Keep updated on all that is happening around Thiessen Farms!


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May weather

It’s tempting to yearn for the good-old-days (ie pre-coronavirus), when our biggest challenge was the weather.

And then came last week – and our biggest challenge was the weather!

For close to a week there was a frost warning each night. And sure enough there was frost almost every morning … and some snow flurries, and temperatures cold enough that I wore my coveralls – my lined winter coveralls – a few times. There was even ice in the chickens’ water pail a couple of those mornings. Several days I woke up before dawn to hear wind machines roaring in the vineyards in the distance, stirring up the air to prevent damage to the tender grape buds. The blooms on our neighbours’ strawberries froze – acres of potential berries destroyed. Fruit growers in our area lost a significant portion of their sweet cherry, apricot and nectarine crops.

We were fortunate to suffer little damage. While there was no worry for the plants in the greenhouse, we covered everything with row cover anyway, for added insurance. Out in the field we knew most of the vegetables could handle temperatures around the freezing mark. We chose to cover the broccoli since it would take the longest to replace if we were to lose it. Spinach, lettuce, radishes … are all quick crops to grow and these we plant weekly, so we took our chances. In the end we only lost several rows of parsley and some lettuce both of which had been recently transplanted and were not well established yet. Everything else came through those frosty nights looking rather unhappy – but alive. They have mostly bounced back now!

By this past weekend we were enjoying seasonable temperatures and rain, and everything is looking brighter & greener already!

Broccoli still under the row covers – it’s been enjoying the extra warmth. Under the hoops & white insect cover the radishes, salad turnips & arugula are protected from insects.

All the trees are quickly getting their leaves & turning green.

The blackberry canes are leafing out and growing well.

Herbs & weeds happily growing together, and golden hops beginning their climb up the sides of the pergola.

Around the yard we continue to enjoy the beauty & colours of spring …

And I finally finished & hung my winter project – a barn quilt that I painted.

The sunshine & warmer temperatures in the forecast for this week will be very welcome and enjoyed by all. As it looks now, our CSA program should begin sometime in early June. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone again & meeting all our new CSA members!


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Changes 2020

My favourite tulips opened this week … and they are beautiful!

Tulipa tarda is a species tulip dating all the way back to the 16th century. We have them planted  around our deck so we can admire them while enjoying our morning coffee outdoors on warm spring days (not many of those yet). They faithfully appear each spring, with the clumps spreading more each year.

Along the barn their taller, brighter & showier relatives are also blooming …

… while the daffodils – just finishing now – put on a brilliant show again this spring.

With this pandemic requiring us to stay at home, we’re especially enjoying our spring flowers this year.

The pandemic has also required us to make some changes to our marketing plan for 2020 – major changes!

We were planning to run our CSA program again (expecting a modest increase in membership) as well as attending the same 2 farmers’ markets – downtown Georgetown & North York at Mel Lastman Square.

However our CSA membership has increased by well over 50%, far more than we anticipated. Our Georgetown market is still scheduled to begin on Saturday June 6. We intend to be there with our masks, face shields, gloves etc – whatever is recommended or required at that time. A number of our Georgetown customers have joined CSA this season and will pick up their weekly boxes at the market. The North York market remains much more uncertain with possibly a late June opening.

After a lot of thinking, discussion & deliberation, we have decided that we will not be returning for our 27th year to North York. It was a difficult decision. We have so many loyal customers who visit every week, and we have made a lot of friends there through the years. It is hard to leave. But it is close to impossible to grow our crops not knowing if/when we’ll be able to market them there. We looked into the possibility of delivering our vegetables to Toronto but couldn’t make it work in a way that would satisfy both our customers and us.

So rather than limiting our CSA numbers, we are continuing to accept applications. It feels right to be growing more food for our local area. There is a lot of anxiety about food now and worries about access, availability, where it comes from & quality. We are grateful for the trust that so many have put in us to provide food for their families. We will honour that trust by doing our best to grow the best!

And things are growing! Despite the weather being on the cool side lately, we can see things coming along on the farm.

The plants in the greenhouse are finally putting on some healthy growth and should be ready for planting out on the farm within a few weeks. We will have vegetable & herb plants for sale at our roadside stand  by the May long weekend.

The garlic loves the cooler temperatures.

The snow peas are lush & green.

Yesterday we transplanted green onions, beets, spinach, lettuce, parsley into the field and seeded more radishes. These joined the broccoli, salad turnips, radishes, green onions, kale & spinach that were planted back in April. Later this week we’ll put out the first cabbages, onions & carrots.

The blackberries are growing rapidly now too.

Another change that this season has brought is the amount of time we need to spend in the office. While it is never a farmer’s preference to do office work, it has become increasingly necessary. Much time has been spent on figuring out our new marketing plans, answering emails & inquiries about CSA, keeping up with the rapidly changing rules & requirements pertaining to the COVID-19 situation especially as it applies to having employees on the farm, and how we can sell our vegetables, how CSA pick up will work this year, doing our farm purchasing online as well as banking & other business etc.

But it does make our outdoor work on the farm far more pleasurable!

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More of the spring beauty we’re enjoying!

And our enthusiastic helpers!

 

 


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Keeping on farming

This is a tomato seedling – a “Stakebreaker” tomato to be exact (and yes, I grew it mostly for the name), a new variety for us, but an heirloom tomato (so it’s been around a long time), red in colour, medium sized, with a delicious, sweet flavour complemented by an acid tartness (description courtesy of the seed seller).

Started around 6 weeks ago, back in early March, it is one of approximately 7000 tomato plants we have seeded. Stakebreaker is one of 85 varieties we ended up growing for 2020.

We will plant close to 1200 (and maybe more) of these tomato plants on our farm next month. They should provide enough fruit for our CSA members, our farmers’ market customers, our new roadside stand, and ourselves. The remaining plants will be sold so others can grow their own, and enjoy the experience of picking & eating a sun-ripened, juicy, fresh-from-the-garden tomato.

We weren’t going to seed so many tomatoes. Most years we overdo it – growing more than we can plant,  sell, and even give away to local community gardens & food banks. In the end a lot get tossed onto the compost pile. But this year we’re anticipating a lot more people will want to plant gardens. Certainly the seed companies are being inundated with orders for seeds. Vegetable plants should be in high demand as well. So we seeded a few more …

Of course we don’t really know what to expect this season.

  • Our CSA has seen a surge in applicants. Membership is up more than 35% right now, and we continue to get emails & calls each day from interested people. We are still accepting new members.
  • Farmers’ markets are now considered an essential service in Ontario. But it is still uncertain if, when and how they will operate. Our Georgetown market seems likely to be running in some form, but we’re still awaiting word on North York. And will our customers come out to the markets anyway?
  • We have been asked by customers & others to deliver vegetable boxes into Toronto and are considering this as well, though our preference is to stay closer to home.

Whatever the upcoming months will bring, we know everyone has to eat! We remain committed to growing the most nutritious, healthy and best tasting vegetables possible. We are doing our best to keep ourselves healthy & well. And we will do all we can to provide our customers with their food in a safe way.

So we keep on farming!

We are well into spring. The sun shines stronger (sometimes), the ground is warming, and crops are growing.

Amy & Sage are spending most of their days now in the greenhouse, transplanting tomatoes from their seeding trays into pots.

The big greenhouse is starting to fill up. Along with the tomatoes, we are transplanting peppers & eggplant.

The small greenhouse where we seed everything is overflowing …

And the trailer is loaded with trays of kale, spinach, green onions, broccoli & sweet peas which we expect to plant out in the field this week – if the weather cooperates!

Out on the farm the snow peas are up – pictured here with a bit of snow, which fell earlier this week.

And the garlic is growing well …

… as is the rhubarb.

We are preparing the fields for crops.

Our old apricot trees in the backyard are in blossom – a sure sign of spring. Unfortunately it has been cold, windy or wet these last few days so the bees have not been out pollinating. But tomorrow promises to be sunny and the trees should be abuzz with bees!

The willow tree by the pond is showing green – always the first tree to turn.

As usual Sage and the Flynns remind us to chill – leading by example!

We received this timely & encouraging message on our sidewalk the other day, from some young, talented artists in the neighbourhood.

Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Spring continued …

The peas are planted, the garlic is growing and the blackberries are budding.
It’s spring, and life on the farm is progressing as it should.

The snow peas were seeded where the occultation tarp had been all winter. We pulled it off last week and the ground underneath was perfect for planting. Any weeds and leftover vegetation from the fall had long since broken down & decomposed under the tarp. We lightly worked the soil and it was ready to plant.

The tarp was moved over to a new area & weighted down. We will leave it for a month or 6 weeks and  then this patch will be ready to plant. Of course we had some strong winds over the weekend and almost lost the tarp. We kept adding more & more weights, but to no avail! Finally I parked the tractor on it, to at least hold it down. Then Monday we pulled it back into place & adjusted the weights again. We’ll see …

Rows of garlic are now visible above the straw. Planted back in October, mulched in December, it is now the first crop out on the farm to show life in spring. And the best part of all – there’s no more work involved until the harvest. That will begin in early June when we will pull some for green garlic. Later that month the scapes will be harvested, and then the rest of the garlic will be pulled sometime in July.

The blackberries are pruned and tied, and looking healthy. Next we will mulch them with straw both to control the weeds and to keep the ground moist through the summer.

We did start some mulching today – rhubarb, currants, and the mint patch. Usually we let the ground warm up before applying straw, but the weeds are already pushing – so why wait!

Seeding continues in the greenhouse, and the first tomatoes will be ready for transplanting into larger pots next week.

Spring means our busy time is just beginning.

We are thankful for our work, our farm, our health and for the beauty of the season …

 

 

 

 

 


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First day of Spring

Today was a good day – the first day of spring!

I also discovered the first flowers – a gift and a celebration of the changing seasons!

Tiny winter aconites were found blooming in the leaves & mulch underneath the redbud tree, right close to the road. I was checking the progress of the tulips & daffodils, and there they were – so small, yet so yellow and bright and beautiful and cheerful.

There are more signs of life in the gardens … tulips & daffodils sprouting,

and rhubarb,

and angelica – the earliest herb to come to life every year.

While these are days of change, uncertainty, and fear in our world, it is comforting to realize that nature with its turning seasons continues as usual, which for me brings comfort & reassurance.

Out on the farm, spring is not so obvious yet. But slowly the drab grey & brown of winter is becoming green.

Under the straw mulch we can find the garlic coming up.

And the ducks have been spotted on the pond.

We’re pruning the blackberries now – the canes appear to have come through the winter well.

In the greenhouse the tomatoes seedlings are growing.

Peppers too!

Long before the coronavirus became a part of our life, I started building a small flower/vegetable stand to put out at the road this summer, to sell any excess sunflowers etc. Constructed mostly from pallets and recycled materials, it turned out okay (if I say so myself).

Now, depending on how things turn out we may or may not be able to go to our farmers’ markets this summer. Perhaps the stand will get more use than we anticipated?

We are grateful for everyone who has signed up for our CSA program. Knowing we have a market for at least a portion of our crop, and already having money in hand to put towards the spring bills gives us security and optimism for the upcoming season. Thank you!

We are still accepting CSA applications and have waived the April 1 price increase.

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As usual, the Flynns remain unaffected by our concerns.

A soft bed in a warm greenhouse on a sunny day – life is good!!

Happy 1st day of Spring!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Signs of Spring

For us, it’s the first sign of spring,

the greenlight for our growing season,

a good-news story,

… and a real thrill!

The first seeds are up!

Peppers, tomatoes and eggplant were all sown during the last week in February. The first tomatoes & eggplant were up in 4 days while it took only 6 days to see the first pepper shoots.

That’s fast and it’s because of our new germination box.

Until now we’ve always started our seeds in the small greenhouse that’s attached to our workshop. We have a germination bed – sand with heating cables running through it, making a nice, cosy place for the seeds to begin their journey. Over this we have hoops supporting several layers of white row cover for added warmth. And over this is a greenhouse within the greenhouse. For those cold March nights, a small heater keeps the seeds & seedlings comfortable. It’s a little cumbersome, but low tech, low energy use & inexpensive – and it works reasonably well!

This year we built a germination box which provides better conditions for seed sprouting – higher temperatures, but especially more consistent warmth & humidity too.

It’s just a box made of styrofoam sheets. I pushed in nails to hold it together & used tape for additional strength. It’s amazingly stable. The door is held in place by paint cans & elastic bands (don’t knock it, it works!). Heat & humidity are provided by a crockpot filled with water. The planted flats are stacked on a wire shelf which allows the heat from the crockpot to rise throughout the chamber.

A temperature controller maintains the required temperature by turning the crockpot off & on as needed.

Once a day we refill the water in the crockpot. A few times each day we check the trays to see if any seeds are germinating. Then we immediately move those trays into the greenhouse as the seedlings require sunlight to grow.

Overall we are very pleased with our germination box. It was inexpensive & easy to build, and simple to operate. Obviously this is not our original idea. Similar germination boxes are used by many small growers. Even better is using an old fridge or freezer (standing on end) for the structure. It is stronger, cheaper (usually free), and more durable than styrofoam. We just haven’t found one yet.

March is a month filled with seeding – our long-season crops like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers & onions along with some herbs, broccoli, beets … We’re planting every few days as we have room in the germination box. In a few weeks the small greenhouse will be almost full of seedlings and we’ll be moving them over to the large hoophouse (weather permitting). A lot of our time is spent checking the trays, moving them around, watering, keeping track of all the crops (90+ kinds of tomatoes, 62 peppers …)

I guess it’s considered work – but such enjoyable work! March can still be raw, cold & even snowy outdoors. But inside the greenhouse, the balmy temperatures, the smell of the soil & the little plants, the fresh green colours, seeing new growth every day … it all adds up to an awesome work environment!

The Flynns enjoy it all too! On sunny days they sprawl out in the greenhouse soaking up the heat.

When the days are warmer, they lounge outdoors.

Sage, on the other hand, is in bit of a funk now that the snow is gone. She prefers to sleep off her moodiness in the comfort of her home!

Happy Spring!

 

 

 

 


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CSA 2020

Our crop planning for 2020 is complete.

The seeds have arrived.

Here is a summary …

  • winter squash – 16 varieties (down from 28 last season)
  • eggplant – 19 kinds (down from 39 in 2018)
  • lettuce – 22 (compared with 14 last year)
  • hot peppers – 47 (up from 32)
  • tomatoes – 92 varieties (84 in 2019)

In total, we have seeds for 450 varieties of 44 different vegetables. To be honest, not all those seeds will hit the dirt. We might run out of time, or space, or forget about some of them (it happens!). Occasionally common sense will prevail and someone (usually Amy) will question if we really need to grow 12 kinds of zucchini or 17 different bok choys or 11 varieties of bitter melon …

So why do we grow so many different things?

  • Our customers expect it! At market, people often stop by just to see what’s new & different, and our CSA members consistently ask for more variety.
  • Insurance against the weather. Different vegetables thrive in different conditions. Even amongst tomatoes for example, some prefer drier conditions, while others want wetter, or hotter, cooler … Since we can’t predict what the upcoming season will be like, we grow varieties for all conditions knowing at least some will flourish.
  • We grow different crops for the different seasons. Snow peas & broccoli grow best in spring when the temperatures are cooler. But there are new broccolis that can take some summer heat so we might try those too. There are spinach & bok choy varieties developed for the weather conditions of each season so instead of 1 kind, we will grow 3 or 4 to have a season-long harvest. Spring radishes & fall radishes are very different vegetables each suited to their seasons.
  • Diversity is beneficial for the farm ecosystem.
    • Having many different crops makes better use of the soil. Carrots and other root crops grow deep into the soil, drawing their nutrients & moisture from lower than lettuce and other shallow rooted vegetables which gather their energy from closer to the surface.
    • Lettuce & other leafy greens do not require as much sunshine and are happy growing in the shade of taller sun-loving plants – especially in the heat of the summer.
    • Each vegetable will attract different insects – both beneficial & harmful to itself & its neighbours. The cucumber & squash beetles that decimated our 1st planting of zucchini last year were not much of an issue in the winter squash patch because there were tomatoes, sunflowers and fields of other crops separating them. Had we grown only squashes, the insects would have had an unlimited feast and we would have been tempted to resort to pesticides to stop the devastation.
    • The rows of edible flowers we grew attracted so many bees which then pollinated other vegetables growing nearby.
    • These are just a few examples of diversity making the farm more efficient, productive and eco-friendly.
  • We love colour!
  • I have a short attention span & get bored easily. Growing so many various vegetables keeps things interesting.

And here’s what becomes of all those seeds of all those different vegetables …

We are now accepting applications for our 2020 CSA program. Please consider joining us this season. Information here or email us at thefarm@thiessenfarms.com.

The last of our winter squash from 2019 being enjoyed!
Sage waiting & looking forward to a new season!