Drilling Soybeans into Crimped Winter Rye

Organic farmers have been criticized for using too much tillage. We use tillage to terminate one crop and prepare the soil for planting the next crop and then we use more tillage in row crops to control weeds during the growing season.

To develop no-till planting strategies for organic farmers it requires a lot of management skills and experience to figure out what cover crops or combinations thereof to create a good planting situation and season long weed control.

To do it with horse power requires another whole level of adaptation and creativity to evolve the machinery necessary to do the job of planting into heavy residues – getting the seed through the residue and into the soil and not exposing too much bare soil which is an invitation for weeds to grow.

There are 2 basic strategies that I have used: planting into winter killed cover crops like daikon radish or sorghum-sudan grass: or planting into mowed or roller/crimped growing covers like oats/barley/peas or winter rye or buckwheat.

Interestingly the 2 pieces of equipment that I use for terminating growing covers are both built by I&J an Amish equipment company in Pennsylvania. The I &J mower[7ft.] I use has a double reciprocating design which enables it to cut through any standing crop without plugging and does a nice job of laying it down evenly. The other tool, the roller/crimper was also designed by I&J and I was fortunate to find one they had built with wheels to be trailed behind a forecart. The drum can be filled with water to make it more effective and the wheels can be lifted right off the ground to transfer even more weight to the roller. It is 8 feet wide and can be pulled by 2 horses or 3 if it is a bigger field.

No-till Drill

The more challenging piece of equipment is the no-till planter/drill. Listening to the advice of a long time no-till conventional farmer [ who is also my nephew] I avoided a system which is common on no-till drills which is a row of coulters ahead of the openers. These coulters effectively loosen the soil to allow the use of a lighter opener system. The problem is they absorb a lot of horsepower. There is an Amish company that builds such a drill of various sizes, ESCH in Pennsylvania. The design I went with involves a heavy double disc opener on parallel-o-gram arms with one disc leading the other by ¾”. Then there is a press wheel at the rear to control the depth of seeding and also functions to close the seed trench. These units were off a salvaged tractor no-till drill built by Crust-Buster in the USA. There 8 units spaced 8” apart. I usually pull this drill with 3 horses. It is raised and lowered with a battery driven hydraulic system. I intentionally built the drill quite heavy but I still added more weight because very heavy residue of firm soil can cause an end wheel to lift off the ground. That is why the drive wheel for the seeding mechanism is on a third wheel. The down pressure on the openers is easily changed by moving a spring on the opener unit but of course is limited by the total weight of the machine.

We have successfully no-tilled spring cereals into winter killed daikon radish, oats/barley/peas and sorghum-sudan grass, soybeans into roller/crimped winter rye and winter cereals into roller/crimped buckwheat and mown millet.

No-till Drilling Oat/Barley Mixture Into Different Winter Killed Cover Crops, April 6, 2019

We are offering a unique opportunity this year – On Farm Beef Butchery Workshop, December 18th 9am-4pm. $125 including lunch.
Looking for the gift of experience?! Perfect for the right person;)
We have become more and more disconnected from how our food is produced and processed, so this provides access to an experience is unavailable to most! Learn from a pro how to break down a side of beef into primal cuts. It will be mostly demonstration and a little hands-on work.
Email info@orchardhillfarm.ca for more information and to reserve your spot.

Aidan Cooper will be leading the demonstration and she is a farmer, butcher, doula, and wilderness EMT. Aidan has been working in small scale agriculture and exploring food systems for the past 7 years. After working for an urban farm in Hamilton, ON, for 3 seasons, Aidan moved to upstate New York in the spring of 2016 to work at Essex Farm, which produces a year round whole diet CSA. During Aidan’s time at Essex Farm she received a crash course in on-farm slaughter and meat cutting. Aidan is passionate about on-farm slaughter and butchery and connecting omnivores to the process of responsibly harvesting and preparing their meat. Since leaving Essex Farm, Aidan has worked at Reber Rock Farm and Butcher Shop for three fall butchering seasons, assisting with on-farm slaughter and butchery and all the other things that make the shop go round. Aidan currently lives in Wheeling, WV, with her partner David, and is working for a non-profit organization focusing on food access.

Happy New Year!

It feels refreshing that it’s finally cold and snowy outside – when it’s balmy and muddy I always have the vague feeling that there’s something I should be doing outside, so the snow settles me in to make the garden plan for next year.

As some of you know (Fall CSA members) 2019 is going to be a different year here at Orchard Hill – we are changing directions, and will no longer offer a CSA – for the first time in 21 years! It’s bittersweet – a lot of members feel like extended family at this point. We will miss catching up with you each week. But I feel the need to explore other directions, and feel out the market without the commitment to growing lettuce for 100 each week! I’ll still be growing vegetables, and we will have lots of asparagus and rhubarb in the spring at the market – followed by strawberries! I’m pursuing organic certification this year to make it more viable to do some wholesale vegetable sales in the future.

This year we are going to be at the Horton Farmers Market in St Thomas (Saturdays 8am-12) and the Covent Garden Farmers Market in London (Saturdays 8am-1pm & Thursday afternoon 4pm-7pm). I’m planning to do a little catering, and some value-add foods to take to market as well. We won’t be taking interns this year – also for the first time in more than 20 years!

Jess Andrews will be staying on as my right-hand woman, with Ken, Martha and Aaron in supporting roles. Ken and Martha worked hard this fall installing wood posts and electric fence around the majority of the west side of the farm, in preparation for a custom-grazing operation – we will essentially rent out the pasture for the growing season to another farmers’ herd of cattle. Great for the cattle (excellent, organic, nutrient-rich pasture), and also great for the land – intensive pasturing where you mob-graze ruminants – moving them every day – is one of the best ways to encourage biological activity and organic matter in the soil. It also attracts insects and birds to the farm. Martha is planning to pursue organic natural dye production and Ken will continue to produce organic grains, hay as well as breeding and training Suffolk Punch draft horses (we just got a colt this year that he hopes to train into a gentle stallion to run with a small herd of mares). We are expecting another calf from Florence this year, as well as two foals from Sadie and Buttons.

If you’d like to continue receiving emails about upcoming events, markets and special sales, just add your email to this list – here’s the link:


And finally – a big thank you to all of you who have been a part of our extended family – or just eaten our vegetables! Thanks for supporting our local economy, and keeping our family here growing food for the last 40 years.

Take care and keep in touch – come see us at the market, and find us on Insta and FB

Ellen, Aaron, Ken & Martha (and Della and Frannie)

This is the zucchini cake we sampled at last week’s pickup – olive oil, lemon – all my favourite things. I just baked it in a regular sheet cake pan (9×13), and it was a little sweet – reduce the sugar in the recipe by a 1/4 cup. Or leave it as is! From David Lebovitz – delicious.

Zucchini Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze
Serves 12-16
Adapted from Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina DePalmaI used the fine grating disk for my stand mixer but Gina recommends if grating the zucchini by hand, use the fine holes on a box grater. I also think since you’ve got the grater out, you may as well add a few swipes of lemon zest to the cake batter, since you’re using the juice for the glaze, which I’m going to do next time.The best way to invert the cake is to lay the cooling rack over the top of the cake pan, then grasping both the cake pan and the rack simultaneously (if it’s too hot, wear oven mitts), flip them both over at once. Lift off the cake pan, then liberally brush the glaze over the warm cake.
For the cake:

1 cup (135g) almonds, pecans, or walnuts, toasted
2 cups (280g) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups (350g) sugar
1 cup (250ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (300g) finely grated zucchini
For the lemon glaze:

1/4 cup (60ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup 65g) granulated sugar
1 cup (140g) powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Grease a 10 cup (2.5l) bundt or tube cake pan* with non-stick spray or butter, dust with flour, then tap out any excess.
2. Pulse the nuts in a food processor until finely chopped.
3. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, 1 3/4 cup (350g) sugar, and olive oil for 3 minutes on medium speed, until light and fluffy. Stop and scrape down the sides of the mixer, then add the vanilla.
5. Mix in the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the mixer bowl to make sure everything is mixed in well, then beat on medium speed for 30 seconds.
6. Stir in the chopped nuts and zucchini.
7. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan, smooth the top, then bake the cake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan.
8. During the last few minutes of the cake baking, make the glaze by whisking together the lemon juice, 1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar, and powdered sugar.
9. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a cooling rack. Brush the glaze over the cake with a pastry brush and let the cake cool completely.

Storage: The cake can be wrapped (or put under a cake dome) and will keep for a few days. You can freeze the unglazed cake. However to apply the glaze, you’ll need to defrost the cake then warm it so the glaze will adhere properly.

*If you don’t have a bundt or tube pan, I noticed that both Adam and Sara made the cake in a regular round cake pan with good results.

This cake batter could also be baked in two loaf pans, which is easier for gift-giving, if you’re trying to share your zucchini bounty. You may need to reduce the baking time a little to compensate for the smaller pans.

Fall CSA Here’s the application – Fall CSA Application

Fall is my favourite time of year because we all get to enjoy the bounty of the harvest! People sometimes think that it’s going to be all onions and potatoes, but we often still have delicious tomatoes and peppers, the most beautiful greens and lettuces still grow into November, enjoying the cooler weather after the hot summer. This year we will have our own fresh turmeric and ginger, as well as popcorn and cornmeal grown and milled by us! We also some ornamentals planned like cornstalks and broomcorn. Pickups are generous and every 2 weeks. Some of our members store extra squash in their closets or basements for months!

Join us! $240, payable by Oct.17th or in monthly instalments of $80/month in October, November and December.

Pick ups are Saturdays 11am-3pm here at the farm, every 2 weeks, October 20th-December 1st.

Farm Dinners

Farm Dinner, August, 2017

September 7th and September 8th, 4:30-8pm

5 courses + wine pairing, $80 per person, including tax and gratuity.

Featuring vegetables, fruits and grains from our farm. Vegetarian and gluten free options are available. Payment required to hold reservation.  Limited number of tickets! UPDATE – SOLD OUT!

Connor Ross, from ‘Pie by Night’ in Guelph will be joining me to cook for you again!

Hope to see you there.


Come on out and see us tomorrow at our Second Saturday – it’s 11am-3pm. We have a market and and open house – learn more about how we grow food, buy a flower bouquet and some sausages! There will be a demonstration about Sourdough (pancakes and coffeecake, good beginner stuff) at 12 and 2pm. 

The CSA will start May 23rd and run for 22 weeks – until October 17th! It’s a week later than anticipated because of the late spring this year. We still have space left in the CSA, it’s not too late to join!! If you’re a member of the garden and haven’t gotten an email from me (info@orchardhillfarm.ca) – let me know (and check your junk mail).

Next Wednesday, May 16th 4-7pm, members can come by and pick up a bonus bunch of asparagus! Just email/text me to say that you’re coming and I’ll have it ready for you! It’s also a great time to pay for your share and pick up some eggs!

We have been busy on the farm! The windstorm tore the plastic off our big hoophouse and it had to be replaced, but aside from that and some chasing of row cover, we came out unscathed!

Today we have a CRAFT day on the farm – it’s our turn to host a monthly farm tour and worshop. We will be talking about soil health and planting some onions – it’s amazing what you can get done in an hour with 30 people! CRAFT SW is a group of farmers in SW ON that also host interns on their farms – it’s a way to foster a community (for farmers and interns) of like minded folks – people who want to educate and collaborate – and broaden the scope of the interns’ education. Exciting stuff.

What a roller coaster! Watching the horses sweat and the kids in t-shirts and barefoot, it’s hard to comprehend that last week we had an ice storm! Spring is a slow one this year – most plants are two or three weeks behind their normal growth at this time of the year.
I was planning on a CSA start date of May 16th – and it still might – things often take off very fast once it warms like this – but I was starting to wonder! I’m happy we have plenty of room in the greenhouse and hoop houses. A few more weeks of winter has sent us scrambling for more firewood (for the houses and greenhouse), and we are scraping the bottom of the hay barn for the horses and cow.

Unmulching strawberries!

But the chickens are laying lots of eggs! If you’re in the area, come by for some eggs – until the CSA starts, they’re only $5/dozen. We have some new pullets that are laying little eggs – and they’re only $4/dozen. We feed our laying hens our own sprouted grain (organic oats and barley) as well as certified organic feed. The last time I went to the feed store to get layer feed, they accidentally sold me GMO-free feed instead – and claimed that it was ‘organic’. It’s not the same thing, folks! We pay extra for the feed because we feel like it’s worth it – I like knowing that I’m supporting other organic farmers when I buy my chicken feed, and have the assurance that it has been grown responsibly.

Here’s a recipe for some cured egg yolks – I made them last week and they’re fantastic! So far we have eaten them on pasta, and on salad. They’re salty and rich, like little umami bombs. You can use them on anything that you would use grated parmesan on – I like to grate them with a microplane (or a really fine cheese grater).

Cured Egg Yolks

1 pound sea salt

1 pound sugar

12 egg yolks

Find a glass or porcelain 9 x 9 inch casserole dish, or a bowl that has enough surface area to hold 12 egg yolks with a good couple of inches between them and an edge about 3 inches tall.  Measure the sugar and salt (if you don’t have a scale, just shoot for about 2 cups of each) into a bowl and mix it well. Use about 1/3 of the salt/sugar mixture to coat the bottom of the dish. Use an egg in the shell to make 12 little indentations for the yolks to rest in – with space in between them. You want each yolk to be completely surrounded by the salt/sugar mixture and not touching one another. Place the yolks in the indentations and then pour the remainder of the salt/sugar. Each yolk should be covered with it. Wrap with plastic wrap (or like a wax fabric wrap if you’re a hippie like me), and place it in the fridge for 3-4 days. Check it after 3 days. The yolks should be firm. If they’re still a little soft in the centre, let them go for another day. When they’re cured, remove them from the curing mix, rinse them under cool water and dry them. Dry them at 150-200˚ for an hour or two in a dehydrator, or an oven set to its lowest setting – you’re trying to dry them, not bake them. And they’re done! They will keep for a month in the fridge – just keep them in an airtight container.



Perhaps you are part of our CSA [community shared agriculture] garden already or are considering joining us this season but are wondering what it is special about our farm. We are a small farm by today’s standards at 93 acres but that allows us to better manage the many complex details involved in producing wholesome nutritious food and caring for the land we steward.
One of the most important aspects of growing nutritious food is having a healthy soil. Healthy soils grow healthy crops for humans to eat and results in healthy people and ultimately less health care costs for society to bear. This is a responsibility we take very seriously at Orchard Hill Farm. So what do we do differently?

One thing that really sets us apart is that we do most of our fieldwork with draft horses. They allow us to work the fields and harvest vegetables while reducing our dependence on petroleum fuels and represent one of our ways of tackling climate change right here on the farm. Granted, we are not purists, so we do use a tractor for a few jobs like loader work and baling hay and a rototiller for small plots that are difficult to work with horses. These working horses are fed pasture, hay and grain we grow on our fields as part of our diverse crop rotation which keeps the bugs and weeds guessing as to what is coming next. In the winter months, we collect the horse manure and straw bedding (from the grain we grow for feed and flour) and start the composting process, which results in a soil amendment rich in plant nutrients and organic matter which is then returned to our vegetable and grain fields to help supply the many nutrients essential to plant health.
A big part of creating healthy soils is promoting all the biology [bacteria, fungi, etc.] living below ground. We encourage this biology by crop rotation, cover crops, compost applications, minimizing tillage and even developing organic no-till methods. Every time the soil is disturbed, it also disturbs the bacteria and fungi – they play a critical role in providing plants with nutrients, and impact the water holding and drainage capacity of the soil – so we want them as abundant and happy as possible.
Another aspect of healthy soils is avoiding compaction, which squeezes the soil particles together – eliminating pore space where air and water are stored in the soil for use by microbes and plants. The use of horses helps us avoid compaction caused by using heavy tractors in the field.
This year we are beginning a trial of a “permanent bed system” that if successful will eliminate field wide tillage for most of our annual vegetable crops. This is a big change initiated by the next generation of farmers at OHF – Ellen and Aaron – and a big challenge for Ken to develop new field and equipment designs to make it possible.

So join us for an exciting season of progress and good food at Orchard Hill Farm CSA.

All the animals can feel it. Yesterday Florence, the cow (she’s pregnant – due in June) was hopping and tossing her head when I forking straw into her pen, and the horses came trotting into the barn wildly when I let them in for their dinner. The days are noticeably longer! It’s about time! I’m putting the finishing touches on the greenhouse plan, and we are ready to fire it up in two weeks for the longest maturing crops – onions, some of the cutting flowers and herbs.
Ken is finishing up kitchen cabinets and counters for the bunkhouse so that he can start training the two youngest horses in March. Martha has been helping with the cabinetry, weaving and is now re-upholstering a chair!
As I’ve been planning the garden, I’ve added A LOT more flowers to the mix – I’m planting rows of different flowers (zinnias, calendula, borage, nasturtiums and marigolds) within the garden and to divide different varieties, to attract beneficial insects and to help support natural pollinators. Hopefully it will provide more pollination for our fruiting plants, and maybe attract insects that eat the non-beneficial insects. And if nothing else, it will be beautiful!
It’s time to sign up for the CSA! If you know anyone who might like it, send them our way!!