Archive for June, 2010

June 21, 2010

The highly skilled coldframe construction team at work again!


June 21, 2010

The finished product with Will's finely crafted doors

June 21, 2010

Mom planting tomatoes

June 21, 2010

Freshly planted tomato beds with brand new dripline

June 21, 2010

Farm view from the east side

June 21, 2010

Sweet little Cory puppy

Jolly Farmers

June 14, 2010

It seems like summer has arrived, all in a rush, and the danger of frost is past (according to the seasoned gardeners that I’ve talked to) so the garden is being planted. Tomato seedlings look great and are definitely ready to go in the ground. I put corn in yesterday: Painted Mountain from Hope Seeds, which is a milling corn, and Fisher’s Earliest Sweet Corn from High Mowing Seeds, an organic open pollinated sweet corn for short growing climates. It won’t be the type of super sweet corn you take to market but one of those great old corn-flavoured corns that require you to put the water on and once it has almost boiled, you run to the field, harvest and run back, shucking as you go! The corn goes right into the pot as quick as possible and this preserves its sweetness. I pre-srouted the seeds and planted them in in a block, the two types of corn as far apart as possible to avoid cross-pollination.

Potatoes are doing really well and there is still no sign of potato beetle. We may just be spared them this year but I’m sure they will find us one day! Flea beetle are doing a number on some of the brassicas and the chard and beet seedlings. However most of the brassicas are doing really well. Onions from sets are doing really well but those transplanted from the seeds I started indoors are struggling. Critters are eating the roots – probably wireworm given that the land is newly ploughed. The leeks seem less effected but are growing slowly. Newly turned land offers a few challenges to veggie growers, the first of which is poor fertility. There is a lot of organic matter in the soil because of the amount of sod that was incorporated, and nutrients are used up in the break-down of this organic matter. This means fewer nutrients for plants so they grow more slowly and less vigourously and are more prey to pests. We limed the land with dolomite but it takes a while for soil pH to change so acidity is another challenge to plants, reducing the amount of nutrients they are able to take up into their systems. I’ll try some fish fertilizer on the onions and leeks and see if that gives them a bit of a boost.

The soil here is quite sandy and crusting, especially after a week of heavy rains, is a real problem. The first planting of carrots is up but the germination wasn’t great, probably due to the heavy crust on the soil surface. I’ve planted more carrots since as well as cilantro, dill, chard, lettuce and more spinach. I spread some composted horse manure, cultivated again and will plant cucumbers, zucchini, squash, melons and peppers in that area. The plan is to put down black plastic for those veggies, which also means we need some dripline and a system to feed water to them. Yes, still lots to do! Will has been spreading lime in the other fields and we are borrowing a spring-tooth harrow from a neighbor for our next cultivation. The recommendation from our local agronomist is to harrow rather than disc so that we drag the pieces of quack grass to the surface of the soil to toast in the sun, rather than just chop it up into lots of little rhizomes that grow into more quack grass.

Peter and Bert joined Mom, Dad, Will and I to cover the coldframe on a not too windy day a few weeks ago. The whole process went exceedingly smoothly – you’d almost think we knew what we were doing! It looks great and just needs the end doors to be complete. Will and I dug up the beds for the tomatoes and I’ll fertilize each plant as I put them in. After the doors, of course, will be the trellises to hold the plants as they climb. It just doesn’t seem to end for Will, the farm’s construction manager!

Our three Austrolorp chickens seem to be evolving into one hen and two roosters. Which is fine, we’ll have some rooster soup and leave the remaining two to develop a meaningful relationship! I’ve ordered the broiler chicks through our farming friend, Reiner, and they should arrive in a couple of weeks. The mobile pen is half done (the easy half) and I should be able to get it finished with a few hours of dedicated attention. It is a bit of a hybrid between Joel Salatin’s pen and one I saw described on the ATTRA website. Anyone who does anything agricultural should be acquainted with ATTRA – it has an amazing amount of information on sustainable farming methods and techniques. On the topic of useful information sources, I also have to mention the magazine “Growing for Market” which we get every couple of months. Will’s brother, Steve, gave us a subscription for Christmas and it provides oodles of information for small, organic growers of fruits, veggies and flowers.

On the goat note, we sadly lost one of our does last week. Pearl was never really 100% after her trans Canadian trip and went downhill after kidding in March. We did what we could be she just weakened steadily and then died. Her kids are old enough to fend for themselves and seem to be doing okay, though it will be hard for them when I have to separate the boy from his sister in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, buck kids are able to breed as early as 3 months of age and I don’t want any unplanned pregnancies (especially of the very young does) this year, so the boys will soon join Nick and Buckley in the bachelor pad.

McKees Mills had its annual Rhubarb Festival last weekend and it went very well. Local ladies bake rhubarb pies which are sold and the money goes to McKees Mills’ community group which maintains our community hall. They were originally trying to raise over $100,000 to rebuild the hall and then decided that their efforts would be better spent refurbishing it. So far over $30,000 has been raised and the provincial government will match that amount to fund the upgrades. The hall is small but there are lots of large halls around (Notre Dame, Bouctouche) and sometimes all you need is a small hall for those small events. So work will begin soon and the hall’s foundation, electrical wiring, plumbing and parking will all be improved.

Our merganser family stuck around for a week and then disappeared. The babies were too small to fly so I guess they just walked away to a better place, though its hard to imagine what could be better than our beautiful pond! There were still 16 young ones when I saw them last, which is an unusual survival rate for ducks in the wild. I really hope their disappearance wasn’t due to them becoming some predator’s lovely meal! The pond was looking very enticing on the last hot day we had and I think we need to build a raft to paddle into the centre and dive off of. Getting into the pond from the muddy edge is just not an option!

We had 5 wood ducks on our pond one morning a week or so ago and I’ve seen 4 bobolinks hanging out near the pond. I saw a black bear one afternoon while walking with Cory. He or she was on the rail trail, the path running through our farm and continuing almost all the way to St. Antoine, and I was walking towards it on my way home from our walk. I called out and suggested that the bear leave the trail and head into the woods and he/she complied! I talked to a neighbor who said they had seen a female black bear with two cubs in their field recently so it may have been her. He also said he saw a moose and calf on his farm not too long ago – something else to watch for!

The lilacs flowers are starting to turn brown and the honeysuckle is about to burst into bloom. Our pink and white rugosa roses are flowering energetically and the hummingbirds are still active. They’ll be very happy when the honeysuckle blooms. I’ve ordered some seeds from Richters Herbs including hyssop, a flower that is much loved by hummingbirds and is also an ingrediant in a herbal goat wormer recipe. The herbal wormer was written up in Small Farm Canada magazine (another great magazine!) and I thought I’d try it. It contains oregano, thyme, fennel and garlic, to name a few of the igrediants, and makes the whole barn smell like a pizzeria. The goats love it and lick their buckets clean on worming day. I added some wormwood as well – it’s a pretty potent dewormer and I thought the goats could use as much protection as possible in this new environment.

We are truly enjoying our farm: we love to watch the changes in vegetation as the seasons change and to record the birds and wildlife we see. The work is very rewarding is so different from my previous life. I have to say there is nothing like having your own farm; take a community/co-op farm lifestyle, multiply your enjoyment of it by 100 and you’ll get the feeling (maybe!) – it is quite remarkable and I am so happy we made the decision to buy our own farm. Yes, the work is hard but it is so much more satisfying when it’s your own place and you make your own decisions and deal with the consequences of your own actions. It is wonderful to see this place and know that – all forces being in our favour – we’ll be here for many years to come and be able to enjoy what we’ve built and planted. For now, we’re having way too much fun and I’ll enjoy every day we have here in our little slice of paradise.

June 1, 2010

Some little merganserlings

June 1, 2010

Mommy merganser and her brood

The Farm is Humming

June 1, 2010

Finally, some rain! Things had gotten quite dry over the last few weeks and I had to water the transplants more than once. Because we’re not properly set up for irrigation, watering the transplants consisted of running a 100’ hose to the garden and using it to fill a watering can which is then taken to each plant for watering. No, not terribly efficient and definitely not “farmy” but the best I could do for now. Nature is providing us with some natural irrigation in the form of rain which I do appreciate after lugging many cans full of water.

We have been getting lots of wind lately which I am actually beginning to like. What do I like about wind? Well, wind keeps the bugs away (mosquitoes and blackflies), and I think it is also responsible for the lack of flea beetles on the brassica transplants. Wind dries clothes on the line very quickly and even causes them to release themselves when they are done! Fortunately our prevailing wind blows away from the pond so we haven’t had to go fishing for undies yet. Wind also encourages a tidy farmyard because if you leave stuff lying around, it will blow away. Wind cools us on a hot day and is building strong stems on the tomato seedlings. Yes, wind is indeed my friend!

The potatoes, peas, salad turnips, spinach, broad beans and rapini are all up and the transplanted brassicas (cabbage, kale and broccoli) are all doing wonderfully. Weeds are starting to come up, mainly the ones that were chopped up when the garden was tilled that are eagerly sending up new shoots from their pieces of root: quackgrass, vetch, yarrow and dandelion. This is an interesting stage in our farm development: the first year after breaking ground. We will hopefully not be seeing too many perennial weeds in the garden after this year, at least if things go as planned. Our 3 ½ acres not planted to vegetables this year will be seeded to buckwheat and chickling vetch. The ploughed area has already been disced twice and rotovated once and I am waiting for the next flush of weeds before doing another discing. After that, another flush of weeds, and then I’ll rotovate once more before seeding the cover crop. This will probably be early July, the vetch should flower after 60 days, and then I’ll plough it all in. I am thinking the best plan from here will be to seed fall rye for a winter cover since rye is the best thing I’ve heard of for killing quack grass. We will see how this all works out. Meanwhile, while waiting for that next flush of weeds, we’ll pick up some more rocks and spread some dolomite.

My parents joined me in rock picking yesterday. Dad drove the tractor and Mom and I picked rocks and tossed them into the bucket. It was a good rock picking day: sunny but not too warm and just the right amount of breeze to keep bugs away. We picked for almost two hours and got about 1/3 of the field. If it doesn’t rain tomorrow (and the field isn’t too wet) we’ll pick some more. My parents are keen farm helpers and we are appreciating their help more than you can imagine. Dad cuts up lumber and helps in construction, Mom transplanted all my rhubarb for me and they both joined us, along with my aunt and uncle, Bert and Peter Dysart, to put up the coldframe. How lovely to have all this help and so much enthusiasm over what we are doing on the farm!

What do we do when not farming? Well a few weeks ago my dad came over and we went fishing on our pond! Dad brought his fly rod and cast a few flies while I fished with worms. We wanted to see what the fish looked and tasted like and we got that chance when my worms hooked a couple of brook trout. I kept one and let the other go for another time. They were both good sized fish, Dad reckoned probably about 5 years old, and really good eating. We haven’t done too much to manage the pond and the fish get most of their food from insects and worms in the natural environment. We toss them some fish food a couple of times/week mainly just because its fun to watch them jumping around. Anne and Paryse stocked the pond many years ago with brook trout and I’m pretty sure the fish have been doing a good job of maintaining their population since then. Our friend, Charles, has promised to jump into the pond some day when the weather is warmer and take a look at our fish population for us. I’d like to know how many there are: how many mature and how many small ones. I’d like to be able to figure out what a sustainable catch is and whether, in order to maintain our appetite for trout, we need to occasionally add some baby trout. I figure the fish in this pond are in a free range system. A conventional trout farming operation is more like a feedlot with all the feed brought in and water constantly cycled to remove wastes. A free range system consists of a pond holding the number of fish that can be maintained naturally. The fish hibernate at the bottom in the winter and then are active again in the summer. This is a great system, especially if it allows us a good few feeds of trout each year!

Will and I joined Charles, Sylvie and their son, Samuel to see Daniel Leger in concert in Bouctouche a few days ago. I will attach a link to Daniel’s website for those interested in know more about this wonderful singer and performer. He writes all his own music and sings about his family, Acadian culture, human rights issues and more. We met him when he showed up on our farm a few months ago, delivering mail. He was interested in the tiny house (actually one of the best ways of getting to know your neighbors in a new place is to own a tiny house!) and we showed it to him and had a great chat. He is interested in organics, community building and all kinds of good things so I think we’ll run into each other again some time.

A couple of hooded mergansers have hatched some babies somewhere nearby and they are currently enjoying our pond. There are two females and 16 ducklings so I assume they have consolidated their broods and are taking turns managing them. They are quite lovely to see and I hope they stick around for a while. There are so many things that eat baby ducklings, and they are also very prone to drowning and chilling so survival is tough. I usually walk around the pond in the mornings with Cory but we’ll stay away from that area for a while so the family doesn’t feel threatened and hopefully they’ll stick around.

Will is working on the coldframe and has the ends framed in and one end covered in plastic. We’ve been using an interesting product to treat the wood against rot called “Eco wood treatment”. It is made on Salt Spring Is. and is supposed to be nontoxic and provide a lifetime of protection against rot. Provincial parks all over Canada are using it on their wooden signboards, benches, etc. which we reckoned was some recommendation. Well, we’ll get back to you on this in 10 years and see where it’s at.

I’m giving a short presentation tonight to the Petitcodiac Watershed Society on environmental benefits of sustainable farming. We need to get a logo for our farm and cards printed up so that I can use these opportunities to advertise us and our wares. We’re hoping for about 30 CSA shares for next year and I’d like to have people thinking about us now, with next year in mind.

I’ve just finished reading Joel Salatin’s “Pastured Poultry Profits” – what an inspirational guy! He gives you the mechanics of creating a pastured poultry operation and also talks a lot about developing relationships with customers and how the pastured poultry system represents a whole new paradigm in food production. I got his book from the COG library. Anyone who is a member of COG (Canadian Organic Growers) can make use of their library service for free. Their book collection is extensive but their data search system is very poor so you need to know the author or title of a particular book rather than just going in and searching for “poultry raising” or something like that. It is still a great system and just needs a volunteer techie to tweak it a bit – maybe Will can help them out in the wintertime!

Joyous summer is on its way – enjoy it all!