Thiessen Farms

Keep updated on all that is happening around Thiessen Farms!


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Beauty in the Orchards

There is nothing more beautiful than the farm in spring!

The buds, the blossoms, the fresh green leaves unfurling …

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Blossom time went by quicker this season. Last weekend the cherries, plums & peaches were at their peak, but the sunny, hot & humid weather meant they did not last long. It was perfect weather for the bees to do their work though, and pollinate the blossoms – and they were out in force.

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The plum trees were loaded with blooms – we’re optimistic for a great crop!

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Cherry blossoms were also plentiful.

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Already we can see the tiny cherries growing inside the blossom.

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We have been unsure of what to expect from the peaches after the frigid winter. But overall they had more blossoms than we had expected.

Some varieties had enough blooms to promise a good crop.

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Others had not much  …

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And some had blossoms only at the tops of the trees, where the temperatures were a little warmer – just enough to make a difference.

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All varieties of pears had an abundance of flowers.

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Other pictures of the spring beauty …

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Perhaps there is something more beautiful than the blossoms …  Our daughter Kailey got married last weekend.

Our girls – Amy, Kailey & Kate.

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The happy couple – Nathanael & Kailey.

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First Blossoms!

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The first blossoms of the season opened today – apricots!

Two days ago they were still tight buds, round & plump, but the warm sunshine of the last few days brought them out in a hurry. They are extra special because we thought the cold temperatures in February had killed all the apricots.

It is an exciting time! Each day we can see the crops progressing – growing & developing.

Here are some cherry buds a few days days ago …

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Pears …

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Raspberries …

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Peaches …

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The green tips on the peach branch are the leaf buds. On either side of that are the fruit buds. I was not able to get better pictures to show the difference between live & dead fruit buds. Overall the crop looks to be quite variable. Most of the fruit buds on the lower half of the trees are dead. The top part of trees seem to have more live buds. It also varies by variety & age of tree. We’ll have to wait a bit longer yet to get a more accurate sense of what the crop will be.

Blackberries …

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Blackberries are the bad news story. The canes are all dead! By this time of the season they should be leafing out similar to the raspberries, but there is nothing! We will leave them as is for another week or so, and then cut everything off at the ground. The roots should be alive and will send out new canes, which will bear a crop next year. For this year, there will be no blackberries.

We have a new row of blackberries that was planted last spring. There are a few leaves on those canes, but most of the buds were chewed off by the rabbits over the winter – guess they were really hungry!

In the greenhouse the vegetable & herb plants are growing well.

Tomatoes …

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And out in the field the garlic is up, and peas & spinach too.

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Here are some (almost straight) rows of broccoli we transplanted today.

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Of course Oliver is always “helping“!

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It was almost on a whim that we began selling our fruit at farmers’ markets 25 years ago.

A small ad in a farm newsletter called for growers willing to sell their produce at a market to be held at Nathan Phillips Square in front of City Hall in downtown Toronto. We decided to try it.

We knew nothing about farmers’ markets – all our fruit was sold wholesale. On that first day, for our first market, the first things we loaded into the truck – the important supplies we were sure to need – were folding lawn chairs & magazines to read. Our set up was an old, wooden peach packing table with a patio umbrella stuck in it for shelter from sun or rain. We guessed at how much fruit we might sell & what size containers to sell it in.

But at the end of that first day our van was empty & our pockets were full. It was a lot of fun & we were hooked!

Fast forward 25 years … We now sell almost all of our fruit & vegetables at farmers’ markets. Our set has grown to 30 feet of tables protected with a large canopy.

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Thanks to careful records & many years of experience, we have a pretty good idea of how much fruit & vegetables to bring for any given market day. We are confident in our product, and in our abilities to sell it. But the goal remains the same – to come home with an empty van & full pockets (it doesn’t always happen). And market is still a lot of fun!

Throughout these years we have been vendors at 9 different markets. We attended our original market at Nathan Phillips Square for 18 years, others for more than 20, and some for only a year or two. Our heyday was the year we did 6 different markets each week.

These last few years we have settled into selling at 3 weekly farmers’ markets – East York & North York (both in Toronto), and downtown Georgetown. These markets together with the CSA form the base of our marketing plan. From May until late October, Amy & Ron are away at market 3 days each week & on the farm the other 3. Lorie stays on the farm all week looking after the CSA & keeping things running smoothly, with the help of some great employees. It’s a rigorous schedule but one that has become routine, and it has worked for us …

… until now. It’s time for a change!

This season we will not be attending the East York Farmers’ Market.

It’s been a difficult decision to come to, and one that we’ve discussed & struggled with over the winter.

The reason for dropping a market is simple – we don’t think there will be enough fruit. This winter was harsh & indications are for a reduced crop. While we won’t know for sure what the crop size will be until blossom time, we have to make preparations in advance. We recall the season of 2012 when most of the blossoms were frozen during an early spring bloom & we struggled to have sufficient fruit to bring to all our markets. It was tiring & ended up making little sense financially. We choose not to repeat this.

Plus, our CSA numbers have increased again this season and we need to have ample fruit for our members. A goal we have been working toward, is to grow our CSA large enough that we can drop one of our Toronto markets. We have been hesitant to do this when the crops are plentiful. This season the decision has almost been made for us.

The reason for dropping East York rather than another market is also simple – it will cause the least disruption to our picking/marketing schedule. As a bonus, it is also the worst of our markets to get to, or rather, to get home from. We find ourselves almost giddy with the prospect of avoiding the Tuesday afternoon drive on the Gardiner Expressway & QEW during rush-hour, especially with the added impact of continuing construction & the Pan Am Games this season. Neither will we miss the 3:30 AM alarm each Tuesday morning.

What we will miss are our friends – both fellow vendors & customers – and after 15 years at East York there are many!

One of the biggest pleasures of  selling at a farmers’ market is getting to know the people who eat our fruit & vegetables … the guy who can hardly wait for the white flesh peaches, the couple needing Damsons for their favourite plum torte recipe, and Lynne who lives for our green zebra tomatoes. We know who always squeezes the peaches, who will try to pick through the heirloom tomatoes looking for all the purple calabash, and who will dare to buy that hefty blue hubbard squash that others only gaze at in awe. Our friends wonder how the crops are coming in, ask if we’ve had enough rain, and worry about the hailstorm they heard about. They tell us how much sweeter the peaches are getting each week, and share a recipe they tried using our eggplant. We’re happy when Peter photographs our tables, satisfied when the discerning chef chooses our fruit for the party he’s catering, and proud that our vegetables will be on morning television with Mairlyn …

We’re going to miss you East York!

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Amy & John (Lorie’s father) all set up & ready for customers.

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Happy Easter!

Easter is one of my favourite holidays!

Who wouldn’t love a holiday that includes chocolate animals, coloured eggs, & paska (Easter bread)?

Even better is the celebration of Resurrection & new life.

This is also evident on the farm. After a long, cold winter new life is appearing – slowly, maybe too slowly it seems, but nature cannot be rushed. Perhaps we appreciate it more, having to wait & to search for these first signs of resurrection.

Along the railway tracks the pussy willow catkins are putting on their soft, furry show.

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The mint has started to pop up in the hoophouse.

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The weeds are there too. Oliver, hungry for something fresh – as we all are – enjoys snacking on the these first, succulent shoots.

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Outside in a few sheltered spots, grasses are gradually greening up.

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And in the gardens, rhubarb has finally appeared …

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… along with tulips & daffodils.

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Our curly willow by the pond has taken on a greenish tinge. It’s always the first tree to come alive.

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But in the orchard the buds have not yet moved – no signs of life yet. We’re waiting (im)patiently & expectantly, as we we’re anxious to see how the fruit buds survived the winter.

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It is pruning season and the brush is flying – in the orchards …

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… and in the raspberry patch.

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The little greenhouse is like a tropical paradise – green, warm, steamy, and smelling like summer. The vegetable seedlings are mostly thriving & growing well. Next week we move over to the big hoophouse and begin transplanting – thousands of tomato plants, broccoli, eggplant, peppers …

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Frisco, our own resident Easter bunny! Frisco is dreaming of summer & looking forward to his favourite snack – apricot leaves from the tree that shades his cage.

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Happy Easter!


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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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