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

Exhilarated and Exhausted!

Hello, friends!

Many of you have asked us whether things are all right on the farm (wondering, perhaps, whether the den of coyotes got us, and that’s the reason for our radio silence!). We thought we’d write a quick update about all the amazing and not-so-amazing things that have happened in the life of Larch Grove since the new year.

If you’ve been following the blog, you already know that Larch Grove is a dream in progress. We didn’t inherit a farm. We didn’t inherit a house, a garden, a pond, a way of life out on the land. Like so many others who work with the earth, we did have an incurable desire to live on the land and be part of something that would sustain us. And so it’s been a long-haul job of some eleven years, working full time during the week, and then turning around and working full time during the evenings, weekends, summers, and holidays on the farm. Along the way, we’ve been gifted a place in an amazing community (Barrhead), among mentors who awe and inspire, and in a landscape we can’t live without. It’s been an incredible journey.

Along the way, we’ve had another journey, one that we don’t talk about quite as much on here: our journey as teachers. We’re both career educators, Thomas with elementary school students, Jenna with high school and then college/university students. We teach because we love it, because we believe in talking with young people about the land and our relationship to it, and because teaching gifts us something as well: at the same time that we’re able to give back to our city communities, we’re also able to continue to support our farm and its growth, and to protect the wild land on the quarter we call home. If you grew up in a rural community, you already know this town/land story. It’s one farmers have been living for generations.

Three big things happened this year, two of which have given us great joy (and also some serious exhaustion), and one of which is heartbreaking but expected. First, after twenty-nine amazing years working with children, Thomas is retiring – TODAY! It’s been a crazy year for him, readying his students for his departure, preparing paperwork, and looking toward a future that, for the first time in twenty-nine years, isn’t bound by the school day. This means more time for him to look after himself and his needs, and to spend more days on the land that he loves. It’s a beautiful and well-earned thing.

Jenna ended one stage of a journey this year, too, achieving tenure after nineteen years of working toward it. She’s able to settle into a college community and one single job, instead of shifting with the wind as positions come and go. Not only can she now help to create positive change for others where she works, but her job also means continued support for Larch Grove as we grow into an artists’ retreat and apiary. The work on the land transfers into Jenna’s classroom, too, where she works in creative and environmental writing. One stage of the journey is done, but there are so many more to come!

And the not-so-great thing, friends? If you live anywhere in Alberta, Canada, you’ll probably have experienced the unpredictable weather of the past few years. And if you’re in a farming community, you probably know neighbours who are really struggling: the canola crop didn’t come off in time for the snow last winter, and the land has been too wet and windy to plant this spring. Many of our growers are really behind, and they’re having a hard time. Larch Grove is no different. This spring, we had our second flood year in six, and the market garden was once again a boggy mess (but – bright side – our pond is better than it’s ever been!). The windstorms in June caused huge damage to the province, and so, like many others, we’re on a rebuild year. We’re doing it exhausted, after the past three years of living and teaching in different cities, meeting up to work the farm every spare moment, but we’re doing it with goals and dreams in mind, also knowing that the land will tell us what it needs, and we’ve got to be in tune with that.

We know we’re lucky, and that, as farmers and teachers, we have a backup plan as the climate continues to be more and more unpredictable. But there are many career farmers out there who are really having a tough time, and we can all lend our support. Friends, if you can, this is a great time to buy local and support the growers in your area. Every market gardener and local producer could use your help. It’s been a mad season, and we need to step up for each other so that food can keep coming from here, where we live, instead of thousands of miles away.

As for Larch Grove? Well, we might have been (literally) underwater this spring, but we’ll be in rebuild mode this summer, following the land’s lead. As the ground dries out, we’ll be raising again our organic growing beds, readying for next year, crossing our fingers that we’ll be allowed a good season in 2018. And in the meantime, there are wild berries to harvest, jam to make, and the earth to get reacquainted with after a soggy spring. No matter what happens, there is always, always beauty.

Working Through the Grey Days

Happy January from Larch Grove!

We hope you’re well after the holidays, and that you’ve enjoyed a time of rest and abundance with family and friends.

We took some time away from the blog over the late months of 2016, mainly because the start of the winter means that both of us are off the farm more often than usual during the weekdays as we return to our teaching jobs for the cold months. In the classroom or the lecture hall, we enjoy talking with our students about the land, and all through the deep winter, we save like mad for the farm and our plans for the spring garden. It’s a heck of a lot to juggle, but it makes the winter months of work well worth the effort. It’s reassuring to know that our farm will be properly set up for the spring and summer, and we get to have some pretty great discussions about what makes living on the land so grounding.

January and February on the Prairies are the months of deep cold, more often than not. The lights and festivities of Christmas are over, and spring is four or five months out. Internally, we know the solstice has passed and the light is coming back into the days, but at the start of January, we can’t see much evidence of that yet. The months after Christmas are often the dreariest ones to push through.

Low light and deep snow in the market garden at the farm

Cold season visitors to the bird table

Like so many of you who grow, garden, and dream, the main thing that sees us through the dark months is the thought of getting our hands back into the soil. Catalogues have been arriving in the post since November, and we’ve sent in most of our seed orders for the spring and summer to come. Small bundles of seed packets arriving in the mailbox make for a welcome sight!

Garden planning

Another few weeks, and we’ll start the perennials under grow lights so they’re ready for spring planting in the garden. It always feels slightly sneaky to sow out lavender and rosemary in cell packs in January, as though you’re getting a sly jump on the season right under winter’s nose. We’ll also sow some early greens to feed garden cravings as the light returns and the days lengthen. Sunflower shoots, pea shoots, and cut-and-come-again greens will brighten salads and sandwiches until the market garden thaws.

Spring dreaming…of early salad!

And in the meantime, there are photos, catalogues, and garden plans to linger over in the small spaces between work and dark. What are you planning for the season ahead, friends? What are you holding up against the grey months of January and February until the sun tracks back again?

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.