Monthly Archives: December 2013

More or Less Tree?

Our tree this year has a definite bitter-sweet flavour to it. About ten years ago (maybe more?) we bought a lovely blue spruce tree in a pot as our Christmas tree. It was small and bushy and blue and kind of cute. It was stocky and short-limbed, which meant it was perfect for a modest number of weighty decorations. Not that we had a lot of baubles made of stone or solid gold, but had we possessed such items the tree could have handled them without a problem.

After the season was over, we removed the single string of lights (short, stubby tree = minimal lighting requirements) and then hauled the tree, still in its pot, outside. There it happily stayed until the following year. In its second year it was a bit bigger, but not horribly so, and we were able to bring it back inside and repeat the process. In year two we added a second string of lights and noticed that the branches were a bit longer and so could hang a few more sparkly balls and some of the painted wooden decorations we have had for many, many years.

As the tree grew we were able to add more decorations and lights...

[E. Colin Williams]

After Year Two was over, we took the tree back outside, but when spring came, it put out a lot of new bright blue-green growth at the ends of its branches and really looked like a tree that was straining to get out of its pot. We debated whether or not to find a bigger pot and continue to drag it back and forth, but then we decided that we would find the blue spruce a permanent home.

The middle of the front lawn seemed like a good idea at the time and the blue spruce eventually came around and agreed. After a full year of standing there considering its options, it decided to be happy and grow. This it did with great enthusiasm. For the next several years we dressed it up outside in outdoor lights and shared its festive loveliness with the neighoburhood.

The blue spruce got happier and happier and grew and grew until it was over 20 feet tall and strong enough to climb. (I know this because last year we climbed it to install a video camera pointed at the house so various relatives around the world could monitor the progress of our major house renovation.)

The house renovation was no small project. We gutted our low, dark bungalow, ripped the roof off, and built a two storey extension. The formerly low, wood-panelled living room became an airy, open space with a cathedral ceiling. For a while, when the place was basically not much more than the foundation covered with a tarp, we all had to move and I found myself watching the renovation progress via that camera in the blue spruce while I was holed up in a lofty suite in a neighbourhood barn.

As we approached our first Christmas back in the house this year, we realized two things. First, we couldn’t really put a tiny tree in that new open space with the soaring ceiling. We were going to need a big tree. The second thing we realized was the blue spruce was no longer in the middle of the front lawn but in the middle of the planned parking area outside the new front entrance to the house.

We looked at each other and then at the blue spruce and then T. trotted off to find a chainsaw.

When you have a special bond with a tree it feels nearly as awful to chop it down as it does to have a favourite cat put to sleep. On the less tragic side, it was quite lovely to think that our little potted tree was now magnificent enough to fill the space in the new house. It was certainly a more glamourous final farewell than sending it unceremoniously through the chipper.

With considerable effort, the now huge tree was dragged trunk first into the house and set up in the place of honour in front of the big picture windows. It took a very tall guy on a big ladder to get the lights up to the top. One or two strings of light were not going to be adequate – 800 lights later, it looked pretty sparkly. And decorations? Fortunately future son-in-law came along with boxes of tree goodies and between what he had and what we had and some new shiny baubles, we somehow managed to fill that tree.

Tall guy on a big ladder... still had trouble reaching to top!

Tall guy on a big ladder… still had trouble reaching to top!

Despite the fact it has an odd jog in the trunk toward the top this is both the mostly lovely tree we have ever had — and the saddest. Whenever I see it I send it a thought bubble that says, “I’m planting two more out there for you…”

When the blue spruce comes down for the last time, we will chip the smaller branches and use the chippings as mulch in the garden beds or add it to the compost pile. The trunk will provide some firewood for our neighbours with a fireplace. And so, the tree will continue to give back, improving the soil and helping our veggies grow and keeping the neighbours warm.

Which was better? The small, potted version or the massive, room-filling vision of Christmas cheer? How could there be a better? It was the same tree, after all. Which, I suppose, serves as a good reminder that change is the only constant and that we are all coming and going and reinventing ourselves as we grow and age. Eventually, if we are lucky, we leave something of ourselves behind to nourish the next generation.


Note to Self: Read These Books

Recently, I’ve been struggling a bit with having a tad too much on my plate (people who know me well will be laughing as I always have too much on my plate!) There’s full, there’s heaping, and then there’s stuff falling off the sides and spilling all over my nice clean shirt..

When that happens, one of the first things that gets cut is my reading time. I have a couple of excellent books sitting beside me that I am bound and determined to take a little time to read over the next little while. The turkeys have been sent off to their various dinner parties, the little hogs are growing apace, and the new litters are some way off in the future. Any eggs that are being laid now are being collected and sold so there is something like a breather about to happen – nobody incubating, hatching, brooding, or being moved around from field to field.

And, a breather means a bit of time to read! Here are a few of the titles I am dying to dive into…

The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times: Including the Five Crops You Need to Survive and Thrive – Potatoes, Corn, Beans, Squash, and Eggs

Right off the top, the book wins the prize for longest title! Skimming and dipping, it is full of all sorts of practical advice that reflects the current realities of wild weather, takes into account personal gardening styles, and is practical and down to earth. Nutrition, soil building, and nuts and bolts how-to information throughout, this looks like a terrific resource. I’ll try to remember to do a proper review when I’ve actually read it properly, but certainly one that looks like it deserves some time.

By coincidence, the next book on my must-read stack also includes the word Resilience in the title. Perhaps that will be my theme word for the next year!

The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach: With Practical Information on Landshaping, Water Security, Perennial Crops, Soil Fertility, Nutrient-Dense Food, and More, by Ben Falk

(OK, I take that bit back about the first book having the longest title…)

Colour photos, graphs, and diagrams make this book visually appealing and a quick peruse has me salivating at the thought of taking it to a quiet place and turning pages. I would dearly love to take a permaculture design course, but that seems an unlikely thing to happen in the foreseeable future. This book looks like it covers lots of permaculture territory with a holistic approach to selecting the land and then creating a self-sufficient, healthy homestead thereon. Hmm. Just how late can I stay up before I keel over?

The book won me over completely with an image of horses being used to haul a log subsequently used in a building project. Most excellent!

And, finally, this one has got me very excited about the fact we are now officially on the slide toward spring!

Product Details

From Seed to Table: A Practical Guide to Eating and Growing Green
by Janette Haase

The focus of Haase’s book is on growing the most in a modestly-proportioned home garden. Organized by month, there are tons of lists and charts, and diagrams of garden beds as well as very practical what-to-do-now instructions. Each month (or two, a couple are combined) features recipes, so if you are seriously trying to get serious about eating local and in-season, this one looks like a goodie!

It’s likely a bit late to put these on your holiday wish list (unless you are a Kindle shopper), but it’s never too late to check them out from your local library or treat yourself to a bit of inspirational reading at any time of the year!

Have you read any of these? If you had to suggest a great farming/homesteading/gardening how-to book to a sort of busy person, which one would it be?

The Shortest Day

There is a strange beauty in the dark, particularly when it's snowing.

There is a strange beauty in the dark, particularly when it’s snowing.

Racing around like a mad woman today trying to get the turkeys to the processor, hay loaded and unloaded, everyone fed and watered, paperwork more or less in order for tomorrow’s turkey pick-up and sale, it was hard to remember that the Winter Solstice is a day of joy and cause for celebration. Mostly, I was wishing I had just a few more minutes of daylight so I could get a few more things done outside.

The farm at night...

The farm at night…


Though it’s tempting to just keep on rushing to try to squeeze just a bit more into each short day, poems like The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper are a good reminder that this is a time for celebration of a very elemental sort.

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

Scenes like this make me want to make wildly atmospheric movies where melancholy reigns supreme and a desperately lonely old man gazes off a cliff edge and is held back only by the presence of the loyal sheepdog at his side.

Scenes like this make me want to make wildly atmospheric movies where melancholy reigns supreme and a desperately lonely old man gazes off a cliff edge and is held back only by the presence of the loyal sheepdog at his side.

So there you go, my mood is perfectly balanced between frenetic and celebratory and plain old gloomy, kind of like the Winter Solstice itself.

Oh, the Mighty Cart!


The garden cart continues to out-do itself in the versatility department.

The lamb, Blackberry is a lot heavier than she looks and absolutely not interested in leaving her kinfolk. However, she is too young to breed this year so now that Babar is in with the ewes and the ram lambs are getting frisky, Blackberry has to go on a little vacation with the goats.

Turned out the easiest and least stressful way to move her was in the garden cart!

Soon enough she will be back with her own kind, but meanwhile she is safe and sound with her distant cousins.

Welcome, Babar! Go Away, Snow! (NABLOPOMO)

Welcome, good sir...

Welcome, good sir…

Babar the Cotswold ram arrived today and is now in with the ewes to be bred. Given it was a perpetual motion kind of day, it’s actually a minor miracle I managed to get this quick (terrible) shot when our new boy arrived in the sheep shelter. It didn’t help that he had no interest in posing, but immediately dove into the grain bucket…

After polishing off the few morsels of grain left in the tub, he shot out the door and chased the girls around. I'm sure he's thinking he's arrived in a pretty cool place!

After polishing off the few morsels of grain left in the tub, he shot out the door and chased the girls around. I’m sure he’s thinking he’s arrived in a pretty cool place! This did not, however, make for a relaxed photo session.

Rushing around for the humans continued after the ram delivery – had to do a bit of Christmas shopping (it’s never too late to get started…) and then convince all the Christmas turkeys that, yes, they really were going to bunk up together even though they hardly know the rejects from the breeding group. How, exactly, they can tell each other apart, I don’t know – but they certainly keep track of who’s who and today there was an awful lot of restructuring going on in the turkey hierarchy.

Then, the rest of the evening chores by headlamp as the turkey rodeo went on for far too long and darkness overtook me before I was done… A very long sigh when I spotted Olivia’s piglets ambling around nonchalantly with the adult hogs (what!?). Nothing to be done at that point except open up all the gates between the pens to make sure everyone could find room in a proper shelter during the night.

Good thing I did so because when I went down to the barn to do the late hay rounds for the horses and goats, it looked like the farm had been transplanted into the inside of a snow globe.Okay. Thank you. That's enough snow now... Okay. Thank you. That’s enough snow now…

No relief in sight (except, perhaps, for the snow… the temperatures are supposed to stay mild, so I doubt this will stick around for long). Busy, busy for the next few days and right into the holidays. Despite myself, I am feeling most definitely festive!

NABLOPOMO – How to Make a Hog Waterer from a Garbage Can

New hog watering can in place...

New hog watering can in place…

A quick, nearly wordless Wednesday water update…

Wedged securely between two trees and flanked by 2 X 6’s, so far, it hasn’t moved an inch. The piglets caught on right away and have been happily slurping, but Cora remains unconvinced this is worth her time. I’ve been putting small amounts of water in the blue dish in front to give her the idea this is a good place to be looking for water and, as I say, the piglets are happy to drink from the hog nipple, but it looks like Momma is going to take a little longer to catch on.

Meanwhile, there is still water in her old tub, but I’ll continue to encourage her to check out the lovely CLEAN water, unpolluted by duck butts or hog snouts…

(For more info and photos re. how we built this, check out the post from a few days ago…)

NABLOPOMO – Sorting – More of These, Less of Those

The next few days look like they are going to have a similar theme: sorting and reorganizing.


[Image D. Craig, Min of Agriculture] – Some of last year’s Toms in the breeding group.

The Christmas birds are going to be processed on the 21st which means I’ll need to pick the very best birds to hold back for breeding. I’l be looking for decent size and reasonable growth speed (there are two groups – a younger and an older and there are birds from the younger group that are actually much bigger than birds from the older lot), decent temperament, and, finally, more or less correct colouring. I’ll keep 2-4 Toms in the breeding group and 10-12 hens. That way, if someone comes along who would like a breeding trio, we can accommodate them. The birds will be useful through the breeding season, producing a good variety of poults for sale as well as my next year’s Christmas birds. Some of those breeding birds will have reached a good size by summer and when the laying and hatching season is over, some of those can be processed for a few Thanksgiving customers. I will likely also hold back some of the scrawny stragglers for the same purpose.

We are also slowly building a customer list of people who are interested in turkey eggs for eating. We love them, but it is very uncommon to find eating eggs in stores (can you think of a time you saw a carton of turkey eggs at a shop?) and it just doesn’t occur to people that turkey eggs are an option for the frying pan or baking.

Without the competition from the larger flock and some extra time, the smaller birds will have a chance to grow out in time for Easter or Thanksgiving of next year. Carrying more than 15-20 birds year round gets very expensive – commercial organic feed is exorbitant and during the winter months there isn’t much decent pasture for the birds to devour. And devour they do! Hungry turkeys eat an incredible amount each day and though I supplement with hay and veggies and softened alfalfa cubes (plus whatever they manage to find themselves), the feed bill gets out of hand very fast when I’m feeding too many birds.

Of course, the keepers and those destined for fine dining are to be found scattered between my two main groups of turkeys, which are raised in two different locations. This will mean penning, sorting, and transporting birds from A to B and B to A and then, the night before they leave the farm, loading the dining birds into the stock trailer for the short ride to the processor. We will also need to make sure we have more or less the correct number of birds of approximately the right size to fill the turkey orders.


[Image D. Craig, Min of Agriculture] Freckles, one of the ewes soon to be introduced to the ram, Babar.

Meanwhile, our new  Cotswold ram will move from the farm where he has been spending the past number of weeks to the sheep fields. But, before he can get here, we need to move the ram lambs to their own field and separate the small ewe lamb who is too young to breed (she will spend the next couple of months hanging out with the goats). Only then can we introduce the new ram to the ewes to be bred for late spring lambs in 2014.

The ducklings from this summer are now also ready to process, though whether or not I can get coordinated to run them up island before the holidays are full upon us is another question. The ducks will stay with the layers (each year we increase the numbers a bit to try to keep up with demand) and all but two of the drakes will go for processing.


[Image: D. Craig, Ministry of Agriculture] Pompadour, our Large Black Hog boar, ready to do his duty and sire more piglets.

And, finally, the piglets still are not fully sorted and reorganized. Olivia’s piglets are in a separate paddock but after a spectacular bolt down the hill and through an electric mesh fence, Cora is back in with her little ones. We will give that another go, perhaps tomorrow, to see if we can’t get all the weaners in one place and all the sows back together in another. Pompadour will then be called upon to woo the two mothers and we will continue to watch Pearl closely for telltale signs that she is pregnant (she has been in with him for a month or so now, so it won’t be long before she starts to bulge a bit).

The chicken sorting can wait until the new year, but not too long as the heritage birds do take their own sweet time starting to lay, so an early start is definitely an advantage. Wimpy will get to move into his own area with the four gorgeous Black Orpington girls who are now mature and ready to get to work in the spring.


[Image: D. Craig, Ministry of Agriculture] Bill, the light Brahma rooster yelling about something… probably protesting my plan to take away his stunning Black Orpington girls and give them to Wimpy.

So, for the next few days it’s going to be all about counting and patience, because even though it may seem like a simple thing to move some piglets from pen A to pen B and sort out a few dozen turkeys, the critters seem to have a knack for being particularly uncooperative when their routines change. Wish me luck!