The Ginger Adventure

Do you find that if you set out to learn something, it often doesn’t work, and you end up learning something else way more interesting?  I do!

David and I set out to visit some of his farming mentors in March of 2011. We drove to Massachusetts where David learned to farm.  One of our first stops was to visit Dan Kaplan, who runs Brookfield Farm.  Dan is a wonderful farm mentor to many new farmers.  He has a relaxed but intense energy and he really seems to have the training of new farmers worked out.  He has his farm and programs so well organized that he can take a 2-week vacation with his family in the middle of the summer.  Dan said that as far as he knows, he was the first CSA vegetetable farmer to come up with the idea of organizing his planting and fieldwork schedules on spreadsheets.  Besides making the summer vacation possible, Dan’s efficiency and organizational skills allow him to keep his work hours under control.  The Brookfield farm crew works five and a half days a week Monday through Friday from 6am to 5pm and Saturday mornings.  Dan is careful to start and end the workday on time except for the most dire emergencies.

From what we could gather, emergencies are very, very rare on this landmark farm.

Dan Kaplan, Brookfield Farm

Dan Kaplan, Brookfield Farm

After talking with Dan, we set out to explore the farm.  David was very interested in Dan’s selection of tractors, and of course, we paused to check out the root crop washer.

Dan Kaplan's root washer

Dan Kaplan’s root washer

rootwashK

Then we saw a display on the wall of the distribution barn where Dan’s apprentices, and the farms they run, are posted.  It is quite something to see all those names, including Don Zasada of Caretaker Farm, Casey Steinberg of Old Friends Farm, and Amy Smith of the Art of Living Farm in Quebec.  Amy is now running Heartbeet Organics with her partner Verena in PEI.  More on that later.

Dan Kaplan's students and their farms

Dan Kaplan’s students and their farms

The following day, we went to visit Casey Steinberg and Missy Bahret at Old Friends Farm in Amherst MA.  This is where we encountered GINGER!  Missy was growing and selling young ginger root.  She’d done growing trials and had it figured out.  Now she is growing close to half an acre of ginger in a Haygrove tunnel greenhouse.  She told us enough so that we could get started too, and a number of her farming friends in the Northeast US are now growing it.

Casey Steinberg and Missy Bahret at Old Friends Farm

Casey Steinberg and Missy Bahret at Old Friends Farm

Our next stop was further West to see Don Zasada and Bridget Spann of Caretaker Farm in Williamstown, MA.  David had worked with Don at The Food Project outside Boston in the 1990s.  He said Don is the master of organization, spreadsheets, and boundaries.  David and I were all excited to share the ginger growing idea from Missy and I could see Don’s wife Bridget was interested.  Immediately Don said “No, we can’t take that on.  We have enough to do, I don’t want any new projects cutting into my family time.”  See?  Good boundaries.  Like Dan Kaplan, Don Zasada takes a mid-summer vacation and so do his apprentices.  That is unheard of!  I think these farmers were showing us how important it is to take breaks and have defined work hours.  It is so easy as a farmer to just work ALL the time, and burn out.  We really admired Don’s streamlined, keep-it-simple style.

David Greenberg and Don Zasada, Caretaker Farm

David Greenberg visiting Don Zasada of Caretaker Farm

Zasada family at Caretaker Farm

Zasada family at Caretaker Farm

A great example of this is his vegetable washing and packing area.  Even though they have 265 families in their CSA, the wash station was nothing more than a mesh table, a small counter and a bath tub mounted on a stand leaning up against the side of their barn.  I have seen farms that produce half as much food with fifty thousand dollar packing houses!

Back at home in Nova Scotia we planted a few ginger rhizomes in our little seedling greenhouse and they grew to yield rhizomes of their own.  We ate them, loved them, and then thought we’d plant a commercial crop the following spring (2012). That spring we met Amy Smith and her partner Verena Varga of Heartbeet Organics.  We were all at a greenhouse conference organized by ACORN.  Amy is another one of Dan Kaplan’s apprentices.  We noticed her at the conference and thought she was particularly sharp (the smart kind of sharp not the grumpy kind of sharp).  When we learned she’d apprenticed at Brookfield Farm with Dan, it all made sense.  After talking with them, Amy and Verena decided to plant some ginger that spring too.

Amy and Verena at Heartbeet Organic

Amy and Verena at Heartbeet Organic

Ginger rhizomes started in pots.  Later they moved them on to heat mats, which helped sprout them.

Ginger rhizomes started in pots. Later they moved them on to heat mats, which helped sprout them.

They have a lovely farm in PEI so we had to visit them in April.  Their ginger turned out well and they are growing it again this year (2013).

Even though we made a few mistakes with our 2012 crop, we were thrilled with the harvest and are greatly expanding our plantings for this coming year (2013).  By next fall, we should know enough about ginger to share some solid growing information.

On the one hand, why import ginger if we can grow it here?  And it is so fragrant, hot, and yummy!  On the other hand, I wonder if we are being unwise to grow it because we have plenty to do.  Our boundaries and production systems are not well developed enough to have a vacation this summer like Dan and Don.  But now that we have been shown what is possible, we have a goal to work towards.

ginger2012

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Ted Hutten

tedhandsLast January, David and I went to visit Ted Hutten at his farm.  Ted is a farmer we really admire because he works hard, grows a lot of wonderful food, and he has such a unique sense of humour!!  He is well known at the Halifax Farmer’s Market where he has a busy stall all year.  He’s been selling there for years, building up a very loyal customer base, along with a loyal group of people working for him.  tedmicromix

We found him in his greenhouse working – of course.  He is always working.  He still works 100 hours a week for 8 months of the year.  He didn’t say how many hours he works during the other 4 months of the year, but knowing Ted, it is likely only slightly less than 100 hours.

Pea shoots.  A welcome green in January.

Pea shoots. A welcome green in January.

Ted showed us what was growing in his greenhouses and coldframes.  He runs a 100 member full-year CSA.  January to March is a challenging time to provide a good variety of items in the CSA box.  Pea shoots and micro greens were growing in trays.  He is making sure his customers get something green in their box even though it is freezing cold outside with snow on the ground.  The micro greens were growing in a greenhouse heated with wood generated from pruning his orchard.  Ted launched right into a discussion of a problem with the micro greens.teddavespinach

A quick aside.  A farmer needs to know how to effectively solve problems.  David and I are constantly in problem-solving mode or problem-avoidance mode on our farm.  So for us, watching other farmers ‘take us along’ as they discuss and tackle a problem is useful for our own problem-solving.  Even more than just learning about the solution.  And Ted is a delight because I think he really likes to engage with challenges.

Microgreens

Microgreens

Here is Ted explaining in his rapid-fire style what is going on.

“I had problems with the plants [micro greens] dying and I thought it was damping off … but I had Viliam Zvalo (a horticultural expert) and he said …that I had added a little bit of soluble fertilizer, trying to give me a little more growth and the salts were high and it was causing pythium* which is in peat moss soil which affects the plants. … Fertility is an issue, in the wintertime especially.  The uptake is a bit of an issue.  Last year, I would pick a flat, like this.  A 28- or 30-day-old flat that is ready to be picked.  That’s what I’m selling, typically, and when I cut it last year, all of the cotyledon leaves were yellowing, so I had a 7-day shelf-life on the micromix but about a 2-day shelf life on the cotyledon leaves with slime… It’s a combination of density, and I have to have a relatively high density or I can’t make money, so when the density was a bit too high I was getting insufficient fertility and cotyledon leaf yellowing and that was causing the quality issue after two or three days in the bags.  It’s a tough go, this is a very tough go to make money at this. I’m now convinced I’m not going to make any money at it but I think it’s good for my business to do it and I will continue to do it because it gives me a leafy product.  We’ve had spinach every week, we’ve had arugula, we’ve had mache steady through the winter but we’re running really low, we’re basically out of those crops now and they won’t kick on again until late February when the daylength is substantially longer so this gives me a green offering for my CSA boxes and for the market customers- which helps sell apples and carrots- that’s the only reason I do it, and because I like it, it’s challenging.”

Ted continues: “What I do is, every day, I put this fan in- I plug it in for an hour each day after I water- I won’t now, because it’s noisy, but that will hopefully dry out the foliage and that helps to prevent fungal disease.”

Ted then asked David if he grew micro greens.

David: “Yeah, I used the mushroom-based compost, though.”

Ted: “Yeah, I’ve used mushroom compost.”

David: “Did you have disease too?” 

Ted: “I use mushroom compost for all my seedlings only using mushroom compost as fertility, which eliminated all the fungal diseases.”

David: “Really?”

Ted: “All my pathogens were like these black moulds on the bottom of spring bok choys, like Shanghai choy, all of them, even Tatsoi. They get big and even the lettuces get that basal rot on the bottom, that soft rot and as soon as I used mushroom compost, it eliminated it 100% and Valley Mushroom said that it’s a combination of things and that the mushroom is so strong that it overpowers the other damaging fungi.  Really interesting.  I have not tried to grow this [micro greens] in mushroom compost, you’ve got me on to something now, though.  Maybe I should be incorporating mushroom compost into my soil.”

Cool!  Fight fungal disease with mushroom compost.

David: “Leonard North of Valley Mushroom told me about a University of Pennsylvania study where they trialed all these different seedling media, including peat moss and mushroom compost with some sort of lightening agent and the mushroom compost was far superior to everything else.”

Ted: “Yeah, but you can’t grow in mushroom compost alone.”

David: “I’m sorry- peat moss and mushroom compost with sand or vermiculite.”

Ted: “That would give you a balance.”

David: “That’s what I use for soil blocks- two parts mushroom compost, two parts peat moss, one part sand.”

Later in the conversation, Ted mentioned that Viliam Zvalo told him not to plant winter lettuce until late February, which is what he did the previous year, because of insufficient daylength.  When there isn’t enough light, lettuce stems become elongated, making them susceptible to disease problems. tedonions

With every little disease or pest problem, growers have to put together a number of different, interacting solutions.  If the problem is a mould disease, it could be about air circulation, day length, soil medium, fertility, density… Or all of them.  On top of that are the marketing issues, and whether money can be made on the crop or not.

Ted came by our farm today (March 4 2013) and gave us an update.  He said he can actually make money on the micro greens.  He is now using mushroom compost as the base for his soil medium.  No problem with disease now.  He suggested that might also be a function of longer day length at this time of year.  In March the day-length is so much better than in January.

Barn structure

Barn structure

Ted showed us his barn and how he stores and prepares vegetables for the CSA boxes every week.  The barn is a beautiful huge wooden structure located across the road from Ted’s house and greenhouses.  We talked about farmers markets and CSAs and labour strategies for the family farm.  We talked about how to make equipment decisions and when it makes sense to mechanize.  What really caught David’s attention was the way Ted handles kale.

Kale is a very popular crop these days, especially in January when there is very little local green product at the market.  In the fall, Ted continues to harvest Kale into the winter until the first big snowstorm.  He harvests the whole plant including the stock, since a heavy snow would rip the kale leaves off the stalk.  Ted packs the kale plants into apple bins, and keeps them in the barn in an above-grade room where they freeze.  One at a time he brings the bins into his barn basement, where it is above freezing, strips them and packs them into poly bags and sells them at market.

Purple and green kale in apple bins

Purple and green kale in apple bins

*From Wikipedia: Pythium is also known as water mould. Pythium-induced root rot is a common crop disease. When the organism kills newly emerged or emerging seedlings it is known as damping off, and is a very common problem in fields and greenhouses. This disease complex usually involves other pathogens such as Phytophthora and Rhizoctonia. Pythium wilt is caused by zoospore infection of older plants leading to biotrophic infections that become necrotrophic in response to colonization/reinfection pressures or environmental stress, leading to minor or severe wilting caused by impeded root functioning. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythium]

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The Dynamic Nature of Seeds

seed conference1

Dan Brisebois is explaining how he selects seed from greens with particular characteristics

This fall, I tried wrinkled crinkled cress for the first time.  It blew my socks off!  I am a lover of all kinds of greens, but currently this little cold-hardy cress with the cheerful name is my all-time favourite.  At this year’s Eastern Canadian Organic Seed Growers’ Network (ECOSGN) Conference in Montreal Nov 9-11, I had the good fortune to meet Frank Morton, who developed this fantastic little plant.  Frank, a commercial greens and seed grower in Oregon, saw it in his garden, thought it had potential, and saved it for seed.

According to Frank, who gave the keynote speech, “the process of seed adaptation is based on the plasticity of plant genomes.  Innovation and crop improvement is an inter-species interaction between crops and observant people.”  Frank is a very observant person.  The key to being a good seedsman, he says, is to know the crop really well by interacting with it all the time.  Through seeding, weeding, harvesting and selling it.  Frank now selects and breeds lettuce varieties, but only after years of selling salad mixes commercially.  He emphasized the “need to be a samurai of the plant and the location” so that you can distinguish between the traits inherent to the plant and traits inherent to environmental factors.  He believes that farmers have the potential to be excellent plant breeders because they are the samurais of the plants.

Many of the speakers at the conference went beyond ‘seed saving’ to seed selection and breeding.  Selection is important if you want to choose certain traits in a plant population.  For example, Frank saw some purple splotches on a lettuce he was growing, and saved the seed from that plant.  Eventually he had purple lettuce!  Selection is really fun when there is enough diversity within a population (or enough mutations) that we can help to nurture a new variety with traits that are useful or pleasing to us.  We can select for many traits, such as disease resistance, colour, yield, or taste.

Breeding, according to Frank, is “accelerated adaptation of seed to your system.”  It is a more deliberate process than just ‘saving’, where plants with specific traits are crossed, and then selected.  In his in-depth workshop, he reviewed different methods of breeding.  He reminded me of progeny row selection, a method I learned in 2002 from John Navazio.  It is a very exciting ‘shortcut’ Navazio developed to speed up the breeding process and easy enough for amateur breeders to get good results fast (10 years or so).  I will definitely be using this method for my own breeding projects.

I can tell that Frank is the sort of person who likes to push on the edges of what is possible.  He thinks we should be selecting for plants that are adapted to certain soil microbiological conditions.  He also thinks we should be breeding plants with better roots by selecting for number and length of root hairs.  He has discovered how to do selection for leaf colour and root characteristics at the seedling stage.  This is another shortcut because the seedlings with the most potential can be selected after only a few days, rather than waiting until they are mature.  He is also excited about selecting for plants that provide their own protection against pests and diseases.  Finally, he very strongly advocated for farmer-based plant breeding.  If breeding is in the hands of farmers, rather than chemical companies, agriculture as a whole would be much better.

I also took part in a workshop given by Loic Dewavrin, of Ferme Longpré.  I originally met Loic years ago at an ACORN conference.  He grows organic grain with his brothers and son in Quebec.  The first thing he emphasized is how important it is to build the soil.  They grow and save their own seed, and the money they save helps to pay for seed cleaning and grading equipment.  They have organized a farmer co-op to grow and select open pollinated corn seed.  They have been doing this participatory farmer-based breeding work for over 10 years.  I asked Loic about wheat selection and disease.  His answer was really fascinating.  A typical fungal wheat disease in Eastern Canada is fusarium.  He said that they tend not to get this disease on their farm because (a) they have a balanced soil; and (b) they don’t use herbicides.  Round-up, a herbicide made by Monsanto, tends to weaken plants, making them more susceptible to fusarium, he explained.

The conference was definitely an eye-opener for me.  I am impressed with the dynamic nature of seeds – how they can change in unpredictable and often helpful ways.  According to Rowan White, an Iroquois woman who works for Sierra Seeds and who gave a closing address, “Seeds are dynamic, people are dynamic, and the earth is dynamic.  We can’t keep it static.”  That is a good thing.dan with fan

Above: Dan Brisebois, one of the conference organizers, showing his two-fan-with-square-bucket method of seed separation.  Very simple and effective, but not expensive.seed 5 frank morton root

Above: Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds showing how we could be selecting seeds for root characteristics.seed 4 RW better

Above: Rowan White of Sierra Seeds Co-operative showing how corn cobs can be selected for all one colour from multicoloured cobs using mass selection. seed conference2potatoes

Above: David Greenberg talking with Patrice Fortier of La Société des Plantes about getting some furry-leaved potatoes that Colorado Potato Beetles don’t like. web-ebulletin-img-2012-seed-connections

Above: Jen with two Québec  seed savers scooping out squash seeds on Dan Brisebois farm Tourne Sol.

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Flame Weeding!

A DIY flame-weeder 8 times more efficient than the original design

A DIY flame-weeder 8 times more efficient than the original design

I was introduced to flame weeding years ago by Norbert Kungl, a well-known organic farmer in Nova Scotia.  At first I thought it was outrageous!  Now after seeing the reduction in weeds on my own farm, I am a big fan.  Anything that can save time and effort in the market garden is worth considering.

To understand this technique, you’ve really got to see it in action.  Below I’ve embedded a video showing a flame weeder from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and how it works.  This flame weeder is the original design where the flame comes out of a metal tube the size of my wrist. Flame weeding is most commonly used on hard-to-weed, direct seeded crops like carrots.  You walk along the row, flaming the crop about a week after planting .  TIMING IS EVERYTHING.  You want to do the flaming just before the carrots emerge so all the pesky weeds are eliminated and the carrots can come up in peace.  Ahhhh….

To see a 2 minute video of this process, go to http://www.johnnyseeds.com/p-6000-red-dragon-backpack-flame-weeder.aspx and go to the bottom of the page.

David learned about a smart home-made flamer design that Andrew Giberson of Chestnut Acres Farm invented.  Andrew shared the design with David during the break at a greenhouse conference.  Never underestimate the power of the break at a conference!

The flame weeder Andrew made uses a shop heater from Princes Auto called “Mr Heater”. They usually sell for $299 but Andrew (and then David) got one for $99 on clearance at the end of last winter.

It has a ceramic element that creates a flame area about 15 by 4 inches, so more weeding can get done in one pass.  It is mounted on a 20″ wheel and is held  about an inch above the soil. Best of all, the ceramic element is very efficient, allowing the operator to do 8 hours of flame weeding on one tank of propane.  The “Red Dragon” torch type uses up a tank in only one hour.  Around here, one tank of propane costs roughly $30.  At that price, each minute of flame weeding costs about 50 cents.  With the new model, each minute of flame weeding costs about o.06 cents.  Just think!  Flame weeding on market gardens would use 8 times less propane.

We hope to use our new flame weeder a lot this coming season.  We’ll keep you posted!

For more information, there is a very good article about flame weeding called Fire your Weeds in Growing for Market.

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Salt Marsh Hay

Salt marsh hay grows along the Cogmagun River’s edge bordering the farm.  This is a tidal river connected to the Bay of Fundy.  About 20 times per year, high tides flood the entire salt marsh, and a nice layer of nutrient-rich silt gets deposited.  Free nutrients!  This salt marsh hay grows year after year without added fertility from farmers.  We have learned from older farmers in the area, such as James Card and Phillip Nunn, that salt marsh hay was a valuable resource for feeding livestock.  It is a mineral-rich feed, and cows love it.  It is generally fed in combination with upland hay.

Dairy cow enjoying salt marsh hay.

Dairy cow enjoying salt marsh hay.

James Card showed me special flat wooden horse shoes used when horses went out on the marsh to haul in the marsh hay harvest.

The late James Card with special wooden horse shoes for the salt marsh.

The late James Card with special wooden horse shoes for the salt marsh.

We will use this hay for feeding cattle and sheep, but it is also a valuable weed-free source of mulch.  Anything that grows on the salt marsh must withstand flooding and salt.  These species will not grow in upland soil, so mulching with salt marsh hay is not a source of weed seeds the way upland hay is.  This makes it excellent for mulching crops like garlic, or perennials.

David loading salt marsh hay on to the trailer.

David loading salt marsh hay on to the trailer.

For many Nova Scotia farms, located along estuarine rivers and bays that flood at the highest tides, harvesting salt marsh hay is a way to bring nutrients on to the farm without depleting the marsh.

It is important to harvest the salt marsh hay after the birds have raised their young.  In particular, we know the Nelson’s Sharp-Tailed Sparrow (or Nelson’s Sparrow) nests in our marsh so we wait until late summer (after mid-July) before harvesting the hay.

Nelson's Sparrow

Nelson’s Sparrow

In the video posted below, please note that freshly harvested hay should not be stored in a barn until it is dry.

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Root Crop Washer

Isaac Villeneuve showing David how to build the root crop washer.

Isaac Villeneuve showing David how to build the root crop washer.

If a producer needs to wash hundreds of pounds of root crops in the fall, it can be time-consuming and frankly, discouraging.  For market-garden sized operations, a home-made barrel root crop washer is just the thing needed.  We saw one at Isaac Villeneuve’s farm in New Brunswick, and David later went back so Isaac could teach him how to build one.  It cost $600 to build from all new materials, and will likely provide many years of low maintenance service.

Root crop washer ready to go with water hose attached.

Root crop washer ready to go with water hose attached.

Dave Hastings of Waxwing Farm picking up the root washer in his neat little truck.

Dave Hastings of Waxwing Farm picking up the root washer in his neat little truck.

It sure saves time!  We’ve had a lot of interest in it and we are drawing up instructions with photos.  In the meantime, here is a video of the root crop washer in action with parsnips and potatoes.  It can also be used to wash carrots, beets, turnips, and any other firm roots.

Let us know your thoughts.

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Small Grain Harvest

Photo: Su Morin

Milk thistle seed we threshed and winnowed by hand at the workshop Nov 3. I still have to clean it.

I have wanted to grow and harvest small grains for years, but they present some fundamental challenges for the grower.  In this post I’ll discuss harvest challenges, leaving land preparation, seeding, and weed control for later .

Typically small grains are harvested in late summer or fall during dry weather.  In the Maritimes, it is hard to find a few days in a row when the weather is dry enough to harvest ripe grain.  Ideally, the soil would not be wet (which it usually is in late summer).  Heavy harvest equipment would compact poorly drained or wet soil.  Normally small grains are harvested with a combine.  A combine is a very large machine that cuts the grain, threshes it, and winnows it.  A phenomenal invention!  But to buy one is prohibitively expensive for a small farmer.  The other option is to hire a custom combine operator to come to the farm and harvest your crop.  Sometimes this works, but it is heartbreaking to have a beautiful field of ripe grain and good weather to harvest it, but no custom combine available at the time you need it.   There is such a narrow window of time for harvest, and everyone needs the combine at the same time.

Harvesting oats

What is a practical, low-cost way to harvest a small field of oats or barley or wheat?  It can be cut with a scythe or a sickle-bar mower, and windrowed in the field.  Or it could be gathered in bunches, tied, and stooked in the field.  If it looks like it is going to rain, it could be brought in to a barn and spread out on the floor, or the stooks could be brought into the barn to finish drying.  Bringing the whole plant into the barn allows more flexibility in terms of threshing time, but it also takes a lot of room.

Sickle-bar mower on a BCS walk-behind tractor

A portable thresher can be shared among farms.  It can be set up on dry days to thresh grain.  Since the grain is inside, sharing is easier and more practical than sharing a combine.  Heliotrust has ordered a portable thresher from the Netherlands for this purpose.  Please get in touch if you would like to use it.

We have also used a small ‘plot thresher’ for small batches of grain.  It knocks the grain from the head by beating it.  The grain then needs to be separated from the chaff either by winnowing or putting it through a grain cleaner.  I have used winnowing a lot!  For small batches, it is kind of fun and beautiful on a nice breezy day.  I pour the grain/chaff mixture from one container to another on the ground, and let the wind take any lighter bits away as the heavier grain falls into the container on the ground.  It has to happen several times to do a good job.  For larger batches of grain, a grain cleaner or fanning mill can be used.  It is quite common to see these in old barns.  Screens with different sized openings are used to separate grain from chaff or grain from weed seed.

Selecting seed to save

The act of harvesting grain grown on your farm is a form of seed selection.  You are by default selecting seed from plants that grow to maturity in your location, and with your growing conditions.  However, we can take this selection process one step further by grading the harvested seed.  This is the process of cleaning seed using screens that allow only the large seeds through.  By selecting the large, plump, healthy seeds, we are improving the crop’s health and vitality over time.  Seeds that have been affected by disease are often shriveled or smaller, so taking them out of the grain you save for seed is an important step to increasing the crop’s disease resistance.  This question was floated at the workshop and I didn’t answer it fully.  So I felt a responsibility to write about it here.

Spring Galician seed. Looking up close we see seed of different sizes and shapes. This seed still needs to be cleaned and graded.

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Small Grain Gathering

Compared with vegetables, growing small grains organically is challenging.  It is tricky to control weeds.  As well, planting and harvesting generally happen at wet times of the year (April/May and September) which can lead to soil compaction and damage if using heavy equipment.  If you don’t have a combine, the grain has to be harvested, threshed, and winnowed.  Sometimes it has to be dried, and then stored.  To save seed for planting the following year, the grain has to be cleaned and graded.  How do you do all that on a small scale?

Small table-top thresher

A group of people got together at Abundant Acres to share ideas and look at small-scale grain techniques.  I will update soon with more content, but for now, here are a few photos from the day.  If anyone else has photos from the day, feel free to email them to me, and I’ll post them.

Galician Spring wheat

Grain cleaning demo

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Natural Beekeeping

Stephen Livingstone wrote the article Natural Beekeeping in Rural Delivery (January/February).  In it he describes taking over a beekeeping operation with his young son Calvin.  It is an astounding story of taking over one hive from an old operation.  There used to be 20 hives, and by the time Stephen got to it, there was only one hive left. He was determined to raise bees without using any miticides for the Varroa mite which is so common.  He describes how he saw Varroa mites in the hive, but he did not use anything to control them.  Somehow the bees got through the winter, and eventually went on to multiply, and thrive.  Stephen and Calvin now have a large bee colony that appears to be resistant to the the Varroa mite.

That is a simplified version of the story, which has more details about all the management practices they used.  I highly recommend reading the article and also visiting the website that inspired Stephen: The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush.

This method of beekeeping is so much like the Horizontal Resistance Selection that we use to select wheat and potato seeds for ecological production (see posts on wheat and potatoes).  We allow a crop to be exposed to disease, and select seeds from the population that remains.  This resulting population, after a few years of exposure and selection, develops horizontal resistance to whatever disease they were exposed to.  This is a simplified description of the process.  Ultimately it makes sense, just like natural beekeeping.

By using ‘protectants’ like fungicides or miticides, we are selecting for bees or crops that have little resistance to whatever threat comes along.  Of course this makes us more dependent on those protectants.  I am keen to learn more about Natural Beekeeping and continue the work of selecting crops that are resistant to disease.  Feel free to comment on this post if you are also working along the same lines.

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Grain Seed Workshop Nov 3

The Eastern Canadian Organic Seed Growers Network and Seeds of Diversity Canada are proud to present a Grain Seed Workshop Sat Nov 3

Learn how to grow, harvest and select grain seed. Join David and Jen Greenberg for a hands-on workshop featuring threshing techniques, discussion of seed selection, and sharing of experience growing small grains.

Location: Abundant Acres Farm
182 Red Bank Rd.
Centre Burlington, NS

Please call Su Morin at 902-251-2959 to register as space is limited.
FREE Workshop made possible through funding from the NS Dept. of Agriculture, USC Canada, and Heliotrust.

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