Monthly Archives: March 2014

German-engineered Cookies

Can you spot the German-made cookie?

Can you spot the German-made cookie?

Last night I popped a batch of oatmeal/chocolate chip drop cookies into the oven right as I was racing out the door to do the dusk rounds. I asked the Germans if they might be able to pull the cookies out when they were done. Without hesitation the Germans said they could manage, though they couldn’t guarantee there would be any left by the time I returned.

When I eventually got back to the house an hour or so later, not only had the first batch been removed from the oven and cooled, the rest of the batter had been turned into cookies as well. When I looked at the second batch, though, they looked totally different! No blobby, random-shaped, ‘arty’ cookies were these. Instead, each must have contained an identical amount of dough which had been shaped into the most perfectly round cookies ever to have come out of my oven!

The boys explained that the random blobs created by the scoop and drop method just didn’t look right and they couldn’t imagine how they would shape themselves into cookies. The German-engineered solution resulted in lovely, uniform cookies. Not that any of them lasted very long. Lumpy or lovely, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies disappear pretty fast around here.

Sometimes, You Add an Impossible Task to the To-Do List

When we rebuilt the house, we had to empty it of all our stuff and ourselves. We stashed ourselves in Kelowna, in a guest suite at a neibour’s place, and in a downtown condo… We stashed our stuff in a couple of neighbours’ barns and in a big steel storage box, a shipping container a truck and crane dropped off on the front lawn.

We still have some stuff to sort through in the shipping container, the ultimate destination and purpose for which has yet to be decided. Suggestions have included renting a helicopter to pick it up and lower it into a narrow slot between some cedar trees and an existing outbuilding. In this plan, the container would be converted into a workshop. Another thought was to have the truck and crane return and haul it down to the farm area where it could become the central core of a new barn. This second plan is practical but lacks the excitement of the helicopter lift… We are also undecided as to where, exactly, it would go down in the farm area.

Meanwhile, it has been squatting like an ungainly beast straddling the remaining front lawn and the area that is supposed to be levelled, landscaped, and used for lovely, convenient parking. As we seem unable to decide exactly what to do with it for the long term, we thought we should at least get at the landscaping project, which meant the shipping container needed to be moved.

I have been mightily impressed with the skills and enthusiasm of my volunteer helpers and thought I’d see what might happen if I put “Move shipping container” on the daily To-Do list. It didn’t need to move too far – 20 feet back and a dozen feet over and only a little bit uphill… Those German guys are strong and determined and I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask…

Turns out that if you add a couple of Germans to a conversation with a handy future son-in-law, borrow a winch, maneuver the truck into a strategic position up on the road, run cables and chains and straps through the hedge, use levers and pulleys, a couple of jacks, and wedge some round logs and fence posts underneath… it is possible for three guys to move a shipping container before they’ve even had a chance to grab a sandwich for lunch!!Jpeg

Jpeg

 

IMG_8968[1]

IMG_8965[1]

Compare the relative location of the container and the bricks with the previous picture to see how far they moved that sucker back! Then they had to pry it sideways before jacking it up and levelling it in its new temporary but at least out of the way position.


IMG_8964[1]

 

Jpeg

Jpeg

I am afraid I cannot let these gentlemen go home. Not ever. I wish I had more daughters to marry off… I’ve even taken to baking oatmeal chocolate chip cookies hoping they might want to stay just a little longer…

All in a day's work for my MC and SP. Thanks, guys!!

All in a day’s work for my MC and SP. Thanks, guys!!

 

 

 

How I Know My Neighbours Rock!

When your turkey gets nailed by a passing eagle, you discover who your friends are...

When your turkey gets nailed by a passing eagle, you discover who your friends are…

With the good weather, the grass is starting to grow again, so I’ve been letting the turkeys out of their smaller pen to roam and graze in the strip of grass between me and my neighbor’s place immediately to the north. Things have been going well over the past few weeks as the turkeys have settled into their new routine quite happily. The boys are in full display mode and the girls flirty and happy to accept the Toms’ advances.

I was up at the house just finishing up some computer work when someone banged on my office window and nearly gave me a heart attack! Carol, spattered with blood and holding a turkey hen in her arms stood outside looking like someone who has just had a run-in with a bald eagle. Turns out, she had just had a run-in with a bald eagle!!

She had a front row seat from her place as an eagle swooped down and pinned one of my good-sized hens to the ground. Carol raced outside to come to the hen’s rescue and despite yelling and waving her arms the eagle was very reluctant to relinquish its tasty lunch! When he finally did move, he didn’t go far and it sounds like it was seriously considering taking Carol on as she scooped up the injured bird and sprinted over to my place.

Fortunately, I was at home and with the assistance of my wonderful German volunteer farm helpers, was able to assess the damage. The skin had been torn off on the hen’s back, but that wound seemed fairly superficial. On her right side, though – a couple of puncture wounds from the eagle’s talons and a big piece of flesh ripped off and hanging on…

All things considered, there was very little blood – and the hen was alert and a bit indignant as I checked her over. She was panting and a bit shocky, but remarkably feisty considering her close brush with death. 

I called my other neighbor to the east, the Surgeon’s Wife who caught The Surgeon on his way home from work. He called me right back and stopped in at the local vet’s office to pick up a curved needle and a bit of suture thread on his way home. A few minutes later we had all convened in the Surgeon’s barnyard and made a makeshift operating table on the lid of our feed bin, pulled out into the late afternoon sun so as to take advantage of the light.

Flushing the puncture wounds left by the eagle's talons...

Flushing the puncture wounds left by the eagle’s talons…

The Surgeon donned gloves and flushed out the puncture wounds with hydrogen peroxide. SP (our most recent arrival from Germany) covered the bird’s head with a facecloth, and I held her firmly so we could see what we were doing. Before you could say, “Jeez, I have the best neighbours in the world!” the hen was all stitched up and slathered with antiseptic ointment. SP had already prepared a large dog crate with fresh bedding and a clean towel, the recovery ward for our lucky bird.

The Surgeon deftly tying fancy knots using a pair of pliers! We have a pact to stock up on suture supplies... we've been talking about it for ages and today was a great example why basic stitching materials are essential to have on hand.

The Surgeon deftly tying fancy knots using a pair of pliers! We have a pact to stock up on suture supplies… we’ve been talking about it for ages and today was a great example why basic stitching materials are essential to have on hand.

Stitching up the patient...

Stitching up the patient…

At least, I hope she will continue to recover. I checked on her an hour ago and she was actually up and walking around, looking steady on her feet, bright and perky in her demeanor. We shall see how she does overnight. If we get lucky and a terrible infection doesn’t set in, she might just survive the ordeal.

Whew! We were both glad when the field surgery was over and done with!

Whew! We were both glad when the field surgery was over and done with!

I can’t express how grateful I am to everyone who jumped in to help save the turkey hen. Keep your fingers crossed she will make a full recovery!

 

When a Field Becomes a Bog and Eats a Big Truck

We have had a lot of rain here recently. The ground is saturated and at our place, winter springs have appeared in places where we’ve never seen them before. Being on a hill, most of our water runs off and causes standing water problems elsewhere. Over at Maypenny Farm (the destination for the young hogs), the field where we were to drop off the hog shelter looked deceptively field-like but, in fact, was more like a deep bog disguised with a top crust of soil and grass.

The field didn't look so very wet...

The field didn’t look so very wet…

It didn’t take long for things to get sticky… one minute we were inching along…

And the next minute, we were stuck fast!

Sinking fast!

Sinking fast!

We tried backing out… moving forward and over to the right where the ground looked a bit firmer, but no luck. Even in low gear and four wheel drive, there was just a lot of tire spinning and no movement in any direction except deeper.

MC - Considering the options. Going back to Germany was looking pretty good at this point...

MC – Considering the options. Going back to Germany was looking pretty good at this point…

It was pretty obvious we weren’t going to be able to haul the trailer anywhere – the tongue was buried in the mud – so we jacked it up and took it off, thinking that if we could get  the truck out we might be able to drag the trailer backwards from behind…

IMG_8609

I called home to see if someone could bring us a couple of sandwiches… They arrived half an hour later just as we were getting the horse trailer pried off the truck hitch.

We scrounged around and found a heap of old bricks, some scrap wood, and piles of brush. We made a crude ‘road’ in front and managed to squirm forward about ten feet before sinking even deeper into even wetter territory.

At this point, the residents of Maypenny had come out to see what was going on and we were a couple of hours into our ordeal… More backing and forthing and digging and hauling of rocks to try to create a more stable ‘road’ for the truck to get a grip on… the end result of which was sinking deeper into the muddy water.

It is at this point in any bog meets truck ordeal that one calls in the friendly neighbour with a tractor.

IMG_8600

Because the access to the field was sort of narrow and huge boulders were strategically strewn around to create an obstacle course, our initial thought of trying to pivot the trailer around before pulling it out of the way was thwarted.

IMG_8603The drama intensified as ominous clouds rolled in. Pulling the trailer back by hooking it to the tractor bucket didn’t work too well… so we turned the tractor around, jacked up the front of the trailer a little higher, and wedged a spare tire under the tongue.

IMG_8609This provided a bit of bounce and protection to the trailer jack as we hauled the trailer backwards, dragging it to safety…

IMG_8615

Note that four hours or so after arriving in the field, the hog hut is still sitting in the horse trailer!! So much for being ahead of schedule…

With the trailer out of the way, we still had to haul the truck out. Chains, ropes, etc. were stretched from tractor to bumper, more rocks, brush, bricks, boards, etc. were strategically place and slowly but surely, the tractor pulled the truck to high ground.

IMG_8621

IMG_8624

IMG_8628

IMG_8630

As you might expect, the truck was completely coated in mud… Unfortunately, because we had the windows open for screaming at each other purposes, the inside of the truck looked just about as bad as the outside!

With truck and trailer on solid ground once again, we re-hitched and tootled down the road to the house end of the property and then stopped traffic while we backed into the driveway and up to the lawn. MC and I crawled into the trailer and shoved the hut out (this part was much easier than we had anticipated) and with all the extra bodies that had shown up for this mud-wrestling spectacle, we slid the hog hut over the lawn and into the new field.

Mission accomplished!

Mission accomplished!

All that remained to do was to go back to our place and pick up the hogs. If, however, you have ever tried to move a pack of teenaged hogs, you will know this is no quick and easy job. By this point, our daylight had pretty well faded away, so we had to postpone the fence-erection/hog retrieval part of the operation for another day. I’ll spare you the details of all that (suffice it to say that MC and AB were HEROES and somehow we got the job done!!)

IMG_8856[1]

Happy hoglets in their new field. They are clearing it out and rototilling this area so Maypenny Farm can expand their market garden growing area.

Shoehorning a Portable Hog Shelter Into a Horse Trailer – Where’s the Bear Grease?

After building the most lovely of hog shelters, MC and I had to figure out how to move it up to the road and into a vehicle for transport over to the new hog field at Maypenny Farm. We hitched the truck to the ‘tow bar’ on the hog hut and dragged it up the hill. Easy peasy! The heavy duty runners (built out of posts that once held up our old deck) slipped over the gravel like an Olympic skier skims through powder. Maybe not quite like that, but it was way easier than I thought it was going to be and the next thing I knew I was zipping around the block to pick up the horse trailer. Hitching was a snap with MC giving extremely accurate and precise hand signals (in Germany, there’s some sort of license specifically for anyone who wants to haul trailers around… part of the prep for taking the license test involves learning a very effective hitching communications system…). Before I knew it I was back up on the road in front of the house and had backed the trailer up to the hog hut… I was humming at this point, smugly thinking we were ahead of schedule. Hah!!

Image

Even with the metal roof off, it was quickly obvious just how tight a squeeze it was going to be to shoehorn the hog hut into the horse trailer.

If we had been lifting in something the size of a dog crate, we would have been laughing – a sixteenth of an inch on either side is plenty of wiggle room. When the structure in question weighs… well, a lot, it took some German ingenuity and lot of good humour to rig up a system to haul that sucker aboard.

Image

I kept finding myself thinking of the anonymous souls who used ramps and pulleys and levers and who knows what to build the pyramids and erect Stonehenge as we improvised a ramp using a couple of planks and attached a come-along to the tow bar of the hog hut at one end and the steel divider inside the trailer at the other. There followed an awful lot of pushing and heaving and ho-ing and grunting and levering to inch it up the planks until it wedged firmly against the back of the trailer frame.

Image

More shoving, wiggling, jiggling, prying, squeezing and cajoling followed until finally, the hut was persuaded to board the bus…

Image

At this point in the proceedings, the hog hut was well and truly jammed half in and half out of the trailer. Somewhere in behind the hut is a trapped German…

MC is 6′ 8″ tall and it was quite the feat of contortionism for him to squeeze past the stuck hut and escape… Our task was not yet complete, however. The hut was just a bit too long to shove all the way in without first removing the heavy steel divider to which the come-along had been fastened. More hammering, prying, lifting, and a bit of sweating followed before we were able to remove the divider and get it out of the way. The hut was so heavy and jammed in pretty tightly that we couldn’t budge it without help from the come-along. So… MC gallantly plunged under the horse trailer…

Image

He was able to fasten the come-along to the underside of the trailer frame and with a bit of cranking and more shoving we were able to squeeze that thing inside and shut the door! We were no longer ahead of schedule, but we were on our way. Little did we know what traumas awaited us at the other end where, we learned, loading the hog hut was going to be the easiest part of a very long day.

Stay tuned for the next installment in the “Let’s Get Those Hogs Moved” saga…

Hog House Par Excellence

I’m not exactly sure how this has happened, but ever since the international volunteers have started to come I’ve been busier than ever!! What is most excellent about this state of affairs is the number of things that are getting ticked off the To-Do list!!

One of the big jobs that really needed to be done was to finally get the weaners (now growers, soon to be finishers) moved over to Maypenny Farm. I had managed to sort out enough electric fencing, a battery and battery-powered fence charger to make a decent-sized grazing area, but the hogs really needed a good sturdy shelter that could be dragged around from place to place in the field as we moved the pigs from one pasture area to the next.

When MC arrived, it was quickly obvious he was a handy guy. He also fast figured out that my building efforts were not always exactly square and level. Our conversation considering how we might proceed with building a new hog hut went something like this:

Me: So, do you think we could build a small hog house? Sturdy, moveable, weather-resistant… up off the ground…

MC: Sure. No problem. I must warn you, though: I like to make things perfect. [Remember, MC is an engineering student back in Germany.]

Me; [Keep in mind that my farm outbuildings are not exactly perfect – more like rickety, cobbled together structures that defy gravity and windstorms because if you use enough binder twine, zap straps, and duct tape, you can actually make something that’s remarkably difficult to deconstruct.] Do you think I would drive you crazy if we worked together?

MC: [Exceedingly politely] I am happy to work alone.

Poor MC. I don’t think he fully realized that the project would not start with a trip to the lumber yard. Instead, we collected together a pile of shipping pallets and I showed him where the heaps of scrap lumber and tin roofing were stashed (leftovers from the renovation) and gave him the nod. It’s not that easy to build something square and solid and neat when you are starting with experienced raw material that has just spent a winter under inadequate cover.

Undeterred, MC set to work. There was a great deal of banging and the whirring and whizzing of power tools. After a remarkably short amount of time, I discovered THIS in the back yard!!

German engineering on the farm... the new fully portable hog hut.

German engineering on the farm… the new, fully-portable hog hut.

Tuulen checking out the ramp into the new hog hut...

Tuulen checking out the ramp into the new hog hut…

Undercarriage of the new hut... designed to be strong enough to pull behind the truck.

Undercarriage of the new hut… designed to be strong enough to pull behind the truck.

Alas, it has been so wet since the structure got its walls we haven’t been able to paint it, but the building itself is GREAT!! At this point in the process, the hut was behind our house – a distance of about five kms from its intended new home. This meant we had to somehow move it from our farm over to Maypenny.

Turns out if you build something solid enough to withstand being dragged around by the truck and rubbed against by hefty hogs, then its final weight is eighty-seven tons. More or less. Keep in mind our house is on quite a steep hill and the road is above the spot where the hut was built and we had our first challenge – how to move the hut from the building site to the road so we could then attempt to load it… somewhere. Into the back of the truck? (the canopy could come off… twelve burly men or a crane could show up…)

When we realized it wasn’t practical to lift this heavy-duty 87-ton hulking hog hut into the back of the truck we decided to drag it up to the road using a strong rope and my big truck and then somehow get it into the horse trailer.

It’s late and I’m bagged, so you’ll need to stay tuned for how that played out… Let’s just say that there is a very good reason why this blog hasn’t heard much from me over the past week or so… It turns out that moving a German-engineered hog house from A to B is not exactly a five minute job… Nor, for that matter, is convincing five teenaged hog boys that they would be happy leaving home in the pouring rain to be re-settled in a hog hut somewhere over in the next valley…

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Community Farming!

I have to say that since I embarked upon this farming endeavour of mine, I have been shocked and delighted to discover how social farming can be. Unlike my writing life, which tends to be solitary and which suits the hermit side of my personality very nicely, it turns out farming lends itself well to a more collective effort.

The massive round table in the Zero Mile Eatery at OUR Ecovillage was the perfect piece of furniture to facilitate the discussion about community farming...

The massive round table in the Zero Mile Eatery at OUR Ecovillage was the perfect piece of furniture to facilitate the discussion about community farming…

Work parties are a great excuse to get everyone together for a meal (and, yes, are a fabulous way to tackle a big project) and networking with other farmers is always both educational and reassuring. Not so long ago I took part in the Community Farms Roundtable up at OUR Ecovillage in Shawnigan Lake. Organized by Young Agrarians and Farm Folk City Folk, the roundtable format brought together an eclectic group of farmers, land owners, policy makers, researchers, and foodies to discuss ways of bringing together farmers, land, and communities.

No job is too large, small, or cold for our long-suffering helper, MC.

No job is too large, small, or cold for our long-suffering helper, MC.

With agriculture being increasingly concentrated on larger farms, land prices rising, and older farmers retiring at an alarming rate, conversations like those had at the roundtable event have never been more important. How do we find ways to get young farmers onto the land? How do we connect communities with their local growers (it’s shocking how many miles food travels before it lands on the average dinner plate). And how do we ensure that governments at all levels protect farmland?

Here in our neighbourhood, all kinds of initiatives and shared projects have blossomed as various landowners have collaborated to share resources, labour, and land. My short presentation at the roundtable had a look at the informal model we’ve been using here in the ‘hood as we work together as a neighbourhood to grow food crops and raise eggs and meat on relatively small amounts of land.

Community farming can take many other forms including formal co-ops, collectively held land, and farms owned by various levels of government. There are also various programs that match young farmers with land owners who would like to see their land in production but who may not, for whatever reason, wish to farm themselves. Some programs include a strong teaching/mentorship component while others are more casual.

On our little farm, we’ve not only tapped into the local community we’ve also recently joined the fascinating world of being hosts to travelers looking for a place to stay in exchange for helping out around the place. There are several websites that help coordinate these partnerships. WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) connect organic farms with those wanting to learn by doing on the land. Workaway and HelpX broaden the jobs list to include everything from childcare to office work to cooking, cleaning, and building projects. SOIL (Stewards of Irreplaceable Lands) has a strong teaching component and, like WWOOF, focusses on farming.

Our first two volunteers, both from Germany, have been nothing short of a godsend. From washing eggs, to sorting seeds, to building a new portable hog hut, they have cheerfully jumped in and set to work. Which, of course, has been marvelous – I am feeling much more optimistic that we might actually make some good headway on the never ending to-do list.

Mud? No problem...

Mud? No problem…

Ditch

The end result of a whole lot of digging was water running into the ditch rather than over the neighbor’s driveway! Much better!

What has been the biggest surprise, though, is how much fun it is to have all this youthful energy around! We’ve had interesting conversations over dinner every night as we hear about their experiences travelling and share a bit of our lives here on the farm. I am having a lot more fun than I expected (and I really, really hope our visitors are not finding it too bad to be here!!) The weather has been crappy, to say the least, and this has meant we’ve had to ask for help with some rather soggy and unpleasant jobs – like digging a ditch to channel water away from the neighbor’s garage. The grim job was completed in record time with lots of smiles, chatting, and good humour despite the miserable conditions.

Stay tuned for a future update on the progress on the new hog hut. MC is an engineering student, so unlike some of my more wobbly creations, this hog hut is square, strong, and beautiful!