The End of Another Season

It’s a cold, sunny Saturday and we are just back from the Dieppe Farmer’s market. We haven’t been setting up to sell for the past few weeks but have been going in every Saturday to drop off CSA veggies to the 10 or so people who pick up at the market. We wait in the parking lot with a flag on our nondescript little grey car and, so far, everyone has managed to find us and get their veggies each week. Will and I both go so we can spell each other off, one person stays in the car and the other gets to go into the market and shop and socialize. It’s a great market and today I came away with some smelts (first of the season!), yogurt (goats are drying up) and goat cheese (ash ripened Valencay type). Will picked up eggs, a cup of coffee and two amazing cinnamon sticky buns from one of the bakers. I bring my knitting and am quite content, waiting in the sun-warmed car, listening to the radio, knitting and chatting with the people picking up their veggies.

We are coming to the end of our CSA season and I think we will miss putting those bags of veggies together! It has gone better than we could have hoped for in our wildest dreams and I think our CSA customers are happy, too. We have sent around a link to a survey, organized by ACORN for all interested CSA farms in the Maritimes, so hopefully we’ll get some feedback to help us do even better next year. We’ve had lots of inquiries about getting in for next year from this year’s customers, which is nice, and we have a waiting list for next year, too. Of course not everyone from this year will be able to, or want to, sign up for next year and we know those on the waiting list may have found another CSA farm, but for now it looks good to increase our membership for 2012.

I am excited about next year’s CSA already, planning our crops based on this year’s successes and failures and thinking of all the neat things we can offer in 2012. I want to go over this year’s records so we can be more accurate in planning quantities; this year a lot of our plantings were guesses, some of which worked perfectly (carrots) and some not so great (beets), though most of our crop shortages were due to insect or disease damage or poor sizing up due to crowding or poor soil nutrition. One of my important fall jobs (and the one I seem to be able to put off most consistently) is to get soil tests done in each of the fields and a separate one in the coldframe. We may have some specific nutrient deficiencies that need to be addressed. Usually my approach is to feed the soil with lots of good manure, compost, organic material, organic fertilizers and green manure crops and assume that the healthy soil will support plant growth. However there are a few particular nutrients, boron for example, which can cause major crop yield reductions if they are deficient and sometimes you just have to add a bit of boron to get things working for you.

We managed to get the garlic planted by the end of October and I put in the same amount of cloves as last year as well as an extra 120 bed feet (4 rows) of bulbils. Bulbils are the tiny little garlic cloves that form at the top of the plant if you don’t remove the scapes. The bulbils will give us green garlic for sending out in early CSA boxes and small bulbs if we leave them till the tops die down. They will eventually form full-sized garlic bulbs after another year or two of planting and growing out. I planted later than last year because the weather has been so warm, and it has continued to stay warm pretty well up until now. Last Friday was a gorgeous, sunny 15 degrees – not at all like a typical November in NB but certainly well appreciated! It’s supposed to be fairly mild again this week and then temperatures look to be dropping to more seasonal norms from then on. It’s been a reprieve for the season, which started late with a cold spring and early summer, partly for us who are still working outdoors in it and partly for the vegetables that have continued to grow well into November. I was glad I left the carrots in the ground because they grew quite a bit since mid October (the date we picked them last year), and I dug the last of them on Friday. Brussels sprouts weren’t very impressive back in October when I picked them for the Thanksgiving CSA, but since then I’ve been able to pick twice more and each time they improve in quality and flavour. I’m hoping we’ll get a few more for ourselves for Christmas dinner, though I may need to dig them out of the snow when the time comes!

I’m pretty much organized for my trip to Ottawa in two weeks and Will managed to find a cheap seat on a flight to LA for Christmas. We were amazed at the low cost of flights, especially flying out of Moncton and double especially for during the Christmas season. I was sort of looking forward to a train journey but the cost of a berth on the train would have made the journey almost twice as expensive as flying and I don’t have the flexibility of youth to enable me to spend long journeys sitting up in coach any more. Flying enables me to spend more time with family and friends so I’m biting the bullet and going by air.

The organic greenhouse course last week was amazing and I learned lots. The course was in French and we had professional translation but I think I still missed a good 20%. Another good reason to learn French! However we have all the slides and lots of good reference material, plus it was great to meet other farmers growing in greenhouses and coldframes. It was geared more towards heated structures for year-round growing but much of the information was still relevant. Unfortunately there was too much information to cover in the short time we had in the classroom and one of the topics I was most interested in (water management) got left out. Perhaps we’ll have him back again to continue where he left off. The workshop was on a Wednesday, CSA pickup day, and Will took care of all the packing, setting up and dropping off. Everything went without a hitch and next week I get to do that job as Will is at a farm business self-assessment workshop in Moncton all day Wednesday. At this time of the year it is a one person job and it will be fun to do the Moncton/Dieppe run for once.

We finally got the apple trees I’d ordered back in 2010. It was a bit of a challenge: we’d ordered some particular varieties of zone 4 heirloom storage type apple trees from an orchard in Ontario and were expecting them in the spring. Early in the spring of 2011 we got an email saying they couldn’t fill our order and then no further communication. I waited until summer and finally contacted them again to find out what was going on. I’d sent a deposit (over $100) and really wanted to know whether I’d get the trees, or my money back or something. My emails went unanswered and for a while I thought they’d gone out of business, but then I checked their website and it was up to date so I phoned and left a message, which wasn’t returned, and then phoned again and actually got hold of somebody. To make a long story short, they finally sent the trees and now here it is November, we have 7 little apple tree whips and I’m not quite sure whether to store them in the cooler for the winter or plant them out now. I’ve consulted two orchardists and each one has given me different answers. I’ve just left a phone message with a third and hopefully I’ll get some tie-breaking information. The people who sent the trees apologized for the communication breakdown and even waived the shipping fee and the balance of payment for the trees, which I really appreciate. However I don’t think I’d do business with them again, at least not from a distance. The trees are some varieties that we grew in BC that I really liked (Belle de Boskoop, Liberty and Blenheim Orange) and some that sounded interesting (Salome, Pomme Gris and Keepsake). I really hope they do well here – I’d like to have apples for us and for the CSA, especially for the late season CSA when you want to send something that’s not a root vegetable or a brassica.

I’m hoping all the goats are bred now. They were bred a little later than last year so kidding season will be a bit later, too. The advantage to this is that the weather will be a bit warmer and the goats will get to go out on grass a bit earlier. Last year kidding started in mid February and the goats were barn-bound until well into March because of the heavy snow accumulation. The barn felt really crowded and I could sense a real collective caprine sigh of relief when those bouncy little babies were finally able to get outdoors and run around a bit. This year we sent our girls to our neighbor’s place to visit his very handsome Boer buck. We had hoped to pick the buck up and bring him here for the season but he was not tame enough to let us get close enough to catch him. Bringing the girls to him was a bit of a stress on the girls but we are 3 for 3 so far for successful breedings so it seems to have worked. It is a real pain, though, to have to catch them in heat, load them in a truck and drive down the road. I think I’ll look for our own buck for next year though keeping a buck also has its own challenges.

I managed to plough up part of the goat pasture for spring seeding of some good pasture grasses. The pasture is pretty much all weed now: goldenrod, bedstraw, yarrow, dandelion, plantain and some red clover. Goats eat a wide variety of plant species and they do enjoy the weeds, but they also need something of a greater food value. I’ll plant a grass/legume mix and overseed with a cereal grain to give a bit of soil cover and keep the weeds down while the perennial grasses get established. Fall ploughing is great because it means there’s one less job to do in the spring and also the freezing and thawing that happens over winter helps to break up the soil that we’ll be cultivating in spring. I wasn’t able to plough as large an area as I’d hoped because tree roots extended way beyond I would have expected. The plough could rip through the roots but kept getting caught with roots, sod and soil and it made a real mess of the area. So we’ll still have lots of weeds for the goats to feast on even once we get some good grasses established!

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