Free Range, Cage Free…what the….?

Here at Red Barn Acres, we believe in raising happy and healthy animals. To us, that means providing adequate shelter, ample room to roam, nutritious food, proper supplements, water, love, and plenty of sunshine. If you search for the meaning of the terms free range and cage free, you’ll find many variations of the definition.

On our farm, our chickens are allowed to freely roam our 1.5 acre pasture all year, rain or shine, or snow. The chickens that we raise for meat production are raised in what are called “tractors” made out of old swingsets. We move these every day or so to allow the broilers to have access to new grass–which means they are always getting exercise and remaining healthy. Not to mention, it’s great for the soil and its regeneration, but that science is beyond me, and a totally different blog post. We keep our broilers separate from our egg producers because their feed rations are different. We only keep a few birds to each pen, making sure they still have plenty of room to exercise and forage.

So what exactly does the term “free range” mean? Any normal person would assume that the bird has free range to roam anywhere. While that might ring true in some cases, it’s not always the case. According to the USDA, in order for egg producers to label their eggs as Free Range, “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has had access to the outside.” I suppose you could take it at that, or you could delve a little deeper and question exactly what it could mean. Does it mean a large commercial facility with tens of thousands of chickens crammed into a floor barn with a small hole in the wall that is opened for a few hours a day (or in some cases a half hour) and the chickens are permitted to wander out onto a cement slab? Is there access to bugs, grass, microbes? Can the chickens scratch around and live instinctively? Or, are the chickens constantly granted access to fields of grass, bugs, plant materials, the minerals and nutrients in the soil, worms, etc? (YES! Chickens are omnivores and consume meat and plant material).

Free Range can essentially mean two things: a farmer opening his chicken coop door at dawn to his pasture/entire farm and shutting his hens safely in at dusk. It could also mean a commercial egg farm with a small opening leading to a paved area for a half an hour or so a day. Technically, in both scenarios the chickens have had access to the outdoors, correct?

So then, you ask, what does “Cage Free” mean? Many people will tell you “It’s exactly the same as free range.” But… is it really? Would it shock you to know that cage free only means that the birds are not kept in small tight cages, but that they’re raised in commercial barns so big you could park jumbo sized airplanes in them? They are often times packed so close together inside that the chickens really don’t have room to move around and be chickens. More often than not, they don’t even get to see the sun in their life time.

The term “Cage Free” is not regulated by the USDA or the FDA. Producers are left to come up with their own definitions of the term, and even their own “Cage Free” policies. One can expect, that just to earn a little more of your hard earned money, they’ll get rid of the cage and slap the Cage Free label on the egg carton–but still restrict their birds to a floor barn with no access to the outside environment, packing as many birds as they can into that square footage.

You might ask me if my chickens are truly “Free Range” if they are kept in a fenced in pasture.

My answer: yes. And here’s why:

We used to literally let our chickens roam where ever they wanted. This meant that they crossed the road, dug up the flower beds at the neighbors, pooped all over the neighbor’s yard, got into MY gardens, laid eggs where they weren’t supposed to, etc. I got tired of picking up the bodies of my beloved hens on the side of the road. I got tired of finding explosive rotten eggs under my flowers. I got sick of wondering if my hens were going to be dragged away by wild animals including foxes, coyotes, raccoons, etc. I grew weary of wondering if my neighbors were going to get mad that my hens were always in their yard. We decided to give them a large enough pasture that they would never grow bored. While I understand the danger of predatory animals is still there, I feel better knowing that my animals have a decent “layer” of protection and they won’t be terrorizing the neighbors.

You will often hear me say, “You vote with your dollar” and I believe the saying rings true. We see it with Organic and Non GMO products, however, I still advise you to research the company and their core values before jumping on the bandwagon. Big companies, like General Mills (who own Cascadian Farms and Annies) will do anything to earn your dollar…and this means buying small organic companies that are doing excellent as true believers in Organic standards, and then changing the recipes to include things other than true organic incredients, while still claiming they’re organic. (This is another reason I don’t trust the Organic seal 100%).

In conclusion, I hope that I have given you some valuable insight when it comes to the “Free Range” and “Cage Free” labels on your grocery store eggs. Truthfully, in the end, the words “Free Range” and “Cage Free” mean absolutely nothing– especially if you do not have a relationship with the farmer from whom you purchase eggs. Ultimately, it is your decision as to where you purchase eggs from and what label is on them. I can assure you that our hens (and ducks) ARE Free Range and most definitely Cage Free. It is up to you, the buyer, to decide how you vote with your dollar.

Annnnd It’s April!

While the first day of Spring was more than a couple of weeks ago, it seems that Mother Nature has other ideas. We have been graced with low temperatures, which have been a blessing for those who make maple syrup, it has not been such a blessing for us.

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In our north hoop house, we laid down silo tarp, which is thick- white on one side and black on the other. When the white side is facing the ground, light can not transmit through and the black side absorbs the heat from the sun, and subsequently kills all that is under it. The heat attracts beneficial composters like worms to break down the grass and weeds, leaving soil that is very rich in nutrients. Another week or so and this shall be ready for working up and hopefully planting.

Our tomato plants are gigantic, and are eagerly awaiting transplant into the hoop house.

We got lots of work done in our south hoop house, but the over night lows have been less than favorable for planting tomatoes, peppers, and egg plant… even our summer squash plants are impatiently waiting along side their night shade friends.

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Our permanent raised beds before drip lines (which I never got photos of!) and landscape fabric.

The bed all the way to the left in the photo, will be used for greens, carrots, radishes, and beets.

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Landscape fabric was rolled down each row, and we used ground staples to keep it in place.

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Then we used a propane torch and a repurposed metal can to burn holes for planting. It was sort of satisfying to do!

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We planted a few rows of broccoli and cabbage, however a glitch on my wireless thermometer caused it to fail to send alerts to my phone when temperatures inside reached a certain point. Therefore, most of them fried in the heat on a 35 degree day when temperatures inside reached well ovr 97F. I was not a happy camper, but you live and learn. So now it is my habit to check every half hour or so.

The white cloth above is called Frost Cover, and is draped over plants when temperatures will dip out of their comfort zone. Even though our hoop houses reach high temperatures during the day, the night time lows still dip below freezing. Thankfully, the freezing temperatures don’t bother most of what is remaining in the ground, and those are radish, beets, carrots, arugula, spinach, and greens.

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We took advantage of a warm day (I think it was 50?) to install the cranks for the roll up side walls. We also used some stones and rocks to make a flower garden on the south side of the south hoop house. My amazing neighbor is going to place a beehive near the hoop houses, and I would like to provide a wonderful bed of flowers to entice them to venture inside to pollinate my plants (even though most do not need pollinators).

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My daughter helped me fill pots to start our zuchini and summer squash. We also started a bush type Butternut Squash as well as a bush type personal sized acorn squash.

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The types of squash and zucchini that we started are what are known as parthenocopic, which means that it is self pollinating. Most squash varieties need pollinators to do the job for them. The cultivars that we selected for hoop house growing are self pollinating, this helps us ensure that we get a crop with or without pollinators. The cultivars that will be field grown (i.e. the garden) will be heirloom types and will require pollination.

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I took a rainy day last week and potted up a plug tray of basil. A few days later and they’re already bigger in size. I can not wait to harvest fresh basil! We will have a few types available for purchase, too!

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We finally separated out our turkeys. We have two toms that we will need to harvest soon. The usual ratio of toms to hens is 1 to 3, I was so thrilled to find that 3 of the 6 of our order were hens. Which leaves us with our biggest tom to keep for breeding purposes and 2 smaller toms for future dinners.

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This is our Tom. He doesn’t have a name yet… although I am thinking Tom Sawyer?! And yes, we clipped our turkey’s wings. Royal Palms are able to fly, and while we have 8 ft tall fences for their section of pasture, I can’t risk them “flying the coop” and wandering off and being taken by a fox or coyote or some loose dogs. Or, Heaven forbid, hit by a car.

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The chicken clan has been very productive as of lately, which makes my heart sing. There is nothing like cooking with the fruits of your labor. All winter we kicked ourselves for not hooking up lights on timers to trick them into laying… time simply got the best of us. Let me tell you about our hens and how they’ere fed:

While the feed is not certified organic, it IS farmed using organic practices. It is farmed in Clare, Michigan and is milled without using soy as the main ingredient for protein, as it contains absolutely no soy at all. Chickens and other poultry and fowl do not ferment their food like ruminant animals do, so soy is still found in their meat and eggs. Soy is an inflammatory to many people, especially those with auto immune diseases, like me. It has also been shown to have adverse effects on livestock. Not to mention, soy is an endocrine disrupter and acts as estrogen in bodies.

We have also been experimenting with fermented feed for our layers. So far, it has proven to be a great idea, the egg production was literally up overnight! Fermented feed is shown to reduce the amount of wasted feed as well as increase the absorption of vital nutrients within the feed itself. Instead of 6 quarts of feed a day for 30 hens, we are down to 2. Seeds and grains have a barrier that protects them until it is time to germinate. (This is also one of the reasons many people have sensitivies to grains). By soaking the feed, the barrier is released because essentially, the seeds believe it is time to sprout. Thus, that “anti-nutrient” layer is dissolved, leaving all the good stuff behind, filling the tummies of our hens. Fermented feed also introduces TONS of beneficial bacteria and probiotics into their guts, which helps with keeping their poops solid and easier to manage. Not to mention, keeps the smell down, too! We have noticed much less waste, which is always a good thing when you’re trying to farm frugally!

Welcome to March!

March has been a busy month for us already! Mother Nature has been playing head games with us, because some days it is nice and the next day we get a few inches of snow!

I feel so accomplished with the amount of work I got done in the south Hoop House in a single day. I sure was worn out, but the feeling of accomplishment gave me some self pride!

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My daughter and I finished clearing out any weeds that had grown. We also leveled it off and filled in any holes and gaps between the baseboard and the soil.

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My husband helped me measure off the walk paths and beds. I decided to do 18 inches between beds, and about 21 inches for the beds, as that is the width of my broad fork. I left a 4 foot space between each doorway and the beginning of the beds. The beds that butt up next to the baseboards are a little wider than the other beds, and span the entire length of the hoop house.

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I then broadforked the entire length of each bed. Broadforking is a form of aeration to the soil, and also loosens the soil for the plant’s roots. It is also a great work out!

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After all the beds were broadforked, I then carved out the walk paths between each bed. This is my attempt at directing any extra water out of the hoop house. It will also help keep the beds dry when and if we get a lot of rain fall and the water floods through the hoop house.

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Above you can see the walk paths have been carved out and all the extra soil was put on top of the beds, making them permanent raised beds. I plan on doing the same thing with the north hoop house, making each hoop house exactly the same inside. This will help with crop rotations, I will be able to move weed barrier from one hoop house to the next.

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I also started most of my heirloom tomatoes that will be planted in the field instead of the hoop houses. I am obsessed with different colored tomatoes and all the different flavors that heirlooms have to offer. My favorite tomatoes, however, are Cherokee Purples, Mortgage Lifters, and Brandywines. Cherokee Purples were brought to my attention by the Mother of one of my best friends, a lady who is my kindred spirit! I learned so much from her when I worked with her when she owned greenhouses. Her thumb is greener than mine! I blame her for my tomato obsession! I love Mortgage lifters because they get so big and produce beautiful tomatoes! The breeder of Mortgage Lifters named them for …well… paying off his mortgage! He sold the plants he started as well as bushels and bushels of tomatoes. Last year, I had a single tomato from a Mortgage Lifter plant fill and ENTIRE quart jar! It weight about 2.5 pounds! Their flavor is also superb! I also love Brandywines for their amazing flavor and the ability to produce some GIANT fruit! Brandywines come in a few colors, Pink and Red being the most popular. I also started my go-to tomatoes for sauce, San Marzano and Amish Paste. I use both types in my sauce recipes as well as my salsa (I mix half beefsteak and half paste for salsa).

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I also LOVE growing the wacky tomatoes, mostly to see if they match their description. However, cool coloring and flavor depends on your soil, nutrients, weather, and over all care of the plant. I decided to try a few of the tomatoes above, as I love adding color to my garden.

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We also received our order of laying chicks the week of March 5th. We ordered from McMurray and as always, we were not disappointed. They threw in a few extra chicks, which is always a nice courtesy. These gals will be added to our existing laying flock when they are big enough. We went with Rhode Island Reds, Black Australorps, Black Jersey Giants, Lakenvelders, Leghorns, Welsummer, and True Whiting Greens. The True Whiting Greens were bred to lay green eggs, so we will see! We will also be thinning out our current flock of layers… we have a few too many roosters and the older hens have stopped producing eggs.

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We are also eagerly awaiting for Joanie (far left) to Kid. She is due sometime at the end of March, if she took. We have our fingers crossed for a safe delivery of healthy kids. We are super excited!

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We picked up our two new does yesterday afternoon. I purchased them from a very close friend who raises amazing animals with the utmost care, respect and knowledge. These gals are Nigerian Dwarfs just like the rest of our herd, except Petey, he is a Nigerian Dwarf Nubian cross. They’re names are Belle and Bashful and they are so well behaved and so sweet!

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I milk them at twelve hour intervals and get about a quart each time. The taste of their milk is SO similar to Cows milk! I feel incredibly blessed to be able to provide for my family by way of my homestead/farm. I also believe it is incredibly important for people to have a connection with their food– to know the farmer, the animal, etc. It is a sad reality to know that most of the general population literally has no clue where and how food is produced.

February is Coming to a Close & a Little History

Spring is becoming more of a reality now that we are heading into March. March is often a waaaay too busy month for us, as it seems there are a thousand birthdays! It often flies by and then it’s April.

You saw how we got about 12 inches of snow throughout a period of a few days earlier in the month. Well… then, we were graced with about 3 to 4 inches of rain and the melting of the snow. It flooded. Bad. Some areas around us are still dealing with flood waters. I grew up on the Shiawassee River in a small town south of our current location, my father currently lives in my childhood home, and he showed me photos of the flood waters. Thankfully, the house is far enough away from the river, but his shed and the neighbors houses are not. My little hometown is also dealing with lots of water, a few roads were closed and an SUV was victim to the flood.

Below is a photo I took a few days ago at Shiatown Park in between Bancroft and Vernon, Michigan. It is a place I frequent during the warmer months, I love exploring and taking my daughter along with my Canon Mark II. Usually this spot is just a mere trickle, no where near the rushing waters I captured this weekend. Between the two sets of trees is a walk path where you can go right to the edge of the water coming over the dam.

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The sound that filled my ears as I stood there reassured me just how powerful mother nature is and how powerful we forget she can be.

We also dealt with flooding at our homestead, which is nothing new to us, other than it came so fast this time. The ditches along the road flowed into our property and had no where to go. The photo below is looking east. All of this water came from the ditch tubes being plugged from debris and trash (we usually take one or two days in the spring and pick up any trash on our mile stretch of road).

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The photo below depicts the south side of our hoop houses, still facing east. This water comes from our driveway, which sits lower than the road, and the road water flows down our driveway and across at this point. The tube that filled our yard is located east of the hoophouse in the photo, and if you look closely, you can see it sticking up, my husband did this to prevent any more water from flowing into our yard. That tube normally flows OUT of our yard into the ditch, but the water had such a current and force that it flowed INTO our yard.

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Thankfully, after a day, our water problems subsided…and we decided to take action, since we never got to it this fall. We purchased roughly 200 ft of 4 inch black drainage piping with small slits in it to install around the hoop houses to help direct the water to a sump crock (I forgot to get pictures of it! I apologize!)

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We made sure that there was a “fall” towards where we wanted the water to be directed to. The photo above is the west side of our hoop houses. We put the drainage tubes across the entire front of the houses.

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We then went around the north and south hoop houses and on the back sides, they come together to form a T, and are then directed into a sump crock. We installed a sump pump to pump any water out and away. We are supposed to get another rainstorm on Thursday, so we will get to test out our system and make any needed corrections. We have plans of installing drainage tubing to our market gardens, too and other spots of our yard. We have always dealt with flooding, and now I know why!

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I have the book above on loan from a local elderly lady who grew up in our little area. The book was written by Stan Perkins, a local farmer whose family helped shape this community into what it is today. The town Duffield is no longer considered a “town” or village…in fact, there isn’t really even a sign welcoming you to Duffield. The town was merely a quarter mile stretch of businesses and a depot, a mill, a general store, a post office, and a blacksmith.

Duffield was named after Dr. Samuel Pearce Duffield who claimed his M.D. from Detroit College of Medicine. He had a theory on toxicology and it was reinforced when he traveled to Dorpat, Russia: “That the assimilation of minute proportions of recognized poisons could be used as medicine”. Much to my surprise, he believed in homeopathic medicine, much as I do today. In the early 1870’s, he traveled alongside the Shiawassee River watershed and “In particular the ridges that provided the headwater areas that separated one watershed from another.” As it turns out, Dr. Duffield was in search of mineral springs. He traveled the route of the railroad parties (the same rail road that runs at the north of our property). “One such survey was made by a stock company called the Flint and Lansing Railroad Company,” says the author. This projected railway was to cross Gaines Township on a northeastern diagonal, through acreage owned by George Carrier (who originally owned our property) and other farmers. Dr. Duffield was on the search for any raw materials he could use to produce medicines.

Doctor Duffield found several mineral springs, as depicted on the 1873 Platte Map in the book. Stan Perkins also confirms in his book what we always thought about our area…. that it was once a swamp. Which explains its professional ability to hold water. We also don’t have to dig very far into the soil to find moisture, nor does it take long for any deep hole to fill with water.

“We Are From Duffield” sheds a ton of light on our little community…why it is the way it is, and why the soil is so black. Muskrat Swamp, as it was called back in the day, is less than a half of a mile north of us. The author of the book talks about the farmer, George Carrier (who was a Civil War Veteran) growing onions in the rich black soil. Sadly, that field has now been grown over by trees. However, our neighbors still farm most of Georges Land, today. George died in 1879 from wounds and disabilities sustained in the war. His wife, Mariah (sometimes she is found as Maria) was left to take care of 5 children. They raised sheep, had 2 milk cows, 2 bulls for meat, Indian Corn, wheat, rye, and barley. When the railroad went through, she sold them property for a small Depot, and because the tracks went through the south east quadrant of her property, she sold off 2 and 3 acre parcels that butted up to the road we live on…and that 3 acre parcel is ours. Our house has tons of history, being built sometime around 1899 or 1900, but that is a different blog post for a different day!

 

Credit: Stan Perkins, “We are from Duffield” copyright, 1982, Broadblade Press.

What We’ve Been Up To

I hope your February is off to a great start! It has been going well here, too, aside from the astronomical amounts of snow we have gotten over the last 2 weeks or so. OK, so maybe it’s not astronomical, but there are at least 15 inches of fluffy white stuff on the ground. And it’s kind of thrown a wrench in my plans!

However, I’ve kept myself busy doing other things. I’ve started seedlings in the house, and they are literally taking over it! We are preparing for the weekend of April 14 & 15, as that is Michigan State University’s recommended date for planting tomatoes and peppers in hoop houses.

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I use a certified organic potting mix called Pro-Mix that has been sterilized and treated to prevent disease and pests like fungus gnats. If  you’ve never dealt with fungus gnats, BE GLAD! We had an infestation a few years ago, and it was terrible. We found out that they came from the untreated potting mix I had been using.

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Peppers and Tomatoes are two of my favorites to start. The hotter the pepper, the more picky the seed seems to be when it comes to germination recommendations. Pepper and Eggplant seeds like a temperature between 80 and 85F to germinate. This is where a heating mat comes in handy! My heating mat allows me 4 trays of seedlings at a time.

Jalapenos are one of our favorite peppers, so we usually grow a bunch of them, some early, some big for stuffing, some for drying, some really hot ones… I also try to stagger the seeding times (successions) so we always have different plants at different maturity rates. We also planted some fun heirloom types, Ghost Peppers, Scotch Bonnets, Carolina Reapers, Poblano, and the good and trusty bell peppers (in all colors, of course!).

As for tomatoes, I am OBSESSED with all the different kinds and the different colors! I am sure I’ll have a whole post soon about all the different varieties I chose. For now, the only kind I have started are Hybrids (crosses) that are resistant to diseases, as I don’t want any disease (I know this is sometimes inevitable to avoid) in my hoop houses. I also chose tomato varieties that hold up to high heat, close and cramped quarters, and that keep producing all season long (indeterminate). I chose a paste tomato, beef steak, slicer, saladette and a cherry variety for planting in the hoop houses.

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During the January Thaw, we had a few days of above 50F temperatures. We made the most of it and finally attached the sidewall covering to the metal piping in order to have roll up sides. We also attached strapping, using what my husband calls “mule tape”. It is a high test strand woven nylon rope that handles up to 1200 lbs. They use it as his work to pull cables and fibers through conduit in the ground. Sometimes, they have small pieces that can’t be used any longer, or there’s a tiny bit of damage to a strand in the middle of the rope. So, instead of throwing it away, it gets re-purposed, and I save some cash. The strapping helps keep the sidewall in place when it is windy and helps keep it in line when it is being rolled up.

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I have also been working on removing any and all weeds and sod from the interior of the hoop houses. It is nice to be out there in a freezing cold day, and the temperature inside is above 50F! One day it was close to 75 and I was working in a tank top and sweating! The box you see in the middle has a hose reel inside of it that I received as a gift at Christmas, I have my Temp Stick on top of it. The Temp Stick talks to my phone and updates the temperature inside.

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I was so thrilled to see worms pop up out of the soil when I was working inside. We still need to install drainage tile around the hoop houses to take the excess water away from the insides. One of the benefits of growing in a protected culture environment is that we control the moisture, and to do that we need to remove excess water.

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And then it snowed, A LOT! So now our plans are on the back burner. Hopefully for not too much longer!

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The goats enjoyed the warm days we had at the end of January, and of course they are not thrilled with the snow that’s on the ground now!

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Why Red Barn Acres Farm is not USDA Certified Organic

I am sure you are familiar with the USDA Certified Organic seal, the one pictured below to the right. The big and bold white and green logo that is easy to spot in the grocery store, or even on your favorite products and produce. We have toyed with the idea of going through theOrganic4colorsealJPG

lengthy and very expensive process of becoming USDA

Certified Organic. Truth is, our own personal beliefs and morals do not align with the standards that the USDA National Organic Program has set forth.

 

Our Farm, however, is indeed, “Organic” and has been since we began any type of “farming” or gardening. We believe that our practices go far beyond the scope of the weakening standards that the USDA has.

The USDA standards do not guarantee that any food produced and grown following those standards is dense with nutrition, good for you, nor do they make sure that the farm is environmentally friendly. The USDA makes it easy for big professional farms to become certified organic and those big farms have thus co-opted those standards, and leave the passionate little local farms without any control. Many certified farms are doing more harm than good when it comes to the environment and the animals and humans who consume and use their food. The integrity of the USDA Organic Certification is becoming murky and no longer holds any real value.

We, at Red BORGANICLABELarn Acres, believe that our growing and production practices truly reflect how organic farming and growing should be done, and we proudly say that anything grown and produced on our meager 3 acres is “Grown on our Farm Organic” like the seal to the left.

We follow the Honest Old-Time Organic Standards set forth by Eliot Coleman on his farm, Four Seasons Farm in Harborside, Maine.

Honest Old-Time Organic Standards:

1. First, for uncompromised nutritional value all crops must be grown in fertile soil attached to the earth and nourished by the natural biological activities of that soil. There are so many aspects of soil processes that we could not replace even if we wanted to, because we are still unaware of how they all work.

2. Second, soil fertility should be maintained principally with farm-derived organic matter and mineral particles from ground rock. Why take the chance of bringing in polluted material from industrial sources when fertility can be created and maintained internally?

3. Third, green manures and cover crops must be included within broadly based crop rotations to enhance biological diversity. The greater the variety of plants and animals on the farm, the more stable the system.

4. Fourth, a “plant positive” rather than a “pest negative” philosophy is vital. The focus must be on correcting the cause of problems by strengthening the plant through optimum growing conditions to prevent pests, rather than merely treating symptoms by trying to kill the pests that prey on weak plants. More and more scientific evidence is available today on the mechanisms by which a biologically active fertile soil creates induced resistance in the crops.

5. Fifth, livestock must be raised outdoors on grass-based pasture systems to the fullest extent possible. Farm animals are an integral factor in the symbiosis of soil fertility on the organic farm.

You can find them here, along with some other very useful information on why the USDA Certification is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

We wholeheartedly believe in PREVENTION over TREATMENT. This means we take whatever precautions we must in order to PREVENT infestation or diseases on our crops, instead of waiting for them to happen and then treating with chemicals. We do not use chemical pesticides or herbicides. We use preventative measures to keep pests out and to keep disease at bay. Of course, we usually end up dealing with some sort of pests, like tomato horn worms that feast on our tomato plants or even the nasty squash beetles that decimated any form of squash crop we had in 2017. When an infestation does happen, we take care of the problem usually by picking all the horn worms off and ultimately they meet their demise, the same goes for the beetles.

As for disease, we take care to either purchase hybrid seeds and plants that are bred to be naturally disease resistant (hybrid is NOT the same as GMO, hybrids are merely crosses between two types of the same plant species), and we practice crop rotation.

In closing, we hope that you can feel confident in knowing that anything that is grown and produced on our farm is done so with the utmost care and respect for the true Organic Farming Practices mentioned above, also known as The Honest Old-Time Organic Standards set forth by Eliot Coleman himself and other organic pioneers.

Hoop House Project Part II & A Farm Update

Well, it has been awhile since I’ve graced the Blog World with my presence! And for that, I apologize! Life simply got away from all of us here at Red Barn Acres when it was harvest season, then it was the Holiday Season rush for our other company, Red Barn Botanicals LLC.

Alas, we are back. And we are prepared (more than) for SPRING to get here!

Our two hoop houses are put together and are about 98% finished. I say 98% because we still need to add some steel siding to the end wall kick boards (my idea, to protect the structure from tractor implements and even hand tools) and to attach the roll up side piping and handles.

Here we are framing in for the end walls.22089513_10159546665325438_5030466346126481964_n22219741_10159571387440438_4100565734613621388_o

 

Most of the framing is done. Now, time for doors.

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Each end of each hoop house has a set of doors that are large enough to allow our small tractor and tiller inside. The large doors will also allow ample air flow through the structure.

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My husband designed these cool rotating windows. This will allow me to keep the doors closed and open the windows if I need just a little air flow. I am still working on figuring out how to screen it in to keep out unwanted pests and animals.

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The next step was to install the channeling for the wiggle wire.

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We decided on having roll up side walls that would roll up 4 feet on both sides of each hoop house. Here you can see the entire length of our southern most hoop house and the channel that runs along it. The covering will be held in place inside the channel using wiggle wire.

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Since I ordered the covering in one long roll instead of 2 separate rolls, we needed to roll it out the length of the structure.

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Then, very carefully, after we waited for the wind to die down, we went from one side of the hoop house to the other, to cover the structure. It is easier with the more hands you have to help you. Thankfully, our neighbors are pretty nice and came to lend a hand.

We then worked the wiggle wire in (wearing gloves is a MUST, wiggle wire is tough even on the roughest of hands).

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The bare OSB board will eventually have steel siding added to it for protection. We never got around to it due to winter hitting so hard so quickly. It is the first thing to do this spring.

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It didn’t take long for our first snow to fly. And it also didn’t take long for it to melt….and then more snow came!

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The photo above is on Christmas Day 2017. We ventured outside (we had gotten a few inches of snow over night on Christmas Eve). The temperature inside the hoop house was above freezing, probably around 40F, while the outside are was closer to 25F. We went inside to see how the hoop houses were fairing in the weather. We sweep any accumulating snow off as soon as it flies. The covering can only take so much weight of snow fall, so it is important to remove any that accumulates on the covering. In states or regions that receive snow fall, hoop houses, greenhouses, and other growing structures usually have their hoops spaced 4 feet apart or even closer. This helps with the weight of snow. In warmer climates where not much snow falls, the hoops may be seen spaced further apart.

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I invested in a TempStick, which is a wireless Thermometer that uses WiFi to record the temperature. I can view it on my phone at any time using their free App. The temp stick is about $160 and totally worth the investment. This allows me to have a very accurate reading, and I can check it from anywhere. It also stores the information so I can use it to get an average reading for whatever length of time I need. The photo above is a reading from inside a hoop house when it was about 5F outside. This just shows how warm it can actually get in a hoop house with just sun as a heat source.

An average temperature reading is important when scheduling your planting or transplanting times.

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We have already begun sowing our seeds indoors. Above are New York Early onions from High Mowing Seeds. These will be transplanted out as soon as they can be, and harvested sometime in fall. We also started some Long Season Pepper plants (Ghost Peppers, Carolina Reapers, and the like) and some tomatoes that are strictly bred for hoop house or green house growing (disease resistant hybrid strands).

So Now….Onto our UPDATE!

We will be attending the Durand Farmer’s Market this season and we are excited! We hope to have fresh produce, plants, and eggs (from our ducks, turkeys, and chickens). We have completely switched all of our poultry over to a Non GMO Non Soy ration. Our feed is not certified organic, but it is grown and harvested using organic practices. It is grown and produced by the Amish in Clare, Michigan.

Soon, we will be incubating chicken eggs, turkey eggs and duck eggs to hatch young to be added to our flocks as well as for meat production. We are excited to offer whole dressed birds for purchased this season. We purchased a very nice used mechanical poultry plucker so we don’t have to manually pluck our birds!

That’s all for now! See you soon!