Okay, so I missed a few weeks…
There is much to update since my last January post. The cold weather was indeed upon us all throughout the rest of January, and February, and has only just released its chilling grip this weekend, the second one in March. I don’t think I even can properly express the effect that the extreme cold and wind has had on people around here, this winter. Overall attitudes and moods were gloomy and angry, and Troy and I were feeling quite exhausted with our own situation before we managed to embark on a 2-week getaway.
For some reason, we have never had a ‘real’ holiday ever since we moved to the farm four years ago. Last year, we took a weekend in January and headed to Elkhorn Resort, and I’m pretty sure we went camping at least once, but if you want to refer to a proper holiday where you have enough time to fully relax (in body and mind), we had been lacking for a while.
Thankfully, we arranged to go to a small village south of Puerta Vallarta, Mexico called ‘Boca de Tomatlàn’, for two whole weeks! I won’t go into detail about the trip, but the effect really was amazing as we gradually shedded any stress, sense of responsibility, and allowed ourselves to simply relax and soak in the hot sun. We came home refreshed, ready to tackle the coming season. We also came home engaged, which was a fun bonus.
Now, the gears are rolling once again, and we’re right back into the swing of things. We can physically feel Spring now, which gives me a sense of excitement and overwhelm.
Orders are now being taken for subscriptions to our weekly CSA (Community Supported Agricultlure) vegetable delivery program, and spots are slowly beginning to fill. We have downsized our program to serving only the communities of Cartwright and Mather, and our good friends Carissa & Greg DeJong of Make-Do Farmstead will be taking over the business in the areas of Clearwater, Crystal City and Pilot Mound. Although tough to leave these fantastic customers, it is relieving to not have the prospect of doing a 3-4 hour delivery route once a week; it was becoming quite arduous. However, if interest is low in the local area where we are advertising, we may explore offering a CSA in nearby Killarney, where we have been part of the Farmers Market for a few years. We will discontinue doing farmers markets this year, both in Killarney and Carwright. This is a decision that made business sense and will hopefully enable us to have some weekends in the summer available for, well, relaxing and enjoying the summer. I know, I know, I’ll believe it when I see it, too.
Since week 2, we also purchased some new bred cows, and a second bull. Troy was on the horn for over a week straight, talking cattle with numerous ranchers, trying to figure out what might be the best fit for our long-term vision of a beef program. The bred cows are South Devon, and though not the same as the smaller ‘Rotokawa’ breed whose genetics have been heralded by Gearld Fry, they are really nice animals, with a mid-sized frame good for finishing on grass, and a really gentle disposition. Troy also found a really interesting bull of the ‘Speckle Park’ breed, which is apparently all the rage in some cattle circles in SK and AB. The bull we made a downpayment on in January is actually from Saskatchewan, and we should be able to pick him up in late March after semen-testing is completed. One of the hopes with this bull, versus our smaller-framed Galloway-Angus cross (‘Corny’) is that he will likely be able to help [literally] straddle the two streams of beef production that we currently have going here; the raising of calves sold in the conventional market, and those we would like to finish 100% grassfed.
So soon after returning home, we had to travel back to Winnipeg to present at the Growing Local Conference, hosted by Food Matters Manitoba. Troy and I have attended the conference for most every year since it began, though often as interested ‘foodies’ before we became actual farmers and food producers. We enjoyed the opportunity to present at the conference for the first time, alongside friends Kalynn Spain, the creator of the new Small Farms Manitoba online directory, and Lydia Carpenter, from Luna Field Farm. It was really nice to be able to share some stories about how and why we farm, and see the same inspiration in the eyes of the audience, as I did years ago, listening to farmers speak about their passion and livelihood.
I got the seed-starting empire started early this week, and am anxious to get more seeds sown in the coming days and weeks. We do these initial steps inside the house, as our smaller greenhouse does not have the capacity to hold heat in this weather. I’m quite proud of my new bottom-heating system, inspired by this ‘Empress of Dirt’ blog post: http://empressofdirt.net/easy-homemade-heating-mat-for-starting-seeds/ where rope lighting can take the place of expensive heating mats (at your own risk, of course). I chose to use incandescent rope lights instead of LEDs, and though it will require more energy, I didn’t believe that the heat generated by the LEDs would do the job I was employing them to do. So far, I think it’s working great. We’ll see how soon my first seeds (celery, celeriac, leeks and fennel) germinate. Next on my list is to get peppers started. Hoping for a decent and warm Spring after that hellshow of a winter, so we can get these puppies in the ground in proper time. Last year a late start affected the longer-season crops like peppers (which we love, and use in our hot sauces).
We had a bit of a surprise yesterday morning, when our neighbor stopped by and informed us that we had a calf in our pasture. Troy shook his head incredulously, as we weren’t supposed to see our first calf until the end of April. However, sure enough we got a brand new heifer calf from one of the new Devon cows, which looks large and healthy. The morning wind was cold, but the day warmed to almost -5C, and we are fortunate that the rest of the coming forecast looks like it will be just below (or above, in today’s case) 0 degrees. Whew. Still, we will have to keep a close eye on a few other mamas ready to pop, which is not great timing as Troy takes care of my parents’ farm while they are on holiday for 2 weeks. Nevertheless, the first baby calf of the year brings a certain excitement. Troy said that Corny the Bull (who actually has a pretty hilarious personality) was so darn excited about the new calf that he almost couldn’t leave it alone. Troy shooed him away and he did laps around the windbreaks, kicking up his heels in what could only be interpreted as pure joy and likely a false sense of pride (the poor guy may not know that that calf is not derived from his genetics). We will cross our fingers that the weather cooperates from now on, and keep a close eye on everyone to watch for more ‘surprises’.
We are now selling our grass-finished ground beef online through HMLFI. It is really exciting for us to finally have some meat to offer to our customers through this market.
An exciting event happened today, which Troy and I affectionately call “Poopfest”. Being the first day in months that the temperature went above zero, Troy dug out the beehives that had been completely covered in a mound of snow, so that the bees could escape for the very crucial “poo” which they have been waiting to take for the whole winter. Troy was pretty ecstatic as many bees flew out, slow and dumbfounded from their winter ‘break’ – because at least now we know that the hives survived quite well! We had almost 100% death loss in our beehives last winter, and so we were very nervous about it this year. Anyways, there was literally brown spots splattered all over the surrounding snowbanks, it was amazing. I can appreciate this phenomenon much more than the year when we mistakenly wintered the bees in the hoop house and I ended up scraping bee poo off the greenhouse plastic for days. If all goes well this Spring, we should have healthy hives and more delicious honey for sale this year!