Friday, June 29, 2018

Welcoming July

  With some interesting swings in temperature we are having a corresponding interesting time in the garden. Things are growing, albeit slowly, and some but not all of the plants have recovered from the heavy freeze we had at the beginning of June. Parts of Nova Scotia and Nfld got wet snow only a few days ago but after today we will be complaining about the heat I'm sure. If there's one thing gardeners have in common, it's a desire for good weather. In my perfect world it would rain from Midnight Sunday to Midnight Monday with a nice steady rain to give everything a good soaking and then be warm and sunny with a light breeze the rest of the week. Nova Scotia does give us rain but not necessarily on schedule, lol. It's been a very dry July and even the weeds are turning crispy in the walkways around the farm. 

  The weeds are growing well so it's all hands on deck for weeding and continued planting. Soon we'll be thinking about winter veggie plants and out of season crops will be started such as leeks and carrots for overwintering, the second crop of sweet potato slips and melons will go in plus more tomatoes under cover in the greenhouse. Our wwoofers Brian P and Ali have helped us put up a shade tarp in the greenhouse over my workbench which is keeping it drier when it rains (no more drips down the back of my neck) and much cooler out of the beating sun. The plants that we are going to put on the sunny south side include heat loving plants such as melons trained vertically, cucumbers and sweet potatoes. The winter veggies will replace them later in the fall. Prep work involves removing the pens used for the ducks this spring then watering it before tilling it over. It's so dry we have to water or else the dust cloud generated would be awful. 

  Thoughts are already turning to nursery plants and perennials for next year. With the new seed starter heated box, furnace in the greenhouse and shelving units we should be able to streamline and increase efficiency for the production of tomato plants and all the other things we grow. The herbs selection will expand and I already know to grow more cherry tomatoes. It's nice to see things growing. We're talking about ways to use the space at Annavale Co-Op Country Store more efficiently and expanding the line of trees and shrubs we offer. All that requires work right now to get the seeds and plants rooted. I can cut haskap, raspberry and grapes this fall and look around for other cuttings I can take. 

  Well I'm off to bed. I've been sick with pneumonia and need some rest because I'm not getting better fast enough for my liking. Hope you are all well and having a lovely summer. 


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Frosts in June

The weather in Nova Scotia not only took a dramatic urn for the worst, we've had a sustained freeze of -4 degrees C one night and now patchy frost. It is apparently 1 degree right now though we have ice formed on the windows and plastic of the unheated greenhouses. I am so very grateful that we have Agrobon to use as frost blankets because it does afford some small degree of protection to the plants below and I'm especially grateful that we have a diversified farm with a minimally heated greenhouse.

First, the greenhouse. As some of you know, Steph took the old non-functional oil furnace out of our mobile home (we couldn't use it anyways) and got it all taken apart, repaired and working again. Now it is set up on concrete blocks in the greenhouse with a digital controller and thermostat. The thermostat is at the opposite end from the furnace and is currently set to 3 degrees. Once it gets below that the furnace turns on and heats the place up until the temperature is reading 6 degrees at the far end, then it shuts off again. We're not trying to have a hot house but merely to stop things from getting cold enough to stop growing or suffer frost damage. I think it's well worth the few litres of furnace oil we're using. Last night we kept the frost off the plants and the firnace kicked in twice so it likely ised less than a litre of oil which costs about $1.25. The ducklings, chicks and geese who are using the other side of the greenhouse as their temporary living quarters appreciate the added early morning heat I'm sure too. The greenhouse does hold some measure of heat overnight but by about 4-5am it's getting close to the outside temperature so having the furnace run a few times keeps it just warm enough that the plants appreciate it and as soon as the sun comes over the hill you can see the temperature rise rapidly. I open the door fairly early in the day so that the rise in temperature is more gradual as I think it is better for the plants to go from quite cool to hot more slowly and not over the course of an hour.

Second, diversification. We admire the apple growers and the vineyards around the valley but this isn't a year I'd want to be one. Due to the deep freeze at flowering and budding time, farmers are estimating a 50-75% crop loss for the year. While the plants, vines and trees  will likely recover and night actually do well with a year of rest, the businesses still have expenses and people to pay and now will have limited income for the year. I'm sure the bigger operations have crop insurance but smaller farms, hobby farms and home growers  who lose their income or food supply are basically out of luck. It's not so bad if you've got some extra plants (we didn't plant all our tomatoes, squash and basil thank goodness) and we still have enough time to re-plant beans and corn if we use early varieties that take less time to grow. But of course it delays the veggie boxes again which is really frustrating.

Despite being in a warming period globally I guess weird weather is to be expected. There's a few things we can do such as covering plants, having extra seeds on hand and planting at different times to spread out the harvest and the risk of losing them, and choose different varieties. We found that some tomato varieties were a bit more frost hardy than others.

Time to go bake bread for the farmers market and pack the truck. It's up to 2 degrees now.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Chicks & Exploding Eggs

Spring is the time for hatching eggs. As you'll see from our previous blog we have chicks and lots of eggs in our incubators.Have you ever thought about how amazing it is that a chick can develop from an egg in just 21 days? Or a few more if it's a duck, turkey or emu. This short video is really interesting and definitely worth a view or two, I really liked it and it's suitable for kids.

This morning we have a lot fewer eggs though because I noticed quite a bad smell coming from the living room and that's saying something because I have a sinus cold! Well, I'm deeply grateful for my decreased sense of smell because when I got everything sorted out I had several rotten eggs that had exploded and made a horrific mess. Luckily, I was a bit suspect of the eggs because they were VERY dirty so I'd kept them all together and had a cover over them just in case. Well, it took a couple of hours but I got 54 eggs out of the incubator and out of the whole lot I think I kept 7 to see if they'll actually hatch though I suspect 2 are not good. I'm trying to be optimistic. My other incubator is doing great. We've got the next batches coming along nicely. The big one is now all cleaned up and the second batch of eggs (from the same person) is now in, but this time I'll candle them more frequently and I washed half of them with hydrogen peroxide as it's supposed to increase the hatch rate. I'll keep track and let you know. Well there you go, I always said I'd let you know things NOT to do, having exploded eggs is something I'd not care to repeat. So I recommend that you candle your eggs at days 10, 15 and 20. I use a phone App called Hatchabatch that you can follow development and it will send you reminders for candling and when to set up your brooder. I find it very helpful.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Freeze, Bake, Freeze, Rain ... Spring Weather

The weather has been crazy recently making growing just that bit more difficult and time consuming. Things are freezing at night, overheating during the sunny days, and it's been windy and snowing intermittently. I'm headed out soon to open all the greenhouse vents and put the plants out to get some sunlight and tonight I'll spend a half hour or more putting them all back away in their heated sprouter so they don't freeze. It's frustrating. But, things are growing so that makes me very happy. Soon it'll be time to transplant seedlings, fill the nursery greenhouse and start selling for the season! I can hardly wait.

This afternoon my plan is to begin bagging up strawberry, raspberry and blackberry canes and get them ready to sell. Then it's cooking supper (vegan shepherds pie) and lots of household projects including making marmalade. Definitely a busy afternoon and evening ahead so this entry will be brief.

Plans are still in the works to dig a pond this year and to landscape the front of the property but as usual, the vegetable garden comes first. With our manure piles ready to be applied there's no shortage of work and we're hoping to find a couple of willing wwoofers to come and help us out for a couple of weeks. Fingers crossed.

Our chicks are all doing well, I'll add another video in the next few days for you to see their beautiful colours as their feathers are coming in. 

What are you all doing to get ready for Spring?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Hatching, Sprouting and Snowing, March at Humblebee.

We've been enjoying a very mild and relatively snowless Winter in 2018 but today it's snowing with a vengeance and mazingly the schools are still open despite very slippery roads. My guess is that the school authorities thought this would turn into rain before long but it hasn't. That's okay, it's not quite Spring yet. I had a nice hot breakfast of fried potatoes, egg foo yong and onions so now my tummy is happy and warm.

Regardless of the current weather we have to be thinking ahead to planting season and especially we have to think about having plants ready for sale in the nursery in a matter of weeks. It's tricky because each variety takes a different amount of time to germinate and grow, plus once they are starting to grow they need light and the greenhouse is still getting down to below freezing at night. So what are we going to do?

For the young plants we are going to have a partition in the main greenhouse that's got a heat source for those days and nights when it's cold. That's a project for next weekend. But the unit for getting the seeds germinated is built and officially called the Sprouter. It's far bigger than the shelf unit we had last year. We had an issue with it maintaining the temperature last year, cool at night and too hot during the day so the changes we made this year are that it's a wooden box and we've insulated it with fibreglass not just to keep it warmer but because it will also help control the airflow and shade it from overheating on sunny days. Helping to even out the fluctuations in temperature will really assist in germination.

Along with the seed sprouter we have a home made incubator full of eggs that’s scheduled to hatch at the beginning of April so stay tuned! Life is returning to the farm so Spring must be coming.

Hatching Eggs & Homemade Incubator

Note to readers, this was written in March and updated April 3rd, 2018.

It's another -15c freezing cold morning out there. Hard to believe in January it was +15c. Still, the march towards Spring 2018 continues with planting galore, and new life in the incubator. So much new life that Steph has actually built me a much larger incubator so now I have room for many many more eggs and a hatcher and brooder inside as well.

Incubators are essentially mimicking the warmth, humidity and movements of the mother bird so re-creating them isn't terribly difficult. You need an environment that has approx 99.5 degrees f (37.5c) about 50% humidity, and you must turn the eggs regularly until a few days prior to hatching. If you've followed us for  while you will  have seen our styrofoam cooler made into an incubator using a thermostat and a lightbulb. It worked reasonably well but had a limited capacity. Our newer model is a small fridge that we picked up in a junk pile at the side of the road last spring. It has two headlight bulbs from an old car as the heat source, fans that already existed in the fridge, and Steph put on a digital controller that maintains the temperature between 99 and 100 degrees so that the average is 99.5 and the fans circulate the air. The unit is overloaded with eggs right now so the airflow isn't ideal but we are still seeing growth inside the eggs so we are excited to see how our hatches go over the next few weeks.Oh, there is a little piece of insulation on the back to cover the wiring but not to restrict the airflow.

The cost for the fridge conversion is:
Fridge body
Insulation ........$1                      Total Cost $26.   Capacity 4-6 dozen.
Controller .......$25

Our next model is similar to both the incubator above and the giant seed sprouting unit that we have for our plants. It has an electric fan heater as the heat source, a digital controller that turns the heat on and off, and various shelves inside at different levels for incubating (trays full of growing eggs), hatching (trays of eggs that do not get turned) and then two areas for brooding where the newly hatched chicks go to dry off, stay warm and learn to eat and drink for the first week or so. We used one sheet of 1/4" OSB, one 2x4 cut down into 2x2, some drywall screws, hardware cloth to provide airflow space around the insides of the box, hinges and a latch, plus a heater we already owned and of course the requisite $25 controller. The box measures 2'x2' and is 4' tall and has R-12 insulation around the outside and vapour barrier, plus a door seal make out of a piece of vapour barrier plastic.

Total cost for the bigger box is:

Box .....................$15                  Capacity 20 dz incubating + 10 dozen hatching
Hardware ...........$ 6                   + 20 dozen in the brooder compartments
Insulation ...........$10
Heater (new).......$22
Hardware cloth...$ 4                  Total value new = $72.00 Cdn.
Controller ...........$25

In reality, we already had the OSB, panels that got cut to make the ends and the shelves, the heater and the hardware cloth. I bought screws, hinges and a latch for a grand total of $6 and the controller for $25. We may also put a fan in there similar to the one on the sprouter to help circulate the air from top to bottom and they're $12 each. All-in-all it's a great and simple project. I'm going to ask Steph to put together a video or an e-book so that you can go ahead and build your own for  fraction of the cost of buying a unit new. You should get a hygrometer to measure humidity and a couple of good thermometers as well and then you’re all set. Ours works very well and hatched chicks on April 2/3 2018.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Getting Good Help - WWOOF

Many of you know that in addition to our family, we have volunteers who stay at the farm over the summer. We call them wwoofers. But what is WWOOF?

WWOOF is a country specific, international program that matches farmers and gardeners with volunteers who are willing to exchange work for room & board. It stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. A typical stay is 2 weeks and they typically get 3 meals per day, 5 hours per day of work 5 days per week. But we’ve recently heard of much longer days and little or no time off. But at our place it’s 5 days per week with Monday and Tuesday off and 9-1 for a workday. But it’s a farm, so we’re flexible depending on weather and necessity. Sometimes you need to take the day off if it’s pouring with rain or stormy and if livestock have escaped it’s all hands on deck!

 We have been really lucky over the past decade or so that we have been involved in WWOOF, to have met and stayed friends with many amazing young people from  all around the world. They have come from a variety of backgrounds including nurses, teachers, computer programmers, financiers, social workers, students, authors, and just people in general who want to learn more about farming. I think there is a mistaken idea that the woofers we have at the farm are all young people or students with nothing better to do than travel around Canada trading labour for room and board. But that could not be further from the truth. In my experience  these are people of different ages and life experiences who have a genuine desire to learn something either about farming, about themselves, or about their place in the world. And being on a small family farm is certainly good place to learn some of those things.

Why do we have WWOOFERS?

 We primarily have Wwoofers to help Elizabeth with the farm tasks that require many hands or some of the bending and stooping she’s not easily able to do anymore. And it’s always easier and more fun to do tasks with a friend. While there is a certain amount of learning and breaking-in of new people, we have still found it to be really worthwhile for many reasons other than the free labor, which isn’t really free because you still have to provide them with some entertainment, a cozy place to live, and good food. It doesn't take people long to settle into the daily routine.

 Having young people around the farm from different places in Canada and the world also brings new cultural and personal perspectives that make for amazing dinner conversation! I would have to say that personally my favourite part of wwoof is learning about other cultures and exploring new social ideas. When you live rurally  there’s a certain tendency to get stuck in your ways and as we don’t have television we miss out on some of the popular culture that naturally evolves in the cities. Not that that’s a bad thing, I love the fact that I have no idea who most of the people are in the tabloids. But it does mean that you could miss out on new and interesting ideas.  Talking to Wwoofrs about their life experiences and their culture is almost like a way of traveling without leaving home. And I credit this for one of the reasons that my children are very tolerant of other people and interested in different cultures, simply from their exposure to such a variety.

So what are the drawbacks having woofers . Let's not kid ourselves, we're all human and therefore flawed. Most Wwoofers are great. But every now and again you get someone whose personality just does not mesh with yours. And that’s ok. Some people just don't show up (the #1 complaint hosts have) leaving you with a fridge full of expensive groceries and no help. Sometimes you meet people you find irritating or who are very bossy and controlling. And it’s not that these people aren’t good at other things they’re just not good team players, and that is what a small farm it’s all about; a balance of self determination and teamwork. I think the most important thing is that prospective wwoofers and hosts need to know is that the following things can help you to be successful:
1.  Good food
2.  Safe and warm accommodation (internet does help)
3.  Good communication. Clear expectations are very helpful.
                Explaining work clearly and demonstrating your method
                Be honest about the work. If it’s hard or long days, say so.
                Talk over and resolve problems or needs right away
4. Be open to new cultures, foods and ideas.
5. Ask for feedback and keep an open dialogue.
6. Respect peoples limitations. If people have never done manual labour then
                blisters will ensue and if you don't understand that some young   
                people really need internet it can build resentment.
7. Read Read Read. Learn about wwoofing and hosting from people who have
               done it and are doing it. 

Wwoofers will still come if the work is hard or the days are long, they will still come if you don’t have 5-star accommodation, they will still come if you live miles from town. Everyone is looking for something new and different and your farm might be just what they’re looking for. Be clear about what you offer, this isn’t a personal ad you should gloss over. The emails and messages sent before the stay begins are a great way to get a feel for each other.

WWOOF is primarily an exchange of labour for skills and knowledge. But it’s so much more than that. It’s personal, it’s cultural, it can be the beginning of a lifelong friendship. And we love it!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Preparing for 2018 Growing/CSA

January in Nova Scotia is a good time for planning the seeds we need, the projects and the growing we want to do for 2018.

So, here are some of the plans.

CSA. Unlike previous years when we've run a conventional CSA where you pay upfront, this year we're going to offer a Pay-As-You-Go Veggie Box. It's pretty much the same thing but instead of committing to us by paying upfront (which you can still do if you'd like to) we are going to offer a selection of veggies in season already packed in a box for you to pick up. You can order the week ahead to guarantee your box or take your chances and see if we have some still available at the farmers markets we go to. It's essentially CSA without the upfront cost. It does make planning a little trickier for us so we will potentially have more wastage but we're partnering with the Upper Room Foodbank in Kingston to take any surplus so it will go to good use.

We plan on being at the following venues for 2018 on a regular basis:

Saturdays     8am-2pm    Wilmot Frenchys in the adjacent community sale.
Saturdays     9am-1pm    Harbourville at the North Mountain Market
Thursdays     9-10 am      Annavale Country Store in Middleton at the Nursery
Thursdays     10:30-4pm  Greenwood Mall Farmers Market

We will have one pickup location in Lower Sackville near the Cobequid Bus Terminal if anyone is interested. And possibly another pickup location on Main Street in Bridgetown.

Starter plants will be available for pick up at the markets beginning in April/May and will be available for pick up during regular store hours Mon-Sat at Annavale in Middleton. These will include veggie plants, herbs, tomatoes and peppers, flowers and fruits such as raspberries, strawberries etc. We will post a list of available varieties early enough for you to reserve the ones you'd like. Please bear in mind that the rare and specialty ones are always snapped up early. We will have soft fruits, berries and fruit trees available also.

This year we're going to continue with our line of breads and soup mixes all year long at the markets. We will add plants, veggies, fruits and flowers as they come and we will have a lot more flowers this year so bunches will be available nearly every week.

I'm off now to plan the rest of my orders. Have a wonderful day.