Thursday, April 26, 2012

Where, Oh Where to Sell Our Veggies!

Working it at a Farmers' Market!
We never wanted to organize Farmers Markets.  When we took over the little family farm ten years ago and were looking to increase sales, there was one market in town on Saturday mornings and they wouldn't let us join!  We knew they sold out of fresh produce, and early, so we figured there was room for another market!  Friends were working with the Riverbank Discovery Centre on a project and mentioned they were looking for events.  We loved the idea of an outdoor market in such a beautiful location and thus was born the Saturday morning Farmers Market at Riverbank Discovery Centre!  We were growing extra veggies and we heard from so many people that they left for their cottages on Friday night and missed Saturday morning markets, so a year later we started the Thursday night market at the Riverbank.

We laugh now, looking back at the first few markets at Riverbank Discovery Centre!  There was us and our friend Jim, a baker, two little tables.  Fortunatley, the market grew.  We always struggled to promote the Farmers Market at the Riverbank Discovery Centre: it couldn't be seen from the street so it relied on advertising to grow, and there is never enough budget for ads while keeping the table rentals reasonable and still paying the licenses, rents and insurance.  With that in mind, Farmer Man had the idea to start a market at one of the busiest corners in the city so, a few years ago, we started the Friday Night Farmers Market at Shopper Mall!  It did quite well, quickly, showing us the value of 'location, location, location' and high visibility, however the rent and insurance requirements were much higher.

Now, those of you who know us well know that we're not that organized...well, Farmer Man is the farmer and organizing fell to me.  And I'm not that organized, or good at paperwork, or happy doing office stuff.  We never made any money at organizing markets and they were taking up a lot of our time.  In season, we'd get a lot of phone calls every week: inquiries about what veggies would be at the market coming up that day (when we're really busy getting the veggies ready for market that day), inquiries from people thinking of selling at a market, inquiries about whether we knew when a certain seller or product might be coming....much time spent in talking on the phone or returning emails.  Really, we just wanted to grow and sell our vegetables!

So, we were interested when we heard of a new community-based project called The Global Market.  A company, Perths, was closing its' downtown Brandon dry-cleaning plant.  For new building construction to happen on the site, an extensive and expensive environmental clean-up would have to happen, so the company decided to donate the land, with the Brandon branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association organizing, with stakeholders as diverse as Westman Immigration Services and Samaritan House.  The space is close to BU, close to residential areas with plenty of parking!  The plan includes permanent tents, green space and seating!  The organizers already have interest from a couple of food trucks; 'Funky Food' the chip truck is already using the empty lot, serving their goodies during the week!  Apparently the Jamaican food truck 'Irie Kaya' will be on site shortly!  Vendors from Brandon's much-loved International Women's Market will use the space as their summer home - meaning great, fresh ethnic food and crafts!  The Global Market, to my understanding, will welcome home-based businesses like Avon, Arbonne, Pampered Chef and such, and sellers of new merchandise like sun glass vendors, T-shirt sellers and the like!  There are plans for Saturday evening live music, with the 0 block of 12th Ave closed for street parties!  Should make for a fun and diverse market!

Although it has been a tough decision, we've made the choice to join The Global Market.  We're going to free ourselves from all the duties involved with organizing The Farmers Market at Riverbank Discovery Centre and The Friday Night Farmers Market!  The Global Market should be open by June - we anticipate being there Saturday mornings for sure and probably at least one evening during the week; follow Aagaard Farms on Facebook or Twitter to get our latest news!  We know that a number of the vendors that participated with us at our markets the last few years will be joining us!  Stay tuned for more details: The Global Market has a Facebook page at Global Market Brandon, MB so go 'like' them and keep up on all the latest info!

We would like to take a moment to thank all the Buyers and Sellers who have supported us over the years!  It's been great to get to know so many fabulous Brandonites!  We hope you'll all come join us at The Global Market, it should be a Blast!  In the meantime, we can concentrate on 'Growing Great Food for Our Neighbors', which is, really, what we do here at Aagaard Farms!   

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hemp Bread - Oh, Yes I Did!

If you've read this blog a while you will know that we are big fans of hemp.  Super food, soothing skin care ingredient, fabulous fabric - all from a plant that can be sustainably grown without much addition of pesticides, fertilizers or irrigation.  We're so lucky, in Canada, that it is perfectly legal and widely accepted (Get with it, America!).  We're also fortunate that one of the premier suppliers of hemp foods, Manitoba Harvest, is based right here in our province, so we like to consider the products local, even if we don't really know where the hemp was grown.  In our house you will find hemp oil, which we use in our morning smoothies, pestos and salad dressings, as well as in our handmade lotion bars and lip balms.  Hemp oil is not suitable for cooking with, as it can't take high temperatures.  Also in the pantry at all times is hemp protein powder which, until now, went into our morning smoothies.  We also have hemp seeds, known as hemp hearts, which are awesome little nutty seeds for topping salads, pastas or for munching.  We have hemp clothes, which are sturdy and long-lasting, improving with age as they get softer and softer.  We even have some hemp paper products!  Multi-purpose, awesome stuff that hemp!

For Earth Day, I received a lovely email offering a celebratory discount from the nice people at Manitoba Harvest.  I immediately went to the website to take advantage of 30% off, which was just for the weekend.  While cruising the different protein powders, I read that the powder can be used in place of flour in baking recipes.  Hmmmm.......

I was needing to make bread and had a craving for a more traditional sandwich loaf.  Our usual 'go-to' bread is one of the fabulous no-knead artisan breads from the book 'Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day' by Hertzberg and Francois.  It is a great way to make bread from scratch for busy people: you mix the ingredients in the storage container, let it rise, throw it in the fridge and when you need bread you grab a hunk, let is rise a bit and throw it into the oven on a hot pizza stone.   Sometimes however, I do want a lighter sandwich loaf, the 'knead' kind of bread.  My 'go-to' recipe for that has been the 'Easy Farmhouse White Bread' from the always fabulous Farmgirl Fare.  The original blog post with the recipe has tons of great extra info and tips plus links to techniques like forming a loaf and such.  Highly recommended!

Anyhow, I've made the recipe a few times; the first few times straight up, then changed some of the flour for whole wheat, then spelt.  Today, from the starting four cups of flour I replaced half a cup with hemp protein powder and a full cup with whole wheat flour.  As per the suggestions in the blog post, I increased the milk by a cup, to compensate for the 'thirstier' flours.  The resulting loaf is very good: still light, with an extra, subtle nutty flavor and a nice dark fleck through loaf!  I'm quite happy to know I've added a little bit of protein, Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and other good things!  Now, I'm going to mess up all those healthy benefits by slathering on way too much butter and a bunch of homemade grape jelly!  Yummy!  Have you given hemp foods a try!  You really should; your body will thank you!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

It May Be Time To Boot Up the Greenhouse!

The potting up of little seedlings continues unabated.  And there are more seeds to start!  The tomatoes and peppers are pretty much all started; there are herbs to finish, and then it's broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, celery and some of our winter squash that require a hundred days or more to mature!  It's getting hard to move around in the sun room: it is stuffed with folding tables with grow light stands on top, grow lights or fluorescent lights strung beneath.  Watering requires crawling around on the floor, inevitably bumping our heads on tables!  Some of our vegetable crates are holding the trays of seedlings closer to the lights - we're constantly stubbing our toes on those!

Looking around this morning, it seems obvious that it's time to move to the greenhouse.  Nights have been chilly here this week, dropping to below freezing!  Our concern is that the greenhouse, built by Farmer Man's Father from mostly found materials, is not very energy efficient.  It is south facing, so the lighting will be excellent (the sun room is east facing, hence all the lights!), but it's not very air tight, and it's heated electrically so our concern is a large electricity bill!  But, you've-got-to-do-what-you've-got-to-do, right?

Seedlings need to be 'hardened off' - meaning they have to get used to outdoor temperatures gradually after being somewhat coddled in sun rooms and greenhouses.  We're looking to move into our hoop house (or high tunnel) shortly - as soon as we re-cover it!  The poly covering has been damaged beyond repair this winter, so first it must be stripped, a new roll purchased and then, on a calm day, the poly must be re-floated and attached.  That's a big chore (and a calm day can be hard to find in Manitoba)!  Then we can seed some greens directly and we'll move out some of our seedlings.  We have 'water walls', plastic 'teepees' whose walls can be filled with water.  These absorb heat during the day which they release at night, protecting the plants within.  This can also be done by using a group of plastic milk containers filled with water, surrounding each plant!  We're a little uneasy about planting out seedlings into our straw bale cold frame quite yet, because the temperature fluctuations are a little more extreme!  I think we will put some onion sets out there soon, though!  Busy, busy, busy - how about you?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Potting Up!

Time to move some of the little seedlings to larger homes.  We generally seed thickly: five rows to a flat, seeds pretty close together in a row.  That means that there's quickly lots of competition for root room, nutrients and light! We're potting up 'California Wonder' sweet peppers today, into the large six-packs, with plenty of root room for each seedling.  This is probably the only time we will pot these up, unless it snows in May.....

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We're using Sunshine Mix #1 - we use it for everything.  We put it in a bucket and moisten it, not dripping but quite damp!  We dump the moist mix onto the six packs, over-filling so that we can move the soil around, ensuring that each cell is full but not compacted.  We use a little wooden dowel sharpened, to work with the plants; a pencil would work well, too.  First, we use the dowel to lift a clump of plants, starting the process of separating the roots.  Always hold the seedlings by the leaves, not the stem!  This is super important: the little, delicate stem is the only way nutrition gets from the roots to the leaves and you absolutely don't want to crush it!  We use the dowel and our fingers to separate each plant, then, we make a hole in the six pack cell to receive the tiny root ball.  Stuff the roots down, firm the soil up gentle and one seedling transplanted!  We always try to match the size of seedlings in a six pack, partly because we may sell some of them and people like uniformity but also so that no one plant is shaded by taller plants from the outset!

Most of our seedlings we make sure to replant the baby at pretty much the same depth it was in its' original soil.  Tomatoes are one of the few plants you can sink in deeper and they will root from the buried stem, creating a hearty, healthy plant!  Most seedlings won't like that and may rot away in the part of the stem buried!  These flats of bell pepper will go into the warmest part of the seed starting unit for a few days, on the bottom shelf right over the heat mats!  This will help them root into their new homes.  Then they will quickly move up and out, under lights on one of the tables.  We also try to water all seedlings by gently soaking the soil, not the plant.  Less moisture on the plants' leaves means less chance of fungal or bacterial blights and blotches.  Humidity is not an issue, so we've never found the need for fans.  We also run our hands over the seedlings regularly, not only for the great fragrance but we've read that it encourages better rooting and sturdier stems - something like a breeze might do in the garden.  One flat of transplants - about five more to go to finish this flat of baby peppers!  Then, there's a second flat of peppers, a flat of assorted herbs and two flats of tomatoes ready to transplant!  It'll be a busy couple of days!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Planting A Straw Bale Hot House

Farmer Man laying the rows!
Since building our straw bale cold frames, we've been monitoring the temperature with an air thermometer.  We seem to have killed our soil thermometer by leaving it unprotected on a shelf in the greenhouse all winter - oops!  With the windows on all the time, daytime temperatures can be as much as fifteen degrees warmer than outside and nighttime temperatures are as much as five degrees warmer.  Very acceptable ranges, so time to plant!  We've decided to use all old seed for planting the first one, to use up the seed and because this is an experiment and it's highly possible that we may let things get too hot inside.  We're a little unsure of how this should work, in practice.  If we let it get too hot inside during the day will the seeds be 'unhappy'.  Or do we want to let it get really hot during the day so that the soil has lots of warmth going into the night?  The forecast is for nights around freezing, and we think that we are more worried about that then really hot temperatures during the day, for now.  We can, of course, remove the windows during the day; we're just afraid we're going to forget!

Doodles found his way into the unplanted bed!
So, we chose 'Nantes Half Long' carrots, 'Russian Red' kale, Claytonia or miner's lettuce, 'Renegade' spinach, arugula, 'Esmerelda' lettuce and Black Spanish radishes.  The carrots are 2010 seeds, everything else is 2011 seed.  Farmer Man raked the bed and then, using the rake, marked shallow rows. I followed behind laying the seed quite thickly.  First design flaw we noticed in the bed:  Farmer Man had taken a scoop of soil out to create a mound for the bed, so that the bed could be sloped to the south.  The back wall is almost four feet high, standing in the scooped out area, and it's a little hard to reach into the bed.  That's an easy fix, we just have to put a scoop of soil in that area.  Other than that, the bed works quite well, easy to reach from the sides and front!  We found the soil in the bed very dry so we'll have to keep on eye on moisture levels!  Farmer Man dug out almost every hose we own: as the irrigation system is not yet running water will be coming from the house.  Better than hauling water and watering cans, and we have no big use for them anywhere else, yet!  Now, nothing to do but wait, watch and water!  Perhaps, just perhaps, we'll be having a delightful, fresh salad in about a month!