Saturday, March 3, 2012

Winter Gardening

One of the long-term goals I've had since moving to Iowa has been to have a greenhouse so I could extend the growing season both in the early spring and also the late, late fall. Over the past month or so, I've been putting together some ideas on how I can transition to full-time farmer. One way is to be able to grow produce for local farmer's markets, restaurants, and eventually start a CSA/subscription farm. One of the things I'm really interested in is food security on the local level, and helping the community, in my case my little town, grow and produce more of what it consumes. Our vineyard is the first step in this direction. Greg and I hope to be marketing wine under our own label in the next few years and in spite of the dramatic growth of artisan wineries in Iowa, and all over the Midwest, there isn't one in our county. We intend to change that. Expanding into raising other types of produce gels well with the existing vineyard, as we have already purchased the tractor, implements, and tools we need, so the additional expenses are fairly minimal.

In conjunction with the vineyard/winery, we've got plenty of space for several greenhouses/high tunnels, and Iowa State and Cornell have been researching growing raspberries and blackberries in tunnels with some very good results. I'm considering doing this along side the vineyard, and there are several potential markets for the berries, including restaurants, wineries, farmer's markets and bakeries. I'm researching the feasibility of putting up a big tunnel and raising fall-ripening berries. I already have the majority of the equipment I would need, I'd just need the tunnel and the plants. Oh, and I also have two hives full o' bees!

In the meantime, I bought this...

on Craigslist last week. It's a 14 x 44 foot tunnel greenhouse that I bought from some folks up north. They used it to raise cut flowers and nursery plants and got out of the business and put the tunnel up for sale. Nice people. They're delivering it next Saturday. This is a decent sized greenhouse and it comes with all of the fans, benches, lumber, and so forth that we would need. We'll put it up this spring and use it get a jump on this year's garden, and see what kind of production we can get from it before it's warm enough to start the outdoor gardening. I'm going to use this season to get a handle on growing for markets and one restaurant customer who's interested in what I'm doing. I'm going to start out at our little Albia Farmer's Market and spread out from there. There are five markets within about 20 miles of me, all on different days of the week, starting in early May and running through October. Keeping good records this season should allow me to estimate the volume I'll need to grow to cover the markets, restaurant(s) and a small CSA.

I'm taking a self-directed crash course in all of this and I'll document the progress on this blog. Feel free to ask questions or offer input.

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