Archive for the 'Texada' Category

Bye, for now

By Tom Read

We're off on a new land-based adventure called Slow Farm, which also happens to be our home. So we'll see you sometime in the near future. Bye, for now!

I started this journal six years ago to provide readers a sense of our lives on Texada Island. Aside from occasional opinionated forays into local and global politics, I feel that I’ve mostly accomplished that purpose. Thus, regular readers may have noticed an inward-facing trend in recent journal topics, with more entries focused on our lives at Slow Farm and less coverage of the wider Texada community.

I may not be writing about the community quite as much as before, but the realities of our community have a direct impact on our lives. One reality, for example, is that the real estate market on Texada has drastically contracted since the fall of 2006. Linda and I have watched our joint livelihood as realtors gradually fade away, so we’ve decided to embark on a new approach to economic survival that fits with our way of life on the island.

As you might surmise from the many Journal entries on gardening and livestock raising during the past few years, we have a strong interest in micro-farming. So we’re giving it a try. I’ll take the lead “in the field” while Linda looks after administration and marketing. We’re also looking forward to working with a lively group of younger partners who share our passion for local, sustainable agriculture.

Given our new direction, there doesn’t seem much need to continue writing Tom’s Texada Journal. But we are interested in documenting our experiences in growing Slow Farm. Linda will take the lead in that effort, which we’ll launch online in the next few months. I’m not sure yet what this new entity will be called, but it will probably have the words “Slow Farm” in the title.

Before saying goodbye to TTJ, I’d like to thank those readers who took the time to provide feedback from time to time. I’m also grateful to David Parkinson for giving me the opportunity to cross-post at Slow Coast. It’s been a great pleasure, and your comments and support have been much appreciated. Thanks, and ‘bye for now!

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The Long Field, Part 2

By Tom Read

Here’s how the Long Field looked last week at about 4:30 in the afternoon. The fence is complete, and most of the plowing is done, too.

Back in May I wrote about a field revival project we have underway here at Slow Farm on Texada Island, and now I’d like to report on our progress.

Since my posting titled The Long Field, Part 1 on May 25, we’ve built a deer fence using a combination of local cedar fence posts and imported fence wire (see photo). This sounds easy, but it required about two months of intermittent but laborious effort.  There’s nothing particularly special about this fence — except that I’m very proud of it because the posts are firmly planted and the wire actually got stretched quite tight and evenly thanks to lots of good teamwork and careful use of the winch on our quad. So far, it works!

Next, our plan to use pigs for cultivation of this field got dropped, because we realized it wouldn’t work. The pigs came to us in May as little “weaners,” and would not have been able to accomplish much useful rooting until they grew a lot bigger. Now that they actually are capable of vigorous rooting, it’s already mid-September and much too late to have much impact before a) the pigs get slaughtered, and b) the fast-approaching rainy season would turn the field into an erosion-prone mud pit.

So we needed another way to cultivate the field. Our solution is known as a “walking tractor,” which can provide power for several types of farm implements. Our walking tractor has a rotary plow attachment, which is a true wonder for breaking new ground without leaving a plow-pan or wrenching my arm and back muscles. It can also cut through 2” thick roots and dislodge basketball-sized rocks with nary a hiccup. And it easily turns under tall grass without getting wound up in the long stems. Yes, it runs on gasoline, but for now that is a compromise we will have to accept if we want to make this field productive again.

Bear in mind that the old field we’re reviving hasn’t been used for agriculture in several decades, so to bring it back into production is like breaking new ground. The plow not only turned up uncountable rocks and roots, but we also found many human artifacts. These included chunks of steel probably from abandoned trucks or logging equipment, broken bottles, strands of barbed wire, a few shotgun shell casings (the old brass kind) and — very appropriately — a massive horseshoe (see photo below) that likely belonged to a draft horse or mule.

This one gave a mighty “clank” when our plow churned it out of the ground. Artifacts like this draft-horse shoe tell a story of farming with horses rather than machines. For scale, that’s my hand in the picture.

All of this debris had to be removed from the field by hand. Thus we’ve laboured over this ground quite a few times now to get it plowed and picked clean in time for a fall planting of “coastal pasture mix.” That’s a combination of grasses and legumes that should prevent undue erosion this winter while turning the field into a prime pasture by next spring in time for our future swine adventure, which involves heritage grazing pigs.

As for the buckwheat that we had hoped to plant in this field, it will have to wait for spring, too. Buckwheat doesn’t overwinter well here on the coast, so we’re planning a spring planting, in a different field. That’s a different story, which we’ll relate at some future date.

Looking back on summer

By Tom Read

Basil is a summer staple of our kitchen garden, and Linda is particularly proud of this patch

It’s been a fine summer for us on Texada Island, for the most part. Mother Nature bestowed benign weather these last few months, so most of the wild plants and animals of the forest seem to be thriving. An exception: yellow jacket wasps, seldom seen this summer perhaps because of our island’s cool, wet spring. Meanwhile, our little kitchen garden grew well, even though often neglected by me due to other priorities. I’ll return to the garden in a moment, but first I want to mention a few thoughts about this just-passed summer:

First, I enjoyed my teenage nephew Lewis’ two-week visit. He lives in a suburb of New York City, and up to this summer’s visit with us at Slow Farm I believe he had no previous experience caring for farm animals, using basic construction tools, pulling weeds and generally engaging in sweaty manual labour for hours on end. He did well, and even got a bit of a tan — not something most visiting Americans might expect to obtain in Canada.

Texada’s 2010 Sandcastle Weekend recedes now into memory, but I recall a feeling of satisfaction in seeing so many happy people on the beach and along the parade route. Linda and I didn’t get to see the festival’s newly-introduced laser light show, but we heard lots of positive feedback about it.

Alas, the real estate business has taken it slow this summer on Texada, as in so many communities around the world this year. No surprise, really, since the market on Texada has been slow for the past few years.

But our days are brightened by our new puppy. We’ll introduce her somewhere down the line, since she needs more privacy to develop her manners before coming onto the world (wide web) stage.

Turning to our garden, we had a few surprises, both welcome and not. Take rhubarb, for example. This year it has already given us three abundant harvests, with one last cutting on the way. What’s different this year is that I decided to overhead hand-water our rhubarb for a few moments every morning, thinking that such a magnificent broadleaf plant must be designed for collecting rain.

In past years we used daily drip irrigation exclusively, knowing the soil to be on the sandy side and assuming that deep watering of this deep-rooted plant mattered most. This seemed logical at the time, but the results with drip irrigation were always disappointing. This year’s great crop stands as living proof that humble observation of actual plant design and behavior trumps over-intellectual “assumptions.”

The abundance of this year’s rhubarb stands in contrast to a downright disaster in the raspberry department. Despite great raspberry production last year and ample feedings of rotted manure in early spring, the berries came late and never quite seemed to mature to a sweet ripeness. Those relatively few that managed to ripen immediately became bird fodder. I vow to do better next year, a gardener’s rallying cry for all seasons.

Gone gardening, etc for the summer

By Tom Read

See you in September!

Everybody needs a break now and then, so I’ve decided to give journal-writing a rest for the summer. Instead, I’ll concentrate on the many projects piling up around our homestead, plus enjoying a visit from my nephew, plus helping out as a volunteer at Texada Island’s Sandcastle Weekend, plus going to get our new puppy in mid-July. And keeping on looking after our ever-growing numbers of chickens, pigs, bees, trees and gardens.

Maybe we’ll see an increase in real estate activity over the summer, too.

I also hope to find time for some simple pleasures, like reading a few novels, going for a swim at Raven Bay, cooking and eating fresh food from the garden, and engaging in good conversation with friends.

So I want to wish everyone a fine summer. I’ll be back in this space at a weekly pace starting on Friday, September 10.  Until later….

Solstice snapshot

By Tom Read

Overlooking the kitchen garden at mid-day, just before the Summer Solstice, 2010

Time passes quickly for busy bees like me. Today I startled myself when I belatedly realized that the longest day of the year is but a few days hence. Many years ago I enjoyed a tradition of all-night bonfires on various northern California beaches with friends to celebrate the summer solstice. But in my present life on Texada Island that won’t be an option this year. From mid-May to mid-October, most outdoor fires are banned by order of the Province of British Columbia, regardless of weather or forest conditions. Thus, no summer solstice bonfire for us.

Instead, here are a few snapshots of what we’re doing at this mid-summer moment:

— Today we took a dozen fertilized chicken eggs to our friend An so she could place them underneath one of her broody hens. We are grateful for An’s help again this year — our sleek, young Dark Cornish hens seem amenable to Lord John Marbury’s amorous attentions (our rooster), but once again they have shown no interest in becoming mother hens. If the hatch-out with An’s surrogate mother hen is successful, we’ll raise the resulting brood as meat birds in one of our chicken tractors on pasture, and they’ll be in the freezer by late fall.

— Our pastures are awash in flowers just now, which reminds me of bees. I’m stewarding a couple of hives as a new beekeeper (coming up on two years).  This summer, I’m trying to encourage the bees to migrate from my existing, rather dilapidated hives into a proprietary type of beehive called a “DE hive” (named after David Eyre, who invented it). It’s working, slowly. Why didn’t I just follow the easy path and replace my old hives with additional standard replacements? Answer: the DE hive seems not only better designed all around, in my opinion, but it’s also smaller and lighter, thus easier to manipulate for a fellow like me with a trick lower back.

—  Our country homestead needs deer fencing on a new field, rock-picking of a new gardening area, expanded irrigation system, new dog run, and I’ve got to do something this summer about the moss that’s beginning to get established on our roof. Plus, we’re behind on planting our summer crops due to a cold and wet spring. We need every hour of these long days to make a dent in our “to do” list!

And that’s the way it is at Slow Farm on this mid-summer Solstice.

Texada School says “thank you!”

By Tom Read

A vocal jazz rendition of "Theme From Spiderman" resonates around the village of Van Anda from Texada School's playground last Friday, part of community appreciation day at the school

“We may be small but we’re mighty.” That’s Texada School Principal Carol Brown’s apt description of our community’s little (28 students this year) but vigorous school.

The Texada Island community has responded warmly to Ms. Brown’s leadership, enthusiastically supporting the school in many ways. Just to name a few, community volunteers provide hot meals one day a week, give kids extra academic help, conduct ongoing workshops on social and historical topics,  and contribute funds for extra-curricular activities, including field trips. Yesterday (Friday), the school formally thanked the community of which it is a part, and Linda and I were privileged to attend the festivities.

And what an abundance of festivities! Not one, but two very talented youth jazz groups from Powell River gave a concert to be remembered. Community volunteers (mainly husbands of local teachers) put on a delicious picnic lunch barbeque. A much-anticipated mural unveiling took place — an art piece designed and created by students with the help of a local artist that interprets our island’s industrial heritage of mining and logging.

While I enjoyed the entire event, the most meaningful part for me was the one-on-one reading session that started the afternoon. I got to sit with a student named Austin while he read to me from some of his favourite books. In the end he departed from the program a little by asking me to read a few stories to him. I know that parents do this routinely, but as a non-parent I found the experience an unexpected pleasure.

Austin and I enjoy a one-on-one reading session earlier in the day

Maybe that’s what healthy communities do best — help connect people who otherwise might not learn to appreciate each other.

And the weather on this special day? Perfect!

Rotating pigs

By Tom Read

All piggies on deck! Almost all, anyway. That's the pallet feeder in the foreground, with bits of plywood attached for better piggy footing. The mobile pig house is back left, while you can see the modular fencing panels beyond. Eventually we'll put a door and a watering system on the pig house. The grass is gradually being transformed into fertilzed bare soil, after which we'll move the pigs, then plant a crop.

Last year’s initial pig-raising effort went so well here at Slow Farm on Texada Island that we’ve decided to try it again this year — but with a few differences.

First, we’ve taken on four piggies this time, compared to last year’s Spot and Pinky duo. The larger herd will help pay for purchased food inputs without generating much additional labour. Building on what we learned in 2009, non-purchased food inputs will continue this year. The pigs will spend their lives on pasture with ample feed grass and weeds, plus we’ll gather orchard gleanings, carefully screened food scraps from our own kitchen and leftovers from the Texada Island Inn’s restaurant (“the slops”).

Second, we’ve built an experimental rotational grazing system that we designed over the winter.

The pig house is the same recycled shipping crate we used last year, except that it’s been further modified for mobility by adding wheels, steel reinforced undercarriage and removable trailer hitch. The whole thing tows easily into tight spaces using our quad. We think it’s big enough for four 200-lb pigs, but if not, we’ll add another mobile unit as needed. Thanks to the creative scrounging and construction efforts of our friend Jim, we were fortunate to obtain the wheels, steel and trailer hitch for free from Texada’s “heavy metal dump” transfer station rather than have to buy new parts.

The fencing we started with last year was bare-wire electric, which alone did not quite work, so we backed up the wires with a stout pallet fence. This was effective but not mobile. This year we’re trying out a homemade lightweight fence consisting of eight-foot-long wood panels (made from scrap wood, naturally) with built-in electric fencing. Each panel fits with its adjacent panel by means of a slide-together wood connector, while carriage bolts and washers connect the electric wires between panels. So far, it’s working — but the herd just got here 10 days ago and they’re still a wee bit small.

We’ve also redesigned our watering and feeding approach as part of the rotational grazing system. Feeding and watering last year took place within a steel tray and rubber tub that the pigs easily upended at will. This year’s feeder is a modified pallet — it’s got shallow troughs on either side hinged for better clean-out, plus firmly attached scraps of plywood on the “deck” for better porcine footing when the inevitable mud comes along. It’s too big to be upended by a less-than-full-grown pig, yet can easily be lifted by two humans when the time comes to change pastures. Watering is currently done with just a simple tray, but our plan is to use a nipple waterer attached to the mobile pig house, fed by two water containers on top of the house.

I’m sure this current crop of piggies, so far unnamed, will find whatever weaknesses we’ve overlooked and thereby help us refine the system. Why bother with all this mobility stuff? Partly because I’m still determined to avoid using a gasoline-powered rototiller on our farm. Plus, we like the idea – and taste — of pastured pork.


Post facto

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