Sunday, June 29, 2008

Animal tales

This week started on a sad note with the still birth of one of the lambs. Les had been losing weight for the last few weeks and we were pretty convinced that her pregnancy had ended. When she went into labour, the first part that emerged was the lamb's ear, so Karen had to search out the two front hooves and try to get the head into position so Les could actually push the lamb out. It involved quite a lot of effort on many of our parts. Dave and Andrew held her on one side and I held her on the other so we could try and lift Les' hips into a better position for her to push the lamb out and for Karen to be able to reach the lamb itself. When Karen finally managed to get the lamb's head into position, I could see its tongue hanging out and knew that it couldn't be alive. Apparently a living lamb will help in its birthing, so it's just good that we managed to help Les get it out. The lamb was female and surprisingly large considering how small Les was during her pregnancy. Les still isn't doing so well, so she's being fed grain and I try to visit her a bit each day. I hope she gets better soon.

On Tuesday, I ended up milking Amber on my own. I was the only one who woke up in time and debated if I should go or not and decided that if I really wanted to be able to milk Amber, I shouldn't wimp out just because I didn't have company. It was a rather unsuccessful milking as I was quite nervous and still need a lot of practice with my milking technique. I think I only managed to milk about 500 ml from her before my hand got tired and I lost my teat to the calf who was suckling from the other side. So I wasn't feeling all that good about my luck with animals when I left the barn.

As I was walking back to the kitchen with the milk pail, I passed Karen and Gavin in the pasture watching the newest lamb that was just born while I was milking Amber. She looks like a thorougbred horse, and is quite as skittish! She's all black with a white blaze on her nose and a white foot. So cute! It was really good to see a new lamb born successfully after what happened with Les the day before.

Earlier in the week, I had managed to grab a few minutes to talk with Gavin about staying at Everdale for the whole season. So now I'll be staying at Everdale until the end of October (with some weeks away in July and August for my sister's wedding) and am a long term volunteer and can join the interns in their seminars and visits to other farms. So my first seminar with them was all day on Wednesday when we did a lot of creative farm dreaming, drawing out what our dream farms would look like and sharing them with the group. It was really interesting to see what everyone's dream farm looked like. We ended the day with a walk around the various farm fields talking about the reasons why different cover crops were planted and the challenges of the various fields.

Thursday, I participated in my first harvest. We harvested garlic scapes, which are the flower stem of the garlic before the flower gets produced. If you want your garlic bulb to grow well, you need to break off the scape so the plant will put its energy into the bulb and not the flower. We also harvested lettuce leaves from the lettuces that had been damaged in the hail storm from a couple weeks back. Since the outer leaves were so damaged from the hail, the lettuces couldn't be harvested whole for sale. Instead, we cut the whole, smaller, inner leaves to include in a spring salad mix. We also harvested the first round of snap peas, which was very sparse since its the next harvest that's more plentiful. I then spent pretty much the rest of the day wheel hoeing, which was definitely a huge workout!

On Friday, Nyna finally had her twins. She had been having difficulties with her pregnancy so Gavin just kept Dave and Mark with him and sent the rest of us spectators away. They successfully helped birth 2 white females, Mark helping with the first one which he named Quiver, and Dave with the second, who has a black spot on one ear, so Dave named her Dot.

At the end of the day, Garrett mentioned that Aly, the goat with the twin kids, wasn't acting herself, so I got out my goat book and went to take a look at her. She was lying down and panting and looked really bloated, so I called Karen over to confirm if she thought Aly might have bloat. Karen identified the stomach which gets bloated and we got Aly up and walking with me massaging her belly to try and get things moving. We definitely heard some gurgling in her belly from the massaging and she perked up and was able to eat the hay we put out for her, so I felt good that I had managed to help her feel better. It can't have been a serious case of bloat for the walking/massaging technique to work, but really, I just wanted to avoid it getting to a serious case where you have to insert a feeding tube to add baking soda or vegetable oil to bring down the gas, or the worst case scenario where you have to puncture a hole in the stomach to let out the excess gas. And it felt really good to be able to try out such a non-invasive treatment and be able to see the animal perk up afterwards from it. And my reward...getting to play with her kids who sucked on my fingers and totally jumped all over me...probably because I smelled like Aly after massaging her so much ;P

Saturday, I got to work in the farm store for most of the day and see how the CSA worked. It was really encouraging to meet so many people who wanted to support local agriculture.

I spoke to Liz later in the weekend who updated me on the Aly situation. Apparently Aly had some sort of infection from the pregnancy/birthing, and when I saw her, had bloat on top of that. She's being treated with medication now so she should get better soon. Her udder has dried up as a result, and the kids are now being bottle fed. I'm just glad that Aly's going to get better now, as another farmer in the area had the same thing happen to her goat, but the goat died before they could start treating her. It's sad that Aly is no longer producing milk, but I'm glad she'll be getting better, and hope that I can help with the bottle feeding of the kids!

This coming week, I'm going to get on the Everdale computers and post some pictures so you can see what it's like at the farm. And for those of you who are local, do come and visit!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dark and stormy week

The weather has been unseasonally cold and wet for a while, but this week has been the hardest to deal with. Everyone felt cold and damp much of the time, and I felt hungrier than usual, probably because more calories were being burned to stay warm. Dave and I were working on moving irrigation hoses and kept talking about chocolate bars and not being able to get a snack since we were at the vegetable field which is about a kilometre away from Everdale. Eventually, Andrew went back to get the truck and he brought us back bananas and dried fruit. Bananas are such great fruits for energy. I definitely have no problem with having them imported! My chocolate bar craving from this week prompted me to get my sister to buy me a box of Mr. Big bars from Costco, so I'll be sure to have some on me in the field this next week :)

There was a violent hail storm on Monday afternoon that did some damage to the leafy vegetables, setting them back by about a week or two. We were working outside, unpacking and cleaning beets, and had to run indoors when the storm hit. The hail itself looked like crushed ice and came down with enough force to make standing out in it quite painful. It crushed a lot of the vegetation in the area so that there was a heady fragrance of herbs in the air. Specifically, there was a fresh, pineapple fruity smell in the air, which I suspect came from the wormwood which grows a lot in the area, and is apparently the plant used to make absinthe.

In general, the constantly wet weather has made it harder to get work done on the farm. The tractor can't go on the field when it's too wet, so tractor-tine weeding can't happen, and neither can transplanting. So we did a lot of weeding with hand hoes, and the wheel hoe. When you've got good soil and rotate your crops, the bane of organic farming doesn't seem to be bug pests, but rather, weeds. If you stay on top of weeding until the plants have established themselves, then you ensure healthy plants producing more fruit, and also make harvesting easier. Gavin constantly checks the fields to determine which ones need to be weeded, using which method, and ultimately, has to decide if a row has so little vegetable germination and so much weed growth, that it should just be plowed under and new plantings made. So far this has been done for 2 rows of seeded carrots. Two others are being kept and will be mown at a higher level to see how the carrots grow if weeds are controlled by mowing instead of by removal.

And continuing in the spirit of experimentation which is alive and well at Everdale, we prepared and planted 6 trial plots in different varieties of switch grass. Switch grass is a fuel crop, not for liquid fuels but as solid mass for burning. It apparently has one of the most efficient input to energy output ratios of any planted crop. This set of trial plots will be watched for 3-5 years as switch grass takes a few seasons to really establish itself. The planting process was quite fun as it involved sowing the seed by hand and then having to stomp all over the plots to make sure the seed was well pressed into the ground. This happened on Thursday, the first day that the farm store was open to harvest share members, so a lot of families went by us wondering why we seemed to be dancing all over the plots. One family of girls came and joined us in the stomping fun. It was quite interesting to see the steady stream of harvest share members coming in to the farm to get their produce. These are the kinds of people who care about their food and also the farmers that produce it. Harris and Mark had driven a big truck of produce into Toronto that afternoon too for the CSA (customer supported agriculture) pickup in the Annex.

The week wasn't only about the plants and weather though. Aly had her twin male goats on Monday, and 3 new lambs were born this week. One of them looks like a cow, all black with white spots all over. Lynn got a new set of pigs this week and I'm very thankful that they haven't been testing out their electric fence boundary too much as they squeal very loudly, which would make sleeping difficult since they aren't too far from my tent! At the end of the day, I make my rounds to the various animal pens to see how the babies are doing.

I also worked with some motorized engines this week. I took the electric mower out for a spin to clear up the space around the solar panels for the solar showers (not that there's been enough sun to heat any water with this past week!). And I learned how to pump gasoline from a big tank into a small container in which I mixed about 4 litres of 40:1 two-stroke fuel. Hopefully the whipper snipper will now work, though that remains to be seen. Perhaps someone will have gotten it started while I've been gone as I had to return to Toronto midday on Friday this week.

Coming back into the city this weekend has been a bit of a culture shock. I was at Square One for a dentist appointment on Friday afternoon and walked in the door to a group of mall rats, who generally spook me even when I am in the city all the time. Then I walked through Wal-Mart as my dentist office is located in there (from pre-Wal-Mart days). It was a bit too much suburban mall crowding for me after the relative peace and quiet of Everdale. I spent that evening at Roy Thomson Hall for a TSO concert of Star Trek music, then Saturday afternoon at the Big on Bloor festival helping out with my sister's booth, and finally was at the Petite Fashionista event at a bar called Proof on Sunday afternoon and evening, again helping my sister, where I got my nails painted bright fuschia. I'm sure I'll get comments on my bright nail colour when I get back to the farm on Monday ;P I'm somewhat curious as to how they'll hold up to digging in the dirt!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The lambs and kids are arriving!

It's been another busy week at Everdale, but it's been especially exciting for me as a kid was born on Friday and twin lambs on Saturday! By the time I go back tomorrow, there may be many more lambs and kids on the farm, though I'm hoping the expectant mothers will hold off until I'm there to watch the birthings.

I saw Cinnamon give birth to her male kid,which was amazing! The kid emerged in the classic position where the 2 front hooves and the nose emerge first from the birth canal. At this point, the kid looked a bit stuck, so Gavin pulled on the legs a bit and helped push the vulva up over the kid's head and then the little guy just slipped right out. I was quite surprised by how big he was as I thought Cinnamon would be having twins. I'm not the best at estimating weight, by I suspect he's around 6-7 pounds. And he was up on his feet within the first 15 minutes or so of being born! It was really great to watch him trying to get up and seeing him look for his mother's udder. Since he was born on Friday the 13th, Garrett named him Jason, but Lynn is more inclined to Nutmeg. We'll just have to see what name sticks! That said, he may have to stay without a name as he will be raised as meat for 6 months. Male goats aren't usually kept since they don't produce milk or more animals, and if not castrated, need to be kept separate from the other animals, which requires more fencing and pasturage. The father of this batch of kids was himself only six months old and was slaughtered soon after the breeding. The meat eaters among us ate some of him earlier in the week as Lynn had roasted a leg and some ribs with rosemary.

Then on Saturday, while the last farm tour of the day was going by, Wink gave birth to twin female lambs in the field. I was laying out lines for planting pole beans in the 1-acre field at the time, but managed to get to see them while they were still in the field, and helped Gavin carry them into the barn. I kept putting the lamb under Wink's nose so she would know where it was and follow us back to the barn. They kept bleating at each other as we walked down the hill. In the pen, Mark got to trim their umbilical cords and dip them into iodine. They're absolutely adorable and have been named Darling Shannon and Sunshine, though it will definitely be hard to tell them apart! One of them (I think Darling Shannon) was already starting to do the 4-footed hop that I love watching lambs do. They're both so much more leggy than I imagined! I think they're about 4-5 pounds each. The one I carried (I think it was Sunshine) certainly weighed less than a small bag of flour.

Really, the arrival of the kid and twin lambs eclipses so much else of the week, though many other things did go on. We did a lot more seeding in the greenhouse as there's a weekly schedule of new plants to start for weekly harvesting of salad greens for market. We also did a lot of weeding using a variety of methods: tractor mounted S-tines, hand hoeing, wheel hoeing, and flame weeding. Yes, flame weeding. This is done with a flame thrower of sorts and is used on fields that have been direct seeded where the germination is still underground. The flame burns up any weeds that have started to grow on top of the soil. On Thursday, we worked a super long day, not finishing until around 8 pm. We planted hundreds, actually, probably thousands, of vegetables that day! Mostly celery and celeriac, as well as the weekly salad greens transplants and some flowers for cutting.

Given how much work goes into planting vegetables: starting seedlings in the greenhouse, planting transplants in the field, weeding and then harvest, I cannot comprehend how we buy vegetables so cheaply in stores. Consider the celery that was planted this week. They take almost the whole season to grow, and quite a few weeks in the greenhouse beforehand, 3-6 hours of planting by a crew of 3-6 people and a tractor, weeding throughout the summer, and finally harvest. And we manage to buy non-organic celery for $0.99 at the grocery store? The math just doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever. If all the celery gets harvested (I'm estimating 800 plants) and is maybe sold for $2-3 each (my guesstimate of premium pricing since they're organic and sold at farmer's markets directly to consumers), then you're looking at a retail intake of $1600-2400. From seed to vegetable, they take 130-140 days to grow, and it still remains to be seen how many times we'll need to weed them before harvest. And garlic has an even longer growing time, with planting in the previous fall and no harvest for more than 6 months in the climate of Hillsburgh. Each plant gives you one garlic bulb. The last time I bought non-organic garlic, I think I got 3 bulbs for $0.99. Again, how does this math work out?

Apparently, in industrial farming where a farmer wholesales his/her produce, the farmer only gets $0.02 on the dollar for each vegetable that is finally sold in a retail store. I cannot imagine putting all this time and effort into organic celery just to get back $0.02 for each celery stalk. And even assuming that it costs much less to plant and maintain with industrial methods (machine planting and lots of pesticides), I still can't comprehend how any farmer even pays for equipment and inputs (seeds and pesticides) at $0.02 on the dollar.

I also helped with moving hay from a rented barn on the Berry farm (apparently a RIM employee) and had some asthma issues. Stupid me, I didn't put the mask on until I was already feeling affected, and had left my Ventolin discus back on the farm. But I stayed calm and kept my breathing under control until we had filled up the van and drove back. I begged off working on the next hay load after that though and went to unpack and wash overwintered beets instead. I'm not sure if my reaction was to the hay or just all the dust stirred up from throwing pitchforks of hay into the back of the cube truck. I'm just glad I didn't have Gwen's job of standing in the cube and packing the hay in. She did wear an industrial respirator for the job, but it was definitely hot and dark in there!

On Wednesday, while the interns were off the farm for the day on one of their CRAFT field trips (interns have seminars on the farm and on other farms), I helped lead a school group from Oakville of 60 kindergarten kids. I was in charge of showing them how to card fleece and then roll the fibers into a lumpy piece of yarn, which I then encouraged them to use as a temporary mustache that they could store in their pockets. I was surprised by how many of the kids chose the mustache route over tying their pieces into bracelets! I was also in charge of passing out chicks for them to hold and pet, which was super nerveracking. I had them sitting in circles of 20 kids with moms (not a dad in the group!) and teachers helping out, but the chicks by this point were over a week old and starting to move around a lot more and trying to flap away, so they kept shocking the kids so they'd stand up and drop the chick. I was so worried that a chick would die from all the trauma! But they survived and I put them all back, living, with the other chicks. After the school group left, I spent the rest of the afternoon weeding the flower gardens (native plants in the beds by the community building, and cutting flowers in the big wheel on the hill) which was a good relaxer after dealing with all the kids! I cannot imagine being a kindergarten teacher.

After the interns got back on Wednesday, we took a field trip in the evening out to Val's farm where we saw her new kids and goats, her really big cow (but with smaller horns than Amber, the milk cow at Everdale) and female calf, and big work horses. The triplet kids were very cute and soft to pet. I also saw how they had set up their pasturing system in a wheel with the animal housing at the centre and different pie wedges radiating out so that pasturing could be easily rotated by moving fence gates. Then we went to to look at the vegetable garden and helped clear part of an unplanted field of its very stubborn alfalfa plants. It's super satisfying to grab hold of one of those huge alfalfa roots and manage to pull out the whole thing in one piece. Those roots grow down many feet! We were given some Cocoa Camino chocolate as a thank you which we all ate with our dirt covered hands on the ride back to Everdale.

My standard for cleanliness is definitely very different while I'm on the farm. Because I was attacked so much by mosquitoes my first week, I decided not to wash my hair with shampoo while I was on the farm but just to use water. My first shower of this week ended up being a freezing affair as Gwen was climbed up on the water tank trying to readjust the inputs. I had foolishly already soaped my face before we were guaranteed warm water, so had to finish the showering process in the cold water. Afterwards, my hair still smelled like shampoo, which just goes to show how much residue is left in your hair by hair products!

On Friday evening, Ben from the Home Alive! straw bale house starting running a weekend workshop on how to build a straw bale house. We got to tour his house along with the workshop participants, and didn't have to do any cooking and kitchen cleaning for the rest of the weekend since we just ate with the workshop group. On Saturday morning, as I was eating my porridge, Ben walks in with his wife Jennifer who I hadn't met yet. And this being a much smaller world than I ever expect, it turns out that Jennifer was in Arts & Science with me at Mac. We're going to catch up one night over coffee. Strange to think that we've essentially been living on the same farm for the past 2 weeks! I've been in to mulch the house's permaculture garden at least twice since I've been at Everdale too.

And I almost forgot, but this is the week where I've tried my hand at milking Amber. I can't remember if Gavin gave us the first lesson last week or this week, but I went once with a larger group of interns who were interested in learning and had a chance to milk a few strokes, and then on Saturday morning, I went in with Mark and we milked Amber. I probably milked about half a cup's worth and Mark milked another litre and a half. I definitely need to practice more and will be getting up at about 5:30 most mornings so I can join the milking at 6 am. I suspect Mark and I will be the dedicated milkers as the other interns haven't shown as much interest, though perhaps Dave may join us as well. While we're milking, we always have to watch for Amber shuffling around and potentially knocking over or mucking up the milk pail, or swinging her head around too much. We must be wary of her rather large horns! Hopefully she'll get used to us soon and we won't have to distract her so much with grain while milking.

I think that's it for this past week...writing up these posts, it always amazes me how many different activities end up happening each week. I feel like I've learned so much even in just 2 weeks and will be talking to Gavin this next week about the possibility of me staying with them for the rest of the season, right into October, with some weeks taken off here and there. There's just so much more to do and learn. Lynn has agreed that I can help her with the goat milking and subsequent cheese making, and at some point I'll be helping Karen with the sheep milking once all the lambs are born and we can start milking some of the ewes. I'd also like to help Mark with the creation of 'value added' products, like preserved fruits/vegetables, soaps, etc., made from the farm's produce. Dave has been really funny as he's decided that his 'value added' product will be swags of rye, which do indeed look really good. I'll probably make myself a rye wreath to put up for Christmas. Let me know if you'd like to order one as your Christmas wreath and I'll see what I can do for you!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Journey's start

I have survived my first week of farming at Everdale! It's been a really wonderful first week that has confirmed to me that I made the right choice in coming out here. This week I worked on seeding in the greenhouse, planting in the fields, setting up pea trellises, hand weeding sweet peas, compost digging, mulching and bringing the cow in at night. I've held baby chicks and turkeys in my hand (I like rubbing their fuzzy heads under my chin), learned how to pick up and hold a chicken and visited with the pregnant goats and sheep, milk cow and work horses. I can't wait until the lambs and kids are born in the next few weeks!

I also have more mosquito bites than I can count, am more sunburned than I'd like, and have been getting a real workout going up and down hills and spending a lot of time in a crouch. But because there's so much work to be done each day, my muscles haven't had a chance to get stiff and sore and I feel extremely healthy and energetic after the week of labouring outside. I have also gotten used to sleeping in a tent, using composting toilets and solar showers and am quite enjoying it all!

I set up my tent at the top of a ridge where I can see the whole farm laid out before me. So far, my tent has stayed relatively water tight, even through nightly rains and many thunderstorms. By Friday night, I was sleeping through the night, and now am a bit worried about sleeping in past breakfast! I need to buy myself a windup alarm clock, though I do think my internal clock has now been set for 6 am wake ups. I've shifted my sleep schedule from my city schedule of 2 am to 8:30 am, to 10 pm to 6:00 am. So really, I'm getting more sleep now...or at least I will once I start sleeping through the night.

Life at the farm is quite structured, with everyone gathering for breakfast at 6:45 am, a staff meeting to assign tasks for the day at 7:30 am, lunch around noon, and a finish time of around 5:30 pm. Different people are assigned to make breakfast and lunch each day, and 2 others are scheduled for after lunch clean up. Dinners are a bit haphazard, usually involving lunch leftovers, and a lot of tortilla chips and salsa. I've never seen a group of people go through so many tortilla chips and salsa before! I will be added to the cooking schedule next week, so I'll have to start thinking what I'll cook for everyone. Meals have been vegetarian and very different from what I'm used to, but everything has been really tasty and very healthy, so I'm definitely not hungry and have lots of energy for the work each day.

Farm tasks run the gamut from grounds maintenance to planting to tour group leading. Until school ends for the summer, there seem to be 2-3 school groups coming in each week, and this past Saturday was the opening weekend for tours and the farm store this summer. A large part of Everdale's mandate is to educate, which is why a lot of time and effort is spent on school groups and providing tours to the public for both the farm and the straw bale house.

I had my first visitors to Everdale this Saturday as Dy and Bob came down to see me and take a tour of the place. And since the world is always surprising me by how small it is, it turned out that I recognized another person who was visiting the farm, who turned out to be Nicole from Mackenzie Financial where I worked for 4 years when I first graduated from McMaster. It was really nice to have visitors my first week and hopefully Dy will encourage other DBRSers to come out and see me!

One of the things I was a bit worried about when coming out to the farm was getting adjusted to communal living. After all, I have been living on my own in Toronto for over 5 years now. I'm actually quite surprised by how easily I've adjusted to spending so much time with Everdale's staff and interns. There are 6 farm interns who were picked out of a pool of about 45 applicants and will be working and learning on the farm from April to October. They're a varied group of personalities with really different backgrounds, but all with a love of the environment and the will to learn as much as they can while working hard at Everdale. There are 5 guys: Carl, Dave, Simaron, Mark and Andrew, and one girl: Gwen, who I think is the youngest of the group at 21. Then there's Gavin (the farm manager), Karen and Lynn, who are some of the original founders of the farming operation. Also living at Everdale are Garrett (working on the launch of a biodiesel co-op) and Harris (assists Gavin), who have set up some great prospector tents that seem huge and luxurious compared to my little 4-person dome tent! Joseph, who works for Seeds of Diversity, is also there occasionally and is working on building a Seed Maze. Ben who builds straw bale houses, lives in the straw bale house on-site that was first built as a demonstration building at a housing expo in Toronto. Everyone is really fun to talk to and there's so much to learn from each of them. I really look forward to getting to know them all a lot better in the next few weeks!

As a rather sad close to this post...my family had to put down our dog Jasmine on Saturday. She turned 14 at the beginning of May and a bone tumour started growing on her head about 2 months ago. I'm sad that cancer got her in the end and she couldn't just die of old age in her sleep. When I do finally find the place that will be my farm, I will plant lilac bushes for both Beauty (who died last fall) and Jasmine.