Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Market Gardener by JM Fortier

If you read Tuesdays contest announcement (if not check it out) you may be wondering how it is that being a farmer in the middle of Winter I have the money to be giving things away, including a new copy of such a great book. Well, I wrote to the author and asked for a copy. I explained that it was for a contest for you all and what my blog hopes to accomplish and he wrote back saying that he feels passionately about what he does and how important it is and that he'd be happy to send me a copy. So YAY! It's nice to receive support from other farmers and especially those we admire.

So if you haven't read his book or if you're toying with the idea of picking up a copy I'll give you my review and maybe that will persuade you to go to your local bookstore and look at a copy for yourself. You can also find a preview on Amazon. There's a downloadable Kindle version for your smartphone that makes good reading if you're waiting somewhere and need to pass the time. The preview is free of course so check it out.

The book, while aimed at current and potential market growers, covers not only how to grow methods but also the reasons behind them and in other cases there are options presented, not just what works for them. They discuss tools, marketing, harvest and storage, and how their deliveries work. I know my husband likes the more technical descriptions because then he can copy them or come up with adaptations to use here at our place. Overall this is a good book that connects you with the author while also being of practical help from the planning stages through the harvest and selling of your produce. I would say "I'd buy this book" but of course I already have. 😊

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Garden Giveaway Contest - Win before Spring!

It's time for a celebration! Thanks to all of you my blog is well on its way to 300,000 page views and so I think it's time for another contest and giveaway don't you? Besides, it gives us all something to look forward to during these dark and dreary days in the northern hemisphere. Unless you're one of my readers in India or the tropics, what is your weather like there in January? Does it stay fairly much the same all year except during monsoon?

You're a pretty darn loyal bunch so you deserve something awesome this time for prizes. My book is still not done, it's too early to celebrate with tomato plants, okay I've got it! I'll do a first, second and third prize and I'll let you pick.

I will draw the name and let you pick your own prize. If you've won before, you can still enter. If you live in my household you cannot, lol. Yes, you can enter and give the prize to someone else if you want to.

Prize Choices for First are any two of the following:

The Market Gardener- an amazing book by JM Fortier that will be helpful for anyone interested in growing for a profit, no matter how small the scale. I love my copy, the poor books only a few months old and is half beaten to death from over use lol. We will have an English language copy available for this prize, but I'm pretty sure it comes in French at your local bookstore.

or/

A box of fresh vegetables from our CSA. Yes, this only works if you live in NS between Annapolis Royal and Porters Lake. We will deliver.

or/

A handmade Swarovski crystal spider or dragonfly to catch the light in a nice sunny window in your home.

or/

A selection of non-GMO seeds from our garden, veggies and possibly a few flowers and herbs because what would life be without a little flavour and colour?

or/

Two grow bags. I will be doing a post about this later in the month. Fabric grow bags suitable for growing tomatoes or peppers on your doorstep, balcony or in your greenhouse.

Shipping is of course included in the crystal, grow bag, seed or book choices so feel free to enter even if you live a long way from Nova Scotia. We don't discriminate, we love all our readers and most of you actually live thousands of miles away. Last year it just happened to be that the winner of the tomatoes turned out to be a friend who lives fairly locally so that worked out well!

Second and Third prize will be at my discretion and will be one of the prizes listed above unless there's something you'd really like to have, and then I'm sure we can talk. After all I want you to be happy!


How To Enter

Send an email with you name, country you live in and email to hbfcontests@gmail.com  Please answer the following 3 questions:

1. What do you want to read about on my blog this year?
2. Why do you think people are reluctant to become more self-reliant?
3. How do we overcome the negatives and work together as friends, families and communities to build better self confidence and self reliance? You can relate this to skills, knowledge or food.

Contest is open to everyone regardless of age or postal code. Deadline is February 12th at noon AST.

Seed Money




Having a nursery and a market garden requires a lot of advance planning. And just like everything else in life, the better the plan, the easier the work later on. Sure, we could just write everything down on paper but having computer records means we can track as we go, share with others, and print off multiple copies. You can also keep track from year to year which is really helpful. That's not to say I don't use paper, I use a lot, but I appreciate the ease of organization that can come from using a good computer program. So with that in mind I'm happy to announce that as of tomorrow I will have a working laptop again! My MacBook, rest her soul, is retired because she's not working and I was able to find an older laptop on kijiji for $120 which my son assures me is a good deal for this particular one. It's older, the keyboard has issues, but the processor is good and yes, I will be more diligent about backing up my files on this one. You might be wondering how I'm typing this blog entry for today. Certainly not on my phone although I have done that in the past. Since I was already driving yesterday I checked kijiji and was also able to buy a used Bluetooth keyboard that connects to my iPad mini. My mum had this little iPad but didn't use it very much so she passed it down to me. It's lovely! Like a bigger version of my phone. I don't care that it's in used condition, the set up with the little keyboard works great albeit tiny. The keyboard keys feel nice just a bit cramped and I wonder if this is how people with very large hands feel every day. It's a bit comical but I'm making it work and for the $30 I spent on the keyboard I'm very happy with it. It gives me a little ultralight computer to use when I'm out and about so no more excuse for not writing the blog regularly in 2016. I might even try my hand at making videos.

Do you want some happy news? Spring is coming! And with it our new growing nursery business. With some start-up money we are able to buy in our seed early, get the supplies we need for construction of greenhouses and build a retail greenhouse at Annavale Co-Op in Middletown. We're super excited to get this off the ground so as we get closer to Spring you'll be hearing all about it I'm sure. We'll give detailed instructions for construction and hopefully inspire you to try it yourself as well. Although it may seem daunting, timber framing a greenhouse is not as complicated as you might think and allows you to pitch your roof in the best way for snow shedding and light collection for your area. If you're local, we'll gladly accept any help on building days and are happy to share our knowledge with anyone who wants to learn.

I'm hoping to talk with Owen from Annpolis Seeds today about a couple of projects including peanut growing and seed collection. And I want to have my main seed orders done by the weekend. I know it seems like a lit of work and it is for sure, but selecting the nest varieties for our garden and climate mean better plants and food later in the year. If you think it's hard choosing the perfect carrots for your home garden, try selecting a variety for market growing that's organic. It's time consuming to say the least. But in the end all the time spent on planning had benefits and rewards throughout the year.

** Just a quick note about seeds, we get ours from Annapolis Seeds, West Coast Seeds, High Mowing Seeds and Veseys. If we discover something interesting well let you know.

Well it's 6:15 and the kids are starting to stir. I've had the fire going for a couple of hours now so the house is warming up nicely. My bedroom is up to almost 16 degrees, balmy! It's exam week right now so the schedule is a bit different what with kids finishing early and leaving at odd times but we make it work. It's hard to believe Jordan graduates in a matter of days. Wow. I'm very proud. Not only is he done school early, he's getting excellent grades in the 80s and 90s. Now it's time to find a job and keep saving his money for future schooling and his mission fund.

Have a lovely day wherever you are. I'd love to know what your plans and projects are for this coming growing season so feel free to drop me a line. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Deep Cold

I woke this morning to the hush of a deeply cold Winters night. The house is cool but not terribly so. Having my lovely husband at home means the bed is nice and warm. And the peaceful sounds of children and pets lightly snoring while the fire in the wood stove crackles reminds me almost of a spell being woven about the house to ward off the cold. I don't know if we will have another night this cold this year but we'll see. It's -17 Celsius as I type this. That's cold. Given the damp of the Maritimes it feels like -40 does on the prairies. 
This very cold air is what's fuelling the development of snow along the eastern states that has practically ground things to a halt. They're really getting hammered but I suspect it will clear soon enough. Their temperatures and ours will rise over the next couple of days and in the States things will melt. 
In the news the stories of high food prices and empty store shelves are a reminder that we need to be prepared for things like this by having water, food, candles and blankets tucked away. In our case we have food we can cook on top of the wood stove plus firewood. The kids will tell you that the first things we do when bad weather is forecast is fill our water jugs and all the animals waterers and food dishes and then top up the two wood bins we have inside the house. It means we are good for at least a day without having to go out in a blizzard to get more wood and that's good for everyone involved. 
We do still check on the animals during severe weather and if we know bad weather is on its way we prepare by putting down lots of dry bedding and filling up all the feeders with feed and some extra soybean meal for protein. Keeping drafts down to a minimum is really important too while making sure the ventilation means there's not a buildup of moisture in the barn. It's a balancing act for sure. 
Well I should get up and put wood in the stove. Our wood stove is a good size for our small house so that a good fire can burn without having to be constantly damped down and sooting up the chimney but is small enough that it doesn't keep a fire going all night. Getting any coals banked and the fire rekindled is my job. I'm sure the kids think the fire fairies do it sometimes and that the fire just magically refills itself but for the most part having the wood stove and feeding it just fits into the rhythm of daily farm life that measures out our days.

Stay warm my friends. Spring is coming and we are busy making plans. In the meantime I'm going to the Dr to get my horrible cough seen to and I'm getting my seed orders together. The food prices hopefully won't affect us so much and right now we're eating a lot of stored root vegetables and beans so we don't notice the price increases as much as others. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Farmers Are Optimists

In an often cynical world I have to say that I find the farming community as a whole to be pretty optimistic. If we weren't we'd quit when things get tough, we'd never be able to continue after a natural disaster wipes out all your work or a hail storm destroys your harvest. And yet farmers just assess the damage, sigh, and get back to work. Okay, we do complain about the weather a lot because it's one crucial variable of farming we can't control, but apart from that I think we're good. 

Here's how my day went. Around midnight we were checking that things were still okay because the winds had picked up into the 80-100 kph gust range. The greenhouse on the house was flapping so I thought we might have problems but it was fine. However Steves 6am check found the other lovely shelter on the barn was horrifically mangled. 
You can see that one post and anchor block were dug out of the ground by the force. The rest of them had the flange plates literally ripped off. The bee hives were blown apart and scattered and the glass door smashed in. However all is not lost! Steve was able to find and save a few bees so he's got the hives back together. I'll make some food for the poor things. Our friends Becky and Colby stopped in for moral support and to help me take the frame apart. Now it's in nice neat piles and can most likely be welded.   The door still needs replacing but it's blocked off for now and I'll get a board nailed over it tonight. And the gate, well, we can now improve on our gate design because it's toast and I'll need to build a new one. I have some ideas and I'll re-use the hardware. I'll have a new post hole dug in the spring and then we will hang it. Oh and the clear tarp cover is still usable which is pretty amazing. 
The kids have been helping with chores and clean-up. There's siding blown all over the place and we need to fill the wood bins inside the house as well as the usual chores. It was really warm last night so we let the fire go out and it was a great chance to shovel out the ashes and clean the wood stove before the weather turns cold again. It's gone from plus 10 Celsius  to plus 1 and flurries this afternoon so I suspect we will be back to our regularly scheduled Winter tonight. It'll actually be good because the warm and wet weather melted all the snowpack and now the rivers are quite swollen. Another couple of inches and our river will breach the southern bank. The house is fine though, we're on high ground. 

Kate's night to cook supper is tonight so we're getting tater tot casserole (a version of her smiley casserole) and roast squash with Brussels sprouts. She's the cook, who am I to argue? Everyone has to start cooking at some point and she has her favourite recipes. Root vegetables should be a much more important part of people's winter diets I think. And here I would also include apples. Local Cortlands are currently on sale for $4 #10 bag so we stock up and put apples in a storage tub with slightly damp sawdust. Kept in the addition they don't freeze and will stay fresh for a long while. It's worth it to me to do the extra work if it means we have fresh local apples to eat. 

Well. There's my day. It started badly, but you just have to pick up the pieces, figure out how to prevent it in future if you can (have metal flanges on the anchor posts) and then continue on. Friends helped clean up, and my bestie took me out for a two hour trip to town for some errands and lunch to cheer me up, and our family all pulled together. So yes, I'd say we're optimistic that this is going to be a good year for our farm, despite the setbacks. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Happy ducks

I've been wondering why the ducks are spending so much time under the trailer...and now I know. There's a small leak in the water line and the smart little guys are using it as a drinking fountain and personal shower. Well unfortunately for them Steves under the house right now replacing that section of pipe. No more shower. Poor ducks. They'll have to use a waterer like everyone else. 

The weather has been pretty good and we're getting lots of work done. But we are also taking time to have fun. Dinner tonight with friends is lamb and roasted vegetables, yum! I don't know if I'm looking forward to the food or the company more. It'll be nice. When the nights are long it's always a good idea to make the most of them. 

Anyways I've got to keep this brief. I have parsnips and carrots to peel and prepare for roasting. Hope you're having a good winter. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Self Watering Containers

As many of you have no doubt experienced, drought and dry summers are becoming just one more thing gardeners are having to contend with when trying to grow plants. Self-watering beds are a great option to beat the heat, especially for someone growing a few plants on their patio or balcony or for people who travel and may be gone for a few days. A self-watering bed is good because you can simply fill the reservoir to overflowing and it will wick up the moisture into the soil as it needs it while you're away. 

The major drawback to wicking or self-watering beds is the cost. Veseys has some lovely ones but I'm sure the price tag puts a lot of people off. $200-400 for the basic unit isn't unreasonable, it's just unaffordable for many. But never fear! You know I've used them before and I've found a set of plans online that are cheap, easy to follow, and reusable for many years. 

This is the time of year that storage totes go on sale. I recommend Rubbermaid but that's just my personal preference. You can use any tote that has a lid. Do you have some extras from a past move or from de-cluttering your house? You can use those. You'll need some pipe, a tote, plastic garbage bag, cable or zip ties, fertilizer (or mix in slow release fertilizer to the mix and of course good quality potting mix. I also sometimes put a single piece of landscape fabric over the inner tray before putting down my soil but you don't have to. Check out all the instructions for several variations from a five gallon pail to a large tub. I'm posting this on my phone so I may not be able to connect the hyperlink until later. http://postoilsolutions.org/documents/earthbox.pdf

Well I have to go. The kids school bus just came 15 minutes early so of course they missed it. Now I'm going to have to drive them which I'm not happy about. What happens to all the other kids who miss the bus and their parents already left for work? Of the normally 7 kids at our stop, nobody was there yet. You'd think that would be a hint. Oh well, time to go. Have a lovely day!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Planning My Winter Away

I'm sure that at some point you must have wondered what we get up to here on the farm in the winter. Well I still find myself pretty busy. Life at the farm has certain rhythms that revolve around feeding the animals, caring for them, doing repairs to tools and fences on the warmer days, maintaining our equipment, keeping the house warm (it's currently 12.8 Celsius and the fire has been burning for two hours already) and setting in place all the plans for the garden. A garden plan is like a complex dance, a balance of light, shadow, water and succession. This week it's time to think about ordering my seeds, supplies, and fruit bushes and plants. Wholesale orders fill up fast so January is a good month to plan and buy seeds rather than waiting until March. While it's still cold in Canada, other place are getting spring by March and getting lots of crops started indoors. I think this week I'll plan my cash crops like peppers and tomatoes and decide if I'm grafting tomatoes this year. I have my sales records from last year so I know what varieties of tomato performed well and which sold the best as plants. I also want to look into some grow bags as I've heard they're great for tomatoes and peppers in a greenhouse. If they work well, perhaps guy could replace my hard sided pots. Way less plastic! But I wonder about the benefits. I will have to try it and see. I have some landscape fabric so I'm going to see about seeing myself some fabric grow bags. This might be a good addition to the retail side of things in our nursery but really it's just to experiment. If any of you have experience with them please drop me a line. My big debate currently is this... Is it worth paying four times the price to get bags that are white outside and black inside? I think they'd be cooler on the plants roots in the summer. And you could write directly on the bags so there are no labels to lose. 

Our first small batch of wheatgrass went in to Porters Lake yesterday. Hopefully it's just the first of many deliveries. I have to admit that the wheatgrass does taste better than some of the other stuff I've tried. But it still tastes like lawn clippings, which anyone who has cut grass with a hand mower can surely relate to. A little trial and error and we'll have a nice little sideline going. 

My last post was about a local Nova Scotia CEDIF (Community Economic Development Investment Fund) and there was quite a lot of talk yesterday on CBC radio about how great the various CEDIFs are for the economy in terms of the development of jobs and businesses in the region, and also as an investment if people are interested in seeing their money being used to strengthen and help rebuild sustainable communities. If you're interested (and you should be) check out FarmWorks or the development funds in the areas where you live. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Investing In Nova Scotia

The title of this post might be more easily read as "putting your money where your mouth is" and I'd mean it literally. I found a great investment to tell you about and no, it's not a scam, you will not get rich, but your money will be secure and you'll be supporting the economy here in NS. There are tax breaks as well so you're doing good for the local economy and potentially paying less in tax depending on your situation. 

We were introduced to a group called FarmWorks back in November. They are the ones who do the Gentle Dragons I wrote about a couple of months ago. And what they are is a Community Economic Development Investment Fund or CEDIF. As the name implies they are an investment fund that uses its capital to invest in local businesses that promote sustainable, strong, diverse and secure local food production from farmers to value added processors to restaurants.  After a rigorous application and vetting process the Board makes recommendations on worthy projects that can receive small loans of $5000 a $25,000 to start a business, expand an existing business or diversify. They provide support and mentoring in addition to requiring regular reports to monitor how things are going.  Payments and an interest rate are set and as repayments occur the money is then immediately available for further investment by FarmWorks into other projects. I'm making it sound pretty simple, and it is in theory, but I'm sure you have lots of questions so be sure to check out their website for a far better explanation than I could ever give. 

So why does supporting local food production matter? Let me tell you how it's going to affect you in 2016. 

As you know, the dollar is at an alarmingly low level which meant that the hat or book you bought on Amazon or eBay in US $$ this Christmas cost you a lot more once it was converted to Canadian dollars. The same thing is happening to food imports too. Oranges and lettuce are still costing $1 lb in the US but translated into current dollars that's now become $1.43 Cdn or whatever the current rate is. I apologize I'm actually not sure of the current rate.  Price fluctuations are initially absorbed by the wholesaler and retailers who make less profit, but the continued slide of the dollar means that now in order for them to stay in business you and I will be paying more at the store. Probably quite a lot more. 39 cent bananas, dollar bread and dollar apples and oranges are a thing of the past unless you're lucky enough to live in a producing region. Even here in the valley food will be rising in price as it becomes more profitable to ship our apples elsewhere in Canada instead of importing them from the States. 

Now you might be thinking that an increase of $100 on your monthly grocery bill isn't the end of the world. But what if your best friend is on disability or your grandmother lives on a fixed income? Then what? What happens when there's simply not enough money to buy healthy food? Two things. People buy cheap processed foods and skip the fruits and veggies. And reliance on local food banks increases to the point they can't keep up with demand. 

If you're thinking this doesn't concern you because you've got a job and food in the freezer think again. Having a population living on processed food leads to health concerns over time which leads to more tax dollars needed for health care which leads to less services and funding for other programs you might enjoy like funding for the Arts. Longer wait times to see a medical specialist can affect us all at times when we're feeling pretty vulnerable.  As much as we'd like to pretend we're above things like hunger, it affects us all. Nova Scotia is a tiny blip of a community on the World scale. We're a close community of not quite a million people in a World of billions. That's not to say we can't have an influence but what I think we should be doing is strengthening our home communities first. 

This is where FarmWorks comes in. Not only do they help food producers, they provide a good place to invest your money. Most of Nova Scotians retirement savings and wealth is in foreign and domestic investments outside NS so we're missing out on the millions and millions of dollars that could be used to bolster our own economy. That's where a CEDIF comes in. Periodically FarmWorks offers shares for sale that provide a provincial tax credit and a return on investment. I won't quote numbers because I'm not a hundred percent sure what they are but I know that to date approximately $1,033,400 has been invested and everyone seems happy. This is money that's working to benefit lots of different people. 

Let's say for example that we wanted to expand our farm. We could apply for a loan and do our presentation to them and fill in all the paperwork. Their board would check us out and see if we meet their criteria and if we are doing something they can support then a loan would be made and guidance and support would follow over the following years to ensure that we're successful. My business would increase and more food dollars would be which would be spent locally. In turn that gives me an income to spend locally while promoting farming in the Annapolis Valley.  The market grows, I hire a couple of seasonal workers who then spend their money locally and the cycle continues. Money that is already here in the valley stays here rather than going into the pockets of growers in Mexico or Florida. Or even the CEO's of Big box stores. Something as small as a 10% increase in local food dollars would have an enormous impact on the number of young people who would get into farming and those who would stay farming. Suddenly having a small family farm like ours would be sustainable and the local youth would be able to seriously consider staying in Nova Scotia to raise their families instead of moving out west. Being able to feed our home communities more would make farming an economically viable option for new farmers. And this could be duplicated in any area and country in the world where free enterprise and farming are possible. 

Of course I'm biased. We are very motivated to have a good customer base for our farm, for the farmers market and for the CSA that will be starting in May. We're working with other farms and growers to create an environment that's both economically viable and fun to do. Nobody wants to do a job they hate. But if you've ever sat on your tractor and  stopped to watch a sunset or marvelled at a perfect row of seedlings you planted, then you know that working with nature is a blessing like no other. Farming is a job that despite the ups and downs of livestock and weather, is good for your soul. 

If you are thinking about supporting more local growers this year, or looking for a return on your investments, then please check out FarmWorks. They are good for Nova Scotia in so many ways I can't even begin to list from providing a safe investment to encouraging better food security for all Nova Scotians. I'm definitely not doing them justice in this article so feel free to ask any questions you have and I can pass them along or contact them directly. I know new shareholders are very welcome to join this amazing group of people so look into it. It's truly a hidden gem of NS enterprises. 

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