Friday, February 27, 2009

So far so good...

Well lambing has come to a stand still it seems for a few days. It's been since Monday and no sign of anything imminent to come, so the score is 4 down, 8 to go. The first five lambs are doing pretty well. Well, four of them are anyway. They run and jump and go crazy like normal lambs do. My first little runty guy is not so active. I think he's too busy trying to survive. I discovered that his mother has mastitis in one half of her udder, so I don't think he's getting enough to eat. Today I noticed him trying to start stealing from the other moms when they're eating, which is a great sign. I'd like to avoid starting him on any kind of supplement (ie. bottle feeding), mostly because bottle fed lambs are a hassle and usually not very growthy, but also because I don't think I have any options organically, so he would not be able to be sold for the organic premium (and require so much more work!). Anyway, waiting and seeing. He's really pretty good (always up and looking around), but while the other lambs are jumping and running, he's sort of bumming around various udders trying to get his fill. So we'll see. I've got a can of evaporated milk on hand should he start heading down hill in a hurry, but it's a last resort.

Am heading to Truro tomorrow for the ACORN conference, since there are a couple sessions on organic livestock stuff and one on organic sheep specifically. Mark has been there now for a couple days and after talking to him tonite, it sounds like it's going well, so I'm kind of looking forward to a day 'away'. A little nervous because I feel like as soon as I leave, the sheep are all going to go into labour, but I've left my friends Patty Jo and Bobby Jo in charge, along with Wendell, Mark's dad on guard. He takes his job pretty seriously and likes to 'keep an eye on things' as it is, so I'm sure things will be fine. It's only for the day right?

So Lucy is staying with her grandma Bernard for the day, which could be a 'trying' for both of them by the end of it, but again, I'm sure will be fine.

Since this entry is starting to sound more like me trying to convince myself rather than informing anyone, I'll sign off before it gets ridiculous.

There's a prize, care of Barnyard Organics, for the first person to comment on this blog, just so I know that there is at least SOMEONE out there, reading this. Seriously, we'll send you something. Leave your address.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Spring is Coming!!

The first lambs have arrived here on the farm, so it's a sure sign that, despite the frigid temperatures and gusty winds, spring's warmth is in the future, somewhere, someday soon! All in all, so far things have gone really well. Late Thursday night my old, rough looking ewe, 'Garlie' kicked things off with a tiny little ram lamb (above). She's the only ewe with a name and it's because a couple months ago she was looking really poor so I figured she was probably getting a worm build up (sheep carry a certain amount of parasites at all times, and once in a while they can get to a point which is detrimental to their health. Conventional farms de-worm their flocks on a regular, usually bi-annual basis, while organic farms must rely on a strict regime of pasture rotation and prevention more than reaction.) So I decided to give her and her colleagues some raw garlic, chopped up and mixed in with their soybean meal. What was funny though was that she LOVED the garlic and for days afterwards would come up to me looking for more, and the rest of the flock wouldn't touch it, or the 'contaminated' soybean meal. It was almost like she had a deficiency that needed filled. Anyway, she's also a bit odd looking, with a lot more wool on her face than the rest, which is probably the only reason she has a name; because I can tell her apart from the rest.

SO, she had her tiny little ram lamb, no trouble and the next day one of my first time lambers proceeded to struggle through the birth of her ewe lamb. She ended up doing fine, but since I was inexperienced with first timers, the struggle and noises threw me for a loop and I spent the whole, seemingly long birth worried that I was going to have to intervene. Thankfully, the wisdom, experience and advice of my parents held me off and things were A-Ok. It always takes the first few ewes to remind me that mother nature is a MUCH better nurse than I'll ever be.
Then today, 'Big Mama' had a pair of twins, a ram and a ewe, who are big, healthy and cute as can be.

So all in all, things are great. My three lambing pens are full, so I hope there's a day or so before any more arrive, so I can get all the eartagging and paperwork done on the ones already born before I boot them out to the bigger flock. That said, it would be nice to have most of them born before the end of this coming week when Mark goes to the ACORN conference in Truro for a few days.

Three down, nine to go. Wish me luck! (...and sufficient sleep to prevent me losing my mind...)


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

One of the challenges that comes with farming in a relatively new industry, especially in an area that has perfected conventional agriculture for hundreds of years is knowing what is a new, viable market and what is a trend or just a bad idea. Mark and I sort of have our roles pretty well defined in this discussion everytime in which he pitches a new, seemingly crazy idea and I shoot it down with lots of 'logic' and 'why-isn't-anyone-else-doing-it-if-it's-so-fantastic?' We continue in this fashion until Mark usually just tries a small plot or experiment of whatever it is, to try and prove me wrong, or I get the opportunity when it fails to say, "told ya so".
Not this time.A few years ago, when we began growing soybeans and were getting our names out there as reliable producers we were approached by a lady from Charlottetown who had been told by her homeopathic doctor that black soybeans were good for the body and did we have any? We had never heard of them, nor had anyone else we talked to. I would have left it at that, thinking there was probably a reason that no one was growing them and it had something to do with the fact that this lady had a homeopathic doctor at all. But Mark, the visionary, sourced a pound or so of seed and the next year we had a successful plot of organic black soybeans. "Successful" being the operative word, because I continued to view them as a waste of time and money. That fall, there was no one breaking down our door for them, so I figured that proved me right.
Now, in February, 2009, after Mark continuing to grow them out, year after year, we've got markets right under our noses, just begging for black soybeans, in all forms. All it took was one trip to the Summerside Farmers Market, where Mark left a sample of the beans with a Japanese Canadian woman selling Japanese food. She called a few days later and wanted 50 lbs. claiming they were amazing and in talking to her mother back in Japan, she was so excited to have a source of such delicious, quality beans that she could only ever source before from home, in Japan.

So what do you do with black soybeans? Well, turns out they make amazing edamame (pronounced ed-a-MAIM-ee), which if you don't know, is a very popular sort of appetizer in Asia and increasingly, here in North America. Basically you pick the beans when the pods are still green, but plump and full, steam them or boil them and then let your guests just pop the hot beans out of the pods into thier mouths. The pods are of course, thick and unpalatable, so not edible, but apparently the beans are fantastic. Mark's sister, Martha, spends half of the year in various part of Asia, and often tries to introduce our tired PEI palates to new things, one of which was edamame a couple summers ago. I wasn't overly impressed as they just tasted to me like eating hot, steamed lima beans, plain. Pretty tasteless and boring.
However, in our research about edamame, black soybeans, although much harder to source, have a much different and much richer/sweeter flavour. What's odd is that black soybeans are still just green at the edamame stage, so they look the same as regular green soybeans. Tricky.

Anyway, Tomoko, the Japanese woman from the market used the mature, black beans for all kinds of things and apparently the dishes were a big hit with everyone who tried them. So she wants them in every form, mature or not.
And since it's such a niche market at this point, we're able to get a premium for a quality product. So now it's Mark's turn to say, "told ya so". Lucky for me however, he's too nice to do that.


ps. we're open to any advice on harvesting edamame, since we've never done it before, but it's looking like a worthwhile, albeit laborious market to hit.

Monday, February 16, 2009

And the Weiner Is.....

A couple weeks ago I was sitting in a doctors office in Summerside, waiting for the instructions of the latest test I was to undergo for standard pregnancy stuff. As is almost always the case while waiting anywhere in Summerside, the woman beside me struck up some friendly conversation about the weather. While we chatted, the nurse came along with a radioactive looking orange drink for me to test for gestational diabetes. I had tasted it before, but forgotten just how sickly sweet it is, so my first sip revealed a little grimace. The woman who was watching with poorly concealed curiosity asked,
"Oh my, is it terrible?"
"No no, it's not bad, just really sweet."

I could tell she wanted to know what it was for, but was too polite to come right out and ask, so I saved her the trouble and just told her. This is usually the point that any woman who has ever had a child comes out with all her pregnancy experiences, ups and downs of child-rearing and joys of grandchildren. This lady however, did not mention her own children nor grandchildren, but had the power of observation clearly on her side. Upon hearing I was pregnant, she looked me up and down and said with conviction,
"You know, they say you shouldn't sit with your legs crossed when you're pregnant."
"Oh? Well, I'm doomed to have varicose veins anyway, it's in my genes." Thinking that must be the reason for this wives tale of advice. I was wrong.
"No, it's because with your legs crossed, the baby might not be getting enough blood."
"Oh. Right. Well, there's a lot of things I shouldn't be doing I guess. I'm not supposed to eat weiners either, because they're processed meat, but I haven't really given that up either."

A look of incredulous disbelief went over her face and she sat in heavy silence. I was surprised at the sudden silence after the chatter, but enjoyed the opportunity to sink the rest of the orangey syrupy drink and get out of there, before I was lucky enough to get some more helpful advice.
As I finally getting to the bottom on the bottle, a few minutes after our last interaction about the weiners, she finally turns to me, obviously distressed and says,
"Wait a second, if you can't eat weiners...what DO you eat?"

Now it was my turn to be speechless, while I ran through the possibilities of what she had been thinking for the past few minutes. Had she been sitting there trying to come up with alternatives to weiners and was unable to do so? "Hmm..I guess she could have a hot dog...oh NO, that's a weiner! Well, what about a pogo? Oh oh, weiner!!! Well at least there's always beans and....WEINERS!!! WHAT DOES SHE EAT?"

I think I came up with some vague response, but thankfully I was done the orange drink and was able to get out before I burst into the biggest giggle I'd had in a long time.

So if any of you out there think that pregnancy is no big deal, that it's easier than it looks, just remember that you can't eat weiners, then try to tell me we're the weaker sex.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Leggo my legumes!

Since the creation of this blog I've been struggling with the point of it. I know a lot of farms have blogs and a lot of people maintain interesting and sometimes profitable blogs, but what is the point of this one?
The conclusion I've come up with is that there maybe is no point, other than to give me a vent into the world and the reader a look at how we do things around here. I guess, ideally, it's for our consumers, our customers to get a closer look at where their food comes from, how it's grown, produced, etc. I mean, who doesn't want to know the temperature of the compost that we turned last week?
Anyway, I'm just going to throw this together and see where it takes us. Today it takes us to a recipe I made up for delicious baked beans. We've grown navy beans here, that were part of a trial with the OACC and I've finally found a great recipe for them, and currently have an overabundance in my pantry. Here's the scoop;

  • Soak approx. 2 cups, cleaned, rinsed beans overnight in 3x as much water as beans.
  • Drain, rinse and cover with water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then turn down to med. heat for awhile. (This is purposely vague as it depends on your beans. When you take out a couple, blow on them and the skin pops they're done. Our beans only took a few minutes).
  • Drain again, this time reserving the cooking water.
  • Dump 'em in a slow cooker with;
1/2 cup butter/margarine 1/2 cup molasses (and maple syrup if you have some)
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
1 whole onion (or sliced if you like onion in your beans)
some bacon or weiners are optional.
  • Cover with the cooking water, cook for 7-9 hours, checking once in a while to make sure they're not dry. If so, add some more cooking water. They're done when you say they are.

Enjoy! 2 cups of dry beans only made up one meals worth for my beast of a husband and mini-beast baby, and my preggers self, so for a regular group of people it should feed about 4-5.

Dried legumes vary a lot based on their growing conditions, etc. so the whole boiling thing is really pretty dependant on the individual lot of beans. The skin popping trick is pretty handy though.
My next and perpetual culinary challenge is trying to find the perfect loaf of bread with Speerville Organic Flour. I'm yet to come close to anything I would call perfect. I would probably call it more like dense, heavy, delicious but filling. Any tips out there?

I'll leave you with a quick story about my old roomate, John Mills, who I shared and apartment with at NSAC. He's a western Canadian hippie (not to be confused with other Canadian hippies) and one time came home from the grocery store all pumped up about his 'legume' soup he had found at the store. Turned the box over to discover that it was just the french translation for vegetable soup.
Silly, tall Albertan.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Long time listener, first time caller

So here begins my foray into what I intend to maintain as a peek into the life of the Barnyards, otherwise known as Mark and Sally Bernard. To begin, the explanation of the name comes from a unique group of individuals who attended Nova Scotia Agricultural college with us. Mark is a pretty big, fun loving, rugby player who quickly finds himself in the position of best buddies with a few hilarious farmers from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. The surname Bernard, in this case, is pronounced BUR-nerd, which apparently sounded too much like "Barnyard" to resist. Thus, a permanent nickname was born, of which I was lucky enough to adopt when I married into the clan.
The farm name, Barnyard Organics was born out of this, which brings us to this!

The history of the farm is an interesting tale for some other time/place, as this will hopefully stick to being a run-down of the goings on around here, throughout the year.
Currently, farm life is at a much slower pace than the rest of the year, with Mark spending most of his time in the tractor, blowing out driveways around the neighbourhood. My sheep are supposed to start lambing at any moment, so the anticipation is building on that front, but nothing yet.
Within the organic realm of things, of which I have an especially good view due to Mark being on many boards and committees, the discussion of the past few weeks has been the use of manure on organic crops and defining the sources, content (GM, etc.) and regulations regarding it all. This has been a really important issue for us, as larger scale farmers, since we must rely on a combination of green manure crops (clovers, etc.) and manure/compost for our nutrients and organic manure is extremely hard/impossible to get a hold of. Our sheep and chickens produce very little since they are out on the pasture most of the time and those who have organic manure generally tend to need it for thier own fields.
In the past we have developed really good relationships with some of our local dairy farmers in which we exchange some of our hayland for manure, which we age and turn on our land. Until now, this hasn't been a problem and has worked out really well for everyone. So far, fortunately, it looks like it will stay that way for now, with our certifying body, Atlantic Certified Organic (ACO). The discussion is not over however, and the policy is yet to be written in stone. So until then, we continue to do our research and look for alternatives, since we really would like to avoid having to use conventional manure or any conventional products for that matter on our soil.

As for the title of this blog, "For the Love of the Soil", it comes from an idea we were introduced to early on in our organic farming lives which states that in organic agriculture, what we are truly farming is the soil; the crops are merely an indicator of the soil. We like that idea and continue to live by it, wishing that all agriculture lived by the same ideal.