The weeks have been flying by for us this spring, as is typical for any market farmer. A new farm, a new baby, and a new heated greenhouse have ensured that we have been on a pretty steep learning curve this year. Add to that increasingly unpredictable spring weather, and it would be enough to drive many away from the seemingly ideal world of small-scale diversified market farming. But we have committed ourselves to this worthwhile cause, and trudge on we must–even if these April snows keep falling.

Another rainy week does allow for a few of the things to happen that would normally be pushed to the bottom of the to-do list at this time of the year. One of these things of course is a newsletter, so here we are.

Planting continues in the greenhouse, as early zucchini, cucumber and eggplant are ready to be transplanted into the 3 remaining greenhouse beds, to join the tomatoes and peppers that have been planted out for the past month, and are growing steadily. Successions of seedlings are started every week to be eventually planted out in the field, as soon as the rain stops long enough to let us to work the soil again. While we have been focused on early season crops like lettuce, kale, and green onions for a while, my planting schedule is telling me that we have now approached melon starting season! Every year this signifies to me a shift in focus towards all of the summer crops that will start filling the fields as soon as the weather starts to settle, and an indication that things are about to get even busier! 

We have managed to get a few of the early season field plantings underway, thanks to all of those early beds we prepped last summer/fall, and covered with silage tarp to keep off the winter rain. Salad mix greens, spinach, lettuce, radish, turnip, snap peas, chard, beets, kale and kohlrabi have been planted out, and have thus far been weathering all of the storms we have had lately. Another big planting task we have completed is the storage onions, which get planted once per season are really enjoying all of this rain we have had lately. These also got in nice and early thanks to our prepared beds, and have not been drowning due to the beds being raised a few inches above the path level.

We have been really enjoying spending all of this cold, rainy, spring weather safely protected in our new heated greenhouse, and I have to say I feel a bit of a disconnect this year from the true season, as it has felt like late spring/early summer to us for over a month now.

Our seedlings are also really enjoying the mild climate and diffuse natural light provided by the plastic structure, and the promise of ripe tomatoes in May is very encouraging. But greenhouses do have their downsides, as we have discovered all too soon. Besides the soaring propane bills that almost keep us up at night wondering if the tomatoes and peppers really need to be “that” warm to thrive, is the almost immediate onslaught of insect pests that seem to appear overnight in numbers that can no longer be controlled by finger squishing patrols.

For us this year, it is aphids. They quickly got out of control, and began to multiply and spread throughout the greenhouse, attempting to devour everything in sight. Thankfully our tomatoes and peppers were big and healthy, and have so far withstood the feeding pressure, but our earliest try at cucumbers did not fare so well. We have since released ladybugs by the thousand, along with some beneficial wasps and generalist predators to take care of the aphids for us, but time will tell what kind of long term damage they may have done to some of our seedlings. I feel like any new greenhouse owner should be given a welcome package of beneficial insects and host plants, to start them off in the right direction.

CSA SIGN-UP NOW OPEN!

We are now accepting sign-ups for the Summer 2019 season of our weekly veggie box program. Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program helps us farmers make sure the veggies we grow this season will find a good home (hopefully on your dinner table!), and also helps us cover all of our early season costs associated with producing these veggies.

We offer two different “share” sizes, a full share designed to feed a family of four, and a small share, to feed a family of two, and offer full choice over what goes into your share each week. Members will come to the farm to pick up their shares Tuesdays between 4-8pm, and will choose 15 veggies (full share) or 8 veggies (small share) from our display tables. Payment is due at the start of the CSA season, but as a benefit members will receive a discount above retail prices found at the market.



Besides all of the seeding, transplanting, bed prep, tomato trellising, watering, weeding, and tarp moving we have been doing in the last month or so, we have also been busy harvesting, washing and selling our early season goodies at the downtown Kitchener Farmers Market for the past 7 Saturdays, and Jesse will be there every week from now on to hook you up with all of your local veggie needs until our CSA program starts in June. So far this spring we have garlic (last years crop), loads of big juicy spinach, kale, chard, arugula, salad mix, radish and baby turnip, with lots more variety on the way in the next few weeks. Stop by and see us every Saturday, 7am to 2pm inside the main market building.

Want to keep up with all of the changes happening here on the farm? Join our newsletter mailing list here:

Spring weather doesn’t seem to be quite on its way, but we have been busy this past month getting our heat and hot water working in the new greenhouse, and starting the first of our spring and summer crops which will make their way to market, and fill out CSA veggie boxes.
 Even though this past February has been a particularly cold one, we have been spending most of our days with our hands already in the soil, preparing our greenhouse growing beds, and setting up our new propagation area, where we will grow most of our transplants once we raise the temperature a bit more.

We installed PEX tubing at a depth of 8 inches below the soil in our growing beds, which are circulating hot water using a tankless water heater as a way to heat the soil and supply heat right where the plants need it, at their roots, instead of heating the entire greenhouse air space through the winter. This supplemental hydronic heat should also allow us to plant out tomatoes and peppers a bit earlier without shocking the plants with cold soil. We will still heat the greenhouse air once the tomatoes and peppers are planted out, but we should be able to lower the temperature a bit, and hopefully save on propane costs.

We are also using this heated water function to create a heated bench for our tomato and pepper seedlings as they grow by running the PEX tubing on top of an insulated table.

Our basement light racks are still filling up with newly sprouted trays of seeds, including perennial herbs and beneficial insect attracting flowers which will eventually make their way into our perennial orchard strips. And this upcoming week we will be making a big seeding push as many of our early brassicas like cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, as well as Swiss chard and beet will be started in our seedling germination chamber. These will be grown out under lights on racks for a few weeks before making their way to the greenhouse propagation area to continue a few more weeks of growth, waiting for the snow to melt and for spring to officially arrive.


Onions were the first seeds we planted this year, and are hardy enough to grow in the main greenhouse area, which we keep heated to 4 degrees C.

CSA SIGN-UP NOW OPEN!

We are now accepting sign-ups for the Summer 2019 season of our weekly veggie box program. Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program helps us farmers make sure the veggies we grow this season will find a good home (hopefully on your dinner table!), and also helps us cover all of our early season costs associated with producing these veggies.

We offer two different “share” sizes, a full share designed to feed a family of four, and a small share, to feed a family of two, and offer full choice over what goes into your share each week. Members will come to the farm to pick up their shares Tuesdays between 4-8pm, and will choose 15 veggies (full share) or 8 veggies (small share) from our display tables. Payment is due at the start of the CSA season, but as a benefit members will receive a discount above retail prices found at the market.


Our Summer CSA weekly veggie box program starts June 11th, and runs for 18 weeks.

An example of a mid-late summer Full Share CSA box

All Summer CSA veggies are harvested fresh the day of pick-up, ensuring you are getting veggies at the peak of their flavour and nutritional value.

We have been seeding and transplanting into the beds we have prepped in the greenhouse in anticipation of attending the Kitchener Farmer’s Market in a few weeks. We will be bringing our over-wintered spinach, and hopefully some radishes and salad turnips, with lettuce mix and other salad greens following in the weeks to come. Come and see us inside the main market building at 300 King St. E in downtown Kitchener if you live in the area.

Want to keep up with all of the changes happening here on the farm? Join our newsletter mailing list here:

It is the start of a new year, and we have experienced some major changes here on the farm!

Most notable is the arrival of our first born, Harry, entering our lives on November 15th of 2018. We have been very much enjoying the somewhat quieter winter scene getting to know each other, and adapting to our new normal. But of course, life on the farm continues, and Harry has already had a taste of things to come, helping Meghan weed the winter spinach in the hoophouse.

And of course, another huge improvement to our farm is the (near) completion of our large heated greenhouse!! This cathedral will provide fresh tender greens and salad crops all winter, grow our seedlings and transplants in the spring, and will be a safe place to get a head start on our summer trellised crops of tomato, pepper and cucumber. We are still working at getting the heating sources installed, and look forward to spending some sunny afternoons out of the cold wind, getting the soil into growing shape ahead of this year’s crops.

Our sloping land presented a bit of a challenge, but in the end Robert and his crew were able to make it happen. This greenhouse measures 30′ across, and 148′ long.

We have also planted the first of our fruit trees and shrubs into what will become our perennial orchard strips. We will plant these 12′ wide windrows with mixed fruiting trees and shrubs, perennial herbs and flowers, bioaccumulators, and beneficial insect attracting companion plants in order to establish biodiverse windbreak strips, all mulched with wood chips. We hope these orchard strips will eventually flourish, and provide habitat and food sources for all of the various pollinating species, as well as insects beneficial to protecting our vegetable crops. The perennial root systems, wood chip mulch and undisturbed soil will act as a mycorrhizal fungi reserve, further supporting the health and success of our neighbouring annual vegetable crops.

We also received our brand new logo (featured at the top of the page) courtesy of the very talented Amanda DeVries (http://www.amandadevries.com), and are excited about having our own visual identity to distinguish us at the market. We hope this symbol will become familiar to you in the future as we grow!

Want to keep up with all of the changes happening here on the farm? Join our newsletter mailing list here: http://eepurl.com/dhTf1z

Seed starting, greenhouse preparations, raised beds.

It is officially fall here on the farm, but seed starting and planting are just ramping up for us this year. The first seeds to germinate in the field were a cover cop of oats and winter peas. We planted these into a few of the field blocks we had tarped, and then worked with the rotary plow, having added some composted manure in order to give the cover crop enough fertility to get a good start on growth. This combo of oats and peas will not survive through the winter, but will die back once the weather really turns, leaving a mulch of plant residue to protect the soil from the water and wind erosion that happens to bare soil over winter. By spring the mulch will be mostly decomposed, and  the field ready to be worked for spring cops, adding a bit of organic matter to the soil.

We are also currently filling our basement with seedlings destined for our future greenhouse. It will still be a few weeks before the structure itself goes up, but we are starting some cool season greens like lettuce, and kale, and green onions ahead of time so they can be transplanted into the greenhouse beds as soon as the structure is complete. We are also doing a trial of overwintering onions, which will be transplanted outside into raised beds in a few weeks.

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Mixed lettuce growing steady under LED lights in the basement, with onion seedlings in the background.

The greenhouse we are building is an integral part of our plan to provide local vegetables year round to our community, and is also a fairly large investment for our first year in operation here on Sweaburg Rd. We are quickly coming to the end of the planning phase, and all of the elements are starting to come together to make this project a reality.

Just this week we had a larger diameter water line installed, and brought to the greenhouse location, so we will have year-round water access, and we have also been working hard at grading and levelling the site to reduce some of the slope that exists pretty much everywhere on our farm.

This greenhouse will be minimally heated through the winter using a hydronic radiant heating system to warm the growing beds directly via hot water sent through PEX pipe buried in the soil. We hope to minimize the energy and fuel needed to keep our more tender winter greens alive by only heating their immediate surroundings instead of the entire greenhouse structure.

We have big plans, but there is quite alot to do to make our plan happen before winter sets in.

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Probably not so exciting to non-farmers, but this frost free hydrant will allow us year round water access in our greenhouse.

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Jesse got to star in his own episode of “Mighty Machines” last weekend, using a rented excavator to dig up topsoil from a future pond site to add to the greenhouse base.

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The back end of the future greenhouse site slopes a bit too much so we had to move quite a bit of soil to raise it up.

We are continuing to plug away at setting up our infrastructure, and are very excited about all of the very big things happening in the next few months!

Want to keep up with all of the changes happening here on the farm? Join our newsletter mailing list here: http://eepurl.com/dhTf1z

We are finally breaking new ground.

The past few weeks have been pretty exciting for us in terms of physical progress on the farm. We got ahold of our new small-scale implements, and had our first chance to work the soil we have been “solarizing” with large black silage tarps for the past month or so. The perennial grass was dry and brown, which made it alot easier to work up, and should also mean that it will not be coming back to haunt us. We purchased a BCS 2-wheel walking tractor (pictured with Jesse above), and have so far been impressed with the versatility and power coming from such a small package.

To do this primary sod-breaking, we are employing a Berta rotary plow, which looks like a big drill bit for the soil. It takes an 8-10″ strip of soil and throws it to the right, in order to work the soil to a 12-14″ depth. This is quite an aggressive soil-working activity, and we are only using it to break this new ground for the first time. From here on, we will be using minimal tillage practices in order to preserve our soil structure and microbiome. After our fields are opened up, this tool can then be used to help us create our raised beds, without having to do all of that digging by hand, and will make a handy trencher for planting potatoes.

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This is what the soil looks like after one pass with the rotary plow. Pretty nifty!

We also took on a task that at times during the weekend long process, seemed impossible. We moved a ramshackle old shed from behind one barn to beside another. Sounds easy enough, but oh boy, was it a test in patience and ingenuity.

As any other fellow market gardeners out there know, success in this business requires a bit of know-how…….in just about every aspect of life. Besides all of the necessary knowledge one needs about soil health and fertility, seed starting and plant propagation, irrigation, harvest and storage practices, sales, marketing, and accounting, there are so many other types of jobs that just need to get done somehow. In the end, the shed travelled with its front end riding the mower deck on the tractor (supported by chains and straps to keep from tearing itself apart), and its back end rolling on logs, replaced every few feet.

Sure, we probably could have put up a brand new shed in the time it took us to move this one to its current location, but every penny saved counts, and this will make a great spot closer to the garden plots to keep our hand tools, and possibly house a few stray kittens.

While we appreciate having a few good mousers on staff here at the farm, we arrived at this property to find about 5 resident mama cats, with 3 or 4 litters in tow. We are currently reaching out to “Change for Paws” (Woodstock) in order to help control this growing population. Any donations of cat food to help keep this colony healthy are appreciated.

After we arrived on the farm property at the end of May, one of the first things we did was divide and plant the ancient rhubarb that had been growing at the old farm property for decades. We weren’t sure the 3 plants we brought with us would survive the trip, after having already produced an abundance of stalks earlier in the spring. But, we divided them neatly into 26 root chunks, added composted manure, covered the grass around them with cardboard, and the surrounding area with 6″ of wood chips, and hoped for the best.

And luckily enough, they made it! The strip they are planted in will be filled with fruit trees, and beneficial insect attractant plants to become one of our perennial orchard strips, acting as windbreaks between veggie plots.

We think having the thick wood chip mulch around each plant kept the soil cool and moist, enabling them to survive the heat wave we encountered just after they were planted.

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Milky Way Farm 2018 Newsletter #1

Welcome to our very first newsletter here at Milky Way Farm!! Since making the move from our old farmstead on Plank Line, we have been very busy settling in to our new location at 484872 Sweaburg Rd., just south of Woodstock, ON. Please visit our website to find out more about who we are, and what we do. Link here: https://milkywayfarm.ca/

We recently made a portable rickshaw style coop for our new laying hens (seen above), and have been enjoying the taste of fresh pasture raised eggs.

The property has been a hobby horse farm in permanent pasture for the past 30+ years, so it will require a bit of work to turn the pasture into the semi-permanent raised beds we will be growing on for the 2019 season. Part of our plan to terminate the perennial pasture grass includes laying down large plastic tarps (silage tarp) in order to kill off the grass, without the use of any herbicides, or repeated tillage. This is in an attempt to preserve the soil structure, and retain the organic matter in the decomposing grass and roots. The process takes about a month during the heat of summer, or a few months during the colder seasons.

We have also been hard at work planning for the 2019 season. We have big ideas for our first full season that include a building a new permanent greenhouse, digging an irrigation pond, converting a storage shed into a veggie wash station and cold room, planting perennial herb and orchard windbreak strips, and designing the layout of the farm property to best use the small space we have. Our entire property is only 4.5 acres, so every square foot counts.

So far it only exists in map form, but we will keep you posted on the development of these projects as they progress.

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Farm layout showing growing bed blocks with orchard windbreaks in between fields, greenhouse, and pond locations, with the veggie wash and store station in a central location.

This past week we have also been back to the old farm to harvest our garlic planted in the fall of 2017. In total we pulled around 2100 bulbs, half of which will become our planting stock this fall. The other half will be available for sale when we start attending the Woodstock Farmers Market in January of 2019. Look out for us there at the market next winter, or contact us directly if you would like some garlic sooner.

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This hardneck variety is called Music, and is drying nicely in the shed.

Stay tuned for more updates as our preparations continue, and please let your friends know about us on social media! Fresh, local, ecologically grown vegetables will be available all-year long from Milky Way Farm in Oxford County starting in January 2019!!