Thursday, March 29, 2012

Living in a Small Space

When we get our land purchase finished and a well in place, the next thing to look at will be housing. We've already got a tent, but that's only good in nice weather unless you want really whiny kids. We also have the trailer that Steve built and we used to move across the country. It's built on an old travel trailer frame and has a plywood roof and walls with a double wide door at the back, a man sized door on one side and a window. It also has a pop up tent top with some sleeping space. So using that is an option. It would need some insulation, a waterproof membrane and roof covering and possibly we'd replace the canvas walls on the pop-up with insulated wooden panels. Another option is to build a small cabin.

Numerous plans area available for free or low cost on the internet and since many also include engineered drawings you can use them to get a proper building permit and do things legally. For temporary use or movable structures though the options are much more varied. One constant among all the cabins though, is good use of space. There are many creative ways of using your space well but the first thing you'll need to do is pare down your stuff so that you don't have lots of junk cluttering up your small space. Then you'll need to plan for making the most efficient use of your furniture and other fixtures. Here are some great furniture pieces in the video, and you can certainly take the ideas and make them work for you! We don't need to buy all expensive furniture to put in our tiny house, you can build good quality things yourself. Do a good job and you'll surround yourself with things that you love and appreciate. Anyways, here are some ideas:



Anothe place to look is IKEA. Especially in their discount section. You can't always find a deal but you never know what will be there. The nearest Ikea to us is probably in Moncton, there isn't one in Nova Scotia. So we'll be building from scratch. I'll let you know how it goes.

I'm going to feed and water the chicks and then off to the chapel for our weekly craft get together. It's also Steve's birthday today so I'm going to write him a letter. And I'm reading The Hunger Games so I need to finish it and get on to our bookclub selection which is my choice this month. I chose By The Banks Of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Permaculture and Land Choices

With the idea that we'll be living a long time on this land, and leaving it to our children to farm, the choice of a good piece of land is really important. Yes, we can amend soil if we need to and we can dig wells and plant trees. But some things are permanent. We can't make a stream or river appear out of nowhere. We can't drastically alter the shape of the land or the slope without doing real damage to the soil structure. In fact, even the direction it faces is an important consideration.

Our plans include:

barn, house, root cellar and greenhouse construction
raising livestock and vegetables
planting permanent fruit and orchard sites

Animals can live anywhere there's adequate food water and shelter but having good pasture for them and an easily accessible water source just makes life more pleasant. Before we get any animals we'll need some secure housing and fencing and establishing a good mix of grasses is easier to do before animals arrive, so we'll be looking to fertilize the soil and overseed if necessary. We'll know more once we test the soil and see how it grows in the late spring.

Any permanent crops like fruit trees and bushes need planning ahead of time too. Choosing a site that's got air flow and isn't in a frost pocket, with good soil depth and fertility, these and many more things need to be considered before you head for the nursery.

We'd like a thermally efficient home, facing south if possible and one that makes good use of solar gain. By that I mean it will allow sunlight into the home to aid in heating and we'd like a hot water heating system on the roof. That's Steve's baby! It doesn't take much to make your home more efficient, just a little forethought and planning. We turn our beehives to warm up with the low winter sun, why not our human house? We're still exploring the possibility of getting planning permission for an alternative building method like strawbale or cordwood for both out home and out buildings. Research continues and we'll first start by building a barn or workshop to test our skills. And I've got to talk to the powers that be to get an idea of the hoops involved before hand. Hey, forewarned is forearmed. And we've never dealt with Annapolis County so we'll ask some discreet and anonymous questions before making plans.

But the very first things we have to do are these:

Find land and make an offer.
Confirm our financing and complete the sale.
Drill a well.
Arrange for a temporary electrical service.

Yes, we're staying on grid for right now and for ease of construction (using electric tools) but in designing and building a house we want to allow for the possibility of being energy independent. Not even using propane. Wood cookstoves and woodstoves in general are a good option for almost all the properties we've looked at because they have woodlots that we can manage. The same goes for construction, using cordwood as a method of building is good because it makes use of available resources.

And yes, you drill a well before building any structures. Why? Because occasionally it'll turn out that the best location for a well is under your house or close to a septic field. So do the well first, then the septic where it won't pollute your water supply (has to be done by certified companies in NS but we're going to see if any of the work can be done by us to save money) and finally the house and out buildings. Even though we don't plan on using the septic tank much if at all, we still might need one in place. I'm not sure that you can put a new outhouse on property here, but I'll find out.

Anyways the sun is shining again and so I'm going out while I can. Then I've got to mop floors in preparation for Kate's party at 5pm.

Have a good day.

Elizabeth

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Very Quiet Neighbours

Stephen and I found another Annapolis Valley Property to go look at, and despite the snow and my bald tyres, I drove out there today. It's not a bad location at all with the lot being fairly regular and rectangular with one corner belonging to the lot next door. From the road the cleared land slopes south to a brook and then north up the hill which is mixed forest. The road is fairly quiet, being off the valley floor and away from the major roads, but it's still close enough to town for supplies and to have customers within easy reach. Since we know the price of fuel is just going to keep going up, being closer to town is important if you plan on selling produce as a part of your farming business plan. And yes, even people who are self-sufficient have some sort of a plan. We experiment along the way, but we have an idea of where we're going too.

I won't give you all the details of the land...look how well that worked out for us last time. I'm going to take the advice of some friends and just say "tell you all about it once it's ours". I will tell you about the neighbours though. It's just out from the village, and I use that term loosely since it's maybe a closer collection of 2 dozen houses, and has one home across the road, one next door that can't be seen from the road, and on the other side is a small church and cemetery.

So here's the kicker...how do we feel about having a cemetery beside us? In Nova Scotia, they're all over the place. From small family ones to great big community ones, cemeteries are everywhere. Not like in BC where many times they are hidden behind hedges on the outskirts of town. It's something you get used to, same as the number of upright stones instead of the modern flat ones. I like the upright ones, it reminds me of English churchyards I guess. It's an interesting thing to think about though because I already have a very over active imagination and I don't imagine living beside a cemetery will help much. But I'm also religious and having a knowledge of what happens to people after they die, I'm not much worried about ghosts. Still, I think that side of the property would be better suited to an orchard than a yard so we'll plan accordingly.

I think this place will work for us. It's got cleared land, decent soil, no chemicals for a few years at least and running water. Time to pray about it and think about making an offer. Any thoughts you have? Oh and here's another question. If you knew someone had bought a piece of land, kept it for 1 year without doing anything to it, and then they were selling it for 25% more than they paid for it, would you offer them close to what they paid originally? ie. If they bought it for $45k and were selling it for $55k, would you offer them say $47? How much can you low ball a property without being rude and insulting?

Spring has Sprung a Leak...it's snowing.

Well Winter had returned, for a day or two anyways. It's cold, windy and snowing right now and won't go above freezing today. Hard to believe that this time last week it was 27 degrees!

The hunt for property continues. I'm supposed to be going to look at a place today that seems to be promising but the realtor doesn't want to show it until Saturday so I guess I'll go by myself. If the roads are ok. It's not too far out but my tyres really are in bad shape.

I've got other things to keep me busy...getting ready for Katie's birthday party for one thing. And I'm supposed to take her out for her birthday dinner tonight as well. I'm not sure that I'll be going to the city after all this week so that should give me some extra time at home to get things sorted out around here. The kids are off to school so I actually have a warm and quiet house right now...perfect timing for mopping floors!

The new chicks are doing ok. I couldn't put them in with the other chicks because of pecking issues so they have their own little place instead. I need a new feeder so that's on the agenda for today. I'll be planting tomato seeds too.

Hope your spring is more colourful than today's black and white weather in Nova Scotia.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Good News and Bad

Hi! Sorry everyone, it's been a busy weekend of gardening, chick raising and everything else we have to do, so I haven't had time to write.

Here are the highlights....

The chicks are doing great and are growing very quickly...time for a bigger box!

We threw Steve a surprise birthday party on Friday when he came home from work. He got some new tools, a popcorn popper and a huge popcorn bucket for his favourite snack. In fact he and Meghan are in the kitchen now popping kernels! Lots of Meghan and Kate's friends were over and since they all call him 'Dad' anyways it was a fun little party, and he really was surprised. I think he liked his 3 eyed purple monster ice-cream cake too.

Saturday we had our gardening class which was a nice time to get together and share knowledge and tips. It's great for me to learn all the local wisdom of gardening here in the Maritimes. Thanks ladies! And Steve worked on getting the tiller tuned up and running.

Saturday afternoon we met a lovely couple from Annapolis who might be able to help us finance the purchase of a property. They understand about organic farming and the amount of work it takes to have a successful farm. Super nice! Now for the bad news...the property we love looks like it was sold earlier that day to another party. So now we have 2 choices...wait and see if that deal falls through before April 20th or look for another property. There are others around of course, so I think we'll hedge our bets by seeing what else is out there in our price range. There's no point on dwelling on what we can't have...we just have to pick up and move on. But since the decision to purchase a piece of land is a permanent one for us (we're never moving again) we want to make sure we get the place that's right for us and our goals. I've got a short list already...I think that I'll be doing some driving tomorrow to check out some places now that the snow has melted off them. And Steve has been very optimistic too that while we probably won't find as large a place again in our price range, maybe we can find something with more cleared land which means less initial work for us. He's got a good point. So if you hear of anything for sale that's 20-120 acres, suitable for farming, in Annapolis County between Greenwood and Paradise and under $50,000, please let us know. One property we've been looking at for a year has recently had another price drop down to $53,000 with a house and 62 acres...Steve likes it because it's a reno instead of a full out build so that's less work for him. Something to think about. There certainly are options out there and we just have to pick the right one for us. We're open to any advice you can give us, please leave a comment.

Hope you all have a great week to come.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Greenhouse 2012

This year we're going to have 2 greenhouses. One is 20'x10' by 9 feet tall and is a re-used frame from a portable shelter, it's located in our borrowed garden space in Wilmot. The other will be just your regular old poly tunnel greenhouse like we've built in previous years and approx 20'x10'x8' and made using water pipes for the ribs. The covering is 6 mil poly otherwise known as vapour barrier and this slightly smaller greenhouse will be located beside our house in Greenwood.

To keep the plastic securely attached to a frame is always a challenge so this year we're going to try making water pipe clips for that greenhouse along with the plastic being attached to 2x4's along the bottom and weighed down and the other one will have wooden boards along the bottom sides of the greenhouse with the plastic rolled around them and stapled on. We'll then weight it down with sandbags or earth to prevent the wind from getting underneath and causing the plastic to lift off. The eds vary between greenhouses so I'll take some pics today and show you the progress we're making. I'm teaching a class in the Wilmot greenhouse on Saturday afternoon so I'll make that one the priority. The one at the house will be used for getting tomato seedlings going and it won't need to be up for another couple of weeks. The weather is going to cool down to seasonal temps again now and there's snow in the forecast for next week so obviously I'm not going to be keeping seedlings outside yet. They need the warmer temps of indoors to germinate.

Chris has a half day today so he's going to come and help me with pulling over the poly and fitting on one of the ends. It should be fun. It's a lovely sunny day, much cooler at 11 degrees but it's still warming up. I've decided that Spring Cleaning is the order of the day so I'm currently washing all the blankets and hanging them out on the line to dry in the sun. It's gusting up to 50 km/h though so I've got clothes pins every 6 inches and I'm keeping an eye on everything to make sure that things stay attached to the line and don't go sailing onto the roof or the neighbours houses.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's SO WARM!!

Today was 27 degrees, and yes, I got my first sunburn. Just a little pink and itchy on my neck, face and forearms. I think it might be time to break out the sunscreen and sun hat. Hard to believe it's March in Nova Scotia with weather like this!

We got the plastic taped together for the greenhouse and tomorrow we'll get it all ready to go over top of the frame. Should be fun if it's breezy like it was today!

The chicks are growing by leaps and bounds. They're still small of course but the amount of food and water they're consuming is increasing rapidly. Speaking of which I should go check on them as they're making lots of cheeping noises. This is probably their last night in the house.

They're all fine. Cleaned and refilled their waterer and they've still got clean food. I think that once they have a drink they'll all quiet down for the night. Maybe if Meghan turns off the light it'll help as well.

I'm just in the middle of making a rough map of the property in Victoria Vale to show the lie of the land. I'm not the best at drawing so hopefully other people will still be able to read it and find it useful. We're still optimistic that we'll find a way to buy it. Like I mentioned the other day...I'm going to have to sell an awful lot of tomato plants! Well, that's partly what the greenhouse is for, to help them along once they're a reasonable size and once they are re-potted ready to sell. Does anyone know what the going rate for heritage tomato plants is?

Anyways, I've got to run. Well not run...sleep!

Have a lovely night or day, depending on when you read this.

Elizabeth

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring is here and it's 25 degrees!

So here's our new logo for the farm and I'll get a sign made up for use at the farmers market too. What do you think? I just wanted something simple and that would be easy to read.

Today was a busy one. We got the chicks their new waterer and feeder and I also got the plastic film for the greenhouse. It's 6 mil Poly, used in house construction as vapour barrier. Since it's not the UV protected plastic I should think we'll get only 2-3 years out of it but that's ok with me. It'll do for starters. Tomorrow some of the kids have early dismissal so we're going over to measure the frame and then we'll ct and piece the plastic into one big sheet before pulling it over and attaching it. After that I will have to construct an end frame for vents and a door and then on the weekend Steve is going to give the tiller a service and start digging over the garden area. I will take some pics tomorrow for you so you can see what we're working with. I'm getting my planting schedule sorted out because if I'm going to be in the market each week I need to make sure I plan to have a weekly harvest. The main things I'd like to have started to begin with are turnips, beets, greens, lettuce, tomato plants and radishes. I can have those ready in short order. I'm also going to get some peas and other cool weather veggies in the ground under row covers as soon as I can. The weather is so unpredictable in Spring and just because we're getting temps in the mid to high 20's this week doesn't mean it won't freeze and snow next week. Since I need higher temps for some of my seeds to germinate I'm starting my lettuce and tomato plants indoors and I'll later transplant them outside to the greenhouse.

I'm going to build a movable ark for my chickens so that they can clear the ground of bugs and grubs. Of course they'll also fertilize the ground too. I'm sure you've seen movable coops around and they are very useful. But I'll give you one tip: Don't use COB as a feed because those seeds can sprout in the ground and suddenly you're growing corn, oats and barley. Unless your COB is rolled of course, then it's not a problem. That goes for chicken scratch or any other feed that has a whole grain. The advantages of using this chicken tractor is that while you're digging up nasties from the ground, the chicken parasites stay there too when you move the birds onto a new patch of grass. The chickens love it because it's fresh food every few days or week, and it helps to naturally control pest levels, because of course when those eggs and parasites hatch, the chickens are long gone so it stops re-infestation. My chicken tractor or ark will be a small house attached to a 4x8 foot run. I'll plan my growing areas accordingly and have the door higher up so that if the coop is sitting beside the run and a raised bed, the chicks can still get out and into their little run.

I was working out how many tomato plants I'd have to sell to buy my own piece of land...it's a lot and I'm gonna run out of pots! If you're looking to buy some already started heritage tomato plants then just leave me a message or see me at the Greenwood Mall Farmers Market starting in April or May. I'll keep you posted.

Had a great time at book club tonight and a nice drive around some of the countryside outside Mt. Uniacke today because the highway was closed due to an accident. I forget sometimes just how pretty the side roads can be. Isn't life like that? We're so busy looking straight ahead as we zoom along the highway that we forget all the beautiful things just off the beaten track.

Anyways I'm off to bed now...long day of gardening tomorrow and working on getting my first sunburn.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Where Babies Come From

Saw this beautiful video (so cute!) and thought it would make a nice share to celebrate the re-birth of the year and SPRING!!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Silver Laced Wyandottes

Sssshhh! Don't tell my neighbours....I got chicks today! Actually it's not a big secret, just about every kid in the neighbourhood has been over here today playing with them.

They are living temporarily in a big plastic tub in the girls room staying nice and warm with their food and water. You can see them in the picture here. They are just a few days old. I'm going to switch them off straw and onto shavings simply due to ease of cleaning. The straw will tend to mat together. Wyandottes are an older breed that are considered dual purpose meaning both layers and meat birds. So good for a small self-supporter because you can breed and raise your own chicks to replace your older hens. We will likely keep a few different breeds but we generally look for birds that are calm, friendly, large, reasonable layers and will go broody and hatch eggs occasionally. These features will also make them a little easier to manage.


We are so excited to be able to build them a little coop and have it ready for them to move into as soon as they are feathered out in a few weeks. Chicks can be very very dusty so they will move out into the garage soon with a 250 watt heat lamp and a wire cover to keep them safe from visiting dogs and cats. Otherwise they make a very fine dust that takes ages to settle out of the air and it just gets everywhere. Chicks are definitely better raised outside either in a barn or heated building.

Tomorrow I will go pickup a water font and a non-tip feed dish for them but it you're just starting out any dish that's shallow will do. I like egg cartons for feeders and if you put marbles or pebbles in then it keeps the chicks from giving themselves a cold bath when they fall in the water dish...which they invariably will all do at least once.

The look so cute now...pretty soon they'll look all gangly and then voila, beautiful birds!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Looking for Land - Found it! Now we need some $$$

As some of you know...Stephen and I found a great property to buy in Victoria Vale, NS. Here's our list of pros and cons:

PROS
Big (97 acres)
Cheap ($40,000)
Has ++ Trees
Has flowing water
Has hydro elec. potential
Has driveway
Quiet
Private
Less than 10 minutes to hospital/shopping
South facing slope
4 acres cleared and ready to use
Unlimited firewood
No recent chemical use
Power at roadside
Several good house sites
Kids love it, good for paintball
Great neighbours and not too many of them


CONS
Don't have $40,000 cash
Was selectively logged and needs some cleaning up in spots
No well, septic or existing house
No cable internet
Would be building a house for 2 years
Would require use of some heavy equipment on occasion
Hard to subdivide more than 4 times
Hilly in places
Some rocky spots among the trees
Re-planted trees are still small
Some road noise from secondary road

Here's the ad I have on Kijiji at the moment. We're looking for a family to share it with or an investor who will give us a mortgage/rent to own for 2 years. Let me know what you think...should I word it differently?

************************************************************

My husband and I have found a beautiful piece of land in the Middleton area of the Annapolis Valley. Partly cleared and with a brook running through it, it's what we've been looking for to start a small organic family farm and the land lends itself to other business plans too. A large field, hardwood trees, nearly 100 acres and it's quiet while only being a few minutes from both the Bay of Fundy and town. Negotiated it to half it's originally listed price so it's a terrific deal.

Is there anyone out there who would be interested in purchasing this with us? Or giving us a private mortgage?

We are a working couple with 4 children, no debt but also no credit because one of us is self-employed and we just moved to NS in 2011. Who knew that always paying cash was a bad thing? We have sufficient income...just not sufficient credit to be buying land by ourselves this year. We would like someone to carry a mortgage for us for 2 years at which time we would go and get a regular mortgage from the bank. We will pay up to 10% interest. Or, for less than $40,000 you could purchase the land and then sell us back half for $25,000 Where else can you buy 50 acres for $15k? And you'd have such wonderful neighbours!

We'd also be interested in developing this with another family.

The land has gently sloped fields at roadside, slopes down to a brook at the bottom and has a steep wooded hillside at the rear. Not flat.

Please contact us for more details. We'd like to move on this ASAP.

To learn more about our family you can read our blog at humblebee-farm.blogspot.com

Is That Spring Peeking Around The Corner?

In the last 48 hours we'll have gone from no snow, to 3 inches of ice pellets, to snow, we had freezing drizzle for a full day in parts of the province and over the next couple of days it's supposed to get up into the teens for temperature and be sunny, reaching a predicted high of 18 degrees on Wednesday. Crazy! Welcome to Spring in Nova Scotia.

As mentioned in comments from our last few posts, the sap out of the trees is indeed turning darker so we assume that the syrup will also be darker. We have 2 20l jugs full and we still need to empty buckets today yet, so we need to get cracking! Or boiling as the case may be.

We're cutting and hauling firewood this weekend with any luck and also still looking for someone to help us buy that land in Victoria Vale for $40,000. I'm going to do another post so I have a link to post all over the internet :) Even if I can't buy it, at least it will help the owners sell it, and Frank and Linda are super nice people.

How are your spring plans coming along? I'm starting to turn soil this weekend and my greenhouse will hopefully be going up next week if the boys will help me. My first seeds are going in the ground today but in pots indoors. If the weather turns nice it will be great to be able to fill the greenhouse quickly. But I'm babysitting so I have to get going now and clean my house before I leave.

Hope things are good for you all.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Religous Freedom

Just as a matter of curiosity and totally unrelated to anything farming related...how do you feel about people who wear religious articles of clothing or jewelry? Should crosses be banned in Canada? Turbans? Where do we draw the line?

Britain is trying to make it a law that you can be required by your employer to not wear a cross to work. Check this out. http://rt.com/news/uk-bans-wearing-cross-317/ I'd be interested to know your thoughts on protecting religious freedoms.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The First Syrup

I finished making the first jar of syrup yesterday. I think it tastes good. Everyone else though says it's bland and they like the cheap corn syrup store brand stuff. HORROR!! Have I warped their taste buds by letting them eat the cheap stuff? Maybe I did something wrong? LOL It's sort of like chocolate...some people can taste and appreciate the finer quality stuff and other people think it's the same as that cheap Easter bunny chocolate. I'll convert them yet! But maybe not to the good chocolate....that's a treat I'm ok to keep to myself :)

Even after the windstorm was literally blowing sap out of the buckets (that's why the plastic tubes are so handy) we collected sap into an 18 litre jug for ease of carrying and got approx 14 litres. The kids have found that our pop bottles are fine but they prefer emptying buckets as they are easier to get on and off the hooks. I'm still going to make my second batch just a soon as I get a stainless steel scrubber and get that burned sugar off the bottom of the big stock pot from the other day. Oh, here's a handy household hint for you. Do you know why it's ok to use an SOS pad to scrub a cast iron pan but why you should never use them on a stainless steel pot? Tiny particles of the scrubbing pad break through the stainless finish and embed themselves in the metal of the pot where they rust. That's what causes those tiny little rust spots on some peoples stainless steel pots and pans. So to keep yours in good condition even when you've burned something onto them...scrape of as much as possible, soak the pan with hot water and some dish detergent and then go at it with a stainless steel scrubber and not an SOS style soap pad. I pretty much just described my morning, lol.

Today has dawned cold (-8) and clear. We've got some pretty variable weather for the next few weeks which is typical of spring. We have King Fu as usual this morning and while the kids are doing tiger rolls (sounds like a type of sushi) I think we'll go and walk around the property we're so in love with in Victoria Vale. If we can find someone to help us purchase it then it means we can make plans and start saving to build a home. It will be so nice to be working on something for ourselves instead of renovating a house and farm for years only to finish and then have our landlord break the lease and sell the property. That's what happened to us in BC. I tend to forget that people do things like that because I would never screw anyone over. That's why we'll always in the future get all agreements properly written up and signed by a notary or lawyer. It's a sad world when a man's word is no longer his bond.

Either way, we break ground on a greenhouse over on our borrowed garden lot next weekend if the wind cooperates and tilling the soil should happen about then too. The first seeds won't go into the ground for at least 2 more weeks and under row covers to protect them from light frosts for a few weeks. I've got a good idea of what I want to grow and the local Co-Op owner has said he'll get me a wholesale price on bulk seeds. All I had to do was ask. I should pop in there today and get another couple of buckets and another syrup filter.

Have fun with your day. I'll post pics of syrup later on and let you all know how it turns out. We had fun babysitting Olivia yesterday who is now up to 10 steps! Soon we'll be chasing her all over the house!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Laughter and Smoke in the Kitchen

Just a quick note to all of you, my friends, family and faithful readers. I said I'd let you know all the triumphs and failures of living a self-sufficient life right...so here goes.

Today was BEAUTIFUL!!! The weather was calm, 15 degrees and sunny! (Right now it's still warm but very windy) The maple trees yielded 8 litres of sap today so I put it into a big stock pot and boiled it away. I currently have a smaller pot on the stove of concentrated sap that needs to finish boiling down and it's on the stove at the same time.

Well, the girls and I got distracted. I'd been checking the pots every hour and the last time I checked it there was still about 3 litres of sap in the big pot. The phone rang and time passed and then we noticed the smell of burned sugar. Running onto the kitchen I quickly found it filled with light white smoke and stinking of sugar. Yes, the syrup, as it concentrated, boiled away faster and faster and we weren't watching. Even though in my post about making maple syrup I point out that you really have to pay attention. Well I grabbed the pot of thick blackened tar like syrup and headed for the back door. Putting the pot outside to cool I also added some water to help lift the sugar off the pot so I can clean it later. So the very first batch of syrup for 2012 that was technically finished turns out to be a blackened mess. The second smaller pot is still doing just fine. Ahhh, the pain of failure! Still, lesson learned. And now we're laughing about it.

We're still optimistic that the next batch will be delicious and eaten for breakfast tomorrow!

And we're laughing about it too. After all, you can't get too caught up in everything that doesn't work out. Just learn and move on.

Thought you'd get a kick out of hearing about my failure making syrup. lol Hope Spring is treating you all well and that the coming rain is just the beginning of a beautiful Spring in Nova Scotia. Wonderful things are happening, and we will share them with you later.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mortgage Brokers in Nova Scotia

As you know, we're currently looking at different options regarding buying a farm/home here in the Annapolis Valley. We've done market research for almost 3 years now and regularly stay updated on what's what in the housing market. The one thing we're not abreast of is financing. So, I made an appointment and went to see an independent mortgage broker.

I chose to go see Jennifer Guest in Greenwood. She has a background in finance and understands more than just the loan process. She seems genuinely interested in having you on a good solid financial platform so that you can make an informed choice. She deals exclusively with mortgages at the moment after going out on her own from a career at Scotiabank. And she's super nice and practical.

We very honestly discussed all the options and scenarios for our situation and she's going to help us come up with a long term plan if that's the way we decide to go. No pressure, just advice to help us qualify for the best mortgage rate.

I learned a lot of different ways of looking at mortgage financing and her experience in dealing with the big lenders but I wanted to share the 2 things that I think could benefit the most people.

To build good credit we all know to pay off your bills on time. But did you know that using your credit card only upto 80% of it's limit will give you the best credit faster?

I also learned about ways of paying off your mortgage faster while still having a financial buffer. She said to get a regular term of say 20 years resulting lets say in a payment of $800 instead of a shorter term mortgage at $1200 per month. Pay your $800 and bank the $400 difference. At the end of the year you would have $4800 saved up to apply as a lump sum against the principal, thereby paying your mortgage off faster. But at the same time you've got a little bit of savings for 11 months of the year so that if anything happens like losing your job, the payments are lower ($800) plus you'll have some money in the bank to cover some of the payments too.

It seems like sound advice doesn't it? From what I can tell and the checking up I've done, this lady is the kind of broker who gets the best deal for her client, and doesn't do what makes her the best commission. She's honest, and I think she'll be in business for a long time simply because her clients will come back to her again and again and they'll refer their friends.

So I officially Highly Recommend Jennifer Guest of Centum and if you are looking for a mortgage or just need the advice to get you on track and ready for a mortgage in the future, see her!

http://www.centum.ca/jennifer_guest

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Free Recipes - Baking with whole wheat flour

Don't you think these pancakes look yummy? They certainly go well with the maple syrup we're busy making today. But would you think less of them if I told you they were whole wheat?

Have you ever been put off using whole wheat flour because you simply don't know how to use it? Are you worried that everything will taste like cardboard? Or that it will upset your stomach? Let me reassure you that baking with whole wheat flour can be delicious as well as healthy. Here are some tips:

First the tummy upset thing. Yes, if you are not used to whole grain flour then it's possible that it could cause some digestive upset including gas and other symptoms I'll leave up to your imagination. Start slowly...blending flours to begin with and work your way up to 100% brown flour. Eat small portions, maybe a biscuit or a cookie until you are used to it. In our house we could eat everything 100% whole wheat and not have any problems because it's what we're used to and that happens over time. If you still have problems after a while and you do not normally eat flour then consider seeing a Dr to see if you might be allergic to wheat. Some unfortunate people are.

Use the freshest flour you can. If you use it only infrequently then store it in the freezer or buy it in smaller quantities, that way the natural oils won't go rancid. Even better...grind your own flour but be sure to get the correct fineness for making desserts. You might have to run it through your mill twice depending on the brand of your mill.

Don't over compensate for the nutty flavour by using lots of oil and sugar. Pay attention to the ingredients in recipes and adjust to taste. Some experimentation may be in order.

And to get you off to a flying start here's a free recipe book you can print or download. Let me know what you think. There are lots of good recipes online too.

Now there's been debate recently regarding the labeling of whole wheat and whole grain products. You should know that 'whole wheat' usually means that most of the germ is removed to improve shelf life whereas 'whole grain' means just that...the whole grain with all it's goodness. Try for whole grain flour if you can find it. Lots of the smaller millers carry it and if you grind your own, that's what you get. And whole grain is WAY better nutritionally.

Enjoy!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Queen of the Sun - Explaining Colony Collapse Disorder and Man's Dependance on Bees

Bees are as Amazing as they are Beautiful! Don't you agree?

As some of you know, there's a great film out at the moment that recently won 10 IFF Awards. It's a fantastic documentary about bees from the same director who brought you The Real Dirt On Farmer John. I'll include the trailer and some stills that came with my press kit though. If you are interested in watching it, and I hope you are, it's available as a DVD or for instant watch here. To download is about $15 but you can rent it on vudu for as little as $4.

For anyone interested in bees, pollinators in general or colony collapse disorder, this is a must watch. It's certainly not all gloom and doom either. Some of the people you'll meet are funny and quite optimistic that things can be improved. Briefly, it a look at man's relationship with bees over the past 10,000 years from humble beginnings to commercial operations and back to individual beekeepers. The focus isn't just on the US either but takes a look at how bees work to preserve an ecological balance all over the world. It explores, sympathetically, how large scale operations are coping with the losses of so many colonies each year and how small organic farmers are maintaining their hives while still dealing with the threats of pesticides, disease and parasites. Everything from alternative hive styles to natural parasite control. There really is a rich and seldom appreciated work going on by bees the world over and this movie will open your eyes. Highly recommended.

Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us? - Official Theatrical Trailer (HD) from Taggart Siegel on Vimeo.

Not a Snow Day

Despite the fact that we got a very pretty dump of snow overnight the schools are open. Good for us and bad for the kids who now have to bundle up for school. Steve still sounds like he's got a super deep gravelly voice and he's not feeling well so he's staying home today. It means that if he's better later we can take the car in for it's inspection now that the bodywork is done. It's not his best work but certainly will pass inspection and tide us over until we redo all the bodywork and paint the car in the summer. There's just no way of doing it in this weather...the paint won't dry. And really...who wants to be working outside in an unheated garage when they're sick? No, Steve is surely much happier snuggled up in his blankets sucking on a cold lozenge and dreaming of warmer days.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tonight's Movie - Must Watch

Oh I hope these links keep working for a long time, they are for the same video. But just in case they don't, you've got to watch this video NOW!! It's a beautiful look at mono-culture versus poly-culture. A great look at farming and where your food comes from. Many different perspectives from organic farmers to big industry to the government who subsidize almost all industrial food producers. I'll blog more about this tomorrow. In the meantime...get a snack, get comfy and watch!

http://vimeo.com/34578083

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/02/26/fresh-video-documentary.aspx?np=true

Looking for a Mortgage/Loan

Well, we're getting down to the wire looking for a private mortgage so we can buy property here in Nova Scotia. I've got a lot of research and more calls to make, we'll see if we can work something out. Basically the land we want to buy is $40,000. Worth more than that but we talked them down. We have $30,000 coming from the gov't in July (they now say) and of course we can make monthly payments. We do have the required income but with the legal wrangling going on between Steve's ex wife and Family Maintenance over payments, we don't qualify for a regular mortgage. All that over $600, can you believe it? It's getting sorted out in a couple of weeks but by then the land will have been sold to another guy.

**Note: it looks like the court stuff is sorted out now and we're just waiting on a Judges signature. Hooray!**

So we're faced with the dilemma...try and get a private mortgage at almost criminal interest rates? One guy quoted us 18%...we said No Thanks. Or wait and see if something else comes along later in the year? Any thoughts?

We've got a super busy day again today. The new car is in the garage and today will lose it's rust, have a plate welded into the floor and receive a spa treatment of mesh, bondo and red oxide primer. Steve got it all washed down yesterday outside on the driveway and it looked so odd to see him out in the dark with a flashlight in the rain washing a car. He wanted to get all the grime and salt off and unfortunately our garage slopes so that water runs and pools inside and doesn't drain out, so washing outside was necessary, if comical. Now it's a matter of fixing the rust and building up the new fender panels from mesh and body filler (Bondo).

Also on the docket for today are to get the legal papers from the ex. Church. Family time with a movie and junk food (but it's Fast Sunday so we're not eating until supper time) and of course I've got to make a dinner everyone will eat because we're fasting (not eating or drinking) until supper time. I'm thinking pork chops. Here's my recipe from a US Newspaper years ago:

  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce lite
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
  • Basically you take your pork chops and brown them on both sides. Place them in a casserole or covered baking dish. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over the top. Cover and bake for an hour (or 30-40 mins for thin chops). Keep covered so they don't dry out while cooking and rest on the counter for 10 mins after baking before serving. We're having ours with mashed potatoes and peas. No gravy necessary. Oh, and this recipe is for 8 pork chops so you can halve it if you need to. We use less sodium soy sauce and you can also use fresh garlic in place of the garlic salt if you're watching your salt intake. You can also use fresh ginger if you grate it finely. The flavours have enough time in the oven to blend together. Oh boy, now I'm hungry!

    Well it's time to get up and at 'em. Church starts in an hour.

    I'll have pics to post of the new to us car and we're going to tap our maple trees this afternoon too. Hope you all have a wonderful day.



    Friday, March 2, 2012

    The Weekend Approacheth....

    Yes, It's Friday! Steve is coming home! Of course we've got a crazy busy weekend. We have to take the kids to King Fu, go finish paying for the little VW we bought and then drive it to the mechanics shop. Pick the kids up again and take 'em home. Go to Canadian Tire and purchase the tools, chemicals and body filler we'll need for fixing the fenders on the car. Go do shopping plus 2 service calls. Fix the fenders and weld a plate into the bottom underneath the rear seat to make it safe enough to pass the MVI (Inspection). Leave the car there at the shop for the mechanic to replace the front strut and then do the inspection on Monday. Plus all the normal stuff we have to do on a weekend. Arrrrggghhh! It's going to require some careful planning.

    So for today I'm just doing housework and laundry and holding down the fort. If I'm lucky I'll find some uninterrupted time to write too.

    Steve's getting his plot outline all sorted, his characters defined and is working hard at planning his novel. Me, I just type and see where it leads me. I'm not sure which way is better but I guess we'll see. Do you write? Any opinions? I've got about 6 pages typed up on the computer, I'm not sure what that translates into book wise, but I'm finding it hard to stop and start with the kids around because I can't stay in a good flow. I think that I'm going to have to be more disciplined and set aside time to do nothing else. I'm taking a break from the self-sufficiency book for a few weeks just to get this other short story out of the way.

    Well, it's looking like a hectic maple sap and bondo filled weekend. Sound like fun?
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