Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Good Things Await

Good Things Await Trailer from Danish Documentary on Vimeo.

I hope this movie comes to the U.S., as this farmer has SO MUCH to teach us all!

Here's an ARTICLE with more of his story....

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Blueberry bed preparation!

With all the blueberry weeding I've done over at Small Blessings Farm, we realized we need to get blueberries planted where we're currently living.  Blaine thought today would be a good day to clear out the bed of old plants and weeds.  Next, we'll be amending the soil and then purchasing blueberry bushes to plant!  

We'll be buying from Raintree Nursery and will plant (2) Sunshine (grew this variety at our urban farm in Burien - great producer - and it will be interesting to see how the plant performs in a harsher climate in Enumclaw), (2) Rubel (a wild blueberry and highly nutritious) and (most likely) (1) Olympia (developed in Olympia, WA).

There are other varieties of blueberries that I am interested in too, but they are grown at local u-pick blueberries farms so I can observe their growth and inquire about pest issues, harvest yields, etc while growing other varieties and see how they perform.

While I was working with the grape cuttings, Blaine started work on the blueberry beds.

Lots of grass and weed invasion; tough work!

Once I joined Blaine, the work was a little easier and progress was made much quicker.  We ended up with a heaping wheelbarrow of weeds and a couple of rocks piles (one pictured above.)  

We added 4 bags of Cedar Grove compost to the garden bed and will likely add another 4 bags!  We also purchased some peat moss, which we will mix in (I don't recommend using peat moss regularly, but I do mix in a good amount when initially planting blueberries and huckleberries).  Because our pH is high and blueberries love acidic soil, I will be adding elemental sulfur.  In addition, I will be amending the soil with feather meal (which provides slow release nitrogen to the plants).  I will also be fertilizing the bed with mineral based Black Lake Organic fertilizer - BLOOM #6 (a product line I used on our urban farm in Burien.  Starting with what I've known and will make adjustments as I observe and test the soil annually.)

Blaine is working to remove a blackberry root, which was on both sides of the board.

This rock pile had some really large rocks.  
Crazy that they were unearthed from this garden bed....

A few hours work!  Such satisfaction is how it looks.

We still have weeding to do on the other side of this bed in the gravel driveway...

...and I managed to trim a few trees too!  


In mid-February, I had the opportunity to attend a hands-on grape pruning workshop.  A post about what I learned will be done in the near future, but today I took the cuttings I received at the workshop and am attempting to root them and start new grape plants!

For the past couple of weeks, I have had the cuttings in water (as instructed) and I finally got a rooting hormone to see if I can get the cuttings to root and grow.  

March 1, 2015 and the weather is beautiful and sunny in Enumclaw, WA

I purchased a seedling soil mixture and some small pots for the rooting stage, which should take 1-2 weeks.  Any of the cuttings that develops roots will then be transplanted into a gallon size pot with hopes to get them into the ground during the next dormant season.  This is a 4 YEAR experiment, as you don't let your new cutting plant fruit until its fourth year of growth!  I'm a little nervous and really excited to see what happens!

Moistening the seedling mix before putting it into the 4" pot.

My set-up on the deck - Black Gold seedling mix, the cuttings in the vases with water (you can see they are already bursting forth with new leaves), my pruners to make a fresh cut across the bottom of the cutting and to remove any buds near the rooting area, the small rooting pots, Clonex rooting hormone, and my misting bottle.

I've never done this before, so I have no idea if I did it right or not.  Too much hormone, too little; dipped it right in the bottle (was this the right thing to do?)

Once each cutting was dipped and settled into its rooting home, I misted the soil from the top.  I will be checking the soil moisture daily and misting as needed.

They look wonderful and I'm praying they do root and grow into healthy grapevines.
The container is on top of a small freezer that gets alot of light.  Once they root and are transplanted to larger pots, they will be moved outside into a "plant nursery" for this season.

The 4 in the front row are Siegerrebe.
The 3 in the back are Madeleine Angevine.

Both are early grape varieties that are very popular in Washington State.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cultivating Success Course: Farmers Market Assignment

Our first week of class, we were instructed to visit a local Farmers' Market and think about and analyze various aspects of the market as we wandered through....  As we observed, we were to be thinking about the farmer's potential for success based on vendor displays, customer service, quality of product, signs, number of customers, pricing, packaging, etc.

We were to select two of the following aspects to discuss related to direct marketing success ~

  • Booth Design - Did the design and arrangement of the booth help make it more attractive?  Did it draw in customers?  Were the signs noticeable and aesthetically appealing?  Was it easy for the customer to select and make their purchases?   
  • Product Displays - Were the products displayed to their best advantage?  Could you see and easily access the products you wanted?  Were the prices displayed where you could read them and figure it out without having to ask?
  • Vendor Identity - Did they have a farm name?  Did they include any information on their location or how they grew the products?  Did they have pictures of their farm?  Business cards or name on the products?
  • Quality of Products - Did vendors have varying quality of products (based on appearance)?  Did they provide labels of "local," "sustainable," or "organic" to highlight qualities of their products that might be of value to you?
  • Price of Product - Did vendors have varying prices on similar products?  How much variation was there among growers?  Were the higher quality products the highest price?  How was the pricing displayed - did that influence purchase?
  • Number of Customers - Did quality, price, design or display seem to have any influence on the number of customers shopping there?
  • Customer Service - Were you aware of any vendors' attitudes or customer service approaches that were particularly friendly, attentive or helpful to customers?  How did that affect sales?

As our current plans don't include selling through a farmers market, we made observations regarding more than 2 of the above....  We did not have someone with us who is experienced in selling their product at a farmers market nor specific examples of what was good, better and best.  We, therefore, share our experience with that disclaimer (our observations from our personal perspective):

We visited the Proctor Farmers Market in a Tacoma neighborhood.  We had visited previously - one time - to purchase pickle making supplies from an organic farm.  This is a lovely neighborhood area - lots of young families and friendly people and a nice size market to shop at; good variety of offerings.

We are a fan of wooden signs.  I think it makes us think of smaller family farms or businesses, which we desire to support with our shopping dollars.  

An observation:  this company must have moved its business location (we didn't ask).  For us, we would try to be more creative in adding the new location onto our wooden sign.

Small family blueberry farm in Puyallup.  Seemed like nice people.

An observation:  Take time to really think about your farm name, as some names can end up being too narrow for future expansion.  In this case, there were no blueberries for sale, but they had containers of grapes and figs.  The sign did say "No spray."

Second observation:  Blaine overheard an older woman ask about the "green figs." (Traditionally, we think people are familiar with black or yellow/golden figs.) The young woman, at the booth, did a really nice job describing the fig and sharing its characteristics, but did not offer the woman a sample of fig to taste.  The older woman did not make a purchase.  Note to us - if selling a product that people may not be familiar with, offer a sample of the item for people to taste.  Sacrificing a percentage of the product will increase sales for the long term.

Purdy Organics is a company we are familiar with, as they also sell at the Ballard Farmers Markets where we have shopped in the past.  The second photo shows how they are transitioning from their "low budget, getting started" label to their professional commercial label (and soon to be "certified organic").  Their catch phrase is, "We make Purdy Good Pickles."  Yes, it is a tasty product and we did purchase a jar of their pickled beets.  They always have samples for customers to taste before buying.   

An observation:  In chatting with the young man, (after we told him we were enrolled in Cultivating Success), that because this is a smaller market, he doesn't make as much effort with the display that would be done at a larger market.  The owner of the company is very outgoing, but he is more reserved.  Perhaps a little more enthusiasm and display would draw more customers to his booth?

An observation:  We really like seeing meat producers at the local farmers market, and while people likely don't want to see "which animals" produced the meat inside the coolers, we do think pictures of the farm go a long way in drawing people in to start conversation that may persuade them to become customers.  

An observation:  Lots of wonderful certified organic produce for sale, but for us, the produce boxes make us think BIG FARM operation and we'd prefer to support small, family farms (looked this farm up and it's 10 acres)

An observation:  this is a large organic farm, which we've seen their booths at other farmers markets, but never purchased from in the past.  As I said before, we tend to purchase from small, family operations.  Because we were visiting a market with a homework assignment we checked them out.  Super friendly salesman (and loved their overalls they were wearing) great displays of various products.  And, a SAMPLE guy.  He knew how to move their product.  "Try one of these, I think you'll like it."  He did this twice with Blaine and Blaine ended up purchasing multiples of those products.  The pepper wreaths caught people's attention and drew them in, even though we only saw one sold while we were there. A very popular booth!

El Chito - Authentic Mexican Tamales

We first discovered this market food booth at the Capitol Hill/Broadway Market.  Blaine purchased a couple tamales from them, because they had posted on their booth that they purchased ingredients from other local farms.  He fell in love with their flavor and quality!

An observation:  Partnering with other local organic/sustainable growers to purchase ingredients for your food product (and advertising who you purchase from) is additional incentive for people to try the food you are offering.  For this business, El Chito sets up next to Alvarez Organic Farms which is a win-win for both of them.

Don't overlook the smaller farm booths, you may find something a little different at these booths or more of a connection with a farmer than at a much busier booth.

An observation:  Some of our favorite farmers have smaller booths and often offer something that you might not find at most booths (growing a variety or different type of green, etc).  They are also often the booths with the most character in their displays.  

A female run farm - Mother, Daughter and sometimes granddaughters!

An observation:  The most popular and busiest booth at this market.  Lots of variety offered.  I LOVED their displays (farm/garden eclectic).  People had to wait in line to make their purchases.  Not the lowest prices at the market either.  For me, the dry erase board with all their offerings and prices was easily readable, but I, personally, would get frustrated trying to keep looking at the board to determine price on the product I was considering for purchase.

An observation:  A couple of signs that we found difficult to read.  Not that they are bad signs; just not easy to read.  And the price sign was sitting outside the booth.  Just didn't work for us.

Our personal favorite booth/farm at this market.  We like their display, signage, customer friendliness, offering some things in bulk sizes at lower prices, customer service (can contact them prior to the market and order bulk - as Blaine did during "pickle" season).  Their pricing signage makes it easy to see what is offered and the price.  On this particular day, they had bulk beets 5 pounds for $6.  Jim also overheard Blaine and I talked about juicing and told us that we can contact him and he will put together a juicing carrot bulk bag - everything certified organic on this farm!  

We did shop and spent about $55.00 for everything purchased above.

A full market basket and market bag makes those market farmers very happy people!  We encourage you to get to know your farmers and shop locally at a neighborhood farmers markets near you!

Good exercise for us to look at things a bit differently, as we shop farmers markets frequently when not growing our own food.  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Seeking a new home for Joy Bell Farm

We've given our notice at our rental house and we have 31 days to find acreage and a new home for Joy Bell Farm!  It's exciting and scary all at the same time.

Our target area is Enumclaw, Washington - about an hour southeast of Seattle.  We've met several farmers in the area already who are part of the Enumclaw Sustainable Farmers Network.  We're excited to become part of this supportive community growing and producing healthy food for the Puget Sound region.

So at 49 years young, why are we embarking on a new farming venture now - as most farmers are retiring around age 55 or so?  Well, we haven't done all that really hard work that others farmers have spent a lifetime doing, our children are all grown and gone now, and we are not willing to give up a lifelong dream!  We are passionate about growing good, healthy, nutrient dense food in healthy, mineral rich soil blending organic farming and a healthy ecological system.  We want to care for the Earth, care for people and be a blessing to our community!

Our first year, we will want to have space for a large garden and a flock of egg laying hens to grow our own food.  Farm development will take time, as we will utilize permaculture principles in designing the farm.  We'll start with a year of observation noting the land conditions, weather, sectors on the land, etc. as well as focusing on building soil health.

So, do we have any experience you might wonder.....

Joanie has done this ~
  • Snohomish County 4-H – club and county leader; sewing and food – multiple projects at the club level.  This is where my farming passion was reignited.  Stepped down in 2005 and moved to King County in 2006.   My hope is to be involved with 4-H again.
  • Seattle Tilth – taken multiple classes over the years (including chicken classes) and completed their Comprehensive Organic Gardener course. Currently, I am a volunteer assistant for adult education classes (Intro to Permaculture and City Chickens 101).
  • Cloud Mountain Farm, Everson – Farm Walk plus a few of their public class offerings (building hoop house, etc).
  • Tilth Producer of Washington (individual member, which enables me to receive their quarterly newsletter and attend Farm Walks) – pruning blueberries, food hub, Cascadia mushrooms, on-farm compost, farm incubator program – and will be attending the GAP farm walk at Local Roots in August and the Burnt Ridge Nursery farm walk in September; just to name a few.
  • Holistic Management International/Allan Savory – attended an all day workshop.
  • Pacific Northwest Center for Holistic Management (Maurice Robinette and Sandra Matheson); financial management class.
  • Mother Earth News Fair – we’ve attended each year since it began in Puyallup.  So many educational workshops; learning from others and networking.
  • Cascade Harvest Coalition (Sheryl Wiser) – Volunteered/Paid for the past couple of years delivering the Farm Guide from Skagit County through Island County and south to Thurston County.  Learned a lot about networking with farmers through my association with CHC.
  • WSU Extension, Small Farms, King Conservation District ~ attended several educational opportunities; continually learning more.
  • Country Living Expo (Cattleman’s Winter School, Stanwood) attended for the past 2 years; a great learning opportunity on a variety of subjects.
  • Focus on Farming Conference (Everett) – attended the conference the past 2 years; also a great learning opportunity.
  • Completed a Permaculture Design Course with Toby Hemenway (author of Gaia’s Garden); a first step in learning what permaculture is and how to look at land and work with the environment and how things work together instead of imposing upon the land.
  • Lots of reading and research plus trial-and-error for several growing seasons in Burien.
  • Annette Cottrell (co-author of Urban Farm Handbook) – learned a little about mini-dairy goats (Nubians) in preparation to show Annette’s goats for a show this past June. 

Blaine attended food preservation classes, built a library of relevant books and has participated in a few farm walks plus attended Country Living Expo and Mother Earth News Fair.  He loves canning and he’s a really good pickle maker too!

TOGETHER, we built our urban farm over 6+ years and I, eventually, managed sixteen raised beds on our urban farm plus additional in ground growing areas.  I grew a variety of fruits and veggies plus herbs. For 18 months, I raised a small flock of backyard chickens and learned so much!

Skills:  gardening, animal care, organic/non-toxic solutions to problems, basic carpentry, painting, baking (gluten-free/allergy sensitive)

Personal:  We don't smoke (anything), we don't drink (maybe a rare bottle of wine for a holiday meal), we don't listen to loud music.  We're quiet, respectful and caring people who love healthy, organically grown, nutrient dense food and humanely raised livestock.  

Every season brings its tasks and hope of a future harvest.  Very early spring pictured.

To the height of the season when you can barely keep up with the harvest and get some sleep too.  Dawn to dusk days... A wonderful time of year!

Integrating chickens into your system to help with the farm work.  Here the girls are helping clean up the area where strawberry plants were removed.

Utilizing a low growing clover in the garden pathways - each time the clover is cut, the plants send out a flush of nitrogen into the soil; benefiting the plants in the raised beds!  Plus, the clover helps suppress weeds, food source for bees and the chickens love scratching in it for bugs.   

 Whenever you're turning the soil, the chickens come running to help "clean" the soil (and leave a little fertilizer behind) - bugs and worms are first rate!

And then..... closing the chickens out of the garden during growing season!

Late fall, the girls are still busy when it's time to plant garlic!

Farm work gives you the opportunity to work as a team and learn new skills too.  
Our first chicken coop we ever built!

Together, we're following our dream and believing God will provide Joy Bell Farm for us!

Blessed to be a blessing to others.

"The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy."  Psalm 126:3