Back again and what a couple of months it’s been! It’s Thanksgiving Monday today as well as my dad’s 80th birthday. We are meeting my parents for dinner at their house tonight, Will’s second big turkey dinner and my third! I have absolutely no problem whatsoever eating many consecutive large turkey-based meals at this time of the year. We must celebrate the season’s bounty and what better way than with lots and lots of good, wholesome food? Last night’s dinner was at a neighbour’s place and consisted of all his own produce: turkey from his yard and veg from the garden. He is a bee-keeper as well and has been Will’s mentor for a few years now. His son is also working at our farm a couple of hours/week as part of a high school co-op program. Grade 12 students get credits for doing practical work in their area of interest – a great program and something they didn’t have when I was at school. Max is a keen farmer-wannabe who takes on any task with skill and a good attitude and asks lots of questions. He holds the record for being the faster learner goat-milker ever: milking out a whole goat on his third try!
The end of our season is within sight and there are only 4 weeks of CSA and market left. We still have lots of goodies in the field though I am starting to tighten up what we send to market as I do inventories and plan for the last 4 weeks of CSA. Sarah has done a fabulous job in her section, as well, and we just may need to purchase a few of her veggies! She has been sending stuff to market, filling in produce gaps, for a few weeks now and last Saturday set an all-time broccoli sales record of over 50 lbs! Her broccoli was indeed the finest I’ve ever seen come off this farm and I think I’ll need to get some pointers from her. She has lots of storage veg so if she wants, she’ll be able to continue selling at the Coin Bio/Organic Corner stall for a little longer. We get to move inside the market next Saturday and the timing is great: cooler temperatures keep the customers indoors, too, and our diminishing supply of veg will look more impressive in the smaller space. The market season isn’t over yet but we’ve already surpassed our sales goal for 2014 and we have actually more than quadrupled our sales since the first year we started, 4 years ago. I feel like we’ve done a really good job as farmers but I also think we got lucky with the timing of our arrival in NB, encountering a population with solid support for local food plus a growing interest in organics. It’s quite amazing that in a city as small as Greater Moncton (pop. just under 140,000), with two markets, 4 medium-large organic veggie producers can do REALLY well at one farmer’s market. Yay Southeastern NB!
The big news of this fall, though, has been Will’s accident. Just over two weeks ago Will fell through the hayloft door into the goat pen below. He knocked himself unconscious, broke almost every rib on his left side, his collarbone and cracked a few vertebrae. We were all nearby, involved in harvesting or loading hay on the elevator, and were able to get help immediately. I rode in the ambulance and left the crew to finish the day’s work (including goat chores) and Will ended up staying 4 days in hospital. They x-rayed his ribs every day to monitor their healing and made sure his lungs were working okay before sending him home, armed with heavy-duty pain meds. He stayed with my parents for the first week back, mainly because he needed more care than I could give. He was up and about fairly quickly, though, and has been doing farm stuff for the past week. He does mainly computer jobs but has also been working on some construction and a few other gentle jobs. Though there’s never a good time for a farm accident, the timing of this one wasn’t bad at all. Happening towards the end of the season meant that our crew was well trained and organized and available for the extra hours we needed to make up for Will’s absence. We also are lucky to have a wonderful community of friends and family who all kicked in to help out during those first few weeks. We had a work party one day to help finish up the pumphouse, our big project of the season, as well as lots of hands to help with field work. Friends brought us food, cleaned our house from top to bottom (VERY low on the priority list for me!) and gave lots of moral support. Will received lots of visitors and lots of chocolate while in the hospital and is still getting cards from CSA members. Teri and Jon came out from NS and spent three days working on the farm. Jon is a carpenter so we were able to give him projects to do and just let him go to it. Teri took on harvesting duties and helped me with some food processing, too. At one point we were asked if we had insurance for this sort of event and we don’t. If we had, what good would money have been? I guess we could have paid off our CSA members for the veggies we didn’t send and let it all rot in the fields. Instead, we had people come to help us and enable us to continue our business, harvesting the veggies and distributing to the community. To me, this is the best sort of insurance to have and the cost of it is the pure pleasure of interacting with all these great people on a regular basis.
Some of our new crops this year included sunchokes, sweet potatoes, ginger and eggplant. We will definitely grow eggplant again though it will be inside a screened coldframe. The potato bugs were too much to manage and I think it will be easy to screen them out. The sunchokes are super easy to grow but not big sellers at the market. Hopefully we’ll be slowly building up interest and will sell more in years to come. I’ll keep some of the sunchokes in the ground for an early spring harvest and plant a much smaller area of them for next year. The sweet potatoes were a real hit. We grew Georgia Jet, the shortest season variety out there but one that is quite prone to cracking. They did indeed crack but we still managed to harvest enough good ones to send out to members, plus quite a lot to go to market, too. We were the only ones with organic sweet potatoes and they sold like hotcakes. The trick with them is to keep them from getting too cold as they develop chilling injury and are rendered inedible. We harvested on warm days and stored them in a heated semi-cooler. I am also trying to cure some in the coldframe we use for propagation: they are on heated tables under a plastic cover with a pan of water for moisture. They seem to be doing well though the temperature has been fluctuating more than I’d like. I would like to grow the same number of plants next year but try a different variety: Covington. It is also short season though not as short as Georgia Jet, and is meant to be a better commercial variety. Given that the sweet potatoes went in late and it wasn’t a particularly warm summer, I think we can handle Covington’s slightly longer season demands.
Finally, the ginger. We did indeed grow some ginger: our 5 lbs of seed yielded 7 lbs of fresh ginger. The harvest was stunningly beautiful and very tasty but there wasn’t enough to share with CSA members. I had a lot of fun with it, though, and have made pickled ginger, powdered dry ginger and candied ginger to date. There is also lots in the freezer, probably a multi-year supply! The thing about ginger is that your parent stock is not lost in the growing process, for example like potatoes. So once the ginger is harvested, the ginger that was planted to yield the harvest is still edible. I started with 5 lbs and ended up, after trimming, with something like 10 lbs. Lots of ginger! I don’t think I’ll grow it next year but will probably do so in another year or two in the future. It is a fun crop and needed next to no care at all once it was planted in the ground. I would be inclined to start sprouting it in mid April, rather than mid March as the early sprouts got too big and fell off once planted outside. I would also plant the rhizomes into individual pots rather than an open tray, to avoid disturbance of the roots when transplanting. Other than that, everything else seemed to work just fine.
It is goat breeding season now and the buck is out there, wooing the ladies. Ruby is retired now and will get to be an unencumbered boss for as long as she can. We’ll be milking only 4 goats next year, which will be a bit easier than this year’s goat milk challenge. The girls are on once/day milking and I’m really enjoying the slower cheese-making pace. Of course we’ll really miss the milk when they’re dry but we have friends with cows to keep us in high quality milk for the winter.
My other big news is that I have a trip planned for this winter: I bought a ticket to Hawaii for a three week stay in December! I haven’t been anywhere interesting for quite a while and when an old high school friend told me she was going to Hawaii for a few weeks, I got a little flicker of inspiration. I checked the internet and found an incredible seat deal that was way too good to pass up. So after clearing it with Will, I leaped into action and am booked to travel on Dec. 4. I’ve joined WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) Hawaii and am looking through farm profiles to try and find a place that will take me for two weeks. I would love to work on a farm that grows something we don’t: coffee, macadamia nuts, tropical fruit – yum! I am excited to meet some farmers and learn a bit about life in rural Hawaii and growing food in the tropics. I am also excited about three weeks of warm weather (I love winter here but it is awfully long!) and spending a bit of time with my friend, Anne, in Honolulu. There’s lots to do before I leave, though, but once the CSA is done I can focus on trip preparations. The timing is also exciting for me as I get to spend my 50th birthday in Hawaii. It is a bit of a milestone birthday and it will be fun to have it all to myself in a different place. I will take lots of pictures and do a big blog posting once I get back which hopefully won’t cause too much jealousy!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!