Reflecting on a year

Hard to believe we have been here this long already. A lot has changed on the farmlet in a year, as people keep kindly reminding us; at the same time, we’re nowhere near as far through the “to do” list as we had hoped. That is likely partly the result of unrealistic expectations, and partly just the way starting a small farm is.

A Raging Infernos

Everything finally fell into place to let us burn the two giant stump and brush piles on the 2016 field. It was a bit anticlimactic and not quite the island party we were hoping for, as we missed most of the pile going up while at the airport picking up our parents, and it was absolutely miserably pouring rain the whole time, which made for rather dismal bonfire marshmallow roast conditions. But, the piles are gone, freeing us for the final push of rock and stick picking before we start building our 2016 beds. Already a ridiculous load of rocks have come out – and straight into the holes in our driveway, which is giving up in the rain after the parade of trucks we’ve had this season.And yet, still a daunting amount of rocks and sticks left to come out… we regularly console ourselves that, unlike weeding, every rock and root we pull doesn’t have to be pulled again. And we’re putting the rocks to good use. We’ve traded some help building a neighbour a pigloo for some tractor time, some of which will be used to move a bunch of the larger rocks, and more smaller ones, to extend a drive into the woods where we’ll set up more pig runs this spring.

Winter Experiments

We’ve got lettuces, kale and salad snoozing under row cover in the greenhouses, winter experiments that we’ll scale up next year if successful. So far so good… after losing the first seedlings to come up to rodents (we think), we covered everything in remay and got some strong seedlings, which we transplanted out and covered. Looks like we could have started everything earlier, but otherwise, so far so good. The growth is slow to non-existent in these low daylight hours we’re getting, but they need very little care, and still look happy and healthy, even after several frosty days. We suspect everyone should take off growing again as the days get longer, and all going according to plan, we should have some winter greens to enjoy. Fingers crossed.

We’ve also got another group of 8 piglets on the farm – this lot a Tamworth-Berkshire cross. So far, we are enjoying them. They have nice personalities and are much rootier than the Large Blacks. We also got ourselves a free rooster, a lovely Ameraucana to hang out with the ladies. It was a bit rough at the start, as he was only a teenager and was getting bossed around. But he’s sized up and crowing, and starting to do rooster jobs, like herding the ladies under the trailer when he spotted an owl. We are calling him Winston.

All tucked in

The house is largely done… for now. Two more doors to go in, the electrician to come, and then the low level insulation and drywall (at minimum, we need to put up enough to keep wee Wilf from taking the walls apart), and then we’re ready to ignore it for a while and focus on more farmy things. We may still have all the studs exposed and extension cords running everywhere, but it feels pretty cozy and homey with the fire going, our Charlie brown tree (the lopsided top 6 feet of a fir we took down last week, screwed to the wall…), and some Christmas lights strung around.

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Reflecting on 2015

This year brought heaps of learning. A bit more about building houses and babies than was initially planned, but a heap of farm learning too. We experimented with some new varieties – we were impressed by Tango celery and Carmen sweet peppers, and will grow scarlet salad turnips and Jaune Flamme tomatoes again next year. A few things have been voted off the island – we’ll be back to Touchstone Gold beets rather than Boldor, and we’re still on the hunt for a red romaine that does well here. Some growing experiments will be repeated, some will not. A real deer fence will go up this winter, and BTK will get used on all the brassicas, including the greenhouse starts, so that we hopefully don’t lose so much to caterpillars next year. We’re planning to transplant our beets, and single serving cabbages were a happy accident that we’ll try to replicate this year with spacing rather than stressed plants. Eggplants and sweet peppers will move to the field instead of pots. And a few experiments will be repeated, as they didn’t get a fair shot – sprouting beans in perlite showed promise, though wasn’t hugely successful last summer due to sitting on the heat mat an unexpected extra week while Wilf was born. While in many ways it was frustrating to start so small this past summer, and it wasn’t always the perfect experimental season with our attention getting stolen away from the farm so often, it was also something of a blessing, as we learned many things that should hopefully(!) help us to make fewer costly mistakes when we scale up this summer. With start up margins in farming being hair-thin to non-existent, any savings are appreciated.

Planning for 2016

We took December a little slower, taking advantage of darker mornings to catch our breaths after the flurry of summer and fall activity. But with solstice behind us, it’s time to ramp up the activity again. While winter is generally a more restful season on a farm, that is somewhat less true on the coast, where all-year growing is much more feasible, and less true on a young farm where there is usually considerably more planning and set up that needs to happen to build and refine infrastructure and systems. The seed catalogues have started to arrive, and we’ve started to talk about plans and target markets for 2016. We’ve chosen our crops and started to roughly sketch out our field space and the new cooler and processing area we’re building this winter. Now for the not un-daunting task of choosing varieties, deciding when to plant, forecasting how much seed we’ll need, and placing orders. Many, many rainy day jobs lined up…. luckily the West Coast usually provides on that front.

Thanks for sharing our story this year. Happy holidays, and all the best for 2016!

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