Archive for the ‘About Wellspring Gardens’ Category

Going forward…

Posts have been quiet on the gardening front for the past two seasons as we have been adding other components to the farm operations and transitioning the field gardening to wooden raised beds.

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Goat Love

In keeping with our mission to promote farmland as a community resource, all components of the farm have been introduced keeping in mind the long-term plan for the farm, which is agritourism.

The three-year plan is to open a farm B&B that offers authentic interactions with farm animals and food production. We will be targeting a couple of our square timber outbuildings as rustic accommodations and converting the stable to a venue for on-farm workshops. The addition of a hammock tent camping option and other lodging variations, such as yurts and cabins,  will allow visitors to experience a connection with the land at their own level of comfort.

We have been transitioning from field rows to wooden raised beds. Although a mammoth undertaking in terms of cash outlay and investment in time, it solves a number of issues and offers extra advantages to our small scale of gardening:

  • Raised beds eliminate the need for tractor farming. Once prepared, they will only require light turning or loosening with a broad fork. This is less disruptive to soil structure and organisms.
  • The containment of the soil means that amendments can be better controlled and measured. Amendments and fertilization can also be fine-tuned to suit the particular crop in that bed.
  • Weed pressure is less since the paths between the beds can be permanently planted in clover (beneficial) and will not need to be weeded or mulched. Ever. Again.
  • Soil is kept high, dry  and warm, thereby allowing us to begin planting spring crops weeks earlier since we won’t have to wait for our low fields to dry up to run the tractor tiller. We can also choose to cover select boxes to bring tender crops further into the fall. Season extension is key to successful northern gardening.
  • The wooden boxes provide a ready-made structure for hooping and covering plants, trellising, and labeling beds. With a cordless screwdriver they can be converted to cold frames, hot houses or shade beds.
  • Materials such as row cover, plastic mulch, tunnel covers and drip irrigation can be reused and handled more easily by a single worker when dealing with 8′ x 4′ dimensions. Many of the farm’s damaged field materials have been recoverable, e.g. a 200-foot length of row cover with rips has a lot of salvageable, box-sized rectangles.
  • A lot of gardening is about psyching yourself for long tedious tasks, such as harvesting and weeding. Beds are rewarding in that you can finish one in minutes and check if off. I also find it easier to engage volunteer help when you can assign a box or two. Weeding field rows is daunting, just sayin’.
  • Aesthetically, arrangements of vegetable growing boxes and clover paths have curb appeal on a tourism oriented farm and can be more easily groomed. They can also be attractively interspersed with beds of flowers to provide colour, pollination and cutting flowers for market.
  • To the uninitiated, plants, weeds, paths and rows are not easily distinguishable. If you’re going to set the public loose on your gardens, boxes make it simple.

Raised beds make sense given our scale of operations and our intention to make the farm a public place.

The introduction of goats has been a game changer. We not only love them as friendly engaging creatures, but their byproducts (kids, milk, manure, visitor attraction) have enhanced  both our range of farm offerings and the ever important addition of fertility to our soil. We have relied on other manure sources in the past with mixed results and we are stoked to be able to control this input produced on our own farm.

Goofy goat crop

Don’t you wish your livestock was hot like me!

We free-range our turkeys and meat chickens on pasture as well. As with our garden formula, the poultry operations have evolved to provide a better quality of life for the bird as well as an improved system for optimizing on their contributions (manure deposited directly on the gardens and bug control).

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Kanako Communing with Turkeys

We started out à la Joel Salatin (Polyface Farm), which entailed raising poultry from day old chicks in what is basically an upside down playpen which is moved to a fresh spot every day.

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Chicken Tractors

Since we are small scale and do not really have “pastures” in the wide open spaces sense of the word, we encountered a number of problems. One was hauling heavy tractors over uneven terrain, which was hard on the labourer, the tractor itself and inevitably required some jiggling to make sure that there were no gaps at the bottom of the tractor.

The second was that it was hard to manage feed and water while bent over leaning into the tractor. If birds were reluctant to move forward or needed to be removed for injury or disposal, some unlucky person had to climb in and crawl to the back of the tractor. Usually the smallest or most agile intern 🙂

As the birds grew bigger, it required more tractors to house them while providing adequate space. Bigger birds make bigger messes and we were faced with either more moves per day or dirty birds. Birds also like to roost, which keeps them clean and dry, so we rethought the housing.

We now raise them in the greenhouse in a tented pen until they are hardened somewhat. They then go outside into a hoophouse with perches and an electric pen surrounding it to keep predators away. This gives them a roosting area, overhead protection (owls, eagles) and a larger area to graze. We let them out of the enclosure for part of the day and it’s amazing to see how they forage and range over large areas. When they’ve exhausted the grass supply, we set the pen up in a new location. There are still some refinements to be made, but all in all it’s nicer for everyone. Cleaner, happier, better fed.

Pigs are happy to have a warm dry house and a large area to root in. They are intelligent animals and when bored will get up to no end of mischief, which they have the sheer size and stubbornness to enforce. We house them in the “pig condo” which is a plywood structure on skids that can be moved with the tractor to a fresh location every few weeks. They are enclosed in an electric pen and will respect it as long as long as it’s plugged in. Experience has taught us that they have some kind of pig sensor that allows them to detect when the breaker has tripped and they are quick to take advantage and go AWOL.

Pigs, in addition to providing endless entertainment and delicious food, perform a vital service on the farm as part of the field recovery team. We clear a section, leaving them a few trees, and then wait for them to overturn the soil and uproot all of the shrubs and vegetation in their search for delicacies. When they’re done, it’s simply a matter of pulling a few stumps and tilling it for next year’s garden. Everyone wins.

We have yet to make the leap to breeding our own pigs, but it’s the next logical step if we wish to expand. It’s also important to complete the cycle on the farm so that visitors get the whole picture.

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Wallow Heaven

To supply our endless need for nutrients, we are exploring the possibility of a community (farm community that is) composter and vermiculture operation. This would involve a collection or delivery system of some sort and some infrastructure as well. We have an outdoor wood-burning stove that could heat a concrete composting platform and a worm bed in the large greenhouse. Red wiggler worms and composting kits are another potential farm product.

In the past, our operations have included helping hands in the form of farming interns and farmstay students from abroad. Their contributions are highly valued. Not only do they perform the million and one tasks involved in a farm operation but they bring fresh outlooks, new knowledge and valuable feedback. We have not hosted this past year since operations have been largely reduced in order to transition the garden, but we are already in the interviewing process for a 2017 incubatorship position (intern or interns who have their own project and exchange labour for a place to set up business).

The biggest change will be a move from CSA (veggie basket subscriptions) to an online farm store. This hybrid will offer more flexibility to members and farmer and yet include many of the elements that make CSA a great marketing model. Members will still subscribe and have weekly pickups at the farm; however they’ll be able to tailor their orders to suit their family’s eating requirements and habits. Our community has a lot of people who live alone and would appreciate the chance to buy in smaller quantities.

From the farming end, we’ll be able to post what we have in the quantities we’ve produced, which covers both the crop failures and the unintended bounties, both of which are inevitable when you partner with Ma Nature in business!  For the adventurous eaters, we can still put together baskets.

Pre-ordering also allows us to market free-range eggs, wood-fired pizzas, sourdough, home-made soups, goat milk soaps and other products as time allows and the growing season waxes and wanes.

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Sourdough Loaves from the Wood-Fired Oven

All in all it’s an exciting line-up for us and we can’t wait to bring you Wellspring Gardens, the next generation!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How it all began…

WELLSPRING GARDENS…EAT FRESH, LIVE WELL

It all began with a search for community. What exactly does community mean? I’m pretty sure each one of you would have a different answer. The Collins dictionary defines community as a group of people having cultural, religious, ethnic, or other characteristics in common. While that’s true, I prefer to define community in terms of how it feels from the inside looking out…a place where you have a sense of belonging and acceptance, a sense of fellowship, a sense of shared purpose. Community is a place where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

My journey began when I returned home after living seven years in Québec City. While I was there I learned a new language and culture, taught English to  business clientele, earned a translation degree and saw my youngest two leave the nest to go off to Montréal and college. When the opportunity came to return to the Ottawa Valley, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. I’d be able to translate out of a home office, I’d be closer to my two older children, my grandchildren and my Dad, my husband Joe wouldn’t be heading out to parts unknown on a plane every second week, we could build our dream home on that 100 acres we had kept…it all seemed good.

It became clear soon after moving back that the life I had left seven years earlier didn’t fit any more. It was like trying on last year’s bathing suit. Sure I could squeeze into it, but it was snug in spots and I had to keep tugging it into place! I’d apparently grown. I’d discovered a love for teaching and developed a taste for entrepreneurship. Four years of university while raising two boys and holding down a part-time job had trained me to channel my energies and hone my multitasking skills. Seven years of new horizons and challenges had stirred up a restlessness that was demanding an outlet. In other words, it was time to shop for a new bathing suit!

Not all journeys have obvious signposts. Mine felt more like trying to get from point A to point B in a room full of bumper cars.  It began when we discovered that our 100 acres, the site of our future dream home, had somehow been severed without a righ-of-way. The only solution, after a year of negotiating with the township and parleying with neighbours, turned out to be buying back the very farmhouse and property we had severed and sold 12 years previously. Call it fate if you will, or maybe it was simply a case of making lemonade with the lemons life had handed me, but that’s when the idea for Wellspring Gardens was born. Although I didn’t know it then, it was the first step on the path that would lead me to the community I was searching for.

I began by talking up the idea with friends and family. Their enthusiasm and support encouraged me to go for it. I soon developed a core of loyal veggie customers. This was followed by a couple of years of trial and error (mostly errors) while I played with the idea of becoming a full-time gardener. As it turns out, tractors and implements do not a farmer make. Armed with this disheartening knowledge I took a huge leap of faith and signed up as an intern at The Rainbow Heritage Garden in Cobden, ON. My internship there brought me in contact with a new generation of farmers and farming models, agricultural communities and resources as well as the current food movements (locavores, 100-mile diet). After six months of full-out gardening and marketing at the Lansdowne and Carp markets on weekends, I was more convinced than ever that this was the right decision for me.

The eureka moment came when I sat down to map out a mission statement and five-year business plan. Here was a framework that provided for all of the things I had been missing from my urban experience: contact with people from other places and cultures; an educational component (interns, schools); working with the public (markets); entrepreneurship (growing the business); and a creative outlet (giving something truly my own to the local residents).

Somewhere along the way, I found my community. It includes people of all ages and from all walks of life. Some are old friends and some are new. But we’re all joined by our passion for good food, land stewardship and supporting local endeavours. It is a place of acceptance and belonging, a place of fellowship, a place of shared purpose. My journey is over and I’m finally home.

Contentment

Contentment

Five-Year Plan

Though not set in stone, the five-year plan still serves as a very useful roadmap for farm planning. Without it I fear I’d be off in fifty different directions at once!

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We’re ready!

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 First, An Introduction

Wellspring Gardens is an up and coming organic market garden located on Leader Road in Laurentian Hills. It is owned and operated by me, Sheila Selby, and my husband Joe Renaud, both of us long-time residents of the area. I’m the gardener and Joe the invaluable infrastructure guy. Together we’ve turned under two acres of field for cultivation, installed an irrigation system, built a solarium/greenhouse and installed a pig enclosure and condo for our porky friends who come in the spring to turn over next year’s plot and disappear mysteriously in the fall after harvest! So after three years of dreams, schemes and preparations, we’re ready to launch! This summer we are offering our first CSA program with a limited membership of twenty families.

Our Mission

To provide fresh, locally grown produce using sustainable agricultural practices and promote farmland as a community resource through ecotourism and education.

About CSA

Community Supported Agriculture is a small-farm model where consumers purchase a share of the bounty in the spring in exchange for weekly baskets of fresh, inseason veggies throughout the summer and fall. The benefits are numerous.

Farmers can plan their numbers with certainty and spend time growing, rather than marketing. Consumers receive a wide variety of fresh, organic vegetables, traceable from field to fork. Communities see dollars returned to the local economy. Heirloom and heritage seeds are featured and thereby preserved. Members get to sample food outside of the mainstream offerings.