The purpose of our pre-season newsletter is to keep our members updated on the happenings on the farm and the progress of the season that you will soon be enjoying. The winter is technically our “off-season” although this has been our busiest winter season yet as we started running our winter bounty box program and are still selling storage vegetables and meat regularly. In some ways staying somewhat busy while there is snow on the ground has been a good motivator to start checking off some important tasks off of our list(s) to get ready for spring planting. Just last week we finished ordering our seeds for the season and we’ll begin starting some plants indoors this coming week. Our crop plans have not changed drastically from last year although we are trying some new varieties out and hope to have a more consistent supply of everyone’s favourite foods throughout the CSA season. Going to a customizable or “free choice” CSA program, we are anticipating that less people will be ordering the more obscure crops like fennel and kohlrabi and so are planning to grow more of the things that people seem to love like lettuces, potatoes, carrots, garlic and onions. Not to fret if you love kohlrabi and fennel…we’ll still have those crops available at times during the season.
We order the bulk of our seeds from several US companies and one or two Canadian ones. We would love to be able to buy more from Canadian sources but unfortunately the costs are for the most part much higher than our US sources. The majority of our seed is certified organic which is often not available in Canada either. This year a few of our tried and tested varieties are not available due to seed crop failures or companies retiring certain varieties. The scary reality of seeds is that often varieties are only grown by one seed farm so if they have a crop failure that entire variety is not available for the season – we have found this to be the case with our favourite dark curly kale variety for several years now which I believe comes from somewhere in Europe (sold through a US seed company).
The costs of seed seem to increase a fairly significant amount each year we have farmed. Where we used to spend about $1000 to plant out 2 acres when we started 9 years ago, this year we will spend between $8000 – $10000 on seed (including flowers) to plant our 5 acres. Part of the increase is us choosing more sophisticated varieties such as self pollinating greenhouse cucumbers which cost $1/seed but also the companies are increasing their prices each year to keep up with the increasing costs of growing the seed crops. This is where your CSA contributions in the early season really help us out! About 50% of our input costs for the season are paid for in December – March whereas the bulk of our income comes in between July – October.
This time of year we are also planning out and completing some infrastructure projects that will help us farm more efficiently and effectively this coming season. I like to think of these projects as your ‘CSA dollars at work’ as your early payments certainly help us to improve our operation year to year. To give you a smattering of these projects:
-We’ve purchased a cultivating tractor to help with reducing the amount of hand weeding we do in the field. It’s a 10.5 HP 1951 Farmall Cub (adding to the rustic appeal of our farm operation in addition to efficiencies).
-We have ordered a 96′ hoophouse for flowers. This will be used for dahlias and lisianthus mostly this season but I hope to plant some anenomes and ranunculus for spring flowers in the coming seasons.
-There are a number of smaller tools that have/will be purchasing to make jobs easier/faster including: a flame weeder, a vacuum seeder, a motorized salad spinner and a bed marker (also known as a dibbler). I’ll probably describe some of these in some more detail as we start to put them to use during the season.
-The project that we are most excited about is a 1 km windbreak that we are planting the length of our property along the west-side property boundary. An opportunity came up to apply for some cost-share funding through a program supported by Environment Canada to help create habitat for the endangered American Badger which makes its burrows in our neck of the woods and elsewhere in Southern Ontario. The windbreak will be made up of a mix of native trees and bushes and will be planted by the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority this April. The project itself cost about $14,000 and we were so fortunate to have 80% of it paid for through the Badger Way program.
It’s been awhile since I’ve written a newsletter and I feel like I could blab on for awhile, but I will spare you. We’re probably a lot more excited about this stuff than you are anyways right?
I’ll end with a quick update on the CSA sign up stats…The program is already about half full which means that this has been the best first two weeks of CSA sign ups in the history of us running this program! Many of you are returning, some have taken a year off and are now back and a few of you are new to the program this year. I think many people are excited that we have decided to change the format to allow for more choice in the veggie bins. If you have friends, neighbours or family who are interested in joining our CSA, please let them know that now is a good time to get in touch with us or check out our website for the program details.
Thank you for reading and we’ll be in touch again in February.
Amy, Pat and Wyatt