2016 Quick Recap

At the beginning of 2016 we sat down and planned out what to do with our income over the winter and spring. We decided we needed a truck for hauling hay and animals, a grow light for starting plants and we needed to till up the garden as well as a larger area for planting other things and we also wanted to build a greenhouse. For animals we needed to refresh our egg laying flock and I wanted heritage birds this time. We also needed a billy goat to breed our dairy goat in the fall so we could have more milk again.

In March we purchased our grow light for starting plants indoors. This turned out to be more difficult than we had anticipated because we didn’t realize just how close to the light plants need to be to not be “leggy”. So we started many little tiny seeds in little tiny peat plugs that fit into one little tray under the light with no problems, but that didn’t last for very long. It only took a couple weeks to outgrow the light and we ended up with plants sprawled all over our small room. Most of the plants survived transplanting and I did get a decent harvest. img_3402

We did purchase a big diesel 1 ton duelly truck but we’ve since realized that it is much more than we need. Yes, it would haul cattle and hay bales and all kinds of huge things, but it’s a little overkill for us. Besides which, the truck is rather unpredictable and neither of us being mechanics means it doesn’t work half the time! Rather frustrating to have a big truck sitting in the driveway while you haul firewood, pigs and goats in the back of your car anyway.

In April we purchased our billy goat as a bottle-fed kid from the dairy we originally bought our dairy goat Didi from. Since they knew we want to keep any females we get from this mating, they called us when they had a buckling born from good hand-milking lines (good milk and easy to milk). He was such a cute little guy (an Alpine-Toggenburg cross). The children named him Stormy and enjoyed bottle feeding him right from the start. It did take him a while to outgrow his habit of trying to get milk from a human’s hand, arm, sleeve or pantleg, which was a little annoying on occasion but so cute!

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In April we also tilled a portion of our land and then completely re-dug and re-designed the garden. Future note to those who want to till land that hasn’t been worked in a really long time: Don’t! It needs to be plowed not tilled if you want to turn the soil well. It was a nightmare trying to pull the tractor tiller through huge clods of soil and grass that kept bunching up under the tiller. We overseeded much of this land in clover for our bees and our goats, after we staked out the parameters of our greenhouse and garden.

The garden redesign worked beautifully. I chose to do long (36′) rows of 3′ wide raised beds (just mounded soil at this point) so that I could more easily figure out exactly how much of each crop I was planting for harvest.This year I also started strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and asparagus.

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Rhubarb in the front square with Jerusalem artichoke to the right.

Unfortunately our harvest wasn’t the greatest because we got so busy building our greenhouse and it took so much more time than we had anticipated that much of the garden got completely overgrown with “weeds”. An interesting note, when we tilled in the spring, we also tilled under all the straw mulch from last year, and as you can see in the picture below in front of the sunflowers, it grew barley! So if you do much with straw, be careful with tilling that, it is not a sterile product and if given the chance, it will sprout. I never would have found out what all the grass was if I hadn’t completely given up on my garlic patch because I couldn’t tell what was grass and what was garlic. I let it grow and later a farmer friend took a look and asked why we were growing barley.

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Our chickens were purchased in May, I did get a small flock (one rooster and 6 hens) of juvenile mixed-breed heritage birds. They have some Maran, some Americauna and some Barred Rock in them. We also got 6 silkie chicks. These were meant as pets for the children but they are a little young to be able to handle them now that the chicks are mature and it turns out we have 3 roos and 3 hens! For now, then hens make great broody moms and will hatch out whatever eggs I want them to (I hope).

 

Our entire summer was spent working on the greenhouse, with a few quick breaks for family visits and a 2 day camping trip. Our trip was lovely and some much needed family time away from the busy worklife of the farm. Please see my post on the greenhouse for more information about that.

 

Harvest time always comes so quickly and we never seem to be completely prepared for all the produce. I didn’t get the potato or tomato harvest I was expecting, the potatoes because of not weeding the patch, and the tomatoes because of not getting them out into the greenhouse soon enough. Still, there was the mid season harvests of peas, beets and beans, and salad greens and then the carrots and squash just before the frost. All in all it was a very productive year for work on the farm. We are looking forward to what 2017 brings.

 

The beginnings of abundance

Without my mentor, Margot, I would not be where I’m at now in terms of my garden and orchard. At the beginning of 2015 when we originally had the idea to grow plants, it was for profit and we thought of doing a mono-culture orchard of haskaps, with a small home vegetable garden on the side, just for fun. With Margot’s introduction to permaculture in the spring of 2015 our focus changed from a for-profit orchard to being self-sustainable, growing our own food and selling our extras. I needed a good education in growing vegetables and this is where Margot was able to step in to help me. My education as a child and teen consisted of weeding 50 foot rows of potatoes and carrots that my parents had planted to help meet their grocery budget with 8 children. It was messy, tedious work that I didn’t want to repeat. Margot introduced me to Emilie Hazelip’s methodology which made a lot more sense to me. The heavily mulched, raised beds looked much easier to care for then the flat, muddy, weed-infested garden plots that I had been used to.

I decided to give this form of gardening a try. Ivan and I dug out a good garden spot with spades in an afternoon and then I started shaping my beds. I did a key-hole design with a center aisle and 2 keyholes into each side, except that I only did one side of the center aisle before I ran out of planting time and just planted beans, zucchini and potatoes on the second side. In spite of my inexperience in gardening, I had a bountiful harvest and really enjoyed this years efforts in working towards producing a good portion of our own food. Here are some step by step pictures of our garden:

Our hand-dug garden, which wasn’t the brightest idea. We may have saved in cash output but trying to plant into heavy clumps of earth wasn’t fun and I ended up throwing a lot of the clumps out of the garden, adding a large portion of time to our already big project. We also decided to put up a fence so the chickens could free-range. It was a good chicken fence as long as we remembered to close the gate, but the baby goat destroyed it. Hopefully for our next garden, the goat will remain penned in his pasture.

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A closer look at the terracing of the garden beds. The bottom terrace is where I grew spinach and lettuce, the middle terrace had onions and garlic and the level top is where I planted everything else, in little bunches here and there for the sake of bio-diversity.

Here are the mulched and ready sections. I quickly ran out of straw and used mowed and chicken scratched old grass instead. The main thing wrong with my mulch is that I didn’t anchor it in anyway so there was nothing to hold it in place and my raised garden beds were quite steep. A few rain storms and the mulch had all slid down to the bottom of the beds to lie in the pathway. I would recommend doing some kind of criss-cross strapping over the beds to keep the mulch in place.

I was so pleased with the results of my garden! I have never had a garden turn out so nicely. It was the perfect first-time results. In spite of my mistakes and poor timing for planting, I still got such a bountiful harvest and my garden was beautiful.

For our orchard, we decided that instead of planting a large mono-culture orchard, we would instead plant a small food forest style of orchard. This year we started with the centres of some of our guilds: cherry trees and saskatoon bushes, (Apple trees will be added later) and also filled in some of our next level of bushes with Haskaps. If anyone is unfamiliar with the idea of a food forest tree guild, check out this link or this one. There is a lot of other information available for tree guilds online.

Here we are breaking ground for our small food forest. Yes, again, we did it by hand but we really enjoyed it. It was great to just work together and get into working our land. There’s something satisfying about digging holes and planting trees.

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We planted Cherry trees from the Romance series of sour cherries. These are hardy to our area and while they won’t be the big sweet cherries from sunnier climates, we chose the ones with the highest rating for sweetness: Romeo, Juliet and Crimson Passion.

Everyone had a job to do to help out and by the time we were finished planting the 8 trees/bushes that we started with we all had the feeling that this was our orchard. The children continue taking ownership for it into the second year, checking to see if the trees still have snow around them or if they’re budding yet.

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This simple sheet mulch was amazing. It was quite a dry summer in our area but the baby trees did really well and the dirt under the mulch stayed wet for far longer than the grass around the area. we even found a frog at one point hiding out under the cardboard.