Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

Crossing the Gardening Rubicon

By Cam Mather

This hasn’t been much of a winter here at Sunflower Farm, just like many places in North America. The area south of us along Lake Ontario had virtually no snow. By the end of the winter in 2008 and 2009 after numerous dumpings of snow we had enormous piles and snow banks that took forever to melt. Not this year.  I’ve heard a lot of people comment about what a great winter it was. They didn’t need boots. Their cars stayed clean. They were able to park all 4 of their family vehicles comfortably since there were no snow banks clogging up the streets. Farmers, on the other hand, looked out at barren fields and knew that this was not a good thing. Fields should be comfortably covered in a layer of snow during the winter. It serves numerous purposes, but mostly it keeps the soil from blowing away in the high winter winds.

We had some snow although less than most years, and yet we didn’t have to drive very far south before we noticed that there was no snow on the ground. The winter was also milder and so we had a lot of rain. So basically anywhere we had snow that was packed down, like the driveway, it became a skating rink. It was quite brutal. I finally bought “Icers” to strap on to my boots to try and avoid breaking a bone in a fall.

Now the weather has turned spring like and I still have a pile of unfinished winter jobs left to do. I feel kind of ripped off. I have a lot of firewood still to get in and a whole bunch of inside projects. And the books. My book pile is still large and once I can get into the garden, books are on hold, or at least the speed at which I get through them slows dramatically.

I had really looked forward to winter this year. Most years during the fall my garden time tapers off drastically but this year it really ramped up. Since it was finally cool I was able to work on a bunch of the larger more physically demanding jobs I had been putting off. This included making gardens bigger, transplanting a bunch of raspberries, getting all of my rhubarb into one area … those sorts of things. We did all of this with the intention of starting a CSA and growing vegetables for 10 or 12 member families this summer.

I’ve been having some reservations about running the CSA. Even after growing vegetables for 35 years, giving away boxes of produce for the last decade, and running a vegetable stand in town that went really well last summer, I’m still a little reticent about the CSA. Am I up for it? Can I really do it? Don’t get me wrong, I have a huge ego and have spent my life doing things that I really doubted I was capable of doing like moving off the grid and putting up a wind turbine, but I still have doubts. And I think this is a good thing. It keeps you from getting cocky. Keeps you grounded and humble. And inspires you to prepare as much as you can and have as many “Plan Bs” as you can.

In The All You Can Eat Gardening Handbook I wrote that every fall I leave the garden burnt out on gardening. My passion is gone. Michelle will verify this. Every fall she hears, “That’s it, the gardens are going to be way smaller next year. They’re too much work.” And every year the gardens get bigger.

It happens during the winter. I love the winter rhythm. I sleep more. Sleep later. Get up and read. Tend fires. Cut and move firewood. Read some more. And I don’t think about the garden. It’s just out there under the snow and out of my consciousness. Most winters as we approach spring I start to gradually feel the pull of the garden. That desire to get my hands back in the earth.

After last fall’s garden marathon that kept up until the first snowfall I was concerned about whether or not I was ever going to get that enthusiasm back. This would be a particularly bad thing if I was hoping to run a CSA and earn part of my income from the garden.

But then one day recently my passion for gardening returned with a whoosh. I am currently putting together the eBook version of the gardening book. This is part of why I wish the winter would continue, so that I can get as much done on this migration of our books to electronic versions as possible. The nice thing about our eBooks is that we’re doing them in color. We’ve always fantasized about printing our books in color but simply couldn’t afford to. The gardening book really lends itself to this. As more and more people buy color tablets to read ebooks this gives our books the edge over the black and white eBooks.

So I was up to Chapter 11 and had been placing in dozens of color photos of the gardens. Then I placed in some photos of me making some raised beds. I was out in the garden in a t-shirt. And the soil looks dark and rich and damp and brimming with life. And I was pouring some water on seeds I’d just planted. And my knees were dirty and my hands were soil covered from the planting.

And in the words of Tina Fey’s character on “30 Rock” … “I want to go to there.” Right now. I want to be in that garden. I want the heat. I want the to feel the soil warm and pliable rather than hard and frozen as it is now. I want to see green everywhere, rather than just in the conifers that keep their color around the house all winter. Heck I’ll even take the bugs. We’re got some of our “polar mosquitoes” buzzing around in the house right now; I might as well be out in the garden dealing with them.

Each year the cracks and fissures in the skin on my hands get more pronounced and once I hit the garden in the spring my hands basically become permanently dirty. It doesn’t matter how much I wash them, they just look like I came out of the garden. Michelle’s Dad’s hands were this way, from a combination of his work day spent repairing machinery at Stelco and all of the gardening he did when he got home. I’ve always seen permanently dirty hands as the sign of someone who does real work. It’s not like a leather motorcycle jacket that you buy to pretend you’re a biker – permanently soil colored hands are something that has to be earned over the years. You can’t fake it.

After a few months spent away from the garden and inside washing dishes and cleaning toilets, my hands are all nice and clean now. You can see where the soil stains will be, but they look pretty good right now. After working on my ebooks and spending some time looking at my gardening photos I’ve crossed the Rubicon. I’m ready to get back in the soil and get them dirty again.

Michelle’s Note: We have a favour to ask of you. If you have read ANY of our books, please consider going to or or any of the other online book sellers and leaving a review. It doesn’t have to be long… just a sentence or two. It just might help someone to decide to purchase one of our books. Thanks!



  1. Gerrit Boeck

    We have had an abnormally dry winter in Northern Arizona also. The different seasons are nice in that it breaks things up. Different seasons require different chores and things to do. We have had a week of 60 degree weather, ordered the seeds for the garden, and are in “garden mode.” I just looked at the weather and we’re due for 18 inches of snow on Sunday. 🙂 Anyways, I really enjoy reading your blog and find it very inspiring.

  2. Robert

    That is a great photo.

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