Archive for January, 2012

Happy New Year!

January 3, 2012

At last, the long awaited-for update on Windy Hill Farm and its farmers! It has been a while, indeed, and I hope our regular readers haven’t given up on us altogether. It is a rainy day today and there is no snow in sight. The ground is still frozen and we have had a few small dumps of snow, but nothing like the last two years. I hope our perennials are okay – they are usually much happier under a nice blanket of snow for the winter. The strawberries, garlic and new apple trees are all well mulched with straw to protect them from this sort of weather; however the raspberries are bare this year and I hope it won’t do them any harm. We know the snow will arrive eventually and accumulate to its usual high level and we are ready for it: we’ve bought a new (second hand) snow blower! Will had been keeping his eyes open for a second hand Lucknow blower (a recommended make) larger than our old one Last year it was difficult to move the snow far enough to clear the high drifts so we knew we needed more power. Kijiji came through once again and we managed to find the blower we wanted at a good price and the buyer took our old one in trade. I tried it out to move a bit of snow while Will was away but it wasn’t a real test of its potential. We will know what it is capable of soon enough!

We have survived another holiday season and, other than a few extra pounds on our frames, things are more or less back to normal. Will and I both went away for short trips; I spent a week in Ottawa visiting friends and family and Will went to California for Christmas. My Ottawa trip was great: I visited some fiddling friends, an old friend from my Botswana days and my sister and her charming family. It’s nice to see different places and people but it’s always great to be back on the farm again. Will enjoyed his time in California, too – the weather was warm and sunny and he was able to visit his mother, brothers and aunt and uncle. Will’s brother, Steve and his wife, Jeanne also grow organic vegetables and run a CSA but on a much larger scale than us ( They serve about 800 customers, their season runs from March to November and they offer things like avocados in their boxes – wow! They also offer a flower CSA with organic flowers from Will’s cousin’s farm nearby. They recently bought a second farm and are putting up high tunnels for growing tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other hot season crops which their original farm (located near the coast) is not as well suited for.

Winter work on the farm these days consists mainly of planning for next year. I am working on our crop plan which is actually much harder to do this year than last because we now have so much more information to work with! Now, instead of taking educated guesses (okay, stabs in the dark) at planting times and quantities, I need to consult last year’s records to see what we did and how it worked. We’ll be planting a bit more land next year but not a lot more. We had thought we had 4 acres to work with but the most recent measurements have brought us down to 3.3. So next year’s crop will cover 1.65 acres, still plenty of land to meet our 50-60 full share CSA. I’m more inclined to start working on the livestock side and offer eggs, chicken and goat meat to our CSA customers rather than growing a larger vegetable CSA. However we’re also planning to put up some high tunnels next year and if they work for us, more the following year. This may enable us to grow more in the same small acreage and expand our numbers again in the future.

Our farm business develops slowly and organically as we work with our available resources: land and human energy. We’re not really limited on either since we can always plough more land, but because we’ve already made use of the best land, everything else will be of slightly lower quality. We can also expand our human resources by hiring labour, but this brings in a whole bunch of new issues and challenges and the farm business has to grow quite a bit to provide a third livelihood. For next year we’re planning on having an apprentice on the farm so we will learn a bit about how much we can do with extra hands, as well as share some of our knowledge and experience with keen young farmer wanna-bes. We like the idea of having partners on the land, running businesses that compliment ours and sharing equipment and markets. We need to think about our long term plan for the farm and for us since the day will come when we won’t be farming as actively as we are now.

I’m reading and enjoying Joel Salatin’s newest book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”. For anyone who doesn’t know Salatin he is a farmer from Virginia who raises pastured livestock: cattle, poultry and pigs. He writes and talks on pasturing livestock, sustainable agriculture and more and calls himself a Christian, libertarian, environmentalist, capitalist farmer. He writes well and brings a common sense perspective to so many things in this world that desperately need to be seen in their true silly light. I don’t agree with everything he says but I enjoy his writing and learn lots from his farming experiences. I am still trying to figure out how to incorporate chickens into our operation: laying hens and broilers. I think I will try and pasture broilers on our cover cropped veggie land this season and would love to build an egg-mobile to share pasture with the goats. Perhaps with some apprentice help on the veggie front we can explore our livestock potential more fully. Will is planning to get bee hives up and running this year, too – mini livestock!

The goats are doing well and enjoying the lack of snow, though it is hard to get them outside even when the weather is nice. I managed to take them for a little walk in the woods a few weeks ago but they seem too comfortable in the barn these days. I think I need to cut down on their hay so they’ll be more interested in finding other food sources like tree needles. The first kids are due in early March and the big bellies are just starting to show. I really look forward to seeing the Boer cross kids that come out of Freyja (3/4 Nubian) and I really want to find a Boer buck for next year. Our last two little boy kids from 2011 are in the freezer now and we ended up with about 70 lbs of meat and bone from them, not too bad considering their dairy parentage. We should get an even heavier kid next year with the injection of Boer genes plus the improved pasture we’ll be seeding this spring.

I learned something very interesting while visiting my sister in Ottawa: it is no faster or easier to make a basic cake from a mix than to make it from scratch. You still have to add eggs, oil and other liquids, grease the pan, wash the bowls afterwards, etc. Why would anyone want to make a cake from a mix and pay all that extra money, create all that extra packaging, consume those chemical preservatives and end up with something that doesn’t taste near as nice as the real thing? This is just a little rant inspired by Joel Salatin and I think I’ll leave you with it.