Bunching Asparagus for the First CSA Pick-Up of the Season
Bunching Asparagus for the First CSA Pick-Up of the Season

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.

Insulation around Chimney In Place
Insulation around Chimney In Place

Forging Brackets for Wood Fired Oven Chimney
Forging Brackets for Wood Fired Oven Chimney
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.

Introducing Utah our new Jersey Cow
Introducing Utah our new Jersey Cow

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.

Variation

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
Asparagus White Bean Salad

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.

Planting Onions with Transplanter
Planting Onions with Transplanter

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 Intern from Quebec
Jeanne Tremblay Intern from Quebec

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 and Jim at Work Building Arch on the Wood Fired Oven
Seth and Jim at Work Building Arch on the Wood Fired Oven

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

Queen and Ned Opening up the Furrows for Seed Potatoes in No-Till Section of Field
Queen and Ned Opening up the Furrows for Seed Potatoes in No-Till Section of Field
Alina and Caesar Waiting to Plant Potatoes
Alina and Caesar Waiting to Plant Potatoes
Rose and Jeanne Planting Potatoes
Rose and Jeanne Planting Potatoes
Start of the Arch from Above
Start of the Arch from Above
Wooden Supports for Arch in Wood Fired Oven to be Removed after the Fire Bricks are in Place
Wooden Supports for Arch in Wood Fired Oven to be Removed after the Fire Bricks are in Place
Jeanne and Alina Weeding Flower Gardens
Jeanne and Alina Weeding Flower Gardens
Garlic is Growing!
Garlic is Growing!
Jeanne Weeding Pach Choi and Lettuce in Hoop House
Jeanne Weeding Pac Choi and Lettuce in Hoop House
Caesar and Mosquito Waiting for a Wagon Ride
Caesar and Mosquito Waiting for a Wagon Ride

Hoop house erected and planted!
Hoop house erected and planted!
Putting on the Hoop house Plastic
Putting on the Hoop house Plastic

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.

Unmulching  Strawberries
Un-mulching Strawberries
Weeding Garlic
Weeding Garlic
Caesar Inspecting the Garlic
Caesar Inspecting the Garlic

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.

Ploughing the 2014 CSA Garden
Ploughing the 2014 CSA 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 and Sandi Outdoors
Flynn and Sandi Outdoors (Photo Credit: Jim Conrad)

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!

Rose, Aden and Naomi making Potting Soil
Rose, Aden and Naomi making Potting Soil

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.

Seth Placing the Fire Brick for Wood Fired Oven
Seth Placing the Fire Brick for Wood Fired Oven

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.

German Waldorf Student Alina Kronmülle
German Waldorf Student Alina Kronmülle

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.

IMG_2587 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.

Seth Wiggin building wood fired bread oven at Orchard Hill Farm for his new business:  LA HOULETTE de vie BAKERY
Seth Wiggin building wood fired bread oven at Orchard Hill Farm for his new business: LA HOULETTE de vie BAKERY

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!

NO-Till Drill Framework and  Seed Box Ready to Assemble
NO-Till Drill Framework and Seed Box Ready to Assemble
Naomi, using Cutting Torch to Cut Steel for No-till Drill
Naomi, using Cutting Torch to Cut Steel for No-till Drill

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!

Zone-till implement first try...
Zone-till implement first try…
Strip of Ground Prepared for Planting with Zone-till Implement
Strip of Ground Prepared for Planting with Zone-till Implement

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.

Three Draft Horse Teams going to Plough Tomato Hoop House Plot in Misty Rain
Three Draft Horse Teams going to Plough Tomato Hoop House Plot in Misty Rain

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.

Flynn one Week Old
Flynn one Week Old

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.

We still have shares available in our 2015 CSA Garden. Orchard Hill Farm application 2015

March 31, Going out like a Lion!
March 31,Taking the Sleigh out on Fresh Snow with Suffolk Horses

March seems to be “going out like a lion” with snow coming down fast and covering everything again. Fortunately, from the looks of the forecast, it won’t be around for long. On the up side it provides a nice opportunity for top seeding with grass seed over our fall planted grains. The snow helps us see where we have spread the seed with the last pass allowing for even seed distribution. It also helps plant the small seeds to germinate when the snow melts.

Naomi Martz
Naomi Martz
Aden Spurr
Aden Spurr

The first of our apprentices have arrived. Naomi Martz is from B. C. She has already apprenticed on a number of farms and is here to learn our methods with a particular focus on the draft horses. Aden Spurr is originally from a farm in Ontario, but also spent time in B. C. working as a glass blower for seven years. Last year, he apprenticed at Meeting Place Organic Farm using their draft horses and is now interested in honing his teamster skills and learning about CSA farming. Naomi and Aden will be with us for the season.

Rose Bramwell
Rose Bramwell

Rose Bramwell is a horse enthusiast, visiting from Scotland. She will be here for a few weeks now and again in the fall. She is expecting to do some other travelling during the summer months.

Naomi and Rose Making Sauerkraut and Kimchi
Naomi and Rose Making Sauerkraut and Kimchi
Greenhouse Plants
Greenhouse Plants

It is always a boost to have such fine young people with energy and enthusiasm join us on the farm this time of year. Some years we are already on the land planting by this time. This year, we are still waiting for the snow to go and the ground to thaw. However, there is always firewood to cut and split and some greenhouse work to be done. The greenhouse plants are growing well and the early head lettuce and pac choi transplants for the hoop houses are ready. Now we just need to have the ground thaw so we can move our hoop houses and get the transplants in the ground! We have also enjoyed having time to use up some of our winter stores making kimchi and sauerkraut.

JIm - Painting no-till planter frame.
JIm – Painting no-till planter frame.

Ken and Jim have been working in the shop building a prototype for a horse drawn no-till drill. It is quite challenging to assemble parts from various sources and to fit and weld it all together. Jim has been keeping up with the sanding and painting along the way.

Our CSA membership is gradually filling up. There are still shares available. We are welcoming new members as well as past members to join for the 2015 CSA season.

We now have and Orchard Hill Farm Facebook page and “Martha Laing – Tweets” – (See Links We Like on side bar if you would like to follow the updates.)

No-till Planter Parts
No-till Planter Parts
Making Kimchi
Making Kimchi
Taking Wood into Greenhouse to Keep the Wood Stove Going
Taking Wood into Greenhouse to Keep the Wood Stove Going
Sleigh Full of Firewood for Greenhouse
Sleigh Full of Firewood for Greenhouse

Martha taking in Lake Erie ice on March 12th!
Martha taking in Lake Erie ice on March 12th!

The spring melt has started. Although, there is still lots of snow in the fields and woods it is gradually receding. I managed to get away yesterday, for a look at the Lake Erie ice, before it all melts. It is quite awe inspiring!  The snow and ice on the greenhouse roof has melted away and the first seedlings are popping up. Ken has been spending his time divided between working in the shop on his no-till planter, with the help of Jim,  and cutting firewood and logs. He and Bill are skidding logs out of the woods today, with the draft horses. The snow is still deep, but once the path is broken it is good to have the snow for the logs to slide on because it helps to keep them clean of dirt. Clean logs mean there will be much less need to sharped the chainsaw and sawmill blades when they are cut up into firewood and lumber! Work in the woods helps to get both the farmers and the horses in shape for the spring field work soon to come.

Every day a few more CSA applications arrive in the mail, but we still have shares available for the 2015 CSA season. It is encouraging to peek inside our hoop houses and see signs of life. I had wondered if, with all the extremely cold weather, all the plants would be dead. We will be moving some of our hoop houses and planting them for the first CSA pick-ups in another month. It is a bit hard to believe, when I still see all the snow!

Snow Gradually Receding
Snow Gradually Receding
Snow and Ice Gone from Greenhouse Roof
Snow and Ice Gone from Greenhouse Roof
Head Lettuce to Plant in Hoop Houses in April has Come Up
Head Lettuce to Plant in Hoop Houses in April has Come Up
Baby Onoins are Coming Up Too
Baby Onoins are Coming Up Too
Firewood Log
Firewood Log
Suffolk Horses Hauling Logs out to Pathways
Bill with Suffolk Horses Buttons and Gwen Hauling Logs out to Pathways
Queen and Ned Skidding Logs
Queen and Ned Skidding Logs
Signs of Hope inside of Hoop House!
Signs of Hope inside of Hoop House!

Greenhouse before the wood stove is started...
Greenhouse before the wood stove is started…
Mixing up Potting Soil in Greenhouse
Mixing up Potting Soil in Greenhouse
New Incubation Chamber for Seedlings
New Incubation Chamber for Seedlings

It is truly a leap of faith, when I start the greenhouse with early seedlings when the nights are still going down to -25 degrees Celsius and the greenhouse roof is covered with a thick layer of snow and ice. After a few days of heating, the snow is gradually receding off the roof and the rock heat sink is slowly heating up again. I have a fan to blow the hot air down into the rocks in the daytime. Ken and Jim built a new incubation chamber for starting the seedlings. Mixing up the potting soil, filling the seedling trays and carefully counting out the number of seeds into each cell has taken most of my time this week. Now I am eagerly awaiting the emergence of the first signs of life!

Free Range Laying Hens Venturing out Into the Snow!
Free Range Laying Hens Venturing out Into the Snow!

The “free range” chickens have been peeking out, enjoying the warm sunshine, but they usually don’t venture too far from the chicken coop in the snow. One made it out to the cedar hedge, behind our house, and called to me in the evening when I went out to shut the chicken door on the coop. She hadn’t found her way back. I had to wade through heavy snow sinking up to my thighs to retrieve her and carry her back to the coop to be tucked in for the night. After their winter holiday from laying we are now getting a few eggs every day from our hens.

Suffolk Punch Draft Horses Happy on a Snowy Day
Suffolk Punch Draft Horses Happy on a Snowy Day

Our Suffolk Punch horses are happy in the snow with their warm winter coats. Snow is always better than mud for the horses in the winter. Hopefully, once it warms up the snow will all melt in a hurry and it and dry up without too much mud! The warmth in the radiant spring sunshine is always enjoyed by the horses too. Ken has started cutting some lumber and firewood. He has hauled the logs out of the woods with the draft horses, but the snow is so deep this year that it is difficult for the horses to get through the trails in the woods.

Ken busy in his workshop building the next no-till implement...
Ken busy in his workshop building the next no-till implement…

Ken has also been busy building another horse drawn no-till planter for field crops. It will be a special small model so the draft horses can pull it. He has salvaged some parts from a tractor no-till implement and is having fun putting it all together. This spring he will give it a test and see if the parts all work as planned. He has until June to get it into working order.

We are looking forward to the arrival of our first interns the end of the month. CSA applications are coming in every day in anticipation of another growing season.  We still have lots of spots to fill before our first pick-up in the second half of May. The first head lettuce seeds for transplants into the hoop houses to provide head lettuce for the first CSA pick-up are already planted and so it begins…

Greenhouse with Snow and Ice Receding
Greenhouse with Snow and Ice Receding
Thanksgiving Dinner Last October with Brandon, Caitlin and Jayme.
Thanksgiving Dinner Last October with Suffolks, Jayme, Brandon, Caitlin and of course Caesar.
Sorting out the Seeds for this Year's  Season
Sorting out the Seeds for this Year’s Season – (Horses being hitched outside the window)

Gena Discing last summer with Jayme Fowler driving.
Gena Discing last summer with Jayme Fowler driving.

Our sad news is that we lost our oldest Suffolk horse, Gena, this winter. She had been having difficulty with her back legs and sometimes had trouble getting up after she laid down. This time round we couldn’t get her up again. I find the hardest thing about working with horses is not the chores or harnessing or training it is the sadness when they die. Gena was born on our farm and was a hard and willing worker her whole life. She was always patient with our apprentices and draft horse workshop participants.

On other fronts – The new downstairs windows were installed just before New Years. We were grateful for help from Jim and Bill with the job. The windows had been waiting in our attic to go in since the spring of 2013. Needless to say I am very pleased. We have a new flour mill with pink granite stones to grind our OHF grains into flour. We are hoping that it will be more efficient for the horse powered tread mill to drive. Ken will also be able to dress the stones to sharpen them when they become dull. I have been growing some pea shoots for our winter salads. It is encouraging to see the green in our south window during this snowy winter. Caesar and I have finished the annual CSA garden plan, seed order and greenhouse schedule. I used the computer this year with Excel spread sheets and ordered “on-line”. Ken has been busy making a new zone till implement with the good help of Jim Conrad, who has continued to come out to the farm to help out one day/week throughout the winter. See Ken’s explanation of why he is interested in zone tillage below.

Grayden has another video ready of the maiden try of our new root washer.

New Zone Tillage Implement
New Zone Tillage Implement

Converging Trends & Soil Management at Orchard Hill Farm by Ken Laing

Periodically things that have developed rather independently converge to create a revolution in the way we think and act. In organic agriculture we are at one of those points in our development where we are approaching a paradigm shift in our approach to soil /crop management.

Organic agriculture for many of us was a large step forward giving more credit to the biology in the soil (but without really understanding why or how it functioned), eliminating the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that could be toxic to plants and soil life and incorporating cover crops to reduce soil erosion, soak up left over nutrients and add organic matter. But this new approach to agriculture left us very dependent on tillage when preparing to plant a cash crop or cover crop and for weed control in row crops. Our brothers and sisters in conventional agriculture at the same time embraced no-till planting as a way to reduce tillage and fuels costs, but were left very dependent on herbicides for weed control and other pesticides for disease and insect control. Here at OHF cover crops have played an increasing role at improving our weed control, holding nutrients over, adding organic matter and reducing soil erosion. We have reached the goal of leaving almost no soil bare over the winter or for long periods in the other three seasons. However, we still use tillage to prepare the soil to plant the cover crop and terminate it to get ready for the next crop. Why is tillage so detrimental? It has to do with its impact on life in the soil. Fungi are a very essential part of that web of life in the soil that help our crop plants access nutrients and water and avoid disease. Fungi build carbon levels in the soil, which is the food source for other biology. They also build soil aggregates that gives a healthy soil room to breathe and have the ability to hold more water. Fungi do not tolerate frequent tillage. It breaks up the hyphae (the branching structure that makes up the fungus). Thus the intensive tillage required to grow organic vegetables is preventing organic farmers from having healthier soils. We can offset this somewhat by growing cover crops, using compost, specific biological foods (such as molasses, kelp, liquid fish, humates) and inoculants.

The last few years have seen some quantum leaps in our understanding of soil life and its impact on crops. People like Elaine, Ingam, Ray Archuleta and Jill Clapperton are helping both organic and conventional farmers appreciate and understand the life in the soil and how critical it is to enable and not impede or destroy soil life. There are more individual organisms in a handful of soil than all the humans on this earth. These organisms all have a role to play in creating and maintaining healthy soil and clean air and water. Our health and the health of the planet begins with healthy soils.

Another part of the puzzle is integrating livestock into the system. Not only can livestock enable us to produce meat and draft power from land that is too steep, stony, droughty or wet to grow crops but they can also be integrated into the cropping system to produce compost, terminate cover crops and boost microbial life through their feces and urine.They can also control weeds and brush. Thanks, in a large part, to Holistic Management we now understand how to manage grazing animals very intensively to benefit the forage crops and the soil health. Unfortunately many organic farms do not have livestock because of the extra management, infrastructure (fences, barns etc.) and marketing required. At OHF the bulk of our livestock are horses which can be challenging to manage on pasture and they spend much of their days working during the pasture season.

We are at a crossroads in agriculture as we appreciate the vital role of soil life and particularly fungi, we organic farmers need to move toward no-till. Remember those of us with forests, permanent pastures and long term hay fields and orchards already utilize no-till in these areas. We also need to integrate more cover crops into our field crops and vegetable crops and learn how to seed them and terminate them with no-till techniques.

For those who are interested in reading more start your Google search with: no-till vegetables; Ron Morse; Ray Weil; Natalie Lounsbury; Steve Groff; Gabe Brown and Dave Brandt .

Of course here at Orchard Hill Farm we have the extra challenge of no-till planting with drafthorse power. No-till equipment is mostly too large and all of it is very heavy and very expensive. Not to be left behind we have already built an implement, which will allow us to plant seeds into a winter killed cover crop of oats/barley/peas. This implement is called a zone tiller because it sweeps aside the dead residue and tills a narrow band of soil 6-8” wide into which we can plant some of our early crops like spinach, carrots and radishes. Yes, we will have to come back and row cultivate for weed control but we have avoided some field wide tillage and the tillage for weed control tends to be more shallow. We are also planning some cover crops strategies, which will hopefully enable us to plant more crops with no-till or zone till techniques.

Bill and Jim helping to install new windows!
Bill and Jim helping to install new windows!
Inside pink granite mill stone on new flour mill.
Inside pink granite mill stone on new flour mill.
Martha and Caesar ordering 2015 CSA garden seeds.
Martha and Caesar ordering 2015 CSA garden seeds.
Growing Pea shoots for winter salad.
Growing Pea shoots for winter salad.

The Fall CSA ended well with the last pick-up on December 6th. Many thanks to CSA members: Kathy Ellis, Jim Conrad and Claire Wells,  who helped me pull together the last pick-up. Ken and Grayden were away at the Ecological Farmer Association of Ontario Conference near Berrie, Ontario. Ken gave a workshop at the conference on our Horse-powered CSA. Grayden used his videography skills to make several short videos of some of the machinery Ken has adapted for our operation. I have linked to them here for viewing.

 

 

We also now have an Orchard Hill Farm Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/orchardhillfarmontario

The farming year always seems to end for me with mulching the strawberries. This year is we managed to do the mulching without snow!

Mulching Strawberries
Mulching Strawberries

Here are a couple of yummy soups to try over the holidays:
Kale – Sausage – Bean Soup – serves 5-6

500 grams sausage – cup up

1 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tsp chilli pepper

2 tablespoons tomato paste

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth

2 cups white beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups packed and chopped kale

1/4 cup lime juice

In large pot stir/fry sausage until cooked. Add onion, garlic, chilli powder and tomato paste. cook until onions start to soften 2-3 minutes.

Add Broth and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Add beans and kale. Cook over medium heat about 5 minutes. Stir in lime just before serving.

Squash – Carrot Soup – serves 6

1 medium onion, chopped

3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped

5 cups squash, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 apple, peeled and chopped

3 1/2 cups vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon groung nutmeg

1 tablespoons maple syrup

Salt and pepper, to taste

Add the onions, carrots, squash and apple to a pot or slow cooker, Pour vegetable broth over all ingredients, Cook on low heat until soft.  Puree the soup. Add cinnamon, nutmeg and maple syrup.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

 

 

We finished picking and husking the last of the field corn yesterday on the windiest day of the year! The wind had blown down many of the stalks and the horses were uneasy standing with the wagon, while we picked, but it is good to have it done and the new corn crib looks great!

Jim Adding the Last Two Ears of Corn to the New Corn Crib.
Jim Adding the Last Two Ears of Corn to the New Corn Crib.

Cut Leek Lengthwise and Wash Away Dirt Between Layers.
Cut Leek Lengthwise and Wash Away Dirt Between Layers.

Celeriac is such an ugly looking vegetable that many people are scared of it, but it is a wonderful addition to the soup pot. I would like to share a recipe adapted from a new cookbook, Roots by Diane Morgan. I found the “bouquet garni” adds a very nice flavour to the soup. The easiest way to clean a leek is to cut it lengthwise and then wash away the dirt from between the layers under running tap water.

CREAM OF CELERY (Celeriac) ROOT & LEEK SOUP

10 pepper corns

1 bay leaf

4 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs

4 fresh thyme sprigs

2 tbsp butter

1 large leek – white and light green part only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 large garlic clove, minced

4 cups water

1 large celery root, trimmed, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes

2 tsp kosher or fine sea salt

¼ tsp freshly ground pepper

1/3 cup whipping cream

¼ cup crème fraîche , sour cream or yogurt

2 tbsp finely snipped fresh chives

1) Cut an 8 inch square of cheesecloth and place the peppercorns, bay leaf, parsley, and thyme in the center. Bring the edges to form a bag and tie securely with kitchen twine to make a bouquet garni, Set aside.

2) In a 4- to 6b qt. saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and swirl to coat the pan bottom. Add the leek and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6 to 98 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the water, celery root, salt, pepper, and bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered, until the celery root is tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for a bout 10 minutes.

3) Discard the bouquet garni. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Return the pureed soup to the saucepan, place over low heat, and add the cream. Warm the soup until steaming hot. Do not allow it to boil. Taste and adjust the seasoning. (The soup can be prepared up to 3 days in advance. Let cool, transfer to a covered container, and refrigerate. Rewarm over low heat just before serving.

4 Ladle the soup into warmed bowls. Garnish each bowl with a dollop of crème fraîche, sour cream or yogurt and a pinch of chives. Serve immediately.