Monthly Archives: April 2014

V is for Victoria-Vancouver-Victoria and a Victory over Violence

On Sunday I had a quick business meeting over in Vancouver. Saturday night I slept in the truck once again, still on piglet watch with Olivia. Sunday morning down on the farm started a bit earlier than usual because of my ferry departure, but was otherwise completely normal. No piglets. No nesting. Full teats, but she’s had those for a while now. So off I went thinking I was in for another night in the truck after I returned.

I took the 9am ferry over to the mainland and was just about to drive off the boat when a text came in from LS, who is visiting from Berlin and holding the fort while I was away. Olivia, according to LS, was behaving strangely. He sent a couple of photos of her pen. She had been busy in the couple of hours since I left the farm. She had stripped leaves from the bushes in her run and scattered them around in her bed inside the safety pen. She dragged in mouthfuls of sticks and twigs and added them. She rooted around and fluffed up the hay from underneath the fresh debris and mixed it all together. Olivia was nesting!!

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LS summoned T (soon-to-be-SIL), who has been present for a couple of prior farrowings… There followed the most stressful series of texts as I headed into my meeting, made a presentation, and politely declined a lunch invitation (“Sorry! Must race back to the ferry – Olivia is in labour!!)

I made it back to the terminal in time to catch the 1pm boat, flew into the house at 3:10, pulled off my meeting clothes, pulled on my grubbies and rubber boots and raced down the hill. The guys had done a fabulous job of setting everything up – the heat lamp was positioned over two nursery boxes (used to contain the piglets as they awaited the arrival of their siblings), fresh towels were at the ready, Olivia was in her safety pen, the wet leaves and sticks had been removed and replaced with clean, dry hay (which she had been reorganizing all day).

The first piglet arrived at 4:01. Olivia lost her mind, leaped to her feet, spun around, and tried to kill it. This pattern was repeated every 15 minutes or so for the next couple of hours, but because of the new safety pen, each piglet was plucked out of the pen before Olivia could do any damage to either the piglets of to any of us [thanks to earlier helpers MC and SP, who built the pen after long discussions about crazy sows. Now that we know it works, I’ll post a how-to article soon with more details of what we came up with as a solution to porcine matricide.] By 6:30 pm we had 11 healthy piglets – 6m and 5f. We were feeling pretty smug at this point and settled in to await the expulsion of the placenta, knowing from experience that she would have no interest in nursing the piglets until that was done. It took some time and some massaging of her teats to stimulate contractions, but in due course it arrived just fine.

By now it was after 9pm and we began the process of trying to introduce the piglets for nursing. At which point we were thwarted by Olivia’s ridiculous (and terrifying) insistence on pouncing on any piglet that wandered anywhere near her. She ate a meal, we let her outside to stretch her legs and relieve herself – she paced and turned and nested and lay down and got up and steadfastly refused to have anything to do with nursing. Her attacks were slightly less vicious, though – she was tossing piglets aside but not savaging them any more – only two had superficial bite wounds and those were from earlier in the evening.

The piglets were all in good shape and warm under the heat lamp, so at about midnight we decided to stop stressing everyone and get a few hours sleep. In the past, we’ve had some luck with sows figuring things out without anyone being around. The piglets had already figured out how to escape from the safety pen (by slipping under the lower rail) so we left them to it and headed for the house…

Which is where I will leave this post because if I had a terrible night, tossing and turning and fretting and wondering what I would find in the morning (piles of crumpled bodies? a contented sow suckling her young?) then it seems only right you should suffer the uncertainty along with me for a short time… Fear not, as soon as there’s another break around here I’ll finish the story…

U is for UV

Olivia catching a few rays – we are all enjoying the sunny breaks we’ve been getting between the downpours…



T is for Teeny, Tiny Tractor

It may be modest in size, but our little lawn tractor has been chugging around the farmlet for years. Here, ME is hauling a load of soiled hay from the goat pen down to the new potato beds.

T, is also for Truck… Yesterday, I was speaking at a school in Shawnigan Lake and one of the teachers mentioned she had been reading the blog. Not having read any more about the piglet watch, she assumed the piglets had arrived and I was once again sleeping in the house. Alas, no. As in, no piglets. Yes, to still sleeping in the truck and getting up to check on Olivia every couple of hours. T, needless to say, is also for Tired.

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.


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.


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


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.

dcf egg bouquet

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.