Visits to far-off farms

We spent 2 days in a row away from the farm early this week, to learn through on-farm workshops that were each being held about 3 hours from our farm but in opposite directions. On Sunday, we went out to a field day at Strawberry Hill Farm in Pembroke, NB and then, on Monday, to Abundant Acres in Centre Burlington, NS for a workshop called Grow Better, Not Bigger with Jean-Martin Fortier, farmer and author of The Market Gardener.

field day

The field day at Strawberry Hill Farm was organized by ACORN and the NB Department of Agriculture. Tim and Kirsten Livingstone, are really inspirational farmers. They received the Gerrit Loo award 2 years ago to recognize their contribution to the organic farming community in Atlantic Canada. A few years ago, Tim was our mentor through ACORN’s Grow a Farmer program and we were super excited to get out and see the farm at this time of year. It was only my (Shannon) 2nd time visiting their farm and Bryan’s 1st time.

vegetable farm

Tim and Kirsten grow lots of different vegetables, strawberries (with the name Strawberry Hill Farm, the neighbours expected strawberries at the farm stand though they named the farm after their road), raise pigs, layers, broilers, and cows, and produce some vegetable seed for Hope Seeds. Everything they produce is certified organic and they sell through their CSA, their farm stand, and to wholesale accounts.

In the top picture on the left, you can see a bed of ground cherries. They put bread trays out underneath the plants covered with row cover. When the ground cherries drop, they harvest them out of the bread trays. The picture below that shows their sweet potatoes on clear plastic. They’ve tried sweet potatoes on different colours of plastic mulch but have found the highest yields from using the clear plastic.

Tons of farmers and farm apprentices came out to the field day and the potluck was amazing (farmer potlucks are always the best!).

On Monday, Perennia and ACORN’s Grow a Farmer program organized the first of 2 workshops called Grow Better, Not Bigger with farmer and author Jean-Martin Fortier. The one on Monday was held at Abundant Acres where farmers Jen and David Greenberg have been experimenting with the techniques Jean-Martin writes about in his book The Market Gardener on a section of their farm. The workshop sold out quickly with a limit of 50 participants and it was great to catch up with farmers we hadn’t seen in a while. We’d never been to Abundant Acres before and were super stoked to see their farm.

farm workshop

The day started out with some overall growing philosophies from Jean-Martin (JM). People had lots of questions and asked them throughout the day. We moved on to a demo of how JM creates his raised beds. He used the berta plow attachment on the BCS walk-behind (or 2-wheel) tractor to make the raise bed from an area that was in sod and had just been flail mowed. He explained that with the residues in the bed he would then cover it with silage tarp for a few weeks. Then he’d broadfork the bed, add compost, and go over the top with a power harrow to make a nice firm, smooth seed bed.

The Market Gardener

Many of the participants have been using the techniques Jean-Martin talks about in his book The Market Gardener and had questions based on the successes and challenges they’ve had. There were questions around crop spacing, fertility, disease management, weeding, and more.

ginger growing

I was excited to check out Jen and David’s ginger crop. This year, they were growing most of it in these corrugated plastic bins and were adding compost and peat throughout the season. Jen said she thinks it’s really important not to let the ginger tops and roots get too big before transplanting to their final space, something that I think was the main issue with our ginger crop failure last season (the ginger never really recovered after being transplanted). Their ginger looked great! Their customers will be some very lucky people when the ginger is ready for harvest!

And here we’ve got a length-wise hug with Av Singh from Perennia, Bryan, Jean-Martin from Les Jardins de la Grelinette, Jamie from Off Beet Farm, me (Shannon), and Lucia from ACORN.

Av Singh

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Lovin’ this Lettuce!

lettuce

I know I sound like a geek….but it thrills me that our current salad mix contains a lettuce whose seed we saved on our farm. It’s one of 6 varieties of lettuce in the mix at the moment (we change up the lettuce varieties pretty often during the season). It’s called Italian Red Parella and it’s super cute and beautiful. It’s a sun-kissed, freckly beauty with a nice round shape.

We grew it for Annapolis Seeds 2 years ago and kept quite a bit of seed for ourselves so we could see how it fits in best with our crop plan and what qualities we want to select for in the future. We liked it as a full-head but, right now, I’m really loving it in our salad mix.

It’s really fun to fine-tune our salad mix each winter through the selections we make from various seed companies. But, it’s a whole other level for just one component of our salad mix to have been in the works for much longer. It’s definitely not our flashiest lettuce. I’m not sure if anyone eating the mix would point it out and say “how special is this one?” so I just wanted to mention it. It’s special.

Lettuce Mix

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Veggie Field Day in Southeastern New Brunswick

ACORN farm tour

On Sunday, Bryan and I headed out a few hours northwest of our farm to go visit a few other farms in southeastern New Brunswick. A few organizations (ACORN, NB Department of Agriculture, and La Recolte de Chez Nous/Really Local Harvest Co-op) had organized a Veggie Field Day at a farm called Green Thumb Farm (or Ferme Pouce Vert). The field day had an impressive turn-out with over 40 farmer participants (which of course yielded an incredible potluck lunch including a meat BBQ generously donated by the Really Local Harvest Co-op).

Since we’re rarely out in that part of the region at this time of year, after the tour at Green Thumb Farm, we were happy to also get to visit 2 other farms we’d been hoping to see for a while now: La Ferme Terre Partagee and Ferme Alva.

La Ferme Pouce Vert

Green Thumb Farm is run by Roger Richard, his wife Carmelle, and his brother Jean-Louis. Like many farms in that area, it used to be a Brussels sprouts farm and that’s where the name came from: while topping 60 acres of Brussels sprouts, the farmers would end up with green thumbs. The farm now grows about 14 acres of vegetables and strawberries and sell through their CSA, local produce stands, and to the Farm to School initiative.

Rogersville, NB

La Ferme Terre Partagee is run by 2 young farmers, Kevin and Rebeka on part of Rebeka’s family land. They produce vegetables and lots of strawberries! They’re very involved with the NFU-NB and Kevin attended the NFU Youth Retreat I wrote about back in March. Their greenhouse summer squash were already producing zucchini on huge, beautiful plants!

Alva Farm

Ferme Alva (Alva Farm) is owned and operated by Eva and Alain (along with their 3 young kids). We see Eva and Alain fairly regularly at the Dieppe Market but had never seen their farm before. They’re farming on a small-scale, inspired by bio- intensive market gardener Jean-Martin Fortier. Eva and Alain are also very involved with the NFU (National Farmers Union) and Eva has been a strong advocate for access to childcare support for farmers in NB.

For Bryan and I, farm tours like these are important as sources of information, inspiration, and community-building. We’re so grateful to all of these farmers for opening up their farm to us and letting us learn from them. Having successful local family farms is a key requirement for the future of ecological land stewardship and food sovereignty.

If you’re interested in attending future farm tours, keep your eyes on the ACORN website which lists upcoming agriculture-related events, both ACORN-organized and otherwise.

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Seasonal Snapshot: June 2015

Six row seeder

Right now, we’re planting (both direct-seeding like in the picture above and transplanting seedlings we’ve started in the greenhouse), weeding, mowing, preparing beds, covering crops with row cover, starting more seeds in the greenhouse for future plantings, harvesting and more. We’re basically trying to catch up to where we’d like to be at this time of year. The weather hasn’t made it easier. Our last frost was 2 weeks ago but last week it went down to 2 degrees Celsius and fields had frost just a 15 minute drive from us.

Roller Crimper

We’ve got a beautiful cover crop of rye. It’s just starting to shed its pollen so we’ll soon be either mowing it or attempting to “roll” it with our rototiller (note: the rototiller isn’t being run by the PTO on the tractor, it just turns as it rolls along the ground…this rolls the stem over and “crimps” the stem which kills the rye and leaves the stalks on the ground as a mulch). This will be our 2nd time trying this…the first attempt was ok, we had to roll over it twice.

Farmers' Market

The Dieppe Market has been going well. We’ve been inside the market so far this spring but will be moving to our regular spot outside next week (not this coming Saturday…the next one, the 27th).

And, finally, just in case you’ve been itching to hear either Shannon or Bryan’s voice, we’ve both recently been interviewed in audio format. Click on the photos below to hear:

a) Shannon talking with Chris Blanchard on the Farmer to Farmer podcast about Valuing Yourself to Mitigate Risk,

or b) Bryan on the CBC Shift NB Homegrown show talking about the farm-made infrastructure he’s created including our germination chamber (which we also wrote a blog post about).

Purple Pitchfork Bryan on Shift

 

 

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Seasonal Snapshot: May 2015

beet greens, crosnes, daffodil

A lot has happened since my last Seasonal Snapshot post in April. But the spring still came late. I (Shannon) was in Ottawa for a few days last week attending the final 3-day meeting of the Organic Standards Technical Committee before the newly revised Standards come out. Oh man, was it HOT in Ottawa! And the trees were all in bloom….it was gorgeous! Here at the farm….our trees are just starting to bud out. Despite the back log of planting we need to do, we’re enjoying the weather and the lack of bug nets (the black flies have just started…though we have yet to don a bug net). Our daffodils have also just started blooming. For any of you interested in phenology, that gives you a good idea of where our season is at.

We found our first little snake, well actually our huntress cat Yuki found it. Luckily, she didn’t seem to think it would make a good meal and so the snake slithered away to meet another day.

We’re still working on preparing fields for planting. And our bodies are feeling the early season transplanting. The first Saturday in May, we started back at the Dieppe Market, mostly with greens from out tunnel but also with 3 varieties of spring-dug Jerusalem Artichokes and storage crops. Last week, we started harvesting beet greens. They have the added bonus of gorgeous mini beets attached.

In the picture above, the strange looking white thing (it’s a vegetable!) is Crosnes (also called Chinese Artichoke). Last year, we purchased 8 of these little tubers from Mapple Farm (after a request from a chef). They spent a full season in the ground and when we dug them up this week, there were about 100x what we’d planted. They are very small so in order to have enough to sell to chefs and at the market, we’re going to replant them all and wait another season before selling them. Lucky for these little Crosnes (pronounced Crones), we’ve got patience!

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How Amazing is Basil?!

basil

We love basil! We love growing it and we LOVE eating it.

This year, we decided to expand our basil repertoire. Because basil is one wild and crazy plant with so many different flavours and shapes and sizes.

We’re also selling basil seedlings for all the gardeners out there. Tomorrow, at the Dieppe Market, we’re bringing the basil varieties written out on the tags in the picture below. The basil collage in the picture above shows each of these varieties in the same order.

Genovese Basil, Lime Basil, Cinnamon Basil

I’m so excited to pair the different basils with different types of vegetables (and fruit) and various dishes.

Cinnamon basil to on a Thai curry?

Fino Verde basil with a watermelon and tomato salad?

Lime basil with steamed fish?

What pairings do you suggest?

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Growing our Communities and Supporting Agriculture

scallions

Every province and region in Canada is unique. I’ve been so lucky to develop friendships with fellow farmers from across the country. And there are some pretty cool things happening everywhere! But one province that has always stuck out for me in terms of agriculture, specifically organic agriculture, has been Quebec. Quebec enjoys beautiful farmland, inspiring farmers, some interesting governmental support programs for farmers, and Equiterre.

Equiterre is an environmental organization and one of the things they want to see is more local, organic food. In particular, community members to have a personal connection to the farm and farmers who feed them. And one of the ways they work towards this goal is through their CSA Network, or Paniers Bio.

Because of Equiterre’s work, Quebec has more land used for small-scale organic farms. More people get to eat wholesome, fresh, and delicious organic food. More young people (and older people) are getting a chance to make it as farmers. Equiterre’s CSA Network has made a big impact.

So, how amazing would it be for every region or province to have a similar network, promoting Community Supported Agriculture or, as it’s also referred to, Community Shared Agriculture?

Hint: It would be very amazing!

Salanova

Well, our region, the Atlantic Canadian region, is in the early stages of developing such a network. It’s called the CSA Network and its being developed by ACORN (or the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network).

In December, ACORN arranged presentations with two people from Equiterre (a staff member and a CSA farmer) for farmers in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and a meeting was later held on PEI. Questions were answered and people got excited. ACORN asked a group of experienced CSA farmers to become the CSA Network Advisory Committee (we’re not on the Advisory Committee but we’re excited about it because the farmers who are, are amazing!). And ACORN created a web resource  in order to help community members who want to support local, organic agriculture, find the right farm for them.

Amethyst Basil

CSA programs have been growing in popularity in Atlantic Canada over the years and groups like ACORN and Ecology Action Centre have worked to maintain lists of available CSAs and they’ve done a good job of it. But a list requires customers to click on and read through each farm’s website to see if that farm a) has a drop-off location that they can get to, b) farms according to the values they want to support and, c) grows the kinds of foods they want to eat (more basic or unique crops) in the quantities they need (enough for 1 person or 6?).

The CSA Network website makes it easier for customers to find the right CSA choice for them. But the goals for the CSA Network are also to help the farmers. Sure, help them advertise, but also help them connect to other CSA farmers, find resources and connections where they can continue their education, and become better farmers overall.

The goal of the CSA Network is that CSAs in Atlantic Canada will collectively improve, from both the perspective of the customers and the farmers, and that the CSA movement will grow. That Atlantic Canadian CSA farms will benefit our region socially, economically, and environmentally.

It’s a big, beautiful, and important goal and we have some smart, motivated people making it happen.

Similar to Equiterre, the Network will be membership-based and rely on farmer and shareholder fees to achieve its work. In this initial phase, ACORN has launched an open investment Start-Up Campaign, seeking support from farmers and farm fans to achieve an ambitious first-year promotional plan.

Here at Broadfork Farm, our “CSA” or Market Food Club as we call it is definitely different than most CSA programs around but we still felt like becoming a member of the CSA Network was a good move for us.

If this all sounds like the kind of thing you want to see in your world, visit acornorganic.org/csa/membership.

Wild Caraway Restaurant

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What spring greens are we harvesting now?

Everyone’s been waiting for them: the spring greens! And every year, we refine our collection of them (we’re like vegetable curators), growing the ones we think are the coolest around!

Here’s the roundup of spring greens we’re harvesting right now:

Senposai

Look at that leaf size! And they get even larger. This is a really cool green called Senposai. It’s a cross between cabbage and a tender Japanese green called Komatsuna. It looks like a collard green but without any of the toughness. Senposai has a soft, pliable leaf with enough strength to contain your favourite wrap ingredients. It is perfect for wraps because you don’t need to cook it to make it easy to chew. It is also a delicious addition to any soup or stir-fry, just add it at the end because it doesn’t take long to cook. We are thrilled to be growing this one, last season was the first we were able to get our hands on the seeds!

Bekana mustard green

This one is Tokyo Bekana. She is mild-mannered, sweet, and very bright. Just look at her lime green colouring! Tokyo Bekana offers the health benefits of the Brassica family with the look, mild flavour, and tenderness of a leaf lettuce. One of our favourites!

Bok Choy Yokatta-na green Choi Sum

Here we’ve got Bok Choi, Yokatta-na (which is similar to Tatsoi but with more upright leaves), and Moulin Rouge Choi Sum with the fun purple stems. So great for spring salads…all their stems are crisp and crunchy and sweet. Kind of 2 vegetables in one with the tender leaves and crisp stems. Great for stir fries and make a killer spring kimchi! These can all be used as a substitute for spinach.

Red Mustard

Spring is a good time to add some bite to your meals and this beautiful red mustard called Garnet Giant is perfect for that. When eaten raw, the flavour will wake up your taste buds after the long winter. When braised, the spiciness transforms to sweetness. There is no “green” more stunning than this garnet-coloured mustard!

Kale Kale Kale

Three varieties of kale! These are not the kales we grow during the main part of the season. These are ones we specifically love for spring harvest. Red Russian, White Russian, and Siberian.

Red Russian: This is an heirloom variety of kale that has lasted over time because the flavour and tenderness is exceptional. If your grandparents were kale-lovers, this just might have been the kale they loved so dearly.

White Russian: a winner of taste tests, sweet, and bred by organic farm breeding hero Frank Morton. This variety was released through the Open Source Seed Initiative which is working against the ownership and patenting of seeds.

Siberian: This one probably has the softest of leaves so may be the best for light raw salads or sandwiches (though all kales are great “massaged” with dressing to make one fabulous and flavourful salad).

Here is the Massaged Kale Salad recipe I contributed to our local River Hebert Co-Op Cookbook:

Kale Salad

And the wild childs (well, properly, children…)! These 2 can’t contain themselves and their wild-looking leaves are a testament to this. Frizzy Lizzy and Mizuna have serrated leaves, adding a nice texture to any salad. Frizzy Lizzy is a beautiful purple, spicy girl, the spiciest spring greens we’ve got. And Mizuna is one of our mildest. They make a great pair!

Frizzy Lizzy mustard greenmizuna

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DIY Germination Chamber

DIY Germination Chamber

On our small farm, projects often come about after some internet research and using odd pieces of “junk” we’ve got hanging around. One of this winter’s projects was a germination chamber.

Some of our seeds require light to germinate but most vegetable seeds don’t. They do need consistent moisture though. So, in an effort to reduce the space that seedling trays take up before the baby plants emerge (at which point they do require light) and in order to reduce the watering these trays need so they don’t dry out, many growers use a germination (or sweat) chamber.

Since we moved to this farm, we’ve started our transplants many different ways. Each year, we’ve made some kind of germination chamber and it’s always looked a bit different. At its most basic, we stacked bread trays near our wood stove and wrapped them in plastic to keep the humidity in. Once seedlings emerged, over the years, they’ve been moved to hot beds, our sun porch, and, for the last few years, electrically heated benches in our high tunnel.

A germination chamber is basically an enclosed area, where the temperature and humidity can be regulated. There is often some sort of tray stacking system where it is easy to see which trays have germinated and be able to easily insert and remove trays. Some people have used old chest freezers, but as our only free chest freezer was a little too small for our purposes, we used an old wire rack and former project leftovers. Farm Hack was a good online resource for helping us design our germination chamber.

It all started like this:

Germination Chamber

A 3 foot wide by 5 foot tall wire rack (sans shelves) and a stainless steel sink.

Stainless Steel Sink

Ideally I would have taken this in to someone to weld a piece into the bottom of the sink to seal it up (might still do at some point), but opted for the cheaper option of silicone and a sink stopper.

Winstrip tray

Fortunately, the spacing of the supports for the shelves worked with most of the trays that we use (the 50 cell Winstrips are our tallest trays).

EMT

For the shelving I used ½” EMT, (galvanized electrical conduit), and then made a little notch with an angle grinder at both ends to fit over the wire supports. They are easily removed so that the shelf spacing can be made bigger to accommodate the Winstrip 50 cell trays, or to add more than 3 bars per shelf (4 is better for the flimsier trays).

Pink Board insulation

 

 

I decided to recess the sink and slope the sides because of comments other builders had made about water pooling on the bottom.

Heated Water Basin

Copious amounts of tuck tape to ensure most of the water finds its way back to the sink and not through to the floor.

Thermostat

Originally, I was planning on using the Durostat prewired thermostat, purchased online from Farmtek/Growers Supply, but procrastinated a little and needed one faster than what ordering one online would bring. Luckily enough, our nearby plumbing and electrical supply place, Eddy Group, carried this dandy cooling/heating thermostat that mostly gets used for chicken barn applications. It ended up being about $20 cheaper (more if you consider having to pay the US exchange rate and shipping), and pretty simple to wire up.

Germination Chamber

So here is the beast more or less finished. There is good reason that these germination chambers are also called “sweat boxes”. It is quite moist, and there is a lot of dripping. My design proved a little faulty in that all the water that dripped down the door ended up leaking through and onto the floor. A quick improvement for that was to use (again) a bit of tuck tape and make a little baffle to make all the drips go further into the box where they would run into the sink. We also tried to cover the water pan with metal sheeting to see if this would limit the sweating effect while still radiating heat into the box, but removed it because I felt like it was just going to use more power to heat the box.

Although we don’t have to add water to the pan that often to keep the level where it should be, a water line with a float valve would be good (for when someone forgets to refill it and the heater element is no longer submerged).

It’s not perfect but it works pretty well and it saves space and removes our worry over trays drying out pre-germ.

Here’s a re-cap in pictures of how it was built:

germination chamber

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Work Bee: Building a Seed Cleaner

DIY Seed Cleaner

Saving seed is one thing…but then cleaning it is a whole other thing.

Why clean it? Well, when we first harvest the seed, we just want to get it out of the elements and keep it dry. Along with the seeds, we end up bringing in all kinds of other bits of the plant. In order to incorporate seed saving into the operations of our small farm, we need to try to make the process of both harvesting seed and re-planting the seeds we’ve saved, as efficient as possible.

You know when you buy seed and you open up that seed package and all you see are seeds? That’s because those seeds have been cleaned (or separated) from all the other bits of the plant. If half the package was made up of little bits of dust and chaff, it would make planting much slower. Cleaning seeds make them easier to plant.

Yokatta-na seeds

Cleaning seed more efficiently was the purpose of the recent work bee between the farmers of the Cumberland County Ecological Seed Growers’ Network (CCESN) to create a Seed Cleaner for each farm.

The CCESN is currently made up of 4 farms in Cumberland County. The 4 farms in the Network are Wysmykal Farm, Side by Each Farm (part of Dicotyl Eatin’ Co-operative Farm), Good Thyme Farm, and our farm. We also have 2 local advisors: Silvana Castillo from La Finquita Seed Company and Su Morin from Seeds of Diversity Canada.

The goals of the CCESN are to build our skills and knowledge around seed stewardship and increase regionally-adapted and high-quality local seed production. Each farm has different goals and expectations for how seed-saving fits into the big picture of their farm business. But, collectively, we want to grow our seed-saving skills.

We have been encouraged and supported by the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. This is a great initiative taking on the super important work of building our national skill set around seed production. Right now, we Canadians are so heavily reliant on seed imports to grow our local food, it’s crazy.

So, on to the work bee: We found the seed cleaner plans online at The Real Seed Catalogue. We knew other seed growers in NS that had built and used this cleaner with success.

Basically, the seed cleaner has one side with baffles (partitions) that seeds are dropped through and the other side is where you get suction that pulls in the unwanted debris and chaff (or lighter seed).

You can use any material that is smooth and won’t catch the seeds and chaff as they move through the cleaner. We used melamine for the backing (since it is white and a good backdrop for being able to see what is going on) and pine 1X3 for the channels (since it had the closest dimensions that were called for in the plans). Using the pine 1 x 3 saved a bit of time by not having to mill stock down to the appropriate size, but with the right tools, you could mill a more uniform product than what can be purchased.

Seed Cleaner workshop

After laying out the plans on the melamine board, pre-drilling the holes through the melamine and Plexiglas, the wood partitions were clamped and screwed in place.

The Plexiglas was the hardest thing to cut to size, until we ended up using the table saw. A thinner piece of Plexi could be used, but this was available at a better cost from a sign shop.

The vacuum (5.5hp Shopvac) we purchased ended up being quite powerful for smaller, lighter seeds (like onions, brassicas and lettuce) so we added more air holes to control the amount of suction. With all the air holes closed up, the vacuum was strong enough to pull out some of the lightest seeds from a batch of soybeans. We opted to put the air holes on the back and side of the cleaner, just to keep the view of the front completely clear.

Our costs for one Seed Cleaner (though we bought the materials for all 5 in bulk):

Melamine: 4X8 sheet costs $26 dollars: yields 10 pieces 18”x24” $2.60
Plexiglas: 6 @ 18”x24” pieces plus extra for air vents: $80.00 $13.33
1”x3” 8 foot pine boards: $4.88 each: 2 needed per unit $9.76
#6 X 1-1/4” wood screws 50 count $4.99
Funnel $2.00
Hardware for air vent $2.00
5.5 Hp shopvac $94.00
Total $128.68

Other items needed: wood glue, assorted power tools

 

And here is the final product, in use, back at the farm:

Seed Cleaner

 

 

 

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