Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My fam at the farm

On Thanskgiving Monday, my sister and her family came with my parents to check out the farm. The chickens were of course the biggest hit (with the bees and the tractor following closely). Here's a few pics of my nephews helping with the chicken chores. They were oh so careful with the feed & eggs - no spills!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Taste Local Taste Fresh

The Fiddleheads/Fertile Ground table at Taste Local! Taste Fresh! last weekend. I spent it paddling in Algonquin Park and having close encounters with a couple of moose, but my intern Jackie and volunteer Jana represented. Thanks to Jackie for doin' up the lovely table decorations and Fiddleheads for the tasty beet salad!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The 1st of the Lasts

Hard to believe it’s September! This week a lot of you will have sent kids back to school. September is a transition time for us too at the farm. For me, it is the time when we are officially over the seasonal hump. It’s still busy, but every day is a wee bit less work than the day before.  The days are generally a bit cooler and more comfortable to work outside in, and we’re starting to watch the frost reports! Our next major transition comes with the frost, when many of our crops will be killed and we’ll switch to offering our fall selection of vegetables.

All the crops are now in the ground for the fall. The final things we planted included spinach, arugula, salad mix, mustards, cress, radishes and tatsoi. We’ve been busy with the 1st of the lasts: the last thinning of the season (in the fall beets, turnips and daikon radish); the last BIG weeding in all the fall broccoli, kale and cabbages; the last sowing of seeds, and the last harvest of some summer crops like cucumbers and zucchini.

We spend a LOT of time harvesting this time of the year – we’re still in peak production right now. Fortunately, there are fewer other things that need doing, what with the planting finished, the weeds mostly beaten back, the irrigation lines in place in all the rows, and a lot of our finished crops already turned under and planted to cover crops. It feels good.

There are still 6 more weeks of CSA left, and plenty of fall storage harvest and field clean-up to finish after that, but there is something about September that brings some relief and a slightly more measured pace to our days in the field.

Enjoy the amazing variety of vegetables while it lasts! I know that I’ve been absolutely gorging myself on heirloom tomatoes 1000 ways, roasted eggplant, fresh cilantro and raw pole beans, knowing their season is far too short and I’ll be bemoaning their frosty demise all too soon… 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

taste local! taste fresh!

This year's taste local! taste fresh! event is happening Sunday, Sept 16 at Riverside Meadows Park in St. Jacob's. It's a fundraiser for Foodlink - a great organization that helps support and promote local food in the Waterloo Region. More importantly, it's an awesome tasty afternoon!! Local farms are paired with local chefs to create amazing samples of fine, fresh food which you can nibble on off one-of-a-kind pottery plates listening to the strains of Juneyt's Gypsy Jazz in a lovely outdoor setting. We'll be paired with Fiddleheads this year.

Get your tickets by Aug 31 and they're only $75! Price increases after that.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Drought…from a plant’s perspective

1st of all... HOORAY FOR THE RAIN!!! We got an inch last night & it was so wonderful to harvest in the wet fields today. I swear I could almost feel the plants waking up & drinking deep. Hopefully this will help rejuvenate the greens, size up the carrots, and germinate the last of the fall crops.

Obviously plants need water to grow, but I wanted to take a few paragraphs to explain how the drought has been affecting agricultural crops both directly and indirectly this year. 

Many plants don’t grow above certain temperatures, preferring instead to save their energy and water underground where it doesn’t so easily get lost through transpiration.

Under stress, crops tend to shorten their own lifespan – going to seed more quickly than they would in more favourable growing conditions in order to increase their chances of reproductive survival. Especially with greens, this means the plants remain smaller, go bitter earlier, and have a shorter harvest window.

Yields are also lessened by smaller fruit and root sizes. Water is required for cell growth, so without water, crops produce less. In our fields, we’ve noticed this particularly in the carrots and cucumbers (the latter started so strong, but quickly tapered off their production – not surprising I suppose, given how much water is in a cucumber fruit!) One positive is that, although smaller, some vegetables actually become sweeter in hot, dry weather – the flavour isn’t watered down, and the starches are more effectively transformed into sugars. Carrots and tomatoes are good examples of this.

Finally, hot dry seasons create the perfect condition for many pests. This has been an intense year for beetles, caterpillars, aphids and even earwigs! Pest pressure not only decreases yields, but also affects the aesthetic quality of the crops.

Livestock farms have been severely affected by loss of pasture (imagine trying to feed a cow off your un-watered lawn!), and are concerned about how little hay has been produced – a staple food for overwintering many animals. Corn and grain yields are down – also standard livestock feed.

We’re doing our best to keep the vegetables producing and are lucky to have a deep well to draw from. One additional thing to note is that organic farms often fare better in drought situations due to the higher organic content and microbial activity in the soils (Here's one 30-yr study that demonstrates this). I'm curious if this has been the case in Southern Ontario this season.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Meeting with the Federal Minister of Agriculture

Yesterday I was able to meet with Gerry Ritz, the Federal Minister of Agriculture, on a Waterloo Federation of Agriculture's tour and Roundtable. I had 2 minutes to make a presentation at the Roundtable - here's what I said:

Submission to Hon. Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
With our relatively high land prices but close proximity to urban markets, Ontario boasts many smaller farms which thrive based on intensive production practices and innovative business models. These farms are making important contributions as resilient businesses in the areas of production and marketing.

Need for farm policies that support smaller farms
Many farms based on smaller land bases are strong, viable businesses and contributors to national food security. Small farms have unique needs and require different programs and policies than large agri-business. A one-size-fits-all approach to setting national farm policy often overlooks the needs of smaller farm businesses.

Farm Diversification
Diverse farm operations are more stable and resilient in the face of natural disaster and economic fluctuations. Most small and organic/ecological farms are naturally diversified and therefore strong business ventures. Farm diversification should be encouraged and supported.

Innovation and Intensive Production
Small farms have been shown to have relatively high yields/acre due to more intensive growing practices. Many small-scale and ecologically-focused farmers have developed innovative business models, sustainable growing practices and appropriate technology which would benefit from further research and investigation, as there may be beneficial broader applications. There are many innovative technologies worthy of funding other than Biotech.

Loyal Markets
Supporting the development of strong, loyal markets is key to farm viability and business resilience. Many small farms are based on direct marketing models which provide a stable market base and predictable income. They benefit from strong interpersonal relationships between grower and eater, with a market deeply invested in the success of the farm venture. There is much to be learned from the strength and success of direct marketing models.

Organic and Sustainable Growing Practices
While many farms have been struggling to turn profits, the organic sector has been thriving. With growing public support for sustainable growing practices, investing in the further development and implementation of innovative organic practices would be fruitful. Funding is needed for an overdue review of the Canadian Organic Standard. Certified Organic growers depend on the integrity of this standard for public trust and international trade.

Land accessibility and financial support for new farmers
As many farmers age, there is a need for new farmers. Without inheriting land, new farmers often need capital support to access land and start-up resources.

PS At the end of the tour, Minister Ritz officially announced a 1.5 million loan for Martin's Family Fruit Farm towards the building of an apple dehydrating plant which will process apples for Martin's and surrounding farms. A local processing facility - cool!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Farm Camp at Everdale Farm

 Here's a new twist on summer camp! Kids spend the week at a working farm, doing all the awesome crafty camp stuff, but with an opportunity to be engaged with daily farm chores, vegetable garden work, livestock care and  harvesting tasks. 
If your family values the outdoors, good food and a healthy lifestyle and are looking for something special this summer Everdale Farm Camp might be worth looking into.  The camp’s goal is to connect your child to the story of their food, from seed to plate.

Everdale is the farm I did my internship at 5 years ago - they have a tonne of experience doing fantastic, fun educational work with kids.


Sunday, June 10, 2012


2 days ago 1 of the hives swarmed. Trina - our beekeeper - was expecting it. The bees had capped new queen cells and she didn't feel comfortable squishing any more of them. Armed with a bee box, we'd been left with the instructions to call her if they swarmed, and put out the baited box.

2 days ago, it happened. My intern Erik heard a remarkably loud buzzing sound & saw a lot of activity at the hive. They gathered on a branch like this:
But as time passed, the swarm got really heavy and one of the branches they'd gathered on collapsed. Then the bee ball looked like this:
Maybe this was a disconcerting progression of events for them...maybe they just re-thought their exit strategy, but either way the oddest thing happened. 1 ball disappeared, and the other one shrunk slowly as all the bees flew back to the very hive from whence they came. This was an unexpected turn of events. By the time Trina arrived to take a look at the hive, it was like the swarm never happened. Except...she couldn't find the queen. Mysterious. It would seem incredible if an entire swarm had managed to slip away without us noticing. And besides, we'd seen many of them fly back!

Today, it happened again. Erik saw the activity just as he was heading into town on an errand. I ran for the bee box, only to discover it was in the van that had just driven away! Fortunately, the van returned in time & I was able to set up a bait box in a tree a ways away:
This time the bees made a picture-perfect strawberry-shaped swarm tucked under the shelter of a spruce bough.
And best of all, Trina & her husband Chris made it to the farm before they flew off and were able to successfully capture them!! They sawed off the branch & shook the bees into a waiting box.
(You can't see them, but the bees are under that branch!)

Here she is placing the lid on their (temporary) new home.  Now we have 4 hives at the farm - hooray!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mike Schreiner Visits

So on Thursday, Mike Schreiner - leader of the Provincial Green Party - came to the farm on a day touring KW. We had about an hour to chat and wander around. Mike seems to have lots of experience and history supporting local food systems and small-scale agriculture. I hadn't realized he even sat on the FarmStart board (the new farm support organization I teach courses for in the winter)!

I was really struck by Mike's genuine personability and understanding of agriculture and food system sustainability issues, as well as his focus on the importance of strengthening local communities. Mike pointed out that food and farming is the 2nd largest employer in Ontario.

Some highlights from our conversation and the provincial Green Farming & Agriculture platform:
  • prioritizing sustainable, local agriculture
  • improving small farm profitability
  • providing tax credits for Ontario businesses who purchase Ontario grown food products, and to farmers who make food donations in their communities
  • developing policies to get more local, organic food into public institutions including schools 
  • supporting the re-development of local processing facilities
  • offering public funding to support and expand farmers markets, farmer co-ops & other local food distribution systems
  • changing key regulations and zoning to better support new farmers and small-scale farming needs (this is a very rare focus for politicians - I've never known any others to have such a solid knowledge of these needs and barriers!
These policies are not just sweeping generalities - they have lots of good legs on them. To be honest, I was really impressed. We have a by-election coming up in Kitchener-Waterloo shortly and I imagine I'll be giving the Greens my vote. I really encourage you to check out their platforms. The Food Platform is here. Thanks to CSA member Jason Hammond for setting up this visit!

10th Annual Heirloom Seedling Sale May 19

Don't miss this!! Little City Farm and I have been doing this sale for 10 years now and it's gotten bigger by the year. Tonnes of heirloom tomatoes and lots of other vegetables, herbs and flowers. Not everything is heirloom, but a lot is.
This year we've got live music lined up, an organic cafe, cob oven demos, garden tours...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Comin' Up

...happy dance...

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Went up to Hanover area yesterday to pick up some cover crop seed and fetch a row cover/drip tape reel that my farmer-friend Jeff at Cedar Down Farm built for me. About 20 mins into my drive home I heard an exciting noise & glanced in the rear view mirror to see something black flying out behind the trailer.

Pulled over to discover an entirely blown-out tire, with the trailer riding on the rim. Fortunately I'd thrown in a spare! Unfortunately, I could not for the life of me get the jack to work.

Instead, I unbolted the blown tire, lifted the trailer & kicked the old tire off, then lifted the trailer again to kick the spare on. It was trickier than it may sound, I assure you. I tried shoving a bag of oat seed under the axel to lift it a bit, but that didn't really work. Nonetheless...Success!! Until I realized the spare was flat. Grr.

Fortunately, I'd thrown in the air compressor. So I unhitched the trailer & backed the van up so the cord could reach. Unfortunately, the tire was so flat it didn't want to take air. Here's my situation:

Blocking a lane of traffic did not seem to generate enough interest or curiousity for any of the 10 people who drove past to pull over and offer a hand.

Until a nice farmer on a tractor came by and helped me identify that I had a tubeless tire which, at this degree of flatness, was never going to take air from my compressor. There goes the nice farmer taking my tire back to his shop to blow it up for me:
20 mins later, Helpful Farmer Man was back & lifted the trailer for me while I popped the tire back on. Of course, I'd figured out how to work the jack in the meantime...but I didn't tell *him* that! ;)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Seeds in the Ground

It's been dry and warm, and a bit of rain is actually called for (finally!) so I decided to try seeding a few things. If it works, there might be peas at one of the first CSA pick-ups and carrots by early July!

Here are the supplies:

And here I am with the 1st of the carrots, beets, peas and favas seeded. Garlic is coming up nicely through the straw mulch too.

Friday, April 6, 2012

New Toys!!

Went to a farm auction last weekend and scored a few new toys!

Got this wee wagon (the sides are removable to make a flat bed when preferable):

And this S-tine cultivator!!

Tried the cultivators out yesterday and they are SWEET! The rake at the back does a really good job of breaking up clods of dirt so weeds dry out faster. It also leaves a really smooth finish on the field surface. I'm pretty excited...

In other news, here's where the garlic is at now:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A few early spring photos

Went out to the farm to check on a few things this afternoon. 2 exciting developments:

1. I peeled back the mulch and discovered that the garlic is up!

2. Both bee hives survived the winter! If you look closely at the 2nd pic you'll see that 2 of the bees have bright yellow pollen stuffed in their upper leg pockets. I'm so curious what's flowering already...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

And it begins again

The smell of potting mix is pretty intoxicating in the spring (in fact, an article I read recently suggests that a particular microbe found in the compost acts as a mind-altering drug inside the body, functioning as a mood elevator when we breathe it in! - I always knew I could get high on good dirt!) I just spent an awesome day up at reroot organic farm where I grow my seedlings in Caitlin's heated greenhouse until the weather warms up enough to bring them home to the (unheated) greenhouse at Fertile Ground. It made me pretty happy to be up to my elbows in potting mix, then dropping the first little seeds of the season into the trays.

47 flats are now seeded: onions, shallots, leeks, celeriac and perennial herbs. If you wonder in October why leeks and shallots are so expensive, it's because by then growers have been caring for them for 7 months!!

In 2 weeks I'll be starting the next round: some of the flowers for the cut flower bed, the 1st planting of lettuces, and the peppers and eggplants for our Annual Seedling Sale at Little City Farm.
Here's our greenhouse set-up crew: me, Jenny and Caitlin from reroot, and 2 of Jenny's friends who were helping her move up to reroot from Toronto that day.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bee Friendly Farming

Fertile Ground is the 1st in Canada to certify as a Bee Friendly Farm! Pollination Canada (a branch of Seeds of Diversity) has recently partnered with Partners for Sustainable Population to bring the program north.

The widely-reported disappearance of honeybees (called Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD) brought public attention to the issues facing both honeybee populations and native pollinators. Some common factors that affect CDD are nutritional stress (due to a lack of access to a wide variety of forage plants), and exposure to pesticides which weaken & confuse the bees, leaving them susceptible to a variety of parasite and disease pressures. Native bee populations also suffer due to lack of appropriate habitat for them to build nests. Pollinator health is a key food security issue, as since bees (as the insect group which does the majority of pollination work) are responsible for 30% of the crops produced in the world.

Bee Friendly Farming (BFF) is an initiative that encourages growers to improve pollinator healthy by increasing awareness of the best management practices for bees. Applicants self-certify by answering 10 questions about practices such as growing native plants and appropriate forage, minimizing pesticide exposure, providing water access, and protecting nesting habitats. I'm really excited to learn more, and to host a Pollinator Party/Work Bee at the farm - likely the 1st Saturday of June - where we'll plant some native pollinator-friendly flowers, learn to identify some native bees and learn more about our honeybee hives from our farm beekeeper.
Here are some pics of some of our "bee pasture"...
This one has a bumblebee in the foreground, and some other kind of bee in the background I don't (yet) know how to identify:
Zucchini blossoms which are often home to sleeping native Squash Bees:

If you're intrigued, you can follow Friendly Farming on their facebook page.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Organic Council of Ontario Award Nomination!

Hey! Fertile Ground has been nominated for the Outstanding Horticultural Producer/CSA category at the 2012 Organic Council of Ontario Awards!

Some other local businesses are also up for nomination:
The Kitchener Farmers Market for Outstanding Direct Farm Marketing
Cafe Pyrus, Vincenzo's & Indulge Kitchen for Outstanding Retailer
Pfennings Organics for both the Outstanding Supplier and the Innovation categories

Click here for a full list of awards & nominees.

Go Waterloo Region - way to represent! So glad to be part of an awesome, growing, local, organic food system here.