Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lamb Trap

They got caught. Now looking sheepish.
Our chickens and turkeys are all raised out on pasture. As such, they spend the nights in a movable house called a chicken tractor. Now ours aren't fancy by any means but as it turns out they're lamb proof. And here's how we know.

Yes, those are the not smiling faces of some of our lambs who decided it was a good idea to raid the chickens feeder in search of a nice snack (no they're not allowed to eat chicken food because of the copper content). Upon entering the chicken tractor they knocked down the piece of wood that holds the door up and essentially shut themselves in.

We came home to hear bleating coming from over but the woods and thought the lambs were up in the trees where we couldn't see them. Then we saw Jordan taking pictures of the chicken tractor and thought it was weird. Well now we know why, lol!

One hen to rule them all, and in the pen, hide them.
Silly lambs!

Trapped! Lambs in a chicken tractor.

Lots has been happening at the farm so I'll need to add an update tonight after I'm done weeding and driving #2 son to prom and back. Hope you're all having a terrific summer and that you're staying on top of your weeds.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

New Farmers Market

One of our lovely roosters decided he would start crowing at 4am this morning. How lovely! And wouldn't you know it, as soon as he had me fully awake he went back to sleep. So here I am researching and compiling ideas when I'd rather be sleeping. I'm going to try typing for a while and then see if I can't get back to sleep for a couple of hours.

The idea of a Farmers Market isn't new. Every single city or town I've lived in or near has had one. St. Albert was probably the most amazing, Calgary has a couple, Courtenay has a lovely and well established market as well that serves the surrounding area, and then we moved to Greenwood Nova Scotia and nothing. Well there are markets in Kentville, Bridgetown and other towns further out that are lovely but who wants to drive for an hour? Greenwood does have what it calls a Farmers Market inside the mall on a Thursday from 11-2pm but it's definitely more of a craft market than a place to buy locally grown vegetables.

So what do you do if you want a local market? You start your own! In collaboration with several other area farms I'm looking for a good location to start our very own Saturday morning, outdoor market. There's a lot to do and organize behind the scenes from attracting vendors to finding a suitable location and then deciding how to advertise, organize and get it up and running.

The locations we've considered are in Greenwood area, Kingston, Wilmot and Middleton. I've got a list and later today I'm going to make some calls and see what might be available for rent and the services available. The big considerations are location, parking, accessibility, size, bathroom access, and if power is available for a fee. Other factors include level ground, a covered area and a children's play area.

We're meeting on Monday to discuss this and invite you all to attend and give us your input. We're seeking ideas for vendors, producers, location, how long we'll be open every year, you name it! There are loads of little things to decide before we even move beyond the planning stage. The meeting will be held at the Big Scoop Restaurant in Middleton. For an invite please message me on the blog or check our contact tab above for our email address. It's also an opportunity to meet some of your local growers but seating is limited so please reserve a spot. We'll no doubt have a much larger meeting in the near future in the evening so many more people can attend.

Well it's 5am. The sky is getting lighter now so I'm going to try and snooze for an hour. Hope you all have a wonderful Wednesday, and thanks for your interest in and support of small farms like ours!

And watch for some news regarding our organic certification to come soon :)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Contest Winner Announced!

After putting all your names in a bowl and giving it a good shuffle and stir I closed my eyes and drew.... Anonymous! Lol, I'm not kidding. But I see that you signed your name as Phil so if you'd contact me please I'll be happy to deliver your plants or mail your prize. The back-up name that was drawn should 'Phil' not be able to accept was Aja.

Thank you all for the support and the ideas. I really do appreciate them very much. Now I have a whole bunch of great ideas but not enough time to write them as I'm so busy farming. Isn't that always the case? As a thank you to all who helped. I'd like to give you a free plant. Just email me and we'll get together.

It seems like only yesterday I was doing a contest for the 10,000 page view. Now we're heading towards 300,000 page views. I should plan another giveaway!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Why I plow my rows parallel to the road.

I'm sure you've all had the experience of driving and seeing perfectly straight rows of crops or trees, all even and tidy. It's a stunning sight. But now one we have at the farm. We're a beginning teaching farm so I'm less worried about straight rows and more worried that people learn and have fun. Consequently, I plant all my rows
parallel to the road so that nobody knows how wonky they are but me. Here's the view from my bedroom window, they're are a great example. One of our wwoofers was learning how to use the single plow on the ride-on tractor and as you can see, they got better with each row, lol. The straight rows do actually serve a purpose. They're used for controlling run-off after a storm of for ease of tilling and weeding. But mine are straight enough and I'll keep letting people learn how to plow on the ride-on tractor. Even if my rows do look like someone was attacked by birds while driving, lol!

We're past the first full moon in June so now we're safe for above ground crops. The rows of potatoes pictured above should be covered in little leaves in another week or so and the beans, peas, carrots and other veggies will poke their first leaves through the soil so it actually looks like we've done work. There's a faint green haze all over the fields right now but I know it's just the annual weeds making themselves known. It will soon be time to get the hoe out and go to do battle. I still have a lot of planting to get done, and successions to plan. The tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse need constant care and re-potting too so there's never a dull moment. I think the next major crops to get in the ground are the melons, squash, carrots and marigolds, tomatoes and peppers. Maybe some cucumbers too. Oh, and Kerwin from the feed store gave me a huge sack of half rotten seed onions to salvage so I'll get as many of those planted as I can too. Plus I'm working on the flower garden at the moment as well. Too many chores, not enough time.

Right now I have to head out for a community meeting so I'll sign off for the day. Hope you're all having good weather.

Emergency Sale of Sheep

A farming friend of ours is in a real jam. Her husband suffered a traumatic injury that required him being airlifted in to VG Hospital and he's still in the ICU. Consequently she needs to sell her small, healthy flock of sheep as quickly as possible because she's driving into the city every day to the hospital and will have to provide home care at some point too. She can handle the poultry no problem but the sheep are needing a new home ASAP.

She has 4 lovely sheep.  Two north country ewes, a mix breed ewe and a North Country/Isle de France ram all two years old (just), not yet sheared yet due to the wet weather.

Photo is
of them having walked over the fences to steal from a round bale in March. Big meaty sheep who have thrown big butted lambs which is why the Isle de France makes such a good ram or terminal sire for those in the know. The north country cross adds a lot of hardiness to the lambs too, making them perfect for our rugged climate here in the Maritimes.

Located in Hillsvale, NS near Rawdon so it's pretty central to a lot of people in the city and the Valley. She would like $800 and they're definitely worth it. The ram is worth more than half that amount I'd think. This pic taken in March is them munching in the yard. I'd definitely recommend their farm as having happy healthy animals so I'd have no problems at all buying from them. I simply lack the cash, and thought I'd offer you guys a great starter/booster pack for your flock. The sooner they can go to a new home the better because as you can imagine it'll be just that little bit less stress. So if you or anyone you know is looking for a starter flock or to add some new blood to a mixed flock and you want good meaty bums on your lambs, definitely email me directly at humblebeecanada at gmail dot com and I can give you more details or put you in touch with the owner directly.

Thanks everyone!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Mutton - The Unsung Hero of Hill Farms

My family is from the north of England. They grew up poor and worked a hard life down in the mines for generations. But talk about hardy people! (and short!) Even the farmers there are extra rugged and are often out on the fells with their sheep in all weather just making sure everyone is ok. If you ever get a chance to visit the Yorkshire Dales or other hill country you'll see lots of sheep and they're again out in their natural environment helping to maintain the beauty of the countryside through their grazing. They really are a wonder.

In our house we love making lamb stew, curry and even sausage. I've written about it before if you want to search for it. And we use our mutton the same ways we use lamb and find it delicious. Mmmm sausage! But in much of the west the thought of mutton is almost as repulsive as eating horse meat. Despite the fact that in most of the rest of the world it's very common due simply to availability. It's the same with goat meat. Many young people have just never tried it and their grand parents remember the horrid canned sheep meat produced during WWII that they had to eat because there wasn't anything else available. Why the sudden cull of sheep and other livestock? Because during the war the government couldn't import all the food it had previously relied on so they ordered all available acres of farmland ploughed up to produce grain for human consumption and for growing flax for rope and parachute cords. There simply wasn't the space to just let cattle graze.  It was more efficient and vital to feed the people than the animals and so the sheep who had shaped the rural landscape were canned up and fed to the hungry troops who after eating it day in and day out, often cold and without any seasoning, came to despise it. Despite a history of being eaten the World over we suddenly had a generation who grew up eating chicken, beef and pork with turkey for special occasions. All mass producible meats. And goose, rabbit, duck and lamb were off the menu.

I think other contributing factors were women in the workplace in large numbers who didn't have time and energy to cook large elaborate or time consuming meals and consequently a desire for cheap and easy to source ingredients from a grocery store instead of the garden and their local farmers market or farm gate. If you think about it, the 'super' market that we're all familiar with today really didn't exist before WWII. Then you had the green grocer (veggies), the butcher (meat and fat) and the dry goods store (fabric, flour and other staples). People also grew their own produce and kept a few hens for eggs and that was normal. We were connected in a much more intimate way to our food and it was 'slow food'. I know it's trendy now but back then that's just how it was. Macaroni and cheese involved actual cheese and an oven, not a box. Children knew how to shell peas and where to find the potatoes in the cellar. I'm not advocating for a return to some imaginary idyllic way of life but anything we can do to connect with our food, especially for our children I think builds both a sense of belonging and self-worth when you can grow some yourself. Being self-sufficient and learning to grow and cook even one meal a week all by yourself is a wonderful thing! A very tangible and life sustaining success.

If you grow lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes (maybe you won them in the contest announced yesterday) and raised 4 hens who lay you eggs, you're well on your way to a Denver omelet with garden salad. That's a family supper one day a week that maybe took 2 hours in total labour and was fun too. We call it 'chicken TV' when we sit and watch the hens just going about their lives doing the things chickens do. So how hard would it be for you to do something like that? I'd love to be able to help people set this kind of thing up and it's so easy! People use them as therapy for their children so why doesn't every family have one? It builds a sense of responsibility and confidence and connectedness to nature that so many of us lack.

Growing herbs is also cheap and easy. If you have them in pots that fit on your windowsill it's possible to cook with fresh herbs all year round. And you can dry your surplus for those recipes that dry herbs work well in. I'll confess I was sneaking leaves of baby basil in my greenhouse the other day and that flavour burst in your mouth is SOOOOO delicious! Especially after a long winter without. I can hardly wait for that first batch of pesto.

Well I'm making myself hungry now so I'm going to get dressed and head out into the greenhouse to re-pot some seedlings. They go on sale soon at the Country Store in Middleton this week as soon as I get my stuff together and get them delivered and labelled.

Have a wonderful day. I'm picking up bees this evening so I'll let you know how that all goes. Maybe there will be some pics of us hopping around if a bee gets inside our suits lol.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Stampede!! And a Contest.

No, we're not going to Calgary in July, although it would be great to break out my hat and boots for what amounts to a 10 day Stampede party each summer. Gosh I miss that!

We had a stampede here at the farm and consequently a death. Graphic pics follow so be warned. Sorry if you're reading this blog for the first time and this is the introduction you're getting. Stick with us! We said we'd be honest and let you know the good and the bad things that happened, well this would just be one of those accidents. I think our wwoofer is a little traumatised by the whole thing.

The escape artist black faced sheep we have called Houdini got out again, and when the guys opened the gate to get her back in the field, the other sheep got out. Sheep milling around in a small area is never a good idea, and with basically 44 hooves running and stomping around, you just know someone's coming off worse for wear. Usually it's my toes. Well, poor Frosty the rooster was found dead when the sheep went back in the field after eating my roses to stubs (bloody sheep!)

Eulogy for a Rooster.

Poor Ol' Frosty. He was a good Rooster.
Frosty lived a good and adventurous life free-ranging here at the farm from the day he hatched until Monday afternoon. He was one of the original roosters who survived the great cull of '13 by hiding behind the woodpile until the butcher had left. He survived again in '14 by being the only 'nice' rooster and gained the name Frosty for his refusal to enter the coop at night and thereby getting frostbite one cold blizzardy February day when we couldn't catch him. He was friendly, loved his ladies, and we'll all miss his gibbled walk and strangled cries as the sun rises each morning. Love you Frosty, have fun in Heaven! We'll miss you buddy.

Today is another pouring rainy day. It's steady now but was absolutely chucking it down earlier when I was out. It's hard not to get wet. The ducks loved it this morning but by noon were safely back in their house enjoying the dry bedding I'm sure. The stream/pond is back so they at least are enjoying a paddle in the yard whenever they want until it dries up again.
Sausages in Batter on the stove.
Watching them root through and dig up bugs and beetles is fascinating and also somewhat gross as they snort mud and water out of their nostrils. I think the rain is supposed to stop sometime tomorrow which is great because I've got several dozen raspberries I'd like to plant in the garden as well as peas and lettuce. The soil will have cooled down again with this wet weather so I'll have to wait a week or more before I can get beans in just in case they rot in the soil. It's the same with corn, you need warmth so that they sprout before they just rot out. I'll probably aim for a dry week in mid June for beans and corn. Then I'll underplant the corn with squash once the corn is about 6 inches high. If you plant at the same time the squash have a tendency to smother out the growing stalks so I'm just giving the corn a little bit of a head start.

It's cool in the house, being a high of 8 degrees today, so I lit a fire and cooked lunch. Toad in
Comfort food on a cool wet day.
the Hole! Yum! For those of you who aren't English, this would be sausages cooked in Yorkshire pudding batter. Now making this in the oven is a snap. Bt since I still don't have a working oven I decided to try it on the top of the woodstove. And it worked after a fashion. I heated the stove up first for an hour, used a lid to keep the heat in but it fogged up a lot so I vented it regularly. After all was said and done it worked but wasn't as puffy as usual, it was delicious, and used no electricity. I just served it with gravy and lots of carrots. We were so happy to have a nice warm lunch and be sitting in the warm kitchen that I totally forgot to take a photo of the finished product before we scarfed it down. It was cooked enough, but only half puffy and not browned on top. Still delicious though as evidenced by the fact there's not one crumb left over!

It's at least dry in the greenhouse where the chicks are hanging out suntanning under their heat lamp. I've got my tomatoes about a third potted and ready for sale and the rest I've been procrastinating. It looks like I'm going to have extras so I propose a challenge to you all, my lovely readers.

Contest closes June 6th, 2015. But feel free to comment anyways :)

Write to me and tell me the 3 most important things you have learned, or 3 things you would like to learn about homesteading and I'll enter you in a draw for a dozen of my best plants. Peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. Sound like a good deal? Now I realize that many of you will read this after the end of June and I'd still love the feedback. Or if you win and live far away (hello New Zealand and India!) I'll send you seeds so you can grow your very own plants for next season or a gardening book. I know some countries don't allow me to mail seeds. I'd love to meet fellow Annapolis Valley Farmers as well and also get some more ideas of what you'd all like to hear about. Life at the farm can sometimes be just more of the same old same old so you're helping keep me inspired. Either comment on the blog or email me. I can't wait to hear form you!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Growing Potatoes

All over the world the humble potato is a staple of the human diet. I'm sure you know it's history but a quick re-cap might be fun. Peru and Bolivia can boast as being home of the potato. All cultivars in the world be they red, white, purple or yellow all trace back to a single ancestor in the Andes region of South America. About 400 years ago the potato began to be spread back to the old world by explorers and colonizing armies. Since the potato will adapt itself to many different climates you can find potatoes growing the world over in many unique colours and shapes. From Banana Fingerling to Purple Prince, they rule supreme among vegetables and are in fact the fourth most consumed food behind maize, wheat and rice. Potatoes are an important food for many humans. Especially those of us in cooler climates with slightly acidic soils such as North America and Europe. One of the other things that made potatoes so popular is the easy of storing seed. Our pioneer ancestors could simply keep some smaller potatoes in the root cellar and then use them for seed the following year. Given the rise in potato diseases in the 21st century, almost all potatoes grown in Canada are now from certified disease free stocks. We don't often see it, but there are areas of the country where it's illegal to bring in any outside potatoes in order to keep the local growers stocks disease free. Pemberton, BC is one such valley, and that's where Grandma Janet's family potato farm is still growing potatoes.

Here in Canada there are many potato varieties available for growing in our climate but you might be asking yourself "Why bother?" After all, potatoes are cheap to buy in the store and available all year round. They're arguably one of the cheapest food in the store if you're buying russets in a 10lb bag. Really, I think the cheapest foods price wise are bananas, potatoes, cabbage, turnips, rice and beans. And they're the staples in lots of peoples diets along with bread.

Here in the Annapolis Valley many people say it's not worth growing potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers or apples because they're all grown commercially right here and so they're uncommonly cheap. And that's true. But what you're missing out on is the selection. I've written about the endless apple varieties available in the world and how commercially we only have access to maybe 20. Probably less in your grocery store. Potatoes along with other produce and especially apples and tomatoes are grown commercially with 3 criteria in mind:

uniformity of size and shape
transportability (doesn't bruise easily)
good storage qualities

As a consumer I'm sure you'd agree that my top reasons for buying something are flavour and nutrition. And neither of those is the priority of the people growing my food. Consequentially we miss out of the glorious varieties of colours, shapes, flavours and textures of tomatoes, apples, lettuce, you name it! This is where growing your own can really come into play. Sure, let someone grow lettuce for you but take the time and grow your own tomatoes. You'll get such a better choice of varieties and can peak them at peak flavour and ripeness. Oh they're so good!

But I digress. Back to Potatoes!

Potatoes come in 3 basic textures. Those that are smooth when cooked (some people call them waxy), those that are dry and fluffy, and those that are between the two, often called dual-purpose. Examples would be most new potatoes are of the smooth varieties. They keep their shape when cooking so they're great for stews and are higher in moisture content and lower in starch which makes them very dense.  A russet potato would be a good example of a fluffy variety. Fluffy potatoes are your typical baked potato and are also used for fries, wedges,  and mashed potatoes. They break up easily when cooked and also hold more sauce. They're low in moisture and high in starch which also makes them generally better keepers. And there are the middle of the road multi-purpose potatoes which can be used for either purpose. Yukon Gold is a variety that falls into the dual-purpose category. They're waxy but still roast well. My point is that each variety has different flavours and textures and if you find one you really like, why not grow it in your garden? Gourmet varieties of potatoes can be very expensive so they are definitely worth growing yourself, plus the flavours when freshly dug are quite delicious. Even the old standby Russet is more flavourful right out of the garden. What better way to entertain your friends than a 'pick your own supper' party?

This year we're growing Green Mountain, Purple Chief, Russet Burbank, Eramosa and another variety I forget the name of. We've a mix of early and late season with some designed to be our main crop for selling and others for our personal storage. We have enough room in our garden to be able to grow several different types and they're planted in rows to make them easier to care for as far as weeding goes. If we should chance to get a late blight, and it's always a good possibility here in Nova Scotia, having the room between rows allows for better air circulation to dry off the leaves after it rains and also for us to walk up should it be necessary to spray them with a copper sulphate solution called a Bordeaux mix.  Yes, it's certified organic. It's the same type of spray traditionally used on grapes to prevent fungal diseases. Blight spores live in the soil and are also airborne so if there's an outbreak of blight, lots of people will get it. It's one of the reasons we rotate our crops each year, to help lessen and avoid diseases of our plants within our garden.

So, what's the best way to plant potatoes? Here's how we plant ours:

1. Dig a trench. The deeper the better in good soil but really any depth of trench will work.

2. Plant the seed potatoes 12 inches or 1 foot apart all along the row.

3. Cover the seed potatoes with soil that's at least 6 inches deep and water them deeply once a week if it doesn't rain. Potatoes require about 2 inches of rain a week in the main growing season in our slightly sandy soil. Your soil may be different.

4. As the plants grow, mound or hill more soil against their roots. Mulch and well rotted manure also make good materials to side dress your potatoes with and help to keep down the weeds. Potato plants produce their tubers (the potatoes you eat) along the stems of the plant. That's one of the reasons you continue to pile soil up along the plants when they're growing. It helps to keep the tubers from turning green and gives more stem area under ground to produce more potatoes for you to eat. It's called hilling when you rake soil up to partially cover the plants and leave their tops exposed.

Nothing much to show, just rows of turned earth.
5. Harvest. Potatoes are ready to harvest as early or new potatoes when the plants are flowering for one week and as main crop potatoes once the tops die down. When we're ready to harvest we use a fork to dig out the potatoes and then leave them on top of the soil for a day so that the skins set, or toughen up. It helps the potatoes last longer in storage. Before placing them in storage we carefully check them for bruises and holes where someone has accidentally skewered them the fork (it happens a lot). We eat the imperfect ones first, usually as a giant bowl of potato salad made according to Grandma Janet's special family recipe. Yum! When we're digging up early potatoes we just dig them out, wash them off and boil them until tender. There's something special about the first potatoes and peas out of the summer garden.I can't wait until they pop their heads up out of the ground in a few weeks. Until then there's not much to see.