Off to a great start!

What a great day! Monday was the first day of team 4 on the farm. Jeremy and Jessi finished their city jobs Saturday, and arrived Sunday in time to celebrate Mother’s Day with my Mum and Dad, and my brother and his wife. After a lovely Sunday feasting and visiting, the four of us got down to the first of what will be many “To-Do” lists. In a spirit of cooperative teamwork, we set out to accomplish as much as we could. We seeded 700 lettuce soil blocks, dug up the dahlia bed where we made the unhappy discovery that 86 of our dahlias did not make it through the winter, potted up the dahlias we found, along with some new ones ordered from Vesey’s, dug up all the strawberry plants and re-planted them into new wooden planter boxes mounted on the fence, discovered that we had twice the berries than box space so Stephen and Jeremy quickly built a couple more boxes, cleaned out and whitewashed the brooder shack for the 125 baby chicks arriving on Wednesday, collected a week’s worth of coffee grounds from a coffee shop in town to add to our compost, plus more stuff that I’ve already forgotten – crazy productive day!
It was sunny, even warm at times and the fields and hedges around us teamed with life. The bird song is positively joyful this time of the year – the owls are hoot hooting all through the night and well past dawn these days. There are frogs everywhere, even just outside the front door of the house, and everywhere you look a tree is leafing out or blossoming, the skunk cabbage (now re-named swamp lantern) is blooming by the pond, trilliums and violets dot the hillside and my favorite, the dogwoods are blooming. It’s cooler than normal and everything is coming on a bit later, but happily the plant lifecycle is endlessly repeating itself.

Asparagus is like corn - it tastes better when you eat it fresh, before the sugars turn to starch.

We ended the day with a fabulous salmon bbq – our neighbor brought by a white spring salmon that he caught that day which tasted surprisingly similar to trout. We picked asparagus from the lower field and salad greens from the greenhouse to round off the meal. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.

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First Full Farm Day

I like alliteration. Well today was our first day working on the farm as permanent residents – it went pretty well.

We had a delicious Mother’s Day Brunch featuring our own asparagus (SUPER YUM) and afterwards created a to do list which I think will continue to expand every day and which we quickly got to work on. It’s nice to cross things off that list which I think will also happen every day. We created a new home for our strawberries off the ground as rabbits ate and destroyed the patch over winter. Also suffering a blow were some of our favorite flowers which got hit with the frost.  Plus this morning we woke up to find that an eagle had killed one of our chickens.  It is very humbling to be at the mercy of mother nature.

Despite the sad news I am optimistic (it is my nature) and I feel really good about what we accomplished today – more seeding and planting, getting ready for the chicks that arrive Wednesday, continuing to build our infrastructure, and brainstorming new and creative ways to improve and enjoy the farm.

It is going to be a great summer.

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moving tips.

1.  You are never too poor to get boxes.

2.  If your dad offers you the use of a one tonne van, use it.  I promise there is a vast difference between what a one tonne van and a pickup truck can hold.  Probably about 3/4 of a tonne.

The good news is that the move is complete.  Despite a gross miscalculation in how much time and space we would need, all of our things are at the farm.  Jeremy finishes his job in Victoria on Thursday and the opera I’m working on closes Saturday.  Soon we will be in full farm mode.

Unpacking has currently distracted me from my duties on the farm but Ramona and Stephen have been trucking along – seeding, planting, weeding, and picking.  We are also at the Duncan Farmer’s Market now with salad and braising greens, turnips and radishes, and some other goodies fresh from the greenhouse.  Not to mention more words of wisdom on the art of moving.  Come and pay us a visit this Saturday in the Square!

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a city girl’s guide to gearing down and getting dirty

I moved away from Victoria to a small town once (Sayward, ever heard of it?), when I was 8 – not voluntarily. The culture shock was immense.

“What do you mean there’s no movie theatre?”
“What do you mean there’s no mall?”
“What do you mean there’s no McDonalds?”

But now, completely of my own accord, McDonald’s is the furthest thing from my mind, and the lovely downtown square of Duncan will satiate me between trips to lower Johnson. As a 22 year old I am directing the skills learned from my degree in theatre from UVic into a different field (literally) and small town.  I am totally excited to get out of the city and onto the farm.  Plus the delicious heritage and heirloom varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs we grow have inspired me to become a much better cook.

It’s probably the first time in history that a girlfriend has suggested moving in with her boyfriend’s parents.   But in this case it makes a lot of sense as we get to put our efforts into a family business endeavour – one we are all passionate about.   Being on the farm brings me a sense of peace I just can’t get in the city.  Even when we are working hard there is always a dip in the river or the promise of biting into a perfectly ripe tomato to make work sweet.   The move to the farm (and out of the lovely character home we rent in downtown Victoria) marks a new chapter of growth for all of us.   Just don’t ask me to get too close to Lucky, the rooster, as I am terrified of birds.

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Spring forward, with a spring in my step, knowing it only gets better as we gain a minute or so of daylight each day leading to the summer solstice. The vernal equinox means the daylight hours are as long as the nighttime hours, which not only makes us humans feel livelier and more energetic, but signals a time of re-growth and re-birth both in plant and animal life.
From a gardener’s point of view, spring is a time of hectic activity. Not only is the soil warming up but there are finally enough daylight hours to sustain plant growth. Here in the northern hemisphere, we must move fast to take advantage of the growing season. If you haven’t already started your seedlings to transplant outside, now is the time. When choosing seeds, always look at the days to maturity stated on the front of the seed packet, as there is no point planting seeds that take longer than your growing season. Start your heat lovers, such as tomatoes, peppers & squash indoors, but don’t start all these varieties at the same time. Tomatoes should be started mid-March but wait until later in April to start the squash, pumpkins and peppers, and it’s best to sow your cucumber seeds directly into the ground, once the soil has warmed up later in May, as they don’t like to be disturbed. The common mistake of the home gardener is to set aside a garden day and start all the plants on that day. This might be easiest for you, but it’s not great for the plants as each variety comes with a different set of requirements, and seeds that are started too early will get stressed by the environment and not produce as well as you might hope.
When you are ready to transplant your little seedlings or nursery bought starter plants, remember to “harden” them off before planting them into the garden. Don’t eliminate this crucial step, as “soft” plants which have been moved from the protection of your house or greenhouse need to experience the breeze, feel the rain, and suffer through nighttime drops in temperature before withstanding the shock of having their little roots disturbed, while struggling with the real world.

Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage seedlings one week later.

Spring’s welcome arrival inspires one great big to-do list. If you’re wondering where to start, I’m happy to share this week’s to-do list with you. My list evolves as we go along, depending largely on the weather, what we observe in the soil, and how our seedlings are coming along. Not to mention the stuff I do that’s not on the list. A confession here, sometimes I add things to my list that I’ve already done, just for the pleasure of crossing them off!
1. seed peas and set out pea supports
2. set out, or seed sweet peas – provide support
3. turn compost pile
4. sow carrots & beets
5. harden off and then transplant early cabbage seedlings
6. chit potatoes
7. thin turnips & radishes in big greenhouse
8. make a succession planting scheme
9. move all the onions and cole seedlings from the small, heated greenhouse to the big, unheated greenhouse
10. prune roses
11. tidy and top dress herb gardens
In a couple of weeks, we should be able to harvesting salad greens, supplemented with baby kale which is coming on like crazy in the big greenhouse. We’re all looking forward to eating fresh, tender young vegetables again.

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Seeding and the rising cost of food

Another week of starting seeds, a peaceful activity imbued with optimism, generating thoughts of the good life. It’s almost the perfect activity. Its physical – building the planting mix involves screening the compost and peat, hauling sand and other amendments, and blending them together before adding water to make a slurry, or giant mud pie, reaching the perfect consistency to build soil blocks. (More on this another time). It’s also contemplative – while you drop one tiny seed after another into each soil block, the soothing, repetitive motion allows the mind to wander freely about on its own, following a random series of disconnected thoughts.


Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage seedlings off to a fine start

One of these thoughts expanded into musings of the cost of food. What do I pay myself for spending hour, after countless hour planting seeds? Seeds which have to be nurtured along, with daily watering, and a weather eye on temperature, until many weeks later we transplant them into the fields or onto the big greenhouse. Never mind the cost of seeding, how do we calculate the cost and energy of adding compost and other organic amendments to acres of soil, along with ploughing, tilling, weeding, forming beds, setting up sprinkler systems and so on, in anticipation of these new seedlings living out their life cycle on our bit of land. One thing I do know, it’s not the farmer who is getting rich because the cost of food is going up. So who is?

I’m not an economist, and like most, I’m always happy to get a bargain, but a bargain at what price? Canadians haven’t seen the real cost of food because of intense competition at the retail level. How long until those “real” costs are passed on? The rising cost of fuel will make flying perishables across the globe to feed “wealthy” North Americans a thing of the past. Weather disruptions at a global level and the conversion of thousands of acres of fertile land into strip malls or corn fields for bio-fuel, not food, will all play a part in rising prices, to what end?

Weighty thoughts as I plant my little seeds. Small scale farmers are not paid anything near what they should be for their time, labour, and knowledge, and yet we persist. Like any art form, growing food gets under your skin; you can’t help but do it. The end result is tangible, the benefits are real, tasty, and nurturing, and there are an ever growing number of people who are prepared to pay a little more for real food grown in their community. They are ahead of the curve, because “cheap” imported food will become a tasteless memory, and locally grown food will feel like the bargain it is.

Watch this space for ways to plan ahead to keep your grocery bill down.

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Tasty tubers

Another moist day, aka rainy, is keeping me indoors, mulling over the upcoming season. Over lunch – a chowder made from wild sockeye salmon caught by Stephen and Jeremy at the end of last summer, corn that I scraped off the cobs and froze in 2 cup bags last September (incredibly sweet and juicy and well worth the trouble), dried dill from the herb garden, and potatoes, purchased from the store, albeit local, got me thinking that maybe we should plant potatoes this year.

Potatoes, other than a few fingerlings, have always been something we couldn’t be bothered with before. I mean, they are easy to come by so why compete with bigger farms that can grow them so successfully? I’ve always thought potatoes were a bit ordinary, and indeed, until a couple of hundred years ago, were considered a poor farmers crop. Also, they are a heavy carb vegetable, so I don’t eat many.

Not wanting to be a food snob, I considered what was desirable about the potato. I came up with these random thoughts: they are high in vitamin C; they like to grow in a cool or mild climate which makes them a perfect vegetable for this region; they prefer a slightly acidic soil, which we have; they can be an early crop, which is desirable as we like to extend the growing season as much as possible; there is a demand for potatoes at the markets; and my Mum makes the best potato salad in the world, using specialty potatoes. This was the aha moment! Why not grow specialty potatoes, thereby sticking with our preference to grow interesting or heirloom variety vegetables, but growing a basic food product that virtually everyone consumes. At 12 – 20 pounds per 3 metre row, you can produce a lot of edible food in a small space.

A little research and we found a seed potato supplier close by (Richmond) who could deliver two interesting varieties – German butterball, my Mum’s favorite variety for producing an excellent potato salad, and a fingerling variety called Lindzer Deleketess, an early crop potato.

I’m excited by a new growing challenge and am looking forward to digging up some tasty tubers.

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What’s up

In spite of this unusual cold front that rudely dropped several inches of unwanted white stuff on our fields, the end of February signals the end of the dreaming/planning phase of farming, to the actual start of the planting season. Ever the optimist, we don our overalls and head out to the greenhouses so see what’s up, literally.
We have two greenhouses on the farm, a small, modestly heated one for starting our seedlings, and a large, unheated greenhouse where we grow our heirloom tomatoes. The small greenhouse is jammed with soil blocks containing sprouts which miraculously grow into beautiful, healthy plants. It never fails! To start off the season we plant onions, leeks, cole crops, sweet peas, herbs, and lettuce. We will plant many of these successively over the next few weeks, adding the heat lovers as the season rolls along.
The large greenhouse is being put to work early, as this year we’ve decided to grow an early spring crop of greens and turnips, including arugula, spinach, mesclun mix, kale, beet greens, baby chard, radishes and more, which we hope to harvest in a month or so. We plan to sell this crop to chefs, neighbors and, of course, most importantly, feed our family. Last night over a dinner that consisted of food we raised ourselves – baked chicken, the last of our purple carrots and golden beets, roasted garlic and a True Grain baguette, we speculated about our early harvest and talked about all the good meals ahead, a topic that never seems to get boring.

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Hello World

We are just getting started with a blog.  We plan to connect, share, learn and teach here.  Give us a few days and we promise to be a site worth visiting again and again.

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