April Showers Bring…

stormy sky over hoop house
Spring storms arrive over the hoop house in April.

 

More decisions. And sometimes tacos.

Market gardening i.e. The Waiting Game. And the Second-Guessing Game. Market gardening requires this weird mix of almost hyper-anal planning and uber flexibility. It’s a constant mulling over of options and decision making with every decision starting a domino chain of other decisions. A lot of those decisions have to do with the weather. Here’s the latest discussion going on in my head:

What are the predicted highs and lows for the next few days and is that sun going to shine or not? If I put these seedlings in the hoop house, will it be too cold overnight? Will I have to carry them inside again through the rain and wind? Wouldn’t they be better off without that stress? Wouldn’t I be better off without that stress? Or could I cover them with frost blanket enough to keep them warm? But how many days is it staying cold and cloudy? And how long will my family put up with all of these baby plants inside the house?

Believe me, there’s a lot more discussion going on  – mostly regarding transplants, starting more greens and how to deal with finding flea beetle damage already. Plus now it’s day two of a heavy rainfall warning. Sigh. Continue reading “April Showers Bring…”

Final Farmers Market

garlic basket polka dot hen produce
A true sign of fall: cured, cleaned garlic ready for use and storage.

 

So the market garden season is wrapping up. It is hard to believe on a warm, sunny day like today that there is one final market left. It feels much more like late August than October. Especially in the hoop house.

But here we are on the eve of another Thanksgiving. The days are shorter and the nights are cooler. The trees are turning. Chores and veggie tending have slowed enough to allow for time to review the last few months.

What a summer. Heat. Drought. Well running dry. Flea beetle plagues. And now hordes of slugs. Quite the year to start a market garden. But every year has it’s challenges. Next year we will be stretched in new directions. They tell me, that’s what farming is all about. Better learn to be flexible.

But we made it through, thanks to some timely help from friends and family. And also thanks to our customers. Lovely people who understood the difficultly of growing vegetables without rain. And didn’t get mad when the kale and lettuce we had on our table since early June suddenly were no longer available in August.

We did have some successes though, despite all the curve balls the weather threw our way. Continue reading “Final Farmers Market”

The Winter Homestead Lifestyle

Snowfall on polka dot hen produce homestead bruce peninsula
The first winter snowfall covers our homestead in white frosting.

Well, it’s been a quiet winter so far here on the homestead. Nowhere near the spirit-crushing amount of snow and cold temperatures we endured last winter. Yet. Thank goodness. That was a challenge. We’ll see what February brings.

Still, this season does bring a change in daily life that we both look forward to and dread at the same time. Fire building we look forward to – constantly carting wood into the house, we dread. Snow is really great for skiing and snowshoeing; blowing it off the driveway is not so enjoyable. Walking the dog takes on new meaning. However, we all agree that snow days are awesome. Continue reading “The Winter Homestead Lifestyle”

South and Souther

Dottie the chicken patrols the new chicken pasture
Dottie happily patrols the chicken pasture after spending the winter indoors. Next year we hope to house her in a greenhouse.

Guest post by Peter

The ancestors of our polka-dot hen, Dottie, came from the Basque region of Spain. It may seem odd that a southern chicken could feel at home as far north as Great Lake Huron’s Bruce Peninsula, but the two areas share some things in common. One is the almost identical seasonal light and day length: both coastal areas share the same 45-degrees-north latitude as sun-spots like Monaco, Bordeaux, and Tuscany. But in midwinter, there’s no way Dottie could mistake her current home for her ancestors’ on the coast of Spain, or for her more distant ancestors’ home in South-East Asia.

For our chicken’s winter comfort, we want to capture the daylight of southern Europe while insulating them from the frigid winds and temperatures of frozen Lake Huron. It’s not too hard to do–we housed them in our light-filled garage last winter, and plan to introduce them to shelter in a greenhouse next winter. But even poultry from South-East Asia can’t take the summer heat trapped in a greenhouse for long. Which leaves us with a nice problem to have: after evicting Dottie and her friends, what plants can we grow in an environment hotter than a balmy Bruce Peninsula summer?

Chickens eat snow during the winter
Chickens in the garage during the winter, dining on snow. Kinda looking guilty.

If we’re going to go south, let’s go a lot further south. How about to Mexico and Peru, two countries that bracket the tropics at the equator? We could grow their peppers and tomatoes. We like fruits and veggies like those and could sell some of them to help pay for the greenhouse/barn.

Skis allow the hoop house to be moveable
Skis allow the hoop house to be moveable

But an “ordinary” greenhouse barn isn’t enough for us. We want one that we can move around, yet still anchor to the earth so it doesn’t imitate a huge, expensive kite. Many greenhouses or hoop houses are linked to the earth with spiral ground anchors or big beefy metal stakes. This is a challenge at our site: the current depth of soil over bedrock ranges from 2 to 6 inches. What to do when you are surrounded by such boundless constraints? Get creative.

An article in Forbes magazine (July 12, 2013)  details how constraints drive genius. How did all-world architect Frank Gehry dream up his iconic billowing steel museum in Bilbao, the capital of Dottie’s Basque homeland? According to creativity experts including Gehry himself, it took constraints. Our greenhouse will not be a work of genius, but the amount of constraints leave a lot of room for creativity to sprout up. Stay tuned for the harvest.

Picture a cold frame

vegetable seedlings wiarton cold frame
Seedlings of lettuce, chives, bunching onions, cilantro, bok choi and kale in the cold frame

There is only so much room inside the house, under the lights for seed starting. As the heat loving tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers need more space, the cold tolerant vegetables get turfed out. They are living life on the edge out in the cold frame.

Running a cold frame takes hourly attention in this land of ever-changing weather. Sunny days are lovely, but tender seedlings quickly fry if the lid remains closed. Ask me how I know. Think solar oven. Other days bring their own dance of lid up, down or slightly cracked. Laying  a piece of frost cloth over the open frame to block wind or bugs adds another move to the dance.

Today is a lid down, no cracks kind of day. It’s cold enough for there to be snow in the air. Continue reading “Picture a cold frame”