I have a NEW Farm!

It’s been a beautiful, flowery filled three years farming flowers no-till at The Collin’s Farm in Davis. Now, I’m on to new land and new opportunities. It’s been a process of learning to let go, accept, and just continue growing.

In August, 2018, I was gently told that I could no longer continue farming where I was at for the following year. This news was not entirely unexpected, but it came much sooner than I imagined.

The owners of The Collin’s Farm have the opportunity to build their forever home on their property. This is something they’ve dreamed about for decades! They made the tough decision to ask all of the farmers on site to kindly transition to new locations so they could enjoy more privacy and their homestead for years to come. This is very honorable, and I have no ill feelings. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I am eternally grateful for their generosity and support of me farming there these past three years.

Still, this news was hard to stomach and it has been a process of letting go these past several months. For the last three years, I’ve grown flowers using no-till farming methods at The Collin’s Farm in Davis on approx. a quarter of an acre. This was the first place I truly dove in and experimented with no-till farming. I was able to build up my soil beautifully these past few years and really see the difference! I grew hundreds of varieties of flowers. I supplied countless local community members with bouquets, arranged weddings, and more with the flowers grown at my farm. I supported the pollinators and invertebrates. I taught my son the basics of farming and to have reverence for the soil and plants. I gave him an outdoor playground and the opportunity to see me work towards my passions. I learned so much through experimentation and about myself as a farmer. For all of this, I am so incredibly grateful. 

Photo by Elissa Kennedy

Photo by Elissa Kennedy

This farm was more than just a farm. It was a sanctuary for both my son and I. As we navigated our family separation and several moves, the farm was our constant. It was a place we could both feel reprieve and marvel in joy and beauty. It never failed to lift our spirits. This was the hardest thing to let go of. 

I had to trust, just trust, that I would find a new perfect spot to farm. 

In October 2018, I moved to a new place in Winters where Nalin and I could live AND farm. It was a dream come true. Admittedly, I signed a lease for this new place, which is WAY more than I can honestly afford each month, BUT it was one of those experiences where I walked around and knew, in my bones, that I needed to be here. I had been searching for months and this place was my full YES! It was everything I needed and dreamed of. Of course it was more per month than I could afford, but this is where my work of trusting comes in. I need, and will, trust that I can make this work for this is absolutely the place I need to be. 

My home is a modest sized studio apartment called a “Casita”. It’s perfect. I have a flat area where I can farm, literally a walk down a small slope from my house. I’m going to farm the same size as I was at The Collin’s Farm. My new plot is 120 feet by 70 feet which is approx. ¼ acre.  There is a greenhouse right outside the door of my Casita that I can use to my hearts desire. I already found a place to compost right outside my home, and my landlord made a huge terraced garden that will be exclusively for vegetables. I’ll be managing a mini vegetable farm in addition to my flowers! My partner helped me find a high quality stand up floral cooler, which will be clutch once I start harvesting buckets of blooms! 

Overall, my new place is more than I could have dreamed of. It’s gorgeous, peaceful, and full of opportunity. 

I’m really excited to take what I’ve learned over the last three years and The Collin’s Farm and apply it here, to my brand new farm. In fact, I’ve been feeling inspired since I am starting a brand new no-till farm from scratch, to share a video series on YouTube sharing my exact methods. Perhaps you would like to follow along and see how I plan to take bare, fallow clay soil and turn it into a thriving flower farm without taking any tillage equipment to it!

So far, I have a cover crop that is growing and competing with the grasses. I sowed daikon radish, crimson clover, vetch, and California medic. The idea is to add nitrogen with the legumes and for the daikon root to break up the clay a bit. I didn’t sow any grasses because I knew the grass pressure would be high around here.  Meanwhile the cover crop grows, my partner has been helping me to build a fence around my plot to keep the turkeys out. There are so many here and they’re real pests!! In March/early April sometime, my partner and I will have sheep grazing on the covercrop and grasses. Their manure will leave me with amazing nitrogen nuggets and I will then cover sections in landscape fabric for “occultation”. It’s a method that allows for decomposition and weed suppression before planting. I’ll then plant out thousands of summer plants that I will have started from seed in the greenhouse here. So that’s the plan at least!

Meanwhile, this winter, I have been busy pulling up landscape fabric, netting, T-posts, bamboo stakes, and irrigation from my old farm. I am also digging up and potting up countless perennials and planning on transitioning them to the new farm. It’s a big process!

I’m enjoying the process of moving, of transitioning and letting go while embracing the new. I know it’ll be a while till I can really build up the soil beautifully here, but I cam committed to starting and sharing the process. 

Thank you for following along and for your support as I navigate these new stages in business! 

Sincerely,

Katie

Farm Happenings!

Hello Readers,

As I prepare to send out my new February newsletter, I've realized my last farming blog post was made in June! Eeek! So let me fill you in with what's been going on. It includes farm expansion, soil test results, and plans for this new year!

The first two years of my no-till growing venture were focused on 1/4th acre. I grew flowers on approximately 15 beds, all 3' wide by 70' long. Last spring, I planned on expanding the farm. Instead of tilling and growing on my expanded area right away, I decided to build up the soil as much as I could. This involved laying compost, amendments, and sowing a summer cover crop of cowpeas and buckwheat. This did quite well. When it was almost finished flowering, I mowed it down, left it on top of the soil and covered the whole area with landscape fabric. This method is called occultation, which I talk about more in previous blog posts. 

When everything was properly decomposed, I lifted the fabric and realized the soil needed even more help. It was autumn, so I literally went around the City of Davis with a tarp scooping up leaf piles and bringing them to the farm. Several trips later, the new area was covered in leaves which not only mulched the soil (and soil should be covered at all times), but it will break down and add delicious minerals into the soil. The next step, happening this month, will be to cover the leaves with even more compost, and hope that it'll be sufficient to plant into come April! 

Now this isn't the only expanded area. I have another section which I treated differently and not on purpose. Mainly because of limited time and resources. With this second section, I added compost and amendments over dried grass essentially and then seeded with a winter cover crop mix late September. I had to sprinkle it in for quite a while before any rain came in December. My watering's were not too consistent, and the grasses came up fierce, outcompeting the beans. I have super tall grass patches in that area, but I'm not worried. I'll mow and cover with landscape fabric this month knowing that the grass will still add composition to the soil. This area will also be ready to plant in come April! 

With my new expanded areas, I now will be growing on 1/3rd acre and I will have 6 more rows to plant in! In fact, I just sent all my seeds to be started for me. The growers at Pacific Star Gardens in Woodland offers the service of starting seeds for other farmers, which is perfect for me because I do not have a greenhouse nor a good track record of starting seeds indoors. They let me mix varieties in their 216 cell trays which is awesome and the peace of mind that I will have guaranteed starts in spring is priceless. Now, if every single cell produced a healthy start (which never happens), but hypothetically, I would have 3,672 summer starts! 

Another project happening this month is irrigation expansion for my new growing areas! I need to make some repairs to the pop up, add a header line, and new emitter lines down the length of my rows. I use netafim drip tube, which is sturdy and long lasting. Most landscapers use this stuff! I will have to talk with some irrigation specialists about how to make a cohesive system, and admittedly, I'm really not looking forward to doing this project! I tend to have a personal block towards building and constructing things, so I plan to solicit help on this one. 

Now about that soil test I just did...  My flower farming friend, Lisa Haas, graciously offered to come over and sample my soil with me using her fancy, in depth, soil testing kit! I took samples from both new areas I'm expanding to as well as from a row where cotton had grown last year. The goal is to get to the native soil, which for us in the Central Valley of CA, is heavy clay. I was eager to learn about it! and also admittedly, I have never done a soil test. I've planed too, I really did. Twice I had dug soil and then never followed through with mailing it to a lab. Not sure what my block was against that one. But regardless, we did a soil test!! Better now than never. 

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The results of each test (except cotton because we couldn't get a diluted enough sample) were a pH of 7.2 which is damn near perfect. pH is important to note because that affects the uptake of nutrients. I wouldn't matter if you had all the right constituents and minerals, if the pH was off, your plants wouldn't be able to use it. Next, in each sample, I found out my Nitrogen levels were off the charts high! The tests also showed that Phosphorus and Potassium were off the charts high! So, I'm set on my macro nutrients! The confusing part came when testing for Calcium and Sulfates which used a "turbidity" type of test for analysis. Both results were really, really light supposed to be compared to a grey scale. So either, they are off the charts high as well (lighter than the lightest reading indicating high levels), OR those nutrients are virtually non-existent. It was hard to find the answer to this question online, so I believe a future test of the leaves of plants will be able to tell me if they are in fact, getting calcium and sulfates. So the macro nutrients we're great. The Ca and sulfates are to be determined, and lastly, the micro nutrients were not looking so good. We tested for Magnesium, Manganese, and Ferric Iron. Both tests showed extremely low, practically non-existent amounts. These micro nutrients are actually pretty important, particularly magnesium, which is incorporated into each chlorophyll molecule and stimulates the uptake of phosphorus. And so the question is, while I have good phosphorus levels, is it actually available to my plants without the presence of Magnesium? See, a lot of these molecules work hand in hand and often times without one, plants loose the ability to use the other. So what does this mean in terms of remedies? The most common remedy for a magnesium deficient soil is to add limestone. However, limestone can alter the pH making the soil more basic. Other ways to add magnesium are through magnesium sulfate (which is soluble) or magnesium oxide (which is insoluble). I still have to research products and determine how much, and probably a combination, would be best. As far as the trace nutrients, it is recommended that those are used in foliar sprays. Azomite, which is volcanic post dust and an amendment I love, contains those trace minerals plus MUCH more and I have been adding it to my compost tea brewing system. So, I'll keep doing that!

Overall, I learned it's really insightful and empowering to tune into what is actually present or not in the soils we grow on.  Soil health is so important to me. It's why I don't till. It's also why I add copious amounts of compost, and take that extra step and cost to mulch the soil. Through farming, I am consistently humbled by how much I don't know. I am also completely humbled to see how well plants have grown in heavy clay with no-till farming! I am going to keep learning and keep experimenting!! If you're a grower, I encourage you to do the same. 

Thanks for reading!

~Katie