Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from Black Sheep Farm!

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Well, I wish the mice wouldn't stir in my house, but unfortunately, my walls are warm and cozy for them, and with the cold outside, even I can't begrudge them shelter. I just don't want to find one curled up beside my head on my pillow one morning ;P The new year will bring a kitten into the house, which should hopefully keep the mice at bay!

I hope everyone has lots of good food to eat with family and friends this holiday. My family will be having leg of lamb, roast chicken and other tasty things for dinner. There will also be ginger snaps, shortbread, and pumpkin bread pudding to satisfy our sweet tooths.

May this Christmas be full of peace and joy for you and your family. God bless!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Winter Wonderland

Unlike most people, I actually love winter. Maybe it's because I grew up in Alberta, or because I just don't like being too hot, but there's a crisp cleanness to winter that I love. Before I took up farming, I was likely to spend more time outdoors in the winter than any other season! Ice skating, snowshoeing & cross-country skiing are great things to do outside in the winter, and keep you warm in the process :)

After helping my sister at the One of a Kind show in Toronto, I came back to a farm already covered in a light layer of snow. That soon turned into a much deeper cover after the first big winter storm hit. The following pictures are taken from my living room windows where I was snug as a bug during the couple days of storm.

Wintry whiteness...great to watch from inside, not good for driving! Whiteouts and slippery road conditions shut down some of the roads in my area...a common occurrence in the winters out here.

The minivan, covered with about a foot of snow during the storm. I cleared it off afterwards with my snow shovel. There really isn't a snow brush big enough to do the job with this much snow!

I'm not sure if the locals are trying to scare me or not, but I've been told that I need to be prepared to be snowed in for up to 5 days. Well, I think I'm prepared. I've got a wood stove, plenty of wood, emergency drinking water, candles, food, and lots of reading material. I somehow doubt I'll be stuck for more than a couple days as the road I'm on is fairly major and gets cleared quite soon after a storm. But I guess I'll just have to see what this winter brings!

For now, I'm enjoying the lovely winter wonderland that my farm has become. I've decorated for Christmas, including my very first real Christmas tree, and I'm expecting my family for dinner on the 26th. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and the roads will be clear for them all to come up. Over the next few days, I'll be baking up a storm so there will be plenty of treats for us all to eat!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Black Sheep Farm publicity

Ok, for those of you who know me well, you know I'm somewhat averse to publicity and attention. Just having this blog is a venture into the public sphere that I was somewhat leery of at first. When I started it, I only allowed permissioned people to have access, but I got over myself soon enough to realize that the sheer volume of information on the Internet would ensure privacy. Only people who knew and cared about me would ever really end up looking at my blog because I would have given them the link. And anyone else who stumbled on it in the course of web searches are likely kindred spirits anyway ;P

But then the documentary filming started, I handed out lots of business cards over the course of the season, gave interviews to various people writing books and articles about food and agriculture, and started selling produce. Publicity is something that the farm needs, and is also good for sustainable agriculture. The more people become aware of the various issues surrounding food production, the more educated they will become about the true cost of food and hopefully make more thoughtful food purchasing choices.

And now, Black Sheep Farm is one of the featured farms in the 2010 New Farmer calendar produced by Everdale's Farmers Growing Farmers (FGF) program. I work part-time for the program, which included designing and producing the calendar. So I got to exercise some creativity :) If you're interested in buying a copy to support Everdale and FGF...and also to have a 2010 calendar which features new farmers who've taken the FGF program, including Black Sheep Farm!...go to:
The calendar is 5.5" x 8.5" and costs $12. It's a great gift for anyone on your list who cares about food and farming :)

I have also ventured into the world of Facebook. Not really directly, but rather through my sister who is setting up some sort of Black Sheep Farm fan page for me. The link to that is now in the sidebar of this blog. Apparently I need 100 people to become Black Sheep Farm fans to be able to get 'Black Sheep Farm' as the Facebook URL...or something like that. Clearly, I don't get what's involved, but my sister has kindly taken on the task of managing the Facebook stuff.

Oh, and good news on the farm Internet front - I'm off dial up! The Bell 3G stick works at the farm! So hopefully I'll be better about writing blog posts and uploading pictures since my internet access speed is faster than 28.8 kbps :D

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Home ownership is a lot of work!

All you home owners out there are of course nodding your heads at the title of this post, and I certainly didn't become a home owner blind to all the maintenance that a house requires, and a century home at that! Not to mention outbuildings and equipment...people ask me what I'm doing with my spare time now that the growing season is over, and all I can say is that I don't really feel like I have much spare time.

In terms of home and building maintenance, since moving to the farm, I've gotten the farm house roof replaced, dry walled and insulated part of an upstairs room, and painted half the upstairs. More recently, I had the uncovered portion of the barn filled in with a cement floor and a new beam installed in the lower level to carry the weight of the cement floor and stabilize the structure. My hope is to one day have a barn terrace cafe on that cement floor as the view of the rolling countryside is amazing from there.

I've bought a wood stove for the house so I won't just be burning fuel oil, aka 'money', over the winter to heat the house. I had an Eco-Energy audit done for the house and am now just waiting for the new windows for the upstairs of the house to be installed, and to have the basement insulated. I will also be crawling into the attic to lay down more insulation. All these things are planned improvements for long-term improvements in energy efficiency.

Of course, there had to be a sucker punch in all this building stuff. I couldn't possibly have bought a place that wouldn't have a surprise for me to deal with :( My oil furnace started dripping fuel oil from the burner at some point. I have no idea when it started, only this October, back in April, or even before I took possession of the house. It made a wet spot on the basement floor that I just thought was another water related wet spot. And since I generally avoided spending any time in the basement, I never really noticed that it never dried out. Well, it wasn't water, and technically, is considered an oil spill. Great...the organic vegetable farmer has an 'oil spill' in her basement according to the TSSA (who I had no idea existed until they inspected the oil spot and issued me a test order). Anyway, the furnace has now been repaired, so the dripping has stopped, but now I have to figure out how contaminated the floor is and what clean up is involved and what that might cost. All mysteries to me, and it seems like experts on this are few and far between. Sigh...this wasn't something that I wanted to have to deal with as I got ready to be in Toronto to help my sister with her booth at the One of a Kind show. But happen it did, and I've done what I can for now and will just have to see what next steps to take after I get back to the farm after the show.

There are cosmetic changes that I'd like to make to the kitchen and downstairs toilet room (since that's all it is without a sink installed yet!), but those are definitely not a priority. I guess I'll have to see how much money (or more accurately, debt) I'm willing to spend after all the crucial stuff is taken care of. My housemate has also moved back to Kitchener-Waterloo so when I get back to the farm, I'll be doing post move-out cleaning, and rearranging all my stuff to fill the space. I'll also be bringing furniture back to the farm with me from friends and family, so all that will need to be arranged to make my home comfortable. If any of you have furniture you want to get rid of, let me know! I don't guarantee I'll take it, but I could definitely use some more items!

Well, that's it for home maintenance for next couple weeks will be occupied with helping my sister at the Toronto Christmas One of a Kind show. If you're at the show, come visit me at the 'House of Hsueh' booth in the Rising Stars section and support a struggling artisan :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The end of the line for the animals

This morning, I brought Monty and the lambs to the butcher's. I feel both sad and relieved that they're now gone. I'm sad because they were really cute and affectionate with me and I'll miss them as they were more like pets than was wise for me this season. I'm relieved that they survived on my farm to this point (the 2 littlest goats, 2 bantam hens and one of the layers did not), and I no longer need to worry about keeping them healthy and safe from predators. I can also now leave the farm for more than a day without having to get someone to stay over and take care of them in my absence.

They were much more socialized to me than normal because I chose to stake them out on leashes at various locations around the house and outbuildings each day to get their fill while also acting as lawn mowers for me. They did a great job of eating up weeds and clearing brush. Each morning, I would pick a new spot, pound the iron stake into the ground, then walk them on leashes from their yard and shelter to their grazing plot. I would check on them periodically throughout the day to untangle them from each other and random vegetation (tall weeds, tree stumps, etc.) and make sure they hadn't knocked over their water. On really rainy days, I would keep them in their yard, supplemented with hay, but by the end of the season, Monty was big enough to just jump the electric fence, and sometimes take it down to bring the lambs out too. By the last few weeks, I would only leash the lambs and leave Monty free to roam, as the lambs acted as a leash for him since he wouldn't stray too far from them.

While I did enjoy having animals on the farm this first season, the process I chose was highly inefficient, and was only manageable for me this year because I barely had to weed my vegetable plot. I spent too much time socializing with animals destined to be meat. When I raise meat animals again in the future, I will get more, and set up proper electric fencing and automatic watering for them so that I won't have to untangle leashes each day. Instead of socializing with me, they'll have a larger herd to hang out with while they browse and graze and be less likely to follow me around like dogs.

Even though my first year with animals was highly inefficient for daily labour, I'm happy for the experience in teaching me what not to do in the future, and especially for giving me first hand experience with animal care, at a low capital cost. I know that I will be fine with handling both goats and sheep in the future, and look forward to having a flock one day where the ewes are milked and stay with me from season to season. Though raising animals is more emotionally taxing than growing vegetables, I definitely enjoy having them on the farm, and I feel much better eating their meat, knowing that they had a good life on my farm.

Monty, the first day he arrived on the farm. He definitely grew a lot since then!

The lambs, a few months back.

Me with Monty and the lambs, at dawn by the vegetable field about 2 weeks ago.

As for the chickens, I processed them all on the farm since they were quite old and not very meaty. I think I've gotten quite good at plucking them. They're all in my freezer waiting to become soup stock. Now I just have the bantam rooster and one bantam hen left which I'll be bringing to Everdale to overwinter. They're much too small to bother eating and I don't want to come back to the farm after being away for a week in the winter to find their frozen bodies. Since Everdale's willing to let them stay with their overwintering hens, they have a new home.

So that's my first season with animals...bittersweet, but that's the cost of being an omnivore. If I couldn't handle it, I would become a vegetarian.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reflections on my first season of vegetables

I'm currently sitting in a Starbucks in Toronto's financial district, watching the rain come down, and wondering at the slower than expected speed of free wireless internet here. Maybe my frustrations with the speed of my dial-up connection at the farm have made my high-speed wireless expectations unrealistically high, and so anything other than instantaneous internet responses are a disappointment. I guess I could just blame the weather too. At the farm, when it rains a lot, my dial up speed has gone down to 14.6 kbps at times, which doesn't speak well for the integrity of the Bell line coming to my house. My latest update from the local wireless high-speed internet provider is that they're delayed in accessing provincial funding to put up more wireless towers in my area, so I'm looking at 2010 before any chance of improving my access. Surprise, surprise, promised provincial funding hasn't been released yet to get the work done. But this is not supposed to be a post about internet access (which is, surprisingly, a more important issue to me than I ever expected it to be!), but about this past season of vegetables.

Is it possible to label this first year as both a disappointment and a miracle? It was a disappointment in that I didn't have any truly saleable volume of vegetables until September (instead of June as I had planned for) and spent much of the summer praying each day that my vegetables would just grow! But it was a miracle in that by September, I actually had bountiful production from my field, and have managed to eke out close to $7000 gross (farm designation minimum) in vegetable sales to this point from, realistically, about 1/2 an acre of productive plants.

While my spinach, lettuces, sugar snap peas, pumpkins, kale, kohlrabi, cabbage, cucumber, radish, parsnips, ground cherries, tomatillos, eggplant, dill and fennel were pretty much utter failures, I am one of the few farmers in Ontario that actually had healthy tomato plants in the field until the end of the season. My pepper and hot pepper plants produced a good quantity of fruit (though time ran out for most of them to get to full size or ripeness), the summer squash produced plentiful and tasty squashes, and my Asian greens were a wonder in production and quality. The beets were my earliest and most plentiful staple vegetable, and chard turned out to be a great late season crop of greens for my deliveries. And my final big last carrot planting, seeded as a complete gamble on July 22 (yes, very late) given the lack of germination in previous plantings, yielded the tastiest and prettiest carrots ever. In fact, I sold 20 lbs of them to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) this week, where one of the chefs commented on how good they are. So, though this first season of vegetable growing has been hugely frustrating to me, it's certainly ended with a happy bang :)

One of my happy marketing successes this season has been selling my vegetables to the AGO for use in their restaurant and cafeteria. I've had a membership at the AGO for years, and am super happy and impressed with the redesign/expansion of the gallery. Their restaurants have a policy of trying to source produce from local farmers, so I wanted to sell to them, both as a local producer, and a fan of the AGO itself. When my condo finally sold earlier this year, I knew I wanted to celebrate with my family at FRANK, so when the sale closed at the end of July, that's where we went. I made my reservation on-line and left a note about the reason for the celebration, and also asking to meet the executive chef to talk about produce. I didn't get to meet the executive chef at my celebratory dinner (which was excellent!) as she was on vacation at the time, but I did get her business card and sent her an email. I didn't hear anything back from her and didn't push the contact since I was still waiting for my vegetables to actually grow. On my first delivery into Toronto at the beginning of September, I stopped by the AGO cafeteria for a snack (their pastry chef makes excellent treats!) and asked the cashier if the executive chef was in and would be available to chat with me about heirloom tomatoes. Surprisingly, she did come down to meet me, and the next week, I brought her an order of Bloody Butcher tomatoes. Since then, I've sold them more heirloom tomatoes (Black Krim and Bloody Butcher), and on today's final delivery, an assortment of root vegetables: Purple Haze and Rainbow carrots, Chiogga Guardsmark and Cylindra beets, and Milan turnips. While none of these orders were particularly large and who knows what will happen for next year, I was excited each time I pulled into the AGO loading dock and walked a package of vegetables to the kitchen. My favourite art gallery served my vegetables to FRANK patrons this season :)

To all those who bought vegetables from me this season...thank you so much! I hope you enjoyed every bite and have discovered or rediscovered a favourite vegetable. I will be inviting you to a survey some time in November/December to help me plan how my vegetable packages will work for next season. As I put my field to bed in the next few weeks, I will be doing all I can to improve its fertility for next year so that hopefully I'll have good vegetable production starting in June instead of September. Of course, the weather will have to cooperate too, so I'll just have to see what happens (what is the new weather norm in this era of climate change anyway?). Hopefully this winter I will be building a portable greenhouse or two for season extension next year and to mitigate against another cool summer.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Vegetable deliveries to the GTA

The past weeks have been super busy for me with deliveries of vegetable packages into the GTA. I wasn't sure how well things would work out at first...would I be ok with driving into Toronto once a week...would drop offs work out well...essentially, would it be worth it to sell my vegetables into Toronto? Now that I've mostly finished my deliveries for the season, I know that the answer to all of those questions are resounding 'Yes'es!

The response from my friends, family and all their friends, family and co-workers was incredibly supportive. My first delivery, I only had enough produce for about 17 packages, but by the end of the season, I had enough to deliver to 35+ households! I would take people's orders via email and arrange drop off points and times in Mississauga and Toronto. And since I had such a positive response to my initial email about deliveries, I couldn't even repeat deliveries to people until my 3rd week of deliveries. Having all the packages pre-ordered each week also made harvest super efficient, as I could make sure not to over harvest those crops that could stay in the field, and I had an outlet for those crops that absolutely had to come off the field for that given week. I'll need to tweak the process a bit for next year, but this was a really great way for me to test out the waters of delivering into the GTA.

One of the best benefits of making all these deliveries was reconnecting with lots of people and having a chance to meet more people who are interested in supporting local farmers and eating organic vegetables. I really look forward to maintaining and strengthening that connection next season, as it's one of the reasons why I wanted to get into sustainable agriculture in the first be a part of connecting people to the source of their food and helping to bridge the urban/rural divide.

Now, I'm just waiting for my pumpkins to turn orange, so I can make one last vegetable delivery into Toronto before the winter. I will be taking all my root vegetables off the field this week in preparation for that. I've also been preserving a lot of food over the last few weeks, freezing beans and summer squash, pickling beans, turnips and beets, and canning tomatoes and winter squashes. Hopefully, I won't need to buy much produce over the winter!

Once the field is clear, I will spread 1-2 tonnes of compost on the vegetable field to increase its fertility for next year. Hopefully I can get that done before the ground freezes!

Bins of Milan turnips...purple, white, crisp and crunchy!

A selection of the tomatoes from the farm...Black Krim is the best for colour, texture and taste, and Sun Sugar cherry tomatoes are a sweet explosion of tomato flavour!

Tasty summer squashes, Early Yellow Crookneck, Black Beauty and Flying Saucer, a great favourite for its shape!

My summer kitchen full of winter squash, tomatoes, hot peppers, peppers, turnips and summer squash before it all got packed up for deliveries.

Monday, August 17, 2009

My biggest harvest so far!

I haven't been writing all that much about the vegetable field so far this season...because it has definitely not been growing as I would have liked. The field is severely lacking in organic matter, which is no real surprise since all that's been happening on this land for years has been the harvesting of hay, which is the constant removal of organic matter, with nothing done to replenish it. Between the lack of field fertility, and the worst weather for growing vegetables that we've had in years, I really shouldn't be so disappointed that all my crops haven't produced. But I guess I was hoping for some beginner's luck, and maybe a miracle or two ;P

My first plantings of spring mix and spinach have barely grown at all. And with the failure of these crops after a couple attempts, I decided it wasn't worth it to continue with my planned succession plantings because the soil clearly didn't have enough fertility to grow lettuces and spinach at anything like a normal rate. My first planting of beans was completely eaten up by an insect, likely the Japanese beetle, and my beets have taken a while to really get going. My first planting of carrots barely germinated, and the parsnips didn't germinate at all. Essentially, most of what I direct seeded into the field didn't germinate or grow as expected. So I've really been playing the waiting game this summer, hoping that my transplants of tomatoes, hot peppers, peppers, eggplants, zucchinis and winter squashes would start producing. And now that we're into mid-August, the vegetable field is finally showing signs of popping!

There are now some Cylindra beets of a harvestable size, and Kirk has managed to find some spinach to harvest from my second planting that is actually big enough to eat, and hasn't bolted yet. My zucchinis are starting to produce (go Sunburst patty pans!), and my pak choy is getting big enough to start harvesting.

For the past 14 weeks that I've been diligently going to the Keady market every Tuesday, I've been selling my Amish neighbour's baking, sometimes my baking (mostly vegan brownies, just to be different in a market full of butter tarts ;P), hostas from the farm, my extra tomato, hot pepper, pepper & eggplant transplants, vine wreaths that Robb made, and my sister's clutches. Twice, I had garlic scapes to sell from garlic that has been growing back in a patch of the flower garden for probably the last 5 years (which I've now harvested and is curing in the barn), twice I had sugar snap peas, one week I sold baby beet greens (part of the beet thinning process), and last week, I sold spinach.

This Tuesday, for once, I'll not only have farm produce, but more than just one vegetable! I will have Cylindra beet bunches (long and narrow beets, unlike the standard beet that others sell at the market), spinach, pak choy, patty pan yellow squashes and green zucchini! I'm so excited to be actually harvesting more than one vegetable from the field :D

And I can't wait until the tomatoes are ripe enough to pick. I have almost 400 tomato plants in the field, 15 different, mostly heirloom, varieties, and the plants look amazing in the field, full of ripening fruit. I almost feel afraid to write about their potential, in case I jinx the crop! So I'm definitely knocking on wood right now...even though I really shouldn't be a superstitious person ;P Once the tomatoes start coming in strong, I'm planning a trip in to Toronto so I can sell to friends and family. So watch for the email announcing what I'll have available soon!

The one blessing that I have to take from the lack of field fertility this year, is that I really haven't had to do much weeding. In fact, this past week is the first week that I did any significant weeding at all since there's been almost no weed pressure at all in the field. I've been much more concerned about keeping the plants in the field alive than in removing any unwanted ones! But if all goes well in years to come, this will be the first and last year where weeding is at the bottom of my farming chores ;P

I've also had the 'luxury' of easing myself into harvest mode and not having to set up any significant wash station since there hasn't been enough to harvest to need much more than some bins and a hose. My basement has proven to be a cold enough place to keep harvested greens fresh for over a week so I haven't had to invest in a fridge or other cooling system. My neighbour, Mike, at the Keady market, is a fruit and veg vendor who trucks in produce from the Ontario Food Terminal, and he throws out tons of plastic berry pint/half-pint trays and stacking cardboard boxes each week. So I've picked up enough supplies from him to reuse for harvesting and packaging that I don't need to buy any more. My packaging purchases so far have amounted to paper bags to hold greens.

And of course, I can't forget that I'm eating vegetables off my field too. While there may not have been enough sugar snap pea production to sell much at market, I definitely got to eat a lot (and they're both hard to come by and expensive even in big box grocery stores!), and I've frozen a few pounds for the winter. I've also been eating lots of beet greens, some chard, and spinach, and generally, don't need to buy many vegetables.

The season's not over yet, and I'm a bit worried about what other curveballs the weather may throw my way. But with the bit of heat we've been having lately, I hope that the vegetable field is finally on its way to producing great vegetables to eat!

From left, under row cover, various Asian greens & turnips, a row of zucchini squashes & pumpkins, 3 rows of winter squashes, a row & a half of eggplant, then peppers, hot peppers, and the start of eight rows of tomatoes.

The 8 rows of tomatoes, tomatillos & groundcherries. I managed to scrounged up enough staking materials to stake 3 rows of tomatoes, and need to make/buy stakes to get another 4 staked so that the tomatoes can stay high and dry to ripen perfectly in the sun!

The ground hugging plant on the left is groundcherries, the next row to the right is the first planting of beets which are finally getting to be of harvestable size, and finally, the first planting of beans, which were completely eaten by a bug, but have actually grown back and are starting to flower. To the right where things start looking really weedy, is the lost parsnip bed, and the other lettuce, spinach & carrot beds that didn't germinate or grow well. They're not a complete loss though as I have gotten 2 bins of spinach off the field, and the chard from the spring mix has enough leaves to provide me with some salad greens to eat!

In a future blog, I'll write about my plans for long term field fertility. If there's anything this year has hit me over the head with, it's that soil prep is the absolute key to successful organic vegetable production, and it's a process that will take some years of work and care to get working at all. While I knew this factually before moving to the farm, experientially, I had only been on farms that have been in production for years and have the cycles in place to build great soil, and a it's a completely new reality for me to be on land that hasn't been farmed organically and needs to be rehabilitated until it can have great soil again.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Monty, the rock star goat

Monty is like a stereotypical rock star. He's demanding, pissy and randy. He's picky about his food, always wanting what's just out of reach, even if it's the same as what's in front of him, and is very vocal when he's in any sort of trouble, usually when he has shortened his leash because he's walked around the same tree many times. He exudes attitude.

He's also a very handsome goat, with lovely colouring on his front legs, a tuft of white and black hair in front of his horns, a bristly mohawk along his spine, and a little goatee under his chin. He's quite solid muscle and seems fairly athletic, jumping around on large rocks and standing straight up on his hind legs to reach leaves on branches of trees to eat. When he's chilling in the shade while chewing his cud, he's quite endearing.

However, he's not nearly so cute when he's feeling buckish. Then he chases the lambs for some action, which they manage to escape by scampering away from him. I've chosen not to castrate any of them since they won't live long enough to become a real nuisance (or so I think) since they'll be sent for slaughter in November. Mostly, I think it might be a bad habit for me to consider castrating any males that start to get annoying ;P

I am debating taking a rasp to file down the tips of Monty's horns so they'll be less sharp and won't accidentally hurt the other animals, or me! I've already got a knee cap contusion from when he shook his head near me the other day. His horns aren't just pointy on the ends, they're also more triangular than rounded, which makes for lots of sharp edges!

Since I've only got male ruminants this year, being raised for meat, I wonder how different the animal raising experience will be when the herd is mostly female, with any male lambs or kids born that season castrated via elastator soon after birth. Right now, Monty and the lambs are quite social with me and allow me to walk them all around the farm on leashes to bring them to fresh grazing each day. From my limited experience, male lambs seem to be more friendly and less skittish than the females, so in the future, I probably shouldn't expect such dog-like behaviour!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Saying good bye to the condo

Barring any last minute developments, my condo will be officially someone else's at 6 pm today. Alan and Bettina helped me with late night minivan loading last night, with us racing to beat the end of the ColdPlay concert at SkyDome to avoid the traffic jams of all those fans leaving the concert. I drove my queen-sized bed to Bettina's as a queen-sized box spring doesn't fit up the stairs of my house at the farm, so I'm sticking with a double from now on! We tied the box spring to the top of the van...something I've always been reluctant to do, but we secured it really well and I drove it to my sister's without incident. I also sent her my box planters that have been on my condo balcony for about 6 years. Unfortunately, the globe cedars that have survived my sporadic watering for those years didn't make it through my absence of the past few months. Surprisingly, one of the Arctic strawberry plants did, so perhaps I can bring that out to the farm.

After unloading at Bettina's, Alan helped me load my couch and tv into the van. Hopefully that's the last of after midnight furniture moving for me this year! So last night was my last night sleeping in my condo, on the floor in my room, just like my very first night there when I took possession in February 2003. And of course, since I'm in the city and trying to do too many things in too little time, I didn't end up going to sleep until 4:30 am. Now I just need to pack up all the odds and ends I still have left at the condo. And I'm planning for one last swim in the pool before I head back to the farm on Sunday.

So here's a virtual toast to the last of super late nights at my condo, bathed in the exterior lights of the SkyDome. It's never dark in the condo ;)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Finally, Sugar Snap Peas!

Finally, after weeks and weeks of waiting, I actually have harvestable amounts of sugar snap peas! I germinated my first planting of seeds on May 1...planted painstakingly as little sprouts on May 4 (hey, it was the first thing I planted on my farm so doing things the inefficient way seemed justified ;P). Since this summer has been so cold, it probably took those peas 3-4 weeks longer to produce fruit than would be normal. That said, who knows what normal really is, and their planting location (periphery of the horse corral) isn't exactly ideal prepared ground. It's interesting how each different segment of the horse corral (each about 6-8 feet long) is so varied in fertility. By far, the most productive bits are right by the entrance to the horse corral where the pea pods produced are actually 3+ inches long, while in the less fertile segments, the vines themselves look yellow and stunted, and the pea pods are only about an inch long, with maybe 1-3 peas inside.

I harvest about 1.5 to 2 lbs of peas off the first planting every 2 days or so. Not exactly heavy production, but they sure are tasty! This past market, I actually sold 6 scant pints of peas :) I think the last one was left over (which I ate) because no one ever seems to want to take the last of anything, and I wasn't about to discount it when I knew it could be part of my dinner!

The market table, with 4 scant pints of sugar snap peas on display!

Sugar snap peas only last about 3-5 days in the fridge, so all my harvests between now and next market are destined for my stomach or the freezer. The great thing about multiple plantings, is that as the first planting matures and gets completely harvested, the 2nd and 3rd plantings will come into production. And since it's such a cold summer so far, I'll have sugar snap peas to eat much later into the summer than normal.

When I head in to Toronto at the end of the month, I'll be sure to bring some with me. There's a certain Peanut expecting a mini-'Nut who should have a taste of her nickname-sake!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Monty and the lambs as lawn mowers

I know the picture isn't great, but it's the view from my office window today. I've been grazing my goat and lambs on leashes for a few days each week and am moving them about my back yard. You can't really see Monty in this picture because he's above and to the right of the lambs, sitting in the garden bed with just his head peaking out of the vegetation. I like having them in the back yard while I'm working on the computer, as they give me something interesting to watch while I'm waiting for anything internet related to load, and because I can keep an eye on when they get themselves tangled up and need me to untangle their leashes. Right now, they're taking a noon-time break, chewing their cud in the shade.

The animals have all been really amusing lately. Often, when I let them out of their shelter in the morning I see the chickens sitting or standing on the lambs or goat, and lately, I think one of the chickens actually chooses to sleep nestled with the lambs rather than roosting with her fellow hens on their perch. The other day, one of the hens caught herself a toad in the garden and was having a fun time keeping it away from the other hens, and also trying to figure out how to eat it herself. She certainly looked athletic running around the yard with the toad hanging from her beak! I certainly feel no qualms about eating eggs every day for breakfast since I see how much foraging my chickens do. The yolks of all their eggs are a wonderfully bright orange from their varied diet. I give them some layer feed first thing in the morning while keeping them in their vain hopes of having them all lay their eggs inside rather than outside where I have to search for them! But I think I know where their outside laying nests are now. They seem to like making little nests for themselves among the daylilies. For the first time, I'm actually going to put out a sign that eggs are for sale as I do have 3 dozen collected over the past few days that I can sell.

Well, the lambs have gotten up from their grazing rest, so I guess I need to get back to my Farmers Growing Farmers work! One of the lambs has climbed up onto a tree stump now and looks like he may get tangled up in the plants soon. If anyone's feeling stressed these days, come visit me at the afternoon spent watching grazing antics is very relaxing!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My first volunteer!

The day after the farm warming, my first farm volunteer, Minh, arrived for a 10 day stay. She's working on a research project that requires interviewing new farmers, so in exchange for being interviewed and seeing how the farm works, she helps out!

She helped me with mulching the tomato plants, rock picking in the field (now the entire field is ready for rototilling!), planting out all the winter and summer squash, and setting up pest cover for my direct seedings of Asian greens and cucumbers. My cucumber seedlings never really germinated in their soil blocks, so I'm going to see how this direct seeding goes. I'm not sure if the soil blocks were too fertile for the seeds to germinate, or if a pest ate the shoots just as they were coming up. The pest cover should take care of the pests, and planting directly into the field which hasn't had any compost added (unlike the soil blocks) should hopefully germinate the seeds. I should know in about a week if the effort of putting up row cover is worth it.

Minh also took lots of pictures while at the farm, which was really great as I never seem to get around to doing that.

The freshly straw mulched tomato plants on a foggy and wet day.

Me, rototilling the next stretch of field to be used for planting.

Watering newly planted winter squash.

Minh even persuaded me to get dressed up and take some 'portrait' shots which turned out surprisingly well.

On top of the part of the barn that I want to fix into a barn top terrace since there's such an amazing view of the countryside from there.

Minh told me to jump, so I did... I didn't know I could get that far off the ground!

My first farm volunteer experience was definitely a good one. She's moved on to the next farm on her list now (she's visiting around 10 farms over the course of the summer) and I'm sure will be a great help there too.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Animal updates

A week or so before the farm warming, I brought home my last set of animals for the farm, two 3-month old Dorset lambs from a farmer friend of my farmer friend. These are also male culls. Their mothers turned out to have no mothering instinct and rejected them at birth, so they're bottle fed lambs. They've had their selenium shots (yay! no white muscle disease!) and are really healthy and friendly animals. After a few days to settle in with the rest of the crew (4 bantam chickens, 9 Rhode Island Red hens & 2 goats), they fit in very well and are doing a good job of grazing down brushy areas along with the bigger goat, Monty. The littlest goat, Merlin also took well to them as they are more his size and weren't inclined to bully him.

Some bad news...Merlin died the morning of my birthday. I found him at 5:30 am as I was letting the animals out of their shed before I went to the Keady Market for the day. I definitely shed some tears over the little guy as I had gotten quite attached to him since he required so much babying due to his weakness compared to the other animals. He was a really picky eater, so I always kept him on pasture that he preferred, which seemed to be young dandelions and other tender plants. Otherwise, he just wouldn't eat, but would stand there, bleating. In general, he always moved like an old man (I never saw him move faster than a slow walk). He had little black lightning markings on his front legs, and really cute ears that folded at the ends. He seemed to really like having people around as he'd always start bleating if a person wasn't in sight.

This is the latest picture I have of Merlin, taken by Doret 4 days before he died. If anyone has pictures of him from the farm warming, I'd appreciate a copy.

I really wish he could have made it through his early weaning, but I think he never stood a chance of growing to adulthood. I'm just glad that his final days were out on pasture and not enclosed in a dark stall. I also hope that Monty, who still has the same cough he arrived with, has a stronger heart than his companions did. He's certainly been growing bigger, which is a good sign. Merlin had lost his starved look from grazing but never seemed to start really growing.

Having animals on the farm definitely brings up the emotional level of farming. Even though all the animals on the farm will be slaughtered for meat in November, I really want them to have a good life on pasture over the summer. I don't worry quite as much about my plants as I do the animals. I hope my remaining 3 ruminants stay healthy and growing. I move them around on leashes each day so they have fresh areas to browse and graze. That does require checking on them every hour or so as they can get quite tangled up with each other!

Monty and one of the lambs are sitting in the shade of the tree while the other lamb continues to graze.

The chickens all seem to be doing well, though I definitely understand where the tradition of egg hunts came from now. The hens did initially lay their eggs in the laying boxes that Robb built, but for whatever reason, now prefer doing so in various spots outside. I think some modifications will need to be made to get them to lay back in the boxes again as I'd rather not have to egg search each day. That said, it's pretty cool to come upon a pile of eggs in a patch of tall grass! The hens are definitely free ranging now that they're comfortable with the farm property. I often have one follow me all the way to the house!

One of the bantam hens has started to lay little white eggs. I'm a bit disappointed that they aren't blue or green, but they're still super cute!

Bantam chicken eggs, up close

Eggs, further out so you can see their size compared to other things.

Even with the added stress that animals bring to a farm, I'm still glad I have them all. The eggs I get to eat are wonderfully delicious with huge, bright orange yolks. You do have to watch your step around the farm though as you're liable to have a chicken underfoot ;P And the ruminants are doing a great job of clearing weeds, which they definitely prefer to eat over grass. If I rotate them well, they should do my lawn mowing for me, as well as getting all sorts of good things to eat! Having all the animals here means someone always needs to be at the farm, to let the animals out of their shelter in the morning, put them back in at night (to keep them safe from predators), and make sure they have enough water, or haven't gotten too tangled up when they're grazing on long leashes. Hopefully I can find farm sitters for whenever I may need to be away for a few days.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Farm Warming

The day of the Farm Warming dawned very wet. But the weather up here changes very quickly and by lunch time, the sun was out and the weather was perfect for an outdoor party!

People started arriving before 1 pm and kept coming and going for the rest of the afternoon and evening. I rented 2 portable restrooms for the event as I knew my septic tank wouldn't be able to handle 100+ people. My Amish neighbour Marianne baked all the mini butter tarts and pies the day before, and I had helpers that Saturday to help prep vegetables for appetizers. We blanched 10 lbs of local asparagus (around 200 stems!), sliced up prosciutto from one of the meat vendors at the Keady market, diced up feta cheese, minced chives and green onions and grated cheddar cheese. Then, after the Saturday day visitors/helpers left, I started my 5 double rolling batches of honey oatmeal bread. Luckily for me, each batch only requires about 2 hours of rising in total, so I did take the last set of loaves out of the oven by 10 pm. While all this food prep was going on indoors, Robb dressed all the tables in the barn and the drive shed so they'd be ready for the next day.

A basket of biodegradable cups for drinks.

On Sunday, all the appetizers were assembled. I prepared 5 appetizers, a cucumber, feta & grape tomato skewer/stack, asparagus with spicy prosciutto, homemade honey oatmeal bread with honey butter and an assortment of Ontario cheeses, mini butter tarts from my neighbour, and mini cheddar and chive scones.

Cucumber, feta & grape tomato skewers on a tray of hosta leaves

I saved baking the cheddar and chive scones for Sunday as they taste best the day they're baked. Some people arrived in the midst of the baking, so they got to get scones straight from the oven!

Cheddar & chive mini scones

I led guests on a tour of the barn, drive shed, animal yard and vegetable plot.

Tour in front of the 3/4 acre vegetable field, at the time, planted with carrots, parsnips, beats, beans, salad mix, spinach, tomatoes, hot peppers, peppers & eggplant.

The front of a tomato row, starting with the heirloom variety 'Black Krim'.

The tour ended with the house as I especially wanted people to see the newly renovated guest suite, so they knew they'd have a comfortable stay on future visits!

The newly renovated guest room...yes, it's the same room as in previous posts where I was insulating and drywalling.

Around 3:30ish (I think...I didn't really keep track of time that day), we all gathered in the barn for the informal farm blessing. Jen and Victoria from my Mississauga church, MCBC, led us in singing 3 songs in our Chinese baptist church tradition, and then I read 'Two Tramps in Mud Time' by Robert Frost. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have read the whole poem as it's not that short. The clincher is the last stanza:

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed every really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

Anyone who's received some sort of handcrafted gift from me over the years probably has that stanza written somewhere on their gift. It's been a favourite ever since I discovered it while reading Madeleine L'Engle books. It pretty much sums up the reason why I started on this farm quest and am continuing on this journey into farming.

Everyone gathered in the barn for the farm blessing.

After the farm blessing, I gave another tour of the farm and a bbq dinner was served, courtesy of Andrew and bbq help from the Barnabas fellowship from MCBC.

Three table top grills on the go with burgers, wieners, ribs and chicken wings!

People relaxing over dinner in the yard between the barn and the drive shed.

Amish pies for dessert!

The weather held for the entire event, and we did start a bonfire and roasted marshmallows and made some S'mores. All in all, the day turned out beautifully!

Thank you to all those who came to the farm warming! And a special thanks to all those who helped with prep and throughout the day :) I hope that everyone got a glimpse of what life out here is like and understand a bit better what I'm trying to do here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Animals now at the farm!

Last week, animals came to the farm. First, I bought a set of 4 bantam chickens at the Keady livestock auction. For the past couple markets, I had tried bidding on some hen and chick sets and had lost as I wasn't willing to bid past my cut off amount. But last week, I got lucky and managed to win the auction for a bantam rooster and 3 young hens for $5 each. It remains to be seen whether these hens will start laying or how long that will take since I don't actually know how old they are, but the great thing about bantam chickens is that they forage for themselves so they're about as easy care an animal as I could get! When I brought them home, I opened up their box in the chicken yard so they could get used to their new surroundings. Little did I expect them to fly away on me! They're definitely a lot more flight worthy than your average laying breeds! Robb helped me catch the chickens and put them into the animal shed where I left them with some organic layer grain mix and water. My hope was that they would spend some time there and get used to it being their home. I then went on the internet to see how many days I'd have to keep them in there for them to feel like it was home. But after some web surfing, I realized there's no hard and fast rule, so I decided to take the plunge and let them back into the open after just one overnight roost in the animal shed. I figured that I could track them down to wherever else they might roost and bring them back to the shed if they didn't come back on their own. But luck was on my side as they came back to the shed on their own that night to roost, and have been coming back faithfully each night since then :) I hope when I get some regular laying hens to add to the flock that they'll get accustomed to their new home just as easily. I just hope the bantams don't take off when the other hens arrive!

The bantam rooster and 2 of his hens in the animal shed.

The whole flock, just outside the animal shed after I took the plunge and let them out.

A couple days later, I went to an Amish farm around the corner from me and bought their cull billy goat kids from them. As a dairy goat operation, the male kids that are born aren't particularly important to them, so once they're weaned, they're available to whoever is willing to buy them. When I went by to buy the goats, they had an older kid and 2 really little ones available. I knew they weren't the healthiest animals in the world, but since I'm not setting myself up for a goat breeding operation right now, I figured this was a low risk way for me to start caring for animals that will become meat in the fall. I also felt that no matter if they got better or not, at least they'd be in the sun and on pasture on my farm for however long they lived, instead of in stuck in a stall in a barn. The littlest brown goat had all sorts of crustiness around his eyes and nose, which I wiped off with a salt water solution. The little kid didn't try to run away from me while I was doing this, which encouraged me. When I first brought them back, I put them on leads so they could graze in the open...but they soon got themselves hopelessly tangled up with each other, so they were put into the small yard around the animal shed that I keep the chickens in at night. They definitely liked being off leads and browsing around that small yard much better. And the chickens didn't seem to mind them being there. That first night, I made sure they all went into the shed at night so I could close them in and keep them safe from any predators. The goats all piled on top of each other in a corner, and the chickens roosted on a rafter above.

The 2 smallest kids.

The biggest of the kids. According to the farmer's wife, they missed this one when the last batch of billy goat kids were sold. I suspect he spent more time feeding from his mother than the other 2 did.

As the white goat had looked really unsteady since he arrived on the farm, I was concerned that he wouldn't make it through the night. Every time he would get knocked over by one of the other goats, he just couldn't seem to get himself back up again. But by the end of that first day, he seemed to be able to get back up on his own and so I just hoped for the best. He did make it through the first night, and spent the next day in the yard with the other kids and chickens, but continued to look really wobbly and stiff on his legs.

The second morning, I went to let the animals out of the shed and the little white goat was lying on his side, reflexively suckling with his mouth. I went to lift him up to see if he had any strength to stand, but he was clearly too weak. When I put his nose by the water, he didn't try to lap it up at all. I brought him outside to lay in a patch of sunshine and went into the house to warm up some sugar milk for him to see if he would drink that. I was in the house for about 5 minutes and when I came back, he was dead. I suspect he had white muscle disease, a nutrient deficiency from lack of selenium and vitamin E, nutrients which goats should get when foraging on pasture. I think he was already too far gone for 24 hours browsing outside to help him much. Or he may have been too starved from being weaned off milk too early for browsing to provide him with enough nutrition as his stomach may not have been ready yet for non-milk food. Robb and I had tried to feed him some milk and oatmeal a few times that first day, but he wouldn't touch it. And he also wouldn't touch any kibble we tried to feed him, though the bigger goat certainly gobbled it up, and the little brown goat nibbled at it too. I think if I had gone to the Amish farm to buy goats even a day or so later than I did, the little white goat would already have been gone. I'm just glad that at least he had a full day or so to spend browsing on grass in the sun before he died. I still feel worried each morning when I shut the animals into the shed at night that maybe one of them won't make it through the night. It's been almost a week now, so maybe I should stop worrying, but I'm sad that the little white goat didn't make it. I'm just going to have to get used to what all experienced farmers know, when you have livestock, you'll also have dead stock at some point.

The animals definitely all have distinct personalities. The rooster keeps his hens close to him and is quite cautious, but they do wander outside the yard and seem to find me when I'm working at various parts of the yard around the house. Robb has suggested that his name be Solomon. I have no names for the hens yet as I really can't tell them apart. The bigger goat's been named Monty as he seems to be a bit of a troublemaker, which is generally the nature of goats. I named the little brown goat Merlin, partly because Robb had started to call the little white goat Arthur for whatever reason, and also because Merlin has 2 whiskery wattles under his chin. Merlin's a bit of a cry baby as he often bleats at me when I'm around so that I'll pet him. That's probably the result of me washing his face so diligently the first day he arrived. I just have to remember not to pet either of them on the head to discourage butting in the future. So I stick to petting them on their sides and necks.

On Sunday, as they seemed to finally have eaten most of what was in their little yard (yay, no need for me to mow!), I set up the portable electric fencing to enclose a larger area for them outside of the little yard around the animal shed. When they've eaten down most of that area, I'll move the fence to another portion of the yard. There's definitely no lack of rotating forage for them, even just around the house! Once I also have lambs, rotating them around the house yard and into the fields should mean I won't have to do any yard mowing any more :)

Petting the goats each day, I think that they're starting to fill out a bit from when they arrived. They were rather scarily thin when I first got them, so I hope it's not just wishful thinking on my part that they're starting to gain weight. My hope for them is that they have a good summer foraging in the sun and getting fat on pasture.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Keady market

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I've decided to sell regularly at the Keady market, which is just a 10 minute drive north of the farm. Since I don't actually have any organic vegetables to sell yet, I've been selling my neighbour Marianne's baking (pies, bread, tarts and cinnamon buns so far), some of my own baking (tea shortbread and vegan brownies), vine wreaths (made by Robb from vines pulled out of the woodlot) and plants (hostas and Solomon's seal which Robb has been dividing and putting into pots). It's been good to get an idea of how the Keady market works, meet the other vendors, work on my market set up and tell people that I'm growing organic vegetables, so hopefully by the time I do have vegetables to sell, people will know to come to me.

Once we figure out how to get pictures off of Robb's phone, I can show the progression of the market stall. The very first one was with a table made from sawhorses, shutters and some shelving put together from materials found on the farm. With Robb's giant wreath out front and a lot of fresh flowers on the table, I think we were the prettiest stall at the market!

An arrangement of violets with a pretty leaf that was used at my first market day.

The next week, Benita came with me and we had some of her House of Hsueh products to sell too. That week, I had baked Oolong tea shortbread cookies, along with sample sizes, so it was fun to hand those out to people to try. It was a really windy day so we had to hold on to the clothing rack and catch things from blowing off the table. Lots of the vendors with canopies had to take them down as the wind was too strong, and one of them even lost his canopy completely. So now I know what it will be like to deal with a canopy on a really blustery day. I think Benita has a picture of our set up that day, so I'll have to get that from her for this blog.

The picture below is of my 3rd market, but my first one with my new canopy! The week after that, I also had my farm sign up (one of the pictures I need to get off Robb's phone).

My new canopy and all the different products from the farm and my neighbour.

Me at my's cold early in the morning so I'm really loving my down vest!

Unfortunately, this week's market set up was both sparse and short-lived because the weather was horrid and I didn't think it was worth it to stick out the day there. I didn't end up putting up my canopy as the winds were too strong (I need to put together weights to hold the canopy down on windy days), and the canopy wouldn't have kept me or my products dry anyway, since the rain was coming in sideways. Knowing that the forecast was for rain, and therefore there wouldn't be much market traffic, Marianne didn't bake anything for me to sell this week. I baked a batch of brownies on Monday, this time cut out into circles, and with sample pieces for people to try. After 2.5 hours of standing in a steady drizzle, with the wind starting to pick up, I decided to call it quits since my hands were so cold that I couldn't actually grab change out of my money apron. So now I have a batch of brownies to eat this week...which Gideon is happy about since he really likes them and I gave him a bunch to take home. The market wasn't a complete loss though as another vendor at the market sampled my brownies and is considering carrying them in her ice cream shop. I'll see if anything comes of that!

Hopefully the weather will be better next Tuesday. I'm just hoping that I'll have some vegetable products to bring with me soon!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

House roof done...with some horse drama!

When I first made an offer on this property, I knew that the first major house repair I'd have to invest in was a new roof. So my Amish neighbour Gideon put the word out that I needed a new roof for the house and eventually, Sam showed up with his friend Levi. I decided to go with dark green barn steel, or a tin roof, as Sam calls it. I chose a steel roof because it will last longer than asphalt tiles, and also because it's installed over the existing roof, so there's no need to create a lot of garbage. Instead, strapping is laid on the existing roof to form a framework for the steel to be drilled in to.

House roof after the spruce wood strapping has been nailed into place.

This was Sam's first steel roofing job with him as the lead and I think he underestimated how much time it would take to install. He and Levi certainly worked some really long days to get it done! The day they started the job was also my first day at the Keady market, leaving the farm at 6 am, selling vine wreaths, vegan brownies, and bread and tarts baked by Gideon's wife Marianne. When Robb and I got back from the market around 1 pm, we discovered that Sam and Levi had put their horses into my horse corral.

Of course, this is a logical thing to do...but since I don't have horses, and have no plans to get any, my plans for the horse corral include growing sugar snap peas around the perimeter to take advantage of the fencing as trellis for the climbing vines. In the picture below, you may notice bare earth under some parts of the corral fence. That is where I had planted my first planting of sugar snap peas, which had just started to sprout. When I saw the horses in the corral, I despaired that my first planting was in vain. But luckily, it turned out that the horses hadn't noticed the pea sprouts yet because they were still too small. But Sam and Levi didn't tie the horses up in there after that as they knew that once the horses found them, they'd eat the sweet sprouts right down to the ground!

The picture I took of the horses in the corral...after I determined that they weren't eating my sugar snap pea sprouts!

On another day, while I was away in Toronto with Robb still at the farm, Sam tied his horse up to one of the big tires Robb and I had dragged off the fallen part of the barn. This worked fine until something spooked the horse and sent her running down the lane, dragging that heavy tire. Robb says he never saw someone get off a roof so fast to catch the horse before she ended up on the road!

All in all, I'm quite pleased with my new roof and hope not to have to change it again in my lifetime :) And I hope the weather warms up soon so that the first planting of sugar snap peas...having narrowly escaped being horse fodder...will grow, blossom and fruit! Their growth has been severely delayed by this unseasonally cold weather we've been having. Unfortunately, there's nothing I can do about the weather, so I'll just have to be patient!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The boon of high speed internet access

The one thing that I have not been able to get acclimatized to on the farm, is the slow speed of dial-up internet...28.8 kbps. Being in Toronto this weekend with high speed internet everywhere makes me appreciate how much I took fast web browsing for granted. And it highlights how handicapped I feel by the lack of high speed wireless coverage in my area. I was used to doing a lot of product and information research via the internet before coming to the farm, and now, I find it so much more time consuming, that I keep my internet research topics to absolute necessities, and sometimes not even those, which explains why I'm only now picking a rototiller model.

In fact, on the farm, not only is there currently no access to high speed internet, even for a phone line connection, I have to pay an extra $3 per month (rural connectivity fee) just for the 'privilege' of being connected at all, and an extra $5 for long distance access. I do understand that telecommunications companies are not going to build infrastructure in areas without the client base to support those capital investments. But somehow that doesn't help me feel like rural areas aren't being kept at a disadvantage.

There are provincial grants in place for rural regions to increase their high speed coverage areas, but so far, my area hasn't been connected yet. The telecoms implementing the grant also need the funds to be released to them by the province to set up new towers, and not surprisingly, that's not happening quickly. Until then, I just have to teach myself to unclench my jaw any time that I'm waiting for something to load. To give you an idea of how long things my last long blog update that included all those pictures...each individual picture took at least 10 minutes to load. I unpacked a few boxes of books between the upload of each of those pictures!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

New Black Sheep Farm logo

I probably haven't mentioned it before, but the farm's name is 'Black Sheep Farm' and I've finally chosen a logo with much design help from Benita. I've now added it to the blog page, though there may be some more refinements to come. Let me know your thoughts on the logo...what words come to mind when you see it, if there's anything strange or confusing about it, etc.

Farming starts in earnest

I didn’t realize I missed the whole month of April for this blog as time just seems to be rushing by! Since getting back to the farm after the One of a Kind show in Toronto, I’ve been slowly plodding along with my various tasks and haven’t really been stressing too much over the timing of things. I may regret that…but I also think that I just have to do what needs doing and not stress too much over what’s not done yet, or I’ll just be paralyzed by the long list of things that still need to be done.

Julia came back with me to the farm after the show, and while she was here, helped me with unpacking and organizing around the house, as well as pulling down the interior plaster and lathe walls in one corner of the eventual large guest room. My original thoughts were to pull down all the walls and possibly the ceiling, insulate and put up drywall, but after determining that I wouldn’t end up changing the shape of the room or ceiling at all given the structural studs and beams, I decided to fix just that one corner (where the walls had been in rough shape already) and just paint the rest. It’s amazing to me how much work it was to make those plaster and lathe walls in the first place, and certainly a lot of garbage would have to be dumped if I pulled them and the ceiling all down. It’s also really interesting to see how wide some of the boards on the house are, now that I can see them from removing the interior walls. For long term insulation improvement, I’m better off taking down the siding on the house and insulating the exterior under the siding. Much more efficient and less garbage created!

Inside of exterior walls exposed after removal of inside plaster & lathe walls

Me adding vapour barrier after insulating between wall step, drywalling

My family came up for Easter dinner and helped do some raking and brush clearing around the yard. The following week, I also pulled up a lot of carpet that had been laid down on the grounds around the house (who carpets the outdoors???) so now the layers of organic material that have been kept from the soil by that carpet layer can finally incorporate back into the ground. There’s still plenty more carpet to pull up around the property. It’s amazing to me that people could have such a hatred of weeds and have chosen to lay down so much carpet to combat them. I also had a set of visitors from my church come up the last weekend of April though it was too rainy outside for them to help me with any yard work. So we watched movies and ate snacks instead :) They did take tons of pictures of the grounds and house so I look forward to seeing those.

Sarah and her documentary crew were up for a few days as well to film the overseeding of the pasture fields and get a general update on what’s been going on at the farm. While they were here, a local farmer also came to visit and examine the possibility of growing grain on some of my fields. He decided against doing so due to the small size of the field (he manages hundreds of acres in the are, growing near-organic grains). I was so distracted by all this company, that I stupidly left a pot of soup on the stove that turned to charcoal and filled the house with smoke. That may have been a blessing in disguise as I think the fumigation helped to clear some of the lingering odor of cat from the house ;P Unfortunately, I destroyed my favourite pot in the process :(

My poor destroyed pot...yes, that is a ham bone in there

Robb moved up to the farm at the end of April, and has been helping a lot with cleaning and organizing the grounds, barn, drive shed and house. We pulled the black plastic and tires off the barn floor where the walls had come down a few years back so that the floor boards, joists and beams in the lower part of the barn can dry out and hopefully stop rotting. I’m going to have to get my Amish contractor to take a look and see what needs to be done to make the lower barn watertight and structurally sound and possibly turn the upper part of the structure into a barn-top terrace. There’s a great view of the farm from there and it would be a wonderful future site for an outdoor cafĂ©!

My contractor will be starting on re-roofing the house in dark green barn steel this coming Monday. Unfortunately for me, the price of steel went up $0.40/square foot in the past few weeks so the materials for the roof are going to cost $1500 more than originally expected. And when I brought my minivan in for new all-season tires (the previous ones were completely bare), it turned out that I needed new brake calipers (hadn’t been changed since the van was bought in 1997) and pads. Safety first of course, but from a $400 tire change and checkup, it was a bit of a blow to have the final bill come to $900 :( Apparently, the rest of the van’s in great shape though so hopefully no more needs to be spent on maintenance this year (knock on wood!). If only I could live like my Amish neighbours and not use a motorized vehicle at all… My Amish across the road neighbour made a custom free-standing kitchen cabinet for me which now holds the old island countertop from Mark’s parents’ place, so now I have a great surface for baking and cabinets to store my mixer, food processor and other baking supplies. Unfortunately for me, he’s in the process of selling his farm to move to the U.S. I’ll be sad to see such a good neighbour go!

Planting related things that have been done so far…I sent my eggplant, pepper and hot pepper seeds off to be planted and grown in the greenhouse of a farmer down in Lucknow (who’s growing 480 seedlings for me as her pass-on of the Heifer International ( gift she received as part of the Farmers Growing Farmers program last year). I’ve started all my tomato, leek, tomatillo and ground cherry seedlings with my new soil block making tools. Robb helped me pull up the sod around 50 feet of the horse corral, where I’ve now planted my first planting of sugar snap peas (taking advantage of the existing fencing for trellising!); the remaining hundred feet of circumference will be used for two more pea plantings, and the interior of the circle will hopefully become a permanent herb garden. I’ve had my neighbour in to plough up and cultivate my 1+ acre vegetable field, as well as agreed to have the previously cultivated 5 acres in the lower field put into grains (rye and barley that he will bale green as silage) underseeded with red clover for this year. I’ve also overseeded Dutch white clover (with a hand cranked broadcast seeder) into about 10 acres of hilly hay fields which will be used for animal pasturing in the long term, and have walked the perimeters of the various fields with a fencing expert to plan out long-term animal fencing. I now have a plan for where 3 rotated vegetable plots will be in the years to come, as well as the permanent pasture/hay fields.

Vegetable field after initial ploughing to turn up the sod

For animals, I’ve purchased moveable electric fencing equipment and have visited various sheep and goat farms looking for lambs and kids to bring to the farm to pasture in the next few weeks. I’ve mostly cleared out the bottom of the barn in preparation for housing the sheep and goats overnight, though I will also make a straw bale and plywood shelter for shade and rain in their rotating pastures in case it’s too much of a hassle to get them into the barn each night. I still need to nail up some boards to pen them into a smaller part of the barn instead of having them run amuck in the horse stalls and other areas. Robb has cleaned out a large shed behind the drive shed which will be used for housing laying hens once we’ve repaired theholes in the chicken wire around the shed.

On the marketing front, I’ve visited the Keady market which is a mere 10 minute drive north on Grey Road 3 from me. It’s a giant Tuesday market which grew up around the weekly livestock auction held there and attracts a large crowd of locals and Georgian Bay cottagers. I will be booking a reserved spot at that market, though I have precious little to sell at my booth at this point in time. The market started this past Tuesday, May 5, and runs until September 29. I will see what I can scrounge up to sell (vine wreaths made by Robb, tea shortbread cookies that I’ll bake, some of Benita’s clutches and brooches, etc.) starting this coming Tuesday, May 12. As my seedlings get big enough, I’ll bring the extras to market to sell as well until I have actual vegetables to bring in. I’ve also come up with a logo with Benita’s help and will make signs for both the market and the farm, and eventually a flag to fly from the market booth so that people can find it easily. I still need to pick which Saturday market to go to and am currently inclined to heading out towards Port Elgin because it’s a relatively multi-cultural community that’s grown up there because of the workers at Bruce Power. My local community is very white, so I’m looking forward to seeing some different ethnic groups once a week at least!

What still needs to be done…a further tractor cultivation by my neighbour of the vegetable field before I plant my first direct seeded beds of salad greens, spinach, beets, radish, fennel, kohlrabi, beans, Asian greens, spring onions, carrots, parsnips and annual herbs, hopefully this coming week. I still need to start all my winter and summer squash, pumpkin, cucumber, kale, chard and cabbage seedlings. And I need to stop debating brands and just buy a rototiller and an Earthway seeder. I should have ordered them weeks ago as I will likely be doing my first plantings with just a hoe, rake and hand seeding. I’m sure farmers everywhere would cringe at the inefficiency and I’m a bit mortified myself as Everdale certainly taught me better!

Hopefully I’ll have the new drywall back up in the guest room after tomorrow while my brother-in-law’s here to help me so that I’ll have a great place to host guests in the weeks to come. My farm warming date has been moved to Sunday, June 28, which works better for some of the people that will be helping prepare the food for the event, and is also a better time for people to see the farm as the majority of the vegetable crops will be in the fields and the animals should all be here by then.

Well, this has certainly been a long post, though I’d never be described as a person of few words ;P I’ll try to post more often so they’ll be shorter in the future!

A spring vignette, with hyacinths from the farm