I said to Farmer Paul the other day, “What if I wrote some blog entries about being a guest worker and resident of Snow Lake Keep?” and his eyes lit up and he said “Yes! Absolutely! That would be great!” Paul and everyone here have been extremely busy this summer, with ambitious building projects going forward, day-to-day chores and maintenance of the ever expanding and/or improving gardens and coops and pastures, as well as the various peaks and valleys of life that come with friends, family, community, and summer celebrations. So here I am, guest contributor to the blog, trying to document and share with you a bit of the magic I’ve been invited to come witness, and participate in, and hopefully, contribute to.
My name is Steven Enman-Beech, and when I want to be profesh I include the letters “R. Ac.” after my name, which stand for “Registered Acupuncturist” in my current home province of Ontario. If you’d like to know more about that, you can visit my website. Through a fortuitous series of events I crossed paths with Laire and Paul late last year, and spent a few days at Snow Lake this past winter when things were in cold-weather quiet mode. They both encouraged me to visit in the summer, when things are really buzzing around the farm, and so here I am. Summer tends to be a slow time for acupuncture, especially the month of August when many people in Toronto take off for cottage time – and so I cleared my calendar and packed myself up to visit and work on the farm for a month. So here I am, loving farm life, and feeling inspired to share some of reflections and learning experiences about what life is like living on an off-grid, community-run farm in rural Nova Scotia (which happens to the province I was born in and grew up in).
The first real farm chore Paul showed me how to do was watering the greenhouses. There are four large greenhouses here, referred to as Greenhouse One, Greenhouse Two, et cetera, which at first struck me as a little out-of-place because some creative soul here has labelled the preserves and herbs with funny, punchy names like Doin’ Thyme, Bust-a-Nutmeg, and Phyllis Dill-er. But then I was talking to Paul about crops from last year, and realized that crops are rotated yearly (and sometimes within a year as well) so as to avoid growing the same things consecutively in each greenhouse. Although being a generally welcoming and easy-going place, it seems to me that pretty much every place, object, and task here on the farm has a similar reasoning behind it, from the location of the brush saw to the angles of the houses in relation to the rising and setting sun. It feels a little overwhelming, but also, exciting to think about all the things to learn and discover that permeate this place.
Two of the greenhouses have a pretty reliably lake-fed garden-hose irrigation system, which is driven by gravity. Snow Lake is up the mountain from the farmyard, high enough above us to generate pressure to passively encourage water to flow down a series of hoses that have been carefully plotted and placed down the mountain, through the trees, in a gentle downward slope that delivers water to a network of hoses spread over the property. Paul showed me various hubs and junctions of the system and where to turn each hose on to water each greenhouse or garden, and seven days in, I think I have a pretty solid understanding finally.
Greenhouses One and Two, which are located slightly uphill from the rest of the irrigation system, require a little extra work to water however, especially since the summer has been relatively dry for this area. The pressure from the lake is sometimes not enough to have anything more than a trickle in the hose, and it would take forever to water a large greenhouse with a trickling hose. So the solution here is to have a large, blue barrel that collects weakly flowing water from the hose, and then dunk large watering cans into the bucket once it’s full. Paul has many years of practice and strength training with watering this way, and he can gracefully swing two watering cans at a time up and down the rows in a graceful gardener’s dance. Lacking Paul’s long limbs and farmer’s strength, I move more slowly through the tomatoes, basil, eggplants, peppers, watermelons, salad greens, cantaloupes, tomatillos, zucchinis, parsley and others, with one watering can at a time. I have been practising with two cans at a time, hoping to build my upper body and core strength, but after about half of one greenhouse I need to switch to one can at a time.
Prior to being an acupuncturist, I was (and still am, sometimes) a yoga teacher, and specifically, a hot yoga teacher. So I like to sweat. A lot. I feel like I’m made for greenhouse chores, as they require moving slowly and continually in a hot, humid, green sauna, with frequent water breaks. My constant companion the past week has been a one-litre steel water bottle, which is an earthy, mustardy brown with a darker roan line drawing of a chicken on the outside that I leave outside the greenhouses in a shady patch of ground to keep a bit of coolness to the water. Then I strip down to the bare minimum, and water, or weed, or prune, or “sucker” the tomatoes (a kind of pruning to direct the plants’ energy into certain branches/fruits). I also learned how to trellis vines and tomatoes, and discovered that I have quite an affinity for “untying” vines that are tangling themselves around each other on the ground, and then gently looping salvaged baling twine around the vines and directing them to grow skyward. It’s peaceful and rewarding work, with a very tangible difference that you can see after you’ve finished. The leaves are bit askew after trellising, lending a rather raggedy look to the plants immediately after stringing them up, with the paler, whitish undersides showing – but they turn themselves around for ideal sun-catching angles within a day, and look lush, green, and happy again.