It's time to recap all the fun times we had this year! Despite the inexhaustible challenges that 2020 has brought us, we managed to have a good year and made progress with many fun projects. Sadly, we were unable to host another Tiny Fest or our quarterly pizza gatherings, but we were able to connect with our friends and community (in a socially-distant manner) at our new store. We also had to cancel the Monroe Farmers Market, but since we opened our tiny farm store we still got to connect with friends and new customers.
We expanded the dry farming plot by 33% to a total of 54 beds.
Our friend Ran brought his tractor over to clear the grassy pasture and till up the soil. You can see what we planted and what it looked like over the season in our recent blog here. This plot has never been irrigated and it is where we grow the majority of our summer crops such as tomatoes, squash, and melons. Each small plot is 5' by 20', which is small enough to make data collection easy and have lots of fun experiments.
We opened the tiny farm store in July. Last year we did a major overhaul to restore the small original building that was a chicken coop into a tiny farm store (see before pictures here). Larry helped us wire it so we could retire our ridiculous array of extension cords. Thorin built a mini bar/checkout counter and a few wall panels with reclaimed materials. My friend Solé helped recruit over 25 local vendors and even volunteered to help open on Sundays. Despite COVID, we were able to remain open as an essential business. We met so many amazing community members and offered hundreds of local handmade items. The store was open on weekends, and next year we plan to open from April to November.
We helped to establish the Dry Farming Institute nonprofit (www.dryfarming.org). This organization was formed to help growers succeed with less water and to financially support research done by the Dry Farming Collaborative. We hosted our first Virtual Adaptive Ag Water Symposium in November and plan to create a directory of dry farming growers. We also sold an abundance of the produce from the research trials as a way to raise funds for next year.
Our friend Ken helped us to build swales on the hillside. He used his bobcat to create a small ditch and berm along the contours. We will plant the six swales, each 150 ft long, with various fruit trees and vines including kiwis, grapes, persimmons, and mulberries. What's even more exciting is that we are going to have a rainbow of color (one for each swale) that will be visible from town!
We made a small bottle wall in the Greenhouse. We had planned for a bottle wall for over a year, collecting hundreds of wine bottles. To create a neat stained glass effect, we cut two matching bottles in half, and joined the two butt ends with tape. These bottle "bricks" were then mortared into the walls of the greenhouse that border the door. However, we quickly ran out of blue bottles and had to stop until we can source more! Another issue we had is condensation inside the bottles, which could lead to algae growth. Only time will tell, but we do plan to continue to fill the entire wall when we get enough of the right colors (blue green and clear mostly)!
We made a solar dehydrator. By "we" I mean Larry Miller, our awesome 80 year old woofer! Built from the free plans on the Mother Earth News website, this device is designed to harvest solar energy to heat and circulates air through a chimney. The chimney holds 11 trays of food that can be dried in a couple of days. However, I learned that the food can easily spoil if it is particularly wet (like tomatoes or pears) and if there is a cloudy day. I plan to augment the completely passive dehydrator with a solar fan, which will hopefully increase circulation and help with mold problems.
Some other great things we did this year:
We built an additional storage shed behind the woodshop.
We received a generous cider press gift from our friends and got to use it on our apples.
Finished a storage room for veggies.
We planted more stuff: a willow hedge (this time with irrigation), more goji berries, and a couple more apple and fig trees.
We put another layer of cob and plaster onto the pizza oven.
Extended the pizza oven roof to create a grape arbor.
We hosted many wonderful woofers (volunteers) including Gaby, Ben and Kristen, Larry and Celinda, Kristi, and Sarah.
We got water plumbed to the garden and store. Also built a covered outdoor sink outside the store for washing veggies.
Foraged for lots of wild mushrooms including chanterelles, candy caps, shaggy parasols, and giant horse mushroom.