Tag Archives: Farm

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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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

 

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

Happy New Year 2008!

The theme of this “Musings from Peachland” is “the more things changes, the more they stay the same.” 

I am captured by the reality that with all the things that has engaged me over the past year and with all the dramatic changes in Mark’s and my life things are much the same. How can that be? It simply boils down to,as we all know, you are who you are. You can change countries, time zones,homes, jobs, avocations, clothing styles, and hair (no I didn’t dye my graying head) and you still wake up to yourself in the morning with your same old hopes, dreams, beliefs, worries and, most of all, habits. So the more you change, the more you stay the same.

In this new country with new friends and colleagues, I am still perceived as energetic and enthusiastic, even though I am in my fifties.I am thought to be upbeat and positive. I am still huggable (Artistic Director, David LaHay doesn’t miss an opportunity to show his appreciation for hard work and engaged dialogues about the future. One of the affirmations that accepting the position as Development Manager for Ballet Kelowna was, after a week orientation and about 25 meetings, when I put out my hand to shake

David’s he just wrapped me in bear hug.) This new job is definitely a good “fit”. David is passionate about creating a preeminent Canadian Ballet Company and I am passionate about art, especially dance, and this young company is nothing short of amazing. An easy sell for someone who thrives on communicating the best of what I believe in.

But this brings me back to the more things change. I live on a farm and I work out of a home office. I am close to easy beautiful walks and a refrigerator. But when I start to work, I forget to stop for lunch unless I have a lunch meeting and I had best eat something before I start in for the day. Little habits I had developed in the workplace have established themselves at home (and I think, no I know, I drive Mark a little crazy.) Like, I tidy the office, now house, before I sit down to work. Everything needs to be in its place so I can focus on work with no distractions. The Boulder County Arts Alliance office was always tidy and ready for drop-in visits by artists. Well,no one is dropping in on us now, as it takes an effort and more than map quest to find us. This might be one of the few things that have changed. So far I like it. I think that I am ready to have a little bit of uninterrupted time. I feel less frazzled and more grounded when I am not jumping up and meeting and greeting folks. It may explain why the Ballet Kelowna board seems impressed with how much I have accomplished in four short months.

Another thing that has definitely changed is the weather. Although the Okanagan Valley only gets 9 inches a year, the lake is filled by melting snows in the mountains above us, it is cloudy from November to, or maybe, through March. (They say the sun shines the rest of the year and we get HOT summers.) For Mark as a Coloradoan and me as a transplant with 16 years chronic sunshine under my belt, it is quite depressing.  Mark is thinking of taking up sunbeam chasing, following the one shaft of light that comes through the “lake effect”cloud every other day.  This is more grey sky than we bargained for so we now have a “blue lamp” and are taking vitamin D and we run outside anytime the sun shines to prune a tree just to soak it in. Another great reason to work out of the home when we live on a farm. 

We are attending Kelowna Friends Meeting, which is under the Vernon meeting.  Mark and I make the tenth and eleventh attender in Kelowna. It is just like our first meeting,just as small, intimate and, yes friendly, as the Quaker Springs meeting in upstate NY. We have been welcomed with open arms and feel blessed as we share our contemplative experience of the morning over food at the end of the often”gathered” meeting. Two members of the Meeting are in their third year of homesteading just north of Enderby and have taken us under their wing,mentoring us in the ways of pruning, heritage seed/ vegetable cultivation and other farming activities we are now, or soon to be engaged in.

This is the big change in our lives and has become the calling that brought us to Canada, if you don’t count, what we politely refer to as the militarist fascist policies of the United States that saddened us so deeply and led us to make this move of conscientious objection. Pruning an orchard has become a new “practice” as it is slow methodical and is an art as well as a science. This is a wonderful way to become grounded and experience renewal. After the leaves pop and the blossoms show, we can measure our success against our inexperience.

Cleo is barking to get in after barking for what seems like, and could well be hours, at all the wildlife. She is diligent in protecting our orchard and her farm from any illegal trespassing by deer or coyotes. I hope it effective against the bears when they come out of hibernation and want to see what is cooking at 5010 Elliott Ave in Peachland.  We have a pair of bald eagles cavorting in the skies above the ravine that are clearly unaffected. I fear for the lives of my yet non-existent flock of chickens by these birds of prey and have decided to wait to get beehives started until we get our Great Pyrenees and I am sure we have deterred the bears. 

Well it is another cloudy day, but a good one to draft grants and write final reports in addition to Peachland chronicles for friends and family. 

Best wishes in 2008. May we experience more and lasting peace this year. 

Love, Alison