Thursday, May 31, 2012

Maris the Amazing Farm Intern Digs in

The lines are all straight-really!

Thanks for keeping the blog going Maris. A pretty accurate summation of the week follows..planting, planting and watering, watering because of the ultra-dry conditions. yes, rain is in the forecast for tomorrow. Here's hoping!

Another week, another blog.
Leeks going to seed

I’ve been enjoying being outdoors all week in the fields diggin’ and plantin’. Linda’s new reoccurring question for me is “are you sick of diggin’ holes yet?” and my answer varies between “not yet”, “nope, I’d rather do this than most other jobs” and “it beats labelling”. The sun was pretty merciless at the beginning of the week (I’m somehow still getting more tanned and burnt), but the clouds have provided a bit of shade for the past few days. Despite the bit of shade, we’ve had virtually no rain. The weather network has given us nothing but false prophecies and I’m beginning to wonder if I should do some serious research on rain dances. Nevertheless we’ve been very productive and in the past four days we’ve planted basil, eggplants, peppers, corn, beans, tomatillos, ground cherries, kale, broccoli and some other guys. And I don’t just mean a few. I’m talking about hundreds upon hundreds for most of the above mentioned veg. I forgot my camera this week, but I think Linda took some pictures and is going to post them.

Our army of animals has grown in more ways than one at New Leaf. The whole gang (my family, not the animals) went to a free-range poultry workshop near Owen Sound last weekend, and we all learned/ saw some neat stuff including where the term to goose comes from (they literally bite your butt when you’re not paying attention). After the workshop, we picked up some more heritage chicks and heritage poults (baby turkeys), which we plan to raise for laying as well as for meat-birds (sorry Linda). The muscovy ducks we acquired have doubled in size since I last saw them. They’re hanging out with some other chicks and Billy the Kid (the miniature goat) in the same pen, and they all seem to get along and even sleeping on one another (the birds are on the goat, not the other way around). The next guys on the recruitment list are probably going to be some Berkshire pigs or geese, and maybe a cow. Another cool thing we learned at the poultry workshop was that cow patties contain 7 enzymes (don’t quote me) that chickens need to digest food with meanwhile the chickens end up breaking up the patties so they crumble and fall apart faster in the rain and wind. The chickens also lower the fly count around manure by constantly eating the fly eggs and larvae. How’s that for a symbiotic relationship?    

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Guest Post-Maris the Amazing Farm Intern Plants!

My step-mom Cathy and our goat

Hello again. I’m pretty beat this evening so I’m going to keep this post relatively brief despite all the new stuff I’m getting up to and all the stuff that happened the past weekend.

So the big sale which started Saturday morning was a big hit. I actually dealt with more people than plants in a day which hasn’t happened in quite a while. It was great meeting all of Linda’s friends that helped out before and during the sale, and I thank all of you big time because there was absolutely no way we could have been prepared in time or been able to handle the sale on our own (or Linda on her own for the rest of the long weekend). And thank you Cake & Loaf for the enormous pizza slices provided at lunch. It was rather relieving to see some of the over ten thousand plants finally leaving Tree and Twig to other (hopefully) responsible green thumbs.

The work was pretty different this week at Tree and Twig and for the best. We’ve finally moved out of the green house, no more transplanting, and most importantly no more labelling. We started planting stuff in the real dirt. We’ve done some peppers, beans, radish, tomatoes, squash, melons, watermelons, basil, onions, leeks, and some other guys. We haven’t even scraped the tip of the iceberg in terms of planting, but we’ve certainly started and I’m glad to finally be outside digging, planting, sowing (although it’s been way too hot and dry for this time of year).

Unfortunately there hasn’t been a hatched duck yet. The first one is due at any moment, but still no signs of any cracking. On a positive duck note, we’ve acquired three new ducklings back at New Leaf. We went out on Sunday to a town just outside of London to pick up the baby miniature goat (whom I think we’re calling Billy the Kid). The goat was at a farm with a bunch of other animals including alpacas, donkeys, turkeys, giant workhorses, dogs, cats, and some neat looking ducks. These guys were Muscovy ducks and apparently they’re great at catching bugs right out of the air. We later read that they also poop on you as a defense when you pick them up, but I learned that the hard way.

I’d go on, but that seems as good of a spot to stop as any. Thanks for reading and check out my post again next week.            

Muscovy ducks

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Guest post-Kristina and Steve visit Wellandport

I was really happy to reconnect last fall with my wonderful friend from University, Sandie. And so happy too, when her daughter and her fiancee expressed an interest in growing vegetables in their neck of the woods. It was great to have them visit in April, and it is refreshing and inspring to meet two very thoughtful and committed young  people. There's hope! So much of it.

Our adventure to Wellandport to learn and visit Tree and Twig farm at the end of April 2012
By Kristina Leith & Steven Adams
We are from Richards Landing on St. Joseph Island in Ontario. We had a nine hour drive to the farm and the first thing we noticed was the leave on the trees, it felt like spring had sprung over night; In our neck of the woods there were only buds on the trees. It was very evident that our climates are slightly different.
We arrived on a beautiful day with the sun shining, the birds chirping and the sweet smell of cherry blossoms. We stayed for two nights and were extremely lucky to have such beautiful nights while staying in our cozy tent. 
Meeting Linda was a treat, she is easy to talk to and learn from, she started by introducing us to all her lovely animals. I was very impressed when Joey the pig came right out when she called him. From there we could see her chickens and Roger the roster. Also her ducks, why did the ducks cross the road? To be chase back to the other side. Which we did. We were spoiled for breakfast, having our first duck eggs, they were tasty. All our meals we very nutritious and delicious, like greens picked straight from the garden. Who could ask for more? Her three dogs and five cats were all very cuddly and ready to welcome us into their home. We had the opportunity to meet Linda’s daughter who were very friendly and nice.
We were very surprised how much can be done in three green houses plus regular gardens and how much variety and diversity was in her plants and seeds, especially her tomatoes. Linda referred us to look up Elliot Coleman who specializes in winter growing; this excited us, we had thought, ‘what are we going to do in the off season’. With green houses it is possible to not have an off season and also makes it possible to be a regular consistent supplier to the local community.
Heading on this adventure, we knew that we liked the idea of gardening and growing food to support eating local but we did not know where to start. Visiting Linda was inspiring and very educational. Our goal is to be as diverse as possible in our climate. We want to remain local as possible and to be relatively small but be able to sustain ourselves. 
We liked the idea of mulching and Linda shared with us the variety of good reasons for it; keeps the moisture in the soil, controls heat, good for nutrition for the soil (as it decomposes), and best of all it deters weeds from growing. This trip also reminded us of the importance of composting, not only to reduce waste but to give nutrition back to the earth to support healthy organic growing. Linda helped us realize how many innovative ways there are to harvest plants, for example garlic, the greens and the seed pods can be harvested at different time in the season.  
After this adventure we decided that we are going to work towards getting a green house. As we learn more we will grow like our plants. We will make this a life project and try to enjoy every moment. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Guest Post-Maris the Amazing Farm Intern (tires of tomato tagging)

Hey again. It`s my third blog post and I`ve got a few things to mention this time around.
First off, I`d like to apologize for not having my pictures up for last week`s blog despite specifically mentioning them in the post. I have no idea of what I`m doing when it comes to uploading pictures, managing websites, or computers in general for that matter. Linda`s been having some trouble uploading the pictures I sent to her as well so we`re just going to wait until my dad the computer whiz shows us what simple thing we`ve been messing up. Until then, please take my word that the pictures were very relevant to last week`s post and very well shot if I can say so myself.

The main priority for this week at Tree and Twig is preparing everything for the big ol` plant sale which kicks off this Saturday. So for the most part we`ve basically been hauling all of the plants out from the greenhouse and up to the front of the house, feverishly labelling thousands of individual plants (which we`re still not done and probably won`t be on the day of the sale), and cursing the weather every night as it dips to frost temperatures yet again. I`m going to be helping out on Saturday so I hope I get a chance to meet as many of you as possible or see you again if I`ve already met you here at Tree and Twig.

After the weekend, we will be bringing a few flats of Tree and Twig tomato plants to sell from our farm in Mount Hope (which is now decided for sure as New Leaf Farm and Mount Hope is on the outskirts of Hamilton by the way). The selection, mind you, is going to be very selective in comparison to this weekend`s sale at Tree and Twig. So, if I don`t meet you on Saturday, here`s your second chance to meet up as well as see some of New Leaf (apparently we just added a miniature goat to our regiment of goofy animals of which I have yet to see, and yes I will post pictures of it).

And of course, duck update. Linda`s gone and done it again and added another duck egg in the incubator. The count is up to seven eggs! The first egg should be hatching on the 23rd of May, next Wednesday. I`m definitely excited for these new little guys, but I`m worried about the shenanigans they`re going to get up to when we bring them over to New Leaf. Linda`s ducks are always trying to cross the road, dangerous as that already is, to the neighbour`s lot which happens to have some pit-bulls in the yard (to be fair it`s only one of the male ducks leading his girlfriend over, but they`re pretty persistent). The male ducks tend to battle it out often as well, although I do wonder if a duck can even harm another duck given that they have no natural weapons or pointy parts on their entire body.

Lastly, I just want to mention that I`m eager to get outside and start putting all these vegetables into the ground (as I`m sure all you green-thumbs are). The greenhouse serves as a kind of `limbo` between being stuck indoors and enjoying sun and air of the outdoors. Don`t get me wrong, Linda. I`m up to any task that is required including labeling thousands of plants, but you`ve said it yourself dozens of times that you just can`t wait `til this stuff is done with and we`re outside planting. That`s it for this week. Again, I hope to see some of you at the sale and thanks for reading.

Monday, May 14, 2012

What's Next?

I feel like I am at a crossroads in my life.
I am very fortunate. I've had two careers, one which required a university degree, and one which requires a lot of fortitude, hard work and resiliency.
As I get older, I find I am not as resilient anymore.  I am getting a bit tired too..
My first career was stressful. I worked hard in the sense that I problem solved, put out fires and wrote report after report. Considering everything, I was well paid.
I bought my first house while at this career, had new cars when I needed them, and although I am not an extravagant person, I wanted for nothing at all.
I could go on vacations, buy things on a whim, and look after my family which arrived along the way.

Despite all this, the stress of the job took it's toll. Gratification from the job was limited and as I listened to that old Boston song "Peace of Mind" over and over again, I knew I had to get out.

I did get out.
Now I am doing what I love to do, but wondering if I can continue on.

I work long hours. I work hard physically. Many things that will ensure I make an income any given year are completely out of my control.
I don't make minimum wage, I have no job security or pension.
I could take on a part time job to ensure that I can continue doing what I do, but I have no time left to do this at the end of a day.
And like many others who do what I do, I am getting older.
The work is becoming harder.

I farm for a living.

I don't farm big. I farm small.
I don't have big machinery, big fields, quotas or crop insurance.

I have only myself to depend on and if I get sick, I'm up the proverbial creek without a paddle. My income dries up.

If the weather doesn't cooperate as it frequently doesn't, farmers take the loss on the chin.
This year alone  summer weather in March forced early blossoming and quick new growth of plants, only to have a hard frost wipe out blossoms and some crops for the entire year. The losses have been huge.

You would think that things for a small farmer would be easier now. Everyone wants to eat local, talk local and support local.
But I don't think that is how it is. Most people buy on price and always will.
I understand this.  If you go to a mega box store and can buy a head of broccoli for 99 cents, and I am asking $3.00 for mine, the choice may seem obvious.
If you actually knew what went into growing that head of broccoli, you might think that $3.00 is inexpensive. From seed to harvest is a journey, and growing food is hard work.
Most people don't know though and their reality is that they are not making enough money to spend it on higher priced food. It's survival, and when the bills have to be paid, cheap food it may just have to be.
But how do small farmers survive?
Providing our essential food, but earning less than minimum wage seems to me to be a very strange situation in modern day society. Are farmers not providing an essential service? Perhaps the most essential of all?
By way of comparison I needed servicing for my water system last week so I could wash my vegetables in very clean, ultra filtered water. One can't take a chance with these things.
Just to have the company show up was 60-$3 broccoli heads. That's a whole lot of time....months of growing to get somebody here to assess my water issues. Then the work, the parts....oh my. All of the sudden we're talking fields of broccoli. Egad.
Years ago I spoke to a high school class about what I do. There was mild, and not necessarily polite interest. I understand that because their world is pretty far removed from mine. When I was done, I asked the class if anyone was interested in farming for a living. Of course I wasn't surprised when the heads nodded no unanimously.
When I questioned the students why, the answers came in as expected. The work is too hard and the pay too poor. They knew nothing about growing food, but they certainly knew about the profession.
What are the answers? I really don't know.
I do know though that it is time to look carefully and realistically at what I do for a living and determine if I can still afford to do it, and have the energy to do it.
It's a good life, but it's getting tougher.

I wonder if other farmers feel this way, and if they do, what is the future of farming? 
I'll always grow my own food. But what about you?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Guest Post-Maris the Amazing Farm Intern!

I'm really enjoying having Maris here at my small farm. He's enthusiastic, sincere, a good worker and a nice guy too.  He also has a good appetite! 
In this, his second blog post, the adventure continues...

(Sadly, his excellent photos didn't make it into this post. Computers are funny!)

Hey everybody. My weekly blog is continuing and it's on time. I've got a few things to mention this week.

Firstly, transplants are done! Well, mostly. There are a few odds and ends to finish, but Linda has taken mercy and put them aside for now. The big sale is coming up (May long weekend as I'm sure you all know) and we've been labeling every individual tomato plant for your convenience. The most amazing thing about revisiting every plant is seeing how much they've grown in a matter of days. A lot of these guys barely had their first true set of leaves when we first started transplanting and now they're several inches tall with thick and sturdy stalks. I've included a few shots this week (all photographed by yours truly) to add some dimensions to my blog and farming experiences.

One experience I am obliged to mention (especially to the city folk) is my first taste of fresh asparagus. That stuff called 'asparagus' in the grocery store is the farthest thing from the truth as well as acceptable flavour. I had just finished reading about how asparagus is grown and harvested in one of Linda's books (which is a fascinating topic on its own) and then she brought me a fresh spear grown and picked only ten feet away from the greenhouse we've been working in. Let me tell you, this flavour was something far beyond that bitter green sprig you buy at the grocery no matter how much olive oil, parmesan, or prosciutto you cover it in. You could eat it raw and the closest comparable taste would be fresh sweet pea but more juicy and meaty. My dad and step-mom picked me up on Friday and I rushed them over to try their own first, real asparagus. They were sold. We're starting our very own asparagus patch as soon as possible. Well, what was supposed to be a short blurb on fresh asparagus has turned into quite the paragraph. Long story short: you ain't tried asparagus until you've tried fresh asparagus cut in the springtime.

I briefly mentioned in my last blog that we were incubating some duck eggs here at Tree and Twig. Well, incubating one egg led to collecting another one to join it as Linda figured the duck wouldn't want the first one to be alone (okay, that makes sense). But since then, Linda has collected every duck egg left around the farm and now there's half a dozen eggs in the incubator. They should start hatching in 25 days or so, so I'll keep you all posted on the upcoming brood, flock, or whatever a bunch of ducks is. 

On a more somber note, but equally important part of farm life, one of Linda's beloved heritage java chickens had passed away sometime last night. This chicken was over nine years old and probably had one of the best lives a chicken could hope for here at Tree and Twig. RIP old girl.

This isn't the shortest blog, but I'm not going to end on the previous note. I've mentioned that my family is starting up our own small farm business in Mount Hope and I've been doing work there on the weekends. I think we're going with the name 'New Leaf Farm(s)', but don't rush to google to find it as we're in the process of creating a website, logo, etc. Our much smaller greenhouse is housing a number of different seedlings from tomatoes to peppers. Peas are already well on their way outdoors and small radish leaves are appearing as well (I saw them on Sunday last so there may be a bunch of other stuff coming up by now). We've got a bunch of goofy animals hanging' out there as well. My dad and I just trimmed the hooves of our two goats Huey and Dewey, and our big ol' potbelly pig Louise (we actually used a belt sander for the pig!). 

I think I've rambled on long enough for one week so thanks for reading if you made it this far and I'll be posting something next week if you're still interested.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

The hoop house is over-capacity

Oodles of eggplants-so many kinds

More than 100 varieties of peppers-some are sizzlers!

And tomatoes-fuzzy leaved ones too

Tons of cukes, zukes, melons and more

Dried beans in CSA baskets...

Radish pods and basil...

Kale and Purple Orach.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Need heirloom tomato seedlings?-Tomato Days 2012

This year my annual heirloom tomato seedling sale, Tomato Days, falls a bit earlier than usual.

It's an annual rite of spring for lots of people and I hope you'll join the heirloom tomato madness on May 19, 20 and 21, the Victoria Day long weekend, 8 am until 2 pm daily.

On each day I'll be here, with friends and family helping out, finding what I hope will be the most delicious plants for your home vegetable garden.

I'm really not quite sure how many tomato varieties I've grown this year. There are oodles, perhaps 600 or so. But to me it isn't a numbers game, it is all about great tomatoes, and when you grow heirlooms it is really easy to get a bit carried away. There are so many really, really good ones.

With 9 acres here on my little farm, I can grow quite a few different kinds. It is really impossible for me to neglect interesting ones that I find out about when I know I have the room. Do you have the "just one more plant" syndrome too?

I have super sweet cherries, and smaller, in all colours. Black, purple, orange, yellow, brown, black and striped. Fuzzy tomatoes, huge tomatoes, misshapen tomatoes, long tomatoes and more. Tomatoes for canning, paste, slicers and just pop 'em in your mouth sweeties.

I love it when people walk up my drive and ask "what's good?"

My stock answer? "They all are!"

Along with tomato seedlings , you'll find all kinds of other cool heirloom vegetable seedlings too. I have even more peppers this year. Super sweet to sizzling hot, they are all here.

Ultra cool eggplants, tomatillos, ground cherries, cukes, zukes, squash, melons, brassicas, lettuces, herbs and a pretty big selection of basils. Quite a bit more too.

If you come on Saturday morning, expect lots of people to be here. To avoid crowds, please come at another time on the weekend.  I promise, there are lots of plant-I won't run out!

It is more like a treasure hunt than plants for sale at a garden centre. The plants are all set up in my drive, categorized alphabetically  and by colour.  I don't have colour pictures of every varieties, nor descriptions beside each.

I have no staff is friends and family, and they don't know the plants the way I do. But they are all wonderful people and will do their best to help you.

As will I. If you have a bit of patience with me, I'll be there to help you.  Trust me, I want to talk to you about heirlooms, as you will know if you know me!

Over the next few weeks on my blog, I will attempt to highlight some of the tomatoes you'll find here. So check back in.

Saturday will have a few special guests available to speak with and make purchases from too.

Bring your box, bring the sun and welcome to Wainfleet!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Guest post-New Beginnings

Hello everybody. I’ve never written a blog before so bare with me until I get a hang of this.  I’m Maris Ozols and I’ve landed the opportunity of being a farming intern with Linda throughout the summer. My dad, step-mom, step-brother and I want to create our own sustainable small farm business on our property in Mount Hope (just outside of Hamilton), and Linda is going to be showing me the ropes. I’m actually staying at Tree and Twig from Monday to Friday and working alongside Linda to better understand what I’m getting into, and then it’s back to our place where there’s never a shortage of work to be done.
I had intended to write a blog every week, but this is my third week here and only my first posting (whoops). So, what have I been up to since I started my internship? Well first off, I’m learning a ton of cool stuff about growing vegetables from books, actually planting and picking, and obviously from Linda. Up until this internship, I had absolutely no idea which vegetables could be planted at what time, and now I’m already getting a general grasp of the planting and harvest times of so many of the vegetables present at the dinner table. We’ve put together some CSA baskets, planted micro-greens, harvested salad greens, started incubating a few duck eggs, and transplanted a few seedlings to larger pots in the greenhouse. Okay, more than a few seedlings. Our four combined hands (mine and Linda’s) have transplanted over ten thousand little guys in one  hoop-house. There were eggplants, a whole whack of hot/sweet peppers,   and what seemed like a million tomatoes with tastes, names, and colours from all over every spectrum. Linda keeps reassuring me that we’re almost done with transplanting and I keep reassuring her that I believe her. Anyways, I’m enjoying every moment here and I’m pretty positive I’m sticking to this line of work instead of one involving constant fluorescent lighting or a white collar.
On a side-note/end-note, besides drastically changing my work life towards the farming direction, I’ve also gone through a bunch of other personal changes in lifestyle that I’m quickly getting used to. Before moving back to Hamilton (and part-time in Wellandport), I was living and working in Ottawa as a cook in a scotch bar. There I ate meat, deep-fried meat, and more meat. I also smoked every two hours as was permitted (and almost reinforced by the environment). But here, I’m eating all vegetarian as long as I’m staying at Tree and Twig, and I’ve managed to quit smoking after having one cigarette on my first day. Linda told me that tobacco smoke (even on your fingers) can seriously harm vegetable plants, and so the next day I came to stay for the week and brought zero cigarettes with me. I figured that this whole new way of life is my chance to break free from yet another ridiculous vice I should never have harboured in the first place. Anyways, I’ll keep the next blog more concise. Thanks for reading and I’ll try and be a little more prompt next time with the whole ‘weekly’ part of the blog.