Snowed In

I guess it’s time to write a little something for the blog, eh? We’ve made it through the holidays in one piece and are now in the throes of getting organized for the up and coming growing season. With just the two of us to manage our small veggie business, we need to make really good use of our time and energy. To facilitate this process, we invested in a book called “Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers” by Frederic Theriault and Daniel Brisebois and published by Canadian Organic Growers. In their book, Frederic and Daniel walk you through a set of very practical and important steps towards setting up a profitable veggie business. Okay, maybe profitability is a bit ambitious, but in order to make a living growing vegetables you need to plan to make a certain amount of money (livelihood) and then follow the steps required to achieve that income. Sounds pretty simple, eh? Well, I recall my first year growing vegetables involved none of this sort of planning at all. In fact, we just went out and planted stuff and hoped to sell it and then hoped to have cash in our pocket at the end of the season. We did eventually manage to make a living but it took a few years.

My father, when I told him of our planning process, said “don’t you just want to make as much money as possible?” and my reply was that I didn’t want to work any harder than I absolutely had to to make a living! However, we will probably end up doing exactly what my father suggests: make as much as we can and this is what we’ll live on. If we make less than our ideal, we live a bit tighter, and if we make more, then we have a few luxeries (like getting to change my fiddle strings more than once a year!). Part of our planning also included keeping track of all our living expenses in 2010 so now we can create a budget for all our non-farming expenses, as well. Of course we are growing and storing most of our own food so we’ll have a smaller food bill in 2011. As well, joining a buying group to buy bulk quantities of other supplies (organic flour, sugar, peanut butter, etc.) will reduce our food costs a bit, too. Most other costs (hydro, phone, firewood, insurance, dog and catfood, gas for the car) are pretty hard to reduce but we’ll tighten where we can.

Will is putting our crop planning information into a database. COG has copies of spreadsheets that you can download from their website, but Will is a database guy and reckons they will work better for us. The goal is to reduce the number of times you have to enter the same numbers, so a database takes one set of numbers (ie. Crop yields) does the calculation (yield/bed foot -> seeds planted/foot -> number of seeds to order) and keeps track of all this information so that next year, if we want to plan for twice as many carrots as we had this year, we put in our yield goals and the database tells us how much seed to buy. Sounds like way too much fun, eh? Well it is for a techie like Will!

We are also in the midst of marketing our CSA. We sent information out to friends and other contacts in the area, asking them to send it on into their network of friends and contacts. After 3 days of this we already have 11 people signed up! We’ve posted our information on the ACORN website and NB’s Buylocal site and are considering joining Really Local Harvest (Recolte de Chez Nous), a local marketing co-op, as well. We will post some notices around St-Antoine, Bouctouche, Cocagne and some venues in Moncton too. It is quite exciting to see it all coming together so quickly. I look forward to meeting our new CSA subscribers. We’ll have a farm get-together in the spring, probably May, and invite all our subscribers out to see the place, meet the farmers and generally connect with the farm in their lives!

We are in the midst of another snow storm today and Will is out on the tractor, making inroads into snow removal. I think I’ve already shovelled more snow than I did all winter last year! It just seems to keep on coming down and the piles of accumulated snow are getting quite deep. Will has gone through two shear pins on the snow blower already but otherwise, our equipment seems to be working well. Cory is totally undaunted by the snow, even though he is often leaping through drifts that almost completely bury him! Our goal every day is to get him out, running around, so he is tired by the end of the day. Well the result of our long walks through deep snow is that we now have a Super Puppy with the strength and endurance of an elite triathlete, while we end up exhausted at the end of each day! Super Puppy also needs to eat large quantities of expensive dog food to maintain his superior physique – I wonder if there’s a better way than this to deal with an energetic puppy? At least we have lots of goat meat in the freezer to supplement the commercial dog food. We’ve been cutting the meat from larger pieces and grinding it into goatburger, with Cory getting to eat the meaty bone remains. It’s good for his teeth and jaws, too, something else an active puppy needs!

We sent off for our organic certification forms, so should be dealing with that soon. We also finished our Environmental Farm Plan and had it approved, so we can start applying for cash soon. One of our winter construction plans is to build a small lean-to coldframe structure to start our seedlings. We were originally planning to do this in the big coldframe but soon realized that getting power and water out there in March (we’ll start some seeds in Feb. even) will be difficult. So now we’ve identified a nice, south-facing, sheltered location along the side of the livestock barn to build a small propagation area. We’re planning to bend some galvanized metal pipe, fix it to the barn wall and then cover with plastic – very simple. Inside we’ll have a wooden bench with a heating cable on it and it will also be under a small plastic-covered tunnel. This should be enough to keep things from freezing in the coldest nights and hopefully get our planting started early so that when the soil is ready, plants are ready to go in. The big coldframe will be planted with early veggies: onions, spinach, raab, radish and lettuce for the first CSA boxes, leaving room down the sides to plant the tomatoes in late May. Once the tomatoes start to grow, the early veggies will be finished and removed and the tomatoes take over. Pretty slick, eh? Stayed tuned for more up to the minute, exciting farm developments!

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3 Responses to “Snowed In”

  1. Gary Davis Says:

    Yes, very slick and especially if it works! 🙂 Good to read your blog once more. Take care. Talk soon. 🙂

  2. Gary Davis Says:

    Alyson, Every time I comment on this blog I continue to receive messages from the ‘Blog’ owner about “Do you really want to do this and if you do you must do this and the other thing.” Every message I have sent I have done what they asked and I still get the same dumb messages. Can you tell them to clean up their act or tell me what I should be doing to clean up mine. If I comment on your blog and am registered why are they asking me the same questions every time? I have clicked “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” and now for the first time, I have done this: “Subscribe to this site by email”. Maybe that will work. 🙂

  3. Kathi Dunphy Says:

    Hi Alyson : Enjoying reading your blog! I market garden in St Martins Nb. I’m beginning to despair about all this continuing snow putting us later and later in the gardens. I have been learning a lot from Eliot Colemans “Four Season Harvest”, and this is the second winter we have been eating greens from our small cold greenhouse. There is a plastic covered tunnel over the bed within our recycled glass house which keeps the plants happy despite occasional freezes. This spring I’m putting up a 30 foot long, 7 ft high tunnel, as used by Johnnys selected seeds. Hoping everything comes together for the farmers market a few of us are trying to establish in the village. At this point I sell in summer/ fall to 2 local restaurants and roadside. We raise our own layers and meat hens also. Lots of pics if you want to have a look at the blog. Cheers!
    Kathi

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