Thoughts after a first year of commercial farming (oh, and Covid-19)


I wrote a few blog posts this year that I did not publish. I felt like so much was happening here, and people might be interested, but there was so much else going on in the world that it wasn’t worth to write about our farm.
Especially since, after all, we felt like we had the best year of our lives.

How can you write about that when people, including your own (step)children, are confined to an apartment for weeks on end?

Don’t get me wrong. I definitely broke down quite a few times this year. Because I didn’t get to spend the summer, or even see my wonderful step-daughters who I love so much (Rob did go to see them). Because having 2 small children can get overwhelming. Because it is lonely on a farm at certain times of the year and social distancing amplified that greatly. Because there was a forest fire burning up the hill from our house for a month. And, as with any year, there were things going on with my family and friends that I had to deal with.

But, the farming was amazing.
Growing herbs is amazing. Having animals and spending days with small children and no office to go to, while still having a remote job that can support us, is amazing. And, we had some pretty great WWOOFers (volunteer workers who work for room & board) that we will be friends with for a long time (another posting about WWOOFers).


If you are considering starting a farm. Do it! But, only if you have money.
One thing we learned this year is that our return on investment on our herb farm will be approximately 1000 years! (joking, I will calculate it but cannot bring myself to do it yet). If we were growing marijuana the ROI would be probably 1 year, but growing only 1 herb would be so boring. The thing is that herbs are cheap – and usually crappy quality. We have only received very positive feedback on our herbs, including quite a few “they are the best herbs I’ve ever tasted” comments, but we still cannot charge much for them. So, this year I think we made almost nothing on herb sales despite selling out (we do free shipping, nice packaging, and give a huge discount to our friends who sell large amounts through their butcher shop). It is a year to get our name out though and get feedback, and that was a success on our small scale.
We are growing at least 38 varieties of culinary and medicinal herbs. Learning about them and their uses and how to grow them is so interesting. Then there is the part about finding places to put them on our land and how to prepare that land – which animals to graze on it before – and learning about how to raise those animals! In the spring, we acquired 2 goats and 2 sheep. Another dog, named Midnight, to protect them, and some more chickens. Oh, and this year’s pigs: 3 pigs, so our family could share the 3rd pig and we’d still have enough to eat and feed our WWOOFers next year.

This fall we borrowed (or rented in exchange for herbs) a ram to impregnate our sheep. It was through a Zoom call with a friend living in Switzerland who did her PhD in the UK (in an unrelated subject – although, mad cow was involved!) that I learned that we should have put some kind of dye on the ram’s underside. Then, after he mounted the sheep we would know if they had been mounted or not. But, let’s face it, we only have 2 sheep. If they are impregnated or not, it will not make a difference to their fate. They are here to graze the tall grass covering most of the land here and to eventually provide us with an alternative to pork. If they don’t, that’s ok. If they do, I might transform myself into a cheese maker. Won’t have enough to sell but halloumi, feta and Roquefort are some of my favourite cheeses and I would love to make those! Rob would love cream cheese too and I assume that is much easier to make than my favourites.


Another thing I learned is that I need childcare. My firstborn started full-time daycare when she was 4-months old. That was nuts but normal in Switzerland. My second child is 19months old and still have not spend a day in daycare – and in the valley we live in, that is very normal. But, I cannot raise 2 kids without daycare and work remotely, and run a farm with my partner, and build a herb business – oh, and do my many art projects that I like to dream about. So, Mom guilt aside, we have decided to put both kids in daycare 2-3 days a week. They are so social that they will/do love it and we can actually get some work done during daylight hours (well now and I writing during daylight but have 2 children climbing on me/feeding me pretend cake/taking decorations off the Christmas tree/harassing our poor dog taking a nap by the fire). Can you tell by my sporadic writing? Ha!
Daycare is only possible though because we live in Canada. We could never have done any of this in Switzerland. Yes, we are practically giving a way our herbs and make a fraction of what we earned there in our office jobs, but here childcare is subsidized when you need it. Healthcare is free (and I had a cancer scare this year so that would have been very beneficial) and I assume we will soon get childcare allowances again. Not to mention covid relief funding. This has made a huge difference to us and allowed us to keep going. I am so grateful my parents immigrated to Canada and I was able to sponsor my partner to come here – great people, great weather, beautiful surroundings, and important support for small businesses.


Our plans for next year? Passing the last hurdle to be certified organic. Building a processing/drying facility for herbs next to our house with our covid relief loan. We wanted to get that money back into other small businesses in the area ASAP. And, cultivating pretty much double the amount of varieties and quantity next year. Oh, and hopefully learning to raise lambs. Let’s all hope covid lets the rest go according to our hopes.

Moving to Canada – the container

Moving to Canada – the container

Finally packed and ready for its journey to Vancouver

The container and all our belongings have arrived! Actually, while it is exciting, it really means that this is our home for a very very long time. Things just got real. After shipping 16m3 of goods, taking up 1/3 of a shipping container, from Geneva to Winlaw, the months of packing Rob did while I was working, and the headaches with customs and the moving company, I don’t want to go through that for many years or ever. Plus the cost, it cost 6’500 CHF for the moving company in Switzerland to come to our house and load our goods into the container, then ship the container to Vancouver.

Luckily, I realized while spending 10 days in the States before entering Canada that I needed to declare all the contents I was bringing with me when I crossed the border into Canada to not pay import fees. Went with my list of boxes/grouped items (176 items in total) to the Nelway border crossing and declared everything. Then we booked a U-Haul and waited for the ship to arrive.

Following that ship was mega confusing. The container left our old place on February 25th, we followed it on the truck to Basel, on the train to Rotterdam, on the ship to Oakland, and at one point, the ship started from Oakland on its way to Japan! Many confusing calls later, we were told the container was unloaded in Oakland and put on another ship bound for Vancouver. We were then send a bill for 2’700 CHF for the dock fees in Oakland. We had already paid 80 CHF for dock fees in Rotterdam but 2’700 CHF was insane. After contesting it, the moving company accepted to pay.

Once the container arrived in Vancouver, we called the docks to know when we could pick up the contents with our U-Haul. It was only then that we came to understand that you are not allowed to enter the docks to pick up contents! We had to hire a company to collect the container. I phoned and wrote to at least 6 companies but only one answered. She quoted $610 to drop the container, plus 1 hour to unload, at my parent’s house, or $2’950 to deliver right to our door in Winlaw.

We calculated the difference, between the $1400 for the U-Haul, the $610 for delivery to my parents, the gas to drive our car to Vancouver and both back, the cost of hiring someone to help us unload in Vancouver (during the week and with my 8 months pregnant, we needed help), and the cost of the dogs in a kennel – plus having to ask my sister to take Klara overnight, it was just worth it to get the container delivered.

Now came customs in Vancouver. Thank goodness they let my parents go on my behalf, but my mom had to go twice to customs downtown because they were required a form that the moving company had apparently never been asked for and thought the shipping company would refuse to give us.

Finally got the customs cleared. Had both sisters over yesterday for the container truck that was 3hours late, but unloaded in just an hour! So lucky they could both help and carry the 176 items – including 50 heavy boxes of Rob’s german books that I’ve already had to help him move from his old apartment to a storage container, to Switzerland, and now to Canada. Those are some sentimental books. Now, let the unpacking begin!
The escaping piglets

The escaping piglets

Billy & Bobby: looking so innocent in their new little house

EVERY SINGLE DAY those little piglets escape! Keeping them in the house the first day and a half, electric fencing inside the metal fencing, scattering the food, nothing seems to work. I am pretty relaxed about it because they always come home in the evening but Rob sweats through his shirt at the thought of them escaping. It’s true, having them dig up someone’s garden would be awful, luckily nothing is planted yet in people’s gardens though. They seem to know the area more than us who have already planted and had all our cucumber and zucchini seedlings die in the hoop house.

The pigs are super cute and do sleep quite a bit but they are obsessed with running away and exploring. Yesterday they were gone for 5 hours! We searched but it was the day the container was arriving so we couldn’t look for long. Even looking with Eva, our dog, doesn’t help. She sniffs but never finds them. She does warn us half the time though as she is in the driveway and can see them running away.

Today’s project was reusing the old metal pieces from the roof that we had to have replaced as a base layer to the metal fence. I helped carry some but mostly Rob had to carry the super long pieces down the to pig field and drill them in place. Our neighbour told us cardboard could stop the pigs escaping but that will just melt in the rain. She says that it will help if the pigs can’t see where they are going, then they won’t try to escape. Hope it works!

All this for them to dig up a field, Once they’ve dug it up and we need to move them, we can only hope the electric fence works better. It is a poultry fence with a solar battery, cost us $1000. It better work!

My happy place: the Greenhouse

My happy place: the Greenhouse

Hopefully this won’t jinx the whole thing but I am starting this post before we finish the greenhouse – since it is taking so long!!!

I really cannot think of anyone who would dislike greenhouses but for me, greenhouses are my happy place and this greenhouse has been in the works since we bought the house. After purchase we asked my brother-in-law to check out the part of the garden/house where we wanted so we could build the greenhouse before we had even arrived in Canada. Fortunately, he told us to wait until we arrived since it would be complicated, and he was right. 

Originally, we wanted a greenhouse attached to the house. We were in contact with BC Greenhouse and they designed one for us based on our specifications. BC Greenhouse delivers greenhouses into kits and you assemble them yourself. The greenhouses are $15’000 for a basic model and can get much more expensive. The attached greenhouse was expensive but that isn’t why we had to scap the idea, there ended up being regulations restricting building a roof under where the electricity cables attach to the house, and the south side of the house is where our electricity cables attach to the house.  

We had the option of putting an electricity pole in the middle of our vegetable garden and then running the cables underground to the house, thereby removing the part of the roof where the cables attach, but that would have added an extra $10’000 to the budget. Also, I didn’t really want a pole in the middle of the garden. So we decided to buy a traditional model and put it the required distance from the house. 

Things did not get easier though. We wanted to place the greenhouse the permitted distance away from the house but in the same location but we already had a peach tree there which produced the most delicious peaches. Alternate locations were in front of the house (didn’t work because of the septic tank + field), or in the corner (didn’t work because of the same power lines), or on the edge (didn’t work because we needed a buffer between the property line and the structure). After many exchanges with the district and our contractors, we finally decided to go where the peach tree was. We then applied for the permit and settled on the second contractor we spoke to (the first just stopped e-mailing after sending us the quote…)

Now came the first fun part, moving the peach tree. I called 4 landscapers/tree care companies and none would move a tree. One said he would think about it for $500 but I should just do it myself with a digging machine and it would be easy. Well, instead, I watched a few YouTube videos and tried myself with Rob. I dug a huge hole where we wanted to put the peach tree, watered the peach tree for a couple of hours and then started digging around the peach tree. You can look at the pictures to figure out the rest! Surprisingly, however, the tree is doing well months later. We will prune off all flowers next year, as suggested by our neighbour Gerald to Rob, to make sure the tree puts all its energy into the roots and survives future years.

Then came the wait for the permit, the inspector’s visit and the foundation work. We loved our contractors, Trust in Trades, they helped with advice, getting the permit, and are generally great people. We’ll even use them for other projects like changing the siding on the house that also needs to be done soon.

There were so many steps to building a foundation. I hadn’t realized. The initial digging, making the forms for the footing, pouring the concrete for the footing, building the forms for the walls, pouring of the concrete for the walls, removing the forms and, finally, the backfill.

We had the option of paying a little more for parts of the greenhouse to be pre-assembled in the factory, and to have someone come to our place for 10hrs to guide us in building. Money well spent!!! Within 10hrs, Rob, the helper (who turned out to be the son of the owner of the company and had already built 1000’s of greenhouses) and my sister’s boyfriend, Kirk, built the whole thing in the 10hrs. Without getting those extra steps it would have taken us weeks to figure that kit out.

Then the concrete truck had to come back a third time for the pouring of the slab. We poured the slab after the greenhouse was built because of the weather conditions. It was never going to dry in November covered in snow. This meant that it had to be poured by 4 people carting wheelbarrows full of concrete from the truck to the greenhouse. It took a day and they sloped the slab on our request for drainage – there is a pipe from the middle of the greenhouse that drains to outside. Rob had stayed home every step of the construction to watch over things and help out but on that last day he came out with us. When we got home we all put our hand prints in the concrete 🙂

When the concrete dried we needed an electrician to come and hook everything up. In a couple of visits, an electrician sent to us by our contractors had the sub-panel, lights and 4 outlets installed. The outlets power 2 heaters/fans that we run in there. We hesitated between propane, a wood stove, heated flooring, solar panels or electric heaters for heating and settled on the electric heaters. There isn’t enough sun in our valley for solar panels and we couldn’t keep a wood stove running 24/7 for months, not to mention how hard it would be to control the temperature. Electric is also cheaper than propane so we chose electric. When nothing is growing but we don’t want the plants to die we keep the minimum temperature 5-7°C in there, and when we will start to grow we will increase the temperature a bit and heat the soil with mats (since the temperature of the soil is what matters). The lights are also very bright and sufficient for seedlings, so we will not make a germination chamber for seedlings. We will just grown on our tables and see how it goes.

If Monty Don has taught us anything about work in the garden, it is that a finished project needs to be celebrated. We also love our neighbours and it was an excuse to have people over. So we invited 12 neighbours over for drinks and food after completion. Sixteen of us fit comfortably inside and we stayed in there late into the night talking. A perfect way to pass from finishing the building to the PLANTING!! Oh, but first Rob needs to build a ton of tables of different heights and shelving for the 50 seed trays we will have growing in there. Good luck with the tables Rob and thanks for the greenhouse.

Canning, the silent killer

Canning, the silent killer

I wrote this post & title in harvest season but never posted it as I thought it was too negative. After reflection, it isn’t that bad and even if it was, I should be transparent about life here.

Well I totally and completely underestimated that part of farm living. It almost defeated me but I am still standing!

As I write this there are still plums in the fridge laughing at me, well they’ve been laughing for quite a long while, but I’ll get around to them, I hope.

Actually, when we made the big mistake of picking all the hundreds of peaches at the same time and a huge part of them went mouldy in the unplugged fridge in the basement (not sure how that happened) at first we were upset and afterwards I was quite relieved. We had already canned 20 jars, made jam, frozen bags and bags and given boxes away. Problem with peaches is that you have to peel them like tomatoes. They are so tasty and we were so incredibly lucky to have them but they were small and so more work to process. One thing I learned is that we should have been pruning the flowers/small peaches so that the other peaches would get bigger. Something to note for next year. 

Harvesting and freezing and canning is a constant stress on your mind. You pick the veggies/fruit and the canning book says that you need to preserve them immediately. How? Everything is getting ripe at the same time! And, it is still nice enough in late-summer/early autumn to enjoy the last days outside in the sun. Why would I want to spend 5 hours a day in front of a hot stove and getting all sticky with hot jam? And burning my hand repeatedly in the boiling jar water, then getting a huge wif of hot vinegar fumes and finally just being generally so stressed in the situation running from the jars to the veggies to the recipe and back in double-time. 

We ended up spending at least an evening a week, usually more, for the past 7 weeks, canning. We ended up with about 88 jars. At the beginning we did it together but now it’s just become work so we alternate. Rob is in charge of jams since I am in charge of bread. I mostly do the pickling. I screwed up that one a little since I have to make bread every few days all year and jams are only in harvest times… However, contrary to canning, bread is getting more fun to make now that it looks and tastes like actual artisanal bread and not loaf after loaf of accidental flat bread.

So what do we do next year when the harvest in the veggie garden is actually good? Not to mention having all the herbs process that we need to make a business with. After we put in the manure in the veggie bed I hope we will have more than this year’s stunted growth. Apparently the Douhkabours all get together and can in huge groups. My sister also told me her friend gets a WWOOFer to take care of the children during the day and she does canning marathons by herself. Well, neither of those sound like much more fun.

Then there is the question, how are we supposed to eat all these pickles?? It’s like, we have enough pickled peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, onions, etc. to have a can a week for the next year. Don’t get me wrong, we also canned tomato sauce, grape juice, tons of jams, plum sauce, etc. but there  is a very large quantity of pickled veggies. Are we supposed to change our diet to include more vinegar soaked veggies? Currently we eat pickled veggies at lunch with eggs and bread, any more than that and I think I’d get a hole in my stomach. We gave tons of jars away but we are trying to be self-sufficient here so the objective is to live on what we produce. 

The alternative to pickling is freezing of course, or drying, or storing without freezing. Storing without freezing is way too hard. Living in Switzerland we lost way too many veggies to mould when we didn’t store properly. The carrots in sand actually disappeared. Did mice eat them? Did they disintegrate? It was very strange. For veggies, freezing is the only viable alternative and with blanching and laying things on sheets to freeze properly, it’s almost as much work as canning. Drying is going to become life now with all the herbs and luckily I don’t mind that as much. It has to be a sunny day to pick herbs but I’ll need to make a nice processing table.

Anyway, I am happy we had such a good harvest but I’m especially happy canning, freezing and drying season is DONE!! Whoop whoop! (let’s just forget about those plums in the fridge, oh, and the ones still on the tree!)

NEW: FREE shipping in Canada and only $5.00 CDN flat rate for shipping to United States!