Friday, December 17, 2010

That's it that's all for fieldwork 2010

It being a warm day & all, I decided to give starting Ruby 1 more try this afternoon. Brought out battery charger, hauled a long extension cable down from the barn & hooked it up, but the charger just clicked & whirred & told me the battery was already charged (lies!!). So I called my awesome brother Jamie for advice, and he kindly swung by in his 4-wheel drive Subaru which he drove right through the snow to where Ruby sat. We hooked them up for 15 mins or so, he revved the engine a bunch, and after a few deadly-sounding clicks, Ruby's engine started to cough. A few more tries & she was running smooth!!

So now Ruby & the bush hog (which would not detach from the PTO) are tucked into the barn for winter. A few last outstanding tasks are taken care of too: I finally scraped all the hornets' nests down in the greenhouse, made sure the roof is sufficiently shedding snow, grabbed the last few wayward bins & tools still kicking around, and am ready to call it a year.

Well, other than the never-ending spreadsheets of course...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I need to remember this

I just got pretty much my all-time favourite CSA feedback from a member today. It's had me grinning for hours. Emily is a wonderful childcare provider to 5 or 6 little ones, one of whom ("Mr. O") came with her on a farm visit back in August or early September. I remember him carefully helping us shuck edamame beans  - with surprising patience! Now, more than 3 months later, this story from Emily:
Angie .. You and Fertile Ground have had a major positive impact on half a dozen little kids, thanks to your warm welcome to little Mr O that day we visited. He has shown an interest, hesitant at first, but now much more enthusiastic, in eating vegetables. First carrots. When I told him they're "from Angie's farm" he ate them. Of course, the younger ones had to have some too. Then it was kale. Then squash. Today at lunch I served lentils and rice and squash. "But Emily, we need kale from Angie's farm"!!!! (and Mr. O isn't even here today). Their reward for eating the rest of their food was kale from Angie's farm. GOTTA LOVE IT."
I need to remember what an incredible impact 2 hours can have on a child's life. And just what it means for kids to experience a sense of real connection with the source of their food - in person but, apparently, even just in story!

Monday, December 13, 2010


Poor Ruby. Can't get her battery to fire up (despite hooking it to the car battery for at least 10 minutes last week) so she's stuck in the snowstorm instead of tucked into the barn for winter shelter where she belongs.

Need to decide if I'm going to give starting her up 1 more try (maybe with a battery charger instead of the car?) or just tarp her & leave her in the snow. For the moment I have little choice, given that she's probably been drifted in by the recent snowfall & I doubt her engine would turn over in this cold anyways.

I don't really know how much worse it would be for her to spend the winter fully outdoors rather than in an unheated barn, but it somehow feels wrong & neglectful.

Oh summer....

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What I'm Excited About These Days

It has the potential to be quiet this time of year. The days are short. The fields are sleeping. Usually I spend a lot of time sleeping - recovering from the stress & exhaustion of a really full and demanding season. I'll admit I've done my fair share of sleeping over the past month, but for some reason I'm not actually feeling all that exhausted.

In part, this is due to the fact that it was a really good growing year. In part, because I had such good help in the fields. In part, it can be chalked up to the fact that it was my 3rd season and I benefitted from the increase in confidence and knowledge that experience brings.

However, in large part this is also because of a project I'm excited to throw myself into this winter. I wanted to write a bit about it, in the hopes that some of you who read this blog live in my neighbourhood - or that those of you who don't might be inspired enough by the concept that you consider a similar initiative in the neighbourhood where you live.

I've been reading a lot of non-fiction this fall - in particular about climate change, peak oil and global economics. Heavy, yes. It was overwhelming me for awhile, until I discovered the Transition Network. Transition Initiatives are community-led responses to the pressures of climate change, fossil fuel depletion and increasingly, economic contraction. Perfect! This is a way of mobilizing communities - neighbourhoods to entire cities - to acknowledge the threats posed by climate change and depleting oil resources then choose to respond in really positive, action-oriented ways by building local resilience through community-building events, projects to improve sustainability, and strengthening the local economy.

I started talking to people, and I've been absolutely overwhelmed by how 100% of the people I've talked to about this in my neighbourhood have said they'd like to become involved. 100%!!! To that end, we're holding a 1st official neighbourhood conversation about Transition next Friday, Dec 10th. I'm really excited about what could emerge here.

If you live in the Mount Hope neighbourhood and would like to come out please talk to me. If you don't, consider finding or starting a Transition Initiative in your own community. Those in KW should contact Transition KW as a resource group - they've already sponsored a number of events in the area.

Despite my heaviness and anxiety about the path our global community is on, I'm feeling really energized by the potential of the SMALL - by the capacity inherent in our local communities. One foot rooted firmly in cynicism, the other equally firmly in optimism. It'll be fascinating to see where this goes...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mini-Market at Little City Farm

Karin & I have been hosting a joint mini-market at Little City Farm Tuesdays from 4:30-6:00. Karin has fresh wholegrain bread made with local organic flour (it was still warm when I arrived last week!), yummy vegan pies, and preserves such as jam, pear butter & salsa. Also available for sale is her entire Homestead Herbals line of soaps & other herbal products. I've been bringing an assortment of fall veggies - some fresh from the field and some from cold storage - including carrots, beets, leeks, kale, tatsoi, broccoli, parsley, squash and garlic. There might be some fennel & kohlrabi next week too!

We'll be there again this coming Tuesday - let us know what you'd like & we'll set it aside for you, or just drop in & take your chances. This Tuesday I'll have uncleaned storage carrots and beets by pre-order for anyone interested in putting some into their cold cellar for the winter. Email if interested.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wrapping up

We're down to the very last field tasks for the season. The wash station, greenhouse & barn have been cleaned up. The trellissing is down. The cover crops are all growing nicely. The row cover and irrigation have been packed away.

Just the very last of the winter harvest is still happening, and as of yesterday the carrots have all been dug and only a couple hundred lbs of beets remain. It's been a long, warm fall so I've held off on harvesting the winter roots until the soil & the cold storage have chilled out a bit. Helps the roots keep longer.

Here are Thomas & Andrew pulling beets:

Although I've enjoyed a few lovely field days over the past couple of weeks I'm finding my body awfully ready for hibernation. Long nights of sleep & afternoon naps are increasingly where it's at. I could sleep & sleep & sleep & sleep.... Maybe I just will. For a few weeks anyways.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A moment of pride?

OK. So I've tried for 3 years to grow broccoli. The first year all 1000 row feet bolted before they were big enough to harvest. Epic fail. Last year I scaled back & just did some small test crops. Some bolted again, but 1 of the fall test plots worked out great. Unfortunately, that only amounted to about 15 heads.

THIS year I decided to give it a full try again with a planned fall crop of broccoli for all CSA members (and a test of 50 cauliflower plants). The foliage came along beautifully, but I was nervous when, come October, there was still no sign of them heading up. Then this:

Because my biggest problem in the past has been bolting, I decided to err on the side of caution on the heat front & take the row cover off good & early. This, however, left the plants more susceptible to pest damage. Decided to just hope for a worm-free crop without the help of the physical barrier that row cover provides...

...AND the result??

OOOOEEEE!! I have rarely been such a proud mama!

As a bonus, we got almost 100% harvestability off the cauliflower test crop - might just try more of those next year....

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fertile Ground in Foodlink newsletter

Fertile Ground is featured in Foodlink's October Newsletter. Thanks to Anna Contini for a great write-up.

Also featured - turnips! Funny, since they're one of my least favourite veggies... Although there's one recipe I do enjoy that I posted in the website recipe archives for Maple Sage Glazed Turnips. Maple syrup & fresh herbs can redeem just about anything!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A few snapshots of why I love CSA farming

We had 50lb of garlic left to crack before the CSA pick-up started last week.

And then it was done.

THIS is the type of thing that makes CSA pick-ups feel so good. It's not just about a bunch of people grocery shopping during limited hours. The pick-ups are such a great gathering place - neighbours' kids run around playing together, recipes are swapped, weekly updates are exchanged, AND people are willing to hang around & crack my garlic for me. Special thanks to Sarah Hemmingway & her girls for doing so much of it!

Here's a few more picks of the weekly pick-up vibe:

Pretty good place to spend an afternoon.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


It finally hit for real last night. We had a light frost a few weeks ago that settled in the lettuce bed but left everything else alone. Today though, I arrived to swaths of death in the frost tender areas. I mowed down the blackened zucchini, peppers, eggplants, tomatillos & ground cherries this afternoon. They've been producing so slowly in the cool fall weather that they were barely worth keeping around anyways, but it's so hard to mow down healthy (if slow) plants! Hoping the rain holds off long enough for the ground to dry so I can disc them in & get the last of the fall rye sown.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

1 good reason to vote in the upcoming Municipal election

I always vote in the municipal elections, but I'm aware I'm in the minorty. Really though, I'm amazed so few people make it out. Municipal elections are our chance to elect people who will shape local policy - the stuff that really affects our lives in day-to-day-ways. I know the rosters are usually a bit overwhelming with so many positions & so many people to become educated about. You don't have to vote for every position though if you don't feel well-enough informed. I'm going to give you 1 good reason to make it out on voting day (Oct 25): CSA member Jason Hammond is running for Regional Councillor. If you don't know Jason, know that he is an avid supporter of local food, public transportation, climate change activism, alternative energy & basically all things green. I've known Jason for years now & have always been impressed by just how active he is in the local community and national policy arena, advocating for and working towards environmentally pro-active policy. His blog is here:  (Scroll down for a post about Fertile Ground & Jason's vision for a strong local food system). Even if you just put one X in one box, please make it out on the 25th & do our Regional community some serious good.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Summer Bounty

 I suppose this post is in the wrong order - I shouldn't really have been writing about clean-up before a note to celebrate the awesomeness of peak season harvest! Here's some pics that tell it all:

We've got pretty much everything coming out of the ground right now - roots, leafy greens, little pints of tasty fruits, voluptuous peppers & eggplants.... Eating is SUCH a pleasure this time of year!!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cleaning Up

It being officially September, I'm finding myself thinking ahead more & more frequently to this season's wrap-up, and even to plans for next year. It's quite the juxtaposition - just as we're in the peak throes of harvest time, my mind is jumping ahead to thoughts of clean-up, sleep, and starting over. Maybe that's because I'm tired. Maybe it's because the fields, too, look tired by this time. All that gorgeous spring freshness has passed and the plants - even the ones in full production - are looking past their prime. It might also be because most of the thinking work is done for this year - we're just following through on plans now. The planting is done. The weeds are mostly taken care of. The plants tell us when it's time to pick them. Our bodies are working hard, but if I want to think, I have to think ahead to 2011.

I've been mowing crops down and sowing cover crops (just oats & clover so far - fall rye will go in soon). Here's a few pictures of the 2010 clean-up efforts:

Mowed chard.

Mowed zucchinis (they were ridiculously splattery flying out of the Bush Hog - very fun):

Oats & clover coming up where the spring lettuce & peas used to grow:
I'm feeling super-satisfied with how evenly the oats & clover distributed together through the broadcast seeder. Now to see if the clover gets established enough to survive the winter. If so, the oats will winterkill but the clover will provide nice, green, nitrogen-rich cover in the spring. Hooray for experimenting and having things to look forward to for next year.

Monday, August 23, 2010

On Being Organic

We’ve been using the word “organic” to describe our growing practices for 3 years now because it’s been true. But I’m the 1st to admit it’s a bit of a confusing term. Many growers claim to be “organic” simply because they don’t spray chemicals on their crops. A surprising number of consumers assume that local and organic mean the same thing. Both of these are actually limited (or even entirely misled) assumptions about what it means to be organic.

Growing organically involves not only what a grower cannot do (spray chemical pesticides or herbicides, use treated seeds, apply synthetic fertilizers), but also what they must do. Certified organic growers are expected to practice crop rotations, use cover crops to protect against erosion and build organic matter, test water quality, minimize soil disturbance, and keep a variety of records that allow for tracking of planting, harvesting and distribution of crops, as well as tillage and soil amendment application logs.

This year we applied – and just last week received approval! – for organic pre-certification with Ecocert (one of the independent companies approved for certifying to the Canadian Organic Standard). While our field practices were essentially already in line with standards, we’ve had to really tighten up our record keeping – something I actually really appreciate as it will allow me to compare field activities, crop yields and distribution patterns from year to year.

My initial motivation for pursuing certification was purely economic: I was afraid I’d be forced to drop my market prices if (when) it became illegal for me to use the word “organic” without certification. That said, I’ve come to appreciate the way that certification provides a definition for  the term “organic,” pushing growers to build healthy systems and protecting consumers from any misleading claims of growers who use the term in inappropriate ways.

There are, of course, consequences to growing organically. For example, we have little way of protecting against blight in the tomatoes and downy mildew in the cucumbers – 2 diseases we’ve fallen prey to again this year. Although we’ve rotated crops and sprayed kelp and compost tea, these have not been enough to deter spread of the disease during hard rainfalls. While I believe that healthy soils produce healthy crops which are more disease & pest resistant, this type of system takes years to build. I do, however, believe it is worth it, and some resulting tomato and cucumber shortfalls are a fair price to pay for building a sustainable agricultural system that improves the land over time and produces truly healthy food to feed us well.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Well, this morning my neighbour came by with his tractor & chains and we got everything all straightened out. His very gracious suggestion (after he offered to lengthen the cultivator posts for me after hay season)... next time maybe use chains instead of rope to secure the connection. I think I'll do that.

PS Taa got these pictures while hiding in the eggplant. When she wasn't popping up to take discreet photos, this is what her view looked like:

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Sooo..... this is apparently what can happen when one ties an implement on with ropes.
Thing is...I've been doing this for 2 seasons now. The posts on the cultivators are too short to attach to the 3 point hitch well, so I've been bolstering them with rope since the lynch pins won't fit on to secure the attachment. Guess that was stupider than I realized... Hoping a neighbour can come by with his tractor & chains to help untangle me. Yuck.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Salsa-Making Workshop (& lots more going on at Little City Farm)

Friends of mine - Karin Kliewer and Greg Roberts - host a sweet little urban homestead just around the corner from my apartment in Kitchener. They offer all sorts of fabulous workshops, run a really cozy little b&b and sell a variety of Karin's homemade herbal body & health products. Karin is also a fantastic cook & baker - she bakes bread & pies for sale at my CSA pick-up every week.

Here's their daughter Maya cooling off at the CSA pick-up today in the wee wading pool her daddy made for her:

In case you're interested in learning about canning, I thought I'd mention that they're offering a salsa making workshop on Aug. 14. Check out their blog for lots of great stories, recipes, and photos of what's going on! (You can link from there to their website which has the workshop listings)

Friday, July 30, 2010

I think Andrew likes potatoes more than I do

We just hilled the potatoes for the 2nd time. I'm pretty excited about the potatoes - I've never grown them before. 2 years ago my friend Jon grew potatoes for the CSA & I fell in love with the variety Onaway. Who knew potatoes could taste like more than starch?!? I've been craving them ever since and, because I was unable to find anyone else growing them, this year I bought 10 lb of seed potatoes so I could grow my own winter stash.

OK. So here's what my hilling job looked like. I thought it looked pretty good:

But then I got tired & passed the hoe off to my intern Andrew. Here's what HIS hilling job looked like - he almost BURIED the 1 1/2' plants!!!! Hysterical. (And impressive):

I think Andrew must like potatoes more than I do...

Thursday, July 29, 2010


We got a LOT of rain last Friday. It hasn't done good things for the crops. Quite a few of our fall carrots got buried in a bit of a landslide. Some green onions got buried too and others got washed away. The cucumbers, zucchini & tomatoes have all picked up diseases as a result of all the wet. I could do with a couple weeks of dry, that's for sure.

Washout in the carrots & green onions:

Some of the green onions washed away (you can see them laying on their sides, still in their little cell pack shape - they were just planted a couple of days before the storm):

Others requiring digging out:

And the diseased cukes which REALLY need a couple weeks of dry weather to recover:

Now, if every day was like TODAY (with 1 night of rain each week and 1-2 rain days/month) I'd be a seriously happy farmer... Too bad I can't custom order the weather.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Oh baby

The thing about garlic is, you only get 1 chance each year to get it right. I'm definitely still learning about how to grow it. Garlic is a pretty low-maintenance crop when it's in the ground, but the timing for planting, de-scaping & harvesting are rather critical if one wants to get a good yield, and curing can be finicky too.

Last year we waited too long to bring it in so a lot of the bulbs rotted in the ground. THEN the weather was wet like crazy so more rotted while curing in the greenhouse. This year I'm hoping we hit the right window for harvesting. We took it all in yesterday in one fell swoop since most of the lower leaves had died back. It would've been better for the soil to have dried out for longer, but we didn't want to chance leaving it through last night's rainstorm.

We used a digging fork to loosen the bulbs, then pulled them up and shook off as much dirt as we could without peeling off the outer layer of paper. Here they are being hauled off the field towards the greenhouse.

And laid out on the greenhouse tables to cure:

They're pretty dirty, but I think they're gorgous!

Progression of the Season

This past week the tomato plants absolutely exploded. Made me think back to when they were planted less than 2 months ago! Here's a brief progression in photo form...

Seedlings May 22:

Just planted May 28:

Staking July 1:

And now just this week, ready to be tied up again!

They've got some fruit now too.

Also, here's a kinda cool view of the 3 successions of cucumbers & zucchinis. The most recently planted are in the foreground, the ones just starting to produce are in the middle, and the ones that are overflowing with fruit are in the back!