S is for Spuds (and Shadow)

Shadow Farmer

Shadow Farmer

In the depths of winter when the grass stops growing we stop moving the chicken pen so frequently – there’s not much point. The hens would just decimate whatever area they were parked on. Instead, we add fresh hay and veggies each day along with the hens’ ration of feed and then let them scratch away. They do nibble at the hay, but over time the hay layers build up. The combination of chicken manure and hay creates a lovely environment for worms and other grubs and the hens wind up having quite a good time scratching around hunting for these tasty morsels.

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Now that the spring is here we are moving the pen more often and this has left a trail of patches of heavily mulched/prepped potato beds. We’ve been planting potatoes for the past month or so and will continue to add straw, etc as the plants begin to grow. Next year, we will have the foundation for some nice new beds to which we can add some well-rotted compost and soiled bedding from the hen houses and we can plant some heavy-feeding plants down in the same area.

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The dogs have a whole field to run around in, but without fail, they prefer to frolic right in the new beds, which is why I was seen hiking along the road with a huge roll of portable fencing over my shoulder. This should help keep the dogs off the potatoes!

IMG_9209[1]Many thanks to LS and ME for their help getting this job done.

 

Varieties planted: Sieglinde, banana fingerlings, Russian blue, Russian fingerlings, Warba

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R is for Riding Ringo

R is for Riding Ringo

Look past the fuzzy winter coat and you’ll find a cute pony in there! C. from Austria is an exchange student staying with our neighbours for a semester. She’s been helping get the horses back in shape after a long, wet winter off… It’s great to see that grass growing and the sun coming out a little more often!

Q is for Question of the Week

Earlier this week, one of our visitors walked into the kitchen where Dani was cooking dinner and said, “I hear you are cooking guinea pigs for dinner?”

This took Dani aback. We have been known to experiment with all kinds of food here, but so far, guinea pigs have not made it to the frying pan.

“Guinea pigs?”

“You are testing recipes? Right?”

The penny dropped. “Oh! You ARE the guinea pigs! Yes!”

Indeed, I had warned our visitors that Dani was going to be using us as guinea pigs when she tested recipes for this season’s Goody Boxes (which is what we call our CSA program). Chard was the featured vegetable and we had a couple of dishes which were chard-centric, including a really tasty version of dolmades. Typically, one rolls yummalicious stuff inside grape leaves, but being short of those, it turns out large chard leaves make a perfectly acceptable substitution. Something was lost in translation when I explained all that and given that I’d gone to great lengths to explain some of the options we have been looking into for our protein box customers, it’s hardly surprising that we had a bit of a misunderstanding.

Subscribers to our protein box this year can look forward to locally produced lamb, pork, turkey, duck, chicken, and various other unusual meats like rabbit, bison, venison, and ostrich (depending on availability). So far, though, the guinea pigs of Vancouver Island are safe – there are no plans to include them on the menu!

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Tonight, after another delicious feast thanks to Dani and Toryn (Easter is a wonderful excuse to bake a ham …) we all painted eggs. Perhaps inspired by the beer bread, LS painted this ode to ale on an egg, just one of many fab creations he came up with after the dishes were cleared and the paint and eggs came out.

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Everyone got into the act and before long bouquets of eggs were sprouting up all over the place! Yep. Spring is most definitely here!

P is for Portland (bet you thought I was going to say ‘piglets’)

Technically, the day isn’t over, so there is still a chance Olivia will deliver, but when I was down at the hog hut a little while ago, she seemed uninterested in going into labour. Even without playing midwife to a recalcitrant sow, it has been a busy day. With the help of current volunteers ME (Austria) and LS (Berlin) we flew through the morning rounds and then headed up to OUR Ecovillage to attend the Mark Lakeman talk titled, Re-becoming Villagers.

ME having a look at the Sanctuary at OUR Ecovillage

ME having a look at the Sanctuary at OUR Ecovillage

Here’s a quick video, if you are interested in some of Lakeman’s ideas about re-imagining our urban spaces.

I love the solar-powered cat palace! In today’s talk he also showed slides of the coolest Chicken Coop on the planet! If I had known about it before Dani and I went to Portland a couple of years ago I would have made a pilgrimage! Of course, the City Repair Project and Urban Permaculture Design is not all about making life comfortable for chickens and cats. At its heart, this way of thinking is all about making our grid-organized urban centres into spaces where people can once again find community. The ideas are so simple and yet we seem to collectively have forgotten that we need places to gather, to sit, to stroll to – places where we can share gardens and water holes. Transforming a section of suburbia can start with the simple addition of a bench or two, planting food-bearing trees and vines, and adding personal/artistic touches designed and then created by neighbourhood residents.

Portland has been leading a revolution in terms of such community-led initiatives and the work being done there has inspired similar projects all over North America.

I was a tad bummed that I had to leave after the morning’s talk and before I had a chance to connect with everyone over lunch and then participate in the afternoon’s hands-on session.

Many thanks to LS who took a few photos of the goings on…

dcf lakeman design

How would you redesign the intersection closest to your house?

lakeman draws photo by LC

Sigh. However, I had to race back to Victoria to take part in a Food Swap, leaving ME and LS behind.

The Food Swap was pretty cool (literally – it was pouring – we were all very glad to be under cover of a tent as the event was held outside). The concept is simplicity itself – take food of which you have lots (I, for example, currently have lots of eggs as all the girls are laying and the CSA and markets don’t start up for another few weeks) and trade for goodies you fancy. I came home with a nifty assortment of unique items like flavoured salts, macaroons, lemon squares, homemade BBQ sauce, fancy tea, beef jerky, and fresh rosemary and bay leaves. The items available to swap and the quantities people were willing to swap for was all up for negotiation. It was a lot of fun to see what everyone brought and to bring home some very tasty treats to share with everyone here back at the homestead.

Victoria Food Swap

If you are in the Greater Victoria area, check out the Victoria Food Swap Facebook Page or blog  for more information. The location will change each month to make the event convenient for as many people as possible.

O is for Oh, Oh Ornery Olivia

And so another fitful night passes in the truck and still no piglets. This waiting around reminds me of my mare’s gestation. Horses are notorious for being flexible in their due dates and, apparently, though nature more or less decides what day the foal will arrive, the mare can control the hour.

Bonny and Brio

Bonny and Con Brio, about 3 weeks old

Given this was our first foal (come to think of it, our first birth) on the farm, we wanted to be well prepared. We built a new foaling shed and fenced a new paddock so mare and foal could have some privacy. I readied a garden lounge chair, sleeping bag, and flashlight. We took Bonny’s temperature twice a day and dutifully kept a chart, watching for the telltale temperature drop that would indicate the imminent arrival of the foal. Dad and I went on a now legendary shopping expedition to the drug store to beef up our equine medical kit. The list of purchases was a bizarre one – everything from balls of string to latex gloves to baby bottles to half a dozen giant tubes of personal lubricant. I cannot imagine what the other shoppers or the sales clerk were imagining when they saw the two of us and this unlikely assortment of goodies. We fondled Bonny’s udder for days and when it seemed she was about to pop, I started camping.

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Brio has always been quite the character. Here she is smooching with her farrier, Mitch.

Bonny was always a roller and even though she was hugely pregnant at this point, this did not stop her for indulging in one of her favourite activities. Each time she rolled that first night I slept in the lawn chair (it seemed like six hundred times, but was probably more like every hour) I leaped out of the sleeping bag convinced she was in labour or colicking or something dire… Nope. Just rolling in the grass, snacking a bit while she was down there, heaving herself to her feet, looking curiously at me and my flashlight.

Another night passed and another and another. TWO WEEKS passed and still no foal!! By this time, Bonny was the size of an elephant and I was exhausted. She was still rolling around on a regular basis (though by this point she couldn’t get all the way over any more and had to roll on one side, lumber to her feet, turn over, and roll on the other side), her temperature was dipping and rising, her udder was the size of a cow’s, and it didn’t seem possible she could hang on to that foal any longer.

Conventional wisdom says that mares are most likely to foal in the wee hours of the morning, so I wasn’t so concerned when I left Dad on mare watch while I went off to do a short shift at the bookstore where I worked at the time, I had no sooner arrived late in the afternoon when Dad called the store in a panic. “What do I do? It’s happening!”

“Call the vet! What’s she doing now?”

There were strangled cries from the other end of the line, grunting and then Dad came back and shouted into the phone, “It’s here! It just plopped out on the grass! It’s trying to stand up! Oh no!”

Then there were fumbling sounds, more grunting and a bit of swearing, and Dad came back on the line, panting – “It’s trying to stand up but it’s going to fall on the electric fence!! Come back! Drive fast! I’m holding it up!”

The line went dead and I sprinted out of the store and raced for home. That was the longest 20 minutes of my life and by the time I got back home, it was all over. The cutest little foal in the world was standing up in the wobbly way of foals. The vet was there, scratching the filly’s backside. Bonny was completely unperturbed. Within another half an hour Con Brio was nursing and an hour after that was cantering around the field before collapsing in the grass for a short nap.

I could not believe I missed the big event after my lengthy stakeout!

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Brio’s most recent lesson in being a horse… here, being introduced to the spike harrow.

 

N is for Neverending Nights of Nothingness

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Nada. Nothing. Nobody. Nary a piglet in sight. Honestly, I am beginning to wonder what sort of mind games Olivia is playing with me! Last night as I snuggled into my sleeping bag on piglet watch once again, it started to rain rather hard. Over the roar of raindrops on the roof of the truck cab, Iago’s (the barn cat) wailing was so piteous I could not resist and let her inside.

I was as stretched out as possible on the back seat in the cab and each of the dogs had staked out a front seat. When the cat arrived, our peaceful arrangement went to he!! in a handbasket. First, Iago visited each of the dogs, purring and chirping and rubbing her head against their faces. This is a peculiar kind of torture from the dogs’ perspective – they know they are not allowed to chase the cat and inside the cab, there is hardly room to turn around, never mind play tag.

After she had tormented the dogs, Iago crawled into the back with me and plunked herself on my head, purring and cuddling. This was too much for Tuulen, whose jealous tendencies are legendary. He leaped into the back seat and squeezed himself behind me. There followed a licking war. Tuulen licked the cat, the cat licked me – each tried to be cuter and more cuddly than the other so I would stroke only cat or dog, but not both.

Iago sat on Tuulen’s head so she could have better access to my face and stop him from talking to me. He protested by pushing her out of the way and trying to wriggle out from behind me and onto my pillow… He is far too big to fit on my pillow, particularly when that space is being defended by a determined cat.

Meanwhile, I was getting pretty desperate for sleep, so I burrowed under my sleeping bag and left them to fight out their turf war somewhere above me. Eventually, after both had fallen off me and the back seat a couple of times, they each managed to stake out an acceptable bit of territory and fall asleep.

I must say I was toasty warm, but man, oh man – what I would give for a decent night’s sleep in my own bed!! Come on, Olivia! Deliver!

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M is for Moss and Maybe a Mushroom?

M is for Moss and Maybe a Mushroom?

I’m actually not sure whether that’s some sort of fungus-mushroom thing (my knowledge in this area is minimal… microscopic… miniscule…) or some kind of squidgy alien being. The photo was taken on the day of our recent expedition to the Kinsol Trestle. But, I like the photo (which is so quintessentially west coast wet) and am heading out into the rain to spend another night camped out in the truck on piglet watch, so I don’t have time to craft an m-filled missive. There. I’m all caught up on my A-to-Z posts!! For now. We shall see what the morrow brings!