Friday, March 20, 2020

Prepping takes a coronavirus pandemic for me to take the time to write a blog post. As any of you who have children know, having young children (Emma's turning three in May) means you have no free time. Or actually, no time in general. Especially now as day cares are all closed. I'm not going to lie, I'm only able to write this post now because Emma is watching 'If I Were an Animal' on Netflix right beside me.

We knew life would change when we had a child, but I don't think Skyler and I were prepared for how frustrated we could be by the loss of 'productivity' in our lives. Essentially, I can't get anything done efficiently while Emma's in my care. And when you're a one-person market gardener, being efficient is the only way that the garden can be managed. So I am hiring part-time help this summer, mostly for harvest day, and Skyler's going to have to watch Emma during crucial garden task times. The trade off is that if one of us is watching Emma, the other person is running flat out to get as much done in their work time as possible. Sigh...I'm definitely feeling my age these days ;P

Last year I also caught some sort of flu for 3 weeks at the end of June, right when it was most crucial to get vegetables transplanted and beds direct seeded. Again, a reminder that I'm not 25 any more ;P So the transition to no-till vegetable growing continues to have a sense of urgency, and I'm very happy that I already have all my landscape fabric/mulch delivered to the farm, ready to be laid out on beds to prepare them for planting, as soon as the vegetable field is snow free, which is pretty much any day now.

And let's not forget the farm animals! We have had a great lambing season, with 27 lambs born to 18 ewes within about 4 weeks...a tight lambing period, which means our new Gotland ram knows what he's doing ;) This means our barn currently has 72 sheep in it, between the breeding ewes and ram, their new lambs, the non-breeding ewes (we don't breed them until they're over a year old) and ram lambs born later last year. At this time of year, Skyler and I get worried for our hay supply and watch the pasture fields obsessively for growth. Every fall, we stock more hay than we think we'll need, but we also ended up keeping more sheep in the barn than originally planned, so we're really hoping the pastures will be ready for grazing early this year, unlike last year! Is it too much to hope that as our world deals with the societal changes required by the coronavirus pandemic, we can have an ideal growing season to produce as much food locally as we can??? My fingers are crossed anyway...I could definitely use a really good vegetable and pasture year.

Anyway, I'm super thankful that despite what's happening outside the farm these days, we're ready to go for food production this year, with all of our seeds, soil block making supplies, row cover, etc already at the farm. Increasing local food production capacity may actually become a priority issue for society in the next little while, and we're ready!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Earth Day should be every day

Happy Earth Day everyone!

It was certainly a lovely, warm day here at the farm, one of the few we've had so far this spring. Seemed like winter wanted to hang on forever, and then of course, spring flooding from lots of rain, still frozen ground, and rapid snow/ice melt...sigh...this is why I'll be building raised beds in the vegetable garden. I always optimistically schedule my first direct seeding of sugar snap peas in the field for end of April, but that hasn't been possible for years! My fingers are crossed that with raised beds, I can actually hit that end of April seeding date next year...

I read a CBC opinion piece today saying that Earth Day is no longer relevant:
       " The planet now finds itself in grave danger. We're way beyond holding a day once a year to raise awareness on the issue. If your house is on fire, you're not going to ask the family, "Any ideas on how we should celebrate Fire Safety Day this year?""

I remember when I was a young teenager in Edmonton (where I was born), celebrating Earth Day with sincere hope for the future. I still even have an Earth Day t-shirt from then. But now I read about all that is happening in our environment, and see little to no political or social will to change things. Bumblebee species are in decline (in fact, pretty much the whole insect world). Flooding, raging fires, severe storms. Climate change used to be something that I thought we needed to be acting to prevent now, but I didn't think we'd actually be experiencing its effects within my lifetime, and I'm not expecting to die for hopefully a few more decades.

Currently, my only regular contact with the outside world (yes, farming is that isolating) is working part-time during tax season in a local tax office which has many people come in and out all day. I overhear lots of complaints about the price of gas going up from the federal carbon tax...but everyone makes sure that we've applied for their climate action incentive credit (yes, the federal government is flogging that horse, a lot). And with the shift in governments both locally and around the world to politicians who don’t want to make the drastic changes necessary to actually slow (not even halt or turn around) the climate change train wreck happening right in front of us…I’m not feeling like anyone wants to change anything at all.

Meanwhile, here at the farm, and in my growing circle of agroecological farmer friends, all we do is talk about climate change, and farming practices that will actually sequester carbon. We prioritize increasing biodiversity on our farms, and definitely don't use chemical products for killing insects or plants we don't like. We're totally into compost and all its magical effects and dream about having more livestock, so we can get more manure, so we can make more compost. This must sound so strange to most of you. Lately, I feel like an alien when socializing outside organic farming circles.

This year, I’m again the president of the National Farmers’ Union – Ontario, Local 344 for Grey County (yeah, that’s a mouthful). As a board, we decided on three priority issues for the year: climate change, indigenous solidarity, and new farmer support. With a federal election this year, we’ll be doing our best to challenge local candidates to state their positions on these topics. And we’ll be researching what parts of the Green New Deal and Leap Manifesto, the two most radical political movements in North America for divesting from oil and prioritizing climate change action, relate to farming, and what we can do now on our farms.

With my farmer friends, we dream of a world where all farming is done agroecologically, without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Where RoundUp (glyphosate) and genetically modified crops (most of them modified to resist RoundUp, so you can spray that crop with RoundUp to kill all the weeds, but your crop stays alive) are banned. Glyphosate causes cancer, as two U.S. courts have already ruled…but Health Canada and other government agencies won’t/can’t admit this. Why can’t this be admitted? Because if glyphosate were banned world-wide, global agriculture as we know it would collapse, pulling down hedge funds, chemical companies, seed companies (which are mostly the chemical companies anyway), farm equipment manufacturers and retailers, banks with agricultural lending (which is all of them)…the list goes on. And of course, people would starve in the short term, because not enough people know how to farm without the chemical inputs and genetically modified seeds. So the non-organic farms all around me continue to spend as much on fertilizer, pesticides and seed, as they make from their crops, if not more. Because that’s the way agriculture is done. Farmers are producing commodities. Not food, not ecological stewardship, not vibrant rural communities. The fewer farmers it takes to farm more and more land, the better, right? Efficiency is king in this capitalist world. Resiliency is at the opposite end of that spectrum.

So now, I’m really depressed. Why do I start writing blog posts late in the evening instead of going to sleep? Because I’m sick and tired of holding my tongue, or not wanting to get political with people, or having to explain myself while the other person's eyes glaze over. I don’t want to preach to people, or point the finger and accuse people of using too many plastic straws, because that’s not the point. Frankly, individual actions are nothing in the face of the massive societal changes that need to happen. We literally have to decide, as a society, that no more fossil fuels are to be removed from the ground. No oil washed off sand. No more refining. No more pipelines, or train cars moving bitumen around. We need to get off fossils fuels, full stop. We need to stop producing food covered in chemicals, which destroy the environments in which they’re grown. We need to stop shipping food all around the world to be processed and eaten. We need economies to be localized, where we all adapt to producing what we need closer to home, and doing without that which we cannot produce locally. In a globalized world where shipping and logistics companies like Amazon are king, a localized economy sounds like some sort of hippy dream, right? Well it’s not. Much as I love eating mangos and oranges, I can survive without them. I can survive eating food that could be grown right here in Ontario, or even in the rest of Canada. I don’t have to eat food that is shipped from South America, or Asia (though I would miss rice, I am Chinese after all). I could survive wearing wool and linen (flax) clothing. Though frankly, if we all just started swapping our clothes instead of throwing it out, we already have a massive supply of clothing right here. We could have solar panels on every building surface, and size/community appropriate wind turbines for electricity. I so desperately want an electric vehicle instead of my Dodge Caravan, but unfortunately, do not have the funds to get one.

Which brings me to my latest source of depression. CSA membership sign ups are down this year, and not just for me. Many other organic CSA farmers are experiencing the same thing, and if I believe the various CSA marketing gurus who’ve found my email address, this decline is widespread. Their solutions essentially ask CSAs to be more accommodating to their members, allowing full customization of weekly packages, via their super duper on-line ordering platforms. Because that’s what non-CSA grocery box delivery services can do…because they don’t grow the food!!! I’ve realized over the years that the only people who enjoy being CSA members, are those who enjoy the challenge of cooking in season, with whatever vegetables, meat, eggs, legumes, etc. are presented to them. Those who need specific ingredients for every meal, find CSA packages hugely challenging and often end up discarding unused items. I certainly understand the challenge of coming up with a healthy meal that your whole family (of picky children) will eat, and so I definitely sympathize, but that doesn’t mean I can, or should, make vegetable packages customizable. The logistics of vegetable growth means you harvest what’s ready, when it’s ready…which is actually great, because you get the freshest and most tasty and nutritious veggies! And customizing harvesting and packaging would require more labour, which my farm just can’t afford. In fact, few organic farms can afford more labour, which is why there are so many seasonal organic farm internships (board and lodgings, maybe a stipend) and places for WWOOFing volunteers. But wait, we could afford more labour, if we could actually charge the real cost of production of food, but that’s impossible in Canada where people expect the cheapest food prices. And none of us actually want to be the private farmers for only super rich people anyway. I am not a serf.

So, ranting aside, please consider joining an agroecological farm CSA, any farm CSA, not just mine. Yes, it will be more challenging to produce meals with what you’re provided, but the ingredients will be so fresh and tasty, you’ll have to do less to make them taste good to your family. In the summer time, I eat more than half my vegetables raw anyway! And you’ll be supporting a farm which isn’t causing climate change, but doing all they can to mitigate climate change. Take your climate action incentive credit and put it towards signing up for a CSA membership. It’s a step towards a more localized economy, which is better than no step at all.

Happy Earth Day everyone. I know the Earth will still be here long after I’m gone. I would prefer if human beings were still part of its ecosystem.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Exciting farm changes for 2019!

To think, I thought I'd have a bit more time to be able to update this blog last year, with Emma being a bit older and being back at work 3+ days a week, but that definitely didn't work out! We all made it through last season, but it was quite difficult, for many different reasons, not the least being the weather. The growing season started with drought and ended with extreme humidity, which means early season greens and peas did poorly, and some crops didn't get a start at all, and it was super hard to cure late season squashes because there was so much mold everywhere thriving in the moisture. Days were spent examining squashes and wiping them down with vinegar to prevent mold growth, though they were all in single layers with plenty of air flow. One bright spot in the season was the success of the tomatoes and eggplant, which definitely thrived from all the heat units in the earlier part of the summer! Then winter hit hard and early in mid-October and just stayed, preventing some of the end of season field clean up. The second week of October was hot and humid, and the 3rd week had the first snow on the ground. I definitely breathed a sigh of relief when the last vegetable harvest of the season was delivered to everyone so I didn't have to worry about regular vegetable harvests anymore.

And then we started lambing again November 7! In theory, I knew my ewes, having some Dorper genetics, could lamb 3 times in 2 years, but as it hadn't happened over the past few years, I wasn't expecting it. But somehow, when the ewes went out on pasture in June/July, even with the drought, they were in good enough body condition to be bred. In future, we're going to have to be much more intentional about our timing of leaving the ram in with the ewes. We're just too soft hearted and don't want to separate the ram from the rest of the flock to hang out on his own.

This past year was definitely the year of the lambs for Black Sheep Farm! Our first (and expected) round of lambing started in late February and resulted in the birth of 26 lambs by early April. That means we averaged 2 lambs per ewe, with 2 of them having triplets, 2 having singles, and the rest with twins. The majority were rams, so 2018 was the first year that we had enough lamb to actually sell in bundles. And even with the drought, we managed to keep all the sheep well fed on pasture, moving them in and out of the barn as needed, to let the pastures regrow, feeding them hay while in the barn. Managed intensive grazing definitely gets more intensive in drought conditions as the sheep actually had to be moved twice a day to keep them happy enough with their pasture to prevent breakouts. So much moving of moveable electric netting fence pieces...but it must have worked as the ewes all regained body condition after lambing and all those lambs definitely fattened up well. And our pasture fields are one more season into overall soil regeneration. We'll see this year if the various pastures have gotten denser and lusher with plant matter. Some of the pastures have been under managed grazing for a season or two longer than the others, so it's pretty easy to see the progression of pasture improvement each year. One of our changes this year will be to bring the 6 acre hay field out of hay production, and use it exclusively for grazing, and see what changes that brings over the next few years.

One crazy sheep incident that we hope never to have to deal with again, was our first brush with flystrike. In late September, in those weirdly humid weather conditions, Brush got flystrike. First, we tried to catch her on pasture to get a better look, but when that didn't work, we had to bring the whole flock into the barn, but in the process of herding them, she took off! We eventually found her in the woods and had to catch her to bring back to the barn. I won't go into detail about how things looked, but essentially, it's the sort of situation that brings me nightmares. Just look up flystrike and you can watch all sorts of videos that you'll probably wish you hadn't clicked on. Anyway, we tried to rinse the maggots and eggs away and cut away the affected fleece, but were extremely unsuccessful, especially since we didn't want to nick Brush's skin and cause a wound that would make things worse. In the end, we doused her backside with iodine (which started a maggot exodus that I still gag to remember) and called our sheep shearers, who could luckily come to see us the next afternoon. When our shearers, Jake and Sam Sloan came the next day, they sheared away the fleece on Brush's backside and confirmed that we had both caught the infestation just in time, and the iodine treatment had actually worked 100%, killing all the eggs and maggots. She had a small wound from maggot eating, which healed up very nicely without any further treatment. Phewf! Apparently when our shearers are usually called in to deal with a sheep with flystrike, it's usually too late and the sheep has had its flesh eaten away enough that it just has to be put down. In Ontario, this isn't usually something to be worried about in fall, but rather spring/early summer, which is partly why we shear our sheep before they go out on pasture (and with enough time to grow back enough fleece to protect them from the sun). But this is the first fall in the 10 seasons I've been at the farm, when I've experienced such constantly humid conditions.

My major takeaway from 2018...climate change is going to require constant adjustment, innovation, and attention for us to be able to keep farming. We need to scout regularly for signs of stress in the plants and animals, and ensure that we adjust for weather conditions to make sure everything manages to stay healthy. Vigilance and action. I knew farming would never be boring, but I was hoping it wouldn't be quite this exciting :( I know there are a lot of farmers who are on the verge of burnout from all the added stress and management from having to respond to uncontrollable weather conditions, or just stand by and see entire crops wiped out as there's nothing they can do. There are no more expected weather conditions...we're just going to get whatever comes year by year and hope that our planning is resilient enough to make sure enough food can still be produced to feed ourselves and our members. And while many farmers' solution to unpredictable weather is to build more greenhouses, I just can't bring myself to go that route. I've never felt right working in a greenhouse and have always preferred the open field. And greenhouses come with their own set of challenges which I'm not willing to deal with in addition to managing field growing and animals.

The major change for vegetable production is that we will be moving away from rotating the 1 acre vegetable field, and switching to fixed place, raised vegetable beds. This is both to cut down on soil tillage and to gain 3+ more acres of pasture for animal pasturing. So when the vegetable field has dried enough for working this spring, we will start to build raised beds for planting, which will eventually (over years) become no till, as they get built up with the addition of organic matter in the form of mulch and compost. Part of the reason we can make this change is because of the compost available from the increase in the number of sheep at the farm, as well as the addition of chicken manure, as we will be raising both meat birds and laying hens this season.

The priority of all these changes...we want to keep improving our soils. This is at the very root of how we will both respond to, and mitigate, climate change. Healthy soils, full of microbial and animal life, and organic matter, are what will keep things growing through all extremes (except for a 40 day flood...but we were promised to never have that again, right?). Managed intensive grazing both improves soil life and sequesters carbon, because you're encouraging all those plants to remain in a growing state, improving their root systems, and constantly harvesting the energy of the sun through their leaves. Seems like such a simple solution, right? But it's certainly not what modern science promotes, because it takes time, and encourages the inherent biodiversity of nature to heal and improve itself, instead of human interventions that can be patented and controlled, to make money in the corporate economy to which we human beings seem unwilling to find an alternative. But that's me being cynical. Cynicism isn't going to change the world, but healthy soils, full of life that we can't even imagine, can do it. So that's what we're going to continue to do at Black Sheep Farm, do our best to promote the health of the soil, even more than before, cutting back on tilling as much as possible, and increasing animal pasturing so more land can have its soils regenerated. And we're still planting trees and perennials, so there can be an increase in long-term life. Who knows how much the world can change in the next twelve years if even just this farm, and all the farmers who I know and respect, continue to promote the growth of healthy soils over all else. So please look us up, find us, and support us in any way that you can.

Friday, January 26, 2018

I'm back!

To the blog that is...I never left the farm! In fact, I was probably on farm more hours last year than any previous year, since I was home with baby Emma and had the farm's employee, Michelle, making the vegetable deliveries to the GTA all season.

So, having a baby and managing the farm during the wettest and coldest season ever, was a challenge. I was super lucky to have found an amazing farm employee in Michelle. She's the reason why vegetable CSA members still got vegetables for the whole season, despite our many challenges in the field. A short list of challenges...the soil was almost always too wet to till, so we ran out of bed space to plant vegetables. Michelle had to give up maneuvering space and plant right into paths and between row cover trenches. The vegetables took forever to grow because they were so stressed from cold and wet. It probably rained on average 5 days out of every week, so poor Michelle was almost always wet. Production was down for almost every crop except lettuce heads, fennel and kohlrabi. Eggplants and sweet peppers were a complete bust, as were many of the winter squashes. I was very happy to come to the end of October and wish good riddance to the growing season of 2017. Thank you to 2017's vegetable CSA members for eating so many leafy greens :D

I'm definitely looking forward to getting back into the field this year, though with Emma still being so young, I'm planning to hire part-time help to make sure everything is planted, weeded and harvested as needed. I haven't made any big changes to the vegetable field for this year and will be mostly trialing the same varieties I picked to trial last year as 2017 wasn't the best year for any plant to shine. As usual, I'm super glad that I do grow so many different things or 2017 might have been a complete bust.

The big changes that happened in 2017 (other than there being a new human member added to Black Sheep Farm!) were in capital infrastructure, with the fencing of the south end of the farm (January 2017), and the building of a structure on top of the cement pad so that portion of the barn foundation is finally roofed again (November 2017). Filing my taxes for 2017 will be fun, with my lowest income and highest costs since moving to the farm ;P But it was time. The fence gave peace of mind for keeping the sheep contained (there's no way I could run after sheep while carrying a new baby) and the new building means the barn foundation will stop rotting (and now really bad bits can be replaced). And it also means I'll be putting in a proper cold room for vegetable storage this year. Construction should be completed before spring (thanks Skyler ;P).

New south fence

Emma and I looking at the framing of the new barn building.

Will I also be better at writing blog posts in 2018? I certainly having a long list of topics I'd like to write about, but we'll have to see. The farm animals and vegetable production take priority over writing about the farm, and Emma takes priority in terms of life, so here's hoping there will be time enough for all that is truly important :D

Friday, March 17, 2017

When being cheap isn't worth it

Today, I got the south end of my farm fenced. 1000+ feet of cedar posts and page wire. All installed in one day by my neighbour, a professional fencer, with his crew and a back hoe mounted post driver. They finished the entire fence in one day.

I could have put in this fence myself...bought cedar posts, rented a post driver, stretched the page wire from post to post...but it would have taken more than a day, and there would have been lots of trial and error, swearing, the possibility of injury, destruction of equipment, etc. And the fence may have turned out a bit wonky. Not to mention that I'm 8 months pregnant and should probably not be lifting 8' long, 7" diameter cedar posts or handling strange heavy machinery for the first time ;P This definitely wasn't a DIY task that I wanted to take on. So I am very pleased to hire reliable professionals to do the work. I just regret that I hadn't done this sooner!

Why did I not put the fence in sooner? Because the cost seemed prohibitive. It would take more than 5 years of successful sheep product sales to even begin to cover the cost of the fencing. I convinced myself that with proper electric net fencing and grazing management, the sheep would stay secure within the moveable fencing. And for most of the summer, I was lucky and the sheep did stay in their electrified pens. But then last October they got spooked, jumped their electric fence and took off through that wide open south end of the farm and caused much stress before they were all (very luckily!) retrieved. I could have saved myself the low level of anxiety I felt all summer subconsciously worrying that they'd get out of their electric net fencing and the hours spent tramping around neighbours' fields calling for the last 2 missing sheep while 3 months pregnant.

I definitely admit it...I'm cheap. Spending anything in the range of thousands of dollars makes me hem and haw for ages. When I first moved to the farm in 2009, it took me 6+ weeks to decide on buying a rototiller which cost around $2500! And this is an essential tool for the farm which I couldn't have done without, especially in those first few years.

Lately, I've been rethinking cheap. Maybe it's the current political climate and what this makes me think about the future, or maybe it's having gone to my first farm conference in years and being inspired to invest in new infrastructure, but I've decided to spend on the things that I think are important now, instead of hoarding for a rainy day, or so called retirement.

Other than fencing the south end of the farm, the other big investment that I've been trying to avoid, has been fully fixing the eastern half of my barn. Before I bought the place, that half of the barn had fallen down, leaving an exposed bottom level/foundation that was deteriorating from water damage. When I first moved here, I spent $10,000 putting an additional beam and posts into the bottom level, and pouring a cement pad (about 40'x 40' in size, 3-8" thick, almost 3 cement truck loads of cement) on top, thinking it would stop the water damage, but for various reasons, it has not. At the time, I wanted to protect the bottom level, while maintaining an open space on top (it has great views of the farm). In hind sight, a building with a roof should have gone up instead, but back then, I didn't know what all the resources were in my area yet, and was told that a building would cost me $25-50K to put up. So I took the cheaper option which no one told me wouldn't work (surprise, surprise!).

Over the past 8 years, I now know many of the resources in my area (including my partner's family of timber frame barn restorers ;P) and have concluded that though a building would cost more than $10K, it could have been done for less than $50K, and I wouldn't have a foundation that now requires more repair and reinforcement. The cement pad did buy me these 8 years of time at least, but now I won't wait any longer. The choice is to tear down that section of the barn (at a cost of $5K or more), or finally fix everything and put up a building with a steel roof for around $20K in materials (lumber and steel roofing) and a whole lot of sweat equity.

So I'm going for it. In probably my lowest income year (will be paying for full-time staff for the first time), while learning to be a new mom, I think it's time to do it. After all, the new covered space won't start paying for itself in productivity until it exists, and I'm sure each year will have its new set of challenges that need to be addressed. And that foundation's not getting any sturdier in the meantime. But where I am now, instead of 8 years ago, newly moved to the farm, is surrounded by supportive extended family and friends, so maybe taking a larger financial step doesn't feel quite so risky anymore :)

I'm hoping this new covered space (1600 square feet!) can be used for all sorts of enterprises in the future, including a wash station and cold storage for vegetables (with a cement pad already in place...which seems to be a prerequisite for any decent vegetable processing area according to the conference I was at), and...a fibre studio! This winter has been exciting for me on a fibre level because it's the first year I've gotten yarn spun from my sheep's wool, and sheepskins tanned from their hides. While I certainly enjoy growing vegetables, there's also a reason this farm is named Black Sheep Farm, and it has everything to do with sheep and their wool. Add to this my sister-in-law Brittany's circular sock knitting machine enterprise ( and love of wool; my sister Benita's design experience with clothing and accessories (House of Hsueh); and even a new neighbour, Emily, with a wool dyeing enterprise ( there be more fibre synergy possibilities???

I've been told that new motherhood involves a lot of sitting around while breastfeeding, watching a screen, so I've decided to take that time to watch YouTube videos on how to set up my floor loom and hopefully absorb how it all works. Plus, Emily already knows how to use it and has said she would help me figure out how to set it up :) With this year's sheep shearing scheduled for this coming Wednesday, there will be many many pounds of wool available to be processed into different weights of yarns and rovings for spinning, dyeing, knitting and weaving. This time, we're going to undertake some preliminary washing first to try and cut down on processing costs, and Brittany and I got some expert guidance on what to do right after shearing to make sure the fleeces don't get any dirtier than they need to be. many possibilities! And a new baby to throw into the mix too. Life couldn't be more wonderful and exciting :D

Thursday, February 16, 2017

New farm manager hired for 2017!

After some phone interviews in January with some delightful applicants, I'm happy to announce that Michelle Lawrence will be joining me at Black Sheep Farm this year to make sure lots of veggies are planted and harvested for this year's vegetable CSA members! Michelle comes highly recommended by another vegetable farm in my area, so luckily she's already familiar with our climate, soils, and social possibilities ;P

I'm very relieved to have checked this crucial item off my to-do list before the baby's born. Otherwise, the vegetable seeds have all been ordered and received...except for my favourite edamame, Beer Friend, which is still not available for ordering yet. Fingers crossed that there will be seeds available to buy! This variety was a crop failure for the grower(s) last year, so I really hope that the same didn't happen for this year. I'm going to plan my edamame plantings this year with some seed saving in mind so that I won't be in a seed variety shortage again! Now seedling/direct seeding start dates need to be planned and the field laid out on paper so all will be in order for Michelle to implement when she gets here in May. And at some point before the sheep go out on pasture, the page wire fence for the south end of the farm needs to be put in!

The fence was originally planned to be put up before the end of 2016, but the snow came so fast and furiously in December, that this hasn't been possible. My hope now is that the field will dry out enough in April for the job to get done then. There's really no way to tell how dry or wet a spring we'll be having this year...including for getting into this year's vegetable field for rototilling! Fingers crossed that all will work out ;)

In the meantime, my days are full with business plan writing for a contract I'm working on, and March will see me back in the tax office for 4 days a week. So back to number crunching for me!

Monday, January 2, 2017

2017's going to be one exciting year...

Happy New Year everyone! As usual, it has been much too long since I last posted here, but I doubt that frequency will improve for 2017 ;P I'm currently 23 weeks pregnant and expecting my first child at the end of April. Skyler and I are definitely super excited and doing what we can to prepare for becoming parents...including having to hire someone to live and work full-time at the farm this year! The job posting details can be seen on the 'Job Posting' page.

2016 was definitely a tough year for weather here at the farm, though I'm very lucky to have fared much better than most. The cover cropping of the vegetable field from 2013-2015 must have improved the soil's capacity to hold water and also improve microbial life, because there was actually pretty great vegetable production, despite the hot and dry conditions. Cooler weather crops, like leafy greens, didn't hold well in the heat, and flea beetle pressure was the most I've ever seen, essentially decimating all brassica plants, even with row cover in place. Almost everything else just soaked in the added heat units and produced like crazy, especially the tomatoes, eggplant and peppers! I've never harvested so many eggplants in one season, which was amazing. And tomatoes came on heavy and steady right until frost when I was more than ready to take a break from harvesting them ;P In fact, I developed an aversion to tomatoes pretty much within the first couple weeks that they came into aversion I now know to blame on early pregnancy ;P

Pretty much the whole end half of the 2016 season was a bit of a slog for me. It was so hot outside, with no shelter from the sun, and I was extremely fatigued every afternoon from being in my first trimester. But, I made it through, and thankfully, some more regular rains came down come September and the fall brassicas (collards, turnips, daikon, etc.) started growing well and were delicious at harvest in October. We had a very long and extended fall...quite warm right until the end of November, which gave me some time to more leisurely clean up the field.

While the vegetable field didn't give me the trouble you'd expect in a drought year, sheep troubles certainly made up for that ;P The drought meant pastures were not regrowing after grazing and we had to move the sheep further out into fields we hadn't originally expected to graze. The flock definitely ate a lot of goldenrod and weeds in July, which luckily seemed to give them lots of protein as they certainly maintained excellent body condition. In fact, the two ram lambs born this year were so fat from their mothers' milk and grazing on goldenrod that they were pretty much fully grown by the time we had to wean them from their mothers in mid July. The hay field also grew really slowly after first cut hay was harvested in late June, and after consultation with Tony, my haying expert, we decided not to expect any second cut hay this year but rotationally grazed the sheep there instead.

The hay field was much easier to manage for grazing because I didn't have to struggle with the lawn mower in the heat of the day to mow the lines for the portable electric fences to be set up. But the sheep did have to be moved every second day to keep them on fresh pasture and not overly deplete anything. You could easily see the positive effects of intensively managed sheep grazing on the hay field over the next 10 weeks, where the very first pens had regrown very lushly compared with the ungrazed parts of the field. Unfortunately, the sheep made one last break out for the season 3 days before they were scheduled to be put into the barn with hay feeding for the winter. We think they were spooked by the passage of a herd of deer, who were themselves perhaps spooked by coyotes? Anyway, they all jumped the fence, except Spot, who was caught in the electric netting and left behind by the others, who went through the unfenced south end of the farm, across Side Road 8, and into the neighbour's field. When the neighbour's father stopped by my place to ask if I had any sheep missing, I rounded up the troops (Skyler's family) and we went looking. The main flock was found pretty quickly and persuaded to run back to the farm and into their pen, but in the process of running amok, three had gotten separated from the others, Bowtie's twin (yet unnamed), Beatrice and Snowball. We managed to find Bowtie's twin and chase her back home, but Beatrice and Snowball remained at large for the next two days.

I had canvassed the various neighbours with my phone number to let me know if they saw any stray white sheep. I got a call around lunch on harvest day so had Brittany with me to go and round up Bea in a laneway across the river. Snowball was collected later that evening after a call from another neighbour. One thing's for sure, spooked sheep don't come to you for grain...we had to corner each one to capture her and haul her up into the truck to drive back to the farm. After this episode, all the sheep went into the barn and have been contentedly eating hay since then. I've also decided after this that I definitely have to fence the south side of the farm, an additional cost that just has to be paid...especially with the additional responsibility of a baby on the way! I can deal with sheep running around my own farm, but don't want the added risk of them running around on roads or neighbours' properties.

At the end of November, I spoke as part of a panel of market gardeners at the the EFAO's ecological farming conference in Kingston. It was great to be able to share some of my experiences over the past 8 seasons and also hear about how other operations run. I also attended the conference the next day...the first farm conference I've been to in a while...and was really energized and encouraged by the speakers I heard and farmers I chatted with. I was reminded that it's good to get out every once in a while ;P That said, getting out in the latter half of December hasn't been so good for me as I ended up coming down with a cold on Christmas Eve, and then some sort of gastro bug on New Year's Eve. I'm still recuperating from the stomach bug and feeling like a January cocooned at home planning for this coming year is probably a good thing for me.

Any of you with farming experience or knowing anyone with farming experience, please pass the word about the farm manager position here! I really have my fingers crossed to find the right person to fit in here for 2017.