Dreaming of a White Easter

Will winter never end?

I just read my blog posting from April 2 last year and decided to write down some of this year’s happenings on the same date. What a difference, weather-wise! Last year there was a snowstorm on April 1 which deposited over 8” of snow on top of the old snow that hadn’t melted away. This year there is still some snow in the woods but the fields are clear and drying fast. I planted carrots in the coldframe last week and have been digging weeds out along the edges today. I also transplanted some bunching onions in the coldframe along the far side. We have lots of onions, leeks and shallots in trays this year and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to squeeze them all into our fields. Germination was excellent and the soil mix seems to be supporting good growth and colour. I planted the alliums into open trays rather than 128 cells this time, mainly to take advantage of a greater soil (and therefore plant nutrient) volume. The alliums stay in their trays much longer than other transplants because they’re started so much earlier, so the more soil for them to feed off of, the better.

A few other things I’ve done differently this year: I started the brassicas later than last year and will also be starting chard and lettuce later, too. The peppers, ground cherries and celeriac I started a bit earlier because I started them in the lean-to greenhouse rather than on the porch. Last year and the year before we had a little start area Will had created for the crops that need lots of heat to start. This year we divided the heated tables in the lean-to into two zones: warm (over 20 degrees) and cooler (just a few degrees above zero). All the newly planted trays go in the warm area until seeds germinate and then they move into the above freezing area. This is just the cold tolerant crops, though (alliums and brassicas), the peppers and celeriac stay in the warm area a bit longer. The exciting news is that the peppers and ground cherries have germinated so the new system works – yay! Soon the alliums will go to an unheated area and will have to put up with some below freezing temperatures. Hopefully this won’t be till another couple of weeks so the night temperatures will be a bit higher. We have 50% more heated table this year, too, as well as a state-of-the-art electrical thermostat system maintaining the two different temperatures plus a warning system that phones us up if the temperature goes too high or too low! We also have a smoke alarm since we are still using heating cable that isn’t really recommended for this use!

I’m back again a week later and what changes a week brings! It is Easter Sunday and we have about 8” of snow on the ground as it continues to snow and blow outside. I’m sure it will all be gone in the next few days and it is good to have this contribution towards soil moisture and nutrients, as a snowfall helps bring nitrogen into the soil, too. We removed the vertical supports from the big coldframe a few weeks ago but snow isn’t accumulating on top so it is no big concern. We did, however, come this close to taking off our snow tires and I’m glad we decided to wait a bit! The goats are locked in today which they are handling quite well considering that we now have six bouncing babies in the barn. Gem had a single girl kid and Gaia gave us all female triplets. Gem’s kid is a Boer cross also multicoloured and floppy eared but with a slightly less fluffy coat than Ruby’s girls. Gaia’s kids all look the same: brown with dark points, and will most likely darken to the same colour as their mother as they age. They are all doing well though a cold bug has been going around the barn and a few of them have had snotty noses. They seem to have all fought it off and are doing well after their disbuddings, too. I’m getting milk from Ruby and Gem once a day (Gaia has enough demands on her with triplets so I’ll leave her alone!) and we are enjoying yogurt and milk again. My Cheese Team was over on Friday and we started a batch of Crottins which are still in their early stage. I got to use the pH meter and it really does bring a whole new element to cheese-making. I think of all the trial and error of my first few cheese-making years and I think we can reduce the trial years to weeks with a pH meter and better record-keeping.

We had some crazy weather a few weeks ago when daytime temperatures went up to 27 degrees Celsius. It lasted for three days and threw everyone and everything into a state of chaos: I just get used to getting dressed in the morning without long underwear and then it’s back to seasonal highs of 4 degrees! Fortunately a good, thick covering of straw buffered soil temperature and kept the garlic and strawberries from thinking it was time to pop out of the ground. The young apple whips and raspberries seem to be doing okay, too, so we should be fine as long as we stay away from any more of these extremes. Unfortunately things haven’t gone so well for maple syrup producers. The warm weather upset the maple trees’ spring schedule to the point where there was a very small sap run which ended prematurely and then no second run. The trees are budding out now so the sap has settled and will not fill buckets after all. We will see a shortage of syrup all over since almost all of Canada experienced that crazy weather. I hope the syrup producers will be able to stay in business throughout these hard times though most of them have other income sources, too.

We’ve been seeing lots of bird life around here these days. The milder than usual winter encourage snow buntings to stick around longer than their usual short sojourn in NB and we enjoyed their sparkling, flitting presence for many weeks. There was such little snow cover they were able to feed on seed heads of clover and other weeds and we often saw them swooping around the fields in big, organized flocks. Robins are out in full force now as well as starlings and sparrows and we have a few red-winged blackbirds hanging around the pond, looking for mates. Ducks and Canada geese stop over on our pond as well as they check out the terrain. I know Canada geese are an agricultural pest in some places and I don’t know whether they could be for us. I guess if they decided to stomp around on top of our little plants or eat up our seedlings we wouldn’t be impressed. Then we would have to call on the critter chasing talents of Cory to patrol the field!

Will has been working on building bee hives, with my Dad’s help, and is also building a small chicken coop in the barn. We decided to buy 10 laying hens for our own and family and friends’ eggs, just to get us started as we still haven’t created a plan for a larger scale chicken operation. The coop will be in a corner of the wood-working shop that is attached to the barn and the hens will have a little door that lets them share pasture with the goats. I think it should work well and I look forward to having our own eggs. Now we just need to find an organic laying ration or, even more exciting: create our own!

Will has managed to bend all the hoops for our high tunnel and has removed the really big rock in the area where the high tunnel will be built. He also bent some galvanized steel fence rail to make a cover for our hardening off area. We have an area surrounded by lattice fence (wind protection) for hardening off seedlings but last year, found we often had to bring trays in when a heavy rain threatened. Yes, we do live in the land of climatic extremes! The cover will protect seedlings in trays from heavy rain or hail and still allow them to experience the outdoor daytime and nighttime temperatures for hardening off. It seems that there is an endless list of little projects to do on the farm, each one bringing us nearer to a fully efficient farm operation, as if there is such a thing! There are still a few small things to do to prepare the tiny house for Sarah’s arrival in May: dig a grey water area and build the compost bins for the composting toilet. I am still collecting kitchen ware and other bits and pieces to fill in the details needed to make the tiny house a fully equipped living space. Soon we will have our apprentice on-farm for the season and then we’ll really need to be organized.

I’m still teaching at CSNN, though just one evening a week and will be done in two weeks. I’m also still having French classes with Francine and finding that I’m starting to understand and am able to communicate a bit in French! It’s actually easier to speak than to understand because when we speak, we choose the words we know. Of course it is a slow, laborious process for me to express thoughts in French but Francine is very patient. I’m borrowing some books of hers: a compilation of comic strips called “Mafalda” which keeps me close to my dictionary and occasionally entertained (I don’t always get the humour even if I understand the strip!). I haven’t tortured any of my friends yet with attempted French communication but I phone my Mom up every now and then and assault her with my efforts. She is also very patient! The other big news is that New Brunswick will very soon have its own Slow Food convivium. I have joined a few others who had been interested in Slow Food for a while but just needed that critical mass of interest to pursue it. We had our first meeting last week in Cocagne and over 20 people from the area attended. That’s not bad when you consider that there’s only about 32,000 people in all of Kent County! We will soon register with Slow Food international and then figure out the sort of things we want to do as a group. There are so many things already going on in the community that are very “Slow Food” such as an annual local food breakfast and a primary school that sources all its cafeteria food locally, has student gardens and teaches kids food prep. There are also already many people who have food-based community celebrations, “local food” days, restaurants that support local and individuals who raise heritage livestock and crops. Really, South Eastern NB has been doing the “Slow Food” thing for a while now and we are just now in the process of formalizing it and giving it an internationally recognized name. We will probably also try and send some people to Italy for Terra Madre this year. I went in 2006 and gave a bit of a slide show at our first meeting, just to get people excited. I think it worked as interest is growing every day.

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2 Responses to “Dreaming of a White Easter”

  1. edith schwartz Says:

    Still love reading your blog, Alyson. All the best with the season as it is right now. I’m heading outside soon to the garden. The weeds are having a love fest. Time to break up the partay! : ) P.S. Are you getting much fiddling in ? Hope so.

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