organic gardening


Putting seeds in good soil and watching them grow is deeply satisfying to me. Any day when I have soil under my nails and earth stains on the knees of my pants is a good day.

Our part of Amherst Island is primarily limestone and rock-hard clay soil, requiring a great deal of organic matter to improve tilth. That’s where our good sheep by-product comes in. We started gardening with old manure laid on top of the clay, gradually working on the soil quality and texture. Ian double dug the increasing number of raised beds one back-breaking spring. That made a big difference, working the good soil deeper so roots could stretch.

I found I was weeding the pathways too much so tried mulching with old hay. We quickly discovered that was an invitation to all the voles in the neighbourhood to a free lunch. Plastic looked awful, so my sons and I gradually gathered rocks to cover it. Years later, we have a healthy organic garden, overflowing with flowers and vegetables and herbs and fruit, the raised beds separated by stone walkways. (Now both sons are occasionally employed, building beautiful walls and walkways with stone.)



We put heavy hay mulch in a waste area near the parking area, burrowed, filled with compost and old manure, and planted mini tomatoes and cucumbers for our Wool Shed visitors to pick, as the plants climbed a fence erected for that purpose. Turns out I’d crossed labels so I have climbing pumpkins as well.

The old raspberry bed was out of control for weeds and being drowned by spring runoff. We laid a layer of thick cardboard (boxes from MacAusland’s Woollen Mills used for shipping our wool transformed into blankets, yarn and thows) then unrolled an entire hay bale for mulch to stop the canes regrowing. This year we added compost (from the barn scrapings from shearing plus old hay) and more manure. The bed is at least a foot higher and very fertile for gardening as the squash mountain picture shows.

Our Island chiropractor, carpenter and beekeeper has some of his hives in nearby fields. It is a lovely symbiotic arrangement, as his bees pollinate the garden and fruit trees, and we sell his entirely organic honey in our Wool Shed: essence of my garden.

Fall Activities at Topsy Farms

We finished haying yesterday, so now the fall activites begin.  Chris does good work overhauling farm equipment in the winter, and this year so far, there have been no really long or really expensive equipment setbacks. One major breakdown was solved by scrounging a major part out of a tractor that’s been retired for parts that was compatible. He’s just learned these skills on the job. (A guy by the way who read animal husbandry at the masters level in Cambridge, whose parents were both medical docs and who just likes the lifestyle. He’s now advising the Minister of Agriculture – the 4th Minister he’s worked on and may run for the chair of the Ontario Sheep Assn).

We’ve ended up with 349 bailage bales wrapped in plastic and 1100 and some hay bales, all in the neighbourhood of 3/4′s of a ton each.

The bailage will be fed our animals for the first time this winter. Its kind of pickled grass, cut at a higher moisture content, kept scrupulously clean, and wrapped within a few hours of reaching the acceptible dryness level. All three men work like fiends, bailing (usually Don) hauling from most often the other side of the island (usually Ian) and wrapping (Chris.) Its intent is to be more digestible for the lambs, and high nutrient, and cut the grain costs which are ferocious. We’ll see….

We will continue to produce high quality lamb for sale, and good wool for our products on-line and at the Wool Shed.

Other fall activities include getting into preserving garden produce time. That does not please me, as its an acknowlegement of the approaching autumn. I’m just so much healthier in the outdoors, mentally as well as physically. I’ve raced the birds to the elderberries. Ian helped me pick the last huge tray full last evening. They can have the rest. They hang in big umbrells, so I can sit on my outdoor couch, and pull berries off their stems at leisure. I’ve brought in all the garlic (whatever I miss will just send up shoots in the spring which I will then spread out and plant) and have about half the onions in. I usually make a long braid of those whose stems are still strong enough, but that takes figuring out how to sit without wreaking my back.

Braiding onions

Braiding onions

I’ve been providing bouquets for our newly opened village café (been closed 3 years) and have a deal where I provide extra produce and they keep a credit for Jake or Sue to spend. Nice to be a part of it.

Lemon Yellow Lilies - heritage variety

Lemon Yellow Lilies – heritage variety

Heritage Red LIlies mixed wth Rudbekia

Heritage Red LIlies mixed wth Rudbekia

The birds love the masses of sunflowers, that are getting passed the beauty peak and nicely to the seed for birds time. I wish I cooked more with basil as I’ve got scads.

My friend Mary was coming to the Island – to a gorgeous retreat house area off the grid she and her ex built – with a group of women friends. She invited me to join them.

I did in the later afternoon, carrying chair, two heat pads, flowers, water. Delivered flowers to table, and carried on. Spent GORGEOUS two hours in the late light by the water on a calm evening, with challenging, interesting, involved women. I do miss being a part of a group like that, but sure sucked up the time. Several of us went skinny dipping, and sun dried (the commercial fishermen drifted closer and closer); there were discussions on how neat the subjunctive verbs are in Spanish, the community backing for the demo trying to stop the cows leaving the prison farm, the “plant a row” organization that’s doing a fab job getting fresh food from source to those who need it; lots of music.

I left as a great feast was being prepared, and they sang me out.

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