The other side of farming

February 18, 2023 Yadira Ruiz

It's true that farm life revolves around the seasons and the cycle of seed, transplant, weed, harvest, repeat. I'm not particularly drawn to monotonous tasks but I do find them to have a meditative quality. I can put my head down and get through a long task when I need to. I think if farming were just that, people with more creative inclinations might find themselves bored. I haven't figured out whether it's a blessing or a curse, but farming is so much more than the aforementioned cycle.  We spend a lot of time problem solving, fixing, maintaining, streamlining, and budgeting (energy, time and money). I've been haphazardly documenting some of the more momentous accomplishments since we started Sunbow Produce in 2015, here's a glimpse. I'll apolgize now for the variation in photo quality, I think I've killed at least 4 phones in my time here, there are noticeable differences!

One of my first projects was to plant flowers, thyme, garlic chives and sage next to the cob building and to create borders to attempt to keep them from going too wild. If you've visited in the last year, you'll know that I'm mostly losing that battle. Why the plants want to grow so prolifically in gravel is beyond me!

Good hygiene is important when you reuse plastic pots, this solarization unit was our first attempt to sanitize without using chemicals. Here, Charlyn, Charlotte and Nate tolerate my request for a photo opp. Unfortunately this method worked too well and shrank our recycled plastic pots! 

This is the germination chamber that Nate built. It's gone through many improvements. It's now a double decker with heat mats and lights on both levels. We can start thousands of seedlings all at once in this compact space! The plastic covering and lights keep it plenty warm. When the winter sun breaks through the clouds, we have to lift the plastic off to keep the plants from overheating. 

This used to be an old storage shed with a sagging roof. After considerable clean-up and minor renovations, it now serves as our wash room for all produce. In the top photo, Harry and farm friend Chuck are helping square things up. The bottom photo is closer to what it looks like now, only Nate's added an additional light and long pegs to dry our harvesting totes on.

This is our rain catchement tanks being delivered. They got rolled out to the pole barn and installed by Nate along with the gutters, pipes, filters, pump task is ever "plug and play". There's many small details that must be attended to.

If you're Nate, and are thinking about protecting your investment, the small details include building a shade blind to keep the UV damage to a minimum.

Nate has a talent for minding that the old infrastructure stays vital. Here, he's used old metal siding to protect an exposed barn wall from the rains. He has an eye for making useful things aesthetically pleasing. 

He salvaged materials to make this pretty green door for the seed room!

Planting tulips in front of a hoop house is my version of making things more aesthetically pleasing. I'm not much of a builder. 

The work of protecting the infrastructure is never done. This project was prompted by a giant fungus growing inside the market room ceiling, revealing a big but slow leak in the roof. Lucky for us, Nate is dedicated to doing everything he can to stay on top of things...literally!

He's often working well into dusk to get the job done before the weather patterns shift.

Sometimes you need multiple ladders, one on the ground and one on the roof! I can't quite recall, but I think this was necessary because of the pitch of the roof and the location of the repair. This one made me extra nervous! 

Remember this? This is the market room circa 6 years ago. We've been chipping away at it for a while now to make it easier for you all to use and to make it more effective as our bunching, packing and storage space.

Did you know there's an old wood fired dehydration unit in there? We've since hidden it behind a wall. 

We've removed the old mushroom ceiling, added lights, a counter top and hand washing sink. This year, it will change once again after the walk-in cooler is up and running. 

Thankfully, not all of our projects are that big. Sometimes they are a simple slanted roof over the main water pump. This keeps the pump electrical system safer to use and has the side benefit of providing shelter for smaller animals, including Max, our devoted farm protector. We miss you Max, the deer have gotten out of hand since you passed away.

Sometimes, our projects help make the farm safer from surrounding conventional ag. We planted thousands of willow cuttings to increase the effectiveness of our hedgerow buffer. Thanks to NRCS for their support on this one.

Speaking of NRCS...this is the beginning of what is now Greenhouse 7. We applied for and got financial support to add a gothic style high tunnel to Sunbow. Before any building could begin, Nate had to carefully install the poles that the bows get inserted onto. This means carefull calculations on depth, distance, making sure they are all plumb, at the correct distance from one another, all mixed in with digging holes, inserting the poles, mixing and pouring concrete and keeping the poles stable while the concrete dries! And that's just step one.

Working well into dusk again...

In order to get the bows lifted up high enough to insert onto the poles, Nate had to build this contraption when we realized the usual methods of using the tractor as a lift fell short! The bows rest on the ladder (with extender) and are then hoisted up using ropes until the bow is up far enough for two people opposite one another to take the bottom of the bow and place it onto their respective pole. 

First one up! 

Almost there...

End walls get added. When the weather warms up enough, the plastic gets added.

A cozy home for spring peas and early tomatoes.

Our water table is really high so proper drainage is key! Nate figured out that a French drain would make a huge difference in our driveway conditions.

In the fields, raised beds keep winter crops from drowning. It's time consuming and requires a lot of tractor time so we don't always get this done in time before the rains come.

Since we're on the subject of soil, here's a shot of our first soil screener. We use the composted leaf material as our potting mix so getting out the bigger particles is crucial for starting seeds. Maybe someday Nate will get his druthers and we'll get a trommel to sift our soil. He's sketched out some plans...he's always sketching out ways to reduce the physical impact of our daily chores.

This was the result of one of those sketches. Rolling out ag cloth by hand is tedious. The spool and bent electrical conduit make it a much faster task!

In our days when we could grow more storage crops, we had to create a way to dry the seed without the mice getting into it. See the black netting hanging inside the hoophouse? Charlotte, Joan, Nancy and Max started the process by peeling back the corn husks before laying them out on the "hammocks".

Last winter Nate and my nephew Michael built a skid to transport large amounts of heavy materials from one side of the farm to the other. It's been used to transport sifted soil, firewood, veggies, squash, sandbags and so much more!

Here's another game changer.  Nate and his friend Dan built this outhouse at our Philomath plot using mostly salvaged materials! It's on skids and is mobile! 

This year, he's working on another mobile structure, the walk-in cooler. This was the beginning stages inside the barn.

He's making excellent progress! We're waiting for roof and siding materials to get delivered at the end of next week. Patience, it's a key element on any farm, along with team work, grit and a sense of humor!


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  • Diana

    Feb 20, 2023

    Thank you for taking the time to share your farm activities with us. “Amazing” is my response. I truly appreciate being given an inside look into your farm life and the process needed to share your wonderful, fresh, and tasty bounty with us.

  • Ruthann Waldron

    Feb 20, 2023

    That is so impressive!! All this effort and challenge is certainly appreciated when we can see its end product and savor the wonderful produce you provide. Stay well and healthy this season!!

  • Valerie

    Feb 19, 2023

    Nate and Yadira,
    This was fascinating and humbling, realizing the range and quantity of tasks that you do each year to get the best, healthiest crops even in bad weather. If there are any simple tasks an 80-year-old could tackle, let me know and I will turn up.
    Thank you

  • Cynthia Schmidt

    Feb 19, 2023

    Thank you for sharing some of what it takes to run an organic farm. For those of us who know nothing about farming it is an eye opener. Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle champions growing your own garden and/or supporting local farmers. We are so lucky to have you feeding us healthy, delicious food! Thank you for your blog and farm tours. See you soon.

  • Flo

    Feb 19, 2023

    Thanks for the photos and blog stories, they are very informative to an old city kid like me😁👏

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