Members’ Outing – Natures’ Apprentice Farm Tour – 23 June 2022

With varying reports that indicated we might have ended up in a deluge of rain, I trusted the farmer’s gut and we decided that taking a risk on going ahead with the outing was a good plan.  And it most certainly was.  Alberto, Joanna and the sunshine welcomed 18 club members for a beautiful if somewhat steamy evening at the farm in Packenham.  The level of enthusiasm for this tour was definitely evident by both the number of interested participants and that most of them arrived even before me.  It was further evidenced by the peppering of questions to Alberto and Joanna and the continued conversation to the end and beyond the end of the formal outing.

Alberto began the tour in the building where he washes his produce and spins it dry in an old washing machine.  He was packaging up lettuces for upcoming orders when we arrived and was happy to show us his process.  Later on, he let us in on some of his time and effort saving technology (a must if you want to make a living at this).  His seed planting guide and paper pot planter were both ingenious.

Alberto’s vision of regenerative agriculture is shaping up very nicely after three years on the farm and will be a work in progress for many years to come.  The farm is “no till” where he uses only mushroom compost, Alfalfa meal and seaweed to enhance the quality of his sandy soil.  Without soil disturbance, the weeds are less likely to grow.  Additionally, the plants themselves, rather than depleting the soil, actually add nutrients.  He also uses Buckwheat as a cover crop and rotates his beds to help minimize disease and maintain the health of his soil.   After seeing year over year improvement in his soil (he says that the organic matter has doubled since he started), he is anxious to test it again this Fall to measure the enrichment from this year’s activity.   Companion planting, successive sowings, appropriate plant variety choices and use of greenhouses to extend the season play a role in keeping this active little farm productive.

Between his garden rows which are irrigated with drip lines drawing on well water, Alberto has put a layer of wood chips.  This makes it both a comfortable walking path and as the chips break down, further adds to the organic matter.  As they break down, more is added which keeps the weeds down.  It seems that about the only thing he does not allow to grow is grass; White and Yellow Clover are allowed to grow provided they are in the right place. Additionally, he keeps hedgerows with many different plants between his rows of crops to encourage the pollinators and provide a place for toads and other wee critters to stay shaded.  The farm is as much about the flora as the fauna.  Alberto says that gray tree frogs are especially partial to his spinach, but that he does not mind sharing.  The Bergamot that is growing will attract the hummingbirds in another few weeks and should brew him up a lovely pot of tea to go with Joanna’s garden-full of luscious strawberries which were a real sweet treat.

There is still some old hayfield on the property which will be cut in August after the Bobolinks are done with it.  The tall greenery provides quite a contrast from the barren farm field from which it was severed.  Experiments with cereal crops are currently underway to determine whether this is a practical and productive endeavour.  The hens do a marvelous job of clearing the ground and with the pen being moved every 5 to 6 weeks, Alberto should have an area cleared out in no time. Fruiting nut tree crops will also be incorporated into the existing stand of forest in the future.

A few highlights, other than the marvellously well thought out and operated farm, were the many nesting birds (House Wren, Tree Swallow, Eastern Bluebirds).  And with only 13% of pre-settlement wetland remaining in the area, the pond dug on the low spot of the property has provided tadpoles of many different species of frogs a lovely habitat to call home.  Once the vegetation grows in to about 50% of the pond, it is expected that the water will stay clean.

What a marvellous and educational visit we had.  Thank you Alberto and Joanna.  Your dedication was inspiring, and it made many of us wish we were much younger.  We look forward to future club visits to see how this wonderful project progresses.

Thank you to all wonderful the participants for attending and adding such value to the outing through your questions and sharing of tidbits of your own experience and information.  Thank you to those who shared their thoughts and photos of the outing to add to the content of this blog.

Please enjoy the pictures.

Respectfully,

Janet McCullough

Field Trip Coordinator, MFNC