Checking out New Equipment at High Meadows Farm: EP64 | Show Notes

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[Andy Chamberlin] This is the Ag Engineering Podcast that rolls right into the details on tools, tips, and techniques that improve you, your farm and our world. I’m your host, Andy Chamberlain from the University of Vermont Extension. And this podcast is sponsored by Northeast SARE. Thanks for listening. This episode comes to you from Westminster, West Vermont where I visit with Howard Prussack of High Meadows Farm. He grows on six acres in the climate zone five and his gross sales are around $350,000. This next episode talks about some new equipment on his farm. Following up to the last episode that we talked about some of the old equipment. So we’re continuing on the conversation as we walk around Howard’s farm. Thanks for joining us. And let’s jump into this episode
[Howard Prussack] On this greenhouse, this is all bottom heat. Rolling benches. We have that in all the houses. Haven’t done our final cleanup yet for the year. You could see all the,
[Andy] Oh yeah.
[Howard] all the heating tubes and they’re ahead of pipes. And then these roll. So, what this allowed us to do is that you get like a third more bench space per greenhouse when you have no wasted space. So, you know, then you could get it in. So, it’s not great for a retail greenhouse, but for production greenhouse rolling benches are great.
[Andy] Right.
[Howard] Because you get it -it’s all about bench space. You know?
[Andy] What’s the size of this tunnel.
[Howard] This is a 100 by, I think this is 40.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] This was a, this was a pretty big frame. Harnois. All the houses are Harnois. I never have to lose sleep during a blizzard with a Harnois. They don’t collapse. That’s, you know?
[Andy] Yeah. They’re, they’re in a different ballgame.
[Howard] They are, they, you know, they they’re made in Canada. I always say, well, they know all about snow.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] And we’ve never had one even threatened to collapse. And the way the, the sides are designed, I mean the snow just goes off. It it’ll build up. We’ll have snow build up halfway through, but it, it doesn’t matter. And I love, you know, the automatic venting is great and we’re using it to paint parts of the house. So it’s a great utility,
[Andy] Other benefits.
[Howard] Yeah. There’s lots of things to use greenhouses for. We’ve been developing our water system. That’s the other key was having water for irrigation. And we’ve spent a bunch of years developing a spring that we own up the road and then a well in the field and a well here at the greenhouse. And we’re always pumping or gravity feeding into our tanks for irrigation use throughout the farm. So we’ve got these tanks here. So the water flows down from other tanks up there that are filled by a spring, all by gravity, down to here. And then from here, we use this pump and we could pump it to all the green houses and to the fields. And then there’s another developed spring out in the field with a tank buried in the ground. And that’s just filled from ground water. And then, but it’s automatically pumped up to here. So we have plenty of water to irrigate, you know? This year we didn’t need any irrigation hardly but most years. Actually, I mean the year started out. I was pumping water in June. It was very dry. [Andy] Yeah. June was wicked dry. [Howard] I mean, it was dry until it wasn’t dry. [Andy] Yeah. [Howard] And then it’s like, you know, but yeah this was a response to a drought like 15 years ago that I lost like all my winter squash. It just never rained. We were just in a severe drought. So gotta have gotta have water. And then we’re hooking these, this is like a new thing that we’re working on, to fill these from our deep well in the off-season when we’re not doing gravity flow from the spring. So this is more seasonal. So, we’ll have plenty of water here. And this is a stainless steel Italian pump that’s already hanging in there. But my plumbers kinda, I don’t know went on extended vacation and I, I haven’t seen him. Yeah. I got this pretty amazing pump but I can’t pull it out right now but so hopefully he’ll get it done before winter.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] Yeah. We’ve evolved. Starting from wooden apple crates to bulk bins. It’s funny how things have really evolved over the from when I started.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] Oh yeah. There’s my couple of new toys too. My rotavator I bought last year to replace my original Howard Rotavator that I had for like 48 years. So it was sad to see the Howard go, but it was still working 47 years of, of, you know, chewing up rocks and boulders up here. I sold it to a friend, but I wanted a wider one and I should have gotten even a wider one than this. Well, I’m learning to live with it. This is 70 inches and it’s a real beast.
[Andy] Uh-huh.
[Howard] I mean, it’s really nice. It is quiet. Again, it’s quietness cause all the everything’s new, you know, all the gears are new. They’re actually meshing well and very heavy duty. Although it’s still chew up a rock that. It stalled the other day. It’ll hit some immovable thing. And it just, you know, stalls the tractor out and I find it another, another boulder to
[Andy] Pry it out.
[Howard] Well it, it does loosen them. So I do get ’em out. But yeah, no I, and the price on this was awesome. It was like, I don’t know, about $4,000. I mean just for the steel alone, it’s like.
[Andy] Yeah, really.
[Howard] It, it was a it’s like, you couldn’t say no. I was at one of the the new England vegetable show and there it was, you know? And Jake said, “Yeah, look at the tiller. It’s like, you know, four grand.” It’s like what? It’s like, you know, it was one of those marvels. It’s like, you know, you look at it and it’s like really heavy duty.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] You know, there’s no, nothing chintzy on it. So I, I ordered through the dealer over there in New Hampshire and I’d get one of those things again I ordered it early and I, I lucked out cause then you couldn’t get ’em. India made in India.
[Andy] I never really I’ve seen the name Sundown but I’ve never really seen any of their equipment.
[Howard] Yeah. They make a, a nice line of various things like a Perfecter type of
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] You know, thing and disks and this and that.
[Andy] And yeah.
[Howard] Obviously they’re not making it they’re just slapping their name on it.
[Andy] Right, right.
[Howard] But they’ve got the contract for it and they, you know, they bringing it in and
[Andy] Yeah, it seems
[Howard] Very heavy duty
[Andy] Like a heavy duty machine.
[Howard] It’s really, it seems really heavy duty. I mean, heavy duty than the, you know, I looked at like the cheaper stuff like mass market tractor tillers like King Cutter and, and cheaper tillers and it’s just again, not worth it. ‘Cause you’ll be in the field, on my conditions, cheap doesn’t work long-term.
[Andy] You throw a stone, it dents it all up.
[Howard] Right? Yeah, no.
[Andy] Or you bend a, bend a hitch point.
Stuff. Yes, this is not gonna bend very easily. Everything just seems really heavy duty. And they even, they give you a toolkit which it’s just like a little perk
[Andy] Dry glove holder.
[Howard] I guess.
[Andy] That’s what we use sometimes.
[Howard] Actually, I thought it was like for the Thermos.
[Andy] Yep.
[Howard] And I guess you could use it for that.
[Andy] Water bottle holder.
[Howard] But you know, kind of even got that bag branded Sharkyman. In India, that’s probably an impressive
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] kind of thing. But yeah, I’ve never regretted buying anything new. My trucks that I’ve used for my business I mostly bought new ’cause my business depends on deliveries
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] and in the springtime the truck goes out it could be $10,000 worth of plants on it and you really don’t want it breaking down in Hartford, you know?
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] And missing deliveries
[Andy] If you want reliability? You gotta pay for it upfront.
[Howard] Again, what’s the job? Get it, you know, get the tool to get the job done.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] So, this was a leap when I bought this a Flat Filler.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] And I don’t know where, oh there’s the conveyor belt. and it was funny, you know, we used to, I used to mix, started mixing dirt by hand. And then we got an old version of this which I guess I did sell it, that I bought from another grower. And then I outgrew that. And then I heard about this and I always kept on pushing us to get, you know more modern, more modern, faster, better, blah, blah, blah. And I didn’t regret it.
[Andy] What’s a filler like this cost?
[Howard] When I bought this, it was 20 grand.
[Andy] Wow.
[Howard] $21,000. And I bet it’s 10, 12 years ago.
[Andy] Uh-huh I don’t know what it goes for. Maybe 22, 20, 24,000 today. I don’t know.
[Andy] Have you really needed to do anything to it? or is it…
[Howard] No. Nothing
[Andy] Lives in here in the, in the sunshine.
[Howard] Yeah. Well I guess I have broken a paddle or two.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] If I started up in the spring and it hasn’t defrosted yet, like that that’ll do it. So it’s, you know,
[Andy] Clink.
[Howard] I, I have broken a couple of the paddles off and again, a friend will come to the rescue. So these things and actually I guess the last one that broke it actually rusted through. So, oh yeah. You could see he made a, an improved repair job. Put a reinforcement on. The trick is to empty it for the winter. So the stuff isn’t sitting there.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] Rusting, if only I could remember to do it.
[Andy] And then it’s not a block when you’re ready to use it.
Right. So I will try to do it. Yeah. It’s on my list because we’re gonna get done harvesting early. I’m gonna be able to get more maintenance done.
[Andy] I would think that this is one of those tools that pays for itself really fast.
[Howard] I think it did.
[Andy] with the labor. [Howard] Yeah. I think it did. I know I showed it once to Julia. Julie from Red Wagon and she came down to look at it.
[Andy] Yep.
[Howard] And she wound up buying one looks like one of those things, you know, once growers starts showing it to each other and they go, yeah, I gotta get that. You know?
[Andy] Yeah. I mean if filling pots is what you’re doing for a living then.
[Howard] Yeah. Yeah. And what’s great is that people enjoy working on a production line.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] That’s that’s the, the weird thing they really do. They really do like having
[Andy] Smooth systems.
[Howard] They do. They do. It gets back to work conditions. So, and the other thing about these bigger, these greenhouses, the working conditions are nice and in a bigger greenhouse so you’re not in a small tunnel and
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] And you know, it just feels expansive. Every time I put up a bigger greenhouse, it always, wow this is, it’s always nice working in them. And this is even wider. I think this is 45 feet wide. So this is the widest one we have. And I really, the one mistake I did is like I thought I was being clever. I, on the other greenhouses, I got the 12 foot doors. And then I said, oh, you know, it was a waste of air. Like every time I opened it. So we, you know, we sort of made ’em smaller.
[Andy] Yeah. So on this house, I said, well this I’ll get the short doors and now we regret it because I can’t get like the tractors in, you know, into that. So I’m gonna change it. I, I gonna be able, I could pick up the doors. I could move the, the steel. We could raise it up and then just do extensions on the doors.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] So that’s not gonna be a hard, a hard fix, but I, I love the big, the height in here and the width. It just made it so easy to work in here. Pleasant
[Andy] Very pleasant.
[Howard] Yeah. I mean,
[Andy] Is this where you do your exercise too.
[Howard] Well, yeah. The grandkids, my wife loves working out.
[Andy] What I saw in this greenhouse was a full size trampoline.
[Howard] So during the, in the spring we took it out and then we put it back in
[Andy] Like you said, fun work environment.
[Howard] Yeah.
[Andy] Sunny, dry.
[Howard] It’s a great in the winter. I, the greenhouse is just, it’s great. The grandkids come and they could play in here. And I would build, if I was like, start build like I would set up a, a house in, in a greenhouse.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] Like a mini house and you set it up in the greenhouse and you’re in a different climate zone. You could have a garden, you know?
[Andy] Yep.
[Howard] It’s kind of a cool thing.
[Andy] Pop up a big structure like this and yeah, and you could
[Howard] You could live in it
[Andy] Kitchen garden to a new level.
[Howard] Absolutely. Yeah. And square footage wise.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] There’s so there’s so much cheaper than a stick structure. I don’t think I’m gonna be building anymore big greenhouses. I, I don’t, I’m not sure what I’m gonna be doing.
[Andy] Yeah. I’m, I’m gonna look at getting, you know, we did well with hemp.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] And I’m gonna look at the cannabis thing
[Andy] Hmm. and see.
[Andy] What’s involved to get into it
[Howard] Yeah. You know, I keep on hearing. It’s supposed to be gonna be small farmer friendly but I’ve heard that before.
[Andy] Yeah. Yeah.
[Howard] We’ll see, you know, we’ll, we’ll see what it
[Andy] Background checks and fees and regulations up the wazoo and tested by other people and
[Howard] It’s not, I’m, you know, I’m not worried about any of that.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] What it is, is like, what’s the market gonna be?
[Andy] Uh-huh.
[Howard] You know, I’m not gonna grow anything before I know there’s a market.
[Andy] Right.
[Howard] And where am I gonna be allowed to sell it? Like, can I sell it at the farmer’s market?
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] Like I do my hemp,
[Andy] Right
[Howard] I sell hemp there, you know?
[Andy] Right.
[Howard] And we hang fresh Hep trees there and it’s great. We’re the only one they’re doing it.
[Andy] Yeah. And the tourists love it.
[Andy] Uh-huh. You know, they just love it, you know? Oh, this is so Vermont, you know, with with selling pre-rolled joints and all that, and they just love it.
[Andy] Gets people of all kinds excited.
[Howard] Yeah. Yeah. I don’t smoke.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] But you know, I don’t drink either, but I, for me it’s, you know, I’m in business to make a living. That’s what we do.
[Andy] Yeah. So if it’s legal, we’re gonna do it. This was, I used to feed heifers in here. When it, when I bought, before I bought the farm I worked here.
[Andy] Oh.
[Howard] So this barn, I have a whole history here. And then we converted this into this, the washroom. This was just a very dark cold corner of the barn. Heifers were tied up. And one day I stuck my head out the window and I realized, hey, it’s sunny and there’s the sun, but it’s cold and dark here. So we ripped all this off and replaced it with poly carbon in and put our wash set up here
[Andy] Made a solarium.
[Howard] Yeah. Yeah, no. Again, it’s a nice work environment.
[Andy] Natural light. Bright. Even on a cloudy day, it’s nice natural light.
[Howard] Right. Yeah. And it never gets that hot ’cause it gets diffused so.
[Andy] Right. And you’ve got a lot of the cool thermal mass of the barn. I imagine too. Just the concrete everything helps keep it cooler.
[Howard] Yeah. Oh yeah. It never gets really hot in here. Not that, that matters so much for us but it’s a good work environment. My master control of an office. There’s like my to-do list board.
[Andy] Yeah.
[Howard] And it, and it works. People like check it out. I’ll constantly be throwing things up and crossing ’em off. So it’s, it’s kind of, kind of nice. I’ve got Dartmouth students coming for three days. Three students that are gonna live here.
[Andy] Mm. Who stays in the tent down in the field?
[Howard] Oh, that’s just my theft prevention system to keep people from being,
[Andy] Make it like a scarecrow.
[Howard] It is. And I have a, I had a solar light that lights up in there.
[Andy] Yeah. Oh that’s genius.
[Howard] And then I put a radio on and you go there on the dark night and you don’t wanna go near that thing because you’re hearing voices ’cause it’s on talk radio.
[Andy] Oh yeah.
[Howard] It’s lit up and you go, yo what the is in that thing? So it, ’cause we got ripped off somebody stole a bunch of hemp and then I said, oops. So I put that on and we had no more trouble.
[Andy] Hmm. Interesting. That’s that’s I would’ve never thought of that. That’s great.
[Howard] Low cost.
[Andy] Yep. Easy to set up. Easy to take down. Doesn’t look strange.
[Howard] Right. And no one wants to go over and poke it to see if anyone’s in it, you know?
[Andy] No. They they’ll stay away.
[Howard] Yeah they do. They stay away.
[Andy] Thanks for listening to today’s episode. I hope you enjoyed it. If I can ask you or direct you to do one thing, that is to go to the website for this podcast, That’s A G E N G P O D C A S There you’ll find the show notes. You’ll find links to the farmer who we chatted with today, as well as photos or videos from the call when I’ve visited the farm. If you’ve got some feedback to share my contact information’s on there or you can leave me a voicemail and you can do that right from the link in the description, in the mobile app you’re listening to this too. So go ahead and do that. Thanks again for listening. And I hope you have a great day.