Making tracks

In the mornings when Meesha & I go for our walk around the farm, we see a lot of animal tracks in the snow – mostly rabbit and mice. Sometimes there are the paw prints of other dogs & cats, and occasionally deer tracks.





The majority of these tracks are at the edge of our farm along the railway. That’s where the animals live. That’s where they feel safe, among all the underbrush & scrub growth. That’s also where they can find something to eat.

Meesha does not pay much attention to the animal tracks. She will sometimes follow them awhile – until they disappear into the brush or she loses interest.


If there are signs of activity, something more exciting, she noses around & checks it out carefully.


But mostly she just enjoys the snow – she is half Husky after all!


On very cold mornings there might be no new tracks. It would appear that the animals prefer to stay huddled in their warmer homes rather than venture out into the frigid air.

We are much the same way!

The past few weeks we have hunkered down in the warmth of the house and the workshop. There is always office work to do. Another activity is reviewing the past season. We examine each crop in detail – the growing, harvesting, packing, marketing, profitability etc … Which were successes & which ones failed? Then we move to planning for the upcoming growing season – which crops will we grow again & how much of each. We have to figure out where they will all be planted & how the vegetables will fit in with each other & with the fruit orchards. What new crops will we attempt? Seeds have to be chosen & ordered – a task I enjoy but one that is time-consuming & even dangerous. Sitting in the relaxed comfort of a warm home it’s easy to forget the realities of the past summer, and make reckless & optimistic decisions on all that can & should be grown this year. And already the boxes of seeds are arriving – each holding the promise of great things! In the shop there are repairs & maintenance to be done on equipment – not my favourite job, but one that needs to be done nonetheless.


On warmer days, when the sun is shining, I make tracks to the orchard to prune trees. The fresh air feels so good after being inside.

The farm is beautiful in the snow!







… And then there is Oliver!

The only tracks he makes are from the barn – where his food dish is located – to the shop, where he sleeps the day away.


Neatness counts … for what?

I like to be neat.

At least I want to be neat.

But one look in my workshop, or office or even my truck would indicate otherwise.

I’m actually messy – with occasional bursts of neatness.

This is also true out on the farm. While the basic form of a fruit orchard is neat & orderly – rows of trees evenly spaced in a grid pattern – things can get messy from there pretty quick! A few too many weeds, grass a little high, a broken branch here, a tree missing there … and the neatness is gone.

However, in spring all eyes are on the blossoms, so it’s hardly noticed.



Sometimes the weeds are beautiful too!


The ripening fruit grabs our attention in the summer.



And in fall, the coloured leaves make everything look great.



But at this time of year, with no blossoms, or fruit, or even leaves to distract the eye, things are looking a tad messy out in the orchards.

Actually they are messy by design (mostly)!

The weeds in the tree row for example.


A few extra herbicide applications in the late summer & fall would have easily eliminated them, leaving the soil weed-free and very neat & clean-looking. But leaving the ground without any covering could mean damage to the tree roots if the winter is very cold. I compare it to us going to bed without blankets on a cold night. Better to have some lingering weeds to help protect the soil & the tree roots. The weeds also collect & hold the fallen leaves which add more protection. Besides, do we really want to use extra herbicide?


Perhaps I could have mowed the grass once more this fall. Short, evenly cut grass looks so much neater. But again, we wanted to catch the leaves and keep them from blowing away. As the leaves break down they add organic matter to the orchard floor and improve the soil.

In fact we add a lot of extra leaves each fall. A friend of ours in the lawn care business brings us all the leaves he collects. Throughout the summer we get all his grass clippings too. Then we buy many loads of manure.



These are all spread throughout the fruit orchards & on the land where we grew vegetables. Our soil fertility is improved by adding all this organic matter. Better soil in turn feeds the trees & vegetables making tastier & healthier crops. Good soil is also able to hold moisture better – especially important during a dry summer. Because our orchards are in permanent sod & not cultivated, all this stuff is spread on the surface & looks messy until it decomposes and disappears into the ground.


On the open ground, we lightly work it in which speeds up the process.


We use a lot of mulch on our farm – for many of these same reasons. Mulch – either straw or hay depending on availability – prevents weeds from growing thus reducing or eliminating our use of herbicides. Mulch keeps the moisture in the soil longer, an important consideration since we cannot irrigate our crops.



As the mulch breaks down it becomes part of the soil. Of course mulch is not neat – neither when we spread it nor as it decomposes and gets thinner & some weeds begin to sprout …



With the advent of winter there will be time to clean my workshop, my office & even my truck, and they will look neat & tidy – for a while.

But the orchards go into winter looking messy, and that’s okay with me.

Neatness counts … for what?






Alberta bound!

I like to think of myself as a well grounded person … literally well grounded.

And yet the other week I found myself aboard a 737, well above the clouds, with the ground not even in sight! But it was worth it.

We took a vacation to Alberta to visit family & friends in Cochrane a small but rapidly growing town just west of Calgary.


The scenery around the area is spectacular – always with the mountains in the distance.





We visited a couple of farmers’ markets in Calgary. They were selling some local produce, together with lots of apples & pears from B.C. There were some really great food vendors too! It was fun to be on the other side of the table for a change.

After a few days of beautiful & warm weather, we awoke to winter.



The Bow River behind my brother’s house.


The scenery was even more amazing with all the snow!






A herd of elk alongside the highway in Canmore.


The town of Banff.


The morning we left for home, the temperature was -24C.

We returned home to this …


and this.


The first job awaiting me – spreading a huge pile of leaves, grass clippings & manure.


But winter followed us home to Ontario and now the farm looks like this …



The manure will have to wait.

Our trip was great, a good way to relax after a busy summer. But we’re glad to be home.

Except maybe for Amy – she’s a big fan of Alberta!



Happy Birthday!

It was my birthday last week … and I’m feeling old.

It’s not my actual age – though my girls delight in reminding me that I now qualify for the seniors discount (south of the border).

It’s also not the grey on my head – though Lorie points it out while giving me a haircut.

It’s not even because I am tired & weary – that mostly comes from a summer of long hours & hard work.


Here’s why I’m feeling (somewhat) old …

  • According to Statistics Canada the average age of a farmer in Canada is now 54. That puts me older than the average farmer. Wow! And more than half of all Canadian farms have operators over the age of 55. Me again!
  • A grade 10 food & nutrition class visited the farm today. They were great kids & I enjoyed giving them a tour of the farm. But when I told them that I have been farming for more than 37 years, that made me old in my own eyes, as well as theirs.
  • I shared the story of our farm to these same students. More & more I enjoy talking about the history of our farm, and what it was like back when I was growing up, or retelling the even older stories that my father used to share with me. Don’t old people do that?

Here are some examples …


When my father purchased our farm in 1947 there were no fruit trees – it was open land. To earn the needed money to buy trees, he worked in construction for many years. He also grew tomatoes those first years, both as a cash crop & to make use of the land. One year the tomato money was enough to buy a pick up truck! Some of the first trees he planted were these pears – still producing fruit & earning money.


I talked to the students today about why the farm beside us is no longer a peach orchard but a strawberry farm. They were canning peaches and when the cannery shut down a few years ago there was no market for this fruit. Out they came, to be replaced by strawberries. Any canned peaches purchased in the grocery stores now, are not from Canada.


This is a lone sour cherry tree, located at the end of a row of sweet cherries, right beside the train tracks. It seems out of place – and it is. But when I was growing up there was a whole row of sours  the entire length of the farm, along the railway tracks. This one tree remains only because it fits in with the sweet cherry row. It will probably come out in a year or so as it is no longer healthy. I’m not really sure why my father planted this row of cherries. But I remember picking them. I also remember how they got beat up & bruised by the wind. Some years there would be train cars parked on the siding & they would protect the cherries from the wind. We would play on those train cars too – sometimes instead of picking!

I remember that row of Damson plums that were cut down & removed while in their prime – because we could not sell them. Now 40 + years later I am replanting Damsons because there is a demand for them at our markets.


I feel it is important to remember & share these stories and many more like them.  Not only do they connect us to our past, but they help us understand the present. They are not just stories, but useful information & knowledge about the farm.

If this means I’m old – so be it!


Here are a few pictures of the farm this past week – when the fall colours were at their peak.

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And some of the vegetables we are still picking for the markets …

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The other old timer on the farm – remembering his good old days!





CSA 2014 – The end … and Thanksgiving

Sorry for not posting the final newsletter last week. We were without internet for a few days.

What was in the box?

Cabbage, squash, sweet peppers, Bartlett pears

Our CSA program for 2014 is now complete.

Was it a success? We feel it was, and hope our shareholders agree. A short survey will be going out to all our members soon, and we welcome your comments & critiques.

Our farmers’ markets continue … Georgetown ends this coming Saturday, while East York & North York markets continue until the end of October. We are still selling pears – Harrow Sweet & Bosc, along with squash & pumpkins. A frost on the weekend was heavy enough to finish off the sweet & hot pepper plants. We were able to make a final pick today and will have hot peppers available at market still this week. The kale is not affected – in fact the flavour of kale improves with a frost! The swiss chard continues to grow (slowly), and there should be some cabbage & lettuce yet to come.

Here’s hoping the weather cooperates for the final weeks of market!



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It’s beginning to look like fall.


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It is Thanksgiving today and we have much to be thankful for …

  • We are thankful for a good harvest. After that long, cold winter, we did not know what to expect. However the orchards came through the winter fine and all the tree fruits produced a crop. While the berry crops were down, the quality was good. Most of the vegetables turned out okay too – there was even enough to share with the rabbits!
  • We escaped most of the extreme weather events – no hail, no damaging winds, no harmful thunderstorms … just a few big downpours. The crops survived unscathed.
  • We were blessed with good health & a safe summer on the farm – both our family & our employees.
  • Thank you to all our CSA members. We find it amazing that you pay us for a share of the harvest way back in winter or early spring, with no guarantee that there will indeed be a harvest. You come to the farm each week to pick up your box of produce – a big committment. We are thankful for the trust you place in us to grow your food & your family’s food.
  • Thank you to all our loyal customers & friends at the farmers’ markets. Wind, rain and sun, you venture out weekly to purchase your fruit & vegetables from us. You thank us, encourage us & give an honest evaluation of our produce. You bring us favourite recipes, samples of what you made with our fruit (jam, chutney and baking …), bottles of frozen water to keep us hydrated on the long ride home, chocolates & candies, newspapers, and even supper. Thank you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

CSA 2014 – Week 18

If we only grew fruit here at Thiessen Farms, our harvest would be complete. The orchards are empty.

We might even be sitting with our feet up, relaxing.

But since we also grow vegetables, the harvest continues …  Winter squash & pumpkins are replacing peaches & tomatoes on our tables at the farmers’ markets and in the CSA boxes. There are even new crops just beginning to produce – edamame, kohlrabi & cabbage, and if the nice fall weather lasts, maybe lettuce & Asian greens yet too. 015 020 021 022

Because the rabbits ate most of the edamame, there isn’t much of a crop this season – just a bit for the markets, not enough for CSA.




While we are weary from the long season, the vegetables are doing great! In fact, they don’t want to stop growing. Many of the crops we finished harvesting earlier, and mowed down, or even disced under are coming back – new life at the end of the growing season. It’s exciting to see!

It also makes a farmer wonder – all the effort we put into making the right conditions for optimal growth. Is it always necessary? Seeds & plants seem to just want to grow …


Tomatillo plants growing & producing fruit where we had them last year.


Asian greens from May, growing after being mowed down & the ground disced.



Lettuce coming back for another round after being cut at ground level.


The same with kale …


… and green beans.


The fava beans have reseeded themselves.


This is kale growing where we had it about 5 years ago. The spot has been planted to trees now, but still a few hardy kale plants come back each year.


Who knew that the artichokes would keep popping out the chokes?


And then bursting them into bloom!

I’m reminded of “The One Straw Revolution” an intriguing book by Masanobu Fukuoka, who spent 65 years developing a system of natural farming. “He did not plow his fields, used no agricultural chemicals or prepared fertilizers, did not flood his rice fields as farmers have done in Asia for centuries, and yet his yields equaled or surpassed the most productive farms in Japan”. (  Our vegetables are showing us that his methods may have some merit. I’ll have to reread the book again this winter…

What’s in the box?

Squash, sweet peppers, kale, Seckel pears, plums.

extras – hot peppers

  • The squash has all been harvested now. This week the choices are Small Wonder spaghetti squash, which has flesh that comes out in strings like spaghetti, and Black Futsu, a delicious golden fleshed squash with hints of hazelnut.
  • The warm fall weather of this past week has been great for keeping the sweet peppers going. They are continuing to ripen and taste great!
  • Another bunch of kale is part of your CSA share this week. Use it in fresh in salads and smoothies, or stir fry or saute it, add it to soups, stews … Not only does it taste good, but it’s super healthy too!
  • Seckel pears – those little, crunchy pears are back for an encore. Many of you have asked for them again in the box.
  • The blue Italian plums are almost finished. This is probably the last week they will appear in your share. While most are eaten fresh, a CSA member suggested cutting them in half, sprinkling them with a bit of brown sugar and roasting them in the oven. Or how about plum butter? Here’s the link to this favourite recipe from another member –
  • More hot peppers are available to those who want them.

Next week will be the final week for CSA 2014.



Ollie already has his feet up and is relaxing – and trying to keep others from working too!

CSA 2014 – Week 17

What’s in the box?

Chinese cabbage, Italian plums, Bartlett pears, onions, garlic, sweet peppers.

extras – hot peppers 

  •  Chinese cabbage is a very beautiful plant with an amazing bright green colour. It is much more tender than our usual cabbage, with a milder flavour. Chinese cabbage or napa cabbage is as much about texture as taste. The entire plant can be eaten – the leaves as well as the white ribs. Used raw the leaves can replace lettuce in a salad. The ribs can be sliced or coarsely shredded for coleslaw. It is great stir fried on it’s own or with other vegetables, or mixed in fried rice. Toss the ribs in hot oil for about 2 minutes; add a bit of broth to soften, then add the leaves and toss another minute or so. Another use is in soups or stews. But unlike our western cabbage, chinese cabbage does not store for a long time. Keep it in the fridge wrapped in plastic for about 2 weeks max.
  • Italian plums/prunes are part of your share again this week – maybe next week yet too. Besides eating fresh, they are great in baking & jam… They also freeze well. Simply slice in half, take out the pit & freeze overnight on a baking sheet. Bag them up the next day. In winter they taste great – eat as a snack, or add to fruit salads.
  • There is another basket of Bartlett pears in the box this week. Remember that Bartletts can be used for many things (see suggestions in last week’s newsletter) including pear sauce. Make it and eat it just like apple sauce!
  • This may finally be the end of the onions! 
  • We are getting lots of positive comments on the garlic – we agree, the taste is incredible! Some of you have asked about buying quantities for winter use. We’re still cleaning garlic. Once that job is done, we’ll count out what we need to save for seed for planting later this fall, decide how much we need for our CSA baskets, and then we’ll see what is available to sell.
  • The sweet peppers continue to produce & produce … We are relieved that the cold temperatures of last week did not damage them.
  • The hot peppers are also producing an abundance of fruit. We are offering hot peppers as an extra to those who want to add some spice to their life! There will be a few varieties available in varying amounts of heat.


Chinese cabbage




Some of the hot peppers we are growing this season.

Starting in the bottom, left hand corner & moving clockwise they are: Anaheim Joe E Parker, Crimson Hot, Poblano, Hungarian hot wax, 2 kinds of chiles – Santa Fe Grande & Chile D’arbol, Black Hungarian, Jalapeno, Golden Hot, Lemon Drop, Hot Rod Serrano, Ring of Fire Cayenne, 4 varieties of Habanero and Scotch Bonnet.

This same order is also mildest to hottest.

Not shown are Ghost & Trinidad Scorpion – these 2 super hot peppers are still ripening.



Oliver – not at all interested in hot peppers … or anything other than resting!


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