Last Thursday, knowing that deep winter would be returning for a few days, we hoped to get the second caterpillar high tunnel up.
We’d put the plastic and rope on the first caterpillar the day before, with a team of Angelica, Grandpa Gary, Jason and me. As with a lot of farm projects, we all followed Jason’s lead.
So, on Thursday morning, when Angelica asked what was in store for the day, I sheepishly said we’d have to wait until Jason returned home from work to do caterpillar No. 2.
In the past four farm seasons, it’s only been Jason and me in the early spring. Angelica came aboard last year, but not until the middle of May, so this is the first time we’ve had someone here to help with early farm projects. I guess this realization truly sunk in for the first time that morning.
The weather forecast was perfect for high tunnel work, with almost no wind and just a chance of light rain. Angelica was here to help, and Grandpa Gary was home, too. So what were we waiting for?
So, a short time later, Angelica and I took turns with the sledge hammer, pounding in the stakes that help hold the caterpillar plastic in place. Then, under a light rain, we moved the step ladder down each hoop, tethering the whole caterpillar together with a long strap. When we discovered we hadn’t left ourselves enough strap at the end, we traveled the length of the caterpillar once more, one hoop at a time.
Grandpa Gary took a break from cutting fire wood to help with the plastic. The plastic is about 120 feet long. During this stage of resurrecting a caterpillar tunnel, you became well acquainted with the plastic’s green and brown sludge, and rotten fish smell. It was a perfectly still day, so pulling the plastic up and over the hoops took a few bursts of all-out strength from everyone, but was relatively easy.
When the plastic was on, Grandpa Gary returned to the fire wood, and Angelica and I hurried to tie it down with rope.
We made fun of the wind when it kicked up a few minutes too late, fluttering harmlessly under plastic that was already securely in place.
We’d accomplished an important annual task ahead of schedule, and freed up Jason’s time to get something else done later in the day. Saving a few hours here and there is a big deal on the farm in the spring.
This week, our mountain of compost is expected to arrive. With Angelica’s help, I’ll be able to spread the compost in the high tunnels twice as fast. Then, we’ll transplant flat after flat of kale, broccoli, Swiss chard, and lettuce - all of our cold-hardy plantings.
In the farm’s pre-season, after Angelica and I work during the day, Jason will head up to the farm after his day job. This time of year doesn’t determine the farm’s overall seasonal success, but it certainly helps to start off on the right foot.