It’s been a long time since my last posting and it feels like a good day to do some writing. Our annual spring Open Farm Day was yesterday so today is Recover from Open Farm Day day. We had a smaller turnout than usual, though the weather was lovely. I think we’ve reached a point in our CSA career where a high renewal rate (over 80%) means that everyone’s been to Open Farm Day at least once and now the numbers each year are declining. Though OFD is mainly for CSA members I also invite local farmers, neighbours and my organic gardening class. I think next year we’ll open it to the general public, too, so that we get more people coming to see our beautiful farm. We also participate in the province-wide open farm day in September but when you put as much work into the spring OFD as we do, we really want to get an audience!
We still had about 50 people attend and a lot of them stayed for most of the day. There were lots of young kids enjoying playing with Cory (we had to take him away and hide him a few times so he could catch his breath!) and watching the baby chicks run around in their enclosure. Quite a few gardening class people came out and it was nice to hear about their gardening adventures and show them some of our stuff. The food was amazing, as always, though we had a new cook this year – Bernadette of Goguen Orchards took on the converting of our seasonal ingredients (chard, kale, shallots from last year, eggs, feta cheese and rhubarb) into some amazing baked goods. Will and I have lots of leftovers and will eat very well for at least a few days! We had the usual compliment of highly skilled volunteers: my mom, Cathy, aunt and uncle, Peter and Bert, Carla, Sarah, Kathy, Diane, Nicole and Lise. It is so nice to be able to go off and give farm tours and know that everything is being taken care of in the main building. We had Pierre and J-F, our favourite Acadian folk band playing again this year and if they don’t become too famous and start touring the world, we hope to have them every year! So all in all it was a great day and everyone had lots of fun. We got to meet some of our new CSA members and also see a few of the old ones again and marvel over how their kids have grown, obviously on a diet of high quality organic produce!
Farm-wise things are going well and we’re hoping to start delivering veggies in a couple of weeks. We’ve been going to the market for 5 weeks now, thanks mainly to Alva Farm’s early plantings though we’ve been able to send rhubarb, spinach, kale, chard and also leeks from last year (overwintered under row cover and straw) as well as lots of tomato plants. We’re organizing ourselves a bit differently this year, having incorporated as a co-op (La Coopérative Coin Bio Ltée./Organic Corner Cooperative Ltd.) and are now retaining 20% of all market sales and paying labour, mileage, stall fees and supplies from this income. We are four farms for now and we will see how things work and how we grow in the future. A lot of this will depend on the potential for developing other markets as well as the variety of local organic products available: we’re be interested in farms that compliment rather than compete with what the current member farms produce.
The growing season started late and we’ve had a few weeks of good weather to get caught up but also lots of continuing cool nights and late frosts. We’ve also had a lot of wind lately, more than even Windy Hill Farm is used to getting! It took a fair amount of planning to get a day calm enough to cover the high tunnels but thanks to The Weather Network’s hourly reports, we were able to schedule a 6:00 a.m. tunnel-covering party and got both tunnels covered by 8:30. We’ve had some pest challenges, too, with flea beetle being one of the big ones. All brassicas are covered right after planting but the flea beetles were in the soil and hatched under the cover, feasting on our turnips and broccoli. The turnips actually seem to have recovered and are growing now but our first broccoli planting doesn’t look great. We’ll probably get some broccoli but they won’t be very big heads. However on the pests vs. farmers front, we actually seem to have won a small victory over cucumber beetles: the ones living in our coldframe hatched early (April) as the soil started to warm and then died due to lack of food. Will and Stéphan managed to do a great job of screening the coldframe and after leaving some indicator cucumber plants in there for two weeks, we realized that we were truly beetle-free! So we’ve planted the first row of Corinto cucumbers, a parthenocarpic variety (needs no pollination) that should have us swimming in cukes in no time. This is quite exciting because our cucumber production potential has just leaped into the realms of trying out long English cukes and other pricey but popular varieties. However, we’re also still learning a lot about nature: it abhors a vacuum, especially a pest vacuum and we now have a thriving population of grasshoppers living in the screened coldframe! We’ll soon need to take some measures to get a handle on them before they eat everything – sticky traps? Introduce some birds?
Our fall planted strawberries are doing beautifully and are loaded with fruit with no sign of clipper weevils. We were a bit worried about them after our hard winter (and only a double cover of Agribon 19 to protect them) but they all recovered beautifully and are large, healthy, well leafed plants with lots of berry-producing crowns. It is a more expensive way of producing the berries but if it helps us better manage pests and disease and gives us higher yields in their single season of production, it just may pay for itself. Of course there is also the benefit of having beds that fit better into our rotations, along with better weed management and less labour (weeding, trimming runners, renovating after harvest). So far I think the annual berries are winning us over!
We are in the midst of our annual sweet potato saga again. We basically repeated our mistakes of last year and, yes, surprise surprise, we are getting the same results! We had had trouble getting slips from a farm in Ontario that buys them from North Carolina and ships them around the country to other, smaller growers. The problem last year was the delivery process: UPS destroyed the first package and then lost the second one. Well, this year we planned to try and buy slips from the same people again but delivered by Canada Post. Somehow, over a number of conversations, we were convinced to try UPS again (delivering to a store rather than our farm) and, once again, UPS destroyed the package. Except this time they put it back together again, delivered it to us a day late and very smelly (with brown liquid oozing out of the box) and we decided, for some strange reason, to plant the smelly slips. After two days in the trays the slips started dying off, one by one. I decided then to order another batch of plants from a different place in Ontario: much more expensive but the slips are rooted and last year arrived in excellent condition (thank you, Canada Post!). Well no sooner were the new batch on their way when I realized that the planted slips that didn’t die immediately were actually coming to life and putting out roots! So now we have a very large number of sweet potato plants though Sarah is growing them as well as us and I think we may be able to sell the excess. I also like the idea of trying two different varieties and I am truly hooked on sweet potatoes!
We have an amazing farm team this year: a group of experienced and highly motivated people who cruise through their jobs like a whale devouring plankton. Sarah is working for us again as well as growing her own stuff. She is planning a winter CSA, an extended farmer’s market presence and has also made plans to sell greens to a cafe in Moncton. Carla is here once again and looking forward to taking on the training and pruning of cucumbers in the screened coldframe as well as other field tasks. Stéphan is working until lobster season starts and is doing field work as well as construction. We have quite a few repair and maintenance projects planned for this summer and realized that the only way to get things done (like outdoors painting that can’t be done in winter) is to get some help. We have another volunteer joining us for July and August: Theresa is on leave from her regular job coordinating ACORN to spend some months connecting with the farming community. We’ll have her here for 30 hours/week working on some special projects as well as helping with field work. One of the projects we’ve signed onto is the collecting and identifying of cabbage maggot in brassicas. We grow a lot of brassicas and when I heard the call for farms to help with the study, I couldn’t help but volunteer Windy Hill. The goal of the project isn’t very organic (studying pesticide resistance in cabbage maggot) but I’m interested in learning the collection and identification process as well as some other information on pest life cycles and which species of the Delia genus actually causes damage. I also like to think that the provincial agricultural experts need to be exposed to more organic farms and see how we deal with pests, weeds and diseases without toxic using chemicals.
I need to wrap this up now if I’m ever going to get it posted on the blog but one final piece of interesting information: we learned a few months ago that we aren’t the only Windy Hill Farm in New Brunswick! Now what are the chances of that happening? We had a call from the original WHF owners a few months ago and we reached an agreement that we slightly change our name so there aren’t two of us out there. The other WHFarmers are beef farmers so it’s not like we’ll be selling the same things at the same markets, however since they’d been WHF longer than us, we were fine with changing. So, we are now Windy Hill Organic Farm – a good description and a very mild change. Changing our name slightly also made us think about our logo – which doesn’t exist – and how it would be nice to have one. So we now have a graphic designing friend of Sarah’s attempting to create a logo that we’d like to show the world. It will appear on our website and blog site so stay tuned …