Monday, November 22, 2010

Urban Agriculture and our CSA

My other sphere of activity is Urban Agriculture and our very small, experimental CSA. Three of us started doing Urban Agriculture (growing food in other people's back yards) mid 2008 with the intention of learning how to grow our own food and how to pay for the experience by selling some of the shares of the food we are growing.

We continued the experience again this year and supplied between 4 and 12 shares of the harvest per week. We were able to grow a range of food: kale, swiss chard, radishes, beets, turnips, potatoes, lettuce, squash, zuccini, tomato, basil, peppers,carrots, beans, sugar snap peas and flowers.

The most labour intensive part was launching the gardens in the spring: weeding, fertilizing (lime, alfalfa pellets, rock phosphate and potash), rototilling, setting up climbing structures for the peas, plastic tunnels for the tomatoes, starting trays and trays of seedlings and planting. But ... once that was done, we did not do much else and the seedlings had to fend for them selves and outrun the weeds. When we began harvesting for the boxes, we organized the work load in a way that worked for each of us. I went in the day before and did the harvesting of most of that week's order and washed and bundled. Then the rest of the team harvested anything I did not get to and portioned out the shares and delivered.

Arzeena will be moving on next year. She has bought her farm and that will be her focus in the new year. Luc and I will carry on with one garden and will supply a smaller number of clients and our own needs.

I am very grateful for this experience of learning to be self sufficient in organically grown food. All in all I have found it to be a most rewarding experience.

The Steveston Farmers' Market

It is now impossible to cover one topic in this blog. I am finding that the interconnection between all my agricultural endeavours are becoming very entwined. Take the Steveston Farmers' Market as an example ....

What a great little market! I found myself there at quite a few of the markets this summer and for a variety of reasons. I was present at the first market for the season. I accompanied the student farmers and helped them set up their very first farmers' stall! For me the visual presentation is all important. Human beings love beauty! If you want to catch the customer's eye make your stall beautiful!

Label everything clearly and with prices ...

Offer a lovely range of fresh veggies and flowers of course ... we eat with our eyes first!

The Farmers' Market allowed me to first have an outlet for my "pain in the butt" tomato plants. Next when the pole beans began spitting beans out in great abundance, I was able to get up bright and early, run to the garden, pick beans ad nauseum, bundle them and take them to the market. They sold very well in deed. Folks know a deal when they see it. Imaging $2 a bundle for the freshest, tastiest beans ever! When we had a plethora of lettuce we were able to do the same ... to market, to market. That day I also harvested a lots of surplus basil expecting to have it snapped up. I was sorely disappointed. I had to go home and make lots of pesto which we shared between us. That buffered the disappointment.

... and our garlic. We grew and harvested lots of garlic this year. We had so much we had to divy it up between us to dry it.

Then I tried my hand at braiding the garlic and I took the braids to the market to sell. I am still trying to work out a price that people will pay. Customers are spoilt by cheap Chinese garlic and are not willing to fork out $20 for a braid of 10 large garlic. Maybe downtown but not in Richmond.

and I made a little label ...

So it is wonderful to have access to the collaborative booth of organic farming students. They have been very supportive of our little local agricultural efforts. I hope I have been able to serve them too in some small way.

2010 Growing Season in Review ...

What do you do as a gardener, when it is minus 3 and snow is on the ground?
You look at the photos you took during the year, see the photo of apple chips and remember there a few left in the cupboard and eat the rest of them ... Then you decide that you are not a very disciplined blogger and need to make up for failing to make any entries since spring by reviewing 2010 growing season ... if you can remember how.

I love Asian Greens

I really do. I have two experiences to tell of this year.
They were one of the first crops I grew on my balcony. I planted the gai lan closely in the boxes and they did not grow very tall before they began to bolt but they allowed me to harvest my dinner fresh and supplied me with about three meals.

By mid June I was harvesting a small variety of pac choi (patchoy), Toy choi, I do believe. The great thing about Asian Greens is they like the cooler weather so you can begin growing them very early in the season. I probably started them indoors in March planted them out as seedlings and was harvesting them about 5 weeks later. They are fast growers and you can eat the whole plant. What is more delicious and easy to cook than stir fried, freshly harvested baby patchoy? Even better because you grew them yourself. I swear they taste better when you grow them yourself! ... and in the compost from your own recycled veggie waste! On your balcony! Satisfaction on many levels ....

Growing Asian Greens as a Fall crop on the Sharing Farm ...

My other experience has been growing Asian Greens at the Sharing Farm where I work two days a week. The Farm supplies the Richmond Food Bank and a few of the local Community Meals run through different neighbourhood churches with fresh veggies grown using organic methods. Asian greens, particularly different varieties of patchoys have been a great way to extend the growing season. It is now November and again with about five weeks from seed to harvest we have pulled many pounds of patchoy out of the hoophouses and greenhouse. The only discouragement was finding small slugs tucked deep into the heart of the larger upright variety. Smart slugs.

The great Tomato Project of 2010

Well my verdict on that particular project would be probably not something I would undertake to do again. Just to recap ... I started and nurtured 75 tomato plants ... three heritage varieties. A lot of work! and a difficult project when you live in a town house with no decent sun exposure. I have to move tout bagage over to my Urban agriculture site when it came time to pot up 75 seedlings into 1 gallon pots. Then I had to set them up under plastic so they would not get early blight. And I had to find an efficient method of giving them their fish tea and water them. Then how the heck to you sell 75 1 gallon tomato plants to recoup your investment? Not on Craig's List! Did not work for me. I did manage to sell some of the plants at the Steveston Farmer's Market.

Lucky for me, this year, the first intake students studying Organic Farming on the Sharing Farm, ran a stall at the Steveston Farmers Market and I was able to link up with them in a few ways this year. More about that coming up ... back to the pesky, spoiled rotten, high maintenance tomatoes! You can tell I have a love hate relationship with tomatoes.

As a last recourse I ended up planting out about sixty plants in two different sites. Then they had to be staked and I was not prepared to invest more money in 8 foot bamboo poles and what I used as stakes were most unsuitable so I was forever trussing and propping. Then ofcourse, the weather did not cooperate either, too cool, not enough sunny days and there were no tomatoes for harvest until very late in the season. I was getting a few tomatoes late in September. I had them all lined up on my kitchen table in graduations of ripest to greenest.

They do look quite lovely ... I must begrudgingly admit. How about this baby?! Quite the looker, hey? That's a Black from Tula.

You will notice the cracking in some of the tomatoes. Well, for those that are interested that is another of the many things that happen to tomatoes. When heavy rainfall comes along and the tomatoes drink it up, they swell and their skins pop! Just great! Inevitably that is where mold settles and rot begins.

There are just so many fresh tomatoes you can eat and give to your family. So I did do some canning which I will tell you about shortly ...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wet and Windy Spring ...

We had a couple storms move through in April. For the first time I experienced having the little greenhouse on my deck blow over, with all the trays of seedling in them ... twice. I finally secured it to the railing which did the trick.

In April I harvested two meals from my containers - one of a small variety of patchoy "toy choi" and another of gai lan .. another asian green. The Asian Greens are a great option for container harvesting they can be grown close and they are fast growers. They do best in cool conditions. Good for spring and fall gardens.

As soon as I harvested the containers I planted out another round of broccoli rab and spring rab which I had waiting in the wings ready to replace the previous crop.

I started a few bush cucumbers from seeds and planted one in each pot and they have not budged. It is still too cold and dreary most days for them to get too enthusiastic.

This is how far along the broccoli rab is after 11 days.

Other Harvests this Spring

I managed a first shearing of salad greens and started another two pots of the mix.
However, even these good old reliables have been quite reticent this year. I finally discovered why ...

Portable Garden

I started my "Community Garden" selection from seed: swiss chard, bush cucumber, spring onions, patty pan squash. Here is my potential garden loaded into the back of my car ... and off loaded a number of times as I have not managed to plant them out as yet.

I have prepped the plot, however, and the sugar snap peas and the fragrant sweet peas are in and trellised. Whew!

New Endeavour ...

This year I decided to try growing tomatoes for sale. I started a tray of three varieties of tomatoes on the recommendation of an ardent amateur tomato grower:
Black from Tula, Brandywine and Cherokee Chocolate.

All is well, having 75 tomato seedlings in one flat but as they grow and need to be potted up from 1" square to 4" square, space and medium becomes an issue, when all you have is a town house deck. Don't talk about then potting them up further into 1 gal. size pots! Fortunately I have been able to ship them over to one of the Urban Agriculture gardens. I have set them up in an available corner, under plastic.

My plan is to make them available for sale towards the end of June as organically grown, well established, well fed tomato plants. With a head start like that, once we have any sort of summer weather, they should be good producers ... We'll see.

Friday, March 26, 2010

It's Time

The first seeds, planted outdoors on my balcony, to germinate, have been the arugula. I first noticed they were up on the 16th of March, 2010. The temperature was 2 degrees C. A few days later I noticed Deer Tongue lettuce and the Asian greens: Gailan and Tat Soi. They proceed bravely through Frost's realm and can be cut down by an icy visit. The danger zone could extend to the end of April, however, I will experiment and see what the seeds decide. If they consider they want to give it a go, who am I to say otherwise.

I have been awaiting the onset of the growing season impatiently. As I wait I prepared the balcony garden by applying a layer of mostly finished compost, mixing a batch of potting soil and filling the clay pots and setting them out and I cleaned up the perennials, cutting off dead leaves and such ...

Mixing in a layer of compost on 28/2/10

On the 5th of March I decided to plant some seeds and see what would happen.
I wanted to see what the seeds would consider the right time to sprout and the arugula probably sprouted around the 14th of March and I noticed they were up on the 16th.

This is what I find fascinating ... the seed, which is so tiny, particularly a seed from the Asian green family, knows! ... that built in intelligence experiences the correct conditions and it's 'all systems go'... Life is afoot.

Last year I took a similar photo of the earliest sprouted seeds and the date was 2nd of April, about two weeks later so each new growing season is unique and required our judgement and observation.

What Do I have on the Go Indoors?

I have started a tray of tomato seedlings - different varieties. A tray of Chinese cabbage - Wa Wa Sai which are ready to go in the ground. A tray of Trinidad Pimiento peppers and a tray of onions which I started from seed.

The tomatoes are now at a point where they need to be repotted into individual 4" pots and watered with organic fertilizers.

On the Sharing Farm ...

I work part time in the Greenhouse at the Sharing Farm in Richmond. The Farm grows food for the Richmond Food Bank and other community projects. The volunteers that come have been immersed in transitioning from winter to spring - harvesting any remaining food from the greenhouse and hoop houses, pulling out plants that had overwintered in these locations as they were beginning to bolt (flower and seed), preparing the boxes and beds for a new season by adding and tilling in a layer of manure and starting a range of cool weather loving seeds - Asian greens, lettuces, swiss chard and spinach. We are well on our way into spring with most the boxes planted and the seedlings up and coming.

We have had our share of setbacks. We would plant a box, come back in a few days and the seedlings would have disappeared. Did we plant them out too young, was the soil surface drying out and the shallow roots, unable to access water, succumbing? Were flocks of sparrows entering the greenhouse and helping themselves? Was it the pill bugs roaming around in the manure we had added or .... was this fellow to blame!?? Does he look like a likely culprit?

Mr. Pheasant the boldest fellow ever!

No one is above suspicion ... so Out you Go! too much to loose here.

In Conclusion ...

At the moment the season cannot happen fast enough and I am chomping at the bit. In a bit I will be wishing that we could slow it all down, so I will just remind myself to be here and now, get in step and enjoy the unfolding process.