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Miguel Laroche
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This thread will be an ongoing thread about a farm I run, ASH Berry Farm. It's a 10 acres chunk of land in Royston, BC (Vancouver Island) and I plan to start a CSA next year.

The land owners were too busy with another business and raising kids, so they decided to stop farming and I am now leasing their land. They had converted to ''organic'' shortly after buying their farm so no chemical fertilizers have been used on their fields for the last 7 years and on top of that they have been growing cover crops on some of the farmable land for the last couple years. It used to be a Strawberry farm.

The way it works is I can do whatever I want with the land they are not using (around 6-7 acres) and they get 10% of whatever income I can generate using their land. I have to pay for water usage on top of that. The 10% also includes the use of their tractor (which I don't really plan to use...), the farm truck, and all infrastructure in place.

There are 4 main innovations that I can think of right now that I will be experimenting with and documenting.

-NO-Till
-Living Mulch
-BioChar
-Feeding my chickens for free (building things for free, whatever free)

My goal is to make a living off of their land on my first full year of being a farmer (kinda started halfway through the Summer this year) and I will share my sales on this thread too to HOPEFULLY encourage other young farmers that it is possible to make a living in the first year when leasing.

I will use this thread as a calendar for future reference for myself and will be posting a lot of pictures. I hope you enjoy this thread and feel free to move it to a different section of the forum if this is not in the right place. Thanks.
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Me weeding...
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My partner selling our veggies in the wheelbarrow run in the Village!
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More Beets than I could sell this year...
 
Miguel Laroche
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Hi Dale thanks for stopping by. I worked in Nanaimo this Fall for a couple months... I was responsible for a lot of smoke you guys were breathing I was burning slash piles. I disagree with the whole thing but it sure is a lot of fun, everyone has a bit of a pyromaniac in them!! If all goes well, it was the last time I ever work for someone else than me. Anyway, Welcome and wish me luck!

I forgot to say, anyone, please feel free to ask questions or comments I am here to learn as much as I am here to share what I know or find out.

 
Valerie Dawnstar
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Location: North Central New York
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I am curious how you prepared that beet field if you aren't tilling? You weeded all that by hand?!

A hint from the marketing side of me - know your market before you plant.
 
Miguel Laroche
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Thanks for your advice, my thinking earlier this summer was to use my empty rows to grow a last minute cash crop (beets had been good for us earlier in the summer) and because beets have such long shelf life I thought I would have all the time in the world to sell my beets. We sold quite a lot, we also supported our community forest one day for an event we sold nearly 400$ worth of beets and all the money went to the community forest.

What happened is I got busy and I had to go work in the bush for a couple months in the fall in order to hopefully simply be a farmer from now on... so I neglected the farm quite a bit in October and November...

Believe it or not, no weeding was required on that beautiful field of beets... a friend of mine started farming the land in the Spring (then he realized farming was too much work!!) He tilled the soil that had not been tilled for a couple years and made all the mounds (which I am grateful for!). He covered most rows with black poly and at some point this summer (July 15th!) I simply uncovered 5 rows he had not used yet and it was easy peasy, all the weed seeds were cooked! I seeded clover 2 weeks after seeding the beets (10 days would have been better) and there was still no weeds really... As I was harvesting the beets, the clover was there to take over instead of undesired weeds.

Eventually I do not want to have to use black poly but it was there and it worked well this time. I will re-use what I have for a while for certain crops but I do not want to rely on it. I am a bit anxious about weeds for next year, especially for all the root crops that I will be growing... This year, I had it easy!!

I do plan to weed everything by hand though... only pulling the weeds that are going to seeds and leaving everything else in place for ground cover. The more I think about it now, the more I realize how I have no clue of what I am getting into, it should be a lot of fun...
 
R Scott
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Read " the market gardener " he talks about re usable black tarps, flame weeding, and other pieces you might find useful.

 
Peter Ellis
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Read Dr. Elaine Ingham's work, watch her lectures on youtube. Get the soil biology right and the weeds will not show up. Solarizing kills your soil, which means lots of bad news that goes way beyond weeds.
 
Miguel Laroche
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Thanks Peter, reading Elaine's work is on the long list!!

In the meantime I would like to share this totally awesome video, there is a lot of GREAT ideas for small scale farming, I really like the idea of the barrel around 10-11 minutes into it, enjoy!.



 
Peter Ellis
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That barrel is a good idea. Should be easy to do it with adjustable ballast, too. Then you could use it in a no till system to crimp your cover crop and mark your plant spacing in one pass.
 
Miguel Laroche
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Tough start!! I will upload pics soon, in the meantime I would like to hear from you guys on a couple different topics.

I am learning to cope with the ups and downs of farming. Everything was going so well I thought... all is not lost, but I did lose all my broccoli and cauliflower to root maggot, the kale also have them but I decided not to pull it and see what happens. The red cabbage will probably go as well. I did not anticipate every single plants to be overtaken by pest overnight. I heard people using collars for their brassicas or row covers but last year I grew broccoli and did not lose a single one so I didnt do anything to prevent this from happening this year, beginner's mistake. I reseeded and will keep them under row cover until the day I transplant, just means no early broccoli and colif and also a whole lot of time wasted

The main question I have today is about the carrot rust fly. Last year I did not protect the carrots and had a beautiful crop of carrots with very few damaged carrots, but enough to know they are out in the field. I was going to give up on a few rows because the weed competition was through the roof and they were not covered with row covers, but today, I started pulling weeds and there are a lot of carrots, I know you are supposed to put the row covers before the seeds emerge but how do I know if its too late? I seeded 3-4 weeks ago, I also have 2 rows of carrots that were covered the day I seeded them so I will have early carrots, unlike broccoli and cauliflowers...

I dont know if its because we had a mild winter or because I left a lot of crop residue out in the field or because I had beginners luck last year but I feel like there is a lot of pests out in the field this year...

Thanks for helping

 
Miguel Laroche
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First of many posts, some pics of the growies. I wish I could upload more pics in one post but thats not going to stop me as I will use this thread as a journal to help me keep track of stuff
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Rows 1-30
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carrots between onions
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Miguel Laroche
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Mesclun, west coast seed bank mix
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home made mesclun mix with magenta Orach
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experimental worm farm
 
Miguel Laroche
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Leeks planted a la Jean-Martin Fortier
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Future row of celery and parsnip between garlic
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bush tomatoes under poly-tunnel
 
Miguel Laroche
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Pepper plants in the ''heat trap'', hopefully...
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watermelon/cantaloupe
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Autumn King carrot's row and Imperator carrot's row
 
Miguel Laroche
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carrots!
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Beets
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Lavender, perennial spanish eyes, 1 row plus many plants throughout the field
 
Miguel Laroche
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Cantaloupe experimental row, direct seeded May 4th I think
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Watermelon experimental row, direct seeded May 4th I think
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Field #2 , rows 40-101
 
Miguel Laroche
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Strawberry, perennial, will remove plastic mid-July
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Mazzei fertilizer injector, used for fish fertilizer and compost tea
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sweet peas
 
Miguel Laroche
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parsley, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cilantro, and radish, 5 rows on either side will be pickling cucumbers
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tomatoes indeterminate
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16 rows covered with plastic for future seeding/transplanting
 
Miguel Laroche
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future Hugelkultur bed
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chicken yoga
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2 great moms!
 
Miguel Laroche
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So there you have it, not sure when I will have time to update again since JoAnne and I are very busy, hope you enjoyed the pictures. Sorry if you feel this isnt permaculture but its half way between permaculture and market farming
I wont be using so much plastic in the future but for our first year we had to use it to keep it manageable with only the 2 of us while we learn more about cover crops. If you like this sort of thing, visit www.jipsitree.com
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worm farm (row 21)
 
David Good
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You know, a small plant nursery area can really bring in some decent cash if you specialize in a few rare edibles. I've been doing that on my one acre and paying about half the bills. Just a quick thought. The numbers are better than on most crops.
 
R Scott
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It isn't Permaculture if you can't pay the bills and lose the land.

I wish there was a better solution than plastic, but it does make it easier on the front end. There needs to be a paper or plant fiber mat (coconut, straw, whatever sustainable biomass you have) that holds through the season but then you spray some magic Elaine Ingham compost/enzyme tea and it just dissolves into wormwood before your eyes.
 
Su Ba
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Your posts and pics are great. I'm sure they are giving lots of people things to think about.

My own homestead is not 100% anything, including permaculture. I need to do what works in order to support myself on this farm. I try to come up with methods that keep me mostly organic and mostly permaculture. But in order to avoid chemical herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers, using some plastic and reemay cloth in some circumstances is a sensible solution for me too.

I'm finding that I'm doing better at making a livable income by placing emphasis on items that the competition isn't. For example, every seller here has beets. So instead of red round beets I'll grow cylindrical ones, yellows, and whites. I grow kohlrabi and white turnips (veggies that people here don't know about), and hand out printed cards explaining how to use them. People around here grow the green pipinolas, so I grow the white variety. And so on. It didn't take all that long for people to associate me with "gourmet" vegetables.

I'm expanding my retail market right now but targeting the local B&Bs. I've been dropping off some of my excess to them for free and leaving some literature about my veggies and their availability. I just picked up two new customers this way. One I email with a list of what's available Friday night and she text messages me back with a shopping list. She then gets her veggies on Saturday. The other wants the list on Monday night and picks up on Tuesday. Because of adding B&Bs to my customer base, I plan to branch into a small amount of cutting flowers.

As for your second year with the pests, I had the same experience. The first year was great....no pests, no disease. Then everything found me. Since then it's been a dance of keeping one step ahead of the bugs and learning how to deal with the diseases. Every year seems to bring new challenges. So I plant extra, rotate crops, don't plant all of the crop in one location, suck it up when a crop fails and try to learn from it.

Keep up the good work!!!
 
Miguel Laroche
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David Goodman wrote:You know, a small plant nursery area can really bring in some decent cash if you specialize in a few rare edibles. I've been doing that on my one acre and paying about half the bills. Just a quick thought. The numbers are better than on most crops.


I have been thinking about starting a small nursery with permaculture plants and I started acquiring stock but its long term project and the workload will be done in the winter for this. rare edibles is a great idea too!

R Scott wrote:It isn't Permaculture if you can't pay the bills and lose the land.

I wish there was a better solution than plastic, but it does make it easier on the front end. There needs to be a paper or plant fiber mat (coconut, straw, whatever sustainable biomass you have) that holds through the season but then you spray some magic Elaine Ingham compost/enzyme tea and it just dissolves into wormwood before your eyes.


ultimately,my goal is to become a master with cover crops and there will be no more plastic.


Su Ba wrote:Your posts and pics are great. I'm sure they are giving lots of people things to think about.

My own homestead is not 100% anything, including permaculture. I need to do what works in order to support myself on this farm. I try to come up with methods that keep me mostly organic and mostly permaculture. But in order to avoid chemical herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers, using some plastic and reemay cloth in some circumstances is a sensible solution for me too.

I'm finding that I'm doing better at making a livable income by placing emphasis on items that the competition isn't. For example, every seller here has beets. So instead of red round beets I'll grow cylindrical ones, yellows, and whites. I grow kohlrabi and white turnips (veggies that people here don't know about), and hand out printed cards explaining how to use them. People around here grow the green pipinolas, so I grow the white variety. And so on. It didn't take all that long for people to associate me with "gourmet" vegetables.

I'm expanding my retail market right now but targeting the local B&Bs. I've been dropping off some of my excess to them for free and leaving some literature about my veggies and their availability. I just picked up two new customers this way. One I email with a list of what's available Friday night and she text messages me back with a shopping list. She then gets her veggies on Saturday. The other wants the list on Monday night and picks up on Tuesday. Because of adding B&Bs to my customer base, I plan to branch into a small amount of cutting flowers.

As for your second year with the pests, I had the same experience. The first year was great....no pests, no disease. Then everything found me. Since then it's been a dance of keeping one step ahead of the bugs and learning how to deal with the diseases. Every year seems to bring new challenges. So I plant extra, rotate crops, don't plant all of the crop in one location, suck it up when a crop fails and try to learn from it.

Keep up the good work!!!


Thanks!!
 
Patrick Mann
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Thanks for posting all the pictures. Great to get an overview of the operation instead of just selected snapshots.

So you use the plastic to solarize weeds and remove prior to planting? Or do you plant starts through it?
 
Miguel Laroche
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I use the plastic both ways.

1-For certain heat loving crops like peppers, watermelon, cantaloupe, I use the black plastic to help increase the heat.

2-Solarizing weeds. I did not get to prep the field #2 until late April (Rows 40-101) I had to plow that field to make the raised beds but will be doing no-till from now on. Rows 1-40 weren't tilled this year. By the time I covered rows 44-69 for the strawberries and planted them it was already early May. Most rows covered after that are not ''sterilized" yet so I might plant through them or keep them covered until July to seed stuff like beets and carrots for Fall harvest.

If you look up some of the very first pictures I posted when I started the thread, you can see a nice field of beets, no weeding was required. The plastic had been on for months before seeding but Jean-Martin Fortier says 5-6 weeks is enough (I think he says in the heat of the summer, 5-6 weeks when its still cold out wont do anything...) Also its important to broadfork, rake and level your row before covering with plastic, once you peel the plastic you do not want to disturb the soil whatsoever if your goal was to smother the weeds. Be sure to inoculate with a mild compost tea before seeding because the plastic over the raised bed for an extended period of time reduce microbial activity, 36'' wide plastic will not fully kill the life in the soil I can guarantee you will see bugs when you uncover it no matter how long it has been on.




As for the Strawberries, I have decided to plant them through the plastic this year because there is no way I could keep up with weeding so much land, comes mid-July, I will mow them and remove the plastic before they start sending runners. Not sure how I am going to go about it next year.

The farm was a Strawberry farm for many many years, the current owners turned it into an organic strawberry farm for several years before I took it over mid-Summer last year. My goal is to come up with a way to maintain the patch without it being so labour intensive, I plan to experiment with various living mulch like purslane....
 
Michael Cox
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You might also look at adding bees to the mix.

Regarding the black plastic... It would be nice to have an alternative, but at the scale you are working at you really do need to compromise to reduce labour costs. It is better than many alternatives would be.

In 'The Permaculture Orchard' video he explains why they use black plastic in their tree row, and also how they plant their desirable shrub layer crops straight through it. The difference in growth and vigour on the trees is amazing compared to adjacent rows that do not have the plastic.
 
Miguel Laroche
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We have a beekeeper with 4 or 5 hives on the farm. He comes once in a while to do the maintenance. That's one thing I dont have to get into but still getting the benefits.

I transplanted some cantaloupe and watermelon plants into the worm farm a few days ago... around 40 plants. If they work out, they will be some nutritious tasty fruits! Also we filled the gaps where they didnt germinate in the poly-tunnels and the 2 rows seeded through the plastic. It will be interesting to see if the ones I direct seeded will catch up with the ones I started indoor for 2 weeks.

We started seeding pickling cucumbers yesterday, we have 4 rows done now, seeding through the plastic this year and see what happens. I plan to remove the plastic as soon as they start flowering. We will try to get 6 more rows done in the next couple of days, not that it takes that long but we have many other things to do!

We also seeded corn a couple of days ago, 4 rows for now. I plan to seed a couple more.

Almost everything is in the ground, everything is growing well but I worry a lot about crops failure after I lost all the broccoli and cauliflowers ... the maggots are in the brussel sprouts and the cabbages now too (except the red cabbage so far seems not to attract them). I am considering doing a concentrated neem oil soil drench... I know its bad for beneficials but I would apply it at the root zone only. I would like to hear what people think about that for a quick fix. It is certified organic, but not something I want to rely on. I just transplanted 100+ brokali with a piece of rhubarb, apparently it keeps the maggots away it will be interesting to see if that works.

Thats all for now, thanks for helping.
 
Miguel Laroche
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Huge heat wave in the weather forecast, I hope my salad mix doesn't all bolt or go bitter, any ideas or advice would be appreciated. Would watering them several times a day help? I don't have the luxury of shade cloths this year.

All red onions from sets started flowering about a week ago, I will start them from seed next year, I did not know red onions from sets were notorious for going to seed early. We will sell them as red green onions kinda.

Almost 100% germination rate on soya beans I started seeding about 10 days ago, they only take a few days the come up, carrots are a little more challenging in this hot weather.

Half the rows of corn are up and growing strong, the other half were seeded 3 or 4 days ago. I will fertilize the first half at a rate of 1L of fish fertilizer per 200 foot of drip-tape. 4 raised beds of corn with each 2 rows of corn (one drip-tape per row of corn), will be about 8L. I plan to increase slowly, I am not sure if I need to feed my corn so heavily since vetch was growing in that field for a couple few years. Any thoughts?

We are just about to start harvesting swiss chard and kale, both should be earlier next year, I should have direct seeded the swiss chard, I had several go to seed, or maybe it was just from the heat and not enough water.

I should start my radishes in small batch next year, like a thousand seeds at a time, the 24 days variety (Rudolf) seeded early May truly took 24 days to mature, lots are splitting up now.

I seeded pumpkins and more beets 2-3 days ago, before the rain (we needed more rain!!)



Thanks for helping. I will upload more pics soon, the whole field is greening up!! weeds everywhere
 
R Scott
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Watering can help, but creates issues if overdone. Shade cloth is really the best answer.
 
Miguel Laroche
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Thanks! I really appreciate all the help I can get.

We will use shade cloth for sure next year, I inquired about shade cloth but I just couldnt afford the infrastructure and the cloth this year. We have probably spent around 20000$ so far (just a guess, maybe much more...) .

We started selling sporadically but next week things should really kick in. We have a fair bit of pre-orders for our strawberries and half of our members were interested in an early basket.

For the salad mix, if I have time I will try setting up a quick raised bed near a tree-line that stays in the shade most of the day. Till it and top it off a sterile mix or fish compost, it might work well.

Thanks again.
 
R Scott
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I understand the bleeding money issue all too well

If you have a naturally shady spot, that would make a great summer bed. Trees are cooler than shade cloth.
 
Sam Boisseau
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Hey Miguel,

I'm on an island about 40-50km straight north of you.

This is an interesting year to get started because it's so hot already and things are maybe a couple weeks ahead.

I was taught to leave row covers on brocolli/cauli for most of their life, but it's still a lesson for me to see that you lost a bunch due to the root maggot. Another way is putting old socks at the base of the stems.


7 acres is a lot to manage, how much are you growing your crops on? 1 or 2 acres seems plenty to handle for market gardening. You could use the rest for animals and to grow material for compost/mulch etc.

Looking forward to your report at the end of the season; whether you end up making a living or not this is still a great achievement!
 
Miguel Laroche
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Hey Sam, thanks for sharing. I currently lease around 4 acres, 3 to food production and 1 to chickens. Things have not been working out as planned, everyday brings in new challenges. Today, the wind created work that didnt exist before the wind showed up! The work load is insane, I am so new at this I also waste a lot of time, I do try to focus my energy on the next most important thing to do but its hard not to get discouraged on days like today... to end on a good note, the strawberries I have for upick are the best I have ever had, all customers are very happy.
 
Miguel Laroche
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Just a quick update, we finally have some baby carrots! it will be great to have them in next week's baskets. I also ate my first cherry tomato today, not quite ripe though... things are really starting to take off! We are selling out of strawberries as they ripen, not many are going to waste. Id say everything is going rather well. I took a few pics with my phone,... I ll do a better job with the canon soon. Cheers.
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cherry tomatoes, brussel sprouts, kale, shelling peas, and lots of clover
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bush tomato plants
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cantaloupe watermelon
 
Jeremy Elwell
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dog trees urban
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Very nice!!
Everything Looks great!
 
Miguel Laroche
Posts: 69
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Thanks Jeremy, last year was.... challenging!! We survived, I had to go work in the bush in the Fall to survive but we survived. No CSA program this year, last year was way overwhelming. I ll take the go pro out in the field and do a quick video update, as far as making a living this year, we are going to bank on our half acre of u-pick strawberry, 10000 garlics (2500-3000 biggest heads will be kept for replanting) and a small patch of pickling cukes! I will likely grow other stuff like carrots, tomatoes and peppers but the strawberry, garlic and cukes are the priority.

I started planting some trees too, mulberries, apples, plums, some berry bushes too like honeyberry, gooseberry, elderberry, jostaberry... all in small amounts, initial investment for propagation a year or 2 from now. Still lots going on, still not making a living ! haha, hopefully this year will be the year.

In the meantime ... tree planting for a living
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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I'm following your progress with interest. You seem to be having some of the same ideals and experiences as I, no till, some great success, some pest trouble, CSAs a huge amount of work. Focusing on a few good crops and planting trees. Trying to make a living! Best of luck and keep us posted.
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