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Springing Spring....or is it!?

Posted on March 11, 2014 at 2:05 AM Comments comments (0)

The last little while has produced a flurry of activity on the farm.  The salad mix growing in the greenhouses has shot up, and the fields are warming up and drying out at an alarming rate! It's like winter was yesterday (does anyone remember the foot of snow we had ten days ago!) and summer is today.  Mikayla (almost 6--resident flower arranging helper/niece exrordanaire) asked why she couldn't swim in the pool yet--after all, she was frolicking in shorts and a t-shirt. A lengthy explanation  of earth and axises and molecular structure ensued but it was hard to argue with her logic--we were, in fact, wearing t-shirts and were not cold.  The sun had been shining all day, and the pool was full of water. The tube of sunscreen may or may not have been pulled out.

I had no 6-year-old-proof answer for her.  Finally I distracted her with a do-it-yourself glitter tattoo kit.(pats self on back).

But her dedication to acting as the weather dictated made me think: why don't we pay more attention to what the weather says?

Farmers generally watch the weather compulsively, and we are no different at Kildara. When snow is forecast, we all stay close in case we have to knock all the white stuff off the greenhouses to prevent them from falling down (learned that one the hard way).  When a dry spell is forecast we all make sure the irrigation is ready for each field of crops and for the animals who depend on us for their survival.  When a rainy downfall is forecast we all get to work digging trenches--a sad effort to suggest to the water that rolling around the barn would be a much better plan than roaring through it. Sometimes these measures work, and sometimes they don't, but we try every time just the same.

No matter the ourcome, it is always comforting to know that us farmers are here, doing whatever we can to save our crops--your food--even if it means getting out of bed to whack and unexpected snowfall off of our greenhouses. 

Dear Weather: we love you and hate you!

xo Kildara

Farm Dogs!

Posted on March 4, 2014 at 11:50 PM Comments comments (0)

It seems reasonable that we follow up the "Geese" post with a doggie one--dogs have been a Kildara staple since the very beginning, and in the almost 30 years since we have been on the farm, we have been lucky enough to share our lives with 10 wonderful dogs (well 18 if you count the puppies that were born here!).  They have predominantly been yellow labs, Daphne's favourite breed and the family dogs she had growing up as a girl in Cheshire, England.  Our labs taught all three of us Hughes children how to walk, play and share, and "scruffle" (oldest son Michael's term for dog snuggle).  To say they have enriched our lives would be a ridiculous understatement--every major memory I have is peppered with dog hair (and most of my meals I'm sure).  I remember moving to the farm as a 7 year old, with our city labs Kerry and Clare in tow--Kerry (the oldest) never did give up chasing the chickens, and she gave them a good scare every time she walked by--ditto for the barn cats.  The current farm dogs have grown up with the various farm animals, and although Darby loves to play chase with the pigs along the fence line, they all have more important things to do it seems than give chase to silly farm animals then get in trouble.  Our dogs' motto: If it isn't tasty it's not worth getting into trouble for.

Flip was the original "Farm Dog"; ie the first to break the labrador mold.  A genius border collie, he got his name from the athletic way he used to toss any object into the air then leap after it and catch it.  Quiet remarkable really! Darby was the next farm dog--Dad (Brian) and I (daughter, Sarah) saw some tacky ad somewhere and drove by the dogiest truck stop one night (neither of us could tell you what posessed us to respond to the ad, but we did).  The so-called border collie/black lab crosses turned out to be something that more closely resembles a pit bull/great dane and the resulting dog has been nothing short of a saint. Dad wanted to take two of the puppies and I convinced him that a divorce would be immanent and we only left with Darby.  Darby has taught my three gorgeous cousins, Milo, Gypsy and Isobel everything that our patient labs taught us.  When Milo was very little he used to sit on Darby, lie on Darby, shove his fingers up Darby's nose and use fistfulls of Darby's ummm, man parts, to haul his little toddler self into a standing position.  Darby never flinched.  Although airplane jetstreams send him into a crazy run and he has been known to smack face first into the side of a barn while running at top speed and trash-talking a raven. Now a 13 year old man he still sits on the porch and barks at every person walking a dog down "His" road.

Bailey is our current Yellow Lab, she demands treats with alarming frequency, barks at us when we don't give her what she wants quickly enough and generally acts like she owns the place (it seems fitting her puppy name before we got her was "Princess").  Mum finally got her first non-Lab dog 6 years ago after I adopted the hairiest mutt ever who has turned out to be the very best and sweetest dog you could ever hope to meet.  She asked for a puppy that was "mostly lab" and ended up with something that howls at sirens, pounces on the cat (its a love-hate thing) and has the most hard-to-brush long hair you can imagine.  She more closely resembles a palomino arctic fox than a lab.  Regardless of the breed, the one thing you can count on if you visit Kildara is being met by a bunch of wagging tails!

Bailey (left with her ever-present ball) and Abby




Posted on February 17, 2014 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (5)

One of the first questions people often ask upon visiting the farm for the first time is “why do you have geese?” This is probably for a couple of reasons:

1)     They are large white birds who like to hang out on/around the driveway often requiring cars to stop as they waddle by.

2)     If you were able to traverse the driveway unimpeded, then you were likely treated to a brilliant display of honking and flapping as you drove by.

3)     If you avoided both of the above, then chances are, you were subjected to the random “sneak attack” whereby our gander is fairly certain he can take on your large automobile and he chases it for a bit.

4)     Lord help you if you tried to walk up.

In short, they are hard to miss! The history of geese at Kildara is actually rooted in purpose. We used to have a fairly large flock of geese who were let in and out of various fields once the crops were finished to clean up stray berries and “weed”.  They have horribly inefficient digestive systems and eat grasses and berries almost constantly so they are great little mowers.

We lost a few geese who decided the farming life was not for them and they much preferred the Deep Cove waterfront and they lived out their days swimming along the shore, obviously thrilled with their discovery that a life of luxury was possible and quite clearly beat working in the "labor force". Most of the others were sadly and horrifically killed (along with our sheep) over a few months when a pack of roaming dogs discovered the farm. All but one.

Left without any friends she simply moved herself over to the horse barn one day and set up shop with them for a couple of years.  Animals have an interesting way of transcending the species divide and “Goosey” developed an allegiance with one of the horses, “Zappa”.  She slept in his paddock most nights, and was often seen just hanging around wherever he was.  Zappa was fairly unconcerned by her and even went as far as to move over and share his grain with her at feeding time, something that would have earned one of the other horses a swift bite or kick had they tried. Somehow Goosey was allowed.

Any time Canada Geese flew overhead, Goosey would flap riotously and shriek at them which always made me a bit sad to see, but I was concerned that if we got another goose as a “friend”, and it ended up being mean to our old Goosey, then I’d be in a bit of a bind, so I didn’t really do anything.  Then one day last spring I was talking to Nikki at White House Stables and she mentioned that they had a solo goose that their other 2 mated pairs were quite horrible to and would we like to try taking him?—we did and after a brief flurry of feather-flying introduction, and one 24 hour disappearing act the two geese are now inseparable and walk around making a loud nuisance of themselves together.

Do they have a purpose? Not really, and where our Goosey is always very docile towards people, the new one likes to chase indiscriminately (people, dogs, horses, cars-- he’s not picky) so that’s kind of a pain, but they are quite pretty and generally hilarious especially when we are lucky enough to catch them as they spend hours playing in the shallow pond in the garden or just waddling from place to place (I have no idea what motivates their movement)—just watch out when you walk (or drive) past!

Photo Credit: Justin Wilkes


Winter on Kildara

Posted on February 10, 2014 at 10:50 PM Comments comments (0)

You wouldn’t think that February is a particularly busy time out on the farm, but it is! This winter has had its challenges so far; the extreme temperature  changes have caused water pipes all over the farm to explode, and while everything is in its frozen state, we have to haul water from inside out to all the animals. I promise you this is not an efficient system.  The rain today and subsequent thawing was very welcome over here!

In an effort to combat the deer problem on the farm we have been painstakingly moving around the property and fixing fences.  A gate system at the bottom of the driveway is next as most of them just walk up the way everyone else does and place their order! Over the last 5 years we have lost more crops to them than we can count, and we are determined to make 2014 the best year ever. That means deer have got to stay out!

2013 saw a lot of changes here at Kildara and the youngest son David has taken over the day to day running of the Salad operation (Peninsula Organic Partnership),while Michael oversees the animals and vegetables and fruit.  After a bumpy fall, David saw real progress in production thanks to a change in weeding techniques and a few experimental plantings! The result has been our most productive winter ever and everyone is excited for what this means for 2014.

Another issue we deal with constantly is blackberry bushes.  While their fruit is undeniably tasty, blackberry bushes can grow 30 feet a year and given free rein, these ramblers will take over everything in their path, fields, tractors, greenhouses and even buildings! We started a week long pruning operation at the beginning of February and are thrilled with the results—hopefully the berries will be bigger and juicier because of it!

Some fantastic new products have been added to the menu this year including chicken stock (sold in 1 quart containers), chicken sausages in three flavours,chicken pieces and pork bundles which allow customers to pick and choose thecuts they enjoy most in a specially created package!

We are looking forward to the growing season in 2014 with great enthusiasm in our little spot of agricultural heaven.  From our family to yours, happy eating!