Saturday, November 21, 2009

Seed Packing and the New Name

The harvest is in, the seeds are dried and sorted and tallied, now it's just a matter of filling as many packets as I can before the 2010 catalogue is released! For the last week my main activity has been filling packets, as boring as that might sound it's actually very exciting work (for me) thinking about the huge potential of these seeds and the many gardens they will sow all over the world. This is the debut of my 2010 packet design, I was working with a local printer (Integrity Printing of Bridgetown) to design a slightly snazzier packet, I'm pretty pleased with the result:

I should also announce that I've decided to shorten the name slightly from Annapolis Valley Heritage Seeds to simply Annapolis Seeds, it's less of a mouthful and just seems...better. I'm in the process of completing the 2010 catalogue, and the plan is to update the website later this month. So far I have 140 varieties lined up for the online catalogue, with more coming soon from my only other seed grower Windhorse Farm. That's about double the selection over last year's catalogue, with way more in stock. Overall I have at least six or seven times last year's seed stock, I hope there's enough of the popular varieties to go around this year.

Also check out the Nov.-Dec. issue of Small Farm Canada (the seed issue), Emily McGiffin did a great write-up of what I'm doing that has already generated a lot of buzz.

So keep an eye on the website for updates!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Three Hundred and Fifty!

As the International Day of Climate Action (350 day) swept over the globe in a wave of demonstrations (and hopefully longer-lasting shared sentiments), I made my small contribution to the cause. Despite the driving rain, Colin and I headed out to mow our "official" 350 in the clover of the upper field. It's actually a bit smaller than the old one, the small clover patch was the only good display medium left on the farm, not like the bountiful bouquet of grasses covering many acres that I could pick from in the Summer.

There were demonstrations in Wolfville, Halifax, Ottawa (where protesters disrupted the House of Commons) and all over the world, now lets turn this sentiment into positive action to actually change things! We need to demand that the world's powers that be place our life-giving planet at the top of their priorities, where it should be. At the same time we can't continue taking, taking, taking while wanting government to do things for us, this is a problem created by 6,000,000,000+ people, or more accurately a small percentage of those taking far more than their share. The government is (or should be) a reflection of the people and if the people are complacent consumers, or worse yet, actively wallowing in the vast (and very temporary) material wealth created by exploiting millions of years of fossil sunlight, we're going to have similarly minded leaders in charge pushing for more of the same and denying that there's even a problem (look no further than our current government). Sure, the government has the power to regulate industry (and it will have to if there's going to be change) but we forget that we as individuals are largely responsible for that industry and many of the Earth's problems as whole by buying their products and amassing far more "stuff" than we really need. WE are the ones most responsible and we also hold the most power to produce positive change!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A big update on a wet 350 Day

Apologies for the lack of posts lately, although there isn't much exciting news coming from the garden this time of year there are still lots of projects on the go. Now that the harvest is all in I've been tallying the crop and writing the 2010 seed catalogue, I hope to have it up on the website in November. I have about 5 times last year's quantities and twice the number of varieties available (with many more grown in small amounts on track for the 2011 catalogue).

Aside from the seed work I'm beginning to focus once again on the forest, I'm working to remove the conifer seedlings from a two acre logged area so to encourage the growth of mixed hardwoods in this patch. The plan is to manage the hardwoods as a coppice, that is cut on a regular and continueous cycle of harvesting and regrowth. The trees send out many new shoots from the stump and when cut as 10 or 15 year old poles they aren't injured. Indeed they can have their life spans greatly increased, basically by being kept in a state of continueous youth. What's most appealing to me is that it's a style of forestry totally human scaled, the trees are cut at a size where they're managable without any machinery, all that's needed for harvesting and working are a few basic hand tools (billhook, machete, axe, bow saw, froe...). This regular cutting creates an interesting symbiosis between the coppice ecosystem and humans. I sometimes think of it as similar to mowing a wild meadow of grasses and wildflowers, both the coppice and the meadow can be cut in a human scaled and sensitive way to provide for us without damaging the ecology of the site.

I also want to mention the new community garden being set up in Middleton. There's been talk going on for a little while but the town council is now on board and we're in the process of selecting and clearing a site. I've been informally appointed the lead garden consultant for the project, the other day I checked out the four proposed sites with the others involved and we all agreed on the old field next to the ice rink (you need to be from Middleton!). It's a central location in town with fertile clay-loam soil and there's a path along side that connects to Main Street. I can invision a sign and an arbour directing people to the bountiful eden behind the trees. That's still a ways away though, we're hoping to get it cleared and plowed before the ground freezes so we can get everyone planting next spring.

Today was the International Day of Climate Action ( and in observance I mowed a second "350" in the wet, soggy clover. The rain was too heavy to get photos so I'll post a photo and a better write-up in a day or two...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Peanuts and Sweetpotatoes

A few nights ago we had our first touch of light frost in the low lying parts of the garden. Although most of the garden made it through without much harm, the peanuts and sweetpotatoes were both damaged by it. I dug them up yesterday afternoon where I took these photos.

Georgia Jet Sweetpotatoes (originally from Mapple Farm):
Valencia Peanuts:
Notice the rhizobium nodules on the roots:
We averaged two large sweetpotatoes per plant this year. That's definitely an improvement over last year's crop, last year I planted them in overly heavy soil that didn't warm up like the rest of the garden, I scarcely had enough to plant again for this year's crop. We should get a few to eat this year though.
The peanuts were the big surprise for me, I hadn't ever grown them before this year and I had my doubts that they would be worth their garden space. They ended up producing an average of 14 pods per plant, a lot less than Carolina peanuts would produce but still decent. I hope to have a few peanut seeds for sale this year, they're hard seeds to track down.
Both these plants were grown in the garden along with everything else, no plastic mulch or special treatment. They've both proven themselves worthwhile crops, performing well in this cool, wet summer. I'm excited to see what they can do in a hot year. It will be very interesting to continue experimenting with new crops like these as their ranges creep north with a changing climate. Part of adapting will have to be adopting new crops if new ones prove well suited and our old ones can no longer cope.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Maritime Hand Mowing Competition, Aug. 22 at Ross Farm Museum

A pre-competition peening demonstration:
At seven, Colin was the youngest mower competing:
Contemplating my row...
Despite a slightly lumpy surface and a run-in with a sizable block of wood I cut a 7'2" swath with close stubble. Good for a ninth place finish.
Colin diversifying his skill-set into hay lifting:
Colin poses with David Miller, whom at over 90 years his senior was the most experienced mower at the event.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Intensive Succession Planting

If you really want to maximize your harvest from a small plot of land (and I think most readers do) you should definitely think about planting multiple crops in succession in the same spot over the growing season. Too often people (myself included) plant a crop in the spring, harvest it in say late July, and then leave the ground bare into the fall, not realizing the potential for late-summer/fall growing. In our food garden today we removed and composted the old pea vines, tilled in the weeds and debris and then created two long planting strips in the beautiful dark Earth.

We'll let the planting area sit and mellow for roughly a week (maybe less if we can't wait) before we plant salad greens and a fall crop of carrots. That gives the leafy green debris that was tilled in a chance to decompose a bit before we plant. We could have also tilled the full pea vines into the soil, returning them directly. If we did that we would probably have to wait a bit longer to plant the succeeding crop. As fibrous plant matter decomposes the microbes actually draw the available nitrogen from the soil and tie it up, not a good thing for any crops that you're trying to grow simultaneously. I think it's best to haul the plant matter away to the compost (to be spread on the same soil later of course) if really intensive growing is your goal.

In the Annapolis Valley there is still plenty of time to plant lettuces, spinach, carrots, kohlrabi, most leafy brassicas, turnips, chard, beets and even early maturing peas. Alternatively you could also plant green manure crops to enrich the soil after the main crop is finished. I like to plant buckwheat to succeed my pea seed crop which comes out in August. The buckwheat gets tilled back in to the soil in September or October when it's flowering, feeding an influx of organic matter to the abundant soil microbes and earthworms.
Before: picking up the pea stakes before scything down the plants.

Taking a post-scything pea break:
Incorporating organic matter while creating an annual plant promoting soil disturbance (that's a lot of words to decribe tilling).

After: the finished bed ready for planting.
(Thanks to Regine for the photos!)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Scythe Artwork

Recently we set out to create the below piece of farmer-style protest artwork in our neighbor's hay meadow, a giant 350. The significance of 350 is that it's the maximum parts per million of CO2 that the atmosphere can contain without seriously disrupting the present ecological balance of Earth. The idea is outlined by and in far deeper detail and insight by the Vido Family ( For us it was mainly a fun project to spend a beautiful summer evening working on, but the more serious message behind it is to demonstrate a human-powered, human-scaled and totally fossil fuel free way to turn grass and weeds into feed for ones animals, with a scythe! The grass that was cut for the design was fed to the animals, and although it was rained on several times the goats relished it.

To make the design I first selected a fairly good stand of grass near a big aspen tree, the tree was crucial because otherwise I wouldn't be able to photograph the thing. Because of this the angle isn't ideal, it was hard to find a big tree with good grass nearby (the field has been more or less abandoned for 7-8 years and the grass is sparse). I staked off a rectangle and mowed a swath around the outside of the design. I then made thee even blocks of grass for each number and then carved them out freehand. And there you have it, my totally amateur scythe powered artwork attempt.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Mid-Summer Garden

A rainbow over the soybeans:

The recently staked pole bean patch:

Triple Treat Peas:

Russian Sugar Peas:

Golden Sweet Peas (red flowers and edible yellow pods):

Early Wonder Tall Top Beets:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Yurt Updates

Now that I have the garden reasonably under control I've been working on stringing together the yurt poles into the wall sections. The poles are attached simply by drilling holes spaced exactly 12" apart and tying a short length of twine through the holes. The plan for my 14' yurt calls for three wall sections, two of which I've completed while the third is under construction. After the leaves fall in October I'll cut a nice, straight ash tree in the forest for the tono wheel. I'll cleave it into two planks with a froe which will then be steamed to form the wheel. The roof poles are now oiled and finished, they just need to be cut to length and have their taper made once the tono wheel is complete (the wheel has to come first). I'm hoping the whole thing will be finished sometime this fall, maybe late-October or November.

An interesting concept that I'm building into the yurt is to have at least one pole representing every hardwood species in our forest (minus the rare ones which I wouldn't want to cut and weaker woods like aspen). So far I have red maple, sugar maple, striped maple, white ash, red oak, white oak, paper birch, grey birch, american beech, american elm, linden, speckled alder and black cherry, though the bulk of the poles are ash and maple. It's kind of a symbolic gesture that celebrates the unique diversity of the Acadian forest. When you think about it, a yurt is just about the lowest impact form of shelter when it comes to materials needed from the ecosystem. In all it takes just a few big armloads of biomass (biological wealth) taken out of the forest to fashion a warm, dry shelter (human wealth). Contrast that to a new house. And when the organic based yurt has finally reached the end of its life it can be wholly returned to the earth, the atoms and minerals of which may continue their cycle in a tree, another yurt, a salamander or a human being...

More to come...

Carrying a folded wall section. It folds like an accordion into an easily managed size.
The roof poles (right) spread out while their linseed oil coating dries. Note the smaller diameter wall poles (left) that have been shaped while they were curing to be permanently bent.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Scything Season

Once again the grasses are almost waist high and rapidly forming their seed heads, like they do every June. The cows having gotten a taste for fresh grass refuse to eat the old hay, so Colin's job lately has been to cut and gather a manger full of grass for Bessie every evening for after her milking. Over the last month Colin has really gotten into scythes. He began in May by insisting on using my full sized one (with a surprising deal of success), until Peter Vido ( very, very kindly made him a lighter "Colin sized" model. Truly a functional work of art, it makes the cumbersome snath that I made for him seem pretty crude in comparison (but hey, it was only my second attempt!).
Colin even has plans of entering the annual mowing competition this August at Ross Farm. I'm still working with him on his technique but he's about as good as I was when I first started, despite being less than half my age at the time.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Lots to update on

I'm finally able to do some writing again after a solid month of garden and farm work. With the help of our WWOOFer Bjoern I got both the seed and food gardens planted weeks ahead of schedule. This year we've got over 60 bean varieties on the go, 40 peas and about 40 tomatoes, among many others. A few of the beans are my own strains that I'm working towards stabilizing. My most promising of these is a striped variation of the pole bean McGrath's Africa. Two years ago in our McGrath's Africa patch I discovered a plant that produced black and white striped seeds in striped green pods, rather than the usual white seeds in leathery purple pods. Last year I grew them out and 95 percent stayed true to type (which is a great rate). If I can stabilize it for a few more years I might even be able to release it as new variety, any name suggestions?

We also planted an acre of Sorghum x Sudangrass in the newly cleared upper field as a green manure crop. Without the ideal equipment of a harrow and some power source to pull it (animal or machine) I ended up broadcast seeding it and then zipping over the field with the rototiller set to it's fastest speed. I set the tines very shallow so that it only mixed the top two inches or so of soil, it worked almost like a rake. A small corner of the upper field we've enriched with tons of manure and we've planted sunflowers, tomatoes, peppers, adzuki beans, chickpeas, millet and corn, as well as a huge patch of squash planted on mounds of manure. We're experimanting with these mounds as a way to stretch what little valuable manure we have. The roots of the squash will be growing in almost pure manure while the vines can sprawl over the less fertile soil around the mounds. We'll see how well it works.

Now that the garden is planted and Bjoern's keeping the weeds under control I'm starting to put some more time into the yurt. Last January I took a great yurt-building workshop held by Alex and Selene Cole of Little Foot Yurts over in the Gaspereau Valley. Over the winter I cut, peeled, shaped and cured the poles for the yurt, and starting now I'm trying (emphasis on trying) to get it assembled. If I'm sucessful, updates to follow...

The yurt poles after we carried them in from the woods. Note the frames used for shaping the khana poles (wall poles).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New Layering Bed for Apple Rootstock

A project I completed today is creating a stool layering bed for propagating apple rootstock. We recieved an order of both M26 rootstock and grafted apple trees earlier in the week from Siloam Orchards, the plan is to use half the rootstock for grafting this summer (a technique I'm still learning) while we use the other half for propagating more rootstock. There seems to be an almost total lack of apple rootstock suppliers in the Annapolis Valley (which is remarkable) so it would be great if we could produce our own. I don't know if we'll ever have enough to sell, but we can supply our own needs.

I tilled up a strip 3' by 15' in the rich soil at the very bottom of the orchard, right next to the pond. The little trees are spaced at just over a foot apart. The propagation technique I plan to use for them is to cut them back almost to the ground after they establish themselves for a few years. The trees will then send up new shoots (just like coppicing a forest) which I'll mound soil around. Under the soil the new shoots will produce roots off their stems, then in the dormant season the shoots (now rooted) can be exposed and cut right back to the tree's stool. The process can be repeated for years while the trees will forever remain fairly small, hence the tight spacing.

By the way, this is the reflective pond view the new trees will have:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Our Land Clearing Saga (with many photos)

This week we finally finished the clearing project that we've been working on since we arrived on the farm. When we arrived in the fall of 2006 parts of the farm had grown up in spruce, pine and cherry after being abandoned about 30 years ago (see photo).

Two winters ago we felled all the trees, which was a huge job but one that produced tons of great firewood.

Here's what one of the two new fields looked like after the initial clearing work was finished.

At that point we were forced to bring in some slightly heavier machinery than our usual hand tools. We were lucky to have Thomas Brown (whom we can't recommend enough) close nearby, in just four hours with his tractor last fall he pulled as many stumps as a pick-axe wielding person could in a summer's work. The efficiency of his machine was incredible, it plucked out two-foot diameter pine stumps in seconds.

We had him come back last week to finish the job. The field is now plowed and harrowed and pretty much ready to work save for some roots that still need pulling. The soil is a very light sandy loam and while not as fertile as the main field by the house it's not as bad as we initially thought. The long-term plan for the field pictured is to grow both seed and food crops while another new field of about an acre will become a hay meadow. We're going to have to do a lot of soil building in the coming years in the future seed field, the plan for now is to grow both alfalfa and sorghum x sudangrass as green manure crops to provide a boost of organic matter and nitrogen. A small corner of the field will be planted with squash and corn this summer after we enrich it with lots of manure. The field is far enough isolated from the main garden that we can now grow two varieties of cross pollinating crops like corn without them crossing.

And there it is, the farm is back after decades of non-use. After clearing two acres with the aid of a tractor we can really appreciate how much work it must have been to establish our farm 150 years ago. Pulling those old-growth stumps is a task I'm still not sure how was accomplished. It seems like a tragedy that the fruit of so much work could be allowed to be so quickly lost, especially when it's as important a resource as our farmland.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Welcome to the farm Sally

We had quite a bit of excitement on Tuesday evening as Bessie gave birth to a beautiful female calf, Sally. Bessie was out in the pasture when she started going into labour but in a stroke of luck it had just started to rain and I had gone out to bring her in anyway. Sally (named on Colin's insistance) was born in the barn at 8:15 that evening. She was up and walking after four hours and she started nursing sometime later that night after we had gone to bed.

Today I took the two of them out for the first time where I took these photos.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring Update

Has a lot ever happened so far this spring! It's been so busy I haven't had time to write about it. It's kind of funny, in the winter I have lots of time but nothing to write about while in the spring I have everything to write about but no time to do it!

The seeds are still selling and I'm sold out of about 3/4 of the catalog. It seems like every week this time of year there's another Seedy Saturday somewhere in the province. Most recently was Halifax and before that was the very successful one in Wolfville. This could be the busiest time of year around here just because I'm still doing my seed rounds while at the same time the garden is coming back to life and the rest of the farm needs work as well. In the garden the garlic has sprouted and Colin has planted the first peas.

An exciting recent discovery is that the old chicken run is built on top of what's best descibed as an ancient manure deposit. I think what happened is that the previous several owners simply swept the manure out the back door of the barn until over the decades it built up into this incredible four foot deep pile of fertile black earth. I've spread over 100 wheel-barrow loads over the garden so far with lots still remaining. When the pile is gone we'll build a much larger and sturdier run to contain both the chickens and goats for the summer. The chickens currently have the run of the farm, scratching in the forest, raised beds and compost piles and dust bathing en masse along the warm foundation of the house. They can't complain too much about their new summer enclosure, at several thousand square feet it would be paradise for the average battery-hen.

We're having the newly cleared upper field plowed for the first time in a few weeks. After the roots are raked out and we get some manure spread to enrich the poor sandy soil we hope to grow some seed and food crops up there this year. What's good about having two seperate fields like this is that we can isolate crops like squash and corn for producing seed. My plan with squash is to plant them on hills of manure which should make that limited resource go further. We'll just have the root-zone heavily enriched while the vines can sprawl over the poorer soil. I'll plant about an acre of alfalfa in the upper field this spring as a long-term green manure crop. The deep roots bring up nutrients from the sub-soil while at the same time fixing nitrogen. What the field really needs though is more organic matter. The hope is that the alfalfa will produce enough biomass that we can mow it several times a year to add to the soil. I suppose we'll see how it goes.

Bessie is really enjoying being out on the pasture again. Although not much is growing yet you can tell she loves being out of the barn. We think she'll be giving birth any day now. Stay tuned...