Monthly Archives: February 2014

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Hens in the snow

Hens in the snow

The chickens are definitely under-impressed with all the snow over the past couple of days. As am I, to be honest. The worst part of this deluge has been the strange nature of the precipitation – a mix of rain, snow, ice pellet, and sleet. It’s just warm enough that there’s a good foot of slush in places and plenty of running (gushing) water everywhere. It’s just cold enough that the snow is sticking and making it horrible to walk/carry hay/function outside.

It is now pouring as I write this… if the temperatures creep up over night, much of this mess will have washed away by morning. If the temperatures go the other way… oh, my – I don’t even want to think about the mess my hill will be by the time morning rounds roll around… Yuck!

Poor M. C. from Germany thought he’d come to Vancouver Island because it’s relatively warm and snow free. Hah!! Instead he wound up having to build bridges out of logs and pallets so we could safely navigate the deep mud slushy in the hog pen. So much for my ‘start seeds’ and ‘prepare garden beds’ plan…

Large Black Hogs in the Snow

Inside their hog hut, Pearl and Olivia build fluffy nests out of hay and then burrow in and snuggle up together. They seem to be dealing with the nasty weather remarkably well, all things considered.

Aside

Apparently, it is quite possible to have a week so busy that there isn’t even enough mental energy left over to post even a teeny tiny blog post. Three completely different presentations in three different municipalities on two days didn’t … Continue reading

First Batch of Big Leaf Maple Syrup!

Our first batch of Big Leaf Maple syrup is very, very tasty…

Maple Syrup!

Maple Syrup!

Some things I did not know about making maple syrup…

1. The sap when it first comes out of the tree is really watery – somehow I thought it was more like thick, sticky sap like the stuff that gets stuck in your hair if you climb pine trees on warm spring days. It’s more like water.

2. Sap doesn’t drip slowly and take forever to collect. If you hit a good vein (or whatever the appropriate term is…), it virtually gushes out of the tree. The little wine bladders we initially used were way too small and we’ve switched to 18 liter water jugs.

3. The flow varies widely from tree to tree, from day to day, and depending on time of day, temperature, and recent temperature fluctuations…

4. It takes about 40 liters of tree sap/water to make about 1 liter of syrup, which is why all that maple syrup making back east used to be done outdoors (that’s a whole lot of steam to fog up your windows). Boiling maple syrup is probably still done outdoors for that reason. We set up a hot plate on the deck for the first phase of boiling and only moved the pans inside as we got close to the end.

5. It takes FOREVER to boil off 39 liters of water.

6. It takes a nanosecond to go from boiling water to scorched syrup! At the end, the temperature rises very quickly as the percentage of sugar increases and it’s really easy to overshoot the mark, burn the syrup, and lose a whole batch! With four of us watching over the bubbling pots and alarms set on digital thermometers, we dodged this particular bullet, but I can see how easy it would be for everything to go terribly wrong.

7. Does it taste like maple syrup? Yep. Except with a stronger flavour – there’s a sort of woodsy undertone that is richer than the store bought pure maple syrup from back east. There is no comparison to regular pancake syrup made with corn syrup – that is very sweet, but has none of the complex flavour of this stuff!

8. Are we happy campers? Oh. Yes. Indeed.

9. Will we have any for sale? Maybe not this year – we started this whole tapping/boiling process a bit late in the season, but next year we’ll get started in November. Because we are on the west coast we can collect from November to early March, which gives us a whole lot of raw material to work with. This has been a great test, though – we’ll keep sugaring for the next couple of weeks and learn what we can and then next year we will start early and see how much we can produce.

What treasure lies at the end of your rainbow? (Weekly photo challenge: Treasure)

Guess what lies right at the bottom of this rainbow? Our big leaf maples! Those same maples that are dribbling sweet sap through tubes into collection vessels… The same sap that is bubbling away on the finishing stage of our first ever batch of Dark Creek Maple Syrup!!!! Treasure, indeed!

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Interesting Opportunity for the Right Person – Farm Manager at O.U.R. Ecovillage

What an exhausting day! Though the bit where I slogged through the mud in the lower hog pen  trying to find out where the electric fence was shorting out was somewhat wearying (and worrying, I discovered said problem when I went down to do the afternoon feed rounds and found the boar, Pompadour, hanging out with Cora and the four boar younglings… wrong side of the fence!!), the exhaustion was a result of spending most of the day with the lovely folks from O.U.R. Ecovillage at our local Seedy Saturday event.

My apologies for the shocking lack of photos - it was SO BUSY!!! I hardly had time to breathe, never mind snap photos...

My apologies for the shocking lack of photos – it was SO BUSY!!! I hardly had time to breathe, never mind snap photos…

My daughter works up at the Ecovillage part time and we (our farm and the Ecovillage) do a bit of collaborating on projects, so we brought some of our eggs to sell at their table while helping the ecovillagers chat with members of the public about the very cool work that goes on at the village. Give me a pile of fence posts and a post-hole digger and a mile of fencing to tackle and I think I’d be less bagged at the end of the day. How can it possibly be so tiring to smile and chat? Inside, no less – no torrential downpour, no nosey boar nudging the backs of my knees, no howling wind…

O.U.R. Ecovillage is a pretty nifty place – 25 acres of sustainable farming and natural building projects… educational programs, permaculture projects – and a whole lot more. An intentional community, here’s how they try to do the quick summary on their website:

Vision: Sustainable well-being for the land, ourselves, and our worldwide village
Mission: To educate and inspire by establishing a thriving learning community and permaculture demonstration site that actively stewards sacred knowledge and a sense of place.

The Ecovillage is currently looking for a farm manager – a full time position best suited to someone interested in living on site, someone with a knowledge of (or interest in) permaculture, and ideally someone who knows both livestock and crop production. There’s a detailed job description here: please pass the info along to any farmer-types who might be interested.

Here’s a bit of trivia for you… When Dani and I were working on the early draft of  our new book on homes around the world, we stayed in the Sanctuary at the Ecovillage. Here’s a photo:

sanctuary-labrynth

The structure (built using various natural building methods including cob and straw bale) is about the best place possible to write a book about housing past, present, and future…

It was great seeing so many familiar faces today – and having a chance to meet so many new people interested in the work being done up at the village. We sold some eggs and bought some seeds – and several varieties of seed potatoes. I love harvesting whatever we are growing, but there is something extra special about digging up fresh spuds. For one thing, it’s always a bit like digging for buried treasure – you never quite know what’s lurking down there under the soil. And, for another thing, DELICIOUS!! I like potatoes pretty well any way they might be prepared, but there is just something about freshly dug potatoes consumed right after harvest that makes me drool… Like right now my keyboard is in mortal danger of getting clogged up because I am salivating just thinking about how good those meals are going to be in just a few short months! And, yes, some of those spuds will also be making their way into our CSA goody boxes… Which reminds me, I really have to get on with adding the CSA page to the website. Not tonight… refer to earlier comment about being bagged. But soon, soon – I promise!

Big Leaf Maple Sugaring!

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Because we don’t really have a lot to do around here, we’ve decided to see if we can squeeze a few drops of maple sugar from our big leaf maple trees! [Curious about tapping west coast maples? Here’s a good link with lots of information.)

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T. got all excited about the prospect of making our own syrup, so off he went to gather supplies – spiles, tubing, and wine bladders (from a local You Brew wine shop). 

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It was so easy to get holes drilled and everything set up I can’t believe that every maple tree in the area hasn’t been tapped! The ease of sap collection is likely to be offset by the lengthy process that lies ahead… The ratio of sap to syrup is about 40:1 so we have a lot of boiling ahead of us! Stay tuned… 

 

 

Save the ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) Rally – Victoria, BC

ALR Rally 01

The sun came out and shone on a large crowd gathered on the lawns of the legislative buildings today at the Food for the Future Rally. Many thanks are due to the organizers, the sterling lineup of speakers, and even more importantly, the families and individuals who showed up to make it known that there are plenty of citizens who do not support the government’s move to dismantle the ALR. We are fortunate here in BC to have landmark legislation in place to protect farmland from development. Here’s hoping the powers that be take note and respect the wishes of those who are determined to protect what little farmland we have left.

ALR Rally 06

ALR Rally 07

ALR Rally 05 ALR Rally 04

ALR 02Though the day was warm, there was still some sparkly evidence of the recent cold snap.

alr rally o3One question… who ARE those guys up on the balcony that show up at every protest and take photos of the crowd with their long camera lenses?

ALR Rally 08Who are you working for, gentlemen? And what are you doing with the images?