It is the end of the first week of April, as well as Easter weekend, and it is cold outside! We hit an all-time record for low temperatures last night at -14 degrees Celsius, not a distinction I care to experience again this season! There is still a lot of snow on the ground, between 2-4 feet, though it is melting very slowly. The long range forecast is for more seasonal temperatures 6 days from now and I can only hope their predictions are correct! We have seedlings started in the lean-to coldframe and usually at this time of the year I would send all the alliums (onions, shallots and leeks) to a protected outdoors area to make room for the next round of plantings. Well, with the temperatures predicted to hit highs of only 2 degrees this week, I think I’ll keep them indoors a bit longer. We fortunately have our indoor start area, too – not huge but it will hold about 16 trays – to keep me on schedule. Though having said that, I actually bumped the planting of a few of the faster growing veggies forward a week because I find it hard to picture the ground being ready to plant in just 4 weeks from now! I do know from experience that when the melt starts, it goes quickly so it’s possible we could lose all this snow in the next two weeks and then get some serious warming to thaw and dry the soil and be ready for an early May outdoors start. We shall see!
It being Easter Monday, my food of choice for the day is chocolate. I am trying to be a bit disciplined and, fortunately, we also have some lovely fresh spinach that over-wintered in the coldframe. It is crispy and sweet and I eat it every day. The coldframe is a bit wet and will get wetter as the snow melts so I’m holding off preparing beds for the early plantings of carrots, beets, spinach, lettuce and green onions. This means I can keep eating the fall-planted spinach a bit longer and this isn’t a bad thing! I made a big batch of caramel squares as Easter treats to share (yes, we feasted on a few of them ourselves!) and traded that recipe for one for an old Acadien favourite, Pet de Soeur, which translates beautifully as “Nun’s Farts”. I guess the name arose because they are light and sweet (!). I’ll see if I can do them justice.
The goat kidding season has come and gone and everything went really well. We had 4 sets of twins and one set of triplets. I had been expecting the triplets based on the size of the mother and the fact she’d had triplets before. She is a great mother and never seems to have any trouble feeding all three. I think this is because she breeds devious kids who are very good at stealing milk from the other mothers whenever opportunity presents itself. This mother of triplets always produces two normal sized kids plus one miniature. The mini is always very friendly, probably because it is showered with affection throughout its life, being forever smaller and cuter than the others. This works better with females than males and I’m happy to say that this year’s tiny kid is a girl. The overall ratio is 7 girls to 4 boys and we’re quite happy with those numbers. Last year we had 10 boys which necessitated some changes to the area they are raised in post-weaning and made for lots of extra work at the end of the season. We weren’t able to sell that much goat meat and ended up turning two of them into ground goat to keep Will supplied with hamburgers. We have two people who’ve already requested some female kids (buyers from previous years) so I’m hoping we get the girls sold off pretty quickly. With smaller kid numbers and fewer does to milk, I’m hoping that this year won’t be as busy on the goat front as last.
I’ve also finished my teaching for the season and it was a really busy few weeks. I ended up doing a make-up class for students in my organic gardening course (quite a few missed one day due to the March break) so had to squeeze an extra day into an already over-flowing week. I made it through, though, and the classes all went really well. I had record numbers in Organic Gardening plus a list of 11 names for next year’s class. I always meet great people in these classes and a few of them are in contact years later. There are also usually some aspiring farmers and Will and I have helped them with more detailed information through their early growing seasons, following the course. We are also mentoring two new farmers this year from nearby Ste-Marie de Kent and Cocagne. I’ve mentored new farmers before but this year I’m actually creating some structure for the process: a training plan with goals and indicators of success. One of our mentees is applying for funding for the process so I need to step up my game a bit and make sure we have measurable goals. This is a good thing and I think it will help Will and I become better mentors in the long term.
Will has been working on a cover crop plan for this season on the farm. We always cover crop half our land while growing vegetables on the other half, then switch the following year. The idea is to use cover crops to improve the soil and manage weeds. Well, we started out really well but our cover cropping in the last few years had become rather formulaic and was not as successful at meeting those goals as we’d like. So we now have an actual plan with different crops planned for different fields, depending on their particular needs (build soil organic matter, break up hardpan, manage weeds, add nitrogen, provide grazing for poultry). We met with Claude, our provincial organic specialist who also happens to have a love affair with cover crops, and with his help, managed to fine-tune the plan. We’re quite excited to be trying some new crops (yellow sweet clover for nitrogen, bee food and deep soil conditioning; Japanese millet for building organic matter in the soil and choking out weeds) and to better manage our cover crops all-round. I feel that putting some effort in here will help us in the long run with our weeding costs as well as improve crop yields – we will see how it all works out.
So we wait for the weather to improve and the snow to melt and meanwhile, juggle trays of seedlings in our sheltered spaces. The goat kids have discovered they can walk over and through the fence in a few places so I try not to encourage them to visit these areas. They’ll be happy to have more field to explore and to eat something other than hay and grain. Will and I still have lots of projects to work on in preparation for the season ahead so we’re not going too stir-crazy yet, though we’ll be very happy to get some sunshine and to see the soil when the time comes.
It is the first day of March and the sun feels warm on my skin. It is till getting quite cold at night but daytime temperatures are up to the high minuses, thanks to the beautiful sunshine. There’s lots of snow on the ground still but the level is dropping steadily with the warm days. Will and I are getting in as much skiing in as we can before the snow starts to get mushy. We’ve been really lucky this winter and have had great snow cover on the trail behind our house. The occasional passing of a snowmobile keeps it packed down and relatively flat and the ski surface is just about perfect most of the time. After a heavy snowfall (and we’ve had a few of those this last month!) we’ll usually put on snowshoes as the skis just sink down too far. We haven’t gone to the groomed trails in Grande Digue at all this winter – no need when we can literally ski off our porch (the 5 steps have long since been covered by snow) and enjoy 8 km of trails through the neighborhood. We took a day off a few weeks ago and went to Kouchibouguac Park to try out some different trails. It was a really cold day (-30 with wind chill) but we bundled up and stayed comfortable the whole time. There are over 12 km of trails with cabins every 4 km or so in the park. We stopped at one for lunch but it being a weekday (and cold!) we were the only ones there and had to build a fire ourselves. The cabin was just starting to warm up by the time we were ready to head out on the trails again; we were fine having consumed lots of fatty goodies for lunch plus a whole thermos of hot tea!
February was definitely a month for snow and keeping it all cleared away was a big job. Will was on his own one week while I recovered from flu and tried not to miss any teaching days. There is a huge drift outside the big barn doors and Will did some major digging to get access to the lean-to coldframe, our seed starting area. After yet another snowfall, I dug out the fresh snow and we’re now able to get into that space. It is time to start planting alliums so we need our heated tables. Will checked out all the electrical parts and everything seems to be working just fine. I plan to disinfect the allium trays this year to better manage pythium. We always get quite a bit of this disease in our seedlings but it doesn’t seem to transfer to the plants in the field. I assume the soil microbiology out-competes it once the plants leave the trays, though I could be wrong and pythium could be causing some of our other problems like our onions’ poor storage qualities. I plan to disinfect the trays with bleach before planting and we’ll see how the onions, leeks and shallots do this year.
The planting plan is complete and the record books are ready to go for the season. We don’t have any exciting new crops planned, just some different methods here and there. The big excitement for the season will be field #5, our new field. We ploughed, limed and cover cropped it last year with fall rye. This year we plan to grow vegetables in half and cover crop the other half. We’ll put potatoes, beans, peas and corn in about 25% of the field and the other 25% will be for Sarah and her array of winter veg. She is planning a winter CSA for this year (Nov. – Jan.) as well as extending the farmer’s market sales till around the end of December. Sarah and Carla will be working for us again this year and we’ll also get some help from Stephan and a few different people who want to volunteer a few hours a week. We considered taking apprentices but it looks like we won’t have accommodation for them and our labour needs are pretty much all filled.
We are planning a longer rotation on field #4, though we have some crops planned for this year. Garlic and sunchokes were planted there last year and we plan winter squash, peas, popcorn and sweet potatoes there this year. The rest of the field will be put into a perennial grass/legume mix and eventually the whole field will get a 2-3 year rest from annual cropping. We’d like to put grazing animals on the field, possibly chickens (broilers and layers) but we’ll see what other possibilities exist. We are still planning to put a few broilers on cover crop land in field #3 and Will is doing lots of research to figure out the best forage mix for an annual poultry grazing system. It looks like a couple of clovers plus annual rye should work well. Our next adventure will be trying to figure out a design for the mobile structure and how to move it.
The goats are all doing well and we are now officially into kidding season, though no babies have been born yet. Gem was due two days ago and two more goats are due this week. Yes, in typical goat fashion they’ll probably all decide to give birth on the same day! Everything is ready for them and the goat cam is in place, giving me the opportunity to spy on them throughout the day in the comfort of my own home! The goat cam was a Christmas gift a few years ago from Laura and Derek and it has proven to be a very useful tool. We’d need to keep the lights on in the barn if we were to use it at night, however we’ve been lucky these past few years and haven’t had many nighttime goat births.
I’ve already finished teaching the night class at CSNN and will start my organic gardening course this Saturday. I’ve had lots of interest this year and the class is very full. The following Monday is the start of the day class at CSNN so it will be a busy couple of weeks. Of course this is also the season for AGMs and all the preparations that go into them, too. March is a very busy month and I hope the weather won’t be too challenging. We’ve enjoyed the snow we received in February but March is when we start getting our season started and I hope we see less snow on the ground at the end of the month than at the beginning!
After a long and very challenging farming season, I realized I needed a vacation! I was fortunate to get a really good deal on a flight to Honolulu from Moncton that also included a stop-over in Vancouver. So, leaving Will to mind the farm (he’d had his cycling holiday in California last year) I packed my summer clothes and headed out on an adventure. Flying that far only made sense if I was to stay for a while so I booked my return flight three weeks later and, to defray costs and make for a more interesting trip, I joined WWOOF Hawaii and found a host farm for a two week stay. My friend Anne, from way back in grade 11, was also planning a Hawaii vacation so we made sure our dates overlapped and planned a few days together to celebrate the year we both turned 50. Anne lives in San Fransisco now so we don’t get to see each other that often. When we do get together, though, we have a lot of fun and, yes, we did find ourselves at one point up on stage, swinging our hips to hula drums in front of 200 people. We were fueled on mai tais and the “don’t give a care” attitude that comes with age. It was fun!
I took way too many pictures of big, magnificent trees! Banyans are very common and I learned that “banyan” isn’t a type of tree at all but the habit of extending vines that reach the ground and turn into new tree trunks. Different species of trees do this but the ficus was probably the most common.
This last group of photos (after the funky trees) are from Old Ways Farm in Honaunau where I spent a lovely two weeks as a WWOOFer. My hosts run a year-round organic herb farm on a small acreage using traditional methods (no power tools) and integrating production into mixed forest land. My accommodations were very comfortable and the work was varied and interesting: weeding, mulching, pruning pigeon pea and Christmas berry to use as mulch, helping with rock wall construction, some transplanting and re-potting. It was the dry season and days were short so things weren’t growing very quickly, however perennial herbs were always available for harvest and sale to a market in Kona. There were also some fruit trees and our neighbours were very generous sharing their avocadoes and bananas. I worked 4-7 hours/day and enjoyed my free time walking around the area, visiting interesting sites (Pu’u honua o honaunau) and eating lots of tropical fruit!
This was a major project of 2014: the old pumphouse was dismantled and rebuilt on a proper insulated cement foundation with well insulated walls and ceiling and a new roof. It is slightly larger than the old one to allow for storage of farm food, liquid fertilizer and a few other frost susceptible items. Hopefully it will greatly reduce our heating costs and keep our water flowing freely all winter long.
We grew lots of leeks last year and are hoping to have some for early season markets. We’ll see how layers of row cover anchored with straw bales maintains quality through a challenging winter.
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!