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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Occultation

Here at Thiessen Farms we are now practising occultation.

Sounds a little ominous or even sinister, doesn’t it?

But don’t worry – occultation is really just a method of preparing the soil. Nothing mysterious about it!

The word occultation is most often used in the context of astronomy – when a celestial object is hidden from view by another celestial object. Think solar eclipse as an example.

On the farm, occultation means using a tarp to hide the sun – from the weeds. The ground is covered with a dark tarp for a period of time. The warmth under the tarp causes weed seeds to readily germinate, but the lack of sunlight then kills them. After a few weeks (or longer, depending on the temperatures) the tarp is removed and the ground is (mostly) weed-free & ready to be planted. It is a way to get the ground ready for growing crops without the use of herbicide or tillage.

Occultation is becoming more common & many growers have had favourable results with it.

So we are giving it a try. Here’s what it looks like on our farm …

We covered a piece of ground with a heavy black plastic tarp and held it down by laying steel grape posts around the perimeter, along with some soil filled bags. Apparently that was not enough! All was good – for 1 day. When the winds picked up, so did our tarp! Let’s just say that a 24′ x 100′ heavy tarp becomes quite a sail on a windy day. The next calm day we tried again, but added more bags & covered the edges of the tarp with soil so the winds could not get underneath to lift it. We have had some pretty strong winds since, but so far so good! We plan to leave the tarp down for maybe 6 weeks or more. Then we will remove it & plant vegetables – maybe even carrots. (Carrots are the bane of our farm & we haven’t grown them for more than a few years – good carrots require weed-free conditions, something we have not been able to provide. But our customers want them & we would like to offer them in our CSA shares.)

We ‘ll keep you posted on the results of our venture into the world of occultation.

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More signs of spring on the farm …


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Seeing green

 

The colour of the year for 2017 as chosen by the “world-renowned authority on colour” is greenery, “a refreshing and revitalizing shade … symbolic of new beginnings.” 

Good choice!

Of course nature always chooses green.

At this time of year, when the calendar says spring, the days are lengthening, and the sun is warming, green begins to pop up all over – in various shades & hues, shapes & textures.

And it is most welcome!
In a month or two, green will be everywhere and taken for granted. But now, early in the season we notice & savour each leaf, each sprig of greenness as it appears.
The greenhouse is also a place of green now – and more so each day. It is an especially good place to be on these drab, damp & chilly days.

We continue to seed almost daily – vegetables, herbs, & flowers.

 

Most things are growing well but there are always some seeds that hesitate to grow. Usually the problem is old seeds …

… or we don’t provide the proper conditions to allow for germination.

Mint grows along the edges in our larger hoophouse – adding a burst of spring flavour to salads.

And while we still revel in the newness of the green … colour appears!

Happy Spring!


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Snow in the forecast? It must be spring!

We took the winter tires off the car 2 weeks ago. Last week I removed the snow plow off the tractor (Not once did I have to clear the driveway this winter. I never got a chance to try out the new tractor in the snow).

Now there is a winter storm warning for us here in Niagara today – and for much of southern Ontario too. Up to 30 cm of the white stuff is expected. Of course!

While this is not unusual, it is a bit disappointing. Where was this snow earlier in the season when it would have been welcomed & enjoyed? After a balmy winter, we were anticipating an early & sustained spring.

But it is spring in the greenhouse! We have done a lot of seeding already – onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, various herbs & eggplant.

The colder temperatures of the past few days are making life difficult for these tender seedlings. Our low-tech germination set-up relies mostly on the sun & warm outdoor temperatures to keep things going. (check out last spring’s blog post for all the details on how we start our seeds – https://thiessenfarms.com/2016/03/23/growing-seeds). I’ve got the wood stove in the shop going full blast to help keep it & the greenhouse warmer.

If we awaken tomorrow to a white, winter wonderland, the greenhouse will feel even more welcoming & exciting! There’s nothing so good as stepping into the warmth and seeing the bright green seedlings and smelling the humid air & the tender shoots. Every day something new has germinated & poked through the soil. Every day the seedlings are growing and adding leaves …

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Throughout the winter the greenhouse was the cats’ domain and they made full use of it …

Now that it is being used for it’s intended purpose the 2 grey ones have been expelled for unacceptable behaviour – ripping the plastic.

Oliver is still allowed in … so far!