Almost the New Year

Here we are about to close out 2012 and I am finally getting to a blog posting. It was a long interval but not much has been happening on the farm and you can only say so much about Christmas preparations. We have been getting some great snow lately and more is on its way. I’ve been enjoying my cross country skis: the skis, boots and poles were a gift from a friend who realized his life was moving in a direction that would not include skiing. I am very grateful, especially because everything is the right size, and I’ve been getting out on the snow at every opportunity. I haven’t gone on any groomed trails yet, though there are lots of those around. I’ve skied mainly on our neighbourhood trails which are challenging because they’re shared with snowshoers, ATVers and horse sleighs, all of which leave their own distinct prints in the snow and none of which are really conducive to smooth skiing. I’m waiting for the snowmobiles to arrive because they make the best trails for cross country skiing. I’m still having lots of fun, though, and will get out to some of the groomed trails soon.

The farm is tucked away for the winter with the apple trees mulched and protected from rodents, the strawberries covered with heavy weight row cover and the raspberries pruned and tied up. Last year we covered the strawberries with straw and then used that straw in the pathways in the summer to control weeds. We found this system had its disadvantages: for one the straw made a great home for slugs which were a huge problem in the berries and also the straw must be removed to give the plants light early in the season. The row cover can stay on the berries until the flowers open for pollination, giving us an earlier crop due to the extra warmth. The danger of encouraging early flowering is that a late frost may kill flowers but we’ll keep the cover nearby and use it to protect the plants if we have any frost warnings.

Will and I got to spend a few days in Charlottetown, PEI, in November as we attended the annual ACORN conference. ACORN is the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network and is a nonprofit group that supports organic agriculture in the Atlantic provinces. The annual conference consists of three days of workshops on everything from growing organic vegetables, field crops and livestock to financial management, marketing and transitioning to organic. There is also a trade show with reps from many different businesses supporting organics. There were well over 400 people attending the conference so the networking opportunities were huge and the food is always fabulous! Will and I stayed nearby at a B&B (much cheaper than hotel rooms) and made full use of everything ACORN had to offer. There were always 4 workshops going on simultaneously so with the two of us we were able to cover twice as many workshops and therefore managed to take in quite a bit. I found the quality of the workshops varied greatly as some presenters did an amazing job (and it didn’t matter whether they were professional agronomists, academics or farmers) while others were not very good. However there is always something to take away from a workshop and I think we got our money’s worth and then some.

One of the things Will and I were both inspired by was the potential to grow fruit in our area. The rep from The Green Barn, a certified organic nursery based in Ontario and Quebec, gave a presentation on fruit trees that Will attended and then I spoke to him later on at the trade show. They raise fruit trees and bushes that are very hardy (max zone 5) and require minimal care. Because all the plants are raised organically, you know they will thrive under organic conditions. This includes disease resistance (resistance to scab in apples, for example) which is a huge issue in organic fruit production. We had been planning to buy some hazelnut trees from The Green Barn and now we have our sights set on some other goodies: bush cherries (developed at the University of Saskatchewan so we know they’re cold hardy!), plums and pear trees. We are thinking about fencing off part of the goat pasture to make a small orchard and have a try at some of these fruits. The bush cherries are quite exciting because their small size makes it possible to put them under a high tunnel for insect, bird and weather protection. Black knot is a big issue with cherries and plums and we have a lot of wild cherries on the farm (chokecherries and pin cherries) which also carry the disease. However as long as we keep on top of the pruning, we should be able to manage it.

The goats seem to be weathering the winter quite well. Our friend Johan brought over his chainsaw a few weeks ago and helped Will prune some of the low branches of the spruce trees lining our driveway. The goats have been feasting on the prunings since then and I love the smell of their Christmas tree breath! They get bored with hay very quickly so anything that brings some variety to their diet in the winter is quite welcome. We had a very large spruce tree fall down a few nights ago during high winds and there is some more goat food potential there, too. It was a beautiful tree, well over 50 feet high and it stood alone in the middle of our fields, near the swale, so was quite noticeable. I think we’ll have to plant another tree (or two) in that spot. Perhaps a linden tree (they get quite large) though the black locust trees are really nice, too, especially when they are in flower. Both these trees are great for feeding the bees so maybe we’ll have to plant a few of each!

I spent quite a bit of time before Christmas making jam, both for us and for Christmas gifts. We had a lot of fruit in the freezer so I made chokecherry, black currant, cape gooseberry, rhubarb-ginger, cran-strawberry and raspberry jams. There are still a few cranberries and quite a few strawberries left so I may make some more jam, though we seem to be incorporating the strawberries into pancakes quite nicely, too! I was also thinking of canning some strawberries in syrup, just for a special dessert. I’ll see how adventuresome I feel in the next few weeks. I also made a large batch of goat’s milk soap before Christmas, thanks to my Mom who got into soap-making with her friends and just couldn’t get enough of it. It is quite addictive and we made large enough batches that all my friends got soap for Christmas and we still have lots left to keep us clean for years to come! I know Mom is looking for an excuse to make more soap so I think we should try to get her into the business. She is reluctant because of the tax implications but I think we may be able to find a way around this (someone else already in business buys the ingredients, sells the soap and Mom volunteers her time for example). We’ll see!

I’ve been enjoying lots of leisure time this week, having fun and putting off doing farm jobs like seed orders and crop plans. We managed to get all our sales information on the computer before Christmas arrived and we now know exactly (well, more or less!) how much of garlic, carrots, potatoes and every other vegetable we sold in 2012. Will is finishing up the year’s expenses and then we can do some analysis of the year’s net earnings. It looks like we managed to cover our living costs this year (our needs are modest!) but with little to spare. My teaching brings in another bit of money that we can put into savings. Ideally we’ll be making enough to cover our costs plus a bit extra to save for emergencies and other big expenses (eventually we’ll need a new roof on the house, a new farm truck, etc.). We already know there are a few crops that should have yielded a lot better than they did in 2012 so we know we can net more from the vegetable land by improving management and without increasing acreage. We can also increase livestock sales by selling goat meat (we’ll sell all our kids in 2013) and the fruit tree project will have some long term income without corresponding labour increases in the busy season. We plan to continue managing the farm business with just Will and I as labour plus a seasonal apprentice and some volunteer help (who we compensate with farm food: veggies, berries, cheese, eggs). I like a business plan that focuses on continuing to improve an existing scale of production in order to maximize efficiency, rather than one that relies on constant growth and constant acquisition of equipment and land to continue the growth.

One of my Christmas presents this year was a Sony voice recorder which I am using to record hundreds of fiddle tunes off my mini-disc player and put onto the computer. Seeing as how I own the world’s last working mini-disc player, and its days are numbered, I reckoned the time had come to embrace new technology and store my precious fiddle tunes (thanks to my fiddle teacher of years ago, Keith Wilson) in a safe place. From the computer files I should be able to burn CDs and also email tunes to others and therefore share the joy. I’ll also be able to record tunes from fiddlers at our Monday evening jams in St-Antoine and I am so looking forward to capturing some great tunes on tape (virtual tape, that is). The recorder will allow me to slow tunes down (most fiddlers aren’t good at doing this themselves) and it plays beautifully over the computer speakers so I have no excuses for not learning lots of new tunes! For now, though, until the jam starts up again in January, I’m collecting and filing hundreds of great tunes off of about 20 mini-discs and hoping that my little mini-disc player survives to the end of the process.


One Response to “Almost the New Year”

  1. Eileen Says:

    Thanks for the update and happy new year! Don’t you have any of your fiddle-ing on youtube yet?? THAT would be sharing! Hey, we’re completely out of Alyson jam – a shame!!
    Hope you make enough this year so you can plan to spend it wisely and come out for a BC visit.

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