Thanks to our great friend Katie for taking all these photos of our field day!
This past Sunday (October 14th), we held a Field Day at our farm.
While it was a bit late in the season to show the peak of abundance, the timing was strategic.
- It would be less likely that mosquitoes or black flies would overwhelm folks.
- It’s crazy beautiful here when the leaves are changing colour in the fall.
- We wanted to host a demo of our Self-Loading compost spreader and we needed it to be a time when it was mostly completed and definitely useable BUT before snow would make showing it in action impractical.
- We thought it would be a good opportunity for people who’ve been asking us if they could come and visit a chance to plant something (garlic) that’s not too much of a challenge but also really helps us out (many hands make light work in this case, for sure).
Our farm is small. There are 15 acres total but only just over 1 acre is used to grow crops to sell. Another 4 acres approx. is used for cover crops/building soil health. The rest includes our house and plenty of spaces left for wildlife including pollinators. So farm tours don’t usually take very long, unless there is a specific interest by the participants.
We decided to include a few short demos in the farm tour of our day-to-day activities that would hopefully be of at least mild interest to the broad diversity of participants (whether they were customers, fellow farmers, aspiring farmers, etc.).
Bee Friendly Farm
So, our farm is certified organic, but it’s also a Bee Friendly Farm. We’ve posted our Bee Friendly Farm sign right at the front of our house, where the yard likely looks totally haphazard and wild….but it’s a great place for pollinators including bees (native bees and honeybees alike).
To be a Bee Friendly Farm (or garden), you need to plant things (or leave things) that will flower and benefit pollinators for as long of the season as possible. The toughest times of year are early early spring, before even the dandelions appear, and late in the season. Right now, most of the goldenrod is even past its prime, and the perennial asters are a big highlight for bees.
You also need different types of habitat. Some of our native bees nest underground. So, there needs to be areas that aren’t tilled. Some native bees can make their way through to soil with a grassy cover and some can’t. So ideally, you’ve got some bare soil that doesn’t get tilled. Old groundhog homes can be good for this.
If you’re interested in making your farm or garden into a Bee Friendly one, find more info here.
Our Wash Station
This is where produce goes after we harvest it from the field, to get cleaned up for market. We’ve designed it thinking about food safety (and keeping in mind current international food safety regulations), adaptability (so we can make changes fairly easily and inexpensively), and for efficiency (each year we’ve improved the flow).
Two of the big improvements we made in 2017 were shown: the bubbler and the salad spinner.
- The Bubbler. This is a tank that holds water as well as a “bubbler” composed of an air pump and pipes with various holes in it to release “bubbles.” This gets produce clean without requiring us to physically (like with our hands) be pushing/moving it around. It’s gentler on the produce, faster, and gets things cleaner. It also reduces the need for our hands to be in freezing cold well water for extended periods of time. Before the bubbler, we used to have various thin thermal gloves within plastic gloves to protect our hands from the cold water.
- The Salad Spinner. We made a DIY salad spinner using a washing machine frame. First, we bought a brand new washing machine specifically for this purpose (whereas the washing machine we use in our home was bought secondhand from Kijiji). Then, we followed the instructions to convert it from a course we took called Dry Your Greens. We use the same kind of tote baskets used by fisherpeople to scoop the greens from the bubbler tank then insert the basket into the washing machine. It has reduced time and energy (we used to use a hand-cranked spinner that could hold much less greens at once). It also improves the quality of the greens and gets them much drier than before.
These 2 simple pieces of equipment have made some tasks that felt like a chore into a fun and easy task.
Milkweed and Monarchs
We made a quick stop to a patch of milkweed that still had some monarch caterpillars on it. And we found a stem with a Chrysalis attached to it.
We’ve written about our caterpillar tunnels before on this blog (here and here), so I won’t go into much more detail. One thing that’s new this year that’s been a huge help has been our overheard irrigation system. Previously, we used drip irrigation or mini sprinklers in the caterpillar tunnels. This year we bought a system that hangs along the center and basically rains over the entire area. It’s amazing and the crops have clearly loved it! It’s also really nice not to have irrigation in the way when we’re re-planting, harvesting, weeding, or even just walking though.
Cover crops, and soil health in general, is a big passion of ours. We devote a fairly high percentage of our “tillable” land to cover crops, rather than crops to sell. Our goal is to grow “cash” crops off just enough area to make a living and devote the rest to building health and diversity of ecosystems on the farm. We want yields that support many more species than just Homo Sapiens. And, through our increased efficiencies each year, we have been able to do that – though we still have a ways to go. In fact, I don’t think that work can be finished in our lifetimes. At best, we only have 60 more attempts (or growing seasons).
Anyhow, we showed a field that we planted to Sorghum Sudangrass and Field Peas earlier back in July. The sudangrass grew quickly; you may have seen us posting pictures of it on facebook or instagram. We were pretty excited about it.
Most other farmers that saw it this year asked us how we seeded the cover crop. So, we showed our Earthway push broadcast seeder.
Propagation greenhouse, high tunnel, ducks
We checked out the propagation tunnel where we start seedlings. They grow with bench (or bottom) heat, rather than air heat.
We looked into the high tunnel which is about to get a new skin of plastic and won’t have anything growing in it over winter except our tulip bulbs.
We said Hi to the ducks who were slightly wary of so many people but much less concerned than they would have been last year (they’ve really mellowed as they’ve matured!). They used to get nervous if a bucket was out of place!
We dreamed of the pond for many years. And agonized over where to put it, and whether we should consider a lining material. You see, our soil is quite sandy, deeply sandy in fact. And, with soil tests showing only 2% clay, we were super concerned that we would end up with a deep muddy hole that wouldn’t hold any water.
A number of years ago, we’d held a Biodynamics workshop at the farm with the late Charles Hubbard from here in Cumberland county. One of the things he taught was how to dowse (and kids at the workshop tried dowsing for gold). Bryan actually developed a great knack for it and has successfully dowsed for both the spot to drill a new well and the spot (and depth) of our pond.
People always ask us – is this pond for irrigation? It’s not. Our dream for the pond was a different ecological niche for wildlife here. And to help hold water on the land so it can soak into the ground and replenish the ground water. While the excavation activities certainly compacted the soil right around the pond, we’ve started planting things for different species, including pollinators around it. I’m dreaming of a nice big patch of Swamp Milkweed nearby and have planted both seeds and transplants.
We also showed off the Mullein we planted this year and people got to touch it and see how soft it was. Pretty ideal alternative to toilet paper actually!
We then moved on to a field that we’re still harvesting from, in these last few weeks while we’re still attending the Dieppe Market.
This field will also have vegetables in it next season so we’re still planting crops in it (like overwintered greens and garlic).
We showed some of the tools we use to prepare these beds. Those demos were actually preparing the beds for the garlic planting.
We had already put down a few amendments, like organic alfalfa meal, crab meal, and Azomite rock dust (for trace minerals).
We showed a demo of the Tilther, a small tiller which incorporates amendments very shallowly into just the top 2 inches of soil, and powered by a power drill.
Then we took our Rolling Dibbler and made holes down the beds to show where each clove of garlic would be planted.
Garlic Planting Party
At this point, we were ready to plant the garlic! And we had tunes! Our neighbour (in Joggins), Bridget Michels (from The Cumberland Perfect Sleep Co. and The Crab Apple Inn), had offered her services to sing. So we set her up near the pond and she serenaded us all while we planted the garlic. She sang some of my favourite songs, like Landslide and Jolene, and we didn’t even plan it that way. She was incredible!
The garlic planting went so fast with so many people. Everyone did a great job and I hope it contributed to their overall happiness (this study indicates that some naturally occurring constituents of the soil help human happiness when we put our hands into it).
Afterwards, we needed some refreshment, for sure. And so we had local kombucha from our good friend Phil who also sells at the Dieppe Market!
Our friend Katie generously made delicious gluten-free treats to share too!!!
Self-Loading Compost Spreader demonstration
The garlic needed to be mulched and we’ve started using compost as a mulch. A major improvement this year has been our innovative self-loading compost spreader which we designed with, and had custom built for us by Dan Hartman from Community Machinery in nearby Sackville, NB.
This implement has been the biggest improvement in our farm management systems this year by a long shot! It’s also been a huge help for us in our attempts to reduce tillage organically in a vegetable growing system.
We’re writing another blog post about this that will go into more detail, so I’ll just describe it briefly here.
So, basically, it attaches on the back of our tractor, a 50 HP Kubota. It loads the compost itself, like the loader/bucket of a tractor would. Then it rights itself up with the compost inside and releases the compost out onto the bed area. In fact, we can adjust it so it releases a pretty large amount of compost that can serve as mulch. This is pretty different from the manure spreaders we’ve used previously.
It was a really fun day for us. We’re grateful to all the great people who came out and helped make it happen!