Monday, June 28, 2010

We're Off and Growing!

Summer has arrived on Prince Edward Island and we are pleased to have just about everything in the ground for the season.  For those of you who are not on the island this summer I have a few snapshots to share.

For those at home and those who plan to visit, we have a lot to look forward to as the summer goes on and turns into Fall.

It's still a bit early for most things (and perhaps we were a bit late this year) so the bulk of what we've planted won't be ready for a few weeks yet.  Our friends know we have good variety but not huge volume because we do most work by hand.  So if you see something you like, it's best to send us a comment or an email. We'd like to be sure you get the best of what we have to offer. I'll keep the blog updated with harvest information and buying opportunities.

We are pleased to announce we will be supplying fresh organic produce to Sand Bar & Grill at Panmure Island, PEI this summer.  Stop in for fresh, summer fare from our farm!   

Here's Some of What's On The Go:
Asparagus - (Almost Gone!)
Rhubarb - (now available)
Salad Greens - (Coming soon - in limited supply)
Sweet Peas- a favorite with the kids - coming soon
Summer Squash - Yellow Crookneck and Zucchini
Yellow Beans
Sweet Corn
Bell Pepper
Winter Squash
Dry Beans
...and more!
 (We'd love to have it all ready for you now but we gather each harvest in it's own natural time.) 

We're interested in making it easy for you to choose our locally grown and certified organic produce.  Please contact us here on the blog and let us know what you'd like. If you happen to be touring on the Points East Coastal Drive, you're welcome to stop in and visit the farm.

We've been known to let youngsters help pick something special for supper or discover fresh sweet peas right out of the pod!
We also like to answer your questions about organics, about sustainable agriculture and our work to return one small farm to production in PEI.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Quail Springs - Building An Oasis


According to Merriam Webster:
1 : a fertile or green area in an arid region (as a desert)
2 : something that provides refuge, relief, or pleasant contrast

You can easily imagine why ancient people in arid lands would know how to find water. What it might be hard to understand if you live in a place where abundant water falls from the sky or clean water flows from a pipe is the effect and wonder of abundant water on a dry land.  It changes the desert from ashen sea to a fertile island of life. And that's why ancient people cultivated these life sustaining places. An increasing number of people are becoming aware that the world needs places of refuge, relief and a pleasant contrast from the relentless momentum of our Titanic civilization. 

The podcast this week will tell you some of their story and the photos and text will give you some idea of what the Quail Springs project looks like.  But it wasn't until I looked up the definition of oasis that I remembered co-founder Warren Brush telling how the first few years of the project on the ground has been "farming water". That's when I understood the links between past and present and that one person's wasteland can become another person's cultivated place of refuge.

When my friend Lorna came to visit Santa Barbara (and help us pack) she said, "No wonder you get so excited by all the water in PEI."  Indeed.  In much of the world, abundant clean water is an unimaginable luxury.  But a project like Quail Springs demonstrates how a community of people can work together to manage scarce resources and create abundance.

Meals are prepared in an open kitchen in a common area.  The meal we were served (in early April) primarily included whole food from the farm.  It was simple and delicious.

The common room features a bright corner for children and their friends to play and talk.  The building is a converted metal hay barn. Walls are now straw bale and earth - semi finished at this point.  A finished interior is shown in another picture below.  Using natural materials controls cost and eliminates harmful chemicals from the living space.                 

More than just a pond...this pool is a valuable asset.  It collects and holds water from the springs, feeds a newly re-establishing wetland habitat, waters the farm gardens and livestock and holds water in the ground.

Further upstream you see what limited rainfall and years of over-grazing / poor land use looks like. Lot's of erosion, a collapse of the native riparian environment and a stream that floods and then goes dry.  The farm is working on ways to slow runoff and to allow water to move laterally into the soil to create a water "bank" that supports re-growth of the stream habitat.  In the long term, this kind of planning could actually change the micro-climate of this small canyon.      

Using natural earth, stone and local materials, residents have created homes that are simple to live in.  By design this home is easy to heat in the winter and relatively cool in the summer and features "built in's" for shelves and seating in this finished interior.  

The exterior of this home now being built shows straw bale and cobb construction, the mix of traditional earth and modern structural materials, the mountings for solar panels on the roof and the simple means for collecting rain water from the eave-troughs to water a small garden behind the house.

Pastured poultry starts with pasture.  Planting grasses begins the process of creating fertile topsoil in dry sand.  Grass nurtures chickens which manure the grass which grows more chickens and deeper soil. 

Brenton uses mud and straw to build the wall of a new chicken coop.  Inexpensive, easy to add on to and sufficient for securing his charges, this coop will also help moderate extremes of heat and cold.

For more be sure to listen to the podcast.  Special thanks to Kolmi and Warren for allowing me to visit and share this story.  And thanks to my favorite shepherd, Lorna McMaster, for playing her banjo in the "audio shop" at Dunn Creek Farm.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Work 'Till You Can't

I'm too tired to work anymore today.  There's plenty more to do...and it's all mine.

I'm planting and cultivating and weeding as fast as I can.  And it's hard work.  This city boy is finding his limits and the clock is ticking.  We do most of our tilling and some cultivating by small tractor.  But now I'm down to hand work in the rows.  Transplanting, cultivating, weeding.  I just don't have short cuts for that.  Partly because we don't have the tools/technique down and partly because we can't spray away our problems.

I walk the ground.  I hand weed and cultivate the rows and I learn what's going on in the field.  The potato bugs have made an arrival.  They are eating leaves and laying their bright orange eggs on the new plants. We beat the bugs last year by moving rows and scattering plantings, then staying on top of their cycle by hand picking them off and squishing the eggs. But they're onto our plants now and I've got to stay on them.

The weeds are coming in too.  Cultivating the rows loosens and aerates the soil around plants and tears up the small weeds.  It's important to get them before they overtake the corn, beans and greens.  I'm on that too.

I walk the farm every day and check the trees and the plants and the ground.  I learned to do that from one of our mentors. You see what's really happening that way - with weeds, with plants, with fertility, with soil moisture and texture.  And it reminded me of something...about me, about human nature and about machines.

When I was a lot younger I worked on a cattle ranch.  I mention that once in a while because I learned a lot from the men who ran cattle on 2400 acres of grass covered hills - the old way.  Some days I worked with the experienced men, moving the herd out of the foothills on horse back...just like in the cowboy movies.  And I learned that cowboys don't do ground work if they can help it.  They trained their horses so they could do almost any task in the saddle. The only ground work we liked was on the dirt in the corral during spring roundup.  Branding was done with an iron on a wood fire, with the sorting, and vaccinations. Even then the head man stayed on his cutting horse and sorted the cows and calves at the gate. That's the way it was done for 150 years and it was something to be part of. 

I watch the men here drive the big rigs that plant grain and potatoes and spray for bugs and till fields.  Big fields.  And they know their business.  I'm as impressed watching some of these tractor jockeys move through a field as I was watching an old cowman sidle his bridle horse up to a gate to open the fence for the herd, without touching the ground. 

So there it is.  Cowboys and tractor jockeys don't like to do ground work.  And I guess I know why.
But I don't have the luxury of being mounted for my work because I cant afford to skip the lessons I'm learning on the dirt.

There's a retired fellow down the road who puts in a beautiful garden every spring.  I watch his work because I like what he does - a clever mixture of traditional farming with a lot of good common sense use of  found materials.  He's shy about it, but he has a master's touch. And I'm pretty sure that skills like his come from the ground up. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Oh Lord, Stuck In Halifax Again

This post comes to you from the Halifax, Nova Scotia airport. An airport which has the good sense to offer free wi-fi to passengers who are stuck in airline detention for extended periods of time.

Toby and I left Santa Barbara yesterday after a week of packing, selling cars and cleaning our house. In the past 3 days we scheduled painters, made multiple trips to the dump and learned that our dog has lyme disease. In other words, I was really looking forward to leaving town.
At this point I really need to thank to my brother, Peter and our friends Carole, Kathleen, Lorna, Morgan and Rachel.  And a special shout out to the makers of Paxil, which probably prevented my wife Susan from being taken into custody.   

So yesterday we literally made a mad dash through 6 lanes of bumper to bumper traffic to leave town. The 101 freeway had been a parking lot most of the day so we took back streets through town and stopped to say goodbye to my mom and the house I grew up in.  I was doing pretty well up to that point.     

We met the Santa Barbara Airbus and arrived at the Air Canada check-in at LAX with 5 minutes to spare.  Toby and I went through security and caught our flight to Toronto.  We sailed through customs this morning and made our connection to Halifax.  Minutes after arriving here we learned that our flight to PEI was canceled.  We were told the plane was broken. A bad rubber band for the propeller perhaps?  In any event we were re-booked and here we sit until it's time to depart.  So close and yet so far. We were offered ground transportation into Halifax for the day, but we are both too wiped out to enjoy it and I really don't want to miss the next chance to get home.  Did I mention my cell phone is dead and the charger is still plugged into a wall in California?

But I am calm.  Practically comatose.  And any time I think I might miss the days when we jet-setted back and forth, I'll have this to remind me why it's better to stay home and mind your own business.

Toby hasn't uttered even one word of complaint.  He's just taking it in stride.  And me?  I thought I'd post a few words to you with this gift of spare time. Hmmm. And now I see that there is local beer on tap...