The Bluegrass Blog

Spring is in the Air, Seeds are in the Dirt

Posted on April 14, 2017

Bluegrass Farm was a fledgling idea the last time I had an opportunity to visit back in 2012. Back then I was amazed to see the dedication and passion Brad and Leela put in to pursuing something they love. I remain inspired when I see the full blown farm operation they have today.

As spring slowly makes it’s way here, the farm is abuzz with energy. The fields are being tilled ready for plants and warmer weather. The greenhouses are thriving full of greens, that make their way to plates across the Ottawa area. The newest addition to the farm is Greenhouse 5, which includes a heated portion. The heated portion provides a place to sprout plants for the fields, plus grow microgreens.

As an urbanite who spends her days on a computer, farm work has an amazing allure. I got to spend my day getting dirt under my nails in Greenhouse 5. Karen and I planted over 20 trays of green starters and microgreens! The variety amazes me. My yuppie life only sees the variety on my plate. I’d be hard pressed to name or identify either the seed or leaf of most of the plants in the greenhouse. Fenugreek was the most intriguing to me. The seeds have a wonderfully spicy aroma, and rich golden colour. The smell doesn’t translate to the flavor of the seed or the green. Making and planting the trays felt like childhood and time spent making mud pies. Layer the dirt, add the seeds, top with perlite – like white frosting! The day of work was a great way to spend the day, as I was rewarded with tangible outputs.


The day helping at the farm was a real treat! Not only did I get to help my friends, I can better appreciate the effort put into growing food and the work required for farming. Added bonus – the inspiration and knowledge to grow microgreens back in the urban jungle.

Guest blogger: Lana ( travel adventures and book reviews)

A Virtual Farm Tour

Posted on October 24, 2016

farm-tourEvery 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.

fullsizerender-4The 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.

dsc_0057The 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.

sala-nova-gh-3We 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.

fullsizerender-8fullsizerender-5We’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.

by Leela.

*Thanks to our CSA members Margaret and Kyle, Nicole, and Judy for sharing their photos!

A Recipe for Divorce.

Posted on September 26, 2016

GH 5 partsOK, I’m joking. We’re not even married, so how could we get a divorce? The title of this post was just the thought that popped into my head as Brad and I unloaded these used greenhouse parts from the back of a U-Haul truck at the end of June. It was a Saturday afternoon, close to 40 degrees, I was 6 months pregnant, and we were rushing to empty the truck before our 4-year old returned from an outing with his grandfather. Not the ideal way to spend a summer weekend, but this is what we signed up for… right?

One might think (as I did) that building, heating and growing in 4 greenhouses through the winter would be enough, at least to keep us busy for our first few years at this farm. But Brad is a big-picture thinker, always looking ahead to the next goal. It’s hard work bringing him back to the details of the present moment day after day, but without his vision we would never have gotten to this point.

dsc_0028We decided to build a fifth greenhouse after 3 springs of sub-par seedlings. We turn off the soil heat in our existing greenhouses at the beginning of March. By then, lengthening daylight hours and solar gains in the greenhouses can support rapid growth of our cold-hardy greens. But growing new seedlings, to transplant into greenhouses or fields throughout the spring, is a different matter. These seeds are grown in trays, require higher constant soil temperatures for germination, and warmer air temps for the new plants to grow. Many vegetable farms heat only their seed-starting greenhouse, and only in March and April for just this reason. We were starting our seedlings in unheated greenhouses, where they were suffering, and taking up valuable spring salad production space. It felt like some transplanted crops never caught up from their rough start.

dsc_0040Enter Brad’s never-ending Kijiji search, which soon turned up a good deal on a used greenhouse near Guelph. We dropped Brad off at the Via Rail station in Smiths Falls at 6 am one morning, and he arrived back at 10 pm with a U-Haul full of greenhouse components. Major discussion was required before unloading the next day: how would we heat this new greenhouse? How close could we put it to the others without blocking the sun? How would we get power and water to the new building? What other future land uses did we need to consider in siting it? What were we thinking trying to farm anyways? I felt like both my decision-making AND unloading skills would have been greatly enhanced by a cold beer on such a hot day, but in my second trimester it was not to be.

Eventually, we figured out where to put it. We also decided that one-third of the structure will be walled off and heated for seed-starting in the spring, while the other two-thirds will be left unheated, allowing for additional greens production in the spring and fall. The heated section will use a water-to-air heat exchanger, transferring energy from our wood boiler to underground hot water lines to the indoor air.

dsc_0038The good news was that once unloaded, Greenhouse #5 has gone up much more quickly and smoothly than the first four. Turns out we’ve learned a lot about how to excavate and square the foundation, hire professional rock drillers, cement the ground posts into holes and assemble the arches. Once our fall staff showed up, our awesome team got that puppy up in no time. We’re almost ready to cover it with plastic and set up the seedling tables inside.

Nearing the end of my third trimester, I’ve stepped back from construction jobs on the farm, which has also greatly reduced the risk of divorce. But I’m pretty sure this baby will be helping to seed a whole lot of little green babies in our new greenhouse this spring.

by Leela.

Every Day We Do One Thing Better Than Last Year.

Posted on July 12, 2016

IMG_20160416_132907This has been my motto over the past year. After starting four farms from scratch in four years, and moving seven times in the last ten, it has been really satisfying to just. stay. put. We are finally getting past the seemingly insurmountable start-up hurdles, and into a new stage of finding better and (sometimes) easier ways to do things.

Some of our improvements have been through infrastructure. After our first winter when our water line froze, we drilled a second well at the barn. An insulated line and a heated wash station keep water running all winter, and on mild days we can even irrigate the greenhouses. Much better than hauling dirty veggies to the house to wash them in our mudroom, and hauling water from the house to water greenhouses by hand! The second well is also keeping our crops alive during this summer’s drought… more on that later.

root washerWe also invested in a mechanized root vegetable washer. This beauty spins veggies in a large drum while high-pressure sprinklers clean them. It helped us to increased our winter CSA from 75 members in 2014 to 125 in 2015.

Many other improvements are in our systems and processes. Sometimes you just have to do things poorly for awhile before a better way appears, through trial and error or the occasional lightbulb moment. Whether it’s a more efficient way to pack CSA boxes, automating spreadsheets for record-keeping, or figuring out how to get the seeder to space the seeds properly, we’re making slow but steady progress on many fronts.

loading wood


Of course, we’ve also made our share of new mistakes. In some cases we didn’t realize how well we’d (accidentally) done something our first year until we did it differently the second year, and suffered the consequences. Some crops were planted too early this time around, others too late. A late fall made us less careful about protecting greenhouse crops, until a sudden frost killed many of them. And, as we learned time and time again, even an insulated water line will freeze if you forget to turn your heaters on when it goes to -20. (Doh!) But it’s all part of the learning process.

As we get a handle on our core operations, we’re continuously looking for ways to grow the business. As time and resources allow, we’re increasing our staff, investing in better equipment, and adding new products and customers. This spring we expanded our wholesale salad production, selling to new restaurants and food stores as well as to organic food box delivery programs. Brad mustered his confidence and knocked on a lot of restaurant doors with samples in hand. We had to hire a part-time delivery person and rent a van twice a week, but we exceeded our spring sales target and saw the potential to scale up even more.

broccoli seedlingsWe get so caught up in the next challenges and goals that it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come in a relatively short time. This month, we mark our two-year anniversary of living at this farm. It’s hard to believe that just two years ago, there were no greenhouses, no cold storage, no heating system, no winter CSA members; no idea whether this would actually work.

Looking back helps to inspire me when I feel overwhelmed by the next step: having our second baby in October, with our son starting kindergarten, the winter CSA ramping up, the fields full of crops to harvest and greenhouse production in full swing. (Wait… whose idea was this again???) But then I think about everything that has happened here so far, and all the amazing support and help we’ve had and continue to receive. Like 15 volunteers showing up on a hot Saturday in June to hand-weed onions, plant seeds and shovel gravel in 30+ heat. Those are true friends, and we are eternally grateful for them.

IMG_20160503_210934If we were able to get this far in two years, and learn so much along the way, imagine what can happen in the next two years. Starting from such chaos has created a million opportunities to do things better, and I’m confident that our team will keep finding new ways to grow, in all senses of the word.

by Leela.

April Showers Bring… Bluegrass Greens and Farm Tours.

Posted on April 20, 2016

Our greens are at a store near you! Find our salads and more at food stores across the region:

  • DSC_0583 (2)Ottawa: Around the Block Butcher Shop, Herb and Spice Wellington, Rainbow Foods
  • Perth: Foodsmiths
  • Kemptville: B & H Community Grocer
  • Smiths Falls: Garden Market
  • Merrickville: Healthily Ever After
  • Almonte: Dandelion Foods

Please support these independent businesses who make the effort to work with small local producers.

farm tour march 2016In other news, our recent spring farm tours were a success. The weather wasn’t fantastic, but we hosted some tough veggie-lovers! Over 30 people braved the cold, wind, mud and rain to visit our farm and see our greenhouses in action.

With the arrival of spring, April showers in the greenhouses come from our sprinkler irrigation system, which is up and running. We’re finally liberated from covering and uncovering the plants with row cover every night. On sunny days we work in t-shirts, and the greens are growing so fast that we have to harvest some crops twice a week so they don’t get too big.

IMG_20160402_104405997_HDR IMG_2232 (2)Thanks to everyone who came to a tour, and to the folks who shared these photos with us. We’ll hold more tours in the fall, and we announce the dates through our newsletter. IMG_5087
Citizen article FieldFinally, check out the latest Ottawa Citizen Style magazine for a sneak preview of some colourful new crops that we’re growing this year, including Blue Kale, Purple Osaka mustard greens, red and green mini romaine lettuce, and Black Valentine Beans. We’re ‘rooting for spring’ in Style! Thanks to Laura Robin and Julie Oliver for the coverage and this photo.

Enjoy the sunshine,


Getting ready for CSA 2015

Posted on August 10, 2015

IMG_0671In 2015 we are building on our past successes. We are growing more and we are growing better. We have expanded our acreage to 3.25 acres plus the 1/4 acre of greenhouses. We have improved on our tillage, seed spacing, weeding, and planting dates. We are trialing new varieties of vegetables while sticking with some favourites that we’ve been growing for years. We are experimenting with new pieces of farm equipment, like a root washer, and building more infrastructure, like a frost-free water line, to increase our efficiencies.

We are growing out heirloom varieties of potatoes, sweet potatoes and garlic that we have been saving since 2011, with hopes that they will yield enough to make it into our winter CSA. We are trying new crops such as celeriac and kohlrabi that will store well in our cold cellar. Other experimental crops include scorzonera, parsley root and Jerusalem artichoke – weird ones that might just turn up in your baskets!

IMG_0804[1]One aspect that we are very excited about this year is our cover crops. This is the first time in our farming career that we have been on the same land for a second year. So now we have the opportunity to see and manage our second year of cover cropping. Last year, we seeded red clover with our winter squash and potatoes. This year we have moved the squash and potatoes to another field, and we have 1 acre of red clover growing back. We have been practicing this cover cropping since 2011 and first discovered it in a COG article by Gavin Dandy at the Everdale Environmental Learning Centre ( It is one of the first organic farming articles we read back in 2008 that got us interested in commercial production. This year we mow the red clover several times over the season to remove weeds and help the crop thrive. The red clover develops deep roots and establishes a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria, which take nitrogen from the air and make it available as nitrate that is useable by plants. The nitrogen fixing is more prominent in year 2 of growth once the clover has become established. We will disc some of the clover field this fall and prepare raised beds for our fall garlic planting.

IMG_0755Our greenhouses are also planted with a cover crop for the summer: buckwheat. This will be mowed back into the soil to increase fertility and organic matter, before planting our fall greens. We have learned a lot in our first year of greenhouse production and are excited to apply our lessons from a blustery winter. We will be starting spinach, kale and chard in early September. We will then begin successive plantings of leaf lettuce, head lettuce, bok choy, and salad greens. Our gourmet salad greens will be back online in October to continue our retail and restaurant sales, as well as for our CSA members. We’ll also grow radishes, baby turnips and herbs to round out the CSA baskets.

Our big push will be bringing in the harvest this fall from both the fields and greenhouses. Last year we were so busy with construction that it was hard to keep up with harvesting. With the greenhouses now up and running, and extra help being hired, we hope to stay on track and not have to use a skidsteer or axes to harvest our leeks from the frozen ground! We are excited to be building our farm business slowly but surely and experimenting, learning and sharing our experiences with our community.

Happy rest of summer, make it a good one.






Innovation by Necessity

Posted on July 7, 2015

rebuilding end wallEvery time the wind gusts to 50 km/h Leela and I both start to look at each other in a state of worry. Whose idea was it anyways to build greenhouses on an exposed windy hill? The good news is that Leela hasn’t been in the house the two nights that we’ve had 100 km/h winds. And that’s all that I have for scientific support to calm her worries on windy nights. (The photo at left is us racing to repair an end wall after a fall windstorm, before the sun set and the crops under cover froze).


It was my idea to build these greenhouses on a hill. The high spot seemed like a good place for drainage and it was probably the most level place on the property. They have an east-west orientation, which allows the prevailing wind to naturally ventilate the greenhouses. We had to scrape the thin layer of topsoil off the bedrock. We did this to help level the site and get access for drilling into the bedrock. We decided we should cement the greenhouse ground posts into the bedrock for increased support. It was likely a good idea for our location. I’ve even heard since we constructed the greenhouses that the most likely time to have greenhouse support failure is in the spring when the ground is thawing around the ground posts and not offering much support.

IMG_0090Since we removed all the topsoil, we had an opportunity to try several other innovative concepts. Before building the greenhouses, we laid out tile drainage, to drain any water from underneath the greenhouses. Then, we laid out 4” polystyrene insulation on the bedrock to separate our greenhouse from the bedrock. We figured that the bedrock would be thermally conductive and would want to ‘wick away’ any heat that we were storing in our greenhouse soil. Green building design research led me to understand that when insulating a house basement, the perimeter soil conditions should be considered. Sand, clay and rock have differing thermal conductivity and therefore you would want to insulate a house foundation to a greater extent in clay and rock.

IMG_0096So we scraped off the topsoil, exposed the bedrock to drill and cement the ground posts, installed subsurface drainage, and then laid out the greenhouse perimeter insulation. We then installed a layer of used 6 mm greenhouse plastic to create an air barrier on top of the 4” insulation. From here we put down a thin layer of native soil and then a wire grid that holds the radiant floor heating.

Since we first saw radiant floor heating in greenhouses, we knew that we would be starting from the ground up at our farm. We didn’t really have the opportunity to just install a greenhouse on the native soils of the property. By working with the constraints of our shallow loam soil on top of bedrock, we were able to come up with innovative ‘green’ greenhouse design.

By heating the soil instead of the air, an energy savings of 50% can result. This is because air is poor at retaining heat compared to soil. Another advantage is that the limiting factor for plant growth is soil temperature and not necessarily air temperature. By heating the soil instead of the air, we are getting increased biological activity where we want it, at the root zone.

Opiotr and PEXnce the radiant floor heating was installed, and the walls of the insulation were built abutting all the ground posts we were left looking at what almost looked like an empty rectangular swimming pool. Except now we would fill it up with soil instead of water. So a few dump trucks, tractors, skid steers and lots of shoveling later we have 4 greenhouses with 18” of soil.

To help with wind protection, we have built a berm on the western side of the greenhouses. This year we will be increasing the size of the berm and planting quick growing cottonwoods to help reduce wind speeds. This will help to reduce greenhouse heat loss during the winter months, reduce plastic wear and tear, and hopefully help protect the greenhouses on those big windy stormy nights.

GH 1 goes upIt’s now been a year since we first started staking out the greenhouse footprints, and it’s taken me this long to find time to blog about it. After harvesting greens nearly every week since November, we’re finally taking a summer break from greenhouse production. We’re busy with field crops and new infrastructure for our winter CSA, but maybe I’ll find time to write a post about our greenhouse heating system… or maybe I’ll just have a beer and try to relax.

Get Your Spring Greens On!

Posted on May 6, 2015

Our greens are now available in stores. Look for bags of our gourmet salad mix, spinach, braising greens, leaf lettuce and bok choy at the following fine food shops:

april greenhouse 3Ottawa West: Rainbow Foods, Herb and Spice on Wellington, West End Well, Around the Block Butcher Shop, Piggy Market
Ottawa Centre: Market Organics, Red Apron, Seed to Sausage
Ottawa East: Nature’s Buzz
Perth: Foodsmiths
Kemptville: B&H

Our 2015-2016 Winter Vegetable CSA shares go on sale this summer.  We aren’t offering a summer CSA this year, but there are many good options in Ottawa and the surrounding areas. If you’re interested, check out the Ottawa C.S.A. website for a listing of CSA farms and their drop-off points.

In other spring news, the water line to our barn and greenhouses, frozen since December, started running again in mid-April. After several months of hauling water by tractor from the house, irrigating by hand and cleaning veggies in our mudroom, it was a real luxury to turn on the hose and sprinklers!

Our greenhouse heating system was turned off at the beginning of March, and now we’re making sure the greenhouses don’t overheat. A system of louvers and exhaust fans allows us to moderate the temperature and humidity.

With the abundant daylight and water, and finally some warmer weather, growth has really taken off in the greenhouses. We can’t harvest, wash and pack fast enough to keep up with the salad! We’re in the process of hiring more help for the summer and look forward to extra hands at the farm.

We haven’t forgotten about our Winter CSA though – we have over 30 trays of onion, leek, shallot and celeriac seedlings growing in our greenhouses for next winter’s shares. These will move outdoors soon in preparation for transplanting into the fields later this month. We’ll also be planting potatoes and squash seedlings in May.

And…. the garlic is up! A sure sign of spring.

Until next time, enjoy the sunshine and the increasing supply of local food!

March Farm Tours!

Posted on February 24, 2015

farm tourCurious to see where your Winter CSA veggies came from? Wonder what it’s like to farm in the winter? Here’s your chance to visit Bluegrass Farm and check out our unique heated greenhouses that have been growing salad all winter long. Get behind the scenes and learn what’s involved in running a Winter CSA.




We’re holding 2 farm tours in March that are open to the public:

  • Brad GH 3Dates: Sunday March 8th and Sunday March 15th, 2-4 pm
  • Location: Our farm is in Jasper, about 15 minutes from Smiths Falls or Merrickville. It’s about 75 minutes’ drive from downtown Ottawa. We’ll send address and directions when you RSVP.
  • Clothing: Please dress for the weather and wear sturdy footwear, as we will be outdoors for much of the tour.
  • RSVP: Email or call 613-275-2639 to confirm your spot, or if you have questions.


barn and tractorWe look forward to seeing you then!







brad inside GH

We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet

Posted on January 31, 2015

IMG_0353We are in the middle of winter. The water line that runs to the washing station froze solid weeks ago despite all our efforts to blow it out at every day’s end. To water our micro greens we carry buckets of water from the farm house over a precariously slick ice field to the cool cellar-cum-incubation chamber. We’re almost at the end of our CSA season now and thus far winter farming has proven to be a juggling act.




To wash our vegetables we now have to move them from the cold cellar/washing station to the mud room of the farm house, where we clean them in plastic tubs. For this move we often use the tractor. But the temperature has been well in the minuses for quite some time now and so we have to plug in the old Massy Ferguson. But there are so many details to consider, such a delicate balance to maintain and so many unknowns to face and all in our first year that sometimes the tractor is forgotten and won’t start for hours. That’s when the car has to pick up the slack. So what happens when our car or cargo van gets stuck in a tricky drive-way, one that is particularly susceptible to snow drifts? Well, everything takes that much longer, that’s all. You get the tow chain out and wait until the tractor is ready. You hope you have enough horse power to pull the damn thing up a slick hill. And when you realize you don’t, you thank your lucky stars when your country-hardened neighbours happen to show up at the right moment with just the right sort of pick-up truck and the proper give ’em hell attitude. But there goes half the work day.

IMG_0332Sometimes it feels like a battle. One we wage against broken systems. Systems broken in spite all of our effort to instill and maintain our efficiency. Systems broken by the sheer tenacity of winter. When it comes down to it winter gives our workaday tasks new meanings, new challenges. Nothing is easy and everything takes longer. Any one living in our climate and working, especially outdoors knows these sentiments.

Maintaining body heat is essential. Usually farmers become more insulated during the off-season. They rest and happily put on the winter layers. Working in the cold, however, I burn calories like our boiler chews up cord wood. I wear layers of wool and thermal underwear. Two pairs of socks keep my footsies toasty. We have a larger selection of work gloves strewn about our various work spaces than we do hands to fit them. I’ve taken to wearing ice grips on my boots to easier traverse the aforementioned ice field. Sometimes it feels like an expedition into uncharted territory and in many ways it is (This type of production hasn’t been done around these parts, folks!).

IMG_0311In that regard we’re doing well in our nascent year. An average of twenty five lbs of gourmet salad comes out of our greenhouses per week. With more hours of sunlight on the horizon that number is bound to increase as is the temperature in the greenhouses. So far we’ve registered highs of plus seventeen (air temp) and plus eleven (soil temp)!

Until spring arrives, however, bringing with it more favourable conditions we’ll wrestle daily with difficulties peculiar to winter farming: frozen row cover, rime and condensation on greenhouse plastic blocking valuable UVs, unsealed drafts, frozen tractors, snowed in lane ways, frozen water lines not to mention mastering the complex radiant earth heating system that makes it all possible. We’re getting better of course but lately we’ve adopted an old pioneer saying “we’re not out of the woods yet”.


Employee #000-001