2021 has not been a fair-weather friend in so many respects. The past 15 months have been other-worldly indeed. So much suffering. So many lives forever changed and forever ruined. Innocence lost. Lives lost. The farm can often be a microcosm of our complex human ecosystem: birth, life, health, sickness, disease, gains, loses, and death. It can also be the quintessential refuge from it all. There is little one can say to encapsulate the shared experience the pandemic has ushered upon us and how we have all been changed in ways yet unseen, truly felt, nor understood.
This past year and a half has been filled with the emotions that take you high and bring you low. In December of 2020 we had to shutter our beloved fine foods & catering business in Greater Napanee. Yes, the pandemic was one nail in the coffin as business dropped 75-80% during the lockdowns. We pivoted. We rebranded. We put 110% into our business. We did all we could to keep the business afloat. Coupled with limited help from government (or help that was too late) and a horrible landlord situation (I am being modest when using the word “horrible”), it was all a bit too much to handle. The stress, pressure, emotions, and grieving were suppressed by the uncertainty of the pandemic and what lay ahead.
The farm however has been a beacon of light. We had had our problems…oh boy we have had problems. That said there is a feeling you get at the farm, on your own land, that is indescribable. A thing of beauty. Although there is much to say about the farm since our last post in June 2020, I will spare you all the gory details and keep my thoughts as organized as possible.
The drought-like conditions that ushered in the summer was an auspicious beginning to the growing season. As we are yet to install an irrigation system we are on a hope and a prayer that most of our black walnut trees have rooted and found water. We got a sticker shock one morning when more than 50% of the black walnut orchard had blackened leaves. Our hearts sank. The blackened leaves were as a result of a lack of water and very dry conditions. The trees however regrew and a vast majority of the blackened leaves fell off as new growth emerged. Mother Nature’s blessing!
Ontario, and indeed the rest of Canada, is also experiencing the worst Gypsy moth infestation in a long time. These caterpillars (then moths) are voracious defoliators who can eat up to 15 leaves per day. One doesn’t need to imagine that a short time frame is enough to defoliate an entire tree – let alone young black walnut trees. We have been treating our trees and neighbouring tree lines each year so we were ready this year as well. Our treatment of the caterpillars on the tree line is simple: soapy water and vegetable oil. This mixture usually does the trick in terms of smothering the large nests. Our follow up treatment for the black walnut is a mixture of neem oil (from India), soap, and water to gently coat the trees. We tested this mixture during a study with the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario with good results. Similarly, we are not damaging the trees as we are not using any harmful chemicals. Some real delicate work will take place next spring when we begin to trim the black walnut trees to encourage upward growth and produce knot-free high value wood in the years to come.
We also embarked on a fun couple of days of brush clearing along the tree line surrounding the orchard. In addition to caterpillars, moths, and other invasive insects (bless their souls), we are at constant war with expanding prickly ash bushes that grow far more rapidly than do black walnut. The ash roots quickly and, as its name suggests, is prickly and enjoys finding areas of your skin unprotected by gloves, etc. You can pull them lock, stock, and barrel out with the root on most occasions but truthfully most farmers will recommend you cut the larger brush down to the stump, pour gasoline on the stump, and let it rot or burn them out. Being less experienced farmers, we chose to cut them down and out and look darn silly while doing it. What happens on the farm stays on the farm, right?
Otherwise, as life continues we look back on a tumultuous 2020 and 2021 with an eye to learning from our experiences, enriching our lives, and planning for the future. If anything can be gleamed from this pandemic experience, and losing our business to factors often out of our control, it is that the push to achieve your dreams like owning a business, building it from the ground up, and becoming an important part of your community, is an experience no graduate degree can afford. We are indeed proud of what we have built, where we have come, and where we are going. The business may be gone but life has new adventures for us. Our attention is once again at the farm and when you stand in your field on a beautiful sunny day the depths of your imagination and dreams knows no bounds. Cheers to a better future!
We have provided below a few images from the farm taken between the months of April, May, and June. More to come!