It is early April and a very different April from last year. The snow is almost all gone and the ground is beginning to thaw. Rhubarb shoots are poking out of the earth and daffodils are also starting to appear. The goats are loving getting outside and spend a big part of their day walking around seeking out precious green blades of grass. The babies are less focused on grazing and more interested in chasing each other, fighting, bouncing around and just generally acting like kids. A mild spring is perfect when you’re a goat!
I am back on the farm after my hip replacement surgery and I feel like things are healing well. I get around the house with one crutch, have no trouble climbing up and down stairs and can do pretty much everything for myself except put on socks and shoes. Will helps with this job as well as a few other small things: retrieving heavy pots from the bottom shelf of the fridge and fruit and veg from the bottom fridge drawers. I can’t bend beyond 90 degrees, twist or cross my legs so this limits me a tiny bit but not much. I am walking quite well now, even on uneven ground in the field, and can also kick the ball for Cory though try not to do too much of this. I have a feeling this would also be on my “do not do” list if anyone thought a person would be crazy enough to do it! I also have exercises given me by the physio which I do twice daily. This Friday I get my staples out and sitting down will feel much better.
Will was minding the farm during my three day absence and continues to take care of daily jobs: goat chores, plant care, pet care while I check up on him and give advice. He’s handling all this really well, even the advice! We are also lucky enough to have Jennifer, our worker for the season, and her husband Graham, staying on the farm while they wait to get access to their new piece of land. They bought 7 acres in Renaud’s Mills (part of St-Antoine and about 10 minute’s drive from here) and have a lot of work ahead: get permission for siting a driveway, clear trees and build a driveway, clear a building space and build a shed then a house. They plan to be off-grid and as self-sustainable as possible and we look forward to watching their dream life develop. It was great luck that Jennifer saw our job ad in FoodWorks.ca and after interviewing 6 people, she was definitely the candidate. She has a lot of experience with plants, having worked in nurseries, on farms and run her own landscape business for a while. She is very keen, smart and hard working and we consider ourselves very lucky to have her. Graham will be more focused on the construction on their property this season though is helping out now in exchange for Tiny House rent. He has construction experience and is also a great help. We don’t usually have workers on the farm until May so it worked out quite well this year to have them here early, plus have this great early spring weather.
The goat babies are all born and doing well. Snowball unfortunately lost her kids and required help from the vet to birth the dead fetuses. The vet gave her lots of good pain drugs plus steroids for swelling and she was on an antibiotic for 5 days afterwards to combat any infection. She pulled through just fine and is now milking at her usual high level. All other births were normal and even Ruby, old girl that she is, had two fine kids. Goddess had triplets and I’ve sold her and her three kids to a couple from near Sackville. I’d been thinking about selling Goddess because she is so hard to milk. It’s not a big deal when you’re milking only her but when she’s one of five, it can be enough to push a person to the point of exhaustion, or tendinitis over time! The new owners seem very happy with her and her babies so I think they’ll do well together. I’m very happy that the whole family went together as moving is stressful enough on it’s own, it would be very sad if she had to leave everyone here behind.
Our peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, early brassicas and alliums are all started and doing well. Unfortunately while I was at the hospital, we had a night of low temperatures and high winds which caused the covers on the heated tables to blow off. Almost all the trays lost two rows of seedlings along the table edge, about 60 broccoli plants and some kale and tomato plants. Hopefully nothing else comes along to challenge our broccoli as we need a certain number of heads for the CSA. Hopefully the heads will grow nice and big so we don’t run short though I’m pretty sure we won’t have any extra for the markets. I thought of replanting however I don’t think I have any extra seed of the early season varieties. I will plant another tray of kale, there was one variety that shipped late from High Mowing Seeds and I’d like to have it for my first planting.
We’re doing ginger again this year and bought 30 lbs of organic ginger to start. They are all in bulb crates in the semi-cooler (now the warm start area) and are starting to sprout. They’ll go into the coldframe in mid-June or so and hopefully will give us enough ginger for the baskets and maybe some to sell. Other than that there aren’t any other strange new crops, just a few new techniques: training eggplant up strings in the coldframe and growing sweet potatoes on clear plastic instead of black plastic. We may try corn on the clear plastic, too, planted in a bed of clover – why not? The new and improved Bouctouche Farmer’s Market is coming along well and looks like it will be have an impressive number of farmers this year. I’ve joined three other lady farmers to form a small co-op and we’ll sell our products in two stalls. We have yet to come up with a name for ourselves and I will appreciate any ideas you may like to send my way! It is going to be a good season and I am looking forward to farming with my new hip!
Another year of farming and other fun things has gone by and it’s time to start preparations for the season ahead. All in all it was a pretty good year though by the end of it we were getting pretty tired. Sarah was busy in the fall trying to get all her winter storage vegetables harvested and stored for her winter CSA so was not able to put in as many hours for us as originally planned. It meant a bit of a stretch for Carla and I but, with help from Mom, Dad and Will, we pulled through. We had a very mild fall and this, along with an indoor space at the Farmer’s Market, enabled us to extend our selling season till the last weekend of November. We’ve pretty much stripped the field bare now though there’s still a bit of kale and some Brussels sprouts left, plus some cabbage, carrots, leeks, potatoes, shallots, garlic, hot peppers, popcorn and sunchokes in storage. Of course we have lots of bottled tomato sauce and ketchup, frozen broccoli, beans, cauliflower, peppers, fava beans and chevre and about 16 rounds of gouda and 5 lbs of feta to keep these farmers fed through the winter.
Will and I both went to the ACORN conference in Charlottetown at the end of November and along with enjoying lots of great workshops and socializing, we both gave presentations. Will and another farmer gave a talk on “farm hacks” – interesting inventions that are helpful in our everyday work – and I did a talk on cooperative farming models: farm ownership, equipment sharing and marketing. We both got lots of good feedback and hopefully our information was useful to others. After a day back on the farm spent harvesting for the up coming market, I got on a plane to London Ontario to participate in the annual National Farmer’s Union convention. I was scheduled to join a panel of other farmers talking about soil management on our farms but was able to also take in some of the process around voting on resolutions as well. I think I now truly understand the intricate workings of Robert’s Rules! It was a lot of fun and I got to meet some really nice people plus found a spice market nearby so was able to load up on a year’s supply of whole spices.
In December Will took off for two weeks in California, biking the coastal roads and visiting family. He stayed for Christmas which was really appreciated by his mother, and got caught up with his brothers’ lives as well as with other relatives. My brother and his family joined my parents and me for Christmas so it was a busy family time here as well. It was fun having kids around on Christmas day as the opening of gifts and eating of goodies takes on a much more exciting feel in the presence of their youthful enthusiasm. Sam, my young nephew, is learning to play violin and I taught him a simple fiddle tune – yes I am indoctrinating him in the arts of the fiddle in hopes of turning him to this highly developed musical form! Things went well on the farm in Will’s absence. I had to clear the driveway a few times after some small snowfalls and warmer temperatures that left the driveway covered in slush and had no trouble with tractor or machinery.
The goats are doing well and all looking quite pregnant. We got the buck and his companion back from the farm that rented him for breeding and initially kept them outside in the buck building. They both complained about this so as soon as Will got back we moved them into the main barn and they now occupy their own stall within smelling distance of the girls. I lock up the girls and let the boys out to run around a bit every few days. Things will start to feel a bit too tight once the kids start arriving though if we’re lucky and have a mild March, I’ll be able to put the boys back outside in their summer accommodations. We do have one doe due to kid next week thanks to some fencing issues and a determined buck. It’s not the best thing to happen but I don’t think the weather will be too cold, though if it is we have our heat lamps and goat coats just in case!
Coin Bio/Organic Corner Co-op had its second AGM in early January and we spent two full days at it: strategic planning, marketing discussions and going over our bylaws. It went really well and I think we’re ready to face the season in a more organized fashion than last year. I’m also involved with a group of people trying to resurrect the Bouctouche Farmer’s Market. It originally started years ago and in recent years had run into some issues: management, lack of energy and then a collapse of the organizational structure. Then, as if it wasn’t struggling enough, the structure burnt down. The new group is made up of some of the original starters as well as new joiners. I think we realize it will never be a huge farmer’s market but with a bit of work and creative planning, we can make it into a decent little market with a good selection of local food. Bouctouche’s only grocery store used to sell NB products but was recently bought out by a larger chain and now only sells produce from Quebec. People want to support local and recognize the value in a fresher product so are looking for these options. I’m looking at getting together with some other small farms to create a more diverse stall and to help share the job of selling. I think this may be a good model for other farmers if we can find people selling other farm products who are interested in doing the same. We will set up at the market this season under tents as the permanent structure won’t be completed for another year or so.
Winter has been very gentle to us so far and we appreciate this though miss the skiing! We had a storm a few nights ago and now have a bit of snow on the ground with more on the way. You never know what winter will bring and we just have to be prepared for everything.
This is an amazingly detailed picture of the farm from Google Earth taken just four months ago in September 2015. In the upper left are our house and the tiny house, you can see all the clutter around the barn due to the construction project and the fields are full of vegetables. The two high tunnels and the cold frame are all visible and the recently ploughed field 5 where we grew potatoes last year is in the upper right of the picture.
My brother and his family visited us on Thanksgiving weekend and while exploring in the hayloft, my niece and nephew (Allie and Sam) found a little kitten. It was all alone though we’d seen a feral cat around the past few weeks that was probably the mother. It was too cute to ignore – probably around 4 weeks old and just starting to walk on its own – and Will and I decided to bring it into the house and into our animal family. We’ve named her Rusty and she is a delightful little creature to have around the place. There’s something about a kitten that makes you laugh more than you’d think possible: everything is a toy and the house is a great big adventure castle. Cory is really good with her though he does get jealous when we play with her instead of him. He’ll jump into the game and start fetching tiny cat toys: plastic balls, crumpled up paper and even that fun bookmark with a tassel. Tabbi isn’t impressed but puts up with her until she starts getting too crazy; once you get to be over 100 years old you don’t have much patience for wrestling.
Despite all good intentions, I have been very remiss in keeping up on the blog. My excuses include: the season went late, we were a bit short-handed in the latter part of the season and November was extra busy with all the conferences, markets and other activities. I’m back now and there’s lots to tell!
After months of hard work the barn repair is complete. Thanks to the help of Mom and Dad who repaired and refinished the windows, Bernard who installed windows and doors, the barn doctors who did the big structural repairs, Stephan who helped out with dismantling and replacing and Will who did everything else plus all the metal siding and soffits, it was finished well ahead of the winter weather. We love our beautiful new barn and it will stand for many years to come. There are still a few little holes to patch on the other side where snow blows in in the winter, however I wonder if an old barn can ever be made truly tight?
This is pretty good for me, adding more than one blog posting per summer! I find that I often look back on previous year’s postings to see where we were at on this date last year. It is helpful to gauge how good a year we’re having and, if it’s not that great, what to prepare for in months to come. I have a feeling that this will not be a great year for the heat loving crops especially corn and sweet potatoes. We planted lots of squash so even if they don’t produce hugely, we’ll have enough. Cucumbers and eggplant are growing inside the coldframe so they’ll be okay in a cool season, and tomatoes will probably be a bit happier in these low 20 degree Celcius temperatures. Potatoes, brassicas and lettuce are loving the cool, wet weather of recent days and beets and carrots are really growing, too. So if the cool weather continues and we have an early frost, we’ll probably only suffer reduced yields in a few areas.
We are having an amazing growing year, despite the slow start and crazy weather. I think our soil has reached a point where the nutrient balance, pH and level of biological activity are perfectly suited to vegetable growth. I think we have also come a long way in our vegetable-growing knowledge and that makes all the difference, too. We have a lot of help on the farm this season so are a bit more on top of weeds, though they are still growing like mad. July is weed month and all we can do is keep on weeding and try to keep them under control.
The Sasso chicks are doing really well and, other than one fatality during an early attempt at moving the pen, we haven’t lost one. The mobile pen works beautifully, too. It has wheels at the far end that can be lowered into place to make moving the pen a job easily done by a 100 lb woman. Now this is appropriate technology on the farm! We move the pen twice a day to give them lots of grass and a clean place to live, as well as to give us a good, even spread of manure over the field. The chickens are all pretty much sold at this point and I’m sure they’ll be tasty.
We are still finding cucumber beetles in our carefully screened coldframe, but there are much fewer of them and the damage is a lot less. By this time last year we’d lost more than half of the first planting to bacterial wilt whereas this year we’ve only lost 2 of the 65 plants. They are producing well and we had our first pick last Friday. We also have yellow sticky traps placed among the plants and they help catch the beetles as well. The unpleasant job of cleaning and re-stickying them is coming up and I guess we’ll draw straws to see who gets to do it!
We are starting to see our first ripe cherry tomatoes, which seems earlier than usual to me. Perhaps the cold stress during June triggered an early ripening? We aren’t complaining at all! The plants are doing well though the job of pruning and training has become quite onerous with the higher density of plants.
I took a picture of the least weedy area, just so everything looks good! We seem to have fewer of many different pests this year. We had no root maggot in the radishes and very little in the salad turnips. We are seeing very few cabbage worm moths and the potato beetles arrived very late, though they are here in full force now! Though we have cucumber beetle in the coldframe, we are seeing next to none in the fields on the zucchini, melons and squash. The long cold winter and late spring may have brought some blessings as well as problems!
Unfortunately an already big and expensive job has gotten even bigger and more expensive: the corner post helpng support the barn is completely rotten and must be replaced. It is a big job because many things are connected to this post and everything must be held in place while the post is removed and replaced. As well, the original structure was built using wooden pegs to hold large posts and beams together and we’ll have to saw through those to remove the rotten bits. We can’t put in new pegs so will need to reattach things a bit differently. We’ve been referred to a local “barn doctor” who is hopefully coming out to see it tonight and may be able to do the work for us. We love our old barn and want to do everything we can to preserve it and keep it functional!
And of course there are the goats! They are all doing well and producing lots of milk and I’m still making lots of cheese. My last brie was amazing and I plan to try some more soon. Right now we have lots of feta, chevre, gouda aging in the cheese fridge and some crottins. I have a lead on a buck, a nubian x boer that looks pretty nice, so it will be great to have something lined up for this breeding season.
Something I missed in the last blog posting: a Windy Hill Organic Farm bird update. I would like to do this regularly in my (not so regular!) postings and will try to keep bird sighting info up to date.
We have a robin’s nest on our wood pile with one baby hatched and one sterile egg. Unfortunately the baby disappeared one day and we think it was eaten by crows. We have our barn swallows nesting in the same place as last year though no babies yet. We also have a killdeer nesting in the sunchoke bed in field #4. She is faithfully guarding her three eggs with lots of noise and displays of damaged wings. Fortunately that is not a high traffic area this time of the year (at least not since we’ve planted squash and sweet potatoes) so she should be left well alone. We have a family of mergansers on the pond and I counted 11 tiny babies yesterday. It’s good she started out with a large clutch because many dangers exist for baby mergansers, especially now with this cold wet weather.
I saw a male yellow warbler a few days ago, the first I’ve ever seen here. They are a very striking bird and it would be nice to see it again. We had our bobolinks visit in the spring as usual and enjoyed their cheerful song for a few weeks. We have more red-winged blackbirds than I’ve seen in ages and I’m sure some are nesting by the pond as I see them chasing off larger birds (ducks, geese) from their territory. Hummingbirds are in high numbers again this year and I go through three cups of sugar water a day these days. They’ll be nesting around the house, probably in the honeysuckle bush, fairly soon. We are seeing goldfinches, sparrows, robins, crows and I saw a small flock of cedar waxwings last week but they didn’t linger. There are the usual ducks and geese that come and go on the pond and lots of tree swallows that flit above the water, catching insects. We will try and put up some tree swallow houses, though if we’re too late this year, we’ll build some for next.
And that’s the WHOF bird report for Monday, June 22/15.