Wednesday 30 May 2012

The Chicks are Coming!

It has been nearly a month since we brought the new incubator home.
The duck eggs have been in since, and the chicken eggs went in a week after the ducks.
The duck incubation period is twenty-eight days, and the chickens go for twenty-one.
In a few days, the hatch will be well underway.

We are as ready as we can be.
The lights and brooders are set up.
There is a short term plan for separating the ducklings and chicks.
There are some buyers lined up.
The food is ready.
Now we just need some peeping babies to complete the scene.
The challenge of the overlapping duck and chicken hatch will be a good learning experience for using the incubator continuously.
In theory, you could have a constant flow of chicks coming out of that thing.
In practice, I think it's really intended to put out a setting of forty-eight chicks every week.
This unit is a setter/hatcher combo, which means that the eggs are incubated and hatched in the same unit.
There is a dedicated hatcher unit which can be used in conjunction with a setting model.
That would streamline the process and the birds would effortlessly flow.
I feel that intoxicating feeling of power come over me again.
I need to watch that.
The thirteen young birds that we already have are old enough now to go outside on their own.
That means they will need less indoor space since they'll likely only sleep inside.
The coop is too small for many indoor birds, but there is lots of room for sleeping birds.
I have separated the coop in order to arrange the new birds inside.
If I build a fenced outdoor run, I will be able to let the birds out when they're quite young, thus allowing everyone more space to do chicken things.
The ducks are still a bit of a mystery.
I don't know what I'll do with them in the long run.
I'll likely build them some shelter near the pond.
There won't be very many, and we will likely be giving some away and eating the rest.
Keeping ducks over the winter is an option, but I am not sure how that is done yet.

I am certainly apprehensive about the success of the hatch.
After all, I do have an audience as well as buyers counting on me.
We have had our share of failures when it come to incubating eggs.
Once they're hatched we are experts.
But, getting the humidity right in the incubator is a major challenge.
Candling eggs is the process of illuminating an egg in order to glimpse a view of what is going on inside.
I have candled all the duck eggs and removed the failures.
The Khaki Campbells didn't fare well and there are only three left from twelve.
The Rouens did much better and I still have over a dozen that look viable.
I didn't candle every chicken egg.
Every one I looked at was good so I stopped after candling several eggs.
One thing is for certain.
During the hatch, our focus will be on the chicks and little else.
Though you are not supposed to help chicks that are having trouble,
we have had good success in the past rescuing strugglers.

Now we wait.
Maybe tomorrow. Maybe tonight. Maybe the day after next.
There are some variables that can shorten or lengthen the wait time.
I will be checking the incubator periodically to watch for the first signs of emerging chicks.
I must admit that I'm pretty excited.
(As I am writing, Kira checked the incubator and there is one chick starting to pip.)

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Tangible Evidence

I truly believe that we will not be aware of our imminent demise.
Though media portrays the end of the world as catastrophic,
it is likely to be much more mundane an end.

It is the subtle indicators that will evade us.
This is our first time being able to hang-out comfortably outside at this time of year.
That would be good news for most.
Our property is the perfect natural habitat for biting flies.
And so is the surrounding land.
This year is an exception.
There are few biting insects at all.

You likely know, but in the past, Canaries were used in mines to detect dangerous gas levels before humans would start dying.
It was an obvious signal to get out.

For me, the absence of biting flies is that same indicator.

And though the blood sucking insects may seem to be a scourge, their role is critical.
First, it is important to know that these insects only draw blood for reproduction.
Food and energy come from nectar.
Of course, that means that biting flies are pollinators.

As subtle as their absence may be, the implications are far reaching.
One of the great barriers to settling the land around here is the heavy presence of biting flies.
A reduction in their numbers means that more people may be enticed to farm in this part of the world.
So, having their numbers decimated appears to open that option; but not without costs.

Now it seems that some creature must replace the Blackflies as early season pollinators.
There will be less biomass in the air and all creatures will suffer from the loss.

And while we bask in the ability to play freely outdoors,
the resulting loss will affect countless sub-systems,
and inevitably, our chances of survival.

Here on the ground, the only real difference we can make is allowing ourselves to be bitten for the sake of propagating threatened insect species.
There are so many factors out of our hands.
How are we to stop the degradation of the natural environment;
especially if we innocently support the decline.


Monday 28 May 2012

Merrylynd Organic Farms

Buying feed for our animals is one of the larger expenses each month.
The land that the big pigs are on right now will be one of five plots intended for growing crops, among which will be our own source of feed.
Producing our own feed will reduce our costs, but in the meantime, there will need to be an outside source.

The business that we have been buying from has treated us well.
Unfortunately, they do not mix organic feed;
they must buy it in from another source.
It also means that the minimum orders are quite large.
Requesting custom mixes or raw ingredients is also out of the question.
As nice as they have been to us, they are better suited to typical farms.

On a recommendation, we sought out a relationship with Merrylynd Farms, located just south of Lakefield, Ontario.
The farm grows grains and beans, and produces meat and maple syrup.
Their mill mixes livestock feeds and custom ground flours and grains for human consumption.
They are a fully organic and GMO free operation.
Not only is the feed very fresh and wholesome, there is also the option to buy raw product if we choose to mix our own feeds in the future.
Being able to buy flour is an added bonus; not because of the price, but it is great to be able to buy locally farmed grains.

Of course the prices are excellent.
Buying directly from the farm means there is less cost impact from shipping and handling.

Merrylynd Farms is not a subsidiary of a corporate company, and sells their product to small farmers such as ourselves.
It is not a cash cropping business and operates on principles of high farming where the land is a partner and not a slave.

There are over 2000 acres of land available to Merrylynd for farming.
The opportunity for producing excess financial wealth for the owners
is substantial.
Instead, the land is farmed according to sustainable and organic methods, and prices are set to suit the small holder.
Having been in the family for nearly two-hundred years, I expect they have learned that the land provides what you need, and asking for more, results in failures.

As a strong supporter of organic farming, occasionally I am taken to task on the true benefits of following organic methods.
Most often, it is argued that there can be no truly organic food because of the high saturation of chemical toxins in our environment.
Contaminants come in rain and snow, in groundwater, in dust, and even in the air.
Our environment everywhere is most definitely toxic to varying degrees.
But that is really not the point.
Certainly it is beneficial to reduce the levels of poisonous compounds pervasive throughout the food chain.
And less pesticide on your fruit is better than more of it.

Organic farming is not simply producing food without the use of harmful chemicals.
With livestock farming, there are matters of ethics; the treatment of animals.
Organic farming is sustainable farming and respects the future of our children.
More importantly, by farming or buying organically, you promote the methods.
Supporting the organic farm creates the potential for a future that is free of unnecessary toxins.
A future where the air, water, and ground are clean, and the soil rich and fertile from years of careful agriculture.
A future where control of the food supply has been
taken away from those who wish to control us with it.

Buying organic food is less about eating wholesome food and more about making sure there is wholesome food for future generations.

Larry at the mill was great to talk to when we picked our order up.
He had spent his early years working on farms but moved on to telecommunications sales for most of his working life. Now he works on the farm again and makes far less money but is far more content.
We are in debt to those people who have stuck it out despite criticism from the mainstream.
I told Larry that seeing such a large and experienced organic operation gives us hope that the momentum will change directions one day.
I often feel dismayed that no matter how hard we try, the opposition will always be overwhelming.
Larry told me to never give up, no matter what people say.

Coming from someone who has the benefit of years,
that means a lot to me.


Sunday 27 May 2012

Growing More than Plants

It's the time of year to buy young plants if you haven't started yours.
Kira has many of her own, but not everything that we want in the gardens;
tomatoes and peppers in particular.

While most people head to the store, we visited our friend Dave instead.
We no longer consider whether or not to buy from the local community.
It's more a matter of who has what.
You can be certain that within each community, everyone has their own skills.
And if we were better connected with each other, there would be more opportunity to keep local economies more robust.
Like most people in rural areas, Dave has a variety of skills and experiences that allow him to make a living.
One of those is propagating plants.
Using available rooms at his home, there is an assortment of plants ready for sale and trade.

Kira was armed with a tray of Tomatillos that needed extra care and attention.
Our home is not great for starting plants and so Kira felt the plants would thrive better in Dave's care.

In light of the issues that we have been addressing, there was the opportunity to talk about maintaining a seed exchange.

Cultivar diversity has suffered greatly at the hands of commercialization, and the responsibility to preserve seed stock often falls to the passionate.

Creating an area wide exchange base of plants and trees, both seed and propagation materials, strengthens the overall vigor of local food production.
Not only is stock exchanged, but knowledge too.
Cultivars that best suit local conditions may be exemplified, and specific details on care may be shared.

A local exchange may not incorporate a large enough inventory to preserve the greater portion of threatened cultivars, but if all communities did this, the combined effort could be considerable.
This may be especially valuable if climate change shifts locals choices out of favour.
Communities could reach out to each other in order to find alternatives suitable to the changes taking place.
Supporting your neighbor helps keep their passions funded and is the only way that individuals will be able to keep skills and abilities honed.

Of course, the benefits of barter trading go a long way to strengthening community ties and financial independence.

Consider your own strengths and interests, and how to incorporate them into your local economy.
Dave has expansion in mind, but much of his time is devoted to the business of making ends meet.
As a carpenter and arborist, work is a matter of feast or famine in cottage country.
When work is plentiful, time favours earning money.
When work is scarce, capital for projects can be difficult to separate from the houshold budget.
Gaps in between seasons make balancing a tough act.

There are greenhouse plans with many of the materials already on hand.
The current demand for plants provides a strong incentive for growing more.
But Dave's love for growing plants isn't driven by market economics.

Passion alone is enough.

Saturday 26 May 2012

A Short Break

It has been important for me to accomplish as much as I can while there is the time to do so.

Sometimes, the push has been a bit too hard.

Hundreds of projects are swimming inside my brain,
but I'll lose focus without taking some time to stop.

I would like to talk about organic food and farming again.

Auren and I picked up an order of feed today and from a new source.

That experience, along with some things
said at the fish farm, have stirred the issues again and demand more clarity.

However, now is not the time for that.
It's time to stop and consider.


And so I will.


Friday 25 May 2012

Farmland is Any Land

It takes an enterprising eye to see what the land has to offer.

It is simple enough to picture livestock grazing open fields.

But what about swamp land?

Normally, swamp is considered a poor choice for farming.

It is too wet for animals.

It is too soggy for crops.

Nothing but frogs, bugs, and plants.

The truth is that swamp land is incredibly fertile and normally healthy and well diversified.

It seems perfectly suited for producing food.

But what should be grown?

Keeping in mind the rich habitat that wetlands are, it is so important to keep intrusion to a minimum.

The most efficient way to produce food sustainably, is to take advantage of the existing ecological structure; because it is perfect.

Imposing incompatible practices would defeat the purpose.

Cranberries, for example, are grown in wetlands, however, the harvesting methods suit the growers yet disturb the natural balance of water levels.

Certainly, some changes will be necessary, but carefully planned to minimize disruption, we may find our niche.

Today there was a tour of a wetland farm.

In this case, it is aquaculture.

The fish farm has been here for nearly thirty years.

There are Rainbow, Brown, and Brook trout.

Also raised are Bass, Bluegill, and Bullheads.

This farm is a picturesque series of dug ponds with few above ground tanks.

Infrastructure is minimal because of good use of naturally existing functions.

Aquaculture is not usually known for being a low impact form of protein production.

There are many issues that plague the industry.

High density farming contributes to dramatic water use and waste products.

Most often, eco-systems surrounding fish farms are at risk of being badly damaged by the resulting by-products of the farmed fish.

These may be adjacent to streams and rivers, or actually in lakes and seas.

Wild fish are often threatened by poisonous water, disease, habitat destruction, and the introduction of domestic species into the native systems.

Much like terrestrial farming, the situation varies, depending on the location and the management style.

This farm is less intrusive.

The owner was ridiculed for having bought swampland.

After a decade of work, the benefits became clear, and the rabble was quieted.

Ponds were dug to accommodate growing fish and the dense vegetation provides a perfect filter to mitigate the intensity of the farming.

Fish are unlike land animals in that their environment envelopes them more completely. It might be similar to keeping a feed lot in a dome.

If the natural system is too far out of balance, the fish would not survive.

Carrying capacity limitations are immediately evident.

As farmers, part of our goal is to maximize production yields.

Without having asked, I expect that there have been failures here by asking too much of the system.

Hard lessons would be learned quickly, and a balance struck in a relatively short time frame.

This isn't an example of how to set up an aquaculture facility.

This is an example of how make good use of land by considering what it has to offer naturally.

On the drained portions of the property, the topsoil is thin and the substrate is of little use for farming.

But there is no need for conventional farming when the conditions present themselves for an ideal aquaculture arrangement.

This lesson is critical in the development of sustainable food production.

There is a remarkable amount of underutilized land is some places and in others, the land has been exhausted and the natural systems stripped away.

The trouble begins when we impose upon the land instead of embracing what it may offer us.

Before long, we have forgotten how to look for opportunities.

We want flat for mechanization.

We want water for irrigation.

We want close access to the largest markets.

We want soil depth to accommodate our greed.

And though the modern agriculture model has been touted as being a huge yield producer, the big question remains.

How much longer will this be?

Nature is the best producer; there is considerable precedence for that.

Our arrogance has threatened to undermine the fecundity of the biosphere.

Changing our relationship with natural systems may mitigate our demise.

By listening, we may discover that all land can sustain us.

Thursday 24 May 2012

Losing Control

Human beings gauge the march of progress by the degree of control that it allows us to exercise on our surroundings.

In the beginning, there was language, which gave us control over our interactions with each other. The advent of tools simplified difficult tasks, and relieved some of the rigors of labour. The development of knowledge helped lower the veil of ignorance and brought about a better understanding of our world, thus promoting active engagement.

Fear is rooted in the inability to control our environment. Fear is disorienting, and erodes rational thought and behaviour.

Without control, we descend into the darkness of our animal selves.

Here on the ground, our role as caretakers of the land is also a matter of control. We control when the seeds go into the ground, and when the animals breed and are born. We control conditions such as light and heat, temperature and moisture. Both plant and animal are organized and corralled to control their interactions. Even death is dealt as a matter of controlling population and purposing.

Without control, we could not effectively farm.

And yet there is fear; firmly planted and ready to sprout in the right conditions.

Fear that we will lose control. That the power will go out. That the fence will break. That disease will spread. That the well will run dry. That equipment will fail.

That death will be dealt regardless of us.



Of course, reason helps us understand that there are many elements out of our range of control. Those are best accepted as part of the dynamic environment and though worthy of attempting to change, should not prevent us from carrying on.

What a fine line that is.

Between acceptance and allowing fear to take hold.


Considering the dangerous precipice, it is easy to understand why so many people choose a life that is well established and predictable.

The promise of a steady job, regular pay, expected bills, available food, limited liability, and minimal responsibility.

In exchange for stability, expectations are kept low.

As society evolves, expectations congregate around the need to be in control and less so towards fulfilling aspirations and virtuous desires.



Having been relieved from my tenure in the workforce, the freedom has granted me the ability to pursue work that I consider wholesome and progressive.

There is a cost though.

Losing control.

Or so it seems.

By taking a hold of the reins, I take responsibility for controlling my environment rather than abdicating it to someone else for the sake of a predictable life.



With the many projects underway here, I find myself losing grip some days. It is really just a sensation and a matter of perspective. The temptation of the easy life can be alluring when it feels as though everything will unravel at the seams.

But that is an illusion.

My life should be in my own hands and not rest with someone else.

That is how to take control.



Wednesday 23 May 2012


There is no waste in Nature.

On the small farm, we do our best to replicate Nature's best; and so we work hard to produce no waste.

The small farm model isn't simply a quaint addition to the sustainability movement.

The small farm exemplifies sustainability.

As a microsystem it mimics the lifecycle found in Natural habitats.

Organic material is animated and re-animated infinitely; life ebbs and flows through mass and being.

Ensuring that we harness and harvest the energy that moves through each cycle defines the efficiency of the farm.

The less waste there is, the more energy has been retained and is available to use to sustain ourselves.

Understanding that everything is a part of life and that all organic matter is pure energy, is the point at which we start.

The challenge is to be able to control the elements and redirect them where they are most needed and best suited.

As with natural ecosystems, the more biodiversity that is present, the more effective the conversion of energy.

On the farm, you may choose not to have livestock. But, by excluding animals from the system, the diversity is diminished, and therefore, the efficiency is reduced.

Having too many animals also reduces the effective production and conversion of organic matter.

The carrying capacity of the land must be strictly observed.

A careful balance is needed.

This is the first year that we have had some aged manure on hand to help grow our soil and plants.

The horse manure came from outside the farm, but there is pig and chicken manure from last year's animals.

Much of the pig manure was deposited throughout the land they cleared, but there was still an indoor piggy bathroom that was used at night and when it rained.

Today it was time to clear out from underneath the chicken roosts.

I would just add straw and shavings to the pile as it grew. Now it is a great mass of manure that needs a year to age, but will be a divine addition to needy plants next year.

Aging and preparing manure is a skill of it's own. We aren't so proficient at that yet, but with a few more years and more offerings from the animals, we will better understand mixtures and temperatures that improve dressings.

Working Girl

I must always remind myself when we buy feed from outside the farm, that the money is buying energy into the land.

And though our intention is to grow our own feed, converting cash money into organic energy is a long term investment.

It goes so far beyond the food that we will harvest from the animals this season.

That feed is to be converted into energy for us to consume, but the remainder will stay with the land and in turn become consumable again.

The Sun is the replenisher that allows the cycle to continue; making up the difference when we use energy for our bodies in order to live and move.

Manure is the ability to store and manipulate the Sun's energy.

And though it seems that the farm is a poor copy of the natural world,

it allows us to participate in a lifecycle that may thrive with our efforts, and in turn permit us to thrive.