We have been blessed with good weather last week then some rain to water in crops and more good weather this week. We are probably about 1 week behind average but still a week ahead of last year at this time. Many parts of the Maritimes are considerably farther behind due to all the snow they received. A farming family visited from Amherst, NS a couple days ago and estimated we are about 2 weeks ahead of where they are - very unusual indeed.
Young broccoli and cauliflower transplants freshly planted.
We are also doing trials with different types of mulches and different colors. The biodegradable mulches may not be allowed for organic growing in the future so we need to work on alternatives.
I mentioned in a January blog post that we were looking into getting some extra farm help this year. We were able to get 3 Jamaican workers to help supplement our Canadian crew this summer. It is considerably more expensive to hire them than to hire Canadians, but they live here in a home by the farm and are available whenever we need them. They also are used to working in the hot sun so we hope they will help provide stability and help us get the work done on time. They are doing well but I think the cold mornings have been quite a culture shock for them.
Sign ups are going very well this year and if they continue at the current rate our maximum number of boxes will be filled before the season starts for the first time since buying the farm! This is very helpful for cash flow and planning purposes.
We have seen a surge in sign ups since the last post! We'd like to thank all the many customers who have signed up - both those returning and the new ones. In light of this we plan to keep our original target of 300 summer box customers. We are almost half way to this goal.
Swiss Chard is coming up well on the right. Starting it early like this gives us greens earlier in the summer and allows us to plant it on mulch greatly reducing the weed growth.
Our greenhouse is filling up quickly and plants are looking great. Tomatoes are planted up into 4" pots and many of the cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Broccoli and Cauliflower are seeded for the season. Onions, Shallots and Leeks are doing well and even celery root is looking it's best ever.
There are signs of spring outside too. Though there is mud and water everywhere, we hope new life and green growth are just around the corner.
The cows know where to go to find a dry warm spot in the sun.
Pigs know where to go too - at least someone enjoys the mud!
It finally feels like spring is on the way. We have lots of things started in the greenhouse as you can see in this photo. Things are looking good for this year and we have more land than ever available to us to grow lots of veggies. It also appears that the strawberries overwintered well so we look forward to a much better strawberry crop using our new system.
Our sign ups are down compared to the same time last year. We are not sure if this is due to the discouragement people feel from the hard winter, or if they are still trying to catch up on those extra heat bills. Is it because we had to raise our prices slightly due to our costs going up including the higher minimum wage? We know many in our province are affected by the reduction of jobs in Alberta. Perhaps this is having an impact on our sign ups. Maybe people are simply waiting until the snow goes and they feel the spring coming....
Here is a little video that I hope will help lift people's spirits with pictures of summer.
Whatever the reason, we need to know who is planning to sign up again this year because if we have fewer customers, we need to plant fewer crops so nothing goes to waste. On the other hand, if we cut back and then people want to join later, there may not be enough crops to go around. We are asking everyone who would like to join our summer program to sign up soon so we can plan effectively. You do not have to pay until June, but we do ask that you sign up. If you don't want to sign up again, we would really appreciate hearing a few words about why so we can look at ways to improve our service and meet the needs of our customers in the best way possible.
As I mentioned above, we are dealing with cost increases from all angles including increased minimum wage. We do not like to raise prices, so our primary focus this year is on how to produce the vegetables more efficiently and save everywhere we can. At the same time, we have had to increase prices a little and hope that all our customers will understand and continue to support fresh, local, organic, food.
Onions are some of the first green transplants. They take a lot of work but they can store all winter making them a good crop for both summer and winter boxes. They don't compete well with weeds though, so we spent many hours weeding last year and still the weeds got ahead of us. We plan to use a biodegradable mulch or plastic film this year to help cut labour costs and improve the quality overall. This is just one of the many ways we are working to improve our systems and reduce expenses.
We are excited to see things coming together for a great season. We thank our many customers for their past support and look forward to seeing you again this year.
February 28 is the day that has been designated as the "International CSA Sign Up day". We often refer to our program as a veggie box program, but this is a type of CSA program. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and box programs are just one of many ways that CSA's operate.
Many farms have had to go huge (often incurring lots of debt) in order to support just one family because so much of the price you pay at the grocery store or supermarket goes to the middle men and not the farmer. The CSA movement started about 25 years ago as a way to help support the farmer and get fresher higher quality food to the customer for a similar price to what the consumer would pay at the store.
This concept has helped us and many other new farmers to be able to start farming and provide a living for our family. It has also provided a convenient way for many of you to be able to get quality, organic, fresh veggies and incorporate more healthy eating into your diets. CSA farms sell in a variety of ways from giving a tab at a market, to box or bag programs like ours, to "all you can eat" programs but they all incorporate the concept that the customer makes a commitment to buy and the farmer makes a commitment to grow for them - a win win for everyone involved.
In spite of the cold winter weather (breaking lots of records from what I hear) we will be seeding tomatoes and leeks in the next few days in faith that spring will come again! Our main focus for 2015 is to increase efficiency so that we keep our costs in line in spite of rising prices on almost everything we buy and the increase in minimum wage.
We would like to ask you to share this information with anyone you think might be interested in signing up. Although we have many repeat customers, we also need new customers every year because we lose some due to moving to other parts of the country and a variety of other unavoidable reasons. Actually if you are moving or have moved and want to find a similar program in another part of the country we can often help you find another farm.
We get many comments all through the season. Here are a few we'd like to share with you:
"It is like getting a Christmas box every week!"
"Our kids look forward to the veggies and seeing what is coming each week!"
"I really enjoy the opportunity to learn about and cook with new vegetables that I would not have otherwise bought but have found are really good!"
"I enjoy the challenge of eating everything in my box every week!"
"You have made my family healthy!"
"My kids will eat veggies now when they would not before!"
It is not uncommon to have a parent who says "I never get to eat the cherry tomatoes because the kids eat them all before I get home!"
"Your carrots are amazing!"
We have joined the ACORN CSA Network where you can see an interactive map with many of our pick up locations plus those of other farms around the Maritimes. There is lots more information including information on our meat boxes right here on our website or you can contact us from the information in the Contact Us page.
In spite of the fact that is cold here this morning as I get the fire going and I will have to go out and tend the livestock in a very cold barn, spring has to be coming and we are really looking forward to it! As we plan the crops and start seeding, we ask that you plan ahead too and go to our Sign Up page to secure your spot so we can make sure all these veggies have good homes.
This is our last week of winter boxes for the season. We are almost sold out of everything from last year's crop though we still have lots of meat plus salad mix and spinach growing in the greenhouse. We will continue to have eggs through the spring season as well.
It is hard to believe that we need to seed tomatoes and leeks this weekend with onions and peppers to follow soon after. We barely finish one season and it is time to start the next! We are looking forward to the change of pace and not having to pack boxes for a few weeks.
Our spinach has done really well in the greenhouse this winter. The salad mix is easier to harvest but the spinach grows back more quickly and people seem to prefer it over the salad mix. You have to say though, both are pretty special for this time of year!
It is our first winter of keeping pigs and we are looking forward to our first litters of piglets this spring. Although pigs do not have thick coats like cows or horses, they have a fat layer to keep them warm and they make hay nests too.
The pigs have continued to do well with the cows. The cows like to eat the hay from their nest so a strand of electric fence put higher than the pig's backs allows them to get out of the main cow pen to their own spot while giving them freedom to go outside and get exercise when they want it. If it is really cold out the pigs will almost completely bury themselves in the hay. I've been worried with all this cold, but they seem to be able to handle it remarkably well. We give them extra feed on cold days to make sure they have all the energy they need to keep warm.