Our 5 Favourite Market Gardening Tools

Tools

This post was inspired by seeing this post from Allsun Farm (in Australia)  and the Farm Start posts from other farmers we really respect and admire. I wanted to just share those links but then thought, what the heck, why don’t we just join in!

1)      Vermont Cart. We use this ALL THE TIME! We love the one we bought at Lee Valley so much. This year, we bought an extra one from Vesey’s (it’s bright red) and, while it’s still useful, it is just slightly less wide, which doesn’t allow us to have our harvest bins side by side in it, which is way less efficient. So, we don’t like using it as much (whichever one of us is slower to grab the Lee Valley one has to use it) and our next one will be another one of these for sure.

Vermont Cart with rhubarb

2)      Bio 360 biodegradable plastic mulch (made with non-GMO corn). We don’t love constantly weeding…and we don’t get paid to do it. We also hate seeing bare soil, especially in the spring when it can rain hard. So, we use Bio 360 for almost all of our transplanted crops. Especially, in year one, converting our hay fields to vegetable fields, it made all the difference in being able to work full-time on our farm (and not just weeding) without any other source of income and pay the bills. We buy it from Dubois.

Parsley on Bio 360

3)      Jang Seeder. Since we’ve gotten the Jang, we haven’t done any thinning of plants. Not to say it’s the perfect seeder (we still get frustrated with the results of seeding beets), but we’re very happy with it. The Earthway seeder still gets used for peas and beans because it does a great job with that but the Jang is responsible for the rest on our farm.

Jang seeder

4)      Winstrip trays. It is gross to us to have to throw out broken flimsy plastic seed trays and then just buy new ones that we know will have the same fate. We expect our Winstrip trays to last our lifetime and we’re very happy with the health of the resulting seedlings. To us, they’re a good replacement for soil blocks also (with their side slits and large bottom hole for air pruning as well as the nice layout for air circulation up top), since we found transplanting with soil blocks less enjoyable than with plugs. These are not easy to buy…you have to wait until the order is large enough to justify making a new batch….could be a few years even for the size plug trays you want.

Winstrip Trays

5)      CoolBot. What would we do without you, little CoolBot? We would spend a lot more money to get a good storage temperature for our crops. Also, I like the fact that it dries out the air. All of our bins of vegetables are kept covered with lids anyway and I think it’s better for my flower crops that the air is cold but not humid. We bought ours from Store It Cold.

CoolBot

 

If you want to share your Top 5 tools, I’d love to read them in the Comments below. We’re always on the look-out for new tools to increase efficiency and overall enjoyment!

Hand hoe

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Chatty Cathys

Barbara Kingsolver quote

Sometimes we get interviewed for various reasons by various people. And neither of us find it particularly easy to say the right thing at the right time. Or say witty or funny things at the perfect moment (but of course, we can think up good ones later….).

And sometimes people ask us the same questions but get a very different answer, depending on the day, the weather perhaps, our mood most definitely, and the conversations we may have had right before then.

So really, each interview or story can only capture a specific moment in our lives.

Rye

Well, here are 2 recent “moments in time.”

The first is an interview I did after we were awarded a “Your 2 Cents” seed grant from the Rodale Institute.

The 2nd is this story that was put together from an interview based on the fact that I will be speaking on a panel at the upcoming Beginner Farmer Symposium put on by ACORN’s Grow a Farmer program.

July 29, 2014 – Symposium Speaker Profile: Shannon Jones of Broadfork Farm 

Shannon Jones of Broadfork Farm in River Hebert, NS. Shannon will be presenting "Investing in Farmland: Key Considerations for Beginner Farmers" at the 3rd Beginner Farmer Symposium/ le 3e Symposium annuel pour les fermiers débutants & soirée d’accueil on August 18th, 2014 in Sackville, NB.

Every farmer finds a different path to a career in agriculture. For Shannon Jones, it began with her studies in holistic nutrition, where she decided that the best way she could help people be healthier and more food-conscious was by growing the food herself. Since that decision, she has been volunteering, apprenticing, or working on farms for over ten years- and for the last three and a half years, she and her partner Bryan Dyck have been running their own 15.6 acre operation, Broadfork Farm, in River Hebert, NS.

Shannon is undoubtedly pleased with their choice to open Broadfork Farm. She loves “how fulfilling and challenging it is intellectually and physically and emotionally and spiritually. I love that I don’t have to always look “presentable” for work (besides the market).” At the farm, Shannon loves “…how quiet it is. I love how it’s located in the middle of the Maritimes provinces. I love our neighbours. And the forest. And the tidal river.”

Shannon’s passion for organic farming extends beyond her own farm, however. She is also an ACORN Board Member, contributes to the National Farmers Union Youth (NFU) and Young Agrarians blogs, and also sits on the Grow a Farmer Steering Committee where she provides thought and guidance supporting the future of farmers in Atlantic Canada. Her commitment to the organic sector is admirable and encourages the importance of community engagement–a vital ingredient for any aspiring grower!

She will admit that it can be challenging to work with just her partner (in both life and in business) all day, every-day – however, she adds that working with Bryan also makes her job easier and even more fulfilling as they gain a deeper understanding of each other while they also evolve as farmers. Shannon encourages new farmers to “place value on your professional development. It’s not a waste of money! Conferences (like ACORN’s), farm tours, books, magazines (like Growing for Market) are valuable. I’ve been getting into farm podcasts. I like Farm Marketing Solutions and Permaculture Voices.”

Thanks to Shannon for sharing her words of wisdom with us! We look forward to hearing her input during the Investing in Farmland Panel at the 3rdBeginner Farmer Symposium on August 18, 2014. REGISTER NOW! 

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Broadfork In Bloom

June wanderings

If you’re a Dieppe Market goer, you may have noticed the bouquets I (Shannon) have been making and selling at the market at this time of year.

Right now, local and organically-grown flowers are a very hot trend in the flower and wedding and event industries. For more about that, read this.

Why have we added cut flowers to our farm?

It was never really part of the plan for our (primarily) vegetable farm.

In our very first year starting Broadfork Farm on leased land, after a long vegetable harvest day, I would wander the property looking for pretty things to make up a bouquet. I did this as an adornment for our market stand. I wanted to bring a little more of the beauty of the farm to the stand. Earlier on, I thought it would just be a spring thing, when our market table looked very green. But it just kind of became my end-of-harvest-day ritual. And I loved it.

Mason Jar bouquet

And market-goers seemed to like it too. People would often ask if they were for sale. I started bringing a few bouquets each week. There were some other vendors at our markets who made bouquets to sell and they really encouraged me to start growing and selling cut flowers. So each year since then, we’ve devoted a little more space and seed money for cut flowers.

Poppies

One of the huge benefits for me personally has been the learning opportunity. I knew (basically) nothing about flowers (besides edible ones and the flowers on food crops) in year one. It is so much fun to learn about something completely new! I mean, vegetable-growing already offers me (more than) a lifetime of learning….and then there’s fruit, herbs, animal husbandry, bee-keeping, record-keeping, farm planning, business management, habitat maintenance, soil biology, soil chemistry, soils management, and all the other things that I love learning about. But cut-flowers are a newer addition to that list that I’ve become mildly (?) obsessed with.

So, I’ve bought books (see list at bottom of this post), joined the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, bought Kraft paper sleeves and little plastic bags to hold water at the base of the bouquets, and practiced!

Market bouquets

As a plant grower, the growing part (while having its own set of quirks) hasn’t been as hard to learn as the design part. Also, I’ve found that learning more techniques from flower growers has enhanced my vegetable growing.

The flowers have enriched our crop rotation, habitat and pollinator health, and our morale with the beauty we see every day while we’re working.

Bumblebee on hyssop

Making bouquets has helped me see the beauty in all kinds of plants on our farm, not just the ones I grow for bouquets.

Customers who bring one of our bouquets home with them have a visual idea of what’s blooming on the farm that week as they eat the vegetables grown in our soil. That’s a pretty special connection.

Flowers also really connect people, and memories around flowers are so strong. Recently my grandmother (Beryl Jones) passed away and my father told me that her favourite flowers were carnations. She was always amazed at how long they lasted! This year I’m growing carnations (Floristan Salmon) for the first time, and every time I harvest them and use them in bouquets at the market, I’ll be thinking of her.

All in all, it’s been a really fun floral journey so far and I’m excited for the years to come!

Flower harvest

I also wanted to share a link to a youtube video with you. Bryan’s aunt Pam very sadly passed away recently and she was a great florist who passionately promoted and advocated for sustainability in the floral industry. Watch her rock it in this video! All of the black buckets we bring our cut flowers to market in were from her shop and I’m looking forward to the time when we plant a whole bunch of peonies like she suggested.

List of web resources for local flower lovers:

I don’t want to overload you but if you are so inspired, I’m sure you can go on an amazing interweb journey from here.

Books

Spring flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Harvest Morning in Pictures

Bryan harvesting arugula

Libby harvesting greens

Sweet 'n' Spicy Mix

Yokatta-na greens

Rhubarb

Rainbow Radishes!

These pictures were all taken a few weeks ago…..but it’s not often that I remember to bring a camera out with me on harvest mornings. A few people have asked us about these harvest bins. They are food grade bins that we bought from Dubois in Quebec. They are two-toned grey bins. They nest when the light grey sides are placed on top of each other and stack when the opposite colours are placed on top of each other which makes it faster and easier to tell which way to stack them.

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Quick Cut Greens Harvester

Cutting greens

We really love growing salad greens so, while envisioning how to be more efficient at it, we looked into the Quick Cut Greens Harvester from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. First, I spoke with a few farmers who had tried it and read any reviews on farm blogs I could find. Then I asked Chris Siladi, our awesome rep from Johnny’s if he could arrange to have one sent to the New England Fruit and Vegetable Conference so I could hold it and “go through the motions” of harvesting imaginary salad mix in the trade show. The tipping point in the decision to buy it though came from Randy Cummings from Johnny’s who said that if we didn’t like it, we could always just return it. Sold!

Sweet 'n' spicy mix

Last week we tried it for the first time. On the first bed of greens this season that was sufficiently weed-free in our opinion (note: this does not mean it was free of weeds….just sufficiently for trying purposes).

The greens may have been slightly too big for ideal Quick Cutting. We harvested our mix of Asian greens that we call our “sweet ‘n’ spicy” mix, as well as arugula. Both were very quickly harvested and taken to the wash station. The time spent in the wash station cleaning those greens was longer than usual because weeds and leaf “bits” had to be sorted out. As well as a few bruised or broken leaves but those didn’t account for too many.

Quick CutGreens Harvest

So, after this first attempt….we’re still undecided. We really like doing quality control at the harvesting stage. But it is nice to be able to harvest a lot quickly, before the sun comes out and heats the greens up.

Also, you can kinda see from the picture below, but it’s a bit less easy for me to maneuver this thing than Bryan (although I’m sure I’ll get better at it with practice…this picture captures my first moment holding it). I guess due to the size and maybe the extra weight. It’s not really that surprising I guess. There are lots of jobs on our farm that work better with a smaller/shorter person or a taller/stronger person.

We are also curious to see how it may work differently with our beds that are not raised (we’ve only tried it on this raised bed so far) and how the ergonomics may be different (I think we lean in more with the raised beds than we will with the non-raised beds).

Little Shannon

If you like, you can watch a short video of the very first moment the Quick Cut Greens Harvester was used on our farm. Very monumental. Epic actually.

 

Or, if you’d like to watch one that is 100% slicker than our video, watch this one.

 

 

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Ginger-ama

Planted ginger

Well, we finally felt confident enough with the nightly lows to put our precious ginger into its caterpillar tunnel which had been reserved and ready for quite some time.

Transporting ginger

Here we are transporting it to its new home. Out in the big world. Away from the sheltered space of its formative young life…

Ginger with tall shootsGinger just sprouting

As you can see from these 2 pictures, some of the ginger shoots had grown quite tall. While others were just starting to sprout.

Ginger trenchDrip TapeWorm castings

First, we made a trench. Then we laid down a line of drip tape in the trench. I don’t know if anyone else has done this or if it will be useful. We just did it because we were worried about the need to not overwater early on but then water it more as it gets bigger. We don’t want any seed pieces to rot. While we were sprouting it, we basically didn’t water it after our initial “misting period” which we lost patience with pretty quickly and so we just stopped watering it. And it grew pretty well. And the dryness of the potting mix made it easier to seperate the pieces from each other whose roots had intermingled.
Then we put earthworm castings in the bottom of the trench because we just got some and are excited about using it and hope that the ginger loves it and that it reduces any potential diseases.

A ginger planting gingerDrip tape lines

We then planted the ginger. We played around a bit with the spacing, depending on the size of seed piece mostly. Anywhere from 5” to 12” approximately. And we stuck 2 lines of drip tape on the surface of the soil. These drip lines will get buried after our first hilling. And, because I want them to be so happy, I watered them in lightly with fish and kelp.
If you’ve planted ginger too, what have you done differently?

Here’s our other sweet little ginger:

Kubota, our ginger cat

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The View from the Farm

Rye

Well, despite the less-than-ideal weather this spring: wet fields even with our well-draining soils, cool nights and frost (some of our early/risky planting of summer squash was hit but that’s just part of the game…we were lucky last year), things are still growing. In the picture above, you can see the cover crop “cocktail” from last fall (that just means a mix of crops rather than just one or 2) which included rye and is now only rye and looks good.

Lettuce on clear Bio360

This year, we’re trying out some of the clear Bio360 (biodegradeable plastic mulch). It breaks down faster than the black Bio360 so we’re using it for succession crops. We’ll be laying it for field cucumbers soon and we’re trying it with head lettuce, dandelion greens, and green onions. We’ll probably use it for our next succession of summer squash too.

Salanova lettuce

These lettuces were started in April. Some of them were planted into the greenhouse and have long since been harvested and eaten (well, sold…hopefully eaten by now). But they’re just taking their sweet time out in the field under their row cover. But they’re doing well. At least that’s what I tell them. Motivational speeches and such.

Winter Density lettuceGreen Salanova lettuce

After too many weeks of not having radishes at our market stand, we’ll have them again. That makes me happy. They’re so pretty. They’re like the jewels of the vegetable world.Radish

Here are the shadow-y figures of Bryan and I. Walking back from the “secret garden” fields after a day of transplanting, insect netting, bed prep, and rebar pounding.

Bryan and Shannon

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Mid-May Vegetables

May 16 Harvest

We harvested some exciting crops today!

Egyptian OnionsFirst up, Egyptian Onions (aka Walking Onions). Read this great article about a chef who fell in love with this onion.

Here’s a quote: “Lewin would like to nominate the Egyptian walking onion to be included in the US Ark of Taste, a catalog, compiled by Slow Food USA, of “delicious foods in danger of extinction.” The operative word there is “delicious.” Sure, this onion is obscure, and its unusual habits and back story are intriguing, but it’s got something even more important going for it. “We can talk about saving seeds and heritage foods all we want,” says Lewin. “But someone’s got to serve it and eat it, too. The best thing about this onion is it tastes great.”

Chives

Then we’ve got chives. Which I adore at this time of year. They make every dish taste like spring! Here’s a recent blog post about chives that I enjoyed. It asks, “If ramps can become an overnight produce sensation, why not chives?”

Sweet Cicely

This green may be unfamiliar to you. It’s pretty unique. It’s called Sweet Cicely and this is it’s time of year (for fresh-eating…it makes cool seed pods later in the season). It tastes a bit anise-y and it’s awesome in salads, with fish, or even added to a smoothie. The whole plant has a kind of sweetness which is why the seed pods have been used as a sugar substitute. Read here to learn more.

Johnny Jump Up edible flowers

And then, the edible flower of spring, Johnny Jump Ups. I think that salads should always have flowers in them, but it’s been since last fall since I’ve been able to enjoy that. For some ideas on how to use edible flowers, see here for inspiration.

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What did we harvest today?

Hakurei turnips

Yay! Hakurei turnips are making an appearance at the market this week…..though with the weather, I’m not sure when the next planting of hakureis will be ready. These ones came from the hoophouse but we’ll be planting tomatoes in there so we needed to harvest it all.

Salanova salad mix

I’m really happy with this salad mix using Salanova lettuces. This year, we’re only planting Salanovas early and late in the season. I find that they grow too slowly in the warmer part of the season but they have great cold tolerance. And they are really beautiful and delicious and more substantial than our baby leaf salad mixes.

Red Kitten Spinach

I love red-stemmed spinach but we do find that it bolts quickly so we really only grow it in cooler weather. So, this is a special treat for our Dieppe Market customers this week!

We also harvested lots of radishes and sweet ‘n’ spicy mix from the hoophouse. The whole hoophouse is now harvested out and ready for tomatoes! Woohoo!

 

 

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Caterpillar Tunnel Workshop, class of ‘14

Pre-workshop site

Last Sunday, we hosted a hands-on workshop called Extending Your Season with Caterpillar Tunnels, presented by ACORN’s Grow a Farmer program as part of their Learning Series. The timing was great as we’re in the midst of putting up 5 caterpillar tunnels (3 for vegetable crops, 1 for cut flowers, and 1 for vegetable seed crops).

If you look back on this blog (here), you will see that we wrote about putting up the caterpillar tunnels a few years ago. There have been a few changes since then that we will highlight in this blog post.

I really want to thank the participants of this workshop for coming up and being interested in this subject and working their butts off to help us put up these tunnels. I like to think of our farm as a quilt and all the participants definintely created their own patch that will live on and be rememebered with gratitude.  We were also fueled with some very generous (and delicious) food donations from the wonderful Sequoia Natural Foods in Moncton (who we supply produce to during the growing season) and Just Us Coffee in Wolfville.

The picture above is basically what the area looked like when participants arrived.

The pictures below show one change we’ve made, and that is to use landscape fabric for the tunnels that will be in the same spot for the whole season or longer. This is due to the fact that it is very challenging to try to weed and/or mow the spaces in between the bows. With 2 of the tunnels, we laid landscape fabric over almost the whole thing leaving just strips where we’ll be planting tomatoes. You can see the fabric staples being put down along the edges to keep them in place.

Bryan stapling geotextileShaani stapling geotextile

Previously, we used wooden stakes under each bow which were much cheaper (they were free) than the rebar we’re now using. This is a result of the change we’ve made in gound anchors. Hopefully, overall it will make things easier but there definitely was a lot more stake pounding initially. You can see in the first picture we were making small cuts in the fabric to put the rebar through.

Putting in the rebar stakesPounding the stakes in

We’ve been using PVC pipes as the arches which we’re still happy with overall. They are extremely easy to bend (we just bend them right over the stakes) and they have a bit more flexibility (than metal hoops) with snow loads in the winter.

Straight PVC pipesBending PVC pipes

So, here you can see the new anchors we’re using. Our previous ground anchors were Duckbill anchors which snapped too often for our liking. Even though they’re strong enough, I don’t think they are good for the amount of water that can come off a tunnel and the galvanized steel would rust and break. So, now we’re using galvanized steel plates (2”x 4” with two holes drilled in them at each end) that slide over the rebar, and have a stainless steel snap clip to attach the rope to.

Anchoring systemSnap clips attached to plates

Anchor plates and ropeRopes attached to snap clips

We use t-posts at each end of the tunnels to hold the “ponytail” of plastic covering at both ends. I like the 2 beards in the lower picture.

T-posts on endsPounding in t-posts

 

Tunnel ponytail

We had a great 7 year old helper named Marina who did an amazing job at running the rope around the whole tunnel.

IMG_0606

And she was a real quick learner when Bryan showed her how to make the knots.

KnotMaking a loop and tying it

Another difference this year is that our tunnels will be moved and/or adjusted for the winter. We like to keep them up over winter but the arches need to be spaced closer. In the past, we’ve just kept them at 4’ spacing all year and over winter. Now, we’ve got them at 6’ spacing over summer (when we don’t need the extra reinforcement) so we can have more tunnels up over summer with the same materials.

TunnelInside tunnel

Below is the updated list of where we sourced the materials for the tunnels and their cost. The last 2 columns show the difference in cost per tunnel if the tunnel has arches with 6’ spacing or 4’ spacing.

Tunnel "recipe"

Here is a link to download the .pdf of our material and suppliers list: Caterpillar Tunnels at Broadfork Farm handout

Posted in Farm Infrastructure, On the farm, Winter Growing | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments