Food Security in the Bay

Check out the Facebook Group discussing food security in St Margarets Bay:

It’s only a few weeks old and there are well over 100 active members.  Let’s keep the conversations going about food.

Its becoming increasingly obvious that our highly aggregated and centralized food supply chains are vulnerable to continued disruption.  For example, a recent Bloomberg report pointed out the problem that has been developing for decades:

“…The problem is consolidation, and with Tyson, JBS SA and Cargill Inc, three mega-corporations that control 66% of America’s beef, as much of it is processed in just a few dozen meatpacking facilities across the US. Only a few companies also dominate pork and chicken.

There have been at least 12 closures of meatpacking plants in April because of virus-related issues among employees. This has resulted in at least 25% of pork and 10% of beef processing capacity coming offline in the last several weeks,…”

Grow you own, and know who grows the rest for you.  It’s the most resilient system that has been proven by history.

The early spring greenhouse

Think about getting a greenhouse of some kind, if you don’t already have one.  Building infrastructure like that is an important part of scaling your food production.  While there is an upfront cost, it will pay off extremely well in the years ahead.  Just think about the cost of vegetables for the grocery store or farmers market.  You can spend quite a bit very quickly, and these costs will only increase.

With a greenhouse, you can get both a significant jump on the growing season by producing transplants early on, and you can use the greenhouse during the warm summer months for production of the heat-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil.

This is our early transplant greenhouse (approx 8’x16′), with double wall polycarbonate glazing.  By mid-April, it is already full of seed trays and pots of all kinds of things.  In another two weeks, some of these transplants will begin to go out into the garden – cold hardy leaf lettuces, bok choy, cabbage, broccoli and onions.  We will continue to grow out the tomatoes and peppers, which we started in mid-March.

Some years we have produced as many as 7,000 transplants out of the smallish greenhouse!

If you don’t have one yet, visit others, talk with the owners, look at vary types and decide for yourself how you might proceed based on your budget and space.

Happy greenhousing!


Its potato planting time


Mid-April is a good time for planting potatoes.  Even though we may be still 3-4 weeks away from the last frost, the planted potatoes will slowly emerge from the soil during this time in a frost hardy manner, giving them a good start to the season.

Potatoes used for seed need to have an ‘eye’ or a bud.  This ‘eye’ will grow into the new plant.  You can cut up potatoes and plant the pieces, but make sure each piece has at least one ‘eye’. Our seed potatoes, red chieftains and Yukon gold, sat out at room temperature for the past month so that these ‘eyes’ could start growing ahead of time.  We will also be planting a few varieties of the fingerling potatoes.

We like to plant our potatoes in the bottom of a long ditch filled with compost, with each piece about 12″ apart.  They need lots of room.  As the potatoes grow, we will begin to fill in the ditch in mid-June, and then even pile more compost around the stems in mid-July.  This helps the plants produce even more potatoes.

You can harvest the first ‘new potatoes’ some time in July.  A good indicator when the first new potatoes are ready is when the first flowers begin to show up on the plant tops.  Dig in carefully from the side and remove some new potatoes without damaging the rest of the plant, and it will keep producing more potatoes for fall harvest.  With your new potatoes, get out the frying pan, some butter, a little thyme and parsley, get cooking and enjoy!!

Garlic – one of the first out of the starting gate

Garlic is a wonderful crop.  In addition to it being an essential cooking ingredient, it also have amazing anti-viral and other health properties.  It has very few pests.  I’ve heard a few reports of deer munching on garlic, but very rare (and they must be an Italian variety of deer!).  And, it is a prized and valuable farmers market item, holiday gift item or great for bartering for other things you need.  So, grow plenty.  There are usually 400 or so cloves planted here every year.  Keep in mind that you need about 25% of the harvest for next years planting.

Plant your garlic in last October or early November, like you would a fall flower bulb.  Garlic will then ‘get its feet in the ground’ before freeze up and be staged and ready for spring.  It is one of the first out of the ground, as soon as the ground thaws and warms a bit.

These photos were taken on April 14th, and the garlic is coming up nicely through the straw mulch.  By mid-May it will be at least knee high, and by mid-June up to your chest.  It is a heavy feeder, so give it lots of compost.  It also like a lot of sulfur in the soil to make it as garlicky and spicy as possible.


Hottest of the hot chilies

I’m slowly getting better at growing the super hot chilies – bhut jolokia, seven-pot, ghost and chichen itza – with Scoville ratings over 1 million.

These babies were started in mid February. Germination needed 85-90F, so seed trays were started on a heating pad with towels around it for insulation and a clear dome lid.  They were transplanted into these pots in mid-March. They are under a high-intensity LED grow light with 16 hour days, and still on the heating pad.  Intense chili aroma comes off just by brushing the leaves!  They will be re-transplanted into larger pots and go into one of the greenhouses in late April or early May.

Microgreens !!!

In addition to sprouts, microgreens are one of the quickest ways to generate salad and sandwich fixin’s.  I use a cafeteria tray filled about 1/4″ with potting mix and lots of previously soaked microgreen seeds.  I buy these in bulk from Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds.  It takes about 2 weeks of less start to finish.

These greens below are a combination of fenugreek, sunflowers, peas and fava beans. Get out the salad dressing!!

More about seedlings and grow lights

Bob wrote a post earlier this week about LED grow lights and duration.

If you can’t afford LED grow lights, or you have some old shop light fixtures, you can make do with those inexpensive hanging shop fluorescent fixtures that use 2 tubes each. I converted the front hall closet into a grow op with two 4 ft units hung cup hooks screwed into the bottom of pine shelves. The only thing I would change is I would buy the fixture with the flared reflector so the seedlings at the edges of the trays were more evenly lit across the width of the tray (they tend to lean in a bit). I lined my closet with aluminum foil and drape some foil over the front of the trays to compensate.

If you buy a fluorescent tube set up, you need to know a little about colour temperature. Not much, though. ‘Kelvin’ is the scale used for colour temperature. If you’ve ever dabbled in photography, you’ll have a sense of what this means, because colour temperature has traditionally been used to describe the light sources, and setting ‘white balances’ and such. I read somewhere that was probably because the folks who invented photography were also physicists. It’s not really about light sources or levels, but you can go nerd out on this 3 minute video if you need to know more (yes, I watched it, of course I did).

Color temperatures over 5000 K are called “cool colors” (bluish), while lower color temperatures (2700–3000 K) are called “warm colors” (yellowish).

Anywho, when you purchase the fluorescent tubes, you want to make sure that the colour matches what you want to grow. Lightbulbs that are between 3,000 to 4,500K are better for growing leaves, while lower colour temperatures, around 2,700 K are good for flowering and fruiting stages.

I have 3,000K bulbs in my set up.


COVID, Supply Chains and Food Security

Grocery stores typically carry only a three-day inventory of food, and we rely upon delivery trucks and distribution centres to keep running. Over the past decades, our primary food chain has become a long-distance, just-in-time, import-delivery system.

We now live in a new reality.

Due to COVID, and all the related structural and economic fall-out that it will be causing, these food systems are fragile and becoming greatly stressed.  Not only are we facing a virus threat, but we have entered a global economic depression and we may be facing supply chain disruptions.

Home gardening seems to be an everyone’s mind over the past few weeks.

Food security is now one many people’s minds. Interest in gardening has exploded, and many are working quickly to plan for the coming growing season by either starting a garden or expanding the one they have.

The old adage of the ‘Victory Garden’ is coming back in many discussions. Victory Gardens harken back to World War I and World War II, as a way to support the war effort through home gardening. Are we looking at a modern day version – COVID Victory Gardens? Local food production can form one of the strongest means for local food resilience and security.

We will be providing regular information to help you make the most out of the coming growing season.

Bob Cervelli

March plantings and grow lights

March is the time to start many plants indoors and it is best if you have a grow light.  Many modern grow lights use LED lighting, which demand less electricity and can narrow the light spectrum to the reds and blues.  (Did you know that the reason plants appear to be green in colour is because that’s the wavelength that they do not use, and reflect it back.  We see the green wavelength because they are absorbing the red and blue wavelengths).

Putting plants in a window will work, but it is tricky with newly germinated plants.  They will tend to stretch towards the light and become ‘leggy’ which will affect their health and physical ability to remain upright.

It is best to have a timer for your grow lights.  I set mine to 16 hour day length which gives them a good long day.  24 hours is not good, because plants need a rest period for a non-photosynthesis time called respiration.

I’ve started our peppers and tomatoes under lights.  Here is a shot of our fancy, extremely hot chillis – chichen itza, bhut jolokia, seven pot and ghost peppers.  These were started from seed in early March, because they tend to be slow growing and fussy. They need it really warm and are enjoying the bright light!