Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Chicken Run and a Catch Up.

I was reminded yesterday that it's been a very long time since I'd written an update and since today I have about an hour to spare I'll let you know everything that's new at the farm.

Good morning! I've missed writing to you but with the regular growing season things can get a bit busy and I seem to simply put off writing until days and weeks go by and I realize you must think I got eaten by the turkeys. So here's a month by month account of what we've been doing.

September saw the kids back to school, Jordan for his last semester as  he will be graduating early, and Meghan started band. After much testing and deliberation she's playing the trumpet which is great because she likes tooting her own horn and we own a trumpet so we don't have to pay for the rental. It seems to be going well, and I have to say that listening to a beginner trumpet is much more pleasant than listening to beginner violin or bagpipes :)  I think August or September was when we found a kitten in the ditch and took him in and named him Apple because he was found under a crab apple tree. He's growing into a lovely cat and is a good mouser. I took him down to the chicken barn last week and he was in and out in less than a minute with a nice fat mouse. I'm going to make a small ladder that goes to the loft so he can hunt up there too.

October was the month I went to BC to see my friend Deanna. Her GoFundMe info is a few pages back. She's still fighting strong and had the boys again this past weekend. It was so hard to leave them, I miss them a lot. I've known Kasen since he was very little and the other two boys were born into my arms practically. I got pneumonia and bronchitis while I was away and again when I returned home so I've been joking that I've spent more money on medications in the past month than I did in all the 12 years prior. Everyone in the house got quite sick, even Chris who was stationed in New Brunswick, with the notable exception of Kate who had a 2 day sniffle and that was it. October also held Thanksgiving and marked the end of our first Farmers Market season. And what a way to go out! We had a huge gift basket to give away, lots of sales, and people were already sad that they'd have to wait until December to see us again. First frosts happened as they always do but our beets and some of the garden greens were still doing well in the garden.

November came and went in a bit of a blur. You'd think that with the market over for the season things would calm down, but they merely changed gears. We could have sold so much more last year if we'd only had the production so we took out our goal sheets and sat down to make plans for the next five years. We always work in a plan that looks forward five years and then adjust it as needed. It's normally what we do January 1st each year but given that we knew we were going to look at expanding it meant applications, research, planning, more research, and lots of phone calls to experts.

One of the big capital investments we want to make next year is a greenhouse. But last year, as you know, we got over 16 feet of snow. Many greenhouses collapsed and farms lost their livelihood. So we needed to make sure that we understood how to mitigate the potential collapse, check out the different engineering and styles of greenhouses, and then find a manufacturer in Canada who understood the demands placed upon a greenhouse in the Maritimes. In our case the problems are wind shear and snow loading. We're now working closely with Multi Shelter Solutions to arrange for the greenhouses and tunnels we'll need for the future. They've been lovely and to help out the community garden they're giving us free shipping if we take a tunnel and greenhouse at the same time. Which is a $500 savings. It allows us to get the tunnel for the community garden and have the greenhouse operational for starts early and to get some early crops in the ground. As you know, we always have a supply of seeds on hand so there's no waiting for orders to arrive and in fact Veseys catalogue is now out, yay!

Novembers two biggest happenings were our visit to FarmWorks gentle dragons yesterday (fantastic!) and The Chicken Run. I'll talk about the Chicken Run first. As you probably know most of the worlds chickens used for commercial egg production are raised in confinement. In the case of Nova Scotia, your eggs are likely coming from one of the farms associated with Egg Producers of NS and their hens are raised in cages. These are known as battery hens. 4 hens to a small cage is the norm and this makes for the most economical way of having chickens. There's not a lot of room needed, you can stack chickens multiple cage units high, there's no bedding material just the wire of the cages. and the only other things needed are water and food. Eggs are laid, roll out of the cage for collection and are then washed, graded and sent to your local supermarket. It's one of those things that we tend to put out of our minds as humans, that our eggs that are 30 or 50 cents cheaper than at the farmers market, cause suffering to the hens.

Now you might wonder how I know this and you've often heard me say to look at the results and then judge for yourselves, right? Well we had the opportunity thanks to a local chicken rescue, to re-home some old (old by commercial standards means 12-18 months) laying hens who were destined for slaughter. They've reached the peak of their usefulness and now are considered 'spent'. What they really mean is it's not worth it economically to feed them any more. Which is fair enough. Eggs are a controlled commodity and therefore big business. What that means for us smaller producers is something entirely different though so when Beckie Penman and I had the opportunity to get some of these layers for $1 each, we agreed that we would.

I'll be adding lots of pictures to the end of this post so go have a look, but I'd like to tell you about their behaviour their first night home, right out of the box. The hens were very wobbly on their feet, there are a few suspected broken wings and there are a couple who look so injured and shell shocked that I didn't think they'd last through the night. They have trouble walking due to their massively overgrown toe nails and the fact that they've never been able to really walk around much or stretch their wings since they were chicks. They are used to being huddled together in small spaces and so we have some corners of the barn set up with wooden slats over it to provide 'protection' and a sense of security for these newcomers. It's helping to prevent piling and panic. We found that talking consistently and quietly has helped, we move slowly in the barn when collecting eggs, and we  simply don't rush so we have time to observe them properly, especially any birds that are isolating themselves in the corners.

They came home on Friday night and by Saturday afternoon we'd collected 3 or 4 dozen eggs. They just lay them wherever on the floor, consequently I stepped on at least a few hidden in the litter. Today is Tuesday morning so they've been here now for a few days and so far we've had no casualties. There is still some picking going on and a pecking order being established, and our poor naked chickens still look naked, but they're much more mobile, exploring the barn, eating well (the feed amount eaten each day is increasing) and drinking their special water that looks like orange Gatorade according to my children. I explained that it's full of electrolytes and vitamins to help them recover from the stress so in effect it is like Gatorade for animals but without all the sugar. I mixed a special feed for the chickens taking into account that they need some extra heat and protein to re-grow feathers and muscle mass and get their strength back. Their bodies aren't in terrible condition, they're just basically bald, pecked and don't have strong muscles. Their diet consists of soybean meal, cracked corn and lay mash and it's balanced at 23% protein. As they regrow feathers and become more lively I'll be reducing that and introducing pellets. But one thing at a time. They're eating and drinking well now and it didn't take long. All you really need with chickens is someone to lead the way and they'll all follow. The hardest time for them was learning to drink from a regular waterer instead of the nipples they'd used previously, but they seem fine now. I put the food not too close to the heat lamps and thought there would be a pile of chickens three high in that corner but instead they are now content to scratch around, explore, peck the walls and door, eat and drink whenever they feel like it, and they're getting used to the shorter days and cooler nights. We leave the red bulb heat lamps on at night but of course we use natural light and that means instead of the 76 degree barn with 14 hours of artificial light they're now getting a chilly unheated barn (except the lamps) that the sun shines into and warms up the shavings on the floor but only for about 8-9 hours a day. We're 3 weeks from the shortest day of the year, and while I can definitely add light to the barn, I want them to moult and take some time off from laying. They've earned it.

Our plan with the hens is to gradually let them gain some strength before introducing them to any of the other chickens. We want them to have the ability to jump, fly a little from perches, have some colour return to their combs which you can see from the photos look like giant floppy combs drained of colour. Even in the past couple of days the colour has improved and some are standing more erect. I'm not 100% sure why but maybe the higher protein diet and vitamins. I'll get more photos as time goes on. In the early Spring I'll have introduced the other young hens I've raised this year and  they will all be ready for an increase in light to get them laying again. The hens will have what was the sheep pasture last year and it's a good size for a pasture raised flock. It's also got the barn ideally located in the centre and we'll rotate the sheep onto a different field next year. The turkeys will be down by the river. I have arranged for egg grading so now I can sell to restaurants and stores if I want since obviously I'm going to have a lot of eggs, and we're applying for a commercial turkey licence so next year will be very poultry focused in the fields down near the river.

This week we're going to be doing nail trimming. Some of the nails on these ex-battery hens are over an inch long and that poses several problems for the hens. It's going to take us a while to trim the feet of nearly a hundred hens but with some extra help I think we should be able to get the first trimming done in one afternoon. It will need to be followed up with another trim in a month. The reason we can't just trim them all it once is that the chickens can become very unbalanced by such a bog change, but more importantly that the quick (the blood vessel inside the nail) grows to an unnatural length as the nail grows and to cut the nails too short could cut into the blood vessel. We don't to stress the birds and more that they've already been, so using a bright light to see where the quick is will help us avoid cutting them by accident and it will shrink back as the nails get shortened. Once the hens are allowed outside in a few months their natural scratching behaviour will keep them short for the rest of their lives. We rarely have to do anything to the feet of our other birds because they free range but the turkeys we got a few weeks ago both came with scaly leg mite so that is something to look for in birds you buy or are given. It's easily treated but takes time.

Yesterday we were able to meet with some of the good folks at FarmWorks. What a great organization! It's a partnership effectively, between investors and local food businesses from primary producers like us (farmers) all the way to restaurants and processed food manufacturers. The goal is to both keep investment money in the local economy and to increase food security for all Nova Scotians. As you well know, sustainability is something we're very interested in and we're ready now to take our farm from our little self-sufficient holding to actually making a living. I really want Steve here more than he is now. And it would give us the opportunity to diversify a little into the bakery. Ah well, one job at a time. It's better to do one job 100% than two jobs half as well. FarmWorks is super interesting so I'm going to ask permission and then tell you more about it tomorrow if that's ok.

Well friends, my hour is up. Time to put another log in the fire and go play with my new kitchenaid mixer that Steve and Chris my son got me for Christmas thanks to a 40% off sale and a $50 rebate coupon I had. I'm feeling very blessed!

Love to you all. Stay warm, healthy, eat your veggies and do something nice for a stranger this week would you? Even if it's just buying a coffee for the person behind you in line in the drive-thru.

Pics to follow: technical difficulties

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Apple Butter, Pumpkin Butter, Yes, it's Harvest Time.

Autumn is definitely here. On the east coast the seasons turn slowly compared to other places we've lived and nowhere is that more evident than here in Nova Scotia. It's easily been a month or more since the leaves began losing their summery green glow and revealing the colours underneath of gold and red, but now I'd estimate that we're at least 25% of the way there and each morning as the frost melts off the leaves the subtle march towards Winter continues. Now is the time of mists and apples. Harvest.

Due to earlier than expected frost the garden was put to bed early this year. Some things like the beets and herbs are still fine but if you even whisper the word frost near basil it'll shrivel up and die. I'm going to lift a few of my bigger plants and get them trimmed and potted indoors but apart from that it's really the time of year that we rest from our labours, examine our success and failures, and plan for the coming Spring.

Oh, and of course it's apple season again!

We sold almost all of our Gravensteins this year at the Farmers Market and we'll probably sell about a quarter of our Cortlands but the bulk of them will be saved for eating fresh, for apple butter, and for sauce and pie filling. Just the thought of it is making me hungry.

Have you had apple butter and pumpkin butter before? Not everyone makes or knows how to use it, but it's like a smooth apple sauce that is spiced. It's great on toast as a spread or even dolloped on top of your oatmeal for some sweet and spicy goodness in the morning. Today's the day for the first batch of apple butter and I'm now blessed to have another crockpot after the incident last year where Jordan melted my base. Note to self: Do not let children turn on the wrong ring and walk away while your crock pot is sitting on the cooktop. Luckily the crock itself is still fine so I can use it in the oven.

You can make apple butter on low heat on the stove but I've found the best and easiest way is to use the crock pot or slow cooker method. You can't accidentally scorch the bottom as it thickens and it can cook overnight which means you wake to a delicious smelling house in the morning. Plus if you cook overnight it frees up more time during the day for other things like canning your apple butter or peeling more apples, lol. Here's my recipe and please note, you can substitute brown or golden sugar or honey in quantities from 1 cup to 3 cups. Obviously 3 cups of sugar per 3 pounds of apples is incredibly sweet. I can double this recipe and still have it fit in my 7 quart oval crock pot. Apple butter slow cooked in the oven or crock takes on a more evenly caramel colour than the stove top version I make, even using the same recipe. It can also vary depending on the variety of apples used. For a truly gourmet butter, mix a combination of sweet and tart apples and one cup of honey to sweeten. Really, whatever apples you've got will work.

Approximately 3 lb. fresh apples- Cortland, Bramley, Ginger Gold, Honey Crisp etc.
1-3 cups sugar, white or brown
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. cloves
Dash of salt
3/4 cup water or fresh apple cider (or even frozen juice if you have it)
Fill your crock pot 3/4 full with peeled, cored and sliced apples. Sprinkle the honey or sugar over the apples and mix together. Mix the spices and salt into the cider and pour over the apples making sure it's all mixed nicely.  Cover and cook on low setting overnight or until the butter is of a thick, spreadable consistency.If apple butter has too much liquid, remove lid and cook on high until thickened. Stir often as butter thickens to prevent scorching.
Store in refrigerator for up to 6 weeks. Freeze for longer storage. You can get longer storage by canning using glass jars and the usual 10 minute hot water processing method and leaving 1/2 inch head space in the jars before boiling.

Other tips I can give you from our farm experience are that you're going to want lots of this to give as gifts to family and friends, get your kids to do some of the picking and peeling, and invest in an apple peeler, they're fun for the kids to use and get lots of peeling done quickly without wasting a lot of fruit.

Ok I'm off to peel Cortlands. They're just coming into season for the next 2 weeks but since I'm going to be visiting friends and family on the west coast I need to get all my processing done in the next week. Nothing like a little bit of pressure to get the work going!

Happy Harvest to you all.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Helping a Friend in Need

I know it must seem that I do not love you any more, dear reader, but I do. I've just had an awful lot on my plate recently and for the past 6 weeks I've had various parents visiting, a market to run, kids, farm, family responsibilities and one of my best and dearest friends is dying thousands of miles away and I'm struggling to help her as best I can until I can get there in person October 15th. It's so frustrating!

I've got lots of things to tell you about but for now I'm just going to leave you with a short story of how amazing my friend Deanna Scrafton is and hope that you might consider making a small donation to help her out, she really is one of the most loving and caring people you'd ever meet. Just click on the link below to read a very brief summary of why Deanna and her kids need your help. And thank you from the bottom of my heart if you are able to donate. If you cannot we totally understand and ask that you'd remember her in your thoughts and prayers and share her story.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hot Humid Weather & Whitewash

It's the perfect weather for blight to start in the potatoes and tomatoes if we get a couple of damp days. Sheep farmers also call this maggoty weather. Keeping an eye on them is a priority too. But it's so miserable to be out there in the blazing sun and the heat.

Once it cools a few degrees we've got some property maintenance jobs to be done. Paint the tractor, whitewash the insides of the coops and barn, compost and shovel out the barn, put the rain cover on the barn extension and then we have a greenhouse to build. This in addition to baking and running a market, and growing veggies. Yikes! Over the coming winter I'm going to have a good think about how to streamline some of my projects. For example we're eating less lamb so I'm going to re-think my sheep situation. I sold some already.  And if the market keeps on being busy I'm going to focus more energy there.

But for now it's shaping up to be a wet and stormy weekend. We'll see. I thought it's a good time to shovel the barn out and give the whole thing a good thick coat of whitewash. The type of whitewash I'm talking about is the chalky, indoor style wash that's great for keeping bugs and germs at bay. The Amish use it to keep things sanitary inside their barns and it's simple to make and apply. I've heard you can use a sprayer but I'll just probably brush it on in two coats. It doesn't leave things sparkly and shiny but it does lighten up the walls and because it's so alkaline it doesn't provide a nesting space for insects and kills germs.

So how complicated is whitewash? It's not. There are hundreds of recipes but for smaller projects that are indoors, ie. chicken coops and small barns, I love this recipe.

Mix together in a bucket:
1 gallon warm water (4 litres)
2 pounds salt
Stir until salt is dissolved. Then add-
7 pounds hydrated lime and stir until it resembles lumpy pancake batter. It'll thicken a bit over time so you can add a little more water as needed.

Make sure it's hydrated lime and not garden lime or quick lime which is very caustic.

Now hop to it and brush that stuff on every wall, nook and cranny you can find. It'll dry to a powdery finish and if you get it on your skin or clothes it will just wash right off. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Just Checking In

It's a crazy week. My ex is here, the kids are having a rotten time, my parents arrive tomorrow and my adorable husband is fleeing on Thursday to go visit our kids out west. It's insanity here at the farm! But what can you do? It's been very hot so hopefully tomorrow will give us a little rain and some cooler temps. Gotta run. Hope you're finding time for fun this summer!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mid Valley Farmers Market - Up And Running!

I'm sorry I've been neglecting you all over the past month and a bit. Organizing the new farmers market has taken much longer than I thought it would. We held our first market on Saturday and it was amazing! We learned a lot about planning and organization and have a plan in place to improve each week. Do you want to know what the biggest problems we had were?

First,  crowd control. Actually it was more of a parking issue. We had so many people at times that the road got blocked and people were parking all over the place. Our solution for this is to move the vendors back further onto the grass to provide for a wider parking area. If the crowds continue to grow we'll have to mark out parking areas. There's lots of grassy space, we just need to encourage people to use it. Too many customers, what a problem to have! We appreciate all the community support, you guys are great. Please check back each week to see what's new and bear with us as we work out the kinks.

Second, lack of coffee. Vendors like us who get up early need coffee! Getting up at 3am to dig potatoes so they're fresh for you and to bake makes for one heck of a long day! And now everything is in place to just turn on the brewer as soon as we get there and have a pot ready within 20 mins. Our Bunn brewer has a large water tank so it takes a while to heat up. Plus I forgot my grounds until the second trip (silly me) so I kept everyone waiting.  On the subject of coffee, North Mountain Coffee in Berwick have agreed to donate us coffee each week which is terrific! Plus I hear that North Mountain coffee is delicious according to everyone who had some. I don't drink it personally but it's easy at the market to find other vendors who will sample it for me :)  We paired it up with wild blueberry muffins and cinnamon buns and it was great. As the cooler weather gets here I'm sure Meghan will do even more business. And thanks North Mountain for the coffee and the donation to the basket, the winner was thrilled!

A few of our vendors didn't come as scheduled for whatever reason but we're still accepting applications and hope to grow the market over time. If you're interested in finding out more just send me a message to managermidvalleymarket.com  We had a good turn out and sales were much higher than expected for all vendors except the coffee. We have a great little group of regular customers forming and we're available rain or shine because we've got the community centre booked until mid October and we can move inside if the weather gets crummy.

Look for the produce to change as the seasons change. Apples are beginning for us in September with our main crops of Cortlands available in October. Lettuces and peas will start to reappear as the weather cools and tomatoes and peppers should be available this week for at least one of our sellers. Yum!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Announcement and Farmers Market Update

Well the paperwork is in order and all the inspections are completed. We're now officially:

And to make things even better it's raining now :) After a couple of hot dry weeks it was getting really tricky to water such a large garden, so basically half of the garden got watered once and the rest of the plants just had to take their chances. This nice wet weather should be good for putting on some leaf growth so I'll get out there between showers with some fish fertilizer too. The plants will just love all that nitrogen! We're still about a month behind as far as production goes and the hot weather means we can't get things like lettuce and spinach re-planted for a month or so yet. I'll keep trying though. 

It's time to start the winter vegetables this coming week so that'll be fun, and we have a new wwoofer named Ceylin so I have some help. It' going to be a wet week so I'll have to get creative with the work. At least the weeds will be easy to pull out.


Our Farmers Market for the Greenwood / Kingston / Middleton NS area is getting off the ground at long last. We're going to call ourselves the Mid Valley Farmers Market and our first day open will be Saturday August 8th from 9am-1pm in the Wilmot Community Centre on the #1 Hwy. We have so much work to do up front though it's ridiculous. Luckily Sue and Beckie have got my back and are helping out with all sorts of stuff. We should have more details next week. If you're interested in being a vendor just send me an email and I'll direct you to our website which should be up and running soon or google our facebook page which should be up tonight.

Ok it's been a really long day so I'm off to bed now. Enjoy your weekend!

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About Me

Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, Canada