Spring Snowstorms

I’m listening to Randy’s Vinyl Tap on CBC and enjoying some good wine while taking time to bring you all up to date on life on Windy Hill Farm. I’ve been meaning to write something for ages but now seems to be the time to do it. It is almost April but it is still full-on winter outside: lots of snow and ice and cold temperatures. We’re in for some more snow tomorrow and we are still digging ourselves out from last Wednesday’s snowstorm. It sounds pretty yucky but it’s not that different from last year’s conditions at this time. While the great outdoors seems determined to stay winter, we have little zones of summer here and there one the farm. The goats have produced a fine crop of young ones and we have 15 bouncing baby goats this season: 9 boys and 6 girls all in good health. We also have lots of trays of leeks, onions, celeriac and shallots looking just fine and waiting patiently for the great thaw outdoors. In our bathroom, the only full-time heated room in our house, we have a couple of trays of ginger enjoying warmth and moisture that are just starting to sprout. So even if Mother Nature is a little slow to get into spring mode, we carry on as if summer is truly on its way!

We have a lovely bunch of kids this year partly thanks to Spike, our borrowed Boer x Kiko buck, who furnished his genetics to the cause. The kids have definitely taken after their father, showing a few variations of white, cream and beige with fluffy coats and a chunkiness that promises good meat carcases in the future. Of the seven does kidding this year, six had twins and one had triplets and all are doing well. Gem, a Nubian x Alpine, who is notorious for rejecting kids, once again rejected one of her two male kids. Every year since she started kidding she has firmly decided that only one kid will do for her regardless of how many she actually produces. Amos is the rejected one and he is doing fine on milk from his Mom and other does, both by bottle and from the mothers when they are restrained and prevented from butting him away. The triplets are a cute bunch and they include Teddy Bear, a tiny little brown guy who has enough gumption and personality for two full sized kids. Two kids were born with slack tendons in their hind legs so they were unable to walk for the first few days. I made sure they were able to still drink and did a bit of physio with them as their legs got stronger. They are both now totally normal with no signs there was ever a problem. I’ve seen that happen before and the first time I dove in and tried to splint the legs in place. That didn’t work at all so now I just watch and make sure they’re eating and encourage them to walk as much as possible to get everything back in the right place.

It was a challenging season with all does kidding within a week and it was a very cold week, too. We borrowed two more heat lamps from farmer friends and used all three as we set up kidding pens all over the barn. It was cold enough to freeze ears for a few nights and the triplets did suffer some frostbite. Fortunately no one lost any ears though I know of a sheep farmer who had some tips of lamb ears fall off due to the cold this winter. After having made it through the week, I can say I like the intensive kidding schedule. It’s a hard few nights but you get it all over with quickly and the kids end up being all around the same age and size. All the birthings went well but we did get the vet in for Goddess who showed signs of milk fever after having her twins. I had seen it cows before but never in goats so wasn’t sure enough of the diagnosis to try administering calcium myself. The vet gave her 240 cc of calcium borogluconate under the skin and she perked up right away. I now know how to do this: how much to give and that it’s best to just give it if there’s any concern. The subcu calcium won’t hurt the goat at all and could save their life. I think I’ll probably supplement Goddess with extra calcium next year before she kids, now that I know she might suffer a deficiency.

The ginger we are starting this year in our bathroom is a test quantity that will be grown in the coldframe and if it does well, we’ll try a larger quantity next year. Shannon of Broadfork Farm organized a bulk order of ginger to try and save some of the shipping and import costs and we met at her farm a few weeks ago to pick up our shares and talk a bit about growing ginger in the Maritimes. A few farmers in NS and PEI have been growing ginger for the last few years and had some tips for us newbies. We only started with 5 lbs of seed this year and this will take up about 30 feet of coldframe space. The yield is meant to be 8-10 lbs per pound of seed so if all goes well, we should have enough to give all our CSA customers a little sample of ginger in their shares. It is potentially a good cash crop though I don’t know if it’s something we’ll get into on a large scale, we’ll have to see.

We have managed to find ourselves some apprentices for this season, a couple from BC who are interested in eventually farming in the Maritimes. He is a chef and she is an animal health technologist. They sound pretty keen to learn as much as they can so I think it will work out well. We usually only get one apprentice per season but this year I think we can benefit from an extra person and get some maintenance done on the farm. The barn needs some attention as well as the house: painting and repairs, and of course there’s the solar energy project that we are about ready to embark on. I’d also like to try out a few new projects which could be lots of fun for apprentices like growing wheat for milling and sunflower and pumpkin seed for oil production. Seed saving is always high on my list of “things I will do more of if there’s time” and it would be nice to have apprentices interested in goats who learn to milk and help out in this department. Even though I’m a vegetable farmer by trade I love the animals and really enjoying teaching anyone interested to learn good animal husbandry.

I just finished teaching my organic gardening course for the year, as well as two econutrition classes. I will be heading to Miramichi next week to give a lecture on organic growing to a gardening club and then I think that’s it for presentations for me this season. The annual general meetings of all the different organizations that Will and I are connected to are pretty much over, too. The only one still to come is Slow Food Cocagne Acadie in mid April and soon afterwards it will be time for the farm to take over our lives. The peppers and eggplant seeds are started in our new indoors start room and this week I’ll start the tomatoes and early brassicas. Even with out expanded grow area we will still need to move the alliums into the coldframe as we get tight on space. I’ll be putting celeriac into 72 cell trays instead of 128, just to let them get a bit bigger before going into the ground. I’m trying a new type of tray called a “Winstrip” which is meant to encourage air pruning of roots so plants don’t get plug-bound. The larger cell size will make celeriac take up more space so hopefully it will pay off in a larger celeriac harvest.

I was going to use the Winstrip trays to start strawberry tips, too, but I think I’ll actually buy plugs this year for fall planted strawberries. The nursery only offers tips of one variety whereas there are more choices with the plugs. Plugs are a lot more expensive but will save us money on setting up a start area, as well as the time to start them in mid summer. I’ve also been looking into plastic mulch for the strawberry beds and after going back and forth many times I think we’ll use BioTelo, the biodegradable mulch. It is made from nonGMO corn starch and breaks down completely when tilled under at the end of the season. Because we are using it over-winter I wasn’t sure whether it would actually stay intact till spring, but other growers tell me it holds up well through the winter. Once the soil is warm in summer, the biodegredation will begin and hopefully it will be gone by the end of summer once the strawberries and mulch are tilled in. The rolls of BioTelo are quite big and even if we also use it on other heat-loving crops like corn and sweet potatoes, we won’t use half of it. I hear differing accounts of how well it works after being stored through the winter, as well so we’re considering sharing a roll with some other small farmers.

Well, here it is the next day and another snowstorm is raging outside. It started mid-morning so I managed to get the goat barn cleaned out beforehand as well as go for a walk on the trail. It’s a mix of snow and ice pellets so we’ll need to be extra vigilant on clearing snow off the coldframe: this type will stick and it’s heavy! Hopefully the power stays on though we do have an emergency generator now in case it goes off. As more snow accumulates outside and the forecast is for two days of this sort of weather, I comfort myself with the fact that it’s still only March (barely!) and we could have some really nice warm weather in April to melt the snow, thaw the ground and dry it enough to cultivate. You cannot survive as a farmer if you aren’t an optimist!

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