The crews were up nice and early this morning to take advantage of the calm weather to finish up a multi-day project on the farm. Just as the breeze was starting to pick up around 9AM everyone started lashing down the plastic covering for all the raspberry tunnels. This is no small task! It takes an entire crew to first get the frame of the tunnel up and then haul the plastic up and over the tunnels that are 30-40 feet high and hundreds of metres long! It has to be done quickly and efficiently and we're lucky that our crew have done this job every year. Why cover up the raspberries? We grow several different varieties, all of which mature and bear fruit at different points in the season. By protecting our canes from wind, cold and rain we encourage our early bearing varieties to ripen earlier and can convince our later bearing varieties to keep going when the weather turns cool in the autumn. This way we can offer fresh, beautiful raspberries to everyone for a much longer time. When you're eating fresh raspberries in your fruit share in the summer, remember that the fruit in your hand began in mid-April when the Noggins Farm crew got a kickstart on warm weather for the raspberry plants!
This morning I am enjoying the quiet of an empty house and working away at getting things ready for the start of the new CSA season. This afternoon I will move to a new office at the Canard Farm, so these are literally the last few hours I will spend at this desk, where I have sat for the past year-and-a-half. Before this became my spot it was Patricia's and I know she likes the view out the window at this desk as much as I do! Soon I will have a new view and a bit more of a focused role.
This means there will be a new CSA headquarters (Amy's name for it, and I think it's going to stick!) later today or tomorrow, so I will post some photos once the space is set up.
Here are some highlights of my time in this office (while I'm feeling nostalgic!). Goodbye, Church Street office, I will visit often!
There are 234 fertile eggs set in our incubator. I was going to write this yesterday but with the impending storm and the possibility of a power outage I didn't want to tempt fate. It was very nerve wracking as any prolonged loss in temperature would result in disaster for the incubating ducklings. We piled the incubator with quilts and sleeping bags etc to help keep the heat in just in case but we were lucky thank goodness and the power stayed on.
Duck eggs take 28 days to perform a miracle. Once enough eggs have been collected together, gently cleaned and stored with the pointy end down they are marked with an X on one side and an O on the other in pencil and placed on the tray in the incubator which is set at just under 100F. The marks are so that we can know which side to turn them to as they have to be rotated several times each day. After the first 24 hours when they are left to settle in the incubator we start turning them. We keep a chart and check it each time they are turned to help us keep track. Each egg is gently turned from its X to the O or from O to X by hand 7 times a day . The humidity is critical too and we use dishes of water to maintain the humidity at 55%. After the first 7 days we 'candle' them which is the use of a light shone through the egg in the dark. The miracle begins
A fertile egg incubated for 7 days should look like this.
On day 25 three days before hatching the humidity is increased to condition the shell to assist the little duckling in his epic battle to hatch. 24 hours before they are due to hatch we stop turning them so they can orientate them selves for exit. Amazingly considering how hard it is to crack a duck egg the duckling aided by an 'egg tooth' on the tip of its beak will first pip a little hole and then work around the egg until the shell falls apart and they emerge wet and exhausted from the egg.
It can take 24 hours or more to perform this feat.
Once dried and rested they are moved to a brooding pen with feed and water and a heat lamp to keep them warm. This is the point when they are often boxed and shipped as they can survive well for 24 hours on the energy reserves they still have from the yolk sack. This year Taproots ducklings will only have a short journey from our farm to theirs unlike last year where they travelled from Quebec by plane. Much less stress for both ducklings and Josh too :)
Helen and her family run a small, family farm raising slow grown, happy animals. Making their delicious, hand made, own recipe English style sausages for you to enjoy.
Seeds. It's a hot topic these days on the farm. We talk about varieties, sowing dates, germination rates, seeds per cell-block in the tray. Underlying all of our practical day-to-day concerns is the reality that most of the seeds we use to grow the tons of veggies in your food boxes comes from companies and farms spread all over North America, and even the world. When I stop to think about it it's a pretty wild concept, that little bag of seeds has grown and been cleaned and analyzed and travelled so far before reaching us. The history of its genetics and breeding is yet another journey, but on the inside.
The TapRoot Fibre Lab – the name we've given our linen project – is buying seeds from Europe this year. The breeding of high-quality flax fibre has a long history in the northern European countries – France, Belgium, the Netherlands and so we've gone to the source. Bringing seed from Europe on a commercial scale to Canada is a complex bureaucracy of paper shuffling, the seed analysis examines germination rates and weed seed content and it seems that Canadian standards are pretty demanding. This morning I found out that the cost of the documents we need will be double if not triple the shipping and purchasing cost. Once I found an authorized importer my worries about timing the paperwork and permissions were assuaged.
Flax growing and processing, like most textiles, is now pretty much all happening in China, 50% of global fibre flax farming happens in China and almost 100% of the processing is being done there as well. Breeding programs that individual companies were conducting are also being sent there because the Great Linen Brain is now in China. The seeds we are buying are part of older seed stock that was grown in Europe however the trend to outsourcing breeding programs has touched our seed dealer as well.
Facts like this remind me that despite our work to build and invest in a local food economy, we nonetheless exist within a very globalized and sophisticated machine supplying some of the fundamentals to this farm situated on a peninsula at the edge of a continent.
I started the morning with this chat about seeds with our flax seed dealer and Teri pointed out that these decisions and realities are worth sharing to our members. It's easy to forget the big picture in the day-to-day, but the reason we participate and invest in TapRoot is because business-as-usual can be pretty darn wacky and farms like TapRoot shine a light on paths to health and sustainability.
As I've mentioned, the office is busy at this time of year! Falicia and I are busy getting folks signed up for the new season of shares. This means lots of phone calls and emails and questions, as well as the occasional tour or in-person visit.
Though the registration process is fully automated online, the work is not done once someone signs up! Falicia then take the invoice and has to enter it into Quickbooks, our accounting program. This is a lot of work, as you can see from this photo of the stack (this was two weeks ago at least, and it has increased since then!
Another thing we have been busy with is ordering seeds. This is a long process, beginning with Jon and Josh discussing which varieties and how much of everything we are going to grow next year. In a lot of cases, we already have a good variety that we like, and so it's less work from year to year than it would seem. However, there are always some new crops to consider, some things that didn't work the previous year, and some suggestions from other TapRoot team members and CSA members. My job in this whole process is to pass along any CSA member comments (grow less fennel!), and keep track of what the guys decide on our spreadsheet.
Another part of the seed ordering is needed for our organic certification, and is called a "Seed Search". When we are ordering seeds, we have to make sure that we source organic seeds whenever possible. If organic seeds are not available for a particular variety that we want to grow, then we have to show that we looked to at least 3 other sources for the organic seed. There are only a few items this year that we have not been able to buy organic: Bolero Carrots is one (they are our storage carrot, and favoured by a lot of growers), Megaton Leeks (in our experience, the superior leek- big, meaty white clubs!), and Hakurei Turnip (we tried to order an organic replacement - Tokyo Market- to see if it would be acceptable to switch too and the seed was sold out.). Though we are not starting with organically grown seed, we will grow these crops within the same standards as the rest of our organic crops and that is still deemed acceptable within the certification. We look forward to the day when all the varieties we like are available organically!
The photo is Josh and Jon this morning discussing the purchase of some growing tools we use, like row cover and black plastic mulch.
Once the seed order and the seed search is done, then I call all the companies and order the seeds we have selected. Unfortunately it is not always so black and white - occasionally companies run out of seed or it is back ordered, and there's no telling what may be short from year to year. This year we had a bit of a panic when we heard that kale seed was hard to come by. We ended up being able to source it through Vesey's, which is based out of PEI. Vesey's had people calling looking for kale seed from all over North America, but they made sure we got our requirement first as we are a local client. We returned the favour and tried to order as much of our seed as possible through them this year (also to avoid the poor exchange rate, making american companies seeds more expensive for us this season). So, you can see there is some degree of community in everything that we do!