Summer on the Farm in Pictures

August 9, 2014
Lazy bee discovers hummingbird feeder flowers

Lazy bee discovers hummingbird feeder flowers

Will’s bees are doing really well, even the older hive which should be experiencing some varoa mite pressure. Perhaps their success is due to their adaptability: this bee has discovered magic plastic flowers that give nectar (though no pollen) and keeps coming back for more!

Flower garden in summer

Flower garden in summer

Our herb garden receives little attention so only the strongest, most determined plants survive. The hollyhocks are one of my favourite and they reseed themselves every year. The oregano and hyssop are in full flower and are enjoyed by the bees. I have one borage plant, given to me by a CSA member, and its vigorous self-seeding habit will ensure us having borage for many years to come. Wormwood grows behind the box and it is cut and dried to make up one of the active ingredients in the goats’ herbal wormer. THe honeysuckle on the right is recovering from a very hard winter. It’s growing slowly but is now looking much happier and starting to flower. It is a favourite of the hummingbirds and we think they sometimes nest in there.

Sarah's landscaping around the tiny house

Sarah’s landscaping around the tiny house

Heavy loaded Oxheart tomatoes

Heavy loaded Oxheart tomatoes

The Oxheart tomato is by far my favourite. It is everything a tomato should be: vigorous plant, high yielding, disease resistant, early ripening and great flavour. It is a big, red, meaty tomato and ugly as sin. The largest one we weighed came in at 3.3 lbs. It is delicious in a sandwich and makes the best tomato sauce. It is an heirloom that came to Cocagne via Italy and I managed to get some seed from my Aunt a few years ago which I’ve been saving and propagating ever since. I think we have to enter this one into Seeds of Diversity’s catalogue and make it available to more people!

Eggplants growing along the edge of the high tunnel

Eggplants growing along the edge of the high tunnel

We are trying eggplant for the first time and it seems to be doing really well. I hadn’t expected to get fruit so early and the plants seem to be planning a long production season. They are about as easy to grow as peppers though their one big drawback is they are loved by the potato beetle. I pick beetles off the plants daily and still more come. Fortunately the plants still seem to produce fruit, even with bug pressure, but the bugs chew on the fruit, too. We tried two varieties: long, thin Asian type and a more typical, bulbous Italian. The Italian variety, Traviata, seems to be doing the best and the fruit tends to be better shaped with fewer abnormalities. We are eating lots of eggplant these days!

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Happy, healthy veggie shots

Happy, healthy veggie shots

We are having an amazing growing season and almost everything is doing really well. The garlic is still late (it never did get caught up!) and we’re hoping to harvest within the next two weeks. The potatoes also grew slowly, due mainly to a lack of rain, so we ran irrigation to field #4 and gave them a timely drink. They are yielding quite well now and we’ll soon mow down the tops. The alliums are doing well though they usually do. We planted storage onions in groups of three instead of individually so as to reduce their size and hasten their maturity. The drainage we did last year in field#3 seems to be doing its job and we are finally, for the first time ever, successfully growing crop in that end of the field. Instead of doing a third broccoli planting I tried a gailan x broccoli and I’m very happy with the result and the timing of yield. Will has been fertigating tomatoes to try and improve ripening characteristics and it seems to be working, too. Usually, when we try to correct a problem we try many solutions, and of course, every season is different. We can only hope that some of what we are doing is working.

Scarlet runner beans climbing the sunchokes

Scarlet runner beans climbing the sunchokes

This is another small experiment we’re doing just for fun: the sunchokes were planted last fall and they’ll provide some late season variety in the CSA baskets and at the market. The Scarlet Runner beans are a wonderful old variety that produce beautiful flowers beloved of pollinators and very tasty beans. I wasn’t sure whether the sunchokes would be tall and strong enough to support the beans however they seem to be doing the job so far.

Our new field #5, ploughed, tilled and limed

Our new field #5, ploughed, tilled and limed

We’ve finally done it: ploughed up another piece of land. We’d talked of doing this before because we’re running out of rotation space in field #4 (lots of land but not enough that’s ready to plant in in May, hence potatoes too close to one another in rotation). Field #5 was tested a few years ago by a soils expert and found to have a deep gravel layer that made for excellent drainage. We always knew that if we expanded production, this is where we’d go and this year, with Sarah joining our farm team, the time seemed right. The soil is slightly different here with a bit more clay than in other fields. We will cover crop it for the winter and then next year, put half in buckwheat and half in crop. Sarah and we will share it and field #4 so that our wide variety of crops will allow us a better rotation.

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The cucumber project ...

The cucumber project …

We have cucumbers growing in the screened coldframe and the project has great potential! Unfortunately the screening hasn’t kept the cucumber beetles out completely, however we hope that maybe it has reduced the numbers a bit. We have planted four seperate plantings of cucumbers (3 different varieties) and have gotten some decent yields. The plants do eventually die from bacterial wilt (carried by the beetles and exacerbated by the transmission through pruning wounds) but with multiple plantings, we do seem to be able to continue to maintain production. It is an interesting project and I think we should continue fine-tuning it next year. I find the extra work of pruning and training the plants is offset by the reduced time spent harvesting cucumbers. The fruit is in good shape for the most part and I like the seedless varieties.

Ginger project = a bust - it just doesn't seem to want to grow

Ginger project = a bust – it just doesn’t seem to want to grow

Sweet potatoes are growing

Sweet potatoes are growing

It was a struggle but we did finally get sweet potatoes planted in our field. The original supplier sent us slips via UPS. The first batch were destroyed by UPS so the supplier sent more which were then lost by UPS. They had no more to send and I really hope UPS covered those losses. We looked all over and finally found another supplier in Ontario who were able to send us rooted slips, more expensive but more developed so we wouldn’t be as far behind the season as UPS’s screw ups put us. We planted 300 Georgia Jet slips into Biotelo biodegradable plastic mulch and they seem to be doing really well. Hopefully we’ll have accumulated enough heat units for a decent yield and we’ll have sweet potatoes for everyone!

The sunflower project ...

The sunflower project …

We planted about 1200 row feet of Peredovik oilseed sunflowers (Russian heirloom) and the flowers are gorgeous! We are hoping to harvest most of the heads, dry them, remove the seed and press the oil from them. Another grower nearby has a small, hand-powered oil press which we’ll borrow and use this winter. We’re hoping to hand harvest the heads before the birds eat all the seeds, store them and dry them in the hayloft and then use a friend’s thresher to seperate out the seeds. The grinding, heating and pressing will be a winter project which we can do in small increments as time allows. It will be easy to warm the meal on the wood stove and hand cranking oil will be a much needed winter exercise!

Couldn't resist: Will working on the solar powered electric fence charger. Sunflowers in foreground and goldenrod in background

Couldn’t resist: Will working on the solar powered electric fence charger. Sunflowers in foreground and goldenrod in background

Sunchokes provide a windbreak for cherry tomatoes and peppers

Sunchokes provide a windbreak for cherry tomatoes and peppers

One of 20 red oak seedlings we planted around the farm - it has new leaves!

One of 20 red oak seedlings we planted around the farm – it has new leaves!

Things are growing in the orchard

Things are growing in the orchard

Five different varieties of table grapes and most are doing really well

Five different varieties of table grapes and most are doing really well

And of course there's the goats

And of course there’s the goats

This season's boys in the background

This season’s boys in the background

Seasonality

June 17, 2014

After another long interval: a blog posting! It’s been a busy couple of months since I last wrote however this is not unexpected at this time of the year. Interestingly, many unexpected things have happened, a few plans have changed and some plans just won’t happen at all. This is also not that unusual and if we missed out on anything really interesting, I’m sure we’ll have another go at it next year!

The biggest change of plans was with our season’s labour force. We had brought two apprentices onto the farm: a couple from BC who seemed very promising at the interview stage but turned out to be not at all what we expected in the flesh. They were also not expecting what we had to offer and though we were willing to work through the challenges, they were not and left the farm after three weeks. In retrospect it was very good it happened early in the season since it allowed us time to reorganize and regroup. They also gave us a week of work after giving notice which we appreciated because it was the first week of decent weather since the year began and we had a lot to do!

The best thing that came of all this was us getting Sarah on board as an employee and a future co-farmer as she makes plans to start a business here next year. Sarah was an apprentice on our farm two years ago and gained some work experience on a few other farms since. She had a project lined up for this season on another farm that fell through and the timing of our offer of employment (and accommodation in the tiny house) was perfect. She’ll be renting a small piece of land this year to do some growing and we are in the process of tilling up a new piece of our farm for next year. I think our apprentice disaster was also a real wake-up call for us: we realize that we do not offer the farm vacation that some apprentices are looking for. When we offer an apprenticeship it is for someone who truly wants to learn how to farm and who is dedicated to working hard towards this. I don’t think we’ll plan on having apprentices in the future unless the right person approaches us. Someone who knows what they want to learn and the environment they want to learn in will probably fit our farm and our system very well. Those who just want to try out farming to see if they’ll like it will need to find another farm.

We feel very lucky to also have our friends Stephan, Carla and Jocelyne putting in hours and days each week, not to mention the help my parents and Rosa give. We are very lucky to be part of such a supportive community and I don’t know how anyone can farm otherwise. We had our annual spring Open Farm Day yesterday and, though the weather wasn’t ideal, it was still a great success. We got to meet some new CSA members as well as to see some old friends. Once again, the success was due to the help of an amazing team of volunteers: Diane making delicious food, Kathy and JP helping set up and serve, Carla and Gerry doing clean-up, my Mom and Aunt Bert helping with everything and Nicole and Lise setting up the Slow Food info table. We were also very happy to have Pierre and JF playing music. It was too rainy to set up outside this year so we squeezed them into the steel building and they fit perfectly!

Despite our late start planting, the season seems to be going very well and we’re on track to start the CSA baskets in the last week of June. The strawberries are behind last year by a few weeks but the plants are loaded with flowers and developing fruit so should yield well when the time comes. The garlic is also behind but looking good, though the recent dry weather has stressed it a bit. We pushed bed preparation a bit, cultivating soil that wasn’t as dry as it could be, and have been paying the price of lumpy soil and lots of weedy clumps. It doesn’t seem to have slowed the plants down, though, and we’ve managed to stay on top of the weeding, thanks to all the dry weather. We have the coldframe screened against cucumber beetle and our first cucumbers planted and we’ve also planted our ginger. The ginger isn’t looking terribly happy at the moment but we’re hoping it will pick up. We have a bed prepared for the sweet potatoes which were supposed to have arrived last week. Unfortunately, though, UPS seems to have destroyed our shipment so we’re hoping we’ll get another box full next week. We had a minor corn seed failure and planted less than half of our planned area. We bought more seed, though, and will put in a second planting which will hopefully not be too late. We had raised a large number of tomato plants this year for selling as bedding plants and managed to sell almost all of them, though the management of all those trays became a real job towards the end! I don’t think we’ll grow quite as many of them next year, though we find we get a lot of repeat customers: people who loved our plants last year and want to grow them again. Finally, the high tunnels are full of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant and everything looks good. We had a late frost at the end of May – actually it was a pretty darn hard freeze – and with everything covered or double covered we came through just fine.

Will and I enjoyed an escape day to the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia last weekend to attend Jon and Teri’s wedding. Sarah put in a lot of time getting up to speed on goat milking – 5 heavy producers are no laughing matter – and with Stephan’s help milking and Carla’s midday farm check, everything went well. The drive was about 4 hours from our place and we’d planned to go there and back in one day so that Sarah wouldn’t be stuck with the morning milking too. It started out as a rainy day but dried up as the day progressed and the sun finally came out just as the bride appeared to walk across the lawn. It was a brief, sweet ceremony, the food was great, the speeches were fun and we really enjoyed ourselves. There were quite a few people there we knew which was nice and it was really nice to be in the Valley in late spring: lilacs and lupins in bloom and everything was so green. We got home at 1:00 a.m., slept for a few hours and then up for goat milking! It was a nice day on Sunday so we ended up working all day and eventually got caught up on sleep at some point during the week.

I had mentioned that our goats are producing a lot of milk now. We managed to sell all the female kids and the 10 boys are in their own enclosure so the does are producing milk just for us. We have been getting 4 – 4.5 gallons/day which is a lot to deal with. I’ve been making lots of cheese and the cheese fridge is filling quickly! I borrowed a cream separator from some friends and have been extracting cream from the milk. It’s a lot of fun but clean-up is so much work I always make sure I have a big accumulation of milk to run through the machine. I separated cream from 40 litres of milk this morning and got almost 4 litres of cream. We give the skim milk to Stephan for his pigs, which they love. I’ve been freezing cream for making ice cream and other delicacies though I kept some out today and made a batch of ice cream. I don’t think I ever want to milk 5 high producing goats again but since we have them this year, I’ll get as much fun out of the whole experience as possible! Will was helping with milking and now that Sarah is here, she shares the job, too. This is Ruby’s last year as a milker and she is producing much more milk than I expected. If it wasn’t for her arthritis she’d definitely be producing again next year. Goddess is leading the pack, giving over 1 gallon/day and the rest of the girls: Snowball, Gem and Callie aren’t far behind. I think three good milkers would be perfect for us but I can’t imagine getting rid of any of those great girls! I guess there will be some attrition over time and then I’ll try and keep it at a happy three.

We’ve already started selling at the farmer’s market and things are going well. We’ve been sending mainly plants and rhubarb but yesterday also sent some kale, chard and green onions. Each week there will be more and more selection and I hope we do as well as we did last year. We are renting a slightly larger stall this year and will be working with two people and two scales to keep everything going smoothly. We also have another farmer on board selling bags of greens and this will add some variety and consistency to our veggie supply. I had hoped to sell at the Bouctouche farmer’s market this year, too, but we probably won’t be able to. Perhaps next year, after a winter of planning with Sarah, we’ll be able to take on another market.

April 25, 2014
The first ginger sprouting

The first ginger sprouting

The ginger has been kept in a warm room with a bit of moisture (misted from a spray bottle) for the past 6 weeks and the two different varieties are sprouting at different rates. Large white ginger sprouted first and the yellow type is just starting now. I removed a few pieces that rotted but most has been doing well. There are also some small roots growing down from the pieces. I’m hoping the pieces with the tall sprouts will hold for another 4 weeks because the great outdoors isn’t quite ready to host a tropical plant, not even in the coldframe!

Yesterday's storm witnessed from the comfort of the house

Yesterday’s storm witnessed from the comfort of the house

This morning, after the storm

This morning, after the storm

Our last snowstorm of the season last year happened on April 15, the year before was April 8 and April 5 the year before that. There seems to be a trend here and one I don’t like! Winter refuses to leave our lovely part of the world though we know spring has to be on its way. We continue to plant seeds and nurture trays of seedlings even though it’s getting quite crowded in the warm, covered spaces. Potato sprouts are getting bigger every day and it’s time to pot up the tomatoes. If we all believe really hard that the weather will warm up, maybe it will happen!

April 21, 2014
Goats finally going outside

Goats finally going outside

One of this year's big girls

One of this year’s big girls

Snowball, caught making faces

Snowball, caught making faces

Signs of Spring

April 21, 2014

This is a quick little picture of what’s happening on the farm this month. We’ve had a long winter with March being a continuation of cold, snow and ice rather than a transition month. We are now at the end of April and probably 3-4 weeks behind a more typical season. A week ago the farm was still under 2-4 feet of snow and then after 3 warm days, it pretty much all disappeared. The great melt created a lot of water, though we didn’t suffer too much and last year’s drainage project seems to be doing a good job. The coldframe is still drying out and we’re late planting carrots and beets inside, but they’ll get planted eventually. There was a lot of local flooding damage: old bridges washed out and people stranded; the road to Moncton was flooded in many places and traffic had to be diverted to one lane through the middle of the road as we drove through a good foot of water. Things around here are much dryer this week though there’s still a worry about ice jams on the St. John river, west of us.

The greenhouse and start area are packed with seedlings and we’ve moved some into the coldframe, too. Everything is doing well and I hope we can get them into the ground in the next two weeks. The ground is thawing and drying now so hopefully some warm, sunny weather will come along to speed the process. The ginger is sprouting in the bathroom, though it will be a while before it goes in the ground. The bees seem to have survived the winter and Will says they appear to be strong and in good numbers. He put some sugar syrup in the hives last week to give them sustenance until flowers start to bloom. Almost all our little fruit trees are visible – though pears are still in the snow – and unfortunately we’ve had lots of rodent damage on the cherries. We had painted the trunks instead of wrapping plastic around them, as this is what the commercial orchards do. Well we must have used really tasty paint because some trees have lost all their bark, three feet up from the soil surface! The shrub cherries look a bit better and we’ll see how they do once it warms a bit more and they leaf up.

The goats are all doing well. We had one kid with an inverted eyelid, a hereditary condition that is a real pain when it appears – painful to the kid and annoying to the goat keepers! I had one in the past that was fixed by the vet: a few stitches to hold the eyelid in it’s proper place. Since we’ll probably see it again and I don’t want to pay vet bills (which would amount to more than the kid is worth!), I decided to try my own method. Unfortunately the eyelid appeared in an older and quite large male kid so actually holding him still to carry out a procedure was a real challenge. I ruled out stitching because of this and decided to try something else I’d read about on the internet: clipping the eyelid down. I got some one inch alligator clips from my Dad and used a good strong one to grab a piece of skin under the eye, then taped the clip to his face. It hurt for the first few minutes (I tried the clip on my finger so I know it hurts!) but the pain seemed to ease fairly quickly and the main concern was keeping the clip in place. The duct tape worked really well: we taped around his head and around his nose in a formation like a horse’s halter. We didn’t spare the tape but made sure it didn’t impede eating, drinking or other important activities. The lower eyelid swelled up once it was clipped and this swelling seemed to pull it away from the eye so in a very short time, the eye stopped running and looking sore. After three days we removed the whole arrangement and the eyelid was perfect! It’s nice when things work. He’s the biggest kid we have and continues to grow at a great rate so I think our procedure was all-round helpful. Another method that is recommended is to inject some slow acting penicillin under the skin of the lower eyelid. I guess it irritates the tissues and causes swelling and this pulls the eyelid away from the eye, causing it to roll into its proper position. I’ll probably try that next time.

We survived the ice storm with a 1.5 day loss of power – one of the shortest power loss periods around! We’re lucky to be on the same line as a NB Power building as we seem to have very few power outages overall, and quick repairs when big things happen. We were incredibly lucky that this, the year we bought an emergency generator, was the first year of this sort of emergency! We are pretty well equipped for loss of power most of the time: wood heat, water from the pond, lots of stored food and always a 4 gallon supply of stored drinking water. Getting water to the goats was a big job as 7 lactating ladies consume an incredible amount. Will did most of the heavy lifting, carrying buckets through deep snow and an ice storm from pond to barn. We had lots of baby plants in heated spaces at this time, too, and this is where the generator came in. We were able to run it for a few hours to warm the spaces, then turn it off for about 4 hours before the temperatures dropped too low. Fortunately we didn’t have anything under lights as we’d have been running the generator continuously and probably would have run out of gas. The gas stations weren’t operational so this would have been an issue! Next winter we’ll store more gas in case of emergencies, as well as more drinking water. It was an interesting brush with the collapse of civilization as we know it and a wake-up call on our preparedness for such events. Other than the power outage, a lot of trees suffered under a heavy weight of ice in high winds. Fortunately our orchard was still buried in snow so there were no broken fruit trees.

We just said good-bye to Jon and Teri, our friends from NS. They have been coming out for a visit around this time of the year for three years now. It is an annual pilgrimage for them to get in some high quality baby goat time and it’s one of the last weekends of the season we can take off (well, mostly off) from work to spend time with friends. We went to visit the Moncton and Dieppe Farmer’s markets on Saturday, after a short walk in the woods with the goats, and on Sunday we collected and planted some willow shoots in the wet area along the road. This area is part of the drainage problem we are trying to solve with ditches and big O pipe. Will’s also building a chisel plough so we can break the soil up deeper down. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to put a bit of Permaculture to work as well, planting willow along a stretch where all the pine trees had died because of high soil moisture. We’ll see next year, when Teri and Jon next visit, how well our plantings did!

After the Ice Storm

April 3, 2014
The linden tree under its weight of ice

The linden tree under its weight of ice

Our row of red pines

Our row of red pines

Birch trees bend a long way before they break

Birch trees bend a long way before they break

The black locust trees suffered quite a bit

The black locust trees suffered quite a bit

The pump house by the barn

The pump house by the barn

The fence around the orchard and one icy pine tree

The fence around the orchard and one icy pine tree

An inch of ice on the fence

An inch of ice on the fence

Black locust branch

Black locust branch

Spring Snowstorms

March 30, 2014

I’m listening to Randy’s Vinyl Tap on CBC and enjoying some good wine while taking time to bring you all up to date on life on Windy Hill Farm. I’ve been meaning to write something for ages but now seems to be the time to do it. It is almost April but it is still full-on winter outside: lots of snow and ice and cold temperatures. We’re in for some more snow tomorrow and we are still digging ourselves out from last Wednesday’s snowstorm. It sounds pretty yucky but it’s not that different from last year’s conditions at this time. While the great outdoors seems determined to stay winter, we have little zones of summer here and there one the farm. The goats have produced a fine crop of young ones and we have 15 bouncing baby goats this season: 9 boys and 6 girls all in good health. We also have lots of trays of leeks, onions, celeriac and shallots looking just fine and waiting patiently for the great thaw outdoors. In our bathroom, the only full-time heated room in our house, we have a couple of trays of ginger enjoying warmth and moisture that are just starting to sprout. So even if Mother Nature is a little slow to get into spring mode, we carry on as if summer is truly on its way!

We have a lovely bunch of kids this year partly thanks to Spike, our borrowed Boer x Kiko buck, who furnished his genetics to the cause. The kids have definitely taken after their father, showing a few variations of white, cream and beige with fluffy coats and a chunkiness that promises good meat carcases in the future. Of the seven does kidding this year, six had twins and one had triplets and all are doing well. Gem, a Nubian x Alpine, who is notorious for rejecting kids, once again rejected one of her two male kids. Every year since she started kidding she has firmly decided that only one kid will do for her regardless of how many she actually produces. Amos is the rejected one and he is doing fine on milk from his Mom and other does, both by bottle and from the mothers when they are restrained and prevented from butting him away. The triplets are a cute bunch and they include Teddy Bear, a tiny little brown guy who has enough gumption and personality for two full sized kids. Two kids were born with slack tendons in their hind legs so they were unable to walk for the first few days. I made sure they were able to still drink and did a bit of physio with them as their legs got stronger. They are both now totally normal with no signs there was ever a problem. I’ve seen that happen before and the first time I dove in and tried to splint the legs in place. That didn’t work at all so now I just watch and make sure they’re eating and encourage them to walk as much as possible to get everything back in the right place.

It was a challenging season with all does kidding within a week and it was a very cold week, too. We borrowed two more heat lamps from farmer friends and used all three as we set up kidding pens all over the barn. It was cold enough to freeze ears for a few nights and the triplets did suffer some frostbite. Fortunately no one lost any ears though I know of a sheep farmer who had some tips of lamb ears fall off due to the cold this winter. After having made it through the week, I can say I like the intensive kidding schedule. It’s a hard few nights but you get it all over with quickly and the kids end up being all around the same age and size. All the birthings went well but we did get the vet in for Goddess who showed signs of milk fever after having her twins. I had seen it cows before but never in goats so wasn’t sure enough of the diagnosis to try administering calcium myself. The vet gave her 240 cc of calcium borogluconate under the skin and she perked up right away. I now know how to do this: how much to give and that it’s best to just give it if there’s any concern. The subcu calcium won’t hurt the goat at all and could save their life. I think I’ll probably supplement Goddess with extra calcium next year before she kids, now that I know she might suffer a deficiency.

The ginger we are starting this year in our bathroom is a test quantity that will be grown in the coldframe and if it does well, we’ll try a larger quantity next year. Shannon of Broadfork Farm organized a bulk order of ginger to try and save some of the shipping and import costs and we met at her farm a few weeks ago to pick up our shares and talk a bit about growing ginger in the Maritimes. A few farmers in NS and PEI have been growing ginger for the last few years and had some tips for us newbies. We only started with 5 lbs of seed this year and this will take up about 30 feet of coldframe space. The yield is meant to be 8-10 lbs per pound of seed so if all goes well, we should have enough to give all our CSA customers a little sample of ginger in their shares. It is potentially a good cash crop though I don’t know if it’s something we’ll get into on a large scale, we’ll have to see.

We have managed to find ourselves some apprentices for this season, a couple from BC who are interested in eventually farming in the Maritimes. He is a chef and she is an animal health technologist. They sound pretty keen to learn as much as they can so I think it will work out well. We usually only get one apprentice per season but this year I think we can benefit from an extra person and get some maintenance done on the farm. The barn needs some attention as well as the house: painting and repairs, and of course there’s the solar energy project that we are about ready to embark on. I’d also like to try out a few new projects which could be lots of fun for apprentices like growing wheat for milling and sunflower and pumpkin seed for oil production. Seed saving is always high on my list of “things I will do more of if there’s time” and it would be nice to have apprentices interested in goats who learn to milk and help out in this department. Even though I’m a vegetable farmer by trade I love the animals and really enjoying teaching anyone interested to learn good animal husbandry.

I just finished teaching my organic gardening course for the year, as well as two econutrition classes. I will be heading to Miramichi next week to give a lecture on organic growing to a gardening club and then I think that’s it for presentations for me this season. The annual general meetings of all the different organizations that Will and I are connected to are pretty much over, too. The only one still to come is Slow Food Cocagne Acadie in mid April and soon afterwards it will be time for the farm to take over our lives. The peppers and eggplant seeds are started in our new indoors start room and this week I’ll start the tomatoes and early brassicas. Even with out expanded grow area we will still need to move the alliums into the coldframe as we get tight on space. I’ll be putting celeriac into 72 cell trays instead of 128, just to let them get a bit bigger before going into the ground. I’m trying a new type of tray called a “Winstrip” which is meant to encourage air pruning of roots so plants don’t get plug-bound. The larger cell size will make celeriac take up more space so hopefully it will pay off in a larger celeriac harvest.

I was going to use the Winstrip trays to start strawberry tips, too, but I think I’ll actually buy plugs this year for fall planted strawberries. The nursery only offers tips of one variety whereas there are more choices with the plugs. Plugs are a lot more expensive but will save us money on setting up a start area, as well as the time to start them in mid summer. I’ve also been looking into plastic mulch for the strawberry beds and after going back and forth many times I think we’ll use BioTelo, the biodegradable mulch. It is made from nonGMO corn starch and breaks down completely when tilled under at the end of the season. Because we are using it over-winter I wasn’t sure whether it would actually stay intact till spring, but other growers tell me it holds up well through the winter. Once the soil is warm in summer, the biodegredation will begin and hopefully it will be gone by the end of summer once the strawberries and mulch are tilled in. The rolls of BioTelo are quite big and even if we also use it on other heat-loving crops like corn and sweet potatoes, we won’t use half of it. I hear differing accounts of how well it works after being stored through the winter, as well so we’re considering sharing a roll with some other small farmers.

Well, here it is the next day and another snowstorm is raging outside. It started mid-morning so I managed to get the goat barn cleaned out beforehand as well as go for a walk on the trail. It’s a mix of snow and ice pellets so we’ll need to be extra vigilant on clearing snow off the coldframe: this type will stick and it’s heavy! Hopefully the power stays on though we do have an emergency generator now in case it goes off. As more snow accumulates outside and the forecast is for two days of this sort of weather, I comfort myself with the fact that it’s still only March (barely!) and we could have some really nice warm weather in April to melt the snow, thaw the ground and dry it enough to cultivate. You cannot survive as a farmer if you aren’t an optimist!

Pictures in the New Year

March 27, 2014
First table in the new grow room

First table in the new grow room

Snow accumulated against the barn door before this last snowstorm

Snow accumulated against the barn door before this last snowstorm

Some of this season's kids staying warm and cosy under the feeder

Some of this season’s kids staying warm and cosy under the feeder

Kids playing outside before the storm

Kids playing outside before the storm

Will gets help fixing stall door

Will gets help fixing stall door

Some fine goat udders

Some fine goat udders

Our little orchard peeking out of the snow

Our little orchard peeking out of the snow

Things are growing under cover while we wait for the thaw

Things are growing under cover while we wait for the thaw

Snow level before the storm - lots of melting to happen before we see the ground

Snow level before the storm – lots of melting to happen before we see the ground

Into the New Year

February 7, 2014

We’re into the start of February and though this isn’t the time of year for exciting farm news, this is still an exciting season. Winter is great because it contains so much planning for the growing season ahead – all the ideas that sprung from workshops, courses and gatherings with other farmers, not to mention the previous season’s experiences, are now being shaped to fit our small farm system. We are in the midst of finding apprentices for the season ahead, ordering seed, planning new farm development projects and doing some research into new purchases. We continue to feast on stored food from last year: canned tomato sauce, frozen broccoli and kale and lots of root vegetables. We are still enjoying the apples from Nicole and Denis’s orchard and all the frozen lobster from last year’s lobster CSF. We killed off our old laying hens a few weeks ago when the weather turned mild, and have already shared a big chicken pot pie with friends. We had a big pile of snow fall in December and we skied our hearts out; then it pretty well all melted away in early Jan. so we got a few farm jobs done: the chicken killing, hoof trimming as hooves were too hard to cut in the cold weather and oil changes in truck and tractors. Now we’re getting a bit more snow and enjoying the trails again.

I’ve started teaching one of my two econutrition courses (evenings) and am planning towards my organic gardening course. We are also collecting names for this season’s CSA and are pleased to have a large number of last year’s members returning for this year: our highest level yet at 80%! We raised the price slightly to keep within a fair value and have heard no complaints – though one long time member said it was about time we’d done it! Will and I are planning an escape weekend to NS in Feb. to visit friends and will also try and visit Greenwood, the Canadian Forces base I grew up on many years ago. I know the housing block we lived in is gone (my sister checked it out years ago) but I’m still keen to try and see if I can recognize anything. I’ll definitely look for the Saddle Club as well as the schools I attended and there may be one friend from way back to track down. There’s a fair bit of planning involved in getting away for a weekend but the biggest hurdle – finding a farm sitter – has been passed and we should be fine to solve the other details.

Back in December I went on a road trip with a bunch of other farmers to the New England Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Manchester, New Hampshire. The three days of intensive workshops on organic and non-organic fruit and veg production were highly useful and quite inspiring, too. I am finally going to try and grow sweet potatoes (after resisting all this time!) and am even going to have a go at ginger. Some recommended varieties made my seed order list and some farming methods (adding nutrients mid-season, also resisted by me for years!) will be incorporated into the mix. We also had a small gathering of farmers in Dieppe in January, a very informal session geared to sharing information and looking at other ways we can work together. I think it was very useful and we’ll hopefully do it again. The small informal sessions with farmers of similar growing methods and scale can give a much higher return on investment than the big conferences. One of the things that came out of it is that Coin Bio/Organic Corner is bringing another farmer into our small co-op: a new farmer from Grande Digue who is concentrating on growing organic greens.

One of the most interesting revelations that came out of the New England conference was seeing how many chemicals are actually used in conventional farming. I studied conventional agriculture but it was pretty much all livestock (no horticulture) and I have never worked on anything but organic veggie farms. It is quite shocking the sum total of chemicals used on even the vegetables that are easy to grow organically (like tomatoes). There was one workshop on cucurbits where they outlined a spray program for pumpkins that contained 10 separate sprays of about 5 different compounds – and that’s just pumpkins! Then for big pests like the spotted wing drosophila – a fly that lays eggs in soft fruit like raspberries – the sprays were endless. The other disturbing factor was the often repeated message to farmers to make sure you are spraying the right thing on the right plant: it seems that often the farmers don’t properly identify the pest or disease before starting to spray and then end up having to spray again with the proper compound. Another disturbing problem is the surfactant that farmers mix in with the chemical sprays: some of them hold the chemical onto the surface of the plant and others cause it to be absorbed into the plant’s system so the whole plant becomes poisonous. Imagine if they use the wrong one with a chemical not meant to poison the whole plant and then this toxic harvest is eaten by people. It’s like I knew there were issues around chemical residues in conventionally grown food but now I’m beginning to see why! The system is too dangerous and human error is too pervasive.

An article came out recently about pesticide residues being found in organic foods. The article’s title was alarmist and made to sound as if the organic label is not accurate and people are being cheated when they pay more for organics. Unfortunately this is often how the media (though meant to be unbiased) attacks issues. The meat of the article, however, did actually support organics because there was more detail on the level of contamination (much lower than conventional) and how often it was discovered (less than 50% of produce sampled). Only the most naive person would expect produce grown organically to somehow not be contaminated by the many pollutants that exist in our world. Scientists are now detecting glyphosate in rain water. Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Round Up, a popular herbicide that is being used in huge quantities now that Round Up resistant GMO crops are being grown in larger numbers in North America. In such a dirty world how can anything be uncontaminated? This does underline the need of organic farmers (and others) to help educate the public on the need to grow food using sustainable methods. Organic is so much more than just reducing toxic residues in food as it also encompasses soil building and encouraging diversity to increase our ability to continue to feed ourselves in the long term.

As I wax poetic (!) on these organic issues, Will is enjoying Michael Phillips’ book “The Holistic Orchard” as well as connecting with the Permaculture Orchard, a commercial orchard in Quebec built in a multi-story permaculture model. I’m glad Will is feeling like an orchardist because I don’t think I have the same deep rooted feelings for fruit trees as I do for tomatoes and goats (though I do love the fruit!). Will works best in “tree time” while I work in “vegetable time” and I can see our roles and personal focuses moving in these different directions. It also fits well with the bees whose home is in the orchard (and who seem to be doing really well this winter). We are still dreaming of extending our orchard into our neighbour’s yard though she hasn’t been talking much lately about selling. It will remain a dream for a while longer!

Speaking of dreams, we are looking at creating a solar photovoltaic system on the farm again. We considered it two years ago and discarded it as being too expensive. Well, prices are dropping and the cost of do-it-yourself is starting to creep into the realm of our budget. We would create a net-metering system where we remain on grid and pay the net difference between the power we produce and what we use. Will wants to do a few more things on the farm to reduce our overall power use before deciding on the size of system so we’ll do our research and these projects this year and look at installation next year. We may also be able to install a system with some of the solar panels this year and then add to it in the future, though we need more information on this. The other important detail is that we can use the energy production against both our electrical meters. We only had a 100A system when we moved here and installed another system with meter to supply the cooler in the steel building in 2011. If we could only work off one meter, the investment in solar would take much too long to pay off. Fortunately NB Power makes an exception for farmers in this situation and we fit the bill.

Time to wrap this up and bottle my apple wine. I got 23 litres of apple juice (Cortland, Mac and Lobo mix) to make into apple wine and at last sampling it was quite nice, though very dry. We’ll see how it ages in bottles. This is another thing that makes winter so nice: opportunities to play with fermentation!

Back at Last

December 6, 2013

It has been a terribly long time but I am finally back in the blog saddle. I apologize for those of you who’ve been waiting for a report from the farm but it has been a really busy season. Of course once I got a couple of months behind, the thought of trying to get caught up was just too daunting and I never quite got around to doing it. There is no way I’ll recover all those details of the season in one posting (and I don’t think you want me to!) so I’ll summarize and get back on track with monthly postings.

2013 Windy Hill Farm Team

2013 Windy Hill Farm Team

We haven’t done the numbers yet but from all accounts our season seems to have gone amazingly well. We do know that our market sales climbed by a shocking 75% and I started to feel like we were running a rock star’s market stall like in the old days in BC. It felt good! This was partly a reflection of our improved marketing: we had a consistent supply of a wide variety of good quality vegetables, and it was also an indication of the overall growth in NB in the support of local and organic produce. Not only did we do well this year but so did another organic mixed veggie farm and a third non-certified but organically produced mixed veggie farm who sold at the same market. It seems that the more high quality local vegetables you send to market, the more people come out to buy them.

Our marketing partners from Ferme Alva, Alain and Eva

Our marketing partners from Ferme Alva, Alain and Eva

The goats are dry now and I’ll soon be getting delicious cow’s milk from a nearby neighbour. The girls did a great job keeping us supplied with milk and I made a tremendous amount of cheese. There are still 9 Goudas in the ripening room and so far every one of them has been delicious. The size of the cheeses grew as the season progressed – each was made from 5 gallons of milk and the finished cheeses range in weight from 4.8 – 7 lbs. They seem to keep really well in their wax coating and I expect we’ll have cheese till the goats start kidding in the spring. I borrowed a Boer/Kiko cross buck and bred 7 does this year. I was going to retire Ruby, as she’ll be 10 in the spring, but she looks great and milked well all year so we’ll give her another season. We sold quite a bit of goat meat this year as we had 5 kids and 3 yearlings converted into meat. We kept one for ourselves and the rest sold very quickly. Everyone I’ve heard back from seems to really like it and I’m hoping goat meat will become a popular addition to our local diet. This season’s kids were all Boer crosses and we got amazing carcase weights: 35 – 55 lbs, the low end of which is higher than the highest we’ve ever gotten from dairy bucks. What a difference some genes make! Two of the does bred this year are Boer/dairy crosses so their kids will be even farther along on the meat spectrum.

One of our Boer/dairy crosses

One of our Boer/dairy crosses

Will is away in California now, enjoying biking and visiting friends and family. I get to enjoy some quiet time on the farm and, other than daily chores, I’m filling my days baking and making goodies for Christmas. I’ve been helping organize a Slow Food event, too, and it should come to fruition in another few days. I finally brought my fiddle in to our local expert luthier and had a bit of work done: the finger board was sanded down to remove the grooves made by strings and a sound post adjustment has improved the sound greatly. It still has its great, smooth mellowness but with a bit more responsiveness than before. I think it means I’ll not get away with any sloppy fingering anymore and that’s probably a good thing!

WHF half share in September

WHF half share in September

I would guess our best crops of the year were carrots, garlic and tomatoes. It was nice to finally have good tomatoes after a crop failure the year before, but there are still many things I’d like to improve. Growing tomatoes in the high tunnels and leaving the coldframe for early and late crops worked really well and I think we’ll continue this system. We move the tunnels from side to side each season to allow for a rotation and I think there’s even room to explore some no-till growing. I want to try no-till squash in ’14: there is a mature cover crop of barley and peas on the land now and by spring it will be a mat of straw. I will put some compost down on top of the straw and then cover with landscape cloth as early in the season as possible. Then, when the warm weather starts, we’ll transplant seedlings into the holes in the cloth. The cloth will keep weeds under control and the earthworms will happily work away at the organic matter released by the decaying cover crop. If it works with squash then the following year I’ll try it with tomatoes and peppers in the high tunnels.

Some of the season's harvest

Some of the season’s harvest

Some other plans for next year include screening the coldframe in another attempt to grow cucumbers without the ravages of cucumber beetles. If we screen the openings we can keep more beetles out and multiple plantings will help us overcome the disease carried by beetles that kill off the plants before the end of summer. Because of limited space we’ll trellis the cukes again, something I didn’t do very successfully in ’12 but we’ll get some help with it from Carla. She has years of cucumber trellising experience from working in her family’s greenhouse in Holland.

Another plan for next season is to try and get an early carrot crop from a high tunnel. We’ll put the plastic back on early in March and leave it to melt the snow and thaw the ground below the black landscape cloth (still there from previous year’s tomatoes). Then, in early April, we’ll roll back the landscape cloth and drill carrots directly into the ground. The tunnel will move in early May to prepare the new space for the season’s tomato and pepper crop, but by that time the carrots will be growing vigorously and we can either put row cover over them or just leave them to continue growing. This way we’ll have an early carrot crop from the coldframe, followed by the tunnel crop and by the time they’re done, we’ll have the outdoor crop to start harvesting. We’re hoping to start selling at the Dieppe market in mid May so the more we have to offer, the sooner we connect with our customers.

Late season greens in the coldframe

Late season greens in the coldframe

Our new orchard did well though the cherry trees and grape vines that looked dead on arrival never came back to life. We contacted the Green Barn Nursery but they stopped returning our calls. This is after they had initially offered to replace any trees that arrived dead. We don’t seem to have luck with these small, funky nurseries and, even though they claim to raise fruit trees that survive in low input conditions, their quality of product and customer service leave too much to be desired. Their trees and bushes are very expensive, too, and one expects some level of quality and vitality with those prices.

Will received a new honeybee colony this summer and it thrived to the point where Will was able to start a new one and now has two healthy colonies going into winter. I think the success is partly due to healthier starter bees but also Will’s increased knowledge and experience. As well, Will was very lucky to have not one but two experienced bee mentors helping him out. It makes all the difference to have people to ask questions of and to show how things are done.

Will prepares bees for winter

Will prepares bees for winter

Our neighbour, Cathy, is planning to put her property up for sale and we are thinking about buying it. It is contiguous with our orchard and will supply a good 1.5 acres of excellent orchard expansion potential. The house is old and not in good shape and is not really something we want to have to deal with. However, having another house on the land does bring us a bit closer to our long term goal of having farming partners or else offering new farmers opportunities to rent land and use our farm as an incubator of new farm businesses. She was originally going to offer it to us to buy “as is” but has since changed her mind and is fixing it up to offer it on the market. I’ll be very surprised if she gets what she wants for it and I have a bad feeling that, after all the improvements and realtor’s fees, she’ll not get much more that what we’d have offered initially. Oh well, there’s not much we can do except wait and see where the price ends up. If it goes back into our ballpark we’ll make an offer. Timing is important, too, though as we would need to get it at the start of winter in order to have the time to fix it up for use in the summer.

It was a great season though we often felt a bit overwhelmed with the work. We’re hoping to get two apprentices next year, and also hoping to get some people more experienced in farm work who can focus on some of their own projects and go deeper into the learning. We planted sunchokes this fall and have a few more new crops to add to the lineup for 2014. I am already looking forward to the season ahead though the winter’s rest will be appreciated, too. Hopefully I’ll do a better job of keeping up with the blog, too!

Hi from Cory

Hi from Cory


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