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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Seasonal Snapshot: April 2015

April 2015

We’re starting a new series on our blog. It’s called the Seasonal Snapshot. It will be a picture (or maybe a collage like this one) that represents what’s going on right now at the farm. There is unlikely to be many words associated with it (except perhaps a clarifying paragraph). My hope is that it will give a nice visual update (and history when looked at by clicking on the Seasonal Snapshot category of the side bar).

So, this is the first one! You can see that we still have a whole lot of snow outside but plants are growing inside the greenhouse. Every sunny day has made the inside of the greenhouse so warm (even with the door open for ventilation) that we’ve been wearing t-shirts. During the winter, we bought the seedbed roller & dibbler from Johnnys and this also represents our first use of it. So far, so good.

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Pickles and Policy

NFU Youth 2015

Check out this group of rockstar farmers (and rockstar farm allies)!

This “family photo” is from the 2015 NFU Youth Retreat, held in Wakefield,QC that I just returned from. This is a yearly event, you can read my blog post from last year’s Retreat in BC.

It was beyond amazing and definitely a highlight of my year. I have come away feeling refreshed, ready for this farming season, and inspired to make sure I’m always keeping myself informed about the larger picture in agriculture (larger than my farm…this includes my regional farming community, our national farming community, as well as our global farm and food system) and not just sit back and let rules (regulations, policy…) affect our farm from the top-down. I want to help create change from the bottom-up!

Before it began, a group of us headed to Parliament to meet with 5 MPs and attend Question Period.

Young Farmers at Parliament

For the sake of brevity, I’m not going to go into all of the highlights of this retreat for me. Every moment and conversation and person was a highlight. But I will list a few resources I think are interesting and you can delve as deeply as you want.

Check out:

When the NFU Youth get together, it doesn’t feel like the typical “agriculture industry event.” All of us bunk together in a great space with character (this year at The Barn). We create a schedule for cooking and cleaning up together. Between amazing meals and great conversations, we co-create workshops that help us understand issues deeply and clearly (because we’re all intimidated to understand CETA and UPOV ’91.).

We had a great session to help us feel more comfortable using Robert’s Rules of Order (useful for all groups….check out this scene from the TV show The Wire where the drug dealers are using Robert’s Rules in their meeting).

NFU Youth Retreat

And we talked a lot about building the National New Farmer Coalition (inspired by the American National Young Farmers Coalition. Note the difference…where they say Young, we’ve used the word New).

The Coalition created a New Farmer survey this year and it just closed. Our goal had been 1000 respondents and we received over 1500!

The work to compile results has begun and we’re looking for new farmer-lovin’ graphic designers to help out with the work of making the results look clear and interesting for the public. You’re welcome to contact me if you want to help out with this and I’ll put you in touch with the rest of the Coalition.

We also hosted a Barn Mixer (aka party) on Friday night with the Young Agrarians and invited other farmers and people who love farmers (or farmer addicts as one person referred to herself) from the area. It was a lot of fun and was so great to connect with even more amazing farmers.

You may be wondering about the headline for this blog post? It was a term thought up by Jordan from PEI while we were talking about the future direction of NFU Youth Retreats. There had been discussion about including hands-on activities (such as pickling) with the skills-building policy change activities already happening. Pickles and Policy!

Personal moment of pride: Back home, after the Retreat, I found out my parents had just signed up as Associate members of the NFU. Associate members of the NFU are not farmers but they are citizens (or organizations) who have decided to stand in solidarity with family farmers from across the country. They can’t vote but they can learn about and share information relevant to farmers. I couldn’t be more pleased and proud of my parents for joining! If you or an organization you’re involved with want to learn more about Associate membership, check out the link here.

Young Farmers

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Taste Hunters from France: what did they see in Canada?

Taste Hunters crew

In late August last year, 5 cool guys from Paris, France showed up on our farm to create a travel food episode for their TV show Taste Hunters. The show was hosted by young chef Benjamin Darnaud (with other episodes hosted by chef Jerome Bigot). They have been travelling around the world looking for “Food Rebels” and good food!

While in Canada, they visited our farm as well as Ferme Tournesol in Quebec.

They brought a whole bunch of interesting high tech equipment like cameras, a sound mixing system and this drone below which takes shots from above. It’s like a little helicopter, it has 6 spinners, and it sounds like a swarm of bees when it’s flying through the sky.

I took a picture of it while it was resting on our dining room table.

Taste Hunters drone

Benjamin and Bryan made our lunch on the first day. It was amazing! Here are some pictures.

Roasted vegetables

There is spelt linguini underneath this mountain of vegetables: roasted Hakurei turnips with thyme, summer squash, Romano and Dragon’s Tongue beans, and garlic.

The sauce was made by grating a raw tomato and mixing it up with a grated onion and basil.

Tomato and cucumber salad

This is quartered fresh tomatoes with cucumber and hot pepper, and then topped with freshly chopped Italian basil and shiso.

The lunch was simple and spontaneous and delicious.

In the afternoon, while the film crew was taking pictures around the farm, Benjamin helped us harvest, wash and bunch rainbow carrots. Here’s a picture of Benjamin and Bryan bunching.

Carrot bunching

The episode recently aired in France but unfortunately, I don’t think it’s possible to watch it now in its entirety (perhaps you can if you subscribe to international channels). The show was aired by the french network Ushuaia TV.

Below, I’ve copied 2 short clips from the episode for you to watch (you must be logged into facebook to see it…sorry about that, I couldn’t figure out any other way). It’s all in french (our voices are dubbed over) but the videography is still beautiful for those of you who don’t understand french.

Here is a link to a conversation from their visit with us that they wrote out and posted on their website (also in french). And below are some of the pictures the crew took while at our farm (see more on their Instagram page):

Taste Hunters photo

Taste Hunters photo

Taste Hunters photo

Taste Hunters photo

We want to soil to be happy.

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Everyone needs a Farmer. We want to be yours!

Market Food Club Sign-up

Who’s your dentist? Who’s your accountant?

WHO’S YOUR FARMER?

We are blessed with such wonderful and inspiring farmers in our region (though we still need more with the average age of farmers close to 60). We strongly recommend everyone get to know them through both in-person and online connections (farm websites and blogs, farm facebook or twitter pages).

An impressive trend in the food movement has been for eaters to connect directly with local farmers. These connections have served to both empower farmers in the management of their livelihoods and to empower people in the nourishment of their bodies.

One of the ways to connect is through a relationship called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). This helps people develop a closer connection to a specific farm and get a feel for the seasonality and flavour of that farm.

Yep, each farm has a unique flavour!

Curly parsley

After working on many different CSA farms, we decided that we wanted to try something a bit different at Broadfork Farm, while still emphasizing the relationship and partnership between a farmer and an eater.

We started a Market Food Club.

It’s similar to a typical CSA in that the members pay up front at the beginning of the season to show their commitment to the farm. In exchange, they receive fresh, high-quality produce, a way to maintain a balanced budget, and the knowledge of where their food is coming from and how it was grown. It offers us, the farmers, confidence that our hard work and passion is supported while we’re first planting the seeds in the ground.

Our Market Food Club is different than a typical CSA because members are reaping the bounty of the growing season on their own schedule (like having a tab or credit with us). Rather than receiving a box each week, members pick exactly what they want. If you love kale, you can take as many bunches as you want. If you hate kale, you have no obligation to ever take any.

Dieppe Market

As a member of the Market Food Club, you don’t need to worry about carrying cash for shopping at the market and it’s an easy gift to give. You invest any amount in $100 increments and use it all season, like cash (plus we add a 5% bonus as a thank you).

This system has worked well for us as farmers because it hasn’t increased our time doing administrative work while still allowing us to form wonderful relationships with our members and feel truly supported by them like in other CSA relationships.

We chose this model because we realized how much of a heartbreak it would be for us to have anyone take home something we grew that they didn’t want. After tending to our produce from seed to young plant to ready-to-eat, we really want it all to be enjoyed!

August at the Market

If you think that Bryan and I (Shannon) may be a good farmer match for you, please learn more about us by reading through this website/blog. We farm with strong visions and goals for the kind of world we’re working to create. And we want this Market Food Club relationship/partnership to feel right for everyone involved.

We’ve intentionally decided to keep the Club fairly small so signing up as soon as possible is a good idea. To do so, go to the Market Food Club page.

And you can always just shop at our Dieppe Market stand without being a member. Our goal is always to delight all of our customers with a variety of exciting, flavourful, and nutritious produce and fresh, unique flower bouquets.

This is how we bring our farm to you. Every week, our market stand is filled with the bounty from our farm that week. No week is ever exactly the same! We hope you get as excited about that adventure as we do.

Please share this blog post with anyone you know that you think might be interested. The gift of sharing is a positive force in the world!

September at the Market

 

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New Things We’re Excited to Grow in 2015

Each year, our crop plan is filled with varieties that we have grown and loved. Varieties that we are attached to and cherish. That we love to eat and are delighted to offer our customers.

But, we can never help ourselves when we’re preparing our seed orders. We always try out new (or new-to-us) varieties.

Here are some of the varieties that we are really excited about this year (there are more….it was difficult to whittle them down to an appropriate length for a blog post). None of these pictures were taken by us since we haven’t grown them yet. If you click on the picture, you will get to the website the picture is from. If you click on the variety name, it will open up to the seed company we purchased that seed from.

Candy Stick Dessert Delicata. Delicata winter squash is a crop we grow every year. But this is a new variety for us (we’re growing 4 Delicata varieties this year). We’re extra-excited about this variety because it’s supposed to be extra sweet, with a unique, date-like flavour. It was also bred by Carol Deppe, a breeder and author whose books we love! We’re currently reading her new one, The Tao of Vegetable Gardening. Candy Stick Dessert Delicata is supposed to keep very well and retain its sweetness in storage. It also has a small seed cavity (which means more squash flesh).

Red Samurei carrot. We grow red carrots every year as part of our rainbow carrot mixes. However we usually only grow the red ones for fall harvest because that’s when they taste best. The Red Samurei carrot, however, is supposed to be good any time of year and sweeter than the other red carrot varieties. This makes me happy because red carrots add such a great colour to the rainbow bunches!

Stocky Red Roaster Pepper. This pepper comes to the world from organic farmer/plant breeder Frank Morton. This pepper has won rave reviews from farmers and chefs. Down on the west coast of the States, chefs request this variety by name. We’re hoping it does as well at our farm and will become a “name brand” in our neck-of-the-woods too!

Solar Flare, Pink Berkely Tie-Dye, Pork Chop tomatoes.  I love to see plant breeders who are creating varieties based on flavour and uniqueness get recognition. And one of the plant breeders who has received plenty of well-deserved recognition is Brad Gates, from Wild Boar Farm. Stripey tomatoes, blue tomatoes, and other cool-looking tomatoes come from his on-farm breeding efforts. And these three in the picture above (with great names!) are ones we’re excited to try this season.

Sensation melon. It feels like every year, we become more and more obsessed with growing melons. Honestly, they’re not a particularly profitable crop. They take up lots of space and they need a lot of heat. But our farm seems to enjoy growing melons and we love eating them and offering them to our customers. It can be tough since most people think melon season is much earlier than it actually is here. Well, we have a few new varieties of melons we’re growing this season that we’re quite excited about. I didn’t want this blog post to be all about melons though so we chose this one as the ONE we’re most excited about (it was very hard to choose!). It has a gorgeous white flesh and unique flavour which Fedco seeds describes as “Very sweet, but not cloying, complex with haunting hints of hazelnut, amaretto and cinnamon.” So excited to eat it by the spoonful!

Bear Necessities Kale. When I first saw this picture, at the Eastern Canadian Organic Seed Growers conference, I was hooked. I knew I needed to grow this. So pretty and frilly. I think chefs, in particular, will go nuts over the garnish potential of this one. Kale, in general, is increasingly popular. This year, like the last, has offered kale growers a kale seed shortage, where some varieties (mostly the popular hybrids) are unavailable. It seems the time is right for new varieties to become popular!

Korean Hot Pepper. We love making kimchi! We’ve always made it with whatever hot peppers we had at the moment. And our kimchi has never tasted like traditional kimchi. We’ve learned that it’s all in the pepper. And this is the hot pepper that should be used in traditional kimchi. We are so excited to taste the difference!

Lime Basil and Lemon Basil. We decided to grow these because we want to eat them with chunks of watermelon! And maybe some other things too… These basils have a delicate citrus fragrance and flavour. Great for Southeast Asian cuisine, fish, poultry, and rice dishes. I’m also stoked to dry some for teas. And possibly for making seasoned vinegars (I always WANT to do this….it just never seems to happen. Maybe it will for you!).

Zinderella Lilac Zinnia. This zinnia is crazy pretty! I love zinnias in general and I’m excited for these “Scabiosa,”or “Cupcake” types. Watch out for these in our summer bouquets!

Sweet Alyssum. I’ve been interested in planting sweet alyssum between beds (in the pathways) after hearing about it’s use planted with lettuce to attract beneficial insects and control aphids. I’ve been concerned about using it between kale or other brassicas because sweet alyssum also hosts flea beetles, but have heard that some growers do plant it between kale and broccoli. We’ll see how it goes!

I’d love to hear what you’re excited to grow or eat this year!

 

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Who are the New Farmers?

Well, I’m sure you’ve heard that we need to encourage more new farmers in Canada. We don’t currently have enough people entering the age-old profession of farming to replace the ones retiring.

There are many ways that this issue can be addressed. By supporting your local farmers you are definitely helping! Ideally, support would also come from the government in the form of supportive policies.

Last year, around this time, I sat in a room with young farmers from across Canada and we decided a National New Farmer Coalition would be a good idea.

We were inspired by the work of the National Young Farmers Coalition in the U.S.A. They created policy recommendations to support young and new farmers (which you can see here). And many of their policy recommendations made it into the most recent U.S. Farm Bill! And this was all done in a grassroots, young farmer-organized manner. We have power when we come together! Let’s make something similar happen in Canada!

 Brussels Sprouts Power!

The Goal: 1000 new farmers in Canada saying what they need to be successful.

Why: There are rules and regulations that can support and encourage new farmers and those that can do the opposite. We need more of the former.

We need to tell our government, our lending agencies, our food and farm organizations “Hey! Stop guessing who we are and what we need! We are here to inform you.”

Why care about policy change? Policies affect whether a retiring farmer will be able to sell their farm affordably to a new farmer. Policies affect whether loans or grants are available to new farmers. Policies affect the success of your local farmers’ market. Policies affect whether new farmers succeed or fail!

What: A survey has been created for new farmers to find out who you are, what you’re doing, what has worked for you, and what you need.

The info received from this survey will help in the creation of policy recommendations. What kinds of policies do we want to shape? National policies, provincial policies, municipal policies and business/organization policies that can affect new farmers.

Who: Fill out this survey if you are a new farmer, an aspiring farmer, an established farmer, or a recently exited (you were farming but now you’re not) farmer. You are being asked to do this by other new/young farmers who want to unite our voices and be heard!

Where: Let’s bring together the voices of people from across Canada. From coast to coast. From North to South. From city lots to the ends of country dirt roads.

When: The chance to add your voice to the voices of new farmers from across Canada is here now! Please fill the survey out as soon as you can. The survey has been released now, in the winter, so that your time spent filling it out doesn’t compete with time spent weeding. The survey will likely take about 20 minutes of your time.

How: You click on this link. As soon as you click on this link, you will see the introduction to the survey and a consent form. Then you start filling out the survey.

Please share this with any new, aspiring, established, or recently exited farmer you know. Each one will have a unique perspective that will greatly enrich future policy recommendations and the future farming reality in Canada.

We’re trying to get at least 1000 farmers to fill it out. Help us make that happen! Share on Facebook, Share on Twitter, Share through email. Share, Share, Share!

The link to the survey is: www.ruminationsongerminations.com

 

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My Two Cents on Organic Seed

Seed packets

In 2014, we were extremely grateful to be rewarded with a $500 grant from Rodale’s “Your Two Cents” Organic Seed Fund to help us purchase organic seed (our seed costs fall somewhere around $1500 to $2000/year).

As certified organic farmers, we must purchase organic seed to grow our organic crops. However, there is an exception. If we cannot find a variety that we want offered as organic seed on the seed marketplace, we can purchase non-organic seed as long as it hasn’t been treated with anything that is not allowed under the Canadian Organic Standards.

This exception was created to recognize the fact that the organic seed industry (production and breeding) needed time to develop. And organic farmers would be at a disadvantage in the meantime (with fewer options in general and even fewer options being improved upon and selected for important disease resistances and greater yields).

But the organic seed rule is important, because it is a promise to organic seed breeders and producers that they will have a market for the organic varieties they breed, improve, and grow out. And that’s a lot of work and a lot of dedication on the part of the plant breeders and seed producers. And what they’re doing is really important…for biodiversity, for healthy soil and clean water (they’re all farming too…and their management practices are affecting the world we all live in), and for the options available to organic farmers and eaters.

Even in just the years we’ve been farming, we’ve seen an increase in organic varieties and the performance of the organic seed we grow.

The downside is…the cost. Many (though definitely not all) organic seeds do cost more than the non-organic ones (sometimes so much more that it’s hard to justify the price on a commercial level).

So, the whole point of Rodale’s Organic Seed Fund is to help counteract that increased expense in organic seed for organic farmers. On our end, as recipients of the grant, we were asked to write a report at year end. While I was writing the report, I thought it might make an interesting blog post. So, that’s where this is all coming from and here are some of our thoughts on how organic seeds performed on our farm in 2014 compared to non-organic seeds:

Overall, the organic seeds planted on our farm this year performed very well.

In the spring, some of the first products we offer for sale are our vegetable, herb, and flower transplants. We proudly offered our customers only transplants grown with organic and open-pollinated seeds. Many of our transplant purchasers gave us positive feedback later in the season, letting us know that the plants we sold them produced better for them than seedlings they had purchased elsewhere.

Seedlings at Market

Through looking for a greater selection of organic varieties, we tried out a few new-to-us seed companies (Osborne Seeds and Fedco Seeds) and were very happy with the quality and the customer service and will continue to purchase from them. We continue to be happy buying organic vegetable seeds from High Mowing Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds. We also purchase some vegetable seeds from Adaptive Seeds, Wild Garden Seed, William Dam Seeds, Vesey’s, Hope Seeds, Mapple Farm, and Annapolis Seeds.

With one of the newest varieties of organic carrots we tried (Miami), we seemed to get a higher degree of forking than with our other carrots, both organic and non-organic varieties (even in the same field or sometimes the same bed). We wondered about the field conditions and fertility that the seed crop was grown and selected with and how that relates to its tendency to bolt on our farm (since forking is sometimes attributed to excess Nitrogen in carrots)?

Organic cucumbers like Poona Kheera and Silver Slicer were especially robust and vigourous as seedlings and plants over our non-organic cucumbers (though they are also specialty cucumbers, so harder to compare with standard cucumber varieties).  While these specialty cucumbers looked unusual, their flavour and texture really wowed us and our customers.

Kale: the organic varieties were hard to compare with non-organic as our organic kales were all OP (open-pollinated) and the non-organic kales were hybrids. The organic hybrid Ripbor was unavailable last year at the time we were ordering. High Mowing’s OP Curly Roja compared very favourably with the non-organic hybrid Redbor that we grew in the same bed.

Kale

We grew 2 varieties of Brussels’ sprouts in 2014. One from organic seed (Nautic) and one from non-organic seed (Jade Cross). The Nautic performed MUCH better than the Jade Cross in terms of vigour in the field, yield of marketable stalks, and appearance overall.

Both of the Romanesco cauliflower seed we planted were organic (Tipoff and Veronica) and we were very happy with the results. However, the price is quite a bit higher for organic Romanesco seed and it’s hard to know whether it was worth it in terms of results.

We tried a new organic fennel (Preludio) that we were extremely happy with in the field (our market for fennel is, sadly, not as robust). We have tried other varieties of fennel in the past (both from organic and non-organic seed) and none have performed as well as Preludio for us.

One issue we had in trying to compare results between organic and non-organic seed was that we are unable to trial the same variety, grown under organic and non-organic conditions. This is due to us being certified organic and unable to purchase non-organic seed if we can source the same variety organically. Therefore, it wasn’t always easy to know if the successes or failures we were seeing were related to the specific variety or the fact that the seed had been produced using organic management techniques. It would be interesting to see trials between the same varieties (and ideally same strain of the variety) from organic and non-organic seed.

On a personal level, our commitment to sourcing organic seeds has been strengthened and we are very encouraged and excited by the developments in the organic seed industry.

Just popping up!

 

 

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5 Ways to Evaluate Your Work

Winter sunlight

This winter, Bryan and I have been working on updating our business plan.

It’s easy for us to put this on the back-burner since we spent a lot of time on our original plan and tend to think it was thorough.

But, going through our old one made us realize that we’ve changed, our vision for the farm has changed, and we haven’t always followed through on some of our original ideas. And some of those original ideas were good.

One of them was to evaluate our business using the “Five Filters Analytical Process,” something I learned while at Windhorse Farm.

The 5 Filters are:

  1. Ecological Filter: Are we causing harm to the non-human beings in this place or elsewhere? Is there tangible enrichment of the lives of other beings?
  2. Social Filter: Are we contributing to community harmony or to its opposites (divisiveness, animosity, territoriality)?
  3. Economics Filter: Are we helping to build economic stability for our community (human and non-human) or does our business pose undue hardships or financial risks that are likely to destabilize the local economy? Does our farm reflect ecological economics rather than market economics?
  4. Spiritual Filter: Do we notice an increase in kindness, compassion, and awareness among the humans involved in this farm business? Alternatively, do we see an increase in covetousness, aggression, and ignorance?
  5. Magical Filter: Are we becoming more connected to the peacefulness and energy of the land, experiencing each plant and rock as alive and distinct, or are we becoming isolated, dulled out, and cut off from that “direct knowing” or “non-conceptual” experience of the earth?

Remembering to consider these Filters when evaluating our business as a whole, new tool or infrastructure purchases, new enterprises, and our lifestyle is something that is valuable to us but not always (or often) easy for us to do. I know that at one point, I had written the Filters out and pinned them up on a corkboard. But I stopped noticing it, or the paper got covered with other “to remember” items.

This is one of the benefits of spending time going through each section of our business plan. We didn’t create our business plan for a bank (though we used parts of it when we were applying for our mortgage). We created it for ourselves, to make sure that we were on the track that we wanted to be on. That we were actually creating a farm business with the values and goals and hopes and dreams that feel right to us as we grow and mature.

This reminds me of a quote I was inspired by as a young(er) woman, travelling from farm to farm. It’s from Summer Day by Mary Oliver:

“Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon? Tell me what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.”

Dried Poppy Pod

 

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