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Archive for the ‘Farming’ Category

I stopped by Don Northcott’s farm today and his orchard was busy with customers picking apples. Don says it may be the best crop of apples he has ever had. With temperatures in the high teens and not a cloud in the sky, it was a perfect day for such a wholesome adventure. He has a number of apple varieties.

An apple picker from Charlottetown said that she found out about Don’s apple farm on our website. She “didn’t want to drive all the way to Cardigan”. Her family had already filled 5-6 bags and they were coming back for more bags to fill. The apples are so beautiful. I picked up a bag and shared it with my Aunt Hilda.

So for all of you Charlottetown folks, here are the directions:

When you arrive in Clyde River (just 15 minutes west of Charlottetown) on the main Trans Canada Highway, turn right on the Lynwood Road. Don usually has a sandwich board sign out by the highway to direct you. Just drive in the Lynwood Road a short way and make a left on the lane way that leads into the orchard by the big red barn. Bags are provided.

The Clyde River Apple Orchard is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

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This past week, the 13th Annual North American Agroforestry Conference took place in Prince Edward Island and, as part of their program, delegates were offered local tours that included Don Northcott’s farm in Clyde River. One hundred people from places like U.S., Germany, France and provinces across Canada learned about the innovative research and development that Don’s company Phytocultures is carrying out in Clyde River.

Don and his team led the tour through research plots to allow visitors to taste some of the early Haskap berries that will be ready in another week or so. Don sees this as an opportunity to expand his network of contacts as he builds his Haskap operation.

Phytocultures is a horticultural company that has been specializing in Haskap genetics and propagation since the berry’s North American introduction in collaboration with the University of Saskatchewan. Haskaps originated in Japan and the Japanese refer to them as “longevity berries” for their nutritional benefits, offering at least twice the antioxidants as blueberries.

Phytocultures has established a five-variety research plot of Haskap berries. By profiling these new varieties of Haskaps, their goal is to identify critical production and management techniques to aid in crop development, offer production recommendations to producers, determine traits for commercialization and develop a new berry industry. Specific research includes:

  • New variety development for hardiness, yield, taste, harvesting ease and insect and disease resistance
  • Variety profiles for maximum growth performance
  • Selecting a plantation site
  • Pest management
  • Pollination
  • Harvest technology

As Don says, “In apple, strawberry, and grape crops, we know the diseases and we know the particular problems each variety tends to have, the harvest issues, which variety needs fertilizer when, what pests are an issue and how to control weeds. For Haskaps, it is still an open book. There are no sources of information that can be used to answer questions like when to fertilize the plants for best growth and to produce the best berry. We are trying with our production plot to develop initial information to profile the crop and become the go-to source for growing Haskaps.”

“This is a new berry for North America, so it is important that varieties be developed that will meet requirements for commercial production. Our company wants to develop top-performing, volume varieties to wholesale nurseries and berry producers while providing them with the research expertise to support their success.”

Phytocultures’ current production inventory for Haskap plants already exceeds 150,000 plants annually. Big selling features of Haskaps are the plants can easily withstand Spring frosts, be grown further north and produce the first fresh berry of the season in late June. Also, the berries taste good!

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Screen Shot 2013-06-22 at 4.29.37 PMLast week, Prince Edward Island hosted an animal health and nutrition conference, VetHealth Global, that featured leading international companies and presenters talking about the latest trends and innovations in the industry. This event offered an excellent showcase for local bioscience companies focused on animal and fish health and organizations like the National Research Council and Atlantic Veterinary College. The event was covered by Animal Pharm, a leading publication out of London, England, that offers animal health and nutrition business news and analysis.

I worked at the conference managing the business partnering meetings and their attending reporter happened to mention to me that he was looking for photos of animals in a typical rural Island setting. I told him that I had a collection of photos that had been featured in a recent book on Clyde River, so he requested that I send them along. They ended up using eight of the photos. You can click here to view the slide show of Clyde River animals that are now famous on a global scale. They include Dixon’s cows and chickens, Livingston’s cows, MacPhee’s horses and my dog Max. Scenics include Beer’s farm and Lorne MacLean’s potato field. The story is entitled “How an animal health hub is developing on Canada’s “Million-Acre Farm”. The story is closed to subscribers, but if anyone wishes to read the full article, please contact me at vivian@eastlink.ca.

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Open Farm Day Today

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It is Open Farm Day in Prince Edward Island today and Clyde River’s Don Northcott welcomed over 200 visitors to his farm. Don featured varieties of grapes that he is growing on a hill sloping up from the marshes of Clyde River. He offered guests a chance to rate the taste for each grape variety and provide comments on a handout questionnaire.

On another part of the farm was a fruit stand of plums and crab apples. Behind that people were picking their own blueberries. Within the next few weeks, apples in the large orchard will be ready for picking.

This is the 11th year for Open Farm Day in PEI, and the event promotes awareness for Island farms, products and producers. On this warm sunny day, it was great for folks to get out and breathe some fresh country air and take a walk around this beautiful and fruitful farm with its harvest of colour and flavours.

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J’Nan said that when they purchased the 122-acre River Crest Farm originally owned by the Darrach’s and then the MacNeill’s, the 2 1/2 story barn and implement shed were stocked full with old farm equipment, including a mussel mud digger, box sleigh, buggy, market cart, hay loader, potato hiller, walk-behind seeder, turnip chopper, cream separator, horse-drawn side-bar mower and manure spreader. The mussel mud equipment was used to gather shellfish rich mud from the West and Clyde River to fertilize fields as the one featured here on the Virtual Museum site. They gave a horse buggy and market cart to Billy Waller. Much of the farm equipment went to the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and some to Laurie Blue. J’Nan said at the time, if she had bought a horse, she could have started pioneer farming.

In 2010, the barn received a heritage designation for “its age, rare construction and integrity of original architectural elements.” Significant elements included a gambrel roof (hip roof), the construction with the north side built into the side of the hill protecting it from north winds (also referred to as Pennsylvania style) which makes it one of the few left in PEI, the placement of the doors, double barn doors, placement of windows, series of six-paned windows on the south elevation, cedar shingle cladding and the integral location of the barn in relation to the house and yard. The old barn is the first building to greet you when you drive into the yard before you walk through the gates and follow the red brick path to the house.

The barn raising was led in 1937 by Clyde River builder Kenison MacKinnon who was 43 years old at the time and with the help of the owner and neighbouring men. Beams from a previous building which had been hand adzed on one side and sawn on the other with mortised joint holes were incorporated into the structure of the new barn. Kenison was featured in the History and Stories of Clyde River where he said he raised many barns in Clyde River and he didn’t mind one bit. The book goes on to recount a story where he once fell off the roof of the barn he was building for Angus Cameron, but he dusted himself off and told the concerned men standing around him that he had just come down for another package of shingles. Kenison lived for 102 years.

It’s a long way down Kirk and J’Nan’s lane, about 100 yards short of half a mile, or 750 meters if you prefer. Kirk said the lane was a concern for others interested in purchasing the farm when the MacNeill’s put it up for sale. The local people were aware of PEI winters and how such a lane could be difficult. Well, even though the house is a long way from the road, it is also a long way from the river. It was typical in those days to place the house and buildings in the middle of the property, so you would be no more than half the length of your property away when you were out farming your fields.

It’s a beautiful property with a perfectly-centered view of the West River where it meets the Clyde River. Along with the neighbouring Darrach-Poritz farm, it’s the first land an immigrant would meet as they came by boat down the West (Elliot) River to the community of Dog River later Clyde River. The Darrach’s first saw it in 1806. Kirk said even before that time, the lay of the land in relation to the rivers would have also been a popular spot for Mi’kmaq that were known to travel over for the summer from Nova Scotia. Kirk and J’Nan explored down by the river, but they did not find any artifacts; however, they did find where later immigrants had dumped some old stoves that were long rusty.

J’Nan adapted the basement of the barn which is the first floor on the south end to raise goats from 1978 to 1987. She supplied goat milk to Garden City Dairy in Charlottetown. She then sold her 58 goats to a goat dairy in Ontario; there were 29 milkers and the rest were kids and two bucks. After that, they still raised lambs and goat kids each year until this year. The only livestock in the barn now are chickens they raise for food along with some Jack Layton election signs. Livingston’s, who now farm their land, pasture a few cows in the front field and they enjoy their company. J’Nan says the cows are timid, but when she feeds them over-ripe pod peas and corn stalks they warm up to them.

The wooden-fenced yard that is bordered by the barn on the West and the Second French Empire style home on the East and a woodshed to the north provides a cozy area for a rooster and his brood of hens. I managed to capture a photo of them under the large red pine tree before he rustled them through the bushes behind the house. Another hen in a cage was protecting her little chick. This Ameraucana breed of hens originating from Chile were adapted from a number of sources and lay blue eggs. Sloped down from the yard is a garden of corn, sweet pea, dill, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, onions. Behind the house are fruit trees and bushes. In the home’s solarium are herbs. The self-sustaining practices help to make being a long way from the road or a local store of less concern.

The old barn received a new breath of life this month when a wedding took place on the main floor. The Brown’s had chipboard screwed down to prepare for a good ol’ barn dance. J’Nan told me she was going to hang some quilts up on the wall, along with strings of lights and decorations. The band was to play from the loft area.

The barn is now 75 years old, and it’s a great old building that was well-built and well-loved with good stories to tell, and it was surely swaying and jigging to the music during this latest celebration. We wish the barn many more years of happy memories.

Thank you J’Nan and Kirk for touring me through the old barn and the rest of the property. It is not hard to tell how much you deeply love your home place and how much you have respected and treasured its history. Thanks for taking care of this old barn so well. It supports my theory of how some buildings choose who owns them.

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Dixon’s first brought Angus cattle to their Bannockburn Valley Farm in Clyde River in 1954 before Alex and Peter were born. Since that time, the breeding herd has grown to 150 cows of which ten are Hereford, five Highland, and the remainder, Angus. Alex says this number of cattle is manageable for him and his older brother Mack. Their brother Peter who is a teacher also helps out along with his son Andrew.

The Dixon farm is a breeding operation. They produce about 150 calves a year. Some calves are sold as breeding stock and others are sold to be raised for beef. Their brother-in-law Jim Colodey, their sister Hilda’s husband, who also has cattle, represents the maritimes on the Canadian Angus Association Board of Directors. Their daughter Catherine Colodey who was involved in the farm while growing up in the Bannockburn graduated from Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown and now works as a veterinarian at Prairie Animal Health Centre in Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

They have built a strong stock of grass-fed animals which distinguishes their cattle from grain-fed stock. Grass-fed beef is sought out now by high-end restaurants, chefs and retailers that sell to customers who are prepared to pay a higher price to enjoy the flavour and perceived health benefits of this type of meat. However, this high-end market is still in its early growth stages and, given the current economic situation, it’s a niche market, as prices are a little high for the average family.

Alex says that recently some of their replacement heifers were sold to Russia where the agricultural industry is transforming after the fall of Communism. Russia had to move from a command economy to a market-oriented economy, and it was not easy. Russian cattle farms are about half household plots and slightly over half corporate farms. Household plots represent plots of land of less than .5 hectare that are attached to rural residences and operate as subsistence farms to feed individual families with any surplus sold to relatives and neighbours. Corporate farms replaced the collective farm that had existed under the Soviet System. With a population of 143 million with 133 million hectares of land suitable for agriculture, Russia is both a major producer and consumer of agricultural products. Also, the middle class is growing, earning better salaries and acquiring a taste for higher quality meats.

Just a few weeks ago, President Vladmir Putin announced a plan to cut its $3 billion import bill of beef, with a goal for Russia to supply 85% of its own meat needs by 2020 by increasing their local farming operations. Angus cattle are a perfect breed for the cold in Russia; they grow as much hair as they need and pass that genetic trait to their calves, and the Angus breed has been marketed well as a good quality meat.

Dixon’s also have sheep. With 15 ewes, they produce 35 lambs each year, and they are predominantly sold for food. Halifax offers a good market close by with its growing ethnic population, specifically Middle Eastern, where lamb is a regular part of their diet and for restaurants and markets catering to customers who consider lamb fine cuisine.

Andrew Dixon represents the next generation of Dixon’s. He is a trained mechanic and offers his services to keep the Dixon farm equipment maintained, which Alex says is a big help in reducing operating costs. They even built a new garage on the property for Andrew to work. When Andrew was 12 years old, the family asked him what he wanted for his birthday, thinking he may be looking for the latest electronic gadget, but, instead, he said he wanted a Highland cow, aptly named after the Highland region of Scotland. Andrew had seen them at former NHL player Bobbie MacMillan’s farm and was keen to have one of his own. When they went to see them, Mack decided he wanted one, too. Now they have five Highlands with horns as majestic as a Queen’s crown and a reddish, blond coat. Touring around the farm, we found them resting and commanding a presence on the side of the hill under the trees by the brook. Their names are Millie, Daisy, Suede, Blizzard and Snowball.

The Dixon’s 700-acre farm stretches from the Clyde River near Dixon’s bridge along the hill to George Dixon’s farm by the boundary to Kingston and back to the Lynwood Road. I spent my childhood looking across at their farm, and now this week, I had my first opportunity to stand on top of their hill and look across to our farm and the original Beer home place settled in the 1830s where Hilda Beer now lives. Both the Dixon’s and the Beer’s operated saw mills on this portion of the Clyde River that ran through their respective properties. The saw mills are long gone, but Alex showed me where the West River Watershed Group is clearing the river of Alder trees and silt, building safe habitats for fish, stocking the river with salmon and raising the river bed to allow fish to travel through the culvert at the Beer’s bridge.

The portion of the Clyde River that flows behind Harvey MacQuarrie’s is a popular fishing spot in spring for those looking for trout. Up along the river that flows alongside the Bannockburn Road on the Dixon farm is a nesting area for Osprey. We witnessed a territorial maneuver while we were there. A young bald eagle was soaring around, and a resident osprey was concerned about protecting her young, so we saw her fending him off and diving at the eagle to move him far up the hill. Each spring, there is a battle over the coveted nest that sits on top of the old spruce tree by the river. The nest is a collection of branches and other natural elements but also shreds of plastic scavenged from hay bales and possibly the bags that The Guardian newspaper arrives in on rainy days. Alex says that someone cut the tree close to the West River that housed a bald eagle nest, so they are attempting to move over to Clyde River. So far, the osprey are in control of the nest, but one would wonder if the bald eagles have a temporary nest, as they are often sighted in this area now.

It was far up the hill and through the back woods that we found many of Dixon’s cattle seeking refuge from the heat under their favourite trees. The hot, dry summer here in Prince Edward Island has even tamed the roosters, hens, ducks and chickens in Dixon’s barn yard enough to take some close-up photos. It is a farm of contentment on this warm afternoon.

Thank you, Alex, for your tour of the Dixon Farm and for the opportunity to walk up the hill and look across to where I grew up and recall the days you, Peter and I walked home together from Clyde River School.

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Clyde River folks along with the rest of Islanders certainly look forward to the seasons of local berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, gooseberries and elderberries. We wait to hear when the latest berries are ripe, ask the price being charged, choose our traditional farm, market or store and take home our first boxes of local flavour. Some berries are eaten fresh, some made into jams, others made into pies, and yet others frozen, so we can enjoy them in the depth of winter. Well, there are parts of Canada that only dream of such a luxury, but there is now a berry for the many regions of our country where climates are too cool for traditional berries. The berry is called Haskap. We can enjoy Haskaps as the first berries of the season, as they are ready in mid-June.

The haskap berry was already established for many years in Northern Japan and Russia, and scientists at the University of Saskatchewan have further developed varieties to thrive in Canada as well and exotic northern names include Tundra, Borealis, Indigo Treat and Indigo Gem. Don Northcott’s company in Clyde River, Phytocultures, is one of few licensed propagators (plant breeders) for haskaps in Canada, and his company is further developing varieties to achieve refined flavours, uniformly-shaped berries for increased commercial potential, and hardier plants for northern climates. They have been shipping plants across Canada and the Northern US.

“The Haskap berry is exciting news for the Northern berry industry, especially in regions that have had difficulty growing berries and are susceptible to late Spring frosts,” says Don.

Last year, Quebec lost much of their blueberry crops to frost, so along with a global over-production of blueberries and the fact that the same equipment can be used to harvest Haskaps as blueberries, Canadian growers are taking a very serious look at this new business opportunity.

So now that I have your interest, you ask, “So what do they taste like?” Well, they have a taste all their own; like a cross between a grape and a blueberry, not overly sweet and a light taste. Each variety has its own nuance of flavour. The berry is indigo blue with a delicate, velvety skin. Each berry has a good amount of succulent juice that is red like a raspberry. What is very sweet are the antioxidants offered by these berries which is almost three times that of blueberries. What a healthy way to start the berry season.

No wonder Don has to protect his berry treasures with nets. The birds of Clyde River have discovered them, and they sneak inside the nets, hide under the haskap bushes and eat to their heart’s content. When I arrived to take photos, some birds were happily flying within the netting, so Don had to chase them out. He caught one well-nourished little bird before releasing it.

I picked a box of the Indigo Treat variety; they felt silky and dropped easily off the bush into my hands. I prepared them as part of a dessert where I added whole haskaps as a topping on ice-cream along with others crushed as a juice and drizzled on top. The purple and burgundy presentation is attractive. They would work well on a vanilla yogurt as well. Haskaps have all the flexibility of other berries and can be made into jams, jellies and wines.

If you are interested in growing Haskaps, the bushes are attractive and could be placed within your landscaping and offer you some early Spring berry treats. But remember, the birds like them as well, so you may require a little netting, or one bush for you and one for the birds. You can plant the bushes in Spring or in Fall. Contact info@phytocultures.com for more information.

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