Winter Micro Greens!

Locally grown food can be hard to come by, especially in the dead of winter but we’ve got it covered here at Greenshire Eco Farms.

Since late December we’ve been growing micro greens in one of our out-buildings; an ex school portable. Micro greens are similar to sprouts in that they are both baby plants but the difference is that micro greens are grown in soil or some other medium they can put their roots in, while sprouts are grown in a container using nothing but air and water.

We started with buckwheat, sunflower, pea shoots, and we are set to have leeks, and cilantro ready to harvest in a week or two. In the coming weeks we’ll be expanding to grow cress and possibly kale and rapini as well.

First the seeds are soaked and sprouted, trays are filled with wet potting mix, soil, and compost, the seeds are scattered thickly on the surface of the soil, and then the trays are covered to keep moisture in and light out until the seeds root into the soil and begin to leaf out

DSCF2999

Once the majority of the leaves are out the trays are put under lights for a few days so they can green up and continue to grow

DSCF2958

The micro greens in the picture below are just starting to green up

DSCF2963

This is what they look like a few days away from harvest. They could be cut at this point but if left a bit longer they will gain a lot more mass and there won’t be nearly as many seed heads to pick off.

DSCF2953

Our pea shoots are all grown by a south facing window, which is ideal since it saves energy, pollution, and overhead costs. Most plants also grow better by a south facing window for a few hours a day, compared to growing under lights 24/7. Ideally we’d grow everything by natural sunlight but there’s only so much window space available.

Here are the peas after a couple of days under lights, greened up and just starting to climb

DSCF2996

And here they are a little further along

DSCF2989

The plants are checked twice a day to mist them, look for any problems, and to knock off seed heads by brushing a hand across the leaves. They generally need water every other day. There can be stark differences in yield between different kinds of micros but we’re averaging 2-3 pounds of greens per tray.

We’ve been taking our harvests to the Peterborough Farmers Market, and local restaurants every saturday since January 4th. It feels great to provide fresh, locally grown food in the middle of winter for ourselves and our customers!

Fruit & Nut Tree Care Update

Yesterday I finished the first round of tree care; inspecting and spraying the fruit and nut trees here at Greenshire. I used a mix of water, hydrogen peroxide, and soap. The peroxide helps against blight, leaf spot, leaf curl, and a host of other issues. Last year some of our nectarine and peach leaves curled so we picked and burned the affected leaves (roughly 1/3 of them), then sprayed with peroxide and there was no further curling that year.

The soap is used because it kills soft bodied insects on contact. We have had problems with some type of hoverfly, aphids, and some kind of slimy worm, so hopefully the spraying will at least keep them in check. The mixture is half 3% peroxide, half water, and a squirt of liquid soap.

It’s best to start a spraying regimen just as the tree buds are starting to break but before they’ve leafed out. The hazelnuts, nectarines, and some of the cherry trees and apple buds had already started leafing out a bit but I got everything else in time.

 

A TREE BUD STILL IN DORMANCY

 

Our nectarines, some of the cherries, peaches, and one of our russian almonds have all set flower buds that are either starting to or have already begun opening up! Now, I’m not going to count my fruit before it ripens because a number of possibilities still stand in the way of a harvest but it’s  exciting to see nonetheless. Especially at this time of year!

When they’re in full bloom I’ll post pictures of our trees but until then here are a few images thanks to some kind photographers and Wikipedia…

PEACH FLOWERS

 

CHERRY BLOSSOMS

File:2007 Sakura of Fukushima-e 007 rotated.jpg

 

NECTARINE FROM BUD TO FRUIT

File:Nectarine Fruit Development.jpg

 

A RUSSIAN ALMOND IN FULL FLOWER

File:Prunus tenella1.jpg

Growing A Masanobu Fukuoka Inspired No-Till Grain Crop With The Help Of A Pig, Some Plants, And A Tool From The Grim Reapers Arsenal...The Scythe!

Today one of our pot-belly pigs, Gloria, was helping clear some ground in the gardens. This land will be used to plant and cultivate a grain crop by hand, based on the natural farming techniques of Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka is famous worldwide for his methods and books such as “One Straw Revolution” , and “The Natural Way of Farming”. Along with semi-wild vegetables and mandarin oranges, he grew rice and barley organically by hand, and his grain yields were on par with or sometimes better than that of nearby conventional farms that used tractors and chemical inputs.

 

File:4 upland rice field.jpg

Credit: Rosyaraur

 

One of Fukuoka’s recommendations was to use pigs to clear a plot of land to set back and/or eliminate the existing vegetation enough that the intended crop can thrive. Pigs will eat a lot of different types of wild plants, and are excellent at using their noses to flip the sod in their search for roots and ground-dwelling insects. This leaves the soil mostly bare, and suitable for planting.

We put Gloria on a tether and worked in gardens  nearby to keep a close eye on her to make sure that she would clear the area we wanted,  not mess up nearby plantings, and most importantly, to stay safe from predators or getting tangled in the tether.

 

Photo: One of our resident potbellied pigs was helping Travis and our intern Charles in the field today. Thanks for clearing some land Gloria! I hope you enjoyed the bugs, roots, and shoots!

 

It’s important to plant the cleared area as soon as possible to avoid soil erosion from rain or wind, and drying out & leaching of nutrients by the sun.

In Gloria’s wake, we plan to plant a groundcover  of white clover and daikon radish. The clover will fix nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil, and the radish will break up compaction and bring nutrients from the deep subsoil to the surface. It’s expected that wild plants will volunteer in the plot to round out the diversity. For example we have a wide variety of wild flowers in that area of the farm, which are beneficial for many reasons but mostly they are great for providing habitat and food for beneficial insects. In our surrounding fields we also have wild mustards, carrot, and docks, that perform much the same function as the radish, and red clover and trefoil which fix nitrogen, among many other plants.

Along with the ground cover we plan on growing buckwheat and possibly another grain crop such as naked oats or barley. This will all be done by hand, using a scythe to manage the ground cover, and cut the grain crop when it’s time to harvest. A scythe is a tool with a long shaft and blade used to cut herbaceous vegetation. Before machinery, the scythe was the staple tool of many civilizations for harvesting grain and forage crops, among other things.

 

File:Scythe against hedge.jpg

Credit: Richard New Forest

 

It may not be as quick as a tractor and mower but the environmental impact, purchase price, and maintenance cost of a scythe is a of course a sliver in comparison to a fuel guzzling, air polluting  tractor. And a team of experienced scythers can get a surprising amount of cutting done in a day, and they won’t need to go to the gym for a cardio workout!

 

 

Planting Garlic in December??? Thanks Climate Change... A 'How To' Guide to Growing and Harvesting No-Till Garlic

Yes you read right, we’re planting garlic at Greenshire in the December days leading up to Christmas. I was putting some in the ground today, which is definitely not the norm for this time of year, though it seems like the normal weather has been thrown out the window round these parts. I should be shoveling snow off the driveway by now but instead I’m taking advantage of the +5 Celsius temperatures over the last few days and popping cloves in the garden.

It probably would have been better to get the garlic in the ground before November got too cold, and some people plant as early as August but I’ve planted as late as January a few years ago, and the garlic yield was great! Back then I had to warm the soil with an 18 L jug of hot water to melt the ice and soften the ground enough to plant.

 

garlic isolated on white Stock Photo - 10321115

 

 

It probably would have been better to get the garlic in the ground before November got too cold, and some people plant as early as August but I’ve planted as late as January a few years ago, and the garlic yield was great! Back then I had to warm the soil with an 18 L jug of hot water to melt the ice and soften the ground enough to plant.

Here’s our no-till method for bed prep and planting:

1) Over the existing undisturbed ground we lay down 2-4 inches of composted manure, after marking the garden bed area. We chose a 4′ wide bed at 50′ long. If you have wood ash, bone meal, glacial rock dust, or some other powdery type of soil amendment, add it to the ground before laying on the manure. If you have decent soil below, you may be able to get away with cutting your manure 50/50 with soil, which you can dig out from your paths

2) If you’ve put enough manure down and it’s warm enough, you should  be able to press the cloves into the manure without needing any tools. If the ground is too cold to press the cloves in by hand and you have a soil aerator, punch holes evenly and drop each clove in the hole. I imagine that a screwdriver would work too, or you could warm the soil with a jug of hot water if that’s feasible.

The recommended planting distance is 4-8 inches apart so if you’re using an aerator and want a greater distance between bulbs, simply plant in every other hole. Make sure you put the cloves in with the pointy end up!

3) Cover the holes with 1/2 -2 inches of soil and/or manure if you have extra. Otherwise rake across the surface to cover up the holes. I like to turn the rake upside down for this because I find I get a more even grade but whatever works for ya. Some sources say you need to plant the cloves at least 2 inches below the surface but I usually only plant 1/2 – 1 inch deep and I get good results.

4) Apply a mulch of at least 4 inches. The mulch will help protect against weather extremes such as winter-kill, and extreme heat in the summer. It will also help conserve moisture, and help suppress weeds. Suitable mulches are: Tree leaves (ideally chopped up), hay, wood chips, and straw. Basically any plant matter that is high in carbon.

I read somewhere that grain straw can host wheat curl mite which is known to attack garlic. Some say that straw is the way to go and that hay mulch will be a nightmare because of grass seeds sprouting but I’ve used hay from several sources and only get a small percentage of it sprouting. I’ve also seen straw bales sprout grass on all exposed sides. If you do get grass sprouting either cover it up with more mulch or flip it over. Done!

Harvesting:

Cut the scapes/flower heads when they curl around in a circle. Don’t throw them in the compost though! They are too tasty to waste. Even if you have a ton of em, consider dehydrating and powdering them, pickling, or some other prep method so they’ll keep. If you don’t cut the scapes it may diminish the yield of your head of garlic by around 30%.

File:Garlic scape.jpg

 

There are varying opinions on when to pull garlic out of the ground. I generally wait until about 30-50% of the leaves on each plant have turned yellow.

Whatever your preference I suggest that once the garlic leaves have begun to yellow, check a few plants at the root zone periodically to see if they’re ready. Either brush away the soil so you can see the head, or just yank one out and take a chance. You want them to have a a few layers of skin so if they look translucent, they probably need more time. If the paper is starting to flake or the cloves are starting to split apart from the main head, you’ve waited a bit too long if you want the garlic to store well.

Happy Garlic Growing!

 

Grows in the vegetable plots of various vegetables, Stock Photo - 11113317

How To Set Up a Sheet Mulch/Lasagne Garden + Cold Frame Setup for Season Extension

A cold frame is a sort of mini greenhouse used extend the growing season. A sheet mulch is a style of no-till garden bed preparation where layers of different types of organic matter and soil amendments are placed on top of the existing  ground. Here at Greenshire we decided to combine the two ideas and see how it works out.

Using the permaculture principle of turning waste into resource we rescued some old windows and scrap  from going to the dump, in order to make the cold frames. We chose to sheet mulch the growing bed inside the cold frame because there are  electrical wires running underground somewhere in the area where the frame was to be placed.

Here’s the step by step instruction of how we made our sheet mulch cold frame which will allow us to extend our growing season by several weeks….

STEP 1

The wood is cut to fit the length and width of the window, and the desired height of the frame. Generally the height is 6-10 inches at the north wall, and a few inches shorter at the south wall. Then nail each side together to complete the cold frame base.

STEP 2

The cold frame base is placed in the general area we wanted, and then a compass is used to orient the frame so that its length runs east-west. The  footprint of the frame base is marked out the with small pieces of wood with bricks on top of the corners to keep them from going out of place, and the frame base is then set aside.

 

STEP 3

The sod is removed inside the marked area and the frame base is put back around the growing area. This step might not have been necessary but it was done to make it easier for plant roots to penetrate through to the deeper soil. Sheet mulches can be very successful without doing any sod or weed removal. Pieces of sod were used as props to make the frame base exactly level. The grow bed was also eventually made to be level.

 

STEP 4

Coffee grounds (leftovers from making coffee) and torn up filters are placed on top of the exposed soil at about 1/2 inch-1 inch thick. The grounds are thoroughly soaked.

STEP 5

Leaves are placed on top of the coffee grounds 4-6 inches thick. You can go up to 8-10 inches if you have the allowable depth inside the frame. Remember that this layer will compress quickly. If possible, it’s best to chop the leaves up by running a lawnmower over them or putting them through a shredder. The smaller the pieces, the quicker they will break down, and the easier the plant root penetration. The leaves are thoroughly soaked.

STEP 6

Soil mixed with coffee grounds at a 2 to 1 ratio is placed on top of the leaves and then soaked after raking it level. You should have a minimum of 4 inches of ‘head room’ from the finished soil surface to the top edge of the cold frame where the glass will be. This is of course to allow room for your plants to grow. 4-6 inches is suitable for growing baby salad greens or starting seedlings. Remember that your sheet mulch will eventually compress and sink down a bit, possibly a lot but it may not happen before your first harvest/removal of seedlings.

 

STEP 7

Place the window on the frame and bank soil against all four sides of the base, right up to the top. This will help regulate the temperature inside the cold frame. Hay or straw can be added on top of the soil add further insulation.

Some people use semi-composted manure instead of soil because as it decomposes, the manure will give off heat, which could significantly increase the temperature inside the cold frame. The possible drawback is that it could contaminate the growing medium inside the frame with e coli bacteria or other harmful fecal coliform bacteria.

 

STEP 8

If possible, test the air and soil temperatures inside the covered frame before planting. The soil temp can be tested using a meat thermometer. When testing the air temp, be sure to get readings at night, as well as the warmest parts of daytime. This will give you a sense of the range of temperatures inside the cold frame. The range you need will depend on what you’re growing of course. It is advisable to attach your window to the frame base with hinges for easy opening. Whether opened or closed be careful to have the window weighed down so that wind doesn’t blow it around, possibly breaking the glass.

There are automatic window openers that are hinges you can buy which have a temperature sensitive gas chamber that (as the name says) opens or closes the window automatically. My understanding is that these are made with plants temperature needs in mind. I bought mine from Lee Valley, as it was the only source I could find. Well worth the investment in my mind, as with no auto-opener, I’ve had plants bake to death inside cold frame under full sun.

 

STEP 9

Assuming your temperatures are adequate the frame is now ready for planting. A light layer of mulch may be applied as well if you want to conserve moisture and insulate from cold air, though it may be beneficial to leave the soil bare, as the dark colour of the soil will absorb heat from the sun.

 

WHEN TO PLANT

There are too many variables to consider for me to give a one-size-fits-all recommendation. Do as much research as possible on the coldest soil and air temperatures that your chosen plants can withstand

In spring, the most important thing will be the soil temperature, because if you plant too early in the spring your seeds may rot in the wet spring soil waiting for warm enough conditions to germinate.

When planting in the fall…Keep in mind that once winter hits your plants won’t be growing very much due to the colder temperatures and lack of  sunlight. So you need to give enough time to get to maturity while temperatures are still mild and daylight hours are still relatively long. That being said, starting your plants too early may result in your plants bolting to seed prematurely. This happens to some plants (eg. radish, spinach, bok choi etc.) when they experience too much variation between warm and cold temperatures. This timing varies greatly from region to region so I can’t really give a recommendation that would work for everyone but generally in my hardiness zone (zone 5) if you plant in mid september your plants will be mature by November, and you’ll have missed the big temperature swings. I say this but the last few years have seen increasingly extreme variations in temperature, with summer weather lasting much longer than usual, and   20°C + weather sneaking in as late as the end of September and even October! Don’t let this keep you from trying your hand at growing in a cold frame. It can be pretty amazing to be growing and harvesting fresh vegetables in the snow!

 

The Solstice Approaches!

I am finally getting back on the blog horse after too long since the last post. I thought I’d give a report-of-sorts on how things have gone now that we’re at the end of spring.

The early heat in late March made for one of the worst years in decades for maple syrup production. We didn’t even get half of the expected amount of syrup because the season was so short.

The plus side was that gardening could begin about 3 weeks earlier than usual. Unfortunately the spring rains did not come during the heat wave and much of our plantings dried up after sprouting. Despite this a lot of our seeds still emerged and flourished.

Then came a cold wave in the latter half of April. This fluctuation in temperature caused our radish, spinach, arugula, and rapini plantings to bolt to seed prematurely. Bolting is when a plant starts to grow a fibrous stalk and produce flowers and then seeds, which causes many of its leaves to shrink, die off, or turn yellow. So our harvest of these crops was minimal at best.

May and June have been good though. There’s been regular rain between good stints of warm weather which has been just about perfect for our crops. We have a wide variety of vegetables planted and transplanted, which are doing quite well, including:

cucumber

beets

broccoli

cauliflower

cabbage

corn

beans

peas

dill

fennel

peppers

eggplants

celery

tomatoes

cilantro

rapini

onions

leeks

potatoes

garlic

zucchini

winter squash

calendula

artichokes

And probably a few I’m forgetting…

Things are shaping up well for the summer!

Greenshire is Nuts!

We just recently finished planting 69 nut trees and 4 fruit trees, totaling about 3 acres!

The types of nut trees we planted are:

Hazelnut

Hazelnut

Korean Pine Nut

Korean Pine Nut

Heartnut

Heartnut

Pecan

Pecan : pecan nut isolated on white background

Almond

Russian Almond

Hybrid sweet oak

Sweet Acorn

Persimmon

I know what you’re probably thinking but yes, you really can grow those here in central Ontario. I must admit that the pecan is really pushing the boundaries of cold hardiness. The variety is called “Ultra northern pecan” and is said to be hardy to our zone. The botanical gardens in Barrie Ontario apparently has them growing, so we should be able to as well since we are in a slightly warmer region.

The almond is a russian almond, and is hardy to zone 2, which is 3 zones colder than here at Greenshire.

The persimmons should have no trouble growing but we may not get the heat they require for ripening of the fruit. We plan on placing rocks around the trees to further increase the warmth of the immediate area around.

The rest of the types of nut trees should have no trouble growing and producing for us. We’ll know in about 3-5 years, which is when they are set to start yielding a crop! We gave them the best microclimate we could provide with good wind protection and cold air drainage, so they should do just fine.

To mimic the natural patterns of nature, we have planted hardy native pioneer trees close to our nut trees. Pioneer trees are usually the first to move into open areas like the places our nut trees are planted. Pioneers establish good soil and microclimate conditions for things like nut trees to follow after the pioneers start to decline and/or die.

The pioneers are planted in a semi circle around each nut tree on the north and west sides, which is where the strongest and coldest winds come from. They will take the first hit of wind, which will ease the burden a little from the nut trees. Periodically we’ll cut back the pioneers and use those prunings to mulch the nutters. This will also fertilize them and keep the pioneers from overcrowding/shading them out. When they’re pruned up top, the pioneers will compensate below ground by shedding some of their root system. This will decompose into the ground, releasing fertility to the surrounding soil.

http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTe4Rf7RADu6FnsUMfymwgeQOQPx82o29BAV6fn9pX3K4O7bvjI

Spring Planting Begins!

We’ve just entered the new moon phase and the weather is warm, which means the floodgates of planting are open!

Here’s a link to a moon phase planting calendar and explanation of how it works:

http://www.ommas-aarden.net/perp_lunar_garden.htm

Usually the outdoor plantings don’t begin until the first or second week of April but we’ve started a little early thanks to this extra warm weather.

So far we’ve planted:

parsnips
radish-round red type
green onions
sugar snap peas
rapini aka raab

Indoors under grow lights we have:

leeks
celery
red onions

On deck for early spring outdoor planting is:

snow peas-green and purple types
turnip-purple top white bottom
fava beans
radish-white icicle and daikon
carrot- red and orange types
arugula

Then at the end of april/early may we’ll begin the mid-late spring plantings of a variety of other veggies.

Self-Seeded Tomato Circle Video

I think we only ever watered these tomatoes once. It while they were first forming fruit but they didn’t actually need the water, I just wanted to boost their fruit set a little. I should mention that we are in zone 5a in Ontario Canada. You’re not supposed to be able to get a finished crop of tomatoes from direct seeding tomatoes in this region but these ones gave a pretty good yield. Please ‘like’ the video on youtube, and/or leave a comment to boost the youtube ratings so more people can be exposed to this subversive idea.

Video Tour of our Hugelkultur Forest Garden Plot

Here’s a tour of our one year old hugelkultur forest garden of 50 feet x 100 feet.

“What is hugelkultur?” you ask?

Hugelkultur is the burying of woody material to create a raised garden bed. Whole trees, limb prunings, hedge clippings, brassica stems, and any other woody material can be used. Often, herbaceous plant material is placed on top of the wood, to provide a source of nutrients that will break down quicker than the wood.

The name comes from German – hügelkultur translates as “hill culture”.

The technique can vary but what we did involves digging a trench about 1′-5′ deep and 3′-5′ wide. The material is piled on, with the thicker wood being placed at the bottom, getting thinner as you get to the top. Turf (grass) and/or hay is then stacked face down on top, then layers of compost, well rotted leaves and manure, etc as available. The layers break down slowly and creating rich humus over many. These beds are ideal for growing anything from trees to above-ground vegetables and herbs, to root crops.

As the years pass, the deep soil of the raised bed becomes incredibly rich and loaded with soil life. As the wood shrinks, it makes more tiny air pockets – so your hugelkultur becomes self tilling. The first few years, the composting process will slightly warm the soil giving a slightly longer growing season, in temperate and cold climates.

I realize that it’s a long video but I felt that editing it down would leave out valuable information. Think of it as an exercise for your attention span? Or there’s always the pause button. I had edited in an ambient music track throughout the tour but the music isn’t showing up on the youtube upload for some reason. If I figure out the problem I’ll repost the video with the audio track, as it helps the pace of the video. In the meantime I’d suggest putting on some music in the background as you watch the video. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy…