Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bok bok! Our egg rainbow...

Another one of the "crops" we plan to offer starting next year is eggs. But we won't be giving people just any egg, like the white or light brown ones you see in the grocery store. Different breeds of chickens lay a whole assortment of different colours and hues, so we're planning on marketing our own eggs as "rainbow dozens". Our eggs are going to come in a wide range of colours, in a range of whites, browns, pinks, and greens. Right now, we have hens laying both green and brown eggs. You can see a picture of our four girls below.

From the left, you can see Peeper, our speckled Sussex. Next is Beetlejuice, a black Ameraucana, and Beaker, a partridge Ameraucana. Finally there is Chaunti, a partridge Chantecler, and a total babe at that!

We were especially excited about starting to keep Chantecler's on our farm because they are the only breed of chicken from Canada, and because it is classified as endangered by Rare Breeds Canada. We want to help keep the breed alive. They were bred in Quebec and Alberta to be exceptionally hardy in our cold climate and to keep laying more consistently throughout the dark winter months. We also like our green egg layers, the Ameraucana's for the same reasons. Well, also because they are beautiful creatures with great personalities!

Here are the breeds of chicken that will make up our flock this next year:

- Chantecler, Ameraucana,  Australorp, Sussex, Plymouth Rock, Maran, Brabanter

The Australorp, Sussex and Plymouth Rock are all brown egg layers, laying a eggs in a variety of shades of brown, the Maran is a breed of chicken that lays dark, chocolate brown eggs, and the Brabanter is a very rare breed in Canada that is one of the few cold hardy white egg layers. We will be getting all of the chickens for our farm from local breeders.

Now that our hens have started laying, we have all kinds of beautiful eggs to eat at home. The green ones, and some of the smaller brown ones in the picture are ours, along with some of John's eggs as well. Between our two farms, we hope to start offering our egg CSA share sometime around January 2012.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Anna's wheat baby and the future

So, backtracking a little here.

Why grow a quarter acre of wheat and do all the work by hand? Back in the spring of 2010, I felt a need to try something new...something exciting...challenging...something I've never done before. Wheat was the answer. For many reasons. I have no experience with growing wheat, or growing grain period. It is also a sustainable thing to do. I wanted to eat a slice of bread for breakfast and know that I seeded, weeded,and somehow magically harvested and milled this grain myself. How satisfying that would be indeed. I wanted to know exactly how much work this would be.

As described in the earlier post, it ended up being quite the adventure. What, you have to stook the grain? What's a stook? How do you get all that other stuff seperated from the grain? How do I keep the fan from blowing everything everywhere including the grain?? That's not how its supposed to work! And these sunflower seeds? There's more sunflower seeds in there than wheat (long story)...

Yes, there were a lot of lessons to be learned. And to be honest, I had my moments. Luckily Daniel is ever so patient, and he adopted this project with enough passion and gusto to match mine. So, with his endurance and my determination (well, and a lot of help) we ended up with a whole 350 kg of lovingly grown wheat- that is perhaps a bit frost bitten and not the cleanest yet. But its ours. And we have a hilarious story to boot.

This is the first step of a long journey. Not to get too sentimental, but seriously. This year, 2011, we hope to expand to a couple acres. We will be growing a special variety of wheat known as Red Fife. It is an heritage variety that used to be the most important wheat variety of Canada. A fellow young farmer of Alberta, Mike, suggested it to us. (Ps check out his awesome website) It supposedly grows really funky and looks nothing like the perfectly uniform commercial wheats you see today, but its flavour is supposed to be exceptional. We can't wait!

Our First Farm Venture!

This summer, the two of us began our first venture as farmers, wheat! Neither of us had much of an idea how to actually go through the whole process, but we wanted to see for ourselves what it really takes to start with planting a wheat kernel in the ground, then harvesting the finished grain, threshing and cleaning it, and finally milling it into fresh whole wheat flour to make tasty tasty bread!

The first part was easy enough. Plant it, weed it, and wait...

Then, in October, we had to figure out how to harvest all that grain.

We were able to get it harvested by an incredibly large swathing machine that cut down the whole patch in a couple of minutes. It only took that long because it had to turn around to make a second pass. Then we loaded all the wheat sheaths into large wooden crates and hauled it all up to the barn, 14 crates in all!

We decided to give hand threshing a try. We had to break the grain heads off of the straw, and rub the heads across a screen to separate the kernels from the chaff, and then drop everything in front of a fan so it could blow the chaff free. It was very hard work, and took 7 of us all afternoon just to get 14kg of grain threshed. This was maybe 5 percent of everything we had. And we wouldn't be able to keep all our friends if we kept asking them to thresh grain everytime we saw them.

Back in the field after the wheat had been cut, we had sort of dismissed the idea of "stooks", deeming them unimportant. Little did we know! Normally, once the crops are cut down the grain sheaths are tied in bundles, or stooks, that stand upright in the field so that they can properly dry. This also aids the threshing process (when done by hand) because all the grain heads have the same orientation. We ended up wasting a lot of time and grain getting our messy, non stooked sheaths onto the table and rearranging them so the grain heads all faced the same direction. Next time, we stook!!

At this rate, it would take us until sometime the next year to get all the work done. So we borrowed a combine...
And we didn't fill it by much. That's all our grain managed to fill the hopper up to on the machine:

It was pretty crazy. We'd spend ten minutes forking wheat into the front of the combine, then Stan Mills,a great support and resource we had through this whole experience, would quickly turn the machine on and off to thresh it. Each time the combine required a whole two seconds to suck back what had taken us so long to load. This way, we were able to take all those crates of grain, and reduce them to a satisfying 360kg. Now all we had to do was clean it. By hand...with screens:

But in the end, we've been able to turn a field of grass into fresh, whole wheat flour:

This has really been an educating experience for us. It might seem like grain farming should be pretty simple and achievable, but it takes so much knowledge and equipment, making it a fairly hard industry to start in. But it is so satisfying! We have exciting plans for this season...