Posts Tagged ‘UBC Farm’

Come Check us out! UBC Farm Practicum in Sustainable Agriculture

The UBC Farm Practicum in Sustainable Agriculture program is hosting an open house for anyone interested in applying for the program. Applications are now open for next season, due October 15, 2013. For details on the program and how to apply, see the UBC Farm Practicum website.




Recently at the UBC Farm practicum, we were lucky to have Brian Campbell from Blessed Bee, expert beekeeper, join us to do a short introduction to beekeeping, something I’ve been very excited to learn about. Bees of all kinds – honey bees, but also native bees – are vital to our current farming system. Bees pollinate crops, which is what allows many of our fruits and vegetables to grow. In preparation for this workshop, I also read The Thinking Beekeper.

Bee Basics2013-08-19 2

A very quick overview of honeybees. There are over 20,000 species of bees, and the honeybees we generally raise are European. In a colony, there are worker bees (infertile females), drones (males), and the queen. The drones only exist to mate with the queen, although they do also, just by being there, keep brood comb warm. The queen lays all of the eggs for the colony, and emits a pheromone that all the other bees recognize, creating a cohesiveness in the hive.

The workers do pretty much everything else. They start off their adult lives ad nurse bees, caring for the brood comb (egg and larval stage bees encased in the wax comb). They start to produce wax glands, and then can build comb. Then, they become guard bees, at the entrance of the hive to ward off unwanted intruders. They start to take exploratory flights, getting farther and farther from the hive, memorizing where they live. Then, they will become foragers, going out to collect nectar and pollen for making honey.

Honey is the life source for the bees, their food, necessary for their survival, especially through the summer months. We are lucky that they can produce excess, which we are able to harvest for human enjoyment, through careful beehive management. I am only learning the beginnings of this, but it is very exciting!

Working in the Hive

It’s important to sterilize tools between hives, so that you don’t spread any potential disease or infection. When bees are flying, then you know it’s warm enough to open the hive – you want to leave it alone when it’s too cold.

Here are some important notes I learned from our short session:

  • Always keep any parts of the hive that you remove that have bees on it touching the hive, so the bees (who haven’t left the hive before) can find their way home.
  • Blowing smoke at the bees makes them get out of the way, but it’s not really necessary.
  • Once a bee has stung you once, it releases a toxin that lets other bees know where the danger is, which makes you more likely to get stung again.
  • It takes about 8 times as much energy and pollen for bees to make wax as it does to make honey, so it is useful to not destroy the wax when extracting honey – done by having a foundation.
  • “Winter” starts around mid-August, which is when bees start preparing for winter. After that time, you should not disturb them too much, so you remove honey before that time.

Pests2013-08-19 5

There are various pests that can attack a beehive, but the Varroa Mite is the most well known and problematic for honeybees in North America. The mite attaches to the back of the bee where it can’t be reached, and sucks their blood.

We checked for mites in a way that annoyed the bees rather a lot. Brian scooped a cup of bees into a jar, putting a wire lid on top that prevented them from escaping. Then he added icing sugar to the jar, and shook them around a lot until they were coated (and very dizzy). The sugar made the 2013-08-19 6bees slippery, so when he then turned the jar over and shook it out into a container, sugar fell out. When water was added, the mites floated to the top. This gave an idea of how many mites might be in the colony – even1 is a problem, because they will multiply, but he also indicated that 3 mites in the spring is the threshold for action, and 9 in the fall.

We did not talk extensively about options for combating mites, but Brian said to add formic 2013-08-19 7acid, an organic gas that is toxic to mites but not bees and is not persistent in honey, as it disappears and turns into water. Non-organic beekeepers would use other, chemical means.

Honey Extraction

I had the opportunity to attend a follow-up workshop at the Homesteader’s Emporium with Brian for honey extraction. In a couple of hours, 6 of us extracted honey from a few dozen frames. First, we used a comb-like tool to carefully remove the wax caps off the cells, saving the wax for future candle making. Then, the frames were placed in an extractor, which spun them around, using centrifugal force to spray the honey out of the wax and into the drum, from which it then poured out of the bottom, through a filter and into a large bucket. And voila, honey! Store-bought honey is often pasteurized, to retain the liquid form for longer, but this is not necessary, and reduces the health benefits of this tasty sweetener.

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Removing the wax caps

Honeycomb frames in the extractor

Honeycomb frames in the extractor

Pouring honey from the extractor

Pouring honey from the extractor

Empty wax comb

Empty wax comb










Tractors and Flowers

I’ve now had the chance to do a couple of things recently that were definitely out of my range of interests and experiences: drive a tractor, and cut flowers to arrange bouquets.

Driving the Tractor2013-07-20 09.31.23

I am not a machine person, and I don’t like driving, so I wasn’t especially excited to try driving the tractor. I have been taught how to drive standard several times, and it never took, so I was worried my driving challenges would manifest themselves in my tractor driving as well.

A few things, though, made tractor driving much more enjoyable and less challenging for me. First of all, the little Kabota tractor does not really go very fast, so most concerns I had about getting out of control were irrelevant. It also doesn’t stall, and I didn’t exactly have to worry about holding up traffic. With clear instructions from a patient teacher, and a few practice turns, I drove it out to the field, and was able to take it out and effectively tilled several beds, getting them ready for planting. No crashes, no running over planted beds, and the lines were even (almost) straight!

Flowers galore

As a group, we practicum students have spent a lot of time in the flower fields, both the perennial ones but especially the annual flowers – weeding and transplanting, and now cutting and deadheading. A lot of work has gone into keeping up a bed of plants that no one can eat, but they have finally flowered, and suddenly a riot of colours has taken over a section of the farm.2013-07-12 16.14.07

I never really got flowers. As a teen, when my parents would go away for a week or so in the summer, my mother would tell me to be sure I watered the flower gardens. And I would – once, maybe twice. And she would come home to a lot of very thirsty flowers. Because I just didn’t see them, didn’t notice. If I can’t eat it, but it still needs my attention to keep it alive, well, a plant is pretty much doomed.

And I cannot remember their names! I’ve been trying. Sunflowers, OK, I got that one. The Straw Flowers and Snap Dragons, I got those too. But the ageratums, asters, delphiniums… I know they’re there, but I can’t match the name to the flower.

But I’m learning, and I’m getting better. I harvested several of these flowers for the UBC farm market, and mixed them into bouquets. Certainly, if you can get a good market for flowers, they can be a very lucrative crop on a mixed organic farm, since there are not many sources for local, organic flowers. I think if you could get a good market for restaurants, weddings or other events, flowers would be a very beneficial crop, or if you use them as accents in a highly competitive farmer’s market atmosphere, but it seems that they are a bit more challenging to sell at a small market like UBC. Once you’ve cut them, they only last for a little while, and a lot of work does go into growing them.

New Exposures

These two experiences were good for me, being things I really had limited experience with before and needed to learn more about. While I’m still unconvinced at the value of growing a lot of annual flowers, I could learn to like the tractor, which definitely makes a farmer’s life much easier!

Market time!

All the work and planning that goes into growing food comes to this – a successful harvest, and then selling that food to people to enjoy!

Harvesting the Bounty



We’ve moved into that busy time of year of harvest and market. Every Friday, UBC Farm practicum students, staff, and volunteers gather to harvest for the market. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent time harvesting salad greens – bunching lettuce, spinach and chard – as well as green garlic, kale, collards, and herbs, and several hours in the hot sun gathering sweet strawberries and amazing blueberries.

The planning and work that goes into harvest is quite intensive. In the days leading up to harvest day, field managers take an inventory of what they think they can get out of their fields,and market managers use past information and projection to get an idea of how much can be sold. It’s a fine balance, one that takes into account many years of experience and knowing your audience. Too much harvested from the field will result in wasted produce, and too little will disappoint customers and may result in reduced customer base, not to mention lost revenue.2013-06-21 12.42.53

One of the best things about harvest days is a shared lunch. Every Friday, 2 people cook a huge meal for everyone, and we all gather and eat together. So much outdoor work makes for a hungry group, and it’s always a great time, hanging out with everyone over good, simple food.

To Market We Go

All of that harvest ends up on the tables of the UBC Saturday farmer’s market. Salad mix, mustard greens, kale and collards abound, and cucumbers, zucchini, garlic scapes, and radishes have been making their appearances. UBC Farm is known for their eggs, and they always sell out early, with people happy to pay for eggs that come from very happy chickens.

This past week, I had the opportunity to be on market duty, standing behind the produce stand and letting people know what things are, how they might cook with them, and happy to chat about how things are grown out in the field. Getting to talk to people about the food we’re growing gave me so much energy, I really loved seeing people’s reactions to new produce and exchanging ideas on cooking recipes.

I’m really looking forward to continuing to be a part of the harvest and market rotations, which really is the point of all of this!

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New Crops Galore!

It’s been a busy few weeks of planting, weeding, and harvesting at the farm. With the ongoing good weather, things have been growing like crazy.

Seeding and Transplanting2013-06-01 14.04.31

Getting plants going on the farm is an ongoing process. Sequences of salad mix greens and brassicas continue to be planted, to ensure an ongoing harvest. I was able to get to use the JP Hand Seeder to plant arugula and radishes, quick growing spring crops. The seeder is a tool that greatly speeds up planting, and helps ensure even spacing, cutting out thinning time later, and straighter lines, for easier weeding and harvest. We also spent a few hours putting squash and cucumber transplants into the ground, poking holes in black bio-plastic mulch, which protects the plant from excessive weed growth, keeps the soil warmer while retaining water, and makes it so that the fruit won’t sit directly on the ground, which can lead to rotting. 2013-06-13 10.39.58

With a small army of 10 practicum students to do these kind of transplanting tasks, we get the job done relatively quickly (although my planting speed is less than half that of the experienced farmers), and it often makes me wonder – how does a small-scale, 2 person organic farm get things done?

Pruning and Harvesting

With greenhouse tomato plants getting to about 3 feet tall, we spent sometime pruning off the suckers. When a tomato vine grows on a farm, we want it to grow with just one, maybe two, main stems, in order to concentrate the plant’s energy into fruit production, as well as keep the vine in control, so each new stem must be cut off. We learned to identify each new sucker – the new stem with multiple leaves, growing in the crotch of the main stem and a single-leaf branch.

2013-06-14 14.18.00The exciting moments came with the harvesting – strawberries! Plucking the ripe red berries from the low bushes, with just a couple samples (it’s a tough job, but someone needs to make sure they taste good), is a sure sign of summer. Although not the farm’s first harvest, the strawberries are the first harvest I’ve participated in this year, and it’s very exciting, signalling a change from season preparation into the long days of harvest and market.


The other day, on our way back from the field, we saw a massive swarm of bees not far from the hives. For a while, they flew all around in a huge swarm, but then settled into a mass of bees along the ground and a few low branches of a nearby tree. Relatively harmless, the hive had produced a second Queen, and the first had stopped laying, making herself small enough to fly, as I learned from the beekeeper who arrived a while later. Taking off, about 30-50% of the hive follows her in search of a new home. When the beekeeper arrived with a new hive for them, with honey in it to smell like home, he gently clipped the branches the bees had settled on, and placed them in the hive, where eventually the other bees followed. Overall, a pretty exciting afternoon.

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Farm School – 1 month in

So my original plan for writing after every practicum day so far hasn’t happened, so I’m acknowledging defeat now, because once we’re at 4 days a week, I know it will get worse! But one month into the practicum, and Saturdays are by far my favourite day of the week. It is so great to be outside, getting my hands in the soil, feeling the sun (that’s right – so far, even here in rainy Vancouver, the sun has come out every practicum day so far), and learning lots of new and fascinating things.

Nicely turned spring fields

Spring fields

The farm is changing every time I visit right now. With the dryer weather we had in late March and early April, many of the fields have been turned. Although I have yet to see the tractor in action, the results are great. It amazes me that even after several years of cultivation, large rocks get turned up every season and have to be hauled out of the fields.

At the UBC Farm and in my own kitchen, sprouts are coming up all over the place. My tomato seedlings are thriving so far, even in my ground-floor, North-facing apartment. A few short weeks, and things will be going out into the ground.

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Salad greens at the market

This past weekend, our practicum group visited the Winter Farmers Market, a place I’ve been frequently on many wintery Saturdays. But this time, the goal was to look around with the eye of a producer, not a consumer. We were to pay attention to what farmers sell in this season to generate¬† year-round profits, asks questions about production, and notice the best displays. Because I’m interested in having chickens (on a small scale), and because the egg and poultry vendors were a little less busy setting up, I chatted with a few of them, and learned what SPCA-certified eggs means, and about how K & M Farms uses llamas, donkeys and miniature horses with their ranging chickens to scare off predators.

This week, we also got an orientation of the tool shed, and the many different hoes that are there to assist with every large or tiny job on the farm. Pretty sure I still don’t know the difference between any of them, but I know I will learn!

Farm Manager Tim demonstrating the hoe

Farm Manager Tim demonstrating the hoe