Ok as most of those who know me will know writing is not my strongest suit. I thought I would try something a little different. Let me know what you think. The video is a bit rough but you’ll get the idea
Ok as most of those who know me will know writing is not my strongest suit. I thought I would try something a little different. Let me know what you think. The video is a bit rough but you’ll get the idea
It’s mid to late March and the seeding has begun. There is a lot to do on the business side as well. After 20 years in marketing I know what has to be done, but to be honest I’m finding it hard to concentrate. I just want to get my little seedlings going. On the go already are some greens that will be grown in the greenhouse floor and roughly 3000 onions and leeks from seed. The cold nights have been rough but with a little thought and a new -old fashion barrel stove things are coming up.
It does mean heading out to the Greenhouse at midnight and staying to 1 or 2 in the am to get the stove both going and then loaded and damped off.
Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation or maybe it’s the meditation-like process of planting 300 plus seeds one at a time, but it allows time to think and the mind wanders.
Sometimes it’s how to save the world, or the state of the Toronto Maple Leafs (don’t get me started # FREE JAMES REIMER) but usually it’s more important and/or achievable – from planting to understanding what needs to be done, to remembering people and important moments that really didn’t seem all that important at the time. I’m blessed and cursed with a very good memory; blessed because I remember things from my childhood right down to certain conversations but also cursed because I remember things from my childhood right down to other certain conversations. Remembering days of propping an old barn board up against a building as a slide – it was a great slide – and then remembering the large splinter I got from that barn board that had to be dug out with a sewing needle and no, it wasn’t in my hand.
One of the things that came to me this week was triggered by a few events. On the business side one thing I’m trying to do is create/collect recipes for some of the different vegetables. I have planted a bunch (couple hundred and counting) of rapine plants and I reached out to my Auntie Fanny for a recipe. She was nice enough with a little help from my Auntie Denise to send one over. So there will be a rapine recipe coming but it got me to thinking. I remember my Auntie Fanny around the farm. She and Uncle Joe lived in the city but came out quite a bit when I was small. As the eldest daughter she always had advice to give. But what I remembered today was a simple exchange; as kids we didn’t talk to the adults that much but on this day I was walking in the field with Auntie Fanny. I really don’t remember where we were going but this is the conversation as I remember. I think I was 5 or 6 at the time.
Auntie Fanny: Christopher, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Me: I want to be a doctor (with conviction).
Auntie Fanny: That’s a lot of work, but if you want to then that’s what you do.
It was that simple and until today I had forgotten that conversation and what it has meant to me. I tried to live that dream. Throughout grade school and high school right into university my eyes were on that bar. But somewhere along the way that little boy stopped listening to himself and started listening to teachers and others around him telling him he couldn’t and that he needed a backup plan. Added to that there was a learning disability that wasn’t diagnosed until well after I left school and I started to believe these people. This is not to say I blame anyone; I believe we make decisions for ourselves and I chose to give up on that dream.
I chose to let that little boy down. I’m not going to do it again, I’ve already started to hear the, “well you can’t do that much by yourself” or “well, if you did something else you could have more stuff. You can’t make any money doing that…”
Well this is the choice and this is what I’m doing. That little boy has never been happier and I’m not going to let him down again.
Yes, Auntie Fanny, I know it’s a lot of work but it’s what I want so I’m going to do it. Thank you for the love and support then and now.
It’s time to talk about dirt. When I bought the property last March/April I knew it would be a tough year. With any start up business there is a lot to do. When it came to the soil I got some hope from the previous farmer who told me of his successes. The problem was that as we move to sustainable /eco farming (you can say organic, I can’t) the soil was used to having large amounts of chemical fertilizer put on it.
The year before I bought the property corn had been planted on it. Corn is a tearable crop, which means it’s a nitrogen stripper, so I knew there would be problems but…
First off, the peas took longer than they should have to get started. I thought the slow start might have been because of the cold spring, but when the plants came out of the greenhouse looking healthy and then stumbled I knew there was a problem.
Then my lovely deep green tomato plants turned purple. This could have been caused by two problems: cold and/or a lack of phosphorous. I had some worm castings (read poop) that I had collected so I worked some into one row and gave them a little water. The next day they started to green up. So, from then on, every plant (including all 500 plum tomato babies), got a trowel full of worm castings. At this point I did a basic soil test. The results told me what I already knew: the soil was completely depleted of nutrients.
I knew I was in trouble at this point and that there wasn’t much I could do for this year. A bag of bone meal and a box of seaweed helped, but I was already looking ahead to 2014. The answer? Beans! Beans provide the soil with nitrogen so I ordered a variety of them. You name them, I bought them: flat green beans, red and white Romano beans and fava beans. I really didn’t care if I sold them because it was all about 2014. To my surprise I was able to more than cover the cost of growing them and my soil should benefit from them in 2014. Well, at least, let’s hope.
In 2013 we used much of the front 5 acres while the back 5 was used by a local farmer. In 2014 we’ll use all the front 5 and possibly part of the back but the area that is not used will be planted with something we can cut and mulch into the soil or, yes, more beans.
Getting the soil back to where it needs to be will take years. In 2013 our yields were around 10% of what they should be; this year, with the work I’ve done, that number will go up but it will be 4-5 years and a lot of natural fertilization before the soil will support proper yields.
But hey, where can you get a tan and play in the dirt all day and besides, if you get a little something on your boots well that washes off and it’s good for the soil.
And if the beans do well just think, there will be pasta fagioli all winter.
Ok, so February was cold with lots of snow so of course I spent most of the month shoveling and, in my “down time”, ordering and collecting supplies. I really didn’t mind the cold winter because the snow was light and relativity easy to shovel. The greenhouse seems to have held up well and is warming up during the day even without the wood stove on. On average it’s running at 12-16 degrees C during the day. With the arrival of the seeds, I must admit I had a ‘what have I done?’ moment. I now have roughly 100+ varieties of vegetables to seed, transplant, weed, water, bug protect and harvest. I may have to get some help or at least look into cloning myself. (Then I won’t have to pay minimum wage to myself)
The greenhouse is basically ready with just a couple of little things to take care of including getting the chimney set properly on the wood stove. At this point it works great on calm days, but if the wind comes up it pushes the smoke down the chimney and into the greenhouse. You can imagine the ‘smoky flavoring’ my clothes have picked up…
I must say that with all the snow I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get a chance or make the time to build a snow man or something. It was not like I wasn’t moving it around between shoveling a path to the greenhouse and the drive way to the more important shoveling around the greenhouses. As the snow piled up it got to the point where it wouldn’t slide off the roof. At that point, out came the shovel. Hey, with 120 feet to shovel at least I don’t have to worry about a gym. The frustrating part was that, with the almost continuous windy conditions it either snowed or blew over my freshly cleared path every day.
That’s not to say it was all bad. The cold should have a definite effect on the bugs this season. Also I took some very pretty pictures without a ‘real’ camera, and Abby and I did some snow shoeing together and even a few friends came out.
So, I can honestly say I’m looking forward while trying not to get ahead of myself. March will bring some new changes and decisions. I will start to seed some vegetables for the summer and some others, mostly greens, to grow in the floor of one of the greenhouses. If all goes well we should start to have lettuce by the end of April. I’ll also be getting some flowers and other plants started for sales in May. Along with that there is wood to collect to keep the stoves going and gravity fed watering system to build along with collecting water and keeping an eye on the fields to get the spring plantings started as soon as possible. There is also manure to spread so it’s going to be a busy month but I’m really looking forward to it and obviously the arrival of spring.
WARNING there are bug and spider pictures in this post!
I believe each day brings the opportunity to both learn and teach. I also think knowledge should be free to all. The farm has been about learning and challenges and good friends.
Last season was the year of the bug, at least at our farm. As it was the first year and with the goal of not using pesticides I was on the lookout for the helpful bugs and of course, the bad bugs. Even though I had the help of handed down knowledge, I still spent a great deal of time on the phone. Good job I have a good data plan. During my morning and evening walks, checking on how things were going, I would find all kinds of bugs. Out would come the phone “Oh what is that, is it good or bad”. I soon learned that the plant you found the bug on would usually lead you to naming it.
Spotted Ground Beetle – Can be good – Thanks to Sean James of FernRidgeLandscaping For helping ID some of these
The big question was – what if I get it wrong? – Well I can laugh about it now but in one case I did. Boy, did I get it wrong. In the spring, just after we put out the cucumbers and squash, I found two new bugs had arrived, a black and yellow striped cucumber beetle that I identified correctly and the brown squash bug I unfortunately did not. From the images on the internet the squash bug resembles a predatory shield bug and with the cucumber beetle arriving I thought the predatory shield bug was following their lunch plans. I was wrong, really wrong and that mistake cost me most of the cucumber plants, half the zucchini plants, and 80-90%of the squash.
On the left the squash bug on the right the predatory shield beetle. I can see the difference now…
The Squash bug infestation – This was almost every plant.
It’s really kind of funny because I spent part of my time rescuing bugs, particularly a lady bug I took a liking to that happened to be caught in a spider web. I figured after releasing the lady bug I’d have a long talk with the spider about his/her lunch selection. I also came across a crab spider hiding in the zucchini blossoms waiting for the bees and other pollinators; he/she was relocated – Bees are untouchables. The wasps in the greenhouse were fine until they got ornery in the fall and stung me in the head. My father-in-law told me not to let them set up shop there – lesson – listen to your elders, kids.
It was tough and the bugs were bad but I learned a lot and am spending some time understanding the good bugs and what I need to do to make sure they stop by and stick around. At the end of the day it’s all about balance: you need bad bugs to have good bugs (would you go to a restaurant where they were out of food) and without spraying toxic chemicals well, there is going to be bugs. My job is to work with them, try to keep the good ones happy and the bad ones under control, hence, balance.
Garden Spider – very good did my best to work around him.
I find it amazing what I see when I get down and work with the earth. Beetles, spiders, toads, caterpillars etc. are all harder to see from up on a tractor. The tractor may be a necessity but it will be used sparingly.
As we get ready for the 2014 season I thank Mother Nature for the cold winter. It should have had an effect on the bad bugs. I look forward to the new challenges and know that they will be different each year.
I’m beginning to understand that farming; at least eco-friendly sustainable farming is as much an art as it is a science. It’s all about finding the balance between the two.
I haven’t written in the blog in a while mainly because the farmer in me and the marketer – 20 years in marketing – have been at odds. The marketer is – (read: must be) positive and the farmer is, well, it is what it is. The nice thing is I think I have found some middle ground and in the end know that I’m not discouraged or disheartened; if anything I have more knowledge and am chomping at the bit for the new season to begin.
There are many stories from the 2013 season and the saga of the tractor (read: Massey Ferguson 1959 vintage) is perhaps the most interesting.
Yes I broke down and bought a used (read: old, very old) tractor that naturally broke down. My bumping into (read: hitting) a tree was caused by, but not the cause of, the break down. After purchasing the tractor from a local fellow quite a few miles away, I then realized that I had to get it home. What followed was quite a story in itself, involving the Highway Traffic Act and Old Tractors and it’s a story I’m happy to tell to those that come out to the farm for a visit. But I digress. The break down was to say the least, frustrating. When I bought the tractor I informed the person selling it that I needed to put it to work as soon as possible and was there anything I should be aware of that would need fixing in the next 3-6 months? The answer was a definite no. So, with my trust in mankind clearly established, I went ahead with the purchase. After finally getting the tractor home (remember this is another story for another day) a neighbour offered to lend me his plow. I went over hooked up the plow and at that point the leveler arm on the 3 point hitch fell off. This was clearly not a good sign. After a struggle I was able to get it back together but I knew that in the next week I would have to pick up a new one.
It’s amazing how the things we learn as children stay with us. I’m not sure if I can explain this but that first day hooking up the plow was like I was a kid again. A three point hitch works very simply: it is basically three arms in-between the back tires; much like a glorified trailer hitch. There are two hydraulic arms, one on either side about one foot in from each wheel with one centre arm. So I back the tractor in to place, get off and go around to the left side and hook up the left hydraulic arm. I then went to step over the left arm to get to the right and that’s when childhood kicked in. A voice in my head started yelling – “What the #$@$# do you think you’re doing? (I think it was my Uncle’s voice) Do you want to lose a limb?” I just froze my foot halfway in the air – I must have looked ridiculous but I didn’t really care. You do everything possible to never put yourself between the implement and the tractor because if the tractor slips into gear or the break slips and the tractor goes forward or back well you can get caught under one or the other or get a limb pinned between the two. It’s like we all unhook the spark plug before we pull grass out of the bottom of a lawn mower. —
Slowly I put my foot down and walked around the tractor to the right side and hooked up the right arm, then reached over to hook up the centre arm at the top. As I got back on the tractor to take the plow back to the homestead and finally get to work, I remembered all those times as kids that I and my cousins got the lecture about tractor safety. It just all came back, so if you happen to come out to lend a hand, know you will get the tractor safety lesson.
So now the plow is on and I am off to work. After some struggles, a few words of frustration (read: mild profanity) and some thinking I got the plow to pull a proper furl. It was at this point that I noticed the clutch was not quite right. The old tractor I have doesn’t change gears like a car. You have to stop the tractor, pick your gear and then release the clutch. Additionally, when you stop it’s a clutch and breaks tandem and if when you push it down the clutch doesn’t disengage the transmission the tractor doesn’t stop. (Can you see what’s coming?) So I’m working away and I get the row I’m on plowed. It is now time to stop. I lift the plow, push the clutch/break down and… just keep going towards a big spruce tree. Now the old tractor doesn’t go that fast and luckily I thought to drop (lower) the plow, making it act like an anchor which slowed the tractor down enough so that I only bumped into the tree.
Now I have a tractor that has no clutch but not to worry. The great thing about this tractor is because you don’t change gears on the fly, you can turn it off, select a gear, turn it on, and off you go. Not a great solution but one to get it out of the tree. Still, I have to get it fixed and the big question is where? I’m not sure where to take it and the cost well between transporting it to get repaired and then the repair itself, well, I didn’t even want to think about it. As luck would have it, I was talking to some of the farmers at the Port Hope market and they gave me the name of a tractor repair company that will do the work on site: they were a father and daughter team. After a bit of a search (not many businesses out here are on the web), I finally found him. A couple of calls and a quick on site look at the tractor and my original diagnosis was confirmed. It was indeed the clutch and the tractor had to be split. You may not realize it (I didn’t but now I do), but a tractor is nothing more than a transmission, an engine and wheels. There is no frame.
To be honest it looked like some weird magician sawing a woman in half and then walking between the parts before putting her back together but to my amazement they came out and on the first day pulled it apart and made a replacement parts list and then on day two came back put the new parts on and put it back together.
Then Ken (read: the father of the father and daughter team) gave me a quick lesson in how to use a two stage clutch and I must say the tractor now is running just fine. With the tractor now working I was able to get the fields prepped for the spring. It’s going to make life much easier in the upcoming season(s).
Next up the bugs and soil of 2013
This was a bit of a week that ended with our first little Canada Celebration. It was a huge pleasure to have such great people come out and help make our little farm what it should be – a place where all are welcome, filled with laughter and a few nasty bug bites. Boy, the misquotes are big! Thanks to all for bringing stuff along and for your interest in what’s growing.
So what and how are things growing? Well, the weeds are doing OK…but all kidding aside, here are a few of the firsts.
This one was a surprise the – first ground cherry
And close behind, the first tomatillo
The potatoes are flowering…
…and the zucchini are small but on the way
The latest to be planted are starting…here are the fava beans just poking through…
There is much more going on, that’s just a sample. If you’re in the area please stop by, I’m happy to show you around…and if you’re inclined to try your hand at weeding, well there’s lots to do.
I’m off to pick peas for tomorrow’s market, hope everyone enjoyed Canada Day and has a great summer.
Farmer – Sommelier
P.S. the peas are so good I had to get creative: Coming soon a new recipe for Halibut and Peas.
…because the first week of market has shown me that I need to plant more. On some levels I already knew this. The plan when I started was to produce vegetables for 250 families. When I started planting I didn’t have a market to sell at and I only had a handful of people in the Farm Share = Food Share program. So I planted 100 head of lettuce and thought it would last 4 weeks. With the program, markets and some loss to bugs, it will last 2. Now I’m planting 200 head every 2 weeks, and the plan for 2014 is 300/week. I also planted almost and acre of beans – flat green beans, fava beens and teggia beans (I know these as romano beans).
My first deliveries and markets went OK. Did not have much but it was good to get out and meet people. In Oshawa, Rogers was doing a spot for their morning show so I got to talk to the Mayor and be on TV. (Note: the Downtown Oshawa Farmers’ Market is closed this week -June 26- but back on July 3 right through to the fall).
I have started to put together recipes – and I will also add a wine paring suggestion – that go with the veggies that I will be giving out at the markets. I’ll also be putting the recipes up in a section here.
Finally, the Beetle Battle continues and I think I’m losing; did a bug walk and picked 300 plus beetles off of the plants. Now they have moved over to the zucchini because it’s flowering. I will keep trying. The beetle is only doing what it’s supposed to so I can’t blame it. I might not like it but…
Well it’s back out to the fields, have to start to get ready to open the veggie stand on the farm, there is more to plant and then there are the weeds…
Farmer – Sommelier
I mean new equipment. This week has seen a couple of firsts. The new wheel hoe has arrived. This new piece of equipment is based on simple technology used when my father was a boy working the farm. He suggested it to me and I must say that it’s going to make hoeing much easier. I also got a new seeder that attaches to the wheel hoe, that should make things, if not easier, at least a bit more uniform with less waste.
In the war on the beetle and other bugs, I am happy to see reinforcements arriving: the ladybugs have begun to appear and there have been a couple of toad-spottings. Nancy stopped by with some info and supplies to build some cucumber beetle traps but it needs to stop raining before I can try them.
An organic grower the other day suggested row covers. I have ordered some and they arrived so I seeded the rest of the cucumber seeds in the field and put on the row covers.
They work by letting light and rain through but the bugs can’t get in. I’m not sure how I feel about this from a sustainability standpoint, I have to do more research. It seems that in a way we are affecting an eco-system, sort of making a sterile environment for the plants, which to me leads to weaker plants in future generations. It also goes against my eat-a-little-dirt-every-day belief – a little bacteria and dirt help make a stronger immune system. I could be wrong but it has worked so far.
As Abby’s dad says about eating wild mushrooms “I’ll only be wrong once.” I guess the “once” should worry me but…
As to how things are growing, well, slowly. It has been a slow spring. The leaf lettuce is coming along and the bugs on the kale are very happy and prolific. The peas are taking their sweet time but the swiss chard is close and the radish, well, they grow almost like rabbits.
So here’s to a little sunshine to help the plants make use of all the rain.
Farmer – Sommelier
…. some that I was not expecting. This was a hard week. Many thanks to those who helped get the tomatoes and cucumbers in. I spent the rest of the week getting the remaining greenhouse plants in. Unfortunately I have hit the next hurdle. I was banking on having to keep the weeds down and on cleaning up. I wasn’t expecting the cucumber beetle plague and the government red tape (which is another story). I have been left with hand-picking the beetle, probably a couple of hundred to date, with no end in site. Abby has taken to calling it my daily bug walk, (depending on the day, it happens twice). At this point we have lost 30% of the cucumbers and 5% of the squash. I’m going to look into planting a few more cucumbers . My apologies to all those who put in the hard work to get them in. I’m doing what I can but really wasn’t expecting this.
As a friend and I kidded when I started this, “Chris you’ll make this work or die trying.” From sleeping in the greenhouse to chasing little striped beetles all over the fields, I’m still enjoying this and excited by each new development. In between chasing bug and getting the last of the plants in, I took on a couple of new projects. Spent a day, or part of, doing some companion planting, mixing basil and marigolds in amongst the cucumbers and tomatoes. This should, if all I’ve been reading is true, help ward off some of these bugs. I also put in a little herb/flower garden at the edge of what will be the parking lot and added some rhubarb that my neighbour asked me to dig up for her.
I’m going to see a organic grower in the next couple of days, to see what else I can learn and have spent some time understanding entomology so I know the good bugs when I see them. I’m also looking into building habitat for birds, bugs (the good ones) and even bats. If all goes well next year I’ll have a little army of defences and call them The Company of 3Bs to take care of the cucumber beetle and his friends.
I’m up early to pick more beetles, wish me luck. I’ll get over this hurdle and then it’s on to the next one.
Farmer – Sommelier