Our Market Farm

We’ve had a pretty busy season here at our old island home and things we’ve been wanting to do have slowly been falling into place.  Our biggest news of the year has been several weeks in the making….

That’s right!  This year we’re launching our veggie box program and market stand and you can check it out here: http://ouroldislandfarm.wix.com/ourfarm

If at all possible, we’d like to kindly ask that you to find us on Facebook at Our Old Island Market Farm, like the page and share it with as many people as possible – especially if you or your friends are in the island – but obviously everybody is welcome to ‘like’ what we’re doing.

The past two years we’ve been learning PEI’s growing seasons as we’ve been growing all the vegetables for our own needs and sharing our excess with friends and neighbors.  This year we are ramping up production by incorporating some highly intensive gardening practices to maximize our output and offering weekly vegetable boxes valued at $25.

The last several weeks have been crammed with starting seeds, planning the garden layout and revamping our rotation plan and determining the produce needs for ourselves plus several weekly customers.

Over the next few weeks, the seedlings will be hardened off and ready for transplanting under row covers until the risk of frost has passed.  In the meantime, bathroom plumbing is underway, the original 130 year old doors are being stripped of several coats of paint, new wood flooring is being milled and finished for installation and plans for the kitchen addition are underway.  Suffice to say, if you’ve been missing our regular posts, stay tuned, things are about to get a little crazy.


It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Exodus 23:25 – “Worship the Lord and his blessing will be on your food and water.”


The best place to greet spring is in the garden and like every year, as soon as winter’s grip is loosened, Vanessa and I grab a shovel and pitchfork and head outside.

Spring marks winter’s (long overdue) departure and the awakening of – well, everything.  The birds are back, the frogs are “peeping” from the creek down the hill from our home and plant life is bursting in anticipation of another growing season.  All of this makes spring my favorite time of year.

Back in March, we started our onion and leek seeds.  As soon as the ground is workable, these frost-hardy plants can be transplanted into the garden.  If we were able, we probably would have planted these out a couple of weeks ago – even the end of April isn’t too soon – although the weather wasn’t as agreeable.


This year we planted about 100 plugs – and each plug has at least two or three seedlings.  We’ve learned the onions can be planted in small groups, given enough space between groupings, and the onion bulbs will form without any problem.  This saves a tremendous amount of time in planting – and eventually harvesting, as it takes the same time to plant a one-seedling plug as it does a three-seeding plug.


We adjust the spacing between the plants to accommodate the groupings.  Individual onions would be planted about 3-4″ apart.  We keep our groupings spaced about 8″ to allow for the plants to bulb when they mature.

Our leeks are planted similarly – with two seedlings in a pot.  With the leeks, though, we dig a deep hole about 6-8″ deep and drop the whole newspaper pot in it.


As the plant grows up and out of the hole, the soil will be gradually filled in, thereby keeling the lower part of the leek white: a process called blanching.

And it’s just amazing to watch the garlic grow – seemingly right before your eyes.


So while Vanessa was planting the onions, garlic and leeks in one bed, I started preparing another bed for a different crop.


Last year, we ran out of space for our broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards and cabbage.  This year, we’ve dedicated two beds for these cruciferous veggies.  This weekend we planted our cauliflower, broccoli, kholrabi, kale (two types), collards, turnips, rutabagas and cabbages.


In the other bed, we’ll plant additional broccoli and cauliflower every couple of weeks for a continuous supply of fresh vegetables, along with brussels sprouts, cabbage and whatever else we’d like more of.

In addition to planting out some of the seedlings we started inside to get a jump-start on the season, we directly seeded our peas (snow peas, sugar snap peas and a shelling pea), carrots, beets, radishes, spinach and swiss chard.

All these plants can be started a few weeks ahead of the last expected frost date without any concern.  Other vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, squash, corn and cucumbers are heat-loving and wont tolerate even a light frost, so we’ll wait until June before introducing these to the garden.

The chickens are happy and doing their thing.  IMG_5096

Murdoch is just content to be a part of whatever we’re doing. IMG_5071

Even Jill and James come over to see what we’re up to.IMG_5102

Gardening. It’s cheaper than therapy.

There’s an old proverb that says, “no matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.”  This weekend sure felt like it had finally arrived.


“I can smell it”

We took a short drive through Cavendish, enjoying the sun and fresh air, and spotted this guy on the edge of the ice at Wheatley River.


We actually saw three of these bald eagles on our drive today but this was the only one we managed to photograph.

With spring only a couple of weeks away, our thoughts have been turning to the gardens and our seed starting schedule.

Depending on who you talk to, our last spring frost is typically expected sometime in the last week of may or first part of June. So with about twelve weeks before the last frost of the year, we need to start some of our seeds in anticipation of planting out when the soil is workable


First up are our leeks and onions.  We’ll start the seeds this week, giving us about eight to ten weeks head start before planting them into the gardens.  Onions and leeks are fairly cold-tolerant, so we will transplant them two to three weeks before the last spring frost date – sometime in early May.

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Over the next few weeks, we’ll also be starting our broccoli, cauliflower, pepper and tomato seeds.

We experienced a steep learning curve last year when planning and planting our gardens.  Thankfully we’ve had far more successes than failures, but with everything in life, if we can learn from our mistakes, we won’t be subjected to repeat them again.  Careful records of our seeding and transplanting dates last year has taken out some of the guesswork, and we can tweak our schedule to improve our success this year.

I think spring really is my favorite time of year.  To me, it feels like the new year actually starts now – when the snow is melting, the soil warms and the trees and plants are waking up from the winter.

I know, I know – we’re not out of winter’s grip yet, but I keep reminding myself that there’s more winter behind us than ahead.


Red soil and red sky

So with the foundation work chugging away, we finally have an opportunity to get our gardens planted.

Whenever we had some spare time over the last couple of weeks, we raked the old grass and straw from the garden area, laid-out the bed locations and tilled the soil.


Last week we had a load of compost delivered to our place to help enrich the beds.  With time running against us, we didn’t test the soil or composition – we’re just trusting that the fertile soil of PEI doesn’t stop at our property line.

Speaking of fertile PEI soil: I suppose it’s only fitting that even compost in Prince Edward Island would be full of lobster bits.


Once the compost was worked into the bed, it was time to start planting.  We started with the tomato beds – all from seeds started earlier this spring.


In all, we’ve planted about twenty-four Roma tomatoes for sauces and canning.  In addition to the paste tomatoes, we also planted six each of four Heirloom-varities: Brandywine, Pruden Purple, Mountain Merit and Golden Cherry.


With the tomatoes planted, we jumped over to the potato bed.  Not originally planned as part of our garden, the potato bed was a last minute addition.


We never really thought we’d need to grow potatoes in PEI – we’re living in Canada’s potato capital, afterall.  Heck, we even have lobster in our soil!  So, like everything else, we went all-out and planted four types of potatoes: red potatoes, Yukon Gold, Russet and a purple-fleshed variety.


Before the day was up, we planted two of our berry beds – raspberry and blackberry – and also got our asparagus bed planted.


We’ve never grown asparagus before but have dedicated a 25-foot row for it – although it will still be a few years before we’ll actually be able to harvest spears to eat.

Finally, before we headed out for our drive, we finished up one more bed.


Three types of cabbage, rutabaga, broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower, kale and collards.

All in all, not a bad start on the gardens.  We’ve still got the beans and peas to plant, as well as carrots, beets, sweet potato, corn, summer and winter squash, cucumbers, onions, garlic and peppers.

As of late, our backyard is taking on the appearance of a motocross course.  As exciting as it is having the foundation-work done, I’m really looking forward to getting the mess cleaned up.


We’re still deciding where to use all of the island stone salvaged from the foundation….


….and exactly how to get it all in place.  I do know, it’s going to be a beautifully landscaped property once we get to tackle that pile.

But as the sun was going down, we decided to take advantage of the remaining daylight to go for a walk on the beach.  A quick drive from the house and we arrived in Cavendish just in time to watch the sun set.


Still early in the season, we had the beach to ourselves.  Tide was low and we walked along the shoreline to take it all in.




I think this was the first time we really stopped to let it all sink in: this is our home.  We’re only minutes form the ocean in any direction from our house.

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With the sun down, we walked back through the sand dunes to the car.

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No matter how crazy the renovations get, we’re exactly where we want to be.  With the house.  With the gardens.   With each other.



Distractions…..and extractions

Another week and another unexpected and unwelcomed delay.

Not that it really made much of a difference with the yesterday’s rain and all, but an stray sliver of bone in last night’s dinner resulted in an emergency trip to the dentist and an extracted tooth today.  So as per doctor’s orders, no heavy lifting, bending or straining that might cause the socket to bleed.  That puts our demo on hold again for a day or so.


The weather has been in our favor this week otherwise and we did start demolition of the back porch.  We also got most of our storage out of the rear addition – readying it for demolition too.  I’ll have more of that to write about shortly.

So while sidelined, we distracted ourselves by starting some more of our vegetable seeds.


We’ve been germinating our seeds in trays set up on shelving in our kitchen.  A space heater on low below the shelving provides the perfect temperature to get the seeds started and the newspaper pots reduces the stress of transplanting later – the pot and all will be planted.


Most seeds don’t require light to germinate, but once they’ve broken through the soil, the energy stored in the seeds is used up and the small plants start reaching for light – this is when we move them to our “grow-op”.


Upstairs and out of the way, we have another set of shelves equipped with fluorescent lights on a timer to provide 15-16 hours of light to the newly germinated seedlings per day.


The seedlings need sufficient light to keep them from becoming too leggy and spindly.  We have the lights suspended from short chains and are able to raise the lights as the plants grow upwards.


Ideally, you’d want to keep the lights to within one or two inches from the seedlings.  The lights are timed to turn off around 9:00 in the evening – and it’s quite a sight to see the upper level of the house lit-up like a greenhouse at dusk.

In addition to the asparagus and peppers started a couple of weeks ago, we’ve now started two flats of onions and the remainder of our tomato seeds – five varieties, totalling about 80 plants.


As spring approaches we will also be starting some of our other plants – squash, broccoli, cabbage and lettuce.  And with the majority of the snow gone from our garden area, we’ll soon start preparing the beds for planting by the end of May or beginning of June.  That will be around the time our foundation is underway, so we’ll have time to tend the garden.

The spring thaw couldn’t have happened soon enough.  Next week, fishing season opens and I’ve already told Vanessa, regardless of the weather, I’ll be wetting a line when it does.

Until then, demo will resume as planned tomorrow.  And a little free advice:  be careful of little bone fragments when eating ribs.  You’re welcome.


Well there’s something you don’t see everyday. Thank God.

Well, I guess I had that coming.

Shame on me for jumping the gun last week and started singing the praises of the spring-like weather.  That’ll teach me.  Call it karma, Murphy’s Law or just dumb luck, we got walloped with the biggest storm the Maritimes has seen in 10 years.


More of a hurricane disguised as a blizzard, I think.  A blizzicane.  Or snownado.

I thought it would be fun to document the day with a series of photos showing the progression of the storm.

Collage1 Collage2 Collage3

After three sets of pics, I changed my mind and thought I’d leave it to your imagination.  There was no way I was going out in that mess unless I absolutely had to.   And I only had to twice: once to collect our airborne garbage bins (thought to be securely fastened to our front porch) and once to let Murdoch do his “business”.

Such a sad picture

Such a sad picture

It was after that trip that Murdoch said he wouldn’t go out there again unless he absolutely had to.  He didn’t.

"Outside?  Nope, I can hold it."

“Outside? Nope, I can hold it.”

Kidding aside, it was pretty intense.  Par for the course for local islanders, I’m told.  But with a half-gutted, one-hundred-and-thirty-year-old house, we felt every wind gust.  And we didn’t get away unscathed.


We lost quite a lot of shingles on the north side.  The shingles were quite sparse on that slope to start, but now there are even less.  Oh well, it will make stripping them off in the spring much easier now that they’ve all been deposited in our yard.

Probably the highlight of the day was seeing our neighbor and his snow blower backing into our driveway.


God bless you, Orville.  I don’t think I’d have the strength to do the driveway today – after shovelling the snow out of our second floor.

Wait.  What?


Have to admit – I didn’t see this coming.


Yep.  With all the wall and ceiling finishes removed from the second floor – and with the 100 km/h wind and snow – and with more shingles blown off, well….

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Come on – you got to laugh.  Or cry.  I laughed and thankfully, so did Vanessa.  After the storm, this was a cake-walk.  And with our neighbors help, we hardly had any snow to shovel anyhow.  It was a breeze (a gale-force breeze, mind you, but a breeze nonetheless).

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But enough of that.  You’ve seen the footage, I’m sure, and we survived.  That’s the main thing, right?

As far as the house goes, until yesterday, our weather has been beautiful – sunny and clear – but really cold and windy, so needless to say, we didn’t do any of the demo I last spoke about: removal of the porch and rear addition.  They say the next couple of weeks will be milder, but wet.  Whatever the forecast holds, we’ll need to buckle down and get this done in anticipation of the foundation to start in May (or sooner, hopefully).

We haven’t been idle though.  We started a number of vegetable plants inside in preparation for the planting season.


Leeks, asparagus, peppers (sweet and hot), and some tomato seeds have been sown – and are starting to germinate.  We’ll move them to our grow-lights shortly and start the next round of plants after that.

For now, I’ll bite my tongue about spring.  We know it’s coming.  When it’s ready.

It’s official – spring is here! Time to start the garden plans

Well, Vanessa and I have been enjoying a few days off from working on the house.  After a bit of a snow/ice storm last week, the past few days have been beautiful.  It’s been sunny and clear – albeit a little cold – so we’ve been enjoying some time outside.


We’re just back from a long two-hour walk with Murdoch on the Confederation Trail

Murdoch discovers the sunroof

Murdoch discovers the sunroof

and with a quick coffee-to-go, a drive up to Cavendish and along the shoreline.

....to see the sights

….to see the sights

....and a little wildlife.

….and a little wildlife.

And with the official first day of spring on us, we’ve been thinking planning dreaming of the planting season and the gardens.

We went to town over the weekend and got all of our vegetable seeds from Veseys for the spring.  One of my earlier posts (https://ouroldislandhome.com/2014/01/18/spring-dreaming/) outlined all of the vegetables we would be trying – and that hasn’t changed much.   I know it all sounds very ambitious – and it probably is – but we have nothing to lose.  It’s not like we’re pressed for space and don’t have the time to tend the garden.  We’ve settled on the back south-east corner for the garden – it’s a clear and wide-open area that receives sun all day.  The space around the house is being reserved for flower beds, patios, BBQ and entertainment area – and around the barn is the driveway, shop and (eventually) greenhouse area.

So with the location of the veggie beds determined, we now need the snow to go (who doesn’t, amiright?) and we’ll prep the area.  We have two huge rolls of black poly (plastic) to roll out over the bed areas.  We’re planning on eight beds – each measuring 10′ x 25′.  The black poly serves two purposes: first, it will inhibit any grass and weeds from starting to grow as the weather warms, and secondly, it warms the soil in anticipation of planting.  A number of our plants need warmer conditions: sweet potato, corn, tomatoes and peppers don’t like their feet cold.  Other crops are less fussy and can be planted as soon as the soil is workable.

We’ve planned an eight crop rotation.  Different vegetables can be grouped together in similar families.  Utilizing crop rotation, you change the location of each vegetable group from year to year.  This reduces the likelihood of a pest or disease problem overwintering and attacking the same crop in the same location of the following year.  For example tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes all belong to the same family and, as such, are susceptible to the same pests and diseases.  Because these plants all belong to the solanaceous or nightshade family, you wouldn’t plant tomatoes in the same plot that potatoes were planted in the previous year.  The goal is to have at least three to four years before the same crop-family is planted in the same location again.

So, here’s our rotation plan – the eight beds will be:

  1. Legumes: beans and peas
  2. Brassacas: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnip
  3. Nightshades: tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, tomatillos
  4. Umbeliferae: carrot, parsnip, parsley, celery
  5. Lettuce and sweet potato
  6. Cucurbits: cucumbers, squash, pumpkin
  7. Goosefoot: beet, chard, spinach and Alliums: onion, garlic, leeks, chive
  8. Corn

And in addition to these eight beds, we’ll have permanent locations for the perennial plants: asparagus, rhubarb and berries.

Yup – that’s a lot of produce.  But think about this: one seed packet of broccoli costs $3.00.  A packet of 1000 carrot seeds cost about $4.00 and for $8.00 we bought 1000 corn seeds.  The list goes on and on.  For what we would spend on groceries in one week, we bought the potential for the same grown by ourselves – one hundred times over!


We realize that’s far more than we’ll ever need – even canning, freezing and preserving as much as we’re able.  So we’ve already decided the surplus would be donated to needy families or a food bank.  Either way, our needs will be met and others will be blessed with the surplus.

Over the next short while, we’ll be starting some of the plants inside in anticipation of the last frost – transplanting around the end of May.  I’ll show you how we’re geminating and growing the plants before transplanting – and how we prepare the beds.

I’d love to hear what you grow in your home gardens – and any helpful tips you might have.  Until then, enjoy your spring!


Spring dreaming

Fresh air, warm sun, digging in the soil, planting seeds……sorry, I was dreaming there.  It’s the same every year, though – by mid-January, we’re pouring through seed catalogues and making our wish-list for the vegetable gardens.  It probably makes it all the worse because of the early and (so far) harsh winter.


The big difference for us is the space we have to grow our plants – and it’s a BIG difference.  Back in Ontario, we had the largest lot in our subdivision – a nice pie-shaped lot – but still a subdivision lot.  We used our 30’x150′ lot to it’s maximum potential, growing lots of vegetables (tomatoes, onions, spinach, peppers, carrots, beets, parsnips, peas), fruit trees (cherry, plum and peach) and berries (raspberries, blackberries and blueberries).

Now we have an acre of space to grow….things.  When I look out my window, I think “yeah, that’s a lot of space” but when I actually walk to the other end of the property and look back, it really puts the size of it into perspective.

Murdoch loves it!

Murdoch loves it!

So here we are reading the Vesey’s Seed Catalogue and making our list, checking it twice.  We’ve got a lot of work ahead as spring approaches – clearing and tilling the soil and preparing the beds for planting – but not until things dry out some more.  I’m just hoping that as early as winter arrived, spring will follow suit.

Here’s a look at what we’d like to plant:

  • Asparagus – takes a few years to mature enough to harvest, but a perennial that is very hardy and will continue to produce for years
  • Soy Beans – steamed in the shell with a sprinkle of salt (mmmm, Edamame)
  • Yellow & Green Bush Beans – freezes very well or pickle some “Dilly Beans”
  • Beets – a typical red variety for caning and a yellow version for roasting or grilling that doesn’t stain everything pink
  • Broccoli – never had much success in Ontario, but the cooler PEI temps may help
  • Cabbage – a summer variety for fresh use and a winter variety for storing and sauerkraut
  • Carrot – chose three types, all sweet and stores well
  • Celery – again, another vegetable new to us, but we’ll give it a try
  • Collard – we enjoyed trying and eating different greens last year, wanted to try this one
  • Corn – two varieties that mature two weeks apart so we have time to blanch and freeze portions
  • Cucumber – a “burpless” variety for salads and a standard pickling variety
  • Garlic – easy to grow and stores well, will never go to waste
  • Kale – have you ever had Kale Chips?
  • Leeks – freeze for use through the winter in soups and stews
  • Lettuce – a couple of varieties of Leaf and Romaine, planted in the spring for early use and another planting in the fall
  • Onion – two kinds, a storing onion and a red onion
  • Parsnip – added to soup and stew or (my favorite) roasted or grilled like fries
  • Snow Peas – for stir-frys or salads
  • Peppers – a couple sweet varieties and some hot (jalapenos and Hungarian wax for pickling and chilies for roasting Ancho)
  • Sweet Potato – not seeds but grown from vines – needs warm soil but does grow very well in Vesey’s test gardens
  • Pumpkin – small cooking variety for pies and loafs
  • Radishes – for salads and pickling
  • Rutabega – soups, stews and side dishes – can also be fermented like sauerkraut
  • Spinach – “I’m strong to the finish, ’cause I eats me…..”
  • Zucchini – love grilled zucchini with olive oil and sea salt
  • Winter Squash – a buttercup and butternut variety
  • Swiss Chard – greens
  • Tomato – two heirloom varieties, one plum-type for canning and a cherry tomato
  • Tomatillo – we grew it last year in Ontario but never got to use the fruit – we’ll be making Salsa Verde this year
I think that's good

I think that’s good

And that’s it for veggies.  I’ve also got my eye on a few apple trees.  We’ll likely plant a couple Macintosh trees for cooking and Honeycrisp for eating fresh, and of course we’ll also be growing my favorites: raspberries and blueberries.

When I get some time, I’ll sketch out what we want to do with the gardens.  Until then, happy daydreaming.