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

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.

Building a Lake at the Farm

Howdy, gardening and farming friends! Hope you are well into your summers and the weather is being kind to you. We’ve been deluged with rain here in the north, and although the thunderstorms are a royal pain in the butt when it comes to trying to weed the market garden, the trees are loving all the moisture, so we take our lead from them! Wow, I bet the spruce have put on half a foot of new growth just in the past two months alone.

A young farming couple we met online just bought their first quarter in the next province over, and they’re chasing their own farm dreams – way to go! I was talking with one member of the couple a few days back over Messenger, and she was asking how we went about building our pond at the farm, as we had no water source on the land when we first moved there. That got me thinking! Why not write up a post about building a lake at the farm? In true experimental fashion, we’re not stopping at the trial pond. Our next step is to build a small fishing/swimming lake. But one thing at a time!

We began building the pond five years ago. At the time, we were working against the weather and a rather high water table, so the pond filled itself up pretty much right after we built it. Drat! We’d only been able to dig it three feet deep! And this is what it did during its second summer:

Yup – dangit! The pond dried right up. Thank goodness, the tadpoles grew up and evacuated the pond first.

So we got to work and built the thing right. In the photo above, you can see that the first task was strimming out the old pond, which had gone to grass and bulrushes.

Then the digger arrived:

We had the small backhoe delivered, but we did the work ourselves. It was a good solid learning curve, but a great skill set to develop for the farm’s future.

We had intended to dig the pond down deep into the clay (our farm has great deposits of slick clay underneath all that peaty soil), but the first attempt at the pond had filled up from the high water table before we’d been able to complete the digging. So we were working against the clock, knowing that the hole would soon start to fill with water…

Once we set any remaining peat aside, the clay broke apart in huge, weighty slabs that challenged the digger. We switched up buckets to a larger claw and went at it, building a ramp into the pond as we went along. We knew our local wildlife would be visiting the pond, and that meant moose, and we wanted them to be able to enter and exit the pond for safe drinking without risking drowning their calves.

The sides of the pond were thick, thick clay, so we didn’t need to firm them down further. We used the backhoe to level the pond’s base and tamp it down well so that no cracks could cause the water to seep out.

We bermed the peat around the rim of the pond to make a better planting surface for vegetation and clover. Here, you can clearly see the intended depth of the pond (we got there at last!). I took the photo looking up from the base of the pond, and I’m 5’2, so you can see the pond is easily 12’ in the middle.

And here it is today. This summer has been incredibly rainy, and between that and the snowmelt, the pond has filled up like billy-o. It’s about eight feet deep in this photo. The banks have been sown to clover, but they still need a good weeding, and the planting steps on the inside of the pond’s banks could use some aquatic perennials. But it’s fantastic to see the water appearing like magic! The moose and deer adore the pond, along with pipers and ducks, frogs and toads. After we finish planting its banks, our next step is to harvest fieldstone from the front field to build a solar-pumped waterfall to aerate the pond for fish. By next summer, this will be a complete ecosystem and the water should have good clarity.

It’s been a lot of work, but I think we finally have a solid sense of the tasks required, the timeline, and exactly how much a pond contributes to our farm. Aside from a great resource for wildlife, it’s a space of beautiful calm, potential food, and fire control (a big thing up here in the boreal). Once we have this pond landscaped, we’ll be drawing up plans for the larger trout/swimming lake we hope to build as we put in our farmhouse. We’ll need the clay from that pond for foundation work and road base, and the benefit will be a beautiful swimming area after we’re done!

Gotta love the farm. It’s an incredible place to play.