Between La Niña and el Niño, we may now be in la Nada. The unpredictable weather with temperatures all over the map has kept us on our toes, but at least it’s stopped raining daily and we’re getting stretches of sun and warm. We’ll take it!
A difficult spring.
The fields, the chickens, our equipment, our moods….. everything was wet for months. This spring did a number on our morale, and pocketbooks. Last spring, we were selling over-wintered kale, and the peas were well on their way by the end of April. This year, nearly everything we overwintered either died or was rendered unsellable by the extreme cold. The peas, the few that managed to germinate, were pulled out to make way for the tomatoes and cucumbers before yielding any pods. We were running a heater in the propagation house well into May, and the trees bloomed so late this year, we were in an unexpected race with Southern Ontario for first blossoms. The rain set us back several weeks getting things out in the field, a setback compounded by unseasonably low temperatures and our own mistakes (the big one being applying several yards of poor compost, which resulted in us having to till in several of our first crops). The epic amount of rain brought an epic number of slugs, who are thwarting our regular control tactics, and eating crops that they usually leave alone, like zucchinis, radishes and onions.
It has at times been a struggle to stay positive. And yet, we feel lucky at the same time. We’ve lost some early spring crops, but we got some early income thanks to our community investing in our new pre-paid market cards. Our infrastructure has thankfully, so far, escaped the worst. So many of our West Coast colleagues are facing expensive greenhouse reskinning, or worse, replacement, after heavy snow and wild windstorms. Photo after photo of fellow farmers facing veritable lakes where their fields should have been reminded us that our drainage is actually pretty enviable given the amount of water we have on the property. And, our comparatively light walk behind tractor was able to get on a damp field long before her heavy cousins.
A new block for 2017
We had several weeks of the waiting game before we could get on our fields. We finished some inside jobs on the house (dang, it’s nice to have more drywall up! Maybe we’ll even get the rest of the electrics up and running soon!), cleaned and organized some of our indoor spaces, piled up rocks in the field margins so we can get them out quickly when the bobcat comes, did some favours for friends, and stored up some extra sleep (because you can do that…). The nail biting began in earnest as our heat crops, destined for our new block, began to approach planting size. The new block, which brings us up from 2/3 to a full acre in veggies, was meant to be landscaped last fall. But the rain came early and didn’t let up, so we were waiting on things to dry out enough to get a bobcat on to create our new field space. Every time it was nearly dry enough, it would rain again. Luckily (?) it was so cold that all of the plants destined to go in the new space were behind too.
Finally, the weather turned, the machines were in, and the catch up madness began. Our tidy crop plan, designed to spread the workload so that Sam and I can manage it each week with just the two of us, was out the window. Everything had to happen at once – preferably yesterday. On top of our regular schedule, we fenced, ploughed, shaped and amended beds, mulched and planted the new block. It also happened to be the week of the Denman Home and Garden Tour, on which we were a stop this year. Needless to say, we didn’t get much of our planned tidying done, and tour visitors got a true farm experience – weeds and all!
Chickens and pigs
The chickens also had a rough go of it this spring. The hard winter and spring likely meant food was more scarce, and we had eagles and ravens casing the chickens regularly. The pressure increased when we unexpectedly lost Frank, our huge and intimidating rooster to chicken cholera, leaving Winston, the friendly, but very small and not-scary rooster in charge of the flock on his own. While he is very good at looking after his ladies, he is not exactly a natural deterrent. The ravens grew bold and killed a chicken, and stole many eggs right out of the coop for weeks. There were a number of other close calls, with an eagle landing in the middle of the flock, and a juvenile raccoon scattering the chickens into an irrigation pond and trying to carry one off in its mouth. Luckily, we heard their yelling, and the raccoon couldn’t get far dragging the hen, so it gave up and ran off when we came running up. The hen was happily unhurt – she is an excellent mother hen, and is now raising two chicks.
Two groups of pigs also arrived on the farm this spring – six Large Blacks from Five Sisters Farm up at the end of April, and five Berkshire-Duroc crosses from Herriott’s Hog Haven at the end of May. We would usually prefer not to overlap groups so closely, but the piglets we were expecting at the end of March didn’t materialize, as a regular supplier lost most of his spring piglets to an amoebic infection that jumped species from elk and deer. The Large Blacks have confirmed for us that we will likely go with this breed when we finally keep breeding sows. The pigs and their antics have brought considerably joy to a wet spring.
Here comes the sun.
Now that the sun and warm seem to have found us, things are starting to really ramp up. We’re excited for what the summer might hold, and are so thankful to have an amazing community, so many of whom have stepped in to help us get our feet under us this season. It really does take a community to farm.