For the Birds

Posted on by Tim Carr

When I moved home to Nova Scotia and bought my own house I inherited a brambly yard full of life. All variety of mammals have passed through, some stopping and setting up shop until I gently encouraged them along. They still visit at night, but have stopped trying to move into my basement. The mammals are fun but drive my beagle crazy. It’s the birds we prefer.

I feed birds. I ease up in the summer when there’s plenty for them, but tend to put out seed over the winter. The spooky doves, fearless chickadees, bossy jays, proud pheasants, and elusive flickers are among my favourites, but I most enjoy boasting about my, not one, but two pairs of cardinals who stop by each day.

I haven’t read anything about the pros and cons of feeding birds. I figure they could use a little help. As if winter isn’t bad enough, they deal with neighbourhood cats, cars, and loss of habitat. It’s a tough life for birds, just ask the owl who drops beheaded crows into my garden from time to time, or the pheasant I saw fly away with a cat stuck to its back.

So here’s the deal. TapRoot Farms has a stock of GMO-free, black oil sunflower seeds. The seeds are a high energy source and make excellent feed for many of the birds who stay throughout the winter. I have prepared 4 pound bags. They are for sale as an add-on. The sunflower seeds will eventually be used as pig feed, but we wanted to give all bird enthusiasts a chance to stock up for winter.

We all know that birds play essential roles in ecosystems, including neighbourhoods. Their presence has to be a good sign.

Happy winter everyone. Stay warm and safe.

Flax: Breakin' it Down

Posted on by Amy Lou

These days the farm is looking like this, wintery and frozen, and staying indoors and processing flax feels right and makes sense. On days like this I get why, back in the day, linen processing on farms was done during the winter months.


In today's blog I'm going to cover the process of separating linen from flax plants.


Getting linen from flax involves a bacterial breakdown of the flax plant and a three stage process of breaking and separating plant residue from the fibers. Cotton's dominance as a textile eclipsed linen as a staple textile mainly because it is easier to prepare cotton for spinning than a bunch of flax sticks.


The tools for doing this breaking and separating still exist and are most actively used by historical re-enactment museums. We have been experimenting with these tools to get a feel for the fibers and learn more about this age old practice. We are working towards to using the break, scutching board and hackles as the backbone for a more mechanized system.


I wanted to show these tools and describe how we work with them. Next week we'll talk about the retting process, the step that precedes today's show and tell.


The first tool is the break – shown in last week's video – it breaks the shiv or dried plant stem.


Next, the loosened fiber is scutched, by hitting the fibers in a downwards and removing the large broken pieces of stem.

Finally, the fiber is passed through the hackles, closely fixed nails or spikes, which do a final clean of plant material and line up the fibers.

We have 3 sets of hackles, that progressively clean and refine the fibers.

Now the fiber is ready to be spun. As you can see there are a lot of steps and techniques to master in order to get just the right quality of fiber --- I like to think of it as learning how to be Goldilocks, refining my feel for the fiber so that I get it juuuust right.

Linen, despite being labor intensive, is valued for its durability and finesse. It has a special quality so that it actually improves with wear – the fibers becoming stronger and softer the more it is worn. There are days when I'm down in the greenhouse breaking and scutching that I feel like Rumpelstiltskin, turning a giant pile of straw into beautiful, soft, golden fibers that will someday be someone's shirt or hankie or tablecloth.


TapRoot Team Report from the 2013 ACORN Conference

Posted on by Teri Dillon

 Patricia:  I really appreciate ACORN. This year I hosted a workshop on CSA Software platforms. Farmigo, Small Farm Central and HarvestHand presented what they do and how their programs work to support farmers and csa members. I think it was a good session, helpful for farmers looking to explore options.
Lily and Frank joined us. It is neat because they now have an ACORN friend. Every ACORN event they get to play together and we take turns as parents taking the kids to the pool. It is really a wonderful feeling to be around an extended family of farmers and those whose work is to support organic and small scale farmers. It was a good conference and it was great that the TapRoot team was able to swing it so everyone could go. Another fantastic part of ACORN is meeting new people. This year I met Christie Kozier. She and her husband have a small farm in Middle Musquidobit Harbour. He is a sheep sheerer, and she has started a small 5-member CSA this past year to start. Here is a link to their facebook page

Happy November!

Josh: what i thought was wild mustard is really wild radish which is the yellow weed in our vegetable fields. i need to find some rolling baskets for under our g tractor for weed control.

Jem: I really enjoyed my day at Acorn. I ate my first Asian pear this weekend after hearing about the Taylor apple pear at Wednesdays talk and it tasted so good. Any chance of you planting some of those Josh? I'm also going to try eating a grape pie and finding a Purple Passion apple and planting a Dwarf Pinenut tree and digging a swale and lots more besides. Very inspiring. Thanks guys.

Photo to the right is Greta and the other Grow a Farmer apprentices graduating at Thursday's banquet!  --->

Tim C: I learned that the farming profession is a collaborative one. We always hear negative stories in the media about the decline of the farming profession. I didn't see any of that in Moncton. I was immersed in crowds of enthusiastic farmers sharing knowledge and ideas, asking questions, building relationships, and planning what comes next. The entire experience was motivating. I felt like I got to see things from the inside, and I am happy to have been involved.Tim
P.S. Also learned that shiny leaves indicate high levels of lipids, how to make lye, basalts are better than granites, salt water is full of minerals, but alas, the salt, stuff like that. I took pages of notes.

Justine: This year at Acorn, like most years, it was a great opportunity to catch up with friends you may only see a few times a year. Hearing what others are up to and discussing problems can really be helpful. I was talking to a man who is starting to breed a heritage meat/egg bird, a cross between Buff Orpington and Delaware. He's just got his first hybrid chicks and it'll be interesting as to how they work out. My husband and I are working on a heritage meat bird hybrid as well so it's very interesting to hear others ideas and experiments.

Jon: I love getting together with organic farmers. There is such a supportive group of farmers across the Maritimes, but we're all too busy to spend much time together that the ACORN conference is like a high school reunion, without the gossip and rumors. There were so many great workshops; that give you great ideas of ways to improve your farm, ways to be more efficient, new and exciting crops to think about. I always come home excited to get back to the farm and inspired to become a better grower.

Falicia: This was the first time I attended an ACORN conference and it was great!  I loved the fact there were workshops for the office side of farming.  One of the things that I noticed right away about the people attending the conference was how young they were.  It's wonderful to see this and future generations of farmers so passionate about being organic farmers.

Teri: This was my first ACORN conference, and I was so happy to be able to attend, proudly wearing my TapRoot shirt.  We met tons of great people, including lots of young farmers that we have lots in common with.  The two most inspiring parts of the conference for me were: A film shown after the banquet, called Island Green, which was about growing on PEI and some of the challenges and successes; secondly, I thoroughly enjoyed Dan Kittredge's presentation on nutrient content of food, and even more I enjoyed the discussion and thinking that it inspired between Jon and I on the way home (with two people who spend so much time together, anything that inspires good conversation is notable!).  Great conference, and I'm so proud to be a part of the TapRoot team (all the time, but especially) at events like this! 

2013 Free Range Chickens

Posted on by Justine Sturgeon

We had a free range license for 1000 chickens this year. We grew five flocks of 215, with our first chicks coming in April, and the last coming in August. All the whole chicken we have left, about 250, are in two of these freezers, the rest have been in the meat share this summer. After we use these up in the next few weeks we will be buying in our chickens from local producers. Next year our goal is to produce enough chickens to see us through the entire season, with whole, half, quarters, and pieces on offer. Some of the chickens in the freezers downstairs are quite small, this is because a number of reasons, not because they weren't grown the same length as the five pounders, but because of their feed and how active they were. By the time the chickens are feathered out you can tell which one is female and which is male, and Josh says he notices that the male chickens mostly hangs out by the feed and water, sitting and eating most the time, the females on the other hand are out and about scratching in the soil, looking for bugs and good things to eat. This difference in behaviour can make all the difference in these high performance birds. The other reason is because of their feed. We have experimented with two different feeds, one that is in crumb form and one that is whole crushed grain, or mash. The mash is whole grains, legumes, and minerals, crushed. The crumbs are steamed grains, legumes, and minerals all mixed together and formed into a crumb. When the chickens eat the crumbs every bit they eat has everything in it, whereas when they eat the mash they can pick and choose what they eat, perhaps preferring oats one day and corn another. We like to give the chickens a choice to choose what they feel they need. The upside is that the birds look healthier and more active, the downside to this was that we didn't get very uniform finished weights, with some chickens being 5 lbs and others barely 2lbs. With all things in farming, we are learning and working on how to produce better and healthier food for us all.