which will facilitate venting. In addition, our new space allows for a slightly bigger hoop house. We are going from a 12′ x 20′ to a 12′ x 28′ and increased the height of the new one to allow our summer trellised tomatoes to grow more. Although it’s not that much bigger, it feels huge to me! We have some more work to get it ready for plastic, but this is major progress, especially considering it’s February! Really, there should be snow on the ground and temps below freezing, but the winter has been unseasonably mild with a full week of 40+ degree days, including a day that got over 70.

Here are some recent pics of the process:

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Oak frame attached. Posts are buried 3′ deep with 3′ above ground.

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We covered it with some shredded leaves and put ag fabric around the edges by the fence

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Adding and securing the 21.5′ hoops with Tek screws. Hoops are 8″ inside the posts.


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Moving the hoop house

In 2011, we built a 12′ x 20′ hoop house. Over the years the plastic has weathered and at the end of this season we took the plastic off. Since we were doing that, we decided to move the entire structure to our house and extend it to make it bigger. Below are some pics of the process. The new hoop house will be 12′ x 32′ and we are making it a bit higher too in hopes of accommodating more indeterminate tomatoes next season.

When we get the rest of the frame installed, I’ll post again. We don’t plan to put the plastic on until spring – no point in putting it through a winter unnecessarily.

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The trusty hoop house – end of this season.

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The auger we rented to drill the holes for the new site. Got lucky with a 70 degree Nov. day.

 

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We put the first hoop in to get a feel for size.

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Setting the posts at the new location.


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The kale came back!

We thought it was a goner, but the kale came back (not quite) the very next day.

Earlier this summer we had a beautiful kale bed. We started seeds in the spring, transplanted and covered with ProtekNet bug netting. Once mature, we uncovered it to facilitate weekly harvesting.

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Kale bed June 28th

We managed to get several harvests out of this bed. The leaves were big, beautiful, green and delicious. Unfortunately, we started to notice some flea beetle damage in early August. We made a mistake of planting kale next to broccoli – two brassica crops that flea beetles love. We will never do that again. The pests just jumped from one bed to the next for a generous buffet of food each day. We thought the kale would weather the onslaught since it was more mature and tougher than young leaves, but the beetles proved to be too much and it got to a point where we had to stop harvesting. It was no longer marketable.

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This is the damaged kale – August 30th

I did pull out the broccoli beds, but never got around to pulling out the kale. The month of September had its fair share of cooler nights and warm days. I believe flea beetles thrive in warmer weather or perhaps they simply reached the end of their life cycle. In any case, the population has greatly diminished and the kale appears to have rebounded. New leaves look beautiful and I hope to be able to continue to harvest from this bed until the end of the year.

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New leaves coming in look good – September 12th

I tried some other organic controls throughout the summer, including diatomaceous earth and neem oil as a foliar spray. Neither really made much difference. I had to cover all plantings of arugula and mustards to prevent damage. Next season we will not plant any brassicas in this plot in an attempt to eliminate the flea beetles. I have to say, though, I’m pretty excited to see this kale bed recover.


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Pumpkins!

It’s starting to look a lot like fall here (even if it doesn’t feel like fall yet). In the spring, we started pumpkin seedlings in the basement. Almost 4 months later, we have legitimate pumpkins! We transplanted these into the hugelkultur beds and they took off. Despite some early warning signs of squash vine borer activity, it looks like they are thriving. Once I saw the telltale signs of the vine borer, I went to town slicing them out and covering the slit stems with soil in hopes that they would recover. A little internet research explained this trick and it was a really disgusting process, but I’m pretty happy with the results.

We planted about half a dozen Sugar Pies from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and about the same amount of Cargo pumpkins from Johnny’s. The sugar pies are small (about 2 lbs each) and the cargos are about 10 times that size. I researched online since this is my first time trying to grow pumpkins and learned that one can harvest the orange ones and store them until Halloween. This also encourages other flowers to set so you can get another round of growth. I put boards under the bigger ones that are still turning color to help prevent rot and bug damage on the bottoms that are in contact with the ground. The small ones have ag fabric underneath on one side and that seems to be helping limit any damage or rot, though there are a couple that some critter has taken a nibble of so I’ll use those first if they aren’t too damaged. Overall, I’m pretty excited about this. All those mornings of picking off and crushing the cucumber beetles and doing some hand pollination to help things along appear to have paid off!

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Sugar Pie Pumpkins – two ready to harvest and one still ripening.

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Cargo Pumpkin with a board underneath. Notice the green one at the bottom of the image.


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Beets!

I’m not entirely sure what we did right this season, but the beets have been amazing. Somehow we got our succession planting down with this crop and have had a steady supply for markets since 4th of July.

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Red Ace – each of these weigh close to 2 pounds!

I’ve never been a huge fan of beets (I do love the greens, though), but this year we’ve experimented with some different recipes beyond just roasting them. One – beet burgers – came from a customer and these are absolutely delicious. We made extra and put the extra patties in the freezer for a future tasty meal.

We also made beet steaks. Here’s the recipe:

  • 2 large beets
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Chop onion and garlic. Cut the beets into 1/2 inch thick slices. Make an aluminum foil bag and place the beets, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper inside. Place aluminum foil bag on the grill for 30 minutes at around 350 degrees. Remove the beets from the bag and grill on high for about 10 minutes on each side. Continue to cook the bag and serve the onions and garlic with the beets.

What’s your favorite way to prepare and eat beets?


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Hugelkultur and 3 Sisters

A couple years ago we put a hugelkultur bed in our backyard and last year we added another one. Hugelkultur is a raised bed made of wooden branches, logs, rotted wood, grass clippings, leaves and other natural debris. We covered ours with soil and planted right in it. So far so good! We usually plant squash in these beds since they are big and have ample room for running plants. Hugelkultur beds retain water well due to the makeup of the beds and they have a lot of nutrients within the decaying materials.

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Two hugel beds full of squash and pumpkins. Wood chip mulch is around the base of the beds to keep weeds down.

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Close up of the pumpkin patch.

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Squash bed.

Another permaculture technique we tried this year is to plant an area with the three sisters – corn, beans and squash. This is a Native American agricultural practice of interplanting crops that support each other. The beans fix nitrogen, the corn gives the beans something to climb, and the squash provides ground cover for weeds and keeps pests off the corn. We are growing Kentucky Wonder pole beans, a variety of squash, and Oaxacan green corn. It’s the first time we’ve grown corn. Some of it has grown quite well, though the outside bed has been a bit stunted.

Corn on the stalk

Corn on the stalk

 

This photo shows the full planting. The corn on the edge is stunted.

This photo shows the full planting. The corn on the outside is stunted.