Archive for October, 2012

Fall Colours

October 25, 2012

Autumn has arrived and the trees are in full, glorious colour, though the weather is still nice. We have been having warm, sunny weather these last few days and I was in my t-shirt on Thursday and Friday. I did not expect such great weather when I came out to NB – though my childhood memories are hazy I do recall lots of frosty weather by this time! We managed to get our garlic planted this week, a couple of weeks earlier than last year but still, I think, good timing. We managed to get some straw from a neighbour up the road and covered the planting the next day. We put in about 350 feet (3 rows) of my favourite type of garlic: the purple type that came from Glen Valley Farm in BC. We added another 35 feet (4 rows as an experiment) of the porcelain garlic we bought out here (not many cloves/bulb so not an efficient planting garlic), then a few feet of rounds (the product of bulbils planted last year) and a few feet of small cloves (the product of the large bulbils planted last year). The final few feet were the smallest rounds and cloves planted closer together for green garlic in the spring. I’ve been wondering whether a 4 row/4 foot bed would work, as long as the soil fertility and moisture are good, so am interested to see how this planting works out. We will have a lot more garlic next year than this year but I don’t think we’ll have any trouble selling it. We sold at least 10 lb garlic/week at the farmer’s market in Dieppe and stopped selling it a few weeks ago when we realized our supplies were running short. We are still thinking about a year-round presence at this market next year and if we do plan to stick around, garlic will be something to make our presence there worthwhile.

We finally managed to get out for a visit to Nature’s Route Farm in Pointe de Bute, NB, last Monday. We had been promising Sarah this visit for a long time but aimed for a time when we (and they) weren’t too busy. Alain from Alva Farm came along as well and we ended up driving with Gerard Thebeau from the Dep’t of Agriculture in Bouctouche. We had a great visit: saw some good crop, a beautiful new harvest building, some great equipment and learned lots about their very successful business. Kent and Ruth Coates have been growing vegetables and doing a CSA for 5 years now and are very well regarded in Sackville and starting to become better known in the Moncton area. They are known for their high quality produce, well organized business and commitment to their CSA customers. Kent is an engineer who designs and builds their farm equipment and his successful increasing of the mechanization on the farm has allowed their business to expand without incurring huge labour costs. They are currently growing 5 acres of vegetables with plans to expand to 10 in a year or so. They are not certified organic but grow organically for the most part and are active in promoting local food. Kent is president of our co-op, La Recolte de Chez Nous/Really Local Harvest and contributes to various food security causes.

One of the things I’m interested in these days is vegetable varieties. I am discovering the difference that variety can make in success and failure of a crop. Characteristics like flavour, disease resistance and yield are heavily influenced by variety, though of course management also has an effect. I quizzed Kent and Ruth on the varieties they are using for different crops and will probably adopt a few new varieties next year. They also built a high tunnel this year, like us, but designed theirs slightly differently. They didn’t use any purlins or a ridge pole to stabilize the structure, instead relying on heavier steel rib construction. They also used rebar as ground anchors rather than posts, something I think we should do, too. We have three runs of purlins (including the ridge pole) on our high tunnel and I think we should take two of them off next year and use the poles to make more high tunnels! It seems that they’re not necessary and they also allow lots of rain water to accumulate in the high tunnel plastic. We are thinking of putting in another set of ground anchors, two beds over from the first ones, and moving the tunnel over to grow in new ground next year. If we keep the ground anchors in, we can just switch the tunnel back and forth and get the non-covered area cover cropped in the alternate years. It is a bit tricky to do because the high tunnel spans 2 1/2 beds and we have to rearrange our bed system a bit to accommodate it. It’s not impossible, though and we’ll see what we come up with.

We’ve already made up our strawberry beds for next year. We are planting strawberries into field #3 next spring and it is an area we usually can’t get in to cultivate until June. The strawberries are planted as early as possible (usually early May) so the beds need to be prepared early. We cultivated and composted the bed and then cultivated again. Will then went down the bed with the potato hiller to make a higher bed yet. He raked the top flat and we put down dripline and black plastic, burying the edges all along the length. There are machines that do all of these jobs in large scale strawberry operations but when you only do two 280′ beds, you do it by hand! Because the top of the bed is narrower than usual, we’ll have to offset the holes for plants to give them enough space. We will plant them as early as possible, cover with row cover and get as early a first pick as we can. In our first year of strawberries we picked off the blossoms, thinking this would give us stronger plants and higher yields for the next year’s crop. We learned since then that this will just cause more runners to form: great if you are trying to encourage runnering but not if all you’re going to do is cut them off! Our first year’s berries will not be organic because our plants aren’t from an organic source. However I think in the future we can propagate our own runners in the summer in new beds. If we start them mid-summer they should be well established by winter, we cover them and get an early first crop in the spring that would be certified organic. There are no organic strawberries grown around here at all and I would like to try and get good at it and have strawberries as an early season crop (along with rhubarb) at the farmer’s market. Don’t worry, you’ll hear lots of updates as the project progresses!

The goats finally came into heat two weeks ago and Roger discovered the joys of being a buck with a herd of does in heat! Of course now that the heat stage has come and gone, Roger cries every day for the loss of the attention of all his girlfriends. Ruby came into heat first and was closely followed by all the other goats, so it was a busy time. Roger’s short stature was a challenge so we built him a little platform of concrete blocks and he very quickly learned how to use it. We will find out in another week whether his efforts were successful. Five goats were bred altogether, two new ones and three older girls. We are keeping Gaia unbred for now and hoping to milk her through the winter, though we’ll see how this works and may breed her later on if she seems to be drying up. Roger will be kept till the end of this next heat cycle and if all the girls appear to be bred, he’ll make a short trip to the abattoir and then into the freezer. He is not a great buck and I really think I need to invest some cash in some good quality goat genetics. However once I have a buck and have to care for him all year round, I start thinking about how it would be nice to have the guy just during breeding season. I may talk to another goat farmer about sharing a buck: co-purchasing him and then sharing living expenses. For goat owners with small herds, this can make a lot of sense.

We are down to the wire with our vegetables this year – just like last year – and have decided to stop selling at the farmer’s market. It seemed like we had so much of so many crops but then we’ve been selling lots at the market and now to a small food processing business (at last, giant carrots, beets and cabbage are appreciated!) as well as taking orders for winter storage vegetables for our CSA members and another CSA farm. Well, now that the carrots are out of the ground, we realize that we may have over-committed! We lost quite a few carrots in a part of a new field that seems to be more poorly drained than we’d realized. We always knew it was a wet area but assumed that once we got in there in the summer, we were fine. It seems that the water table is very high in that area and about 200 lbs of lovely carrots had to be tossed because of rot. So who doesn’t get carrots? We decided to go by chronological order and had to cancel the last few carrot orders. Unfortunately this means our winter carrot supply, too! We will probably buy some carrots for ourselves from Nature’s Route Farm. Another lesson learned on the farm: don’t count your carrots until they’re harvested!

We have just become members of the National Farmer’s Union. In NB, when you register as a farmer you need to join either the NFU or the Agricultural Alliance of NB. We’ve been Alliance members for the past few years but as we’ve learned more about the NFU we’ve decided that they are an organization that better represents farms of our type and scale. Lately we’ve been running into lots of NFU members and personnel in events supporting sustainable agriculture and training new farmers. They are also more involved in international agriculture and seem to be very responsive to issues such as preservation of agricultural land. Overall in NB there is not a large membership in the NFU but I think it is increasing as more small, diverse, organic farms come along.

Sarah is wrapping up her apprenticeship this week and we’ll see her just one day next week as she gets herself organized for her next adventure. It has been really nice having her on the farm and all her hard work is greatly appreciated. I think she’s learned a lot and, though she probably won’t start farming in the very near future, hopefully she’ll find this experience has been useful. It is not easy managing an apprentice and I found I spent a lot of mental energy devising jobs that would give her the greatest range of farm skills possible. I definitely have to be more “on” than when I’m farming on my own and need to be prepared to explain the “whys” of doing things as well as the “hows”. ACORN is planning a pilot project next season of a more organized apprenticeship program and has asked us to be one of the pilot farms. We’ve agreed though can only take an apprentice for 6 months (they wanted 7). Fortunately ACORN’s program is quite flexible and each farm is allowed to customize it to suit their system and how they best work. ACORN will provide a monitoring service to the apprentices as well as an orientation and workshops throughout the period. We submitted our written curriculum to the working group creating the program (Will was on the committee) and they’ve used it to create a curriculum template for other farms to use. We will probably still stick with our curriculum, though may add a bit if ACORN has some interesting stuff we haven’t thought of, and we’ll also stick with our own apprentice’s agreement. The farms are allowed to decide whether or not they wish to pay a stipend and farms may or may not be able to offer accommodation. It will be interesting to see who applies to this program and how it all works out. We may get to meet some of the wanna bes at the ACORN conference in November.

Ah November! I am looking forward to the end of November, cold weather and snow (I have cross country skis now!) and a lighter farm schedule. Until then we still have a few CSA weeks, strawberries to prune and weed, raspberries to prune and weed and a few other farm jobs to finish up. It won’t be long now…

Horse Ploughing Demo in McKees Mills, NB

October 21, 2012

A lovely day for ploughing a field

A fine, fit team from Ste-Marie

Yvon LeBlanc’s team from McKees Mills

Ploughing in the seated position

Ploughing and walking

Thomas Robichaud sets up his team from St-Antoine

Field Day: A Visit to Nature’s Route Farm

October 21, 2012

Many fine carrots at Nature’s Route Farm in Pointe de Bute, NB

Kent Coates, co-owner at Nature’s Route, demonstrates his own patented parsnip digging fork

Funky weeding tool at Nature’s Route Farm