A Marathon of Projects

At this time of year when I should be focused exclusively on garden preparation and early planting, I have dozens of side projects that distract me. All are garden related, and I should have worked on them in the fall, but I was too burned out. And until the snow was gone I was still finishing up with firewood, so as always, springtime at Sunflower Farm is a bit zooey. And exhausting. And pretty awesome.

This doesn’t look like much but this is the new “brassica” garden. Last year Michelle started broccoli and cauliflower seedlings in flats, as we always do, and I planted them in May. We’ve had success with early brassicas in other years and since we were running a CSA for the first time, we wanted to be able to provide broccoli and cauliflower as soon as possible. But last summer we experienced an epic drought and so the broccoli plants grew fine but the heads all bolted and they were a disaster. It was huge waste of time, effort, water and garden space. So this year our CSA members will get brassicas in season … in the fall. They are a northern European cold weather crop and I’m simply not going to waste any effort on an early attempt this year.

brassica-garden

This garden was a mix of strawberries and raspberries last summer. The raccoons ate all the strawberries (Morgan the Wonder Dog passed away during strawberry season and it didn’t take the raccoons very long to figure out that we no longer had a guard dog on duty) and the raspberries dried up because of the drought. So I rototilled it all under and raked out all the grass, and other garden debris, which was a big job. Then I seeded it with buckwheat. It’s a particularly sandy area of the gardens, so I’m using the buckwheat as a green manure. I’m hoping it gets a good growth by the end of June for me to rototill it into the soil, and then I’ll plant the broccoli and cauliflower ready for a fall harvest.

This is my new potato garden. This garden occurred almost spontaneously. There were large round hay bales sitting here for a couple of years and I began to notice that there were lots of bare spaces … which to me means it’s time to get the rototiller out and chew it all up. I’m very excited about it. To the right of this new garden is where our cucurbits like squash and melons grew last year, mulched with a lot of hay. This did a good job of killing the grass so I’ll ‘til it a few more times and it’ll be ready to plant.

new-potato-patch

This may not look like much but this represents an enormous amount of work and I’m just over the moon about it. This area beside the main garden has some great soil, but there are a number of stumps from pine trees that I cut down years ago (to allow more sun on the garden.) So it’s been a jungle of wild roses and raspberries, vines, pine branches … just a mixed bag of everything heavy and stubborn. We recently hired a young neighbor who helped me to haul out the logs and the sticks. Then we started yanking on the vines and trying to dislodge them by the roots. Then I used a pickaxe on some of the smaller stumps that were left. The pile of brush outside the tilled area was all moved there manually.

expanded-garden

It was just like a scene out of “Little House on the Prairie” and Catherine Parr Trail’s “The Backwoods of Canada” pioneer-type stuff. It was miserable work, but what gave us a sense of enormous satisfaction when it was done. As I drive around rural areas and see massive farmers’ fields I think of the forests that greeted settlers when they arrived. And how much blood, sweat and tears went into clearing that land. Doing it all without fossil fuel support just boggles my mind.

A tractor would have helped me enormously but there’s no money in the budget for one of those. We should have bought one when we moved from the city and still had some money. Now I have to rely on plates full of our eggs and potatoes for breakfast, and peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies and all the other great treats Michelle feeds me instead of diesel into a tractor. All in all, it’s not a bad bargain.

I finally put a proper door on last year’s greenhouse that I made from storm windows and glass patio doors. I got lazy/sidetracked last year and although it’s a small area it was impossible to make it presentable, since the back concrete wall is listing about 10° as it sinks in the sand and tilts a bit more each year. I have a massive pile of big rocks on the backside but I don’t know how much they’re slowing its progress. (Michelle still needs to cover the new door with plastic.)

original-greenhouse-door

And finally, here’s our newest greenhouse. Last year I tried to get away with a quick and dirty 2×4 structure with plastic draped over it. It was a royal pain in the butt, especially when there was rain in the forecast. We had some rain in the spring and then again in the fall, and each time I would have to drain the puddles of water that gathered on the plastic. We were blown away by the extraordinary growth of all of the heat-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers and eggplants that we planted there. So this year I’m going to use the same plastic but I’m building a proper greenhouse using PVC pipe as the ribs. Since I’m putting it on the raised bed in the barn foundation I had to use some 2x4s weighted down to try and deal with wind loads. We’ll see how that goes. I have also used the chance to build up how much soil is in this garden, which means hauling it in wheelbarrows from a few good spots nearby. And as usual it’s a stupid amount of work, but I just feel fantastic every time I look at it. Pass the cookies; I’m tired.

new-greenhouse

greenhouse

greenhouse2

It’s a busy, hot, exhausting, sore muscle-inducing marathon every day here at Sunflower Farm, and it’s absolutely fantastic!

Michelle’s Note: It’s also black fly season here and so thought you might appreciate seeing the get up Cam wears during all of this crazy, hot work!

blackfly-get-up

6 Responses to “A Marathon of Projects”

  • You can actually type in your zip code and it will tell you what zone you are in and what you should plant at certain times. And it can help you plan out your garden too. Its super helpful!

  • Tammy:

    What a marathon, to say the least! I’m exhausted just thinking about it, and feeling sheepish that we haven’t accomplished that here 😛

    How big are the gardens that you mention? I’m curious to learn the size of the potato garden. Will that feed your CSA customers and yourself? How many and what are the sizes of your gardens?

    Thanks so much for your information ~ and freely sharing them.

  • Glee:

    Congrats, Gerrit! Good luck on your new life. Whew, Cam! I wish we had some of your energy here at FairFeather Farm. Your gardens look awesome. We just brought in three Black Angus calves to help eat the grass in our pastures, and to provide us and our friends with wonderful grass-fed beef to go with our eggs and chicken and turkey. It’s potato planting time here. I’ll put the seedlings into the 4×16 ft. boxes, cover them with a few inches of dirt and then pile on the straw until the shoots get to the top of the boxes. I had great luck last year. Fresh potatoes are the best! The peas are up as are the beets, and the garlic is doing well. The planters . . . well, we have our own smaller version of a “marathon of projects” going on. so glad we don’t have black flies here. Our chickens do a great job keeping down the bug population, too.

  • Neil B. (Orleans):

    Wow Cam. Looks more like an ultramarathon of projects.

    Your “pvc greenhouse” has given me an idea to add to my raised beds and possibly allow my tomatoes to be outside sooner. Thanks.

    Also congratulations to Gerrit. An earthship sounds very exciting as well!

  • Wow! Great news Gerrit! All the best!

  • Gerrit:

    Congratulations on the great results of all that work!

    Rejoice with us, our journey is finally approaching a positive outcome; we just put in an offer on 30 acres between Huntsville and North Bay. We’ve hired a contractor with great expertise to guide us in building an earthship home there this summer/fall. The whole family will learn together and our 3 teenage kids will know how to build an ecological house, which is not a bad outcome. But yes, Michelle’s note is very appropriate; the blackflies, mosquitoes, and deer flies are plentiful! We plan on hiring a veritable army of chickens, ducks, guineas, and other feathered creatures to fight back and plant as much marigold, catnip, and horsemint as we can!

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. 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 available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people 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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