Spent the day working with Matilda at our plot on Waitara Farm. The wet spring has prevented us from doing much cultivation so it was pretty weedy. At the end of a long day it was very satisfying to see the progress we had made. That’s one of the satisfying aspects of farming – physical transformation as a direct result of effort spent.
With a little help from our friends – Chef Steve Boudreau from Poets’ Cove, Sam and Steve’s wife Julie – we were able to get most of the planting done in the greenhouse. Just in time – so it seems – as the weather appears to be improving. All that’s left now is putting in irrigation and filling in a few remaining gaps with peppers and melons. I may also build just one more bed to accommodate some Picolino cucumbers that we couldn’t fit in…
Microgreens are tiny vegetables grown in flats of soil that are harvested at the seedling stage, when they are about 1 to 2 weeks old and their first leaves or cotyledons have just developed. Microgreens are larger than “sprouts” which are not grown in soil but smaller than older “baby greens.” For their small size, they have amazingly big flavour and taste. They are a bit tricky and expensive to produce, as a result they are a bit pricey.
We’ve been considering growing microgreens for a while now – but were unsure of how they would be received on Pender. This year, with a little encouragement from Poets’ Cove Resort‘s Chef Steve Boudreau, we finally decided to give it a go. We are exceedingly happy with our initial experience. Depending on local interest and demand we hope to have more available – possibly even at the market!.
Apart from being bouyed Elizabeth May’s decisive win in our riding (go, go Green Power!), the rise of the NDP and celebrating Michelle’s birthday, I was incredibly depressed by yesterday’s election results.
This morning in an effort to repurpose abandoned election flotsam for good, I gathered election signs.We will eventually transform their heavy wire frames into wickets, which we use to elevate protective remay covers above our crops during the cooler fall and winter months.
We’re back! Mother Nature hasn’t been too kind to us lately – what with this cold, wet spring. But the weather and the slugs haven’t been able to stop us from providing the first of many boxes of produce. We took time away from prepping our new digs at the greenhouse across from the Community Hall to harvest and pack your greens and veggies. They’re all safe inside your appropriately sized and shaped boxes down in the cool root cellar – ready to be picked up and eaten by you and yours!
Our last two lambs of this season were successfully birthed this morning bringing our total to 18. No losses and only one difficult birthing – a very large single that required assistance – made this our least stressful and most successful lambing to date.
Yesterday I received a call from my friend Josh Volk, who normally farms in Portland but is on a self described busman’s holiday in California visiting and - I presume – working on organic farms. During the course of the call he let it slip that he was enjoying – no I think his exact words were “basking in” – the first sunshine of his rainy trip. I jokingly requested that he send some sunshine or at least dry weather our way. Well apparently Josh has some pull with the Big Guy. Because less that 24 hours later, the clouds parted over little Pender Island and out came the sun. Thank you Josh! Keep ‘er coming!!
Thanks to Josh and his gift of sunshine we caught a glimpse of the first Thamnophis ordinoides (Northwestern Garter Snake) of the season in one of the polyhouses this afternoon – another one of our local tell-tale signs of spring.
It’s been dry enough to take the Grillo and the Bertha rotary plough out for a spin on the small patch (18′ x 25′) that has been recently vacated by our chickens.
For the past 7 years we have moved chickens around the gardens at Hope Bay to improve our poor (class 5) soils. This involves penning the chooks up in an area we want “improved” and feeding them a steady supply of kitchen scraps, garden gleanings, weeds and waste hay from the sheep over the next 12 months. At the end of that period a layer of up to 8 – 10″ of organic matter has been accumulated that is partially composted and “blended” with nitrogen-rich chicken poop. After the chickens are moved on to a new plot, we till up the area, lift it with a broad fork and then seed with fall rye. We allow the rye to grow for up to a month before mowing it down and tilling it in. We then plant the area with nitrogen-loving crops like sweet corn and squash. In the fall, the area is planted with garlic.
This year I wanted to use our newly acquired rotary plough for the initial or primary tillage over these “chickened” areas as it can be quite a bear using a tiller – the layers of organic matter can bind up the tines and you can’t to any great depth.
Well I’m happy to report that the rotary plough worked well. However, the area was a bit too small to really operate the machine effectively in. I also discovered quite quickly that using a plough is much different than using a tiller. A plough leave a furrow, which you not only have to account for but deal with as the tractor has a tendency to high center and get stuck if you don’t approach the furrow the right way. This issue was exacerbated by the depth and softness of the 10′ organic layer. To make a long story short, the result was I spent over an hour literally wrestling the machine around the plot, high centering at least 20-30 times. By the end of the “session” I was beet-red and sweating like a pig. The experience increased my appreciation and desire for long, straight beds. More room – I need more room!
Prior to starting the “wrestling” match I discovered a fairly extensive patch of Calystegia sepium L. R. Br. or hedge bindweed – an incredibly invasive weed. To avoid spreading it with the plough I spent a good half hour hand digging the rhizomes up which if cut up and scattered, say by a plough or tiller, can parent a completely new plant. Horrible stuff. To be avoided at all cost.
Happy to report that we have had good germination of the carrots in the greenhouse and were successful in preventing excessive losses to slugs and weeds.
We put our recently built home-made tube bender to the test, bending a number of 10′ 1/2″ dia electrical conduit to form the rigid framework for a series of short, 2 bed-wide remay tunnels. To reduce costs we “laced” the bent galvanized conduit with weaker (and cheaper) UV stabilized 1/2″ PVC conduit (the darker grey hoops in the 1st photograph). The tunnels have been planted with a variety of cool-weather crops including: 3 types of mizuna, mibuna, salad turnips, radish, arugula and transplanted spinach starts.
Today was of day of sun and cloud and the occasional droplet. But what was most notable – to me at least – was the appearance of long awaited birds and bees – ok a bee.
For the first time in seven years (basically since we’ve been on the farm), chickens have been moved outside of the main crop producing area. After rotating them around to improve our poor soils we have finally reached the point at which we can now amend the soils with compost and composted manure.
Fortunately the move wasn’t a great distance as the coops are a bit awkward and heavy (when full of chickens) to move. Not very portable but they are very mink proof – due to their 3′ elevation above the ground.
A welcome event at Hope Bay. We hope (and pray) that the new season will be a little drier and warmer than it has been in the recent past.
Here she is being modeled by our friend Jodi Schamberger with the Berta Franco rotary plough attachment. Note the spinning blades. The plough has a vertical shaft with four yellow spiral blades -essentially the ploughshares – that turn at approximately 300 rpm. As the tractor pulls the plough forward, the plough cuts into the soil and immediately centrifugally discharges and apparently also inverts it to the side. According to the literature “in a single pass through sod, the plow will leave 10-12 inches of worked soil.” This remains to be seen. I have heard that for compacted areas it helps to have them initially ripped with a tractor before using the plough.
One of the main reasons we purchased this type of implement is because it supposedly work tough, rocky soils and because the soil is not trapped under a hood and repeatedly pulverized – which is what happens with a tiller – the soil’s structure is not beat to death and the one can avoid creating a tiller pan. Take a look at the following video to see the beast in action.
I’m looking forward to our soils drying out so we can put ‘er to work and see if she lives up to the hype.
Spent part of the afternoon putting our new Grillo (grillo is Italian for cricket ) together, getting her started, and attaching the newly expanded BCS tiller box. Everything went smoothly. She purrs like the cricket that she is. Can’t wait to put her to work.
This afternoon the recent cold snap forced us to temporarily bring most of our young seedlings indoors. With high outflow winds predicted overnight, we worried that a potential power outage (something that happens quite regularly here during winter storms) would snuff out the life-giving heat on all of our electrically-heated propagation benches. At this point we can’t really afford to loose the plants that we’ve started. All we can do now is hope that the weather improves.
These are the kind of challenges you face when you push the envelope. You have to plan for the potentiality of failure, which keeps life interesting!
Just returned from picking up our new Grillo 85D walk-behind tractor and Berta rotary plow from the shipper in Blaine WA. I am very excited about opening it up and putting it all together. However, the snow today was a reminder that it is not quiet spring yet.
Big kudos to Joel and Chris at Earth Tools for putting the tractor package together for us, to R & L Carriers for shipping it across the US in great time, to Kevin Powell of KP Transport and Belle Rucker of A & A Contract Customs Brokers for being so helpful receiving and storing the package (Kevin especially), and finally to the pleasant and helpful folks at US and Canada Customs. So many things could have gone wrong and didn’t…
That all said, I still have to open the package and get the thing put together and started. Stay tuned!
Along with the tractor I also received some irrigation supplies from DripWorks and picked up our annual seed order from West Coast Seeds. I’ll be writing about both of these companies in future posts.
The tomato seeds planted 5 days ago are coming up with a vengeance. Too bad the weather isn’t cooperating. It’s been below freezing every night for the past few nights and expected to go lower towards the end of the week. Good thing we’ve got bench heat and remay!
Our annual seed order from Johnny’s Selected Seeds arrived today. Boy $300 doesn’t go far these days!I always feel a bit like Jack with his magic beans when I show them to Michelle. That all said, Johnny’s is a fantastic company to deal with. Very helpful and professional. Service quality is something that is obviously very important to them.
Today we wormed the ewes prior to moving them to new pasture – well ahead of their due dates – which should be somewheres around the end of April. Even though much of what we do at Hope Bay Farm would meet organic standards, we haven’t been able to find an effective alternative to conventional worming treatments.
Here on the warm, Wet Coast, worms (the internal kind) can be a real problem. A few years ago when we had just started keeping Icelandic sheep, we had the misfortune of loosing one of our prized young ewes to a worm outbreak we didn’t catch in time. Through increased vigilance, better pasture management, which includes improved grazing timing and moving our sheep around the various pastures we have access too (we don’t own any of the land we pasture them on), we keep the use of anthelmintics (worm meds) to a minimum. The Canadian Organic Growers Practical Skills Handbook: Living with Worms in Organic Sheep Production, which came out a few years ago, has been a very helpful resource.
A view into our spatially-challenged workshop which up until a week ago looked like a small bomb had gone off in it. Thanks to the Farm’s handyman, Tim, we’ve address the situation. It’s now so clean you can eat off the workbench!
As we get ready for the growing season we’re spending a good portion of our time organizing and cleaning things up so that when things get rally crazy we won’t have to waste precious time looking for, cleaning, or fixing things. Effective time management is a key element of a well-run and profitable farm. It also speaks volumes to farm visitors and customers.
Early ferry to Pender Island this morning with 4 yards of horse manure on board. A good friend who runs a landscape design business in Victoria leant me his small dump truck which he had filled with local poop. Due to the transportation costs this is an expensive way to introduce extra fertility to the farm. We only due this once or twice a year. The manure is rationed to those crops and situations where we need the extra nutrients or need to improve soil structure.
It’s that time – time to turn the compost pile! The pile was created about a month ago and has now shrunk to about a third of it’s original size and is cool to the touch. Here’s a quick view of the move. The whole process took about 1 hour and involved the addition of ~35 gallons of water to remoisten the pile.
Spent some time today tinkering with our old BCS walk-behind tractor (you may recall it died at the beginning of the season last year). Turns out the tiller box is still in good working order so we cab use it on the new Grillo walk-behind tractor we’re purchasing from Earthtools.
The clever folks at BCS designed the housing of their tillers to allow for expansion of the tines. So not only can we reuse the old tiller but we can also make it wider so that it covers the larger and wider tracks of the new machine. Gotta love Italian ingenuity!
Today Matilda, our intern spent some time cutting the European basket willow that lines our drainage ditch. Over the course of the next week I will be using it to reinforce the banks of the same ditch, which has suffered some erosion with the heavy winter rains.
That time once again – actually this should have been done a month ago! It’s kinda like taxes – you just gotta put your head down and get ‘er done. Once it’s done, you then have to sell off the cow to get the seeds (remember Jack?)…
Lots of $$ going out this time of year, not a lot comin’ in. Farming sure ain’t for the faint of heart!
Today Everest and I found a very cool moth in one of our polyhouses. Its’s a snowberry clearwing (Hemaris diffinis), one of the hummingbird-type of moths. Native to BC but not often seen – probably because it is often mistaken for a bumblebee. I had seen one feeding on our lilac a few days earlier. It was cool to be able to see one so close up.
Spent the day up at Karl’s farm installing our new automated irrigation system. It’s pretty cool. It relies on a battery-powered controller that activates a series valves via DC latching solenoids. These solenoids require only a minor pulse of electricity to open or close a valve. Regular controllers use regular solenoids and require a continual power source (and therefore more energy) to keep a valve or series of valves open. This battery-powered system apparently can be powered by a solar panel.
Generally it was a good day – until I attempted to hookup last year’s drip tape (as evidenced by the huge TTape tangle yours truly created – which took 2 days to untangle…).
Who new that potatoes close up like a flower at night. I was installing irrigation late at Karl’s farm – one moment that potatoes were all open – apparently basking in the late afternoon sun. As soon as the sun set the potato plants pulled up their leaves – giving the appearance of a field of romaine lettuce. Cool!
Life is everywhere right now. It was a wonderful surprise to have company this afternoon as Quinn and I planted more seeds – new life!
Today was the official start of our box program – week 1 of a 25 week journey. I wasn’t as prepared as I had planned – what’s new – fortunately Ange happened by for a tour a visit and was happily put to work prepping produce and packing boxes. Thank you Ange, you saved the day!
Everyday on the farm involves nature. If you are open and a wee bit lucky you often come face to face with some of her wonders – like this female Rufus hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) who found herself trapped in one of our polyhouses.
One of the reasons I farm and garden is because it requires direct participation and contact with the natural world. As a young gardener and aspiring naturalist, I was thrilled and inspired by this direct involvement and by the daily discoveries I made. Now as I farm, I am once again filled with wonder and inspiration. More importantly, so are my children.
Spent a good part of the day yesterday getting these lovely tubers into the ground. Today I hope to finish he job. It’s been about 13 years since I tried growing potatoes – basically the time we have been back living on the coast. The effects of the wretched wireworm have kept us from growing this wonderful crop (wireworms love potatoes and riddle them with small holes). The market garden we are maintaining at Waitara Farm appears to be virtually wireworm free. So we’re going all out and planting a handful of tasty varieties including: Russian banana, Russian Blue, Red Chieftain (misspelled in the picture), Bintje, Sieglinde, German Butterball, French fingerling, and Linzer delicates.
As I straddled the rows and planted I felt like I was literally returning to my roots or, more accurately, tubers (both Michelle and I are Dutch).
This morning we were treated to a welcome sight – the first two live lambs of the season. Badger a.k.a. Layla gave birth to two ewe lambs – without fuss or fanfare. No surprise to Michelle who remarked that, “she could give birth to them sideways without any problems.” We were still greatly relieved and thankful. On Saturday the actual two first lambs of the season were born dead to our black ewe Bonnie.