The snow has melted off the garden in the last two-to-three days. I got out there this afternoon and spread clear plastic over this year’s tomato bed, holding it down well with so it won’t blow off the garden, and I let it hang over the edges onto the adjacent pathways. The heat of the sun will be amplified through the plastic and do two great things for me. First, it will heat up my tomato bed. Second, it will kill off any weeds or grass starting in my garden paths.
This far north our first frost-free planting days for heat-loving crops aren’t until early June. That can really put a crimp in my style in terms of tomato harvest. Well, okay, really it crimps my style — period — when it comes to heat-loving crops. But by warming the soil early, and starting my tomatoes a couple weeks earlier than I otherwise would, I can put them in the ground that much earlier. Aaaand that meeeeans … (say it with me) … I can harvest a couple weeks earlier, right? True story! I’m all about getting a few extra weeks of tomato harvest.
So how do I harvest a little early? First I warm the soil. Then, when it’s time to put the tomatoes in, I secure brown plastic mulch (brown plastic sheeting) in my raised bed from one side to the other, tucking it down in the sides to keep it in place. Now I can cut slits in the plastic and plant my tomatoes directly into the pre-warmed soil. The brown plastic mulch continues to warm the soil (which tomatoes *love*) throughout the season. But I’m not going to end there. The second step is an additional layer over the tomato plants — a low-tunnel, like this one they sell at burpee.com:
It’s important not to just plant-it-and-forget-it, though. If you want early tomatoes, you kinda have to be willing to work for it. Careful temperature regulation is important. On warm days, the low-tunnel has to be open, or even taken completely off the tomatoes if it’s really warm. It’s too easy to accidentally cook your tomato plants before you can say “oops!”. Think about how hot it gets inside your car on a sunny day, even when it’s cool outside. The sun goes in through the windows and heats up everything inside your car. The low-tunnel will do the same thing to your tomatoes. This is great on cooler days and overnight when the temperature drops. On nights where the temperature is going to drop really low, a layer of sheets or old quilts or blankets is still a great idea to keep them from freezing, or suffering a set-back due to shock. Once frost-free days hit after the first two-to-three weeks, the low-tunnel comes off for the rest of the season.
Here’s another great idea. My inventor-kid Danny came up with this. He’s really a good problem-solver. He’s been thinking about how to create a magnetic generator that will take minimal input and produce a good source of backup power for years. The kid’s only 13. He recently bought himself an oxy-acetylene tank for welding so he can invent things. Granted, he doesn’t know how to use it. (I’m exercising my bragging rights, okay? LOL!) But this idea has nothing to do with backup power or welding. It has to do with minimizing chicken feed waste. I don’t know if you have this problem or if you’ve figured out a way to keep waste to a minimum, but I absolutely hate buying 50 lbs. of non-GMO chicken feed (read: expensive!) knowing that almost half of it is going to end up on the ground, scratched into the chicken litter in the bottom of the coop. All that wasted feed is not only costly, but it invites rodents into the henhouse and makes a pretty yucky mucky mess on the floor, too.
You’ll kick yourself when you see this. It’s so simple. But I hadn’t thought of it in the seven years we’ve been raising chickens. Here she goes:
Danny suggested putting the feeder inside a short container of some sort to catch the feed that the hens bill out while they’re eating. Genius! Seriously! They stand outside the black pan, which is about 18″x30″ (roughly), instead of in it (chicken poop in the food – yuck!), and reach across to eat out of the feeder. They still bill it out, but 95% of what they bill out ends up in the pan. When feed gets low, they’re happy to eat the billed-out feed right out of the black pan. If it gets yucky or wet, you’d have to throw it away, but I haven’t had that problem yet and I’ve been using this since the fall! I’m spending half the money I used to spend on chicken feed. That makes me happy! 🙂
Do you have any good ideas for around the farm to share with me or other Small Home Farm fans?