Heidi cultimulchingAn introductory, housekeeping item – it’s Ellen behind the keyboard here. I have taken over managing the blog, facebook page and instagram account. Martha will occasionally post something, but we thought that you might like to know who you’re reading.

One of things I love about farming and living a life that is so seasonal is that patterns start to emerge between events, plants and animals, sometimes seemingly otherwise unrelated. The other day I mentioned that Home County Music Festival was coming up to my mom and she said ‘oh, that means we need to put the electric fence up around the sweet corn’ (to keep the raccoons out), because she remembers the past few years, rushing around to get that done before going to the music festival.

2016 is shaping up to be the year of the weeds! Some combination of no-till cover crops, lack of rain, and who knows what has created the highest weed pressure of any year that my parents can remember. Upside – you get to feel like a superhero, swooping in to save the poor plants from certain doom in the pigweed jungle. Every 2 weeks. Downside – it feels like there’s no time to do anything but weed. It has such an effect that we have decided to change the location of the 2017 garden – there were so many weeds coming up in the field destined for vegetables that we have switched it up and it will now be planted to buckwheat (and a few more cover crops).

The garlic should be ready to harvest in the next week or two and it looks glorious! The heads are big and IMG_4562beautiful. The cucumbers are getting off to a slow start because Martha went to a seminar this winter and came away with recommendations for cucumber varieties, and also the idea that cucumbers shouldn’t be transplanted because it sets them back too much – best to just get them in the soil sooner (in a hoop house). Sounds great! However, only 5-10% of the expensive, special cucumber seed germinated. So we replanted and those plants are coming along and we will have lots of cucumbers in a month or so….and in other good news, tomatoes, peppers and melons love all this hot dry weather, so they should be bountiful.

0I6A2662-editFlorence the calf is doing well. She guzzles her milk each day, three times a day. Bryan takes her for a walk most evenings and she loves to suck on fingers (or hands, or baby feet!). We have brought in almost all the first cut hay now – it’s been great haying weather!

The multigenerational family farm operation is going well so far – it’s a challenge to get as much done as you think you will with small children in the mix (or it looms large from my perspective perhaps). But it’s very special to me to see the relationship develop between my parents and my children – and their relationship with my grandmother! She’s come a few times to help keep an eye on the children while we keep on top of stocking the pick up room. But it’s also interesting and heart tugging to see Della develop a relationship with the plants and animals that I spent so much time with when I was a child – making flower crowns with spring beauties, following toads, making forts for worms. Della in the blueberry bushesOr picking blueberries for everyone for dinner! Ken and Martha are starting to plan for a renovation of the bunkhouse – adding a kitchen and bathroom, and probably replacing all the walls – that’s all! They shall start their (semi) retirement in style next year.

Here are a few recipes from garden members –

Spinach Pesto & Artichoke Pasta Salad

From Vicki Coughlin (at Telegraph House in Port Stanley) –

I didn’t have the artichokes (omitted them) and used this recipe hot as a side dish for dinner, and thought it was a brilliant way to use fresh organic spinach from Orchard Hill! (farmer note – it would also be delicious with swiss chard!)

250 g fusilli

1 garlic clove

2 cups packed spinach

1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds

1/4 cup parmesan

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup 2% plain yogurt

398 -ml can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped.


  1. Cook pasta following package directions, but omitting salt, until tender. (Drain & rinse with cold water if making salad)
  1. Whirl garlic clove with spinach, almonds, parmesan, lemon juice and salt in a food processor until finely chopped.  Gradually whirl in oil until smooth.
  1. Combine pesto with yogurt in a large bowl.  Stir in pasta and artichokes if using.

Chia Fruit Jam

From Jackie Martens –

This is very quick and easy to make and I have made this with Mulberries, Strawberries, Raspberries, and Strawberries with Rhubarb.

1 cup fresh or frozen fruit, cut up small

3 tbsp chia seeds

2 tbsp organic maple syrup (or other sweetener like honey or agave)

4 tbsp water

(If using Rhubarb, I soften it a bit first by boiling it in the 4 tbsp of water.)

Mix together all ingredients.
Transfer the mixture into a saucepan and cook on med-low heat for 4-5 minutes until jam sets.
Transfer to a jam jar and enjoy on yogurt, toast, crackers, with salad or use as a topping for scones or other slices.
Store in the fridge for up to 7 days.


Grandpa and GrandmaIt’s been a whirlwind of activity on the farm the past few weeks – this time of year, everything wants to be done at the same time. What to do when?! This morning we were trying to figure out what to tackle first and Ken said ‘Well, which of the 14 things that all need to be done now should we do first?’ The greenhouse is exploding with plants whose roots are seeking real soil. The garden ground has finally warmed enough we can plant more and more seeds directly, and barely keep ahead of the weeds. And all the plants are so new and tender that they are the most delicious for the bugs and beetles, so everything has to be covered with row cover (floating fabric that keeps the bugs out). But then again, it’s spring, so some of them – like the tiny and voracious flea beetle, are just emerging from the soil and so they come out under the row cover to a feast! These are the culprits responsible for the (ahem) ‘lacy’ radish leaves.

Garden June 1However, the greenhouse is looking rather empty these days – we have planted broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, beets, carrots, corn, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, beans, melons and gladiolas in the past few weeks. Everything just needs a good soaking in order to take off. Since nature doesn’t seem to be cooperating, we are going to take matters into our own hands and start some irrigation. That should make it rain for sure!

And of course, it’s the perfect time to move and merge households – ha! Ellen and Aaron have sold their house in Portland and moved their things to the family farm. Farm succession in action has a lot less to do with tractors and spreadsheets than it does with 4 almost identical mesh strainers and too many laundry baskets.Rototilling with baby in back

We have been doing some experimenting with cover crops and planting crops directly into them – aka – no-till, with mixed success. The advantage is that the plant matter left on the surface provides nutrients and protection from the elements for the new plants, as well as benefiting the micro organisms that live in the soil (this is obviously extremely simplified – see Ken for a full scientific explanation of the complex symbiotic relationships at work here). The disadvantage is that sometimes it’s difficult to kill the cover crop, and sometimes the weeds get too established before the cover crop takes over. Just last week we tried a few rows of popcorn planted into rye that had been rolled, and initially it looked great, but now the rye is rising from the dead and seems like it might smother the poor popcorn. But have no fear – there is lots of popcorn that is not part of the experiment, looking great!

IMG_4061Finally, keep a look out for a calf in the next month – Utah, the Jersey cow, is due to calve any day!



Michelle and Elizabeth Weeding Mesclun
Ken Plowing the Corn Ground with Mater and Sonny
Bill Planting Wheat
Bill Cultivating
2013 Garden with Mustard and Rye Cover Crops Planed

Today was a typical busy day at Orchard Hill Farm. Tuesday is always a pick-up day and after the flurry of activity in the morning getting the produce ready for the pick-up some of us moved on to other things. I walked around the farm and took pictures of all the goings on at the same time. Elizabeth, Michelle and Caesar were weeding mesclun in the main garden, Ken was plowing this year’s corn ground (now that CSA working share members picked all the popcorn and ornamental corn), and Bill was seeding wheat in the field that he had cultivated yesterday with our Suffolk Punch Horses, while many of our CSA members were picking and snacking their way through the raspberry patch. We will now seed the corn ground to rye for a winter cover and start in plowing this year’s squash ground and plant it to rye as well. We will finish seeding the hoop houses with greens tomorrow for our Fall CSA and bag up our cured sweet potatoes. The gladiola bulbs need to be dug and put in the basement over winter and a bit more cover crop seeding done in the main garden to prevent erosion over the winter.

As I was strolling around trying to capture pictures of all that was happening on the farm I snapped a picture of the garden plots for next season seeded down with mustard, rye and Sorghum Sudan grass. I then walked over to take a picture of Bill planting the wheat. The seed bed looked so beautiful with its soft, fluffy soil and lots of organic matter. I cast back over the summer, sorry that the ground wouldn’t be the destination of the 2013 CSA main garden after all, despite Ken’s careful preparation of the land. The hay had been cut and left in the field to be worked in, more hay from another field had been brought in addition to increase the organic matter, the land was then plowed in 2012 and  planted to buckwheat. Soil samples were taken and minerals and compost spread and worked in to balance the soil. The reason for the change of garden location was the wire worm problems we had right next door in this year’s early garden…the warm winter last year seems to have been the contributing factor and perhaps a soil type preference. So we changed the location of the garden for 2013 and started preparing ground on the other side of the lane in hopes to avoid wire worm. Then we found wire worm there too! After considerable alarm and research we are starting in on a new cover crop approach that includes mustard and trying to avoid cereal grains in May when the click beetle (adult wire worm) lays it’s eggs. The challenge is coming up with a rotation that works and still adds back organic matter to the soil and leaves the ground covered over winter to prevent erosion. There is considerable research going on for wire worm problems and we will be experimenting here as we try and keep abreast of other people’s results. One of our CSA members, Jeff Tolman, a retired Ag Canada entomologist, has been a great assistance to us in our quest to figure out what to do. All I can say is, we should have a bumper crop of wheat in 2013 after all the care that went in to preparing the ground.

Michelle and Caesar

Sunday is our CSA Pot Luck and next week is the last week of our main season CSA. We will be sadly saying good bye to our two wonderful young women apprentices, Amanda and Elizabeth. All of our apprenticed have given us so much support and energy over the season we are very appreciative and grateful to them all!  Bill will be staying with us over the winter and for next season and we are very happy to have him with us for another year! Michelle has also been a big boost this season as she has popped in and out to give us a hand!  We wish her well in her farm search.


We are really into summer on the farm!  It looks like we will need to do another round of irrigation this week. Our first field of wheat is ready to come off and then we will have straw to bail. The garden is growing well with some tasty summer squash, cauliflower and broccoli being harvested. We are watching our garlic closely to make sure we don’t let it get over mature. Our strawberry season was short and sweet. We were pleased that so many strawberries escaped being frozen after our hot March and then -7 degrees C  nights in April!  We have another round of brassica transplants to go out this week and a succession planting of carrots and beets for the fall. My plan is to plant and then irrigate.

Amanda Building Pasture Fence for Mabel

We are getting another pasture fenced for Mabel, our Jersey cow. She has grown up in  the last two years and is ready to calve in August. We got her when she was two days old in May of 2010. Last Thursday she ducked under the top wire of the electric fence when Elias was moving her water barrel out of her patture and had taken down the lower fence.

Elizabeth Burying the Electric Fence Wire

Usually she is very friendly and quite happy to come to us for some attention, but she was having too much fun when she was out, playing tag with us, and it took a while before Ken was finally able to get hold of her halter!  Today Elizabeth and Amanda are fencing off the front pasture beside our chicken pasture so that Mabel will have some more good grazing. Next year the chickens will be in that pasture and Mabel can have the pasture where they are.  There are so many jobs to do all the time that, although fencing the front pasture for Mabel has been on the “list” for some time, it has only just now floated to the top.

Every week our work is framed by our CSA harvest for our Tuesday and Saturday pick-ups, however around the edges of that we do manage to keep up with other farm tasks. Finishing cutting up the fire wood for next winter is still on the list and every other week we do manage to do a sweep of in the garden – cultivating with our Suffolk Punch draft horses and then weeding and hoeing by hand. Ken also is planning to finish the cold room that has been under construction for some time. It will allow us more harvest flexibility and hopefully result in better quality produce for our CSA members. We now need to find and install a cooling unit, add some weather stripping and move the building into place. Ken finally had time to saw some of his lumber last week and then the new motor on the saw mill broke down! Understandably, he was very frustrated. The motor is at the repair shop and we are awaiting its return.

On the horse front we ended up buying back two Suffolks, Suzzie and Sonny,  that we sold five years ago along with, Sandy, a five year old mare out of our old stallion, Rufus, and Suzie. Sandy is untrained, but Ken is enjoying having two horses back that he trained himself. It’s nice to have more Suffolks on the farm again. After loosing three horses last year it is taking us a while to sort everything out. We also bought Queen, a lovely old belgian mare that we leased last summer. We are happy to have  Queen back on the farm to help out. We have Mater and Princess for sale because we don’t need quite so many horses. (See the horses for sale page of our website for pictures.) They are both good work horses and we hope they can find good homes. Our two foals from last year, Wendel and Eli, are “growing up” in the south pasture.

Grandma Martha Holding Della

In the back of my mind I am still remembering holding little Della Jane when I was in Portland for her birth. It’s too bad I can’t be in two places at once! We hope that Della can come for visits when she is older so we can get to know her and share our farm. Ken is of course hoping that she will take after him and be horse crazy and grow up to be an organic horse farmer! He has been collecting horse toys for several years…

Bill back from Cultivating with Buttons and Queen
Elias Seeding Head Lettuce Transplants
New Cold Room
Cultivating and Hoeing Onions and Leeks


Caesar, Bill van Zanten, Ken Laing, Amanda Lushinger, Elizabeth Hammond, Paul Papadatos

Now it seems like the new year on the farm has really begun with the arrival of our apprentice team for the season.  We have a new group this year and they have arrived with a welcome burst of  enthusiastic  energy. The whole crew took a turn driving our Suffolk Punch draft horses, Gwen and Gena, as they ploughed a round in the potato plot, yesterday, with oversight from Ken and Caesar.  The apprentice team and I also spent the better part of the day wrestling with row cover for the early garden planting.  Row cover seems like one the necessary evils of organic farming. We are using it this time of year just to keep the soil warmer where we have tucked in the early garden seeds and it does make quite a difference in the early garden growth.

Ploughing Under the Rye for the Potato Ground

Bill van Zanten actually arrived  a week earlier than planned because the weather was so warm and we were over whelmed with all the early spring work to be done.  He helped us get our hoop houses ready to go and worked in the greenhouse and with the early planting. We aren’t sure what the weather is going to do from here on out. We have left the strawberries covered hoping that it will protect them from the extremely cold nights we have just had.  However, we don’t want them to start growing under the mulch because that is also hard on them, so we will have to uncover them soon  and hope for the best. Our early peas, spinach, carrots, beets, radishes and mesclun are planted out doors. One of our hoop houses is planted to spinach and we are going to plant more of our hoop houses later this week. It is a challenge to time it so it will all be ready at the right time to go with our perennials of rhubarb and asparagus and then  be able to dovetail with the outdoor plantings so that we have a continuous supply of produce once we start the CSA pickups.

First Log Sawed !

Ken’s new sawmill did arrive. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had time to do much more than try it out, because all the fields are calling to him.  We are expecting to have some windows of time to do some sawing a little later after the oats are planted. The earlier you plant oats the better they do.  We  are hoping to get them planted before the end of March, but we are still waiting for our new seed to arrive. The early spring has everyone feeling like they are behind before we even get started!

Skidding out Logs with Gena and Gwen

Ken has spent a good part of the last month felling trees and skidding logs out of the woodlot with our Suffolk Punch horses. He was ideally waiting for some nice snow cover for the log skidding. The logs get very dirty when they are pulled out in the mud. Today, on our Sunday farm walk/talk, he was saying that he should probably get a power washer to clean up the logs before cutting them or he will have a lot of dull blades in a hurry when he starts sawing. I was delighted with the idea, because we could also use it to wash the garden soil off of the carrots and other root vegetables. We purchased a “root washer” last year, but I have been very disappointed with it. It does a lovely job of washing peppers, tomatoes and zucchini, but in my opinion they don’t usually need much washing anyway. However, with the really dirty roots we had to pre-wash them for them to come out clean. I’m ready to try a power washer!

Walnut Logs Ready for Sawing

Ken’s farmer blood is starting to boil with all the warm dry weather in the forecast and he is ready to start spring plowing so he can plant some early oats. The earlier they get in the ground the better. It is unusual for us to be able to plant before the end of March, but it looks like this year it should be possible. The frost is out of the ground and it is starting to dry up! The good thing about doing so much logging is that the draft horses have kept in shape and should be ready to go with the plowing. It is hard on horses when they are out of shape and the weather warms up quickly. We have three new horses to work with this spring and it will be good for Ken to begin working with them before the apprentices arrive at the end of the month.

Molly, Jonathan, Martha, Ken, Bill and Jolianne

On the weekend we were delighted to have two of our past apprentices, Jonathan Bruderlien and Joilanne Demers, come to the farm for a stop over with their new team of draft horses, Molly and Bill. They are CSA farming in Quebec and have purchased their first team. Ken helped them hitch for the first time and they even did some plowing. It is very gratifying for us to have helped train this fine young couple who are pursuing sustainable farming with horses and we wish them every success.


Leaving the barn yard with straw to mulch the strawberries.

When we come round to mulching strawberries for the CSA it really feels like we have come full circle in the farm year. We were discussing today whether it was the last job of the previous season or the first job of the new season. I guess that this year it is the first job of the new season since it is January 3rd. It’s hard to believe that three days ago we were planting garlic! The weather is so changeable. However, I am happy for the draft horses to have the snow to exercise in.  What a mess the winter has been so far with all the mud!

Driving to the field.

We hitched up two of our Suffolk Punch horses, Sassy and Gwen and loaded up the straw to take down to the field to mulch the strawberries with. We were waiting for the ground to freeze before we did this job, but we weren’t expecting to have so much snow over night. It was hard to see where the strawberry rows were! Caesar enjoyed coming along especially if he got to ride on the sleigh.

Caesar enjoying the ride.
Mulching the Strawberries

On another note we have been picking fresh kale from the garden, it just gets sweeter with the frost and tastes so good as a green vegetable. Kale chips are good too.  The following recipe was given to me by two different CSA members and it is very tasty.

Kale Chips with Cashews

KALE CHIPS with Cashews

Blend together in food processor:

1  Red Pepper (I use frozen ones from the summer).

1  Cup Cashews

2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice

1 Tablespoon Tamari Sauce (you can use soy sauce)

2  Cloves Garlic (crushed first)

1  Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast (optional)

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

6  Cups of firmly packed Kale (tare bit size pieces of kale off  of the center stem and discard stem).

Massage the above mixture onto the kale.

Spread on a 2 cookie sheets and dry in a slow oven until crisp. You can even turn the oven off after it has warmed up and then turn it on again every hour just enough to warm up. You don’t want to cook the kale, just dehydrate it. I use my dehydrator, but not everyone has one.





Beautiful Cauliflower
Last Saturday we had our first Fall CSA pick-up at the farm. Ken and I had a taste of harvesting in the rain without our apprentices to help. We did have some help from CSA friends and were very pleased to have a good showing of produce. We moved into the bunkhouse in anticipation of colder weather before the final pick-up in early December. Also our summer pick-up area doubles as our woodshed in the winter and we have it full of firewood to keep us warm this winter.
Tomatoes from the Hoophouse
The fall Cauliflower stole the show for the pick-up, but all the tomatoes from the hoop house were a close second.
Pumpkins on the Couch
We had to use the bunkhouse couch for the pumpkins. Ken wanted to put the potatoes there so we could give “couch potatoes”, but I thought they were a bit too dirty.

Martha Putting up Insulation
Now that the pick-up is over we have been able to go back to work on the greenhouse. We have used cut outs from patio doors. They have insulation between layers of aluminum and we screw nailed them to the outside of the foundation wall. Now Ken is busy back filling around the outside and then we can put the rocks inside for a heat sink. It is going to keep us busy getting it all done hopefully before the snow flies.

We finished up our main CSA season with a great group of apprentices.  We tackled a number of jobs during the apprentices’ last week to complete the season. The garlic for 2012 was planted with our Suffolk horses, the potting soil for winter started transplants mixed up and stored away, the corn ground and this year’s garlic ground was worked up and seeded to rye. We also managed to work on the foundation for the greenhouse.  Our garden area for next year was worked up and seeded down to rye and oats using our draft horses and the grain is coming up nicely.

2012 farm team: Tara, Graham, Ken, Martha, Lisa and Andy
Next Year's CSA Garden with Rye Cover Crop
Greenhouse Foundation Cement Work Finished
Andy and Suffolk Horses Seeding Rye

Some Beautiful CSA Produce

Well, our season seems to be rapidly drawing to a close! Overall it has turned out to be a wonderful year for many of the crops that we grow. I’m thinking back especially to strawberries and melons, as well as bumper yields of tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and fall raspberries. We grew the CSA to just over 200 shares this season. It feels like a manageable size and are happy to not get any bigger. Our apprentices and working shares have been wonderful in helping us harvest the bounty of produce that has come forth during the season. The response to our fall CSA has been very positive and we are looking forward to the challenge of extending our season to the beginning of December for a smaller group of CSA members on a bi-weekly basis – only on Saturday. The reason that we have been increasing our CSA and have expanded into the fall has been to generate more income to purchase additional land, which we have been renting from my mother. This has been made possible by the support of my mother and siblings, who want the land to stay in the family and be owned by the farmers who farm it and by all of our CSA members who have given us an income to afford to purchase the land. I was very close to my grandmother and father, who loved this farm and used teams of horses to farm it. It is with a keen sense of stewardship and responsibility that we take on the care of the land which we love and into which my roots run deep.

Greenhouse Foundation Under Construction

We have finally had time to start on the greenhouse construction again. The walls for the foundation are made out of dry laid cement block. They will have cement poured into the core and be plastered on the outsides for reinforcement. It is a building method Ken has read about and is interested to try. It ends up being like a poured cement wall, but doesn’t require cement forms. The basement of the north room will be filled with rocks to act as a heat sink for the heat that is generated when the sun shines.

Good bye Black Walnuts

Our green house construction is currently on hold for black walnut tree cutting.  We have lost three horses to colic within the last year and Ken has been mulling it over in his brain and trying to sort out why. The end result is a strong suspicion that it is black walnut that is the culprit. As I write, he is cutting down the trees along the south edge of the winter paddock area. There are different symptoms of poisoning from juglone, which is in the black walnut bark, leaves, nuts and pollen. They include skin irritation, hair loss, colic, respiratory problems all of which we have seen to greater or lesser extent in our horses. The problem is that laminitis is one the main symptoms often sited and we didn’t really see that, so it threw us off.  Apparently, horses that are exposed for years can sometimes develop a problem all of a sudden. It seems crazy. We have lots of walnuts bordering our pasture fields.  I expect this winter we will be cutting a lot of walnut trees! Some of them are on the fence row with our neighbors, so we will have to speak to them and apply for permits to cut trees as well.  Ken is now wondering if Jethro’s dropped soles, our first stallion, were related to walnuts – not over feeding… He is a disappointed with our vets, because in all the years they have been coming here they haven’t pointed out any potential problem.  Sam had severe skin irritation this spring. He also grabbed a branch of walnut as he was walking by a tree when we were digging potatoes.  I ripped the branch out of his mouth in the morning and that evening he had a gas attack.  He recovered that time, but not the next time two weeks later. Chester was in fields near the house with walnuts in both… His condition deteriorated for unknown reasons. When he really got sick we had just put him out in the area to the south of the quonset and thinking back it was probably walnut pollen time and there are a lot of walnuts in the trees right there… apparently even small amounts of pollen can sometimes cause big reactions.  Both Gena and Gewn have suffered from strange unexplained respiratory problems. If it is the problem and we can remove black walnut from the pastures and paddock areas we hope to see a positive jump in overall herd health. Here’s hoping.

"Mater" Our New Replacement Horse

We have a new replacement nine year old gelding. “Mater” has been retired from the horse pulling circuit. We suspect that he has some Suffolk  blood although he isn’t registered. He probably came east as a young foal from one of the PMU farms in western Canada where they had some Suffolk horses.

Please remember the last pick-up days for the 2011 are:
Tuesday, October 4
Saturday October 8