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Winter eating

An extremely robust squash plant enveloped our compost pile last summer. When the fall frosts killed it, the fruit was revealed …

It resembles a pink banana squash (a variety we have not grown in several years), but who knows! The squash had several smaller siblings which we took to market where they sold quickly. This monster was too big – takes up too much room in the truck, plus a little awkward for someone to lug home on the subway!

So it has been sitting in the barn since fall, waiting …

There are now 2 small, dark spots appearing on the side & the stem end is getting soft. Before it spoils it will have to be eaten – either by us or the chickens. Most likely it will be both us and the chickens. Seems there should be plenty for all! It will be interesting to see what it’s like inside & what it tastes like.

We still have other “fresh” vegetables left in the barn that we are eating. There’s a few assorted squash – mostly butternut, some onions, garlic, a handful of wilted carrots & several large, winter kohlrabi (the same as the kohlrabi we had in the summer, just way, way larger). And tucked into our fridge is a bag with 2 Chinese cabbages.

The onions & garlic are always useful & a welcome part of our meals, but the rest … let’s just admit that we lose our excitement for these roots by the new year. Fortunately we put a lot of vegetables into the freezer last summer including peppers (sweet, hot, & roasted), roasted tomatoes, zucchini, spinach, kale, corn, edamame, squash, and some herbs. We also dried some herbs & hot peppers, made some jam & jarred a whole lot of tomato sauce & salsa. We definitely will not go hungry!

But that doesn’t stop the craving for fresh-from-the-field vegetables. This season’s seeds are arriving in the mail daily. As I unpack the boxes and check the packages I dream of juicy, warm cherry tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, crisp lettuces and even eggplant. They suggest not grocery shopping when you’re hungry. Similarly, it’s not helpful to choose your crops & shop for seeds when you’re desiring fresh food! The result is more seeds, of more varieties, of more vegetables, than we had planned to grow!

It felt good to spend a few hours outside on the farm this week. We finally got the garlic patches mulched with a thick blanket of straw. We prefer to do this when the ground is frozen but without much snow. The straw will then keep the soil frozen throughout the freeze/thaw cycles of our winter and prevent the garlic cloves from heaving & being pushed out of the ground. When spring finally comes and the garlic sprouts & grows, the straw will prevent the weeds from growing too, and competing with the garlic.

We like to stay warm & cozy in the winter – and so does the garlic!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The beginning of winter.

And now it is winter! Cold temperatures, biting winds, snow covering the ground …

At least that was the weather last week.

Now we’re back to milder temperatures, melting snow, and slush – normal winter weather for Niagara!

I love it!

After a seemingly endless and mostly pleasant fall, it’s nice to settle into winter. The first snow signaled the end to our outdoor work.

Now we can move inside  …

  • to the office – to catch up on our bookkeeping. This is also the time to review our notes & evaluations of the crops etc that we made all summer and to begin planning for next season. (The seed catalogues have arrived).
  • to the shop – to clean, tidy & organize and begin winter maintenance & building projects.
  • and to the comfy chair to relax, read & perchance to nap even.

 

Seems like everyone has moved inside for the winter!


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No, we don’t miss the peaches!

Rarely does a week goes by that I’m not asked the question – the same question. The wording might be different or it’s asked another way, but it is basically the same question …

Do you miss the fruit?

It has been exactly 2 years now since we removed our fruit orchards – cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines, pears – to focus on growing vegetables. And people continue to ask about it.

(for a bit of background, check these blog posts from when this happened.  https://thiessenfarms.com/2015/11/11/changes,                      https://thiessenfarms.com/2015/12/21/thiessen-farms-our-new-look, https://thiessenfarms.com/2016/03/03/lost-on-the-farm).

I think what’s often meant by the question is – did we make the right decision? After all, ripping out a few thousand fruit trees, some of which had been in the ground for well over 50 years is a big thing! And once it’s done, there is no going back.

These past 2 years have been difficult & scary!

We always considered vegetables to be a supplement to our tree fruit. Now they have become our main enterprise. That means growing the quantity & quality required to make a living. There are no peaches to fall back on! The first year was extremely dry while this past season was too wet. Both of these were challenging conditions for scaling up production. On the marketing side, we immediately lost many of our CSA members who were there for the fruit. Others tried the new “vegetables only” CSA for a year, found they really missed the fruit and moved on. At the farmers’ market, our customers’ reactions ranged from disappointment to anger. Not a market day has passed in these 2 years that they have not reminded us that our fruit is missed. It continues to be a struggle to regain our customers & their loyalty.

But these past 2 years have also been exciting & fun! After a lifetime of growing tree fruit, it’s been a great change to concentrate on vegetables.

  • The miracle of planting a tiny seed in the soil, watching it sprout and grow, and then harvesting a crop in as little as a few weeks – that never gets old for me!
  • I like that every year is a fresh start. We can grow the same vegetables again or try something new. We are not bound by what we grew last year. A few dollars for a pack of seeds and it’s a whole new adventure!
  • If a crop is damaged or lost to insects, disease, weather, even our mistakes … we can replant and try it again. Unlike fruit where there’s only 1 opportunity each year, vegetables offer more chances.
  • Vegetables respond rapidly to their growing environment. Nutrients or the lack of, water (enough, too much or too little), weed pressure, temperature, cultural practises … all have an immediate effect. It’s fascinating to see how we can so quickly influence their growth, and learn to provide optimum conditions for the best vegetables.
  • I enjoy the task of planning and the challenge of timing our seeding & planting to hopefully result in a harvest – the right amount of the right vegetable at the right time… (The fruit trees mostly set their own schedule which we could influence very little).

We are probably working harder physically & mentally now than when we grew fruit. Part of this is because we have fewer workers around to help, & partly because we’re still learning better & more efficient way to do things. But we also work fewer hours, spend more time observing, and take more coffee breaks!

So … do we miss the fruit? Not at all! It was the right decision – a great decision!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Fall

Planting garlic. Late October. Warm weather & sunshine. T-shirts. Beautiful leaves. It doesn’t get any better!

Garlic is always the last thing we plant in the year. Once tucked in the ground it sends out roots & gets established, then waits through the cold winter until the warm spring temperatures return, when it sprouts and grows.

 

This is our last week of farmers’ markets. We finish the season on Thursday 26 at North York. We’re excited to be done!

For the end of October we have an amazing amount of vegetables & herbs to pick for our final market – lettuce, spinach, arugula, radishes, winter radishes, carrots, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, sweet & hot peppers, kale, baby kale, parsley, cilantro, chives and pawpaws. Other crops stored in the barn include squash, baby pumpkins & garlic. And it will work out well – there should be enough of all these for the market and then the fields & the barn should be about empty.

We’re also working at cleaning up the farm. Yesterday we pulled all the posts in the tomato patch & mowed down the plants, and disced lightly. We’ll spread a layer of manure or compost yet, seed cover crop if conditions allow, and this field will be ready for winter.

Other parts of the farm that were cleared earlier & seeded to cover crops are showing new green shoots. We’re pushing ourselves to get the fall clean-up and other work done. The temperatures have been so nice lately that we tend to forget next week is November and cold weather could soon be here.

But until then, we will enjoy this beautiful fall!

 


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Haha Pawpaw!

Back behind the barn, past the chicken house, beside the ditch, is our pawpaw orchard – and by orchard I mean 9 small trees.

Pawpaws are a “tropical fruit” native to North America, growing in the Carolinian forests in Kentucky, Ohio and north to Southern Ontario – around Lake Erie & in the Niagara peninsula. Once popular with indigenous people & early settlers they began to disappear as the woodlands were cleared for farming & development. Now they are considered to be somewhat rare.

I planted our pawpaws about 8 or 9 years ago, mostly on a whim. Reading a nursery catalogue, I came upon the description …

This unusual small native pawpaw tree is not only strikingly ornamental with its delicate purple blooms in the spring and its long drooping leaves, but it produces clusters of custard-like oval fruits that ripen in the fall. The trees are insect and disease resistant. The leaves and twigs have anti-oxidant properties as well as insecticidal uses. (www.grimonut.com)

So I immediately ordered 10 seedlings without much thought or planning. When they arrived in spring I had to find a place to plant them. Back behind the barn, past the chicken house … seemed like a good spot.

They struggled to survive as pawpaws are difficult to transplant. And being out of sight (back behind the barn …) they were neglected. But 9 grew and became lovely small trees, about 8-10′ tall now. They have produced a few fruit in the last couple of years – just enough for us to devour & enjoy!

The spring blossoms are indeed beautiful – a dark bronzy/purple colour.

This year’s crop of pawpaws is larger. They are hanging thick on the trees.

Some hang singly, but most are in flat clusters of about 5 fruit. They bruise easily, have an extremely short shelf life, ripen unevenly, vary greatly in size and tend to drop readily. For these reasons they will never be a commercially viable crop.

But the taste – the taste is heavenly! Distinctly tropical like a banana/mango/pineapple with a soft, mushy, custard-like texture. I slice them in half & scoop out the delicious flesh with a spoon. Each fruit has a lot of large, hard seeds.

This year we finally have enough pawpaws to take to market. The first couple of baskets came to North York with us yesterday. People loved them! They were snapped up in a hurry! We will have a very few more for the final Georgetown market tomorrow.

It’s fun to grow an uncommon & unusual fruit like pawpaws. It’s even more fun to eat them!

If anyone’s looking for me, I’ll be back behind the barn, past the chicken house, beside the ditch in our pawpaw orchard – slurping on delicious pawpaws!

 

 

 

 


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The view from here

This is the view we have while sitting at our kitchen table eating our meals – the beginning of our farm, along with the road out front & the railroad tracks in the background.

It’s much the same view I’ve had my entire life – except the crops have changed through the years.

When I was growing up, this area was a sour cherry orchard. I remember massive old trees covered in white blossoms in spring and bright red, tart cherries in early summer. When the crop was off we would play in the trees. These cherries were eventually replaced by peach trees, then another peach orchard, followed by raspberries these last 20+ years. When most of the raspberry canes succumbed to the drought last summer, we yanked them out.

Now our view is vegetables – the first vegetable crops of the season. Daily we can see change as the plants grow & the green rows become more visible from our window.

Going outside & looking from the train tracks back towards the house, we can see more. Along with the peas, lettuce & spinach …

… there is kale, beets, more onions, kohlrabi, cauliflower, & broccoli.

Sowings of arugula, more spinach & lettuce are just germinating after this last rain on the weekend.

A closer look at the vegetables reveals their beautiful colours & shapes!

We are trying more intercropping this year. Our head lettuce is planted between our cauliflower plants. The idea is that the lettuce will mature, be harvested & gone by the time the cauliflower has grown big enough to need all the space.

Our green onions are growing between the broccoli plants with the same plan. But this combination might be a mistake, as the onions may not be out of the way before the broccoli has filled in. Guess we’ll find out! (Looks good right now though.)

Overall, our view of the vegetable gardens – from the kitchen table, or outside, or close up – is a beautiful sight! And we are enjoying it very much.

But even better will be eating these vegetables … soon!!

 

 


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This week on the farm …

As the temperatures outside increase, so does our work.

Here are some of the things that kept us occupied this week …

We spread a lot of straw! All the raspberries & blackberries got mulched with straw. The purpose of this is to control the weeds & preserve moisture. Often we use hay but last year’s drought caused a scarcity of hay. Straw works just as well and it looks fresh & clean too!

The berries are leafing out quickly now. Raspberries will be in short supply on our farm this summer. Most of our patch didn’t make it through the drought. We are replanting but the new canes will take a few years to reach full production. The raspberries that survived look short, but healthy.

The blackberries are looking good & we anticipate a great crop!

The rhubarb & currants also got a layer of straw tucked around them.

In the small greenhouse we continue to seed.

A part of each day is spent in the big hoophouse transplanting vegetables & herbs.

Usually Amy has a helper!

Already some vegetables are outside on the trailer, getting acclimatized to the outdoor temperatures & bright sunshine. They’re on the trailer so we can drive them in the barn when the nights are cold.

Next week these onions, broccoli, cauliflower & zucchini will be planted out into the field.

The garlic, that we planted last October has come up & is growing well. It also has been mulched with straw (back in December) so we won’t have to worry about weeding it. We still have a lot of round bales of straw which will be used later to mulch tomatoes, peppers, eggplant …

Our first 2 plantings of snow peas are up in the field as are spinach & lettuce.

This picture shows the black occultation tarp in the background (see previous blog post).

In the low, white tunnels (plastic hoops covered with row cover, a fabric made of plastic filaments) we have seeded radishes & bok choy. The row cover acts like a mini-greenhouse enhancing the growing conditions inside – warming the air during the day, protecting from frost at night, and also acting as a barrier to hungry insects that are as anxious for fresh greens as we are! Crops grown under row covers can mature up to a week or 10 days sooner.

The black plastic mulch on the left in the picture was laid this week to warm the soil underneath. Next week we will punch holes in it, and transplant our zucchini seedlings. Then we’ll cover it with row cover as well. The goal is to get an earlier harvest of zucchini.

We are not usually keen to use a lot of plastic on the farm because of the waste & disposal issues. But the weed tarp & hoops can be used for many years, the row cover several times, and the black mulch is actually a biodegradable corn product.

Is the use of these materials & the extra work involved worth it? We’ll find out at harvest!

However, Oliver already gives a big paws up to the row cover!