Thursday, May 22, 2014

On the Farm- SUCKERS!

P.Allen Smith and I at the Pottery Fair. Photo by Martha Hartley.
Before I get to tomatoes, I thought I would share the above photo taken at the Pottery Fair on the Square last Saturday. P. Allen Smith, gardener extraordinaire, came by the show and I had a chance to talk to him about flowerpots and pesto. I also had the pleasure of taking him through the MESDA (Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts) collection on Friday.
At the farm this week there has been a lot of weeding and bed management. I also took charge of the tomato plants in the greenhouse by suckering and trimming their branches. Suckering is when you remove the growth that pops up between the "arms" of the tomato plants. Keeping one "arm" rather than two or three helps the plant not get so bushy and to give more energy to the fruit production.
Tying up the tomato plants with pantyhose
One of my grandmothers had a knack for growing tomatoes and I think my fondness for the smell of the plant and pleasure in tending to them came from watching her. We use cattle panels for our trellises, it makes for easy moving, and you can gain better access to the plants as opposed to tomato cages. I use old pantyhose and tie sections of the plants to the cattle panel.
Carnage of the tomato plants
I also remove the lower branches of the tomato plant so that there are no leaves or branches touching the soil. I think this applies much more outside, but either way it protects the plant from any bacteria in the soil that can spread to the plant. Outside, when it rains, this can be a big deal because of the leaves are low enough, the rain will bounce bacteria from the soil onto the plant. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but when I have not done this, we have had issues with blight, spot, etc., and when I have done it the plants seem healthier. There's a lot of carnage when I am done, though!
We're working really hard to get ready for the First Annual Triad Farm Tour and our own farm open house and pottery sale on the 15th of June. This means I am giving up doing an early June kiln firing, so there may be fewer hanging planters than I wanted to offer, but no shortage of pots!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Kiln Results Headed to Show!

I unloaded the kiln earlier this week between work at MESDA (Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts). Tomorrow, I get to be on the grounds of Old Salem and a part of the Pottery Fair on the Square where I will have new pieces from the recent kiln firing!

This will include some exciting new hanging flower planters, as seen in the two photos above. They're all rigged up for hanging!

So come visit tomorrow between 10-5:00 on the square in Old Salem. Check out the farmer's market there, too, in the morning until noon. If you have time, don't miss the opportunity to see a hidden gem like MESDA.

Here are a few more photos of things in the kiln:

Monday, May 12, 2014

On the Farm- Bees and Zucchini

We have honeybees at the farm primarily to pollinate the produce and crops. I would say we are more or less lazy beekeepers except in the spring when we try to keep ahead of them and then do a split or two. We had a large hive that seemed to be working very quickly and filling everything we gave it at a rapid pace. Rather than continuously adding empty frames for it to work with, we decided to split it.

Sometimes this kind of split is called a "Poor Man's Split" because we don't add a queen to the new hive (and we hope that we have not removed the queen from the other hive). 

Now we are up to three hives as long as the new hive goes well. On the plus side, we just HAD to pull a few frames of honey!
Massive zucchini plants

Zucchini blossoms and zucchini
In other news, we have ZUCCHINI at the farm- producing prolifically! I grew up in Southern Ohio, and I never saw zucchini in early May. I can't say I have seen zucchini in early May anywhere that I have lived! Mike started zucchini in the new hoop house and I don't think he was expecting that it would take over the aisle and practically half of the hoop house! It's a wonderfully squeaky vegetable when you eat it raw or lightly cooked!
Tomatoes in the hoop house

Shell peas

Our tomatoes in the smaller hoop house are doing well and we harvested the first batch of shelling peas this evening. We will probably have snow peas, shell peas, and zucchini at the Greensboro Farmer's Curb Market this coming Saturday!

First Peek in the Kiln

I may have jinxed myself, but I cracked the kiln slightly this evening since it was getting down below 500 degrees Fahrenheit. I'm hoping to unload tomorrow morning before heading to work and then an evening meeting. Here's to hoping for some good pots to tag along with the other inventory at the Old Salem Pottery Fair on the Square this weekend!
Slightly better view

Record Kiln Firing

Rim of a flowerpot during the kiln firing
I am quite remorseful that I have not posted for several weeks, and will try to catch you up this week on the craziness that has recently (if not always) been my life.
An exciting recent event was a successful, record kiln firing yesterday at the farm! Not only did we accomplish a single firing (meaning no bisque-firing involved) in just over 12 hours, but almost all of the cones in the kiln reached cone 11.
Cones before they go in the kiln - each is made of clay that melts at different temperatures

Cones in action- the ones flattened have melted, telling me that the kiln has reached beyond
cone 10 (around 2300 Fahrenheit)

The cones give me a gauge for how hot the kiln is, as each cone melts at a different temperature. I usually shoot for cone 10, but reached 11 in nearly the entire kiln! My front left corner of the kiln is usually quite cool, but I have been adjusting the shelves to sit back from the wall and leaving more air space for the heat to move through.

Why, yes, that is clay on a baking sheet, ready to go in the oven!
Once again, I forgot to have draw rings or draw trials made up before we started the kiln. These get removed during the firing so I can tell whether the clay has matured and how far along my salting and slip color is. I ended up baking them in the oven the night before and putting them in the kiln in the morning. This seems to work well to get all of the moisture out of the rings and not have them explode when I put them in the kiln.

Side of a flowerpot
What was different for this firing was that I did a gas preheat with one tank in one firebox starting Saturday afternoon. Saturday evening I added a second gas tank (100 pound) burner to the second firebox. While the temperature at about 4:30 on Sunday morning was around 250 as it usually is, I think the bricks were heated up more, and that ultimately made the firing go faster. Because I foolishly made my kiln walls with two layers of hard brick, I spend more of the kiln firing just heating up the mass of brick. By using the gas preheat, this cut back on how long I would have to spend heating up the mass of brick.

Top of a hanging planter in the kiln
I started salting around 2200 degrees Fahrenheit, and did two rounds of salt about 30 minutes from one another. I did this both because I had a lot of people on hand at the time to accomplish this task, but also that I figured it might help to have the salt in place and get things good and melted for the rest of the firing. 
For a cute factor, a nest of baby wrens decided to try and take flight. They spent part of their day scaling various pieces of equipment opposite the kiln, including an old Farmall Cub tractor (photo above).

I'll have my fingers crossed for the next day with the hopes that everything turns out well! This coming Saturday is the Pottery Fair on the Square at Old Salem, so I hope to have some fresh flowerpots for the event!