dropstone farms

Catching up

I want to start posting regular updates about our activities as we grow, but in order to do that I need to first catch everyone up on what’s happened so far. Here’s a brief illustrated timeline.

On May 17th, we signed paperwork to lease the whole new farm property.

On June 2nd, we took down the “For Sale” sign.
Taking down the for sale sign

On June 26th, (I think) the cows arrived: 13 cows and a calf, delivered by Tom Clark in Sequim, who’s awesome. Various breeds, mostly Angus crosses.

On July 1st, we signed all the paperwork and bought the farm. !!!

On July 2nd, the WSDA Organic inspector came to the farm for the initial visit to certify our hay. We don’t yet have our certificate but we don’t anticipate any issues — we’re just waiting for the physical paper to arrive.

On July 5th, we brought 17 Tamworth pigs home from Oregon, all in the back of the pickup truck.

Tams in truck

It is surprisingly difficult to take a decent picture of a pickup truck full of pigs.

We put them out on pasture, which they love.

On July 17th, neighbor Spike started cutting the hay in the main pasture.

free range bales

On July 18th, we bought six Katahdin sheep: two rams, two ewes (a 2-yr-old and a 6-month-old) and two week-old ewe lambs belonging to the older ewe. One of the rams will go to freezer camp later this year but the four girls and one ram will stay as our breeder herd.

Lauren and lambs

On July 21st, we expanded the cows’ area for the first time, which resulted in spending 3 hours chasing the calf and her mom all around the fields, trying to get them back inside the electric fence. Say what you will about chasing cows around — and I said many things about it at the time — at least you can get a decent close-up picture while you stand in the field at an impasse with a cow who has apparently not read the chapter in the cow book about how to herd them.

On July 24th, all the hay was in the barn, and the turkeys, chickens, and duck had all made the move from Bainbridge to the new farm, where they disdained the roost Garth built for them and chose instead to squeeze onto a ledge. A barn full of hay and a pile of chickens in the dark both turn out not to be good photography subjects.

Yesterday, August 3rd, I picked up three Pilgrim goslings, who at 3.5 months old are actually pretty much fully grown.

Any number of things are in the works still — finding a tractor; getting ready to slaughter; actually starting to market our products; possibly holding an open house and/or a barnwarming party; finding some more lamb and goats so we can have a rounded-out product list in the fall; preparing for broiler chicks to arrive in a couple of weeks; and oh yeah, actually finishing packing and getting our Bainbridge house sold.

Given all that, we’re both tired and somewhat overwhelmed, but happy to have everything underway!

Oh — don’t forget to check us out on Facebook for more timely updates and cute pictures.

The Temperature at which Manure Becomes Compost.

This is not legal advice, please consult your county extension. That’s what they’re there for.

I like compost, soil likes compost, worms like compost. Everyone likes compost. You know what I don’t like? Pathogens. Pathogens and weed seeds that show up in uncomposted manure. At last year’s Tilth Producers conference I attended a workshop on static aerated composting given by Scott and Amy Turner of Blue Dog Farm. (Actually, I’m not positive it was both of them presenting because that’s not in my notes)

At any rate, there are rules governing the spreading of manure on Organic farms that specify a certain window prior to harvest (90-120 days, depending) but, once you’ve composted manure, it is no longer manure, it’s compost. However, I could not find a reliable source* for when manure counts as compost. And it was a tricky research problem especially for someone who doesn’t read legal writing particularly well. The Wisconsin State DNR links to the s. NR 502.04, Wis. Adm. Code [PDF 194KB] Compost Performance Standards which includes the following paragraph alluding to a national standard:

(h) Materials resulting from composting shall be:
1. Stabilized to eliminate pathogenic organisms and to ensure that the materials do not reheat upon standing.
2. Free of sharp particles which could cause injury to persons handling the material.
3. Free of toxins which could cause detrimental impacts to public health or the environment.
Note: Pathogens are defined in ch. NR 204 as “disease causing organisms, including but not limited to certain bacteria, protozoa, viruses and viable helminth ova.”
Appropriate methods for pathogen elimination during composting are specified in 40 CFR, Part 257, Appendix II, Section B:
1. For in−vessel or static aerated pile composting, maintain a continuous minimum temperature of 55° C, or 131°F, for a minimum of 3 consecutive days.
2. For windrow composting, attain a minimum temperature of 55°C, or 131°F, on a minimum of 15 days, which are not required to be consecutive, and turn the windrow a minimum of 5 times during the high temperature periods.

The document referenced at the state level is40 CFR : Protection of the Environment, a monstrous collection of regulations that the EPA has thoughtfully put online (Good jobs, folks!). The section relevant to reducing pathogens in compost states the following:

Composting: Using the within-vessel composting method, the solid waste is maintained at operating conditions of 55 °C or greater for three days. Using the static aerated pile composting method, the solid waste is maintained at operating conditions of 55 °C or greater for three days. Using the windrow composting method, the solid waste attains a temperature of 55 °C or greater for at least 15 days during the composting period. Also, during the high temperature period, there will be a minimum of five turnings of the windrow.

So, as I read the codes, manure qualifies as compost then the following conditions are met:

  • The pile must maintain temperatures above 55 °C (131 °F) for three consecutive days (Edit: If using a vessel or static aerated system.)
  • The pile must be turned at least five times (Edit: If composted in a windrow.)
  • The pile must remain above 55 °C (131 °F) for 15 non-consecutive days (Edit: If composted in windrow.)
  • As with all these sorts of things, your compliance is only as good as your record-keeping, so document, document, document!
  • Also, let’s take a moment to thank the EPA and WDNR for doing such a great job indexing and making available these documents.

    Edit: After going through all that, I found the composting page at extension.org which states the following:

  • “Establishes an initial C:N ratio of between 25:1 and 40:1; and
  • Maintains a temperature of between 131°F and 170°F for three days using an in-vessel or static aerated pile system; or
  • Maintains a temperature of between 131°F and 170°F for 15 days using a windrow composting system, during which period, the materials must be turned a minimum of five times.”
  • The interesting thing is that I misread the regulations. I assumed that both a windrow (long stack of material) and vessel (big box) needed to stay above 131°F for three consecutive days and that composting in a bin also required turning. I was misinformed. Or, more accurately, I misinformed myself. Curiously, the federal standards are less rigorous than my own, personal standards.

    My compost pile with the temperature around 155° F. ZOOM! say the bacteria.

    My compost pile with the temperature around 155° F. ZOOM! say the bacteria.

    *No, my recollection of a conference session is not reliable.

    Using a Chicken Tractor as an Inexpensive Greenhouse

    So it’s Spring and the chickens are sleeping in the coop and are still in the sacrificial paddock when the fence keeps them in and free-ranging when it doesn’t. I prefer to think of it as a Sacrifice Zone but that’s because I’m a nerd.

    The result is that we’ve got a mess of tomato starts potted up in 4″ soil blocks and a shortage of space in the greenhouse and a spare chicken tractor. In the best idea I’ve had in a long time, it occurred to me to remove the blue tarp covering the tractor and replace it with clear plastic. Ta-daaa! Instant greenhouse.

    In use, the tractor is partially covered with a blue tarp to let the ladies to get out of the sun or rain, depending.
    The Chicken Tractor in its Original Incarnation

    In use, the tractor is partially covered with a blue tarp to let the ladies to get out of the sun or rain, depending.

    Because of the poultry cloth on the tractor we couldn’t clip the plastic to the PVC hoops as is our usual custom. Instead we attached the plastic by laying it on top and zig-zagging twine over the plastic in the manner we learned during the Tilth Producers farm walk at Terry’s Berries. This has proven to be faster and more reliable that the clips with the added bonus that the greenhouse can be vented by sliding the plastic up without fiddling with any clips and potentially tearing the plastic.

    So, yeah, I’m pretty pleased with myself.

    Here is the tractor greenhouse with the plastic fully deployed for maximum heat.
    The Now-Repurposed Chicken Tractor

    Here is the tractor greenhouse with the plastic fully deployed for maximum heat.

    Here is the tractor cum greenhouse with the sides pushed up for venting. Noticing how much easier this is than farting around with clips?
    Greenhouse Tractor with the Vents Open

    Here is the tractor cum greenhouse with the sides pushed up for venting. Noticing how much easier this is than farting around with clips?

    Look how happy the tomatoes are in their roomy new soil blocks. Im pretty sure we started them too late but, you know, first year farming.
    Cozy Tomatoes in the Greenhouse

    Look how happy the tomatoes are in their roomy new soil blocks. I'm pretty sure we started them too late but, you know, first year farming.

    I appear to have committed us to growing hops

    We were recently interviewed for the newsletter of the Trust for Working Landscapes, the land trust that is leasing us some land. The article came out yesterday, and apparently we managed not to say anything too dumb!

    “From Stacks to Starts” — A story of Dropstone Farms
    By Christy Carr

    After meeting in Library School and moving to Bainbridge Island in 2007, farmers Lauren Manes and Garth Highsmith are now about to use their professional background in new ways with their agrarian adventure at Johnson Farm. “Garden management is such a cool problem” says Garth, explaining that it works well with his interest in catalouging and categorization.

    It’s not all about management though, stresses Lauren. “Deliciousness was the driver” in their evolving interest in farming. They started with small raised beds in a Seattle backyard, learning to cook and enjoying shopping at farmer’s markets. Next came the installation of a 2500 square foot garden at their new home on the island. This spring finds them hatching plans to farm a 1/2 acre field at the Johnson Farm, one of Bainbridge Island’s publicly owned farmlands.

    Dropstone Farms plans to grow a variety of row crops and pastured poultry for egg production. They’re particularly interested in growing a few less-common island products like asparagus and hops. They intend to sell at the Bainbridge Farmers’ Market and may do limited on-farm sales. Farming is a new venture for these two, but they are firmly seated in their dedication to growing and eating delicious local food. Stop by Johnson Farm to say hello or check out their farm blog at www.dropstonefarms.com.

    Hi, new TWL visitors! Garth wants to note that one thing that didn’t make it into the article was that we welcome feedback and ideas for what you want to see at the markets. Get in touch via the comments on this blog, or contact us both at farmers at dropstone farms dot com.

    Where have you been??

    Sorry, as always, about the radio silence. Stuff has been remarkably busy for it being only January, er, February … oof.

    We are in the process of applying for a spot to farm on some public land that’s managed by the Trust for Working Landscapes. That, plus the construction of our greenhouse, plus making up for the family-visit travel that we skipped at holiday time, has been keeping us plenty busy. I’m already tired and we haven’t even started any seeds yet (so behind already!).

    Happy February. Don’t be like us — get your seeds started soon! I have a roundup of other folks’ seed starting info in the works … really.

    Snowpocalypse is hard.

    It’s getting brighter. Slowly. And the snow is starting to melt and maybe the hoophouses will uncollapse and the poultry will get to go outside and play. In the meantime, please enjoy the following reminders of summer, when you could wear shorts and dig potatoes out of warm dirt.

    Handfuls of potatoes!
    Hello potatoes!

    Handfuls of potatoes!

    Attentive readers will recognize Lord Potato. He was regally delicious.
    Lord Potato Arises From The Earth!

    Attentive readers will recognize Lord Potato. He was regally delicious.

    Also, Mr. Klassy may have laid an egg. Rooster fail.

    Newest addition to the farm

    This is Mr. Klassy. He is a Polish rooster. He came from our friend in Seattle, who cannot have roosters due to noise. He is not crowing yet, but he is trying …

    I am on my way to a Kitsap Community & Agriculture Alliance meeting right now. Local readers should read their blog and get involved! Meetings are the second Tuesday of the month in Bremerton. If you’re coming from Bainbridge, or anywhere in between, let us know and we can see about a carpool situation.

    Long-overdue farm update(s)

    I had some chicken stories to tell, but there really are other things going on in our lives, which isn’t evident from the past few posts, so I will discuss those other things instead. So here is a list of things I meant to write about when they were current, and didn’t.

    • We built 3 raised beds. Spent the hottest weekend of the summer so far hauling dirt across the yard to fill them up. Planted one immediately, with kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, chard. Planted the 2nd one a few weeks later, with a second succession of winter squash, peas, beans, and carrots, as well as new parsnips (which we overlooked before). The third we started planting just this week, with 2 more rows of carrots, some lettuce, and 2 rows of beans. We’ll put more in this weekend.
    • We made friends with folks who run the stable down the street and our compost area has grown from one pile to three. One (Ruby’s old haunt) is half-rotted leaves and kitchen scraps. One is horse poo and sawdust from the stable, and grass, and leaf litter from our woods. And the last one is the bad evil weeds I pulled up, mixed in with horse poo, so that it will rot hotly and the weeds will all die and not propagate. Thanks, horse poo!
    • We have been haphazardly measuring our garden foods and photographing the meals thereof. I always mean to, but yesterday, for example, I forgot to weigh and photograph dinner with E&K that included a second round of potato and fava bean salad. At some point we’ll get a spreadsheet up and running with harvest dates, weights, etc., so we can figure out what produces best. An initial observation is that the Swedish Peanut potatoes don’t produce nearly as well as the Red Clouds, which are crazy prolific.

    All my posts always have lists in them. I like lists, I guess. I’m going to try to have more frequent, shorter, non-listified posts.

    New pictures, and first garden dinner!

    I finally got a new Eye-Fi card, which is a super handy thing in that it lets me skip the exact steps where I always get hung up when taking and uploading photos. Getting them from the card to the computer and then to the internet is hard for me for whatever reason. The card, though, is camera storage card and ALSO a wireless card, so when it’s on its home network, it sends them automatically to my computer and to Flickr! Which is incredibly convenient. So, I hope to have more pictures available more quickly, in the future.

    I’ll not put too many here, but you can click over to my Flickr to see everything that’s new; don’t forget to click to the next page (or two; I took a lot of pictures). Or you can scroll down to the bottom of the “Little farm — getting started” photoset.

    Chard bouquet = dinner!

    We harvested our first meal ingredient from the garden. Swiss chard risotto for dinner!

    The little broccoli starts we bought at the market about five weeks ago are starting to make little broccoli sprouts.

    We made a hoophouse of PVC and clear plastic, and the tomatoes, peppers, and basils are happily growing in their little warm house. I hope this will help ensure we have a better tomato harvest that last year — it rained all summer, yeah, but still, we only got like four tomatoes, and we would have done a lot better with some sort of home for them.

    This is most of the garden, looking South. Directly in front is the cabbage-like-things section, with some cabbages and some brussels sprouts and also some cauliflower and broccoli. On the trellis is 2 kinds of beans and 2 kinds of peas, with greens (lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, kale, chard) planted in between so they will be shaded and not bolt. Potatoes are to the right of the trellis. The hoophouses have the hot plants (tomatoes, peppers, basil). Not pictured: carrots; beets; squashes; onions; corn; more beans; fava beans; cucumbers; watermelons.

    The only reason Little Red stayed up there long enough to let me take pictures is that she doesn’t realize she can fly down. She was very skeptical of being up so high.

    Chores this weekend include figuring out how to keep bamboo from spreading, so we can plant some to use for trellises, hoophouses, etc. next year, and thinking about building chicken tractor(s) and a solar food dryer. AND blogging more. I have a book review to write!

    Planting the First!

    Did our first planting last weekend. We put in 20′ of peas under the trellis. 10′ of Sugar Snap peas and 10′ of Oregon Trail. We till a yard-and-a-half of Whitney Farms compost and a gallon or so of complete organic fertilizer (a la Steve Solomon) into the soil. It’s been raining and sunny off and on so our lack of irrigation system hasn’t been a problem. We’ll need to get on that sooner rather than later.

    It’s been a week and nothing has popped out of the ground yet. We’ve got a week for germination to take place so I’m not worried yet.

    On the upside, chicks are three weeks old as of last Friday. They are no longer little fuzz balls and are starting to look like actual chickens. Gangly, half-feathered, awkward teenaged chickens, but chickens nonetheless. Lauren also started 102 plants in our greenhouse mudroom. She gets to blog that one though.