Finally Some Farm Updates!

February 7, 2016

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.

The Farm Seen From Space

January 25, 2016

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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.

New Addition

December 5, 2015

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.

Early days with tiny kitten

Early days with tiny kitten

Cat balancing act

Cat balancing act

Maybe a bit too close for comfort

Maybe a bit too close for comfort

Older kitten starting to show nice pattern on coat

Older kitten starting to show nice pattern on coat

Playful kitten provides hours of entertainment

Playful kitten provides hours of entertainment

Approaching Solstice

December 3, 2015

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!

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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?

Garden Peach, one of my favourite heirloom varieties

Garden Peach, one of my favourite heirloom varieties

It was a good year for tomatoes and I miss them already!

It was a good year for tomatoes and I miss them already!

Beautiful load of squash, pumpkins and sweet potatoes

Beautiful load of squash, pumpkins and sweet potatoes

Onions curing

Onions curing

Garlic hanging in the hayloft

Garlic hanging in the hayloft

Late season in the fields

Late season in the fields

Sasso chicks growing up on pasture

Sasso chicks growing up on pasture

Mid Summer on the Farm

July 20, 2015

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.

Sasso chicks are almost two months old and have grown a lot

Sasso chicks are almost two months old and have grown a lot

Mobile chicken pen with Sassos works its way through next year's vegetable field

Mobile chicken pen with Sassos works its way through next year’s vegetable field

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.

Cucumbers in the coldframe are doing well

Cucumbers in the coldframe are doing well

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!

Tomatoes and peppers in the high tunnels

Tomatoes and peppers in the high tunnels

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.

The fields in mid July

The fields in mid July

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!

One of this year's jobs, re-siding the barn, turned up some structural issues that must be dealt with

One of this year’s jobs, re-siding the barn, turned up some structural issues that must be dealt with

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!

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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.

WHOF Bird Report

June 22, 2015

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.

June 19, 2015
Happy goat giving lots of milk

Happy goat giving lots of milk

Sasso chicks are very vigorous and will be great foragers inour mobile pen

Sasso chicks are very vigorous and will be great foragers inour mobile pen

the broken apple tree seems to be still alive so we put it in a cast to heal

the broken apple tree seems to be still alive so we put it in a cast to heal

Lots of trays of healthy plants waiting to go into the ground

Lots of trays of healthy plants waiting to go into the ground

the surreal space of a screened coldframe

the surreal space of a screened coldframe

black plastic on the soil to kill weeds before planting

black plastic on the soil to kill weeds before planting

Start of the Season

June 19, 2015

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 …

April 26 on the Farm

April 26, 2015
Fields still partially snow covered

Fields still partially snow covered

Strawberries half in and half out of snow

Strawberries half in and half out of snow

Garlic is starting to come up under the straw where not under snow

Garlic is starting to come up under the straw where not under snow

One apple tree that made it and one that didn't

One apple tree that made it and one that didn’t

Heavy snow is hard on fences

Heavy snow is hard on fences

Goats love having their pictures taken!

Goats love having their pictures taken!

Goats are happy to finally be getting some outside time

Goats are happy to finally be getting some outside time

What do farmers do while waiting for fields to thaw and dry? Play ball with the puppy!

What do farmers do while waiting for fields to thaw and dry? Play ball with the puppy!

... and refinish their floors!

… and refinish their floors!

Scenes from the Farm April 15, 2015

April 15, 2015

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Still lots of snow!

Still lots of snow!

Bouncing babies

Bouncing babies

Goats who really want to go outside but snow is still too deep

Goats who really want to go outside but snow is still too deep


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