big belle farm

Farm News

Small Scale Wine Making
Posted on November 11, 2017 @ 07:28:02 AM by Paul Meagher

I'm busy vinifying the red grape harvest of 2017. Part of that process involves pressing the juice from the crushed red grapes. Pressing of the red grape mash takes place when you want to end the primary fermentation phase. I fermented the red grape mash for 8 days before deciding to press. The mash included red grape juice, skins and stems. I was continually removing the stems because I don't have a destemmer. I think it is ok to include some stem flavor and nutrients, just not too much.

Reaching the secondary stage of making red wine involves running your wine through a wine filter so you can put it into longer term storage containers, in my case glass carboys. Here is the practiced process I follow to press the red mash. I collect "free run" juice first without any pressing and then start pressing when you decide you have added enough mash to the press. When you start pressing the resulting wine is called "press run" wine. There may be a taste difference so the wine produced is labelled accordingly. I yielded 3 carboys of wine from 1.5 pails (75 liter) of fermented red grape mash, 2 were free run and 1 was press run wine.

I varied my wine recipe this year. Some of the red wine is coming out with a fairly neutral tasting nose with a delayed flavor impression. I'm happy with that result so far. I'm trying to avoid sourness in the flavor profile and I'm not getting that so far.

I recently picked up a new book on wine making by Isabelle Legeron called Natural Wine: An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally (October 2017, 2nd Ed.). I haven't had a chance to delve into it yet but the pictures and ideas being discussed (e.g., what is Natural?) appear to be interesting.

Spring 2017 Update
Posted on May 25, 2017 @ 09:20:40 AM by Paul Meagher

It has been a busy spring at the farm. We've been busy planting trees, mowing grass, selling hay, prepping the garden areas, installing a garden, installing a decorative corner fence, getting vehicles and machinery in running condition, etc...

No surprise, alot of time has been spent working on the vineyard - spring pruning, attaching vines to the trellis, replanting vines and fixing trellises. A new project this year was to install custom made guards at the base of all the vines to make management of them, hopefully, much easier in the season ahead. There is some risk here, but not having to continuously hand weed around all the vines would be reward enough for trying. Not apparent in this picture is some geotextile fabric that has also been laid around the base of the plant in the guard area.

Another improvement in our system for managing the vineyard this year is developing a system to track what is happening in the vineyard. Towards that end we have started to map some of the elements of the vineyard. Here is an inventory of all the posts and plants in each row of the vineyard.

This is a start.

We did lime each row in the vineyard this year as there was moss growing around the vines (some areas more affected than others). We used an indicator species (the moss) to tell us it was time to lime.

I will soon be filtering my wine and doing some blending to hopefully make the wine less sour. The grapes in this northern edge climate don't come in at the desired brix level so sugar must be added to achieve normal wine alcohol levels (12%). There also needs to be a correction for the sourness that can remain. One blending option I am hoping works is to blend in some plum port that I brewed from a plum tree on the property. Last time I tried it I liked the taste and the higher alcohol content of a port produces a sweeter taste that might blend well. We'll see.

Disappearing Snow
Posted on February 28, 2017 @ 07:35:57 AM by Paul Meagher

What a difference a week makes. The photos below were taken from the same spot 1 week apart. The top photo was one week ago and the bottom photo was taken this morning.

Ariel View of the Vineyard
Posted on February 28, 2017 @ 07:29:06 AM by Paul Meagher

A window at the top of my barn blew out in a wind storm in early February 2017 so I had to repair it. Fortunately there is lots of hay in the barn so I was able to climb up to it easily and fix it. I was also able to take a clear video of the vineyard with the dirty window removed. The video starts with the oldest vines and ends with my younger vines.

Crushing Grapes and Making Wine
Posted on November 7, 2016 @ 03:25:00 PM by Paul Meagher

Most of my vineyard consists of 1 to 4 year old grapes that are not that productive yet so there is no need to invest in expensive equipment or facilities to make my wine. You don't have to be a big outfit to make quality wine. You just have to take care to do all the steps of the process right using smaller scale equipment and facilities.

My first round of harvesting involved harvesting the unnetted grapes so the birds wouldn't get them. I then crushed my grapes in front of my barn using my grape crusher and a pressure washer and gloves to keep things clean.

After I crushed the grapes to start the juice extraction process, I took the grapes back to Truro with me where I can more easily monitor them. Here are the same grapes undergoing fermentation in the room I built in my garage to ferment and age my wine.

Spring Wwoofers
Posted on July 7, 2016 @ 12:41:43 PM by Paul Meagher

This spring I've been busy working with wwoofers on various projects around the farm. In mid-may, Maxime and Angela from France (see their Positive Changers website) spent 10 days at the farm and helped me take down alot of old rotting fences. We used the fence posts to build 3 hugelbeds so far. We planted one out with a salad mix and that one is now producing abundant salads (and should for years to come as buried fence posts under the salads continues to rot down).

Another wwoofer from Germany, Marianne, stayed with me for 6 weeks and helped me with the garden, vineyard, and orchard work that needed to be done. Marianne also helped me with some cedar shingling work when some vinyl siding blew off the one-bedroom trailer she was staying in. Here is Marianne planting out some new grape vines. Marianne grew up on a vegetable farm and was an excellent and enthusiastic worker.

For the last week, I've been back in Truro taking a short break from farming while I take care of dental work, haircuts, vehicle repairs and spending some time with my family. My wife Adele will soon be taking a couple of weeks vacation and will be heading down to the farm with me. There is still lots of vineyard and gardening work to do and hay making will be coming up towards the end of the month. We'll also be taking some time to enjoy the scenery Mabou has to offer such as this picture of Mabou harbour captured in the late evening from my neighbor's field.

Spring Cleanup
Posted on May 9, 2016 @ 12:43:54 PM by Paul Meagher

Me and Adele did some spring cleanup work on mother's day. We had some new doors and a new window installed in the farm house over the winter and there was lots of wood and debris around the house from that job. We started a fire in our firepit and burned all the wood as well as other stuff around the farm. It had rained before we started the fire and was raining on and off all day so there was very little danger of the fire getting out of control. The firepit is next to the garden shed which has a garden hose we could use as well.

In addition to cleaning up the mess that accumulated around the farm, we also experimented with tarping the small garden to prepare the bed for planting into. Tarping is supposed to help kill off weeds and germinate weeds. If you use a propane torch on these germinated weeds prior to planting you are supposed to have fewer weeds to deal with during the season. This is the first time trying this technique and Adele suggested we tarp our small garden next to the fire pit. I have a bad habit of going too large scale with my experiments. Permaculture teaches us to experiment on a small scale first and this is what we will be doing this year with this tarping experiment.

I also prepared a vermi-compost bin using an old bathtub that Scott McNeil was getting rid during renovations of his cottage in Mabou Harbor. I leveled the bathtub so that water would flow out the drain via gravity. I then covered the drain hole in the tub with flyscreen and put some pea gravel over that. Then I dumped two tubs of earth that I left outside over the winter. I was transporting grape vines in these tubs. I covered the earth with some hay that was starting to rot and then covered that with two more tubs of earth and then another layer of rotting hay. This is often called lasagna gardening and it is what I did to prepare the soil for the worms when I purchase them. The idea is that we will throw all our organic waste in this tub over the summer to take care of such waste. It will be covered with some old galvanized roofing I have lying around when we get the worms.

I decided to start harvesting rainwater again by closing the valve at the bottom of the rain collector so it can start to collect water again. I collected around 80 liters from the rain that fell during the afternoon.

Finally, I emptied out the old gas from the tractor and replaced the fuel filter. I also replace and shut off valve in the fuel line with a shut off valve that was smaller. The shut off valve was too big and was causing the fuel line to crimp. The shorter shut off valve gives the fuel a more direct route to the carburetor. When I filled up the fuel tank again the tractor started up and ran like a kitten. Tony Thompson from Brook Village helped me tune up the old 135 Massey Ferguson gas engine over the winter (new distributor rotor and cap, timing the engine, new spark plugs and connectors, new manifold, carburetor cleaning and adjustment, etc.). The end result is that the tractor is running much quieter and with alot more power then it ever has.

The work on the farm will begin in earnest in the next couple of weeks once the grass and weeds get high enough that we have to start dealing with them. Lots of trees, shrubs, and vines to plant out this spring as well.

Pruning and seed starting
Posted on March 30, 2016 @ 07:52:17 AM by Paul Meagher

I was down to the farm over the easter long weekend and pruned around half of the grape vines that will need pruning (on Mar 27 and 28th). The pruning is also an opportunity to gather some propogation material (i.e., pruned canes) that I will root in my pit greenhouse in Truro and plant out in the latter part of spring. I just started pruning when the photo below was taken. You can see that the trellis wires on the wind facing row experienced some damage and I'll be doing some fairly major rewiring of that trellis row on my next pruning visit in a week or so.

This year I invested in a grow light system from Lee Valley ($165 before taxes) to start my seeds with. Presumably this will help prevent my tomato plants from getting "leggy". Some seeds take a long time to germinate and grow and given our relatively short growing season a grow light should help us plant out a well grown plant and have some earlier harvesting from it.

This grow light system has some nice features. I especially like the water reservoir at the bottom that includes a platform and a wicking mat that will deliver moisture automatically to the bottom of the grow trays (which have holes in the bottom to accept wicking mat moisture). The Scotia tomatoes have germinated but none of my peppers have done so. I planted the tomatoes seed on March 19th, they started germinating a week later on March 26th, and this is a photo of them today March 30th. The grow light is set around 5 cm from the tomato plants and because they don't have to "work" to capture light maybe this will make them less leggy. We will see.

I am still learning how to use the grow light system and even if I planted my tomatoes too early I think it will be worth it just to develop some familiarity with using the system right away. My plan is to eventually transplant these tomato seedlings into soil blocks using some soil block makers I got from Lee Valley last year. Lots of new gardening techniques to learn this year.

Cathedral Roof
Posted on March 24, 2016 @ 08:38:30 PM by Paul Meagher

Now that the loft of the barn is almost empty of hay again, it struck me that the old barn is as big as a cathedral and can inspire feelings of being in a cathedral when you are alone with the sounds of a heavy wind creaking the roof and walls.

Timing a New Holland 268 Baler
Posted on March 22, 2016 @ 01:25:44 PM by Paul Meagher

I own a New Holland 268 Baler that I purchased second hand a couple of years ago. It is a great piece of equipment. The previous owner was an old fellow with lots of mechanical ability who had just gotten the baler working nicely when he had to stop making hay because of heart troubles. The baler knots the bales ok for the most part but sometimes it won't tie a few bales quite frequently. Sometimes this is due to a buildup of chopped twine, hay and dust around the knotters but it can also be due to poor timing. I found this video today that gives some ideas on what to look for when timing a New Holland 268 baler such as mine.

Layering Material for Compost Toilets
Posted on March 21, 2016 @ 07:31:56 AM by Paul Meagher

The Mill House attached to the main barn uses a compost toilet system instead of a conventional flush toilet. Generally when you use such a system you add some material to your deposit to manage odors, soak up moisture, and additional organic material to what will eventually become compost.

In the past I have used Peat Moss because it worked well and came in a convenient large plastic bag that I could purchase at the Mabou Fresh Mart. One problem that I encountered over the winter is that when I wanted to use the compost toilet in the unheated conditions of the barn I couldn't use peat moss because it soaks up atmospheric moisture and freezes into a hard brick. My solution was to use loose hay from the barn as my layering material. What is nice about using loose hay is that I have lots of it, I don't have to buy it, and it is more environmentally friendly alternative than using peat moss.

When moving square bales of hay in and out of the barn loft over the winter we generate quite a few broken bales and smaller shards of hay on the floor.

I haven't experimented much with using hay as a layering material. I suspect the smaller the size of the hay shards the better it will be for smothering odors and wicking moisture. When I do spring cleaning of the loft the last stage is brooming the floor which will generate alot of fine material that I will have to use and experiment with. The photo below shows me using longer strands of hay as a layering material.

Most people are uncomfortable thinking about non-conventional approaches to handling human manure. When you go off-grid with your handling of human manure then you have to think in practical terms about how it might work in a long-term sustainable and safe way. Little stuff like your choice of layering material has many implications in terms of cost, performance, sustainability, work required and compost quality.

Another issue is whether you want to use a plastic liner or not. If you do use a plastic liner, then do you empty the bag or throw it all in with your compost pile. In my experience, even compostable or biodegradable bags are slow to break down and I will be removing all bag material from my piles. I'll be doing this after the fact with my human manure pile but in the future it will be before the fact. Because I don't care if the liner is compostable or biodegradable any more, my criterion for liner selection is to use a bag that can hold more weight, less likely to puncture, that I can see through.

I haven't tried using the compost toilet without a liner but worry that odor will seep into the plastic. I haven't tried using multiple buckets, however, which is how those without liners manage their compost systems. Another thing worth experimenting with this spring.

Four years of using a simple compost toilet system and I'm still exploring options to do it better. I guess that is what happens when you decide not to flush away your human manure problems :-)

Big Belle Carrying Milk
Posted on March 3, 2016 @ 03:09:59 PM by Paul Meagher

I was checking out different carrying pole designs and came accross this picture that reminds me of pictures of my grandmother Big Belle (who I never met). This is not the actual Big Belle but an iconographic version of Big Belle. My son called her Aunt Jamima and that is the vibe I'm looking for.

Spring like conditions
Posted on March 1, 2016 @ 02:22:57 PM by Paul Meagher

We are having a relatively mild winter compared to last year. Here is the house in the evening on Feb 19th, my fathers birthday.

Here is a photo from the vineyard.

Community Supported Fisheries
Posted on February 3, 2016 @ 01:47:27 PM by Paul Meagher

The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model is also being applied to fisheries now. It is called Community Supported Fisheries (CSF) and you can read more about it here. Being married to a fisherman's daughter gives me more access to seafood products than most, but I think it would be good to feed more local families with local seafood throughout the year from local catches. A pound of seafood per week per share seems like a reasonable amount of seafood to offer. Would be nice to see a local fisherman offer a CSF program alone or in conjunction with someone offering more conventional CSA shares.

The Nourishing Homestead
Posted on February 2, 2016 @ 06:26:05 PM by Paul Meagher

Picked up this book The Nourishing Homestead (2015) at the public library yesterday and I'm enjoying it so far.

It is more of philosophical approach to homesteading than a practical how-to book. There are enough how-to books on homesteading so I think this book fills a useful niche. One of the superficial features I like so far are the many of pictures of his two boys growing up on the farm engaged in farming work and appearing to enjoy the work. He appears to have involved them in alot of adult-like farming work from an early age. I'm interested to read his views on raising kids.

Still early into the book but not much more to say. Good reviews and good set of endorsements for the book. There have been some good farming books published recently (The Lean Farm, The Urban Farmer, The Permaculture City) and I'm hopeful this book will rank among them.

Posted on January 26, 2016 @ 08:11:45 PM by Paul Meagher

WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. I applied and was accepted to be a WWOOFER host this summer. You can visit the Big Belle Farm host profile at:

The amount of work required to manage the vineyard and other projects around the farm made me seek out some additional help for the upcoming farm season. I'm currently getting my tree orders in for the spring and reading a number of new farming/permaculture books (e.g., The Market Gardener, The Lean Farm, Permaculture City, and the Urban Farmer) during this winter break from farming.

Dirty Weather
Posted on January 5, 2016 @ 11:47:30 AM by Paul Meagher

We had some dirty weather after xmas. We turned from summer like conditions to winter conditions in a few days and this storm was one of the causes.

I do enjoy being out in the gusty weather if I'm dressed for it. Walking in the adjacent woods is pleasant when its storming. Might meet up with the coyotes that inhabit the area. They are a good natural control for deer and rabbit populations that could be problematic for my fruit trees so I don't mind having them around. At the edge of a field I found scat with fur in it that looked like it might be coyote crap. I hear them on a regular basis sometimes during the day. I do often pack a machete when I enter the woods for peace of mind.

Farm Season Ends
Posted on November 21, 2015 @ 08:45:04 AM by Paul Meagher

It has been hard to keep up with farm blogging this season as there was lots to do. We did manage to make some wine from our grapes this year. Here is one fermenter of crushed red grapes.

New Season Begins
Posted on June 3, 2015 @ 01:09:13 PM by Paul Meagher

The long winter is over and the spring has arrived and with it lots of work around the farmstead. We have been busy planting apple trees, pear trees and nut trees. We also weeded the 2 yr old grape vines over 3 days to get them ready for trellising. We did the first mowing of the year in the vineyard and orchard. We planted a few vegetables in the garden but the main garden needs some additional roto-tilling before we plant. Weather has been cool this week so planting earlier would not have helped much.

The trailer will undergo some maintenance this year. We have replaced the door and have 3 other windows to replace. The remaining windows will be scraped down and repainted. Finally a new roof will need to go on as shingles started blowing off this winter.

And so it begins ....

The Spring Flush
Posted on June 12, 2014 @ 09:39:57 AM by Paul Meagher

Those raising beef on pasture grass talk about the "spring flush", a period of rapid growth as pasture plants come out of dormancy and start getting a good dose of sunshine and moisture. The spring flush arrived a couple of weeks ago and I spent a week on the farm from May 30th to June 6th dealing with the spring flush. In an organic vineyard the spring flush means that certain weed species (most notably dandelion) are also taking off which can threaten the existence of 2 yr old grape vines that were just established the year before, experienced a hard winter, and now have dandelions and other weeds crowding them out for nutrients, moisture, and sunlight. The weeds also provide a highway that takes slugs and snails to higher parts of the vine where they can do damage to the buds. Moles and voles also have a place to hide under thick weed canopies. For this reason, I had to spend a few days mowing around the 2 yr old vines, hand weeding around the base, and finishing the job with my Stihl whipper snipper.

Another existential threat is from moles/voles to apple trees. I have collared most of my trees but there are still a few not yet collared. Even with protective plastic collars around the base of my young apple trees, I don't feel they are fool proof. If there is a high rodent population around the trees, then there is a good chance they will find a way around the defenses. To make the habitat less hospitable to the rodents involved alot of mowing and whipper snippering around the trees so that there is not alot of tall grass for them to live and move around in. Birds of prey like the Osprey and Crows can see them easier in short grass and perhaps reduce populations early in the season. I let the trees survive in taller grass last year and got quite a bit of nibbling by rodents on the trees resulting in the death of the tree. I didn't have tree collars on the older trees last year.

Once an apple tree is better established I may start to allow taller grass to build up around it. Also when the temps are hotter it is good to leave the ground covered with more grass to retain moisture. When pollination starts to be required (trees are not expected to produce fruit this year but are getting close) then letting weeds and flowers populate parts of fields may not be a bad strategy. For now, however, I thought everything had to be mowed down in the orchards to get ready for the season ahead and deal with the spring flush. An Osprey is flying above a part of the apple orchards in the photo below.

I also did some rototilling of the vine beds and the main garden to get them ready for the weekend of June 13-15 when I plan to plant out around 400 hundred new grape vines that I am rooting in my green house in Truro. These are the grape vines that will be ready to plant out as some can still use more time in the green house. I'm hoping to have around 700 to 800 new vines to plant out this year.

I will also be adding more rotted hay mulch to my 3 yr old grape vines to suppress weeds and ramp up the soil biology as Quebec micro-farmer Jean-Martin Fortier likes to say in his new book The Market Gardener (2014). The book explains in practical detail how he is able to generate $140,000 in revenue from 1.5 acres of land producing and selling vegetables. Jean-Martin Fortier was featured in a recent podcast with Peak Prosperity in which he explains his system of farming and its potential. Worth a listen if you are interested in farming or gardening.

Springtime projects around the farm
Posted on May 26, 2014 @ 09:54:19 PM by Paul Meagher

I came down on the May long weekend to work on a few projects around the farm. One of the projects was to fix the trellises that we installed last year. They looked ok in the fall of last year, but over the winter many of them heaved sideways and a few heaved out of the ground. Here is my brother surveying the crooked line of trellises.

We went down each line of trellises that we put in last year and repounded or fixed each post as we encountered it. The trellises I installed 2 years ago had no issues, it was only the ones we put in last year. Could have been due to the fact that we installed the trellis in summer when the ground is harder to work with, or that we relied too much on a front end loader to push the posts in, or that I did not have my brother helping me like I did 2 years ago. Here is a video of him straightening and repounding a few trellis posts while I drive the truck beside the posts.

I also spent time cleaning up the loose hay that had accumulated around the big sliding barn door as a result of taking loads of hay out of the barn over the winter. Here is a load of hay on my handy farm truck that I am taking to one of the gardens that I will be resting this year. I'm just covering the ground with loose hay instead of letting the weeds overtake it or leaving it bare.

Another project I worked on was planting a small but productive garden we have in the middle of the yard. I planted a bunch of cold hardy veggies in it as I expect there might be a frost or two still.

The final major project I worked on was removing some of the foam collars I had on the apple trees over the winter and putting plastic collars around them instead. We had higher than normal levels of mole/vole activity in the fields last year. The foam collars helped protect the young apple trees but I'm hoping the plastic will be a bit more effective. Time will tell.

Overall it was a productive weekend of farming. It was one of the first times I came down in a while and worked in pleasant conditions. It was a long hard winter but it appears we are turning the corner into spring now.

Busy summer
Posted on September 26, 2013 @ 09:49:56 AM by Paul Meagher

It was a busy summer with planting grape vines, apple trees, potatoes, and gardens. The hay was made and stored in the barn for the first time with the help of Ryan MacInnis and other helpers. Alot of trellising, weeding, and mulching work was done on the 1 and 2 year old vines in my vineyard. There are not many grape clusters on my 2 year olds (don't really expect significant growth until next year) but when I do see the odd grape cluster, they tend to be only located near the base of the plant. Nevertheless, there are some hopeful signs:

The gardens still have tomatoes, squash, corn, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts to harvest. Quite a bit of squash was planted so it will be interesting to see what that ultimately produces. The garden was put in fairly late this year, July 6th, so it is late maturing. Hopefully it will mature before the front arrives.

I'm looking forward to having less to do when I come down to the farmstead. It felt like there was always something to be done on the farm. This was partly my own doing for having too many projects on the go, but it is also in part of what is required to manage and maintain a 61 acre property with lots of buildings and hay fields.

I do have one more major project on my plate before the summer season winds down and that is bush-hogging the grass around the vines and apple trees, scything around the apple trees (to prevent rodents from nesting too near the base), doing one last weeding around the vines, and tying up my 1 year olds to the stake beside them (will do this when I'm weeding). Then it is cross your fingers and hope they make it through the winter. There will be some pruning to do when the vines go dormant but that is a ways off.

I uploaded some new farm photos taken Sept 20 to the 22nd.

Bale Gardens
Posted on August 14, 2013 @ 07:48:03 AM by Paul Meagher

On tuesday, myself and Andrew Beaton moved the remaining square bales off the front fields. The bales were in the field for the last 2 weeks. I wanted move the bales off the field and find uses for the hay.

One use was to mulch around my 2 yr old vines (see my last few blogs). Another use I had for them was for a bale garden. Bale gardens are becoming more popular and usually the recommendation is to use straw. I have no straw bales, but plenty of hay bales, so hay bales will have to do. Here is a photo of my bale garden next to my main dirt garden.

Here is another bale garden we put in.

The second bale garden will also be used as a source of patch-up hay mulch for my 2 yr old vines. It may all get used for this purpose so I'm not committed to the second bale garden being a bale garden for next spring.

The bale garden would be left to rot over the winter and in the spring I would add a compost layer to the top of the bale to get it ready for planting into. In the case of potatoes, I would just insert the potato between a sheaf of hay a bit above the midway point. Tomatoes can be planted into a bale with a compost layer as well as other vegetables, shrubs, flowers, etc...

The farm is starting to get back to normal after all the activity with hay making and trellissing this year. I was also able to get rid of alot of junk around the farm and recently mowed the lawn. The farm is looking nice and I am looking forward to enjoying walks around the farm during the later summer and autumn.

I uploaded more photos of yesterday's activities around the farm.

Mulching the 2 yr old vines
Posted on August 13, 2013 @ 06:48:56 AM by Paul Meagher

Yesterday we tended to the 2 year old vines after finishing the job of trellising our first year vines. We tied the vines to the various parts of the trellis system and made sure the taller vines were positioned between the new upper guide wires we installed (4 lines of page wire on either side of the post positioned at two different heights).

I had to make the decision of whether to mulch around my 2 yr olds with hay or not. I finally opted to do it mostly because I don't want to have to weed as much as I will have to if I didn't put a hay mulch down. The other option would have been to use a herbicide and I felt that I would rather keep things organic and fail in the effort (if the hay mulch causes problems) rather than go the herbicide route. We applied at least a sheaf of hay around vines and between the vines. Before we applied the hay mulch we weeded around the base of the vine. We kept the base free of hay mulch. I didn't want rodents to have easy access to the base of the vine when they overwinter in the hay. I also didn't want the slugs to have easy access to higher parts of the vine. Finally, a few of the vines are producing modest grape clusters this year (expect more production in the 3rd year) and they tend to be producing them fairly close to the ground so hay right up to the base of the vine would tend to cover over these clusters. So here is what the hay mulched 2 year olds look like.

The source of our hay mulch are bales that have been weathering in the field for around 2 weeks now. The hay we baled was not of high quality in this part of the field because rain got to the hay a couple of times before we could get it in and also because I had some of my rotting windrows (for my potato experiment) in this field and this was adding some material to the bales that animals probably would not like to eat. I'm glad I have this supply of easy to move hay mulch available as I'll need it to apply hay mulch to a few more rows of vines and as a store that I can use to cover over any weeds that will eventually emerge from the thick hay mulch we put down. I'll need to apply hay mulch each year to the windrows from now on. This is preferable to me than weeding and might also act as a yearly organic fertilizer for the vines.

There are not many grape clusters on the vines this year but there are a few. I'll be able to use these to test if my vines get enough seasonal sun units to ripen well.

I uploaded a few farm photos from yesterday.

Putting hay into the barn
Posted on August 8, 2013 @ 05:50:38 AM by Paul Meagher

On Wednesday we baled around 350 square bales and stored them in the mow of the barn. We didn't need a big crew for this amount of bales. Myself, Ryan MacInnis, Nick Graham and Andrew Beaton picked the bales of the field and moved them into the barn. I took a short video of the unloading process.

Today we will finish baling the remainder of the hay. Only about 200 bales left so won't be too much work.

We will also be continuing to work on trellising the grape vines. We will be adding the anchor wire and bottom guide wire for 8 rows of posts today and moving towards the goal having the vineyard fully trellissed and weeded.

Posts and Hay
Posted on August 7, 2013 @ 06:28:32 AM by Paul Meagher

On tuesday we focused our vineyard work on finishing the job of putting all the trellis posts in place. We assembled at 8 am, got the gear together for cutting down and hauling posts, cut around 40 posts, took them back to the vineyard.

Back at the vineyard, we sharpened the posts, then drilled all the holes with an auger mounted on the back of my father-in-laws tractor (nice new 60 hp Kioti tractor). After that my helper, Nick Graham, proceeded to pound in all the posts which involves alot of physical strenght to do which he fortunately has. We now have 8 rows of posts with which to trellis the 8 rows of new grape vines me and Adele planted this year.

Today I'll be getting the achors in for the end posts, drilling all the posts to install the wire, and then installing the wire. We may intersperse this work with weeding around the new vines or after the trellises are wired up.

Around 2 pm yesterday I had to leave the vineyard work for the haymaking work. This involved hooking my bush hog onto my tractor and getting the fields ready ahead of Ryan MacInnis who was cutting the hay with a 7 ft sickle mower. I was also bush-hogging some of the pastures where the grass was more weedy as we won't be using this for hay. We may bale it to get the fields in better shape for next year. It is bright and sunny today so there may be haymaking today if we get a nice breeze to help dry the hay faster.

Can't wait to try out the baler again that I picked up through Kijijji. It has worked very well so far. I'll be greasing it up and getting it ready for round 2 of baling.

I quite enjoy the stage of haymaking where bales are being made and stored in the barn. Last time we had 10 people involved in this process. Lots of joking and challenging physical work.

Hay making and vineyard work this week
Posted on August 6, 2013 @ 06:53:44 AM by Paul Meagher

This week my focus on making the remainder of my hay into square bales:

I have around 1100 square bales stored in the barn so far. Could be around 2500 by the end of it. May be mowing today in the late afternoon evening if it doesn't rain anymore today (rained during the night). Wednesday and thursday are looking like nice sunny days so will be good drying weather to get ready for baling on thursday.

My other major project is completing the trellising for the grape vines I planted this spring. Here are 4 new trellises that we laid the posts for yesterday.

I have 4 more rows of posts to go up and then wire them all up. After I wire them up I weed around the plants, whipper snipper between the rows, and get them looking good. I may apply hay mulch this year to the vines using bales that I left to weather in the field.

Vineyard Work
Posted on July 17, 2013 @ 09:00:35 AM by Paul Meagher

There is always something to do on the farm this time of year. My latest focus has been on taking care of the vines I planted last year. That means weeding round their base, whipper snippering the rows, tying vines to the bamboo post guides, replanting vines that died over the winter, and trellising the vines. In the photo below I'm anchoring in a trellis end post. You can see the 2 new trellis lines that I installed this weekend.

There is alot of work to do in the first year of a vine's life. You have to get your root stock ready for planting, get your soil ready for planting, plant the vines, keep them weeded during the season, and setup a trellis system for them. Setting up a trellis system is the most labor intensive part. I put up 2 short trellis lines this weekend. I still have 3 short trellis lines to put up, and 8 long ones. The vines look quite nice once you start getting them trained to the trellis.

You can check out my July 14th farm album for photographs of the trellising work I was doing last weekend.

Potatoes planted
Posted on May 25, 2013 @ 08:05:57 AM by Paul Meagher

Over the Victoria Day long weekend (May 17th to 21st) I finished planting 800 lbs of potatoes into the hay windrows that I prepared last fall for planting into this spring. The picture below shows some stakes I setup in the field to identify where different varieties of potatoes begin and end.

The grass is starting to take off now so the battle to stay ahead of it is on. The farmstead looks nicer in the context of the green hayfields.

I mowed the lawn for the first time over the long weekend. You can see the mowed grass in this picture of the barn.

I uploaded a couple of new farm albums since my last blog. The May 7th album shows photos of the baler I purchased and hauled down to the farm, the rototiller I took out of storage, the rototilling I did, the plowing I did, and some of the hay windrows I did my first round of planting into (my Norland potatoes). The May 19th album shows photos of my potato planting work, a Texas Holdem game we had at the Mill House, farm machinery, and mowed lawns. It is interesting to compare this album to the album of what I was doing last year during the May 19th long weekend. Over time I hope the photos provide me with a better sense of how the growing season progresses and when I might start planting different things on the farm.

Spring Planting and Pruning
Posted on April 26, 2013 @ 10:15:43 AM by Paul Meagher

I had the pleasure of working in the orchards and vineyards this week (Apr 23-25). On Tuesday and Wednesday, I planted new apple trees, pear trees, and high bush blueberry bushes. I loaded compost from our compost pile (rotted hay, rotted manure, some old gypsum board) into the bucket of my tractor and loaded all my planting gear as well.

The most difficult part of planting the trees was getting the grid measurements marked off. This is difficult to do when you are a one-man operation. Involves alot of walking around the field making measurements as best you can. My temporary fence poles were useful for securing the tape to when making measurements and for defining the lines to plant on. In the photo below, a field measurement tape (200 ft long) is secured between two temporary fence poles about 60 feet apart and I am planting apple trees on 20 foot spacings.

Although it was a bit windy at times, and there was some misty rain, it was generally pleasant to be doing outdoor work. I got a nice photo of the farmstead in the later evening as I finished up my days work:

On Thursday I focused on pruning the vines. I was not planning on pruning my vines as I thought I would leave well enough alone. However, when I inspected the vines closely I noticed a pattern of dead growth at the tops of the vines. The vines die back a bit over the winter. I decided I would prune the tops back to a viable bud and also prune the vines back to 1 to 3 main shoots. Year 2 for the vines will be mostly about getting better rooted and getting them trained to hang off my trellis wires properly. Usually want 2 main shoots with one shoot going left and one shoot going right on your guide wire.

Pruned vine

Took about 3 and a half hours to prune all my vineyard plants. Ideally you would do this during winter months when the plants are dormant, however, that is not a very pleasant job at that time of year. Bob Osborne at Cornhill Nursury where I purchased my apple/pear/blueberry stock talked about the last two weeks of April as being an ideal time to do grafting work so I assumed that the same timeframe applies to vine pruning as well.

2 yr old pruned vineyard.

Overall it was a very pleasant and productive visit to the farm. This was a good time of year to be planting trees and shrubs and pruning vines.

Posted some new photos in the farm album under April 24, 2013 and April 25, 2013.

Easter at the farm
Posted on April 3, 2013 @ 02:17:45 PM by Paul Meagher

I spent time at the farm for the Easter long weekend (Mar 29 to Apr 1). My main projects were to get the trailer up and running again and examining my trees and vines.

Getting the trailer up and running again involves making sure the electrical, water, appliances, and internet are working and doing some cleaning. I don't think I properly winterized the pipes leading to the washer and the washer itself and there were issues with both (proper winterization would have involved making sure they were free of water). My brother Blaise helped me repair a 3 foot section of copper pipe leading up to the washer. It broke loose from the copper collar at the bottom that held it in place. He took out the torches and resoldered the joint. Tested and water is no longer leaking. Blaise also diagnosed the cause of a leak in the washer - a leak in the filler valve. Could have been that water stayed in this valve, expanded, and caused a seam to rupture in it. So, in future years I will need to take more care in how I winterize the washer lines and the washer itself.

I examined my apple trees and vines to see how they were doing. The apple trees appear to be doing ok so far. A couple need to be replaced. The trees planted first are starting to get a bit bigger and bushier so I'm hoping they will put some good growth on this year. My younger trees aren't very bushy which is a bit worrysome. I hope they will shoot out some branches this year. Deer could be browsing them so that is a concern.

The vines also appear to be doing ok - at least the ones I could see above the snow. At the bottom of the till towards the tree line, the snow tends to accumulate more and about 30 plants are completely submerged in snow. Will be interesting to see how they do in the spring. Spring is later coming to these parts than down in the Valley area of Nova Scotia where alot of grape growing occurs. We will be later getting going with the grape growing season at this vineyard, hopefully we have enough sun units at this ridge top location to compensate for latitude factors.

Five of my 20 hop plants appeared to have survived (planted as rhizomes last spring - about 8 took). I'll have to be a bit more attentive to them this year to see if they thrive better now that they are rooted more. My hop trellis blew down over the winter. It doesn't surprise me as we never got good tension on it. Now that I have a wire tensioning tool, I might be able to install a better top guide wire between the telephone posts or between a telephone post and another post I install between them to cover the span where the hop plants are growing.

We had nice sunny weather for 3 or the 4 days were were here. There was some solid snow pack underfoot early on so it was pleasant to walk edges of the fields to see what new trees are growing up in the transitional zone between field and forest. This zone is the natural habitat for apple trees and we have a few that might produce this year.

Put in an order for more apple trees, pear trees, and high bush blueberry plants. I'll be picking up my order on the 20th of April and will hopefully be able to start planting these items out within a week of the pickup date. I also have vine cuttings to grow in my home nursery in Truro. The cuttings are tarped under snow right now and I'm hoping to keep them there as long as I can.

Right now there is not much farm work to be done. This is a time when you can enjoy the farm more without having to worry about farm work that should be done.

About Us

891 Southwest Ridge Rd.
Mabou, Cape Breton.

In December 2009, we purchased the old Gillis Farm atop Mabou Ridge from the previous owners who were engaged in organic wool production and processing. Since then, we have made many necessary and aesthetic improvements to the farm and are engaged in numerous experiments to determine the farm products that we will eventually focus on as sources of farming income (i.e., apples, grapes, hops, grains, vegetables, and possibly worms if we can find a market :-)

We aim to make the farm ecomonically sustainable in the near term and ecologically sustainable over the long term. Towards these ends, we offer unique vacation accomodations (on a weekly basis) that exemplify and promote a sustainable country lifestyle (i.e., water conservation, passive solar, composting, and food growing).

We are not eco-angels. We rely upon our trusty MF 135 tractor and an ever expanding variety of power tools to ease the burden of physical work because this is a working farm and we need to maximize the time and effort involved in managing our young orchard and vineyard, and our vegetable gardens, fields, and woodlands.

The farm offers a peaceful country vacation spot to enjoy as is, or between nearby trips to the local beaches, restaurants, and entertainment venues. All amenities are provided including kitchen, laundy, high-speed, local tv, shared lounging deck along with orchards, vinelands, fields, gardens, and woodlands to wander through and explore. You can also pick a feed of potatoes when they are ready. What are you waiting for? Contact us today for a unique and memorable vacation stay.

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