Thiessen Farms

Keep updated on all that is happening around Thiessen Farms!


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Springing to life!

Now that the snow is disappearing, Meesha & I have resumed our morning walks around the farm.

This makes us both happy … but especially Meesha!

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We are not the only ones out walking.

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Canada geese have also left tracks on the laneway.

Most of the snow has melted.

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Along the north side of the railway tracks, there is still a crust of the white stuff, especially where snowmobiles roared through the farm all winter.

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There’s only a small rim of ice left around the edges of the pond.

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It appears the rabbits were hungry this winter. My rows of ornamental crabapples behind the barn have been well chewed. I’m hoping the fruit trees in the orchard don’t look like this!

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In the greenhouse we continue to plant seeds. Along with more & more tomatoes, peppers (both sweet & hot), eggplant, onions & herbs are flats of shallots, broccoli, artichokes, celeriac … Space is tight in the germination area, and the trays are stacked up until the seeds sprout.

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The sunny days provide good growing conditions. The nights however are still quite cold & in our somewhat primitive conditions, the seedlings require a little extra pampering.

They are growing under row cover, under plastic, in a greenhouse – 3 layers of protection. The last bit of insurance is a space heater which kicks on during the night. Not perfect conditions nor elegant, but the results are sturdy little plants that will produce delicious vegetables this summer!

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Oliver is a little put out that his sleeping spot has been taken over by the plants. He has been relegated to a spot underneath.

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When that gets too warm, he moves into the cooler shop to another favourite napping spot.

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Still winter!

I miss my farm!

I haven’t seen it for at least a month now.

No, I’m not away, but I guess you could say that the farm is. It’s hidden away under a thick blanket of snow. There’s too much snow to walk around the farm, so I have to be content to see the orchards from the barnyard.

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I’ve plowed a path through the snow to the chicken coop & the compost pile – so I can still do the chores. That’s about as far as I go.

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But yesterday Meesha & I managed to trudge into the pear orchard just behind the barn, before we got tired and turned back.

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Along with the snow has come the cold.

 

When the temperature gets down to -20C, we know to expect some damage to the fruit buds. At -25C we get concerned about the trees themselves. This past month we had at least 4 nights of extreme cold, as low as -23.5C on our farm. The official bud counts for our area show survival rates of 40-50% for peaches & a little less for plums. We’re quite pleased with those figures – we had been expecting more damage. Of course the winter is not over yet …  We will not know for sure until May when the blossoms open. But we remain optimistic for a crop! In theory, if even 10% of the buds are alive, we could potentially harvest a full crop – providing they were spaced evenly throughout the tree. Likely the fruit buds that are alive will be on the highest branches of the tree.

There are some signs of spring on the farm though …

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The first of the seeds – tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, onions & herbs – have been sown, and the tomatoes are up.

They look so green & bright & fresh, and smell so good.

It’s still winter … but spring is coming!

 

 


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CSA 2015

We are ready!

The seeds have arrived, the greenhouse is being cleaned, the flats are stacked up & waiting …

In a few weeks the first seeds will hit the soil – onions, tomatoes, eggplant & peppers.

The emails to last year’s CSA members have been sent out and the responses are coming back. Former shareholders are returning and new people are signing up too.

We started our CSA back in 2010 with 24 members – mostly friends, who were quick to offer their support of our new venture. Six of those original 24 were still with us last summer, and already several have indicated they will be returning for our 6th season. Many others have been a part of our CSA for 2, 3 or 4 years, and every season new people join. We have been growing the CSA slowly but surely – last year we were up to 125 shares – to make sure we could grow the needed amount of vegetables along with our established fruit orchards.

CSA is a lot of work – and a lot of fun for us.

In 2014 we grew more than 30 different vegetables & fruit and sometimes multiple varieties of each. It takes a lot of planning & preparation to not only grow & harvest all this, but to make sure there is adequate amounts available each week for our members. We also strive to have at least 1 new vegetable or fruit to offer each week. Last season we mostly succeeded and often had 2 or more new things in the box.

The fun part of CSA is meeting so many great people & chatting each week at pick-up. It’s especially fun to see the excitement & energy of the kids as they pile out of the vehicles & run to see the rabbit & chickens. (ALERT – we’re hoping for some new kittens this summer!!) Receiving immediate feedback  – usually positive, but not always – on the produce in the baskets each week is not only gratifying, but helps us to know what our shareholders want & expect in their produce. Hopefully we become better farmers as a result!

So what are we planning for this season?

Along with the common, the usual and the old favourites we are trying some new things too. The artichokes & fava beans that we experimented with last year were successful, so we’ll be expanding our plantings and hope to offer them in the baskets this year. The new varieties of lettuce got rave reviews, so we’ve stocked up on that seed. Along with the snow peas in spring, we’ll be growing regular shell peas too. Cauliflower is something we have never grown – mostly because I’ve never liked eating it. But it’s on the list for this season, along with sprouting broccoli (smaller stems of broccoli that should extend the broccoli season). Missing from the baskets last season were kohlrabi (lost in the weeds), fennel bulbs (I totally messed up on them) and edamame ( hungry rabbits). These will all be attempted again – hopefully with better success!  And perhaps there will be a few surprises!

Here is a reminder of what’s in our CSA boxes …

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As I am proofreading this blog, I see how often I used the words “hope” or “hopefully” (most of them I deleted). In the winter, farming is all about hope. Nothing is certain about the upcoming season but we are full of hope – hope for favourable weather & good growing conditions, abundant crops, lots of CSA members, health & strength …

We’re relaxed & rested, optimistic & excited for another season. It may be cold & snowy now, but the warmth of spring is coming soon.

See you then!

 

 

 

 


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Making tracks

In the mornings when Meesha & I go for our walk around the farm, we see a lot of animal tracks in the snow – mostly rabbit and mice. Sometimes there are the paw prints of other dogs & cats, and occasionally deer tracks.

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The majority of these tracks are at the edge of our farm along the railway. That’s where the animals live. That’s where they feel safe, among all the underbrush & scrub growth. That’s also where they can find something to eat.

Meesha does not pay much attention to the animal tracks. She will sometimes follow them awhile – until they disappear into the brush or she loses interest.

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If there are signs of activity, something more exciting, she noses around & checks it out carefully.

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But mostly she just enjoys the snow – she is half Husky after all!

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On very cold mornings there might be no new tracks. It would appear that the animals prefer to stay huddled in their warmer homes rather than venture out into the frigid air.

We are much the same way!

The past few weeks we have hunkered down in the warmth of the house and the workshop. There is always office work to do. Another activity is reviewing the past season. We examine each crop in detail – the growing, harvesting, packing, marketing, profitability etc … Which were successes & which ones failed? Then we move to planning for the upcoming growing season – which crops will we grow again & how much of each. We have to figure out where they will all be planted & how the vegetables will fit in with each other & with the fruit orchards. What new crops will we attempt? Seeds have to be chosen & ordered – a task I enjoy but one that is time-consuming & even dangerous. Sitting in the relaxed comfort of a warm home it’s easy to forget the realities of the past summer, and make reckless & optimistic decisions on all that can & should be grown this year. And already the boxes of seeds are arriving – each holding the promise of great things! In the shop there are repairs & maintenance to be done on equipment – not my favourite job, but one that needs to be done nonetheless.

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On warmer days, when the sun is shining, I make tracks to the orchard to prune trees. The fresh air feels so good after being inside.

The farm is beautiful in the snow!

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… And then there is Oliver!

The only tracks he makes are from the barn – where his food dish is located – to the shop, where he sleeps the day away.

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Neatness counts … for what?

I like to be neat.

At least I want to be neat.

But one look in my workshop, or office or even my truck would indicate otherwise.

I’m actually messy – with occasional bursts of neatness.

This is also true out on the farm. While the basic form of a fruit orchard is neat & orderly – rows of trees evenly spaced in a grid pattern – things can get messy from there pretty quick! A few too many weeds, grass a little high, a broken branch here, a tree missing there … and the neatness is gone.

However, in spring all eyes are on the blossoms, so it’s hardly noticed.

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Sometimes the weeds are beautiful too!

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The ripening fruit grabs our attention in the summer.

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And in fall, the coloured leaves make everything look great.

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But at this time of year, with no blossoms, or fruit, or even leaves to distract the eye, things are looking a tad messy out in the orchards.

Actually they are messy by design (mostly)!

The weeds in the tree row for example.

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A few extra herbicide applications in the late summer & fall would have easily eliminated them, leaving the soil weed-free and very neat & clean-looking. But leaving the ground without any covering could mean damage to the tree roots if the winter is very cold. I compare it to us going to bed without blankets on a cold night. Better to have some lingering weeds to help protect the soil & the tree roots. The weeds also collect & hold the fallen leaves which add more protection. Besides, do we really want to use extra herbicide?

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Perhaps I could have mowed the grass once more this fall. Short, evenly cut grass looks so much neater. But again, we wanted to catch the leaves and keep them from blowing away. As the leaves break down they add organic matter to the orchard floor and improve the soil.

In fact we add a lot of extra leaves each fall. A friend of ours in the lawn care business brings us all the leaves he collects. Throughout the summer we get all his grass clippings too. Then we buy many loads of manure.

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These are all spread throughout the fruit orchards & on the land where we grew vegetables. Our soil fertility is improved by adding all this organic matter. Better soil in turn feeds the trees & vegetables making tastier & healthier crops. Good soil is also able to hold moisture better – especially important during a dry summer. Because our orchards are in permanent sod & not cultivated, all this stuff is spread on the surface & looks messy until it decomposes and disappears into the ground.

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On the open ground, we lightly work it in which speeds up the process.

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We use a lot of mulch on our farm – for many of these same reasons. Mulch – either straw or hay depending on availability – prevents weeds from growing thus reducing or eliminating our use of herbicides. Mulch keeps the moisture in the soil longer, an important consideration since we cannot irrigate our crops.

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As the mulch breaks down it becomes part of the soil. Of course mulch is not neat – neither when we spread it nor as it decomposes and gets thinner & some weeds begin to sprout …

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With the advent of winter there will be time to clean my workshop, my office & even my truck, and they will look neat & tidy – for a while.

But the orchards go into winter looking messy, and that’s okay with me.

Neatness counts … for what?

 

 

 

 

 


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Alberta bound!

I like to think of myself as a well grounded person … literally well grounded.

And yet the other week I found myself aboard a 737, well above the clouds, with the ground not even in sight! But it was worth it.

We took a vacation to Alberta to visit family & friends in Cochrane a small but rapidly growing town just west of Calgary.

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The scenery around the area is spectacular – always with the mountains in the distance.

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We visited a couple of farmers’ markets in Calgary. They were selling some local produce, together with lots of apples & pears from B.C. There were some really great food vendors too! It was fun to be on the other side of the table for a change.

After a few days of beautiful & warm weather, we awoke to winter.

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The Bow River behind my brother’s house.

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The scenery was even more amazing with all the snow!

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A herd of elk alongside the highway in Canmore.

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The town of Banff.

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The morning we left for home, the temperature was -24C.

We returned home to this …

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and this.

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The first job awaiting me – spreading a huge pile of leaves, grass clippings & manure.

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But winter followed us home to Ontario and now the farm looks like this …

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The manure will have to wait.

Our trip was great, a good way to relax after a busy summer. But we’re glad to be home.

Except maybe for Amy – she’s a big fan of Alberta!

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Happy Birthday!

It was my birthday last week … and I’m feeling old.

It’s not my actual age – though my girls delight in reminding me that I now qualify for the seniors discount (south of the border).

It’s also not the grey on my head – though Lorie points it out while giving me a haircut.

It’s not even because I am tired & weary – that mostly comes from a summer of long hours & hard work.

 

Here’s why I’m feeling (somewhat) old …

  • According to Statistics Canada the average age of a farmer in Canada is now 54. That puts me older than the average farmer. Wow! And more than half of all Canadian farms have operators over the age of 55. Me again!
  • A grade 10 food & nutrition class visited the farm today. They were great kids & I enjoyed giving them a tour of the farm. But when I told them that I have been farming for more than 37 years, that made me old in my own eyes, as well as theirs.
  • I shared the story of our farm to these same students. More & more I enjoy talking about the history of our farm, and what it was like back when I was growing up, or retelling the even older stories that my father used to share with me. Don’t old people do that?

Here are some examples …

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When my father purchased our farm in 1947 there were no fruit trees – it was open land. To earn the needed money to buy trees, he worked in construction for many years. He also grew tomatoes those first years, both as a cash crop & to make use of the land. One year the tomato money was enough to buy a pick up truck! Some of the first trees he planted were these pears – still producing fruit & earning money.

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I talked to the students today about why the farm beside us is no longer a peach orchard but a strawberry farm. They were canning peaches and when the cannery shut down a few years ago there was no market for this fruit. Out they came, to be replaced by strawberries. Any canned peaches purchased in the grocery stores now, are not from Canada.

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This is a lone sour cherry tree, located at the end of a row of sweet cherries, right beside the train tracks. It seems out of place – and it is. But when I was growing up there was a whole row of sours  the entire length of the farm, along the railway tracks. This one tree remains only because it fits in with the sweet cherry row. It will probably come out in a year or so as it is no longer healthy. I’m not really sure why my father planted this row of cherries. But I remember picking them. I also remember how they got beat up & bruised by the wind. Some years there would be train cars parked on the siding & they would protect the cherries from the wind. We would play on those train cars too – sometimes instead of picking!

I remember that row of Damson plums that were cut down & removed while in their prime – because we could not sell them. Now 40 + years later I am replanting Damsons because there is a demand for them at our markets.

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I feel it is important to remember & share these stories and many more like them.  Not only do they connect us to our past, but they help us understand the present. They are not just stories, but useful information & knowledge about the farm.

If this means I’m old – so be it!

 

Here are a few pictures of the farm this past week – when the fall colours were at their peak.

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And some of the vegetables we are still picking for the markets …

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The other old timer on the farm – remembering his good old days!

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