Friday, 30 November 2018

Update December 4th:

We are in the midst of a property offer...and all of the paper pushing, meetings, and coordinating that entails.

I have received four replies from the year end survey, thank-you for taking the time to fill these out.  There is no hurry.  I hope to have enough information by mid December to help make some decisions for next season's plans.

I won't have too much time in the coming weeks to work out any other possible plans for next season, other than what I have to post later today.

If you have any comments about the options thus far on the "Potential Plans for 2019" page, feel free to send them in. 


Hello Everyone:

This is a post intended for mid October.  An abrupt change in the forecast changed all my priorities and  prevented it from being completed.

One of the strengths of the small scale farm model is how nimble they are - change can be prepared for on short notice.

How quickly the weather changes.  Looking at the forecast last night (Sunday), it seemed to me as if the next 5 days were not too cold and what appeared to be a slight warming trend toward the end of the week.

Now I see that the forecast is suggesting a minus seven later in the week.  That will be tough, but with a little extra effort, I should be able to protect the crops sufficiently.

Some crops can do without protection, such as these carrots.  The frost might kill off the greenery, but the roots will improve flavor after a frosting.

With time being so valuable, setting up row covers can be reserved for elsewhere.

Still plenty to do...and less time to do it.  Work for the past week has focused on getting beds cleaned up for next season.

Cultivating any weed growth that may have accumulated in the plants under story, aerating the soil with the broad fork - a full body workout that left me feeling slightly euphoric with runners high - amending the soil with compost and rock amendments of phosphorus and greensand, and another round of cultivating to work the compost in.

Calphos is a rock based amendment providing calcium and phosphorous to the soil, which in turn feeds the plants.

Greensand is another rock amendment derived from ancient seashore deposits, providing potassium and over seventy micro nutrients in a form that may be taken by the plant as needed.

Roots, fruits, and most brassica crops tend to perform better in soil that was amended the previous autumn.

There are other benefits to getting the beds prepared in the fall.

Everything is growing quickly in the spring - especially the weeds.  The more germinated weed seeds that are wiped out by surface cultivating in the fall, the fewer will sprout next season.

With the beds ready to go, a late can spring has less impact.  As I learned this year, a very late spring can nullify the head start.

Next years country is waiting...

I don't do very much production planning until after the ground has frozen.  When the freeze occurs, no more work on the beds is possible.

This gives me a limit from which I can plan my early spring work from.

Knowing that, I can calculate how many customers the field is ready for.

The garlic beds are now cleaned up and only need a bit of raking to smooth out the surface to prepare them for the fall planting of garlic bulbs.

This is a very time dependent task, it needs to be done before the ground freezes.  The freeze date in our area has 'never' been before November 15, but with the weather cooling considerably over the past two weeks, I suspect sooner is better with this task.

Here another amendment is added.  I collect damp fallen leaves in the autumn and store them for a season, creating a leaf mold amendment, which some garlic growers claim is beneficial to garlic.

In the fall of 2017, I also used leaf mold when preparing the next seasons beds for onion and leeks.  I made this assumption on the knowledge that these crops are closely related to garlic.

I credit this as one of the reasons my onions and leeks did so much better than in seasons past.

Look closely and you can see the leaves incorporated into the bed.

Days later...the frost has finished off the zinnias (foreground).  The russian kale (this side of the green watering can) has not been negatively effected by the hard frost.

The hard frost has frozen the row covers to the ground, so I can't look under them (without tearing the fabric) until the day has warmed up.

Lots of suspense until then.

The cold does effect kale.  The leaves darken in response to chemistry changes within, making them more pleasing to the eye for those who like purple leaves. 

Brassica crops taste better after frosting, the result of the chemistry adaptations the crop uses to protect itself from the cold.

Better eating through chemistry!

A few days later, another chilly night and some snow.  The kale is still going strong.

In the event I changed my mind about covering the kale, I had pre-positioned the row cover hoops.

This worries me.  The cover has flattened under the weight of the snow, bringing the chard leaves into contact with the chill of the snow.

I had considered adding extra hoops to some of the cover should this occur, but there were other details to attend to the day before.

The carrot tops are limp from the snow exposure.  48 hours later, they are upright again, indicating that there is still some growth occurring in the roots.

Leaving the carrots our through the first snow provided an extra ten days or so of growing time.  Slower at his time of year, with shorter days, but every bit counts with this crop seeded a little later than I prefer.

Finally, some covers can be removed to see how other crops fared.

The chard made it.  Some years I am not so lucky with this crop's cold resistance.

The red chard in particular responds to the cold by changing leaf color to darker red or even a bronze hue.

I leave the cover off during the day to allow the soil to soak up heat from the sunshine.

Always a challenge balancing between leaving it in the ground and harvesting it.  Either way, the crop needs protection from the cold.  I have more control over harvested crops placed in the nursery, but space is limited. As well, I prefer to keep the leaves as fresh as possible

Inevitably, the season comes to an end.

By now, the row covers are dry and stored away from rodents - who love this for nesting material it seems - and the barn is weatherized for the winter.

Now I have time to get caught up on the writing!

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Hey Everyone:

Not all cracked tomatoes go to waste - this one was a model for this season's jack-o-lantern.

Somehow we forgot to photograph the pumpkin this year, but the fruit was still intact enough to stand in.

Here we are:  Our annual camping trip to Frontenac Park.

This trip coincides with the 'start of the finish' of the growing season. 

A time to getaway from the field and the barn and the office and the email and consider the big picture - how has this season panned out and what directions might the farm take into the next season.

Most of the days are taken up with maintaining camp and hikes and picnics as we venture deeper into the trail network.  We usually aim for landmarks such as abandoned mica mines, decaying homesteads, or scenic lookouts.

Inevitably, there are surprises along the way.  Such as these mysterious white orbs we glimpsed through the trees.

We found a colony of puffballs bigger than basketballs.

There are many comparisons between our camping trip and the life of our farm.  The planning, starting out on the journey, overcoming the many challenges and the slow climb from an idea to the ever expanding sales base.

And  crossing the the many pitfalls along the way.

The scenery at the farm is not particularly remarkable. 

However, every morning I walk into the field, there are many new things to look at, things to look for, and in some cases, things I wish I wasn't seeing.

So I don't often notice the scenery anyway.

All too often the end of a day trip signals the beginning of another hikes starting point - another trail, another hill.

The next picnic, just like the next farm season, is just around the corner....

What new seeds will I trial next season?  What infrastructure needs to be added next - will it be a curing shed or a better nursery?  Or a shed for a permanent farm gate store?

A never ending set of twists and turns, intersecting with the twists and turns of the folks who purchase food from the farm.

The source of our food, evening warmth, and inspiration.  After supper, the long dusk hours are whiled away staring into the embers as the fire is allowed to burn down to ash.

This is a most productive time for problem solving.  This years questions seem quite insoluble.

The "soft goal" of the season to close on a property by late summer has not come to pass.  Where do we go from here?

Unless some new properties enter the market between now and when the snow flies, we will have to continue the search next season.

As for next season, what?

There was not enough time to achieve many of my career development goals last year.

I had intended to take on a part-time employee, but sales fell just short of being able to afford the hiring costs.

And that was partly because I reduced the number of deliveries for the season.

Obviously I need to consult my customers more before any changes to the routine are set in stone.

The morning is wiser than the evening, and more discoveries await us.

Including this one, right over our heads.

The mushroom in the tree will watch over camp  while we are away on our next trek...

A new set of trails for us.  I haven't been this way since I was in my teens, on family day trips.

Trees are taller, the trail wider, and the water table has changed enough to require boardwalks where their used to be dry path.

Like our farm now, more than half an acre of produce grows in soil that was hay field eight years ago, a collection of sheds surround the hay barn, a new fence encloses the growing area.

Decisions decisions decisions...which way to go at a cross roads...try to find the next homestead?

It may be a log cabin, a pile of logs with metal roofing on top of it, or a depression in the ground hinting at someones home eighty years ago.

The days are shorter, so consulting the map and estimating our walking speed on this hilly terrain needs to be taken into account.

I mentally calculate, while drawing more parallels to my farming thoughts.

We press on and are rewarded with the remains of someones dream.

We scan the terrain for clues of their life...a pile of rocks capping a well, a flat area where the kale yard might have been, a stand of  trees betraying the outline of a barn, an ancient oak that might have supported a swing...

Having achieved our goal for today, we retrace our steps with dinner beckoning...

No getting away from the farm at supper time.  The pasta sauce contains tomatoes, carrots, garlic, onions, peppers, celery and basil...only the oregano, bay, and mushrooms are outsourced.

My farm building projects also contribute, with sawdust from power sanding augmenting the tinder in the campfire.

Darkness falls for the second night.  No time for thinking of the farm now.  This activity is too serious for distraction.

Despite one night of scattered showers, we have had a dry weekend (excluding loading and unloading the canoe).

Progress has been slow but inevitable.  Our camping skills allow us to set up camp very quickly in twilight (happened to us last year), and our camps have improved the level of comfort and convenience.

With progress comes new requirements - our new tent needs a slightly larger tarp to fully protect it from the rain.

Slow and inevitable progress.  During my second season, I commented to one of the gaffers on the precariousness of the farm.  His reply was that the only thing that would lead to failure now was giving up.  Everything has a solution.

One last look at the lake before we drive out of the par, canoe tied to the roof and the car loaded with camping gear and a camera full of memories.

Will we be back next season, or shall we use our week after Thanksgiving to to work on a new home?

Time will tell...

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Hello Everyone:

The crops are mostly harvested as of late Saturday - the snow started just as I was closing up the barn and gates.

What crops are out there are either impervious to the cold or were subject to calculated risk based on a variety of factors.

I'll do the delivery Tuesday and Wednesday as usual, though I may have to deliver the Tuesday evening crops a little early as my National Farmers Union chapter rescheduled its monthly meeting for Tuesday night.  I'm assuming mid to late afternoon delivery on Tuesday as of this writing.

The kidney beans will not be ready.  That's ok, I will have to do a final round of picking up the last of the totes, so I can drop these off in a ziplock or other receptacle as I have done in past years.

This was by far the toughest harvest I have ever done.  It was during a weather check late Thursday that I learned that the "chance of wet flurries or showers" had changed to snow and or rain up to 5-10 cm accumulation.  All my scheduled plans for Friday and Saturday went on hold as I tried to figure out what to do and how to do it.

If I left everything to the usual harvest day, there might be an intolerable amount of damage to the crops (or might not, in case the snow changed to rain and then did not freeze).  What was a better use of time?  A steady hand or work really hard for an event that might or might not occur and in doing so upset my scheduled tasks, which included planting the garlic for next season?

Alternately, if I harvested everything, there was certainly no place to store all of it in a climate moderated place (the nursery is rodent and frost free;  the heater can keep the temperature around 4 degrees on its lowest setting).  But its space is limited to a few cubic feet, and not all of the shelves are big enough to accommodate the large items such as a basket of chard leaves.  .

And if I harvested the leaves (assuming I found another storage spot for them), would they remain fresh until Wednesday or would they wilt?

I spent most of Friday harvesting carrots, all the while brainstorming the possibilities and taking into account all of the snow mitigation that would need to be done around the barn (the barn is a hay barn, that is, it has un-chinked walls to allow stored hay to dry.  It is (mostly) rain proof, but snow does blow in and with the high temperatures above zero, this would mean that many items in there would need to be tarped (lawn mower, tiller, etc) or otherwise protected (the curing kidney beans).

What made harvesting the carrots stressful was the knowledge that of all the crops out there, these were probably best left in the ground where the cold would not affect them - even if the snow killed off the tops.  However, I also knew that the chance of rain coupled with a high of 5 degrees would make for a miserable if not dangerous harvest.  I can work in the cold or the wet but not both.  Living off farm and getting a chill would at the very least require coming home to change clothes and warm up - easily loosing an hour of work time during our short days.  And the carrots were the most time consuming task at hand.

So my efforts were harried by a constant stream of questions, task lists and the nagging feeling that my priorities were not in the best order.

Saturday morning as I suited up for the day, I had a bit of a brainstorm.  I was getting into a second pair of wool over-pants (which smelled tantalizingly of campfire), I recalled that I had found a spare heater stored in the same closet as the camp gear -  a spare for the nursery in case the first one broke down. 

I packed that in the car for the day, thinking I could place it in the bottom of the ice fridge - the ice having long since melted back in the summer - for a few more cubic feet of storage space.

Arriving at the farm, none of yesterdays questions were resolved and it was chilly.  Four layers, including two layers of wool over-pants (Moving about was awkward but at least I was warm.)

I continued to work on snow mitigation in the barn, doing a bit of option exploring to see if I could get a few more cubic feet in the nursery.

When I knew it could no longer wait, I started with the smallest items (a few pounds of beets, then the handful of remaining daikons, the only four cabbages that somehow avoided being chewed up by cabbage loopers...then the kohlrabi, which looked so nice that I thought they should be harvested as it appeared to be one of the best crops out there and so worth saving no matter what...

Julia arrived later that morning and we got to work bagging the carrots as all of the harvest baskets were full and the carrots were taking up three much-needed harvest baskets.  These went into the ice fridge along with the leeks.

The last two items were the green onions and lettuce.  The onions fit into the nursery, but then there was no room for the lettuce.  More options...set them on a table in the barn and heap dozens of row cover loosely over them?  If I could sweep the floor of the barn (gravel, straw, grit, and bare earth) that would be acceptable, but between the wind blowing through and the numerous sharp edges around here and straw on the floor, I might wind up with uncovered lettuces overnight and some very tattered row covers.

My final brainstorm suggested the ice compartment of the ice fridge.  I unsealed this and heaped the lettuce baskets in there, then sealed it back up again, hoping that the heater would keep then suitably protected.  Placing the tightly fitting panels back on the fridge, I felt like I was entombing the lettuce heads!

Physically today, I feel fine but mentally drained and perhaps a little tired from expending energy keeping warm, though really it was only when my hands were wet from washing produce that I felt much chill.

Not a harvest I will soon forget...I just wish we had a photographer there to document our efforts as we harvested the lettuces under a brief band of ice pellets - baskets of lettuce beside us covered with burlap

Details of the harvest on "This weeks harvest" Page.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Update as of Monday morning:

If you are in one of our affected neighborhoods, I can hold off your delivery for a week and send you extra next week.  PLEASE, let me know one way or another - I realise your delivery may not be top of mind right now.

Please note that if you have lost a significant amount of food due to power outages, I may be able to help out with extras, will have to see how things work out.

Details being posted on "This weeks harvest page" and updated as the week progresses.

Also, Dick will be selling beef this fall so you may contact "Littledown Farm" after Wednesday.

Hello Everyone:

Friday afternoon as experienced from my end of town...

Note for context...we have been house and farm sitting for my landlord.  The farm has five beef cattle that need supervision - checking their water supply and ensuring the physical and electric fences are secure.  The cattle have access to a couple of fields adjacent to my growing field and their house where we are based...

It's too windy at the prep station to use the scale accurately, so I take the onions and the squashes back to Dick's house and set up in the garage.  At one point I hear a snap and look out - a tree has just come down in the neighbors yard.  I should check on the farm when I am done...

As planned, I stopped my work late in the afternoon to drive over to the auto shop to pick up the Subaru after an oil change.  I pass the farm lane way on my way down the road and all looks ok - some of the the row covers are flapping loosely.

I pick up the car, leave the little car in the lot, and request that my receipt is emailed to me...later, I was able to reconstruct my whereabouts with the time stamp from this communication (I was on farm time; ie, sometime late afternoon).

On the way home (4:30 pm), I kept looking north and thinking that the hazy, diffuse clouds look potentially tornadic.  I click on the radio and almost immediately receive the alert ready signal, indicating a tornado warning.  'Warning', I thought.  Meaning possibly imminent.  'Gotta double check the yard to make sure everything is fastened down'.  There are farm clothes on the line.  Not sure where this bank of clouds are heading but I know everything can change quickly with weather like this.

It is sunny where I am, and other than a fire crew tending to a tree leaning upon some wires on Shea Road, all seems normal - there are two more tornado alerts.

I stop at a neighbors to discuss looking after their chickens for a couple of days.  We comment on the clouds to the north and the west; he suggests that the weather would turn bad here around 7 PM.

Ok, I think, I'll go check on the row covers and decide if I should tighten them or to take them off for the night.  If I tighten them too much, the covers will rip off.  Not cold tonight, so maybe best to take them down.

This is the scene that greets me as I arrive at the gate.

The tree originally stood inside the cattle fence, so now it is laying across it.  Not to mention the gate, which is smashed and laying flat.

This means trouble - the fence containing the cattle is down and they have access to the road.

They will be coming to this pasture soon to drink from their water cistern, have to move and think quickly.  Clouds in the west getting nearer...

I got back into car and returned to the house to take the back entrance through the cattle field.  A large bank of clouds are rolling in from the west...I turn on the radio and hear the breaking news of  power outages, four homes damaged possible tornado...

Focused on the job at hand, I drive through the cattle field and park, blocking the entrance to the compromised pasture.

I step out just as the breeze starts to pick up.  The smell of rain is in the air.

First, I grab an old unused gate to block their entrance to the pasture.  Then I start adjusting the electric fence - two barriers, electric and physical - are standard on this farm.

With the tree laying across the electric fence, the electricity will be grounded thus rendering the entire fence ineffective.  So the pasture portion of the fence needs to be cut off.  How the heck did Dick splice this electric line together?  A quick jog to the shed to retrieve the wire cutter, and soon I've disconnected the portion of compromised fence.  Now I have to bypass the disconnect so that the rest of the fence remains live.  I'm using some of my own spare temporary fence stakes.

I bend down to pick up one last electric fence stake.  A violent gust of wind followed by a smash.  I reel, clutching my head...what happened?  The gate is lying on the ground.  Fluke accident.  Minor cut.  The first drops begin to fall.  Almost finished...

Gritting my teeth and thinking of the need to get an ice-pack on my head, I fasten the gate to a tree with some spare wire, re-string the electric wire, hustle to the electric fence charger, and get it turned back on.  The rain is pouring now and I soak the car seat driving back to the house.  

As soon as I am inside and de-booted, on with the radio, only to find that my little drama is nothing compared to what is going on elsewhere in  town.  Takes my mind off the headache.  Get supper started in case our power goes out later.  Raining much harder now, wondering if Julia is stuck in traffic (as it turned out, she was walking from the bus stop to the auto shop parking lot at this point to pick up the other car.  Completely oblivious to the events of the past hour or so).  


Assessing the work ahead Saturday morning, this view from inside the gate.

Close call, the tree could have taken out the power line to the farm.

First, check the tree branches up in the air  relative to the electric lines and figure out how cutting the branches will affect how the rest of the tree will shift about as it's weight changes.

Then look for branches up in the air that are loose enough to fall when the cutting starts.

Neighbors are so useful at a time like this...

A second pair of hands arrives.  In farm country,, we tend to look out for one another.  

As we work, another truck pulls up.

Another family drama unfolding completely unrelated to the storm...a missing black lab is being sought.

The gate is finally freed.  Not as bad as it could have been, but rendered inoperable.  

Dick will have some welding work to do as many of the cross pieces are snapped from their welding points and the hinges are broken.

Moments later, the fence flops against my helps truck and leaves some anything going to be left unscathed? 

Progress being made.  Damage to the fence is becoming more apparent - the fence posts here are snapped off at ground level.

The downed tree supplies plenty of material for bracing.

After fixing the fence, time to get the cattle access to this pasture opened back up.

For reference, a photo of last nights work.

Not pretty, but effective.  Ability to improvise is a must for any would be farmer.

Minutes after opening the gate, the cattle start to arrive, no doubt a little thirsty.

Job done, back to the routine...