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.