Posts Tagged ‘growop’

“Preserve me” by John

Wow, busy weekend. It was a long one (3 days!) so I actually feel like it was a bit of a break, but I probably did more work this weekend than I sometimes do in a week of “real” work.

Today was berry picking – raspberries, the beginnings of the second flush of strawberries and, for the first time, blueberries! Not many of those, and some are still a bit sour, but at least we beat the robins to them!! Raspberries are all sold to folks in Victoria, strawberries should hopefully have been picked up by now, and blueberries are sitting happily in our freezer – yum.

Speaking of robins (actually, I’m not sure that robins are actually at fault, but people seem to blame them) they’re also getting into the layer’s coop and eating all (and I mean ALL) of the feed. I’ve had to put two full bags in since G left and that’s a bit ridiculous for a few old ladies. Going to have to put up netting to block the eaves and also netting in the windows of the broiler-barn as otherwise all their feed will be gone too! I actually feel kinda good about this one because I spotted the issue, figured out the problem, and came up with the solution (and then had it confirmed by G, but that’s what a teacher is for!)

Which reminds me, a week from today my very first solo broilers arrive – yikes!

After farm work we did some preserving. Dill pickles (with dill from the grow-op, garlic from Maple Groove and cucumbers from our plot) and, randomly, pickled beans since we have a surplus of beans right now and ended up with extra pickling liquid. All but two of the lids have popped so we’re in good shape. Also started fermenting some kimchi today which should be ready in a week or so, and I’ll start some saurkraut tomorrow. Not sure how to keep that stuff, other than in the fridge, so advice is more than welcome.

Now I’m waiting for some stuff to dry so I can play with the beer I started a while ago. I think it’s a lost cause but I’ll try one more thing and see what happens.

All in all – hope is high, energy is in flux, excitement is up there and nerves are a little raw … but more of that later.

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“Strawberry Picking” by John

Mark it in your calendars.  On Wednesday, June 23rd at approximately 9:07 am I officially became a farmer.

Well, maybe a farm worker is a better term, though I didn’t get paid (still not sure how we’re going to settle things at the end of our “apprenticeship” maybe money, maybe food, maybe just knowledge, but whatever will be good) so maybe a farm volunteer is a better term, in which case maybe Growing Opportunities was when I went official.  Though come to think of it I once WWOOFed at Plan B Farm, so maybe that was official.  Then again my grandparents had a farm just outside of Teeswater, ON when I was quite young and I remember riding the tractor and feeding the animals there so …

Anyway, suffice it to say that last Wednesday was my first experience picking strawberries at our soon-to-be-home and it made me feel like things were a bit more official and real than they had felt before.

It was a beautiful sunny day and I had my new hat on (thanks Cindy!) so I didn’t get burnt and I picked 3 or 4 boxes of berries in the 2.5 hours we were there, which probably equals just over two flats.  So, definitely not the fastest picker out there, but not too shabby for my first time out I think, especially considering that I stopped to go visit the chickens, tour the farm with the Canada World Youth leader who might come to stay with us for a bit, and put together and pack flats as I went.  I also got to deliver two flats to the Community Farm Store with an invoice and one to a private customer so making the sales made it feel more official too.

How was it?  Honestly, I don’t know how to answer that.  I was told it would be painful on my back and legs but I didn’t feel like it was too hard.  Odd muscle use for sure, but I think all of the cycling, plus the chiro and massage for my back helped to make it not too terrible.  I can still feel it in my legs a bit now if I try to hold myself in a strange position, but it hasn’t slowed me down at all.  I loved being out in the sun and the fresh air so that was great, and going back to work for the afternoon was definitely hard.  So, physically, all was and is well.  Mentally though I found I was a bit stressed out by it all.  I know, how stressful can it be to sit in a field and pick berries right?  I think my issue was the same that I have with so many other things – I just wasn’t sure I was doing it “right”.  Searching through the foliage with my hands trying to pierce the darkness under the leaves with tired eyes to identify the bright deep red that indicated a perfectly ripe berry.  Trying to leave behind all those with just a tinge or white, or that are perhaps a slightly less deep shade and need a few more days to fully ripen.  Worrying what the customers in the store or at the box distribution will think when they see my berries in the harsh light of florescent tubes.  Will there be too many small ones?  Too many that aren’t perfectly ripe?  Will they want my berries?  Did I pick the right ones?

And through it all I felt this need for speed.  The necessity to pick the berries right now before … what?  Before they went rotten, before the birds got them, before the frosts came?  Or, harkening back to my childhood, before it was time to leave the U-pick, not to return for another year.

Cindy and I were talking about it afterwards and I realized that the same patch of berries was picked two days before I got there and will be picked two days after and again and again and again till the plants are done producing.  So really, there was no need to pick berries like there was no tomorrow because, well, there is (or at least a day after tomorrow).  With that in mind it really makes sense to pick only the best of the best and leave anything that needs another day because then it will be the best of the best next time you pick.

So, there you go, John overanalyzing things again (like that comes as a surprise to those of you who know me).  I think it’s the type of thing that, with practice, will become less stressful.  It was pleasantly meditative working my way down the road, feeling growing things under my hands, moving from plant to box and back to plant.  If I can become confidant in my ability to make a good end product then I think I’ll really enjoy it.  And the other pickers and eventually Graham saw the overall haul and no one told me it was terrible so I guess even if I was bad, at least it was hidden by the hard work of others.

In purely happy news, a young couple and child came to look at our apartment today and appear to be just as in love with it as we are so we shouldn’t have to worry about getting out of our lease.  Yay!

And now (after Cindy reads my post … please, be gentle) we go to pick-up beer bottling supplies.  Sweet!  Soon I’ll actually have to brew some beer … soon.

“In the news!” by Cindy

Our local paper created an agricultural edition this week, and John and I provided a couple of the photo ops. I’m not sure why, since we weren’t interviewed or quoted, but there we are! The article gives another explanation of the coop as well.

Here’s the link: http://www2.canada.com/cowichanvalleycitizen/story.html?id=4f609990-9110-420c-a5e4-5cf385eb2f40

“Diving In” by Cindy

Well, I’ve just placed our very first seed order.  It was so exciting that it prompted John to remind me (rather vociferously) that we really should be blogging our new adventure – so here we go.

I’m not sure why we think we will be good farmers – considering that neither one of us likes having dirty hands – but we both love food and fresh vegetables so much that we just have to give it a go.  Plus, the opportunities just keep coming up, so we’ll take that as a positive sign.

Anyway, our growing adventure started with the idea that we should grow veggies in our backyard.  We are renting an apartment over the garage of this lovely house, and there is a huge backyard where the landlord said we could certainly put in some raised beds if we wanted.  Fortunately, we asked the critical question – are there deer?  He laughed and said he was surprised we hadn’t seen them yet as they will practically come to the back porch and ask for apples.  We decided that we couldn’t afford to invest in deer fencing in a place where we weren’t sure how long we would stay.

So we got on the waiting list for a community garden plot.  While waiting, we heard about a community farming cooperative called “Growing Opportunities” (whenever we speak of the Grow Op – THIS is what we mean).  It sounded too good to be true, but we decided to check it out – and it is too good to be true – except that it is.  This couple decided that they liked growing vegetables so much that they thought everyone should have an opportunity to try growing on a larger-than-garden-size scale.  So they got a group together and leased an acre at a local therapeutic farm, and they began farming it.  Anyone interested in joining just has to join.  You put in as much work as you can, and you take what you need from the produce.  Surplus produce is sold to cover the costs of the farm (e.g., leasing the land, paying for tractor time and other supplies).  It’s pretty amazing and so satisfying to work the land with such good people.

Then, because I was enjoying a mid-career retirement (so to speak), a local farmer called me up and asked if I wanted to work for a week. It was the perfect opportunity to see if I could hack a full day in the field – and I could.  In fact – it was pretty darn enjoyable being outside in the sun feeling sorry for poor John stuck in the office all day.  Even the most monotonous tasks were fun because they had a definite purpose and a visible result, and the people were great to work with.  So after a week of paid work, I worked out an informal apprenticeship with the farm and continued to work at a much reduced rate.  I learned so much so quickly, but I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of the knowledge needed to run a farm.  Plus, the farmers (Brock and Heather) are great people and fun to work with.  Their place, Makaria Farm (www.makariafarm.com), is winning awards for innovation, and they really care about the quality of their produce.

After a few weeks of getting dirty and developing some interesting tan lines, the real windfall happened.  A local farmer heard that John was interested in getting into farming and suggested we consider renting his berry farm when he moves out of the province in the fall.  Well, we looked at the numbers and decided that even if we only break even, we can consider the adventure a year or two of intense agricultural college.  No webpage for that one – we’ll be working on that soon!

So that is how we ended up where we are now – planning our winter garden.  I now have an actual job working at a non-profit organization twenty hours a week, I “intern” two mornings a week at the farm we are going to rent, I occasionally head out to Makaria, we continue to work at Growing Opportunities, and we have our little garden plot (which is really not getting much of our attention, we must admit – I think it’s going to be an experiment in neglectful gardening, really).

But wait, you say!  Let’s get to the interesting part – what seeds did we order?  Well, we already have some brussel sprouts started because I went to a winter gardening workshop last week, but here’s what we should get in the mail later this week:

shallots  (can never have enough onions)

kale  (yummy healthy greens)

carrots

parsnips

turnips (yes – I love turnips)

spinach

beets (love love love beets)

cabbage (three different kinds to satisfy John’s sauerkraut and kimchi experiments)

squash

In our little garden plot we currently have some onions, spinach, cucumbers, brown beans, black beans, edamame soy beans, and one little tomato plant.  I also have some pepper plants and basil growing in various pots in the apartment. The berry farm is all about strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and of all things – garlic.  John is also working on some meat chickens (which I am not so excited about, being a vegetarian and all, but good for him).   The Grow Op is just chock full of plants.  We have everything from wheat to kale, strawberries, tomatoes, cilantro, lettuce, cucumbers, squash, carrots, and potatoes planted – just to mention a few.

And so that is how we went from being interested in farming to diving right in.  At the very least, it will be a learning experience as we grow together. (heh heh)