Tuesday, March 30, 2010

So Many Improvements at the Farm!

By Nina Berryman

As many of you may have noticed, there have been many changes going on at the farm over the last month or so. What are those giant black containers by the pick-up area, and what is that new building on the side of the field? These infrastructural improvements (and others), are the result of the Water Works grant that we received in the middle of the summer as well as collaboration with local neighborhood organizations. The driveway, green roof, rain barrels and tool shed were all built by Green Home Works. The worm compost bin is a partnership with the Mt. Airy Learning Tree, and the new wash station and the new hoop house that will be built are a partnership with Friends of the Wissahickon. Here are the details of each project:

Recycled Pavement Driveway
You’ve been driving on the new driveway for a few months now, but do you know where that material came from? The bits of gravel are actually crushed up pieces of concrete that have been recycled from a previous construction project. We try to limit our impact on our environment in all aspects of the farm!

Green Roof
Stand back a bit from the building next to the pick-up area and look up! One half of the peaked roof of the white building is now tiled with trays that are filled with soil and small plants. Each tile can be removed individually if there is ever a problem with the roof. This way repairs can be done over a specific area without ripping up the entire green roof. Why only half the roof? Because we wanted to have a side by side example of what a difference the plants make. The plants in the trays all belong to the plant family Sedum, also known as succulents. These plants are especially drought tolerant, which means if it doesn’t rain for a while they will still survive and we don’t need to climb up on the roof to water!

Rain Barrels
The giant black containers at either end of the pick-up station are rain barrels that collect rain water from the roof. One barrel collects water from the side of the roof that has plants on it and the other collects water from the conventional side. This way we can measure exactly how much water the plants take up and use. This is the side by side comparison mentioned above. Check out the clear tubes that come out of the bottom of the barrels, these show how much water is inside the opaque barrels. After a rain you can see that the barrel on the left, which collects rain from the conventional roof, is much more full than the barrel on the right, which collects rain from the green roof. These plants are using the water to grow and produce more oxygen, diverting the water from the city sewer system. After the water is collected we can then use it instead of using city water. This water is safe to use for watering plants, rinsing off tables, bins or vegetables that are not eaten raw. The finishing touches are still being put on this rain water collection system.

Tool Shed
As many of you may have noticed in your trek down to the U-pick sections, it’s quite a long hike from the parking area to the field! Currently all our tools and supplies are in that building right next to the pick-up area, so every time we need a tool we have to walk all the way back to driveway area. Soon this will no longer be the case! A new tool shed is almost complete just to the right of the field if you are facing downhill. This will save a tremendous amount of time during the day!

Wash Station
Tired of stepping in mud every time you pick up your vegetables? Soon we will be separating the wash area from the pick-up area. The wash area will remain where it is now, where you currently get your vegetables. We will revamp the area, put a permanent roof on the side of the building and new sinks and washing equipment. Wood for the construction of this will come from wind-fall trees in the Wissahickon. Just last week we went to the park with some students from Saul to watch the trees be cut into boards (see the picture on page 1). All the trees that were cut fell naturally in the park from wind.

Earthbag Worm Compost Bin
There are many different ways to compost and at Saul we are experimenting with three different ways. The first way is in the tumbler that is at the end of the pick-up area. The second is in large bins made out of old pallets, which are down on the left hand side of the field as you are facing downhill. The third is vermi-compost, otherwise known as worm composting. These compost bins are enclosed structures that house thousands of worms that help decompose organic material faster than compost piles without such a high concentration of worms. We are the proud recipients of this new bin which is being built by Dwight Shirley and his class with the Mt. Airy Learning Tree. Construction has begun and it is located along the far left fence line when you are facing down the hill, near the pallet compost bins. Dwight is using a unique and sustainable, form of alternative building known as Earthbag construction. In this type of construction, cinderblocks or bricks are replaced with bags filled with dirt. These bags are compacted, secured with wire, then plastered over to protect them from the elements. Dwight has built an entire house this way! Our worm bin will be about 3x4x20 feet in dimension.

Hoop House Construction
The plastic covered structure next to the driveway is called a hoop house. It’s like a greenhouse, but relies on passive solar heating and does not have rigid walls. These structures are extremely important for season extension. They enable us to start growing sooner in the spring, later in the fall, and during the winter too, because they are warmer than the regular outdoors. We are currently building a second hoop house down in the vegetable area, near the compost bins. These structures are especially useful as a place to continue to teach the students about growing vegetables while they are in school during the winter.

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