Getting Organized…Hopefully…Yes!

This late winter/early spring has been sort of a perfect storm of get organized messages for me.

First, I moved everything out of my office in order for Chris and I to install new cork flooring there to cover up the rough attic planking that exists there.  I have vowed to go through everything and only put back what I truly need.  Now, this is a major hurdle because I am very likely to look at everything and think I might find a use for it someday.  I have, however, recycled a huge stack of paper, designated a bunch of useful stuff to go to St. Vinnies and found deserving homes for several other items.  Some things were beyond any useful life and did wind up in the trash.  And, a few pounds of dust bunnies were removed before the new floor went in.  Later this week or early next week I will begin the slow process of cleaning each item and setting it in a well thought out location in my refurbished office space.

In the meantime, I attended the MOSES Organic Conference in La Crosse, WI.  With my radar set to organize mode, I was bombarded with ideas to do just that.  I attended a pre-conference Organic University taught by Chris Blanchard of the Purple Pitchfork called Managing your way to Farm Success.  This course was a goldmine of worthwhile information about getting organized.  I came home with resolutions to get an annual inventory up and running (I’m well on my way to completion!) and to close open loops (the gates are repaired, tools are hanging close at hand in the hoophouse, and more) of nearly completed projects that can’t yet be checked of the checklist and get in the way physically and mentally.

On the suggested reading list for virtually every session I attended at the Organic Conference were the following: The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work by Ben Hartman and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®  by Stephen R. Covey.  The first one is a new book, but the second one is a surprise because it has been around for over 25 years.  It indicates to me that small scale organic farming has matured of late to a point where the how-to’s of growing are pretty well mastered and therefore farmers are taking a closer look at management and organization.

I borrowed The Lean Farm from the library and devoured it.  It fed perfectly into all the organizational thinking I had already been doing.  The principles behind the lean system were developed in the automotive industry by Toyota.  Ben Hartman has taken the concepts and translated them into the world of small sustainable farms.  And they make so much sense to me!  Basically the lean system roots out waste (labor, resource, etc.) to improve efficiencies.

Examining my own farm for areas where I spend a lot of time without gaining any value (sadly a long, long list), I decided to start by tackling my weedy garden paths and by creating a sheep handling area that could stay in place at all times.

I have been trying and failing to manage the weeds in my garden paths by laying down newspaper and covering it with mulch.  I spend time on it every year and never get all the way around the garden.  Therefore, I’m perpetually allowing weeds to go to seed and to spread by roots and rhizomes and this adds to the work year on year.  I have a friend who has had in place a type of landscape fabric that acts as a weed barrier and is also designed to withstand UV exposure.  I spoke with her to get advice on how to install the material to get the most from it.  I’m going to prepare a level substrate with gravel covered by a thin layer of sand and will avoid puncturing the fabric wherever possible by lapping it up onto my wooden raised beds and using batten strips to hold it in place.  I’m trying to avoid using mulch on top of the fabric because it always catches seeds and provides welcoming habitat for new weeds to germinate.  This fabric can’t be considered a permanent solution (even concrete isn’t permanent), but it should make my weed management system vastly more efficient with a relatively low cash and labor outlay.

There is a corner of our barn that can easily be retrofitted for a sheep handling area.  I’ve been researching sheep handling system designs and got good ideas from Use Sheep Behaviour to Your Advantage When Designing Handling Facilities, Sheep 201 and North Dakota State University Sheep Building Plans.  Rather than invest a great deal of money in panels and gates initially, I’m starting by using hog panels cut to length for chutes, gates, etc.  That way, I can try out the system and see if it works or not.  Later on, I’ll add specially made equipment where it adds the most to the efficiency of the system.

I have just started reading Covey’s book.  I’m certain that principles he writes about will add depth to the paradigm shifts that started for me this winter.  I know “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, but I’m happy to have this new lean farm lens to examine all my farming activities and decisions through.

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8 Comments

Filed under Farm, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Research, Sustainability

8 responses to “Getting Organized…Hopefully…Yes!

  1. Susanne

    good for you Jane ! I am coming to the awareness about my use of time and my frustrations with the long, long, long list of undone projects. I did complete one much needed project this winter, so not all is lost ! You are inspiring me 🙂

  2. Thank you! Let’s inspire one another, cheer each other on and keep each other on task.

  3. Susan Birkey

    I found a great article for you Jane! Blast those weeds away…..
    Weed blasting offers new control method for organic farmers
    PUBLISHED JANUARY 21, 2016

    Weed blaster
    Hand-held weed blasting unit used in the study
    Organic growers now have a new tool to control weeds: abrasive weeding, or “weed blasting,” which uses an air compressor to blast organic grit at weed seedlings during vulnerable growth stages.
    Weed blasting can reduce weed biomass in organic tomato and pepper crops by up to 97 percent, while maintaining crop yields similar to hand-weeded control plots.
    Organic fertilizers, such as soybean meal, can be used as abrasive grit, which could mean farmers could control weeds and fertilize their crop in a single pass.
    URBANA, Ill. – Weeds are a major scourge for organic growers, who often must invest in multiple control methods to protect crop yields. A relatively new weed control method known as abrasive weeding, or “weed blasting,” could give organic growers another tool. The method, recently field-tested at the University of Illinois, is surprisingly effective.

    In conjunction with plastic mulch, abrasive weeding reduced final weed biomass by 69 to 97 percent compared to non-weeded control plots, said U of I agroecologist Samuel Wortman.

    Abrasive weeding involves blasting weed seedlings with tiny fragments of organic grit, using an air compressor. For the current study, grit was applied through a hand-held siphon-fed sand-blasting unit connected to a gas-powered air compressor, which was hauled down crop rows with a walk-behind tractor. The study looked at a number of grit sources: walnut shells, granulated maize cob, greensand, and soybean meal. If applied at the right plant growth stage, the force of the abrasive grit severely damages stems and leaves of weed seedlings.

    Wortman found no significant differences between the grit types in terms of efficacy. “When it leaves the nozzle, it’s at least Mach 1 [767 mph],” Wortman noted. “The stuff comes out so fast, it doesn’t really matter what the shape of the particle is.” Because ricocheting particles can pose a risk to the applicator, Wortman advises using protective eyewear.

    Blasted grit does not discriminate between weed and crop seedlings, which makes it important to use this method in transplanted crops that are substantially larger than weed seedlings at the time of grit application. Although some visible damage occurred on stems and leaves of both tomato and pepper crops, the damage did not affect marketable fruit yield. Studies are ongoing to determine whether abrasions on crop tissues could result in increased susceptibility to disease, but early results show little effect.

    Importantly, plots with plastic mulch and one or more blasting treatment achieved the same fruit yields seen in hand-weeded plots, and 33 to 44 percent greater yields than in non-weeded control plots.

    An additional benefit of weed blasting is the potential for growers to use organic fertilizers, such as soybean meal, as blasting material. “We expect that abrasive weeding could contribute between 35 and 105 kg nitrogen per hectare [31 – 94 lbs per acre] to soil fertility.” The idea that a grower could both fertilize and kill weeds in a single pass is appealing, but it is still unknown whether the fertilizer would be available for plant uptake within critical windows.

    According to Wortman’s research, weed blasting does affect some weeds more than others. Essentially, the smaller the seedling, the better. Also, seedlings whose growing points are aboveground (annual broadleaf species) are more susceptible to blasting than seedlings whose growing tips are located belowground (grasses and broadleaf perennials). Finally, Wortman noted that the presence of plastic mulch seemed to factor strongly into the equation. Weed blasting alone “is not a silver bullet, but it is an improvement,” he said.

    The method is now being tested in different horticultural crops, including broccoli and kale, with and without additional weed control methods. Early results suggest that the presence of polyethylene mulch or biodegradable plastic mulch strongly enhances the success of weed blasting, as compared with straw mulch and bare soil. Wortman and his collaborators have also developed a mechanized grit applicator, which they are currently testing.

    The paper, “Air-propelled abrasive grits reduce weed abundance and increase yields in organic vegetable production,” was published in Crop Protection. Funding was provided by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. The article can be found online at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261219415300788.

    High resolution images are available for this story at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VMGmSWzvQE
    News Source: Samuel Wortman, 217-300-0232

    • Thanks Susan and Taylor for sharing this information! This is the very first time I have heard about this technique. It sounds really interesting. Just saying “blasting weeds” is incredibly satisfying 🙂

  4. Susan Birkey

    Just had a feeling it might resonate with you! can’t wait to hear about your war with the weeds! Bless you for “leading by example” with regards to NON Poisonous ways to kill weeds.

  5. jeffmetoxentsy

    Too Cool Jane, Keep at it, you are inspirational! Should share before and after pics of any clean out if you can!

    Jeff

    • Hi Jeff, Thanks!
      Yes, good point. I do definitely prefer the after photos. Before shots can be kind of embarrassing, but I guess we have all been there. I’ll figure out some good examples to include as befores.

  6. Pingback: Sheep Handling Facility | Autumn Larch Farm LLC

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