Our original plan for a "greenhouse" this year was to make a temporary, three-season high tunnel out of PVC... then stick a forced-air salamander heater in it and use it like a greenhouse. A high tunnel, for those who don't know, is basically an unheated greenhouse "top" over a part of the field where you're growing a crop instead of transplants. We had this concept planned and budgeted nicely. Then several people got us scared that we were putting all of our eggs in a rickety basket with that idea, so we decided to upgrade. Neither of us remember the moment that we decided to build this crazy thing, but we somehow upgraded from a pvc tunnel with haybales for end walls to a 1 5/8" galvanized steel gothic structure. Our friend Ron, at Huguenot Street Farm, helped us get our hands on a bunch of fence post steel, which we bent into form with a jig borrowed from our new neighbor Ted, at Windflower farm. We had two unwitting helpers in the form of Lauren and Truman, friends visiting for 2 days from out of town. Truman took back the pickup truck we'd been borrowing, but not before he helped us rehang a barn door, fix a second one, and put up our greenhouse bows.
It somehow took us a solid week to round up all the materials, bend the hoops, put up the structure, and get it skinned, but we did it! It's actually not *quite* done--the ventilation isn't installed (or quite figured out), but we have a couple weeks on that still. At least we can finally get a jump on seeding. Hopefully we can get a little surplus seedlings from some friends to help overcome our late start and have a dynamite year anyway!
Drinkable water! (and a 4th well ?!)
We got back the results of our most recent well test, following our second shock (the third shock since it first failed). We eliminated all variables this time: We used a huge can of concentrated chlorine tablets instead of liquid bleach (which apparently has a limited shelf life?). We also hooked up a u-shaped hose to the spigot we were sampling from and soaked the outside of the spigot valve in a bleach solution for 24 hours before taking the test (we rinsed well, of course, because the lab will fail you for residual chlorine, too). Finally, instead of the recommended butane lighter to sterilize the spigot/faucet, we used a propane torch and burned the thing 'til we were scared the valve would melt. BUT IT PASSED!
It's only good for a measly 2 gpm, which is less than half of what the state says a household needs, but at least we have water. Minerally water that leaves iron sediment in your glass, but WATER! Now we need to bring the 10gpm sulfur well into the 21st century (or at least the 1960's), shock the hell out of it, and we'll be in business!
In other news, we found a FOURTH water source for the house! Luke was trying to run an electric line through the crawl space and we opened up a square of the floor, hoping to get access to the crawl space.
Lo and behold, there's an old Humpty Dumpty style well down there! Or a cistern? Hard to tell because it's filled in to within 8 feet or so of the top:
Lo and behold, there's an old round dug well down there, walled with stone and mortar! Or a cistern? Hard to tell because it's filled in to within 8 feet or so of the top:
In the picture it looks like those two pipes are connected, but they're not. The pipe running up out of the well must have once gone to a hand pump but now ends just below the floor. The other is a not-quite-to-code drain line from the sink in our mud room.
So now we have a spring, a 90 foot sulfury pit well in the basement, a modern 190 foot drilled well out in the "ice house", and a mostly filled in Humpty Dumpty well under the mud room. And a river and a little pond. At least we won't be hurting for water.
Unloading equipment without a front end loader on your tractor is a bear. Doing it without a tractor at all is even harder. Doing it in the snow (come on? AGAIN?! WHERE IS SPRING?!) is just masochistic.
Team Quincy got it done with chains and come-alongs. Just don't stand on the downhill side.
I want to beat up Punxsutawney Phil.
A couple days ago it warmed up, and yesterday it rained a lot. With the amount of snow we've had, a little rain was a good thing, as it helps melt the snow and wash it out. By midday yesterday the snow had rinsed down enough that it was tolerable to walk in the fields (previously, you had to wade through thigh deep crusts of snow and ice). I grabbed a slicker, my rubber harvest overalls, and a good pair of rubber boots and took our dog, Tucker, out for a walk around the fields. He's got a lot of extra energy these days, since he has no dog buddies to romp with, and I wanted to see what's flooded--if it's not flooding now, it's not likely to flood at all.
The fields were pretty much as I imagined--only flooded in a couple of really low areas that we knew would be issues. The drainage ditches are coursing like rivers.
Also, the ice on the river has finally broken, giving way to a quickly flowing current. Tucker has no experience with the Hudson, and was eager to investigate. He doesn't quite have the grace to balance on an ice floe, though, and promptly went under. He popped up a minute later and clung to it as he drifted down river, then finally swam back to shore. He doesn't seem to feel cold, though, and if anything the experience only amped him up more.
Around dusk, the driving rain turned to driving, freezing rain. By the time it transitioned to snow we'd gotten a good 1/2" of solid ice on everything. This morning, that ice was buried under 4 new inches of snow. I was a fool to think spring was here.
With the ice under the snow, it's pretty treacherous out today. The sun did come out, though, and it's not too cold, so hopefully this will melt out and we can move forward. In the meantime, if you see Punxsutawney Phil, tell him he's got it coming.
We've been heading to auctions looking for equipment lately. Unfortunately, though our area has a long history of dairies and orchards, there hasn't been a lot of vegetable operations. This means local auctions don't usually have what we're looking for, and we have to drive 4+ hours to southern New Jersey or Pennsylvania. This is an expensive way to look for equipment, and it's a bummer when you spend all that time and fuel and there's nothing there you want.
This weekend, Luke drove Chucho down to Vineland, NJ to a big auction.
Our main reason to go was a particular chisel plow that turned out to be a piece of junk. There was also a really nice disk that slipped through our fingers after I didn't bid on a different, less-nice-but-still-alright model. On the plus side, we scored a very rough looking flail mower for about 10% what we have in the budget! While it looked rough, it seemed well-maintained, so we took a gamble... and it came with a partial box of new flails, which is worth what we paid alone.
We also got a bunch of little stuff--an old drill press, an air compresor, a garden cart, some jackstands, and a 5hp honda pressure washer. Bit by bit we're chipping away at the list. If we can keep scoring things under budget we might actually make it!
The ongoing saga of our water...
We're very excited and privileged to be finally getting our own land... but there's one important issue that just refuses to be solved: The water. We knew the main well had failed for total coliform (a huge family of bacteria, ranging from totally harmless to the infamous e. coli) in the fall and would need to be shocked. It isn't that unusual for a rural well to have coliform, and it isn't likely to make anyone sick, but for washing veggies commercially the well has to test clean. The shocking process basically involved filling the well with bleach water to kill bacteria, then flushing the well until it's full of new, fresh water. If you've done it correctly and the well is uncompromised, you've rid yourself of the coliform.
Our house is plumbed into a deep drilled well, a shallow suflury well, and a spring. A complex spaghetti of pipes in the basement allows you to select which of these sources feeds which fixtures. This creative plumbing would allow you to put the sulfury water in the toilet and shower, for instance, but run clean water to the drinking taps. It also makes it nearly impossible to isolate one water source from another.
To work around this, we just shut down the water to the house and shocked the well directly, using several hundred feet of garden house to circulate the bleach water from the pressure tank in the house directly back to the well head.
Garden house stretching from the house to the 'ice house' where the well head is to mix and recirculate the bleach water. We purchased a used irrigation pump last summer, and the seller gave us hundreds feet of cheap garden hose. We didn't imagine ever needing it, but nothing's trash on a farm. Here, it saved our butts.
Unfortunately, with the water turned off to the house, our aging hot water boiler and radiators dripped out enough water to develop an air bubble and shut down. We returned to the house one day to find ice crusted inside the windows, with water still in the pipes. Several hours with a 165k BTU heater thawed the house out, and a week and a few hundred dollars later the house was warm again... after we paid to replace one of the brand new circulators that had been installed one week prior.
With the house up and running, we flushed the bleach out and did a flow-test on the well... only to find it yielding a miserable 2gpm. For reference, 5gpm is the bottom of what you usually want in New York for a residence... nevermind for washing vegetables. Then on Monday we found out that the well had failed for coliform, AGAIN. The well guy, Jay, believes the house is contaminating the water, not the well. He brought us out super-concentrated bleach tablets for round 2... but first we have to fix the remaining burst pipes so we can fill the whole system with bleach water.
In the meantime, he extracted the antiquated jet pump from the sulfur well, lowered in a temporary test pump, and did a flow test on that well. The sulfur well, while virtually undrinkable due to the smell, yielded a solid 10gpm. To permanently install a new pump with related piping, though, will run us several thousand dollars... and that's BEFORE we'll be able to test it for potability, or shock it if it fails.
In the meantime, we have a structural engineer coming out to give input on the housing inspector's declaration that the living room needs a new support joist installed. As a silver lining, our friends at Snell Septic gave our septic system an A+.
Taking over an old house, especially one that's been sitting, is bound to have some hiccups. Demanding that it not just support a family, but also leap into the 21st century and support a farm is a tall order. Though it's occasionally hard to remain upbeat and energetic as the inspections, remedies, delays, and expenses pile up one after another, we're still excited and positive about the farm. We'd rather have a difficult time of this than an easy time doing anything else... I suppose agriculture is always a bit like that.
Quincy Farm is a family-scale vegetable farm run by Luke Deikis and Cara Fraver in Easton, NY. We use organic methods to grow the most delicious veggies ever for the well-being of our family, our community, and the flora and fauna that make it all possible.