Saturday 31 March 2012

High Hopes, by Kira

My garden is almost ready to plant. The pigs have been in and tilled it for me, all I have left is to remove a few rocks and give it a rake. We plan on building two more raised beds this year on our south facing hill that we have our fruit trees planted on. These beds are reserved for tomatoes and carrots. I was also going to put my peppers up there but I received some good advice from a friend today. Our season is short here so if I plant my peppers in pots I can extend the season a little by bringing them in on cold nights.

The garlic is well on its way. Last fall I planted most of it around our fruit trees. I read in Carrots Love Tomatoes that it is good against borers.

My seed list for this year:
Sweet basil
Mammoth basil
Bouquet Dill
Grandma Einck's Dill
Santo cilantro
Dwarf jewel Nasturium
Dark orange calendula
Scarlet Nantes carrots
Yellowstone Carrot
Golden Sweet pea
Midori Giant Soybean
Dragon Langerie Bush Bean
Provider Bush Bean
Red Malabar Spinach
Pablo Lettuce
Mesclun Mix
Red Russian Kale
Siberian Kale
Lemon Cucumber
Red Kuri Squash
Detroit red beets
Vienna Purple Kohlrabi
Cossack Pineapple
Du Puy Lentils

Most I bought through Sage Gardens. They offer a good variety of organic Heirloom seeds. They also have lots of information and tips on the plants, seed starting and care. I plan on saving our own seeds this year. I bought a book last year that Seeds of Diversity put out about saving seeds. 
We are going to grow potatoes this year using the stacking method. If you Google potato stacking method I'm sure you will see it done by using tires but Andrew is going to make me some wooden forms instead for stacking. I'm sure we will do a potato post when we plant them.
Plants that I will buy this year are tomatoes, peppers and zucchini. Not that my wonderful husband isn't busy enough already but I'm hoping he will have my green house built off the back of the barn for next spring so that I'm able to start all my own seeds. This week I will start the few that do need a little head start. Just a few though. I tried starting seeds last year but many failed to grow.
Too cool? I kept them in our basement in window sills.
Cats knocking them down and digging.
Dampening off.
The few plants that did grow were tortured, and left for dead, by Fern. 
Yes... it was tragic. 
But high hopes for this year. 
I learned a lot last year and did more research this winter.
I'm feeling confident.

Friday 30 March 2012


The early Spring has thrown me off a little.
There is much to do, and a slow Spring would have told me which task to complete when.
Right now, I can do everything I need to, which means that it is more difficult to decide on priorities.

The pig yard is completely barren after a season of pig foraging. I felt that I had better get them moved before I do anything else.
But first, they need somewhere to go.

I have already talked about my crop plan, but here's a quick update.
The goal is to have five crop fields about an acre each.
The five plots will be in rotation.  At any given time there will be four in use and one left fallow and planted with a green manure.
None of these plots exist.
They are all currently forest.
Only two areas have been chosen thus far.
I intend to choose parts of the woodlot that will have less value as woodland and will make a greater contribution as cropland.  

In come the pigs.
The first crop location has been chosen and the pigs will be moving onto it as soon as I have electric fencing up and some piggy accommodations ready to go.

I know that they'll love it in there.
I know that they will tear it up like only a bulldozer could.

When the pigs are through with the land, I will take the remaining trees down for firewood, pick the rocks, and  smooth it out in preparation for next year's quinoa crop.

The electric fencing is a temporary enclosure.
When the pigs are done, the fencing will be moved to the next future crop location.
The pigs?

They will most likely move into the freezer.
Such is the life of a working hog.

I have been asked about the stumps remaining in the field.
Stumps are notoriously difficult to remove.
Realistically, I will be plunge cutting the stumps with a chainsaw and simply letting the stumps rot.
The plunge cut allows moisture and decay organisms into the heart of the stump thus speeding the natural process up.
Another option is to pour some tasty liquid in and around the stump in the hopes that in digging out the wonderful flavour, the pigs will inadvertently dig much of the stump out.  Then a saw and tractor have a chance of pulling it out.
I don't expect to have easy working fields in the short term.
I do, however, plan on planting crops as soon as the ground is open and has been cleared of all other plants.

The crops are critical to our goal of self-sufficiency.
We need them for animal feed.
We need them for growing grains.
We need them for growing the heavily used items that the garden cannot keep up with.

We need them to allow us the ability to rotate our farming activities so that our burden on the land does not exceed it's capacity to sustain us.

I am excited about a certain element of this first plot.

The area to be cleared is on a gentle southern facing slope.
At the top of the slope is a small hill covered with mature maples and a power rock.
The top of the hill will be left as it is.
I hope to have either a cabin, or a yurt, or even just a campsite, on the top of the hill.
It will feel like a sheltered wooded island.  

To the south and up to the edge of the hill will be a crop with the uniformity of waves on a breezy lake.
The quiet woodland night belying the imperceptible and intentional motion of lovingly tended plants.

Thursday 29 March 2012

The Organic Dilemma

I was asked recently, when given the choice, would I choose an organic product from somewhere like Brazil or a non-organic product that was local.
Having to make that kind of choice turns buying food into a moral dilemma for which there is no answer.

We do our best to buy all organic food.  Food grown and produced without unnatural chemicals.
Food produced as close to us as is possible.  Food that is derived from a sustainable production model.
Food that does not compromise the living standards of people, animals, and fragile ecosystems.

There is big brand honey that is produced in Hungary, packaged in Australia, and sold in Haliburton.
A great deal of grass fed organic beef comes from Brazilian rain-forest cleared for commercial pastures.
I suspect that .79/pound organic bananas do little to foster health and education in the plantations.
Buying a $3.99 500g bar of chocolate is tantamount to buying blood diamonds.
The list goes on and on.

Living in a sparsely populated part of the world compounds the problems associated with choice.
Especially with a subdued economy, choice has been whittled down to little more than the corporate decisions made for the grocery chains.
The fact is that most people want cheap food.
The remaining consumers are left with nothing but agonizing choices. 
The two grocery stores in our community offer little in the way of locally sourced foods.
The organic choices are few and far between.
There are, of course, big brand organics in non-perishable forms, but I question the integrity of the products due to the nature of their stewardship.

Today, grocery shopping was especially disheartening.
We will no longer be shopping at one of the two stores.  There is simply nothing there for us.
The other store carries some suitable dairy products and a crap-shoot of organic produce.
We left the stores today wondering where we can buy food.
With the rows and rows of heavily stocked shelves and coolers, there are few real choices.
We have tried the larger city centers but have found that the corporate format prevails.
The stores may be located in a metropolitan area, but they look the same to me on the inside.

We are fortunate to have a privately run health food store in Haliburton.
Through them we are able to be supplied with basics such as flours, grains, canned goods, and most importantly, fair-trade organic cocoa.
I asked them today where they buy their produce.(They don't offer produce through the store.)
They shop a grocery store close to Toronto when they are making a purchasing run to the city.
For us, that is out of the question.
For them, even the best option offers relatively little choice.

The summer is a little easier, but not as much as you might expect.
Few of the local farms offer organic produce.
We like to pick huge amounts of berries at the pick-your-own place, but that is not organic either.
Since last year, however, we found out about Ellenberger Organic Farm.  We will be picking our berries there this season.  Though, I expect that we will be buying more than just berries 

If you don't buy into the organic choice then you need to do some more research.
We expect our government to keep our food supply safe.
While the food supply may be protected from the atrocities of commercialized food production, there remains the silent toxicity that is being built up in our environment and in our bodies.
If you say that our society is just fine eating grocery store fare, I will point you towards the doctor's offices, the hospital, and the clogged and failing healthcare system wracked with countless diseases and maladies.
Alive, yes.
Healthy, no.

Here at home, the solution is becoming staggeringly clear.
The only way to have control over our food supply is to produce our own or to buy from people we know and trust.
We trust our local health food store.
They have been struggling with food choices for many more years than we have even been shopping.
Their integrity is judged by the products they stock on their shelves.
Hopefully, you have someone like that in your community.

For those of you who must continue shopping the corporate chain stores, consider this.
Even if you doubt the integrity of the organic options available to you, remember that you cast a vote every time you purchase a product.
When you buy food labelled organic, you are voting for fewer artificial chemicals in yours or someone else's environment.
When you choose organic, you are voting for sustainable agriculture that is considerate of future generations.
Vote for fair-trade.
Vote for local.
Vote for less packaging.
Vote for fresh, raw ingredients.
Vote for sustainable fisheries.
Vote for less meat.
Every time you purchase the mainstream products or for the lowest price, you are voting against the development of a responsible food supply.
Whichever you choose, you are casting a vote.  

I have heard that there are two major food movements at play in North America.
There is the local, organic food movement.
There is the heavily prepared and industrialized food movement.
It is obvious which has the greater inertia.
As difficult as it is to meet the household food budget,
the decisions we make, when we buy food, directly affect the health of the food supply,
and more importantly, the health of our families.

Our local health food store is Marty's in Haliburton.
They also have an excellent selection of fibers for needlework.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

A Poor Hatch

The best laid plans of mice and men....

Perhaps this isn't quite as bad as that, but the disappointment is raw nonetheless.

Our hatch of chicks, due this week, has been slow and largely unsuccessful.
I don't know the reasons why, but there are many factors to consider.
This is the second time that we have had hens incubate eggs.
The first time was because my homemade incubator was imperfect and we resorted to allowing our broody hens to set on the nests.  The incubator provided as many chicks as the broodies did but from far more eggs.
At the time, we didn't evaluate the success rate of the hens because they were successfully supplementing the birds that we needed.  
It could be that my expectations were too high.
Though there were many improvements incorporated into this hatch.

So far, we have seven chicks.
There are more eggs under birds, but I had expected more by now.
There are still eggs that have yet to reach their expected hatch date, but my hopes for a high hatch rate have been dashed by the results so far.

The first chick to hatch, we found dead in the nest.
Perhaps it was killed by the hen.  Perhaps it was simply neglected.
After that, we collected chicks as soon as we could, fearing the hens to be neglectful.
It is important to consider that many chicks die because they do not possess the vigor or the corporal integrity needed for survival.
It is, however, important to consider the mistakes that I have made in setting the conditions.

Among the possibilities are.....

Insufficient nutrition of the laying hens.
Failure to keep the hens completely separated from each other and their respective nests.
Allowing the eggs to cool too much before placing them in the nests.
Excessively low temperatures in the brooding coop.

The only reason that I am focusing on the potential errors is to ensure that the next attempt benefits from careful examination.
We have now decided to work on natural incubation sometime in the future, but the plan is to change tactics if we are going to have the flock size that we need.
Part of our overall strategy is to be able to hatch chicks whenever we need them.
The natural method requires a better arrangement than we have right now, not to mention some more learning and experimenting.
We have ordered a proper, large, incubator, in which to hatch our chicks.
Many of the same errors could crop up, but at least we are using a proven and easily controlled product.
This is a cabinet unit capable of holding several dozen eggs.
I expect that this incubator will step the chicken game up a few notches.
We need to move on.
We had a hard time finding a good price on this because of the number of hands it goes through as it makes it's way up from the southern U.S.
We found a new dealer in Perth willing to sell for a fair price.
Mason Heaton near Perth, Ontario.
The close proximity also allows us to pick the unit up instead of having to pay the shipping costs.

On the positive side of things, here's a little tip.
We have been giving quinoa to our chicks as a booster when they are still little.
It's too expensive to feed all the way through, but it really gives them a head start.
It's organic, it's super high in protein, it's moist, and they love it.

We may have started the whole process too early in the season, but the conditions seemed favorable.
There is still time for a second chance to have the flock size that we want.
If the new incubator works out, there may be other courses that we can take as far as raising poultry goes.

Everything happens with purpose.
We need only be attuned.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Valuable Cedar

Despite our healthy and mature woodlot, there are some tree species that are few and far between.
The two most notable are oak and cedar.
They are both here, though in such small number as to be hard to find let alone harvest.
So far, I haven't missed either, but when it comes to building fences, I would like to have some cedar.
There are plenty of arrow straight balsam firs of the right size for fencing, but I despair for a future where I am endlessly repairing rotting fence posts.

My Dad has an old friend further south who has a farm.
The farm is rolling pasture interspersed with cedar bush.
Like much of southern Ontario, cedar grows like a weed and tends to get out of control if left to it's own devices.
Many of the trees are ideal fence post trees.
A few years ago, there was a lot of fencing cut out of these thickets.

South of the Shield line, there is soil depth.
A fence post can go into the ground quite a ways.  Ideally, four feet down.
This is also cattle country where the fences need to be stout and tightly strung.
The fence posts are about six to eight inches in diameter and are over eight feet long.
Anything that isn't suitable is discarded.
Discarded is exactly what I'm looking for.

My Dad took his car with a trailer and Auren and I drove our pick-up down.
The goal was to score as many discarded cedar posts as we could carry.
The posts are twelve feet long and vary between four and six inches.
Our property doesn't have the soil depth for long posts, nor are we planning on keeping cattle.
The posts will support fencing that restrains chickens and guides electric fence wire throughout our perimeters.  They needn't be really strong, but it would be nice if they didn't rot right away.
Cedar has that longevity.

These guys must be from Gooderham!
It's difficult to say if it was all worth it.
No, we weren't stopped by the police for our questionable cargo.
I could have just gone to the hardware store and bought posts.
I could have found someone local who would be only too happy to have his cedar bush gladed.
Oftentimes, it is tricky deciding whether 'free' is actually that.
There is time and fuel involved.
Not to mention potential traffic tickets and vehicular damage. 
What isn't quantifiable is the value of the experience.

For my Dad,
 it was an opportunity to spend some time with a friend.

For Auren,
 it was a vastly different landscape to experience.

For me,
 it was the chance to talk farming, and especially farming business.

For each of us,
it was time spent together.
Three generations.

We headed for home with more than just a load of cedar posts.

Monday 26 March 2012

Roasted Leek Bread

Since leeks are in season and some are probably wondering what can be made with them besides leek and potato soup, I wanted to share this recipe. There is a little more work involved in this loaf but it's so tasty. I haven't tried it yet but I'm sure it would make great grilled cheese. I have based this recipe off of a recipe out of Artisan Breads by Eric W. Kastel. It is a great book for beginner, intermediate and advanced. If you don't have a bread book and are looking, I recommend taking a look at this one. 


Clean whole leek, chop lightly, oil, wrap in foil and roast until tender.

water 55F  3/4 cup 
bread flour 1 1/3 cups
Whole wheat 1/2 cup
Rye  1/4 cup
yeast 1/8 tsp

Make the biga the night before you want to make the bread. Stir the yeast into the water add the flours, work dough for a couple of minutes then place in covered bowl at least over night or until ready to use it. I leave mine on the counter. our home is on the cool side so I have never had a problem. You can keep it in the fridge, take it out a couple of hours before making the bread.


Water 86F  2 cups 
Honey  1 tsp
Spelt flour 2cup
Whole wheat  2 1/3 cups
Yeast 1 1/2 tsp
Salt 1 tbsp
Plus a little extra flour

To make final dough place water  honey bowl of mixer and mix. Break the biga into pieces, add to the mixer. Mix for two minutes until well mixed,, add the yeast let sit for a minute. Then add the flours and salt mix for five minutes. Here you're going to add about 1/4 cup more flour,  any of the three flours used in this recipe, mix another 2 minutes. Place dough on working surface and fold in your roasted leeks. Take out and place in greased bowl, cover. let rest for 40 to 60 min. 

Dump dough onto lightly floured surface, cut in two, shape into rounds and place to rise on baking sheets about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 475F. In the bottom of your oven place a loaf pan with about 3 cups of water. This is going to help give the bread a crusty shell; it will be taken out part way through baking. When your oven reaches temp. slice the top of your bread, this helps moisture to escape. spray or lightly rub water on your loafs then place quickly into hot oven close door reduce heat to 450F bake for 12 minutes after 12 minutes take the water pan out of the bottom of the oven. continue to back for 12 to 16 min. Until it's nice and brown and the smoke alarm has gone off from the high heat of the oven burning whatever else was left on your cookie pans, making the dog bark, the roosters crow, waking the baby.... This is about the time your bread is done. Pull from oven, cool on rack. 

I did not go into detail about biga, science of bread making, flours etc. If you're baking bread or are going to be baking bread you should have a good bread book in your kitchen, There is so much to learn. I have been baking our bread for about 5 years and this past year I started working on some sour dough recipes. If you have any bread recipes you would like to share, I would love to hear from you.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Running a Line

In advance of clearing more land for crops, I felt that I should make sure that the work goes on within our property boundaries.
The property is narrow but long, and so it covers a lot of ground.
The lines are not marked everywhere, and anyone can blaze a tree without actually being accurate.
It would be a shame if we were to prepare the neighbor's land for farming, without having been asked to.

Why are there pig tracks on the driveway?

It was a great opportunity to take Auren on a woodland adventure through some areas that are not reached with trails.  
The going was rough but Auren was up for the challenge.
For him, it was an introduction to orienteering,
and the chance to look for animal sign.

I struggle to explain the property boundaries.
I would like him to understand that the Earth belongs to no one.
I would like him to understand how important it is to share the land.
In our township, there is a remarkable amount of crown land.
We also have permission to use most of the private land in the area.
We are thankful that we are able to move about freely in the bush and in order for Auren to be thankful he needs to know that others are sharing their property with us.

The Flagging tape will come down when we are finished.

For our purposes, we must respect the property line as an ideological line.
Though the current neighbors allow us to do whatever we wish, there may be future owners that do not share our vision for what the land is best used for.
Therefore, we had best do the clearing and fence building within our own boundaries.

Grouse Sign
Our forest friends obliged us with the usual evidence of their presence.
Animal poo is easy to spot and identify.
Is it still warm?

Snack-time couldn't come soon enough for the hard working little man.

Ursa likes a good hike in the woods.
Especially the snack part.
She likes the homeward trek best.