Postive Vibes at Sunflower Farm

We are hoping that Chelsea, our CSA intern for the summer, will write a blog post at some point, but we’re not pressuring her. And I certainly won’t try and suggest how she might be experiencing Sunflower Farm, what with working with a totally awesome farmer who has great taste in music and movies and is just as funny as can be.  Nope, I won’t even try to imagine how great it must be.

I will venture to say that Chelsea has been having a pretty profound effect on Sunflower Farm, and it’s all positive.  There is a very palpable, positive energy that is at work these days. This has always been a special place and I always feel positive energy emanating from the trees and the soil and the rocks and our renewable energy system. This is different though.

This is a kind of balancing energy that’s making everything seem more in harmony. Now admittedly much of this is weed related. Last year the weeds got away from us and this was a very bad thing because weeds that don’t get pulled go to seed. And weeds produce seed prodigiously so the following year when all those seeds germinate it’s horrendous. And when you’ve had historic, epic rain like we experienced this spring and early summer, the problem is exacerbated.  Bare soil becomes a green mat of weeds in about 24 hours.

The best year we ever had for weeds was the one ‘after’ we made our gardening DVD (available here.) Our younger daughter Katie was home from university for the summer and so she did most of the filming and editing. I devoted more time than usual to weeding to keep the garden looking great for our next recording session. Every time I’ve watched the DVD since then I have this momentary confusion about what garden I actually filmed it in. It’s so weed-free I can’t recognize it! The bonus was that by keeping on top of the weeds that year they were much easier to control the following summer.

So this year one of Chelsea’s biggest jobs has been trying to stay ahead of the weeds. She’s doing an awesome job and I enjoy admiring the weed-free rows after she has worked her magic.

She is also getting up to speed on planting and I’m at the stage where I can say “please plant another couple of rows of buttercrunch lettuce transplants and basil’ and she just does it. It’s such a joy to meet an independent, fast learner. The challenge with WWOOFers or other volunteers who come to the farm for a short of time is that after a week or two of instruction they’re usually ready to move on so you never get the productivity return you’re hoping for.

Chelsea is a fast learner and happy to work independently. I’m sure it’s because I’m obnoxious to work with, but I’m happy as long as she’s happy. She is also very flexible in terms of her start time each morning which really helps us because every day seems to have a unique requirement for what needs to be done so the start time varies every day.

I have to admit that my biggest concern with having someone here for the summer is getting out of the groove (or is it a rut?) that Michelle and I are in to. I let the chickens out of the coop at about 6 am and I tend to work all out until dinner time which is around 6 pm. Some nights I might have the energy to take on a low-energy task like cutting fencing to make tomato cages, but I’ll be honest. Regardless of how many calories I eat in a day, and how much protein and carbohydrates I can consume,  I am no spring chicken in the energy department after dinner.

So as much as evenings should probably be spent reading classic literature and discussing existentialism, more often than not we spend them watching another episode of “Orange is the New Black.” I’d like to be able to work 16 hours a day, but 11 or 12 seems to be my max with the heat and humidity this time of the year. And Chelsea is down with this. And even though she’s welcome to hang around in the main house she often heads off to the guesthouse to paint or read or whatever else she is inspired to spend her spare time doing.

As we work together or eat meals together we’ve had a lot of time to talk and we are getting a very good idea of Chelsea’s world view and why she chose to the spend the summer learning how to run a CSA and grow food. And it seems to be very much in keeping with our impression of things. Over the years we have accumulated a number of documentaries on DVD and so she often chooses one to watch on a laptop in the evenings. I strongly advise against her watching them because I’ve never met a documentary that isn’t a recipe for mild to extreme depression, but she does it voluntarily and we often discuss what she’s watched later.

The gardens are looking great and we’re on top of planting and weeding. This is a fantastic thing. We have someone here to learn so we can share what we’ve learned and I find this whole having to explain things often leads to this little personal introspection that where we live and what we do is actually pretty cool. These moments of self-analysis are pretty uplifting and a needed respite in a busy, hot, exhausting time of the year.

And having a young, strong back for picking berries and hauling boxes of produce around has been wonderful.

When you think of the number of things that could go wrong inviting a complete stranger into your house for the summer, like issues with diet and lifestyle and political leanings or anything else that could cause tension, we are really quite amazed at how well Chelsea has just fit right in here. She works hard, has a bright disposition, is always asking for other things she could be doing, and most of all, tolerates living with someone like me which has to be considered a Herculean task unto itself.

The planets aligned and somehow Chelsea managed to find our small ad looking for a CSA intern on the big old internet. Now if the universe would just send those 6 winning lottery ticket numbers I’ve been waiting for all, will be well with the world.  And yes, I need to get over the lottery thing.

lettuce prep

filling CSA boxes

Nature Helps Us to Expand

I often fantasize about being a real farmer, with hundreds of acres under cultivation, and a tractor to plant and harvest it all. I am extremely grateful to live on 150 acres but most of our acreage is covered in ponds and forests. Less than 10 acres is cleared and we have about 3 acres cultivated. I keep expanding this but it’s a slow process. It usually involves spreading a thick layer of old hay from big round bales to kill the grass one year, and then rototilling it the following year.

There is a fairly large area east of the house where the original wind turbine tower is. I have been nurturing the area for many years. I believe that the topsoil there was stripped off years ago for the new road when this house was unoccupied, so I’ve worked hard at rehabilitating this area. This has involved spreading horse manure when I can and spreading around a lot of old round bales of rotten hay.

Every year when I’ve hoped to get around to using that area there are always more pressing things in the gardens closer to the house so it lays fallow for another year. Not that this is a bad thing. There are grasses absorbing nitrogen from the air and fixing it in their roots helping to build up the soil, and each fall when they die and decompose they help build up the organic matter so desperately needed there.

This year the stars aligned and I finally had the chance to get into work this area and it really was the high point in my spring. When you wait for something long enough, something that you’ve always wanted to do, and you finally get to it, well it can just be the greatest thing.

Nature helped the process because of our brutal winter and inordinate amount of snow. A good section of the field is low and while I’ve noticed some water sitting there in other springs, this year is was officially a pond. Then the rains continued and the water stayed and did a number on any living plants underneath. A couple of weeks ago Jasper and I hiked over and low and behold the water was gone and there was no greenery in a large area. It was just the bottom of a pond ready to be tilled. Yee Ha!

So one weekend Skylar, my surrogate tractor (and Grade 9 part time helper) hauled the rototiller over there and started to work on it. Skylar used the pickaxe and took out any small trees like the poplars that were reclaiming the area. I put my new Husquvarna rototiller to the test and it did its job. I had to stop twice to clean out the tines but we got an amazing amount accomplished.

Now every night before bed Jasper and I hike over and look at this big brown patch of exposed soil and it just fills me with joy. I won’t be planting it this year. Every couple of weeks I’ll drag the rototiller over there and keep it bare so it will be ready to plant next year. If I do it on a Saturday when Skylar’s here we’ll keep expanding it as well. We’ll pick axe more of the grass out, and spread more of the rotten hay to kill more grass to make it easier to till.

I don’t have many distractions like I used to need in the city. I don’t play the guitar anymore. I don’t collect anything. I don’t go to sporting events, or really any entertainment events of any kind. My world is pretty focused right now on growing food in the summer and heating with wood in the winter. And it’s an awesome way to live. I have always wanted to see how much of our food we could grow, but I can’t realistically do that until I have big area to plant wheat.  A huge part of our plant-based diet is based on cereals like wheat. I am a ‘wheat-a-tarian.’ I love bread. I love anything on a bun … subs, veggie burgers, egg-o-muffins for breakfast. Oh, and I love anything with high fructose corn syrup but I can grow corn so I’ve mastered that, although I’m not yet sure how to turn an ear of corn into a can of Dr. Pepper. The wonders of an industrial food system never cease to amaze me.

Ultimately though I hope to have enough land ‘under cultivation’ that I can offset a good portion of my diet myself. Without a tractor though that can be daunting, so I’m very excited about finally have a toehold in this potential field to expand on that. It’s funny how when it was just a big green field it seemed impossible. But now, suddenly, with this one exposed low spot where the water stayed long enough it’s given me a window of opportunity. And now I can see the field growing incrementally year after year.

Next year I may plant it with potatoes. It’s a long way from the house and it will be tough for me to keep pests like deer and raccoons out of it. And luckily raccoons are too lazy to dig around for potatoes so I think this will be good place to grow them. When you’re growing potatoes for 45 CSA members suddenly having a nice big roomy field isn’t such a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity.

In the meantime, any time I need reminding that I’m the luckiest man on the planet, I’ll hike over to the new “potato patch/wheat field” and wonder at the luxury of having a big new field to plant. It’s the little things that give me joy. Or in this case, the potential for a big thing.

wheat field:potato patch

Strawberry Fields Forever

I found myself once more, alone in a strawberry field, picking strawberries. It’s my instinct to try and come up with a clever, witty pun like… ‘And there I was out standing in my field, my strawberry field… forever….’ but you’d have to be a Beatles fan to get that, so I won’t even attempt it.

June 24th was the first day of our CSA, and I was quite excited about getting things started, but it turned into a bit of a SNAFU. We always remind our members that for the first few weeks the boxes will be light, but I still want them to look as good as possible. To that end we start up the CSA season when our friend John Wise’s organic strawberries are ready. Beautiful brilliant red, organic strawberries with an amazing aroma definitely make a box of fresh organic produce pretty spectacular.

On the Sunday and Monday of that week all the forecasts called for rain overnight on Monday and then sunny skies on Tuesday morning, with the chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. So the game plan for Tuesday morning (CSA morning) was for Chelsea, our intern for the summer, and me to head to John’s first thing and pick strawberries while Michelle worked in the garden and got the lettuce and spinach and radishes ready to go. We had packed the garlic scapes the afternoon before because they last forever.

John doesn’t like us picking when it’s raining because it can spread disease in his strawberry patch.

So at 6:30 am on CSA morning, as I did my stretching exercises in preparation for my busy day, I listened to a steady, relentless, pouring rain, that had the sound of an “all day” rain. I had really hoped to provide our Napanee members with strawberries the first week. If I’d known that it was going to rain on Tuesday morning, I would have picked on Monday afternoon. They wouldn’t have been as fresh, but at least they’d be in the box. I regretted not having anticipated this possible scenario. If I couldn’t pick because of the rain, the first week boxes would be less than awesome. And so I had regrets.

Regrets are a funny thing. I used all the information I had at the time, and thought that based on what I knew I was making the best choice, but I was wrong. Nature/fate/a wild card had intervened and thrown a glitch into the matrix.

So how does one get over this whole ‘regret’ thing? In the big picture, this was a really a small thing. At the end of the season will any CSA member remember they didn’t get strawberries that first week? Probably not. In the big picture is this how I should be investing my limited emotional energy, freaking about not picking strawberries …  yesterday? Nope, not a good use of my time on the planet. I want to do really well with the CSA this year, like most things I do, but I cannot control the rain and I have to accept this.

I think I need to learn to meditate better. Those Buddhist monks probably don’t regret the whole strawberry thing… or giving up a traditional life for one in a monastery… do they? Or maybe I need to learn to take deep breaths and just assume things will work out.

An hour later I spoke to John and he said he had a section of the field that he would be plowing under this year so he wasn’t concerned about diseases being spread. So we hustled and got all the vegetables ready to go by 10:30 am. I was in the berry patch by 11 a.m. and by 1:15 pm I had picked 40 quarts of strawberries. It was a new world picking record. By 1:30 pm I was settled up with John and by 2:30 I was in Napanee in my allotted pickup place with a truck full of strawberries that smelled heavenly.  Things did work out. Michelle says they usually do and I need to start thinking this way.

As I pick berries my mind never shuts up. Is everyone’s brain like this and never shuts off? As is often the case my mind keeps asking me if this is the best use of my time and skills? I can write and publish books, I learned Final Cut Pro and can edit movies, I can use computers for electronic publishing and web design, heck I could probably get a job somewhere selling stuff. I’m good at that.

But then I ask myself; does the world need anymore people selling ‘stuff’? What the world does need is more people growing food at a smaller, sustainable, organic level. And that’s what I do. And I don’t have to commute to a city. I get to sit surrounded by green. And on the days that I pick berries I am surround by red. Brilliant, fragrant, strawberry red. I feel infinitely blessed to have 45 families that chose to be members of our CSA. I feel blessed to live in a place where I can work in a field and not worry about stepping on an abandoned land mine.  I feel blessed to have the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair and no other human being in sight I try to imagine another place, any where in the world that I’d rather be, or another activity that I would rather be doing and that noisy, chatty, non-stop brain of mine simply can’t come up with anything.


Chelsea and lots and lots of strawberries!

Skylar the Surrogate Tractor

Michelle’s Note: Sorry for the lack of posts. Last week was week #1 for our CSA. The first weeks are always the hardest as we organize what we need to pick, wash, weigh and package and figure out how we are going to get it all to of our members.

If you have ever read a Mother Earth News magazine you’ll know that the cliché thing for people to do when they move to the country is to buy a tractor. Oh, and get a horse. It’s just what you do. Most newly arrived country folk don’t really know what they need a tractor for, but they buy one anyway.  It must be true because the magazine is full of ads for small tractors. They are ubiquitous.

When people ask me if I have any regrets about moving to the country and/or living off the grid, I tell them that I regret not buying a tractor! We had a bit of money left over when we sold our city home and bought our country property, so I could have bought a tractor then.  I just didn’t know what I was going to do with it, and Michelle and I have always tried to be logical about spending money so it didn’t make any sense to buy a tractor. Besides I love the work, so who needs one?

If we had bought a tractor I think I would probably be about 25 pounds heavier. I also think my back and joints would be in way better shape, so it’s kind of a trade off. I went the “all you can eat pie” route and did all of the heavy work manually. And it’s a tough regret to have. Although I’ll never regret the pies, so I’m happy. The other day Michelle made me a raspberry pie (using our raspberries from the freezer) and it was on the dining room table, under a glass dome. I made the comment that nothing brings me more joy than seeing a pie sitting on our table. Michelle said “It’s the simple things,” and I hope she was referring to the little pleasures that bring us happiness as opposed to the little world I seem to live in.

Last fall I got a load of horse manure dumped in the garden and this spring I had to move it. I’ve been working away at it but it turns out that 10 cubic yards is a lot of manure! Recently there was a reporter here from the local paper interviewing me as the local Green Party candidate. When she wanted to take a photo I said, “Well I spend most of my day shoveling manure right now so we could use that for the photo” but we decided the optics for a politician to make such a statement weren’t too great.

Recently in a moment of exhaustion and panic I told Michelle I was going to have to cash in the last of my retirement fund and buy a tractor. And yes, that’s how small the fund is! She was onside. It’s a big step and we looked at the pros and cons but we started to research a “compact” small tractor.

I often panic in times like these and Michelle just waits for common sense to prevail. We periodically borrow our neighbor Ken and Alyce’s tractor and they are most gracious to lend it to us, so we don’t want to overstep the boundaries of good neighborliness. When I look at how much stuff I’d use a tractor for, I have to be logical about how much we’d be investing in it and how much time it would spend sitting idle.

About this time we got a response from an ad that we had placed in the local paper looking for a student to help out on the farm. There had been very little response to the ad, part of the challenge being that distances are so great in the country the economics of driving a teenager to a low paying job doesn’t work out. But Skylar called and wanted to give it shot so he arrived one Sunday morning. We cleared some brush then set about the manure pile. He filled the wheelbarrows and I hauled them through the muddy soil and spread it. We went at it pretty hard and kept up a good pace. We would stop periodically and do something less strenuous then we’d get back to it. And Skylar just kept plugging along. Skylar had become my tractor stand in!

He plays football so I was happy to push him. I just kept reminding him of how hard weight room work is when you’re training for a physical sport.

Minimum wage in Ontario is $10.30/hour for students. So we pay Skylar about $50 plus lunch for 5 hours of hard work and he seems happy and we are very happy. No fossil fuels were burned while we worked and muscle mass was built up. I was happy I could keep up with a 16-year-old for 5 hours of slogging. And the next day I had the opportunity to get 3 trailer loads full of manure from our neighbours Ken and Alyce, and so I spent a second day in the horsesh*t throwing department.  The next day I decided to spend the day doing lighter work in the garden and writing some blog posts. I’m not saying I was tired, I’m just saying you can only convert so much pie energy into physical effort.

At one point as I worked away I became really aware of the birds. They are very chatty at this time of year and there were so many different calls. And there was a lovely breeze blowing through greening up after the longest most brutal winter, EVER! And all was right with the world. That pathetic excuse for a retirement plan remains untouched, and basically useless, but it just doesn’t seem to matter. My public school friend Teddy King who died prematurely doesn’t get to spend another day outside in weather like this. My buddy Brian who put his head down on his desk at work and died of an aneurysm isn’t working up a sweat and soaking up the sun on a glorious day like this. Nope, if this is how I have to spend my days until I keel over in the potato patch, I’m pretty okay with that. I just hope that if that is the way I go, I won’t have just spread fresh manure on it, or it won’t be pretty for Michelle to have to drag me out of it. Hopefully we’ll have a tractor by then and she can use the hydraulic bucket (which apparently I’ll just have kicked!)

Skylar has come back to work for one day most weekends and he continues to help me to tackle the big, heavy jobs that never seem to end around here. No doubt you’ll be hearing more about Skylar as I write about all of the tasks that have been keeping me busy!

(These photos of Cam spreading manure were taken at the end of April. Things are MUCH greener now!)

cam shoveling manuremanure2






Adding a New Skill to My Resumé

So now I’m a roofer. A steel roofer!

Oh ya. It’s just another skill I’ve added and I’m pretty excited about it.

As usual it was a new skill that I was kind of forced to learn, kicking and screaming all the way. Such is life here off-the-grid, in the woods, running a CSA. We make up the rules as we go and learn the skills as we need them.

Our neighbor Alyce had provided us with a new building to use as a chicken coop. The price was right but it needed a bit of work. Then the rains began and it was obvious that the major thrust of the work needed to be directed at keeping the rain out. It leaked like a sieve. This was fine until the 12 new chickens arrived. It was kind of like Noah’s Ark, but with a little wooden building instead of an Ark, and 12 chickens instead of two of every species. Other that, pretty much identical to the Ark thing.

I asked my friend Don Fenwick, who is a builder and often does steel roofs if he had any scraps of mismatched steel that I could use and he said that he did. When I drove down to pick up the steel it turns out that it was all the same colour and he even had screws to match. Now when the drones fly over they’ll think our chicken coop is like something out of one of those designer chicken coop magazines. (Michelle’s comment – There is no chance of that happening. The roof is the nicest part of the coop so far.)

Since the coop seemed to leak everywhere I decided to let the roof overhang a bit rather than cutting it to fit, hoping this might stop some of the water getting in around the top seams. Once I got a few screws in place I got Michelle to hold the ladder so I could work from on top of the roof. It was one of those deals where I kind of jumped off the ladder and had no idea how I was going to get back on it after the job was done, but I did it anyway.

I was really impressed with how solid it feels once you get a few screws in it. And then once I got the whole bag in it I was quite happy with how sturdy it felt. Don said one screw every 24” was fine. I had enough screws to do one every 12” inches, so it’s not going anywhere.

steel roof installation

I did manage to choose one of the few hot sunny days we’ve had in ages so I got the full ‘roofer’ effect with the sun baking the steel and me working on it. Fun for an hour, but I’m sure it would be another thing for a full day.

And now the chickens have a dry coop with a totally awesome roof.

chickens love steel roofs small

On another unrelated but weird note, we did a blog a while ago about how we’re on Google Street View. We cannot imagine why the Google car would come down our road considering how few homes are on it. We also commented that when they blurred out our sign, which reads, “Sunflower Farm, Mather”, they managed to blur out the word “Farm.” Really? Shouldn’t they have blurred out our name? I’m thinking there’s some Google employee working in a veal fattening pen in some office tower who was out a little late the night before their day of face and sign blurring.

So one day a couple of weeks ago Michelle and I were sitting on the porch having our daily smoothie. Michelle has been making us these awesome smoothies with fruit and juice and this great vegan protein powder to help get me through my long days of planting and weeding etc. It was about 11 am and we heard a car driving by slowly on the road, and guess what? There it was. AGAIN! The Google Car! A second time. On one of the least populated roads … in Canada … North America … the Western Hemisphere… the World… the Solar System… the Milky Way… (Thank you Hugh Grant/Nick Hornby from the book/movie ‘About a Boy’ for this line).

The huge disappointment was that we were taken completely by surprise and didn’t get a chance to do anything inappropriate. So much potential. Even funnier would have been the fact that before Chelsea arrived I often took my soil-covered work pants off and spread them on the front sidewalk to dry before I headed for the house. Blur that Google Earth!

So, don’t say we don’t lead a wild life here at Sunflower Farm. And now, we’ve got the new Google Street View update to look forward to. I wonder if you’ll be able to look down the driveway 200 meters to our front porch and see the smoothies we’re drinking! How exciting is that. I don’t life could get much better than this.

Extreme Weather in the Mud Bowl

Farmers are supposed to complain about the weather, right? So here goes.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know that most summers I’m ranting about the drought. Usually my sandy soil is blowin’ away in the wind and there is no rain in sight.

This spring has been the exact opposite, but it’s not normal rain. It’s epic. It’s unprecedented. It’s ‘build yourself an ark’ kind of rain.

We had a ton of snow thanks to the polar vortex, which seems to be caused by the jet stream losing grip. It used to blow in a fairly consistent way across North America, but now that the Arctic is warming at 3 times the rate of the equator, the jet stream is all whacked out and is taking these huge sine-wave-like dips, dragging that cold air south. Hence snow in Atlanta and 100-year-old citrus trees dying. This past winter we had day after day of storms. We brag about hibernating all winter, but that was a decision made easier by Mr. Vortex.

What climatologists suggest is that our changing climate will experience more extremes. Warmer air holds more moisture, and it will be deposited helter skelter. The jet stream dips lower than it used to, but it also tends to get stuck in one spot, which it never used to do. Hence Calgary got 2 months worth of rain in 2 days last summer with historic flooding. $6 billion worth. Last summer Toronto got a month’s worth of rain one day in August and that same day I watched the heavy rain create rivers in my driveway and flood my garage. That had never happened before in the 15 years that I have lived here, and I ended up borrowing Ken’s tractor to make a ditch to channel the water away from the garage.

So this spring the garden was much wetter than usual because of the huge snowmelt. My garden has this lovely sloping contour, which takes the water down towards the dug well. This is where the best soil is because years ago cows lived in the barn and enhanced the area around the barn foundation with their manure. But this spring this area will not dry out. Not only was it saturated from the winter but we keep getting torrential downpours. A couple of weeks ago I got the rototiller through the area once (without getting stuck in the quicksand) and then last week we had two days of unbelievable rain. Like a month’s worth each day.

the mudzone

On one of the rainy days we decided to head to Kingston to get plumbing parts for our rain barrels (like I’ll need them this year) and a few more plants from Burts Greenhouses. During one particularly heavy downpour we were in a suburban parking lot and more than half of it was underwater as the drains tried to recover from the dumping. It was little lake right on the pavement. Woo hoo, get your swimming trunks!

I keep seeing photos that my friends have posted on Facebook of their lawns and driveways and gardens underwater with a comment that they’ve never seen it like this before.  When I picked up some steel for the roof of our new chicken coop I had to drive over a little stream on the driveway to my friend Don’s house. The water was raging through there. Don said, “I’ve never it seen anything like it at this time of year before.”

This week we’ve had 3 more days of more brutal rains; an inch on Monday and ¾ of inch on Tuesday. I’m going to have to string ropes through the garden soon so we can pull ourselves out of the mud when our boots get swallowed up.

boots in mud

Oh yes, and then there is our basement. As you saw in a previous blog post (here) we had epic flooding in the basement this spring. It took longer than it ever has to dry out. And then a couple of weeks later it flooded again. Then last week, when we were pretty sure the basement could start to dry out, there was another couple of inches in the basement. There is just so much water trickling down through our sandy soil that it pushes up through our sump well into the basement. Note to self: Summer project… fill in that dam sump well with concrete!

To the people sweltering in the dustbowl of the U.S. Southwest you have my sympathy. I know I’m not getting any sympathy from you. California is experiencing the worst drought on record. There’s a great clip of Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron’s new documentary series on Showcase called, “The Years of Living Dangerously,” where he says “Fire season used to last a couple of months … now it lasts all year.”

When I can watch the U.S. nightly news, “Extreme Weather” seems to be the lead or close to the lead story most nights that I watch it. Sure, forest fires, floods and tornadoes all make great news. But it really does seem that we’re experiencing the first real effects of climate change. Well, those of us that don’t live in New Orleans or the Jersey Shore or New York. Those folks have already experienced the catastrophic effects of climate change firsthand. Right now parts of India are in the midst of a heat wave with temperatures of 45°C (115°F). They are hoping that the monsoon rains might arrive and provide some relief from the relentless heat. How can anyone function in that heat? And most of them don’t have air conditioning.

What is it about humans that we don’t get the gravity of the situation?

When people ask me to autograph my gardening book, I often write, “May your days be sunny and your nights be rainy.” After 4 days of rain I’d take any sun right about now.

I’m enlarging other areas of the garden to make up for the prime real estate that is so soggy that I’m not sure when or if I’ll be able to plant it. It may be plantable for our late brassicas, broccoli and cauliflower, that we’ll try to have ready for late in September. I’m thinking I should start digging trenches but because I am usually dealing with drought conditions, I’m hesitant to mess with the hydrology of the area. I guess I can always fill in the trenches next year. I’ll have to do it by hand because even if I had a tractor it would be buried to its axles in the quagmire in no time.

I’m not complaining mind you. Everything is slow with the lack of sun but on the plus side I do not have to water or irrigate this year. We will be starting u the CSA next week because John Wise’s organic strawberries will be ready. We have lettuces and spinach and radishes that are ready. They are all bursting with flavor … and water!

Extreme, erratic weather. The new norm. Never a dull moment!

Celery in the mud

Celery in the mud

lettuce puddles

A New Team Member at Sunflower Farm

Meet Chelsea.


Chelsea is our intern this summer at Sunflower Farm and we are very excited to have her here.

In fact, we feel quite blessed that Chelsea has chosen to spend her summer here learning about growing food organically and helping us run our CSA.

Chelsea is from Cambridge, a city west of Toronto. She found our advertisement looking for an intern for the summer early this year. We set up a SKYPE interview and went back and forth with lots of questions and concerns. I think we had a second SKYPE chat and decided that she would be a good fit.

This was a big step for everyone concerned. Chelsea had to unseat herself from a comfortable urban life to come to the woods, to work in the soil, with mosquitoes and black flies and deer flies, in the heat, and the humidity. We also had to make it clear that we don’t venture in to cities all that often. So there would be a certain amount of solitude involved. We laid it all out there as honestly as we could and Chelsea was still interested.

It was a big step for Michelle and me because we value our privacy. Sure Cam, and that’s why you write a blog. Point taken. Maybe I should say we are used to spending a lot of time with just each other and have a certain routine in terms of our hours, when we like to eat, what we like to eat, what nights we like to veg out and kill brain cells in front of the TV …  those sorts of things. And not everyone is into our ‘bio-rhythm” at this time of year.. i.e. up a dawn, in bed by 8:30 pm. Just kidding. Of course we can’t go to bed at 8:30. It’s still light out and the new bunch of chickens we just got, like all teenagers, won’t go to bed until it’s dark. So we have to be up until at least 9:15.

We also have some issues with limits to energy at our home living off the electricity grid and urban people coming from a world of infinite electricity and hot water and well, everything, don’t always get this concept of things being finite.

The good thing is that Chelsea is here at our best time of the year when we have loads of electricity and buckets of hot water. And of course, more often than not showers at this time of year don’t have to be scalding since we’re trying to cool off as much as wash the day’s grime off.

We are very excited about having Chelsea here . She is bright and cheery and really willing to learn. She’s doing an exceptional job in the garden and even with the disruption created by the recent election I really feel on top of things. For the first time in years I feel somewhat on top of the weeds. She’s also a fast learner and she’s taking more and more responsibility each day. It’s going to be awesome to have her to help with berry picking. We pick strawberries and blueberries from local organic farms to include in the CSA boxes each week, so it will be nice to have a young back to share in the picking.


Chelsea has a brought a very positive energy to Sunflower Farm. She seems to share many of our worldviews and is introducing us to a lot of very cool new ideas. She’s forcing me to think through my daily plan of what I want to accomplish in the garden each day. And she’s helping me get way more done. The extra time it’s taking to explain why we do things the way we do is marginal compared to how much we’re accomplishing. And it’s quite gratifying to know that there is one more person in the world with the knowledge and skills and motivation to take the skill of growing food sustainably and share it with others.

So for the next few months you’ll be hearing about, and seeing more photos of Chelsea, our wonderful CSA intern.


Back from the Brink

So the election is over. Finally.

In one of my favorite comedy TV shows, Arrested Development, the character Gob uses the same line over and over again saying,  “I’ve made a huge mistake.” I felt this way often during the election, especially early on.

Sorry for the lack of relevant blog posts. We lost some blog readers, complaining that they had subscribed to read about homesteading and off-grid living. My response is that if we don’t do something about climate change… SOON… there won’t be any of the above.

This election campaign really did come at the absolute worst time… EVER! Luckily I had told the riding association that if it was called during planting season I would only be able to do media interviews and All Candidates Meetings. Who knew that in a rural riding like ours there could be so many newspapers and radio stations? Oh and CKWS TV in Kingston too. The biggest challenge with the media stuff was that the reporters wanted to set times for interviews and it really screwed me up when it came to getting any momentum going in the garden.

The All Candidates Meetings were my introduction to the twilight zone. I have to admit I’m not sure I’d ever been to one as an observer. I never felt I needed to because I have always been pretty decided about my vote. I am very comfortable talking in front of people, but I have to admit to a few moments of stark terror before my first All Candidates Meeting in Arden, just north of here. I guess it was fear of the unknown. And the fact that I had read through the 100-page policy manual and was pretty comfortable with most of the issues, but still, I was there representing a political party. I am usually talking about things I’m really comfortable with. It turns out that I managed to very quickly turn most of the questions to issues I’m very comfortable with.

Any nerves didn’t last long as the pit bulls on my left and right went at it. I must say I was appalled for much of it. It was blood sport. “You did this.” “You did that.” Your party caused all the problems of the world; the bright future is the exclusive domain of mine. Really? Do you really think that way? Have you become so partisan that this is how you see the world?

It was readily apparent to me that most of the audience was getting pretty tired of the whole process. I refined my most effective line, which I used after a particularly raucous round of rancor where the two main parties went at it. When it was my turn to respond I just clenched my fists, and pointed my thumbs to the candidates on each side of me and said “And that is why you should vote Green.” I didn’t need to say anything else. It got applause every time. People seemed fed up with the animosity and bickering.

Now that it’s over and the garden is fairly caught up I’m glad I did it. It was a great learning experience. There were some great moments. Some really nice supportive emails after each All Candidates Meetings. A 9 year old girl named “Ocean” came up to me after the Napanee debate to tell me she was supporting the Green Party.

Women were the most refreshing part of the whole thing. I was onstage with 3 other men. Way too much testosterone. After the Carleton Place ACM I had a charming young woman come up to me and say “Thank you for being so respectful.” Too bad there was no Mr. Congeniality award. Former Green Party Candidate Nancy Matte had brought her 13-year-old daughter Samantha to that meeting which was nice. ACMs tend to be attended by people like me… with grey hair. Young people were sorely lacking. I had a long chat with another woman after that meeting who wanted to vote Green but found the prospect scary. I did my best to dispel those fears.

Then, the weirdest thing ever happened. I was standing at the McDonalds in Perth at 10 pm after that meeting ordering a coffee to get me through my hour long drive home. I was the only one at the counter. There was the usual chatter with employees then a young female voice asked, “Are you just getting back from Carleton Place?” It took me the longest time to realize she was addressing me. Turns out she had been to the All Candidates Meeting the previous night in Smiths Falls and knew there was a meeting in Carleton Place that night. I told her how impressed I was that she’d been to the meeting the previous night. I have a feeling she was too young to vote though, but at least we might have another vote next election.

This election hasn’t changed anything. The government will continue to fight about trivial issues and ignore the one issue that threatens humanity. It’s what I said often, at every opportunity I could during the election, “the system is broken.” Political parties are controlled by policy wonks and spin-doctors and they only want to win power. They do NOT want to do what’s right. The right thing to do would be talk about climate change. The right thing to do is to put a price on carbon and help the population get unhooked from fossil fuels. It really wouldn’t be that hard. The right thing to do is to tell the population that climate change is a clear and present danger, that it threatens humanity and that we must make tough choices today to stop it. That’s why we elect representatives to government. To look at the big picture and make the right choices.

Cowards ignore it. People obsessed with power for its own sake are driving our bus towards a cliff and don’t have the intestinal fortitude to be honest with the populace. Say anything to get into power. Distract the electorate. Disrespect the opposition. Distance yourself from any issue that might prevent you from getting into power. Good grief. I’ll retire to bedlam.

Up next time a shiny happy homesteading off-grid blog about trees and growing food and happy chickens and the beauty that surrounds our little piece of paradise in the woods. For now. Until climate change arrives? But first, a few good nights sleep. And please, no more talk about politics. For now.

* * * * * * *

Michelle’s Note: Cam got 3,266 votes, or 6.5% of the vote share. During the last provincial election the Green Party candidate in this riding got 1,748 votes, or 3.9%.

Election Campaign Updates

by Michelle Mather

Our provincial election is in two days and while all five of the All Candidate Meetings held throughout the electoral district are now finished, Cam continues to respond to media interview requests and email inquiries about all sorts of topics. Planting of the CSA gardens is going well and the weather has been cooperating quite nicely. Cam is promising a return to blogging just as soon as his life settles down a bit!

In the meantime, his campaign website has a number of articles, media interviews as well as 4 videos that Cam has recorded discussing various election issues. In his most recent video, Cam explains why a vote for the Green Party is not a wasted vote, but rather the most important vote you can make!

Take a look and if you live in Ontario be sure to Vote GREEN on June 12th!

Scenes from Sunflower Farm

Guest Post by Michelle Mather

Cam asked me to fill in for him today. He had another All Candidates Meeting last night and between his election work and his farm work, he is stretched pretty thin.

So I took my camera out and captured some scenery from around Sunflower Farm. It is a truly beautiful and magical time of year as everything comes back to life and it is green, green, green, as far as the eye can see! We share our place with many beautiful plants and interesting creatures.

Our recent guest (a black bear) left this print in the mud of the garden.

Bear print in the mud

Bear print in the mud

We have lots and lots of snakes (mostly garter snakes) and they love to hang out in the rotten hay bales. Here are two of them;



They also shed their skins and leave them behind;

Snake skin

Snake skin

We got some new laying hens recently. Here are some of them;

New chickens

New chickens

New hen

New hen

Many of the bushes are flowering. I have no idea what this is but it is beautiful this time of year;

Flowering bush

Flowering bush

The tent caterpillars have excellent taste in neighbourboods. They chose this spot for their “tent.”

Tent caterpillars

Tent caterpillars

The lilacs smell and look amazing!

Lovely lilacs

Lovely lilacs

The hummingbirds and the bees love these Solomon Seal plants;

Soloman's Seal

Soloman’s Seal

I add some chopped chives to our scrambled eggs in the morning. It is such a treat to just walk outside to gather a bunch!



And today it is raining so it will get even greener out there!







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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their business, Aztext Press. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is a sought after speaker for conferences and keynotes and has motivated thousands to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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