It's that time of year again! The year was filled with challenges and opportunities. We had an extremely wet and cold spring that didn't let up until early July. This led to a complete failure of our melon crops, but allowed our lettuce and greens to thrive. Luckily we also had a very warm dry October, allowing us to continue to harvest our tomatoes and other warm crops into the fall. Here's our list of top achievements and challenges of our fifth year at Lilliputopia.
New garden beds!
The garden area used to be a flea-infested dog run with some crazy cinderblock beds. We took all that out to make a cool garden space! Thorin built new beds from reclaimed materials including barn metal from one friend and wood from another. Then we filled the beds with premium soil from Lane Forest Products and planted peas, beans, carrots, peppers, broccoli, and lettuce. These raised beds are awesome because we get to start with great soil, enjoy no weeds, and have waist-high access to the plants!
Visitors can now wander through the garden area to enjoy the plants and smell the flowers. It was fun to have customers come and choose the exact heads of lettuce they wanted. It really doesn't get any fresher than that! We also put up a fun gazebo trellis and some hops to climb up it. The vines actually produced hops this year and were used by our neighbor to brew beer!
Greenhouse Number Two
Thanks to the NRCS organic program, we were able to purchase and construct a 24'x40' high tunnel. Arriving in the form of a kit, the high tunnel was put up in the summer with the help of some of our friends several of our WWOOFers. Although Anita, Jill, and James did not have any construction experience, they were eager to figure it out. We started by leveling the ground, then installed the baseboards, inserted the steel posts, added bracing, and stretched the plastic. Despite our limited and frankly inadequate set of instructions, we eventually got the thing up. The end result was a very nice high tunnel with roll-up sides, a storm door, and 50% shade cover (for the summer).
High-tunnels, tunnel houses, or caterpillar tunnels are inexpensive forms of greenhouses that are essential for extending the growing season and can also be used for year-round growing. They are easy to construct because they are simply a series of arches covered with plastic, resulting in much warmer soil over the whole season. This means we should have more lettuce and leafy greens available in the spring and much better luck with peppers and eggplants in the summer and fall.
The downside of these quick and easy greenhouses is that they can be quite vulnerable to high winds and snow. We were very surprised to get early snow in November and spent a good hour sweeping it off from the inside, which wasn't super easy because the top of the tunnel reaches over 12 ft high. That said, if there is a heavy snow it's actually better to cut the plastic than let the snow crush the steel frame. We hope it never get's to that point, but who knows with climate change!
A big sign for the little store
It's obvious to say that signage for businesses is super important. Ever since we started the tiny farm store, we have struggled with ideas for a big sign. Thorin of course wanted a giant handmade welded sign with rusty metal and vintage lights. But I thought that would be too costly and time consuming, especially because our sign would have to be pretty big, with either "tiny farm store" or "Lilliputopia" or a combination of the two. Plus, we don't know how to weld or have the tools to do so. I considered buying a banner sign, but I knew that would only be a temporary solution.
Thorin figured it out after visiting a building newly purchased by the South Benton Food Pantry, which was undergoing a kitchen remodel. He removed all of the cabinet doors and drawers that were going to be trashed for the demolition. We ended up with a large supply of high-quality thick plywood to work with, which Thorin then cut out all of our letters and attached them together with a long piece of metal. Behold, the new sign!
We went through a chicken nightmare.
"Something is wrong with Goldie," was what Jill, our newest WWOOFer, reported in the morning. Goldie the silky was sitting in the nesting box but was missing something important: her head. Jill had discovered the grisly scene during one of her first days on the farm, having had no experience with chickens before. I felt sorry for Jill, but didn't realize how bad it was really going to get.
Last year was the worst year for the chickens — poor things. Not only were our dear old hens savagely threatened by wild animals (racoons most likely), many were unfortunately murdered by the cute husky named Pepita. Suffice it to say that our sweet dog Pepita has been an epic fail in both the chicken and deer departments, we must only blame ourselves for expecting the impossible from her instincts. We have learned that the electric fence is all that is between life and death for the chickens. If only they knew what was best for them and stay inside!
And that's not the end of our 2022 chicken nightmare. We bought 12 more chicks of mixed breeds to raise, after we sent our remaining hens to retire at our friend Alice's farm. The day after we bought them we found one dead and the rest bloody. I thought it was the pine shavings, which I had not used before. Then we realized it was cannibalism, which is surprisingly a common condition that we had never fully experienced. The chicks pick on each other, energized after seeing blood, until their mates are dead.
It is truly horrifying. Not that we were doing anything wrong; the chicks can learn this behavior at the store when they are in heavily crowded conditions. The solution is to separate them, give them more room, and let them heal. We put a blue salve on their wounds whenever there was blood to disguise the red color that increases pecking. Eventually they all healed and figured out how to get along. Ultimately, out of twelve only eight remained, due to both cannibalism and predation. It was a tough learning experience for all of us.
We created a little Free Library.
One of our goals has always been to promote education and increase access to resources. We also adore the little free library movement, and so decided to build a free library right outside the store! Here you can bring your old books you wish to pass on and find some new ones to read. Of course, we were able to salvage many materials, including part of a gun case left on the property when I moved here and some madrone branches from the neighbor. We love how it turned out, thanks Thorin! We are pleased to have a lot of room for all kinds of books, including children's books, gardening resources, and classic novels! Please check it out when you have a chance.
We said Goodbye, Solé.
With sadness, we learned that our best buddy is moving away. Our beloved friend and business partner Sole and her husband Mahogany are moving to upstate New York to start a new farm. We have appreciated Sole's fantastic ability to decorate and organize, engage the community artisans, her impeccable penmanship, and innumerable other delightful qualities. We will miss you!
Some of the best Lilliputopian art yet!
This is music to our ears.
Check out this beautiful original song inspired by our little store! We were bowled over by this incredible surprise performance courtesy of Eugene friends Norma, Kelly, and Debbie. Thank you! Be careful, it'
Some other minor accomplishments:
We welcomed several new vendors: Lakeside Berries, Nate Gunn, Moonrise Flowers, Chelsea Buell, Earl Newman, and Michelle Sheets.
We planted the berry swale with raspberries, Marion berries, and boysenberries.
Thorin constructed Pepita's spaceship, which is still yet to blast off. Pepita has shown some trepidation in becoming an astronaut and has not fully embraced her new quarters.
The basic structure was a gift from our friends Llyn and Chris at the Sharing Gardens.