From May 24 to 30th, 2015, Chad and Kayleigh traveled to Saskatchewan to visit Breadroot Farms and help Al and Hélène seed the hemp crop. This week’s blog post is Kayleigh’s account of their time near Canora, SK.
Sunday May 24, 2015
A gorgeous sunny day greeted us on Sunday morning as Chad began a nine hour car ride from Edmonton and I hopped on a plane in Victoria. After nine months of preparation, we were on our way to Breadroot farms to meet our farming partners, Al and Hélène, and to help plant our 60 acre organic hemp crop.
The timing was as perfect as the weather and Chad arrived at the Saskatoon airport 15 minutes before I walked off the plane. After a quick pit stop to refill Sadie (Chad’s beloved 2015 Subaru WRX STI) we were driving east on the #5 highway towards Canora. The trip was carefully planned so the directions led us directly to our hemp field in a little under three hours. We are so grateful for this piece of pristine organic land with rich black soil. It looked even better than we could imagine.
From our field it was easy to find the home section. Al and Hélène greeted us with hugs and silly farm dogs (Maggie and Preta) and invited us to come relax with them on the front deck. The log house is absolutely stunning with a view out over two large slews which are fed in the spring by a small creek. We shared a beer on the patio then took a ride in the truck to visit the cattle. The sunset was beautiful and the night was warm and calm.
Back at the house, our hosts prepared a fantastic welcome feast. Tenderloin steaks from a hickory smoked barbecue, a big salad, pasta and homemade wine. A cozy night discussing trends in organic agriculture, climate change and our plans for the next few days was the perfect start to our week at Breadroot Farms.
Monday May 25, 2015
Monday was spent setting into our roles and responsibilities. Chad and Al picked up a load of organic Cadillac wheat seed and Chad rode along in the tractor with the harrow attached. In the afternoon, he helped Al load the hopper with the Cadillac wheat for seeding.
I started the morning with a visit to the cattle and learning to repair electric fencing. Hiking along cow trails in the beautiful prairie landscape was idyllic but the 29C heat and pulling wire out of a swamp reminded me that it was real work. Hélène put on the hip waders and fearlessly marched into the swamp. I was left at the truck with a radio and instructions to drive over to the other side of the paddock (a smaller section of pasture) when she gave me the signal.
In the bush she discovered a beaver had chewed most of the way through a tree which had fallen on the fence line. It was still attached at the stump and too heavy to lift off the wire fence. So Hélène marched back through the watery swamp to me.
We met Chad and Al back at the farmhouse for lunch and Hélène and I spent the afternoon working on our computers and reading out of the hot afternoon sun. Hélène completed a grazing plan based on her assessment of the grass quality and fencing situation in each paddock while I worked on our market assessment research project.
Tuesday May 26, 2015
On Sunday, Hélène had announced that we would not be seeding the garden this week because she seeds based on the phases of the moon and this was not a good week for the vegetables she has left to plant. This sparked my interest in the moon’s current position in the sky and what insight this could provide for our week working together. I read that we were entering the First Quarter, which can signal that ventures that you began at the new moon will begin to face their first challenges.
This sage advice was useful as our plans began to unravel throughout the day. After a successful morning in the fields, Hélène and I were driving back to the pasture to repair some fencing when we spotted a Moose in the nature reserve. As we slowed down to see her walking through the swamp, the truck began to sputter and Hélène realized we had run the truck out of fuel. Luckily, Chad and Al were returning to the hemp field after lunch, which was the closest field to the cattle. Chad picked us up halfway down the road and we returned to the hemp field to collect Al. Al and Chad had a successful morning rod-weeding the hemp field and upon their return to the tractor they discovered that the tractor would not start!
Hélène confessed that she had run the truck out of fuel and we spent the next two and a half hours refueling and trying to restart the diesel truck unsuccessfully. When we gave up, towed the truck to the pasture and returned the the tractor, Al was unable to get that restarted as well. Despite the long, hot, frustrating afternoon, everyone was patient and civil with one another. This was crucial because there was more work to be done. Chad and Al returned to a wheat field and used the small tractor to harrow and Hélène and I took her Jetta to another pasture to walk the fence line and prepare the paddock for grazing.
Even after these setbacks, the plan remained the same: the tractor would be repaired first thing the next morning and Wednesday we would seed the hemp.
#HempDay Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Although by sunset on Wednesday we had seeded just 4 acres, #hempday was a phenomenal day of personal growth. Chad and I learned that it takes A LOT of work to be ready to seed first thing the next day.
The three biggest tasks to prepare for seeding were to collect soil samples, harrow the hemp field and calibrate the seed drill. I had made a few calls on Tuesday to find a soil probe to collect soil samples to then send to a lab in Saskatoon. Hélène and I went to pick up the soil probe from a grain elevator in Canora during a grocery trip Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday over lunch, I calculated how many grams of seed each “boot” on the seed drill should release over 100 ft to ensure a seeding rate of 30 lbs/acre. Al had set up the problem and I had double checked my calculations (along with diagrams) to ensure I understood the project. After lunch we measured 100 ft of twine, chose plastic bags that would collect the seed sample from the seed drill and packed the truck with wire to attach the bags and the scale to weigh the samples.
With only one truck now, we needed to coordinate efforts between seeding and preparing the paddocks for Hélène’s grazing plan. We all went together to take the soil samples from the hemp field then Al and Chad returned to a wheat field. Without much ceremony, Chad was about to graduate from Tractor Academy and finish harrowing the wheat before harrowing the hemp field immediately prior to seeding.
Hélène and I took the pickup to fix a challenging section of fencing where the cows and calves were to move later that day. The wire had split in the middle, most likely due to a kink in the line. We used a pulley and clamp tool to bring the two ends of the wire closer together so that we could attach crimps and clamp these down on the wire to reconnect the fence. This took several tries to get the wires close enough and untangle the pulley. It was a huge relief when we were finally successful: we could now move the cows into a new paddock and stay on schedule with the grazing plan.
Hélène returned home for a phone meeting and I stayed with the truck to finish the calibration project and film the seeding of hemp. It was 5pm and Chad and Al had been working in the fields since 8am. Determination was stronger than exhaustion and Chad was going to harrow the hemp field alone so Al and I could fill and calibrate the seed drill. Al rode with Chad twice around the hemp field before handing over the tractor. We needed to return to the house to pick up the generator to run the scale in the field and I promised to come back with snacks; at this point dinner would be a long wait.
Chad was in fantastic spirits when I returned with water and snacks while Al retrieved the seed drill form another field. Finally driving the tractor alone, his confidence was high and he was enjoying the work! Al and I were able to fill the seed drill with hemp and set the markers for 100 ft. Chad triumphantly finished the harrowing as Al and I were collecting the first seed samples from the bottom of the drill. It was 9pm and the last of the sunlight was fading.
The first two samples were spot on! The second two weighed only 12 grams (our goal was 15g/100 ft). We reset one half of the drill and reattached our sample bags. Our second test section was perfect, all four sample bags weighed approximately 15 grams. We swept the dirt with an old paintbrush to find our seeds: they were hard to find in the dim light. When we did find the hemp seeds, they were about 2 cm into the dirt, right at the moisture level.
Hélène had returned to the cows after her meeting and was thrilled to have moved them into their new paddock. Two of the calves had escaped onto the road but she herded them back to their mothers without a problem. When she returned to the hemp field, the sun had set and Al had seeded 4 acres of hemp. We all returned to the house exhausted but exhilarated with our progress. We would be able to seed the whole field first thing Thursday morning.
Thursday, May 28, 2015
Thursday was our last day at Breadroot Farm and was spent tying up loose ends. Al finished seeding the hemp at noon. In the morning, Chad and I went into Canora to return the soil probe, send out the soil samples to Saskatoon and pick up a few groceries. In the afternoon, we emptied the hemp from the seed drill and helped Hélène move the yearlings into their new paddock. I was able to make dinner for everyone using delicious, farm fresh ingredients and we spent the evening drinking wine, listening to records and discussing organic and sustainable agriculture.
Our time at Breadroot farms was far beyond our expectations. Our hosts were so kind and generous and shared so much of their knowledge with us. Chad and I were able to achieve all of our goals for the week because the weather was kind to us and the challenges we faced were overcome with patience, determination and teamwork. We know that not all of our farming trips will go as smoothly, but seeding our first hemp crop was a phenomenal experience.
P.S. Next week we will discuss the organic hemp operations we toured on Friday May 29th at Larry Marshall’s farm near Prince Albert, SK. His advanced technology and crop rotation techniques were absolutely inspiring.