April for a farmer means prep work! There is so much to do – from buying seeds & germinating them, repairing greenhouses, to getting the fields ready (muddy clay-seas that they are) – that any tricks and short-cuts are welcomed. Organic farmer, Sue Nackoney, now in her second year at Livin’ Spoonful’s Gentle Rain Farm, has some thrifty ideas to share!
previously published on East Multnomah Soil & Conservation District’s Headwaters Blog.
Sixth in our “From our farmers” series, by Sue Nackoney of Gentle Rain Farm, enrolled in our Farm Incubator Program.
As the days lengthen, we come out of our own hibernation. The urge to get into the soil starts. The wet and cold northern climes says otherwise. Before the busy planting time begins, there’s plenty to do indoors. Below are gathered a handful of ideas to conserve, reuse and re-purpose for your farm or garden.
Repurposed pants for soil or sand bags
It is almost painful to throw away a pair of pants just because they have a hole in the knee. Considering that 10.5 million tons of clothing heads to the landfill every year – or about 5% of the landfill waste overall – it hurts more than just my own sensibilities. So I was delighted to find a blog post from Fiddlehead Farm (link) about using old pants to create sand or soil bags. The bags are used to hold down shadecloth, tarps, or floating row covers. Or a myriad of other uses on a farm in a land that is blessedly not abundant with large rocks.
To make the bags, I cut the pants at the knees and sewed up the cuff with my sewing machine, and then cut them in half through the waistband at the zipper and rear seams and sewed those up. Viola! Four bags from one old pair of pants. It was also kind of cute to see those pants my 5-yr old son wore, the ones with the froggie patch on the knee, having a new life “outstanding” in the field.
In the spirit of sending less to the landfill, farmers have pioneered a way to make potting soil stand up in little cubes in a tray for starting seeds indoors; no disposable plastic pots needed. At the beginning soil blocks look like a tray full of mud brownies that a little kid might offer you (mmm!), but then the plants start growing out the tops of each block and you can see the roots filling in on the exposed sides.
To quote my fellow Headwaters farmer, Pete of Udan Farm: “Blocks mimic natural soil conditions better than pots, because a block lets the plant develop a healthy root system that is less shocked by transplanting.” Plant roots in the block stop growing when they reach air (a good thing), rather than circling around inside a plastic pot making a difficult-to-transplant root knot. Stronger plants means Pete can harvest earlier for their various farmers markets, and maybe need less fertilizer in the process.
Mulch with burlap bags
A great way to protect soil from erosion by wind and rain is to reuse old burlap coffee bags. They also prevent weeds from overtaking farm paths. Though not always found in cafes full of coffee, there are plenty of locations to find the used burlap. I came upon the empty bags at OSU’s Small Farms School. Clair Klock of Clackamas Soil Water Conservation District was handing out dozens from a giant tote. Used as ground cover, coffee bags have a certain vintage aesthetic that is nicer than, say, mulching with cardboard. Check out the picture of Angela’s calendula rows at her medicinal herb farm, Alquimia Botanicals, here at Headwaters.
I get so excited thinking about all these great things! During February’s cool rainy days of making farm plans, I indulge in my love of seed catalogs. Headwaters farmers have a lot of great tricks. I look forward to seeing what everyone has up their sleeves for this coming year!