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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
It’s time to start planting our early transplants for the CSA garden in the new greenhouse! Michelle Jory was down for a visit earlier this week and helped get the seed trays ready in between playing with Caesar and the cats, Mosquito and Courgette. Wednesday morning our daughter, Ellen, was here visiting from Oregon and she and I popped in the first seeds of the season. That meant we had to get busy and install the wood stove and the new fan to blow the hot air down into our rock storage on sunny days. Ken will be spending a lot of time monitoring the temperature of the rocks! We’ll keep you posted on how much less wood we use this year over last season when the new greenhouse was under construction and we had to use one of our hoop houses to start the plants…
Ken is itching to get back to felling the remaining trees on his list and skidding them out with his Suffolk Punch horses. He is eagerly awaiting the arrival of his new saw mill. It is sad to cut down so many walnut trees, but the lumber will be very beautiful.
Ken is the President of Elgin National Farmers Union for this year. The NFU is hosting a screening of a new farm film, To Make a Farm in Aylmer, Monday, March 12 at 7:30 at the Old Town Hall (above the library), 38 John Street South. It is about some young farmers in Grey County, Ontario with urban backgrounds, who have bought farms and started farming. Some of them have come through the CRAFT apprentice network that we are part of. Scroll down to see previews: