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May 21, 2021

We were aiming to build our hoop house back at the end of March, it was a highly optimistic goal.  These photos show Jimmy in early May, finishing off the ‘hoops’.  We had more than a week of bad weather in mid April that left us with only the foundation boards completed, and they had taken us almost two weeks to finish, with borrowing a neighbour’s laser-level to get them just right.

I took these photos to show the progress of a construction that will allow us to extend our growing season both for ourselves and for the two local Farmers Markets we have signed up for this year.  We have kept seedlings going in a similar structure before, using only the thermal mass of half a dozen 45-gallon oil drums, filled with water, right from March.  Our soil-blocking system is a very sustainable way to begin seedlings, no plastic!  Ideally our water barrels would hold a large ‘table top’ which we have made from wooden slats before, but even a sheet or two of plywood would work.  The table is topped with a waterproof membrane (okay, I lied about no plastic, but this is a plastic sheet you can use over and over again, it doesn’t get damaged!), and then a wicking ‘water blanket’ that dips into the barrel water to provide constant water at root level through the base of the soil blocks.  It’s genius, it really is!  The hoop house may help to mitigate unusual weather patterns caused by climate change, it allows full sunlight but reduces or eliminates wind.  Our hope is to use cold frames down the centre, surrounded with large quantities of barn manure, to really stretch our growing season.

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I began my early-starters (tomato, pepper, eggplant, cabbage) back at the end of January on a set of wooden shelves that we put in the only south-facing window we have in our home.  We only moved here last August, there are so many projects to tackle!  I set up a pretty dandy system, using the whole water-blanket philosophy, for each shelf with some loaf tins providing the water supply, that I could easily top-up each day.

The first picture shows the seedlings this week, you can see how they are very leggy, and reaching towards the window for light, they should have been transplanted out to that hoop house and into the next size soil-block more than a month ago!  In the second picture, Jimmy is demonstrating just how tall this poor tomato plant is.  Inside our home it is warm and the seedlings thrive with nutrients from our home-made soil-block-mix and that ongoing root-level water supply.  But the light is inadequate, plus it should have been transplanted already.  Being confined to only two-inch blocks that air-prune themselves around the sides, they have a tendency if left, as these guys are, to root into the water blanket beneath them.  I may have damaged this one prizing it off for the photo, and I fear I may damage the others when I prize them off to get them into the ground in the next week or two.

The third picture shows a different experiment.  I took some of our leggy seedlings in their first three-quarter-inch soil blocks and made paper pots from one of those Richter Pot Makers someone gave me, to pot them on.  I took the paper pot seedlings outside every day on re-purposed polystyrene meat trays throughout the warmer days of late April and May, but it seems the wind burn really slowed their growth.  They look very pitiful next to their water-blanket counterparts (I’ll include a photo comparison in a future episode).  Out of desperation I decided to put them in the ground.  This third picture shows our attempt to protect them against the ice storm we were forecast yesterday.  We covered other tiny transplants such as Gojiberry seedlings, Hops and a couple of Apple pip seedlings I’d grown with rubber feeding tubs.  These tomato and pepper plants have triple-layer row cover over them, anchored down with some of the yet-to-be-fitted hoop house hardware.

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Jimmy took these photos because that ice storm was a doozy!  Are we ever glad we did not put out the rest of our transplants!  We are aiming to develop an extensive pollinator garden for our beehives, I had picked up roses as well as raspberry canes and strawberries from our local family-run nursery and garden centre (love to support these guys over a big box store).  We also bought some fruit trees.  The trees we planted on Wednesday, and I think we chose the spot wisely because they showed zero signs of stress after this ice storm.  The other perennials we are keeping in our shed until the freezing weather passes!

 

Our mature trees around the property were cased along the entirety of their branch and leaf system with ice.  It made their branches so heavy that some just broke right off.  In the first picture I am holding a broken branch from a Caragana in our yard, in the second I am clearing fallen tree debris from the grid road that runs past our farm, the third is a close-up of that ice casing that weighed them down so devastatingly.  By lunchtime we were at plus 4 degrees and it all just disappeared!  Oh climate change you goof! 

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I ordered almost six thousand trees through our local tree and shelter-belt provider last year, the Shand Greenhouse (Sask Power).  I only got half of my order because of COVID-19; with many staff laid off fewer seedlings were planted, and fewer varieties grown (just today I placed my order for next year… another 3000!).


This series of photos shows a good friend of ours and I hand-planting some of the surplus trees after the weekend-before’s tree planting extravaganza using the local R.M. tractor-towed tree-planter, and using labour from this very same friend, plus my eldest daughter (bless them!).  As a certified organic farm we are required to have a buffer zone (I think a minimum of five metres) between us and our conventional farming neighbours.  

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We want the triple tree line (which hugely exceeds the five metre minimum) for a number of reasons; bee food (a lot of the chosen trees produce blossom in early stages of the growing season), people food (like cherries, berries and syrup), wildlife habitat (our biodynamic endeavours) and soil regeneration through root/mycorrhizal systems.  Not only did my friend and I plant the surplus trees, but we also walked all three tree-lines of our 2 mile perimeter checking for correct planting later that week; it took us about three hours and a very enjoyable opportunity to catch up with events in each others lives!

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The rain did not come… and did not come.  Last weekend we made the decision to water our saplings by hand.  It took two days.  Jimmy filled two 1000-liter totes with our well water (which in itself took four days because our well at this new property needs some attention!), and we set off following our truck and trailer, with buckets-in-hand and a tin with almost a litre capacity each.  We’d refill our bucket from the tote, and slowly, carefully, pour a litre of water onto each sapling.  Eldest daughter came out to help again (glutten for punishment or saint?).  Sadly I have no photos of this, we were too busy doing it.

Our trees planted are an outer row of Jack Pine and White Spruce, a partial middle row of Green Ash and Siberian Larch and a partial inner row of Buffaloberry, Siberian Crab and Red Osier Dogwood.  Wherever possible I selected native species, food-providing species (people plus critters) and winter hardy species.

Many thanks


Jo