Tag Archives: fruits and vegetables

Snow Is A Good Thing

Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 by Erin M

As Canadians, we are good at many things – but one of the things we’re best at is talking about the weather. Especially our dislike of the weather. It always seems to be able to be too hot, too cold, too wet, too something. This is always extremely evident once we start getting snow and it’s been on the ground for a while. It’s wet, it’s cold and if you’re not tobogganing, skiing or snowshoeing – most tend to find it more bothersome than exciting.

Unless of course, you’re a farmer.

If you’re a farmer like us? We love snow. Love love love it. 

For one? Snow has great insulating properties. It covers up perennial plants like strawberries and keeps them from being damaged by the cold weather, or short term changes we see between the warmth and the cold. It allows them to have a better winter, stay healthier and produce a better crop the following season. Every year we put strawberries “to bed” by covering them up with a layer of straw to help them survive the harsh Canadian winters filled with cold and wind. The plants are much healthier when this layer of straw is covered with healthy layer of snow. (And it’s the straw that helps collect the snow to keep on top of the plants!)  Years where there is little or no snow cover often means that the plants and the fruit will struggle to produce the next spring and summer because they exerted so much energy trying to survive the winter and build themselves back up into healthy plants once spring arrives. If there is not enough straw or snow cover, the crowns of the plants can be damaged both temporarily or permanently.  

 

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Spreading straw, trying to get it done before there’s too much snow cover!

 

Snow is also great for farmers because it adds moisture to the soil. As farmers, we rely a lot on mother nature to give us enough water in the soil to grow our crops. If there has been a lot of snow over the winter, then when that snow melts, the excess water will drain into the fields and add moisture to the ground. Starting off a season with a healthy amount of water in the soil means that plants and trees are better able to grow the next summer. For us on our farm, it also usually amounts to being able to harvest a better maple syrup crop, because the trees have more water that they are able to turn into sap.

And one of the biggest reasons we love snow though?  It gives us a little time to slow down, catch up on work, catch up with family, and possibly even get in a small vacation or two.

 

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                                                                         Vacations various family members have been able to take over the years in our off season!               

 

…When we’re lucky!   

Berry Beginnings

Posted on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 by Erin M

How to plant strawberries (No words! Just video! And an awesome song! Okay fine. A few words..but hardly any!) :

How to plant strawberries – the detailed version (No cool music…BUT…with cool words and stuff!) : 

Step One: Figure out your field plans and make sure your soil is healthy. These are done depending on what was planted where in previous years, in addition to soil samples/soil health, crop rotations and various other factors. We typically leave four years in between planting strawberries in the same fields because that’s what our crop rotation and arable land allows..but five years would be even better. We only keep the plants in the ground three years – one of which there is no production of fruit. Field plans should be done YEARS in advance of the planting year to ensure that the soil is healthy, rich and the plants will have the best chance at thriving. Different crops leech or add different nutrients from the soil so it’s important to keep track of what is planted both before and after strawberries to keep the soil healthiest and plan accordingly so that your soil has what it needs to grow what you’re planting in it. 

Step Two: Order your plantsDuring the winter we’ll order thousands of strawberry plants from a couple of different strawberry propagators (people who start plants from runners or cuttings)  in Canada. What we order will depend on how many fields we need to plant, what varieties we’re looking to grow and which berries are best suited for our soil, weather conditions, as well as other factors. 

Step Three: Get the fields ready. This is done as soon as the fields begin to dry up enough for the tractors to move around on them easily, and the guys are able to work up the fields and make sure that the soil is broken down and loose so it can be easily planted. We go over it at least a few different times…making sure that it’s worked up and ready to be planted with young new plants.

Step Four: Pick rocks. Rocks are going to be a huge pain if you try to plant with them in there – we pick rocks at least a few times before we start planting as well as after we plant!

Step Five: Monitor the weather. We can’t plant when it’s still really cold out because the small plants can be damaged easily in cold weather…but you don’t want to wait too long either. You ideally want to plant when the weather gets warm, on days that aren’t too warm so that the plants roots aren’t exposed to the sun too long as well as when there is a minimal risk of frost and cold temperatures at night.

Step Six: PLANT PLANT PLANT! We use a planter to help speed up the planting process because we’re planting thousands and thousands of plants each spring. To use our planter effectively we need seven people working in constant harmony. One to drive the tractor making straight rows, four to sit on the back of the planter placing plants into the feeders as they go ground and are placed into the ground and covered up by dirt and two to follow the planter – one for each row that is being planted to ensure that the plants are properly covered with soil and that no plants were missed or fell out.  For us, this process takes days, up to a week to get all of the plants we want to grow into the ground. On a good day where nothing breaks down, is damaged or we don’t run into other typical planting problems we can plant up to 35 000 plants in a (very long!) day of planting. On average though, we usually plant around 20 000-25 000 plants in a day.

Step Seven: Give ’em a drink! As the plants are fed into the ground they’re given a brief watering from the planter because they’ve been without water for so long, but after we’re done planting for the day we still have to set up irrigation pipes in order to give them a good long drink that they haven’t had in a while so that they can soak their roots into the soil and perk up their leaves to a nice healthy green!

…And that’s how it’s done.

Well. The strawberry *planting* anyway.

Those are just the steps to get them into the ground safe and sound. We’ve still got more than another year of work ahead of us before these plants can and will produce any fruit.

Yep. You read that right. More than twelve whole months and LOTS of more hard work before the first sweet and juicy berries are ready…but that’s another story for another time!

Winter Harvest

Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 by Erin M

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If you’ve visited a grocery store lately, you’re probably well aware that there aren’t a lot of things for sale in the produce section that are ‘Product of Ontario’ this time of year. If you’re lucky you’ll find a few Ontario apples from last fall, though after last year’s spring frost that badly damaged a large percent of Ontario’s apple crop they’ve been harder to find this winter. Otherwise you might be able to scoop some of last year’s garlic harvest or some greenhouse tomatoes or cucumbers. On the whole this time of year though most of the produce that we as Canadians have access to during the winter months is from far and wide across the globe. 

Just because your local fruit and vegetable farmer isn’t necessarily milking cows, collecting eggs or feeding animals day and night doesn’t mean we get to slack off in the winter though – there’s still lots to do on the farm even when we’re not growing delicious fruits and vegetables!

Here are just few of the things we’ve gotten done in our “down time” this winter while we weren’t growing on our farm:

*Cleaning – Winter is a time when we’re able to give things a big thorough going over. From cleaning and organizing workshops, scrubbing ovens in the markets and washing walls and much more – we have time in our off season to be able to check all sorts of cleaning and organizing jobs off our to-do list. Making improvements around the farm to buildings, roads and cleaning up inside and outside all need to be done to keep the farm in tip top shape! 

*Fixing machinery – The guys took apart (and luckily put back together!) tractors and anything else that wasn’t running *just* right. They needed to repair, replace and make sure they’re running smoothly for when we need them the rest of the year.

*Accounting – Definitely not a favourite job on the farm..but to help us farm better we keep full records of what we grew and what we sold so we have a better idea of what we need to grow the next year – plus – we have to submit our taxes (we have to do those too!) sooner rather than later so we can get it out of the way and move on to what we’re really interested in – farming!

*Paperwork – Another low key task that takes up more time than you would believe. From updating staff manuals and training tools to creating new brochures, ensuring we’re up to date with necessary government postings and everything in between – we could probably fill up an entire winter just with catching up on paperwork!

*Planning ahead – We do lots of planning during the winter…from debriefing and talking about our festivals and events, talking about changes we want to make and new ideas we have for the farm – we’re always making lists and plans of things we want to do for the day, the week, the year and beyond.

*More planning – After looking at our records, our field rotations, and figuring out where we’re going to plant what next in future years (yep – we always have to be looking at LEAST a few years ahead!) we can finally order our seeds, containers and any other farming equipment or supplies we might need for the spring, summer and fall. 

*Building things – I’m finally getting new display cupboards in our farm market!!! After ten years of asking for this to be a winter project…I’m so excited that it finally made its way up the winter list and got accomplished! 

*Making syrup – We make lots of maple syrup every spring so this takes up a large portion of our time…from tapping the bush, to boiling the sap and bottling the syrup…and of course our MapleFest – there’s lots for everyone to do!

*Growing as farmers – Every year we attend various conferences throughout Ontario to talk and network with other farmers, learn from experts in the field and learn about everything from new technologies, nematodes or new ways to use marketing – all things we can learn to help make our farm the best it can be! We also attend lots of different meetings, AGM’s, community groups and workshops to learn how our farm can contribute back to the community, events and organizations around us.

Even though it may not seem like it…there’s lots to do on a fruit and vegetable farm when it’s too cold outside to actually grow anything. There is ALWAYS lots to do – and this is only a small portion of the things we’ve been able to get done this winter – our own version of a winter harvest! As always we’ve been super busy getting ready for another summer season…so busy in fact that I think I need a nap just thinking about it. Except that it’s spring – which means that the farm is ACTUALLY getting busy and there is even MORE work to do now!

Next up…planting, picking and preparing – oh my!