About the farming…

Farmers' market August 2011This page is missing 2009-2010, a pair of ultimately crazy, disruptive years. They’re…coming up! (Mar. 2011)

Tiny Farm Blog is one day to the next on a small organic farm… Starting with zero farm and garden experience near the end of 2002, I’m still at it full-time and more into it than ever! The first four years (2002-2005), it was mainly a one-man show, with much help from a few, and support from many. In Year 5 (2007), I began to include (and rely on) a small crew coming on various days of the week. Crop quality was high—give ‘em half-decent conditions and most veggies just wanna grow. Produce was sold at a local farmers’ market in a fairly small town (pop. 17,000) 12 miles away, by local CSA, and in an erratically open farm stand.

After the Year 6 (2008) season, the entire tiny farm moved to a new farm, about 30km away.

Here we are in Year 7, 2009, and it’s pretty much a whole new start, almost from scratch, turning a hayfield into a market garden in time for the spring market. We’re also near a much bigger town, (pop. 70,000), so that will be quite a change this season as well.

It’s a lot of work, the focus can get blurry at times, but really, what fun!

Where am I?

The plot is located in southern Ontario, Canada, about 95 miles (150 km) north of Toronto. It’s Zone 5 (which is Zone 4 US). I don’t mention or emphasize the farm specifically in this blog, because this journal is about growing food on a small scale, wherever you (or I) may be. I just happen to be here! A bit convoluted maybe, but that was the idea when I started blogging, and it still sorta makes sense to me! :)

It’s organic!?

The Year 1-6 veggie garden was certified organic, and we’ve applied for certification on the new farm. Certification made sense at the time, back in the winter when it all got started. If a farm is organic, it should be “officially” organic, right? Seven years later, with a lot more information at hand, it’s not so straightforward. The organic production standard itself, the stuff it requires you to do and not do in the field, is fine, but of course, it doesn’t end there. When you see an “organic” tomato in the supermarket that’s been shipped from FIVE THOUSAND MILES AWAY, you gotta wonder. What’s with different DEGREES of “organic”: 100%? 95%? 70% organic ingredients (“almost organic”?)? So I don’t get overly excited when I see an “organic” label. Who knows what it means… Still, I fill out all the paperwork and cheerfully submit to inspection every year. Certification remains in the budget (selling 300 bunches of radishes=the annual fee).

Wheel goes round and round: rotation & plot points…

The veggie plot is almost exactly 2 acres (although I’m adding another two strips this year, then it’ll be closer to 2-1/2). Two acres is about 200′x400′. It’s in a fenced in 9 acre field with the rest in hay (red clover, alfalfa and whatever, it hasn’t been reseeded in ages, but the hay is cut, twice a year). I could till up more and more and use the tiny tractor to do more work, but that’s not the plan. Stay small and keep feet on the ground is!

The plot is divided up into big squares. It’s overall a big rectangle divided into 50′x50′ foot sections, each with 10 x 5′ beds (bed plus path). I’d probably get more creative with the design than equally spaced straight lines, except I’d likely lose my mind keeping track of all crops (30+), varieties (at least 100) and planting dates (I succession plant all through the season) . This way, I can easily use gardening info that tends to quote seed quantities, yields and the like in 100′ rows. So, one 50′ bed with two rows is 100′! And so on. When everything is growing, it looks great!

The plot is also divided into two gardens. The big one is on a 7-year crop rotation: bean -> root (carrot, beet, onion) -> squash -> tomato -> brassica (cabbage family) -> pea -> potato. Each veggie family shifts down the field by one strip (50′x200′) each year so nothing grows in the same spot for…7 years. I adapted this from an 8-year rotation I found in a book, after much reading and thinking back in Year 0. There is a method in there. For example, the brassicas are heavy feeders and follow peas, which are supposed to return some nitrogen to the soil. Tomatoes and potatoes are kept as far apart as possible as they’re in the same family and can share any pests and disease left in the ground. And so forth. The reasoning that most appealed to me was that different crops have different feeding profiles and root structures, so the condition they leave the soil in, including with their residue tilled under, varies quite a bit. I take it mainly on faith, since this rotation is all I’ve known, and it’s working fine so far! The smaller garden, located beside the greenhouse and farm stand, is mainly for greens, like lettuce and spinach. It’s on a more casual rotation, I don’t grow the same thing in the same bed twice in a row.

There you have it, my Grand Design. I may post a map, it’ll look like a grid, pretty easy to imagine. You can also just take a look at the garden

The Gear

I started out in Year 1 with a rake, a hoe, a digging fork, a spade (which went quite unused), and an Earthway seeder. That’s pretty well literally it. I also borrowed an old Horse rototiller, and a weed eater. I worked 1 acre with this gear. The plot was initially worked up for me by big tractor.

Over Years 2, 3 and 4, tiny farming got a little bigger. The area expanded to 2 acres and the equipment collection grew. Each purchase was carefully considered, based on need and worked into a very tight budget, in good part financed by veggie sales. The only relatively big ticket item was the Kubota B1700 compact tractor, which was bought used but had a new front end loader and 48″ rototiller added on.

In Year 5 and 6, work continued to be mainly done by hand—seeding, weeding, harvest. A wheel hoe was 2005′s big equipment addition! The gear consisted of the Kubota, a riding mower (used to mow the paths and pull an all-purpose trailer around the field), a couple of weed eaters (one permanently fitted with a mini-cultivator, which is basically a tiny rototiller), the hoophouse, an irrigation pump for the pond and watering equipment (hoses, soaker hoses, sprinklers,…), propagation stuff (plant racks, plug sheets, trays), a pretty good selection of hand tools, and harvest stuff (bins, trugs, baskets, an old washing machine used as a big salad spinner). I’d have to include my PC and Internet connection as farming gear as well. That’s about it. Oh, and a good pair of garden-ready shoes. A big ALSO: these years were the first that really incorporated people in the field, where I started doing things with help that I couldn’t do on my own. This really felt like the next step: not more machinery, but a move to more PEOPLE.

Pics

Photos were generally snapped on the day they were posted. Occasionally, I’ll post a recent photo, when the content of the image is essentially unchanged from the post date. Sometimes, I’ll fill in a missed day from way back with a photo that was shot on that day (a bit obsessive, I guess, as is keeping every last photo snapped—digital storage space is so cheap…).

Blog software harmony…

This site is run on WordPress open source blog software. I seriously doubt I’d be doing TFB (at least, as regularly) without WP. It’s…fantastic. Easy and fun to use. Plugins for WP are a big part of it. I rely on: Akismet, Dagon Design Sitemap Generator, Get Recent Comments, Headspace2, LiveCalendar, My Category Order, My Link Order, My Page Order, Optimal Title, Recent Comments, Search Unleashed, Similar Comments, Subscribe to Comments, WordPress Database Backup, WP AJAX Edit Comments.

When things looked like they couldn’t be better, I discovered bbPress, open source forum software made by the WordPress people! It’s great, still in a fairly early stage, which means not as many plugins and bells and whistles, but solid! It integrates with WP, so that registering and logging in works across both, and it’s dead simple, uncluttered, and straightforward…just like WP. I use it for Tiny Farm Forum.

I recently added ClustrMaps, a service that shows the location of visitors to the site on a world map (you can see it at the bottom of the sidebar to right). The free service is great, but I soon added the paid version that allows you to zoom into each continent. From reading their site, it sounds like a cool company, and the couple of pennies a day it costs seem well spent.

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