Back at Last

It has been a terribly long time but I am finally back in the blog saddle. I apologize for those of you who’ve been waiting for a report from the farm but it has been a really busy season. Of course once I got a couple of months behind, the thought of trying to get caught up was just too daunting and I never quite got around to doing it. There is no way I’ll recover all those details of the season in one posting (and I don’t think you want me to!) so I’ll summarize and get back on track with monthly postings.

2013 Windy Hill Farm Team

2013 Windy Hill Farm Team

We haven’t done the numbers yet but from all accounts our season seems to have gone amazingly well. We do know that our market sales climbed by a shocking 75% and I started to feel like we were running a rock star’s market stall like in the old days in BC. It felt good! This was partly a reflection of our improved marketing: we had a consistent supply of a wide variety of good quality vegetables, and it was also an indication of the overall growth in NB in the support of local and organic produce. Not only did we do well this year but so did another organic mixed veggie farm and a third non-certified but organically produced mixed veggie farm who sold at the same market. It seems that the more high quality local vegetables you send to market, the more people come out to buy them.

Our marketing partners from Ferme Alva, Alain and Eva

Our marketing partners from Ferme Alva, Alain and Eva

The goats are dry now and I’ll soon be getting delicious cow’s milk from a nearby neighbour. The girls did a great job keeping us supplied with milk and I made a tremendous amount of cheese. There are still 9 Goudas in the ripening room and so far every one of them has been delicious. The size of the cheeses grew as the season progressed – each was made from 5 gallons of milk and the finished cheeses range in weight from 4.8 – 7 lbs. They seem to keep really well in their wax coating and I expect we’ll have cheese till the goats start kidding in the spring. I borrowed a Boer/Kiko cross buck and bred 7 does this year. I was going to retire Ruby, as she’ll be 10 in the spring, but she looks great and milked well all year so we’ll give her another season. We sold quite a bit of goat meat this year as we had 5 kids and 3 yearlings converted into meat. We kept one for ourselves and the rest sold very quickly. Everyone I’ve heard back from seems to really like it and I’m hoping goat meat will become a popular addition to our local diet. This season’s kids were all Boer crosses and we got amazing carcase weights: 35 – 55 lbs, the low end of which is higher than the highest we’ve ever gotten from dairy bucks. What a difference some genes make! Two of the does bred this year are Boer/dairy crosses so their kids will be even farther along on the meat spectrum.

One of our Boer/dairy crosses

One of our Boer/dairy crosses

Will is away in California now, enjoying biking and visiting friends and family. I get to enjoy some quiet time on the farm and, other than daily chores, I’m filling my days baking and making goodies for Christmas. I’ve been helping organize a Slow Food event, too, and it should come to fruition in another few days. I finally brought my fiddle in to our local expert luthier and had a bit of work done: the finger board was sanded down to remove the grooves made by strings and a sound post adjustment has improved the sound greatly. It still has its great, smooth mellowness but with a bit more responsiveness than before. I think it means I’ll not get away with any sloppy fingering anymore and that’s probably a good thing!

WHF half share in September

WHF half share in September

I would guess our best crops of the year were carrots, garlic and tomatoes. It was nice to finally have good tomatoes after a crop failure the year before, but there are still many things I’d like to improve. Growing tomatoes in the high tunnels and leaving the coldframe for early and late crops worked really well and I think we’ll continue this system. We move the tunnels from side to side each season to allow for a rotation and I think there’s even room to explore some no-till growing. I want to try no-till squash in ’14: there is a mature cover crop of barley and peas on the land now and by spring it will be a mat of straw. I will put some compost down on top of the straw and then cover with landscape cloth as early in the season as possible. Then, when the warm weather starts, we’ll transplant seedlings into the holes in the cloth. The cloth will keep weeds under control and the earthworms will happily work away at the organic matter released by the decaying cover crop. If it works with squash then the following year I’ll try it with tomatoes and peppers in the high tunnels.

Some of the season's harvest

Some of the season’s harvest

Some other plans for next year include screening the coldframe in another attempt to grow cucumbers without the ravages of cucumber beetles. If we screen the openings we can keep more beetles out and multiple plantings will help us overcome the disease carried by beetles that kill off the plants before the end of summer. Because of limited space we’ll trellis the cukes again, something I didn’t do very successfully in ’12 but we’ll get some help with it from Carla. She has years of cucumber trellising experience from working in her family’s greenhouse in Holland.

Another plan for next season is to try and get an early carrot crop from a high tunnel. We’ll put the plastic back on early in March and leave it to melt the snow and thaw the ground below the black landscape cloth (still there from previous year’s tomatoes). Then, in early April, we’ll roll back the landscape cloth and drill carrots directly into the ground. The tunnel will move in early May to prepare the new space for the season’s tomato and pepper crop, but by that time the carrots will be growing vigorously and we can either put row cover over them or just leave them to continue growing. This way we’ll have an early carrot crop from the coldframe, followed by the tunnel crop and by the time they’re done, we’ll have the outdoor crop to start harvesting. We’re hoping to start selling at the Dieppe market in mid May so the more we have to offer, the sooner we connect with our customers.

Late season greens in the coldframe

Late season greens in the coldframe

Our new orchard did well though the cherry trees and grape vines that looked dead on arrival never came back to life. We contacted the Green Barn Nursery but they stopped returning our calls. This is after they had initially offered to replace any trees that arrived dead. We don’t seem to have luck with these small, funky nurseries and, even though they claim to raise fruit trees that survive in low input conditions, their quality of product and customer service leave too much to be desired. Their trees and bushes are very expensive, too, and one expects some level of quality and vitality with those prices.

Will received a new honeybee colony this summer and it thrived to the point where Will was able to start a new one and now has two healthy colonies going into winter. I think the success is partly due to healthier starter bees but also Will’s increased knowledge and experience. As well, Will was very lucky to have not one but two experienced bee mentors helping him out. It makes all the difference to have people to ask questions of and to show how things are done.

Will prepares bees for winter

Will prepares bees for winter

Our neighbour, Cathy, is planning to put her property up for sale and we are thinking about buying it. It is contiguous with our orchard and will supply a good 1.5 acres of excellent orchard expansion potential. The house is old and not in good shape and is not really something we want to have to deal with. However, having another house on the land does bring us a bit closer to our long term goal of having farming partners or else offering new farmers opportunities to rent land and use our farm as an incubator of new farm businesses. She was originally going to offer it to us to buy “as is” but has since changed her mind and is fixing it up to offer it on the market. I’ll be very surprised if she gets what she wants for it and I have a bad feeling that, after all the improvements and realtor’s fees, she’ll not get much more that what we’d have offered initially. Oh well, there’s not much we can do except wait and see where the price ends up. If it goes back into our ballpark we’ll make an offer. Timing is important, too, though as we would need to get it at the start of winter in order to have the time to fix it up for use in the summer.

It was a great season though we often felt a bit overwhelmed with the work. We’re hoping to get two apprentices next year, and also hoping to get some people more experienced in farm work who can focus on some of their own projects and go deeper into the learning. We planted sunchokes this fall and have a few more new crops to add to the lineup for 2014. I am already looking forward to the season ahead though the winter’s rest will be appreciated, too. Hopefully I’ll do a better job of keeping up with the blog, too!

Hi from Cory

Hi from Cory

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