Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wet, Wild and Windy

It seems so strange that a week ago I was complaining about the cold because right now it's plus 16, yes, PLUS! And my goodness it's windy! Consequently it's melted everything and there's water flowing everywhere. Before it cools down again I hope things get dried out so it's not too icy. At the farm there's hardly a speck of snow left but there is plenty of flowing water.

Meghan, bless her, thought that getting some fresh flowing water would be nice for the ewes so she devised a contraption to let her get water without getting her feet wet, blowing away, or falling on the ice. Yes I realize it looks a bit weird so let me explain. The toboggan is tied to the van to prevent it sliding away and she is using a clean shovel to scoop water into the bucket because apparently the shovel is lighter and easy to use. Did it work? Yes it did! One of the most important skills any farmer can have is the ability to improvise a solution to a problem. People don't always think of farmers as being particularly smart or creative and I'm here to tell you that you couldn't be more wrong. Every farmer I know can easily list 20 or more used for that piece of bale twine or string we all seem to have in our pockets. I like Meghan's blending of practicality and safety features in her water gathering project. Very funny yet effective. It was quite early in the morning so the light is pretty weak in the photos.

Given the strength of the winds today and yesterday I'm amazed that the tarps are still holding but they are, and I'm grateful. Steve got one end wall almost done and the eaves are now boxed in too which keeps the barn nice and warm inside compared to outside on a windy day. There's still good ventilation but no breeze blowing through as much as before. Very much appreciated by all of us who spend time in the barn. i put a gate latch on the side door so that we can latch the door closed more tightly and also open it from the inside. I should have used shorter screws though because they stick through a bit and when the wind blew I put out a hand to stop it and skewered the base of my thumb on a screw, OUCH! But at least now we can pull the door shut from inside and latch it tightly, and get out again which is always a bonus.

I was a bit surprised that Sweetpea hadn't had her lambs yet and she's really eating and drinking lots, they all are. The lambs put on a lot of their growth in the last few weeks so now the ewes are looking like they've swallowed basketballs! Sweetpea's udder last night was looking firm and round with her nipples sticking out so it shouldn't be long now and they're definitely starting to get a bit uncomfortable with such big bulky bellies. I'll see if I can get them to stand still long enough to take a photo.  It's not at all unusual for Rideaus to have triplets or quads so we'll see how it goes. Most breeds have singles or twins which works out well because with 2 teats they can feed twins but any breed with improved milk production can support more lambs and that's what ours will be good for. Older ewes are also more likely to produce triplets than younger ewes and this breed is known for larger groups of lambs so it will be interesting. One of my ewes has hardly gained any girth though and her udder is unchanged so I'm not sure that she's even pregnant sadly. Time will tell.

 Next year I'm going to have a plan in place that allows me to know when each ewe was serviced so that I know when to start increasing her feed and when she is due. Well, as much as any shepherd can know because these things aren't an exact science.

In addition to using pallets as dividers we've put together some wooden panels to use for making temporary walls and gates so that we can divide off the mothers and their lambs to have a bonding area for a few days and to make temporary pens for any bottle fed lambs. These are light weight and sized to allow a tall person to step over if needed. Now that out pallet pile has started to defrost I'm going to get the boys to help me stack them individually so that they don't freeze together again. This afternoon I want to make a trough for the sheep feed too. Keeping it off the ground is important for cleanliness and to prevent wastage which is more economical. Both boys write their last exams today and then have the rest of the day off and tomorrow too so I have slaves! Yay!

Well, time to pick them up from school. Hope you are all enjoying the last day of January.

Best Wishes!   Elizabeth

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Time vs. Profit for small farms

Anyone who farms, even as a hobby, quickly figures out that there is such a thing as 'economies of scale' and this applies to us at the moment. Let me start by describing our day during the lambing season:

6am  First check of ewes.
10am Check ewes, feed & water
2-5pm Check ewes, top up water, walk dog for an hour, chores and check sheep before leaving
10-12pm Final check, feed & water 

Doesn't seem to bad does it? If we have a ewe that seems a bit iffy then I'll stay longer to keep an eye on things so that could mean spending the night in the barn, a chilly proposition in this weather. Thank goodness for a wood stove and lots of herbal tea. (Only thing you need is a toilet if you drink too much tea!)  Here's the schedule once we have lambs born because we know we'll be bottle feeding some of them:

2am.  Check and feed youngest lambs
6am.  Check and feed lambs, check ewes
10am Check and feed lambs, check and feed ewes, clean water, clean pens.
2pm.  Check and feed lambs, check ewes, walk dog
6pm.  Check and feed youngest lambs, check ewes and feed them again.
10pm.Check and feed lambs, check ewes

Feeding times of lambs vary depending on their ages and also on their vigour, obviously a lamb taking the bottle well will drink more at a feeding and so will eat less frequently. And once they begin to eat a little hay and some pellets they will need less milk feeding too and most lambs will only be bottle fed for one month before being transitioned to hay, grass, pellet and water.

So what, you may be asking, does this have to do with economies of scale? Well, Right now I am checking the sheep every 4-6 hours and sometimes I just stay out at the barn for several hours so that I effectively cover 2 time periods and only have to drive out there once. But I spend the same amount of time feeding 5 ewes as I would if I were feeding 25 or even 50 ewes. And the same amount of checking night and day is required regardless of numbers. The same goes for chickens or really any livestock kept together in a flock. Horses require mucking of individual stalls so they are a little different, but even cows if kept loose in a byre will show economies of scale. You get more work done (ie. more animals checked and fed) in the same time it takes to do just a few animals. Make sense? So it's about the same amount of work to keep 5 chickens as it is to keep 50.

It's this economy of scale that has led to time-efficient, large scale commercial farming where they keep 20,000 chickens together in a barn. or 500 cattle in a feedlot. For them, it's the most economical and time efficient way of doing business. But here on a small farm it's totally different. My sheep aren't just numbers...they're Dolly and Sweetpea and Freckles. Faces with a name and a history. And that's where the difference between a small farmer and a commercial one come into play. Small scale farmers have a closer attachment to their animals because they spend time with them and form relationships of trust, care and even love. I'm not saying all commercial producers don't respect their animals, because many of them take fantastically good care of their stock, but it's different when they're at your small home farm.

Obviously then there's a need to find balance between your goals as a farmer and the amount of work required in order to optimize your resources and time is a valuable resource that small farmers often overlook. Because we don't pay ourselves it's not something we see as an expenditure, but unless you have a balance between your work, farming, home, and relationships, something will suffer.

It's easy to get carried away doing good things and being productive but I'd like to encourage you all to have a plan in mind, and to strive to find a balance so that no one area of your life suffers. Relationships are easy to neglect, sleep is another aspect that's easy to let slip especially at lambing time, trust me I know, so just do what you can and try to have a plan in place and follow it. In addition to what looks like a busy shepherding schedule I still have church responsibilities, laundry, housework, meals to prepare, homework to supervise and all the day to day things I do by myself because my husband works out of town during the week. I sure appreciate his help and the extra sleep I get on the weekends when he's here!

A plan is important if you are bottle feeding lambs. Younger fellows feed less milk at each feeding but more frequently say 5-6 feeds a day of 85 ml whereas older lambs may only eat 2 or 3 bottles a day but drink 500 ml at one shot. It's important to keep track so that you know how much to feed to whom and how often. You're responsible for helping them to grow healthy and strong while avoiding scours from over feeding. Once our lambs are a little older we use a bucket for feeding that has 5 nipples and cold milk inside. They can eat whenever they like and because the milk is cold it doesn't go bad and it stops the lambs from eating too much at one time and making themselves sick. Also, because they're not all eating at the same time it is more time efficient and one bucket with 5 nipples can be used by multiple lambs. This is a picture of one of the nipples that comes with a feeding bucket. They contain a ball valve to prevent back flow and to stop the milk from all running out the bucket when the nipples are not being used. Very handy!

Well, guess's time for me to get to the barn and check my sheep again.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sheep Week

I think since we're waiting around on lambs and generally focusing on our sheep at the moment that I'll dedicate this next weeks worth of posts to everything SHEEP. Sound good?

So let's talk about my sheep.

I have Rideau Arcott ewes and they are a Canadian breed of sheep that was developed at Agriculture Canada's Animal Research Centre in Ottawa, Ontario. Because of that they are often called Rideau ARCOTT indicating their origin, A R C Ottawa. The breeding program was started in 1966 and through strict controls of genetics and breeding they developed 3 breeds of sheep, the Rideau, the Canadian, and the Outaouais Sheep. They were originally bred with the goal of producing sheep that would lamb rapidly, every 8 months, so that they could be used for research purposes. After all was said and done the resulting sheep were released to farmers all over the country and are now quite common as commercial breeds. Rideaus in particular are really a meat breed but have some other great characteristics such as their ability to lamb every 8 months, their medium quality fleece and their ability to raise an average of 2.5 lambs every 8 months. We'll keep our cross bred ewe lambs and cross them back to another Rideau ram in the late fall to have 75% Rideau lambs the following Spring. The choice of ram is really important because the ram contributes 50% of the genetics to your resulting lambs. Some rams sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars but for our purposes we'll find a nice looking local boy to trade for or we'll keep an eye out at the livestock sales.

The breed's genetic mix is 40% Finnish Landrace, 20% Suffolk, 14% East Fresian, 9% Shropshire, 8% Horned Dorset and the last 9% is made up of Border Leicester, North Country Cheviot, Romnelet and Corriedale. Each contributes different characteristics such as hardiness, meatiness and non seasonal breeding. This mix makes them good mothers and by breeding them to a terminal breed (meat breed) such as a Texel or a Suffolk you get good lambs for market. Our girls were bred to a Suffolk and a Dorset Horn so we'll see what we get for lambs. Both fathers have distinctive looks and so we'll be able to tell who fathered whom. But both should produce hardy and fast growing meaty lambs.

So there you have it, the provenance of our ewes. We'll keep good records of how many lambs they each have and how they do raising them. Also how the lambs grow and mature. Records are really important and help a shepherd to make good decisions that improve the quality of his flock and keep them healthy and strong. Some record keeping such as tagging their ears is also required by law.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Moving Day for the Ewes

Yes, we finally got the sheep moved from the old barn to the new one so they have more room, a door they can see out of, and as of later today they'll even have lighting! I'm going to unhook the battery from the electric fence because it's not hooked up at the moment anyways and I'm going to use the inverter to power everything. Sounds complicated but it's really simple.The battery comes home with me once a week and goes onto the charger for a nice slow charge, then 12 hours later it's back out to the barn where we clip on the 300watt inverter ($24 at Canadian Tire on sale) and then it's good to power all sorts of lights, and really anything electrical that we need. Lighting in the barn is simple, I have a strand of LED Christmas lights down one side that are a warm and gentle source of light and use very little power and I also have a compact fluorescent work light with a long cord that I can use when I need a brighter source of light. Using a source of heat that's electrical would quickly drain the battery but an electric fence and some lights doesn't prove to be a problem at all. We have wood and a woodstove for heat so there's not much need for more than a 75watt inverter really but the larger one we have also has a USB port if the kids need to charge something and it came with the choice of having a cigarette lighter plug-in or just clips for the battery terminal and that works out well for me. But the real reason I have that one? It was cheap. I've kept my other little inverter in the original sheep shed so that if I want to power a fence for the chickens or pigs then I don't have to run a cord over the driveway, I can just get another battery.

The sheep seem happy in their bigger home with more room to stretch out. Jordan was a big help in getting them moved, especially since the weather wasn't very nice and we had to lead them over a frozen stream to the new barn. Thank goodness for the inducement of a bucket of grain. There were a couple of turn-arounds where the sheep just decided to head for their old home as well as a few slips and falls on the ice but we got everyone snug inside the barn without too many problems and no injuries. Now we have room for lambing and pens for bonding and there's room for me to keep my supplies and stay warm with the woodstove.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Absolutely Freezing!

It's -16 right now and -27 with the wind chill, so really not at all pleasant outside. The wind is blowing in off the Bay of Fundy and causing very fine snow to blow in sideways, like the lake effect snow we get in other parts of the country. Combined with the cold temperatures it's not pleasant at all outside and is just strengthening my resolve to get a North Country Cheviot ram for breeding in the fall to produce nice hardy lambs with lots of 'get up and go' vigour. Another thing I'll do is breed them later in the year so we'll be lambing once the grass has started to grow in March/April and the weather is better. But for now it's still important for us to keep a close eye on the sheep every 4-6 hours. Even though the roads are glare ice and horrid. Heck they even had to close the highway because of poor conditions and blowing snow, they just don't do a great job keeping up with the weather and scraping the roads clean sometimes. It's often the day after a storm that things get cleared and not during. Just different to other places I guess and lots of people just stay home in bad weather. That's one of the good things about farming...not much of a commute :) Still, we can't complain because the roads are usually ok and the cold weather doesn't last too long here, not like Edmonton or Winnipeg. We're really only cold after Christmas and through February.

Anyways, I'm off into the great white yonder to check on sheep again and make sure they've all got ice free waterers. Just trying to get Dave our roommate up so I can have another adult with me in case of accident. If not I'll have to wait a couple of hours for one of the boys to come back.

The girls are going to have a fun afternoon doing their homework and bringing more firewood in from the garage. At least working will keep them warm and the garage is covered so they will be out of the worst of the wind. I think 20 pieces each should do them in nicely.

Stay warm my friends!

The extension for the mobile and the barn in the background. It's cold, but pretty though. Not a lot of snow is sticking due to the cold temperatures and the 30-50km/h winds. The problem is that the snow is drifting and the roads are so icy.

Hard to see through frozen glasses all covered in ice and snow, yes, it's cold today.

Looking towards the road.

The sheep are all snug. I put a piece of wood over their door to block the wind and because their actual ramp/door is frozen to the ground....bad planning on my part.But they have plenty of straw, lots of hay and fresh water.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


A sure sign that Spring is coming are the appearance of lambs in the fields. Lambing time normally occurs once the grass is starting to grow, but there are some breeds of sheep that can breed year round and mine are some of them. Our ewes are Rideau ARCOTT developed here in Canada and we have one Charolais also. The farm that had them before us used to lamb 3 times in 2 years but for our own purposes we'll just lamb once a year in the Spring which means breeding them in late October/November. Of course we got our sheep already bred in September which means lambing time for us is now, when the wind is cruel and the snow is flying over the cold frozen ground. Still, I'd rather lamb in the snow than in the wet. Today we're going to hopefully get the sheep moved into their new barn and get some tarps over the roof. Roof first, then we'll figure out how to move the ewes. Bribery with grain seems to work well so I just won't feed them right away when I get there.

Because I don't know the exact day they were covered by the ram (bred) I can only guess at the day they'll deliver. I think 3 of them will be in the next 10 days so that means keeping a watchful eye every 4-6 hours, day and night so a ewe in distress isn't left too long before help arrives. It's not feasible for me to spend 24 hours a day there with only 5 sheep when I have children at home to look after. Next year will be a bit different because we'll have more sheep and we will be living on the farm by then so no driving will be needed.

Lambing time on a sheep farm is really an amazing time. If you'd like something interesting to watch I'll put up a video for a BBC2 show called Lambing Live and you will find 4 episodes to watch for 2011 and a series for 2010 too. They're fun and interesting, and you'll have a much better appreciation for shepherds! I guarantee you'll learn something too.

Well I'm back off to the barn, stay warm wherever you are!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sheep and Lambing

Sheep are very hardy creatures generally speaking. Unfortunately for us the sheep we bought bred were bred early in the season to lamb mid-winter which means it will be cold, windy and most likely snowing. That's why it's important to have a draft free place for the ewes and their lambs until the weather improves. This week should see the roof ends finished on the barn as well as the skirting put in place. The boys and I can do some of these things during the week but we need to wait for Steve to do some of the others. The doors are all hung, the woodstove is installed along with it's chimney but with an open ended roof it's not really going to be much use until the roof is tight. Then if all goes well we can move the sheep into the new barn and into their jugs for lambing. Oh, a jug is the name for a small pen used for a new momma and her lambs, usually about 4x5 feet or so. They stay in individual pens to bond with their lambs for a few days and then they are let out to mingle with the flock again. This helps us as shepherds to look for lambs that aren't doing well and for other problems. It's also a good time to check their feet, give them any vaccinations they may need and just make sure that mother and babies are off to a good start.

How do you know when your lambs will be born? Add 145 days to your breeding date to calculate when lambs are expected although some breeds do vary by a week either side of that date. Here is a good gestation calculator you can print off.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

How To Prune Apple Trees

Since my most recent post was about the new apple trees we're going to establish in the orchard I just know I'm going to get asked a ton of questions about pruning trees and this is a good time of year to be outside giving our trees a haircut.

Tools Needed: 
clean and sharp pruners, clippers or other suitable tool.
ladder if the tree is tall  
saw for older broken limbs (remove large branches in small pieces)

Pruning is actually very simple. The goal of pruning in young trees is to create an open and airy centre and branches that are well balanced ie. not all the branches are on one side making the tree unstable. This is accomplished by removing a third of each new branch every year just above an outward facing bud. This is important because you want the future branches to grow out away from the trunk. Does this sound confusing? I'll attach a link to a good website with pictures showing you what I'm talking about.

Once a tree is 5 or 6 years old it's just a matter of maintaining the health of the tree by removing broken or diseased limbs as needed. But management of your trees will vary a little depending on variety and location. As I learn more I'll add more information and I welcome any ideas you all have. Because our trees will be taller than most, we will be starting our first branches a little higher up the trunk than many other dwarf trees. This will allow for better air circulation at ground level and will make room for grazing sheep to munch away below the mature trees.

We have old apple trees on our property and we're in the process of clearing out the evergreens and shrubs that have taken over before we go in to trim the trees. We'll concentrate on removing dead wood and then seeing if the trees will respond to some love and care. I'm hopeful they will, there's something special and mysterious about a venerable old apple tree.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

Apple Trees

My husband Stephen LOVES apples, and eats at least 2 every day. His Birthday is in the Spring and so I thought that a perfect gift would be apple trees. As they grow and produce fruit it will be like giving him a little happiness every day. So I did some research on heritage trees available in Canada and on some of the more cold tolerant varieties that would grow in my orchard space. There are so many amazing varieties available but for now we will limit ourselves to just a few. If everything works out well, I can take cuttings called scions off our trees and graft new ones over time, or purchase new trees. Our new orchard in going to be near the old one on a south facing slope with good water and air drainage. We're zone 5.

We ordered our 8 new apple trees from a grower we know in B.C. named Harry Burton on Salt Spring Island. He grows many heritage apple trees and grafts from his own stock. We have seen and heard good things from other people and we've actually visited his orchard and eaten his apples too. He is supplying our apple trees grafted onto MM111 root stock which will make the trees about 80% of their natural size and much hardier and drought tolerant than their dwarf counterparts. This means we'll need a ladder for picking fruit once the trees are established but also means longer life and stronger trees. Any fruit we miss while picking will simply windfall and become food for the animals and birds so it's not a loss really. One other bonus is that larger trees spaced 15-18 feet apart allow for livestock grazing without much tree damage thereby adding manure to the orchard while keeping the grass down and providing shade during hot weather, a win/win situation for a self-supporter. Our trees will come bare rooted and will need to be soaked and planted as early as the weather allows. You'll notice that varieties are selected for different qualities. Some ripen early and some late, some are for cooking and some store well. We should have an apple season from August to November/December and then apples in storage through the winter. Some apples, like Ashmeads Kernel actually taste better after they've been stored for a month or two. Here's a little info about the apple trees we're getting, and Happy Early Valentine's/Birthday Steve!

Ashmeads Kernel  Hardy to zone 5.
This apple has an appearance that can be deceiving. Ashmead's Kernel is lumpy, misshapen, and rather small, but has remained popular for well over 3 centuries, and with good reason: it has a distinctive flavor that you will rave about because it is quite different from most other varieties.
This dessert apple is outstandingly rich and tart, flattish in shape, about the size of a Gala or Jonathan, and half-russetted over gold. The apple sweetens as it stores and stores successfully for up to twelve months.
The fruit is generally picked in October for use between December and February. It makes a good apple juice or applesauce because of its sweet sharp flavor. It is a late season pollinator which means it is not self-fertile but it can pollinate other apple trees.

Bramley  Hardy to zone 4.
Firm, juicy, sharply acid flesh, and late to mature. Bramley's apple is a traditional cooking apple of the British Isles. The fruit is large, flat, greenish yellow with broad broken brown and red stripes. Bramley's Seedling cooks to perfection with rich juice and no hard pieces. These qualities make it a good apple for making cider, and it is extremely high in Vitamin C content. The tree is large, a vigorous grower, and has a spreading habit. It blooms late, will survive during a frost period, and is a heavy, regular bearer. It requires a pollinator and ripens early October to early November depending on location. An apple from my childhood. Not a dessert apple, as every child learns.

Cox's Orange Pippin
It has a striking and attractive orange-red coloring and is definitely a superb looking and extremely tasty apple. Its medium-sized fruit has yellow skin blushed with orange-red and striped with crimson brown. Another apple from my childhood, this was the apple that taught me to be patient and not to eat green apples which are just plain nasty and make your tummy hurt! The Cox Orange Pippin is grown for cider, cooking, and eating. The fine-textured, creamy white flesh ripens mid-fall to early winter and will not tolerate extreme cold, heat or low humidity. This upright, spreading tree is covered in pure white, cup-shaped flowers in mid and late spring, followed by first class, juicy dessert apples for harvesting in early to mid-October. This is a finicky tree and is susceptible to mildew and scab I believe so will require some careful feeding, thinning of fruit, pruning and lots of TLC but I wanted to try it anyways as an homage to my father who planted a dwarf Cox's Orange Pippin in our back garden in Crawley, Sussex when I was a small girl.

Hidden Rose aka Aerlie's Red Flesh
An amazing red fleshed apple hidden underneath green skin. This is a recent discovery that has skin ranging in colour from pale green to yellow and deep rose red flesh. The mature apples have a juicy, crisp, hard, sugary and rich flavour and ripen late in October then keep through the winter. The best tasting of all the red fleshed varieties according to apple connoisseurs and always a good seller at the fruit stand or market when ripe in November. I know they grow successfully in Maine, USA so I am hoping they will grow in our orchard as well because this is one I'd like to try grafting next year.


Honey Crisp  or Honeycrisp  Hardy to zone 3.
Honeycrisp apples are highly rated for flavor and storage consistency and are a favourite variety grown here in the Annapolis Valley due to their storage ability and the hardiness of the trees. In mid-spring Honeycrisp’s pink buds open into clusters of fragrant white blossoms.  The compact nature of the pointed green foliage makes this an attractive tree throughout the summer.  In the fall, the leaves transform into a lovely shade of yellow as a harbinger of winter. There’s nothing like biting into that first juicy apple right off the tree in late September! The Honeycrisp is known for being especially crisp and juicy.  It’s great for eating right off the tree or for baking. The apples don’t immediately drop when ripe, so you can take your time in picking them.  It maintains its color well in storage and can be in cold storage for 6 months before the quality is lessened.


Mutsu aka. Crispin                                Hardy to Zone 4 
The Mutsu Apple tree is a cross between Golden Delicious and Indo apple. It was first developed in Japan. In fact, it’s quite prized there as a dessert apple and referred to as a “million dollar apple” for the high prices it commands. It blooms in April and fruit is ripe in early October. Once you taste a Mutsu apple, you’ll wonder if you’ve ever really tasted an apple before. Apples are crisp and juicy with an alluring hint of tartness Some say the flavor is closer to apple cider than simply an apple itself. Mutsu apples tend to be quite large; with a round shape and yellow coloration that has green tones. It has creamy white flesh and is delicious eaten right off the tree. This tree tends to be a prolific producer and the apples store pretty well too.

This is an excellent dessert and multi-use apple. You can pick then early and use for cooking or wait until they ripen to a lovely red. The flavour of the juicy white flesh is described as sprightly and vinous. Resistant to scab, fire blight and apple cedar rust but can sometimes be biennial. Thinning fruit can help with this but another management strategy is just to plant more trees and try to have one set of trees fruit one year and another set the next year. The photo credit for this image goes to Adams Apples. Check out his blog

William's Pride
Perhaps the best flavored of the older disease-resistant apples.  Another PRI introduction.  Long harvest requires 2 or 3 pickings which helps to avoid an overburden in the kitchen.  Attractive fruit with an 80% dark red stripe on a green-yellow background.  Resistant to scab, fire blight, powdery mildew, and cedar apple rust.  Short shelf life. Early, the first one likely to ripen in our orchard followed by Wealthy and Honeycrisp.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Kitchen Gardens

Many people have heard the term 'kitchen garden' and don't really know what it means. Well simply put, it's a vegetable, herb/flower garden that's close to your home, usually in the back yard. It doesn't have to be a specific size, and many are quite small, but it's where you grow some of the vegetables that are eaten right in your own home.

Growing your own vegetables, even a few varieties can bring you pleasure, relaxation and delicious food you can't get anywhere else. Vine ripened tomatoes taste much more delicious from your garden than from the store and you can grow varieties for flavour instead of their shipping ability.

Why talk in January about planting a kitchen garden? Because planning is one of the most important aspects of a kitchen garden and we gardeners spend the winter planning for the coming year and poking our noses through the seed catalogues dreaming of the warm weather to come.

I belong to a group called Kitchen Gardeners Int'l and we promote the growing of home gardens, community gardens and even school gardens to teach kids how to grow peas. Would you like to know more about having your own garden? Click here or visit

One of the community projects I'm working on is to get a church/community garden growing. We have the land, are working on the resources, and seeking volunteers for planting, weeding and those who would like some hands on lessons about growing your own food naturally. I'll let you know how it goes. With everything else we have planned for 2013 I am hoping that we will have enough interest that this will turn out to be a fun project for us, and not just a lot of extra work. The harvest will be shared between volunteers and those in need in our community.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Farm Plans for 2013

Well since the world did not end last year, we're busy making plans for 2013 and what we're going to do with our 42 acres. Really the focus is on getting the fields in better shape nutritionally, revamping the orchard, and getting a home moved on so there's somewhere for us to live by summer.

We're like many of you... we either have time or money. If we work to make money then we don't have any time. If we take time off work then we don't get paid. The usual catch 22. Once we are actually living on the property it will be so much easier to do odd jobs, but for now we just do what we can as time allows. This year, like every year, we have to make the most of our resources (time and money) so here's our

TOP 10 projects for 2013.

1. Clean out the brush and pine trees around the old orchard. Trim the trees and see of they can be rejuvenated. If yes, then use gradual and organic means. if not, remove trees and dry for firewood. Apple is a hardwood and makes a nice hot fire for cold winter nights. The pine trees are softwood, good for getting the fire going but less heat so on nights when you just need a little heat it's perfect. Along with this we'll need to build a wood drying shed to protect the wood from getting wet while still allowing the wind to blow through. The slat walls keep the majority of wind blown rain from soaking the wood and allow it to dry thoroughly. Whatever we build needs to have a good dry roof and raise the wood off the floor so something like this can be built quite easily of pallets or recycled wood.

2. Finish the barn, we still need to install doors, roof covering and then paint it and finish the interior. This will be one of the first projects done as we need the barn to have a lambing are and a sleeping area with a wood stove by January 28th which is when lambing starts. Well, actually all 5 ewes will deliver some time between the end of January and the middle of February. Hopefully during a warm spell and all close together. Fingers crossed. Steve and I got a beautiful antique cast iron stove for the barn. It's about 36 inches long but only 18 inches wide and loads from the front. We'll give it a clean up then put it in the sleeping area of the barn surrounded by concrete blocks. The blocks are there to provide some thermal mass for heat storage until we can get a rocket mass heater built. But in the meantime we now own a beautiful old stove and combined with some nice dry hardwood, I should have a way of heating both a small sleeping area and any water for the animals or for washing. I have the gutters and barrels for my rooftop water collection system and once we have a thaw in the Spring they will be installed, making watering the critters easier.

3. Test soil and add amendments that are required. Since the land has been fallow for many years we are sure that it is deficient in lime (too acidic) and maybe other nutrients. But liming is the first thing to do because if the soil is within the proper acid/alkali range then minerals become available to the plant roots and bacterial action in the soil is optimized. We'll use a slow release dolomite lime so that it changes the acidity slowly and will last longer than quick acting lime.

4. Overseed some pastures after amendments are added. We'll evaluate the current species of grass and decide then if the best way to have good hay fields is to plow and completely reseed, or just to rake heavily and then overseed.

5. Livestock. Raise one crop of lambs and evaluate the mothering instincts of the ewes. Keep ewe lambs and breed in the fall/winter for lambs in the spring (no more winter lambing). Acquire a ram for breeding. Raise 2 or 3 pigs.  Raise 2 batches of meat birds and 1 batch of turkeys. If suitable goats are to be found, buy 2 small goats for brush clearing. Add to this list that we also hope to get a livestock guardian dog for our sheep.

6. Gardening/Planting
Plant the following:
8 Apple trees
6 other trees like peach, maple, hazelnut
10 Raspberries
10 Blackberries
10 Blueberries
100 Strawberries
10 Other fruit
4 Grape vines
Vegetables, flowers for cutting, herbs

7. Plant Christmas trees to culture in the gravely soils near the river to help erosion and stabilize the banks and also provide future income through tree sales or firewood/lumber and building materials such as poles for use around the farm.

8. Fences. Install perimeter fence and a gate across the driveway. Install paddocks around the barn and some movable fencing to divide up the larger pastures for rotational grazing.

9. Build a poly tunnel greenhouse (or 2) with raised beds and work to improve the soil through composting so that we can raise year-round crops.

10. Have a working micro hydro generator in the river of some sort, either a turbine or a floating undershot wheel that will not interfere with the natural flow of the river or the fish and a ram pump to move water up from the river into a holding tank or pond for the livestock and garden. We're going to have a water test done on the water quality also just so we know what's in it. There's quite a lot of tannin in the local waterways which can make the water look like coffee in some rivers. It's from the leaching of the tannins in oak leaves apparently.