This post is long overdue. Between the twelve hour work days, preparing all our own meals, and working to build a farming enterprise for next year it has been difficult to find time to keep our blog up to date. Opportunities to write on certain events and experiences flew by. We missed the boat on telling stories of our great tomato harvest, wonderful cut flower garden, birthing more calves, losing a calf, slaughtering ducks, building a greenhouse, taking part in raw milk rallies, and planting our own crop of garlic.
We now have a month left in our stay here at Saugeen River CSA. Things have really slowed down. The days are much shorter, forcing us to work a lot less, the cold and rain also limits what tasks we are able to do. The main priority is getting the rest of the storage crops into the root cellar.
Painted Hills Corn
This year has been incredibly rewarding, lots of fun, full of hard work, a great learning experience, and staggeringly short. Time flew by, particularly the growing season. Though I’ve gardened for several years prior to this I never realised how short the growth cycle of the year is. There is really only a two month period where the field undergoes a blaze of growth. Then everything slows down, ripens and gets ready for fall and winter. With all the excitement during the growing season it we found it impossible to keep up during this short season. Here are a few pictures of some of the things we weren’t able to post about.
Fornasis Giving Birth to Kepler
While weeding the fall carrots a few weeks ago, we heard a strange mooing sound. Paul and I looked at eachother puzzled, but didn’t think much of it at first. I thought it was just a weird sounding truck. We continued weeding, but very soon heard it again. This time we were a little more concerned because the moo sounded much different than what we’re used to hearing from the cows. So Cory, Paul and I ran over to the cows’ pasture space, and there among the heard of cows was a newly born bull calf. Echinacea had just given birth, and neither of us had known she was pregnant.
We stood in front of Echinacea and her calf to create a barrier between them and the curious heard. This gave her the chance to lick off the amniotic sac and bond with her newborn.
Paul and I kept looking at eachother in shock, like did this really just happen? Neither of us even knew Echinacea was pregnant.
Within minutes, Echinacea started encouraging the calf to get up and nurse. He tried several times to stand and with each trial and error, Echinacea seemed more and more eager for him to drink her milk. He eventually latched on by the next morning, which was relieving for all of us.
It’s crucial that calves nurse within the first 24 hours after delivery in order to receive the colostrum from their mother’s milk. Colostrum is basically a nutrient-rich “first milk” a mother produces just after giving birth.
After a minute to examine the situation, Cory realized that this was the deed of a bull calf he sent to the butcher last December. We chose to name this little surprise Augusto (because he was born in August). He’ll soon have some siblings to play with as we noticed at least two more cows are pregnant!
If May was greenhouse month and June was planting month than July was definitely weeding month. This year has been particularly weedy. The weed problems we are facing now is the culmination of several wet years in a row.
Having a wet year causes several problems for weeding. When operating a large scale garden such as Saugeen River’s it’s necessary to use a tractor or horses to do some cultivating. This is where hoe’s are dragged along the garden beds to scrape up any weeds that are beginning to grow. Unfortunately when it is wet this fails to kill the weeds because although the weeds are unearthed the roots stay wet, allowing the weeds to reroot and survive. In a dry year the roots would be exposed to the sun and dry out.
Having a stretch of years where you are unable to effectively kill weeds means you get a build up of weeds going to seed, which builds the gardens weed pressure. Weed pressure is the amount of potential weeds in a garden space. Another big difficulty with weeding this year has been the lack of a cultivating tractor. Cory’s plan was to use the horses for much of the cultivation, but with all the difficulties with the horses (injury, equipment etc.) we haven’t been able to cultivate much with them. This has led to us having to do the vast majority of weeding by hand.
At first weeding a half acre of carrots, or onions, or cabbages by hand sounded insane and impossible. Well actually it still sounds insane, but it is possible. Most of the weeds we just pulled up from the ground by hand and then scraped the ground with a hand hoe. But some weeds were so established that we needed to use pruning shears to cut them at their base.
It’s amazing how at the beginning of July the weeds exploded from the ground with such vigor, and now, in the beginning of August there are no new weeds growing. We are free to plant and seed things without an invasion of lambs quarters, sow thistle, wild mustard or the dreaded bind weed. Part of me thinks we shouldn’t bother starting the garden till mid August. The other part of me likes Tomatoes.
(I’m not sure if these photo’s do it justice, but they are a picture of two 150 foot beds of carrots before and after weeding)
Last fall I was very excited to plant my old apartments front lawn with garlic. My brother and I planted two rows in a twenty foot bed and after doing the math realized we should get about eighty bulbs of garlic. We were blown away by the productivity of our front yard and fantasizing about getting into the garlic business. I was humbled this spring when I saw the garlic patch beginning to grow in the field at the farm. The garlic patch is an immense fifteen one hundred and fifty foot rows. On Wednesday we harvested approximately six thousand bulbs of garlic.
This year has been perfect for garlic. Garlic likes a wet spring and a dry summer, precisely what we’ve had. You know that garlic is ready to be harvested when the bottom three leaves die away. When picking garlic it is important you treat it as if it were a ripe peach, don’t bump the bulb or bock them together. Cory says that this will help the garlic in its storage, any bruises the garlic gets during harvest will prompt it to rot in the winter. the garlic is now drying on mesh tables in barn.
While the hot drought like weather has left us with lots to complain about, it has also given us the perfect conditions for making hay. In order to make good hay that will store in the barn through the winter you need a four or five day stretch of hot dry weather. This gives you enough time to cut the hay, let it dry in the field, bale it, and then bring it into the barn for storage. If the hay gets wet during this process it will develop mold, which could lead to a fire if it begins to decompose. This is why it is so critical to make hay while the sun shines.
Making hay has to be the most physically exerting job I have ever done. Each bale weighs around forty pounds. We have to load the bales onto a wagon from the field, then unload the bales into the barn and stack them up to the ceiling. The largest hay harvest we have done so far was a hundred and eighty bales. This coming week we will tackle the largest field, which should fill up the rest of the barn.
It seems as though much of what a farmer does is complain about the weather. Last month it was too rainy and cold. This caused problems getting the soil prepared for planting, killing weeds, and created a general slow start to the year. July has been entirely too dry and hot. Though the plants like the heat, it can be pretty oppressive for us which makes us move a little slower in the field.
The plants have suffered a little from the lack of rain. We haven’t had a solid rain fall for about three weeks. This is the first time in four years that Cory has had to turn on the irrigation, each season since the drought of 2007 has been exceptionally wet. Leaving an irrigation system unused for four years can result in complications. After taking a day to set up the irrigation we turned it on only to find out the gas powered pump wasn’t working. This resulted in a slight panic and we had to water in several newly planted beds by hand. The next day the pump went to the mechanic and luckily we only needed the carburetor cleaned. However, we did lose a few kale, and possibly all of the cauliflower, which doesn’t do well when stressed.
Irrigation adds an another dimension to the field. Different plants require different watering techniques. The Brassicas, leafy, and root vegetables prefer a sprinkler when watered. While tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, and squash prefer drip lines along the ground. Drip lines keep the leaves of the plants dry, lowering chances of disease. Certain plants require water at certain stages in their lives. Beans, for example, need water while flowering or else they will abort potential beans, thinking their wont be enough water to support them.
Setting up the sprinklers and drip also takes up a bit of time every day. Though I am wishing that it would just rain and save us a lot of work, it is good that we are seeing all different types of weather.
The farm just got a whole lot cuter with the addition of a pair of weaners. A weaner is a pig that has just been weaned off of its mothers milk. We got these two pigs from our neighbours the Schmidt’s who, along with a raw milk dairy operation, have a sizable herd of pigs that they pasture through a couple of their fields.
These two piglets are a cross of two breeds, Red Waddle and Large Black. During our trips to the Schmidts to pick up milk we’ve watched the piglets grow over the last six weeks. At six weeks weaners reach a size of 30 to 40 pounds. Since most pig operations keep their female pigs for breeding purposes we got a pair of boars. Luckily Marcus Schmidt took care of the messy job of castrating the little guys for us.
Our initial plan for the pigs was to put them on pasture in the garden. We were hoping to rotate them through areas of the garden where unwanted perennials were growing, so that the pigs could remove them by rooting them up and eating them. All together we spent about a day and a half constructing a shelter for the pigs, preparing the ground for electric fencing, and building an additional chain link fence behind the electric fencing to encourage the pigs to jump back from the fence when shocked rather than forwards. It took the pigs about five seconds escape this elaborate set up. In hindsight, the chain link fence didn’t provide enough of a visual barrier for the pigs. We should have trained them to electric fence in the barn, with a solid barrier behind the fencing, and then moved them out to pasture.
It took us an entire morning to herd the pigs back to the barn, where for the moment, they are living. It was a big disappointment to not have the pigs able to pasture in the fields. I like the idea of having pigs able to behave as they would in wild rooting through fields and wallowing in mud. Though this may be more for my satisfaction than theirs. They do seem entirely content in the barn. We have lots of bedding for them to root through and a large window so they get tonnes of sun. In the future we may have another try at training them to fencing, but with harvesting and weeding taking up so much of our time I don’t know when that will be.
We are trying to raise these pigs without buying in any feed. They are eating lots of veggie scraps from the garden, and we produce a fair bit of kitchen scraps for them. This has created a strange pleasure when food goes off in the fridge, because we know the pigs will get a tasty treat. We are also grinding up leftover oats and peas that were for seed to feed them, in order to up their protein intake. I also hope to be able to forage nuts, wild apples and acorns from around the hedgerows to fatten them on just before they go to slaughter in October.