Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wet and Warm Winter

We've had near record snowfalls early this winter and now the grass is showing as it's warmed up and melting all the snow. Not really good for us as the house we're renting keeps flooding and it's wrecking lots of our stuff :(  But what can you do? Pray for a freeze up again? No, I'm just waiting for Spring to arrive and coat the valley with the sweet smell of apple blossoms.

My barley grass experiment has worked so now we're deciding the best way to grow a continuous supply just as a fresh vitamin supplement for our livestock in the depths of winter. All we did was soak whole barley from the feed store for 12 hours then put it about 1/8 inch thick in a seed starting tray and leave it in the dark. We rinsed it twice a day with plain water and drained it right away. Once it began to sprout we moved it out into the sunshine inside our patio door, watered once daily and voila! Grass in 7-10 days! No chemicals or fertilizers needed. Pics to follow in the morning. Time for sleep now.

A Ram of Many Names

Our ram is lovely.  He's an interesting guy with his long ringlets and his bright eyes and of course he's a large breed sheep so he stand out above his ladies. But  he's got an interesting heritage too, being a rather rare Black Cotswold. I'll get some close-ups of his fleece in the spring before shearing. It also seems that everyone has a different name for our ram. His popular name if John David, he's got his registered name, I call him mutton chops because of his side whiskers, William calls him Tyrone because he's black and has an afro. LOL

One of the programs I watch on the computer is Countryfile on the BBC. The most recent edition of Adam's Farm, a segment of this show, talks a little about the importance of the wool industry in Pre-Victorian Britain and how it shaped the countryside and society as a whole. The profits of wool paid for lavish churches, the building of hospitals and schools, and of course family fortunes. Today however cheaper fabrics like cotton and polyester dominate the market for cloth so wool isn't worth anywhere near what it used to be. That doesn't mean this fibre should be ignored though and so small producers like myself team up with the spinners and weavers in our communities to make sure that the fibre arts stay alive and well.

Anyways, it's a 10 minute segment and I hope you like it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Community Garden 2014

Welcome to the community garden! Where friendship, knowledge and plants are growing.

We're excited that you've decided to check us out and see what we have to offer you.  2014 is our first year as a community garden although the groundwork has been laid for the previous 2 years. We  offer a variety of plots for families and individuals plus some community growing areas for larger crops that are more efficient to grow together such as corn and pole beans. We will be buying some seeds in bulk to save money, we'll have some seed packs and plots available for free to those in need, gardening classes, a picnic area and we invite everyone to work together to grow food for yourselves and the foodbank. So come join us and let's get growing!

Available plots:

12 - 20x20 feet  $50 each for the gardening year. (May 1-October 31)
22- 10x10 feet   $20 each for the gardening year.
2 large community plots for bulk crops will be planted and harvested by all users of the garden. 

Plots include:

Your assigned piece of land which will be tilled and ready for planting.
Access to tools, water, hoses etc.
Use of picnic area and all community areas.
Harvests from community plots as they are ready.
Classes throughout the year.
Community events.

If you're still interested after reading this far, here are our rules. 

Garden Guidelines and Rules:

  1. Have fun!

  1. Parking: Some parking is available at garden side, however we recommend parking at the church and walking down to the garden to limit damage to fields and disruption of the day to day workings of the farm.

  1. Community: All members are encouraged to participate in the garden community, by signing up for one of the community tasks. We also invite you to attend classes and other activities throughout the year. We're a small initial group so let's enjoy it!

  1. General Care: Garden plots and communal beds must be maintained to the satisfaction of the Garden Coordinator. This includes normal watering, weeding and general care of the assigned plot, and the immediate surrounding pathways.

  1. Gardening Season: Plots must be worked on throughout the duration of the gardening season, generally understood to be May 1 through October 31, subject to weather conditions. If you are away for an extended period during the growing season, you must find someone to look after your plot in your absence. If you can’t find someone, inform the Garden Group Coordinator so that other arrangements can be made.

  1. Harvesting: Crops must be harvested once they are mature. Produce from plants may not be sold. All produce harvested from the garden should be washed thoroughly before eating. We recommend that any surplus be delivered to friends and family or alternately to the foodbank in Kingston or Berwick. There are also churches and other community groups who can help you with suggestions. We think that planting a succession of crops so that your harvest is spread out over the growing season is more self-sufficient and makes it less likely to go to waste.

  1. Neighbouring plots: Be considerate of your neighbours. Do not plant sprawling crops or tall ones that might interfere with others. Tall plants are best planted on the north side (towards the road) or the east side so as to limit the shading they may give to your neighbours plots. Harvest only from your assigned plot or from community plots. Keep insects and weeds under control as much as possible (see below) and please teach children to stay off neighbouring plots.

  1. Compost / Insecticides / Mulches: Chemical insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers are prohibited in the garden. Only Diatomaceous Earth, predatory nematodes and other insects or Insecticidal Soaps may be used in the control of pests. Only organic fertilizer, compost and composted manures may be used in soil conditioning and fertilization. We will have compost available on opening day and we will have some already in the soil when we till. Black and red plastic mulch and row covers are allowed as long as they are removed at the end of the season. Straw and newsprint are allowed as mulch but please no bark mulch. There will be a $25 clean-up fee for plastic mulches not removed at the end of the season or other non-compostables like tomato cages, wire etc.

  1. Plants allowed: Trees and other woody plants are not allowed on individual plots. Please be careful with invasive species. If you plant something in your plot that starts to invade another part of the garden,you may be asked to remove it. This would include things such as pumpkins that sprawl, Jerusalem artichokes, comfrey, mint etc.

  1. Fees : There is a fee for plots as described above.  All plots must be paid for by May 1st or in years when the weather allows earlier planting, before your plants are placed in the ground.

  1. Keep the garden tidy! Please use the recycling and trash bins as provided. If containers are not available or are full then plot holders agree to remove their own waste/recyclable materials.

  1. Pets : Due to the presence of farm animals such as poultry and sheep we ask that you please leave your dogs at home.

  1. Water: The water supply is limited. Please use sparingly. Well water is not approved for drinking so please bring your own bottled water.

  1. Compost: Members are encouraged to make use of and help maintain the communal composting area according to the rules of use in the garden guidelines. We will be teaching a class on composting several times through the year.

  1. Shed: All tools and common gardening tools should be stored within the shed. Please clean off, dry and return your borrowed tools to their correct place. You are welcome to bring your own tools and we suggest that you label them with your name and plot number.

  1. Tools: Any tools left in the garden area are there at your own risk – although we promote positive use of this space, we assume no responsibility for lost or stolen tools, plants, planting supplies, etc.

  1. Plots: We will assign plots as applications are received. We will assign upto 2 plots per family initially and then will assess other remaining plots based on the waiting list. Each family may apply for a maximum of 4 plots. We will try to keep multiple plots together for ease of gardening and to assign the same plots to returning families each year.
  1. Issues: Please report to the Garden Coordinator immediately if you spot any signs of theft, vandalism, misuse of garden resources or damage to the garden. For less serious issues or to leave a friendly note for a friend, please use the notice board. You can include questions, suggestions, and seasonal recipes. Also watch for upcoming events and classes. 
  1. Dispute Resolution: In the event of non-compliance with the above rules, the Garden Coordinator will issue a verbal or written notice to the member. If at the end of a two-week period the problem has not been solved, we will attempt to contact you by other methods to resolve the problem. If after this time there is no action, we will potentially mow down and re-assign the plot. The most common cause for this is not weeding. If you have a serious health concern or other problem that does not let you weed please arrange for some community help with weeding. We have several Duke of Edinburgh's Award participants available to provide service where needed.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Making Lonzino

I told you I was going to use some of the meat from out pigs as preserved meat and so today I was able to get our loin ready for sealing and drying. On New Years Day I rubbed the meat with a mix of salt, cloves, garlic, thyme and other herbs and spices and it was put in ziploc bags in the fridge. For 10 days I've flipped the bags over and made sure that the juice that came out of the meat and the salt mixture were able to really work their way into the meat. Today I prepared it for the last step, dry curing. Now of course I don't have a cellar that's cool and dry to hang my meat in so instead I'm using special bags that allow drying to occur and the meat is vacuum sealed and placed on a wire rack in the fridge for a month or so. Here's a look at my project for today. And if you'd like more info check out http://www.drybagsteak.com/

I'm so sorry but the layout is all wonky and messed up. I will try to fix it up ASAP.

Here's my foodsaver vacuum sealer. A very handy little appliance.
My Foodsaver vacuum sealer. Very handy.

Lonzino marinated for 10 days

 Here's what the bags look like. You can see the chunks of garlic and some of the liquid inside the bags. It's been soaking for 10 days so now it's time to wash off the cure thoroughly under cold running water.  Some of the pieces of pepper were still there but I washed off as much as I could.                                               
Washed and ready for dry curing.
Too long for the bag

 The photo above shows the washed loin folded in half just so it fits on the plate while I got the bag ready. As you can see, it doesn't fit in the bag with enough room to make a proper seal so I trimmed several inches off one end.  You can see how lovely and consistent the colour is throughout the meat and how dense and almost translucent it looks. Beautiful! I had a little trouble with the UMAI bags I was using so I made up a test bag and then just kept at it until it worked. Now my lonzino is drying in the fridge on a wire rack for a month.
Beautiful Pork!
Cheerios. I couldn't get the sealer to work so I did an experiment.
With the vac mouse in place but the bag is too long now.
The finally sealed lonzino.
They're sitting on a wire rack in the fridge for 30 days.

 There you have it. I"m now waiting for the meat to dry cure and lose about another 30% of their weight. The small pieces should be cured and ready for eating in as few as 14 days so I can hardly wait.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fish, Fowl, And Fleecy Friends

I get asked what exactly aquaponics is from people who have heard that we're doing weird and wonderful things with our farm in 2014. So this page will get you a few links to other videos and some basic principles for building and operating a system in our greenhouse.

An aquaponic system is a method of growing plants hydroponically and raising fish at the same time. The basic principle is this: the fish excrete waste into their pool of water and the plants extract nutrients for their growth and in this process clean the water for the fish. This is accomplished by pumping the fish water up into the grow beds of the hydroponic system and then letting it drain back into the pond below. It really is a simple idea but building a system and finding the right balance of clean water and nutrients for the plants can take some working out.

First things first. There are literally thousands of websites and YouTube videos that you can watch to figure out what you are interested in building. I'd recommend watching lots to see which ones you find educational and maybe talk to someone who has a working system. Japan Aquaponics have info on their website that's easy to understand. And lots of graphics like the one to the left to let you see how it all works together. We are using a pretty simple start for ours with some wooden frames to hold our 170 litre plastic totes and keep them from warping, some used pool pumps to circulate, and totes again for the grow beds. Details to follow.

Now in an true aquaponic system you get 2 crops. Your fruits and veggies grown using the fish water fertilizer, and the fish themselves. Depending on the species of fish you raise you can expect to have a harvest in 9-12 months and you can vary your stocking rate (the number of fish in your system) until you find out what works for you. We are going to start out with goldfish in our set up which may seem strange as people don't usually eat goldfish, but the reason we're doing it is to get the kinks worked out of our system, balance the ammonia and nitrate levels and keep a close eye on the water temperatures. Depending on how that goes we'll know if we can raise Tilapia which are a warm water fish or trout and perch which like it cooler and are native to our area. We're just thinking that it could be a bit tricky to keep the water about 70 degrees f if it's set up in a hot greenhouse and we'd rather kill a few small feeder goldfish than a tank full of rainbow trout. Hopefully we don't lose any at all!

If it all works out well then we should have a working system by April and it should be able to operate year round with hardy vegetables in a greenhouse but we'll see. We don't want the pipes freezing. We will take notes and keep a good record so we can properly evaluate. If you'd like a look at some different set ups and ideas then please check out the work done at Colorado State University, It's great and there's lots of ideas.

The sheep are still in the barn but with the nice weather we're expecting this weekend we're going to fence a small run for the sheep to give them some fresh air. They all seem good though.

We responded to a Kijiji ad that starts as follows '26 stupid chickens'. We're hopefully going to pick them up and give them a new home here with us. They're a year and a half old and are moulting so they've stopped laying. All this is perfectly normal for a hen and she'll grown back her feathers and begin laying again.

So there you have it, another project for the 2014 list.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Farm and Family Goals for 2014

Isn't that a great picture? Ahhhh, summer! Such a distant memory.

It's that time of year when Canadian gardeners, in fact most gardeners I think, sit around the fire with seed catalogues and dream of green grass and warmer weather. And I am certainly no different. My tomato wish list is already done and I'm just waiting for Annapolis Seeds to get their listings up for this year. Probably in a few days. Veseys and West Coast seeds have theirs up so my fingers are itching to get into some potting compost mix and get seeds going. But realistically I've got over 2 months before I can get anything in the ground or greenhouse so I have to be patient for just a couple more weeks. It's better to have healthy younger seedlings than tall leggy ones. Younger plants tend to be hardier and more adaptable to change. And there's just not enough natural light yet. It may have been warmer today (+2) but it was -33 just a few days ago. This is a photo Steve took early Christmas morning between snow storms. Winter is just beginning. And I have to be patient. I'll tell you one thing though, I'm VERY glad we decided to move our lambing dates this year to March/April and not now in the bitter cold and blowing snow. We'll have the sheep moved back up to the farm when we move in March before lambing and hopefully the grass will have started to grow and the snow will be gone by then.

Our goals for 2014 include:

* Getting the garden plots for the community garden all dug and ready for planting and families found to use them. Each plot is 25x25 feet. Would you like one? We'll provide the plot with the soil already tilled and hoses for watering. You provide seeds, weeding and you harvest your veggies :) We have applied for a grant from Kitchen Gardens International and if we get approved we'll have resources for building raised beds and communal tools. Wish us luck!

* Build a movable 40 foot greenhouse with an aquaponic grow system in it for tomatoes, cucumbers and greens. The first year the plan is to keep goldfish and monitor the water temperatures in the fish pool and then if suitable we'll introduce trout the second year to give us a harvest of both fish and vegetables. We may be able to introduce trout in the fall so we'll keep you posted of course.

* Continue to grow our flocks of chickens, sheep and turkeys.

* Build two additions to our mobile, finish the wiring and septic, and MOVE IN!! Ok, that's the biggest goal for 2014. We should be in permanently in April. And if not, we'll be tenting it!

* Finish the siding on the barn and add some insulation and a new door on the south wall into the greenhouse we're going to build there.

* Plant a permanent orchard with both trees and fruit bushes and plants.

* Plant some flowers. Because flowers make the world a more beautiful place.

* Plant more pumpkins including white, plus vegetables for market.

* Make $10,000 from the market garden and livestock.  Ok this one is a stretch but if we don't aim high then why bother. Of course we'll keep you posted and give a final accounting at the end of the year.

Well there you have it. Some of our goals for 2014. I'm sure that some will change and new ones will be added as we go along but this is a good start.

I hope that you all have a wonderful year too!

Elizabeth & Stephen