Archive for August, 2012

Still Farming …

August 18, 2012

Here I am again and overdue for a blog posting. We have had a very dry summer for NB but the last few weeks have been humid and rainy, lots of thunder and lightening and still high temperatures (27 degrees on average). I will enjoy some cooler, drier weather when it comes and we are trying to get some of our winter cover crop in the ground, too, also requiring a bit of soil drying for cultivation. Our season is going really well and we’re getting much higher yields this year than last. It looks like we’ll have so many storage crops (potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, celeriac, squash, onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, cabbage) that we may consider extending our CSA season a little bit. We’ll have to see how everything looks by November and then make a decision and I am sure we’ll get lots of takers! Of course a lot of those yields will depend on the type of fall we get: if we have a long, mild fall then we’ll definitely do well though we could always get an early freeze and snowfall, too. One of the joys of farming is never knowing what Mother Nature will throw at you!

So many of our crops are doing much better this year than last and we can attribute this to a better growing season (last year’s was one of the worst in many memories), better soil fertility and more experience on our part. This year we also used a better potting mix and this has also contributed to better production in those early planted crops like onions, leeks and shallots. We have started harvesting our storage onions for the CSA though they haven’t dried down yet. We are getting huge onions, at least one over 2 lbs, and I hope they will still store well! We just harvested our garlic last week and it is curing in the hayloft now. The bulbs are much larger than last year’s and we also harvested the garlic grown from bulbils which are in the form of many small rounds (no cloves) of about an inch in diameter. We’ll plant these, too, though I think they’ll make slightly smaller bulbs next year than the clove plantings. This is a low cost way of increasing our seed garlic because it allows us to sell more of the valuable bulbs.

One of the crops that haven’t done as well as we’d hoped are cucumbers which have been decimated by the striped cucumber beetle and the disease they carry: bacterial wilt. We planted them in the new high tunnel and trained them to grow up a string rather than leave them to sprawl on the ground. We hoped the tunnel and training would reduce beetle damage and it did, for a little while, and we managed to harvest some very nice early cucumbers (Piccolino from High Mowing Seeds). However the pruning that accompanies training for vertical growth probably increased the spread of disease and we now have almost no living cucumber plants in the high tunnel. When you consider the extra work that goes into training and pruning the vines, I think I’m inclined to grow the plants outdoors on black plastic next year and save the high tunnel for other crops. Our peppers don’t seem to be yielding as high in the tunnel as the ones we grew outdoors last year though we harvested peppers a good 3 weeks earlier than last year. We have been getting a lot of earwig damage, especially in the purple peppers, and it makes you wonder if they think the purple ones are plums? We are growing an orange pepper, Oranos, which is really doing well and our first orange peppers are ready to be harvested. I think I would grow these ones again in the high tunnel but may move the green and purple ones outdoors to plant on black plastic next year.

Our tomatoes in the coldframe are doing all right but not quite what I’d hoped for. The greenhouse hybrids are doing much better than the beefsteaks but I’ve had to prune off almost all the leaves due to grey mould so I don’t think we’ll get a huge overall harvest. We also get a lot of losses due to uneven fruit ripening which is caused by too much heat in the coldframe. This bothers me because I know this didn’t happen to the tomatoes grown on our farm in the same conditions in BC and the BC summers were much sunnier and hotter than NB’s. So why is it such an issue here? We had trouble with blossom end rot as well and saw some leaf damage due to drought stress so perhaps poor watering practices had something to do with ripening as well. We had been irrigating for a couple of hours each day every two days and switched to every day once we started seeing this damage. We’ve never had really good tomatoes here in NB and I think we need to do some major overhauls in our coldframe. Will and I have been talking about it and we’ve decided that we won’t grow tomatoes in the coldframe next year but, instead, take out the trellising and grow early greens for the farmer’s market (we’ll have rhubarb, too, to sell), then a cover crop, then late greens for the CSA, then a winter cover. The following year (2014) we’ll put tomatoes in again but on plastic mulch to help prevent grey mould (usually a late season problem but hit much earlier this year). Hopefully the cover crops will help build soil organic matter and this, plus the plastic mulch, will help hold moisture in the soil. The coldframe was built in our first year and never got the cover crop treatment that our other fields got so I reckon the time has come: we need to show that soil some love and stop treating it like nothing more than a growing medium!

We are enjoying great potato yields this year and have found the world’s greatest potato variety: Carola. We got this seed from Good Spring Farm near Fredericton and found it to be very early (the first to sprout), with very vigorous growth (important to out-grow the potato beetles), high yielding, low disease and about the tastiest potato I’ve ever had. It’s also a good storage potato so we’ll enjoy it all winter long. We’ll keep our own seed for next year because the farm we bought it from is suffering from low yields due to drought and can’t guarantee seed. I think it will be okay to keep our own seed for just the one year but after a while, disease can build up. The fact that the Carolas yielded so well in a dry year (we don’t irrigate that field) is an indication that they can do even better in a wetter year and I think we’ll stick with this variety for now. One variety we’ll never grow again is Pink Fir Apple Fingerling. It is a sad, lumpy little potato, not near as interesting as its name! It was slow to sprout so suffered from a lot of potato beetle damage and we ended up having to mow down the tops before the potatoes reached any decent size. We dug them all up to send off to our full shares (curing would have been a bad move because there’s no way you could have peeled those things!) and got about 50 lbs of potatoes from 200 feet of bed. Just to compare, the Carolas are yielding over 1 1/2 lbs per bed foot. Oh, and the Pink Fir Apple Fingerlings didn’t even taste that great!

Sarah, our hard working apprentice, is away next week and part of the next so we’ll need to organize ourselves to work without her. Fortunately we are pretty much on top of the weeding and can take lots of time to harvest and at this time of the year, the harvest isn’t so time consuming as in spring when we pick lots of greens. We are also getting a lot of help from volunteers. My parents still come out a couple of times a week and help out washing produce, weighing, bagging and delivering to our Cocagne CSA drop-off. Mom picks potato beetles during the season which is a huge help, and does some weeding, too. We’ve also had Carla who is a new arrival to the area, recently immigrated from the Netherlands with her husband. Carla comes from a vegetable/greenhouse growing background so has the knowledge and experience and really enjoys the work. We give her extra veggies (she’s also a CSA customer), eggs and goat cheese in thanks for the hours of field work and if our business ever is able to support it, she’s the person I’d hire! Rosa is a lovely lady, also helping out for a veggie share each week. We met Rosa through my Mom (they sing together in the church choir) and she is retired after many years working all over the world in Canada’s diplomatic corps. She grew up in this area (one of her brothers – she has 13 siblings – was our priest in Dieppe) and has lots of great stories to tell, which are always fun to hear as we work our way through the weeds!

The goats are doing well and we’ve managed to sell all the kids I’d wanted to this year. We also got our hay in the barn though I’m not very happy with the quality. I would like to get some more bales of good second cut but I don’t know how many farmers will have second cut this year after such a dry summer. I’ll ask around at the closest dairy farms and see if we get lucky. Meanwhile we still get milk and make cheese (I’m making feta today) and everyone seems happy. The newly seeded pasture is okay but quite weedy. I mowed it down once after the goats had a chance to eat everything they could. Hopefully the perennial grasses will take hold early in the spring to outgrow the lamb’s quarters that were this year’s dominant weed. The weed I’m trying to overcome is bedstraw, a poor feedstuff and a spreading monster of a weed that covers most pasture around here. I’ll plough under the second patch of goat pasture this fall and seed some more pasture grass again next year. Hopefully this will give the goats something to chew on for a few years to come. I did some experimenting with rotational grazing this year on the newly planted stand but need to work out a better way of setting up the electric fence. It became a real chore to move the fence and allow the goats more graze and I know I need to make it more efficient if I’m going to continue using rotational grazing. It’s a lot of work and I don’t know how much the goats appreciate it, however I think it’s worth it for the milk, meat and manure.

Eva and her cousin are doing the market today and I’m finding our little co-op to be working really well. Our goals were to sell more produce by having a more full and varied stall (due to more farms participating) and also to spread out the workload by sharing the marketing job. Well, we seem to be exceeding these goals beyond my wildest dreams. I love having every second Saturday “off” (as much as it’s “off” on the farm!) and our sales are already way up from last year, both on an individual and a stall level. We have a better location this year, too: right on the pathway to the market’s back doors. We have customers who knew us from last year and found us and even more who are discovering us every Saturday. We are finding that the term “organic” is resonating with people, more than it did even three years ago when we first arrived, and we are happy to fill that niche. Our stall is gorgeous with a wide variety of vegetables, plus herbs and herb plants. It’s no longer a one person market so we either go on our own and Sarah meets us there, or Will goes out first to unload and setup while I stay on-farm, finish chores, and then arrive at the start of the market at 7:00. Eva and Alain had been working together since Eva’s mom is visiting and can take care of the kids at home. Ginette, the third farmer in our group, contributes by delivering our veggies to the restaurant in Shediac. We’ll get together and talk about how it all worked out this winter but I get the feeling everyone else is as happy with it as we are. No, things don’t always go smoothly but I find our partners are very easy-going people and their attitude rubs off: don’t sweat the small stuff and rejoice in the positives of the system we have going.

Will and I haven’t been doing too much else other than farming though Will has managed to get to the beach a couple of evenings a week during the hottest days of summer. We did get away one Sunday and biked a trail we’d been planning to, between the arboretum in Bouctouche and the Dune Park. It’s only 12 km one way and a very nice well maintained trail going through the wooded parts of peoples’ properties. We got to the dunes and Will went for a swim (the water is really cold there!) and then we headed back. It’s hard to fit anything else into our lives other than farming and sometimes I’m just too tired to contemplate doing much, even if we do have a little window of freedom. I know that we have all winter to recover, though, and to enjoy doing different things than the summer allows. I’m really looking forward to trying out my new (second hand) cross country skis this winter and I’ll start taking more French classes to try and work on this challenging language. For now, though, farming continues and there is much to do. Till next time ….