Happy New Year everyone! As usual, it has been much too long since I last posted here, but I doubt that frequency will improve for 2017 ;P I'm currently 23 weeks pregnant and expecting my first child at the end of April. Skyler and I are definitely super excited and doing what we can to prepare for becoming parents...including having to hire someone to live and work full-time at the farm this year! The job posting details can be seen on the 'Job Posting' page.
2016 was definitely a tough year for weather here at the farm, though I'm very lucky to have fared much better than most. The cover cropping of the vegetable field from 2013-2015 must have improved the soil's capacity to hold water and also improve microbial life, because there was actually pretty great vegetable production, despite the hot and dry conditions. Cooler weather crops, like leafy greens, didn't hold well in the heat, and flea beetle pressure was the most I've ever seen, essentially decimating all brassica plants, even with row cover in place. Almost everything else just soaked in the added heat units and produced like crazy, especially the tomatoes, eggplant and peppers! I've never harvested so many eggplants in one season, which was amazing. And tomatoes came on heavy and steady right until frost when I was more than ready to take a break from harvesting them ;P In fact, I developed an aversion to tomatoes pretty much within the first couple weeks that they came into production...an aversion I now know to blame on early pregnancy ;P
Pretty much the whole end half of the 2016 season was a bit of a slog for me. It was so hot outside, with no shelter from the sun, and I was extremely fatigued every afternoon from being in my first trimester. But, I made it through, and thankfully, some more regular rains came down come September and the fall brassicas (collards, turnips, daikon, etc.) started growing well and were delicious at harvest in October. We had a very long and extended fall...quite warm right until the end of November, which gave me some time to more leisurely clean up the field.
While the vegetable field didn't give me the trouble you'd expect in a drought year, sheep troubles certainly made up for that ;P The drought meant pastures were not regrowing after grazing and we had to move the sheep further out into fields we hadn't originally expected to graze. The flock definitely ate a lot of goldenrod and weeds in July, which luckily seemed to give them lots of protein as they certainly maintained excellent body condition. In fact, the two ram lambs born this year were so fat from their mothers' milk and grazing on goldenrod that they were pretty much fully grown by the time we had to wean them from their mothers in mid July. The hay field also grew really slowly after first cut hay was harvested in late June, and after consultation with Tony, my haying expert, we decided not to expect any second cut hay this year but rotationally grazed the sheep there instead.
The hay field was much easier to manage for grazing because I didn't have to struggle with the lawn mower in the heat of the day to mow the lines for the portable electric fences to be set up. But the sheep did have to be moved every second day to keep them on fresh pasture and not overly deplete anything. You could easily see the positive effects of intensively managed sheep grazing on the hay field over the next 10 weeks, where the very first pens had regrown very lushly compared with the ungrazed parts of the field. Unfortunately, the sheep made one last break out for the season 3 days before they were scheduled to be put into the barn with hay feeding for the winter. We think they were spooked by the passage of a herd of deer, who were themselves perhaps spooked by coyotes? Anyway, they all jumped the fence, except Spot, who was caught in the electric netting and left behind by the others, who went through the unfenced south end of the farm, across Side Road 8, and into the neighbour's field. When the neighbour's father stopped by my place to ask if I had any sheep missing, I rounded up the troops (Skyler's family) and we went looking. The main flock was found pretty quickly and persuaded to run back to the farm and into their pen, but in the process of running amok, three had gotten separated from the others, Bowtie's twin (yet unnamed), Beatrice and Snowball. We managed to find Bowtie's twin and chase her back home, but Beatrice and Snowball remained at large for the next two days.
I had canvassed the various neighbours with my phone number to let me know if they saw any stray white sheep. I got a call around lunch on harvest day so had Brittany with me to go and round up Bea in a laneway across the river. Snowball was collected later that evening after a call from another neighbour. One thing's for sure, spooked sheep don't come to you for grain...we had to corner each one to capture her and haul her up into the truck to drive back to the farm. After this episode, all the sheep went into the barn and have been contentedly eating hay since then. I've also decided after this that I definitely have to fence the south side of the farm, an additional cost that just has to be paid...especially with the additional responsibility of a baby on the way! I can deal with sheep running around my own farm, but don't want the added risk of them running around on roads or neighbours' properties.
At the end of November, I spoke as part of a panel of market gardeners at the the EFAO's ecological farming conference in Kingston. It was great to be able to share some of my experiences over the past 8 seasons and also hear about how other operations run. I also attended the conference the next day...the first farm conference I've been to in a while...and was really energized and encouraged by the speakers I heard and farmers I chatted with. I was reminded that it's good to get out every once in a while ;P That said, getting out in the latter half of December hasn't been so good for me as I ended up coming down with a cold on Christmas Eve, and then some sort of gastro bug on New Year's Eve. I'm still recuperating from the stomach bug and feeling like a January cocooned at home planning for this coming year is probably a good thing for me.
Any of you with farming experience or knowing anyone with farming experience, please pass the word about the farm manager position here! I really have my fingers crossed to find the right person to fit in here for 2017.