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.

So, this spring we bit the bullet and converted all the veggie plots to a no-till system.

agricultural tarp for soil prep in no-till beds
A large agricultural tarp protects the soil as other beds are given priority. The tarp keeps the soil moist while preventing weed growth.

This was no small undertaking. Perennial weed roots and twitch grass rhizomes in the beds and paths were removed by hand. Precious spring and early summer hours (and hours) were also devoted to collecting, preparing and distributing the materials we needed: wood chips, mulch, compost and cardboard. Thankfully we have been stockpiling wood chips over the past few years.

We ran out of steam and time in late June so still have two 30 ft. rows yet to prep. However, at this point I am convinced that the extra effort in the spring set us up for an excellent growing season. I look forward to this coming spring to see how early we can get transplants in the ground.

What we observed this season:

  • weed pressure was reduce at a minimum by 75%
  • rainwater soaked in to the soil rather than pooling on the surface
  • there was an unsurprising increase in slug pressure that cost us some crops

We hope to write a more in-depth post about this whole undertaking in the future.

 

evening tour of Bird's Nest Garden Farm
Peter leads a group of friends on an evening tour of the farm. Photo by Sue Schlabach.

Best Memories: Farm Dinner

One of the brightest highlights of this summer was a visit from our dear friends from Vermont. We had the joy of introducing them to several of our local haunts and local friends. With their considerable help, we even hosted an informal farm dinner which was a first!

In summer we typically work from sun up to sundown. We fill our days keeping the animals happy and healthy, keeping the veggies happy and healthy and trying to keep ourselves…healthy. Happy doesn’t always enter into consideration.

This summer, many of our friends and family remedied that happiness situation. They showed us that we could take time for socializing and the farm wouldn’t fall apart. Taking time off recharged us and reminded us why we are doing what we are doing.  And it didn’t hurt that most of our friends and family are excellent at pitching in, whether it’s harvesting veggies, feeding the chickens or making us delicious treats.

a selection of desserts from a dinner at Bird's Nest Garden Farm memories
Behold the dessert table. I love having talented friends who bake! Photo by Sue Schlabach.

I think it’s a lesson we need to turn into a concrete plan for this coming summer. Now to book a few dates for July and August.

 

black GSD in the back of a car memories
“I just had emergency abdominal surgery and I feel GREAT!” Cricket on her way home after spending the night recovering at Sunset Strip Veterinary Clinic in Owen Sound.

Worst Memories: Cricket’s Emergency Surgery

The toughest part of this summer was dealing with not one, but two surgeries for our beloved German Shepherd. The first surgery was planned and the result of an injured leg joint. The second surgery was an emergency and the result of her eating something indigestible. With that one, we were told to prepare for the worst.

Having our normally active and sociable dog spend most of her summer confined to a pen to heal was rough. I work from home and Cricket is my shadow. We spend A LOT of time together. She settles herself near my work and companionably naps in the sun or shade given the day. Occasionally she forays into the bush to bark at offensive squirrels and chipmunks. She patrols the property, keeping predators away from the sheep and chickens. She always reminds me when it is 4 o’clock: walk time.

Except this summer, we didn’t have walkies. We missed out on seeing the little daily changes in the forest, missed hearing the changing birdsong as the summer progressed, and didn’t explore the varied trails around our homestead. I really missed getting a mid afternoon break from my oppressive “to do” list.

An autumn dog walk around the meadow at Bird's Nest Garden Farm
An autumn dog walk around the meadow at Bird’s Nest Garden Farm

Thankfully, Cricket mended from both surgeries and by mid-September we were able to resume our daily walks on the Bruce Trail.

Next Steps

Back to the here and now. Winter has returned but it hasn’t dampened our memories. Planning for next year is in full swing. We straddle the decade reflecting on the year’s experiences while applying what we’ve learned to the season ahead.

 

 

 

 

Peppered with Seedlings

Garden centres are getting better at providing more variety when it comes to vegetable seedlings. Last year I found a surprisingly nice selection of hot peppers at a nursery in Owen Sound. Still, I prefer to grow vegetable varieties that have the characteristics that are most important to me; whether that’s days to maturity, colour or disease resistance. I’m a bit of a control freak that way.

This year my priority is buying organically grown seed. I’m still using up seed from previous years, but most new seed I purchased this year had to be organic. One exception was a package of  blight resistant tomatoes – ’cause who knows when blight is going to strike and wipe out your entire crop. Better safe than sorry.

 

seeding peppers in a tray
The first seeds to be started around here are peppers. I’m still amazed that this little tiny dry speck grows into a lush tropical plant that provides food for us.

 

This is only my second year to grow pepper plants from seed, so I have a lot to learn. Last year it took the seeds almost a month to germinate in our less-than-tropical house. The sweet pepper seedlings I put in the ground were embarrassingly small compared to those hotties from the garden centre.

This year, I did some research into pepper growing so I had a few germination tricks up my sleeve. First, I started the seeds two weeks earlier than last year. Then, whenever I watered, I used warm water instead of cold. Finally, I set the black tray near the patio door on sunny days to heat up the soil.

All was going well until one sunny day about a week after I seeded the peppers. Continue reading “Peppered with Seedlings”

Thankfulness

So here we are on the verge of Thanksgiving. We have so many things to be thankful for, even though we can get caught up in the day-to-day whirlwind of life: school, chickens, garden work, cleaning up to host family for the holiday.

I’ve slowed down enough for a quick reflection here, just before I dash to meet the bus. If a picture is worth a thousand words, here are a few thousand words of gratitude from our homestead to yours.

Peter and Talia Allemang
Daddy and daughter celebrate another season of dance completed. My Hearts.

 

Black German Shephard
The dog I always dreamed of…even though she can be a dork at times. She’s a great companion to my new work.

 

Broody chicken on nest box
Chickens give us healthy eggs and meat while they improve our soil. They are also very entertaining. Henny Penny, pictured above, finally got to brood a clutch of eggs and be a momma to an Icelandic chick.

 

Hoop house at Polka Dot Hen Produce Bruce Peninsula
The hoop house. Building it was a huge undertaking, but the benefits of this protected growing environment are phenomenal. We have just scratched the surface. I’m already planning for next season.

 

Vegetable cooler at DeJong Acres farm store Polka Dot Hen Produce
Nothing can compare to doing work that you truly believe in. This was a great season of learning for me. Thank you to everyone who bought our veggies this year at DeJong Acres. I’d love to hear from you!

Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving this weekend…or in November…or both!