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.