Reflections on the Solstice

We had a marvelous solstice at Sunflower Farm, as we always do. It was filled with great food and great company and much warmth.

I absolutely love this time of year. My daughters and sons-in-law are home. We eat so well. And everything just feels different … and more awesome!

At this point I am usually raving about how great the skating was, or snow shoeing in the bush. But not this year. It was bizarrely warm. Grossly warm. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were T-shirt warm, when we should have been bundled up and skating. I hate to admit how much I equate a great festive season with cold weather, but I do. During the past two years we had great rinks thanks to the effects of the polar vortex, but this year we could have swum in any of the lakes or ponds around here … granted in polar bear swim mode.

The highlight of our holiday was that our grandson was here for much of the festivities. At 4-1/2 months he is not into the commercial side of the season … he just smiles when he’s happy, which usually occurs when he is near his mom or dad, or when his aunts and uncles or his grandparents make embarrassingly silly faces and chatter at him. Our daughter entrusted him to our care while they journeyed to the city to see the new Star Wars movie, so we had some special one-on-one time. When he began to get fussy at nap time we debated trying the ‘put him in the crib and let him cry’ 1950’s style parenting strategy … okay we never even considered it for a minute! Instead I walked around with him in my arms and let him admire the LED Xmas lights which basically occupy every square foot of our off-grid house, lighting up such a dark time of the year. He was asleep in minutes. I would then gently lower myself to the couch and sit there as still as can be to keep him asleep. There is something about sitting on the couch with your sleeping grandson which elicits a profound contemplation of family, and generations, and continuity, and the spiritual side of life we don’t always contemplate, and the reason we continue to try and live as low- carbon a lifestyle as we can.

We had a number of big get togethers with family and friends. When we ordered our dining room table when we bought this place 18 years ago, we had it made from pine by a local family-owned company, and we ordered three leaves. We needed all 3 several times during the holiday season and it was wonderful.



There is nothing quite like a table covered in delicious food in a warm cozy dining room. There is no product I could ever own, or place I would rather go, that could beat how much I love this place, especially when it’s crowded with the people I love.

The chickens got spoiled with lots of special treats like warm potato/sweet potato peel mash, or warm apple skin stew after the pies were made. They dive into this stuff with great gusto. They also seemed to really enjoy the straw bale jungle gym we made when we found a great local source for the straw. Happy chickens = amazing eggs.

The deer had a fantastic season in our garden. The warm weather meant that the kale and Brussels sprouts were still plentiful, as were some small brassicas that never matured. They started tentatively nibbling on a few leaves each night, but now they have gone ‘full bore’ and anything green is officially history. Luckily we got lots of kale and Brussels sprouts before the deer went all ‘eat til they’re gone’ on us.

eaten down kale plants

We continue to experiment and learn with our greenhouses. I had transplanted kale, spinach and lettuce to our new greenhouse against the barn foundation. I have two layers of floating row cover fabric on them and they lasted quite well. We had a -8° C (17° F) night in December and we just had a -22°C (-8°F) night last night, and yet we’re going to have a Creamy Cashew Caesar Salad made with kale for dinner tonight (January 5). (Our daughter shared this recipe with us. Find it here;  I continue to have spinach in my scrambled eggs each morning. The thermal mass of the barn foundation walls, and the protection provided by the plastic cover and the floating row cover have really maintained these crops well. It’s great to know we can ramp this skill up to really extend the months that we are self-sufficient in food.

kale and spinach in greenhouse


We got a light cover of snow a few days ago, and after a few really cold nights you can walk on the surface without falling through. Jasper the Wonder Dog and I have been enjoying how much easier it makes our walks in the woods. I hate to admit that with my 56-year-old knees, I don’t relish those walks where you punch through an icy layer with each step you take. Great if you’re training for a marathon perhaps. I am not training for a marathon.

The great part of this time of year is that I am able to get out and enjoy the property. Most months of the year I am totally focused on the 3 or 4 acres right around the house where we grow, as opposed to the 150 acres I should be exploring. Every time I get out I marvel at this property and that I live in such a quiet, remote, peaceful place. I am infinitely grateful that we bailed on the city and moved here when I was young and strong and ambitious enough to make this whole off-grid/renewable energy/sustainability/earn an income where it’s really hard to/low-carbon project actually work. If I were just retiring from a city-dependent job right now I don’t think I’d have the same motivation.

I also wouldn’t be as intimately aware of and connected to this little piece of paradise that we are the temporary stewards of.

Sarah Harmer has a great song that includes the lyrics, “holidays are for reading.” For me it’s ‘holidays are for peeling potatoes, keeping woodstoves going, doing dishes, cooking hash browns…’ but most of all spending time with people I really really love to spend time with. For me it’s also a time to throttle back to a lower gear for a few days and get out and be in awe of where I live and how fortunate I am.

Our circumstances continue to evolve and change constantly, but this year I made the same statement I make every year… Best Christmas Ever!

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Special thanks to NB for his recent generous and much-appreciated donation and RH for his monthly contribution to the Tip Jar!

5 Responses to “Reflections on the Solstice”

  • A. Marie:

    Happy 2016 to the whole Sunflower Farm crew, including young Liam. (Sorta wish you’d included a photo of him, but maybe his mom and dad think he’s too young to be an Internet star.)

    I’m also amazed by the photo of your deer-eaten brassicas. Our deer here in Syracuse have been tasting my kale but not going much beyond the first bite. Of course, we haven’t had really severe weather yet except for the one cold snap earlier this week, so we don’t know how desperate they’ll get.

  • Jim:

    What a change in the season you are experiencing now to what we are hearing about in the rest of North America.
    With regards to your hothouse, have you thought of adding more passive solar gain by adding painted black drums or tanks of water to increase the thermal mass?
    I know my winters don’t even rate with yours but my two 400Lt tanks have made such a great difference. Twelve tomato plants which are just days over twelve months old, yielded about 1000 pieces during winter, then stopped for a month in mid September, then have been giving ample fruit since mid October.
    I hope the deer are recycling nutrients back into the garden for you by not heading back to the bush before emptying their bowels.

  • Thanks for sharing….sounds like it was wonderful 🙂 I long to be in the ‘woods’ during winter, but am stuck in a small city for now. Winter without nature really sucks!

  • Happy New Year, Cam & Michelle!

  • Madeline and Ken:

    Michelle we admire all you do. When we were there in the fall I could see how content you are and am so glad you have the place Ken was born at. Hope you have a good winter and can relax a bit from your busy spring. summer and fall. You guys are REMARKABLE
    Relax and enjoy the winter.
    Ken and Madeline

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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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