Heading into March we welcome the warmth of the sun on our backs, waiting patiently for the snow to melt and the pussy willows to open for another year. Spring on the farm is one of our favourite seasons. Colourful rows seem more vibrant now against the white snow blanketing our landscape. This is a beautiful place to live and work. Please enjoy some of the breathtaking scenery we see every day.
In a normal year we start the spring harvest in February. We are accustomed to dealing with some snow which we push away from the crown of the shrubs with our feet in order to cut as low as possible on the plant. Normally, this snow melts quickly and we find ourselves dealing with mud. The winter of 2014 delivered more snow than we have ever experienced on The Branch Ranch. We watched the weather forecasts, hoping for warm temperatures and rain to melt the snow but none came.
In the end we were forced to begin the harvest in late March, walking on top of the snow at first and eventually sinking through to knee level with every footstep. When the snow was soft we had to stomp around every plant to get the maximum length out of each branch but we hit an ice layer under the snow from the December ice storm which was impenetrable until the last week of cutting.
And before we knew it the harvest was over, the sun came out, the pussy willows burst into flower and the bees appeared. Pussy willows are nature's earliest pollinators and the bees love their yellow, fuzzy flower heads. Such is the pussy willow harvest...always unpredictable but full of the promise of spring.
Winter is the season of rest for many plants and mammals. After a long growing season and intense harvest, we look forward to wrapping ourselves in winter's white blanket and enjoying the beauty of the rolling landscape which surrounds us. We always welcome the winter snows which offer the opportunity to snow shoe or ski in the fields and woods on the farm.
Sometimes, however, winter's beauty can be destructive and devastating, as it was when the ice arrived on Friday December 20th. For three days we were iced in at the farm, unable to drive and only able to walk to the barn in snowshoes with heavy cleats . We stocked up firewood, and filled pots, jugs and bathtub with water in anticipation of a power outage, bracing for the worst.
Fortunately, we did not lose power this time, but many hundreds of thousands in South Central and Eastern Canada were stranded without heat or hydro, forced to find shelter with friends and families or at community centres for days which extended over the Christmas holidays. Thousands are still without power and suffering from the prolonged outages. Many trees were lost from the weight of the ice and strangely and one week later, with dropping temperatures and little sun, the trees and branches are still covered with that same ice and now an additional layer of snow. With winds forecast for tonight and tomorrow, the after effects of this storm may still be felt for some time.
On a brighter note, the icy landscape is a photographers dream. When the sun appeared we were delighted to discover a sparkling, frosty, bejewelled landscape, covered with inches of glistening ice, the branches in the fields resembling an underwater scene of coral and seaweed. It was so cold when these photos were taken the iPhone 4 that took them kept powering off.
Flame willow, once towering above our heads, now bows down gracefully before us, it's vivid orange bark still visible through layers of ice, softened to an indescribable shade.
Tall green curly willow appear to writhe and swirl in a fierce struggle against the weight of their icy encasement.
Hydrangea, dwarfed by almost a metre of snow and ice at it's feet, flower heads laden heavy, arching to the ground as if to show exhaustion from it's rapid, vigorous growing season.
And then there was snow...
Early this fall, Carola Vynhak, a journalist who has worked with the Toronto Star for 35+ years, spent the morning with us on the farm, taking photos and talking about what we do here. Today her piece is featured in the Life Section of the paper. It has been an interesting and overwhelming experience for two reclusive farm girls! We love what Carola wrote and thank her very much for writing about us. Here is a link to the article online: At The Branch Ranch, an Unusual Farm, They Grow - what else? - Branches!