Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Homesteading During the Covid-19 Pandemic

I see that almost all my posts from last year didn’t publish for some reason so I’ll have to fix that later. You’d think I would have lots of time on my hands right now. Canada is in various stages of lockdown depending which province you live in. Steph and I are both gainfully unemployed at the moment and just waiting for things to start to get back to normal in another month or two. But we’re lucky because we were working so the government says we qualify for a little money each month so we’re able to stay home from work and still afford groceries. Jordan finds himself back home because the military sent home all their students of which he is one and Kate and Meghan are also here as is William. Eating food and using all the toilet paper 🤣.

Actually apart from having everyone home this is a great time for us. Steph is getting some amazing projects done including writing software and basically building an automated heating and venting system for our greenhouse. Steph is amazing! Take my advice, marry a funny nerd. You never know when you’ll be in isolation together! My grow tunnel is now heated and cooled automatically, the sprinklers are set to a timer, the seed sprouter is working well in its second or third year, and due to the success of the other unheated greenhouse it received an expansion and will be planted later this week once it’s been weeded and tilled over. We’re getting a lot done at the farm which is great because who knows how the weather or job situations will be this fall. In the meantime we’ve got food, a small mortgage and we’re already planning what veggies we can grow to last us all summer and winter. Since we won’t have so much labour from children and Wwoofers (travel restrictions are stopping a lot of people from woofing this year) we have to plant smarter so that we can manage a huge garden by ourselves. But all things considered were in a good position. Not too much debt, food security is pretty good, we have enough firewood for half of next winter and working on the next bit that we felled last year and need to cut and split for drying this summer in the woodshed. Because we order our seeds early in the year we beat the mad panic of other buyers who found themselves planting for the first time. And we all still love each other. 5 weeks into lockdown we are all still doing okay mentally.

Hope you’re all well and making the best of whatever situation you find yourselves in. Love & Huhs from all of us at Humblebee Farm. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

It’s Valentine’s Day today but of course there’s not a lot of romance going on in this cold weather at the farm. The chickens are mostly all laying again and we have the eggs from our laying flock in the barn in our incubator so we’re hoping for some chicks from our ISA Brown girls and an enormous gentle giant of a rooster who we think is an Orpington or Brahma Cross. He hatched from a blue egg but his parentage is unknown. He’s huge but also very gentle so he’s perfect for our small flock of laying ladies.

We have been busy this winter making a vacuum seeder, getting things ordered for the growing season, getting quotes for our house construction and family life. The learning curve is huge when you’re acting as your own general contractor and I’m also studying environmental sustainability at Dalhousie University so my brain is working overtime. I love it though.

Hope you are all having a good February so far.


Friday, June 29, 2018

Welcoming July

  With some interesting swings in temperature we are having a corresponding interesting time in the garden. Things are growing, albeit slowly, and some but not all of the plants have recovered from the heavy freeze we had at the beginning of June. Parts of Nova Scotia and Nfld got wet snow only a few days ago but after today we will be complaining about the heat I'm sure. If there's one thing gardeners have in common, it's a desire for good weather. In my perfect world it would rain from Midnight Sunday to Midnight Monday with a nice steady rain to give everything a good soaking and then be warm and sunny with a light breeze the rest of the week. Nova Scotia does give us rain but not necessarily on schedule, lol. It's been a very dry July and even the weeds are turning crispy in the walkways around the farm. 

  The weeds are growing well so it's all hands on deck for weeding and continued planting. Soon we'll be thinking about winter veggie plants and out of season crops will be started such as leeks and carrots for overwintering, the second crop of sweet potato slips and melons will go in plus more tomatoes under cover in the greenhouse. Our wwoofers Brian P and Ali have helped us put up a shade tarp in the greenhouse over my workbench which is keeping it drier when it rains (no more drips down the back of my neck) and much cooler out of the beating sun. The plants that we are going to put on the sunny south side include heat loving plants such as melons trained vertically, cucumbers and sweet potatoes. The winter veggies will replace them later in the fall. Prep work involves removing the pens used for the ducks this spring then watering it before tilling it over. It's so dry we have to water or else the dust cloud generated would be awful. 

  Thoughts are already turning to nursery plants and perennials for next year. With the new seed starter heated box, furnace in the greenhouse and shelving units we should be able to streamline and increase efficiency for the production of tomato plants and all the other things we grow. The herbs selection will expand and I already know to grow more cherry tomatoes. It's nice to see things growing. We're talking about ways to use the space at Annavale Co-Op Country Store more efficiently and expanding the line of trees and shrubs we offer. All that requires work right now to get the seeds and plants rooted. I can cut haskap, raspberry and grapes this fall and look around for other cuttings I can take. 

  Well I'm off to bed. I've been sick with pneumonia and need some rest because I'm not getting better fast enough for my liking. Hope you are all well and having a lovely summer. 


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Frosts in June

The weather in Nova Scotia not only took a dramatic urn for the worst, we've had a sustained freeze of -4 degrees C one night and now patchy frost. It is apparently 1 degree right now though we have ice formed on the windows and plastic of the unheated greenhouses. I am so very grateful that we have Agrobon to use as frost blankets because it does afford some small degree of protection to the plants below and I'm especially grateful that we have a diversified farm with a minimally heated greenhouse.

First, the greenhouse. As some of you know, Steph took the old non-functional oil furnace out of our mobile home (we couldn't use it anyways) and got it all taken apart, repaired and working again. Now it is set up on concrete blocks in the greenhouse with a digital controller and thermostat. The thermostat is at the opposite end from the furnace and is currently set to 3 degrees. Once it gets below that the furnace turns on and heats the place up until the temperature is reading 6 degrees at the far end, then it shuts off again. We're not trying to have a hot house but merely to stop things from getting cold enough to stop growing or suffer frost damage. I think it's well worth the few litres of furnace oil we're using. Last night we kept the frost off the plants and the firnace kicked in twice so it likely ised less than a litre of oil which costs about $1.25. The ducklings, chicks and geese who are using the other side of the greenhouse as their temporary living quarters appreciate the added early morning heat I'm sure too. The greenhouse does hold some measure of heat overnight but by about 4-5am it's getting close to the outside temperature so having the furnace run a few times keeps it just warm enough that the plants appreciate it and as soon as the sun comes over the hill you can see the temperature rise rapidly. I open the door fairly early in the day so that the rise in temperature is more gradual as I think it is better for the plants to go from quite cool to hot more slowly and not over the course of an hour.

Second, diversification. We admire the apple growers and the vineyards around the valley but this isn't a year I'd want to be one. Due to the deep freeze at flowering and budding time, farmers are estimating a 50-75% crop loss for the year. While the plants, vines and trees  will likely recover and night actually do well with a year of rest, the businesses still have expenses and people to pay and now will have limited income for the year. I'm sure the bigger operations have crop insurance but smaller farms, hobby farms and home growers  who lose their income or food supply are basically out of luck. It's not so bad if you've got some extra plants (we didn't plant all our tomatoes, squash and basil thank goodness) and we still have enough time to re-plant beans and corn if we use early varieties that take less time to grow. But of course it delays the veggie boxes again which is really frustrating.

Despite being in a warming period globally I guess weird weather is to be expected. There's a few things we can do such as covering plants, having extra seeds on hand and planting at different times to spread out the harvest and the risk of losing them, and choose different varieties. We found that some tomato varieties were a bit more frost hardy than others.

Time to go bake bread for the farmers market and pack the truck. It's up to 2 degrees now.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Chicks & Exploding Eggs

Spring is the time for hatching eggs. As you'll see from our previous blog we have chicks and lots of eggs in our incubators.Have you ever thought about how amazing it is that a chick can develop from an egg in just 21 days? Or a few more if it's a duck, turkey or emu. This short video is really interesting and definitely worth a view or two, I really liked it and it's suitable for kids.

This morning we have a lot fewer eggs though because I noticed quite a bad smell coming from the living room and that's saying something because I have a sinus cold! Well, I'm deeply grateful for my decreased sense of smell because when I got everything sorted out I had several rotten eggs that had exploded and made a horrific mess. Luckily, I was a bit suspect of the eggs because they were VERY dirty so I'd kept them all together and had a cover over them just in case. Well, it took a couple of hours but I got 54 eggs out of the incubator and out of the whole lot I think I kept 7 to see if they'll actually hatch though I suspect 2 are not good. I'm trying to be optimistic. My other incubator is doing great. We've got the next batches coming along nicely. The big one is now all cleaned up and the second batch of eggs (from the same person) is now in, but this time I'll candle them more frequently and I washed half of them with hydrogen peroxide as it's supposed to increase the hatch rate. I'll keep track and let you know. Well there you go, I always said I'd let you know things NOT to do, having exploded eggs is something I'd not care to repeat. So I recommend that you candle your eggs at days 10, 15 and 20. I use a phone App called Hatchabatch that you can follow development and it will send you reminders for candling and when to set up your brooder. I find it very helpful.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Freeze, Bake, Freeze, Rain ... Spring Weather

The weather has been crazy recently making growing just that bit more difficult and time consuming. Things are freezing at night, overheating during the sunny days, and it's been windy and snowing intermittently. I'm headed out soon to open all the greenhouse vents and put the plants out to get some sunlight and tonight I'll spend a half hour or more putting them all back away in their heated sprouter so they don't freeze. It's frustrating. But, things are growing so that makes me very happy. Soon it'll be time to transplant seedlings, fill the nursery greenhouse and start selling for the season! I can hardly wait.

This afternoon my plan is to begin bagging up strawberry, raspberry and blackberry canes and get them ready to sell. Then it's cooking supper (vegan shepherds pie) and lots of household projects including making marmalade. Definitely a busy afternoon and evening ahead so this entry will be brief.

Plans are still in the works to dig a pond this year and to landscape the front of the property but as usual, the vegetable garden comes first. With our manure piles ready to be applied there's no shortage of work and we're hoping to find a couple of willing wwoofers to come and help us out for a couple of weeks. Fingers crossed.

Our chicks are all doing well, I'll add another video in the next few days for you to see their beautiful colours as their feathers are coming in. 

What are you all doing to get ready for Spring?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Hatching, Sprouting and Snowing, March at Humblebee.

We've been enjoying a very mild and relatively snowless Winter in 2018 but today it's snowing with a vengeance and mazingly the schools are still open despite very slippery roads. My guess is that the school authorities thought this would turn into rain before long but it hasn't. That's okay, it's not quite Spring yet. I had a nice hot breakfast of fried potatoes, egg foo yong and onions so now my tummy is happy and warm.

Regardless of the current weather we have to be thinking ahead to planting season and especially we have to think about having plants ready for sale in the nursery in a matter of weeks. It's tricky because each variety takes a different amount of time to germinate and grow, plus once they are starting to grow they need light and the greenhouse is still getting down to below freezing at night. So what are we going to do?

For the young plants we are going to have a partition in the main greenhouse that's got a heat source for those days and nights when it's cold. That's a project for next weekend. But the unit for getting the seeds germinated is built and officially called the Sprouter. It's far bigger than the shelf unit we had last year. We had an issue with it maintaining the temperature last year, cool at night and too hot during the day so the changes we made this year are that it's a wooden box and we've insulated it with fibreglass not just to keep it warmer but because it will also help control the airflow and shade it from overheating on sunny days. Helping to even out the fluctuations in temperature will really assist in germination.

Along with the seed sprouter we have a home made incubator full of eggs that’s scheduled to hatch at the beginning of April so stay tuned! Life is returning to the farm so Spring must be coming.