Nature Helps Us to Expand

I often fantasize about being a real farmer, with hundreds of acres under cultivation, and a tractor to plant and harvest it all. I am extremely grateful to live on 150 acres but most of our acreage is covered in ponds and forests. Less than 10 acres is cleared and we have about 3 acres cultivated. I keep expanding this but it’s a slow process. It usually involves spreading a thick layer of old hay from big round bales to kill the grass one year, and then rototilling it the following year.

There is a fairly large area east of the house where the original wind turbine tower is. I have been nurturing the area for many years. I believe that the topsoil there was stripped off years ago for the new road when this house was unoccupied, so I’ve worked hard at rehabilitating this area. This has involved spreading horse manure when I can and spreading around a lot of old round bales of rotten hay.

Every year when I’ve hoped to get around to using that area there are always more pressing things in the gardens closer to the house so it lays fallow for another year. Not that this is a bad thing. There are grasses absorbing nitrogen from the air and fixing it in their roots helping to build up the soil, and each fall when they die and decompose they help build up the organic matter so desperately needed there.

This year the stars aligned and I finally had the chance to get into work this area and it really was the high point in my spring. When you wait for something long enough, something that you’ve always wanted to do, and you finally get to it, well it can just be the greatest thing.

Nature helped the process because of our brutal winter and inordinate amount of snow. A good section of the field is low and while I’ve noticed some water sitting there in other springs, this year is was officially a pond. Then the rains continued and the water stayed and did a number on any living plants underneath. A couple of weeks ago Jasper and I hiked over and low and behold the water was gone and there was no greenery in a large area. It was just the bottom of a pond ready to be tilled. Yee Ha!

So one weekend Skylar, my surrogate tractor (and Grade 9 part time helper) hauled the rototiller over there and started to work on it. Skylar used the pickaxe and took out any small trees like the poplars that were reclaiming the area. I put my new Husquvarna rototiller to the test and it did its job. I had to stop twice to clean out the tines but we got an amazing amount accomplished.

Now every night before bed Jasper and I hike over and look at this big brown patch of exposed soil and it just fills me with joy. I won’t be planting it this year. Every couple of weeks I’ll drag the rototiller over there and keep it bare so it will be ready to plant next year. If I do it on a Saturday when Skylar’s here we’ll keep expanding it as well. We’ll pick axe more of the grass out, and spread more of the rotten hay to kill more grass to make it easier to till.

I don’t have many distractions like I used to need in the city. I don’t play the guitar anymore. I don’t collect anything. I don’t go to sporting events, or really any entertainment events of any kind. My world is pretty focused right now on growing food in the summer and heating with wood in the winter. And it’s an awesome way to live. I have always wanted to see how much of our food we could grow, but I can’t realistically do that until I have big area to plant wheat.  A huge part of our plant-based diet is based on cereals like wheat. I am a ‘wheat-a-tarian.’ I love bread. I love anything on a bun … subs, veggie burgers, egg-o-muffins for breakfast. Oh, and I love anything with high fructose corn syrup but I can grow corn so I’ve mastered that, although I’m not yet sure how to turn an ear of corn into a can of Dr. Pepper. The wonders of an industrial food system never cease to amaze me.

Ultimately though I hope to have enough land ‘under cultivation’ that I can offset a good portion of my diet myself. Without a tractor though that can be daunting, so I’m very excited about finally have a toehold in this potential field to expand on that. It’s funny how when it was just a big green field it seemed impossible. But now, suddenly, with this one exposed low spot where the water stayed long enough it’s given me a window of opportunity. And now I can see the field growing incrementally year after year.

Next year I may plant it with potatoes. It’s a long way from the house and it will be tough for me to keep pests like deer and raccoons out of it. And luckily raccoons are too lazy to dig around for potatoes so I think this will be good place to grow them. When you’re growing potatoes for 45 CSA members suddenly having a nice big roomy field isn’t such a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity.

In the meantime, any time I need reminding that I’m the luckiest man on the planet, I’ll hike over to the new “potato patch/wheat field” and wonder at the luxury of having a big new field to plant. It’s the little things that give me joy. Or in this case, the potential for a big thing.

wheat field:potato patch

6 Responses to “Nature Helps Us to Expand”

  • Jim:

    Good on you Cam and Michelle and the helpers in getting so far advanced this season with “new” soil.
    Potatoes are such a good “first crop” to use too.
    But I would (using my Australian experience with our soils) be planting a legume crop in it right now with what is left of this season for you to add heaps of nitrogen to the soil. My choice is cowpeas, a large seeded summer growing legume, which would die and fall to the ground as a mulch with the first winter frosts. The roots and nodules left in the soil are full of N and will add more N than any inorganic fertiliser ever would. It also sequesters carbon rather than leaving it a blank patch now.
    We grow 100 potatoes in our potato patch and because I can harvest in December (from August planting) and again June (December/January planting) we produce enough for two of us year in year out. I eat potatoes every day and my wife eats them most days. Still then we are able to have enough for treats like making crisps or wrap a couple still in their skins in aluminium foil and put in the hot ashes in the fire in winter for a warming night time snack.

  • Stan:

    Get back to playing guitar again Cam. Sometime in the future it will come in handy when you and Michelle are hosting the Sunflower Farm Folk festival. 😉

  • Potatoes are one of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” of the most pesticide-laden produce. Always best to grow your own or buy organic ones! (available here;

  • Good stuff, Cam! We have to work WITH nature and not fight it. I love the inspiration and drive I get from you two. All the best!

  • Gerrit:

    Congratulations Cam, that’s a big job and we’re glad you’ve got some young muscles to help.

  • Susan:

    I use to think growing potatoes was a waste of time because they were relatively cheap at the store. Then one year I grew a few. Wow! what a difference in taste. We can’t get enough of them! My potatoes are grown in towers because I have limited space but every year I add more of them. Storage onions are the same story. There just isn’t any comparison. My goal is to grow enough to last all year until the next harvest. The only down side (if it is a down side) is we eat more potatoes than we use to. Probably because they don’t taste like cardboard and I know we are no longer eating one of the most chemically treated food you can get.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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