Every spring and fall, we open our farm to CSA members and the public for farm tours. It’s a lot of work to organize and prepare for the tours, especially on weekends after a busy week. But we love meeting our members and showing them where their food comes from. It’s important to us for people to see and learn about what goes into small scale, sustainable agriculture in their region.
This fall we held three tours, with 35 participants in total. Thanks to CSA members from each tour who shared their photos with us*, we’re offering a little virtual tour here.
The highlight is the greenhouses, especially if it’s a cold rainy day. This is where the magic happens at our farm, and October is a pretty magical time to check them out. This fall our greenhouses are looking their best ever, for many reasons.
We now have two years of greenhouse production experience, planting in the fall and growing through the winter and spring. In this time we’ve learned a lot about planting schedules, crop varieties, pest control, and managing the growing climate. With a bigger team this fall, we’ve also got more labour to put into greenhouse maintenance: planting, weeding, watering, harvesting and cleaning up crops on a more regular basis.
We’ve also got some new tools to work with. With funding assistance from Growing Forward 2 and the Eastern Ontario Development Program, we were able to purchase a paper pot transplanter. Built in Japan where it is used primarily for sugar beet production, it’s now catching on among small scale vegetable farmers in North America.
The system includes specialized seeding trays with a honeycomb of attached paper pots that can be transferred to the transplanter. When you pull the transplanter down the bed, it unwinds the paper pots and plants the seedlings in long, straight, perfectly spaced rows. This is a huge time-saver and back-saver (as opposed to manually transplanting seedlings). We’ve been able to plant thousands of seedlings in hours instead of days. We also re-oriented our greenhouse rows lengthwise this year to facilitate using the transplanter, creating a more efficient use of space. We’ll get into more detail (and photos) on the paper pot transplanter in another blog post, but you can see the results in our tidy, lush beds.
We grow many different crops in the greenhouses, but most of the ones we keep through the winter are cut-and-come-again, meaning you can harvest the leaves and the plant will grow back. Having an established root system is essential for plants to survive through the winter. These crops include spinach, a diversity of mustard and asian greens, Sala Nova lettuce, kale, chard, bok choy, arugula and more.
October is peak production time for the greenhouses: the temperature is not too hot or cold, and there is still enough daylight for crops to grow quickly. As the days get shorter and colder, growth will slow down dramatically. By December most crops are either growing back slowly after cutting, or just staying alive. Even with the heat on, the greenhouses become almost like a giant refrigerator, storing banked greens for weekly harvest. By March, it will be warm and light enough for growth to pick up again, and we’ll plant new crops.
We’re also busy in the fields in October. We time our field plantings so that the veggies are ready as late as possible in the fall, minimizing their time in storage before going into your winter boxes. This gets tricky as fall weather is unpredictable, and a hard frost can damage crops that have taken all year to grow. It also means that around this time, everything is suddenly ready all at once!
As we scale up our production, getting the harvest out on time and finding a place to put it all have become new challenges. Our cold storage is filling up fast, even with new pallet crates we bought for vertical storage. We plan out our field harvest carefully, picking more sensitive crops first (like broccoli) and leaving hardier ones for last (carrots and parsnip are sweeter after a couple of frosts). But we don’t mind snacking on a few carrots while we work or visit!
Thanks to everyone who made the trip out to see us. If you are interested but didn’t make it this fall, we’ll hold more tours in the spring, and look forward to seeing you then.
*Thanks to our CSA members Margaret and Kyle, Nicole, and Judy for sharing their photos!