Monthly Archives: December 2014

Here we are on the last day of 2014. It has been a challenging year at Better Together Farms, highlighting some of the limitations of ourselves and our land. I think we finally know enough to chart a plan to get us where we want the farm to go (with a little help). Charting this course will be the major challenge in the months ahead.

Many of my former actuarial colleagues don't believe this is as difficult as I make it out to be. I think the major challenges are breadth and risk. You need to know a little about a lot of things to farm: soil chemistry, soil biology, plant biology (of both what you want to grow and the weeds that get in the way), a little plumbing and managing water pressure and volume for irrigation, basic mechanical skills to use, maintain and diagnose equipment, basic construction skills. Also everything you grow on your farm has its own learning curve. For example each vegetable crop has particular frost sensitivities in spring and fall, sensitivity to summer heat, optimal spacing, moisture and sun requirements, harvest period for each seeding, particular pests and diseases (and tips to identify them), particular nutritional requirements (and tips to identify deficiencies), and variations by variety.

There are the skills and knowledge not directly related to production. Research is a big one: after touring dozens of farms in Ontario I believe each farm is effectively a unique combination of soil, flora, fauna, topography and micro-climates and a unique expression of the skills, resources and values of the farmer. So finding information relevant to our situation or transforming the results of studies for application on our farm is a tricky business. Purchasing is another a big one: farms aren't big money-makers so you want to innovate to use what you have and what is cheap as much as possible. A lot of industrial farmers like big shiny new equipment; a lot of them are in a lot of debt and would be bankrupted by a couple bad years. Also most of the supplies and equipment are heavy or bulky, so you want to find things locally if possible. The one-size-fits-all world of online shopping doesn't work when shipping costs are greater than the cost of the item.

As a former actuary, I can talk a lot about risk, so I guess I'll leave that for a future post.

I wish all of us a happy, healthy, successful 2015!


Looking back, I am embarrassed at my inactivity on this blog and website. Going forward this will be the main source of news and photos for Better Together Farms since we will delete our Facebook account before 1 January 2015. I hope to add webfeed functionality like RSS so it will be easy for you to stay in touch with us, but I expect it will be something like March before I get around to setting that up.

Our second year on the farm brought many lessons including:

  • The stony ridge in our vegetable field curves around to the north -- I broke several tools finding this out.
  • Twitch grass must be brought under control before you plant -- we were running late due to the wet spring so we transplanted our most robust crops after knocking back the twitch. Those plantings were eventually overrun and lost to the twitch -- you just don't have the time to do the volume of weeding required.
  • A lot of our crops have a narrow window of opportunity on our farm. I realized last year that our frost-free period is almost two months shorter than the first farm where I interned near Toronto. This year, delays from fighting the twitch grass made me realize that this only allows a couple of weeks to plant our long-season and hot crops like tomatoes and winter squash.
  • Don't plan to build in the spring. Paint and other weather-proofing only cure reliably in the warm nights of July and August. This means that by springtime we need to have designed and sourced materials for stuff we think we will need next year before seeing how things work this year -- tricky.

It has been four years since I left actuarial work to pursue our farm dream, so we are taking this winter to do a strategic review. We will definitely add pigs to our enterprises in 2015, but the ultimate size of each enterprise needs to be re-evaluated.