It’s Starting to Get Interesting

green field at Bird's Nest Garden Farm
Spring is here! Or is it summer?

 

Well, it’s a typical July afternoon with temps around 30C (mid-80’sF) and we’re cooling in front of fans inside the house…

But wait.

It’s the end of MAY. And there was snow on the ground May 9th. What’s going on?

 

May snowfall homestead Bird's Nest Garden Farm
May 9th snowfall. Merry Springmas from our home to yours.

 

The wild weather rollercoaster hasn’t stopped us from diving into new adventures this month.

What projects could top the dead hedge, you ask?

Pigs

Piglets Bird's Nest Garden Farm
Yes. We are officially pig farmers now.

Darn, they are cute.

The plan to get pigs was well in the works before all of the changes caused by the pandemic. We figured we needed the pigs to clear some areas and prepare the ground for more plantings and fencing. Plus, bacon.

After two summers with sheep, I’m a little sad not to have them on the landscape. That’s easy for me to say, as I hardly did any of the daily work moving fences.

The mobile pig/chicken unit will be moved less often than the mobile sheep/chicken unit. More like every week to 10 days as opposed to every 4 days. This should allow more time for humans to do long term fencing work. That’s the idea anyway. We’ll see how it goes.

Pigs are very different creatures than sheep, so we’re learning a new language.

Sheep want to get out and munching grass at the crack of dawn. These piggies sleep in. Sheep are always watching you. They are ready to flee at a moments notice. These pigs seem unimpressed by anything going on around them, even loud noises. They follow the beat of their own drum.

However, both sheep and pigs will randomly gleefully zip around their pen. Which is very entertaining.

It makes it really hard to get any work done.

And there definitely is work to do. Like figuring out the:

Polka Dot Hen Produce Veggie Basket Delivery

Polka Dot Hen Produce fresh vegetables cilantro garlic
Bundles of fresh cilantro and green garlic are lined up and waiting for delivery.

 

This undertaking is a direct result of the pandemic as the Wiarton Farmers’ Market is not able to run its usual fashion this year. While I was looking forward to my fifth season at market,  I’m quite pleased with my new Tuesday “Veggie Scheme.”

The plan for 2020 is to provide vegetable baskets to households between my home and the farm store at DeJong Acre’s , near Lake Charles. As an option, I can also deliver goodies from the farm store to my households. It just take a bit of creative route planning and clear communication.

On the produce side of things, growing for the farmers’ market is quite a bit different than growing for a basket system. This is one of the reasons I didn’t go into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model as a new farmer, and instead have been focused on selling at the farmers’ market. This early season transition has not been without some head-scratching as I try to assemble shares from what is growing and change my crop plan for this new venture.

And then there’s the Holy Grail of having our own on-line store. I’m hoping the house elves will make one magically appear by mid-June so we can also sell produce from the farm. All it should take is an extra 72 hours of desk time!

That Weather Though

It’s added another degree of difficulty to the month. Cold, then hot, now cold again today.

Diversity on the farm means having both cold-tolerant and heat-loving plants. The challenge is keeping them both growing well when out their comfort zone.

Growing Tomato Plants in the Cold

Erin Gundy tomato plants Polka Dot Hen Produce
Hauling 11 trays of tomato plants twice a day got to be a bit of a chore during the mid-May cold snap. Here’s me looking tired, slightly irritated…and blurry.

Every March, I start my tomato plants in the house planning to move them to the unheated hoop house by May.

This year, the cold and snowy weather meant daily tomato “field trips” to the unheated hoop house. All the tomatoes had to return to the heated human house at night.

I came to dread the twice-daily hauling of those plants, especially after a full day of working outside. Also we lived with seedling trays covering every flat surface inside the house overnight.

Now three quarters of those plants are in their new homes. The rest are happily soaking up the sun outside.

Because (until this morning,) we had a heat wave.

 

Keepin’ It Cool in the Hoop House

Hoop house
Trying to beat the heat in the hoop house with shade cloth and frequent cold water sprays. Not exactly Pinterest material, but it’s doing the job.

At least with all the cold weather, the cool season crops were doing really well in the hoop house.

Then a heat wave arrived. When the skies are clear and sunny, the hoop house turns into a big solar oven. Great for the tomatoes, not so great for the spinach and lettuce. Heat triggers bolting in cool-season crops and the end of large tender leaves.

Using a daily regimen of ventilation, shade cloth and cold water spraying, I attempted to keep the hoop house as cool as possible. Unfortunately, I do see today that some of the spinach has bolted before my first major harvest. Oh bother.

At least we have this:

Arugula

Fresh Arugula Polka Dot Hen Produce
This arugula is perfect – sweet, juicy and a bit nutty.

Returning back to cooler, rainy weather means that I should get another cut or two off the arugula row. We’ll be having some tonight to celebrate a significant birthday!

Wherever you are, I hope you are hanging in there.

If you can, get outside.

Find a local farmer to support.

And cover your tomatoes overnight if it drops below 10C (50F)!

Keep well.

 

 

How Do We Plan For Spring?

What a spring it has been for all of us! All around the world. We hope from wherever you are reading this, you and your loved ones are safe and well.

chickens and nest boxes at Bird's Nest Garden Farm
These girls have been practising sheltering in place all winter. About the time we humans got stuck at home, they got access to the big wide world. Go figure.

Here at Bird’s Nest Garden Farm, we are four weeks into our new stay-at-home lifestyle.

When I say “new,” this is for the other members of my family. I rarely venture off the farm at this time of year. It’s been a pleasure to have company at home, despite their need to be often glued to their screens for work and school purposes.

Probably just like you, our family is looking for entertainments other than zoom meeting gaffs and watching yet another webinar.  We’ve undertaken numerous projects aimed at keeping our bodies occupied and out-of-doors while distracting us from disheartening pandemic updates.

The Dead Hedge

Setting flags in the meadow at Bird's Nest Garden Farm Wiarton land plan
March 27, 2020 One week into staying home. All. the. time. Peter and I flag the meadow to correspond to his winter farm electronic map-making.

This winter, Peter took another farmland planning course, putting all our homestead experiences and dreams onto one map. We work on plans every year, but this winter it got extra serious. “Google Earth Pro” serious.

We had no idea how soon we’d put this map to good use.

It’s been guiding our work these days as we flag future silvopasture systems and clear out access for fence lines. We’ve cut a lot of brush, removing dead and diseased wood and thinning out overgrowth.

Staring at massive piles of decaying thorny brush wasn’t filling us with glee. Neither was the prospect of burning it.

Enter “The Dead Hedge.”

Dead hedge Bird's Nest Garden Farm Wiarton land plan
April 10, 2020. Behold the dead hedge. It may soon be visible from space.

A dead hedge not only creates a fence, but it also acts as a windbreak and wildlife habitat. Positioned on the thinnest soil in our meadow–and sometimes over bare bedrock–it will also raise the level of local organic matter, plant and microbial life as it decomposes.

Antique oral bits of British agricultural traditions have entered our vocabulary. We enjoyed learning that the woody bits are called “brash.”

That fence represents a lot of family bonding time.

Finishing No-Till Beds

Using a box scraper to prep rows no-till conversion Bird's Nest Garden Farm
Completing the final rows from last year’s conversion to no-till growing. Using the box scraper, Peter removes remaining twitch grass runners by dragging two scarifiers through the soil. Yes, scarifier is a new word for me too!

You can read here about our conversion to no-till veggie gardening last spring. We did it all…except these last two beds. They spent the season under a tarp, as we could never seem to find time (or motivation) to get back to hand-digging out all the grass runners and perennial weeds. Hard to believe, I know.

The tarp did a fantastic job knocking back everything. We easily prepped these two beds and have them sown to a cover crop of oats until I plant them in mid-May.

Veggie Growing

Beets seedling in soil blocks Polka Dot Hen Produce
Beets growing in soil blocks, not brownies.

Getting ready for market season normally fills my April and May days.

Plants gotta get started, watered, then transplanted out. The hoop house needs constant watching for correct temperatures and ventilation. Supplies need constant monitoring and purchasing. And there’s usually a lot time spent on marketing.

Except this year. Our farmers’ market as we’ve “grown to know and love it,” isn’t necessarily a go. We all understand the concerns, although I believe a properly run open- air farmers’ market can be as safe a place to buy food as Walmart or Costco.

But while all the ins-and-outs of “essential services” are getting hammered out, I’ve got to make a plan. I can’t be waiting to find out at the last minute if our farmers’ market is a yes or a no.

My seeding plan starts mid-March. The little veggie plants are growing now. Things are greening up in the hoop house as we speak.

Fresh harvest bowl of claytonia Polka Dot Hen Produce
Space salad! Weird and wild claytonia thrives in the hoop house, providing us with the fresh taste of spring.

A New Plan

It’s takes some fancy footwork, research and reaching out to my fabulous loyal customers, but I’ve devised a new veggie scheme to connect safely and regularly without the market. There’s sure to be a learning curve, but I’m excited to try something new.

One positive that has come out of this situation is feeling renewed in our purpose as land stewards and food growers. We’ll keep updating our plan as we chart a new way forward.

 

 

Embrace the Cabbage

fresh cabbage sliced in half polka dot hen produce
Cabbage: get to know your winter veggies

How to Eat Local in the Winter and Enjoy It

Seasonal eating stories seem so one-sided. It’s easy to celebrate the first asparagus of spring, the first tender green chives, overwintered spinach’s fresh sweet leaves.

But what about when it’s February and you’re only half-way through a winter of trying to eat locally and seasonally? It can look grim. Now is the winter of our discontent.

It doesn’t have to be like that. Continue reading “Embrace the Cabbage”

Reflecting on Summer 2019

cordwood and straw bale house with blooming flower garden birds nest garden farm
The baptisia in full bloom attracts hummingbirds an butterflies.

It’s January now and all the highs and lows of the 2019 summer season are having their sharp edges whittled away by time. We’ve seen snow, a melt, more snow and yet another mild spell in the last six weeks. Our lifestyle orbits around heating with wood, winter chicken chores and keeping the lane snow-free.

It wasn’t that long ago that the meadow was lusciously green and we were harvesting armloads of veggies for the farmers’ market. Looking back through our photos twigs my memory of the past season. Here’s a short and sweet list of three things that stood out.

no-till vegetable garden July onions
Dusk in the onion patch mid-July. The no-till beds are working well.

Best Move: Converting the Market Garden to No-Till

Over the past few years we’ve worked to reduce our tillage in the gardens. Exposure to a series of  books, articles and podcasts convinced us that a no-till/no-dig system would really benefit us and our shallow, heavy clay soil. Continue reading “Reflecting on Summer 2019”

Did you want to visit the farm last season?

pasture lambs chicken Birds Nest Garden Farm
Lambs and chickens roam the pasture at Birds Nest Garden Farm.

Maybe we talked at market, but the timing just didn’t work out. Or maybe you were too shy to ask. Or maybe you didn’t even know it was a possibility.

Well, this year we can officially remedy that.

Our farm is a member of Rural Gardens of Grey and Bruce Counties. We refer to ourselves as being members of a “garden tour,” but it’s more like a choose-your-own-adventure story than a scripted tour. It’s up to you which gardens you visit and when you visit them.

Continue reading “Did you want to visit the farm last season?”