Archive for March, 2010

Goodye Snow

March 30, 2010

The snow is finally on its way and as I watch the fields slowly turn from white to brown, I think about winter and what I will miss about it. I will miss the snow: being able to see dog poop so I can avoid stepping in it; being able to walk in parts of the forest that are hard to access without a big cushion of snow; the sheer beauty of snowflakes floating down from the sky; I will miss fires in the wood stove; I will miss bringing a nice, clean puppy into the house after a long romp in the fields. However, all that being said, I am very excited to see spring on its way!

Today was the first time I saw our garlic bed since the snow fell. There isn’t any garlic poking up out of the hay mulch yet but I know it won’t be long now. The goats are starting to go outside on their own and explore more of the field and the cats have started catching mice again (and leaving their remains on the mat by the door). Cory’s whole life up until now had consisted of walks in the snow and he is now getting used to jumping over puddles and navigating through muddy fields. We walked by the pond a week or so ago and he jumped right into it, I think expecting to land on the ice – he looked quite shocked to land in water up to his belly!

Pearl and her babies are doing well though Pearl doesn’t seem to have an excess of milk. Her babies aren’t complaining yet so I’ll keep an eye on them. Her temperature was normal today and she is eating well so it just may take a bit more time. She didn’t get fed as a pregnant goat in the early stages of pregnancy so didn’t put on as much weight as she could have. Medusa is next on the list (April 9) and is looking very nicely rounded with a fine, glossy coat. She’s Nessie’s daughter and, though doesn’t seem to have inherited her mother’s tendency to obesity, doesn’t look like she’s malnourished, either!

Will worked against all odds and finished up the buck palace a few days ago. He took a pick-axe to frozen ground to bury the final fence post and finished off the fence. The only thing left to do is finish the siding on the northeast side of the building which we’ll do once we’ve had a day warm enough to prime and paint the plywood. The rest of the building is sided with metal left over from building the barn roof. We moved the boys in a few days ago and they seem to be settling in, though changes in their routines are always difficult for them. We cleaned their pen out yesterday: a phenomenal amount of bedding and manure came out of there, partly due to not having a feeder and having to feed hay on the floor and partly due to the poor quality of hay so there was quite a lot wasted. Will and I worked for close to three hours to get it all cleaned out and we now have a very large manure pile to enjoy looking at and eventually add to the garden!

We’ll be getting some new young goats soon so Will is building more hay and grain feeders for them. The floor of the old buck area is drying out now and will hopefully be ready for the new goats. This pen will eventually become a creep area for the young goats. A creep area has a small door that allows young goats to get in but keeps the adults out. Grain and other goodies will be fed free-choice in there to supplement the young goats’ diet.

I’m working on organizing my brain to teach an eco-nutrition course next week. Rowena has been teaching this course the past few years but has just taken a job in Nova Scotia coordinating NS’s farmer’s markets. She taught one round of the course already and I sat in on it all, so should theoretically be ready to leap into teaching it, myself. I have all Rowena’s handouts and Powerpoint presentations but still need to read the book (“The End of Food” by Thomas Pawlick) and get myself organized to teach. I enjoy teaching and look forward to this new element in my life. The eco-nutrition course is part of the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition’s Registered Holistic Nutritionist course. It looks at the food system as a whole and how our food choices impact on our environment, communities and farmers, as well as on ourselves. I get to rant about GMO foods, cheap food policies and the Green Revolution, as well as factory farmed livestock and the decline of the family farm. It’s about 12 hours of teaching plus a few homework items, so you can imagine how organized you have to be to squeeze all this in and make it understandable to people who are encountering these issues for the first time. I teach next week so I’ll tell you how it all goes.

Last week I sat in on the AGM for Really Local Harvest, a local farmer’s cooperative. It’s been going on for 13 years (the last 10 as a registered co-op) and is amazingly successful. I was really impressed with how the AGM was run: it was mostly in French though most people also recapped in English for the benefit of non-Francaphones (that would be me!). It was well organized and the discussion was well-thought-out and interesting. The atmosphere seemed really pleasant and I got the feeling that the members liked and trusted one another. It’s nice to be in a room full of people treating each other with respect and still getting things done! I’ve certainly seen a lot of the opposite. I couldn’t stay for the whole AGM because of an evening commitment, but I managed to talk to a few of the other farmers and they were very welcoming. The group is mainly non-organic but I talked to one organic farmer who had been with the group for many years and said he always felt comfortable in the group, regardless of differences in farming philosophy. I guess the group is made up of many farmers who are trying to become more “organic” as well as those who will never change their methods. It sounds like my “organic continuum” vision where, instead of the “all or nothing” situation where you’re either organic or not, there are many different levels of commitment to sustainable growing. The growers’ methods are transparent and the consumer can make their choice.

Really Local Harvest is made up of about 30 some farms: meat, vegetable, fruit, winery, cheese, and it also runs the Dieppe Farmer’s Market. There are so many things a group like this can do and it very recently hired an executive director to try and help it better focus its energies. It’s a group I would like to join once we are up and running and producing food. It’s not cheap to be a member so we need to make sure our business gains something from membership, though just being a member of a great group of neat people is definitely a good thing!

We have just ordered our steel building – whew, big bucks! We have a budget for what we can afford to spend getting our farm going and this is within the budget. However it’s that first big expenditure which is a little scary, especially when we don’t expect to see a significant income for another few years. We need the barn to move machinery into so we can free up the big barn for the livestock, so it’s all in keeping with the master plan. We pay a down payment now and get the engineered plans for it. We’ll pour the foundation this summer once the conditions are good and then get the rest of it delivered probably in August or so. This will be a multi-use building: tractor storage in the winter and veggie handling in the summer with a year-round workshop. The steel buildings are a low cost option that last forever (40 year guarantee on the paint) and are fireproof (great when you’re a beginner welder!) plus quick and easy to assemble (4 people and scaffolding). I think it’s a good choice. We’ll pour a slab slightly larger than the building so we can have an outside work area for washing and packing produce. We’ll put up an awning eventually and a trench for water lines to the area, too. The coldframe won’t be too far away which works well since it will need water, too.

Once again I’ve gone on and on. Well, there’s just so much to tell! I must go outside and milk Keehay. I’ll put some more pictures up soon, the river is especially exciting to see at this time of the year!


The first goat babies of the year!

March 23, 2010

As you see from the pictures, we’ve had our first goat births on our new farm! Yes, they weren’t expected this early but in spite of the surprise nature of it, everything went smoothly. Pearl was so large I was afraid she was carrying triplets or else really large twins. Well, the twins are definitely good sized, but the birthing went well and they both seem to be healthy and happy. The mystery of paternity was solved as well: Buckley is no doubt the father! His kids are always easily identified by the floppy ears and dark brown coat with a bit of white. Now we need two names for these kids: a semi-precious stone name for Pearl’s little girl (Pearl is daughter of Ruby who is daughter of Opal) and a name for the boy that denotes a short life and a destination on the plate. Yes, I’m afraid that is the way of it on the farm, though, rest assured, his life will be high quality and his demise humane.

The snow continues to disappear and today it is raining. After all those years in BC, the sight of rain shouldn’t be unusual but since it’s the first rain I’ve seen in many months, it is! The rain will help melt the snow which is my personal goal: snow melts, soil warms, grass grows to feed goats and Al and Will start planting. My needs are simple ones.

I attended a Local Food Forum in Moncton last weekend and enjoyed meeting many great people. The turnout was good, almost 60 of us gathered together: farmers, politicians, government agronomist, NGO reps and lots of people who are interested in where their food comes from. One thing that came out of the conference is the slogan which I’m sure will appear on t-shirts very soon: “Who’s your farmer?”. Since most of us have our own doctor, dentist, accountant, etc. let’s plant the idea of each of us having our own farmer growing our food. I learned some interesting facts like NB used to be self sufficient in carrots (though no longer) and there used to be communal storage facilities for root veggies in different centres in the province. Though they no longer exist, there is a real interest in the farmers I talked to about organizing more cooperatively owned and operated facilities for food processing, storage and transportation. This Wednesday I’ll be attending the AGM for Really Local Harvest, a group of farmers who are in the process of initiating some co-op marketing ideas. Exciting stuff! Maybe I’ll even be able to provide some useful information from my co-op experience in BC.

I also met a chef from a restaurant in Moncton, also recently moved back here after running a restaurant in BC for 13 years, who is very interested in buying produce from us. He was looking particularly for heirloom tomatoes but also interested in whatever else we’d be growing this year. Hmm, maybe we should buy some more seeds! We actually already had plans to put up our coldframe and fill it with heirloom tomatoes this summer, now we just may have a market for them! Will ordered the coldframe yesterday and it will be here in about three weeks. If this extra dry and mild spring continues we just may get it put together in time to plant these tomatoes.

Will has signed up for a course on natural beekeeping in Lunenburg, NS, this June. He has always been interested in bee keeping and is now embracing the doing of it big time. The more you hear about the loss of wild bees and their important pollination duties, the more I realize that we all must start raising bees and raising them without antibiotics, pesticides and fake bee food. We probably won’t have hives this year, though maybe we will! We’ll see what we can do. It will pretty much depend on whether we can get bees from a source where they are raised naturally, since bees brought up on chemicals will not be healthy enough to live in a natural system.

Will is also doing a lot of research on the Acadian forest and learning about the types of trees that were indigenous to this place before they were all cut down for ship building and other industry. Anne and Paryse, the original owners of this farm, started a reforestation project a few years ago by planting 5000 white pine and spruce seedlings. We’d like to continue their good work and see what else we can introduce to this ecosystem. I also have a plan to propagate more of the black locust trees we have on the farm and plant them along the driveway from the road to the farm. They are exquisitely beautiful when in flower and highly scented, plus of course great for the bees. I can just picture our farm a few years from now and the picture is quite delightful!

March 22, 2010

Mergansers on the pond

March 22, 2010

how our farm looks now

March 22, 2010

view of the fields with rapidly melting snow

March 22, 2010

The proud mother

March 22, 2010

Pearl's new babies: a boy and a girl

Up to date on the farm

March 20, 2010

Wow, how time flies and what a gap between blog postings! I’ll try and get you all caught up on happenings here in the past few weeks:

Goats and kidding
What? Pearl is pregnant? How did that happen? Somehow during her long trans-Canada journey, Pearl came into heat and had a close encounter with a buck. Was it Cardinal? Only time will tell though we don’t have long to wait by the looks of it. It’s amazing how we can convince ourselves that something isn’t what it looks to be because “surely it can’t be!”. Then we finally give in to reality (if it looks like a duck…) and realize that, even though it can’t be, it is! So Pearl isn’t just fat, she’s pregnant and not only pregnant but due very soon!

Goats in the great outdoors
With nice weather and melting snow, the goats and I have been taking walks out into the woods to feast on trees and the few green things poking up through the dead grass (the goats feast, I watch). They first went for conifer trees, eating needles and tips of branches. More recently they have been enjoying the budding tips of young trees and bushes and stripping the bark from their trunks. Yes, buds are swelling and pussy willow-like things are forming on the most south-facing of our trees. The girls are enjoying the variety in their diets, plus the exercise is good for them after a winter of restricted access. I am enjoying the sun and was asked today at the market if I’d been down south – yes, I guess I have a tan! This is not a typical NB March though I’m not complaining in the least!

New goat housing
Will has been working diligently on the boys’ new house and it is almost ready to be occupied. The timing is good because I’ll soon need more space in the barn. I’m buying a new buck for this season’s breeding and he will be arriving at the end of March. I saw him today, he’s a purebred Alpine, black and white and very handsome. His mother is a big milker so I’ll be expecting great things from his progeny. I’m thinking of getting a doe kid at the same time so he won’t be too lonely. I think he’ll be safer kept separate from Buckley and Nick until he’s big enough to defend himself; I can then keep him and a doe kid in their own space, lavishing attention on them until they’re ready to join their respective herds.

Planting seeds and new coldframe
Will was at the ACORN conference in Charlottetown a few weeks ago and came back brimming with information and ideas. He also brought back a lovely case of stomach flu which we each partook of, one at a time. Rowena rode back with Will and spent a few days with us (also recovering from flu). It was a little tight in our wee house but totally enjoyable and we may do it again some time. Will is in the process of ordering our coldframe from a company in Ontario. They ship regularly to NB so the cost of transportation isn’t as horrible as it could be. Gone are the days of having a couple of coldframe companies just down the road (good-bye B&W Greenhouse!). Also gone are the wonderful irrigation companies who have everything you need, also just down the road. This is not the horticultural capital of Canada and we must search far and wide for basic vegetable growing equipment. However we are almost ready to start planting and I am very excited about this: tomatoes, onions, leeks and peppers in trays for now and eventually things will go in the ground. We have our seed potatoes as well so will try and plant them under row cover a little early and see if we get lucky.

A new tractor and building
We’re looking for another tractor, a smaller one with 4 WD and a loader on the front. We looked at a little 20 hp MF today that seems in not bad shape but is just so tiny! The trick we’re finding is trying to decide exactly what we need it for. We know what we’d use it for now but what about in the future? Once we do this we can figure out what size tractor we need. Though should we buy slightly bigger and be ready for future developments, or stay small and work with what we have? We’re also planning a steel building for housing tractors over the winter, storing fuel and to act as a workshop. This will release our barn from tractor storage duty and allow us to fill it with goats – yay! The steel building may or may not happen this year since I still have room for a few more goats in our current space. The building would double as a space for washing and packing veggies in CSA boxes in the summer. That’s Permaculture: everything has more than one function!

Life on the pond
As the snow melts and the sun warms this world, we are starting to see more creatures on our pond. We have been visited by mallard ducks, mergansers, Canada geese and there was a long, lean rodent swimming in the pond a few days ago. I’ve been seeing fewer sign of deer around so I guess they’ve moved away for a while. I’m keeping an eye and ear out for bears awakening from their winter sleep – hopefully we don’t have any unpleasant surprises while out on a nice morning walk!

Coyotes here on the east coast are quite different from the west coast variety. It seems that they interbred with wolves at one time and are therefore larger and more aggressive than their western cousins. The coyotes I remember in BC were fairly small and lived on small things: field mice, rabbits, berries, cats. Our eastern coyotes, on the other hand, eat quite a bit of deer and smaller things when they can’t get deer. They’ve been known to eat small dogs quite close to home and recently a woman physically fought off a coyote to save her puppy. A woman in Cape Breton was killed by coyotes back in the fall of ’09, something I just couldn’t believe until I learned more about the local coyotes. They arrived in NB in the 1950’s so are not indigenous to this place. Of course they’re very well adapted and are thriving here now. There have been bounties on coyotes in the past to try and control their numbers when they were attacking livestock, but the more you kill, the more pups are born the following spring. Livestock people around here find that a guard dog (or llama) running with the herd is the best protection against coyote attacks.

Our roads
Roads in NB are atrocious. They were pretty bad back in the fall but now, after a winter of frost heaving, they are unbelievably bad! The worst thing isn’t just the roads themselves but the speed limits on these terrible roads and the fact that, no matter how high the speed limit, people will always try and drive faster! So imagine a narrow road with invisible lines, next to no shoulder and pitted with potholes deep enough to drown a SmartCar. Now put an 80 km/hr speed limit on that road and you are here! I laugh when I think of the exquisitely beautiful BC roads with their freshly painted lines, signs that tell you there’s a curve ahead and not a pothole to be seen, and they tell us to drive at only 60 km/hr on them! Occasionally out here you’ll see a sign indicating bumps ahead on the road – now that really makes me laugh, like, what were those things all over the road before and you mean it gets worse?

Cory had his first visit to the vet last week and got his shots. He is quite good in the car and was a little nervous at the vet’s but calmed down a lot once he started getting treats. We took him out to Moncton to visit the farmer’s markets today, then off to Magnetic Hill to see the tractor for sale. He stays in the back seat of the car and only tries to jump into the front seat when we leave, otherwise he seems pretty good. He is six months old now and weighs 43 lbs. He should end up at 55 – 60 lbs in weight, pretty much the same size as Libby, which is a good dog size. He’s calming down a lot and doesn’t chew near as much (what a relief!) and is truly becoming a good canine citizen! He has discovered the joy of eating goat poop and will follow the goats quite closely when we’re out in the woods, just waiting for a release of his favourite treat!

So the snow continues to melt and every day we see a little bit more of our fields. The drainage seems pretty good so far and the ploughed fields should dry and warm up pretty quickly if this weather continues. Of course we are told that snow on Easter Sunday is a regular occurrence here so we know that spring does not necessarily mean the end of winter! We certainly won’t have any trouble making use of this early spring, to whatever extent it occurs.

March 19, 2010

Keehay and I shoot the breeze at milking time

Home Alone

March 5, 2010

We have finally entered the month of March, the month that spring begins in, or at least the one the vernal equinox occurs in because “spring” as I define it may not start for another couple of months. March came in like a lion and the lion continues to roar, or is that just the sound of wind battering our little house? Windy Hill Farm is indeed well named! I came in from the barn yesterday morning after fighting my way through wind-driven snow and ice pellets, watching the puppy almost blow away a couple of times and wading through snow drifts up to my hips to read an on-line weather report that called this morning’s weather “a 40% chance of flurries”. I phoned my Mom and she was planning a trip to Moncton to join her fibre friends (spinners, knitters and weavers), saying that it didn’t look too bad where they were. Hmmm, do we live in some sort of strange and vicious micro-climate, a bubble of high winds and drifting snow and colder than anywhere else temperatures? Or does it just feel that way? I’m hoping this weather will reduce our mosquitoes in the summertime, but that’s just my persistent optimism!

Will is away on PEI for the ACORN (Atlantic Canada Organic Regional Network) annual conference. Yesterday was the berry symposium and today the conference starts in earnest. It sounds really interesting and I’m looking forward to reading the info Will brings home and hear his stories from the sessions he attended. Will left on Wed. and stopped at an organic potato farm to pick up seed potatoes for us and another farmer. He also went to Vessey’s, one of our local (and very long established) seed companies to pick up some equipment for starting this year’s vegetables. We actually didn’t buy seeds at Vessey’s, but from High Mowing Seeds in the US (all organic seed) and Hope Seeds, a small seed company in NB which sources most of its seeds from the Maritimes. Hope Farm is also organic and most of its seeds are certified organic or “organically grown”. For our seed order we started with Hope Seeds and where they didn’t have the varieties we wanted, moved onto HMS (located in Vermont so not too far from this growing climate) and picked up the last of our needs at Johnny’s Seed (located in Maine, closer yet but not all organic). The only seed we haven’t been able to get yet is broad bean seed but Will is attending Seedy Saturday at the conference and will try and find some Aquadulce or another good broad bean variety.

So I get the farm to myself for three days – whoopee! Except there’s a bit more work to do when there’s only one person – Will is a hard working guy – and I’m finding the daily chores take up more time than they usually do. Today was snow removal day; though the wind is still moving snow around and creating new drifts, I realized I’d need to start carving some routes onto the farm if I ever wanted to leave here (or have anyone visit) before spring thaw. Now our division of labour up till now had Will running the snowblower on the tractor and me doing the shoveling part (where the snowblower doesn’t go). So today was the first time I got to operate the tractor + snowblower. I have been driving tractors and operating farm equipment since I was 19 but I am always apprehensive the first time I operate something new. I also don’t have a lot of experience on this particular tractor, so was ready for a few surprises and some new learning experiences. My first experience came when I started the tractor (after it was plugged in to warm up for an hour) and realized I didn’t know where the PTO (power take-off) was located! I’d done some ploughing in the fall but ploughing doesn’t use the PTO, so I was fine with the levers that raise and lower equipment, plus all the parts that cause the tractor to go forward and back, but not the one that makes moving parts in equipment move.

The tractor started up just fine but the 5’ high snowdrift at the door would need to be blown away if I was to get out of the barn. I shut the tractor off when I realized I was gassing the goats and went into the house to consult the manual. Thank you Anne and Paryse for being so organized that we have all the manuals for everything on the farm (even the toaster!). Tractors are usually well labeled with all the functions of all the buttons, knobs and levers but on old tractors, these labels are often worn away to nothing but dark smears on the paint. Fortunately the manual told me everything: how to engage the PTO and how to cause the spout that snow blows out of to move from side to side. We’ll get into the importance of this second function later.

I think I did a pretty good job of clearing snow from the driveway, though some of the drifts were high enough to require some persistent backing and forthing, taking bites out of the drift until it was reduced enough to be able to plough right through. Moving the blowing spout is really important if you don’t want to re-snow the area you’d just cleared and it’s also important that you don’t blow your driveway snow onto the main road. In fact I think you can get into big trouble for that and I’m really hoping it blows away before the plough comes by and sees who messed up Hwy 115! It didn’t take long after the triumph of my first tractor+snowblower adventure to realize that the drifts were drifting back in much faster than I’d been able to remove them. I think I’ll be doing this again soon, even though the weather report is still reporting a slight chance of flurries!