Bernd and Gail Brandt – Planting a legacy

Bernd and Gail Brandt are the owners of Heronwood Farm, a beautiful 155-acre property in Blandford-Blenheim Township. The property has multiple patches of provincially and locally significant wetlands. The Brandts are nominated for the Oxford Stewardship Award for installing wetlands on their property and for their extensive tree planting over the years.

Berndt Brand in front of his wetland

Planting trees has been a passion for Bernd Brandt for as long as he can remember.

"Growing up in Germany, when I was a kid, I remember playing in the woods nearby, and I would just roam around on foot and by bike, and I always liked farmland, open land. It just takes me back to my childhood."

Bernd planted his first trees in his parent's backyard when his family moved to Scarborough in 1958. Gail grew up in Oxford County and was happy to return home after getting a job at the University of Waterloo in the early 90s. Bernd says they looked at several homes and properties in the region before finding one they absolutely loved. 

"The first thing we did was look at the soil map of Oxford County, and we came out here and dug a hole, and sure enough, it was sandy loam."

The Brandts got to work planting trees, starting on a smaller scale with trees from a previous project in Victoria County. Bernd says they got in touch with the Grand River Conservation Authority in 1994 for the first plantings in Oxford.

"Later, after a dry winter, we had so much erosion from the plowed fields that I started planting windbreaks, about 800 feet long. Each windbreak had three rows of trees. Before that, we planted trees along the creek that runs along here to combat erosion, and we tried to minimize the damage."

Bernd estimates that he has planted over 50,000 trees in his lifetime after planting that first tree as a child in Scarborough in 1958. Together with Gail, the couple has planted well over 25,000 trees on their Oxford County property over the past 30 years.

The Brandts use the farm for their horses and have started growing hay for feed on about 10 acres.  Part of the hayfield was wet and underperforming.  In 2021 the Brandts and Ducks Unlimited agreed to create five distinct wetlands to capture runoff from the adjacent fields. Nicknamed the 'Corner Lake,' 'North West Passage,' "Hidden Lakes," Mill Pond," and "Turkey Lakes," the wetlands, including the pollinator meadow, were designed by Ducks Unlimited. They feature basking logs and stumps for waterfowl and turtles. The pollinator meadow was seeded in the fall of 2022.

Some birds and other wildlife have already explored the pools to quench their thirst, swim and search for food or nesting sites.

The Brandts took up farming ten years ago (Bernd at age 70) and have shown no signs of slowing down in their stewardship efforts over the years. Bernd still loves planting trees and being a good steward of the land he loves.

"To me, a bare field is a tree-planting opportunity. My favourite kind of forest has lots of different species and sizes of trees."