Tag Archives: 30 Day Farm Blog challenge

Day 30 – Weekly Photo Challenge – Let There Be Light

Hard to believe 30 days have come and gone and somehow there was a blog post every day! Thank you to Holly Spangler over at Prairie Farmer for getting things organized… It has been great checking in with some of the other farm bloggers and I hope they keep going so I can keep tabs on what’s going on with my favourites!

Today I’m doing double challenge duty by wrapping up the month with a contribution to the weekly photo challenge because this week’s theme (Let There Be Light) ties in perfectly with almost a week of sunshine! November is not known for being bright and clear around these parts, but we have had a remarkably good run recently even if the sun barely clears the top of the fence even in the middle of the day.

Weekly Photo Challenge - Let There Be Light

Weekly Photo Challenge – Let There Be Light

According to the forecast, we are in for a bit of rain, then clear skies ahead but with another dip in temperature that threatens to once again cause trouble in my watering systems! I tell you, I never used to watch the weather and the forecast the way I do now that my life is seriously affected by what’s going on outside.

Way back when I had a government job and spent my days cozied up in a temperature-controlled office, there were times when I would look up from the work at my desk and actually have to think hard for a minute about what month it was. Not any more. I am counting the days until the winter solstice when the days will again begin to lengthen. When we have these chilly spells, I plan certain chores around the time of day when I have the best chance at the water lines running free. I change my route slightly so in the steepest or slipperiest parts of my rounds I am less likely to wipe out on icy patches. I carry spare gloves in my jeans pockets so I can switch halfway through the rounds and warm my fingers up. I know when the sun comes up and, to the minute, when it sets as this determines when I need to be outside to round up the poultry and put all the birds to bed.

Everything is simpler (you can’t put birds to bed in the pitch dark – even if you can find them, the raccoons might have got there first) and, at the same time, more complicated (not everyone understands that you plan your social calendar based on when the sun sets and not the time on the clock). The variation in day length is pretty drastic here – in the middle of summer I’m lucky to get back into the house before 10:30pm, but at this time of year with the sun going down at about 4:20, that doesn’t leave a lot of daylight hours to get all the basic chores done.

So, yes – I’m all for chanting, “Let There Be Light!” because right about now in the grand cycle of the seasons, I just can’t seem to get enough of it!

Day 29 – Moss on a Plum Tree – Taking a Poetic Seed Catalogue Break

Moss on Plum Tree (Quote)

I don’t like to post poems in their entirety out of respect for the poets and their copyright, but if you like the teaser stanza above, here’s the link to Moss by Bruce Guernsey. And any time you feel the need for a poetry break, the Poetry Foundation website is amazing. I’ve enjoyed listening to their podcasts, reading the magazine, hanging out at the website and playing with their poetry app.

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.

Mushrooms

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!

Day 28 – Soil, Seed, and the ALR

I am officially too tired to write anything – but I made this commitment to the 30 day farm blog challenge and given that I have made it all the way to Day 28 without missing a blog entry, by golly I am not going to let a bit of weariness beat me!

SAVE ALR button

Just came back from the big Hands off the ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) meeting in Sidney feeling simultaneously optimistic (close to 400 people turned up), disheartened (sometimes it seems like there are just so many fights to fight), and very, very tired (an evening meeting at the end of a long day of farming, writing, and running errands is… taxing).

I’ll write a more complete post on what’s going on with the ALR when I have a bit more time, but what strikes me is that the issues are actually pretty basic.

1. We all need to eat.

White Cheddar

2. To eat, we need farmland.

3. Lots of good farmland is either a) in the path of urban development or b) here in BC, at least, in the way of the oil and gas or mining industries

4. Where money is to be made, people tend not to think of future generations and what makes sense for the long term. Which is why protecting farmland through regulation makes sense, even if our current system could use some tweaking.

Tomatoes!

At first glance, it’s pretty straightforward – protect the farmland so we have something to farm so we can grow more food and improve our food security. However, if farmers cannot make a living on the land, then what good is protecting that farmland through legislation? (the reverse version of this observation is, if farmers were making a good living on the land there would be no need for an Agricultural Land Reserve or an ALC (Agricultural Land Commission) to oversee it.

And this is where the can really starts getting wormy. If we as a society decide we want cheap food more than we want local food, then there is very little political will to support programs that support farmers. Nor is there much concern about insisting on organic practices that build soil and leave farmland in better shape each season than the year before (Atina Diffley’s book does a good job of describing this process).

If people just want cheap, then who cares that the food has travelled a gazillion miles to get here using gas guzzling transportation systems and questionable farming and labour practices? Consumers and all levels of government need to get involved to help establish and maintain local markets strong and large enough to support local farmers. Governments need to be willing to step in when crops fail, markets falter, or infrastructure is required.

Farmers need to be able to take back control of their supply of seed. Seed security and what is going on there is worthy of a whole other blog post (actually, a whole other blog, but I only have one lifetime and this blog is more than enough to deal with). Similar issues are relevant to those of us who are desperately trying to preserve the genetics of traditional livestock breeds (yes, more posts on those issues coming soon, too).

Large Black Hog piglets

Large Black Hog piglets

Meanwhile, here are some ways to connect with the saving our farms for the future movement, if you feel so inclined.

On Facebook: ALR Watch

Farmlands Trust Society

Farmland Defence League of BC

On the Web: Farmland Protection Coalition

Day 27 – How to Make Pork Skin Dog Treats

By and large, I think our dogs are pretty content. They are with their people most of the day, they get to sniff around at all the rich odeurs on the farm (and, believe me, this alone makes those tails wag, wag, wag), AND they get homemade crispy pork dog treats. They are the ones responsible for giving the tails up or tails down to any dog treats that we sell through the farm stand.

The woodles, surveying their domain

The woodles, surveying their domain

We started selling Crunchy Pastured Pork Pieces as a way of using up hog skins and ears left over after processing. We’ve been trying to find ways to use every part of the animals we raise and these homemade dog treats have been very popular. [Bizarre side note: people will pay more for dog treats (per pound) than they will for most cuts of quality meat purchased for human consumption. I’m not exactly sure what that says about our society, our pets, and our relationship to good food, but it is fascinating to see what people will spend on Fido. I hasten to add I am no better in this regard. But yes, that was an interesting thing to ponder as the pork crispies flew off the shelves!]

If you want to make your own, it isn’t that difficult.

1. Obtain pork skin. Around here, this is usually a waste product after slaughter – if you don’t process your own hogs (ours are done at a local approved slaughterhouse) ask a local butcher if it would be possible to have skins saved for you. Some butchers carry this because pork skin is also used to make pork cracklings for humans. This seems to be a regional thing, though, as it’s a lot harder to find in some places than others. If this sounds like something you’d love to try (or miss sorely because you grew up with it but now live somewhere that nobody has ever heard of pork cracklings), here’s a link to a recipe by Michael Symon. There’s also a how-to video, though I can’t watch it because I’m outside the USA. THAT is so annoying! But I digress – back to the dog treats.

2. You can either bake the skins first and break them up into pieces later or cut the skins into strips first and then bake them. The dogs don’t seem to mind either way, but if you are the sort of person who likes to have everything uniform, then it’s a lot easier to get the treats to be the same size and shape if you cut them before baking. A sharp pair of kitchen scissors works well. Breaking the cooked skins up after the fact is quicker, but definitely results in a more randomly shaped collection of snacks.

3. Brush both sides of the pork lightly with cooking oil. If you like, you can sprinkle a little garlic powder over the oil-coated skin. **

4. Place skin on cookie racks on baking sheets (to catch the drips). Bake at 175 degrees F (yes, a warm oven will do the trick) for about 10 hours. This will vary a bit depending on how thick the skin is, how much fat was still on the pork when you start, and how crispy you want the snacks to be. We try to stay just this side of too crispy.

The skin shrinks quite a lot during baking. These have been baked but not scraped or mopped up. I use paper towels, which I then bury deep in the compost pile. You can still see the inspector’s stamp of approval on the piece on the the left.

5. After baking, scrape off as much of the remaining fat as you can and then use paper towels to wipe off any excess cooking oil. Warning: This part of the process leaves you feeling somewhat greasy… However, skip this step at your peril. Too much fat and oil has an unpleasant effect on the digestive system of the dog… Don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you cooked the skin in larger pieces, this is the time to break them up. Don’t make the treats too small to minimize the chance of your dog choking: they get a little excited when they get hold of these.

6. Present a divine gift to your dog. Most likely, your dog has been sitting at your feet drooling during the fat-scraping stage and shouldn’t be too hard to find.

These are some of the random-shaped treats, ready for consumption...

These are some of the random-shaped treats, ready for consumption…

** There is some debate over how safe garlic is for your pets. This article looks at the pros and cons. If you are at all concerned, please leave the garlic powder off.

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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!

Day 26 – What’s the Farmer Reading? Turn Here Sweet Corn

Book Review:

Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works by Atina Diffley

I love reading farm memoirs, so I fully expected to enjoy this one based on the description and reviews on Audible (I listen to audio books when I’m doing stuff like mucking the horse paddocks, making crispy pork dog treats, or washing eggs…). What I didn’t expect was how completely absorbed I’d become in this story, which is about a whole lot more than a couple of organic farmers. Atina is one of those people I’d love to meet – feisty, determined, hard-working, and absolutely passionate about organic farming and local, sustainable food.

Turn Here Sweet Corn is an excellent introduction to the big picture ideas underlying organic agriculture (soil building, working with the land, developing whole, healthy ecological systems to produce top quality organic vegetables). It is also a love story, a family story, and a tale of loss and heartbreak. What came out of left field was the page-turning legal thriller that had me practically cheering out loud for the farm team as I shovelled manure!

Apparently, there is also an older documentary film by the same title – though it isn’t available through Netflix in Canada… nor does my library have a copy… I will keep searching, but if you happen to find somewhere it’s available to view online, please leave a note in the comments.

Meanwhile, here’s an interview with Atina relating to organic farming principles. Also of note is her comment relating to seed security and how worrisome it is that companies like Monsanto have been buying up seed varieties, in some cases pulling those cultivars off the market and making it impossible for farmers to grow them any more. She also discusses where farm subsidies should go, how building organic matter in soil relates to aquifers, and what we all can do to make sure we don’t lose our local, organic farmers.

And here’s a short video trailer relating specifically to her book:

Can’t get enough of Atina Diffley and her message? (Which, apparently, I can’t – I seem to be turning into a bit of a groupie…) Here is Atina’s Blog 

Happy reading/listening/viewing!

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!

Day 25 – Look Who Came Calling!

Who could the culprit be?

Who could the culprit be?

About a month or so ago the ferret food started to disappear. Adding bungee cords to hold down the lid on the food dispenser didn’t help – the cords would be removed and the food gone each morning. At first we thought it might be the cats, but they aren’t strong or dexterous enough to break into our tied down ferret food hopper.

We got one of those live traps, thinking we might be dealing with a raccoon. We put the trap beside the ferret cage and… nothing. The food stopped disappearing and the trap remained untouched.

A couple of weeks later, we caught the neighbour’s cat. The cat was rather miffed that it had been busted stealing the cat food we had used as bait, but the ferret food remained untouched. We speculated that maybe the raccoon had met with an untidy end up on the highway or had seen traps before and knew it was best to avoid our place.

Then, last night, this fellow paid us a visit:

I know these devils eat chickens, kill turkeys and ducks, and generally have no respect for other people's property, but my, oh my, they are adorable!

I know these devils eat chickens, kill turkeys and ducks, and generally have no respect for other people’s property, but my, oh my, they are adorable!

This dude was FAT!! Totally rolly polly and surprisingly relaxed, given his circumstances.

We loaded him into the back of the truck and drove him waaaaaay out of town to an undisclosed wilderness location…

We released him far, far away from any farms or houses where he might be tempted to make trouble...

We released him far, far away from any farms or houses where he might be tempted to make trouble…

He shot out of the trap and headed for the hills...

He shot out of the trap and headed for the hills…

He was moving fast when he exited the trap, but we had released him at the bottom of a huge, forested hill and he didn’t get very far before he was huffing and puffing and had to stop for rest. He turned to look down at us and we wondered how he would fare out in the wild without easy access to a steady supply of ferret food. Then we decided he was carrying so much flab he probably wouldn’t have to eat all winter and he’d still be fine by the time spring rolled around. By which time he had caught his breath and continued on his way, disappearing into the trees, no doubt in search of a good place to have a nap.

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!

Day 24 – Frost!

I try to keep this quote in mind when my fingers are not functioning properly and the garden beds are crispy, solid, and completely unworkable.

I try to keep this quote in mind when my fingers are not functioning properly and the garden beds are crispy, solid, and completely unworkable.

The one good thing about frost or a light dusting of snow is that everything looks so darned sparkly! The whole world is clean!

The turkey field looks quite different when it's frozen solid.

The turkey field looks quite different when it’s frozen solid. Fortunately, the birds don’t seem to mind.

Frozen water is a pain in the backside to deal with.

Frozen water is a pain in the backside to deal with.

All that glittery frost might look magical, but man, when frozen water pipes mean you have to haul buckets and Jerry cans of water from the house to distant water containers all over the neighbourhood, the thrill of a glorious morning wears off pretty quickly. A couple of chickens wouldn’t be so terribly difficult to deal with, but horses? Lactating sows? A whole herd of thirsty turkeys? I was more than a little pleased when the temperature began to rise again and the water started to flow. That gurgle of water splashing into an old bathtub in the horse paddock is a special kind of music!

LOVE that sun after a few gloomy rain days... Though, it always astonishes me just how low it stays all day long through these shortest days of winter.

LOVE that sun after a few gloomy rain days… Though, it always astonishes me just how low above the horizon it stays through these shortest days of winter.

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!