Sunday, 26 September 2010

A Visit to Soiled Reputation Farm

Whew! We're not even half-way through our day. Fortunately, it's time for some food. We all gather in the garden of Soiled Reputation, where we enjoy a brown-bag lunch of ham sandwiches or veggie wraps, local apples and decadent little squares with chocolate chips and caramel, washed down with Wellesley apple cider.

While we're having a little pause here, let me say "Thanks!" to our guides, Drea and Tania, and our driver, Warren. Well done guys; it was a great day. At $25 per person for a day that lasted from 10 am to 5 pm and included lunch, it was also a screaming bargain. If you think you are going to be anywhere near Stratford for the Savour Stratford festival next year you should definitely plan to make the tour.

The garden was lovely, still full of spectacular flowering plants. I made sure to get the name of that towering cloud of yellow daisies to the right and above my head (yes; a rare sighting of the shy and elusive Ferdzy*): it's silphium terebinthinaceum, but you can call it Prairie Dock if you prefer, and you might.

Soiled Reputation is the farm of Antony John and Tina VandenHeuvel. They raise organic vegetables, especially greens, which are sold at farmers markets, to restaurants and through CSA shares. They grow over 50 vegetables in all. Antony was the eponymous star of the Manic Organic television series. He also paints, acts and creates music in his spare time. (He has spare time?!)

There are several greenhouses on the farm, but they have just recently been planted with late fall and winter crops, so there was little to see there besides beautifully raked and leveled earth.

There are egg-laying chickens enjoy the lovely fall weather in a pen by the barn. They are also the clean-up crew for unsaleable vegetables.

A little further along we were introduced to Jesus (Hey-soos) the burro. We were warned that he bites, but he restrained himself in exchange for skritches between the ears. I thought he was very sweet, actually.

Row covers protect late crops from flea-beetles. They also let in most of the light and all of the water. Something we want to get and use in our garden next year, for sure.

Rows of lettuce in the field. Soiled Reputation is an 80 acre farm, of which 40 are certified organic. They are blessed with excellent soil and an excellent location. The soil is Perth County clay-loan, a rich and beautifully balanced and very workable soil. The location is just sufficiently far east of Lake Huron to catch much of the rain created by weather patterns moving over it. (As someone who had 2.25 inches of rain spread over 3 months this summer I am filled with envy.)

On average, Soiled Reputation produces about 400 pounds of salad greens a week throughout the growing season.

Twenty acres are devoted to growing vegetables. Soiled Reputations fields are large and rambling. Partly this is because about a third of them are under alfalfa at any time. Alfalfa is a legume and like all legumes fixes nitrogen, a key nutrient for vegetables. Alfalfa fixes up to 140 pounds of nitrogen per acre, compared to 40 to 50 from peas. In November the alfalfa is ploughed under and the decaying leaves add organic matter to the soil over the winter. Even on top of all this, Antony adds a ton of turkey compost and homemade compost to each acre. He's taking a lot out of the soil too though; by careful planning he can get up to 4 crops out of each space in a summer; a typical cycle might be peas, lettuce, beans, and finally turnips.

Rows of succulent leeks still stand out in the fields. The bluer the leek, the better it will withstand cold. Antony lets the weeds grow up around some of them; this slows their growth down and delays the need to harvest them, thus extending the season.

Antony shows us a beautiful green Romanesco cauliflower, famous for its' fractal pattern of florets. He talked about how it reminded him that everything is linked in chains of similarity; and how is farm is one of a set of micro environments that link Canada to Costa Rica and allow the rich diversity of migrating birds that we have to exist. (Antony is an avid birder.)

Carrots, in a rainbow of colours (it's a little hard to see but these are purple and yellow). The soil at Soiled Reputation is rich in calcium, which is vital in producing sweetness in vegetables. These were very good carrots, I must say. One trick he has for growing them is to plant them, then set up a mini-greenhouse (a pane of glass, really) over a small section. Once he sees signs of germination there, he knows the rest of the carrot seeds will not be far behind. He uses a propane flame weeder to go over the rest of the bed, and so the carrots germinate without competition. You know what Mr. Ferdzy wants to get now. I understand you can get them at Lee Valley.

And on that note, it's on to the next farm.

*Mr. Ferdzy kindly took the pictures on this trip, so that I could concentrate on taking notes. A big thank you to him, too.


Ruth said...

A very interesting post. I saw a large plot of Prairie Dock at Chiefswood near Ohswekan on Friday but did not know what it was.

Tiffany said...

I visited Soiled Reputation a week ago with my mom and husband. It's a beautiful, quirky spot. Love the chickens. They're friendly girls.

Great post!