“It sounds like autumn.”

Said our two-year-old. It does indeed sound like autumn, and feels like it too. One Saturday evening after market we joined friends on the beach to watch the sunset, basking in the warm evening. The next morning, we nearly put the fire on. And like that, we transitioned from summer days and warm evenings to the chill of autumn. In a refreshing change from last autumn, where three weeks of summer were followed by rain that didn’t let up until June, autumn so far has been a string of stunning crisp sunny days, punctuated by the odd welcome rainy day replenishing some much needed moisture. A carpet of golden needles and crispy leaves is growing on the ground, and shortening days and frosty mornings are pulling us into earlier nights and later mornings.

 

A Rocky Start, A Strong Finish.

Unseasonable cold combined with our own mistakes (most notably, applying some carbon-heavy compost that inhibited plant growth) and some persistent invertebrate pests to make for a nail biter of a spring. We tilled in several of our first plantings of early crops, almost lost the kale to bolting, and spent many evenings picking slugs and leaf miner damage in the waning evening hours. We didn’t harvest our first lettuces until nearly July. We started to consider the possibility we might have to walk away from the season and make some money another way.

Luckily, the weather turned.We figured out our compost problem. We found a few pest solutions that worked. The kale and chard rallied. The second planting of beets thrived under the row cover. The lettuces started to head up.

 

The summer was dry, but between our new pond and a couple of pond top-ups from a generous neighbour, we had more than enough water. We grew some beautiful carrots and garlic, and had successful first time crops of fennel and daikon radishes. After a few rotations, we figured out how to grow crisp delicious kohlrabi and bok choi. We logged a few wins over last year, including reducing the earwig damage in our cabbages with diatomaceous earth, growing salad through the hottest part of the season, and managed not to kill quite so many cucumber starts. While we lost our squash, tomatoes and cucumbers early this year, perhaps because the plants were so stressed as youngsters, we have had a much broader selection on offer this fall than last. We started an honour stand on the farm, which has been very well received and supported, and added some new customers to our Wednesday wholesale delivery docket.

 

But, not to worry, we also made our fair share of mistakes to learn from this season too. One of our greenhouses performed poorly last year, and we chalked it up to inadequate watering and compost in the soil. This year, the same greenhouse performed poorly even with heavy compost application. Since our soil test this past spring was a composite across our entire field, it didn’t catch the problem; a separate test will be done on that greenhouse this coming spring. We have a list of pest and disease control research to do this winter – we lost most of our brussel sprouts and storage cabbages to aphids, had undersized onions due to a fungus in the leaves, and saw the return of a larval infestation in our late beets, despite rotating our crop.  And, we’ll have to figure out how to get our eggplants and peppers under cover next year if we want to see them before September (which we do).

 

Now that autumn is here, we’re carefully watching the forecast and covering crops as temperatures drop, trying to harvest as long as we can. The heat crops are finished, save for one planting of beans, but we have another couple of weeks of lettuces, and some cabbages, cauliflower, beets and broccoli that we’re keeping an eye on. In the meantime, we’re ticking fall chores off the list. Winter experiments are going in – just some purple sprouting broccoli and sweet onions to over-winter – and the greenhouses are being prepped for winter crops of kale and chard. We’ve got our seed garlic set aside, with grand plans to get it in earlier than last year (i.e. before December 6th).

 

 

Winston and his (hopefully many more) ladies

Currently, we have one rooster, Winston, down from three in the spring. Three was too many. In the early spring, Winston, our smallest rooster, got ousted from the flock and relocated to the carport, where he lived for a couple of months until we found one of the other roosters a new home. While we’re not that keen on chickens around the house, we did rather enjoy Winston’s company. He is a gentle, friendly rooster who enjoyed hanging out with us while we worked, and would run down the driveway to greet us, a hilarious mess of gangly legs and flappy wings. Two short weeks after we found one rooster a new home and Winston rejoined the flock, Franklin the big rooster started to look peaky, and quickly succumbed to chicken cholera, a disease which seems to particularly affect roosters. Somehow, little Winston, never got sick, and stepped up as sole rooster of our small flock. It took a little while for the ladies to get used to the new arrangement (it was complete chaos for the first few days) but things settled down. Soon after, several hens went broody.

IMG_2968

Last year, our hens hatched six chicks, five of whom were roosters. The one new hen was killed by a raven this spring. Accordingly, we were a little reluctant to let the hens sit on eggs this summer (they don’t lay when they’re sitting on eggs), a feeling heightened when we discovered that one of our broody hens appeared to be killing chicks as they hatched. We scooped up the two surviving chicks and stuck them in a small run with our best mother (“Mohawk Chicken”), and as an afterthought, added another broody (not chick killing) hen and the remaining unhatched eggs to see if anything came of it. In the end, we had five chicks. Not a great showing. Until…

Two weeks later, we were headed to bed when we heard the sound of a yelling chick through our open bedroom window. We wondered if one of the chicks had somehow escaped and got stuck outside the house when we shut them up for the night. Sam went out to investigate. The sound, it turned out, was not coming from near the nursery run, but instead, from a salal bush near the main chicken run. We discovered a rogue hen asleep on a nest in a salal bush, with one very newly hatched chick who had fallen out of the nest yelling loudly near her. We pushed the chick back under her and went to bed, not really expecting it to make it through the night.

IMG_3094

But these heritage mutt chickens are hardy beasts. The next morning when we went out to check on them, Rogue Chicken had one very healthy fluffy chick under her, two more freshly hatched, and several more hatching. So we relocated everyone, including eggs, to a safe den by the nursery run. Within a couple days, Rogue Chicken had been joined by a total of 11 fluffy chicks, bringing our total hatched for the summer to 16. We’re still waiting to see how many turn out to be roos, but if we’re lucky, eight new ladies will join Winston, along with possibly a second rooster to help him with his rooster jobs.

Pigs

We continue to enjoy having pigs, and this summer was no different. The group of Large Blacks we had this summer from Five Sisters Farm was our favourite group yet. It was hard to say goodbye. We were a little less fond of the five somewhat flighty and crazy Berkshire-Duroc cross pigs we had from Harriot’s Hog Haven, but they did an admirable job clearing brush, and the farm has been quiet since they left.

 

For the autumn, we have two groups totalling ten Large Blacks from Five Sisters. The youngest six just arrived – they are, as always, impossibly cute.

IMG_3273

Looking forward to the Season of Grand Plans (a.k.a winter)

We’re looking forward to the quiet of winter. We’ve had the big machine in again this autumn pulling stumps and piling brush in the area we logged last winter. We’re hoping to burn the piles in the next few weeks. This winter, we’ll watch where the water goes so we know where to dig ditches and another pond to control water next summer, and start cover cropping as soon as we can get something to germinate.

IMG_3252

We’re getting ready to reflect on this season, and plan the next. We’ll be thinking about how to invest in new machinery and infrastructure to make us more efficient and extend our season. We’ll be thinking about what crops and varieties to grow next season, and when. We’ll be looking at ways to expand our production before our new field space is ready in 2019 – perhaps by leasing land, or reducing low-yield, slower growing crops. And, we’ll be wrapping up our Young Agrarians Business Mentorship. While there’s still a lot to do to close out this season and get ready for the next, we’re already enjoying the transition to shorter work days, and having a little more of our “to do” list doable while curled up with a coffee in front of the fire.

IMG_3211

Advertisements

Basking in La Nada.

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.

 

Go home, winter.

Farmers seem to talk about the weather a lot; this winter has given us a whole lot to talk about. The Ontarian in me adores the snow, and misses it here on the West Coast. My soul has sung more than once upon waking up to a fresh dump this year. I love the sight of snowy firs against the grey-purple colour of snowstorm clouds, the way the snow sticks to trees and fences, the way it muffles sound, sparkles in the sun and crunches underfoot.. But I’ll admit, this last dump and snow lingering into March has me longing for the crocuses and snowdrops to show their faces, and itching to get to work in the field.

Living Dangerously (a.k.a leaving the farm for a month)

Given that the cost of taking a small boy over the pond to England goes up considerably when he turns 2 this spring, we decided to take him to visit Sam’s family this winter. Unexpectedly, we found some wonderfully cheap flights over Christmas and New Year, so jumped at the chance to spend Christmas in England. Taking the cheap flights on either side of the holidays meant that we were away from the farm for a full month.

We left in a whirlwind in December. In the never ending rain of last fall, we kept putting off planting the garlic, thinking the rain had to stop soon, and hoping that waiting for a dry spell might mean we lost fewer cloves to rot. But it didn’t stop raining, and finally, our hand was forced. There were some late nights the week before we left getting all the garlic out and mulched. The last beds were planted by headlamp in the falling snow – better than the rain I guess?

Between the scramble to get everything done before we left, and worrying about what we might have forgotten or what might happen while we’re gone, we left feeling more than a little apprehensive. Hunter was having a dog holiday on another property, so we were nervous the deer might take advantage and figure out how to beat the fence, or the ravens might have a go at the chickens. We worried that things might blow away. Or freeze. Or die. Or collapse. Or…. And it was a real nail biter watching weather reports from 7500km away – snow, and night after night of sub -10 degree temperatures.

But we needn’t have worried, as we had a top notch farm sitter and a little luck on our side. Our farm sitter defrosted a frozen well head (more than once) and lugged buckets of warm pig porridge and liquid water to the pigs and chickens daily, hugged the cats and generally kept everything under control. We had lovely visits with family and friends in the UK, and came home to a warm house, running water, all buildings and fences intact, and a gaggle of happy animals. Even most of the overwintering carrots and  onions somehow managed to survive under collapsed hoops and only a single layer of light weight row cover. Plants are magic.

All of the Snow

While there was a bit of snow while we were gone, there thankfully wasn’t enough to endanger our hoop houses. The big dump politely waited until we were back. And dump it did. We got more than a half metre of snow in 2 days, followed by more snow in the following week – unheard of in these parts.

It was glorious. We played and went snow shoeing. We took Bernie the farm truck through her paces getting us (mostly Sam, on volunteer fire service call-outs) around an unploughed island. Hunter zoomed around, rolling and hunting for mice, and Mort, the fluffy cat, was in his element. The chickens were less convinced, as the snow apparently hinders their depth perception, so everyone except Joseph (our golden rooster, who is a total badass) elected to stay in their house all day.  The pigs faired better, making tracks through their transformed run in single file and doing hockey stops (perfected during the cold snap while we were away) as they ran between troughs during feed time. Luckily, they respected the memory of the fence, since it was entirely buried and shorted out by the snow.

The snow was still beautiful but became a little less glorious as it kept falling and persisted through it’s second week. The temperature was hovering around 0, making the snow wet and very heavy. The hoop houses needed clearing several times, roofs needed shovelling, and the air was filled with the bangs of trees giving up under the weight. We were lucky – our hoop houses, buildings and fence all made it through. A tree fell along the pig fence, but managed to miss all but one post – which we were able to straighten. The biggest snow annoyance for us was not being able to get the truck into the back of the property to load the pigs until the day before they were scheduled to go to Gunter’s. This didn’t leave enough time for them to get used to the ramp and truck, making for a nerve wracking day trying to convince five pigs that a truck bed full of dry hay and food was worth braving the unknown. But, everyone got in the truck in the end, and so what could have been a bigger upset (if we hadn’t been able to get everyone in, the next date Gunter’s had available was a month later, when our pigs would have been too big) turned out to be just a little blip. We are incredibly grateful to have made it through the snow with so little trouble, as many of our good friends and neighbours were not so lucky, and face many thousands of dollars of expenses to repair damage and replace infrastructure.

Learning and Planning

Since our return from the UK, we’ve been busy with work (Sam off-farm at Corlan Vineyard, Emily on her thesis, and Wilf at daycare) and planning, but also taking advantage of long nights to do a bit of hibernating. Wilf has obligingly been an epic sleeper and napper of late, so we’ve been getting lots done and taking advantage of the odd early night and lie-in to 7am. It feels blissful.

We’re also investing some time in learning and networking. We got the fantastic news over Christmas that we were accepted to the Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Network. As part of the program, we have participated in some top notch webinars on Crop Planning by an author of Crop Planning for Vegetable Growers and on Finances by Chris Bodnar at Close to Home Organics. We’ve been meeting regularly with our farm mentor, the DeLisa Lewis at Greenfire Farm – so much valuable learning and reflecting. And, we met a whole pile of farming colleagues in January at the Young Agrarians Mixer. We feel so entirely lucky to be connected to and learning from these entirely inspiring, knowledgable, outstanding people.

Crop planning is done – a bit faster this year,despite having to remake all our spreadsheets after a combined hard drive and backup failure, because we were able to just tweak last year’s plan. Next year should be a breeze. Our seed order has arrived and the first seeds are in. We’re talking with potential customers – including a potential exciting new opportunity to work with friends right here on Denman, The Very Good Butchers. Things are ramping up.

One more month before the season starts in earnest. We’re feeling the nervous anticipation that seems to come this time of year. One more month to digest all the things we’re learning, implement as much as possible, make sure we have everything we need, organize and generally get all our ducks in a row. Or at least roughly in the same general area. Now if the snow would just finish melting so we can get out in the field..

Two wet farmers, working in the rain.

If it doesn’t stop raining soon, we just might go insane… Autumn has come early this season, spelling the end of summer crops a month earlier than last year and bringing record amounts of rain. As we struggle to stay positive in the face of yet another grey, wet day, we take solace in our neighbours saying they have never seen a fall this wet. Maybe we’ll get a dryer spell soon?

Two weeks of summer.

The hot weather admittedly lasted longer than two weeks, but not much, and coming after a seemingly endless succession of frigid weeks in June and July, it was over much too soon. Luckily, the warm weather in May got everything off to a strong start, and our hot weather crops produced surprisingly well, considering.

img_1671

Fond memories of those days when the greenhouse was bursting and pants were optional!

 

We had beautiful eggplants starting in August. A purple variety called Traviata didn’t seem to mind the lack of heat too much, so seems we’ve found a good coastal variety.  All the tomatoes took their sweet time to ripen in the chill, arriving around the same time we had them last summer – despite the fact that this year we put in hardier transplants a full month earlier. It was worth the wait. We discovered a killer beefsteak called Genuwine. This stunning cross gets outstanding flavour from its heirloom parent Brandywine, and admirable fruit set and plant vigour from being crossed with its other less well known parent, an old Italian variety called Costoluto. Our roma tomatoes were the longest hold outs, but eventually rewarded us with a beautiful yield of big, meaty and tasty sauce tomatoes. We’ll likely bring this variety back next summer too. The pepper plants have been absolutely loaded with fruit, but we just didn’t have enough heat days to get them ripening before they started to rot on the vine, so we brought them inside to ripen, and were rewarded with some delicious yellow and red beauties. And the onions. Given the amount that we tortured the transplants in the early season – using a starter mix too low in nutrients and then leaving them too long in their trays – we were blown away by the substantial harvest of beautiful, big yellow and red onions we pulled in August. Our flower trials were largely a miss, but did give our field some smile-inducing pizzazz, with a band of ridiculously tall sunflowers cutting across the middle, and gave us enough flowers to trial some bouquets at the Denman General Store.

Once the cool nights and rain returned in September, everyone started packing it in early. The summer squash succumbed to mildew instead of frost, 6 weeks earlier than last year. Our leeks, beautiful and fat and promising, started rusting and had to come out long before they could be sweetened by a frost. Our fall broccoli and cauliflower, planted with the hope of having both ready for Canadian Thanksgiving, fell way behind the pace. We’re only harvesting the last of the caulis now. The tomatoes were out by Thanksgiving, the last three lettuce successions started rotting in the field, and many of our outdoor fall salad trials failed completely (suspicious deaths, suspected cause: drowning).

There were some frustrations, for sure, this fall. And the rain continues to weigh heavy on our spirits and make fall chores more difficult than they need to be, such that we still have more things than we should that need doing before we have a proper frost. We don’t even have the garlic in yet. But we really shouldn’t complain. We harvested some very respectable fall crops, and Denman has blown us away with their support this season. We’ve managed to sell almost everything we’ve pulled from the field this fall on Denman, including an avalanche each of broccoli and cauliflower. It’s left us feeling humbled and thankful, and rethinking our initial marketing plans to have an even more local focus.

Summer pigs have the easy life.

Like the vegetables, the pigs also enjoyed our two weeks of summer. They had a fantastic time sun bathing, going on forest rambles through the undergrowth, and eating piles of damaged vegetables. Unlike the vegetables, however, the pigs got a consolation prize when the weather turned. It was apple season, and our pigs were getting regular windfall desserts from a local orchard. Lucky pigs.

The summer pigs went to Gunters in October, just as a new batch of piglets arrived, BerkshireXTamworth from Silverfern Farm in Seyward. While they do seem to enjoy rooting in the mud and the odd gallop in the rain, the apples are finished now, and there are definitely fewer sunbathing opportunities. They spend a lot of their time in a pig pile buried in hay in their hut. Down the road, we’re looking forward to building our winter pigs a big indoor deep litter space so that more fun can be had on grey rainy days.

IMG_1850.JPG

One lone piglet braving the rain

It will be great to one day have an indoor space for winter chickens too. While spacious for sleeping (even with the addition of 6 new chicks this spring), our coop really is a sleeping spot rather than a daytime play spot. The weather is getting to the chickens too – on more than one occasion, Winston the red rooster has stood at the door on a rainy morning contemplating whether to even bother coming out, and often puts himself to bed early, long before the daylight leaves.

Winging it for winter. 

We had grand plans for winter crop experiments this year, most of which are going by the wayside. We got in one planting of salad greens, some carrots and a bit of kale and chard, but the record-breaking amount of rain we’ve had and a busier-than-expected fall have put a kibosh on most of what we wanted to get in. There have been very few consecutive dry days to give things a chance to drain, and we’ve been hesitant to work too much on our waterlogged field. Our soil structure is looking markedly better than it did in the spring, and we are loath to undo all the good we’ve done by slogging around in it.

With Sam starting work in October, and me working more on my thesis, our time is even more divided. At the moment, we’ve got our hands sufficiently full staying on top of jobs as they becoming pressing – finishing the soffit on the house before the rats move in, getting siding on the house and overhangs over the doors before the rain gets in, protecting winter and overwintering crops and getting the irrigation winterized before we get a heavy frost. We’re feeling like the promise of an off-season slowdown isn’t going to come this year, and full-scale winter growing experiments will likely have to wait a few years.

Digging for next year.

We started looking ahead to the 2017 season way back in August when we had a new irrigation pond dug. We lucked out; under an impressive 4-6′ of topsoil, we hit a bounty of beautiful blue-grey clay. Our new pond is holding water like a dream. It will control water on the other side of the house so that we can prepare another two field blocks for next season (a roughly 30% increase in growing space), and should give us enough water to see us through a dry summer.

As the last of the 2016 crops come out of the field, we’re starting to think in detail about 2017 crop planning. We are reflecting on the season – what grew well and what didn’t and why, what we were able to sell easily and what we could sell more of. We’re making notes about what crops we’ll grow again, what we won’t, what new things we want to try, and planning meetings with potential buyers. We’re thinking about how we’ll solve problems we faced this season. We’ve found a bacterial solution to the leaf miner problem that plagued our beets, and we’re looking at switching our overhead irrigation heads to give us more even coverage. And, we’re thinking about how we’ll preempt problems we’ve likely created for ourselves next year, like the weeds that went to seed in the fall rains and the slug eggs we’ve seen all over the field. Off-season farming is quiet in the sense that there are far fewer field jobs, and there’s less that needs to happen right now/yesterday. We’re getting to bed a little earlier these days. But there is still a long to do list up in our dining room, and if this winter is anything like last year, the beginning of the next season will be here before we’ve quite caught our breaths.

 

A Breath of (Cool) Air

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.

IMG_1389

Greenhouse snoozing

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!