Category Archives: Farm

Our crops and other farm experiences

Jute String Theory

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The String Experiment

After adding yet another five tomato plants to the greenhouse – we moved them around and reset up the irrigation system to handle the additional plants.  The indeterminate tomatoes in large pots were moved to the ground so they have the most space to grow vertically.  Vertical is the theme of the greenhouse.  After watching a number of YouTube videos of other greenhouse enthusiasts I decided to give the string theory a try.  We placed three wires across the greenhouse.  Two along the sides and one in the centre.  Then for all the plants that need support and will grow up a string (cucumbers, melons, and tomatoes) we attached jute strings that either connect with the wires or wrap directly above on the rafters.

 

The cucumbers seem quite happy to have the support of the string and the space to stretch out.  The melons aren’t all large enough to even reach the string but in time hopefully they too will grasp the jute and head upward.

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Happy Yellow Flowers

The tomatoes will apparently need coaxing to use the string.  I almost feel like I can watch the tomatoes grow in the greenhouse.  They have been very happy with the heat and the drip irrigation system.  The top of the soil looks dry but the water has been flowing out the bottom of the pots when watered.  The plants all look so healthy and happy so I am presuming that the roots are having to find the water deep in the pots which is making them that much healthier.  They seem to all be standing a little bit taller with the string supports.

Happy healthy plants make for a happy healthy gardener.  Another little experiment I am trying is to place milk jugs full of water in the greenhouse on the north side.  The theory is that they heat up during the day and release that heat at night which will help keep the ambient temperature a bit warmer on our cool Alberta evenings.  Though I read that I should paint them black – I went with motivational statements instead which make me happy regardless of whether or not they are doing their job.

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Gardening is a series of learning moments.  This jute string theory is yet another opportunity for me to grow.

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The greenhouse awaits

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Crab apple blossoms signify that Spring is officially here

Last fall we had a fully built greenhouse delivered to our property but then the snow came and so it sat and patiently waited all winter.  Spring is here and we cut out the lawn, and pulled the greenhouse into some trenches that we dug.  Now all nestled into its new home we had to install the floor, shelves and next the drip irrigation system.

The floor is dirt covered with garden fabric and then patio stones and pea gravel.  It has the quaint country greenhouse feel that I wanted.  I feel like I have travelled across the pond to a small town in the United Kingdom when I go into my little greenhouse oasis.

Inside we have installed some initial shelves that still need to be secured in to hold all the weight from the garden pots that will sit upon them.  We will also add some lower storage shelves and hooks to provide for winding twine or hanging small pots.  There is room for pots to sit on the floor or for us to even add a potting bench at a later date.

We still need to add the drip irrigation system…and of course all the plants!  I hope to grow primarily tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs.  I will try some eggplants and melons as well.  I would love to try a cold box inside the greenhouse in the fall and see if I can grow some winter kale and other greens throughout our freezing cold winter.  The possibilities are endless!

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The door is open – awaiting the opportunity to host some plants!

As we continue to work away at setting up the greenhouse my seedlings await in small pots by a warm south window in my house – waiting to be transplanted into large growing pots and to make the journey to this warm and welcoming greenhouse.  The greenhouse awaits their visit.

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Travel back in time

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Imagine the cow, horse and chickens

On the way home from a difficult trip to visit my 89 year old father in the hospital, my son and I stopped on the side of the highway to appreciate these old buildings.  The wind was blowing and my hair swept across my face.  I imagined a couple living in this little house with their young children.  Mom would have stood where I stood – wind blowing her hair across her face.  She would have been out to collect the eggs from the chickens and to the milk the cow.  Had a coyote taken another chicken?

She couldn’t look for the chicken right now as the cow needed to be milked.  Two times a day she milked the cow.  It made it hard for her to ever go into town with her husband. The children weren’t old enough yet.

In the barn she maternally strokes the cow and then sits on her small stool and methodically collects the milk into a metal bucket.   Innately she appreciated the gift that the cow provided her and her family, but the drudgery of the milking and the cleaning of the straw was wearing her down.

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Home

The house is charming and small.  Today it is instagram worthy and quaint but it must have been “home” back in its day.  The fire would have warmed the house on those very cold bitter winter nights.  Smoke billowing up the small brick chimney.  Beds, a table and chairs and shelves covered with jars full of canned preserves to help get the family through the winter would have filled the space.

My son and I shared a few moments enjoying the history of this site.  We have driven by so many times but it is a different experience to get up close and personal with it.  We quietly took it all in.  I cleared the hair from my face and we headed back up to our car.  It was nice to travel back in time but I am happy to return home to my present time.

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My Green Bucket

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What is your green bucket?

I have this green bucket.  Every time I look at my green bucket I feel happy.  I like the colour.  I like that it has a handle.  I like that you can put things in it.  I like that it is a working bucket.  If it gets dirty I feel satisfied.  When I use the green bucket I feel like I am a farmer.  I bought it at the local UFA farm store where the local farmers buy supplies like cattle tags, chicken wire, grain seed…

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Local UFA Store

I use my green bucket to carry: dirt, my produce, water, fish, leaves, weeds, and my hopes and dreams.  It is a fundamental gardening tool.  It helps me get close to nature.

My green bucket brings me joy.  It is a small little joyful green object that makes me happy.  What is your green bucket?

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The Excitement of a Good Plan

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Autumn

With another gardening season behind me I began to investigate other options to improve my garden experience.  A friend of mine who is a seasoned Alberta gardener purchased a greenhouse.  Her greenhouse was an inspiration.  The tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers filled the space like a tropical jungle.

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Autumn – The Golden Hour

Selecting a greenhouse for our place came with its challenges.  The winds can be as strong as 60-70kms an hour here.  Any greenhouse we choose has to be able to handle the strong winds and the cold winters.

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Winter arrives at the cabin.

We found a greenhouse that was made by a local farmer and delivered intact.  It was made to match our cabin and delivered – just as the snow was coming.  Around here the snow comes and goes and comes back again many times over our winter season.

Our little greenhouse has been moved into place.  We will build some shelves and ready it before the spring.  In the meantime I am excited about this new plan.  Yet again I am heading into the gardening season with a renewed sense of optimism.

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Good Morning Beautiful Little Greenhouse.

And now the planning begins…what will I try to grow in this wonderful little greenhouse?

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The Character Building Garden

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The garden struggles with a wet season.

I have had two growing seasons here at the cabin.  The first was too hot and the second was too wet.  The reality is that the growing season is short and harsh up here in the prairies of Canada.  I always wondered why farmers always seemed to be complaining about something – too much sun or not enough sun – too much rain or not enough rain.  But now I appreciate that growing season here is just “too much” of something season.

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The mushrooms took over the straw raised beds.

Some of the my plants didn’t survive at all.  I planted my cucumbers  and beans after the May long weekend only to have them destroyed by frost the first night.  My squash plants never really embraced the moist raised beds, maybe because they were sharing real estate with the mushrooms.  I did, however, have success with my peas, tomatoes, and a few other random vegetables like carrots, and peppers.  I was feeling pretty proud of my small crop until I stopped at a local farmers market and saw what was being sold by local farmers.  Their vegetables dwarfed mine.  I realized that I still have a lot to learn about gardening.  In any event we picked, cleaned and ate what we could from the garden.  Enjoying each fresh vegetable.  Carrots, peas, peppers, beets, and tomatoes:

We also experimented with growing potatoes in straw.  My husband called them his “poo potatoes” after watching the Martian where Matt Damon’s character grew his potato crop on Mars in his own poo.  Happy that ours were not true poo potatoes we enjoyed eating this crop.

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The film inspired potato crop.

Another year of gardening.  Another year of lessons learned. Another year of persistence, patience and tenacity.  Character building.

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The little pleasures in life

IMG_8039This February in Alberta has been unseasonably warm – relative to some of the very cold Februarys we have experienced in the past.  It has been nice to get out and go for walks along the country roads.  North of Calgary there is still a blanket of snow that covers the fields.  Some days the sky and the ground are both the same hue of greyish white.  It can be a little dreary when the sky isn’t blue but there is also a nostalgia in only seeing in black and white.  It is like living in a 50s TV show or a film noir.

On this particular day it was just around the freezing level so there was no need for the extensive bundling that usually comes with an Alberta winter.  I went out for a walk along the country roads.  I could hear the scrunching of snow under foot with each step.  The sound of woodpeckers and the occasional magpie could be heard in the woods as I walked past them.  I could hear my own breathing increase as I headed up a hill.  As I came around a corner and a pleasant decent down from a hill, I met up with the neighbour farm dogs.  They were as happy to see me as I was to see them.  We walked along the road together for a couple of kilometres.  They would dart ahead to take in all the smells that were undetectable to me.  Then they would suddenly fall behind me only to catch up by rubbing their warm snouts in my hands as they ran back ahead.

A simple pleasure.  Enjoy each day.  Enjoy each moment.

 

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Photographic Celebration of the Seasons

As I went for a walk down my driveway it struck me how different the scenery was from even a week earlier. The constant change that the seasons bring is something to be celebrated. Nothing is ever dull when you live in a region that has all of the four seasons. Well in Calgary they say there are only two – winter and construction. Out in the country there are definitely all four – winter, spring, summer and fall. It is my birthday month and we are celebrating at the cabin.  It makes me reflect on the past year since my last birthday which we also celebrated at the cabin.  A year of four seasons – a celebration of the seasons.

Winter is definitely a long season. There is usually a blanket of snow on the fields and that means snuggling on the couch with a warm blanket in front of the fire. There is ice skating on the pond, the owls turn white, the frost hangs on the branches and the board games come out of the closet. The walks are lovely and crisp. The world is almost black & white but if you look for the colour it is still there – usually in the sky.

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Spring comes in either like a lamb or a lion – and usually in spits and spurts. The snow melts and then returns, melts and then returns… but slowly the buds appear on the trees, and the baby geese and ducks can be seen on local ponds and creeks with their nervous parents carefully watching over them. The robins come back. The trees blossom. The grass turns green and the colour that was missing in the world comes back in all its glory.

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Summer is the growing season. The ducklings become ducks, the crops grow in the fields, the grass grows and has to be mowed and then the grass grows some more…the crochet set comes out of the closet.  It is a time of flying kites, throwing footballs, fishing at the local pond, walking in the deep grass, and swatting mosquitoes.

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Fall is my favourite season (maybe because my birthday is in the fall) but it tends to be too short. In Alberta it tends to be just a pause between summer and winter – but what a glorious pause it is. It is like nature taunts you with all the possible colours just before they are stripped away in the winter. The evenings are shorter now and there is the occasional evening by the fire. The fields are a hub of activity as the harvest season takes shape.

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The seasons all provide wonderment and are worthy of celebration as we blow the candles out on another year.

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A Sea of Barley

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I have always loved the sea.  Being land bound Albertans who love the sea – we have made a commitment to try and see the sea at least once every year.  We love the Oregon Coast, Vancouver island, Hawaii and North Carolina.  It was unrealistic to think that we could get land by the sea within an hour and a half from Calgary but the Shire did deliver a sea of barley.  The barley waves and flows in the wind like a golden sea.  When we sit on the porch of the cabin the wind in the poplar trees also delivers the sounds of the sea.  Ok it isn’t a beach and it isn’t really the sea but it is still overwhelming beautiful.

Every weekend when we would head out to our cabin the fields would look a little different.  The green plants slowly changed to golden straw.  Then one weekend around mid October the local farmer had come while we were in Calgary – and he had harvested the barley.  It was suddenly 40 acres of stubble.  The sea was gone. We lease the land out for a percentage of the profits and the money raised pays the property taxes which was an unexpected benefit of buying such a large piece of recreation property.  Having an interest in the profits has made us more invested in the weather.  We now share in the farmers’ concerns about too much snow or too little rain.  Farmers are at the mercy of the weather.  We wanted the farm experience and that includes sharing in the economic risks that farming involves.

This year (our second crop) we switched to a local hobby farmer because the local farmer who had farmed our land for over 35 years was ready to start to slow down and ease into retirement.  The new farmer decided to plant hay.  It was a very dry summer with almost no rain at all until the early fall.  The hay grew in spite of the near drought conditions.  It formed a green sea of waving grass.  Late in the summer the hay was cultivated and rolled into round hay rolls that scattered the land.  We are hopeful that the economics of hay was at least as successful as the sea of barley the year before.

While we love our fields we did still have a vacation in North Carolina this summer – to see the sea.

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