Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Building a compost tea brewer

Over the past few weeks I have been working on putting together a compost tea brewer. Transitioning to organic farming necessitated a shift from conventional fertilizer and amendments to organic, and it made sense to build our own brewer after looking at how much use we would get out of it, not to mention how much money we would save. First, we looked at how much tea we would need for at least 2 yearly applications, one in the fall and one in the spring. All of our acres at the recommended amount of 15 gallons per acre puts our need at around 13,000 gallons per application if we did every acre. After looking at various tank sizes we settled on a 1400 gallon tank. When a batch is brewed in this tank we end up with around 1200-1300 gallons of tea. Our spray buggy holds approximately 450 gallons, so 1 batch of tea will give us nearly enough for 3 full buggy loads. 3 buggy loads will do about 70-75 acres. So one batch of tea a day will allow us to spray every acre in about 10-12 days. There are 3 main parts to the tank: The tank itself, the air pump, and the liquid pump. The air pump agitates and aerates the tea to allow the organisms to multiply. The liquid pump is for filling the buggy after the batch is done. I put a float valve on a fitting and attached a hose to it for filling the tank. It takes several hours to fill the tank to 1200 gallons. It took many, many trips to JTI Supply (the tank and fitting company) to get the correct fittings. We decided to put the air pump above the tank on a bracket to prevent backflow. We had previously tried putting it on the ground and looping a length of hose up over the tank to prevent backflow, but the head pressure in the tank was too great, and water flowed back into the pump. Next we tried a check valve between the air pump and the fitting on the bottom of the tank, but the check valve inhibited the air flow too much. When we put the air pump above the tank and turned it on with the tank full, it worked for about 2 hours until the air pump couldn't sustain enough air pressure to keep the tank agitated. Turns out the air pump can only perform with less than 65 inches of water. The tank, when full, is about 75 inches high. Because of this I tried putting another opening in the side to allow the air in. This worked but we determined that the agitation wasn't sufficient on the other side and the bottom of the tank. Ultimately we decided to put less water in the tank and keep the air coming in through the bottom fitting. This will also help prevent a layer of anaerobic organisms forming on the bottom of the tank, which could degrade the quality of the tea. I purchased a bag for the tea from Earthfort, a local company specializing in compost tea. The bag hangs down from a clasp on the underside of the lid, keeping it suspended in the middle of the tank. I used quick release fittings on all the connections to make cleaning easier, as biofilm on the inside of the tank, hoses, and fittings can harm the beneficial organisms in the tea. I started brewing the first batch of tea yesterday. I used 25 pounds of solid compost. About half is from Harry MacCormack at Sunbow Farm, and half is from Shepard Smith at Soilsmith Services. I also used about 28.4 pounds of 5-2-4 Organobloom as food for the tea. This is a very basic recipe that will probably need significant tweaking to get right. I'll take a sample in to Soil Foodweb for testing today when the tea is done brewing. If the results are acceptable we can start spraying tomorrow, although I'm sure I'll need to make some adjustments to the recipe to get it right. Big thanks to Joe Richard at JTI Supply for all the materials, Kevin at Earthfort for all the advice, Harry MacCormack at Sunbow Farm for the compost and great tips, and also Shepard Smith at Soilsmith Services for the compost.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fall planting update.

We are close to finishing the fall planting. So far we have planted the following crops: Hard Red Wheat, Soft White Wheat, Brown Flax, Golden Peas, Green Peas, and Annual Ryegrass. We are trying to get more wheat planted in the fall this year, as we anticipate higher yields from the red when it's fall planted. The peas we planted as a cover crop. We will till them under in the spring, then plant wheat or oats or another spring crop on that ground. The peas act as a nitrogen-boosting crop, which cuts down on our fertilizer needs for those fields. We also had our 3 pea fields limed to raise their pH. They should produce a pretty good crop this year.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Product list for Fill-Your-Pantry Market here at A2R Farms on October 23rd.

Here is a link to the Ten Rivers Food Web's recent article on the list of foods available for bulk purchase at the first annual Willamette Valley Fill-Your-Pantry Market here at A2R Farms. More than half a dozen farms will be selling bulk quantities of winter storage foods such as grains, flour, beans, root vegetables, honey, canned fish, and frozen meat at very low prices. Local beer and wine, as well as live music, will be on hand. Support your local farmer! Click the title of this post to navigate to the list. Thank you and we hope to see you there!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Upgrading the seed cleaning warehouse

We have been steadily upgrading the cleaning warehouse to allow us to handle more crops. When it was originally put in back in 2005 it was designed specifically for grass seed. In order to allow us to handle many different seed types we have had to put in a bypass which allows us to pour seed directly into the main cleaner. The two machines being bypassed are a pre-cleaner, which takes out heavy material such as dirt clods and rocks, and a debearder which removes the small beard or "tail" from grass seeds. The blue pipe in the photo has a lever which diverts the seed from the first elevator directly into the main cleaner's feeder hopper. If we put wheat and oats through the pre-cleaner and debearder it would fall into the waste pipe or get crushed in the debearder. Other upgrades we have done are adding new screens for the main cleaner. Specific size screens are needed for each crop. We didn't have screens for flax or hard red wheat initially. We ordered the flax screens last year for the Deck Family Farm flax, and we ordered screens for hard red wheat so we can clean our own wheat crop. Other modifications we have planned are adding another Heid and replacing the discs in the Carters. These 2 machines separate out weed seed using a system of rotating discs and cylinders. Adding and upgrading these machines allows us to get extremely pure test results. We also are looking to install a gravity table in the near future. A gravity table is a precision cleaning machine that separates out seeds and other elements such as tiny bits of chaff and pebbles by their weight. Now that our warehouse is certified organic we expect to get more and more cleaning business for specialty crops, and we want to be able to handle most any crop. Things are looking good!

Planting fall flax

This year we got 1,250 pounds of brown flax from the OSU Foundation Seed Bank. The variety is called Linore and was grown by 2 farmers here in the valley. We planted about 25 acres and seeded at around 42-45 pounds an acre. That is quite a bit heavier than last spring when we planted flax at roughly 30 pounds per acre. We hope the fall planted variety and the heavier seeding rate will result in much higher yields. Thanks to Dan Curry and Russ Karow at OSU for the seed.