Thank you Maggie and even the machines get tired …

How strange and stressful the night has been. Yesterday we received news from our provincial government that the emergency state was extended until May 19 giving a firm short term playing field for us. But after they took one more breath they changed the landscape yet again by announcing that hardware stores and all garden centres were allowed to be open for customers to browse not just strictly curbside pickup or delivery as the previous weeks announcement had declared. This news caused us to plunge into despair. We have never experienced the kind of sustained pressure that we have this spring. Each day from late February on has brought increasingly alarming news about a crisis that affected us all no matter where we lived. Some of us had to hunker down and experience the stress of living a secluded life with limited social interaction, maybe laid off from a job and increasing uncertainty about what the next year, month, week,day would bring. Some of us have had to try and adapt our businesses to survive what could sometimes seem like an imaginary threat…but it isn’t. So each day you would plan out how you might proceed to try and navigate this increasingly treacherous and changing landscape. We are used to having to plan and try to implement  those plans, sometimes short term, sometimes right, sometimes wrong but normally having some reasonable foundation of economic and social conditions. So to be told that our plans of the past 6 weeks to set up online sales and curbside pickup as confirmed as the right choice by the provincial government last week was not good enough was a blow. We now had to start setting up to allow browsing of our greenhouses and ad hoc purchasing as well if we wanted to stay competitive. But that is literally not possible in this short time frame. We have hired a new crew of people to help to prepare and deliver orders to customers. They have been working diligently over the past couple of weeks setting up our systems and preparing orders. The response  by customers has been beyond our wildest dreams. Enough to allow us for the first time in two months to have an almost secure feeling extended beyond 3 days….we were doing he right thing, we could execute this, and people wanted it, and were supporting us with their orders. But we don’t have enough time, people and resources to set up to do both. 

So at 2:30 this morning my phone rang. This is not a totally uncommon event given that we have a biomass heating system and if any glitches occur we get an alarm and have to go and attend to it. It was however an exceptional alarm because we have not had one in the middle of the night for the past 2 months as we coped with this crisis. It is almost like the machine was doing it’s part, recognizing that it was a time to try and reduce stress and one more thing could be the straw. Of course it is not really as simple as that because Alex was keeping that machine running and anticipating each challenge before it occurred so maybe it was a partnership of the two. At any rate it is like it had a limit to the stresses it could handle and finally broke down. The fix was not difficult and as usual simply involved putting one foot in front of the other and getting on with the job. But because I was awake I noticed Maggie. At 2:21am Maggie placed an order. It was not a large order, a few impatiens, some vines and a perennial phlox. Maybe she is an essential worker that had just got off work at midnight and for some reason still had the energy to dream about planting a garden. I can’t know but what I do know is that Maggie was supporting us and our decision to take online orders and offer curbside pickup. So while the machines and people here were saying please give us a break Maggie was saying ok thank you and could you get these few things for me and by the way I am so glad I could take this brief respite from my life and dream of growing something beautiful? 

So this spring has been completely different and we have had  the added stress of simply survival. Everyone has had that stress and we have all made changes and sacrifices to try and ensure that survival not just of ourselves but  of others as well. It is a grand social contract that seems to be working. The playbook may have been thin but perhaps we had/have something in us that allows us to know what the right thing is….not just for us. 

So I hope we are right in believing that people will make it possible for us to continue this model of online ordering and curbside pickup. Like all good farmers we will continue to put one foot in front of the other and believe that next year will be better!

As the late great John Prine said “it’s a half an inch of water and you think your gonna drown…….that’s the way the world goes round”

It’s not personal…..until it’s personal.

Some of you may realize things have been a bit different in the big wide world over the course of the last six weeks. For some it may be hard to remember exactly  what it was like before that time. In some ways it seems years ago or at least a paradigm shift ago!

For us here the result has been a profound effect on our business and how we approach every day. It has been a whirlwind of changing landscapes.

 There are two sides to our business, vegetable production and sales, and spring plant production and sales. 6 weeks ago our vegetable business was about 40% restaurants. Overnight the restaurants dropped off the map leaving us worried for  their long term viability and our short term sales. Also overnight our retailers picked up the slack and have continued to do so. At the same time we have had a steady increase in individual retail customers wanting to support local production and  put fresh safe food on their table. 

Shortly after the pandemic was declared the Ontario Government announced that only essential businesses would be allowed to operate. Those sands have been shifting and continue to do so for all the businesses operating in Ontario (and elsewhere). Because of those announcements we started down the road of putting our  product online and developing processes at our greenhouses to ensure we could take those orders and fulfill them in a safe and timely manner for both our staff and our customers. That task is mountainous and still ongoing.

So back to the personal. Our employees and us have been struggling with trying to remain focused on the job in front of them. Remarkably we have all been able to do that!  (Brian here switching to first person 🙂 I am a hockey fan and some of you may remember Wayne Gretzky.  I remember him being interviewed and being asked about the key to performance during high pressure situations. His answer was that you had to keep from getting too low from the failures as well as getting too high from the successes. (….back to third person!). We have all been trying to do that with varying degrees of success. It is very easy to drop into despair but the plants still have to be watered and the greens still have to be cut and so it happens and maybe it helps to dampen the despair to have those tasks. The successes are real and building even when it is hard to see them but they also seem fleeting so maybe Waynes advice is not so necessary on the high  side! 

And to the personal on the readers side. The context for us all during this time is stress and for us here at times overload. We are having extraordinary demands placed upon us on all levels including physical and emotional. We know that all we can do is our best and we have to be content with that. So if we forget to respond to an email, voicemail, text or social media request please be patient with us. Our best is simply that and we know it is not perfect. Please don’t take it personally!

Hey I know it is a random picture of Mudd but he actually is an andidote to the coronavirus pandemic!

Peas and Beans

What’s the difference between peas and beans. Each year during the first few warm days of spring we get people coming in looking for plants. People coming in offering us money is always a good thing (especially after the long hard winter!) but often the notion of appropriate plants for cold weather (and soil) vs. warm weather (and soil!) is not at the forefront of their thinking.

Plants come in all shapes and sizes and they also have variable requirements when it comes to temperature as well. To get back to the example of peas and beans. The seeds look a bit alike (at least in terms of size). They are both legumes and produce pods with multiple seeds that you harvest to eat (or plant). They must have the same requirements then right?…well of course you could see this coming but the answer is no. Peas will readily germinate in cool soil so can be planted as soon as you can work your garden. They also don’t like the heat so if you don’t get them planted early enough the heat of the summer will be very hard on them. Beans on the other hand require warm soil to germinate and if you plant them with the peas in April will simply rot before the soil warms up enough for them to germinate. Even if they do germinate if we get any cold weather they will be decidedly unhappy and if we get frost it will kill them.

A short list of pea type crops both flowers and vegetables are; lettuce, cole crops, petunias, pansies and dianthus.

A short list of bean type crops are; tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, impatiens, begonias and geraniums.

All the bean type crops will at best sit tight if the soil and air temperatures are not warm enough and at worst rot in the ground.

 If you are ready to feel the sun, the rain, the earth and be overwhelmed with the choice of plants then come to see our greenhouses.

You say Potato…

potatoes_z1ZEvDOdFor several years we have been a source of sweet potato cuttings. This year we are also selling seed potatoes.

We have found an excellent source of certified seed potatoes in Squirrel Farms Seed Potatoes….that’s a surname not the workforce! They were great people to order from and many thanks to Jeff Klug from Root’s Down Organic Farm for picking them up for us.

Here is a list of the varieties with a brief description of each one.

Adirondack Blue:

Deep purple skin with purple flesh.

High yields of large oblong tubers with consistent dark blue-purple flesh that hold their colour when cooked. High in antioxidants.

Adirondack Red:

Deep red skin with red to pink flesh.

Oblong tubers hold their red color when cooked and are high in antioxidants. Resistant to hollow heart; moderately resistant to common scab.

Dark Red Chieftain:

Brilliant red skin with bright white flesh.Good flavour with creamy smooth texture. Regular spherical shape.

Goldrush:

Best eating early russet.

Medium-large russeted tubers with dry white flesh that store well and are suitable for baking and frying. Resistant to hollow heart; moderate resistance to verticillium wilt, blackspot, and scab.

Irish Cobbler:

Excellent flavoured in an early potato. The traditional favourite early potato for home gardeners. Very popular for its distinctive taste and dry, creamy, white flesh that boils and bakes exceptionally well. Medium sized, round potatoes.

Red Thumb:

Bright red thumbs with light pink flesh. Very productive.

Late-season fingerling heirloom variety that is highly regarded for its uniform size, disease resistance and storage qualities.

Superior:

Standard early season round white.

Yukon Gem:

A late yellow fleshed Yukon cross. Scab resistant and yields well.

Yukon Gold:

Mid season yellow fleshed variety. Considered the best tasting yellow variety.

 

Mystery Fly and Scouting

February 8, 2002
Scouting is one of the hardest and most interesting jobs in an IPM program. The role of the scout is to systematically exam periodic blocks of plant material, assess the population of pests and beneficial and note the general health of the plants.

The most important skill that I have found is the value of remaining still. If you keep moving your eyes around it is often difficult to see something small that is moving. If you keep looking at one spot then often something will appear and can move into your field of vision. If something appears on the periphery then you can shift your eyes to that position and then re-focus. Patience is an absolute necessity.

Naturally with time you will learn the spots that are most likely to harbour the pests or benenificials. For instance thrip like spots that are cryptic. You will find them inside the depths of a flower or inside an unfolding young leaf at the growing tip.

So after scouting a greenhouse yesterday my count was, 3 Amblyseius cucumeris (thrip predator), 1 Hypoaspis aculeifer (soil dwelling thrip predator), countless Aphidius colemani (aphid parasite) and many springtails (small, harmless soil dwelling insects).

One thing that I scouted was a small fly, orange in colour with brilliant red eyes, striped abdomen with a dark tip and hardly any antennae. I had thought this creature was something called Eretmocerus eremicus. All last season I had identified him as such but this year he showed up before I had introduced any (Eretmocerus). When I looked more carefully at him it was clear that he was not Eretmocerus. They were congregating on the aphid banks so may be an aphid predator but after a couple of phone calls I still could not identify him. He has very active predator like behavior. So if someone out there is missing a pretty red-eyed fly please let me know!

Garlic Options

Graded RoundsWe have now been growing garlic in a hybrid system, in our greenhouse to winter and moved outside to finish growing in the spring, for 5 years.  A benefit of this is that the boxes we grow the garlic in are filled with high quality soil and and have fewer weed seeds than most field growing.  We take advantage of these conditions to grow out bulbils.

What are bulbils? Bulbils are  small bulbs that form in what might normally be considered the flower of the garlic that forms above the plant. Each bulbil is capable of growing into a normal garlic bulb.  Since the bulbils are entirely above ground they are much less likely to carry any soil born diseases. Bulbils take 2 to 4 years to form a full size garlic bulb. In the first year from a fall planting most of the bulbils will form what is called a round. The round might be considered a “clove” of garlic that can be planted exactly as you would a clove. Each year from the planting of a bublil and continuing with the rounds you will get

  1. More bulbs forming (rather than rounds).
  2. Larger rounds and or bulbs.

We have found that from the porcelain varieties that we grow the “medium” size rounds which make up about 70% of the rounds that are produced from bulbils in one year, make almost 100% bulbs and the bulbs are of a completely acceptable size for planting or eating.

So why would you want to plant rounds instead of cloves?

  1. Short of tissue culture bulbils are the best way to grow disease free garlic and by planting rounds you are much closer (1 or 2 generations) away from bulbils.
  2. For the same weight you get a lot more rounds then you would cloves from garlic bulbs. Here are our counts;
  • Rounds
    • Small 800/lb
    • Medium 300/lb
    • Large 144/lb (will yield close to 280 since some of these are bulbs with 2 to 4 cloves)
  • Bulbs (cloves)
    • Small 160/lb
    • Normal 64/lb

Our garlic crop before moving outside.
Our garlic crop before moving outside.

Click here to buy garlic now.

 

 

 

 

 

Broken Record

Watering …. yes again.

A broken record yet again, for the record! Of course my kids are use to this. There goes Dad again but I can tell by the look in their eyes that they are appreciative of every word.

Some of the confusion around watering stems from the fact that water can be both a limited resource and a damaging element. As everyone knows (like my children) I strongly believe that people must learn to judge when the plants need water before they apply water and the application can not be done on a schedule. If plants are under-watered (scarce) or over-watered (damaging) the result is the same …. root death. Once roots have been damaged it takes time for the plant to repair and regrow new roots to support its top growth.

In the summers it is often a time of scarce water resources. In the city all water must be treated and unfortunately the water going on your garden has had expensive limited resources used to make it fit to drink and sometimes the demand outstrips supply. In the country most people will be on wells. Often the aquifer that the well is tapping into is limited in supply and as the summer progresses water levels will drop and yet again you are using valuable drinking water to water your garden.

A partial solution to this is proper water management from the beginning. When you first establish plants you want to water them in very thoroughly saturating the soil in their near vicinity. This will serve to wash soil into the voids around the roots leading to the best soil/root relationship. After that you want to allow the soil to dry out until just before the plants starts to be stressed by lack of water. At that point the roots will not be damaged and they will have grown as vigorously as possible looking for more water creating a more robust root system. What do you next?…repeat. What will happen is the time between waterings will increase as the root system expands. As the summer progresses you will be able to restrict your watering hopefully until you don’t need to water any longer.

Here is the part that my kids love best (“yes Dad”). The key to success is to manage your plants so that they have the most robust roots systems possible so that you don’t have to use an excess of water during the times when our water resources are at our lowest…..(“wait, wait come back I wasn’t finished yet…what do you mean you have to go and check your facebook page….this is your Dad you are listening to!..or not.”)

Confession

Listening to the radio today I heard something about an “App” available from an organization called Buycott. One of the primary functions of Buycott is to allow the identification of a products “family tree” from scanning the product. The family tree is made up of the company that made the product and its relationships to its parent companies etc.

 

So in the same vein as Buycott and the interest of transparency I would like to admit that Burt's Greenhouses is owned by Brian Burt and Ruth Hayward. Its relationships to any other parent company does not exist…the buck stops here!

 

A further confession is that we are using replacement workers. We have drawn these workers away from their native lands to work at Burt's Greenhouses. They have come from Toronto, Ottawa, Napanee, Kingston, Yarker and from as far away as the UK! We hope that leaving their families to come to an exotic land has not resulted in too much hardship.

 

And lastly we would like to acknowledge that we could not have made it through the season without the help of those workers. Thanks!…..Lora, David, Alex, Nyree-Dawn, Carolyn, Anita, Colleen, Hanna, Sarah, Emmy, Hayden, Amanda, Colin and Snapdragon.  

High Art at Burt’s Greenhouses

Ok so in honour of the Open Voices singers who came out the the greenhouses to sing for  and hour on the Saturday of the long weekend…..the "Wilton Tabernacle Choir" was formed with sponsorship of Burt's Greenhouses. Remember this is the first public performance which will surely bring us all the attention we deserve!

…and in case you missed the performance of Open Voices singers on Saturday.

Melons

johnny_automatic_melonI have a wee addiction to melons. I started 2 years ago doing a crop in one of our greenhouses. As a result I keep trying new varieties to find the best for me. A favourite was Earlisweet that Monsanto had the rights to. It was popular for years with northern gardeners. In all the melons I have trialled so far they are still the most productive and on the high end for sweetness. The last year the seeds were available was 2009, thank goodness I had some seeds left over that year. Since then I have been planting just a few flats a year so I will have some for me and a few for customers. Next year will be the last year for them and hopefully by then I will have a replacement figured out.

Take a look at our plant list to see all the varieties available. One I have never tried is a small Asian melon called Sun Jewel which has a white crisp flesh. If you swing by the greenhouse in August, odds are I will have different melons for sale for you to try out.