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All Year: No
Area (ha): 35
Persons: 1-2
Category: Non Organic Farmstay
Host ID: 41609
Region: Alberta

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Last Updated: September 5, 2015

We are stewards of the land. It is not our place to wring every possible dollar out of the dirt, but rather gently coax a living from the crystallized sunlight that is a tree.

We are not organic. We use small quantities of commercial fertilizer. We use very small quantities of herbicide. (Where other farmers buy a pickup load of Round-up, a single jug lasts me several years.

We are sustainable. We heat mostly with wood cut on our own land. We use local compost as the main non-farm ingredient for our potting mix. We do the re-use bit whenever possible.

We are a family-run tree farm located southwest of Edmonton Alberta. Most of the outdoor work is done by Sherwood. Most of the indoor work is done by Laura. We order trees each Spring as seedlings or small trees, sell some, transplant the rest into pots for sale as older trees. The summer is a steady round of weeding, watering, mowing, selling, and transplanting as trees outgrow their pots. In addition each summer usually has an infra-structure project -- plumbing a new pot yard, setting up the greenhouse.

By September, tree sales are winding down as the weather turns colder. We get ourselves ready for the following Spring (are there places ready for pots? Do we have enough pots? What trees do we want to order?) and then take the Winter off. We would like to have a small vegetable garden as well, but time never seems to stretch to that.

Automation isn't big here. Much of the work is done by hand. The potting machine is a scoop on the end of my arm.

Mowing is done with one of two zero-turn riding mowers, or with a bush mower pulled by a tractor.

I prefer to work with people whenever possible. Much of tree work is fairly dull. I like workers who are reasonably articulate, and who can converse on many topics. While I'm not good with foreign languages, we are both good at helping people understand the nuances of English. If your goal is to move from competent to idiomatic English, we can give you a hand.

Weather here in is relatively cool: Highs are mostly in the upper 20's, only rarely getting above 30. Humidity is rare, making for pleasant working conditions. June is our heaviest rainfall month, but thundershowers are common through most of the summer.

Note to applicants: If you provide a generic application letter, the answer is simple: "No thanks." We had a bad experience with a resident worker last summer. You need to convince us that you are worth the risk.

Your letter to us should show:
1. That you have read this page -- all of it. You should have questions about what you read.

2. That you have some applicable experience, even if it was only working in your family garden.

3. Your page should have a reasonable autobiography. What drives you? What are you interested in? What sets you apart? What makes you laugh? Do you have a facebook page that we can look at.


Both Laura and I are addicted to all forms of word play: Puns, spoonerisms, malaprops. Neither of us are fond of humour that has at's heart the pain or ridicule of other people.

Both of us love books, and the house has tons (not an overstatement) of books.

A typical day:

(By September, this starts an hour later due to later sunrise)

6:00 Music turned on. Usually classical. Sometimes folk. I get up, and check email. Time to catch a piece of toast or a cup of coffee if you don't dawdle.
6:30 I go for a run, often with my resident helper. (Currently my 16 year old godson.) If you wish, I will leave the music off until I get BACK from my run.
7:30 Breakfast. Cereal, toast, something more substantial if the day is cold.
8:00 Morning session. Usually weeding or transplanting.
10:30 Break. Water. Juice. Food if wanted. (Remember, I'm used to working with a teenage boy...)
11:00 Second session. Often project based.
1:30 Lunch. Time varies a lot depending on what we were doing.
2:00 Afternoon session. This is the time when we do anything that can be done from the back of a tractor or mower. It's also a time to check the water system, fixing plumbing. (often getting soaked in the process).
5:00 Supper.
After supper: Mostly free time. Currently my godson is doing trig by Internet for an hour each evening. We are voracious readers, and also watch some TV. TV leans toward British mystery.

The yearly cycle:

Late April:
The creeks are running full with snow melt. Wings of Canada geese, Snow geese, and occasionally trumpeter swans fly overhead.
Cleanup the mess of winter. Take down the Christmas lights. Clean the cold storage room for trees that will soon be arriving. Change the oil on the soil mixer, the auger. Rototil the garden if it's dry enough. Plant poplar and willow cuttings.
Start up the irrigation network, put the timers and filters back in place, and walk the lines looking for leaks, broken connectors. Flushing the lines to get the crud out.

Volunteers for spring work start about the end of the first week in May.
Bud week (the day there is a green haze to the woods...) is usually around May 10. First dandelions, marsh marigolds. Mid May is lungworts, and wild clematis, and woods violets.
The Jeffries truckload with ornamentals and fruit trees that I don't grow myself arrives from Manitoba sometime in the first week. Last year it took the driver and me 3 hours to unload.
Bare root trees get priority. People who have special order trees in the shipment get a phone call.
Shipments from the 4 other regular suppliers come in. Pines, firs, larches, and spruces all come in as seedlings. Most go to the cold room after inspection.
May is planting month. And sales. And mowing. And everything else.

Two hours a day of weeding, rest planting. Checking and moving sprinklers every two hours.

Most of the planting is done. Sometimes transplants start now. Weeding continues. Afternoons are often infra-structure projects -- adding the plumbing for a new zone, making pails into pots for next year, making pot support systems to keep larger trees from blowing over.
Firewood split and stacked last November is moved to the woodshed.

The land around us is busy with harvest.
Water is critical. Any day that is over 30 C requires a balancing act to make sure the smaller pots are watered often enough. Infrastructure projects continue.

By mid September leaves are turning. Most of the native trees go yellow, but the wild rose is clear orange, the dogwoods go burgundy, and the chokecherries go pink. The bird migrations start, but are still fitful for most of the month.
Often a busy sales season as people are home from summer holidays. Infra-structure continues. One more round of weeding, but it's not so bad now, growth has tapered off. Some harvesting of wild seeds. Planting in seed trays to overwinter to meet their chilling requirements.
Transplanting larger trees.

The world prepares for winter. Only the willows cling to green leaves. They will hold them until the very end.
I try to get the household gardens ready for winter.
Frosts are frequent. Timers are taken off the faucet ends, and faucets are set to drip a bit to reduce the chance of freezing. Watering slows down even more to harden trees for winter.
With the trees, spaces are set up for the new orders for next spring. One final watering when there is a skim of ice on the pond, and the irrigation system is shut down for winter, some parts are removed for indoor storage.

Snow arrives. Some years in late October, but by November the ground is white, and will remain so until spring. With tracks easy to spot, I do several patrols for porcupine each week.
Firewood. Fell, split stack. Sometimes we go on holiday.

Put up lights.
Confirm orders for trees. Contact people on the mailing list who requested notifications.
Work on web pages.
Household renovations.
The longest night of the year. We know that the last days of December are lengthening, but they do so so slowly!

Cold. Dark. Days are often clear, crisp, and bitter cold. If there is any wind at all, you must bundle in layers of fleece and parka to venture outside.

The phone starts ringing for spring. We're getting awfully tired of snow on the ground. Seems that every morning I have to move a full sled of wood to the porch.

When will the snow melt! Will Winter never end? But there is hope: The sun is back.

Mid March.
Pond day. Melt water refills the pond -- the rebirth of the land is underway.

Some people call this spring. We call it mud. Constant discoveries of surprises revealed by the retreating edge of snow.

Volunteers who can arrive in May are needed to help with transplanting seedlings into pots (which includes mixing soil to put in the pots, and then moving the pots to another location in the field). May is our busiest month, and both Laura and Sherwood will be looking after customers more or less all day. Help will also be needed to prepare the vegetable bed, seed it, water and weed it through the summer.

By June, the help needed shifts to triaging trees to remove dead and/or dying ones, identifying trees that have outgrown their pots and transplanting them to larger pots, weeding, mowing, and watering. July and August are as above.

We are 11 km (6.5 miles) from the nearest village -- Warburg, Alberta. Warburg has a grocery store, a library, two gas stations, a convenience store/restaurant. The next nearest place is Thorsby, 25 km away. Laura goes to Edmonton twice a week on average. Items you need can either be picked up, or you can take the day off and accompany her.

Because of the distance from town, volunteers may prefer to work longer days, then take longer breaks. E.g. Work at the farm for a week, then spend a week at the Edmonton Jazz Festival or Fringe Festival. We are quite amenable to flex scheduling along these lines.


Currently one guest bedroom with a double bed, and the 'book cave' in the basement -- an alcove screened off by book cases. We have two full bathrooms. Visitors have the choice of a tub or a shower.

Our household is shared with three dogs. Dogs come into the house for the evening, and are generally underfoot all the time outside.

We are not vegetarian, but our meals tend to less meat than is common in North America. We try to buy as local as possible. Not everything is organic, but some is. Tonight, as I write this, Laura is making a quinoa, fruit, chard, sausage, and cheese salad, along with biscuits. The yellow stuff is butter, not margarine. It's real mayonnaise, not emulsified spread. The peanut butter needs to be stirred because it's not homogenized. The milk is standard store milk.

We have good internet access -- not as good as in the city, but good enough that you can stream a youtube video without constant buffer pauses.

Summer is a time of festivals in Alberta, especially in Edmonton. Edmonton has a Street Performers Festival, a Jazz Festival, a Food Festival, a Fringe (theatre) Festival, a Heritage Days Festival and more. Time can be arranged to take in any or all of these. Pigeon Lake, a popular spot for swimming, is close to Thorsby. Our location means that most of these events will require additional travelling. We offer a quiet environment, 15+ acres of old growth forest, a chance to learn (and possibly teach) about growing trees, lots of outdoor time, an abundance of exercise, stimulating company and good humour.

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