Category Archives: Organic Farming

The end of another season at Ravens View Farm 2015

August 31 2015 – It feels like the end of another season at Ravens View Farm

This has been the season of all seasons. It started way earlier with a warmer winter and then a warmer spring, which continued to deliver the hottest summer on record not only for the Okanagan, but the world, and possibly the driest, but that is not altogether unexpected in the Okanagan Valley, which is a dessert after all with only 9 inches of precipitation annually.

However clouds, not the smoke from Washington’s wildfires, have rolled in the past few days and the temperature has dropped with the light rain we received. Last night in fact held a maker for fall when I put on an extra sweater because the evening breeze was chilly. With the overcast skies I slept until the dogs awakened me at 6:30. But after feeding them and letting them out I went back to bed with a cup of tea to finish the book for book club tomorrow evening.

There are still some jobs to complete on the farm. Aren’t there always? But my sense of urgency to get out there before the day gets too hot to work has diminished, because my body, which is fitter, firmer, leaner and meaner than ever before, is craving rest, the deep rest that comes with fall.  And this is speaking louder than the demands of the farm.

Fall has never actually been a favoured season here in Canada, unlike my years in the lower 49 states, because it portends the temperature inversion that brings the blanket of cloud that put the orchards and gardens to sleep for the winter. It also foretells of the much shorter days to come above the 49th parallel beginning on the Equinox just a few three weeks away. This may be why I love the bears that are our constant companions this time of year. Their search for food in ours and the neighbors’ orchards, instigating the encounters with our dogs to get the plums, is a reminder of the coming season of hibernation – a reminder that there is a time for bodies to relax, for minds to release and spirits to rise.

This year I find myself looking forward to fall. I have grown weary of getting up with the birds that began to stir at 3:45 am and were in full song by 4:00 calling me out of bed by 5:00. But what a glorious way to start a day with the mating songs of so many species of birds that decided that Ravens View Farm, whose ravens had moved up into the cooler mountains, was the place to call home for the summer. With our daily refreshed birdbath and a constant rotation of irrigation on the fruit trees, they were assured a good source of water and as it turns out food as they proceeded to take a bite out of every fourth peach as they ripened.

This was a also season of new pests, from tent caterpillars to the dreaded spotted wing drosophila fruit fly as well as many diverse pollinators I had never seen before accompanying my favourite insect the honeybee. It also marked the arrival of more creatures.  We have seen more lizards and garden snakes and rubber boas this year than ever before. It feels like we created an oasis in the midst of the intense drought when their natural habitat became too hot dry and food became scarce. The insects and mice and rats (both Pack and Norwegian) and of course the snakes, lizards and spiders have all come along to savour the “fruits” of the farm. So this is a year of all kinds of abundance in the midst of our experience of global warming. With it however we lost a higher percentage of our peach and plum crop to birds who created the seconds that I and my customers turned into jams and chutneys. We fed the rodents a fair percentage of the chicken feed.

Now I have to address the spotted wing drosophila that has become the scourge of the fruit growers in the northwest and British Columbia.  My most important chore right now is to rake all the rotten Italian prune plums into black plastic bags and heat them up to kill the larvae and determine what I can do as an organic farmer to ameliorate them in future seasons. Without our annual cold snap that kills off so many of the hibernating predatory larvae in the ground beneath the trees we will be inundated again next year earlier with even more. So plans to finally renovate our heritage plum orchard through deep and strategic pruning are already underway with marks being made on the branches to be cut come winter. The result will be less fruit but healthier, easier to harvest in a timely manner at the just prior to full ripeness to avoid the fruit fly. I will probably end up with just what I need to sell to ensure the farm remains viable. I look forward to a more manageable orchard next year and the feeling that I have restored and reinvigorated the old plums.

At times I feel a distinct other presence in the orchard. Mark has identified it as the fairies that live in the trees. Now while I am in the old orchard cleaning up and contemplating which branches to prune, I am sensitive to the fairies that guard and protect the trees. I believe they invited us here in the first place to save the orchard and they have been watching ever since to be sure that we are good stewards. In that spirit and perhaps with their guidance we will endeavor to do the plum orchard justice and the peach trees as well.

There’s much more to recount of this growing season here at Ravens View Farm, but my cluttered desktop now beacons me to begin the process of filing months of papers that have been accumulating, lying in wait for this cloudy cool day to be addressed. And of course this is the year that the farm will be assessed by the Farm Bureau to be sure that we are indeed a working farm and deserving of the small tax breaks and lowered water rates that farm classifications bestows. There are always chores to do on the farm and now I get to dig into my least favourite, the paperwork.

Until my next moment of procrastination, enjoy life and all it has to offer as I seem to do here on Ravens View Farm.

 

 

Musings on Pruning in Peachland on Ravens View Farm

Pruning in Peachland on Ravens View Farm.

With 45 old plum trees and 35 young peach trees on our small organic farm in the Okanagan, the month of March invites us outside to begin the process of cultivating the farm by pruning the orchard. We get to study each individual tree and consider its future health, productivity and hopefully shapeliness.  For a person who takes time to carefully consider each decision in order to make the best one, pruning takes practice and pruning has become a practice. I am practicing my ability to stay present in the moment, I am practicing my memory of the key principles of pruning, and I am practicing decision-making with every cut.  Mark has been fantastic at cutting the water sprouts and dead wood each year and ensuring the overall shapeliness with his artist’s eye.  However over time the ends of
the branches have begun to criss-cross and overlap because I have not tended to this refinement for the past several years.  So it is time and my turn to cut away the branches from underneath. With the meandering tendrils of fruiting wood intersecting, I am forced to determine what to cut and make sure I am not cutting more than the
recommended 1/3 each year.  At all times I am testing the branches for strength, because the greatest damage to our trees are the bears in the night who indiscriminately pull down on the branches until they break to feast on the fruit at their convenience. With this in mind I must add that I am pruning the tree for strength.  It is this final consideration that eases my mind when I wonder, have I cut too much?  I am remembering the words of our first pruning mentors who came the first winter with chain saw in hand and startled us by valiantly cutting away the large inner limbs that sheltered the rest of the tree from the valuable rays of the sun that ripens the fruit.  “Be Brave” they said.  With this refrain echoing in my mind I realize that pruning is a seasonal practice for cultivating courage.  

Musings on the Equinox March 2013

Equinox March 2013. An amazing day.
Master teachers and yogis advise their students and disciples to observe the phenomenal world.  When was the opportunity to ponder more inviting than on this spring’s equinox?  It is a day of balance when the amount of light is equal to the amount of darkness; the day that marks the beginning of spring.  And what marvellous weather did Mother Nature share with us to proclaim the change of seasons?  A dark cold cloudy morning just like
all the others that preceded it all winter long; then a break in the clouds and an incredible bright blue sky beaconing people to come outside! 

And then a snow squall and brilliant sunlight, and yet another snow squall and gorgeous blue skies, then corn snow bouncing off the still dormant earth, and again the blue skies of spring.  Wow! It was a day to celebrate the seasons, a day to let us know that things are changing, but not quite yet, a day to wonder about opposites, dark and light, sun and snow. One might consider this equinox as a dramatic display of opposing forces or one might consider how
perfectly planned this whirlwind of weather, bundled into one day, the equinox, was to encourage us to pay attention to our phenomenal world.   

New realizations about the “Dream” – August 2010

New realizations about the “Dream” means making sense of life and events at the end of August, at the end of a summer of hard work and harvesting, and trying to keep up with the
processing is challenging.  Learning every day, not having enough time to pick, clean, store, process, cook, clean and then attend to the
rest of my life is challenging.  And, of course, I forgot rest. 

What I feel is a deep tiredness, deep calm, a physical strength that is not quite enough for the amount I have chosen to do. And then
there is the partnership and the fact that I insisted that if we moved to Canada that I have a family farm. But the irony is that we don’t have a family anymore. We are just an older couple and this does not a family make in the context of a farm. 

I realize why farmers had many children because many hands do the make light work.  I realize now why the farmer’s wife did not work off the farm, or, if so, only part time.  While the farmer is cultivating, sowing, cultivating, harvesting and storing, she is tending the family garden, taking care of the chickens, processing the food and putting three meals a day on the table for the farm hands. This was the life of my grandmother. Interesting that they call them farm hands because it is the hands that we need. The extra hand  is what I need now as the universe has really sent Mark the message that he is not to spend time on the farm. This is not his joy, his life desire, nor his purpose. 

In the past two weeks he sprained his ankle so that he could
not even walk for a week and hobbled for another.  And just as he started to get around and was harvesting the garlic he experience a freak accident where a garlic stalk went straight up his nose and cuts the wall of his sinus cavity.  The blood was atrocious. There could not have been two more clear signals that he must spend his time doing what he is good at and what makes him happy.  Even though the sprain occurred while playing softball, I really believe it has more to do with the farm.  He is out of his element. 

Now we really need to get smart and attract woofers and apprentices to the farm to help share in the dream of stewarding a farm back to plentiful production. 

Alison

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Welcome to “Musings from Peachland” and Ravens View Farm

Welcome to my blog posts – Musings from Peachland

These “Musings from Peachland” are a series of missives that were sent to family and friends over the past three years. They chronicle the process of relocating from Boulder, Colorado to Peachland, British Columbia in the beautiful Okanagan Valley. They chronicle a change of lifestyle when one undertakes to steward a small organic farm, Ravens View Farm.
This blog will be of interest to readers who are thinking of moving to another country, ex-patriating from their native land for moral and/or political reasons and those who are interested in becoming small organic farmers. These musings share our experience with major life changes in mid-life.
Alison

Second Summer on our Okanagan Valley Farm

It is the beginning of June.  Actually now it is the exact end of June, tomorrow being July 1 Canada Day. It is our second summer in the Okanagan and on the land we are calling Ravens View Farm.  It is hard to believe how much two middle-aged novices have accomplished in our ambitious and slightly, well more like very naive endeavor of becoming farmers and developing an organic farm. It is overwhelming how much there is to do on a farm, but the correlate is how much there is to learn and that makes it exhilarating.

I had an intern once who grew up on a ranch. When, even before I had moved and the reality of our undertaking had fully emerged, I pondered, how, at my age, could I take on something so daunting? She responded,“Don’t you know that your body, your strength, and your stamina grows with your garden?”  I think of her and this insightful comment often these days. With each passing week, I get stronger.  At first I could only do three hours of hard labour. Then it was four hours and, with a rest, an hour more. Then it was five hours and now it is up to six or eight if I take the midday siesta.  I am fueled by water, which I now drink in profusion. I believe what they say that dehydration leads to fatigue. I am able to work much longer, but I drink a giant glass of water many times throughout the day.  I am also fueled by the fruits of my labour. I have learned that you do what needs to be done at this moment on this day during this season.

There are also many lessons to be learned.  For instance, if you don’t know what the particular plant is don’t cultivate it.  Get rid of it!If it is meant to be there it will grow again and even if it is meant to be there it will surely come back.I am referring to weeds. For which my favorite definition is simply a plant in an unwelcome location.But then we have the “noxious and invasive” plants that gardeners across North America are trying eradicate. And there are plenty on our six cultivatable acres.  It has been a season of identifying the most invasive and prevalent plants (leafy spurge, knapweed, teasel, which they refer to as Salsify and looks like giant dandelion and the beautiful hounds tongue which turns into obnoxious burs and finally creosote bush then of course there is baby’s breath) and weeding them out before they go to seed. Then of course some of them are beautiful and so you don’t realize that they are an invasive and unwelcome species.  The other lesson about weeds is once identified just pull everything as you go. Last summer I just pulled out knapweed as I walked by and it is amazing how many fewer plants there are this year. Keep you mowers in good condition and keep mowing if you don’t have sheep as this helps as much as anything. This has turned into a summer of reclamation and observation.

I am cultivating my skills of observation. I am observing myself and all that is transpiring around me. I have learned about my own personal rhythms of work and attention to work. I realize how distracted I truly am by things that catch my eye. IT is in all aspects of my life that I need to cultivate greater concentration

Today Fourth of July we are harvesting the sour cherries. It has been an opportunity to stay focused and follow through in harvesting every cherry on every branch and clear the tree and stick with it until the tree has been harvested. Then they must be processed immediately as they begin to discolour and must be popped into the freezer.45 minutes to pick and an hour to get into freezer bags.

Got to run.

Alison

 

It’s been a year since immigrating!

It’s been a year since immigrating! It was Labour Day 2007 that I took off for Canada, for a new life on a farm in a new country with a new job.  It has been a year of making new friends, developing new routines and learning new things. It is hard for me to believe that it has been a year, despite living on a farm with an orchard where the seasons are pronounced and the passage of time is told by the piles of pruned twigs and branches that grew through the winter, the blooms in early May, the slow and gentle growth of the fruit through the spring into the summer and then the ripening sour cherries, apricots, peaches and now plums that have been picked and processed from mid July til yesterday. The day we arrived we saw a big black bear which had been foraging in our orchard and he came to visit last week, but this time Cleo, our dog, was on guard courageously enacting her role as protector of the land and been keeping him at bay, giving us time to harvest the last of the fruit.

The winter was long and dark literally and figuratively. Our beautiful Okanagan Lake creating an inversion cloud that hung over the valley for most of the winter from late October to April. Combine that with one hour less sun than the lower 48 at winter solstice. Thank goodness for a little wood stove with a glass front so we can seethe flame and our funny electric fireplace that creates a little fake flickering flame with lights and mirrors and a small fan that pumps hot air through hole at the top. This winter we will paint the kitchen and dining area a bright yellow and paint the bathroom a warm red.  We bought anew comforter to get us through the winter with a bit of more warmth. And a new Heat Pump will replace our old oil furnace to ensure a more ecological and economic winter.

Last spring was a “hundred year event” colder longer and wetter than anyone in the Okanagan can remember.  It was a blessing for our orchard giving us time to get trained in irrigation repair by local “friends”, Alan and his son Fred who works in the oil fields of Alberta as a Piper layer during the winter when the earth is frozen and the trucks can cross the scrum.  Mark was a natural and in the ensuing weeks repaired well over 20 sprinkler heads and a myriad of broken lines. The majority caused by anew septic system ensuring that we could handle all the guests we had visit this summer. Twelve sets in all.  A brother and then a sister both who dove with their respective partners all the way from Southern California but only 200 miles further than Colorado.  And lots of other good friends who willingly helped us tackle a project on the farm each day.It is a relief to know that we don’t live that far away and people are intrigued by the award-winning wine country of the Okanagan Valley.

When sharing with colleagues at Ballet Kelowna my amazement at how the Okanagan Community has welcomed Mark and I into this valley, one said that is the culture and nature of the Company, which is open, engaging, and feels like a family. However, when I told this to Mark’s mother she said, “What do you mean?” Reminding me that we have been welcomed into the Quaker Meeting as if we were just returning from a lengthy time away. (I am becoming a member this fall) Mark is the new “kid” on his passionate softball team which plays a double hitter every Tuesday and Thursday. Our Friends Jock and Carmen who we call “Mom & Dad” have adopted us and include us into their circle of friends. The other organic farmers in Peachland Joe and Jessica are always available with advice and a trade of vegetables for fruit. And we could go on.

At last, with the help of an irascible tenant who never paid his rent on time and complained about everything, we decided to sell our beloved house in Boulder. Despite the valiant efforts of friends who were property managing for us, it is simpler not to have to deal with troublesome individuals. I just think that we were supposed to sell last year and embrace our new life, but I just couldn’t cut all ties to Boulder; another lesson about “attachment”. Our lives will be a bit simpler each month and there is so much to attract our energy.

That has been my motto both at work and home: “Simpler is better”, which is quickly followed by “Patience is a Virtue” when restoring an old family farm and building a Ballet Company.

Finally, there is much that I miss, which just as I began to enumerate, I decided that I don’t want to think about how wonderful the past has been. I don’t want to feel sad as we can’t have everything from the past in the present, but I carry it all in my heart and in my memories. The reality is that I am creating another wonderful past every moment. I am staying present with what the universe continues to provide us and being grateful for an adventuresome life shared with a wonderful partner with support from family and friends old and new, near and far.

Alison

 

100 Year Event – Coldest Spring on Record 2008

It is a cool cloudy spring day which is par for the course for this “100 Year Event” coldest spring on record in the Okanagan.  But given that we are having a huge septic system installed which is digging trenches over irrigation lines so we can’t water the many fruit trees which are just finished blooming and did not get caught in the killing frosts of two weeks ago, it is a relief. I can spare the sun for a few more days until the septic is in and we have dug up and checked more than 75 sprinkler heads around our six/seven acres.

It has been a trying and wonderful eight nine months. I suppose when spring finally arrives my gestation period will come to an end and I will have to enter into my new life as a farmer for better or worse and I love it (at the moment) which is accompanied by unexpected tulips and forsythia appearing in beds which I thought barren.

So by now you know that we are pretty sure that the farm will be named “Ravens View Farm” you will get it once you sit on the porch with a glass of wine and watch the ravens soar from pine to pine cawing and clicking to each other with the Okanagan Lake spread out below you with views all the way to Naramata. The Cottage has the best of what the septic guys call a “million dollar view”. I made a joke that we are going to call the garage when it is renovated the “Rook’s Nook” Sound like a guest house already. Don’t know how much will be done by the time you all get here as every construction worker is busy for MONTHS! We do have a lovely guest room and there is tons of places to stroll, to sit and read, and hang out.

We were able to research and secure “eco-lawn”seed, prepare the septic field and spread and water the seed along with wild flowers. Then we were able to get a lawn mower and mow the peach orchard.  Obtain more than enough of the miscellaneous parts that are required to piece together our irrigation system after the septic system installation and finally we prepared and planted an 80 x 3 foot bed along the top of the peach orchard for our first vegetable garden.  Needless to say we made good use of all the time this long Victoria Weekend and we are utterly exhausted.  Thank goodness for this cloudy showering weather today.

Alison

Springtime on a Farm

Today, April 5, I realize it has been seven months since I arrived in Peachland, BC and took up residence on our beautiful farm.  Mark and I are experiencing the joy that comes with the beginning of spring after what felt was a long and was in reality a dark winter  (dark because we reside above the 49th Parallel and because we have a huge lake at our feet, which produces the “lake effect cloud” above our heads all winter).  So much is happening every day every week around the grounds, on the ground that surrounds our new home.  At the suggestion of an organic farmer we met at a dinner party last night to keep a farm journal, I took the 2008 “week at a glance” Herbal Journal Calendar my sister gave me at Christmas to begin to note what we have been doing this winter and what is happening.  So in between the sunny April showers that have sprinkled across the valley off and on all afternoon, and which, at this very moment, has produced a rainbow that is rising out of the lake beyond our pines, I have begun to note my observations of what is budding. These range from the little starburst flowers of pale lavender that have nudged up and through the years of pine needles and leaves that have provided a carpet of mulch hiding them from sight until now.

It is amazing how much is happening outside our windows from the small birds that have returned that we are slowing over time going to identify from the Oregon Junkos to the Towhees and the house finches. They don’t have purple finches in BC. The magpies and the pair of Bald Eagles have been keeping us company since January. The chipmunk has become bold and scampers across the porch in search of seeds and other sundry items

As I walk the grounds and stroll in between the trees in the orchard, I can see the impact of the elements that comprise this particular ecosystem. You can see where the water has flowed generously and the effects of lack of water both overhead which cools the branches in the heat of the summer and the water that ran freely from broken sprinkler heads to nourish the trees from below. I can see the path ways of the bears when I ponder why one whole avenue of plum trees are leaning to one side and the branches on this side have been pruned away. The telltale marks of their claws scratching across the bark to create permanent scars are clearly evident. Then of course there are the trees that have been attacked by the smallest mammals on the land our voles or moles that gnaw the bar in the winter under the protection of snow. I expect that as the seasons progress and we spend a year in this orchards, we will see the effects of other pests even smaller larvae, insects their larvae and the fungi. Not the mushrooms that have grown in the waterways of the broken sprinklers heads either.

So much to do that I must run.

Alison