The Organic Apprentice

sowing the seeds of learning!

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Hard Work & Hard Play

One of the lessons from my studies of leisure and recreation that has stuck with me is the relation of work and leisure. Some people would say that without work we cannot appreciate leisure. There is another belief that either one can exist perfectly fine without the other. So consider this for a moment: Would you appreciate your leisure time if you never had to work again in your life?

This kind of thinking can lead into several directions. The avenue of thought that sparked this post came from the weekend I made my keyhole garden. Although thoroughly enjoyable to build it also took a tremendous amount of effort. This kind of physically difficult leisure makes defining leisure as “any activity done for it’s enjoyment” problematic. It is important to keep in mind that leisure and recreation can sometimes be difficult while still being enjoyable.

What I really noticed after my ‘work weekend’ was that returning to regular apprentice work on Monday was not as difficult as it had been weeks before. I don’t mean difficult as in “oh my lifting this 1000 pound bag is so easy!” (although I can totally lift that) but more “Oh wow I don’t mind my weekend being over as much as I would otherwise.” 

I will be keeping this sort of work-leisure relationship in mind as the amount of small tasks to complete during my spare time increases (chickens, keyhole garden, rainwater collector, etc.) All-in-all, I believe that just because something is difficult does not mean it cannot be enjoyable. 



BOK BOK Chickens!! BOK BOK

Well, this apprenticeship has definitely not failed to keep my mind buzzing with projects, programs ideas, and creative solutions to challenges! Considering I am less than one month into the four month experience I can imagine there is much more I will learn.

One new experience on the horizon is the purchase and care of a small number of egg-laying chickens. Bantry Bay Farm does not require chickens (nor is the added work of caring for them necessarily desired either) but both apprentices (Aaron and Myself) feel that keeping a few chickens could be great fun. Hopefully on Monday we will be  buying the chickens (maybe around 8-10 dollars each). We are looking at getting 4 or 5 and look forward to eating some fresh eggs towards the end of my stay. 

With the chickens, gardens, and fruit trees we will hopefully be able to get a lot of our own food from the area immediately outside our cottage.

Stay tuned for updates including chicken photos and names! 


Keyhole Garden Project

Over this past weekend I had several jobs I wanted to get done. We have had nine tomato plants sitting in the window of the living room waiting to be transplanted, bean & pea planters overgrowing with weeds, and a fenced-in garden plot that hadn’t been used in many years. Everything I wanted to clean up would require a great bit of work over the course of Saturday and Sunday.

ImageMy focus for this post is on what I did on Saturday. Sunday only involved light work on the back deck while Saturday required 8 hours of focused work from the morning running into the early evening. 

Looking at the garden I had to work with I wanted to ensure there would be adequate space to accommodate the Keyhole Garden, the existing native plants (namely wild mint and tay berries), and a 16×16 ft area for Aaron’s pumpkin patch project. This photo shows the south-east corner of the garden area with the seedling greenhouse visible behind the trees in back.


Can you name each tool shown in the photo?


The area cleared in this image is 8×8 ft and is adjacent to the soon-to-be pumpkin patch!

I gathered my tools and materials largely ahead of time. I say “largely” because I only started collecting the mulch, soil, and compost on Saturday. The tools and stones had been assembled in the couple of days leading up to the weekend. I used the simplest tools and methods I could to show that any community, regardless of the materials available, can create this type of garden. Specifically, I used a straight hoe, shovel, hand sickle, hatchet, broadfork, measuring tape, and wheelbarrow.




A 6 foot circle… cleared!

I then cleared an 8×8 ft square area where the chicken coop used to be. The benefit to this was that most of the ground was clear of some larger weeds while on the downside it meant I had to move the chicken coop out of the way before starting work. I marked my measurements with large stones and prepared to enter the next phase of construction.



After clearing the larger 8ft square I did a much more thorough job clearing away a 6.5ft circle centered on the center of the 8ft square. Lastly, I measured out the placement of the 1.5ft compost basket that will go at the center of the garden. I’d seen a few ways of making this basket including using chicken wire, gardening cloth, or weaving a basket using sticks and straw/grass. I liked this latter method as it seems like something almost anybody could manage to do.



I later used a lot of the dry grass and straw that I collected when clearing the area to mulch the area around the keyhole as well as to construct the compost basket.






It’s a bird! It’s a plane!… it’s my thumb in the frame.

Despite the intrusion of one of my glove-clad digits I think this photo should help give an idea of what the mulch and straw was used for. The bottom-most layer of the garden called for a layer of mulch and debris. I decided that the thin layer of mulch would be adequate as the soil underneath was deep and perfect for growing. I also started to wrap the dried grass around the central basket frame. This was actually quite straightforward. I also began to build up the garden wall using the many, MANY, rocks that I had collected (by hand).


More wall, more soil, more basket, more everything!



I worked through to the afternoon adding rocks to the wall of the garden, hauled soil to fill the bed, and built up the compost basket (including added layers of manure and organic compost). I left a large amount of room at the top of the basket for household compost from the nearby cottage.



The end result!

 The end result turned out pretty much as I had expected! I would have liked for the walls of the garden to have been about 3 feet tall rather than 1 foot (as it turned out). However, did I mention that I hauled the 160lbs of soil, 150lbs of rocks, manure, compost, and mulch all by myself? I imagine that an entire village of people could build a much larger Keyhole Garden. However, considering I was myself and used the simplest methods possible I think it turned out pretty well! I planted some cherry tomatoes (as seen in the photo) that I had to cover overnight because of a random frost warning. I also planted some dill in a couple of places, some sweet basil, summer savoury, thyme, and Swiss chard. I will definitely give periodic updates on the success of this project! 


BONUS PIC! A pic of the work as seen from under the pear tree arch I tied up earlier. This is truly going to be a magical place once everything is is full swing!

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Farm + Perfectionism = No

Lately I have been forcing myself to not be as meticulous with the details of tasks I undergo as many of the jobs around the farm could require a LOT of time. However, some of these tasks will not be improved by somebody nit-picking the finer details of the job. If a row of seeds are not perfectly straight… its not a big deal.

Those five words have been very significant when it comes to being overly particular about tasks: ITS NOT A BIG DEAL. Knowing when to step back from a job and say “This will work” is often enough. I can’t imagine how long it would take to rake a 120ft-long garden row for rocks if I was trying to pick out every rock. There are numerous jobs around the farm where I have been told to not worry too much about the ultimate result as long as specific goals are met.

Perhaps we could all benefit from not sweating the small stuff and focusing on practical, functional, results rather than striving to reach the unreachable; perfection.Image

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One Week!

Aaron and I are still waiting to install the internet router at our cottage on the farm. Customer service to rural New Brunswick is pretty slow and the soonest they can deliver the router (and have a technician ready to install it) is May 16th. Once that happens my posts will become more frequent. I’ve been trying to write blog posts out onto Word documents so I can connect to the web and update my site more easily for the time being.

We’ve been doing lots of planting this past week. We have transplanted: lettuce, leeks, onions, scallions, broccoli, brussel sprouts, Pok Choy, tomatoes, cucumber, and zucchini. We are waiting for the temperatures at night to rise into more comfortable levels so we can put more crops out into the fields. If I had to estimate a number of seedlings we have transplanted I can only begin to imagine. For an idea of how many we’ve been dealing with, today we planted about 350 tomato plants (of various kinds like Yellow Taxi, Green Zebra, Pink Beauties, etc.), maybe 50 zucchinis, and around 75 cucumbers. We filled the smaller of the two main greenhouses with tomato plants, it is an amazing sight!

I’ve been enjoying the physical nature of much of the work at BantryBay. I don’t think I’ve ever had as good a shoulder workout as I did today digging holes with a post digger for seedling blocks. The work is hard but rewarding. I may do a later post on just HOW physically demanding the work can be as I don’t believe many people reaaaaaally understand just how much is involved in running a farm. And we’re only cultivating about 2 acres total!

My living arrangements on the farm have been working out great. I share a small (but not too small) pre-fab log cabin with the other apprentice Aaron. We have our own bathroom, kitchen, deck, garden, living room, and a spectacular view of a field featuring cherry, pear, and apple trees! The sky seems to really open up as we are atop a hill so stargazing at night is definitely going to warrant its own post. Needless to say, I have it pretty swee

A Typical Day
7:30AM – wake up and eat breakfast
8:00AM – meet at farm house for the day’s briefing
8:15-12:00PM – Work
12:00-1:15PM – Lunch
1:15-5:00PM –Work
(Apprentices are off after 5:00PM)
6:30PM – Dinner
(After dinner apprentices have the rest of the evening to themselves)

Weekends are 100% free time.

Some days are going to include harvesting certain crops, preparing CSA  bags for pick-up (a program where member of the community pay into receiving a bag of fresh produce once a week for the duration of the season), or selling produce at the farmer’s market in St.Andrews. During work hours apprentices may be preparing soil beds, watering crops, transplanting from greenhouse to field, working in one of the three greenhouses, or anything else that needs doing. There is certainly no shortage of work to be done by all 

You may ask yourself: “With all this work you must be REALLY aching and tired by the end of the day, right?” The work is obviously demanding at times but at the end of the day I feel as if I have led a productive and enjoyable day of working outdoors, been close to the Earth, and improving myself. Hopefully everything keeps going as swell as they are now!

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Checking In!

Sorry for the delay, I have been enjoying the wi-fi disconnect lately.

I’ve arrived on the farm and all is going swimingly! We planted potatoes, leeks, and lettuce this week. I’ve had a good introduction to manual labour but also to the merits of farm life. As I was off for the weekend I took the opportunity to explore the area including a nearby beach and the town of St. Andrews-by-the-Sea. I saw a family of five fox cubs and a mother fox yesterday. I also happened to scare a herd of white-tailed deer on my bike this morning. 

I’ve been coming up with new program ideas based off my explorations, experiences, and activities on or around the farm.

Stay tuned for more!