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Category Archives: Garden
… gold, yellow, amber, orange – such a warm display from our cheery tulips, as happy to see the sun as we are.
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!
Varieties planted: Sieglinde, banana fingerlings, Russian blue, Russian fingerlings, Warba
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.)
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).
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…
I’d sure like to have a word with the chumps who carefully packed seeds or canes or whatever they brought with them from the Old Country and then carefully cultivated new Himalayan Blackberry patches in land formerly unplagued by these monstrous beasts. Apparently, (at least according to the Royal BC Museum website) the fool who muled them here in 1885 was an American botanist! Surely a botanist should have known better?????
Yes, the berries are sweet and delicious and wonderful for making jam and pie (I believe that was the original motivation for import), but are they worth the havoc the dense thickets are wreaking on our native species? The stands of lacerating canes are so dense and vigorous it doesn’t take long to choke and/or shade out whatever might otherwise be growing (Garry Oak groves, for example).
Fighting the prickly canes is a miserable task. Anyone who believes plants can’t think (plot/scheme/have it in for us) hasn’t fought with barbed tendrils that wrap around you, entwining your entire body in search of exposed skin or, even better, loose hair, or even better than that, a key artery.
Is there anyone who is happy about this abundance of invaders? Indeed, yes – the goats! Unfortunately, the area we are clearing at the moment isn’t one that I can easily fence or we’d just let the goats come in and strip the canes. They happily wade right into the nastiest of thickets, noshing all the way and will eat all but the oldest, toughest stalks when given half a chance. After they are done, the hogs are great at using their powerful snouts to dig out the roots, which they eat with gusto. Such a shame this isn’t really a livestock-friendly area. Not wanting the creatures to be left out of all the fun, I hauled several wheelbarrows full down to the goat pen and they were happy to help us out with a bit of pre-compost processing.
Alas, it’s up to us humans to first hack the beasts off at the knees and then get in there and dig out as much of the roots as we can.
The red layers love helping whenever we are out in the garden. They race over and see what we might have dug up. They are very good at taking care of slugs and bugs and also turning over the top layer of soil while fertilizing and are great to run through garden areas at this time of year when the annuals are done and there isn’t much they can damage.
Soon, though, when we re-seed the lawn and put in our new rockery they will have to move down to the poultry field with their fancy rolling house and take their place with the other birds. I’ll miss not having them so close to the house, though it will be great not tripping over six or seven at a time as they vie for the opportunity to untie my shoelaces and peck at my calves every time I go outside!
It’s astonishing how much water can land on this small farm during a wet winter storm. The hog pen? A river runs through it… The seasonal springs? All full to overflowing. The goats are miserable and won’t come out of the goat barn. The hogs have been complaining no end. The barn cat spots me and starts whining and looking skyward as if there is some way for me to turn off the taps.
For the past couple of days I’ve been slopping around in the wet, building dams and dredging channels to try to divert the water away from the animal shelters so everyone has somewhere to get under cover and stand with dry feet. The dogs sulk in the cab of the truck while I get steadily soggier.
Only the ducks are truly happy. They dive into all the newly formed puddles and ponds and lakes and rivers, flapping and splashing, preening and chuckling. The drakes strut back and forth as the ladies bathe, occasionally knocking one another around a bit just to show who is the most handsome and virile. All this water can only mean that spring is just around the corner, and you know what that means when you are a male whatever living on a farm.
The other things that are working amazingly well are the hugelkultur beds we put in a couple of years ago. Built on top of mounds of brush, branches, and logs, the beds soak up a phenomenal amount of water with nothing much seeping out below where they have been built (more or less following the contour lines of our sloping property). Where there are no beds (just grass, the driveway, or even the area under the trees where the hogs have been merrily rooting around through the fall) there is running water everywhere. Any place that has a dip or hollow is full of water. Except those hugel beds.
I was amazed how well they performed during the hot, dry weeks of the last two summers. As advertised, all the water they had soaked up during the winter was slowly released back to the plants and I barely had to irrigate at all, even when properties around me were watering like mad. I had my doubts as to how well big branches were going to break down, but already when I dig into the beds, there’s lots of lovely soft organic matter and not so many sticks and twigs. The biggest branches are still findable, but even they are well on their way to Rotsville.
I am impressed enough with how they have worked that I’m going to retro-build my existing raised beds in the same way. No more burn piles! I’ve always thought it was wasteful and unnecessarily polluting to burn branches and sticks. How cool to have found such a simple and useful thing to do with all that garden debris!
For more information about hugelkultur, check out the richsoil website.
One of the highlights of winter is having longer evenings during which to study seed catalogues and read farming and gardening magazines. The current issue of Small Farm Canada Magazine is extra delightful because it includes the annual seed buying guide, a list of various seed catalogues sure to get your heart a-thumping! At least, it got my heart going which, to be honest, doesn’t take much these days.
I have already spent several sessions going through The Whole Seed Catalog (from Baker Heirloom Seeds), a fantastic publication that not only includes a huge selection of unusual heirloom seed varieties but also has articles, recipes, profiles of growers, seed fanatics, farms and farmers. The gigantic version of the catalog is available for purchase and the regular seed catalog is still available for free. I’m so glad I splurged on the fancy version as it will stay on my bookshelf as a reference to be used for years to come.
I think one of the reasons I get so excited about seed is all the incredible potential crammed into that tiny, perfect, amazing package. Stick the seed in some soil, add water and sunshine and presto – something starts to grow! And, given half a chance, plants will grow – in so many ways plants are forgiving and will fight to stay alive, produce fruit and go to seed even when your soil conditions aren’t quite right or the weather doesn’t exactly cooperate or you get a little busy and don’t weed quite as often as would be ideal.
I get a similar thrill when I see mushrooms sprouting up all over the place right at the time of year when the leaves are dropping and the plant world seems to be going to sleep.
Moss is another plant that reminds me that winter is a time of rest and renewal and not death and desolation, as it sometimes appears at first glance. The moss is never greener and more vibrant than at this time of year when it seems to shout, “I am alive! I am still here! I am drinking all this rain and reaching for that low-slung sun!” Moss makes me smile and I would happily replace all of my lawn with the stuff. Contrast the soft blanket of green with the gorgeous lustre of natural stone after a good rainwater scrub and you can see why moss is a fixture in so many Japanese gardens.
Until I get a chance to work on the Japanese garden of my dreams, I steal my moss moments when I can. Early in the morning when I find myself on the north side of the fruit trees all I can do is admire the sturdy but delicate forest of green that thrives in the damp, refusing to cough.
Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days agriculture blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!