Manic May

honeyberry flowers birds nest garden farm
Honeyberry (or haskap) blooms provide a much-needed early source of nectar for insects and hummingbirds.

It’s that time of year again.

Everything needs to be done. Yesterday.

Warm weather and sunshine have made everything pop. Believe me, I am not complaining. We are loving the weather here at Bird’s Nest Garden Farm.

It’s hard to believe that less than a month ago things looked like this:

snowy field polka dot hen produce wiarton
Yes, that is one of my main vegetable plots on April 22.  So, less than a month ago we had plenty of heavy snow on the ground.

Now we are full steam ahead on ALL of the projects.

Chickens

The chickens finally left their winter coop, for full-time RV status. Our feathered friends are back to the mobile life, being carted around the field every couple of weeks. Now to figure out why the auto-close door wants to auto-close at the wrong time. And then auto-open once everyone is settled in for bed.

chicken mobile coop polka dot hen produce
The first location for the mobile coop. Chickens are loving the fresh grass.

Plants

Where do I start?

All the vegetable garden beds need prepping.  All the perennial beds need weeding and dividing. All the little seedlings in pots need homes in the soil. Everyone needs water, some times two to three times a day!

The winter rye cover crop on several beds was supposed to winter kill but it didn’t. It is looking super-green and healthy, definitely not dead.

intercropping garlic tomatoes spinach hoop house
Green garlic grows in the space between the young tomato plants. As the tomatoes grow, the garlic and spinach will be harvested.

Inside the hoop, there are a smattering of early crops (spinach, green garlic and kale) fighting for space with the tropicals (tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.) More tropicals need to go in, and more early crops need to come out.

Thankfully, the Wiarton Farmers’ Market has started so we don’t need to eat all of those veggies ourselves. My Polka Dot Hen Produce customers had a lovely selection of purple orach, French sorrel, tender kale and green garlic to chose from this week.

Carrots, spinach, beets, kale, radishes, turnips and lettuce are in the ground where that snowy picture was taken. The family pea plot looks to be shaping up.  Happy news, since I totally missed the window for peas last year.

Thankfully, our composting was a great success. We have this beautiful business to add to our beds:

compost polka dot hen produce fresh vegetable
Well composted chicken litter (chicken poo, leaves and wood chips) is just the ticket to get the soil going this year.

 

Sheep

Peter has wanted ruminants on the land since we bought the property. This is the summer we give it a go after many years of research and planning; his, not mine.

Before the sheep arrive, we have scads of fencing to put up. A visit from a black bear last week reinforced this need, although I’m more concerned about keeping out coyotes and stray dogs. Plus we’ll have the added bonus of preventing our dog from wandering off to irritate the local porcupine population.

tractor auger birds nest garden farm
Peter tries out the auger in preparation for installing lots of posts. This area actually has soil, unlike many areas we need to fence.

The lambs also need a shelter, and you guessed it, it’s going to be PORTABLE as well. Well portable, if you have a tractor to pull it. I won’t be schlepping it around the meadow with my bare hands. Did I mention that shelter still needs to be built?

All the Other Stuff

Let’s not forget that the  necessities of daily living such as food preparation, dishes, laundry, dog walking and personal hygiene don’t just disappear. Although, as I don the same soil-covered work clothes over and over, I  find myself hoping no one decides to wander down the driveway and “surprise me.” Phoning first is always recommended at this time of year. If you are really special, I’ll put on a clean T-shirt.

It is a good thing the weather has been fantastic for getting all this work done. I promise we will take time to be thankful for this wonderful place we’ve been allowed to steward.

Here’s hoping we all have a productive and lovely Victoria Day weekend.

 

spring light landscape birds nest garden farm
Glowing spring light on the laneway

 

 

 

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Tomatoes in Winter

 

Polka Dot Hen Produce fresh produce Wiarton Farmers' Market
Fresh tomatoes from Polka Dot Hen Produce destined for the Wiarton Farmers’ Market

Looking at this picture of our fresh tomatoes almost hurts at this time of year.

It is February, and outside the wind is whipping the trees mercilessly. The second thaw of the winter has reduced the snow pack, but it’s going to be a long time until these beauties are on my plate again.

I’m doing what I can to set the stage for their return.

Almost with mouth watering, I’m planning this year’s tomato selections.  The seed catalogues are arrayed around me on the desk as I create my short list.

Deciding for or against a variety is based on several observations over the season. Then, the task every autumn is to review how each tomato variety performed overall. This is crucial,  because right now, there needs to be a balance between the dreams espoused by those glossy seed catalogues and reality.

Back to my plate, today.

There is a little good news stored in the freezer. While the tomato production this autumn was outpacing market sales and our own consumption, I took the time to put up some of the goodness for a time such as this.

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

These take time to make, but don’t need to be tended constantly. The recipe is pretty loose; once you make a batch, you’ll get the hang of it.

Start by slicing your tomatoes and placing them on a parchment-lined baking tray, sliced side up.

sliced tomatoes Polka Dot Hen Produce
Sliced tomatoes ready for roasting on parchment-lined baking trays

Now you have a choice to make. Do you want simple roasted tomatoes or do you want to fancy them up?

sliced tomatoes Polka Dot Hen Produce
Ready to roast. Now for a drizzle of olive oil.

For simple, delicious goodness, simply drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil. For fancier fare, drizzle the tomatoes not only with olive oil, but also with balsamic vinegar.  Pinches of salt and pepper, or thinly sliced garlic are tasty additions.

Roast at 350F until the tomatoes start to shrivel. Now lower the temp in the oven and continue to cook them. The timing depends on the size of your tomatoes and how thickly they are cut.  Larger tomatoes can take a couple of hours. These cherry and saladette tomatoes took about forty-five minutes.

Keep the heat on until they are shrivelled, sweet and smoky. I let them cool in the oven once it is turned off to get a more sun-dried tomato texture.

Roasted tomatoes Polka Dot Hen Produce
The finished product

These tomatoes are ready to eat right away. In fact, they are hard to stop eating.

But the really good news for us in February, is that slow roasted tomatoes  can also be frozen.  Thaw and eat as is, or puree into a delicious sauce.

I suppose this technique could be tried on those hard softballs they try to pass off as “tomatoes” in the grocery store. As for me, I’ll head to the freezer and bring out another package of summer.

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Starting again

snowy lane and trees Bruce Peninsula Polka Dot Hen Produce
Snow blankets the farm and forest as we contemplate the coming season.

Out the window is a sea of white. The chickadees and nuthatches take turns grabbing sunflower seeds from the feeder. Every once in a while the blue jays and woodpeckers flap in and push everyone aside. Then they leave, or are more often startled off by the dog, and the small birds return. Meanwhile, I sit here and watch it all unfold.

It’s my time of year for quiet and retrospection. A time to look over the past year’s experiences and notes, and to think about what went well. Also it’s the time to look at what could be improved upon this coming season. Which is a nice way of saying, “What just plain failed, stank or drove me nuts last summer?” But with a little more distance and perspective. Continue reading “Starting again”