Monday, August 30, 2010

When it rains it pours...

Within days of writing that last entry it suddenly became very petty.  While it's true that I was premature in sending so many lambs to slaughter and that the sales weren't immediately knocking down my door, it wasn't worth whining about to the internet.  It did however lead to a number of sales, so I guess it wasn't all bad!

I've wondered about how to write this post, since I tend to try to keep this blog farm-related, but recognize that it really started as a newsletter of sorts to my family all living in another province.  My absence of late has not been because we've started harvesting grain (we haven't) or because the cow has calved (she hasn't) or because the kids are busy (they are), but because of a terrible and shocking death in my family.  I spent the week in NB with the rest of the Wilson clan and however therapeutic those days of mourning and remembering may have been, I think we will all have some really tough moments in the days and years to come.  Thankfully, coming from a huge, noisy and supportive family makes the burden easier to bear. 
I would be remiss if I didn't thank my family here on PEI, who make it so easy for me to just up and leave a busy farm behind in moments like these and never think twice.

The weather here is confused and instead of being the cooling of late August with crisp nights and breezy days, we are experiencing July all over again.  It's humid, hot and we need our fans on in our bedrooms again.  My pepper plants are enjoying it though and instead of giving up growing as they usually do at this point, I may actually get a red pepper out of my garden this year!

The reference in the post title is partly due to an actual flood that happened here while we were gone.  Charlottetown got 93mm of rain in a day and it flooded many parts of the city.  Mark's sister had 3 inches of water in her house.  Meanwhile we were commenting on the moderate and pleasant temperatures of an overcast sky in NB at the Expo-Kent sheep show.  Thankfully this part of the Island didn't get that much rain and we didn't experience any sort of negative effects at all.  In fact with the heat this week, the soybeans will be striving.

Mark is gearing up to harvest tomorrow.  He might have gotten at it today, but he and Wendell spent the day rouging oats out of the Acadia wheat.  They quickly figured out why there were so many oats in the wheat once they realized that the cover crop of oats from last fall waited until this spring to germinate.  Because the Acadia is such a small plot of important seed, it would be best to be harvested first, to prevent any other varieties getting mixed in within the combine.  So, I suspect that will be the first go, once the dew is off tomorrow.  Fingers crossed!

The soybeans are looking great and the edamame is ready!  We are so excited to be going to the second annual organic street festival this coming weekend (more details to follow in the next few days) and taking some edamame (along with chickens and of course, lamb!)  I am hoping to be able to cook some on sight and sell it as a snack, but I'm not sure what kind of regulations I have to worry about.  I'll probably just play the ignorant, dumb blond farmer girl if it comes down to it.  It's just beans, water and salt for goodness sake!
Anyway, the big project this week will be picking and experimenting with storage, cooking and serving edamame, so that will be a welcome distraction for me.  I also have my job and the usual farm stuff, but since edamame is such a short season crop, we have to make the most of it!

Hope this finds you NOT resisting the final days of summer and instead embracing the newness of another season.


This one goes out to a woman with a laugh that you couldn't resist.  Throw in a dash of sarcasm, some competitiveness, spontaneity, and drive/ambition and you've got the recipe for a one of kind.  It's cliche to say she won't be forgotten and that we will miss her, but in Nora's case, she helped make so many memories while she was with us, that it will be impossible to not feel her absence, always.   

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Age Old Problem

The problem that has plagued farmers since...well probably since the beginning of commercial agriculture-or agriculture for profit rather than sustenance- has come to haunt Barnyard Organics, or at least the livestock side of it.
Farmers want to farm and those who do it well, do it very well.  It takes all of yourself and requires a lot of love and attention to produce whatever it is you produce.  So farmers who want to farm, don't want to market.  It has become somewhat of an understanding with this 'new generation of farmers' that farming is now a "BUSINESS" and not just a simple farm.  We're all supposed to have degrees in something or other and have a deep understanding of commodity pricing and international policies and always finding "NEW MARKETS", because hasn't that been the demise of old farms?  Well, no actually it isn't, but if we keep telling everyone that that's the case, then we'll keep making up crazy new markets that last just long enough to get to the next one.

But that's a different post.

This one is supposed to be about me not being able to sell lamb.  I can raise lamb. I have a pasture full of some of the healthiest, organic ewes you've ever seen.  I have another barn with my lambs that are finishing and because they did so well I shipped four this week.  They really should have been shipped a month or two ago, but I hadn't heard from anyone wanting lamb, so I held off.  I realized that I was feeding them for nothing and they were only costing me at this point, so I shipped them.  And now I have a butcher asking me how I want them cut and no one to buy them.  So I'm making my best guess at how most people might want them cut and hoping I can find a customer or two (or four, or eight ideally).  I've contacted all my customers from last year, to no avail.   

This is not productive, or profitable farming.  It's backwards, discouraging and awful. I just want to raise sheep. I want to take care of little lambs and manage a healthy pasture and look out at my flock as they graze happily on the lushest clover around.  I don't want to pester people to buy.  It makes me want to get out of sheep altogether, which I've never wanted to do before.
I actually believe I'm pretty good at it.  It's been nearly four years of 'shepherding' on my own and I'm pretty proud of how well I've done.  Mark is mostly to thank, but I think we produce a good product and I think we're good sheep farmers.

And nobody likes to quit something they're good at.

So what's next?
I guess I bring home a truck full of lamb, cut to my specifications and start the sell.  Thankfully we have lots of freezer space, until the next chicken shipment (September 1). 
Don't even start on the chickens.
They sell. 
People will buy chicken. 
But when they have the option they like to buy 1 at a time.  and "come back for more later". 

But every sale counts and chicken sells better than lamb, so we'll stick with that for now.

Ugh. Not a very uplifting entry in all this glorious late August weather is it?
Apologies all around. 

I'd probably feel better if you'd buy some lamb though.  :)




Saturday, August 14, 2010

Recreation and Re-Creation

It always surprises me when customers and city dwelling friends show such concern over whether we 'get away' from the farm enough, whether we 'take time for ourselves'.  Maybe it's an inherent part of doing something you love, but most of the time, until they ask, we don't realize that we haven't 'gotten away' for a while.  In any case, like everyone else, summer usually adds up to a pretty crazy schedule of traveling, entertaining and being entertained. You can see my one-legged cowboy taking in the sights of St. Andrews a few weeks ago now, where we went for the wedding of some good friends from Agricultural College. 
One of the highlights of that trip was seeing what we're sure was giant hogweed.  Neither one of us can understand how it can be considered such a threat, but is not being dealt with.  Apparently there was some recently found on the Island and evidently they are waiting until the spring to do something with it.  Now, neither Mark nor I are plant physiology experts, but with some experience with problem weeds, we are convinced there must be something that can be done this time of year to at least prevent the spread?  Anyway, we were excited to see some in person (as you can see by Mark's face.)
The kids know how to make their own recreation on the farm in the summer as well.  Why go to the beach or the pool when you have a perfectly great pool right in the driveway!?  One with mushy squishy mud and rocks and all sorts of extra fun accessories!?  They had a great time for a while.  Then Lucy took the hillbilly pool to the next level.
Then once a year, we get to host my immediate family for what has come to be known as "Wilson Weekend" or "Wilson Days", and I look forward to it every year.  

 The volleyball games are always exciting (and contentious) but I think that the younger generation may be starting to pose a real challenge for the

 Wilson is lucky enough to have a very industrious and clever cousin Isaac who re-built and custom painted this tractor for him.  It might be another year before he can reach the pedals, but if you try to get on it, Wilson is not long letting you know just who's it is.

 But between all the summertime fun and parties, we have been hard at work.  One of the major projects that has gotten well underway here is the construction of our newest grain tank.  It's a 40 foot wonder that took about five hours of crane time, 6 people and LOTS of nuts and bolts.  It's second hand, and we're missing a few legs, but other than that, it's up and looking good.

The wind posed some interesting challenges, but kept our mosquitoes away, so there were no complaints from me. 

I love this shot from the inside.  A rare look and an interesting perspective.  

Hope this finds you reveling in these last days of true summer!


ps. If anyone sees a fish in the Northumberland Strait wearing a pair of small purple kids eyeglasses, tell him to swim back to PEI and throw them up on shore.  We're off to use our second pair free for the year.  Beaches and glasses don't mix. 

Not Dead, but nearly

I think this kind of picture is payback for all the ones I post of Mark. Fair's fair.
I've made it as far as this posting page a few times over the last couple weeks, but then I would either be struck with another bout of stomach flu or be too exhausted to imagine a waking moment spent in an upright position, using my brain.  Mark and I were hit with a nasty bug and have been laid up for what seems like eternity now.  We're still not totally recovered, but at least we're able to go about our daily business, mostly as usual.  I think it's beginning to hit the kids now, so at least the good Lord was kind enough to let us get over it first (ugh).  In any case, there has been lots of excitement going on at the farm and I can't wait to update it all.  My camera is currently in a compartment on the four-wheeler, and I like to have pictures to go along with my posts, so it'll just have to wait until I remember to get it home.

If anyone is Charlottetown on Monday, the 16th, Chef Dianna Linder from Cafe Maplethrope and I will be showcasing our organic, pasture-raised chicken at the Certified Organic Producers Coop Tasting Booth at Old Home Week.  I'm not sure what kind of delicious little dish she's come up with, but I can promise it will be made using some fantastic chicken!  I will be taking orders and have lots of information available for anyone interested in getting some.  We are the only organic meat being showcased during the entire Old Home Week, so Monday is the day if you're a carnivore who cares about where their meat comes from!


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Getting the Neighbours Talking

There have been moments since we started farming organically that the neighbours have scratched their heads, rolled their eyes and wondered aloud, "Just what the hell are they doing now?"  Living in an area of strong agricultural history, things have been figured out to a science and everyone does things just so.  So when what used to be a perfectly 'normal' potato farm goes organic, who knows what's going to happen.

Like the time we planted fall rye in the spring, using it as a green manure on transitional land, never wanting it to come to head and a neighbouring farmer suggested that, "That grain field needs a good dose of nitrogen I'd say."
Or why we leave such a heavy crop of valuable legumes every year, only to plow down, when it could be going to feed.

This week though, I think if anyone saw Mark out in the field in a combine running through an immature barley field with the header held high, it might have taken the award for 'strangest thing yet on that hippie farm in Freetown, according to the neighbours'.
Somewhere along the way, this little pest, the sowthistle, made its way onto our land and my family back in NB can attest to its reluctance to never ever leave.  Being a thistle, the millions of seeds per plant love to flutter away in the breezes and plant themselves even further afield.  About one third of our lovely barley field was completely taken over by this weed and was turning a pretty shade of yellow as more and more flower matured.
We considered mowing that third of the field, sacrificing the barley in favour of getting rid of the flowers/seeds, but thought that first we might try a different method.
It may not have happened if my brother had not been over and bought a big fancy combine that he left sitting so temptingly in our farmyard a few days before.  Ours hasn't been brought out yet and I doubt that it would have made the trip for this little experiment, so I guess we can thank my economic-stimulus brother, Mark W.
Anyway,  Mark B. decided (without much convincing) to run through the crop, sacrificing the tire tracks of barley to run through with the header held high enough to cut the sow thistle but not the barley.  When I look at the piles of sowthistle heads that came out after a thorough cleaning, it HAD to have made a difference.  I guess we'll see next year and the following year, if the sowthistle continues to spread.

So, if you happen to drive by and see the snowblower out in July or the fingerweeder in the field in the snow, don't assume we're crazy, although that may very well be.  We just might onto the next big thing. 

Or we might be just trying out a new combine with a good excuse. :)