Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Fall has arrived but it seems the weather has decided that we need more Summer and I’m happy about that.

By September we see what experiments and new techniques have failed or succeeded in the gardens.

Big failures were Cucumbers, Squash, and Melons. The companion planting technique of growing radishes nearby didn’t stop the voracious appetite of the Cucumber Beetle, not even a little. Without a Winter-kill these insects have HIGH numbers and they not only munch on blossoms (so that fruit doesn’t set) but they also eat tender fruits. Cucumber beetles enjoy the whole Cucurbit family which includes Cucumbers, Zucchini, Squash, and Melons like Cantaloupes. The Squash Vine Borers put the nail in the coffin of any hope of having Squash and Pumpkins this year. It seems that the best strategy will be to not grow any of these crops for a number of years in order to discourage the insects by not giving them their favourite foods to eat.

It was also a bad year for Watermelons and a sad year for us as we grew out the last of the seeds that Farmer Faenin has been saving for 8 years. Not sure what happened with the Watermelons – raised bed, too much shade, not enough water, something else? – but they were a failure.

Fortunately other techniques and crops worked out very well.

These Marigolds successfully kept away insects from the Pole Bean seed crop.


Alyssum made a wonderful companion in many beds, to many veggies.


This was the first year that Tomatoes and Peppers were grown in the raised beds and at first I was skeptical that they would turn out due to the high nitrogen in the beds (which encourages leafy growth and discourages fruit production). I was very pleasantly wrong!

The Sweet Peppers were a bumper crop again this year! They love the heat and don’t mind not getting rained on!



We theorized that we wouldn’t have many Hornworms this year, as the Tomatoes were planted quite far away from any place they’ve been planted ever, but they arrived anyway. It wouldn’t be Summer without a pic of these creatures.

hornworm collage1.jpg

The Tomato plants and fruits were the largest we’ve ever seen. Tomatoes that should have been on the smaller size were as large as any other Beefsteak. Some grew like Tree trunks!

tomato tree1

tomato tree.jpg

In Fall we see new blossoms and new blooms.

From the Wild Area….

Some unknown flowers

unknown bloom

unknown bloom1

Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susan)

This wildflower has really taken off and spread despite 2 years of drought.


Colourful Yarrow still producing blooms. Two different colours on the same stalk.

yarrow colour

There are many new creatures, and food for the creatures.


The Lemon Balm is also thriving despite 2 droughts and getting frost-bitten in April.

lemon balm

Hummingbirds enjoy visiting this Nasturtium Forest.


Fennel is planted as a host plant (food source) for Swallowtails and a late season treat for humans.


Fennel fronds are beautiful and tasty.


Behind the Fennel you can see a small “tunnel”, it’s a way to protect crops from insects but also from frost. We have a small patch of Red Cabbage, Napa Cabbage, and Cauliflower that we’ll be harvesting and eating in to November.


Can’t get enough of the Praying Mantis. This female is in her Fall colour and looking for a suitable place to lay her eggs.


From the Veggie-Table….

Our beautiful Garlic can’t be beat, be sure to stock up and get bulk amounts to last until next June!


Farmer Andrea having fun with Peppers …. “Hello, Operator? These Peppers are off the hook!”



Despite what heat alerts say, Fall has indeed arrived and we are getting less and less Sunlight every day …. There’s something about Fall shadows ….


Monarda (Bee Balm) in Fall colours.

bee balm

Yarrow flowers in Fall colours.


Soft and fuzzy Yarrow leaves.

yarrow sof

My last chance to get dirty and enjoy the heat before Winter sets in …

dirty feet




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As we have been working on building and filling our raised beds it occurred to me that what we are doing on this farm is experimental, Experimental Farming, even using raised beds to grow vegetables on a small but commercial scale is experimental, it’s a lot of work to set up but it will improve our vegetable production in the long run. Each raised bed is a little different as there isn’t one right way to create raised beds and, what goes in to a bed is as much about what materials are plentiful and on-hand as the “perfect” mixture. Some of our beds were layered like this: chicken manure, branches, leaves, sand, compost, topsoil, and wood-chip mulch. Some of our beds were broadforked before laying down the manure, and others were layered with newspaper on the bottom. For more pictures on the progress of our beds and on the farm please visit our Facebook page.

Putting down Chicken Manure on the newspaper to keep it from flying away.


Next come the branches. We are doing a hugelkultur hybrid for some of our boxes. The branches will be a slow-release fertilizer and will add some bulk to the boxes as well as providing aeration for the hard clay below. Our boxes are 12 inches high so they require a lot of materials to fill them.


Adding Compost on top of the Sand. We purchased a load of Compost from the Essex-Windsor Solid Waste Authority and not only is it pleasantly fragrant (like Cedar or Patchouli oil) but it really is “black gold” and we couldn’t stop commenting on how beautiful it was. We’re going to need more of this wonderful growing medium! The Sand and Topsoil came from Rene Blain Trucking in Tilbury.


Several of our finished beds. We got a really good deal on woodchip Mulch from Mark G Contracting in Tilbury so we decided to mulch between and at the ends of all the beds. Our seedlings will be transplanted right into the mulch.




A sneak peak at 3 of our Kale varieties – Red Russian, Dinosaur, and Curly Vates. We also have Bok Choy, Rainbow Chard, and Scallions that are almost ready to be transplanted in to our new beds.

We are a family-oriented farm and the youngest children enjoy helping out so we find tools and jobs that are manageable and fun for them.IMG_6205

We are making notes of all of our beds so we can see which do better for different crops so we can refine our growing methods each year. We are striving to be truly sustainable and on our path we intend to experiment to fit our needs and to use as much as we can source locally.

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This is part 2 of a series of educational posts on why we choose to grow our produce using ecological methods.

The pros and cons of Raised Beds.



– Better drainage, especially in the Spring when the snow melts and there is significant rainfall.

– Beds warm up quicker in Spring – 8 to 13 degrees F higher than ground temperatures – which means crops can go in sooner and be ready for harvesting sooner.

– Less waste, saves money in the long-term. Irrigation is more efficient,  compost + amendments are only put where crops will be, less seeds are needed, and less space is required for the same yield. As Jean-Martin Fortier says, “Grow better, not bigger.” For example, the typical 100-foot row takes up at least 300 sq ft of space (because of paths to accommodate tractors) and will yield 100 pounds of carrots. In contrast, a raised bed of 32 sq ft will also yield 100 pounds of carrots. Using row gardening the farmer has to fertilize, mulch, add compost to, weed, and water 300 sq ft to get that 100 pounds. – Brett L. Markham “Mini-Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre”

– Doesn’t damage or interfere with the biological creatures – microbes, worms – needed to decompose and provide nitrogen to crops. I expand on this in the previous article on The Importance of Soil.

– Permanent beds have many benefits as explained in The Importance of Soil. In addition, framing the beds in means not having to re-make them with equipment every 3-4 years.

– Reduces or eliminates the need for tractors, roto-tillers, other large equipment, and the fossil fuels needed to run them. This is inline with our desire to grow food in a truly sustainable way, relying on humans and hand tools rather than machines.

– Being able to improve soil that isn’t already “perfect”. With farmland at a premium new farmers have to get creative with their ability to access land. One way to handle less than perfect soil is to create raised beds to have the soil texture and nutrition necessary. The family farm in Tilbury is highly nutritious but a difficult to work with heavy clay. While some crops thrive in this soil many more struggle. Raised beds allow us to improve the soil while keeping our farm in the family. We can make each bed differently to accommodate the different needs of various crops.

– Less weeds. This is a big one. By not tilling or using soil that has dormant weed seeds we greatly reduce the number of weeds in our raised beds. It’s important to get high quality professional compost, amendments, and mulch, so that you don’t import weeds.

– Adding posts for trellising, making cold frames to extend the season, and using row cover or insect netting are much easier because the beds provide the stability and materials needed for these items.

– Discourages certain pests – slugs, carrot fly – because they stay near the ground; adding mesh will keep out moles, voles, and gophers.

– Greater accessibility for the elderly and those with mobility or chronic illness; they can also be raised even higher to allow people in wheelchairs to garden.



– The time involved to get boxes done involves a lot of initial preparation.

– The set-up costs are larger initially.

– It can be difficult to find untreated wood or other reclaimed products that don’t leach undesirable chemicals. We were able to get a large amount of untreated wood at a discounted end-of-the-season sale.

– If large amounts of mulch aren’t used there is a tendency to dry out quickly especially in semi-arid or desert areas or areas prone to drought.

– Not moveable so it’s important to pick the right location and to consider all the variables (shade/sun, etc) before putting in raised beds.

– Not good for potatoes or crops that need a lot of room to grow like melons and squash.


What we will be doing at our Lakeshore location:

– Putting companion planting into permanent practice; being able to have beneficial plants as hosts and habitat that will stay year-round.

– Letting crops that easily-self seed have their own beds means less work, less money spent.

– Because of the large time investment to create these boxes we will be favouring certain crops for the raised beds. Squash and melons will be grown under a mulch of straw and allowed to ramble. Tomatoes and Peppers will continue to be grown under black plastic mulch. We will be creating several Hugelkultur beds as well.

Our partner farm, Faerie Willow Farm, will also be using raised beds on their beautiful soil.

We’d like to experiment using materials other than wood for our beds. We are looking for cinder blocks, cement blocks, bricks, rocks, tree trunks + large limbs, and even large Lego blocks! Let us know if you have or see any of these materials available!


Part 3 will focus on the importance of companion planting and of creating habitat for beneficial creatures with perennial plants.

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