We are nowhere near having finished all of the things, but we’re feeling like we’re at least getting our feet under us a little after a mad start to the season. The field is nearly entirely planted out, and new infrastructure nearly finished. We’re still working long days, but managing to take the odd afternoon away from the farm and an occasional early night.
A bit more space under plastic
The third high tunnel is up, and all three tunnels planted with summer crops of tomatoes and cucumbers. Everything was off like gangbusters in the warm spring we had, but has stalled as June-uary became July-uary. Summer just doesn’t seem to want to come this year. We’re only getting our first tomatoes now, despite having the nicest, most vigorous transplants we’ve ever grown. We did an experiment with 4″ soil blocks this year, potting up about half of our tomato seedlings in soil blocks, and half in pots. After a couple of weeks, the difference was striking, with the plants in blocks being head and shoulders above the ones in pots. We will definitely be putting the time (and soil) into making blocks for our tomatoes again next year.
Our ridiculously late cucumbers were only partly the weather’s fault. After having a lot of seedling death last year and learning that cucumbers show their dislike for chilly evenings by shrivelling and dying, we decided to hold back a little this year, as we knew we wouldn’t have much time to baby them. But, then our already late seedlings got eaten by a bunch of songbirds, and we were set back another couple of weeks. So, we’ve only recently had our first cucumbers too. But, the plants are away now, and we have English and lemon cucumbers starting to come in thick and fast.
You win some, you lose some
In every season, you win at some crops and lose at others. On top of our sad cucumber showing, we have had an especially bad year for beets. We tortured our first planting, first by leaving them in the trays too long in the busy early season, and then by depriving them of water as we raced to get our irrigation system built and running in the crazy heat and drought of May. And our flowers are demonstrating what happens when you have limited knowledge and experience, make a crop your last priority, leave it in the seed trays too long, plant it into the worst soil on the farm and then give it sporadic water. You get a late, lack lustre crop, with very short stems. Boutonnieres, anyone? And now, two months of chilly weather combined with us not having the time to throw together some last minute low tunnels has stalled the field peppers, eggplants and pickling cukes in the field. To add insult to injury, they’ve also got a bit beaten up by some strange gusty winds we’ve been having.
But, we’ve also had some wins. We managed to successfully divide some dahlia tubers we were given and now have a bed of dahlias coming up – can’t wait to see what they look like! Our onions, also stressed as seedlings, are now an onion jungle that is bulbing up nicely. We had low hopes for being able to grow carrots in our rocky, clay-heavy soil, but have been pulling out some surprisingly lovely, straight, sweet bunches that are selling like crazy. The garlic harvest is lovely, especially for a first year crop, with many large bulbs and large well-formed cloves. We’ve had, knock on wood, very manageable weed, wireworm and slug pressure, we think, from running the pigs on the space last summer. And the lettuces. We are growing some beautiful, mammoth lettuces, and moving a mountain of them. All of these things feel pretty good.
Baby animals are the cutest
The last bunch of pigs became pork at the end of May. We were particularly sad to say goodbye to that lot, as they had been really nice pigs, and done a fantastic job clearing some land for us towards the back of the property. They became some of the best pork we’ve had – so all-round incredible pigs. We had to find a new source of piglets for the summer, as one of our regular suppliers lost a litter when the sow rolled over on them, and the other is wrapping up their farm and selling the property. After a lot of poking around and phone calls, Sam finally connected with Silver Fern Farm up in Sayward, and secured a litter of beautiful Large Black X Tamworth piglets. Wonderful, feisty pigs. We’re very excited to have these guys on the farm.
Shortly before the piglets arrived, four of our hens went broody and started sitting, all together in a chicken heap, on what became a growing a mountain of eggs. Being novices, Sam and I just figured they would decide on a sensible number of eggs to sit on, and leave the other ones out. Not so much -the daily eggs from the other hens just kept getting added to the pile. When they got up to 36 eggs, we decided to consult with our chicken mentor, who suggested we mark a sensible number of eggs and then take everything else out. So that we did. Our chicken pile managed to hatch 9 cute fuzzy chicks (which quickly became 6, likely due to cats or snakes). The four mama hens looked after the remaining 6 chicks together, until, after a couple of weeks, three of them gave up and left the mama-ing to our black chicken with a mohawk, who seems to be our most talented mama. The chicks are all different patterns and colours. We’re hopeful we’ve got at least a couple of hens to add to the flock, but our chicken sexing skills aren’t quite up to muster to tell us what we have just yet.
Now to sell it all…
We’ve been selling at the market on Denman Island since the spring, and in May, added a trip to Pier Street Market in Campbell River on Sundays. We’re also supplying The Guerrilla Food Company in Courtenay and the Cafe-Pourium here on Denman, and keeping our local Denman Island General Store in greens. We’re ramping up slowly, but managing to sell almost everything we pull out of the ground, and edging ever nearer to our weekly sales goal.
While frustrating in many ways, the cool weather has been a blessing in others, as it has taken the pressure off to get things out of the field quickly on harvest days. This definitely makes things easier with a small person in tow. It’s also given us a bit of a reprieve given that the construction of our walk-in cooler has taken longer than hoped. We’re nearly there now – just the wiring left to go in and the final bats of insulation, and it will be up and running. It will be fantastic to end the juggle of moving things in and out of two small fridges, and repacking things multiple times to make it all fit. And, we’ll be able to clear all the tools and construction detritus out of the new wash a pack area to get that working more smoothly too, and have a fridge free to set up a little honour stand on the farm. It’s going to feel good – much more like a real working farm! Once the cooler’s done, we’re requesting that summer arrive in force please, and get those heat crops pumping!