Life and thoughts from a small-scale organic farm . . . and its farmers

This is a blog that explores ideas around the growing of food and community at Glen Valley Organic Farm.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


An early morning spider web, back-lit by the rising sun. Photo by Brian Harris
I'm tired. Everything feels like a grind. Small problems often appear greater than they need be. Everyone on the farm needs more sleep. We're all trying to make it through to a point in the season when things will slow down.

August tends to be like this on the farm. Regardless of how prepared we think we are, it always comes as a surprise.

Documentary: Home Grown Exhibition

Home Grown Exhibition - Brian Harris from Fire and Light Media Group on Vimeo.

I have been inspired by the work of photographer Brian Harris over the past few years. I have also been honored to be able to work with Brian as a subject of his work as well as a speaker at an event he organized through the Home Grown Exhibition at the Museum of Vancouver last year.

This documentary examines Brian's work and direction in designing the exhibit at the museum. For those who weren't able to attend, this provides an excellent tour of the exhibit, capturing both the curatorial insight as well as the overall spatial design. The video is an excellent archive of the overall exhibit.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Compost Bin Update

Many readers, I assume, are waiting for an update on the new compost bin I built earlier this season. I wrote about it here in May.

The bin is working well, composting the tremendous amount of plant matter we generate as we clean and grade produce each week. In fact, I'm turning the bins weekly at this point and getting some great compost in the process.

In the photo above, I have the front off of the first bin, which I had just finished turning into the second bin in the middle.

Two days later, the temperature in the centre bin was at 130F/54C. At this temperature thermophilic bacteria is breaking down the compost and creating a significant amount of heat. This is made possible by oxygen having been added to the compost during the turning process, resulting in what we call "hot" composting. 

During hot composting, the temperature reaches levels that kill pathogens. This is particularly important when composting manure. In the case of veggie materials, we don't need to achieve hight temperatures, but the composting process goes faster with the heat. In the winter, hot composting can also help keep bacteria working, despite the cooler temperatures (although in very cold regions, your compost will still freeze up).

After cleaning out the first bin, having turned the contents into the second bin, we're ready to add more plant material.

Meanwhile, the third bin is ready to be cleaned out. The compost can be used immediately, although the best results will be achieved from curing the compost in a dry area. Curing is a process where worms and insect digest coarse materials such as sawdust, straw and harder bits of plant material.

You will get the best results in your compost if you add dry, carbon-containing materials to your food waste. This includes, straw, sawdust or dried leaves. 

By adding carbon or brown layers, you are allowing the compost to hold more oxygen, but also providing proper ratios of carbon the the nitrogen-rich food materials that form the basis of your compost. This layering also helps dry out your compost, helping to avoid the dread pile of slime that often happens to home composters. Finally, this layer also helps reduce odour and flies on the pile.

Compost should form the basis of your growing process. Not only is it the ideal way to return food and plant waste to a useable form, but it is also the ideal source of fertility for any garden. I find composting to be a very satisfying process. To do it well, you need adequate materials -- a proper system of bins plus carbon/brown layering additions.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Good morning bees!

Shortly after the sun warmed the hives this morning, the bees began their day with a flurry of activity. There are four hives on our farm. Each hive contains about 20,000 bees!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Herbs & Your Health Classes

Herbs & Your Health is a 10 week course being offered this fall by Barb Hinde, CH, RNC of Glen Valley Herbs and Apothecary.

Barb is a chartered herbalist and a registered nutritional consultant who grows and works with certified organic herbs at Glen Valley Organic Farm.

The course runs 10 weeks, starting on September 21 and continuing until November 23. The classes are held on a Wednesday night at the Fort Langley Community Hall starting at 7 p.m. and finishing at approximately 8:30 p.m.

The course will touch on healthy lifestyle choices and using herbs to help treat specific conditions. The weeks will be divided into different areas of the body and the herbs that can be used in those areas will be discussed. Tincture, cream and salve making will be included in the classes.

The cost for the course is $250.

Please note that this is an information session only and is not meant to replace the advice of your health care practitioner. Always consult your practitioner before making any changes to your health regime.

Register before September 1st and save $50.00
Contact Barb Hinde at barbhinde (at) or 604-626-0681 to register.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Putting together a CSA box

Every week throughout the summer we assemble 89 boxes of produce as part of our Community Supported Agriculture program. Subscribers purchase a share of the harvest early in the season and enjoy the veggies we produce throughout the harvest. This post provides some insight into how the boxes are assembled.

Above is command central. Our high tech tracking system involves a clipboard and order sheet with our orders noted. On Sunday and Monday of each week, we assess what produce will be available and assemble a list of box contents and a harvest list.

Jeremy and I alternate responsibilities each week. One week one of us coordinates orders, washing and packing while the other oversees field work. The following week we switch. The photos below show what it's like form the barn point of view -- it obviously leaves out the harvesting.

The first round of harvesting takes place on Monday. Items such as carrots, beets and onions are harvested, washed and packed before being placed in the cooler. Here, Nirmal and Kiran wash carrots for the CSA.

The Tuesday harvest begins at 7:00 a.m. Nirmal and Kiran begin harvesting with the most fragile (i.e. heat sensitive) items. By 8:00 a.m. the first batch of lettuce has arrived for washing and packing.

We wash everything before packing. This helps to remove field heat from the produce, hydrates the greens and makes sure everything is clean.

A case of lettuce ready for the CSA. Everything is packed into boxes and bins and placed on pallets in the cooler. This makes it easier to add each item at a time to the CSA bins when we pack them at the end of the day.

In addition to worrying about the veggies, we also have to make sure we have our packaging ready. Here, Sheila and Kate prepare our CSA bins with labels that note whether the box contains a full share or half-share subscription.

These decals are new, so each week we have to prepare a few more boxes -- not every bin gets returned each week. We have four bins in circulation for each subscription. It's a big investment in packaging to make the CSA run smoothly.

Meanwhile, the harvest continues. Here, Nirmal unloads the cabbage for the boxes.

All of the CSA bins washed and stacked, ready for packing. But we still have some work to do before filling these.

Items like beans and potatoes are weighed out and bagged. This is a time-consuming task.

At around 5 p.m. we begin preparing to pack the boxes. The first set of boxes leave for delivery to Langley at 6 p.m.

Sheila and Kate roll the trolley along as they pack potatoes into the boxes. 

We try to place items in the same position in each box to make it easier to double-check that each box is filled properly. Despite this attention to detail, we make the odd mistake. One box was missing its lettuce two weeks ago.

Finally, the boxes are packed and placed on pallets in the cooler. The bins will be loaded onto our truck at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning along with our other deliveries and taken into Vancouver. That's right, amidst all of this, we're also packing other orders.

And so, here's what went into this set of boxes this week:

Each full share received:

  • 1 bunch Rainbow Chard
  • 1 Red Butter Lettuce
  • 1 bunch Rainbow Beets
  • 1 lb Yellow Beans
  • 1 large Green Cabbage
  • 2 lbs Rainbow Carrots
  • 1 Long English Cucumber
  • 1 bulb Fennel
  • 1 bunch Green Onions
  • 1 Sweet Onion
  • 2 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • 2 small or 1 large Zucchini
Each half-share received:
  • 1 bunch Rainbow Beets
  • 1/2 lb Green and Yellow Beans
  • 1 small Green Cabbage
  • 1 lb rainbow Carrots
  • 1 Long English Cucumber
  • 1 bulb Fennel
  • 1 bunch Green Onions
  • 1 Sweet Onion
  • 2 Patti-Pan Squash
After all of the boxes are packed, there's still an e-mail to go out to subscribers. And while delivery is taking place on Wednesday morning, harvesting continues for the Langley Farmers Market on Wednesday afternoon and the New Westminster Farmers Market on Thursday. Thursday and Friday are harvest days for the weekend markets: Lonsdale and White Rock. 

Amidst all of this, we continue planting, weeding, pruning and marketing plus other chores such as milking goats, feeding chickens, cleaning eggs and administrative tasks. The summers are busy, but it's an exciting time when there is so much amazing produce growing and we can put together great boxes for our subscribers.

Interested in subscribing next year? Let us know: glenvalleychris (at)