Chilly Days in March

It is a cold day in the middle of March but the goats and chickens are doing fine and the little plants in the lean-to coldframe are weathering the cold thanks to the sunshine. Last week went up to 12 degrees above zero and today is about 23 below with the wind chill – just your typical NB late winter/early spring season!

All the goats have had their babies and all have done very well. Ruby had her first ever set of triplets and seems to be feeding them well. Goddess and Callie had their first ever birthing experiences and both came through like champions! Goddess is a descendant of Nessie, one of our most colourful goats (personality-wise) as well as one of my best ever milkers. Goddess is a very promising doe as she seems to have inherited Nessie’s prodigious milk production but without her less savoury personality quirks. She has only been on the milk stand three times but stands quietly with no fuss at all when milked – a very promising girl! Callie had two of the tiniest kids I’ve ever seen and she seems to be producing a tiny amount of milk, too, however the kids aren’t complaining and seem to be as bouncy as the rest of the barn-full. Out of the five goats who have kidded, three of them will produce more milk than their kids need so we are already enjoying the fruits of their labour. I’m keeping an eye on Ruby and Callie’s kids to make sure they are getting enough to eat. I may need to supplement them at some point and I think we have enough milk for this as well as for our home needs.

All the does came into heat at around the same time last year so I knew the kidding season was going to be busy and tight. I didn’t, however, expect to have three does having their babies on the same day! Goddess was right on time, Gem was three days late and Callie was two days early so it made for a fun-filled, action-packed day indeed! My Mom, my Aunt Bert and my French teacher, Francine, came out to see the birthing and got to see Goddess but the other two kidded late afternoon/early evening after everyone had left. We now have a barn-full of bouncy baby goats as well as bouncy yearlings and slightly harried mothers, 20 altogether, and I look forward to better weather and the goats getting outside in the next few weeks.

Will and I are working on planning our orchard now. It started as a nice idea (a few fruit trees) and has expanded into an orchard space of just under 12,000 square feet (1/4 acre) containing dwarf cherry trees, dwarf sour cherry shrubs, pear and plum trees and grape vines. We are planning a space for cherries and grapes that will be covered with netting to exclude insects and birds and we’ll also have to fence to keep out racoons. The pears will be a bit easier to manage though we are concerned about fireblight and are choosing the most disease resistant (and cold hardy) varieties we can find. We have been told not to expect much from the plums because of the problem with black knot, a disease that is endemic here with all the wild cherries around. Yes, the cherries we choose will also have to be black knot resistant though we’ll probably also have to be vigilant with pruning, too. We’re looking at buying trees from the Green Barn Nursery in Ontario. They are certified organic so know the trees/bushes/vines that are best suited for this sort of production, as well as those hardy in our climate. The prices are high but we’re hoping for a volume discount, otherwise we’ll buy a smaller number of plants and then propagate our own to build the orchard. The orchard is an investment towards our future in semi-retirement (retirement never really being an option!) when we may want to move out of vegetables and into less labour intensive crops.

I just finished giving my organic gardening course last Saturday and it went really well. I really enjoy meeting all the different people with their different growing experiences. One guy had been growing vegetables hydroponically in his garage for the past few years and having great success. Others have small acreages and are working towards food self-sufficiency and a few people are involved in starting new community gardens in Moncton and surrounding areas. It is very exciting to see the interest in gardening and food production in general increasing the way it has been. Our CSA is full again this year and we keep getting applicants while other farmers are starting their own CSAs in the Moncton area with equal success. We are looking forward to the farmer’s market season, too; though Coin Bio/Organic Corner lost one member last year we have gained a new one and I think we will work well together. Our Slow Food group, Slow Food Cocagne Acadie, is now officially registered in Italy and we are planning our first AGM for this Saturday. Windy Hill Farm is teaming up with Slow Food C.A. to hold an open farm day here in June. We’ll have some seasonal food to offer, music and farm tours, a combination that worked really well last year and we are keen to do again.

Other news from the region: we will soon have a year-round seafood CSA called “Je m’en fish pas” which is a play on words roughly meaning: “I give a damn”. We are looking forward to being members of this initiative and will be sharing the information with our CSA membership, too. There is also a small group of farmers (us included) starting an organic chicken feed co-op. We are sadly lacking in good quality animal feed around here which is crazy because so many people grow grains that just need to be ground and mixed and could become chicken feed. The local farmer’s co-op sells feed but the grains are from all over and most likely contain GMOs. You can occasionally buy organic feed but the supply isn’t consistent and the price is exorbitant. We are starting our group with four farmers, two of whom are equipped to grow grain and the rest of us have livestock (poultry, pigs and goats) who will happily consume it. We aren’t looking at certified organic grains at this time but could expand in that direction. This is something I’ve been wanting to do since arriving here and I was very lucky to meet other people with the same thoughts. This could turn into something quite exciting and become a business, or else it will just be a small group of us who get to feed our livestock quality feed, we will see what the future brings.

I gave my first cheese-making workshop last week at a nearby farm (where we’ve been getting our cow’s milk while the goats were dry) and it went very well. We took a whole day and made three cheeses: mozzarella, ricotta/paneer and feta. The feta was started first thing in the morning and the other cheeses, plus discussions on methods, happened during the culturing and renneting periods. All the cheeses were tasted and enjoyed while the feta waits till later this week as it needs some time in the brine. I’d never made cheese with cow’s milk before and was surprised at the much higher yield than I am used to getting with goat’s milk. I think part of it was that the cows (Dairy Shorthorns) are producing late in their lactation and their output is low but highly concentrated! I am giving another cheese-making workshop this week, just a short one so we’ll make just ricotta and mozzarella. We’ll be using pasteurized milk from the store so yet another cheese-making experience for me! I’m sure it will work fine though there may be a few differences.

We have some onions, leeks and shallots already started and growing in the coldframe and celeriac started but not yet up. I’ll wait for this cold snap to end before starting the peppers and soon there will be early brassicas and lettuces to do. A lot of the snow disappeared during last week’s warm days but there is still lots to go. Will is working on bending hoops for our second high tunnel and it will go up once the ground is thawed and cultivated. We have an apprentice for the season and she’ll be starting in early May. Things are definitely starting to heat up, even though the weather is still cold!

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One Response to “Chilly Days in March”

  1. elaineshannon (@elaineshannon) Says:

    From your post I know this will be a GREAT time of year for Simply Zen TV to visit the farm. I am especially looking forward to meeting all the new babes!
    Elaine Shannon

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