Thursday, July 24, 2008

Beginning of full on harvest season

This past week was my 7th at Everdale, and now I'm back in Toronto for 2.5 weeks for my sister's wedding. I have really mixed feelings about being 'home'. On the one hand, I love my comfy condo and my time is certainly filled with activities and meeting up with friends., but on the other, I really miss being at Everdale...being up at the crack of dawn and working hard all day at so many different tasks. So far, this first week I'll be away from the farm, I've completely missed the garlic harvest. By the time I get back, who knows how much bigger cow lamb will be or if he'll remember me enough to come and butt me when I go to see him. And I'll definitely miss the company of all the people at Everdale. This probably isn't a surprise to anyone else, but I'm surprised by how much of an extrovert I've turned out to be ;P

I've also decided now to make this blog 'public'. So for those of you who want to set up RSS feeds, or hate logging in, you won't have any problems keeping up now! I'm counting on the massive volumes of data available on the internet to keep this blog known only to those I know.

So, this past week had a whole lot of harvesting. Lots of big crisp lettuce heads, mixed greens, spinach, chard (beautiful rainbow colours!), kale, radishes, green onions, herbs (coriander, basil, mint), kohlrabi and scapes. Since there's so much harvest to be done, we start really early in the morning before the sun gets too fierce. Then all the harvest is brought into the Hub to be hydro-cooled and stored in the walk-in fridge in preparation for the CSA pickup on Thursday and the farmer's markets on Saturday.

I got to go to my first farmer's market on Saturday. Karen and I headed down to the Oakville market on Kerr St. It's an organic farmer's market and has a good mix of farms. There's also a baker there who makes delicious herb and cheese breads. It was interesting to talk to the customers and learn about them. It was also a striking reminder of how separated the average consumer is from the realities of agriculture. We've been so spoiled by imported foods that we expect every kind of fruit and vegetable to be available year round so there's no understanding of what's actually in season at any given point in time. There were people looking for fruit who were disappointed that there weren't fresh apples and peaches available. And the explanation that right now it's mostly berries (strawberries, beginning of raspberries, etc.) and cherries that are in season in Ontario and fresh apples wouldn't be available until the fall, was met with something akin to disbelief. Any apples or potatoes (not new potatoes, those are actually in season now) for sale right now are from last year's harvest, kept in cold storage, or they're imported from warmer climes. Personally, I'm happy to be eating mostly berries and cherries right now!

I probably won't be posting any new updates until after I've gone back to Everdale in early August...though if I'm diligent with my reading, I may post a comment on whatever agricultural tidbits I glean from my readings. Perhaps there will be a comparison on the rate of knowledge transfer from book learning vs. hands on experience, though really, there's not much comparison there!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Life and Death of livestock

A warning to those who may be sensitive to the death of animals, skip reading this post if you're squeamish. The quick story is that a sheep diedand I participated in the culling of 2 chickens.

Les, the sheep who had the stillborn lamb, died on Monday this past week. We found her when putting Amber in at night in the evening. Andrew was following Amber in from the field and Amber stopped at Les' body. Mark, James and I arrived as Andrew was going to go get Gavin and Karen. We ended up burying her right beside where she died. She had been continuing to lose weight ever since she gave birth to the lamb, even though she was continuing to graze and we kept feeding her grain. We're not sure exactly why she died, but just hope that her last days were happy. She was certainly friendly, always happy to be petted as I fed her grain. The last time I saw her alive was on Saturday before I returned to Toronto for the weekend.

Lynn had 2 chickens, Marianne and Buffy, that she needed culled because they were not laying, so Mark decided that we should slaughter them on Wednesday as that's the one day each week when we're not usually exhausted from a full day of farm work. My motivation for participating in the culling was to see if I could continue to be a meat eater or should become a vegetarian. I felt that if I wanted to remain a meat eater, I could not divorce myself from the fact that the meat that I eat starts as a living and breathing animal which has to be killed to become meat for my pot. I certainly do not have any dislike of chickens and did not relish the task that was ahead.

We went to Whole Circle farm on Wednesday and when we got back, prepared ourselves for the task. A pot of water was put on to boil and we went to get the first chicken. I managed to get her from under the coop and carried her down the hill to the spot we had chosen. I held the chicken's wings and feet while Mark stretched out the neck and wielded the axe. The body does indeed move around a lot after the head is chopped off. I kept a good grip on her and moved her to a pail to drain. Then we went to get the second chicken, which Andrew killed. We then scalded the bodies in near boiling water and plucked the chickens. It wasn't as hard or long a task as we were expecting. Then Mark and I each removed the entrails from one of the chickens. One really fascinating thing was to see the developing eggs in the chickens. It led Lynn to wonder why they had stopped laying...perhaps they were still laying but eating their own eggs? Whatever the case, the birds were now cleaned and we put them in the fridge to cool overnight. On Thursday night, after a frustrating afternoon of laying irrigation lines, Mark and I quartered the chickens and I made them into chicken stew. The stew was quite tasty (with the addition of stock from chicken Mark had cooked that day in preparation for the farm celebration on Saturday), though the meat from the chickens was quite tough. Slow cooking might help to soften them up...stewing hens really do need to be stewed for a long time!

I had to leave Everdale early this week but before I left just before lunch on Friday, I helped Mark bake some biscotti to sell at the Saturday farm celebration. It's the first time I've baked using a scale to weigh out dry ingredients and I find that I quite like the precision of this method. I'm definitely going to keep my eyes open for a sale on kitchen weigh scales. It was actually rather nerve wracking to make the biscotti as I've never made anything for sale before. But they turned out quite tasty and with the right texture, so I'm happy about that! When I return tomorrow, I'll find out if any of them sold this weekend!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Birthday Bonfire!

This week started with my birthday, so it had to be a good week! Julia came up for the day with me on Monday and helped us with a relatively light afternoon of seeding in the greenhouse and hand weeding in the one acre pea field. She discovered that pulling weeds can be quite therapeutic :)

Bettina and Ken came up to the farm in the evening and we had flank steak from Rowe Farms, as well as asparagus, zucchini and apples, all cooked up on the bbq. I then gave them all a tour of the farm and then Garrett got the bonfire going so we could roast marshmallows and hot dogs. I served kirs (a Henry of Pelham white with a dash of cassis) and we stood around the fire munching on treats. Bettina and Ken brought up a black forest cake and Andrew baked a rice flour Grand Marnier cake, which ended up being more of a crumble since rice flour doesn't rise or hold together as well as wheat flour. After we were done with the marshmallow and hot dog roasting, Mark proceeded to pull trees out of his stash of burnable wood and add them to the fire until we had a good blaze going and showers of sparks whenever the ends of trees were pushed into the fire. Mark was like a magician, pulling branch after branch out of the tall weeds beside the bonfire. It's amazing how much weeds can hide! All in all, it was a very satisfying birthday bonfire :D

The rest of the week, I was assigned to bring Amber in at night. The difficulty of this task varied from night to night, with alternating nights when she would just come to her stall when I called her, and other points when I had to get a rope around her neck and pull her in, once from all the way out at the end of the pasture. That's when I found her with her calf feeding from her after 9 pm. I gave him about 15 minutes, hoping he would be finished, but he kept on drinking and Amber showed no inclination to stop grazing and come in. By the time I finally decided to put the rope on her and pull her in, with a stop to graze every few steps or so, 40 minutes had passed before I could get her in her stall. And she was rather difficult to milk most mornings as well. This was the week when Simaron and Andrew were training to milk her and they didn't encounter the greatest success, though Simaron did milk almost 5 litres from her (with Gavin) one morning. We'll see how things go this week! I'm scheduled to milk her with Gavin and Mark later in the week. I'm going to try the technique Lynn showed me and hope it works better for me than what I've been doing so far, which is exactly what Gavin and Mark are doing but with a big difference in our comparative hand size and strength.

I learned how to carry chickens on Tuesday night when I helped Karen move some of her layers from the horse barn to the summer animal shelter. When it's dark out, chickens are in a kind of stupor and very easy to pick up. When they're on the ground, you just pick them up around the chest and can tuck them under the arm to carry. When they're roosting on a fence, you just grab both legs and lift. They flap their wings a bit but settle down quickly once you put them down. At the summer shelter, we just took them out of the cage we used to transport them, and perched them back up on a stall fence in the shelter. It's really quite funny how easy they are to handle in the dark, especially considering I can't catch a chicken at all during the day!

Unfortunately, the chicken transporting set off my allergies for the week. It was possibly the horses, or hay, or the chickens themselves, but with farmers all around the county cutting hay that week, it was definitely a tough time for anyone with hay/grass allergies. I'm hoping that once most of the hay is baled, my allergies will settle down. I woke up a few nights from trouble breathing, which really isn't a pleasant way to wake up.

On Wednesday, we all went to John Slack's farm for a seminar on soil. John Slack sells Spanish River Carbonatite and compost. He's essentially a dirt farmer, in addition to a market gardener and raises sheep and some beef. It was fascinating to hear him talk about his soil testing methods and what makes good farm land as he's very passionate and knowledgeable about the subject. I now know a preliminary soil test that only involves a Dutch auger and some 10% hydrochloric acid which should help me in my land search to rule out any land that doesn't already have a good calcium base to the soil. He also has 4 dogs and a collie puppy on the farm so it was really fun to pet them. I may buy raspberries from him for Benita's wedding, if the ones at Everdale aren't ripe enough for me to pick before then...or if I just don't have the time or energy to pick them!

On Thursday, I helped Joseph with some construction on the seed maze and learned from James (who has a carpentry background) how one person can set up and nail in crossbars, as well as how to space and level vertical fence pieces. And on Saturday, I learned how to set up and repair drip irrigation lines in the Aberfoyle field. I love that you have to wear so many different hats in farming! It's constant trouble shooting and problem solving which is a good challenge for the mind at the same time as you're working your body. I'm feeling really fit and haven't been this tanned before in my life. Other than the recent bout of allergies, I feel extremely healthy. I recommend farm work in the open air for anyone who wants to get reenergized :)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Finally, some pictures!

Meet Jason (born on Friday, June 13)...the first
goat kid born, and the first animal I ever saw being born!

This is cow lamb and his mother. He comes running to be petted!

The planting crew after a really long day of transplanting.
From left, Dave, James, me, Mark, Harris and Gavin.
We stayed in the field until almost 8 pm, and I didn't even
realize how late it was until I noticed the sun was starting to set!

Here I'm planting cukes and zukes in the vegetable
field just below my tent.

This is me using the single wheel hoe, an invaluable
weeding tool! And a great workout too ;P It will be on my
farm warming wish list some time in the years to come!

That's it for now. It's time for me to put Amber in for the night so we can milk her tomorrow morning. Hopefully she's in a better mood tonight than she was yesterday when I had to pull her in on a lead all the way from the far end of the pasture. I was really glad she didn't start to run!