Welcome to Larch Grove Farm, an off-grid organic farm and artist residency in northern Alberta, Canada. We’re building home from the ground up: join us on the blog for photos of a farm in progress, Open Farm dates, books for sale, our food box program, and much more.

Latest from the blog

Over the Threshold

The days are hovering at just twelve hours of light now, and the sun has slid past the bright spill of midsummer into the old gold of autumn. It’s time to roll the season, friends.

Frost-touched Golden Bantam sweet corn stalks in the market garden, set against the dark of the muskeg spruce

At the farm, this is the season of quiet, constant work. We’ve both returned to our teaching jobs for the school year, and the farming now happens in evenings, weekends, holidays. We’re no different from all the generations of farmers who worked an off-farm job at the same time they were out on the land. It’s the presence of a ceiling overhead that signals the season for us, and the good energy of new classes, as much as the sound of the geese and cranes fleeing south again.

The newly filled pond by the cabin, almost too deep for the moose now

With the shift toward autumn, we’re moving toward the end of certain projects for the season. The pond that we worked on all last summer and began landscaping this spring is now more than half full from our mad summer rains. It’s a soft, beautiful presence on the farm with the changing trees reflecting in its surface and migrating birds stopping down to drink.

Part of the honey harvest from our steadily growing apiary

We robbed the hives a short time ago, making sure to leave plenty of winter stores for the bees, and also feeding them up with extra sugar water to get them as ready as possible for the long, cold winter. And it looks as though it means to be long and cold – our first frost was in late August, and now the mornings begin with the crisp sheen of ice on the grass. Everything has been harvested from the market garden now except for the winter leeks, the black kale, and the carrots; we keep them in against the frost until their sugars turn them so sweet, they’re practically vegetable candy. Heavenly.

In the meantime, the kitchen is a mess of canning jars, beeswax for candlemaking that needs to be washed free of remaining honey, herbs drying, and winter squash curing. We love the seasonal mess and productivity, but we’re also pleased as punch to see the jars filled and lined up on the shelves against the cold months.

Lanterns at dusk in the memory garden

And it’s the season of light – how it ages, how reluctant we are to see it go. In the early dusk, we visit the forest memory garden by the cabin and light lanterns for meditation. Small votive flames burn long enough for us to take out memories, turn them over, and set them carefully down again in such a way that they don’t pull quite so hard. Memories, like gardens, need tending.

Here’s to going into the dark season with the fullness of summer behind us, friends, and still enough light to see the path by.

Looking Forward, Looking Back

What a season it’s been, friends!

We’re away from the farm for a handful of days to take part in a family wedding, and, ta-da, a blog post! Ironically, I often find that the only time I have to write about the farm is when I’m not working it. When we’re on the land, we’re working, sunup to sundown. Travel affords us a chance to sit back and reflect on the whirlwind we’ve just stepped away from.

Like so many folks across the Canadian Prairies, we had a very changeable summer. The weather went from an early spring to a hot summer, to rain, to early cold. Nights are hovering around 5C now, just above frost, and the geese and sandhill cranes are already massing to leave. What?! When did that happen?

We spent the summer improving the market garden, extending the beds for next year’s flower farm, building additional patios around the cabin, and working on the road and the pond. Each improvement felt like a satisfying way of deepening our commitment to this place and to our future goals as we work with the land.

As the season turns, we’re already beginning the harvest. Preserving, which has occurred in small batches during the summer, is kicking into high gear: dilly beans! Dill pickles! Spicy carrots! Beets are being harvested for soup, potatoes for the cellar, and kale and carrots are turning into different vegetables altogether as their sugars heighten during the cold nights. We’ll enjoy them through the shortening autumn days in all sorts of comfort foods.

Fall is the time we put up our food for the winter, which in northern Canada can last seven months. We can, freeze, and dry just about all of our vegetables for the dark months so that we don’t need to buy in much. It’s incredibly reassuring to be able to turn to the cellar on the coldest -50C nights of dark and windchill, grab a jar of canned garden soup, and pop the top to scents of summer. Plus, it really helps the wallet while we’re scrimping and saving every penny for the coming year’s projects.

Fall is also the time we finish bucking up the wood we felled and stored during the previous year. We’ve had loads of beautiful poplar, tamarack, and birch curing under cover, and now is the time to make sure everything is split down and stacked for the long winter. We heat only with wood, and with many nights hitting -50C (-58F) with windchill, we really need a good woodpile! Plus, chopping and stacking wood is amazing meditation, as well as the instant gratification of a stack done right.

Finally, we’ll bundle up our bees for the cold, dark months ahead. The hives are insulated and roped together for additional warmth, and then all we can do is sit back, visit the girls during the cold months to listen at the hive entrances for life, and keep the ice off the hives as best we can. The bees are left with 100 pounds of their own honey each winter, as they’ll have to last seven month on their own before we can open up the hives to give them additional food in the spring. We’re especially excited for our Blue Hive, which has a strong queen and some beautifully calm bees. We’re hoping to do some splits off her hive in the coming season.

To round off the summer, we thought we’d share some images from our garden as it moves toward harvest. Here’s to you, friends, and your own home places as you turn the season on the land you love.

Tending the lovely ladies of Larch Grove, our small (but growing) apiary of four hives.

The perennial garden by the patio really came into its own this summer and provided a beautiful backdrop for farm visits.

Sharing the farm with friends, particularly young ones learning to garden, is a highlight of every summer.

Our garden is in a pocket of Zone 1 (Zone 2 with good shelter belts), so cherries have always seemed beyond our reach. This summer, though, the sour cherry trees taught us that they are hardy things indeed! Crimson Passion cherries made amazing pie.

We trialed dahlias for the first time this summer in our cold garden, and they worked magically well. We’re looking forward to planting them next year, too!

The pond filled up and is ready for landscaping next spring. It proved a favourite bathing spot for the moose!

Last summer, we sledgehammered apart the 1970s truck trailer we lived in for our first four years at the farm, and built this cook shed in its place. We finished it off this summer and installed the master controller of Larch Grove Farm: our Field Notes board to keep things organized!

We hauled 44 tonnes of road crush in the Vermont cart to lay new patios and top up our road by the cabin. Great workout, and there is something incredibly satisfying about the clean new road bed.

The harvest is beginning to come in, and it’s a beauty. It’s good to know that farm food will be nourishing us, our families, and our friends this winter.

On Gratitude

So much hurt in the world these days, friends. So much violence. We read the news or turn on the radio and we get sandbagged by it, its heft. And there’s guilt, too, at how lucky we are to be in a place where, in this moment in time, the violence isn’t happening directly to us.

I don’t know about you, but there have been days lately where I’ve caught myself wondering what I can possibly do in the face of all that darkness. I mean, I speak up. I fight back when I see people treated unequally and make my presence felt when I know I can be a witness for others. But what do you do against guns, against people who have been unhinged by their own pain?

For myself, I’m fighting back in the best way I know how. Gratitude.

Sometimes it feels as though all I have to pitch against the impossibly hard things is a bit of light and beauty. And that’s all the shield I’ve got.

Two of my friends recently challenged me on Facebook to follow up on a post I wrote about Sweet Thing of the Day. It was meant to be a one-off, a small gift of beauty to friends online, but their challenge made me think deeply about presence. We’re surrounded by amazing wild land here at the farm, but some days, with the hurt and fear in the news, I find myself thinking, what on earth can I hold up against that pain? Looking for one good thing, no matter what the day brings at home or abroad, is teaching me a lot about gratitude.

A few things caught me today, and I thought I’d pass them on to you. Little gifts.

The dahlias are coming into their own in the flower garden for the first time. The land has often been too cold for them in the past, but this one summer, they’re thriving, and we’re grateful for their magical and uncanny presence. I tucked a few into a vase today with some deep blue delphinium, Huron wheat, and Painted Lady sweetpeas as a gift for loved ones. The way dahlias hold the light is a small gift in itself – they just glow.

A little oasis of calm: the patio and flower garden at the edge of our big market garden at the farm. This (below) is what the place looked like when we first got the market garden started; we’ve come a long way in a few years!

And the lilies are out along the market garden fence. We planted half a hundred bulbs there in the early spring, and the Asiatics have just begun to bloom. The Oriental lilies and the Trumpets will be out later in August, filling the garden with perfume on still nights.

Yesterday evening, I had a good conversation with one of our resident moose while she was browsing willows on one side of the fence and I was watering dahlias on the other. She finished her supper, and Thomas and I watched while she wandered down to the pond for a cool-down and a drink. I’ve never heard a moose groan in contentment before! It had been a scorching hot day, and I bet that water felt really good. And then there was the young doe Thomas spotted outside the cabin this morning. In all likelihood, she was this youngster who grew up in the forest meditation garden this spring:

I don’t know what to offer most days but small bits of beauty. It’s the only way I know of striking back.