Starting a farm…for the third time.

Although this is our second farm business (we owned Skeeter Farm in the Fraser Valley from 2009-2012) it’s the third property that we have farmed and thus the third time that we have undergone various “start-up” activities and experienced the growing pains associated with them. The first two sites were located in BC, and needed different investments (of both our time and capital) to get them operating as market garden vegetable fields.

If you’ve been following along with our blog and/or Facebook you’ll know that the majority of our year so far has been dominated by farm set-up activities including clearing land and field restoration, putting together hoophouses, installing our irrigation and creating a water source and building the various coops and shelters needed for the turkeys, chickens and hogs. Seeing as we only arrived in Ontario on March 4th, 2013…we think we’ve come a long way so far (and have the grey hairs to prove it!)

The past four months have been crazy to say the least and I highly doubt we would have accomplished what we have if we hadn’t already had some farm experience under our belts. We have now, in our career as farmers, set up five hoophouses, three irrigation systems and have restored three different farm fields from fallow or overgrown conditions. With some farming experience also comes a personal expectation that we should be reasonably successful in our endeavours, and at least as well if not better than we have done in the previous seasons.

This round of setting up a farm has not been without its challenges though, and in many ways it feels like we are learning it all again for the first time. It turns out that growing food in Ontario is a different ballgame than what we’re used to. It’s been humbling so far, to say the least…

We never worried too much about pest attacks at our previous farm, as we had some pest pressure, but grew enough area and diversity of crops that it was never really an issue. I’m just going to come out and say it…the pests here are ravenous! Between the flea beetles that seem to find their way into every nook and cranny in our row cover (we have to row cover all Brassicaceae crops here…kale, broccoli, mustard greens, choi, etc), the cucumber beetles who have eaten every single squash and zucchini that has tried to grow in the past month (the cucumbers in the hoophouse seem to be surviving…hurrah!), the army of snails that have been slowly sucking the life out of various plants and the gigantic flea beetles (not sure if that’s what they are??) that have found their way into our flower beds…it seems like pest management will be one of our major focuses as we get through this season.

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Our new friends…the cucumber beetles.

We take an integrated approach to pest management by using traps, picking bugs off by hand, covering crops and most recently we’ve been talking about spraying neem oil to try to control the cucumber beetles. We’ll keep you posted on how that goes…

The other thing that has been rather challenging this year is our access to irrigation water. We had an excavator out to dig a well in early June and were delighted to find a seemingly good source after a couple of test digs.

The first "test dig"
The first “test dig”

We have since installed our irrigation system, which is an all drip system…about as efficient that you can get. We were elated to finally be able to water our veggies as our field is quite dry, despite the wet spring, and the first few crops that we tried to harvest were jam packed with flavour and rather tough (i.e. needed to have been irrigated). After irrigating for about a week on and off we  found that we have almost no natural recharge and our water source is now going dry. Merd.

After a few gloomy days spent observing the the water dry up we started to look at some other options to get us through the year. One was drilling a well (which is a little out of our budget this year and would require bringing the farm onto the grid). The other is to haul water a couple times per day to fill up the source, which is the option we’ve settled on. (Please note that the livestock’s water has not been affected…as we were already hauling in potable drinking water for them).

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Our self sufficient water hauling wagon.

In the meantime, between the bugs and the lack of irrigation water, some of our crops are not looking so hot…namely, the plants in the squash family, our usually fantastic, delicious salad green crops, and some of the flower bed. On the upside, things in the hoophouse are growing like mad, the onions and leeks are doing well, but could use a drink soon, potatoes are all up and looking great, and it looks like we’re going to get a great crop of beans coming in a few weeks. Most other things are growing, but slowly.

Also on the up and up, the animals are all doing great and are happy to be out on their summer pastures. They’ve brought a lot of joy to the farm this season and we are always happy to take a break from the veggie field to hang out with them and enjoy their antics. We’ll have six new piggies joining us next week and are eagerly awaiting the first egg from our laying hens…more on that at another time.

The turk-a-lurkys looking a little cleaner and fluffier after their rain bath.
The turk-a-lurkys looking a little cleaner and fluffier after their rain bath.

We’re starting to refocus our veggie farm plans for the season to try to nourish what we have planted in the field with the little water that we have (and not expand any more growing area). We’re also looking forward to the later season crops, growing winter veggies (they don’t require as much water after they get growing) and expanding our sprout and microgreen production, which has been really catching on at the markets.

If we’ve learned anything farming on three different properties in two different provinces, it’s that there are always pluses and minuses. At our first farm it was heavy clay soil, mosquitos and thieves in exchange for soil that held nutrients and water and grew beautiful veggies. At the second it was soil that drained too quickly (and thus we had a hard time germinating some crops) in exchange for land that we could work early in the spring, abundant water and other infrastructure provided by our landlord. At the farm now, it’s bugs and lack of water issues but on the other hand we have a secure piece of land with great potential that we can farm and invest in for the long term. If I had to choose between the three, I’d pick where we are at now (but move everyone from BC out here!!)…Over time, we can work to improve the growing conditions of the site, install the infrastructure that we need to make our farm more efficient and productive, work to build natural soil fertility and organic matter, build up the natural predator populations that help keep pests at bay, and we’re hoping (fingers crossed) that our lack of water will not be an issue next year if we manage to capture the spring run off, which we were too late for this year.

Pat has coined our motto for the year which is to “Just grind it out” (I assume this term comes from some team sport he’s played). Anyways, for us now it means to just keep trying and do what we can do even if it’s not what we expected of this season when we first arrived here.

So that’s it for now. Pat has promised to write a more uplifting post about the Bobolink soon (a threatened bird which we have in spades at the farm).

xo, Amy

The Evolution of the Hoophouse

In addition to blogging (which we haven’t done for awhile, sorry!), the hoophouse as been on our to-do list for a lonnnnnnng time. It’s finally done! Yay! The structure is 96′ x 20′ and has a double layer of plastic that we will put on for the wintertime, which will hopefully allow us to grow in it year round (think winter spinach, kale, arugula!!)

Pat has been taking photos for the past three months that show the building of the hoophouse. It’s funny, as we click through them now, it seemed like no big deal. But I speak from experience when I say setting up a hoophouse is one of the things we don’t really look forward to (cold metal, anal retentive measuring, heavy plastic, finicky hardware….need we say more?) Let’s hope we never ever have to move this one 🙂

As the plants start to grow big and tall we’ll add some more photos so you can see what a fantastic farm asset it is.

For those of you waiting for more blog posts, we have a few in the queue, and will start posting them just right after we get our irrigation set up (our last big farm set up thing!)

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Gobble gobble! We have Thanksgiving Turkeys for Sale!

It may seem a little early to start thinking about Thanksgiving, but we’ve had so many people ask us to reserve a turkey for them that we thought we’d better make an official ordering process, and so here it is!

Turkey

The turkeys are raised on pasture, meaning that they will be outside with access to shelter for the portion of life that they are able to be. They are fed a diet of non-medicated (i.e. no preventative antibiotics), all-grain feed.

We have a very small number of turkeys available, so be sure to reserve yours ASAP if you want to guarantee one for this year. Here are all the fun details:

Price: $4/lb for a whole, fresh, bird. We are unable to guarantee certain weights but will do our best to pick one close to the size you want if you indicate a certain weight when ordering.

Ordering: To reserve your turkey, please email us or give us a phone call (705.446.5503) as soon as possible (even if you have already mentioned that you want one). You may order one turkey or as many as you like depending on supply.

We require a $25 deposit to hold your turkey, which will be put towards the cost of raising it. You can pay the deposit via cheque or email money transfer.

Pick up: We’ll have our turkey pick up day likely on the Friday before thanksgiving from our house in Clarksburg. We will also arrange one Toronto pick-up either on the Thursday or Saturday before Thanksgiving (TBD).

Okay that’s it for order information. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Cheers to delicious meals eaten with friends and family.

xo
Amy and Patrick

Baaaaad Bloggers

We’ve been a little neglectful of the blog lately as we focus on putting plants in the ground and getting our markets going. Sorry about that! We’ve got a few good blog posts marinating in our minds that we’re almost ready to post…but that’s not going to happen today because it’s sunny and we have about a million and a half onion seedlings that still haven’t been planted.

So for now, just some pictures of what’s been up at Sideroad Natural Farm since the last time we posted on here.

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There is always a crisis: A story about the less glamourous side of farming

The title of this post is a little tidbit of wisdom shared with me by a much more experienced farming friend from BC.

A little history…it was the summer of 2009, which was my first year farming at our old farm. Our friend, who happens to have an awesome pasture raised poultry farm, was headed on his annual family vacation and asked me to take care of his farm for a week or so while they were away. I was thrilled and jumped at the chance to hang out with their hundreds of chickens, turkeys and various other farm animals. I was new to the poultry game, so it took a little bit to get used to the birds and 100 pound bins of feed that I had to tote around, but everything was going great. Until…one night, after spending all day at my desk job, then at my own farm harvesting for the market, then back to his farm to feed the horses and check on the birds, then back to my own farm to finish off harvesting I was finally getting to sleep around 11:30 when the thunder and lightning started. I laid in bed for a bit, listening to the rain pound down on the roof and then the wind howling in the trees…after about 15 minutes, I begrudgingly decided go back out and make sure those silly chickens made it inside the barn (they were allowed free access to the inside and outside all day and night). What I found when I went out was more than just a few soggy chickens… the chicken’s outdoor shelter had been picked up by the wind and had blown up on top of the horse barn! From where I was sitting, the shelter looked fairly mangled, but perhaps salvageable. So after an hour chasing 50 or so wet chickens inside the barn, I climbed up the side of the barn and pushed the shelter back down to the ground. It all ended up being fine…the shelter was easily fixed, no chickens died, and nothing was harmed other than my beauty sleep.

When my friend got home from his trip, I told him about my horrible night  in the storm, along with various other stories about chickens and turkeys escaping from their pastures and he merely shrugged and said “You’ll learn Amy…In farming, there is always a crisis”.

And so, we have learned over time, that this is true. A few (now almost laughable) examples of farm crises of the past…

Having our hoophouse plastic torn off EVERY time Patrick went out of town for the night…resulting in several panicked phone calls between business partners (at our old farm) and several nights off ruined.

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Crap.

Having our tractor stolen, last November, in the middle of the night…never to be seen again. This was quite sad at the time, but we now see it as the event that instigated a whole chain of events that led to us being here in Ontario this season.

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Little Benny was a great tractor!

And more recently…

Putting up our entire hoophouse and then realizing that we forgot the bracing along the bottom – A fix that would require us to unbolt the hoophouse from the anchors, likely stripping the bolts in the process.

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The jury is still out on what we’re going to do about that. I am favouring some kind of improvisation, whereas Pat is considering the proper fix.

Our new walk behind tractor developing a major oil leak (which was quite concerning) on the day that was scheduled for prepping the soil for planting 2000 strawberry plants in the ground (strawberry crowns don’t like to wait around for these type of things).

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This crisis was solved by our friendly BCS dealer. Thank goodness!

And most recently…coming home after Sunday night Mother’s Day dinner in Toronto to discover that our tomatoes that, in addition to being freezing cold due in the May blizzard, were being killed, one by one, by crane fly larvae (a common lawn pest) that had crawled through the pots that had been left and on ground in the hoophouse…and then spending the next two hours picking worms off the remaining plants, still dressed in our Sunday best.

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Delightful little things aren’t they?

These are just a very select few examples of the “crises” that we have come to deal with in our careers as farmers. In fact these little setbacks happen so often, that we don’t really think of them much as crises, but more as ongoing milestones that we must to pass on our way to becoming better at what we do. As time goes on, we are more readily shrugging off the small stuff, learning from our bonehead mistakes, constantly readjusting our priorities based on the needs of the farm at the time and realizing that so much of what happens on a farm on a day to day basis is determined by mother nature.

Don’t get me wrong though, we are certainly not immune to hardship, and there are times when the trials and tribulations of farming have gotten the better of us. In these moments of weakness, it helps to think that however big the crisis seems to be, the plants always tend to grow and are incredibly resilient, the sun will always come out at some point, and that this life we’ve chosen is worth every little bump in the road that we’ve encountered thus far.

With that being said… I am not going to pretend that I didn’t cry a few tears after we finished up 1:30 am last night, only to find that Layla used one of my favourite summer ballet flats as her chew toy while we were out on worm duty.

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Grrr! It’s a good thing we love her so much.

Thanks to you for reading about the less glamourous side of our farm…it helps to know that there are people like you who care 🙂

Until next time,

Amy

One Week in the Sun at SNF

I meant to post this on Sunday as a “week in review” blog post, but the day ended up consumed by a massive wild leek pickling turned leek pesto making mission. As the days get warmer the weeks are starting to blend together anyways, so we’ll use the idea of a “week” loosely. Going forward, you can expect less wordy blog posts, and more posts filled with pictures as we struggle to keep up with needs of the farm and form proper sentences (oh and don’t even expect us to grammar/spell check our posts during farm season…just putting that out there now for all you grammar police:). If you’re not a Facebooker, but still want to keep up with the farm on a more regular basis than our sporadic blog posts allow, you can view our Facebook page without having an account (www.facebook.com/sideroadnaturalfarm). Without further ado, here’s whats been up at the farm:

The week started off with a bang with some of the nicest darn weather we’ve seen yet. What a turn around from April eh?

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The piggies sure were happy about the sun and started spending copious amounts of time in their mud bath.

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The chickens were a little jealous and were like…”Hey! What gives. It’s sunny, let us out!” With time little chickens, with time….(They’ll get out in the next week or so once they’re a little older and we get our electric fencing set up).

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Our first task of the week was to tackle the hoophouse that has been sitting the farm’s driveway in pieces for the last month. We would have liked to have it set up sooner, but couldn’t bear to touch so much cold metal in sub zero temperatures. Step one was to transport all of the greenhouse parts out to the field. Holy dina! What a chore!

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The transport took a day….a whole day! Our progress wasn’t helped by getting the tractor seriously stuck in the still mucky fields.

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In between transporting the hoophouse and actually setting it up, we had a visit from one of our neighbours in Clarksburg who is skilled at finding water with a divining rod (in this case an apple branch). We all took a walk on the farm and tried our hand at finding ground water using, in addition to the branch, a saw, two coat hangers and a pocket watch. Both Pat and I could pick up on the water with the coat hangers, but couldn’t get the branch to work for us.

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Layla and Yarrow thought we were all crazy and pointed out where the water was using their own spidey sense.

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Buuuuut we all agreed that the pups’ creek would dry up once the spring melt ended, and Debbie ended up finding us two good sources of ground water, one at 20 ft, one at 30 ft, both potable. We were happy for the insight and were pretty amazed by her skills.
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We then moved on to setting up the hoophouse which involved setting up the anchor posts first (the most time consuming and physical part in our experience). After that we put the hoops together and set them on the anchor posts. Here I am with Yarrow, modelling the inaugural hoop.

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After a few sporadic periods of work, we managed to get the whole frame up this week. There are just a few more supports to add onto the structure to make it snow/wind proof, then the plastic on, and it will all be ready for our tomatoes, eggplants and peppers around the middle of the month.

Near the end of the week we worked on clearing parts of the field of Hawthorns (a terrible, prickly, scraggly tree) with the help of Pat’s dad Bob (thanks Bob!). We also mowed and got ready to start working the soil.

Before we got to working the soil, we took a nice walk in the forest with some of the 25th Sideroad neighbours and Mel. The forest is so beautiful right now and we were happy to learn some of the local flowers from our neighbours Bill and Elaine.

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The flowers sure were pretty, but the primary purpose of our walk was to harvest some of these bad boys (wild leeks).

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Yarrow was a great leek scout

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And the rest of the team brought their A-game as well.

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After leek harvest, I hurried home to start a massive wild leek pickling mission.

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However, after 6 hours of leek cleaning, and only 12 jars of pickled leeks, I decided to switch gears and turn their delicious garlicky leaves into pesto. The pesto making went much smoother and I am happy to report we’ll have many jars for sale at the upcoming Clarksburg and Collingwood Farmer’s Markets.

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While I made pesto, Pat started on something that we’re very very excited about…working the field!! We bought a little PTO driven plow to attach to our BCS rototiller which has allowed us to work up a half acre of land which we’ll start planting in tomorrow.

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The plowing sure is tough work though and it’s super slow going…we were happy to hear today that our farm neighbour is able to help us get the rest of the field plowed early next week! We are very appreciative of this as we know he is a very busy farmer, especially right now as he tries to get his planting done for the season.

And with that, one awesome, sunny, productive week comes to an end.

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– Amy

p.s. as I read back through the post I noticed a common theme…we have such awesome neighbours!!! Thanks everyone (including family) for being so supportive as we get this farm off the ground.

A spring day at the farm

Some scenes from a typical day at the farm, this particular day being yesterday…a real peach of a day 🙂

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Signs of Spring at the Farm

Goodbye winter.

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BCS – A small but mighty machine

We’ve had to make a few calculated, larger purchases on our way to building up the farm this year. One of them got dropped off last night by our friendly salesman from Highland Supply in Dundalk. We haven’t tried it out on the soil yet, because it’s still too wet, but we’re so excited about it, I just had to write a blog post.

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Welcome fancy new machine! We promise to love you and change your oil regularly.

The BCS is not your standard rototiller. It has “Made in Italy” plastered all over it (speaking to my 1/4 Italian roots) and has a 12 hp diesel engine. It comes with all sorts of awesome implements that allow it to function much more like a tractor than a rototiller. Check out the rotary plow attachment which we’ll be using to use to make raised beds in our veggie fields.

Ooohhhh, love that soundtrack.

We likely could have found a small used ride-on tractor for the price that we paid for the BCS, but went with the walk behind for a few reasons:

-The lighter machine will cause less compaction on our soils (which is of increased importance in the heavy clay we’re farming in)
-The size of the machine makes it much more easy to manoeuvre in and out of densely planted veggie beds
-The attachments (of which there are many…) are affordable and are the right size for our operation

Hopefully this little machine will allow us to get on our soils earlier than June 1st (which is what we were quoted by the neighbouring farmer). Keep your fingers crossed for us that the weather warms up and the soil starts to dry out a little sooner.

K thanks for reading my nerdy equipment blogpost. You must be really keen (or my mom) to get through that 🙂

-Amy