Thursday, 30 June 2016

buying seeds for winter garden


We picked up a copy of the Saanich Fair booklet yesterday.  I thought it would be fun to enter a lot of things in the fair.  Not so much to win a prize (although it would be nice to break even) but with the idea of being community spirited by adding to the display.  I have some yarn ready to enter, but I thought it would be even more fun to include some squash.  I am very excited, after all, about my squash breeding project and how well it's doing already.  The problem is, there isn't a category for plant breeding.  Fair enough.  The squash categories are all well-established varieties and the closest I can get is cinderella type... which I might enter.

I want to get the word out.  More and more I feel that amateur plant breeding is an important step towards local food security.  Professional plant breeders have to meet market demands, which aren't necessarily the qualities that small producers desire.  Since we wouldn't have to ship our produce long distances and often harvest by hand, that leaves amateurs to focus on qualities like taste, thriving in local conditions, and most importantly, beauty.

Here I am, growing squash with zero and minimal irrigation (two different patches) on the dryest part of our farm, with nothing more than plant breeding and a bit of permaculture technique for soil retention, and I have gorgeous, successful, squash.  Why aren't there more gardeners pursuing projects like this?




Angel the goose died this afternoon.  From the symptoms (many of which I didn't describe here because they were sad) and on examining her after death, we feel that it was damage to the neck that killed her.

Angel really was my favourite lately as she's the only one that had any respect and sympathy for the chickens.  She would often sit with Henny Penny and the other 'wild ones' and raise the alarm if there was a sky monster.  The other geese are far more interested in geese things.

I read at a hatchery website a while back that domestic geese can live for 100 years and some have lived for 120 years.  It said that some geese can lay eggs until they are 80 years old - I can't imagine ovulating for 79 years.  That makes geese pretty darn amazing!

The owner of the dog got in touch and apologized.  I'm glad the dog was reunited with its owner as it is a lovely dog.



Afterwards, we did some running around.  One of the stops was to the local plant nursery in hopes that they would have the latest West Coast Seeds planting guide.  They did.  This year's winter gardening planting guide is much better than their previous ones.  It actually came out early enough in the year to be useful and has a much-improved chart.  Another bonus, is it includes some bits about cooking and using different varieties.

Oh look, and they also had some seeds.  I got some...


  • Tronchuda Kale Seeds (F1) - for my landrace kale project.  This is also a F1 variety which is really exciting for a plant breeder.  F1 means it's the first generation of a cross between two different varieties.  For seed savers, this means that the seeds from this hybrid variety won't grow true to type; however, for a plant breeder, it means someone has already done a bunch of work for us and we just have to save the seeds, and then select the traits we like best from the descendants.
  • Red Ball Brussels Sprouts (OP) - They have a red tint and I noticed that red tinted leaves often have a slightly bitter flavour and are less attractive to bugs.
  • 2 types of Komatsuna: Komatsuna (OP) and Red Komatsuna (F1)

At the nursery, I saw to my dismay that every single isle (even the outside ones I saw) had a chemical for sale.  Fertiliser, Mericle Grow, Pesticides, &c.  I felt confused.  Why would anyone choose to waste money on such things?  Sure they damage the soil or something, but that isn't really what confuses me about these garden chemicals.  What confuses me is that why anyone would feel the desire to toss away their money on them.  The sayings about an 'idiot tax' and a 'fool and his money', spring to mind.

It isn't until adulthood that I encountered this kind of product.  As a kid, I remember learning to grow food from my father.  He learned to grow food from his grandfather (my grandpa was away at war). My great grandfather was called Boy Sid, and he was the last of our line to farm before agriculture chemicals came along.  Much of what we do on the farm here comes from Boy Sid's wisdom.

By the time I was a child, my father was using some soil amendmentsc from the shop.  Composted manure and lime are the two I remember.  Things grew just fine.  Here, on this farm, we often leave at least some bugs on the plant so that it will attract bug-eating critters.  It's fun to watch the woodpeckers eat aphids off the plum leaves.  I never knew they did that, but all spring, it seemed to be their main diet.

Seeing so many chemicals in the store and knowing now how much harm they do, I felt overwhelmed by it.  Like it was a symbol of what is going wrong with humanity.  I don't feel like my actions are doing any good.  Should I simply be happy that people are trying to grow their own food?  I find all this very discouraging.



We also picked up some cucumber starts to fill an empty space in the greenhouse.



New chickens, 2 moths old, and their creap.  It's a special place with food and water that the young chickens can get in and out of, but the big chickens cannot.


Harvested some lettuce I found under a tomato plant.  I forgot they were there.  What a nice surprise.


Hornets nest!  So glad to see them back.  These little guys are fantastic, even if one did get angry at me for getting too close while taking the photo.


Geese are starting to moult today.

Angel the goose is doing MUCH worse this morning


Angel the goose is doing MUCH worse this morning.  She won't stop shaking and shows strong fear signs.  She hasn't eaten anything but drank a little water overnight.  I'm doing all I can, but we will probably loose her.  I'm really upset about this.  An animal dying for stupid reasons is bad enough, but one being afraid at the end; breaks my heart. Today all plans are canceled and my main focus is on getting Angle better.



Wednesday, 29 June 2016

smashing barley

Harvested garlic today.  Very disappointing.  Every year the bulbs get smaller and smaller, this year only 5 were large enough to bother with.  On the upside, the rest make nice compost.

This fall, I'll invest in some new garlic varieties.  I've heard that Salt Spring Seeds often has good garlic.



Once the garlic was harvested, I applied a generous helping of llama berries and some lime to the soil, cromed it in.  Now, to decide on what to plant there.  Empty soil needs seeds!  What to plant there?  It's next to the cabbages, so I don't want anything of that family.  Garlic was just there, so no onions or leeks.  Carrots are an option.  So are snow peas, beets, and swiss chard.  I could also go with a fast growing green like mustard, but that might be a bit too close to cabbage and the bugs could transfer over.  I've always wanted to try fenugreek.

Another thing to think about is that this part of the garden is just about under the drip line of some conifers. The trees drop their needles on the plants when the wind blows, which makes washing the greens more difficult.  So I don't really want winter greens like chard or kale growing there.




Spent a fair bit of time near Angel (goose) today.  We put a run around her so she didn't have to share her food and water with the other animals.  Angel won't eat, won't come out of her house.  She acts frightened.  She's had something to drink at least, so I put some electrolytes and vitamins in her water.  We don't know if she will make it or not.  I was told once that geese get really depressed when their nest is disturbed that close to hatching, they stop eating and die.  Even if the physical damage isn't much, we could still lose her.  Makes no sense to me, but somehow I think I need to cheer her up.  How does one cheer up a depressed goose?




Barley bashing day today.



This is the second harvest on my landrace barley project.  The goal is to create a barley that will grow well in a Fukuoka style, no-till field.  I'm bulking up on seeds.  The first year I tossed together all different types of barley and saved every seed they grew.  Nature did the selecting for me.  This year, I'm doing some selection myself.  I'm selecting for ease of processing.  A very important quality in any grain I grow.

It looks like I'll have enough seed to try succession planting.  I'll plant a section every couple of weeks starting probably at the end of August.  I want a grain that matures in May, not June, so maybe an unusual planting schedule will do the trick.  Otherwise, I'll start selecting for early ripeness.

My landrace barley goals:
-grows well Fukuoka style - but will take a few years of bulking up seed before I can start experimenting with this in any great amount
-is beautiful.
-matures early (may is best)
-is hardy and can withstand our rainfall (or lack thereof) patterns.


To separate the barley from the straw, I'm bashing it on the inside of a  (clean) garbage can. Later, I'll find some way to thresh it, then winnow away the chaf.  The straw is probably as useful as the grain.  I could make a hat (tempting) or basket, or sandals, or rain coat, or oven, or stove, or lots of other things.  I can also use it as mulch, or bedding for the hens, or... It's a long list, one day I'll take the time to write it all out.




stray dog contained

First thing, get out of bed, glanced out the window, there I see it.  Our interloper.




Running around the yard, trying to get a good photo of it, I managed to chase it into an empty pasture and lock it in.


While I was following it around the yard, it lead me to the briar patch (it's full of blackberries).  Looking at how the grass is worn, it goes there quite a bit and maybe has made it's home there.  It doesn't seem to know the way out again (we think it came in under the back gate, so we left that place open in hopes that it would leave the same way).

Dog has been living rough but looks otherwise healthy and alert.  When the animal control person arrived, the dog came right to her.  The dog has been impounded and the owner will have to pay a fine to have it back.  I don't feel great about that, but then again, we suspect the dog of doing almost $100 worth of damage, which we won't get back, so in a way, it's good the owner will have to pay a fee for letting the dog run loose and not having a collar.  Maybe the owner can be more conscientious in future.



The authorities need to know if the dog should be labeled dangerous or not.  If the dog is considered dangerous, then it changes things for the owners and puts higher requirements on how the dog should be restrained.  The dog seems lovely, but lost and hungry, so I don't really want it to be labeled 'dangerous' however, we also suspect if of having damaged our livestock, so trying to find a balance.  Here's what we wrote:

Black and white, border collie shaped dog.

We suspect the dog arrived 24th or 25th of June because the livestock were behaving nervously and on Saturday (25th) we found a dead duckling.  No puncture wounds on the duckling, but it looked like the neck was damaged/snapped (shaken, not stirred).

The first time we saw the dog was on the evening of Monday, 27th Jun, 2016. It was disturbing the goose nest and removing eggs.  We chased the dog away from the goose and it's house.  The goose was frightened and a bit disorientated.  The next day, the goose was lethargic and showing signs of not seeing out of the right eye.  No signs of puncture wounds or blood, but swelling on the right side of the neck & head, and flies interested in the right wing, so we believe the symptoms are due to trauma.  We cannot say for certain that the dog caused harm to the goose, as we did not see it interact directly with the goose.  However, it would be uncharacteristic of the goose not to defend its clutch.

Morning of Jun 29th, 2016, the dog went into the an empty pasture and we closed the gate to contain it.  Called Saanich police and you know the result.

Although we suspect the dog damaged the duckling and goose, we cannot say with certainty that it did.  The only damage we can directly attribute to it is the disturbing of the goose nest which prevented the goose from returning to her eggs which were only a week or so away from hatching.


Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Purple snow peas

Moved the sheep first thing this morning, from the front pasture to the back.  It's still lovely and green there, which is surprising given how quickly everything is browning up.  It makes it much easier to feed them weeds from the back garden.

A woman stopped by this morning wanting to buy wool for Cowichan knitting.  We hope to shear the lambs in early Sep, so we asked her to stop by again then.  There is a chance we can work out a trade, which in many ways is what we like best.  I'll have to learn to spin thick yarn again, so this should be interesting.



While weeding the back garden this morning, I notice the crus galli was looking exceptionally good.  Maybe I can give another try at domesticating it.  There is a lot of potential there.



Two hens identified as being antagonistic towards the new arrivals have been separated from the flock and moved to the top of the dinner list.



First of the plums are just about ready :) and out of reach :(




Teasel is coming into bloom.





Japanese Snow Peas are drying down, almost ready to harvest seed.  These are edible pod peas good for snacking and cooking, the leaves make a tender salad green and the dry peas are good in soup.



Speaking about Japanese snow peas.  In the middle of winter, I planted some in the greenhouse for an early crop.  These ones are drying in the house for seed.  While shelling them, I found one pod with purple peas inside the pod.  Outside of the pod looks normal, but inside, beautiful!  You can see the normal colour pea at the bottom of the photo.


I'll keep these special peas separate and see what grows from them.  It's possible this might become something amazing... or it could be a dud.  I won't know until I start growing.



K's garden is coming along nicely.




Landrace scarlet runner - seed from Joseph Lofthouse.




Goose named Angelle was acting a bit odd today.  Frightened and sitting near the greenhouse.  No interest in food.  A little sluggish.  About 5pm, we noticed she couldn't see out of her right eye.  She's very frightened and uncoordinated.  Set up a house for her next to the greenhouse where she feels safe.  Gave her water with electrolytes.  Right side of the head is swollen.  Suspect trama.  Flies are very interested in her,especially her right wing.

night of the dog, super early squash

After dusk last night we saw a dog running around our yard.   Border collie shape, black with white splotch near or on its head.  It was quite dark out and this dog was quick.  Don't know if it's domesticated or a wild dog, but we are NOT happy about it.

About three days ago, the animals started acting different.  Angle the goose was especially upset.   One duckling was found dead about the same time.  During the day yesterday some of Angle's eggs were tossed outside her nest.  Not like anything we've seen before.  If it had been a raven, it would have had a hole in it.  No, this was something bigger.  They weren't eaten, just laying about around the place.  Then I saw the dog digging about in her house and I understood.



The squash seeds that went in the manure pile last March are coming ready.  This is my second year for my landrace Cucurbita maxima squash.  



Weighing in at over 4 kilograms, this squash feels and sounds ready to harvest.  I accidentally broke the stem yesterday, so it's now in the kitchen.  I'll probably leave it there a week or more before eating so that it can sweeten up.  

I suspect this is a mix of First Taste and sweet meat Oregon Homesteader that I got from Carol Deppe.  There were other squash varieties in the mix including several seeds saved from grocery store squash.

Grocery store buttercup squash was $2 a pound yesterday, Japanese squash, almost twice that.  

My goals for this landrace are: 

  • yummy!
  • promiscuous pollenation
  • big seeds
  • frost tolerant when young so can be planted in early April or march
  • big flesh, small seed cavity
  • about 2-kilo fruit
  • vigorous vine growth style - no bush squash for me.
  • direct seed in the ground instead of transplanting
  • vigorous root growth and drought tolerance
  • good keeper
  • a variety of colours




Found another move flax flower, marked the plant.  These two plants have very open anthers unlike most of the blue flowers which have closely spaced anthers.  Lofthouse writes about the flower structure here.



Flax is starting to dry down nicely.



Safflowers are starting to flower in the kitchen garden.



Nacton Farm Journal

Nacton Farm is a small, family farm situated off the left coast of Canada.  Named after the house where my grandfather was born, up until last year, we had three generations living under one roof.  Alas, my grandfather has passed on, but we still farm in his memory.

A lot of what we do here is practice farming.  We experiment with methods and ideas to see if they will work in our location.  The goal is to create a holistic system that is far beyond modern day ideas of organic.  Moving forward with permaculture inspiration combined with historical methods and knowledge.

Our focuses (at the moment, they are always changing)

  • subsistence farming - a step towards self-sufficiency
  • community building
  • restorative and sustainable agriculture
  • Permaculture
  • Low input staple crops
  • plant breeding and landrace gardening to create varieties that are resilient, genetically diverse, and grow well in local conditions without irrigation or additional inputs.
  • geese, chickens, ducks
  • sheep and wool
  • textiles
  • fibre flax landrace project - seeking seeds!

The thing is, we do so much that we really should keep records.  I've tried before, but alas, I suck.  However, I'm pretty good at maintaining a blog.  Let's try that.  Observations, things we do, things we learn, and anything else that catches our eye.  That's what this blog is for.  

I firmly believe that knowledge should be free, or at least for no more than the price of a library card (which most of us pay with our taxes whether we use it or not).  It is for that reason that I'm making this blog open to the public.   Please feel free to comment.  If you like what we are doing, please admire the 'Donate' button on the side of the page.  

We also sell and trade things like yarn and seed.  

Welcome.