The cats – Mosquito and Courgette – love greenhouse season because they get to lounge around on warm stones and pretend they’re indoor cats. They like to place themselves conveniently at petting level…but then they get kicked out for laying on top of the onions!
What looked like an early spring had us all excited to work the garden and plant…and now we’re back to a week of winter. But there’s still work to be done while it’s cold – last week two of the season’s three interns arrived – Bryan and Heidi. They had an introduction to working with the horses – although Bryan has quite a bit of experience, because last year he worked with draft horses at Meeting Place Farm, another organic vegetable & livestock farm near Lucknow. We have been planting in the greenhouse, and transplanted some pok choi into one of the hoophouses – protected with row cover too, but still – the poor pok choi!
We still have some shares available for the 2016 season, and we have lots of eggs in the cooler – the hens think it’s spring, even if it’s snowing.
This week we will be pruning the fruit trees and grapes, putting up a swing for Della (she picked out pink rope at the store with her dad), mulching the rhubarb – which is just starting to come up, and planting a bunch of seeds in the greenhouse. As well as stoking the fire to keep the little plants warm in this below freezing weather, and setting up the rest of the hoop houses for planting and transplanting.
We are experiencing an early spring this year! However, we still need to wait for the land to dry out and there is rain in the forecast for next week. Ken has been itching to get starting on spring planting. He is trying to reduce the amount of ploughing and is more convinced than ever that cover crops and no-till are the way to go. Hauling out firewood and logs for sawing with the horses helps to get them into shape for spring work. This year Aaron helped with the logging and firewood hauling and began working with the draft horses at the same time. Our next winter firewood is ready for splitting and we have an increasing pile of lumber to mill. Hopefully we will be able to fit those jobs in around our spring work.
The greenhouse wood stove lit and little plants are springing up. It was fun to have four generations of my family seeding together when my mother showed up one afternoon for a visit. Having Della and Frances here certainly adds another dimension to activities around the farm.
Snow Drops are starting to bloom – a sure sign that spring is on the way! We are ready to start up the greenhouse next week. What a difference from last year at this time when we still had many feet of snow. I love the surge of energy that I feel with the coming of spring and the longer day lengths. I am excited to start the new plants, always with the challenge of improving on the last season. Greenhouse work is such a joy, when we can get a jump on the season and feel the energy of the sun as it warms up the space. I look forward to working with my daughter, Ellen, again this year. We have come a long way from our first CSA season in 1997 when she and I started the CSA to make money for her to attend Trent University. I expect her three year old daughter, Della will be helping this year too. What fun that is for me!
The free range laying hens are truly free range in the winter because we take down their pasture fence to keep it from being damaged by a snow load. The hens are certainly enjoying the lack of snow this week and are scratching up everything they can looking for tasty morsels. I will have to restrict them soon or they will scratch too many roots on my blueberry plants.
Ken, Aaron and Seth have been starting the annual firewood work for heating the house, greenhouse and wood fired oven. Aaron has been learning to drive the Suffolk Punch Horses as he skids logs out of the woods.
We are off to a good start on the new year ahead. Our Daughter, Ellen, and her husband, Aaron, and two girls, Della – 3 1/2 years and Frances – 2 months are going to stay and work on the farm for the season. This is exciting for us as we plan ahead for the future. Ellen and Martha are busy mapping the CSA garden for next year and ordering seeds. Ken has had a lot of speaking engagements this year at various conferences and has given a variety of workshops on cover crops, no-till and soil health. Now he is getting ready for the Guelph Organic Conference where he will be selling his farm manufactured wheel hoes. He is also giving an Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario – Soils Workshop on the Friday of the weekend. We will also be having a booth on the lower level of the Conference to sell our wheelhoes and advertise our farm internships as well as our son, Grayden’s, One Day Draft Horse Workshops. Grayden is on a panel for a workshop on Saturday of the Conference – Reflections of Growing up on an Organic Farm. Aaron and Ellen will be attending workshops as well.
One of the jobs we were able to do this winter with the help of CSA member, Jim Conrad, was to replace the last six windows in our house. With the use of scaffolding the job went well and it is good to have that one off the list. The inside trim still needs to be installed and we are debating when that will actually happen with all the other demands that are starting to fill up our days…
In December a new Suffolk horse arrived. Sadie was born in May and will be a partner for, Flynn, our 2015 foal. She is a calm natured filly and hopefully they will become a good team in the future.
We have arrived at the last and 21st week of CSA pick-ups. After the last CSA pick-up our remaining interns will move on to other pursuits. We are very grateful for all their young energy and enthusiasm and wish them well with their future endeavours. One of the final jobs to tackle before our interns leave is the planting of garlic for the following year. For the past few years we have been no-till planting garlic into a cover crop of oats that will continue to grow into the fall and then winter kill. This year we added some daikon radish into the mix. The cover crop is a bit smaller because it was so dry in August/September, but we hope that it will have time to grow into the fall. To no-till plant the garlic, our draft horses open up a shallow trench with a riding cultivator and we drop in the cloves. Afterwards the riding cultivator closes in the the trench with discs and covers over the garlic. I realized when I was watching our granddaughter, Della, planting garlic that she is the eighth generation of my family to be working this land. I grew up listening to stories from my grandmother about how much she enjoyed farming here with horses. As I remember the story, after their children were grown my grandfather went to work for the railroad loading coal in Aylmer and my grandmother stayed home and farmed with a hired man. My Aunt Betty did all the cooking and my grandmother had the time of her life farming…My grandmother’s Haight ancestors cleared this land in the 1820’s.
I have heard about people planting ginger and growing it in hoop houses in the north and this year I decided to give it a try. In April when I bought the tubers to start in the greenhouse I also got some turmeric. Both grew fairly well and it was fun to dig up the plants and see what was there. I’m not sure about growing enough for the CSA, but I will enjoy using what I have grown this season.
All the fall grains and cover crops have come up well since the rain has returned. Ken tried a new experiment planting barley into a switch grass field. He removed the switch grass and no-tilled winter barley directly into the field. He is hoping that the barley will come off in time for the switch grass to grow again next year. Stay tuned to find out how that goes.
10 cups cooked strained mashed pumpkin
8 cups white sugar
1/2 pound butter
grated rind and juice of 4 lemons
Simmer all together 20 minutes or until thick – do not boil
Pour into hot sterile jam jars and seal . (I cover the jars with an inch of boiling water in a large pot and bring to a boil for 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from water and make sure the lids are tight.)
The old fashioned way is to boil the pumpkin in lightly salted water, drain and mash. You can microwave it and put it in the food processor if you wish. ( I just poke the pumpkin to break the skin and bake it whole in the oven until it is soft. I then let it cool, cut it open, remove the seeds, scoop out the pumpkin flesh and puree it in the food processor. Long Pie pumpkins work well for this recipe.)
The end of our CSA season is fast approaching. Our last CSA pick-ups are Tuesday, October 6 and Saturday, October 10. Our applications for the 2016 season are available now. Orchard Hill Farm application 2016
This year we have succeeded in growing a variety of winter storage kohlrabi called Kossak. It is as big as a cabbage, but the great thing is that it still remains tender and crisp inside and stores very well! I have added a recipe below for Kohlrabi Fritters. Here are some other ideas:
dip in Hummus;
grate into coleslaw (add some red meat winter radish);
shave into salad;
throw into soup;
roast with other root vegetables.
Kohlrabi Fritters from the kitchen of Ellen Laing
1/2 lb. kohlrabi, grated
1 carrot or sweet potato, grated
1 T. cornstarch
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. cayenne
1/2 cup grape seed oil or canola oil
Squeeze the liquid from the kohlrabi and carrot/sweet potato with your hands or put in a tea towel and squeeze. Mix in a bowl with eggs, cornstarch, salt and Cayenne. Heat oil in a large skillet and drop large spoonfuls of Fritters into oil, fry until golden brown on each side.
We are about to start digging parsnips. For those of you who don’t know what to do with parsnips, I have reposted my parsnip cake recipe.
Parsnip Cake Recipe for 8 x 8 inch pan from the kitchen of Martha Laing
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
3/4 cup sunflower oil
1 1/2 cups grated parsnips
1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/4 cup crystallized ginger
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine sugar, flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger; beat in oil until mixture is light in colour, about 3 minutes.
Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating for about 30 seconds after each addition. Add parsnips, mixing thoroughly.
Spread in well-greased and floured 8 x 8 inch baking dish. Bake for 50 – 55 minutes or until tester inserted in centre comes out clean. Let cool in pan before spreading with Cream Cheese Frosting.
* Recipe can be doubled for a 9 x 13 inch pan recipe. It can also be doubled and divided between 3 – 9 inch round cake pans for a layered cake. For a fancy cake, I put caramelized apples between the layers and add crystallized ginger pieces to the cream cheese icing.
Cream Cheese Icing for 8 x8 inch pan
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
In mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter, add enough milk to make fluffy spreadable consistency. Double recipe for layer cake.
Caramelized Apples for filling between layers of fancy cake
6 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 pounds Golden Delicious or Honey Crisp apples(or other firm apple variety), peeled cored, cut into 1/2 inch slices.
2/3 cup whipping cream
Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat; cover with sugar. Stir until sugar begins to melt, about 1 minute. Add apples. Cook until apples are brown and tender and juices form, about 10 – 15 minutes. Add cream and simmer until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Cool before assembling cake.
The CSA pick-ups are under way. We have asparagus to start the season and I have posted a couple of recipes at the end of this blog entry to give some new ideas for using it. Our CSA gardens are growing and the early seedings have come up and have been weeded. We are waiting to transplant the tender plants until tonight’s possible frost has past. Hopefully, it will warm up and stay warm after that. The ground has dried out without rain and we have irrigated the garden to keep plants growing. There is rain in the forecast for next week and hopefully it won’t miss us.
The wood fired oven is finishing up. The insulation has been put all around and the damper has been made. Today Ken is forge-bending some brackets to brace the chimney before it is installed. He will then make some insulated doors and Seth will build a brick face on the oven and it will be ready to light the first fire. The plan is to heat it slowly with a small fire so the bricks can dry slowly before the first hot firing. The idea with the oven is to have a lot of insulated thermal mass that will absorb the heat from the fire and then gradually release it while baking bread. Seth intends to have a fire for 6 hours then rake out the ashes and close it up to absorb the heat for 6 hours. He hopes it will retain enough heat to bake 5 batches of bread of 25 loaves each from one firing! It will take a while to get to know the oven, but it is exciting to see it all come together. The new stone flour mill has been tested and is ready to start grinding flour with the horse powered treadmill.
We have added a jersey milk cow to the farm family. She is very hip with a nose ring, ear tattoo and the name “Utah”! Our second year intern, Charlotte, has returned to the farm this year and asked if she could have a cow project…Charlotte is finding her way with getting to know Utah, learning how to milk and then learning how to make butter, yogurt, and fresh cheese. Rose is making kefir and adding it to our shakes at breakfast. The next step is to try and make some hard cheese. It feels good to have a cow again and it certainly adds a bounty to the table at meal time. When Utah is cooperative enough to come in for milking on her own, the nose ring may have to go. She earns a lot of brownie points for standing well to be milked, but she is still getting used to her new surroundings and our routines. You can read between the lines on that one…Fortunately, after sourcing some replacement parts our little milking machine still works.
Sent to me by CSA member, Catherine Burr, Adapted from: Four Seasons – A year of Italian Food by Manuela Darling-Gansser
Asparagus with Melted Butter and Parmigiano
1 bunch of asparagus
50 g freshly grated parmigiano
30 g unsalted butter
sea salt and ground black pepper
Cook the asparagus until the stalks are still a bit crunchy. Do not overcook. Drain the asparagus and arrange on a heated serving dish.
Sprinkle the parmigiano on the tips of the asparagus. Melt the butter and, as soon as it is foaming, pour it over the parmigiano. (The heat of the butter will melt the cheese and make a delicious crust.) Add a little salt and pepper. Serve at once with some crunchy Italian ciabatta bread.
For a more substantial meal you can fry 2 organic eggs per person and serve them on the plate with asparagus. Make sure the yolks are still very runny.
This is a recipe from a cookbook written by our daughter, Ellen Laing.
Asparagus White Bean Salad
1 bunch asparagus cut in pieces about twice the size of the beans
2 Cups cooked white beans (canned would be fine, drained & rinsed)
1/3 Cup cubed cotija cheese (You can also use feta)
Zest of one lemon, minced
Juice of at least half of a lemon (more if you like)
1 small shallot, minced (you can use a green onion)
¼ cup parsley
1 Tablespoons mint, chopped
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper
Boil some water to blanch the asparagus. Salt the water so that the asparagus comes out tasty. Throw the asparagus in there, and cook just so that the raw flavour goes away –just keep fishing them out and tasting them. Try to keep them bright green and crunchy. Usually this happens before the water comes back to a boil. Drain and cool the asparagus.
Toss everything in a bowl & adjust the seasoning if necessary. It is best to refrigerate for several hours before serving so the flavours can blend.
May is always a big month of planting. We do direct seeding as well as transplanting both outdoors and inside of our hoop houses. Some plants are more cold hardy and can go out before the danger of frost has past. Our onions and leeks are transplanted already. The hoop house tomatoes and cucumbers have also been planted, because they are inside the hoop house and protected. The hoop house pac choi and head lettuce are growing well and after they are harvested the tomatoes and cucumbers will grow on. We have early cabbage and broccoli that are waiting to be transplanted. The roots need to be well established for the transplants to work well with our horse drawn transplanter. There is also a long list of fennel, celery, celeriac, kale, kohlrabi, radicchio, green onions and head lettuce that are waiting to be transplanted. We have started our outdoor annual cutting flowers, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, melons, peppers, eggplant and tomatoes in the greenhouse that have to wait until after the danger of frost has past before they can be planted. Needless to say, our greenhouse is bursting at the seams as we shuffle plants around to make room for more. In the meantime, we have planted the strawberries for 2016 and the potatoes for this year. Another succession planting of direct seeded beets, carrots, peas, leaf lettuce, radishes and spinach have been planted in the main garden and covered with row cover to bring them along quickly. The 2016 main CSA garden has also been worked up and planted to an oat/barley/pea cover crop.
Jeanne Tremblay has come from Quebec to intern with us for the remainder of the season. Jeanne comes with teamster skills. She interned at another CRAFT farm in Ontario two years ago.She has also just completed an agricultural business course at Victoriaville in Quebec. She hopes to return to Quebec and start an organic vegetable and flower CSA in the future. I look forward to having an intern with a special interest in cut flower production. We have ordered some additional flowers to try this season for our CSA cutting garden in the side yard.
Seth has been working hard on the wood fired oven with good help from Jim. He is learning as he goes and doing a careful job. The process is quite involved with one stage completed before the next can be started. The foundation support and the sides of the oven have been built. The floor of the oven with volcanic insulation under it, to keep the heat in, has been laid. The lintel over the door with small metal shards incorporated for strength is finished. Today Seth and Jim are setting the arch fire brick in place. The arch is supported with special wooden framing that will be removed once the mortar between the arch bricks sets.
We have set the start dates for our CSA season as follows: FIRST TUESDAY PICK-UP: MAY 19
FIRST SATURDAY PICK-UP: MAY 23
Our spring planting has begun. We managed to erect all of our hoop houses and have them planted with lettuce, pac choi and greens for the first pick-ups of the season to go along with our asparagus and rhubarb. We also planted our first seeds outside in the worked up area of the garden and in the zone-till section. We then covered it all with row cover (a spun polyester sheet that lets in the light and water while keeping the seed bed warm to help get the early seedlings started). If the zone-till rows grow well we could move towards more of a no-till planting in the CSA garden in the future.
We have also been directing our attention to our perennial crops. Keeping weeds under control in the organic production of perennial crops without the use of herbicide requires special attention. The rhubarb is just starting to peek up out of the soil. We will weed it and then mulch it heavily with hay. This year we also planted a new rhubarb patch for future years. We are expecting to harvest from our new asparagus planting for the first time this spring. The asparagus has been disced over before the asparagus starts to grow and then we will hill and weed as the season progresses. At the end of the harvest season, we will plant a winter kill cover crop to keep the ground covered and the weeds at bay. Our strawberries were mulched with straw to protect them over the winter. The straw then helps with weed control and also keeps the berries clean from dirt splash at the same time it provides a nice cushion to kneel on when picking the berries. Our garlic that was planted last fall into an oat/barley/pea cover crop is starting to emerge. The cover crop was killed over the winter and Ken cultivated with the draft horses just beside the garlic to keep the weeds from growing. Naomi also cultivated beside the raspberry plants to narrow up the rows and control the perennial weeds. We will weed and then mulch in the rows with wood chips. Later in the season we will plant a winter kill cover between the rows that we can mow until the fall. Our garden beside the house has gone through some renovation too. We have moved around some of the perennial herbs and flowers to make room for the annual CSA flower cutting garden.
Our CSA garden from 2014 is being ploughed with the draft horses and then it will be planted to cover crops. It will have a year off as we prepare the soil for the 2016 CSA garden. Ken spread some heavy mulch on part of the garden area to add organic matter to the soil. It provided quite a challenge to our new teamsters as they ploughed over the bumps and clumps of mulch!
Flynn is growing well and enjoyed being outside for a good romp around the pasture. The first time he went out he did a high stepping prance around the field like a fancy show horse and then jumped around like a little lamb. It is such fun to have a foal around again this spring!
Our greenhouse plants are growing well and we have to keep on mixing up potting soil as we use up batch after batch with our plantings. Our field peppers, tomatoes and eggplant germinated well and are now potted up into 50 cell trays ready to grow on until they can be transplanted after the danger of frost has past. The onions and leeks are off to a good start and had to be moved out to a hoop house to make room for other plants in the warm greenhouse. It is always nice to work in the greenhouse on cold, wet days in the early spring.
The wood fired oven is progressing well. Seth, with the help of Jim, has been working away with special heat tolerant cement, insulation and fire brick to build the oven. It is quite the project. We decided to build the oven in our old round steel granary. The granary is too big for our current grain storage needs, but makes a nice room for the wood fired stove to keep it out of the weather.
We have Alina Kronmüller, a Waldorf high school student from Germany, visiting until the middle of June. She has been a good sport joining in with various activities, including looking after the laying hens. It is quite a change for her, but hopefully a good experience over all.
Grayden has been busy painting pictures of produce from the farm and hopes to have pictures and cards for sale once our CSA Season begins.
Our big news is that Seth Wiggin is building a wood fired bake oven here at Orchard Hill Farm and after much planning the construction has begun! Seth is intending to open LA HOULETTE de vie BAKERY with bread for sale to CSA members this spring. Although Seth is originally from Port Stanley, he spent three years in France working at a bakery learning the art of bread baking using whole grain, organically grown flours and natural levain also know as sourdough. The bread he has shared with us so far has been delicious. He will be using grains that we have produced here and plans to do the stone ground milling using our horse powered tread mill. This spring we have spelt for him to mill and in the late summer will have some wheat and rye for him to use. He will buy other organic grains as needed. I have wanted a wood fired bake oven for years and am excited that one is in process of being built. Ken is very pleased to have Seth take on this project and make use of the milling operation that is already set up with the possibility of using a variety of grains that we can grow here. Stay tuned for updates as the oven progresses and for details about the bread CSA and sales. I am also happily envisioning Saturday night pizza parties and endless other uses for the oven. Seth’s croissants made with natural levain and organic butter are spectacular!
Ken has been continuing work on the no-till drill. Hopefully it will be able to plant some grain for Seth’s bread in the future. The apprentices have helped with the project around the edges of other farm work. Jim has also continued to do a lot of sanding and painting. The framework is welded together and the gangs of drills assembled. The seed box has been painted red and it is almost ready to try. It needs to be heavy to work well, but we still don’t know how many horses it is going to take to pull it!
We got anxious and took the new zone-till implement down to the field to try earlier this week, before the rain came. The ground was still pretty wet and the disc markers dug in a bit too much, but it did work. Ken opened up a strip in the garden area that was covered with a winter killed oat/barley/pea cover crop planted last fall. We have ordered a new part for our one row push seeder that will push away any remaining trash before planting. We are planning on seeding a row of each of our early crops in an area prepared with the zone-till implement and the rest in an area that is worked up as we usually do to compare. If the zone-till works it will save a lot of preparation work in the field and may help us get the early plantings in sooner. This spring has been too cold and wet yet to get out and plant anything outside yet.
We have prepared the hoop houses where we are going to transplant the early lettuce and pac choi and will start planting this week. We moved the cucumber hoop house and are just waiting for the soil to warm up and dry out before planting some greens around the edges for the first spring pick-ups. We have one big hoop house still to assemble for our hoop house tomato crop. Yesterday we took down the old tomato hoop houses and the ground for the new tomato hoop house placement was ploughed this morning in the misty rain. We are going to put up the framework later this week ready for the plastic cover, as soon as it arrives. We now have three different styles of hoop houses just to keep life interesting. Planting the tomatoes and cucumbers in hoop houses helps protect them from blight and powdery mildew.
Our Suffolk Punch mare, Sandi, had a beautiful stud colt, “Orchard Hill Flynn”, late on March 31. He is a handsome healthy fellow and we are all enjoying having a foal around again. Go to our Facebook page (link on side bar) to see some of Grayden’s beautiful pictures of the new born foal and mother.