Ryan with Wendell and Gwen

Gwen had her Suffolk Punch foal ready to greet us on Tuesday morning! A beautiful stud colt with a white diamond on his forehead. Ryan will be leaving our farm this week and was hoping the foal would be born before he departed.  Ryan is off to start medical school and has enjoyed being part of our farm team getting in on the ground level of good health which begins with healthy food produced in a sustainable manor.  We wish him well and although we will miss him we are sure that he will be an excellent doctor.

Andy with Wendell and Gwen

The heat and dry weather have been a challenge and we are irrigating the main garden for the second time this week.  It is interesting how things balance out. Ken says that the average rain fall over the year remains fairly constant so that when we have a very wet spring we are likely to have a dry spell in the summer to balance it out…We hope it doesn’t last too long, but are glad that we have the ability to irrigate the garden.

We have new Tamworth pigs to help jump start the composting of the horse manure. They also enjoy the extra produce on CSA pick up days.

Tamworth Composting Pigs

Getting Combine Ready for Wheat Harvest

Plowing Bee
Last Saturday we had a Plowing Bee at the farm. Teamsters showed up from far and wide to help us plow a four acre field. We had ten teams plowing at one time. It was a lot of fun for all concerned. Our apprentices enjoyed the chance to try out the walking plow. Some CSA members made it down to the field to see the fun.

Spring Barn Kitten
A stray cat showed up at the barn this spring. She was very thin and shy. We began feeding her and the thin cat started getting a big tummy! We now have four very cute kittens at the barn. They are timid, but the apprentices are taming them.

Foxglove cut flowers for CSA
Our CSA flowers are coming along. For a number of years I have tried to grow Foxglove for the CSA Cut Flower Garden and this year it finally worked out.

Grow Garden Grow

The warm weather and rain are helping to get the garden growing. We are waiting for the sugar snap peas and are hoping to have some for our Saturday pick-ups. After our cold spring it seems that the garden if finally ready to take off. Our radishes are bigger this week, more like what we have been used to in other years.

Planting Brassicas

All of our early transplants are planted. The second run of brassicas (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli) were the last of our major transplants to be planted. It was a happy day for us when we were able to tuck them in. Now everything just needs to grow and we can concentrate on weeding!
Our apprentices are off to a CFAFT Day today where they will visit another CSA farm. It will include a farm tour, a workshop on “Marketing”, pot luck lunch and a work project. It is also a nice opportunity  to socialize with apprentices from other CRAFT farms.

Transplants Waiting to be Planted

We are into our second week of our CSA pick-ups.  It is always a big push to get set up for the season.  Now we are changing the rhythm of our work week to include harvest and pick-ups twice a week.  Working Shares are signing up to come out and help with the harvest and we are getting to know new members and renewing our ties with others.  It has been a challenging spring with the cold and wet weather.  We continue to plant and transplant between rains and are now waiting for the ground to dry out yet again, before we can plant the peppers, melons, eggplant and tomatoes transplants in the main garden.

Last week the resident stallion, Chester, died due to some sort of internal problem that the vet couldn’t cure or clearly identify.  We are sad  and reminded again how fragile life can be.  We shared ownership of Chester with another Suffolk breeder and who just had a filly foal sired by Chester.  Two of our mares are due to foal in June and July so Chester will live on through his offspring.

Rhubarb Patch

Rhubarb is a main stay of our early CSA pick-ups. Go to pommeroyale.com (Ellen’s blog) from “Links We Like” in the side bar for a recipe for Rhubarb Compote with Wee Almond Cakes to accompany it. I guess almonds go with rhubarb because CSA member Bonnie Wietzel has also sent her husband’s gluten free Rhubarb/ Almond recipe:

Jason’s Delicious Dessert – Organic Rhubarb Honey Almond Crunch

Dessert base ingredients:

5 cups              Chopped organic rhubarb

1/3 cup            Liquid honey

1 tbsp               Bob’s Red Mill (Gluten Free) Almond Meal

1 tsp                  Organic cinnamon

1/2 tsp             Ground ginger

Topping ingredients:

1 1/2 cup        Sliced raw almond, crumbled by hand

1/4 cup           Coco Natura Organic coconut sweetener

1/4 cup           Liquid honey

1/4 cup           Unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp                 Cinnamon

1/4 cup          Nature’s Cargo fine Himalayan salt

In a mixing bowl, stir together rhubarb, honey, almond meal, cinnamon and ginger until well mixed.  Spoon into greased 8 cup baking dish.

Add topping:

In same mixing bowl that you just emptied out, stir together all topping ingredients.  Then sprinkle topping ingredients over the rhubarb mixture.

Bake in 375 degree fahrenheit oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender and your topping is brown.

Should serve 4 to 6 people.


We are looking forward to our first CSA pick-up tomorrow. Just when we thought the weather was warming up we have gotten another cold wet series of days that has brought the asparagus growing to a halt!  We are taking a leap of faith and starting regardless of the weather. Speaking of asparagus, our daughter, Ellen, has posted an Asparagus/ Bean Salad recipe on her pommeroyale.com blog (see “Links We Like”).

Soils Puppet Show at CRAFT DAY

Last Wednesday we hosted a CRAFT DAY at our farm for the network of apprentice farms that we are part of. (See CRAFT ontario on the “Links We Like” for more info.) About 70 people participated for the day. Ken led a workshop on Soils and our apprentices were the “stage crew” holding up different puppet soil components to demonstrate their interactions in the soil. We enjoyed a great pot luck lunch, farm tour and a work bee where we mulched our half acer squash and pumpkin field in 20 minutes! Many hands really do make light work!

Molly, Queen and Caesar Supervising the Potato Planting
Potato Planting

We have been very busy planting between the rains. Our 2012 strawberry plants are in and the potatoes for this year as well. We also have a 20 year old team of Belgian mares leased for the summer. We are really missing Jasmin, our Suffolk mare we lost to colic in December. Our apprentices need to have well trained horses to drive. We also purchased a Belgian mare, Princess. Suffolks are a rare breed of horse and it is not always easy to find replacements. It goes to show what a great horse Jasmin was that we need three horses to replace her!


Lots of transplanting has also been going on onions, leeks, shallots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, pac choi, kohlrabi, fennel, celery, celeriac, head lettuce and radicchio have all been transplanted outside. The west side of the garden, that was previously too wet to even plow, has been plowed and our greenhouse of tomato transplants have also gone in. So….we have been very busy. Today we worked in the greenhouse and are getting the pick-up room ready for our big start tomorrow.

We have been challenged this season to choose our start date. I can’t remember a spring when it has been so cool that we haven’t enjoyed our first asparagus by this time in the season. We did manage to squeak in a second seeding of early vegetables yesterday and uncovered our first planting. Lisa introduced us to a method of gathering up the row cover like a big crocheted braid. It will hopefully make the relaying easier. I was delighted to see a good germination of peas, spinach, carrots, beets, radish and mesclun. The row cover really makes a difference. Ken was even able to cultivate with the draft horses and his riding single row cultivator. It rained again last night so it is good to have the second batch of early seeding done! We are later than usual with our strawberry and potato planting, but hopefully we will be able plant strawberries tomorrow and potatoes the beginning of next week.



Fire Wood Cut and Split!

Chainsaw Action Figures

We have had an unusual amount of rainy weather! However, there are always rainy day jobs that seem to keep us busy. The fire wood for next year is all cut and split thanks to our apprentices for all their hard work. Yes, we did use a mechanical wood splitter and chain saws, but it is still a lot of work. Hopefully, next year we will not need so much wood to keep our green house going. The new green house will have a large thermal mass of rocks under it to store heat. This season has really given us an appreciation for thermal mass to store heat. We have burned a lot of wood to keep the hoop house converted to a greenhouse warm. The good news is that the plants are doing well.

Hoop House Head Lettuce, Pac Choi and Green Onions
Happy Greenhouse Plants

Our hoop houses crops are also growing despite the wet cool weather our dilemma is that the outside gardens aren’t growing as fast as usual.  I am thinking that the start of  our CSA season may be delayed a week due to the cool, wet weather. We did  get some early seeding done and covered it with row cover, but the last time I looked the plants still weren’t up.  Time will tell.

Making Potting Soil

We have been mixing potting soil for all the greenhouse plants that we start indoors.  The melons have been seeded, but next week we will do another round of brassicas and we will seed our pumpkins, squash and early corn for transplants – that takes a lot of potting soil.  We mix it up like a big cake – passing everything through a sieve to get the lumps out.

Electric Fence Instruction

Another rainy day job is getting the electric fence ready for the draft horses to go out on pasture. They are looking forward to the fresh grass. Every year the apprentices learn the art of fixing electric fence. In the winter the wind blows it around and the deer break it as they roam across the ridge.

Transplanting head lettuce and Pac Choi into hoop house
Cultivating the garden with four Suffolk Punches

Welcome to Ryan, our fourth apprentice, who arrived at the beginning of the week.  Monday morning we woke to the sound of flapping plastic and realized that our fourth hoop house, that we had just covered with plastic, had come loose in the wind and ripped off during the night!  What a disappointment.   While Ken and Andy were busy getting ground worked up to plant the early seeds in the outside garden and the oat ground ready to plant, the other apprentices retro fitted the hoop house for plastic reassembly. They put a bottom board down and used U-Bolts to attach it to the hoops then moved one of the ends in by one hoop width. Now we can have enough plastic to re-attach it to the ends and use battens to wrap the side plastic and screw them to  the wooden bottom boards.  Our CSA members can think of  all this effort when they eat their first mesclun – grown in the hoop house.

This week we also took one of our big pigs to be butchered and made into sausage to sell to CSA members. The hens are cranking out about 70 eggs a day so if anyone wants to make the pilgrimage to the farm they can stock up on eggs and sausage for Easter.

We also managed to get the early garden planted and covered with row cover and three of our four oat fields worked up and planted. Now all we need is some warm weather!

On Thursday, we started our three day April Draft Horse Workshop. Participants from Ontario and Quebec as well as three of our new apprentices took the course together. To begin they do some line exercises driving “George the Trike”. Caesar takes on a supervisory job during the workshops and especially enjoys accompanying on the wagon rides.  So life continues to be full and busy here at Orchard Hill. As we gear up for the season ahead.

Driving George the trike
Ryan Hanging up the Trace
Shannon Driving Gwen
Richard Driving Gena

We have decided not to have a “mini”  farm market on December 11. With the colder weather and shorter days the chickens’ egg production has dropped off and the outdoor produce is frozen.  Thanks to everyone who came out and in October and November. We were happy to be able to sell our egg surplus and the garden produce that kept on giving.  It was a gentler end to the season and Caesar certainly was happy  to see everyone.  We would be happy to sell flour and  eggs here at the farm in the “off” season. Just contact us ahead of time to make sure we are home and the flour is ground and the chickens are laying.

We are moving ahead with our greenhouse renovations.  Hopefully, all the warmer weather isn’t behind us and we will be able to get the cement work done soon.  We are waiting rather impatiently to rent a back hoe for digging a big hole to bury rocks in for a passive solar heat storage.  It will keep us busy for some time. Everyone always asks what we do in our “off” season and it seems that this is our big project for this winter.

Our three older Suffolk Punch mares Jasmin, Gena and Gwen have all been “checked in foal”.  We hope to breed the two younger mares Buttons and Sassy in the spring. Gena is due the end of June and Jasmin and Gwen are due the end of July. It will be fun to have some young draft horses around the farm again.  We had Chester hooked up with Gwen recently and they went very well together all things considered. Perhaps we will be able to work Chester when the mares are on maternity leave next summer.

We hope that everyone has a Happy Solstice/Christmas Season and extend our best wishes for the New Year.

Weeding Fall/Winter Greens
Free Range Chickens

Since the end of our CSA season our little free range hens have continued to lay like crazy. We decided last week to open our farm gates again for egg sales every other Saturday.

The following Saturdays we will be open from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm : November 13, November 27 and December 11.

Along with the eggs we will have for sale our own freshly ground whole wheat flour (from wheat we grew here on the farm with real draft horse power) and regular and sweet potatoes as well as whatever greens and garden produce that we can harvest.  Our unheated greenhouses provide tasty greens that have real flavour!