PennyGrows

So I decided to learn about farming


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Powdery Mildew on Lettuce

Many of the lettuces beds I have worked with over the summer have been affected by “Powdery Mildew.”  You can avoid this fungus by selecting varieties that are less susceptible or those that are resistant. Some non-chemical way to control…

  1. Remove infected leaves promptly to prevent spore release and contamination of the soil.
  2. Rotate lettuce crops to minimise the risk of infection from resting spores
  3. Do not overcrowd plants… high humidity increases the risk of infection

lettuce top

The mildew can be identified by yellow patches on the upper leaf surfaces, and are generally angular because they are limited by the veins.

lettuce bottom

A fuzzy growth of whitish mould on the underside.

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Red Pocket… I learned a bunch

Many many thanks to farmer Amy at Red Pocket Farm for taking the time and teaching me a bunch. She was the first to welcome me to a farm (foot on soil) when I first started this whole program. She is a great teacher… making suggestions on books to read and encouraging me watch, listen, and learn, when she was doing something I had not yet seen. She was patient and not pushy and didn’t mind that I asked a lot of dumb questions… sometimes asking the same question twice. I will miss the time I spent at Red Pocket with Amy, I am planning to return in September to help out with harvesting.

On Friday, June 21, 2013 we did a little bit of everything. We turned over a few beds and readied them for planting… weeding, hoeing, and lots of wheel barrels of compost (8?). Amy also taught me the basics of setting up drip irrigation (spacing, tape grade quality, valves, tape tools, placement in the bed and tying off the ends, etc…).

I learned about companion planting (e.g. chard with onions… corn with beans). Companion planting… planting of different crops in proximity, for pest control, pollination and to otherwise increase crop productivity. Companion planting is a form of polyculture… it is considered a good thing. Conversely, monoculture can be bad… all corn… all potatoes.

We also planted about 600 Banner Onions… a variety of green onions. Maybe double that amount, because in most holes we planted two bulbs… so we dug about 600 holes and planted about 1200 onions.

Red Pocket onions

Before we planted the onions we had to prep the bed. A part of prepping the bed was the removal of 25+ mystery squash plants. These plants had self seeded from last year’s crop and were unknown to farmer Amy. (She is new to this area of the farm). So Amy’s position is … any plant that can make it through the winter without any help should be giving a fighting chance. Accordingly, we dug them up… and transplanted them to a different part of the farm. Only time will tell what kind of squash they are and if they will survive this hardship.


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Holy Moly… Sweet Reba!

On Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at Small Holding Farm we planted about 180 squash! We planted the seedlings, which were grown by Farmer Katie in her greenhouse, and the varities included… winter squash, cinderella pumpkins, SWEET REBA (we liked repeating these words when we stubs our toe or nicked our fingers), orange pumpkins, striped pumpkins, red kuri pumpkins, sweet dumpling pumpkins, sugar pie pumpkins, gords, and more!

mulchStep 1 – Lay out the mulch (black plastic). It comes in rolls so you start at one end of the 200 foot bed and you unroll it. As the mulch it is being unrolled, two people, one on either side, follow it and bury the mulch a little on either side (4 to 6 inches) to stop it from blowing away.

Funny Oberservation: Valeria, the intern (seen above), worn sweat pants and her hoodie in 25C+ weather. I on the other hand got a little sun stroke and blisters on my shoulders.

The mulch is biodegradable (made from corn) and serves a number of purposes… to keep out the weeds… to preserve moisture in the soil and to heat the soil. All of these things will help ensure the success of Farmer Katie’s investment!

Step 2: After the mulch is secured, we planted the seedlings. A ruler is used to ensure that the seedings are spaced accordingly. One person marks a spacing of 24 inches on centre, another drops a seedling next to each marks and records the variety, and the third person follows.. digging the holes and planting the pumpkin!

coveringStep 4: Row Cover. Over each 200 ft bed we placed a covering. Same deal as before.. insert ohhhh… about 300 plastic hoops give the cover shape and keep the cover off the plants. Then you unroll the cover… just like before… and you bury the edges with soil to keep it from blowing away and keep out the pests! All of this burying is done with a hoe.

Funny observation: I am right handed, but I am a left handed hoer.

In this case a covering was placed over the flowers to protect them from “cucumber beetle”. Apparently the beetle will eat the flower and sadly no fruit will come.

Step 5:  I won’t be there… but Farmer Katie will use her experience and wisdom to know when to remove the cover. She needs to remove it for the plants to pollenate… but not too soon or the beetle will eat the flowers.

 

squah 2This work took 3 people a whole day.. from 7:30 a.m. until  4:30 p.m… with a lunch break. We all slept very well on Wednesday night.


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Ladybug! Ladybug! Fly Away Home

It was a wet and muddy day on Friday, June 14, 2013 at Red Pocket Farm. I arrived early and got to do a field inspection with farmer Amy. A field inspection will inform a farmer about the “state of affairs”. What needs to be done… what can be done given the weather, ground, and soil conditions… it sets out the priorities for work to be done – given these factors – on that day. I am sure that this all plays in to the “grand farm plan” for the season. Farmer Amy also documents this information in her log… like good farmers do.

On Friday morning we weeded, but did not walk between the beds because it was too wet. We weeded the main walkways and the weeds that we could reach and pull out from there… so about 18″ in on most beds. By the afternoon the sun and the wind had dried the ground significantly and we were able to clear three 50 ft beds. We pulled the remaining crop, cleaned out the weeds, and added compost… 8 wheel barrels of compost! This was part of preparing the beds for a new crop to be planted. The beds will not be seeded for at least two weeks.

And then we planted beans… two rows about thirty feet long… I was too tired to remember the type I beans we planted, but I do remember that we inoculated the beans before we planted them and I learned more about why nitrogen is so important.

“An inoculant is a powdered form of bacteria or fungus that is added to the soil by means of coating the pea or bean seed with the powder prior to planting. The bacteria most commonly used are Rhizobium bacteria for inoculating legumes like peas and beans.”

“In a nutshell, what the Rhizobium bacteria does is stimulate the legume roots to grow nodules that “fix” nitrogen.  What “fixing” means is that the nodules absorb nitrogen from the air and convert it into ammonia in a useable form that the plants can readily take up for growth. This fixing action has a two-fold effect. The first is making nitrogen available for the current crop. The second is when the plants are tilled under after the harvest. The nodules then provide a storehouse of nitrogen in the soil that becomes available for the next crop.”

“Plants need nitrogen to make amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, and nitrogen is essential for making chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the molecule that converts sunlight (energy) into carbohydrates by the process of photosynthesis. Nitrogen makes up 78% of our atmosphere, as N2, an inert gas. Plants cannot use this nitrogen without microbes first converting it… or “fixing” nitrogen. This is only done in the root zone of a plant. “Legumes release compounds called flavonoids from their roots, which trigger the production of nod factors by the bacteria.”

As you will notice I didn’t write the above. I got it from www. davesgarden.com. Give credit where credit is due.

Lady BugLadybug with spinach. Lots of lady bugs spotted on the farm on Friday and farmers like ladybugs!


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Potpourri

I have been participating in other events and learning about different opportunities in my community over the past 2 or 3 months. But for whatever reason I did not document them on this blog… so for my future reference I am posting the following items.

One: Seedy Saturday and Sunday

http://cultivatetoronto.com/2013/03/join-us-at-the-scadding-court-seedy-saturday/

Earlier this spring I attended this event in Parkdale where I purchased some seeds.

“…a place where you can donate or exchange your clean and labeled packaged seeds at a “Seed Exchange Table”. This is the heart of the event! And they often include speakers and workshops – ranging in discussions from how to plant the seed, to pruning, to creating an urban garden habitat.  These events are marked by having the source for your region’s best-producing organic and heritage food and flower seeds, often directly from the growers themselves. Most of the events also have seeds of native plants found in your area.”

Note:  Remember to collect seeds this year and participate in 2014.

Two: Symphony of the Soil

http://www.symphonyofthesoil.com/

On May 29, 2013 I watched the movie Symphony of the Soil a the Royal Theatre. It was sponsored by Toronto Farmers’ Market Network (www.tfmn.ca)

A brief synopsis of the movie tells about “… an artistic exploration of the miraculous substance soil. By understanding the elaborate relationships and mutuality between soil, water, the atmosphere, plants and animals… The film also examines our human relationship with soil, the use and misuse of soil in agriculture, deforestation and development, and the latest scientific research on soil’s key role in ameliorating the most challenging environmental issues of our time. Filmed on four continents, featuring esteemed scientists and working farmers and ranchers, Symphony of the Soil is an intriguing presentation that highlights possibilities of healthy soil creating healthy plants creating healthy humans living on a healthy planet.”

Note: If you take care of the soil all the other stuff… like clean air and water… will follow.

Three: Farm Start

http://www.farmstart.ca/

It is a program to “… encourage and support a new generation of entrepreneurial ecological farmers’, which “… encourages lots of people to explore their new farm dreams… help more serious prospective farmers assess and plan their next steps into agriculture.”

“… to help make the road to a farming dream a little more accessible, a little less risky, and a little less lonely…. provide start-up farms, seed capital and flexible training and skills building opportunities as well important connections to peer, mentor and community networks.

Note: Information might be helpful, must look in to this further. Would be a good start if I ever move to the Guelph or Hamilton area. Might be a good model for Toronto.. or not.


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Harvest Day

Stupidly early… like 6:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 9, 2013 and ever so slightly hungover from attending the reunion concert for Broken Social Scene at Fort York, I participated in a harvest… my very first harvest!

We cut, soaked, cleaned, washed, spun dry (using the spin cycle on a dedicated washing machine), and stored mixed salad greens, spicy mix, rocket, radishes and wild green onions. We started early to take advantage of the morning dew, which can help protect the plants and until they are sold at market.

After cutting the greens it is important to store them, temporarily, standing…as they grow. That means, as you cut a bunch, place the cut bunch in the bin (like a small plastic washing bin) standing, so that when the bin is full and later filled with water, the leaves soak up as much water as possible. This positioning of the leaves also uses the force of gravity to assist in sand, soil, and bug removal.

After soaking the leaves, they are washed, spun dry and placed in a cooler. Apparently this method can produce salad leaves that will stay fresh for up to one week.

Radishes and green onions are pulled from the soil, washed and sold in bunches.

Early notes on harvesting.

  • The earlier start to the day the better.
  • Locate the plastic bin that you place your harvest in, so that is tilted away from the sun in order to limit exposure.
  • Plan the harvest. Cut leafy greens first, while it is still cool. Pull and pick the more sun resilient crops as the morning progresses.
  • Advanced weeding of the crops makes the harvest day move much more quickly.
  • Harvest herbs directly before market… same day.

Other and new information… “Cotyledon Leaves” or first leaves are from the germinated seed and most plants will have them. These first leaves kind of look like grass. First leaves generally do not look like the plant’s “True leaves”. For example, a carrot’s first leaves look like grass, but we all know that a carrot’s true leaves are fern like. It is important that you… a farmer… really me…knows what the difference and what to look for so I do not weed out the plants Amy is trying to grow. Just in case you were wondering/worrying, I am very gifted at plant identification.

BeetsBeets… not harvested but weeded on Sunday

Kale

Check out how wonderfully the kale is coming along.


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Red Pocket Farm – Second Visit

I was back a Red Pocket on Friday. It was sunny and a cool 10 degrees Celsius. My fingers froze and I got a little wind burnt on my face. Having said all that, suddenly I am starting to feel like I am keeping a farmer’s almanac.?

So amongst the beautiful green organic Asian vegetables and the garlic and chives was ever so subtle… not really, whiff of Kentucky Fried Chicken from the corner of Keele and Sheppard…. oh it was wrong… oh so wrong.

Farmer Amy and I weeded 300 bed feet (new farming term and is defined as the linear distance of 1 foot measured along a raised, mulched bed. The total  number of Bed Feet in a particular planting system that is the cropped area of real-estate). We weeded carrots greens, and kale as well as the crop that we planted 2 weeks ago. Wow! They have have grown so fast.

I have also learned first hand one of the benefits of SPIN farming. SPIN farming using 24″ wide beds and not 40″ or 48″, so when weeding you have the option of standing up over, and straddling the bed. There is not so much bending, squatting or kneeling.

Greens

Mustard Greens

Guy

Gai Lan (foreground with yellow flower), Bok Choy (center with purple stems) and Soy Chum (far)