Friday, August 29, 2008

Fair booth features landscaping by the 3 little piggies

Visit our booth at the county fair. It features landscaping by the three little piggies. The first little piggy used invasive plants. The second little piggy had a typical landscape with high energy cost and plants of limited value. The third little piggy created a landscape that feed and sheltered humans and wildlife.

The biggest brush pile I have ever burnt

The road up to this old house had logging debris piled head high on both sides. I cut last year's fire wood from it. This summer I had a fireline bulldozed around the brush and lit it up. Flames were 40 feet high at times. The wind was just a little off from the forecast but still close enough that I didn't burn anything I didn't want to burn. The smoke was visible in Concord 12 miles away. This was a large enough site that by lighting a fire in the middle first, I was able to pull the fire in from each side which made it safer. This site will be replanted in loblolly pines. I have mentioned this old house before. It was abandoned before electricity came to this area. I just wish I could have bought it 20 years ago.

Banana Peppers and Farmers Market Customers

I tried a banana pepper variety this time around. Can't remember the variety off the top of my head but it tasted great. Two other vendor I respect had banana peppers on their table so I decided to test them. Mine were beautiful. Some of them were a foot long. People stop by the table to admire them and tell us how beautiful they are. They were a little tough to grow early on. Required lots of water and I had some blossom end rot on then during the mid season but recently they have been making up for it. The trouble is that nobody buys them after they admire them. I had them priced at 25 cents each but I don't think the price mattered. Doubt anybody would have bought them for a nickel. Reminds me of the Biblical quote "Why encumber the ground?" I have learned that any farmers market item needs to be tried more than one year so I will grow a few banana peppers next year. But if they don't sell next year that will be their last strike. Can't think of an innovative way to display them. I tried cherry tomatoes for several years and the only way I ever sold them was with yellow and red tomatoes in pint baskets alternating in a checkerboard pattern. You could sell lots of reds this way and had to keep putting them back into the pattern. Gradually over the course of the day you would sell yellow ones until you lost the pattern. Then you have to take the rest of the yellow ones home. Another incident was with sunflowers several years ago. I grew some dwarf ones in pots. The first year I tried it, I really didn't do that good of a job with them but when I took them to market, I sold every one of them include one that lost some petals at the market. I had put it back on the truck when a few of the petals fell off. A lady came by and begged me to sell it to her. I explained that it would not bloom again but she wanted it anyway. I was a little uncomfortable with the fact that people wanted plants bad enough to buy a bloomed out sunflower. The next year I grew 4 times as many and did a quality job. I only sold 3 plants and that was at a drastic discount. I have come to the conclusion that you can't figure out the customers in one year.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sometimes I wonder how any business can get started these days

Cabarrus County is exploring different ideas to improve our local food system. We have a 7 million dollar beef industry here in the county and a good market for people who want grass feed beef. But right now every cow that gets into commercial channels has to leave the county to die. Put everything together and it is fairly obvious that we could use a kill floor. The county commissioners are okay with the idea, the neighbors are okay with the idea and there is a local family interested in operating such a facility on their property. So the first step is to determine if there is enough ground water available to operate the facility. This study is going to cost $10,000. They didn’t offer me the $10,000 but I decided I would just figure it out for fun.
The facility would need about 2500 gallons of water a day five days a week. Of this amount about 2475 is returned to the ground for treatment. The rest evaporates. Subtracting gives me 25 gallons per day which I multiply by the 210 days they would operate per year for a total of 5250 gallons per year.
The underground aquifer is a shallow surface aquifer that is recharged by at least 10 acres that runs from a nearby fire department north to Barrier Rd and about 500 feet both sides of the proposed facility. (For $10,000 I would actually look up the contour lines and get a precise measurement and subtract out the paved area, but I have no doubt a 10 acre estimate is very conservative.) The area receives about 42 inches of rain per year. On the flat ridge top around this site, about 7 inches of this will go into the ground per year. Multiplying out 7 inches times 27,500 gallons per acre inch times 10 acres equals 1,925,000 gallons of recharge annually.
So the question is can you take 5250 gallons out of 1.9 million gallons. Well, since the recharge is mostly during the winter and the withdrawal is year around, plus there is some flucuation from year to year, I also need to check the amount of ground water to make sure it will budget out on a daily basis. The static water level is currently 20 feet. The depth of casing is 70 feet. Therefore the amount of water saturated soil is 50 feet. The amount of water held in a clay soil like this is roughly 10 percent. So that translates to 5 feet of water. Multiply times the 27,500 per acre inch times the 10 acres of surface recharge times 12 inches per foot equals a little more than 4 million gallons.
YES. There will be no problem taking out 5000 gallons from 4 million gallon aquifer being recharged at the rate of 1.9 million gallons annually.
I can be so definite about this because I use more water than this from a smaller aquifer than this to irrigate my garden.
When you get to thinking about this, the amount they intend to use is roughly equivalent to 40 houses on wells. If that caused a problem there would be lots of places in the county that would be hurting.
There it is. Roughly $10,000 worth of consulting at no charge.
By the way step 4 is to determine what it would take to treat the waste water. That will be a $5000 consulting fee. I don’t know the answer on that one, but for a $500 finders fee I could get them in touch with David Troutman who could give them the answer for half that price.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I expect to eat fresh peaches in October

The primary method I use to save peaches for a later date is to freeze them. Contender is probably my favorite one to freeze. When dead ripe, it has a beautiful flesh color and keeps the color very well. Of the varieties I have frozen, Sun Prince does a poor job, while Intrepid and Challenger does a good job. I have pickled a few peaches but not enough to figure out a variety difference. I have only pickled them whole and a cling peach might be the best choice for that. I don’t grow any cling peaches. I could try pickling them in slices but I have never got around to doing that. Some years I make peach jam. With jam, I just use whatever peach is available when I get some time to make the jam.
So how do I intend to eat fresh peaches in October? By refrigerating China Pearl. In 2006, I put a few China Pearl in the refrigerator on August 1. I pulled two or three out at the county fair and shared it with the volunteers. The quality was very good at that time. I continued to check on them and ate the last one on Oct 15th. Honestly, it had gone downhill by that point but I think part of the problem was low humidity in the refrigerator. I only had a few peaches in the refrigerator and they were drying out. This year I placed a half bushel of china pearl peaches in the crisper section. I figure to go through them every couple of weeks and pull out anything fixing to go to the bad. Peaches are not supposed to do this. In fact, when I mentioned that I had done this to the guy who selected China Pear (Dr Denny Werner) he was surprised that it could be done.
If this can be reliably done, there should be a point in the United States where China Pearl gets ripe around September and can be saved until November when you should get a premium on fresh white peaches.
I also save some peaches in the refrigerator using another process, again with China Pearl variety, but I won’t share that because I am not totally sure it is safe. You can find a similar process by searching the internet for recipes for brandied peaches that create the alcohol instead of pouring it over the peaches. Carla Emery in her book The Encyclopedia of Country Living also mentions a similar process.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A business risk

Last year Lisa decided to give up a career in real estate and become an herb grower and farmers market vendor. Lisa and I decided it would be beneficial to work together. My wife Rene doesn’t like to sell at the markets so Lisa could sell fruit and vegetables I grow on the weekday markets and then Lisa and I share a booth on Saturday. Working with Lisa has allowed me to keep my inside space at the farmers market. Otherwise, I would have lost my inside space this year. To some degree the herbs Lisa grows and the produce I grow are complimentary. We have never put our business association in writing since we have agreed to quit as soon as it doesn’t work for one or the other of us.
When we first started, I figured the safest thing would be if Lisa and Rene never met. Lisa caught onto this first and asked if Rene thought I had an imaginary friend.
I ignored that and kept them apart last year. This year I had to go out of town during the peak of peach season and the only logical way to get my peaches on the market was for my wife and Lisa to meet. It was quite a risk. I could have come back and found one dead and the other in jail. Turns out they got along very well. Now I guess I am more worried about them ganging up on me and tag team nagging or something.
I never did sell any tomatillos for WIC vouchers to get my tax money back. There were far fewer Mexican immigrants at the market this year. I suspect there are fewer around. For one thing, there are less job opportunities right now and I have heard more about enforcement against illegal immigrants. I am going to grow the tomatillos again. Sold enough to make it worthwhile although I doubt it will every be a major profit generator.
I did get some tax dollars back. Mostly sold the WIC people peaches and tomatoes. I did sell green tomatoes to several WIC customers. I have never considered fried green tomatoes to be a food for poor people. If it is, the rich people are really missing out on that one. Still the only people who bought them certainly gave the impression of being poor.
My first WIC customer (who bought some top of the line tomatoes) really aggravated Lisa. I asked Lisa if she didn’t like getting her tax dollars back. She started complaining about the $200 dollar stroller and the $100 dollar tennis shoes the lady was wearing. I explained that you couldn’t expect somebody who made those types of decisions to have any money left for food. If Lisa was in charge of the world, that lady would have gone hungry.