Last week we broke ground at our new farm on Norman Road in Aldinga Beach. We are calling this site Yia Yia's farm after my friend's Greek Grandmother Marika Hassiotis, who I always only ever knew as Yia Yia. This land is still owned by the Hassiotis family and they have welcomed me onto the land to grow my market garden business.
I am developing this farm to compliment my current site on top of Willunga Hill (Askara Farm). The plan for this plot is to expand the amount of growing space I have, and to make sure that next winter I have a more mild climate to ensure the crops stay growing strong through those colder months. See my last post for more details on why this is necessary for me. From Late February - September 2016 Yia Yia's farm will be my main growing location.
So how do you break ground on a new farm!?
I want to be clear that I believe there is no 'right' way to do this, that is the beauty of gardening. Each garden, farm, plant and person will bring something different into the equation. I have started many gardens and farms. Each time I have started them slightly different and each time the produce still grew nicely. This particular time, however, I am setting my farm up to continue my market garden and Green Juice business. So, of course, this site is going to look different to how I would set up my garden at home. On this new site I acquired a soil test, tested flow pressure of my water supplies, planned the size and aspect of the beds, established an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the land owners and I have devised a crop plan, making future crop rotations clearer and easier than my past willy nilly plant style. I have done all of this before breaking ground.
The first step in setting up the structure of the farm, was to mark out our growing space and make sure it was square. This farm will have four plots of sixteen, twenty metre long beds, separated by a 1m access path. The beds are all 80cm wide (the width of a standard walk behind tractor and 5cm wider than the standardised hand tools for market gardeners across the US). The paths are 30cm wide, just wide enough to walk down with light feet. The initial measuring had to be precise to ensure the right amount of beds fit into the space provided.
From past experience and advice from others I have learnt that it is important that the market garden beds are all uniform length. This uniformity helps with record keeping, calculating amounts of seed and seedlings and usability of row covers, tarps and other floating structures.
Nearly all the previous gardens and farms I have started were free flowing. I would either follow the lay of the land and make swales, or whack crops in willy nilly. Again, I'm not saying this is wrong, it's really beautiful, fun and rewarding, and I still would recommend it in certain situations. This time around, I'm going a bit more standardised and organised to keep the operations clean, clear and regular, a necessity when running any business (so I'm learning).
It took a bit of brain power (and google juice) to drag up old pythagorus' theorem to make sure we were doing all the right things to find square. a²+b²=c² meant that we needed (length of beds) 20m² + (width of each plot) 17m²= (Diagonal) c²
This simple equation made it easy for us then to know that the diagonal length of each plot should be 26.25m. When both diagonals were the same length, we knew our 4 plots were square.
It was only when we had the measurements sorted that we were ready to welcome Nat Wiseman from The Village Greens of Willunga Creek. The farmers from village greens have a very handy machine commonly called a walk behind tractor. This machine is indispensable in a small market garden. A walk behind tractor is a self-propelled rotary hoe, that can adorn many different attachments. Nat is such a learned young grower who we are very blessed to have farming in the same region as us. He is so generous with his knowledge and passionate about what he does.
The soil we have at Yia Yia's is top quality black self mulching clay. This type of soil stays soft on the surface when it is dry, forming aggregates that effectively mulch the soil below and keep the moisture levels quite stable. About 2 months ago the farmer who has been using this land for the last 10 years included the site we are farming in his tillage cycle. Since then a few weeds had grown over the site and the clay had settled a bit under the winter rains, but the walking tractor made light work of tilling the weeds in and fluffing up the soil.
To my surprise the machine was quite user friendly. I had been a bit daunted by it, but after giving it a go, I realised I could grow to feel comfortable using one of these by myself. It is really important for me to feel safe and confident with the tools and processes I use on the farm, as often I am farming alone, or I am working with several volunteers. We did a single pass with the walking tractor over the whole space we wanted to cultivate. The tractor drives itself, so all you have to do is steer it, moving the handles to either side and walk along side it so you aren't walking on the freshly tilled soil.
Once the soil was tilled and all light and fluffy, we needed to mark out where we needed our paths. We marked out where each path would be and run string line long the length of the plot at each spot. Once the string line was strung tight, we walked across the line to create a clear marker of where our paths were going to be.
We kept moving the string line to the next full measurement (110cm) of the stick and walking out the paths. The whole plot was then all light and fluffy with clearly marked lines ready for the walking tractor to come and furrow out the paths.
One of the tractors' many great attachments is the furrow. This can be adjusted to several sizes to furrow to your needs. We were very happy with how the machine made the path ways.
From start to finish, with the tractor, prepping this site took us 5 hours, with two people working most of the time. After seeing this machine work, I have to say I'm pretty smitten, and although I'm still only just becoming comfortable with tilling soil (that's another story) I'm getting a little bit keen on getting myself one!
I want to thank Nat and the Village Greens for the loan of the walking tractor, it was a great experience and a nice bit of learning. Another special thanks also to Nat for guiding us through some of the new techniques we used in setting up this new site. I cant wait to share more of the stories from Yia Yia's Farm with you all.