Woodlot Assessment

Yesterday Stephen Cole came by to assess the farm woodlot.  He will create a map and provide management recommendations.  We talked about all the different products that come out of the woodlot, including firewood; poles for building projects; herbs like cherry bark skullcap, and witch hazel; and mushrooms.  Just then, we passed an old poplar tree that was loaded with beautiful, fresh oyster mushrooms.  I was surprised because it has been so dry lately.  I brought some home and cooked them up for supper.  They were delicious!

Back to my original point.  This farm has to be monitored by an independent third party to ensure the Conservation Easement is upheld.  Stephen is doing the woodlot part of the monitoring job.  I will attach his report to this post when I get it.

Stephen Cole with aerial photos and survey map.


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Potato Update

Potatoes are a big crop in the Maritimes.  Most of us eat them.  Our question is how to grow them organically and economically on a small scale.  Here is an update from the potato patch.

We planted potatoes in April, and David has been hilling them with a  two-wheeled tractor.  Hilling helps to control weeds, and keeps a good amount of soil over the tubers.  After hilling, he and Bruce mulched them with old hay.  A farmer we co-operate with had some waste hay he brought us.  Waste hay may not be good for feeding livestock, but it represents a lot of organic matter.  Mulching with it does two things: adds organic matter to the soil and moderates conditions for the potatoes.  The mulch moderates or evens out temperature and moisture, which helps them grow better.  Apparently moderating moisture also reduces the amount that pests are attracted to the plant.  This is something I heard Eliot Coleman say years ago.  Do other people have observations that support his statement??  

The 200 potato seedlings we planted from Raoul Robinson’s seed are now out in the field.  They look very small!  From this planting we will look for plants with disease resistance.  We’re crossing our fingers.

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Mobile Chicken Coop

We are so happy with our new mobile chicken coop for laying hens.  For 20 years we have built mobile coops for chicks, for hens, for meat birds.  Nothing worked really well.  Finally, this particular design works.  The chickens are in a coop that is pretty easy to move, even with 40 hens and a rooster in it.  The birds are safe from predators.  They have a space to lay eggs that I can reach easily to collect them twice a day.  The coop itself provides shade in the middle of the day.  I put the feeder in the coop with them at night and take it out in the day.  We also hooked a bucket to the automatic waterer.

Movable coops are important so hens can access good, fresh pasture every day.  They eat grass, clover, weeds and bugs –and only a small amount of whole grain.  This reduces the grain that needs to be purchased from off-farm to feed the birds.  It is a more self-reliant, farm-based system.  Also, grass-fed chicken and hens eggs are better for you, according to an article in Mother Earth News.  Compared with conventional eggs, a study in Oregon shows eggs from free-range hens have 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene. 

In the evening when the hens go in the coop, they roost in the rafters.  That was an unintentional benefit of the design.

The coop was made with re-used materials.  We dismantled a small boat house at our friend Tammy Campanis’ place.  This provided the wood for the framework.  The siding is made with used russian packing crate material we got from a salvage yard.  This is strong, but light.  It is like extra big corrugated cardboard, but made with plastic.  We bought a pile of it for $10 at Rhodenizer’s salvage yard on the North Mountain.  Weavexx (from the Annapolis Valley) is a very strong woven material that was given away for free for a period of time.  It was used for hinges so we can open the hatch for eggs, and open the back ramp to let the hens out.  Used green plastic (also from Rhodenizer’s) was used to reinforce the roof peak and for waterproofing the seams.  Old architecture wire, left at the farm when we moved here, was used for the floor of the coop.  Scrap metal was used for the axle, steadying bar, and handle.  My friend Jen Ford allowed us to use the wheels from her old bike.

We tested the coop last fall in a new garden area.  The chickens descended the ramp and had a ball scratching around in the new soil.  We put up an electronet fence around the coop to keep them from wandering too far and to protect the birds from predators.  This spring, we put the hens on pasture, using the same system.  They go out every morning and immediately gobble up all the slugs on the blades of grass before they start scratching and pecking around the pasture.  We move the coop and the fence every morning before they go out.

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Benefits of landscape fabric

Marc, from Just Us Coffee’s demonstration garden in Grand Pré just dropped by to get some landscape fabric. He and Amy Lounder are setting up a comparison of weed control with and without landscape fabric in onions and strawberries.  We can hardly wait to see the results.  Amy has farmed here at Abundant Acres for the past two years and has observed our use of landscape fabric for weed control.  It is useful for high-value, heat-loving crops like tomatoes, sweet potatoes, or melons, but it can also be used for crops like squash or brassicas.  In the photo below, we were experimenting with planting many different crops into landscape fabric on raised beds.It reduces the need for tillage.  Soil life (earthworms and ground beetles) really appreciate it.  We also like it for season extension because the black fabric warms the soil in the spring and fall when ambient temperatures are lower.  I also like it because it allows rain to penetrate to crop roots, but also prevents evaporation of precious moisture when it is dry.  We apply landscape fabric over raised beds, cut holes, and plant transplants in the holes.  The raised beds and black fabric help soil warm up and dry out a bit in spring.  When there is too much rain (like last spring), it helped our garden produce crops early despite mucky conditions everywhere else.  So it is helpful when it is too wet, too dry, or too cold.  Landscape fabric lasts at least 15 years and if you take care of it, likely much longer.

I introduced myself to Marc, and I said “you are very tall.”  His response was, “yes I am.”

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Before the rain

Before the rain started, on May 8, the crew here at the farm was rushing to get a lot planted and set up.  Charlotte Harper and her crew came by to learn more about the details of setting up hoop houses and landscape fabric while David, Bruce, Charles, and Dylan were moving hoop houses off early spring crops and into position for summer crops (like tomatoes, peppers, melons, and ginger).  Two hoop houses were moved.  We will post a video soon.  Dr David Patriquin and his friend Kerr came by to check out spring ephemerals.  There weren’t any.  Too dry.  They checked out the ‘Iron Horse’ David and his friend Wally are working on (in the background of photo).  They think the first prototype will be ready just in time for hilling potatoes, brassicas, and carrots.  Stay tuned!  It seems that Kerr taught applied math and physics courses in Montreal.  He grew up in Parsborro, a forest, farm, and fishing community across the Bay from here.  He said his students were not very good at applying the math and physics concepts unless they’d used them from childhood in their work on farm, forest, and sea.

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The great spud adventure, of course, begins in Prince Edward Island.  We met with Raymond Loo, who gave us a fantastic history of his family’s potato breeding and selection efforts.  He took us into his potato warehouse to show us his family’s Island Sunshine, and Island Sunset potatoes.  They were selected to be resistant to late blight.  I’ve grown them and love them.  They are the result of real farmer-breeding efforts.

Raymond Loo

Heliotrust wants to support and work with Raymond to keep this amazing effort going.  Soon we will post more detailed information about his family’s potato breeding work.  For now, here are a few photos showing what we’ve been up to.

Raymond and David Greenberg, April 11

Raoul Robinson in Guelph Ontario, author of Return to Resistance, sent us some potato seed.  Not the cut up tubers most people plant (which are clones of their parents), but real seed from potato flowers.  Raoul managed to breed disease resistant potatoes, still being grown in Kenya.  They have an enduring resistance.

The potato seed he sent us is tiny, and just the other day Kate and David transplanted the teeny, delicate seedlings.

Teeny spud plants from Raoul Robinson's seeds. There is a stray celeriac in there too. Don't let it fool you.

David and Kate planting the delicate seedlings April 23

In his letter, Raoul writes: “The idea is to plant as many as you can handle, preferably in the thousands, rather than the hundreds.  Blight and beetle will eventually kill off most of them, which is exactly what you want.  Let the parasites do your selection work for you.  The surviving plants will produce 2-5 pea-sized tubers each, and possibly one golf-ball sized tuber; this is the nature of potatoes grown from true seed.  But you will have enough material to propagate your new clones, which can become the parents of the next breeding cycle.”  Our goal is to introduce plenty of diversity, and then select for disease resistance.  Fun, eh?  This will take several years.  But as Raoul said, we may ‘strike gold’ sooner than that.

Raymond gave us a few potatoes to start with: Island Sunset on the left, and Island Sunshine on the right.  He also suggested we try a variety called Bluebell that is very disease resistant, but it turns grey when you cook it.

Island Sunset on the left, Island Sunshine on the right.

The trick is to select a potato that has good disease resistance, pest resistance, and also tastes great.  Not a simple task.

On April 21, just before the rains started, we planted some potato clones in the field.  Jeff and Gabe came up to the farm and were keen to help out.  Thanks guys!

Jeff and Gabe

Jeff, Gabe, and David. Can you tell it is just about to rain?

This is chieftain, my favourite variety at the moment, up close. So beautiful!

Banana fingerling

Potato tubers ready to be planted April 21

Jeff Torbert planting spuds

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More Modified Hanley Hoop Houses in New Brunswick

The modified version of Hanley Hoop Houses have been installed at another farm in New Brunswick (see http://davesproducepacks.com).  This farm has 330 customers directly connected with it through weekly produce pack deliveries.  Dave Wolpin and his right-hand-man, Alex Eaton, have also been adopting other season extension techniques.  Here are some photos from last week.

The landscape fabric is laid on top of beds to warm the soil, conserve moisture, discourage weeds, and allow for earlier (and later) plantings.  This fabric lasts at least 15 years, and is attached with ‘sod staples’.  

The beds were formed with a tractor, a real labour-saver.  This photo shows the Andrew-made bed-former at farm HQ in Hampton NB.

This hoop house was being installed on top of landscape fabric, April 19.  This is the third one they put up on the farm.

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Early grain

Yesterday we planted out the spring grain trial.  April 18 is mighty early so I am happy and I hope the seeds are too.  It is unusually dry and warm this spring.  Last spring was unusually wet and cool.  Normally we can’t get spring wheat planted until May.  

We planted Red Fife, Galician spring (the grandmother of Red Fife, from Eli Rogosa), Hulless purple barley (from Michelle Smith in Cape Breton),  and AC Barrie (a reference bread wheat most people are growing these days).  These will be evaluated for disease resistance and we will try some crosses.  In the fall, we will plant Red Fife again, as well as a number of packets of winter wheat collected by Eli Rogosa (http://growseed.org/catalogue1.pdf) such as Rouge de Bordeau, Einkorn, Poltavka, Canaan, Rogosa, Emmer, Banatka, Red Lammas, and Ethiopian Purple.  Eli describes Canaan Rouge as “intelligent”, and  Poltavka as “sexy”, and Rouge de Bordeau as resistant to fusarium.  I couldn’t resist! We will make observations on winter hardiness and growth form.  At this point, we are observing, and the real trials and crossing will start next year with more seed.

Purple hulless barley. I'm wondering about the little white nubs... Does that indicate they've pre sprouted?

We invite any growers to get in touch if you are interested in participating in wheat evaluations with us.

I was extremely pleased with the Jang seeder.  It is heavy, but not too heavy, and very precise.  In the late 90s I used either an Earthway seeder, which is too light and flimsy, or a big seed drill pulled behind a tractor.  The drill requires huge amounts of seed and is not practical for preliminary evaluations with small amounts of seed.  The Jang seeder is perfect for handfuls of seed.  Each seed goes exactly where it needs to go.

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Hoop House, Final Touches

After the windy workshop day April 7, we had a snowstorm, and then on April 9 David and Bruce went out to finish the job.  They had to tighten the plastic and ropes on a non-windy day.  They set up irrigation, then planted.  Here are a few photos to show the details.  We’d love to hear from anyone else about season extension and hoop house adventures.

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Hoop House Workshop April 7

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