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And the planting begins!


It has been a busy week and a half as the sun has shone, the field has been tilled and I have spent many hours preparing and planting beds.  It has felt amazing finally being able to plant my veg babies that I have been nursing along all this time.  I was fortunate to have help from Steve, Maya and our friend Catherine.  It has been great to connect with the land, get a suntan/burn, watch the eagles over head and even feel that massive exhaustion after a good days work.  And goodness, I had forgotten how wonderful it is to be in the field in the early evening. 


As I am going to Ontario this week for a dear friend's wedding I gave myself a deadline to get as many things planted as I could before going.  And now the weather has turned a little cool and wet just in time for my departure.  I am nervous to leave my field for just less than a week, but it is in good hands with Maya holding down the fort.  

This past weekend we had the very first farmers market here on Gabriola.  I was pretty nervous, even though I attended many markets with the Tiny Farm in both Lindsay and Peterborough Ontario.  Out here on the coast things are a little bit more chilled out.  We started our market at 10am (instead of 7am like Ontario) and ended at 1pm.  The turnout was fantastic, my plant starts were a hit and I know I already have a following of people eager to support me in what I am doing.  It is so nice to know I already have regular customers.  As I have experienced at the Ontario markets, you create quite a bond with your regular market customers.  Maya and our friend (and CSA member) Sharon will be running the stand this coming weekend, with more vegetable starts for sale.  


Bringing in the big guns!

Here on Gabriola there are many farmers with many years of growing food experience under their belt. I am so fortunate to be able to tap into this community and gain valuable knowledge.

This past week we have been working on finishing up the deer fencing.  Bob, one of the land owners from the land I rent lent me a hand tightening and putting up the wire.  I am always so amazed at the skill set long time farmers have.  They have this wise way of problem solving that I aim to have one day.  Not sure if it is something you can learn though or if it is just something that you are brought up with so it is second nature.  

We also worked on the deer fencing this week at our grain coop.  Steve and I along with about 6 or 7 other members (including farm gurus Sal and John in the above picture) are growing grain on an acre and a half at the south end of the island.  This year we will be growing buckwheat as a cover crop, and then next season Steve is excited to have some grains for beer making.

To top the week off, I brought in Sal and John to for advice and Sal's walking tractor to till the field. Alas, it is still to wet to work with.  John's words of wisdom: Leave it be for now... the most important part of growing food is bed preparation.  If the soil is too wet and I try to work with it, then it will just compact and be harder to work with in the end. So, sigh, I now sit and wait some more before the planting begins. 


Oh, you'll be put to work!

These days when you come out here to visit Steve and I you must expect to be put to work on the farm. Most visitors are eager to see what is going on and very willing to help out.  We had our dear friend Scotia out for over a month and he was a huge help on the farm.  Before he left us he helped construct the greenhouse.  The exciting part about the greenhouse is that it was built using material found around the farm.  It just seemed more old farm-like to use scrap material that was lying around the farm.  To give old material new purpose.

Steve's friend Chris and Dusty also came for a visit, just in time to help plant blueberries.  We tested the pH and found a perfect spot for 20 plants that will produce this year!  We have the early variety- Duke and the mid season - Bluecrop.  For now, as the deer fencing isn't complete around this area we constructed a compound around them using fallen branches.  Netting has now been placed overtop this structure to protect from the deer and in the summer from the birds.

I am very humbled by all the support and assistance offered to me as I begin this farming adventure.



It's Science - Part 2

To continue on with our soil testing, I promised I would discuss how to calculate your soil composition.

We left off last time with our mason jars half filled with soil and half filled with water sitting overnight to settle.  We then measured the contents of the soil once they settled.  They layer with sand on the bottom, clay in the middle and silt on top.  As you can see from my sample, we have very sandy soil. Which is great for air porosity and general workability, but sand doesn't do a good job of hanging onto soil nutrients.  Anyhow, back to the calculation.  The total height of the settled soil in jar 1 came to 1.75", with sand taking up 1.5", clay 0.5" and silt 0.25".  I changed these into percentages - sand 57%, clay 29% and silt 14%.  Then to determine the composition you need to look at a soil texture triangle.  There is an online one here that you can just plug your percentages into and it will determine your soil for you. My samples from both fields lay in the sandy clay loam area.  Not a surprising result, but a fun experiment nonetheless.


Next I am taking the liquid from these two jars and using the Rapitest Soil Test Kit to roughly figure out the available nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the soil.  From this, it will be good to know what ammendments are needed before I start planting.



It's Science! Part 1

This past week Scotia and I trudged out into the wet, mucky soil to dig some samples.  We dug 10 samples all over the two fields, 4" deep and brought home about 2 cups of soil from each sample.  As this is my first time on the land I was curious about the soil pH and the nutrient levels.  Yesterday we went to the G.R. Paine Horticulture Centre in Nanaimo where I went to school 2 years ago.  Even though I tested the pH of all my samples using the Rapitest Soil Test Kit (from Lee Valley), I thought it would be fun to use the expensive equipment at the centre.  A big thanks to Anne for the hook up!

We conducted two tests yesterday.  First, we prepared our soil samples for the pH test by mixing 100mL of soil with 200 mL of distilled water, and letting that sit for 15 minutes.  After the 15 minutes, we strained the mixture onto a paper plate and used a Hanna pH meter to measure.  We discovered field 1 to have an acidic pH of 5.6, while field 2 overall was more neutral at 6.6.  Now I need to either lime that field or discover which plants like a bit more of an acidic soil.  A good pH range for most vegetables seems to be between 5.8 and 7.0.  I found a great website that explains the importance of pH levels in your vegetable soil - check it out here.

We then started onto the second test to test the composition of the soil.  We half filled two mason jars with soil, then added distilled water and agitated the jars for 5 minutes.  They then needed to sit undisturbed for 24 hours for the sand, silt and clay to settle.  Once that is settled, there is a calculation you can do to find out the composition of your soil.  That information can be found in It's Science!! - Part 2... to be continued.