Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How to eat for less in a world of expensive veggies.

I had a great chat with my dad last week and then with my son Jordan about the price of veggies and eating well. And this morning on Facebook a friend of mine in one of our groups answered the question of "do you support and buy local" by saying that he bought what he could afford, mostly canned vegetables, processed foods and pasta. He's a senior on a fixed income and I think he represents a lot of people who have to eat and don't have a lot of money. 

When cauliflowers $7 per head people freaked out and all the national newspapers in Canada carried stories about rising food costs. It was the big news story of the week and everyone was interested because let's face it, we all eat. 

So what's causing these price shocks? The majority of our imported produce is paid for in US dollars and with the current exchange rate that means things cost more. It's winter, and there's little local produce available. And people have forgotten how to eat seasonally. We don't prepare ahead of time by storing out of season foods and we expect bananas, strawberries and lettuce to be available year round. How can we complain about the price of lettuce being $4 when it has to come all the way from South America? Of course it's going to cost more. 

I'm not saying we shouldn't eat lettuce in the winter but what we should do is focus our diets on what is local and available. For us in the Maritimes that means roots, cabbage, leeks, potatoes etc. Andy's squash right now is 33 cents a pound. Potatoes are 25 cents a pound and carrots and turnips remain pretty steady year round at under a dollar a pound. Once you've got the basics covered you can add in the lettuce and tomatoes etc. Even frozen vegetables like peas and green beans are fairly cheap and retain a lot of their nutrition. 

The $7 cauliflower didn't last. When people asked me what I thought about that situation I said it was simple, wait a week and see if it goes down again (it did). I also told them that now is the perfect time to join a CSA veggie box program like ours. You're essentially doing what the big guys do and pre-buying your vegetables at a fixed price. Your share is paid at the beginning of the season and regardless of what happens you'll get your veggies delivered fresh and on time for 26 weeks. 

I realize not everyone can afford to join a CSA so another great option is growing your own food and learning to store it. There's really nothing quite like a home grown perfectly ripe tomato sliced up in a sandwich or peas right off the vine. If you're finding that seeds are expensive then I recommend you enter our contest and take the seed package as a prize.  It's got some good hardy and productive varieties.

 Now is the time to think about having a garden. If you've never grown one before then start now and every year you'll learn more and more. Talk to friends and neighbours, gardeners are a friendly bunch and will love to take you under their wings. 

Happy Garden Planning. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

CSA Veggie Box Program NS

If you've read my blog for a while you know that we not only have market experience, but we used to do a CSA (community supported agriculture) program where we shared the harvest with our subscribers. We enjoyed the financial support and they loved waking up on a Saturday morning to find fresh produce waiting on their doorstep.

2016 marks the beginning of our new CSA in Nova Scotia. Yes, we will have veggies to deliver to you for 26 weeks starting in May. Our delivery areas will cover the HRM, Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford, Sackville, Porters Lake, Mt Uniacke, Windsor, Kentville, Greenwood, Wilmot, and Bridgetown. We will offer delivery to your door for a fee or have central pick up locations that are convenient and reduce our driving. And in addition to our fresh fruits and veggies we'll be offering meat, eggs, bread, preserves and soap. You can order as much or as little as you like and you're guaranteed good wholesome organic food and locally made goats milk lotions and soaps.

We're still in the planning stages, the CSA is a partnership between 5 farms and since we are all busy with the markets and planning for the coming year it's taken a while to formally get things rolling. But we are taking names for our shares if you're interested and we have decided to cap our shares at 50 for this first year. We will most likely have extra boxes available each week and will sell them to our wait list first and then to our retail partners second. Our goal is to provide the very best quality and service in 2016 and then expand again for the following year.

We will have several different sizes of veggie box available from a small box for singles or occasional veggie eaters right up to an XL box for veggie lovers and larger families. Bread, eggs, preserves etc will be available as a standing order ie. You receive them each week, or you can order by a Wednesday and have them delivered on your next delivery day. Everything will be on our website soon and I'll add a link here once it's working.

If you're interested in getting your name on the list, please email me. Contact details in the tab above. Or leave me a comment. As soon as we have things ready to roll we will let you know. Probably in the next ten days.

To answer a few questions I've been asked so far:

Yes, we can split the payments for you. Half when you sign up and half by June 1st.
Yes, we can take credit cards and eTransfer, cash or cheque.
Yes, we are registered farms and have our HST number, but there's no HST on anything you buy from us, makes a nice change doesn't it?
Yes, your share is transferable. If you're going on vacation and do not want your delivery for a week or two you can either let someone else come and get it for you or you can donate your share to the local food bank. We support both Kingston and Nictaux.  If you move or are posted we recommend letting us know and we can offer your share to someone on the waiting list. We would pro-rate the amount, charge them and when they pay we'd send you that amount as a refund.
Any unclaimed shares (it's strange but sometimes people don't come to pick up) will be donated unless other arrangements are made prior to delivery.
Yes, if you really hate a certain vegetable such as tomatoes, we will do our best to substitute for something else in your share, but please understand that with lots of shares to pick, sort and pack each week we may make a mistake occasionally or may not have a lot to substitute. We will do our best.
No, we've never missed a delivery. But if really bad weather happens it's normal to have some crop damage. We try to plan ahead for this by planting in different locations and lots of variety, but an early summer snow could mean you just get a lot of hardy greens in your box that week. We always try our best to deliver a good variety and it changes as the seasons roll around. There simply aren't raspberries available in May or November.
Yes, we put out a weekly newsletter detailing the contents of your box, farm events, recipes and uses for your produce, and funny stories.
Yes, you can work off part of your share and pay less. If you're interested in this option just send me a message. Kids are welcome but will require close supervision. We love having our share holders come visit and there will be several social events throughout the year from work days to the annual pig roast, don't worry we'll have lots of vegan food available too.

Spring Traditions - Candlemas and Imbolc

According to Phil the Groundhog and our local Shubenacadie Sam, they didn't see their shadow and therefore we will have an early Spring. What am I talking about? Today is February 2nd, and all over the Northern Hemisphere there are traditions and festivals celebrating the long awaited return of Spring. Crepe day in Belgium and France (not to be confused with pancake day in the UK next week), Candlemas, the end of the Persephone period and in North America Groundhog Day. While there are religious roots in many of these festivals, it being 40 days since the birth of Christ and therefore his presentation at the Temple etc. The universal appeal comes from the fact that Spring is approaching and the days are getting noticeably longer again and so many folk traditions have developed around the arrival of Spring or another 6 weeks of Winter. The story of Imbolc is one I know from my Celtic ancestors. It bears strikingly similarity to other stories. 

It's still not a lot warmer here in Nova Scotia although it's been a mild Winter so far. We're all a little bit paranoid though because last Winter was pretty nice until February when we just got one dump of snow after another until we had over 15 feet. And there's a legendary storm that hit Nova Scotia in 1977 on this date. But this morning has dawned calm and is now beautiful and sunny and it's hard to be grumpy and pessimistic sitting in the sunshine which is just a little higher in the sky and holds a little more warmth. Local tradition shows the practical side of Maritimers, they say that by Groundhog Day you should have half your firewood and half your hay. Last Winter we did, and we actually ran out of hay and had to buy a lot in because we had such a late Spring. Our fields weren't starting to grow until well into May. It's good advice, and we do have about half our firewood still left at the moment. The good thing about that is if it doesn't get used up then it'll be lovely and dry for next Winter.

I'm really looking forward to getting seeds started soon. But resisting the temptation to plant too many too early can be really difficult. If you know you can't plant your stuff out until May, then you don't really want to be planting until the end of March or into April. It's far better to have younger shorter seedlings than to have them all be root bound and tall and leggy. SOme of the seeds I start in February are cool season veggies for planting out in the greenhouse and some of the tomatoes I will use for grafting later. There are also some seeds that can take up to 3 weeks to germinate and they need the extra time. Being organized involves checking the dates you want to transplant and then working backwards to figure the rest our.
     For example: I want to plant my pepper plants out in the field on May 25th. I know that my seedlings will be 8 weeks old when they're transplanted so that brings us back to about March 28th, and I know that typically peppers germinate in 10-21 days so that brings us back to the middle of March. Therefore I know that to have my peppers ready for the end of May I need to plant them around the middle of March. Does that make sense?

So why don't we just start them all now and wait for the weather to be warm enough to plant out? Well, for one we'd quickly run out of room in the greenhouse. Having all those peppers in increasingly bigger pots takes up a lot of room, and they would suffer from not having properly grown out roots. 92 little seedlings in a tray don't take up much space but 92 plants in half gallon pots sure do. The more mature the plant, the more likely it is to suffer transplant shock which can delay plants by several weeks and thereby negate the fact that you started it early. My personal preference is to let plants continue to grow at an even rate and not stump their development along the way. It makes for healthier and more disease resistant plants and better yields.

Planning ahead and writing these things down will really help as we get into the gardening season.

My seed order still isn't in but I'm almost done. Hopefully today or tomorrow. I'm still sick if you can believe that, and it's driving me batty. I'm looking forward to my first greenhouse being built so that I can get more fresh air and sunshine, maybe that will help my lungs. In the meantime I'm just going to dream about warmer days to come and enjoy the sunshine.

Just ten more days to get your entry in for the Spring Contest. What better way to beat the February Blahs than to win something? Just check back a couple of posts ago for the easy contest details.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Market Gardener by JM Fortier

If you read Tuesdays contest announcement (if not check it out) you may be wondering how it is that being a farmer in the middle of Winter I have the money to be giving things away, including a new copy of such a great book. Well, I wrote to the author and asked for a copy. I explained that it was for a contest for you all and what my blog hopes to accomplish and he wrote back saying that he feels passionately about what he does and how important it is and that he'd be happy to send me a copy. So YAY! It's nice to receive support from other farmers and especially those we admire.

So if you haven't read his book or if you're toying with the idea of picking up a copy I'll give you my review and maybe that will persuade you to go to your local bookstore and look at a copy for yourself. You can also find a preview on Amazon. There's a downloadable Kindle version for your smartphone that makes good reading if you're waiting somewhere and need to pass the time. The preview is free of course so check it out.

The book, while aimed at current and potential market growers, covers not only how to grow methods but also the reasons behind them and in other cases there are options presented, not just what works for them. They discuss tools, marketing, harvest and storage, and how their deliveries work. I know my husband likes the more technical descriptions because then he can copy them or come up with adaptations to use here at our place. Overall this is a good book that connects you with the author while also being of practical help from the planning stages through the harvest and selling of your produce. I would say "I'd buy this book" but of course I already have. ��

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Garden Giveaway Contest - Win before Spring!

It's time for a celebration! Thanks to all of you my blog is well on its way to 300,000 page views and so I think it's time for another contest and giveaway don't you? Besides, it gives us all something to look forward to during these dark and dreary days in the northern hemisphere. Unless you're one of my readers in India or the tropics, what is your weather like there in January? Does it stay fairly much the same all year except during monsoon?

You're a pretty darn loyal bunch so you deserve something awesome this time for prizes. My book is still not done, it's too early to celebrate with tomato plants, okay I've got it! I'll do a first, second and third prize and I'll let you pick.

I will draw the name and let you pick your own prize. If you've won before, you can still enter. If you live in my household you cannot, lol. Yes, you can enter and give the prize to someone else if you want to.

Prize Choices for First are any two of the following:

The Market Gardener- an amazing book by JM Fortier that will be helpful for anyone interested in growing for a profit, no matter how small the scale. I love my copy, the poor books only a few months old and is half beaten to death from over use lol. We will have an English language copy available for this prize, but I'm pretty sure it comes in French at your local bookstore.


A box of fresh vegetables from our CSA. Yes, this only works if you live in NS between Annapolis Royal and Porters Lake. We will deliver.


A handmade Swarovski crystal spider or dragonfly to catch the light in a nice sunny window in your home.


A selection of non-GMO seeds from our garden, veggies and possibly a few flowers and herbs because what would life be without a little flavour and colour?


Two grow bags. I will be doing a post about this later in the month. Fabric grow bags suitable for growing tomatoes or peppers on your doorstep, balcony or in your greenhouse.

Shipping is of course included in the crystal, grow bag, seed or book choices so feel free to enter even if you live a long way from Nova Scotia. We don't discriminate, we love all our readers and most of you actually live thousands of miles away. Last year it just happened to be that the winner of the tomatoes turned out to be a friend who lives fairly locally so that worked out well!

Second and Third prize will be at my discretion and will be one of the prizes listed above unless there's something you'd really like to have, and then I'm sure we can talk. After all I want you to be happy!

How To Enter

Send an email with you name, country you live in and email to  Please answer the following 3 questions:

1. What do you want to read about on my blog this year?
2. Why do you think people are reluctant to become more self-reliant?
3. How do we overcome the negatives and work together as friends, families and communities to build better self confidence and self reliance? You can relate this to skills, knowledge or food.

Contest is open to everyone regardless of age or postal code. Deadline is February 12th at noon AST.

Seed Money

Having a nursery and a market garden requires a lot of advance planning. And just like everything else in life, the better the plan, the easier the work later on. Sure, we could just write everything down on paper but having computer records means we can track as we go, share with others, and print off multiple copies. You can also keep track from year to year which is really helpful. That's not to say I don't use paper, I use a lot, but I appreciate the ease of organization that can come from using a good computer program. So with that in mind I'm happy to announce that as of tomorrow I will have a working laptop again! My MacBook, rest her soul, is retired because she's not working and I was able to find an older laptop on kijiji for $120 which my son assures me is a good deal for this particular one. It's older, the keyboard has issues, but the processor is good and yes, I will be more diligent about backing up my files on this one. You might be wondering how I'm typing this blog entry for today. Certainly not on my phone although I have done that in the past. Since I was already driving yesterday I checked kijiji and was also able to buy a used Bluetooth keyboard that connects to my iPad mini. My mum had this little iPad but didn't use it very much so she passed it down to me. It's lovely! Like a bigger version of my phone. I don't care that it's in used condition, the set up with the little keyboard works great albeit tiny. The keyboard keys feel nice just a bit cramped and I wonder if this is how people with very large hands feel every day. It's a bit comical but I'm making it work and for the $30 I spent on the keyboard I'm very happy with it. It gives me a little ultralight computer to use when I'm out and about so no more excuse for not writing the blog regularly in 2016. I might even try my hand at making videos.

Do you want some happy news? Spring is coming! And with it our new growing nursery business. With some start-up money we are able to buy in our seed early, get the supplies we need for construction of greenhouses and build a retail greenhouse at Annavale Co-Op in Middletown. We're super excited to get this off the ground so as we get closer to Spring you'll be hearing all about it I'm sure. We'll give detailed instructions for construction and hopefully inspire you to try it yourself as well. Although it may seem daunting, timber framing a greenhouse is not as complicated as you might think and allows you to pitch your roof in the best way for snow shedding and light collection for your area. If you're local, we'll gladly accept any help on building days and are happy to share our knowledge with anyone who wants to learn.

I'm hoping to talk with Owen from Annpolis Seeds today about a couple of projects including peanut growing and seed collection. And I want to have my main seed orders done by the weekend. I know it seems like a lit of work and it is for sure, but selecting the nest varieties for our garden and climate mean better plants and food later in the year. If you think it's hard choosing the perfect carrots for your home garden, try selecting a variety for market growing that's organic. It's time consuming to say the least. But in the end all the time spent on planning had benefits and rewards throughout the year.

** Just a quick note about seeds, we get ours from Annapolis Seeds, West Coast Seeds, High Mowing Seeds and Veseys. If we discover something interesting well let you know.

Well it's 6:15 and the kids are starting to stir. I've had the fire going for a couple of hours now so the house is warming up nicely. My bedroom is up to almost 16 degrees, balmy! It's exam week right now so the schedule is a bit different what with kids finishing early and leaving at odd times but we make it work. It's hard to believe Jordan graduates in a matter of days. Wow. I'm very proud. Not only is he done school early, he's getting excellent grades in the 80s and 90s. Now it's time to find a job and keep saving his money for future schooling and his mission fund.

Have a lovely day wherever you are. I'd love to know what your plans and projects are for this coming growing season so feel free to drop me a line. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Deep Cold

I woke this morning to the hush of a deeply cold Winters night. The house is cool but not terribly so. Having my lovely husband at home means the bed is nice and warm. And the peaceful sounds of children and pets lightly snoring while the fire in the wood stove crackles reminds me almost of a spell being woven about the house to ward off the cold. I don't know if we will have another night this cold this year but we'll see. It's -17 Celsius as I type this. That's cold. Given the damp of the Maritimes it feels like -40 does on the prairies. 
This very cold air is what's fuelling the development of snow along the eastern states that has practically ground things to a halt. They're really getting hammered but I suspect it will clear soon enough. Their temperatures and ours will rise over the next couple of days and in the States things will melt. 
In the news the stories of high food prices and empty store shelves are a reminder that we need to be prepared for things like this by having water, food, candles and blankets tucked away. In our case we have food we can cook on top of the wood stove plus firewood. The kids will tell you that the first things we do when bad weather is forecast is fill our water jugs and all the animals waterers and food dishes and then top up the two wood bins we have inside the house. It means we are good for at least a day without having to go out in a blizzard to get more wood and that's good for everyone involved. 
We do still check on the animals during severe weather and if we know bad weather is on its way we prepare by putting down lots of dry bedding and filling up all the feeders with feed and some extra soybean meal for protein. Keeping drafts down to a minimum is really important too while making sure the ventilation means there's not a buildup of moisture in the barn. It's a balancing act for sure. 
Well I should get up and put wood in the stove. Our wood stove is a good size for our small house so that a good fire can burn without having to be constantly damped down and sooting up the chimney but is small enough that it doesn't keep a fire going all night. Getting any coals banked and the fire rekindled is my job. I'm sure the kids think the fire fairies do it sometimes and that the fire just magically refills itself but for the most part having the wood stove and feeding it just fits into the rhythm of daily farm life that measures out our days.

Stay warm my friends. Spring is coming and we are busy making plans. In the meantime I'm going to the Dr to get my horrible cough seen to and I'm getting my seed orders together. The food prices hopefully won't affect us so much and right now we're eating a lot of stored root vegetables and beans so we don't notice the price increases as much as others. 
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