Thursday, February 23, 2012

Everything's Alright - 'Dragon's Tongue' is Here!

We grow a lot of different vegetables, we need variety for our CSA families.  We start pretty much all of them from seed ourselves; yes, we may find a bedraggled tomato cheap at the garden centre, or see some nice bushy herbs and pick them up, but largely we start everything ourselves.  We pour through the seed catalogues as soon as they start arriving, circling what's new and interesting, looking for our favorites.  But somehow, I never feel secure until a pound of 'Dragon Tongue' Bean seed is in the house.  Most things we order by the packet, or maybe a large packet, but 'Dragon Tongue' we get by the pound!

I'm a bean fan since childhood.  Green beans were my thing - never liked yellow wax beans as much (I know that will get me some flack because yellow wax are a top seller for us at the Farmers Markets).  Then, in the '90's I was introduced to the purple bean 'Royal Burgundy'.  Such a disappointment that it turns green on cooking but a yummy, tender bean.  Then, I was introduced to the true French Filet bean, not the sliced up regular bean so often called filet, but the true, little skinny, tender, melt-in-your-mouth Filet.  Heavenly!  That was my favorite for a while!

We've grown a lot of different beans: heirloom, open-pollinated, new introductions, pole beans, purported great flavor and on and on.  But my absolute favorite is 'Dragon's Tongue'.    It's an heirloom, described in different places as a Dutch butter bean, a Romano type and a wax bean!  It's a big, wide, flat pod with purple streaks.  It has fabulous flavor, is never stringy, produces really well regardless of our weather, freezes nicely and - there's more: can also be grown on and saved as an awesome dried bean!  What more could a grower want?  I think we first found it in TerraEdibles great catalogue of heirlooms, and we can get the bean from Heritage Harvest, too but only West Coast Seeds offers a big, big bag!

It's huge fun for us at the Farmers Markets because we're generally the only ones who have it!  Gets lots of attention and some great 'bean' discussions are started when it's on our table.  Foodie-types who have jumped right in and tried it generally become fans, too and come back for more.   Problem is, we often pick it for Market or CSA so enthusiastically that this year we had none to dry or freeze!  Okay, and we did eat quite a bit fresh, which is the best way to eat it!  Do you have a favorite bean?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Visitors Means Treats!

No wonder all our critters like visitors - it always means extra treats!  Lacey, Annie and Brandon came out today with four children in tow, ranging from fourish to a young teenager.  Lacey is a new egg customer and the three friends are also interested in giving a garden rental a go this year.  They came for some more yummy fresh farm eggs and a bit of a tour.  Beautiful, warm day for it, too!

They parked in front of the house so we started our tour by going down to the rental gardens and showing them parking, watering, etc, etc.  The dogs, especially Blaze, were ecstatic to get so many extra pats while the adults chatted.  Then we went around the barn and over to the chicken coop.  I grabbed the scratch bucket and the chickens got a great extra treat of grain and corn.  Kids love throwing the scratch, laughing and giggling as the chickens scurry after it!  We collected one egg from the coop and broke one, but that happens: I broke one yesterday accidentally banging it against the side of the bucket!

The goats, who could see us, were putting up quite a fuss by now.  We went over to where they were all trying to climb the fence to get at us.  I had brought the homemade goat treats, which you can read about here.  So, the kids and adults were introduced to the goats, and a few extra treats were handed out.  As we turned to walk away, we discovered that Chocolate can jump the fence!  She came out to follow us, I put her back in and she jumped it again in full view of everyone!  Hmmmm, I'll have to do something about that, and soon!

Friday, February 17, 2012

We've Started Growing, Again!

It may be a little snowy outside, it may be freezing cold but in our sun room little seeds are going into warm soil.  Hopefully, soon we'll have baby plants - lots of them!  Here in Manitoba we have a very short growing season.  Our last frost date is officially June 6 and first frost is September 10!  Any seed that required ninety days to maturity or more needs to be started inside the house early and plants, not seeds, set outside.  For us, that includes tomatoes, peppers, many herbs, broccoli, cabbage, melons and some of our favorite winter squash.  We have a small, homemade, lean-to greenhouse against the barn, but it's not even slightly energy efficient; our first year here we started seeds in the greenhouse and saw our electricity bill increase about $300 - not affordable.  So now we start our seeds in the sun room, attached to the house.

Farmer Man built us a seed starting unit.  It's a three tier wooden stand, with common, two bulb fluorescent lights attached on all three levels.  We use one warm and one cool bulb in each light fixture, for a full spectrum light.  We have acquired a few table top and hanging grow lights in the last few years; the sun room will be filled with folding tables with light stands on top and hanging under a table for extra space!  There will end up being plantlets everywhere before it is warm enough to move to the greenhouse!  The bottom shelf on the grow stand has heat mats and the whole thing will be surrounded with heavy weight plastic left over from making the hoop house.  Quite a nice little hot house is created.  During the summer we store the lights and heat mats and the stand is in our prep area holding our bags and berry boxes and such accessories as we need to get our veggies to market.

Many of the heat loving plants will go into the stand as soon as they are seeded.  Tomatoes and peppers often get a plastic cover over the tray, to keep in heat and moisture.  Some seeds like lettuce, a cool weather crop, will never go in the seed stand because it's too much heat for them!  And we will start some lettuce soon for us to eat as micro-greens!  We start with any seeds left over from last year and we seed thickly in case germination is not good.  We do five rows in a common tray, so with the peppers already done that's probably over a hundred plants per tray, if they all germinate!  As seeds sprout, the tray gets moved up a level, away from the heat pads.  They will get potted up into small pots once they have two sets of leaves.

Many seed packets contain all the information you need to get going.  Each type of seed is different in what they want: the depth the seed should be at, whether they need light or heat or not, time to germination.  We also have a couple of great reference books, in case we need more information.  We have Lois Hole's 'Vegetable Book'  (a great all-around reference for cold climate gardeners) and Suzanne Ashworth's Seed to Seed - a great book on saving as well as starting seeds!  Starting seeds on such a volume will keep us busy: monitoring, watering, starting more, potting up, checking humidity and keeping Doodles the kitten out of the dirt will consume some time in the next few months!  We love the work - it's so exciting, even now, when new little bits of life have popped up through the soil overnight!  And I love to check the mail these days; a little parcel that rattles is so exciting!  Are you starting seeds? 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Spring To-Do List

As we're out walking the dogs and goats, or gathering firewood, or just strolling we're taking a good look around the farm.  Now is the time that our Spring list of chores is formulated!  This is a list separate from the on-going daily and weekly chores like feeding and watering critters, cleaning pens and coops, collecting eggs.  These are 'special' chores that, largely, fate has brought us.  It's different every spring, always full of surprises!

We notices, as seen in the picture on the left, that the hoop house has sustained some damage this year.  We love our hoop house!  It was so successful last year in supplying a steady supply of tomatoes to our CSA families, with some extra for Farmers' Markets!  We also had a much nicer crop of basil and peppers in the hoop house than what came from outside beds.  We won't know until we get a ladder out and have a good look just how big this chore will be.  Hopefully, it's just a repair and won't require replacing the entire covering of plastic: a much more expensive and time consuming event!  We are also putting on the to-do list the building of a second hoop house - they are wonderful for earlier and later harvests and protecting from damage.  Both of these are chores we'd like to have done in April, once we start planting in May, everything is about the growing!  Farmer Man is also putting some cold frames on the list - great mini, in-ground greenhouses which can ease some of the over-crowding that happens every April and May in our sun room and greenhouse as the seedlings start to take over!

Late last growing season a garden renter accidentally ran over one of the hose bibs for the rental gardens.  We were in the middle of potato harvest, still doing October Farmers Markets and just didn't get to the repair before the ground froze up.  So, that repair is on the to-do list.  We'll have to dig up the area and find the break, repair it, let it set and then re-bury the main line.  I say 'we' but Farmer Man will be doing most of the work,  I'm not a very efficient digger.  Also, in the rental gardens, as more and more people get interested in growing their food and our plots expand, we've got to build and place a couple more compost receptacles.  We make these from used wooden pallets, and some of the time involved will be cruising back alleys and commercial zones looking for the pallets!

Dealing with compost is another big to-do!  Compost is pretty much the only fertilizer we use.  For the seedlings and containers, we're using a kelp seaweed liquid fertilizer, but once things are planted in the garden we rely on the nutrition in the soil.  We purchased a load of compost last year and although the product was very nice, it was full of stones!  A number as big as a man's fist and lots of pebbles of various sizes.  We have to create a more efficient screening process to clean it before we apply it.  This chore also needs to be completed in April, so we can apply compost before planting.  We also have to turn an awesome pile of chicken coop and goat pen bedding.  Through the winter, as we remove it to clean the coop or stalls, it goes outside and largely freezes right away.  We'll need to mix it, pile it and leave it to compost this year!

We'll have Berkshire piglets coming in April or May so we've got to create new pasture.  We like to rotate the pasture around, so there is fresh grass, a clean area and no chance of passing on any parasites or disease.  It's like rotating your plantings - you don't want to keep animals in the same area year after year.  The pigs, goats and chickens really 'eat up' any pasture so the previous pasture needs a chance to re-grow.  We'll also need a nice area for Randie, our buck goat.  When we, fingers crossed, have baby goats in late Spring, we need him separate so that he doesn't hurt any babies and, later in the season, doesn't try to breed with any of his children.  Fencing is never a good time, but a chore that needs doing!

We've got to get some pruning on the list!  Our raspberries need pruning every Spring to take out old, spent canes.  We could also use some maintenance pruning on the fruit trees - they were somewhat neglected last Spring as we were distracted by flooding and other unusual events.  Good pruning will keep fruit trees producing much better!  I've also been offered some mature grape plants, so we've got to find an area for them and create some sturdy trellising before we go dig them up and transplant them!

Oh, the to-do list just keeps getting longer and longer.  The more I think of it, the more things that come to mind, and not all garden or critter related.  The house could really use painting, we've got a back patio half made (a project that has gone on a couple of seasons already!), we'd love to create a veggies washing area, Farmer Man wants to build a chicken tractor a la Joel Salatin, the two 'Blue Boy' clematis in front of the house could use cutting back, some of the iris in the front border need just keeps going!  Have you started a Spring to-do list?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Seedy Sunday is Coming Up in Brandon!

Just a few of our potato varieties for sale at Seedy Sunday 2011
Put this in your date book!  Seedy Sunday is March 4, 2012 from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM!  It's just a few weeks away.  It's being hosted this year by Samaritan House at 630 Rosser Avenue.  All proceeds from the day will benefit New Era Community School Friendship Garden!  There will be coffee, tea and muffins for sale all day.  There will be seed vendors, including Aagaard Farms with our selection of gourmet potatoes!   I do believe Heritage Harvest Seeds from Carman, MB will be there because I emailed them this morning about picking up our order at Seedy Sunday!  I hope Jim from Prairie Garden Seeds in Saskatchewan will be there again this year because he always has some interesting and rare heirloom seeds!  If you've saved extra seed from you garden bring it along for the Swap Table and try something new!

This year there will be some different information tables at Seedy Sunday; Seeds of Diversity Canada and EcoAction are among them!  I'll keep you updated as more join in.  Blake, the organizer, is also welcoming community groups, gardening groups and vendors such as crafters, bakers and canners!  If you'd like to join in contact Blake at!  Should be a fun day - are you ready to think gardening?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Someone Thinks We're Versatile!

Wow!  We've been nominated for a Versatile Blogger Award!  Canning Granny, a blog and Facebook page we enjoy very much, nominated us and it means so much coming from someone we admire!  Check out her fabulous blog for some great pieces on canning, DIY and more!  The blog is new, so there aren't a lot of posts yet but we look forward to every new one!

So, to conform to the rules of the award I must next mention seven random things about us!  Hmmmm.

Here's seven things you may not know about Jes and Norah of Aagaard Farms:
1.  We both have extensive backgrounds in the restaurant business.
2.  We changed careers in the '90's, I (Norah) went back to school for horticulture and we ran our own landscape design/build business.
3.  We inherited Jes' family farm, a little thirty acre market garden.  We didn't really know much about growing vegetables when we moved here.
4.  We have toooo many dogs and cats!
5.  I had never canned anything until we moved onto the farm.
6.  Jes put himself through university painting and we have some fabulous painted finishes in our little farmhouse!
7.  We really wish a Thai restaurant would open in Brandon, Manitoba!

The Rules for the Versatile Blogger Award:
1. Add the award to your blog. 
2. Thank the blogger who gave it to you.
3. Mention seven random things about yourself.
4. List the rules.
5. Award to 15 bloggers.
6. Inform each of those 15 by leaving a comment on their blog.

I'm really happy to share 15 blogs we read with you!  Hope you'll go to them and check them out!

1. Prairie Girl
2. Domestic Diva
3.  Uncanny Preserves - Thinking Outside The Jar
4.  A Prairie Journal in Saskatchewan
5.  Word...From Willow Gardens
6.  Naosap Harvest - Organic Wild Rice
7.  Canoe Corner
8.  Green Frieda
9.  Manitoba Harvest
10. Cold Climate Gardening
11. Cubits Organic Living
12. Garden Coach, Winnipeg
13. Bumble Bee Blog
14. The Original Henry Milker
15. Garden Therapy

So, there's my linky-love.  Hope you'll follow the links and check out some of these great blogs.  It's a diverse list with everything from gardening and canning to goat-raising and sheep-raising to healthy hemp!  A lot of my selections are from Manitoba and Canada - but not all!  Hope you enjoy!  And thanks again to Canning Granny!

Monday, February 6, 2012


I just wrote a little piece for Dig In Manitoba about what farmers are doing in February.  Some of us are already growing our seedlings.  Almost all of us, whether we grow veggies on twenty acres, raise dairy cows or beef, or sow miles and miles of grain - we're all planning....and worrying.  Worrying goes hand-in-hand with farming it seems.

The picture at right was taken today.  We should have at least a couple of feet of snow.  The ground should be white as far as the eye can see.  Now, this winter has been very mild and quite enjoyable.  It's soooo much nicer to have chickens and goats when there is little risk of them freezing to death over night!  We and the dogs have gotten more walks this winter, we've been able to re-stock our firewood quite easily and our electricity bills are quite reasonable without our baseboard heaters running full tilt!

However, all this nice, mild weather is a worry.  To the right of the picture, if the field of view was extended, is our dug-out (a deep pond, essentially).  We use the dug-out to water our vegetables all summer long.  The land is graded so that the spring run off goes directly to the pond.  No spring run off, no water in the dug-out!  We're also wondering about perennial vegetables like asparagus and fall-planted bulbs like garlic.  Snow is a great layer of insulation in really cold weather so some of those items may have suffered some damage during our cold snap.

Hard to believe that last year was 'the flood of the century' around here and this year forecasters are already taking drought!  What will happen?  Well, we could still get a big snowstorm or two - not that convenient.  We could be really rainy in April and May.  The soil moisture, after last years' super high level, may be enough.  Nobody knows for sure, but it's a little something to worry about in our spare time!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Making Lotion - in Bar Form

Re-melting the first batch in more
melted beeswax and coconut oil.
I'm continuing to experiment with common products that I can make at home, instead of purchasing products with unnecessary ingredients.  I saw, on Facebook, some talk of simple hand and body lotion hard bars and I found the concept very interesting!  It seems very convenient to have lotion in a portable, hard bar instead of a tube or bottle.  And I loved the simplicity.   Happy.Healthy.Holistic posted on Facebook that she had made some and loved them, and a few days later she posted the recipe here.  Simple ingredients, simple technique - it looked great!  I was interested in using ingredients on hand so  Jo's Health Corner recipe, here, used a liquid vegetable oil, allowing me to use my much-loved hemp oil.  As a matter of fact, the ingredients are the same as the one I used for lip balm, here, just different proportions.

I have, here in the pantry, coconut oil (a solid at room temperature), hemp oil from Manitoba Harvest (we use it in our smoothies and on salads), local natural beeswax and I decided on a little lavender essential oil.  I used equal parts of the first three ingredients, melted over low heat and poured into molds.  I used a double broiler method; hemp oil doesn't take much heat so I wanted a bit more control than trying to melt it in the microwave.  Stirring and melting took about five minutes, I removed it from the heat, added about twenty drops of essential oil and poured it into a muffin pan.  About an hour later, I knew something wasn't right - the bars were still too soft to get out of the container!  I put the muffin pan in the freezer, and was able to remove the bars about half an hour later.  Once they warmed up a bit on the counter, I realized that they were too soft: they held their shape but when I tried to pick one up my fingers sank into the bar.  Hmmmmm....

Happy.Healthy.Holisitic had used a beeswax pellet in her batch.  I had hand-grated a block of beeswax (a very good workout for the arms).  I decided that I hadn't packed the grated beeswax enough in the measuring cup, so I was low in that ingredient.  I also thought that Jo's Health Corner at used a lighter oil, so perhaps I was a little heavy on the hemp.  I decided to re-batch my lotion bars.  I grated another cup of beeswax and melted it with half a cup of coconut oil.  Once they were melted I added in my bars and melted them.  Back into the muffin molds and I let them cool for over an hour.  Much better!  The bars popped out of the mold easily and are firm to the touch.  They have a nice lavender fragrance.  You just rub the bar between your hands - coconut oil melts at body temperature and coats your hands.  A little goes a long way!  Took a few minutes, but it sinks in nicely and is very moisturizing!  The hemp oil gives them a beautiful green color, as well.  Recipe, for me with my hemp oil, will be one cup packed, grated beeswax, one cup coconut oil, half a cup or even a little less of hemp oil.  Any essential oil will be great!