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

Ken Plowing

Spring plowing has begun again. Ken and our Suffolk Punch draft horses got a false start in March before the last snow storm and freeze up. Now they are back at it and getting ready to plant oats as soon as possible. We will also be planting the early CSA garden as soon as we can work up our early garden area.  We did manage to plant one of our hoop houses this week to have greens for our first CSA pick-ups.

Lisa Unloading Oat Seed
Grahame Servicing Mower
Andy Plowing

Our full season apprentices have arrived. Andy, from New Zealand, has returned to fill our Senior Apprentice position. It has already been a great help to have a trained teamster to work with the draft horses. He has jumped right in doing some of the spring plowing. Lisa, from Maryland, and Grahame, from B.C., have come to become teamsters and hone their farming skills. We feel privileged to work with such fine young people as we pass on what we have learned over the past 30 plus years farming and look forward to working with them this season.

Arthur Ford Public School Planting Bean Seed

Earlier this week we had a grade two class from Arthur Ford Public School in London come to the farm for a field trip. One of the students is a CSA member and we agreed for the class to come. They enjoyed a wagon ride, egg collecting and bean planting. Normally we are too busy to host school field trips, but we squeezed it in early and were fortunate to have good weather. I am hopeful that it will stir a horticultural bent in some of the students…

Back for Another Log
Hooking Up to a Log

We have enjoyed having another  Logging Workshop today. Ken has been demonstrating how to safely skid logs from the woodlot to a snowy field. Gwen and Buttons two of our Suffolk Punch draft horses are behaving very well.  We will cut up and split many of the logs for firewood later in the spring for next winter.  Some of the better logs we will  saw into lumber to be used for various projects around the farm.

Sunflower Oil for Winter Fuel

Ken has also been experimenting this winter with sunflower oil to run diesel motors. He has added a bit of gasoline to the sunflower oil (see jar on the right).  It keeps the sunflower oil from jelling up at cold temperatures (see far 0n left) and makes it so it will burn directly in a diesel motor without having to be first heated up or  made into bio-diesel.  Making bio-diesel is a complicated business and has some byproducts that are difficult  to dispose of easily. Using our draft horses makes sense for many jobs around the farm, however we still use the tractor for front end loader work and to run a Power Take Off for our baler and bush hog.   Ken is trying to figure out if he could grow an oil producing crop that would provide enough fuel to run the tractor  and perhaps a diesel generator for some electrical needs.

I walked down the farm today with a potential apprentice and was happy to see that the irrigation pond is almost full to over flowing.  Our CSA garden fields are becoming visible as the snow melts and I can feel my blood starting to stir as I anticipate the spring and the coming season.  We will soon be starting our early transplants. Most of our seeds have arrived and I am feeling rested up and ready to go again.  I enjoy having an occupation that is so closely linked to the natural word, where the work slows down during the dark time of the year and picks up again as the days lengthen out and my energy returns. We still have some spaces in our CSA for the 2011 season. We have a steady trickle of applications coming in and in March, when people are ready to think about spring again, I will contact all our past CSA members to remind them that it is time to save their spot!

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!

Buttons and Gwen at IPM in St. Thomas, Ontario

Ken has spent the week at the International Plowing match in St. Thomas.  It is taking place only about 5 km from the farm and seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.  He has been plowing with Buttons and Gwen.  Elwyn McGuire has also been plowing at the match with our older team Jasmin and Gena.  Our apprentices have been a great help with the horses as well.  Friday is the last day of the the four day plowing competition and then it will be back to the real farm work for everyone. It has been a lot of fun and a good chance to show everyone our calm, steady Suffolk horses.  Suffolks are a rare breed and it is unusual for them to be out in public.  We have been happy to see some of our CSA members who have stopped by to visit at the match!

Our squash harvest has provided a bounty of beautiful squash to share with our members. The mountain of squash is gradually going down in our front yard.  It is good that they store well.  An excellent website that explains about the different varieties of squash has hints on cooking and lincs to recipes is:

We expect to be digging the remainder of our potato crop next week and will have a bounty to divide up for our final weeks of the CSA.  We are really pleased with our first sweet potato crop.  We gave our first sweet potatoes on Tuesday and have quite a few more.  The fresh dug potatoes are not as sweet as the ones that have been cured. We are attempting to cure some in our greenhouses to give in the final week. We are new to growing sweet potatoes and are learning as we go.

Orchard Hill Farm CSA Fall Potluck will be held October 3rd from 2-4 pm

Bring: food to share, plates, cutlery, cups and lawn chairs.

Last pick-up dates:

Tuesday, October 5

Saturday, October 9

Potato Digger in Action
Potatoes Ready for Picking-up

Some of you may have seen Ken working on getting our “new” old potato digger back into working order last week. One CSA member asked him, “Are you ever going to get that rust bucket working?” The answer is YES! We have pictures to prove it.  (If you double click on the photos they will enlarge.) One of my stipulations for growing the CSA was to have a potato digger and now we do! Those working shares who have helped us dig potatoes with a fork or paw around in the soil after the horse drawn potato plow went through can attest to the amount of work it is.  So, I am delighted with our “rust bucket” that works! We have a big potato crop this season and it will be well used. It is still a heavy pull for two horses, but we hope to split up the harvest between two or three digging days.

The squash and pumpkin crop is also coming in. Check out the recipe section for some squash and pumpkin recipes. Keep in mind that any pumpkin recipe can also be made with squash. Go to the search box and type in squash or pumpkin for some of the older blog recipe entries from past years.  The following is a recipe from a past entry:

Leek and Potato Soup by Jill Wilcox
1 lb. leeks (about 3 medium)
3 tbsp butter
1 cooking onion, chopped
1 rib celery, finely sliced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
3c water, chicken or veg. stock
2c milk or cream
chopped chives for garnish
To make the soup
1. trim the coarse green portion of the leeks. Cut leeks in half lengthwise, leaving the bulb end intact and clean well under running water. Shake off excess moisture and slice the leeks thinly, discarding the root end when you get to it.
2. In a stock pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Cook the leeks, onion and celery about 5 minutes until soft.
3. Add the potatoes and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook about 25 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
4. Add the milk (or cream) and return to a bare simmer. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. (You can puree the soup with an immersion blender at this stage if you wish or pass it through a food mill.)

Orchard Hill workforce Fall 2010

Ken has been wanting to take a picture with “all our workers” for sometime and last Friday when Michelle was here he got her to take the picture. Chester didn’t make it in because he isn’t working in the field yet… This fall when his testosterone levels drop (and hopefully we have all our mares bred) we can introduce him into the herd and he can start working along side the other heavy horses.

Here’s the line up from left to right: Sassy (our new mare traded for Whinnie); Ken; Gwen (sweet Gwen who gets along with everyone); Martha; Buttons (young Mare / granddaughter of “Goldie” one of our all time favorite horses); Verena (agriculture student from France); Gena and Jasmin (our two- 13 year old – hard working well trained mares); Nora (full season apprentice from Maryland); Sam (young gelding in training); Andy (aspiring future farmer from New Zealand); Ziggy (young gelding in training); Jesse (full season apprentice from Sarnia).

On the general farm front things are in good shape. Our second cut hay is all baled without rain! Ken has almost finished his green manure fertility transfer onto future garden plots and fields that need a boost. Nora and Jesse have prepared their fields to be planted to fall grain in a couple of weeks.

The harvest for the CSA continues to roll in with what appears to be a bumper crop of tomatoes. Ken is trying to get our new used potato digger up and running before we dig the majority of our potato crop. The sweet potatoes are still small, but Andy dug a few to test and they were yummy. We hope that they size up in the next month! Raspberries are coming along well.

August Draft Horse Workshop
Our August three day Draft Horse Workshop has just been successfully completed. We had another great group of individuals come to the farm for three days to learn about driving draft horses. Nora assisted Ken with teaching the workshop while the rest of us cooked meals and got the Saturday pick-up ready. We were very grateful to the working shares who came out and pitched in to help us get the pick-up ready. We also managed to get our oat straw into the barn. We have never had a year when it has been so difficult to get straw dry!

The garden is exploding with produce and our hoop house tomatoes are coming into full swing just as our out door tomatoes are beginning. It is a big improvement over the near corp failure in our tomatoes last season. It just reminds us how every year is different. Fall raspberries are about to begin. We hope to be able to start picking next week.

Tomato and Fresh Basil Soup from Vegetarian Cooking, by Linda Farser

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 pounds ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
about 3 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste
2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil
2/3 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
whole basil leaves, to garnish

Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan until foaming. Add the onion and cook gently for about 5 minutes, stirring, until the onion is softened but not brown.

Stir in the chopped tomatoes and garlic, then add the stock, white wine and sun-dried tomato paste, with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, half-cover the pan and simmer gently for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the tomatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Add the cream and heat through, stirring. Do not allow the soup to approach the boiling point. Check the consistency and add more stock if necessary, then season with salt and pepper. Pour into heated bowls and garnish with basil. Serve at once.