Monthly Archives: July 2012

Salt Sprung

I write this as I wait to depart on the milk run ferry from Victoria to Pender Island, via Saturna and Mayne, having already sprung myself loose from the shackles of hundreds of thirsty dependents on our two Salt Spring farms. I am meeting Pauline, who is currently on the Skytrain in Vancouver, for an unprecedented two-day mid-season staycation. Yahoo!

While we are away, Dad (mostly) is in charge of the farms. He will be busy just keeping things watered since we have finally gotten summer here. It’s been at least a week of almost solid sunshine from dawn until dusk, forcing plants into peak growth. All they need is water. On Rainbow’s Mexicana sandy soil, that means watering 3 times per day. And with 4 separate groups of chickens (main layers; six-pack of home grown layer chicks in secure pen; the first batch of meat birds; and the second batch of meat chicks, all in separate areas), there are 4 waterers and 4 feeders to check. Kids, you’ll help Opa, right?

This break comes at an opportune time, as crops and livestock have just recently reached a level of semi-stability, it seems, thanks to the tireless efforts of Dad on the farm and to mom on the home front. Allow me to elaborate.

But let’s first review the recent past. Last year we had a total of about 1800 square feet of tunnel area in which to grow cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and other hot house crops. Over the winter, I built 3 larger tunnels and on a separate farm, increasing the tunnel floor space by a factor of almost 5. But I somewhat underestimated just how much work not only building those tunnels, but filling them with plants, would be.

So much so that, in fact, we just finished seeding and transplanting the last plants on the second farm and, to be honest, I still have some very late start watermelons to transplant down on Rainbow for what I hope will eventually be a seed crop. In the past week, we (Dad and I) seeded 2 varieties of soybeans, a combination fresh and dried bean and amaranth, all mostly for seed. Just prior to that we also transplanted a whack of sweet red peppers for fresh harvest, 2 varieties of basil for seed, and the last of the cucumbers (for seed and for market) and, melons (for market).

Happily, just about everything looks pretty happy. The beans leaped out of the soil and the transplants, as root bound as some were in their pots, have now come into their own and are off to the races. The amaranth has shown no signs of germination but I haven’t grown it before so I don’t know what to expect.

Dad spent considerable time hand watering the plants in the new tunnels with a syphon from a nearby pond until we finally ran a 600′ line down from the house’s well and now have pressure and probably 4 times the volume, allowing us to at least run garden sprinklers. The water table varies from 6 to 12 inches below the surface so the plants don’t have to reach down far until they’ll be on their own. Until then, it’s a lot of work.

Meanwhile, we have a total of 800 tomatoes at both farm locations that need to be pruned at least once a week, which is easily a full day job for me each time. That the cherry tomatoes are just now ripe enough to harvest would have been really disappointing if I hadn’t taken on all the other infrastructure projects over the winter. It seemed so much more do-able last fall but reality has a way of getting in the way.

It reminds me of my software job a few years back when a manager would ask a programmer to fix bugs and add some features within the next 6 weeks. It took me 2 years to realize that nothing EVER happened in less than 6 months. When I left, programmers were still agreeing to 6-week estimates. I never checked whether they crossed their fingers while speaking. Anyway, I need someone like me to manage my expectations. Unfortunately, I’m not that person.

Plant start sales have declined to a slow but steady pace but will all but cease in a few weeks when most of the fall and winter brassicas are sold. As for fresh produce, our snow, snap and shelling peas are now done and have yielded their space in the tunnels for watermelons, once I get the chance to set them out. The only produce I will have for the next Tuesday market will be cherry tomatoes – but only a few – and zucchinis. The following week I should have significantly more cherry tomatoes and possibly a few cukes. After that, we should be pretty well stocked with those crops.  Peppers, eggplant and melons will follow in August. Our strawberries are, once again, a pretty big disappointment especially compared to other growers’. Oh, well, can’t win ’em all and, frankly, I don’t like all the back work involved in managing them. It’s tempting to rip them out, actually.

Dad and I began pulling out the garlic a few weeks ago and it is now drying in my carport at home. I’ve already delivered some to Chef Bruce with another batch forthcoming in about 10 days. The rest will be used for seed on the 2012/13 crop to be planted when the winter squash is out.

The winter squash itself seems to be pretty happy, growing a little better in the sunnier, wetter Cowichan soil down below on Rainbow than the upper, drier Mexicana. There are 3500 sf of plants so it should make for a decent harvest. And there are only a handful of varieties so I should have a reasonable quantity of each to sell in volume to the grocery stores and to restaurants if the farmers markets disappoint.

We have a couple of seed crops on Rainbow that are coming along. One is for a Toscano kale. Those seed pods are starting to dry down and should be ready to harvest in a couple of weeks. The other is a bulb fennel crop which looks really yummy but which is off-limits for consumption until it too sends up seed stalks. No sign of that yet. I find bulb fennel so easy to grow, though, that it’s tempting to increase that crop next year, for fresh produce sales. But I’d first have to see what the market is for it. Perhaps one exists at the supermarkets. It’s very doubtful a person could sell enough at the Tuesday market.

The Tuesday market seems a little slower than last year but, in fairness, we are running on fumes as far as sellable product in concerned. Just bread, plant starts and two or three produce items. I was planning to have more produce available earlier but, again, the upscaling of the tunnel operation meant that the special techniques I planned to use the accelerate tomato growth could not be implemented. Next year. I’ve got it all figured for next year. Promise.

My parents are going back home on Tuesday so I would just like to thank them again for coming to visit and to help out. I could not have caught up without their help. And this trip would not have been possible.

About a week after they leave we’re getting our first wwoofer who’s more like a real wwooofer. Someone we don’t really know. Well actually we do, kind of. The 21 year old son of my cousin from Manitoba will be staying with us for a couple of weeks to check out Salt Spring and the ag scene out here. That last time I saw either of them was, I don’t know, 15 years ago? Anyway, we’re looking forward to it. Hopefully I can keep Trent busy with projects, harvesting and plant maintenance.

That is, when he’s not screaming down Juniper Road on a long board…

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Just the facts

I’m a terrible blogger.  Or a busy farmer type.  No post in a long time.  Sorry, dear reader.  Pictures next time.

These are some of the things going on:

The Calgary Cavalry has arrived to visit and help out.  Mom is doing the meal prep, leaving Dad and me to go out gallivanting in various high tunnels.  Despite the late date, still not everything is planted.  The unseasonably cool temps (ahem…AGAIN) mean that plants fare better in pots anyway.  Despite that, all the cucumbers, peppers, eggplant and most of the melons are now in the ground.  The Cranberry Valley (or the Toynbee Valley as I usually call it) still gets <5C over night but the copious use of reemay – insidepoly tunnels – seems to be helping.   We still have to direct seed amaranth, soybeans, and fresh pink beans, all of which will be for seed sales. 

Over on Rainbow, the Portuguese Red garlic is harvested and drying.  About a third of it is pre-sold to Bruce and will be delivered greenish on Tuesday.  90% of the winter squash is planted with a hay mulch in place.  I just need to get the tiller back from Toynbee to finish preparing the rest of the space needed to put in the final 10%.  The strawberries are there, being harvested, but they’re just not that sweet due to the lack of regular sunshine and heat.  But it’s coming.  26C and sun in the forecast by Sunday!

In the propagation tunnel, plant starts are coming to an end.  Just the winter brassicas to pot up and a couple more successions of lettuces and kales to fix up prior to sale.  This tunnel gets really hot when it’s sunny and above 20C outside so I will be keeping hot peppers and melons in pots here (although we need more potting soil first).

Over in the big Rainbow tunnel, the cherry tomatoes look great but none of the fruit show signs of ripening yet, another sign of lack of light.  The snow and snap peas are >9′ tall and yellowing.  They’re ready to make way for some overflow potted melons from the propagation tunnel.  Hopefully the pea trellis will be able to hold the weight of small melons.  The peppers, as usual, are struggling in the heavy, cool soil.  I don’t expect them to really take off until we actually get temperatures that are in the forecast.  The zucchinis are throwing some fruit but, again, not as much as I expect they will once the light comes.  It looks like a decent crop for next year, though, except that I will keep them in pots or grow bags instead of planting them in the ground.

Right, next year.  This year’s fresh produce crops are just getting going and we’re making firm plans for next year.  Just like last year.  Never a dull moment!