Jolly Farmers

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.

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3 Responses to “Jolly Farmers”

  1. Eileen Says:

    Condolences about Pearl. Hey, about time for a skype or something soon!!

  2. ej Says:

    You say: nutrients are used up in the break-down of this organic matter, but I understand that the nutrients are used, not used up and then next growing season they are released.

    • wjpedersen Says:

      That’s right. That’s why next year we will have wonderful soil for growing our crops while this year, it is a struggle with fertility. The soil organic matter this season is in the form of pieces of grass and weed (still in the process of being broken down) whereas next year, it will be glorious humus which will hold water and nutrients and make them available to plants.

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