Monday, March 30, 2009

Our Starbird Plans

We're the big green spot in the middle of the muddy field. Obviously, we have chosen not to plow our plot but rather use a no-till method of preparing our soil. Since we got such a late start this year we probably won't be as productive as we would have been if we had been able to start last fall. In light of this, we will be doing a modified version that combines raised beds with mulch layering. We are gradually building the beds and have one completed and planted with peas. We'll be doing the same with at least 3 more long beds that will be planted with a variety of beans. We are also preparing a similar garden for corn. As the spring and summer progress we will continue creating these beds and planting as we go. Happy Gardening

What to do with it all

Have you thought about what you are going to do with all the produce you grow in your garden this summer? Eat it? Give it away? Sell it?

When I was growing up on a farm in the Midwest in the '50's, we grew and preserved all of the vegetables and fruit we needed for the year. How, you might ask. The fruit we canned included apple sauce, peaches, grape juice, apricots, plumbs, and cherries. My mother had an old Presto pressure canner and she used dozens of Ball and Mason glass canning jars. You can still buy those and if you see them, grab them quickly. There's likely to be a shortage of canning jars this summer, what with the economy and all. Today, I prefer the wide-mouth jars, since it is easier to put fruit in and get it out of them. You can re-use the jars and lid rings but you will need to buy new lids with their rubber seals every year. A pressure canner will save a lot of energy in canning since it cuts the cook time by half.

Vegetables, for the most part, must be frozen. Vegetables are low in acid content and that would encourage the botulism bacteria if you were to can them. Be safe and freeze. A quick blanching before freezing will halt the deterioration of the food. More on that later. If you plan to freeze a lot, start shopping now for a freezer. The chest type uses less energy.

We didn't do any drying, although I know that some people have been very successful with drying.

Even better, plan your winter garden to yield some fresh vegetables even through the winter: Brussel Sprouts, broccoli, carrots.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Hi Everyone:

I have access to a large quantity of seeds. If anyone needs them I have onion, peas, beans, corn, carrots and maybe some other. If you would like any just let me know. I have bags of these things that would given to the Master Gardeners and they need to be used. There are three types of peas, black eyed, snap and snow. Several types of beans as well. Let let me know what you need. I sure do wish this rain would stop, I am anxious to get out there and plant!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lime -- "Put yer money in yer dirt"

That is what an experienced farmer said to me once.

He was advising me what to do the first year with a new garden. I did that and I was not sorry.

The pH of the soil at StarBird Farm is quite low -- about 4.5, not surprising given the history and location of the farm. This is great for berries and most trees. Vegetable production requires a pH from 5.5 to 7.0.

You can add agricultural lime to your soil to raise the pH. According to WSU: "A rough estimate for a garden that hasn't been previously limed would be: per 100 square feet of garden: sandy soil, 4 pounds every 2 years; loamy soil, 6 pounds every 2 years; clay soil, 8 pounds every 3 years. Dolomite lime is most often used because it supplies magnesium as well as calcium. Add it in late fall after crops are harvested to prepare soil for planting the following spring."

Chris reports: "Carol had a "lime requirements" test done by UMass and they recommended 500 lbs. per quarter acre." That's a dozen 44 pound bags, less than $50 at the CENEX Co-op in Everett. A good investment!

More on plowing

Chris reports:
I wanted to update you on the pasture plowing by our neighbor: It has now been plowed down to 12" and the soil looks just as pretty as expected. Photos attached.

The final step is to rototill to smooth and fluff up the soil. To do this, the soil needs to be reasonbly dry, which is a factor of both how fast the raised furrows "drain" and the rainfall. Our neighbor is best-qualified to make this assesment, so I'm leaving it to his discretion. But, the tiller is mounted on his tractor and he's anxious to get it completed, so that he can get paid. I'll let you know just as soon as the job is finished, hopefully by the end of the weekend.

Although not everyone opted for the soil prep, everyone is still getting the lower rate as if it was a simpler job. That's $45 for 1/4 acre and dirt cheap compared to how much work it would be to prep the soil manually or with a small tiller, that wouldn't cultivate nearly as deeply. This will be due as soon as the cultivation is completed.

So, if you have a 1/4 acre mini-farm and have not already paid, please be ready to mail a check either now or soon. Please make your $45 check payable to "Bruce King." You can mail it to me at:

Starbird Community Farm
1907 51st Avenue SE
Everett, WA 98205

I'm as excited as you are to get rolling and see how everyone's planning unfolds.

all the best,


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spring Plowing

I was also at the farm yesterday to see how the field was coming. It is still rather wet out there. I am anxious to get planting. I have lots of pea seeds I received that I can share with anyone that is interested. I am a Snohomish County Master Gardener and I have been gardening on my own property for sometime, but this is the first large gardening project I have under taken. I am also part of the group out here teaching about Growing Groceries for families and communties. I feel it is essential that we all know where are food is coming from and that growing locally is very important. I will help anyone with questions if needed. I am trying to draw up my own garden plot. I intend to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers. My special interest is growing Heirloom melons. I am looking forward to gardening with everyone it should be lots of fun!! Carol

Next Winter's Garden

We haven't even got this spring garden planted yet but it is time to think already about next winter. Since winter is one of the most productive times in Northwest gardens, it is worth some planning.

So what are good winter crops? Greens: kale and arugula, brassicas: Brussel Sprouts and Broccoli, root crops like turnips, carrots, parsnips.

Plan to start these crops from seed in June for winter harvest. You can make a nursery bed for starting the greens and brassicas. Then transplant to appropriate spacing when the plants are 2-3 inches high. You should be able to harvest fresh vegetables all winter long. When these plants mature during the winter months they are much slower to bolt (go to seed), which means that you can stretch out the harvest much longer.

Root crops like carrots and parsnips can be left in the ground in this climate and dug as needed through the winter. In the case of StarBird Farm with our high winter water tables, be sure to mound up the soil at least 8 inches above nominal ground level to ensure good drainage come winter.

(Don't leave potatoes in the ground. They have a much greater tendancy to rot.)

Of course, there is always the possibility of fall flooding in the Snohomish valley which could completely wipe out winter gardens. A good farmer provides him or herself with as many alternatives as reasonable. For that reason, also plan to freeze at least broccoli from your summer garden for winter eating. If we're lucky, and you have planned ahead, you may have fresh broccoli to eat and the frozen broccoli can be made into soup.

Brussel sprouts require a long, cool growing season. Don't be too quick about getting them planted this spring. If you plant seed in June, you should be able to harvest by Thanksgiving and then all winter.

Hey, with a large garden and realtively inexpensive seeds you should be able to grow a lot of fresh winter vegetables.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spring plowing 2

Chris reports:

Regarding tilling the West Pasture, the process began a few days ago in pastures to the east of the barn. After about an acre, the friction clutch on the farmer's tiller attachment burned out and caught on fire. The new part was put on order and should arrive soon.

The weather is also a big factor at the moment. The day after the tiller broke down, we were blessed with 4" of snow in an hour. The snow then half-melted and then froze solid for a few days. The result is that the soil is currently saturated with water and it would have been counter-productive to till it. As our farmer neighbor put it, "Rather than aerating the soil, it would have turned it into a frappe." When it dried, it would be as hard as a brick down 6".

Obviously, we don't want that. So, we need to wait until Mom Nature gives us the go ahead to till. We are watching this every day and everyone is anxious to get it completed. As soon as it's done, I'll let you know, and to whom to write the check for the tilling.

In case you run into anyone who's looking for a garden patch, there are still about a dozen jumbo p-patches left to lease @ $110 including tilling. On the other side of the barn are a 1/4 acre pasture and a 1/2 acre pasture, that could be split in two, remaining. Both are already tilled. For the larger parcel in one piece, I'll throw in the cost of the tilling for free.

It should be a fun season ahead. There will be at least 20 gardeners working in this field, with a wide range of backstories, all connected by a love of gardening.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spring Plowing

Chris Newman, the instigator of Starbird Farm organic gardens reports on plans for spring plowing:

I spoke with the local farmer who will be doing the ground prep and we're targeting late March for the work, with the exact timing depending on the weather. So, the folks who are having this done should avoid putting stuff on the land that will be tilled.

He's going to do a three-step process: Plowing down to 10", tilling down 6" and power raking to get out the field grass rhizomes. A lot of work for $45. I'll let you know when the date is set.
Having grown up on a farm in the midwest, I well remember Spring Plowing. Beginning in early March, my dad would walk the fields several times a week. He was looking at soil moisture and temperature. As soon as he thought he could get his tractor through the fields without causing soil compaction (from plowing before it was dry enough) or plain getting stuck in the mud, he would hook up his John Deere 3-bottom plow to the old Farmall M tractor and start making his furrows across the fields.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Garden Layout

One way I like to spend the month of February is drawing plans for my garden. This is especially fun the very first year when the garden is still just an idea. Later, I will change the plan to agree with actual plantings. I will also keep records on the plan -- actual varieties of seeds planted, dates, harvest quantities and dates, etc. I usually print the plan on a large piece of paper and post it on the wall. This year, I will post it on this blog and share it. Expect to see more posts later about how it all works in reality.