Well, it’s a done deal! In 2 months we will own this farm house, along with the 40 acres around it. The house is very small so we’ll be looking at putting an addition on it in the very near future. But the property has a lot of exciting benefits too. There is a year-round creek flowing in a gully behind the house. The land is in all hay right now (about 30 acres) and hasn’t been treated chemically in over 10 years. The soil is a well drained silt loam. There’s a very nice, small barn with stalls on the property as well as an older drive-shed. There are many mature fruit and nut trees on the property, which is very exciting. There’s a large English walnut and a heartnut tree in the side yard.
My head is swimming with ideas for this place! 2010 will be a transitional year as we move this summer and I try to put together a cohesive plan for the farm. Finances dictate that I will be working off-farm for some time to come, but there’s a good chance I can work part-time so hopefully by 2011 I’ll be able to get something off the ground. Exciting times!]]>
Well, first an apology: If you were a faithful reader and you happen to still come around and read this, I’m sorry I stopped posting so abruptly. It didn’t seem right to be posting on my farm blog anymore since I had made the decision to take a hiatus from farming. But the time for an update is overdue, so here it goes…
First, we successfully sold our farm near Ottawa and we moved Sept 1. It was sad to leave the place behind even though we were only there for 3 years. I hope some of the work we put into the place will be appreciated by the new owners! We are now (temporarily) located in Kitchener. I was fortunate enough to get a job in Ottawa that transferred at my request to Waterloo so the move was very smooth. From September until now (December) we’ve been scouring southwestern Ontario for suitable farms, trying to determine the balance between many variables (proximity to family, proximity to work, supportive community, something we can afford, etc). The other major event this fall is that we had another baby on Oct 23rd.
Searching for a farm was both fun and frustrating, but it seems that the search may be coming to a close. I hesitate to add too many details here yet because the deal is far from finalized, but it looks like we will be buying a farm very close to St.Thomas. The aerial is shown above. I’m very excited and a little bit scared. It’s 40 acres, probably 25-30 tillable and has a nicely finished (but very small) house. It will be a long commute to my job but I work from home a lot and hopefully in the future my job will be at home!
I’ll post again soon once the deal is finalized.]]>
It’s with a bit of mixed feelings that I announce that we are officially selling our place. We’ve been wavering back and forth all summer about this. The main (and probably only) reason for selling is that we are planning on moving back to Southern Ontario. Both my and my wife’s families are there and we’ve known in the back of our minds that moving back there in the future was a distinct possibility. This past season farming here in Ottawa has been a wonderful experience. If I could move all of our family here, rather than us moving there I would do it in a second. I think the market opportunity for a small vegetable farm in Ottawa is fabulous. I’m a bit scared of the thought of starting the same thing up near London, Ontario where there are far more vegetable farms already and less people overall. But, I think with the right perseverance and planning it can be done.
We’re also going to be very sad to leave behind all the great friends that we’ve made over the past decade living in Ottawa. The consolation for me at least is that I expect to be doing a significant amount of non-farming work in the Ottawa area for some time to come. I would even consider traveling back to Ottawa occasionally for work in order to make starting a farm near London a real possibility
In other news, we’ve been getting a couple light frosts over the past 2 weeks and that has been a good thing for many of the fall crops. The cabbage and carrots have been tasting fabulous. I have been having some difficulty in deciding what should go into the CSA boxes the last 2 weeks mainly because there are just so many different things to choose from. I am trying to balance between giving too much of 1 thing and too many different things (and not enough of any). Feedback on this is welcome.
Tonight we are expecting -1 C and the long term forcast has nights of -2 C in the near future. I’m not really sure where things like beets and carrots get damaged by frost, but I’m starting to think of getting everything out and into the cold room. The cold room is still only 8 C, but in the next couple of weeks the temperature should start to drop in there.
This morning I took out the rest of the potatoes:
I could have easily planted 5 times as many. I stopped bringing them to the market in August already and I’ve only been giving the CSA boxes potatoes every other week. I guess I didn’t expect them to be as popular as they are.
Oh, another bit if news is that I stopped going to both markets (Stittsville and Carleton Place) because we were busy getting the house and yard cleaned up. Instead I decided to expand the CSA shares for the last 4 weeks. I’ve added 2 new families who will be getting a decent sized box of veggies for the fall weeks.
Finally, here’s a picture of the chickens in their new digs. They are now making their way through the garden in the areas where crops are done. right now their cleaning up around the asparagus and finishing off any leftover zucchini and squash.
This past week’s share is looking decidedly fall-like, right on time. The share includes cabbage, broccoli (lots!), red head lettuce, parsley, carrots, radishes, bulb fennel, tomatoes, rutabaga, peppers and onions. The fennel is the only kindof wierd thing in the share this week. I have to admit to not having a lot of experience with it. Last year was the first time I grew it. All we’ve done with it so far is to have it raw in a lettuce-free salad with various other things (mandarin orages and juice, olive oil, salt, vinegar, etc.) I love the taste of it even just on it’s own. Last winter we used the rutabaga raw too, grated in salads. We tried that this week but we’re finding the flavour too strong this way. Who knows, maybe due to different growing conditions. We threw some in a soup and made rutabaga cake (carrot cake recipe with rutabaga instead of carrots). That worked out quite well.
A couple weeks ago I was contacted by Glenn from the Ottawa Marmitons. They are a men’s cooking and social club. They were looking for heirloom tomatoes for their upcoming event. Glenn came out and helped me pick out a selection of what I had available then. He timed it nicely as there was a selection of all varieties and colours still available. This week things are down to a very meagre few tomatoes and they’ll probably be entirely done by next week with the exception of the few plants in the greenhouse. The tomatoes were used in an appetizer and apparently they worked quite nicely! I’m glad they went to a very appreciative group. Here are some pictures from the event:
Mix of cherry tomatoes (mostly not strictly heirloom):
Red Beefsteaks (Rose, Brandywine, Cosmonot Volkov, others)
Yellow (garden peach)
Green (Green Zebra)
And the final resulting appetizer:
A couple new things this week: Brussel sprouts and celeriac. Some of the sprouts have loose outer leaves that should be stripped before eating. The next batch should be tighter and more uniform in the cooler weather. The celeriac tastes a lot like celery (surprise!) and is great eaten raw like carrots or in a coleslaw-like salad. I left some of the tops on as they can also be used to give a celery flavour to other meals if you’re so inclined. The potatoes are a bit rough this week. I speared a lot of them with the pitchfork in my haste and a few others had grub damage. They’ll be fine if eaten in the next couple of weeks but should be kept in the fridge. The broccoli has (finally!) really come on well now with a lot of it ready in the garden. The cooler weather is helping to keep it nice so that I’m not in too much of a rush to get it out. The cauliflower is really moving slowly. I can see a few heads starting to form, but many are still not visible. I’ll give a head of cabbage to everyone next week.]]>
This week we will very likely be getting frost and they weather has cooled significantly. Perfect time to harvest the sweet potatoes which won’t do much growing once the temperatures are below 20 C and the potatoes themselves are damaged when the soil falls below 10 C. As expected, the harvest was well below its potential. The summer just didn’t bring enough heat to maximize the double 80 foot row of sweet potato slips that were planted. Nonetheless, I got about 7 medium-sized boxes in the end. They are now all in our walk-in closet with a little electric heater being “cured”. They need to be kept at 30 C and high humidity for a week or two before they are ready to eat and store.
Sweet potatoes are a lot of work to dig up! They are much harder to locate than regular potatoes and it’s tough not to slice or break the roots when you dig them. It’s fun though… kind of like a treasure hunt.
The Georgia Jet’s did the best, although only about 1/4 of the patch was planted with this variety. Many more of the potatoes were of the large, baking size. There were also a few jumbos, each one probably enough to feed a large family:
The “Frasier White” variety yielded much smaller potatoes, similar to last year. But last year this variety out-yielded the Georgia Jet’s significantly. The difference is likely due to the fact that the “slips” (starter plants) last year were much different, with the Frasier White’s being much more healthy and vigorous when they went in the ground. This year they all looked equally as healthy as I grew them all myself. A typical hill of Frasier White looked like this:
With some help from Steven, today I also got pretty much all of the winter squash harvested. Butternut is definitely the star this year. It’s a very tasty squash that lasts very long in storage. It’s one of the best for making pumpkin pies.
In the picture you see butternut squash on the left, “snack jack” naked seeded pumpkin at the top, acorn squash in the middle and white pumpkins in a line on the right. I’ve been saving the seeds for the white pumpkins for several years now. It’s actually a pretty decent eating pumpkin and makes a great ornamental. The flesh is normal orange pumpkin colour. I think next year I need to buy the original seed though as I think my strain has been contaminated. Last year I grew a squash called “candy roaster” which was bluish and light orange. The two plant groups where separated by at least 200′, but it may not have been enough. Take a look at the colours appearing in some of my “white” pumpkins:
Week 15 share is being sorted out in the picture above with a bunch of helpers. This week included onions, garlic, carrots, chinese cabbage, a watermelon, tomatoes, peppers, kohlrabi and a fairly large bunch of broccoli. The chinese cabbage and kohlrabi are fairly new vegetables that you might not be used to. I don’t have specific recipes for them, but both are pretty good eaten raw. In fact, the kohlrabi really should be eaten raw and can be peeled and cut into strips to be eaten like carrots. A bit of salt and lemon juice is enough to make them a great snack or side. The chinese cabbage can be used to make a coleslaw-like salad. It is milder tasting than regular cabbage and works well that way. It can also be stir-fried or put into a soup. Last week we made a hot and sour soup with chopped leaves.
In other news, this was a very busy harvest and market week as I went to my Thursday market and the market in Carleton Place yesterday. It was a good thing I did because I have a LOT of tomatoes. I still have a lot, but I think I can handle what’s left between selling at the road and making soup and sauce this week. I’m torn about the markets because it’s a lot of work to do 2 markets and the Thursday market is quite small. I’m not entirely sure if it’s worth my while. On the other hand, I’m the only produce vendor there and it would be a disappointment for the customers I do have there if I missed a week. In the future I think I’m going to focus on 1 larger market where I am one of at least a few other vendors. I think I’ll be going to Carleton Place again next week, mainly due to the number of tomatoes I still have. The only other vendor with tomatoes there said he would be out by next week and was practically begging me to come back.]]>
So in deciding not to go to the Carleton Place market yesterday, I find myself with a ridiculous amount of tomatoes and melons. The upside for the CSA families is that I’m trying to spread some of the abundance around. In the picture above you can see Lara’s minivan loaded with 4 shares. Each share includes 3-4 melons in the box and 2 watermelons. The melons are a mix of honeydew, cantaloupe, canary-like (although the flesh is crisp and white) and a few butterscotch. The dark watermelons are “sugar baby” and they are red inside. The striped ones are called “orchid” and they are orange inside. They have a very nice flavour.
I shouldn’t be surprised that I have all these melons, but I was really hoping that they would be spread out a little more over August and September. The plants have almost entirely died back and 75% of the melons have ripened in the same 2 week period. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the pollinators came late (something I wrote about back in July) so that when they did pollinate, the plants set a lot of fruit all at the same time.
There is a large share of tomatoes as well. I tried to pick a wide variety of heirlooms and standard tomatoes as well as a large amount of cherry tomatoes this week. If people can’t get through them all in a week, I’m hoping that freezing or making sauce out of them is an option for most. Missing from the picture is the weekly lettuce heads which I added to the shares after taking the picture.
I think if I were to expand the CSA box program significantly, the shares wouldn’t likely see this quantity. I think I have over-compensated my lack of experience by growing far more than I needed. Another thing adding to the abundance right now is that the market I’m attending on Thursdays is not really providing much of an outlet for me. The last few weeks have been pretty quiet there and I wonder whether the market is really going to make it or not. I’m not disappointed in the results because the intent this year was really to gain experience. Based on what I’ve done this year I think I will be able to plan out my next year and target a larger market effectively.
Finally, an update on the roadside stand: It hasn’t been a huge success either, but I have sold 10 bags of tomatoes (at $5 per bag with probably about 2-2.5 lbs of tomatoes per bag) and 1 watermelon at $3. Interestingly, I’ve also had 3 bags of tomatoes stolen. I can’t quite figure that one out. The nice thing is that going forward, there is very little work required to keep the stand going. I just have to visit it a couple times during the day to replenish the tomatoes and melons and retrieve the money.]]>
I definitely have a surplus of tomatoes right now. It took me the better part of the afternoon to pick them all yesterday. I decided to try selling some of them at the road by our place. We get a decent amount of commuter traffic so we’ll see how this works out. I don’t have time to go to the second market this week which would also sell a large amount of these.
In this past Mondays share (I think #13) was the following: 3 melons, onions, garlic, tomatillos (used in mexican salsa verde) + hot pepper, tomatoes, ground cherries, sweet peppers, acorn squash, lettuce, beets, carrots, broccoli, 1 zucchini and 1 cucumber. The last two are pretty much done in the garden. It’s definitely the biggest share so far and the quantity might be overwhelming for some. The upside is that many of the items will store for quite a long time. The acorn squash will last probably a month at room temperature, if not more. The carrots and beets can last a month in the fridge or more if kept moist (keep in a plastic bag or veggie drawer). The tomatillos last surprisingly long although I’m not entirely sure of the best way to keep them. I think they’ll ripen further at room temperature. The onions and garlic will last all winter if kept cool and dry-ish. Any not so ripe tomatoes can sit around on the counter for a week or more. The rest of the stuff is probably best consumed in a week. The melons are pretty ripe for the most part, especially the cantaloupe which I think I’ve just figure out how to harvest properly. I’ve been harvesting them too ripe, but I’ve been practicing looking for the “slipping” of the melons and I think I can see what’s going on.
The melon plants are pretty much finished now, so there won’t be too many more to come. I have 3 boxes full of melons that I will take to the market tomorrow to see if I can get something for them. I’m really not sure what to charge for them though. I also think I have a bunch of ripe watermelons but I have no idea how to tell besides eating them.
One final note to any shareholders still reading this: I probably won’t be giving too many ground cherries in the shares from now on. They are a lot of work to pick! You are however welcome to come and scrounge as many as you like. There are lots of them but they can be hard to find. We also have a lot of cut-flowers that you are free to make bouquets out of. Here is a picture of my son making the ground cherry harvest look like a breeze! Note: Those are jerusalem artichokes towering at 10+ feet in the background.
I finally removed the row cover from 2 double rows of brassicas. On the left is primarily cabbage and on the right is brussel sprouts (with a few red cabbages in the front). They are looking great! Some of the cabbages were damaged early on from some insect or other. That seems to have caused them to branch out and start forming several tiny heads instead of one big one. I think that is bad so I’ve been removing the side shoots and hopefully it’s not too late for the main head to still form. Cabbage is relatively new to me with last year being the first time I’ve really grown it. The brussel sprouts are forming up nicely with some seeming to be ready to harvest even. I haven’t done this before, but apparently you can get them to size up evenly if you cut out the growing point at the top of the plant. I’m really not sure when the right time is to do that so I may experiment a bit with it this year.
I also uncovered a long row of broccoli and cauliflower. It’s looking really nice now too and it looks like there will be a more significant broccoli harvest for the CSA shares this week. I did find some cabbage maggots on broccoli that wasn’t covered though so after some thought, I decided to recover the broccoli and cauliflower. I’m not sure whether the cabbage and b-sprouts should be covered again or not. It’s a lot of work and makes it hard to monitor when they are ready. I’m tempted to leave them uncovered, but neither do I want an infestation of cabbage worms.
The thing about melons, at least in this climate, is that the harvest season is quite short. So now that I’ve planted a lot more of them I guess I shouldn’t be surprised with this:
Notice the conjoined twin in the back of the right bin. Weird. So needless to say, CSA shares will get a bunch of melons this week and we are eating a lot of them now. We cut some of our melons last year up into cubes and froze them. That worked fairly well and we’ll probably do that again this year. The plants are dying off for the most part right now. I might harvest another bin from then, but that might be it. The “canary” type melons are looking nice but showing no signs of being ripe yet. In the boxes above you see mostly small “butterscotch” type melons (the light green with some yellowish markings). There are some cantaloupe in the box on the right and in the left box at the bottom are some honeydew melons that actually look like cantaloupe on the outside (they are the orange, netted melons at the bottom).
Watermelons have been a bit of a disappointment so far. I’ve harvested 4 so far and 2 of them were not too ripe. We ate one last week that was fabulous. There are still a lot of them out there, but I can’t really tell if they are ripe or not and the plants are also dying off.
I took this picture right after closing the chickens up at night. It’s funny to see them pressed against the front window of the coop. About half of them are still doing that which seems to be something the young chickens do. Once their older they seem to figure out the roosting spots are better for birds:
Note that it was quite dark by this point in the coop and the chickens couldn’t really see much. I did have a bucket of vegetable trimmings that they must have been able to smell, because the 3 older hens came running out to me (you see one of them about to jump in the picture).]]>