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Almost Spring!

It is a peaceful time of year on the farm.

The vegetable fields are resting under their blanket of snow.

In the greenhouse the cats are loving the warmth and soaking up any sunshine we might get (which hasn’t been a lot this winter!).

Even Sage is content to sleep away much of her day, indoors.

But the time is coming! Despite the cold and snow, spring is about here.

Our planning for the upcoming season is complete. All the seeds have arrived. Supplies are ordered.

We’re ready to go!

The first vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) have been seeded in the small greenhouse and we anxiously wait for the first green shoots to poke through the soil.

That means we need to get the new plastic on our big greenhouse so it will be ready for all the seedlings. They will be moving here in about a months time. The outer layer of plastic blew off in a big windstorm last Easter. We removed the inner layer in fall and decided to leave the greenhouse uncovered until the spring. This allowed the soil to soak up the rain & snow all winter and be renewed.

The blackberries can be pruned and tied as soon as the snow has melted. Tracks in the snow indicate the rabbits have been checking the canes out – hopefully they have not caused too much damage?

On the marketing side of things, we are looking forward to the farmers’ markets we will be attending again this year.

Our CSA program is ready and applications are arriving daily. We are especially excited to be receiving so much interest from neighbours and people in our area. Information on CSA is available here – https://thiessenfarms.com/csa/.

We have enjoyed our quiet time – but now we’re anticipating an active and busy season ahead.

(Of course some of us aren’t quite ready for action yet!)

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Florida in February :)

We chose a good week to get away!

At home it was ice, snow, rain and more ice …

… while we were enjoying palm trees, sunshine & warmth!

Lorie & I spent a week with my brother and sister-in-law in Florida, just north of Tampa. It had been about 5 years since we were in Florida, and we had never been on the Gulf side.

I was interested in the farming, but there wasn’t much to see. This part of Florida is not a major agricultural area. While we only saw 1 small orange grove, fresh Florida citrus was readily available and we ate plenty!

We did see some massive strawberry fields around Plant City and enjoyed fresh strawberry shortcake at Parksdale Farm Market, a place my parents used to visit 40 years ago when they travelled south. The berries were sweet, juicy & delicious!

Lunch one day was at a roadside BBQ – with a unique menu! Unfortunately the gizzards weren’t available, but the gator bites were amazing!

The house we rented was along a canal that flowed out to the Gulf of Mexico. Much time was spent enjoying the warm temperatures (mid to upper 20’s C each day) on our deck which was built out over the water …

… and watching the sunset from Sam’s Beach Bar.

A person could get used to such a life!

But it is good to be home now, relaxed & refreshed.

CSA sign-up has started and applications are coming in. Next week we begin seeding in the greenhouse.

It’s almost spring!

 

 

 

 


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Eating fresh ???

So that’s what it feels like to receive a CSA basket … sort of!

Except the box we received contained more than just vegetables, the food inside was of (mostly) unknown origin, and we had some choice in the primary contents …

So it really wasn’t like a CSA box at all – but we did open it with the same anticipation & excitement that our CSA members say they experience upon receiving their CSA share.

It started with a coupon that arrived in the mail from a company called Hello Fresh. They were offering a 55% discount on a 1 week meal plan (3 meals). Usually such coupons are discarded but this time Amy suggested we try it.

For research purposes of course!

It was a good week to do it. Lorie was away, taking in some sun on an island in the Caribbean leaving me on my own for food. And Amy welcomed a break from her own meal planning & prep. She chose our 3 meals from a selection of about 7 possibilities for that week.

So on Monday morning when the FedEx driver dropped off the box at our back door we were excited! Inside were all the ingredients for 3 complete meals. The meat portions were on the bottom packed in ice, and the rest of the food was in separate paper bags on top. The recipes for each meal were clear and concise, with pictures to make it real easy. All ingredients are included except for salt & pepper and any necessary cooking oils. Amy prepared 2 of the meals while I cooked 1. Then we shared the food, as each meal serves 2 people.

Research results …

  • As vegetable growers we were especially interested in that part of the meal. We thought vegetable portions were a little small. I added more potatoes from our pantry to my meal, and the sweet potatoes in one of Amy’s dishes were too small to make into fries as the recipe suggested, and certainly not enough for 2 people. Onions came pre-chopped while shallots came whole. Not sure why. The quality of the vegetables was fine – I threw out a couple of green beans that were too sad to eat but the rest were okay.
  • The fresh herbs were very nice quality.
  • The vegetables & herbs had no information as to their origin whereas the meat did. Interestingly, the Hello Fresh website talks about where the meats come from and how the animals are raised, but mentions nothing about the vegetables or fruit.
  • Meat portions were adequate and the quality was very good.
  • There is so much packaging! They stress that it is all recyclable, but there is an awful lot of plastic as well as paper & cardboard that needs to be dealt with.
  • It seemed quite expensive to us. The plan we chose has a regular price of $13.33 per serving or $80 for the 3 meals. We paid about $6/serving – $36 for the whole box, with our coupon.
  • We would rather eat our own food. A lot of the food we eat in winter is prepared in the summer when we freeze vegetables, can fruit, make sauce, pickles and juice, dry herbs, etc with our own (or our neighbours’) produce. Things like squash, cabbage, garlic & onions are stored as long as possible for winter eating. We do buy some vegetables in the winter – but it just felt wrong to eat green beans fresh in January. Some things are best eaten in season only!
  • Having someone else do all the meal planning, grocery shopping, and much of the food preparation saves a lot of time & energy. It’s quite understandable why Hello Fresh and other similar businesses are growing in popularity.

Overall we enjoyed our experience with Hello Fresh! 

It was a fun way to get dinner on the table, the food was good, plus we learned some things that we can apply to our farming operation.

 

 

 


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2019 – The beginning!

January 1, 2019.

The year began with a beautiful day – mild temperatures, lovely clouds, green grass …

I keep finding jobs to do outside, just so I can enjoy this weather. Today I brought in more firewood, in anticipation of the coming cold & snow. I trimmed some of the scrub trees growing up alongside the railroad tracks, and the wild grape vines that entangle them.

Rarely do I have to work alone – the Flynns always show up to see what’s going on.

Early January is also planning time.

Regardless of the weather outside, we need to spend time inside …

  • reviewing the 2018 growing season, using our notes that we scribbled throughout the year, our CSA & farmers’ market records, financial statements (and our memories).
  • planning out the upcoming season including deciding on what to grow and ordering the needed seeds. We will map out where the crops will be grown on the farm, when they will be seeded & transplanted & even probable harvest dates.
  • We need to review our marketing plan and decide on farmers’ markets and details of our CSA program and …

After many months of physical work outside on the farm, sitting at the desk and using our minds can be challenging – but I really enjoy the planning, and especially the dreaming and imagining!

And we’ll all take some time to enjoy this quieter, more relaxing season!

 

 


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To Oliver!

We said good-bye to Oliver this past week.

He was just a farm cat – one of dozens that have called our farm home through the years. But after having him around for more than 10 years (probably 12, though no one really remembers) we grew rather attached to him and he is surely missed.

Oliver had personality to spare, and a rather unique take on his place on the farm.

While all of our cats are pets, they are expected to work – catching mice & other critters, keeping the barn free of varmints. Oliver could indeed hunt with the best of them, but considered that to be part-time work only. Usually he got bored & fell asleep on the job. But he rather enjoyed being the farm greeter and running towards vehicles entering the yard. Our CSA members were familiar with this habit and drove cautiously when arriving to pick up their produce each week. But again, he often got bored & fell asleep – usually in the middle of the driveway, fully confident that cars would circle around him.

Actually, Oliver spent a good part of his life sleeping. He could make himself comfortable anywhere!

Oliver took on a new responsibility this last summer – babysitting Sage. He followed her around, hung out with her when she was tied up, and if Sage got anxious and began to bark, Oliver would rub against her and do his best to comfort & distract her. Once when Sage got herself all tangled up in the barn, we observed Oliver slowly leading Sage in circles to untangle her. They loved each other!

But most of all, Oliver loved to be with people. Wherever we were, he wanted to be – out in the fields, in the barn, in the house (not allowed – but always tried!) and often on our laps …

Oliver was a great cat!

To Oliver!!

 

 

 


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Fall chores

Sometimes we look for excuses not to work – but this is not one of them!

A sudden clutch issue has put our tractor out of commission for a few weeks. Once the needed parts have arrived it can  hopefully be put back together – as good as new! While our mechanic seems confident, it appears rather impossible to me. Guess that’s why I grow vegetables and let others fix the equipment!

There are some jobs on the farm that require this tractor, and they will have to wait or simply not get done this fall.

But there are plenty of other chores to keep us going.

We mulched the garlic patch the other day. We prefer to do this when the ground is frozen, and before we get snow. A nice thick layer of straw protects the garlic from heaving – the freezing & thawing cycles of our winters can push the garlic right out of the ground. Straw will help maintain a more constant temperature. Having the ground frozen helps to discourage the mice from burrowing into the ground under the nice warm straw. The downside is that the garlic will be slow to start growing next spring as the mulch will prevent the cold soil from thawing & warming up quickly. Lastly, the straw will keep the weeds from growing next season, making the garlic patch almost care-free until harvest in July.

I had just starting spreading the straw when the neighbour came by. He was also spreading straw – mulching his strawberry fields – and generously offered to do my garlic. What would have taken me about half a day with the pitchfork, took about 10 minutes with his tractor & bale shredder. Thank you to a helpful neighbour!

This was our tomato field this past season. It’s all cleaned up now, like the rest of the farm. I spread a layer of leaves and grass over it. These will break down over the winter & in the spring we will work them into the soil, then spread another layer of compost and this area will be ready to plant to vegetables again. The grass & leaves come from a lawn care company that dumps them in a pile on our farm throughout the season. I try to turn the pile over a few times during the summer. By fall much of it has decomposed and gets spread over the fields, adding beneficial organic matter & nutrients to our soil. Another pile of compost (to the left in the background of the picture) was made this spring with fresh manure, straw & leaves. It also got turned over several times this summer and is now beautiful compost that will be spread on the fields next spring.

I was on the roofs of the barns yesterday cleaning the eavestroughs, so I snapped this picture – an overview of one of our fields. The light coloured rectangle in the centre is our occultation tarp (see https://thiessenfarms.com/2017/04/12/occultation/ for an explanation). That is still some kale growing to the left of the tarp – the cold weather & frosts have made it even more tasty.

An inglorious end for the last few unsold pumpkins after Hallowe’en.

On the cold fall days the cats move into the warmth of the greenhouse.

This about sums up their level of energy – and sometimes ours too!

 

 


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Finally fall

We had our first real frost of the season on Tuesday morning – and it sure was beautiful!

Surprisingly, none of the remaining crops were damaged. When the sun came out and the temperatures rose, the vegetables were fine.

Not that it matters anymore to us. Last Thursday was our final farmers’ market of the season – so we are all done! Harvesting, packing and selling are finished.

It was time!

This was the temperature as we were driving to market the previous Thursday …

This past Thursday was a little warmer …

But those are both cold temperatures to be setting up our tables and then standing around waiting for customers. We couldn’t even put the greens out on display until mid-morning for fear they would freeze on the table and be damaged (it’s happened before!).

 

But the final markets were good – cold but nice weather, full tables of produce, and while sales were slower, we had enough satisfied & thankful customers. And we are happy to be finished!

Now we can concentrate our energy on cleaning up the farm and getting everything ready for winter. Most of the fields are already empty. The garlic has been planted. Cover crops have been seeded.

 

We are working on removing the stakes, string & posts in the tomato patches. Then we can mow the plants down. There is ground cover to remove, compost to spread, equipment to winterize, barns to clean, bookkeeping to catch up on … and the list goes on …

While there is much to do, there is no pressure to get it accomplished immediately. We keep reasonable hours, stop for coffee and take the time to play with our favourite nephew/grandson!

We should have most chores finished by the time winter arrives. Then we’ll review & evaluate this past year and start to make plans for the next.

It is a good time of year!

Sage is a little sad though – still missing all her CSA friends, especially the little ones!