Signs of spring

In the depths of winter our chickens stop laying and we go without homegrown eggs. Some time in March when daylight increases enough and we start to see hints of spring, we’re delighted to find eggs once more. The red sex link hens are the first to lay, but this year the Americaunas started contributing their smaller, pretty green-blue eggs shortly after. This is surely the earliest sign of spring for us, and in many ways the most welcome.

Basket of chicken ggs

Anybody home?

Wild turkeys looking in through house window

This view is out of the window in the room where my husband and I work every day; it’s a pretty good view for a home office. Okay, so the windows are in need of a clean, but you can see those darn curious turkeys, can’t you? Anybody home?

So far we’ve had great views of all manner of birds and deer out of this window, but the turkeys are new and definitely the most pushy of our visitors. They’ll be asking for lunch next (it’s not going to happen!).

What I can’t seem to convey adequately in my photos is the wonderful way in which these birds are slipping about the icy ground outside the window. They are the picture of calm foraging creatures until they hit an icy patch, and then it’s all crazy feathers for a moment until they compose themselves again. I’ll keeping trying for a good snap.

Weekend work

It is November and still surprisingly warm, though we get cold blasts here and there. It was entirely warm enough to work outside this weekend, which is exactly what we did. Outdoor tasks become a bit of a race at this time of year.

Tasks completed:
– protecting the trunks of the two willow trees that we planted earlier this year from a bark-defacing deer;
– spreading a layer of biochar (our recently burned brush and branches) over the largest of our garden bends;
– burning another round of brush and a bit more tree pruning;
– continuing with the expansion of our largest vegetable bed (manual digging is always first on this clay – we can’t use the tiller until that top layer has been broken through!)
– completing the roof and associated odds and ends on our tree house (photos coming soon);
– planting two dwarf lilac trees** (a steal at $10 each at our local nursery) and a smattering of tulip bulbs around their bases
– lots of cooking on the woodstove (again, an update coming shortly)

** Note: this activity invovled walking a total of 1km out to one of our fields to an old compost heap for soil and twice up a very steep hill pushing the wheelbarrow as the mini tractor-trailer was in use by the menfolk to carry supplies to the treehouse. I think I should get loads of extra points for this activity, just for the record. My thirteen-year old, however, also gets bonus points for swimming for two straight hours this evening following the day’s work; he’s studying for his Bronze Medallion and couldn’t miss his lesson.

Tonight’s reward was the final Harry Potter movie, which we missed seeing in the cinema, and a yummy fish ‘pie’ in puff pastry that I cooked up. A good weekend.

Reflections on gardening and some winter planning

It’s been a little over a month since we closed down the better part of our warm weather garden, although at the time of writing several kale and chard plants in my small front bed are still going strong and happily resisting the frosts at night. Along with ridiculous amounts of parsley that I must harvest; I really don’t know how we came to grow so much parsley!

At the very end of September / beginning of October when it was time to deal with the tomatoes, I picked as many as wanted to come off the vine and ended up with several large bowlsful that came directly into the kitchen. One-third of that went straight into the batch of Green Tomato and Apple chutney that I made and canned (so good), and two-thirds were consumed as part of lunches and suppers, as needed. Sometimes fresh as a garnish or addition to a meal, other times cooked as part of the main event, like pizza sauce or chili. There remained on the tomato plants a number of tomatoes too green to be picked, so I cut those plants down to ground level and simply brought them into our cold storage room where I placed them on the floor on a sheet where they have continued to ripen. I’d got this advice from several different corners and it certainly works. Nothing beats the living warmth and flavours of a tomato right off the vine, but slow ripening in a dark room after the season has ended still beats anything from the grocery store.

This year in the garden was really a test – could we garden on clay, and we liked the result we got, documented here. Having satisfied ourselves that we could do this reasonably well and keep the deer out, the only thing left to do is expand by quite a lot the size of our beds. We fed ourselves from our garden quite decently this year, had enough tomatoes for a small amount of canning, and enough surplus to share some of the bounty with family and friends, which is all good. But there are more vegetables that we’d like to grow that we simply didn’t have room for and we want to increase volume by a lot for certain crops (eg tomatoes – next year I want to be able to can a lot of tomato sauce and chutney).

As part of clearing out the larger bed behind the house earlier this fall we also started the process of expanding it. We’re essentially taking a rectangular bed that nestled at the back corner (south facing) of our house and pulling it out and around the corner of the house. We’ve watched the progress and intensity of the sun in this space quite a lot and think it’s a good decision to expand in this location. The final bed will be between three and four times its original size and will build on some kind of terracing as it generally slopes up as it moves toward the front of the house. Unless on my return home today I find out that dam working is continuing, I’m expecting that we’ll be tilling the ground for the rest of this expanded bed.

I’ve got to get my head firmly back into garden for a bit after taking a break this past month; I started a new batch of greens that do well in cool to cold weather – arugula, radicchio, lettuce, chard and kale – in small pots in a sunny window in our mudroom earlier this fall and these are ready to go into the ground and spread their roots. I can’t do this until we have a mini greenhouse or other row cover solution sorted out and I’m starting to feel a little panicked, but we’ll sort something out. This is the first time that I’ve ever started a crop in the fall, so I need to get my skates on. We haven’t been able to find a large-ish (20 x 12 feet) coldhouse that we like enough and can afford yet, so growing on a larger scale this winter seems unlikely (we really need to know for sure one way or the other this week), but if we just have a go with the greens I’ll be happy as we will have tackled something new.

I also need to get my herbs moving again indoors; sadly I let the super happy and productive basil plant that spent the summer in our screened in porch die and I’ll have to start again with basil from seed. That’ll teach me.

Recently we remembered to pick some wild mint from the banks of our stream and have a batch drying for tea.

My ambitions for next year in summary:
– lots more tomatoes and some major canning
– more carrots
– more green beans and runner beans and a plan to freeze a number of batches
– less kale, more chard
– add zucchini/courgette to the list
– master growing some kind of squash (likely butternut for a cold storage staple): squash did not do well in our garden this year
– pumpkins
– cukes (the other crop that did not do well this year) and making pickles (that’s my husband’s job)
– add leeks
– add potatoes
– small batch of broccoli (I grew two beautiful heads of broccoli in my city garden a few years ago but lost both – their heads were mysteriously broken off just as they were nearly ready)
– have a better plan for harvesting/using hot peppers
– beef up growth of sweet peppers
– try a different variety of spinach
– apple cider making (again, something my husband is really wanting to do)
– make apple marmalade again, but triple the batch size!
– add at least one other preserve to the list

Homemade, recycled treehouse, quick update

This isn’t really part 4 in this series, but a quick update until I have the time to prepare a full report on the next phase building our treefort out of mostly recycled materials. The weather is getting much colder, but we really pushed things along recently. Here is a quick snapshot of the treehouse as of last weekend.

Treehouse made from mostly recycled materials