Birthday Bonfire!

This week started with my birthday, so it had to be a good week! Julia came up for the day with me on Monday and helped us with a relatively light afternoon of seeding in the greenhouse and hand weeding in the one acre pea field. She discovered that pulling weeds can be quite therapeutic 🙂

Bettina and Ken came up to the farm in the evening and we had flank steak from Rowe Farms, as well as asparagus, zucchini and apples, all cooked up on the bbq. I then gave them all a tour of the farm and then Garrett got the bonfire going so we could roast marshmallows and hot dogs. I served kirs (a Henry of Pelham white with a dash of cassis) and we stood around the fire munching on treats. Bettina and Ken brought up a black forest cake and Andrew baked a rice flour Grand Marnier cake, which ended up being more of a crumble since rice flour doesn’t rise or hold together as well as wheat flour. After we were done with the marshmallow and hot dog roasting, Mark proceeded to pull trees out of his stash of burnable wood and add them to the fire until we had a good blaze going and showers of sparks whenever the ends of trees were pushed into the fire. Mark was like a magician, pulling branch after branch out of the tall weeds beside the bonfire. It’s amazing how much weeds can hide! All in all, it was a very satisfying birthday bonfire 😀

The rest of the week, I was assigned to bring Amber in at night. The difficulty of this task varied from night to night, with alternating nights when she would just come to her stall when I called her, and other points when I had to get a rope around her neck and pull her in, once from all the way out at the end of the pasture. That’s when I found her with her calf feeding from her after 9 pm. I gave him about 15 minutes, hoping he would be finished, but he kept on drinking and Amber showed no inclination to stop grazing and come in. By the time I finally decided to put the rope on her and pull her in, with a stop to graze every few steps or so, 40 minutes had passed before I could get her in her stall. And she was rather difficult to milk most mornings as well. This was the week when Simaron and Andrew were training to milk her and they didn’t encounter the greatest success, though Simaron did milk almost 5 litres from her (with Gavin) one morning. We’ll see how things go this week! I’m scheduled to milk her with Gavin and Mark later in the week. I’m going to try the technique Lynn showed me and hope it works better for me than what I’ve been doing so far, which is exactly what Gavin and Mark are doing but with a big difference in our comparative hand size and strength.

I learned how to carry chickens on Tuesday night when I helped Karen move some of her layers from the horse barn to the summer animal shelter. When it’s dark out, chickens are in a kind of stupor and very easy to pick up. When they’re on the ground, you just pick them up around the chest and can tuck them under the arm to carry. When they’re roosting on a fence, you just grab both legs and lift. They flap their wings a bit but settle down quickly once you put them down. At the summer shelter, we just took them out of the cage we used to transport them, and perched them back up on a stall fence in the shelter. It’s really quite funny how easy they are to handle in the dark, especially considering I can’t catch a chicken at all during the day!

Unfortunately, the chicken transporting set off my allergies for the week. It was possibly the horses, or hay, or the chickens themselves, but with farmers all around the county cutting hay that week, it was definitely a tough time for anyone with hay/grass allergies. I’m hoping that once most of the hay is baled, my allergies will settle down. I woke up a few nights from trouble breathing, which really isn’t a pleasant way to wake up.

On Wednesday, we all went to John Slack’s farm for a seminar on soil. John Slack sells Spanish River Carbonatite and compost. He’s essentially a dirt farmer, in addition to a market gardener and raises sheep and some beef. It was fascinating to hear him talk about his soil testing methods and what makes good farm land as he’s very passionate and knowledgeable about the subject. I now know a preliminary soil test that only involves a Dutch auger and some 10% hydrochloric acid which should help me in my land search to rule out any land that doesn’t already have a good calcium base to the soil. He also has 4 dogs and a collie puppy on the farm so it was really fun to pet them. I may buy raspberries from him for Benita’s wedding, if the ones at Everdale aren’t ripe enough for me to pick before then…or if I just don’t have the time or energy to pick them!

On Thursday, I helped Joseph with some construction on the seed maze and learned from James (who has a carpentry background) how one person can set up and nail in crossbars, as well as how to space and level vertical fence pieces. And on Saturday, I learned how to set up and repair drip irrigation lines in the Aberfoyle field. I love that you have to wear so many different hats in farming! It’s constant trouble shooting and problem solving which is a good challenge for the mind at the same time as you’re working your body. I’m feeling really fit and haven’t been this tanned before in my life. Other than the recent bout of allergies, I feel extremely healthy. I recommend farm work in the open air for anyone who wants to get reenergized 🙂

This is the story of my journey into sustainable agriculture. From the streets of downtown Toronto, to the farm land of southern Ontario, I hope to discover the techniques and practices that work for me in both mind and heart.

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