By Mary Elizabeth O’Toole
Nova Bluewater Farm, located on a hill in DeBaies Cove, offers spectacular ocean views – and one of the few pockets of fertile farming soil in an area best known for its rocky soil and rugged coastline. The farm belongs to Jim Turner and his partner Paul Nicholl, who bought the farm in 2002. Turner is a horticulturist, and one of the few certified organic farmers on the Eastern Shore. The farm has been certified as organic since 2008 and does not use chemicals or synthetic products, relying instead on integrating living systems.
The property was built in the 1880s as a farm but hadn’t been farmed since about the 1930s. “When we took over, you could see where the fields had been,” Turner told me in an interview. “We removed the rocks, but it was completely overgrown with dense brush. You couldn’t even walk through the fields. And the mosquitos can make it unpleasant to work outside all summer.”
He cleared the first field by hand but then discovered an easier way: “I put pigs in a new field for a season. They spend all day digging and eating all the roots, which makes them very happy pigs - and they clear everything. When we get our 2 pigs in the spring, they weigh about 15 lbs and are very skittish. They soon get used to us and love scratches behind the ears. By the end of the season, they’ll clear about 1000-sq ft and grow to about 250 lbs. We try to give the pigs as good a life as we can, up to the moment they are processed” after which they provide food for the family through the winter.
Bringing the land back after years of neglect took some time. But by about 2006, Turner had some success and started selling produce. When the Musquodoboit Farmers’ Market opened about a year later, it provided an opportunity to reach more buyers and enable growth.
Turner emphasized the importance of creating a sustainable, manageable system. “The biggest balancing act is the nutrients in the soil. You have to ensure that you replace whatever you take. Our main sources for these nutrients are seaweed and our compost. We process our chicken and duck manure in a separate pile. In the season that pigs forage in a field, their manure fertilizes. Their droppings are high in phosphorus, so I have to leave the fields empty for a year for the soil to find a balance before they can be planted. All these measures keep the soil healthy without chemical fertilizer.”
Turner doesn’t use pesticides but says that he doesn’t have issues with pests or diseases. He continuously feeds the oil with organic matter, creating a soil biology, from bacteria and fungi to worms and insects, that releases nutrients for the vegetables to thrive. This biology also helps keep unwanted diseases and insects in balance. A few ducks play a key role: “I have slugs but our ducks happily keep them under control. Ducks are not allowed in the fields during the growing season but they are in there before planting, and then continue to have access to areas nearby where the slugs breed. “
Nova Bluewater Farm uses natural, organic approaches to ensure a more sustainable practice and, ultimately, better and tastier produce. “The most satisfying part of my work is when I take vegetables to Farmers Market, and people buy them and then come back and say they have never tasted vegetables like that. “
[Next month, read about rebuilding after Dorian destroyed the greenhouses. Turner’s seasonal produce is available at Musquodobit Harbour Farmers Market and through a CSA. Jim also provides landscape consultation and tree trimming services. Learn more at facebook.com/Nova-Bluewater-Farm or at [email protected].]