We have been thinking about expanding for a while now. In Durham, we have about 3 acres that we push to the max. This means that we aren’t able to cover crop, incorporate animals, or crop rotate as much as we’d like. Every inch counts when you’re a small farm growing year round. We’ve been making it work but we’ve also noticed that disease and pest pressure have been making more work for us in the recent years. Our dream was to find land where we could easily construct a few more high tunnels. The tunnels are where we do the majority of our winter production and tomato growing, and where the soil is most in need of recovery. What we found was our wildest dream come true and then some! Jen and Joel bought their first house, which just so happens to be on 5 acres of farmable land and 10 minutes from Star Light. But wait, there’s more! 9 high tunnels more!
Actually, it’s 8 high tunnels but one is 200 ft long, which is double the length of the standard tunnel. There’s also a nursery, a big barn, and a few other storage spaces. We are super excited about this opportunity! With all this extra space we can start to move towards a more regenerative and holistic approach to tending the land that feeds us. Regenerative Agriculture is “trending” right now in the farming world. The idea is to focus on the system as whole, rather than relying on inputs from outside the farm. We plan to put at least 1 high tunnel per farm per season into cover crop. Also known as Green Manure, cover crop is a crop we seed heavily, not to harvest for food, but in order to suppress weeds and restore the soil.
The Glue to Star Light… Sheep!
David and Ty have had sheep at Star Light for years. At one point they had quite the flock, 10 to 20 with a ram named Brutus. Although they’ve never been a part of production on the farm it’s impossible for us to think of Star Light without thinking of sheep. Alice and Angelia, or “The Girls” as we more commonly refer to them, have been holding down the fort for the last 14 years, and still kicking it! By the way, 14 is very, very old for sheep! We like think it is all that organic goodness they get to feast on that attributes to their good health. More than anything they were muses for Ty’s art work. They also make great lawn mowers, and friends!
So, naturally to break in Star Light North West, we got 4 more sheep! The same breed as Alice and Angelina, Jacobs. They were born last spring so they are still fairly small, and pretty dang cute! Currently they are residing in one of the more weedy high tunnels at the new spot. There’s Bo, Willi, Betty and Kanga.
The sheep are a key piece to our regenerative puzzle. After we cover crop in a tunnel, we plan to send the sheep in to eat their hearts out. This will add fertility to the soil, without the addition of sourced compost and amendments. Once they’ve done their business we will plant flowers for the season in that tunnel, to act as a buffer between the sheep and food crops.
Land purchase and sheep aside, this has been an incredible Fall, especially in the weather department. Late summer/ early fall plantings are always a bit of a gamble. If a frost comes early enough it could have been all for nothing. We do have some tricks up our sleeves to mitigate the risk though, mainly low tunnels and row cover. We’ve found that more often than not it’s worth taking on those risks and planting heavily in the late summer/ early fall. It’s a lot of extra work to get low tunnels in place, but while other farms are whining down we still have a lot to offer this time of year. To our delight we didn’t get a frost till November this year. Pretty much all of our late plantings were able to make it, with just a few minor heart breaks. There are also certain crops that just love this weather! We find that there is something particularly special about Fall Bok Choys and Hakurei Turnips. The warm (but not too hot) days and the cool (but not too cold) nights are ideal conditions for the choys and turnips. They can grow to their fullest, juiciest potential without the stress of the summer heat.
Aside from low tunnel construction, the other things on our winter prep to-do list are getting checked off one by one. 900 ft of over-wintered carrots, check. They are just starting to germinate, so we should see those on Mother’s Day. Other over-wintered crops such as Siberian Kale, Collards, Swiss Chard, and lots of Onions, check. The biggest under taking still a head of us is garlic planting. We have 150 lbs to put in the ground before it freezes, and we’ve got about 50 done so far.
As Winter creeps closer and we start to reflect back on the year as a whole, our hearts are full of gratitude. Gratitude to the land that keeps us fed and busy. To David for the opportunity he has given us and all the work he has done building this farm, getting it to where we are today. Most especially to our customers. The support we get from all of you good food people makes Star Light Gardens possible.