Embrace the Cabbage

fresh cabbage sliced in half polka dot hen produce
Cabbage: get to know your winter veggies

How to Eat Local in the Winter and Enjoy It

Seasonal eating stories seem so one-sided. It’s easy to celebrate the first asparagus of spring, the first tender green chives, overwintered spinach’s fresh sweet leaves.

But what about when it’s February and you’re only half-way through a winter of trying to eat locally and seasonally? It can look grim. Now is the winter of our discontent.

It doesn’t have to be like that. Continue reading “Embrace the Cabbage”

Reflecting on Summer 2019

cordwood and straw bale house with blooming flower garden birds nest garden farm
The baptisia in full bloom attracts hummingbirds an butterflies.

It’s January now and all the highs and lows of the 2019 summer season are having their sharp edges whittled away by time. We’ve seen snow, a melt, more snow and yet another mild spell in the last six weeks. Our lifestyle orbits around heating with wood, winter chicken chores and keeping the lane snow-free.

It wasn’t that long ago that the meadow was lusciously green and we were harvesting armloads of veggies for the farmers’ market. Looking back through our photos twigs my memory of the past season. Here’s a short and sweet list of three things that stood out.

no-till vegetable garden July onions
Dusk in the onion patch mid-July. The no-till beds are working well.

Best Move: Converting the Market Garden to No-Till

Over the past few years we’ve worked to reduce our tillage in the gardens. Exposure to a series of  books, articles and podcasts convinced us that a no-till/no-dig system would really benefit us and our shallow, heavy clay soil.

So, this spring we bit the bullet and converted all the veggie plots to a no-till system.

agricultural tarp for soil prep in no-till beds
A large agricultural tarp protects the soil as other beds are given priority. The tarp keeps the soil moist while preventing weed growth.

This was no small undertaking. Perennial weed roots and twitch grass rhizomes in the beds and paths were removed by hand. Precious spring and early summer hours (and hours) were also devoted to collecting, preparing and distributing the materials we needed: wood chips, mulch, compost and cardboard. Thankfully we have been stockpiling wood chips over the past few years.

We ran out of steam and time in late June so still have two 30 ft. rows yet to prep. However, at this point I am convinced that the extra effort in the spring set us up for an excellent growing season. I look forward to this coming spring to see how early we can get transplants in the ground.

What we observed this season:

  • weed pressure was reduce at a minimum by 75%
  • rainwater soaked in to the soil rather than pooling on the surface
  • there was an unsurprising increase in slug pressure that cost us some crops

We hope to write a more in-depth post about this whole undertaking in the future.


evening tour of Bird's Nest Garden Farm
Peter leads a group of friends on an evening tour of the farm. Photo by Sue Schlabach.

Best Memories: Farm Dinner

One of the brightest highlights of this summer was a visit from our dear friends from Vermont. We had the joy of introducing them to several of our local haunts and local friends. With their considerable help, we even hosted an informal farm dinner which was a first!

In summer we typically work from sun up to sundown. We fill our days keeping the animals happy and healthy, keeping the veggies happy and healthy and trying to keep ourselves…healthy. Happy doesn’t always enter into consideration.

This summer, many of our friends and family remedied that happiness situation. They showed us that we could take time for socializing and the farm wouldn’t fall apart. Taking time off recharged us and reminded us why we are doing what we are doing.  And it didn’t hurt that most of our friends and family are excellent at pitching in, whether it’s harvesting veggies, feeding the chickens or making us delicious treats.

a selection of desserts from a dinner at Bird's Nest Garden Farm memories
Behold the dessert table. I love having talented friends who bake! Photo by Sue Schlabach.

I think it’s a lesson we need to turn into a concrete plan for this coming summer. Now to book a few dates for July and August.


black GSD in the back of a car memories
“I just had emergency abdominal surgery and I feel GREAT!” Cricket on her way home after spending the night recovering at Sunset Strip Veterinary Clinic in Owen Sound.

Worst Memories: Cricket’s Emergency Surgery

The toughest part of this summer was dealing with not one, but two surgeries for our beloved German Shepherd. The first surgery was planned and the result of an injured leg joint. The second surgery was an emergency and the result of her eating something indigestible. With that one, we were told to prepare for the worst.

Having our normally active and sociable dog spend most of her summer confined to a pen to heal was rough. I work from home and Cricket is my shadow. We spend A LOT of time together. She settles herself near my work and companionably naps in the sun or shade given the day. Occasionally she forays into the bush to bark at offensive squirrels and chipmunks. She patrols the property, keeping predators away from the sheep and chickens. She always reminds me when it is 4 o’clock: walk time.

Except this summer, we didn’t have walkies. We missed out on seeing the little daily changes in the forest, missed hearing the changing birdsong as the summer progressed, and didn’t explore the varied trails around our homestead. I really missed getting a mid afternoon break from my oppressive “to do” list.

An autumn dog walk around the meadow at Bird's Nest Garden Farm
An autumn dog walk around the meadow at Bird’s Nest Garden Farm

Thankfully, Cricket mended from both surgeries and by mid-September we were able to resume our daily walks on the Bruce Trail.

Next Steps

Back to the here and now. Winter has returned but it hasn’t dampened our memories. Planning for next year is in full swing. We straddle the decade reflecting on the year’s experiences while applying what we’ve learned to the season ahead.





Did you want to visit the farm last season?

pasture lambs chicken Birds Nest Garden Farm
Lambs and chickens roam the pasture at Birds Nest Garden Farm.

Maybe we talked at market, but the timing just didn’t work out. Or maybe you were too shy to ask. Or maybe you didn’t even know it was a possibility.

Well, this year we can officially remedy that.

Our farm is a member of Rural Gardens of Grey and Bruce Counties. We refer to ourselves as being members of a “garden tour,” but it’s more like a choose-your-own-adventure story than a scripted tour. It’s up to you which gardens you visit and when you visit them.

Continue reading “Did you want to visit the farm last season?”

5 Tips for a Successful Backyard Garden

Fresh red and golden beets
Harvesting red and golden beets fresh from the garden.

Preparing for a local Seedy Saturday today has me thinking about my journey as a gardener. On reflection, I realize that I am entering my 27th year of growing veggies, herbs and flowers. Wow. 27 years!

Growing in downtown Kitchener, then growing in small-town Wiarton paved the way to growing on our rural property and finally growing for market. I guess I might have a little to share with budding enthusiasts, after all.

Continue reading “5 Tips for a Successful Backyard Garden”

Winter whammy

sunrise winter hike Cape Croker Neyaashiinigmiing
Hiking the Neyaashiinigmiing bluffs on a beautiful winter morning.


It’s been a wild winter. A mild December lulled us into believing we would get a break this year. Silly, silly us. By the end of February–when we often have a thaw, but not this year–our daughter had missed a record sixteen days of school because of cancelled busses. We even saw the weather website post ‘Blizzard Warning,’ which was a new meteorologic category for many of us. In the midst of this, our physical access to the outside world was throttled.

I’m stealing from Peter’s letter/essay that he shared with several family members in February about the experience.

My Personal Groundhog Day

By Peter

I sometimes tell students the proverb: “There’s no such thing as bad weather—just poorly prepared people.” That perspective has been intercepted and tasered the past two weeks. Even slightly decent weather has been an exception.

Continue reading “Winter whammy”