Saturday, April 30, 2011

It's Official - Earth Day in Brandon is Cancelled!

As I sit here watching a snow storm, yes a snow storm, just received the email that Earth Day 2011 in Brandon is cancelled.  They will not be re-scheduling this year.  Good thing I celebrated vicariously by reading other people blog posts and Twitters!  According to organizers of the Facebook event page, the white spruce seedlings can still be had by emailing Tom at or calling 729-2171.  Too bad, but's snowing!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Earth Day 2011 in Brandon - Maybe...

Word came this afternoon that our Earth Day celebrations may be canceled.  Scheduled, well, re-scheduled for Sunday, May 1st, Mother Nature seems to have decided to rain and perhaps snow for the next twenty four to thirty six hours.  Oh, good!  Driving into Brandon today I noticed that the flood waters have seeped past the barricade on 1st Street, just north of the bridge.  Rain is not really what we need right now!  Stay tuned, we should know whether Earth Day will proceed by Saturday night and we'll post it right away.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Come Swimming in Our Local Park?

Manitoba's Spring Flood Watch continues.  We are completely safe here at Aagaard Farms; it doesn't look like an unusual Spring at all around the Farm.  Thanks for the emails and calls (Hi, Verlene!)  Some of our neighbours are not quite so lucky.  Pictured is our local park 'Cornwallis Park', in the RM of Cornwallis, along Veteran's Way, just outside of Brandon.  It is a lovely little park, usually along the riverbank.  At this time, it is one big lake, almost up to the highway.  Grand Valley Strawberries, the upick strawberry farm, is in the trees to the left of the picture and is sandbagged and seeping!  Around Westman, I am of the understanding that officials believe we have crested and the water will not get any higher, barring big rains.  Other areas of Manitoba are still waiting for the crest.  Thing about flooding of this magnitude is that the repercussions will be felt for years.  Farmers will not be able to get on their land to plant, the crop may never be finished this year, the farmers will have no money to shop for anything so businesses in the area will see a drop in business and may have to lay off employees.  Effects are far reaching, because we're all inter-connected!  Let's hope it dries up quickly!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

It's a Great Day: Kittens and Garlic Are Growing!

A Happy Easter Sunday to all!  We're finally having a day with the temperature hitting double digits (in Celsius)!  That should help get rid of the last of the snow!  We've been out for a wee stroll around the farm.  The garlic is up!  And we've had excellent germination.  We love our garlic for cooking, and we just can't bring enough to the Farmers Markets.  We planted almost double last fall - so good to see it coming so well.  A short row of 'fancy' garlics is about an inch taller than 'Music', our standard.  Those are showing a bit of frost damage on the tips but seem to be growing strongly.

Also had a peek at the kittens in our stroll.  They are growing well, too!  Starting to rather clumsily wander from their 'nest'.  They are soooo cute and a perfect experience for a lovely Easter Sunday!  We hope you all enjoy your day!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday and Earth Day! Celebrate!

Hope you're celebrating today:  so many things to celebrate!  Saw an excellent Tweet this morning from @AndrewJParker:  'In a perfect world, every day would be Earth Day and every Friday would be Good!'  Too true!  Also loved the Tweet from @jerryjamesstone: 'Happy #Earth Day: Reduce, Reuse and Retweet!'  Earth Day is about putting aside the time to really think about what you're doing to improve Life on this Planet!  If you only do one thing - it will help, really!  Every little thing each person does adds up to some Big things!

How to get started?  Well, this Earth Day I'm recommending that everyone start reading a little green/environmental news every week - to start to keep up with what's happening on this Planet and to start to get informed.  Follow a blog, get RSS feeds, drop into a website once a week, follow them on Twitter for fast, snappy updates.  Here's a few of the favorites from Aagaard Farms:  Grist, Mother Jones, Rodale, Treehugger, Mother Nature Network.  If you've got a tiny bit of spare cash and want to make a difference check out Kiva, Philanthrope and Heifer International.

What are we doing for Earth Day?  Farmer Man is potting up seedlings and planting some melons.  He's being very Earth-friendly and using homemade pots from recycled newspapers (which may count as 'upcycling').  We love the PotMaker, a handy little gadget that lets you form plantable pots from strips of newspaper.  It's especially perfect for seedlings that tend to be brittle and hard to handle because you plant the seedling out in the garden in the pot, which will just break down!  We've had our PotMaker for years, I think we got it from Lee Valley Tools.  It's become a bit more widely available the last few years and can be found at garden centres and through many seed catalogues!  A most worthwhile investment if you start much of anything from seed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

We're Growing Mushrooms!

Yep, we're giving it a try.  Got a shiitake mushroom kit from Richters Herbs, which arrived in the mail a couple of days ago.  It's a block composed of alder sawdust, millet grain, wheat bran and crushed limestone, about the size of a shoebox.  It comes already inoculated with shiitake spawn.  Looks weird:  kind of lumpy, almost moldy, muddy.....Apparently, we must keep it cool, in the 10 - 18 Celsius range (50-65F), and it needs some indirect sunlight or the light from a fluorescent lamp 3 meters (10 feet) away will do.  We must retain humidity around it.  We're going to keep it in the foyer closet, for the coolness, and we can keep the closet door just cracked a bit to let it some light.  We're going to keep it in one of our seeding trays with the plastic lid to keep the humidity up.  It requires attention; not only to keep the humidity up, but also as mushrooms start to grow we've got to be prepared to slit the plastic bag holding the block.  Fingers crossed, we'll be eating some local shiitake mushrooms in 2 - 3 weeks.

Monday, April 18, 2011

New Book on Organic Gardening on the Prairies

I always love a book written specifically for Prairie gardeners.  We have a special (very special) set of circumstances here, and bugs and diseases specific to our area.  How many times, while working in retail horticulture here in Brandon, did I have people come into the nursery convinced they had a bug or disease that is not even present in our area!  They had found some info in some book, or on the web and had self-diagnosed and were self-treating, without great results.  So, every time I see a book by Hugh Skinner or Sara Williams, I get excited!  Skinner is part of a family who has done great things in breeding plants for our cold climate, and Williams is a professor of hort who has done great things in educating cold climate gardeners.  When I moved to Manitoba from Vancouver, Williams book 'The Prairie Xeriscape' was super-duper useful in educating me about my new climate and the plants that would thrive.  If you're trying to garden organically this new tome is awesome!  Highly recommend it!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How Far Can You Take Farming in the City?

Another interesting piece over at Garden Rant.  If you've got an empty lot - can you farm in the city?  Can you have animals and everything?  Will your city neighbors and the bureaucracy get it?  Check it out here!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Making Manitoba Maple Syrup, Part 2

Let the cooking begin!  Managed to check in with Amanda and Ed this afternoon.  The sap flow is slowing (it's about a two week window of opportunity Ed figures), but they have buckets and buckets of sap so it's time to start making syrup.  Now, everybody has heard of the sugar shack, right?  I asked why all the cooking is done outside and Amanda told me that it's not only because you're boiling off most of a five gallon bucket of water.  The humidity from that alone would be a little wild in the house but the bigger problem is that the moisture produced is heavy with residue; the sugar shack's roof close to the boiling pots already felt a little 'slimey'.  Amanda told me that even cooking outside, she will feel the residue in her hair and on her face tonight!  One certainly wouldn't want that in the house!

Amanda and Ed's sugar shack is a pretty easy A-frame of wood and metal siding.  It's really just about cutting the wind and keeping snow, rain and debris from getting into the work area.  Inside, they've repurposed a wood stove that used to be in the house.  They also have a little propane camp stove going on the side.  Apparently, the camp stove is a bit more efficient; it brings the pots to a boil faster and keeps them boiling easier.  The wood stove is more cost-effective because they're using wood from their own lot, which they cut each year for their indoor heating.  Beyond that it's really a matter of scraping together all the old pots, pans, roasters and anything else that will hold liquid and heat up!  The length of time the sap is boiled varies widely: it not only depends on the sap itself, but the temperature of the stove, the temperature outside and such variables.  It is possible to boil the sap too long, and end up with something more like taffy or even, if you're really not paying attention, hard candy!  Amanda will largely be monitoring the 'boil' all the time!

I still find it rather incredible that a five gallon pail of clear sap will boil down to one little pint of golden syrup.  Amanda and Ed will pour the syrup hot into canning jars and the jars will seal themselves.  They don't filter their syrup, so they sometimes end up with a little bit of sediment on the bottom of the jar.  The jars are not put into a water bath canner or anything like that.  Amanda and Ed know they stay good for, well, almost a year is about all they've ever been around!  They've usually run out before it's time to tap again!  After opening a jar, it should be kept in the fridge!  Makes it all seem rather easy, doesn't it?  

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Earth Day in Brandon - New Date!

Earth Day is coming to Brandon, but it's not when you may have heard!  Due to wet conditions, Earth Day has been moved to May 1st, giving Princess Park a chance to dry out.  Festivities begin at Noon.  Check out the Facebook event page here.  Lots of great things for kids of every age including live music, jugglers, face painting, giveaways and a chance to win an Earth friendly bike!  There should be some hybrid cars to view, too.  Aagaard Farms will be there, talking about CSA and selling seed potatoes.  Hope to see you there!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Forcing Blooms Indoors!

I've blogged about forcing blooms before.  It's one of those awesome things those of us in snowy climates can do to make it through the looooong end of winter/beginning of Spring.  Any woody shrub that blooms early in Spring made the flower buds last fall.  The buds are sitting there, waiting for warm weather.  If you prune them and bring them inside - they will bloom for you!  I quite often do this in March; I am a little late this year but our heavy snow fall made it hard to get into the garden.  Kathy, over a Cold Climate Gardening, usually does hers in what she calls 'mud season'.  She's got an excellent post about pruning her forsythia here, for gorgeous golden blooms.  I've pruned my double flowered plum (Prunus triloba 'Multiplex'), and in about five or six days I'll have gorgeous, frilly pink blooms in my vase.  As you can see from my photo, with a back drop of snow, the bare branches are still quite dormant.  Good pruning rules apply - cut side branches back to the branch where they join, or cut just above a node where leaves will come out:  don't leave big, ugly stubs.  This will work on plums, eating and ornamental apples and crab apples, almonds, pears.  I've had mixed success with lilacs: the flowers are often stunted but have decent fragrance.  Give it a try for a beautiful, free bouquet!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Making Manitoba Maple Syrup, Part 1

It must be Spring - people around here are starting to make maple syrup!  The sap is rising and, as our friend Dave Barnes says: "The trees are bleeding for us!"  Now, first you must know that around here nobody is tapping sugar maples (Acer saccharum); the true sugar maple just doesn't grow well here, we're a little too cold and too dry.  They are hard to get established as they seem to suffer severe die back during a lot of winters.  Around here people are tapping Manitoba maples or box elders (Acer negundo).  Our neighbours Amanda and Ed are experienced 'tappers' and they describe the sugar maple syrup as having a slight vanilla flavor not apparent in Manitoba maple syrup.  I have always thought of our local syrup as having a hint of an herbal taste.  The point being it's not the same, but it's still darn good.

I was at Dave's place yesterday and he's got a lot of trees tapped throughout his wood lot.  Dave is, of course, our local Green Party candidate, so he's a little busy and I just hope he finds the time to cook his syrup.  I was down to visit Amanda and Ed today and had a great chance to learn a few things.   Ed tapped a tree while I was there: drill a hole (looked to be an inch deep, I forgot to ask) and tap in the special spigot.  Really, it was that easy!  Within seconds a slow drip started.  The sap coming out is crystal clear and tastes, well, like nothing.  This really surprised me; it's not sweet in the slightest and has virtually no taste, maybe a faint, grassy note.  Even more surprising to me is that a five gallon bucket of this clear liquid will be boiled down to a mere pint of golden goodness.  No wonder it's a little pricey - that's a lot of work for a pint!  How fast the sap is produced is totally weather dependant - cooler days it is flowing more slowly.  This doesn't hurt the tree because it's only tapped in one of the many 'veins' that carries the sap.  Ed told me that he had heard that some established sugar maples that were not getting tapped as usual due to poor travelling conditions and  were bursting from an excess of sap in the trunks.  Isn't Mother Nature amazing!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Uh, Oh....We've Got Kittens

When we discovered a colony of feral cats on the property, the whole point of feeding them/caring for them was to get them spayed and neutered.  We know there are too many unwanted cats and dogs, it's a huge issue everywhere and the notion of so many animals being euthanized just breaks my heart.  My thinking was that I could befriend them, and once I could handle them a bit, I could get them to the vet.  If they were quite friendly, I hoped to find them homes.  A little naive, perhaps.  Some of the cats have never become comfortable with me, and now we have kittens.  I feel so bad about this - I could have tried harder and trapped the unfriendly cats.  In making some inquiries, I found that the local rescues, like Funds For Furry Friends, are over-whelmed with cats.  People look for the 'free' kitten ads in the paper, and balk at paying the small fee the rescues require.  The fee includes spaying or neutering and shots, and is really a great value compared to what the people would pay on their own at the vets.  People who get the 'free' kittens quite often don't get them spayed, and more kittens arrive.  It's an unfortunate cycle, and now I've contributed to it.  I feel really bad.  In the meantime, I've never been around kittens, and they are soooo darn cute; even these little guys whose eyes aren't open yet.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Where'd The Soil Go?

A Spring storm, forecasting up to 10 cm of snow (about 4 inches).  It is heavy, sticky stuff and should melt quite quickly.  But the enthusiasm of finding bare soil yesterday has been, well, quenched.  And have we got some messy Bears!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I See Soil!

It's true - Spring is coming.  In the last few days, we've gotten just a wee bit above the freezing mark!  We're starting to see results.  Top photo is last this afternoon, bottom photo is yesterday morning.  Look how much that patch of soil has grown - very encouraging!  The photos are of the walkway up to the barn and, beyond that, the chicken coop.  It's a gravel walkway, which makes it impossible to use a snow blower and hard to even shovel.  We tend to just trek out after a snowfall, and the pathway slowly becomes packed down.  A slow melt would be best for us here in Manitoba, considering our flood forecast.  But it's been such a long, long winter.  Everyone around here just wants the snow gone, we want our bare feet in sandals and we want to sit outside and feel the sun on some part of our bodies other than our faces!  However, the forecast tonight:  a mix of freezing rain and snow!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Flood Warning!

It could be an interesting Spring here in Manitoba.  Flood warnings have been issued by the provincial and city governments for some time now.  Flood preparation is in full swing.  Seven years we've been in Manitoba, and we've never seen anything like this;  this could be serious.  Now, here at Aagaard Farms, we're quite safe.  We're up on the North Hill, east of town, and look down onto the river valley.  Our dugout may over flow, and it's possible the east end of our raspberries and asparagus may drown, but that's a worst case scenario for us.  Our neighbors, at the bottom of the hill, like Grand Valley Strawberries, could be in for a much rougher ride.  The City is preparing by moving in large soil 'bags'; these things are almost five feet tall and three feet wide!  They've also been building up berms in different areas around the river.  This has been brought on by heavy rains in 2010 and a big snow pack this year.  Two years ago the experts were talking drought - may how things can change!