Sunday, February 28, 2016

Greenhouse Restoration

We were very fortunate to be able to not only get a lot of lumber for framing greenhouses but also a metal framed one that was damaged in the snow last winter. Why was it damaged? It was in a location that collected a lot of snow and the weight collapsed one side, bending and breaking the gable ends. But thanks to my awesome friend Colby and my amazing husband Steve, they're cutting and bending metal pipe, forming splices and making new pieces and the greenhouse will have a new life. It will also have reinforced anchoring, purlins to strengthen the walls and rebuilt roof pieces. We will also be keeping an eye on he angle of he roof to see how it ends water and snow. Keeping the roof free of snow is important to a greenhouse in the winter and so is keeping he fallen snow way from the walls. There is a tendency to just leave the piles of snow that slide off the roof but they can cause pressure on the side walls so it's better to keep it all dug out if you can. 

Why are we going to all the time and trouble to fix up a greenhouse when we could just take our loan money and buy a brand new one? Well, we want to use our resources wisely and that includes using our brains and muscles when we can, and using our money when we have to. The amount of money saved by fixing this up ourselves will allow us to build two more greenhouse frames. We did not cheap out on the plastic that goes on a greenhouse and bought the proper 6mil 4year UV protected film. The amount of effort needed to re-cover a greenhouse makes this option worth it for sure plus regular super six vapour barrier may only last a single season. I will say it's definitely worth shopping around for the plastic. For the same rolls we got quotes $350 different in price. Take your time. Do your research. And make decisions that work for your individual situation. For us that means reusing and recycling where we can. And hopefully by the end of the day we'll have a greenhouse to show for it. 😊

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Spring Rains

Due to a few warm and windy days all the snow is now gone and everything's sopping wet. The ducks are loving it but it's a bit wet for we humans.

 Being careful not to turn everything into a mud pit is important this time of year as the ground thaws and freezes. Certainly work on the garden can't happen until we have lots more good drying days. But that's okay because the weathers not quite warm enough yet anyways. Our seedlings are started in the house and once the greenhouse is ready to go again it'll be full of shelves of the tomatoes and everything we need to start early. Most seeds like to germinate at about 21 degrees so a warm room indoors serves that purpose then the still tender seedlings move to a nice warm greenhouse once the weather has passed the freezing mark. We're not quite there yet. Sure, we could heat the greenhouse, but it's not really worth it this time of year. Better to wait for a bit longer and be patient. I will be putting the small wood stove out of the barn into the greenhouse but it's not going to be enough to protect against a freeze should the weather get really cold. 

Getting our CSA up and running has been keeping us all busy. The website is now 90% functional and can be found at   We hope you'll have a look and tell us what you think. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Planning our Beds

Long before we even dig a fork into the ground, we plan out our crops for the year. Each bed gets used for multiple plants and we take into consideration crop rotations, weather, bed location ie. sunny or shaded, availability for CSA members, growing and cropping times. There's actually a lot of thought that goes into the planting of 54 beds plus the greenhouses. As you can see, I'm just in the beginnings of putting everything from my sheets of paper into one spreadsheet. It should help me keep better records and aid in rotation for the next 6 years too. Having the spreadsheet also means that when it's done I can glance down a particular month, say August, and I know what to plant, what to harvest, and I can make sure our veggie boxes have a good mix of produce. Being able to alter the list can be helpful and printability is also useful. Well back to work for me. Spring will be here before we know it and I want to be ready. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Warm then cold then melting then snow

Yes the weather has been up and down this week warm enough to melt everything and cause the rivers to flood and then it got cold and we had freezing rain, ice pellets and then a bunch of snow. Fun hey? But rather than panic we just salted the driveway Steve went out early this morning to shovel. He's over at the church cleaning with the kids and I'm here making lunch. Perfect for a cool day is split pea soup with some nice fresh bread. And it's so simple to make! 

Place in a heavy pot with a lid:

2 chopped onions and 1 tbsp oil. 
Fry until lightly golden.

1 pound split peas
2 litres of chicken stock or water 
1 bouillon cube if using water
2 bay leaves
Leftover ham steak cut into cubes
Dash pepper and herbs. I like bouquet garni or herbes des Provence. 

I simmer gently on top of the stove for about an hour, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn't stick to the pot. Pea soup has a tendency to separate into layers with a thick layer of peas on the bottom and liquid on top. Cooking at low heat means you won't scorch your peas with occasional stirring. 

Be sure to remove the bay leaves before serving. They can taste quite bitter if accidentally crunched. And for really fast soup (my five minute method) grind the peas into flour in your grain mill then follow the above directions. Stirring frequently. Voila! Pea soup in five minutes. 

Today I'm doing the long boil method. I like a nice chunky pea soup and I'm using a jar of our mixed green and yellow peas. We had a small piece of ham steak left over from a ham steak stew I made this week. It was perhaps 2x5x.5 inches and I just cubed it and threw it in. Once it's done cooking I'll check to see what it needs for salt. Pea soup is one of those dishes that benefits from a little salt and I add mine near the end of cooking. Same with freshly ground pepper. I put a little in at the beginning and then I grind some fresh on top of each bowl. 

Well there you have it. Pea soup day! 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How to eat for less in a world of expensive veggies.

I had a great chat with my dad last week and then with my son Jordan about the price of veggies and eating well. And this morning on Facebook a friend of mine in one of our groups answered the question of "do you support and buy local" by saying that he bought what he could afford, mostly canned vegetables, processed foods and pasta. He's a senior on a fixed income and I think he represents a lot of people who have to eat and don't have a lot of money. 

When cauliflowers $7 per head people freaked out and all the national newspapers in Canada carried stories about rising food costs. It was the big news story of the week and everyone was interested because let's face it, we all eat. 

So what's causing these price shocks? The majority of our imported produce is paid for in US dollars and with the current exchange rate that means things cost more. It's winter, and there's little local produce available. And people have forgotten how to eat seasonally. We don't prepare ahead of time by storing out of season foods and we expect bananas, strawberries and lettuce to be available year round. How can we complain about the price of lettuce being $4 when it has to come all the way from South America? Of course it's going to cost more. 

I'm not saying we shouldn't eat lettuce in the winter but what we should do is focus our diets on what is local and available. For us in the Maritimes that means roots, cabbage, leeks, potatoes etc. Andy's squash right now is 33 cents a pound. Potatoes are 25 cents a pound and carrots and turnips remain pretty steady year round at under a dollar a pound. Once you've got the basics covered you can add in the lettuce and tomatoes etc. Even frozen vegetables like peas and green beans are fairly cheap and retain a lot of their nutrition. 

The $7 cauliflower didn't last. When people asked me what I thought about that situation I said it was simple, wait a week and see if it goes down again (it did). I also told them that now is the perfect time to join a CSA veggie box program like ours. You're essentially doing what the big guys do and pre-buying your vegetables at a fixed price. Your share is paid at the beginning of the season and regardless of what happens you'll get your veggies delivered fresh and on time for 26 weeks. 

I realize not everyone can afford to join a CSA so another great option is growing your own food and learning to store it. There's really nothing quite like a home grown perfectly ripe tomato sliced up in a sandwich or peas right off the vine. If you're finding that seeds are expensive then I recommend you enter our contest and take the seed package as a prize.  It's got some good hardy and productive varieties.

 Now is the time to think about having a garden. If you've never grown one before then start now and every year you'll learn more and more. Talk to friends and neighbours, gardeners are a friendly bunch and will love to take you under their wings. 

Happy Garden Planning. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

CSA Veggie Box Program NS

If you've read my blog for a while you know that we not only have market experience, but we used to do a CSA (community supported agriculture) program where we shared the harvest with our subscribers. We enjoyed the financial support and they loved waking up on a Saturday morning to find fresh produce waiting on their doorstep.

2016 marks the beginning of our new CSA in Nova Scotia. Yes, we will have veggies to deliver to you for 26 weeks starting in May. Our delivery areas will cover the HRM, Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford, Sackville, Porters Lake, Mt Uniacke, Windsor, Kentville, Greenwood, Wilmot, and Bridgetown. We will offer delivery to your door for a fee or have central pick up locations that are convenient and reduce our driving. And in addition to our fresh fruits and veggies we'll be offering meat, eggs, bread, preserves and soap. You can order as much or as little as you like and you're guaranteed good wholesome organic food and locally made goats milk lotions and soaps.

We're still in the planning stages, the CSA is a partnership between 5 farms and since we are all busy with the markets and planning for the coming year it's taken a while to formally get things rolling. But we are taking names for our shares if you're interested and we have decided to cap our shares at 50 for this first year. We will most likely have extra boxes available each week and will sell them to our wait list first and then to our retail partners second. Our goal is to provide the very best quality and service in 2016 and then expand again for the following year.

We will have several different sizes of veggie box available from a small box for singles or occasional veggie eaters right up to an XL box for veggie lovers and larger families. Bread, eggs, preserves etc will be available as a standing order ie. You receive them each week, or you can order by a Wednesday and have them delivered on your next delivery day. Everything will be on our website soon and I'll add a link here once it's working.

If you're interested in getting your name on the list, please email me. Contact details in the tab above. Or leave me a comment. As soon as we have things ready to roll we will let you know. Probably in the next ten days.

To answer a few questions I've been asked so far:

Yes, we can split the payments for you. Half when you sign up and half by June 1st.
Yes, we can take credit cards and eTransfer, cash or cheque.
Yes, we are registered farms and have our HST number, but there's no HST on anything you buy from us, makes a nice change doesn't it?
Yes, your share is transferable. If you're going on vacation and do not want your delivery for a week or two you can either let someone else come and get it for you or you can donate your share to the local food bank. We support both Kingston and Nictaux.  If you move or are posted we recommend letting us know and we can offer your share to someone on the waiting list. We would pro-rate the amount, charge them and when they pay we'd send you that amount as a refund.
Any unclaimed shares (it's strange but sometimes people don't come to pick up) will be donated unless other arrangements are made prior to delivery.
Yes, if you really hate a certain vegetable such as tomatoes, we will do our best to substitute for something else in your share, but please understand that with lots of shares to pick, sort and pack each week we may make a mistake occasionally or may not have a lot to substitute. We will do our best.
No, we've never missed a delivery. But if really bad weather happens it's normal to have some crop damage. We try to plan ahead for this by planting in different locations and lots of variety, but an early summer snow could mean you just get a lot of hardy greens in your box that week. We always try our best to deliver a good variety and it changes as the seasons roll around. There simply aren't raspberries available in May or November.
Yes, we put out a weekly newsletter detailing the contents of your box, farm events, recipes and uses for your produce, and funny stories.
Yes, you can work off part of your share and pay less. If you're interested in this option just send me a message. Kids are welcome but will require close supervision. We love having our share holders come visit and there will be several social events throughout the year from work days to the annual pig roast, don't worry we'll have lots of vegan food available too.

Spring Traditions - Candlemas and Imbolc

According to Phil the Groundhog and our local Shubenacadie Sam, they didn't see their shadow and therefore we will have an early Spring. What am I talking about? Today is February 2nd, and all over the Northern Hemisphere there are traditions and festivals celebrating the long awaited return of Spring. Crepe day in Belgium and France (not to be confused with pancake day in the UK next week), Candlemas, the end of the Persephone period and in North America Groundhog Day. While there are religious roots in many of these festivals, it being 40 days since the birth of Christ and therefore his presentation at the Temple etc. The universal appeal comes from the fact that Spring is approaching and the days are getting noticeably longer again and so many folk traditions have developed around the arrival of Spring or another 6 weeks of Winter. The story of Imbolc is one I know from my Celtic ancestors. It bears strikingly similarity to other stories. 

It's still not a lot warmer here in Nova Scotia although it's been a mild Winter so far. We're all a little bit paranoid though because last Winter was pretty nice until February when we just got one dump of snow after another until we had over 15 feet. And there's a legendary storm that hit Nova Scotia in 1977 on this date. But this morning has dawned calm and is now beautiful and sunny and it's hard to be grumpy and pessimistic sitting in the sunshine which is just a little higher in the sky and holds a little more warmth. Local tradition shows the practical side of Maritimers, they say that by Groundhog Day you should have half your firewood and half your hay. Last Winter we did, and we actually ran out of hay and had to buy a lot in because we had such a late Spring. Our fields weren't starting to grow until well into May. It's good advice, and we do have about half our firewood still left at the moment. The good thing about that is if it doesn't get used up then it'll be lovely and dry for next Winter.

I'm really looking forward to getting seeds started soon. But resisting the temptation to plant too many too early can be really difficult. If you know you can't plant your stuff out until May, then you don't really want to be planting until the end of March or into April. It's far better to have younger shorter seedlings than to have them all be root bound and tall and leggy. SOme of the seeds I start in February are cool season veggies for planting out in the greenhouse and some of the tomatoes I will use for grafting later. There are also some seeds that can take up to 3 weeks to germinate and they need the extra time. Being organized involves checking the dates you want to transplant and then working backwards to figure the rest our.
     For example: I want to plant my pepper plants out in the field on May 25th. I know that my seedlings will be 8 weeks old when they're transplanted so that brings us back to about March 28th, and I know that typically peppers germinate in 10-21 days so that brings us back to the middle of March. Therefore I know that to have my peppers ready for the end of May I need to plant them around the middle of March. Does that make sense?

So why don't we just start them all now and wait for the weather to be warm enough to plant out? Well, for one we'd quickly run out of room in the greenhouse. Having all those peppers in increasingly bigger pots takes up a lot of room, and they would suffer from not having properly grown out roots. 92 little seedlings in a tray don't take up much space but 92 plants in half gallon pots sure do. The more mature the plant, the more likely it is to suffer transplant shock which can delay plants by several weeks and thereby negate the fact that you started it early. My personal preference is to let plants continue to grow at an even rate and not stump their development along the way. It makes for healthier and more disease resistant plants and better yields.

Planning ahead and writing these things down will really help as we get into the gardening season.

My seed order still isn't in but I'm almost done. Hopefully today or tomorrow. I'm still sick if you can believe that, and it's driving me batty. I'm looking forward to my first greenhouse being built so that I can get more fresh air and sunshine, maybe that will help my lungs. In the meantime I'm just going to dream about warmer days to come and enjoy the sunshine.

Just ten more days to get your entry in for the Spring Contest. What better way to beat the February Blahs than to win something? Just check back a couple of posts ago for the easy contest details.