Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Beautiful but Cold

So we're back to seasonal temperatures now. With the windchill it's -17c (1f) and both Chris and Jordan went out wearing shorts and a hoodie. They're crazy! But I can't convince them otherwise. The girls are much more sensible and have on their jackets and snowpants. See, here's Kate. She might not be as stylish as her sister or some of her friends...but she's warm! And easy to spot in a crowd with her crazy hat! You can't see but she has on some awesome looking purple, black and silver snow pants too. Toasty! The weather is supposed to warm up a bit in the next few days and then cool off again for the weekend. But hey, it's the middle of Winter so it's to be expected. I'm hoping that my the end of March it will be suitably warm that I can put hot beds into a greenhouse and get my gardening season started.

There's not much exciting going on to write about...just the usual blah days of winter. Once we have our own farm there'll be winter work. Usually things like fixing fences and hedges, trimming trees and cutting the following years supply of firewood. Tending the animals is a daily chore year round. There's something to do on farm in all seasons. And you sort of get into a rhythm with farm life. Things have to be done in their correct season and life just flows by year after year with very little change to the cycle. Mother nature has a way of making sure you can't do it all at once and it tempers the work from the Spring greening of the fields and the birth of lambs through the Harvest to the dark cold nights of Winter when you want to sit by the fire and dream of warmer days.

Here's a picture of our back neighbours taken at about 8am. The snow has packed down during the night and the roads are plowed out and sanded so driving should be fine today, even with my bald tires. I'll have to add air because I have one with a leak but other than that they should be fine. I"ll just take it easy, leave lots of space between me and the person in front. The sun is shining now, it's a beautiful day! And I'm going out to soak up some sun and some vitamin D.

Monday, January 30, 2012

It's snowing

School (and exams) were cancelled today ahead of this snow that's currently falling. It looks pretty but with my lovely tyres I've decided to not chance it on the roads. Better to wait for it to melt in the next few days. It's still coming down in fat while flakes and the kids have had a good time outside tobogganing down the neighbours back lawn. We're keeping warm with our supply of firewood, and so far now we've figured that we've used up about 1 cord this winter...all of it free. The stuff we paid for is still stacked in the garage. But the basement is fairly empty of firewood now so we'll move some more inside to dry out a little bit more ready for burning. Perhaps the boys can do that tomorrow if they're home from school again. We won't know if school is closed until the morning so there's no point in worrying about it.

I do have to get the sidewalks shoveled out and maybe get the snowblower onto the driveway but if I get really lucky, it'll warm up and melt. It looks like it's going to remain cold and snowy for a few days yet but that's ok. It's normal for this time of year. These 2 pics show the road beside our house as seen from the back bedroom window and the front of the house looking towards the driveway as seen from my porch. It's pretty isn't it? It's certainly not the 17 inches we got back in November but it's enough to make everything look fantastic. I can also hear the plow in the background so I'm guessing the roads will be drivable pretty soon which will be nice. Hopefully he doesn't plow a huge pile of snow across my driveway again...it's a pet peeve of all Canadians I'm sure. In fact I remember a funny comedy skit about it...I wonder if I can find it for you to look at. Nope, can't find it...sorry.

Well, I should go put some wood in the furnace and tend to my little kinderlings. Getting them packed just in case school is actually going tomorrow. I imagine classes will be in and Chris has an exam so I need to go pick him up again about 11am. By then the roads should be ok if it stops snowing. Hope you're all staying warm, must be nice for our friends reading this who live in warm climates or the southern hemisphere. Some day I will take a mid-winter vacation...some day. But not today. Today I'm making baked perogies with cheese and onions and some roasted yams on the side. Delicious! And then I'm going to take a couple of pain killers and head to bed with a hot water bottle...I love being a girl...NOT!!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Families Are Eternal-Sunday Message

The Family unit is essential to God's plan for his children. Within our families we learn how to love, how to serve, and how we should live our lives as good moral people in society. Not everybody has an ideal family life. Some have trauma and neglect to deal with and others have anger and bitterness that follows them for years. The only words of comfort I can give you are these...that your Saviour knows and understands your pain and wants you to be happy. And that there is a God in Heaven who loves you too.

We each have the opportunity to make the lives of our family better each day. By honouring your husband or wife and loving them as you love your children and grandchildren, you set an example of how a family is supposed to be. A family should be a place of trust and love, where we can be ourselves and seek comfort and refuge from the world when we need it. It is my prayer that we will each strive for a family relationship like this...no matter where we are today. Things can only get better if we make the effort to do it. Each positive step we take will bless our lives and the lives of those we love.

And while not everyone in this world will have a perfect family you have to remember this one principle: Families Can Be Together Forever.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Another Canadian in Space!

Just thought I'd share this for any of you who haven't seen this. It's a great way for these teenagers to stay busy and out of trouble. And patriotic too. Go Canada!

Brrr! It's Icy!

Well, now I know what freezing rain is like. Ours was nothing like this picture, but just left a nice glazing over the already fallen snow and flat surfaces. It's been a weird weather day all day today and yesterday too. With temperatures hovering near freezing we had 4 hours of snow yesterday and then it began to rain and freeze everything into a crunchy and slippery mess of ice. Yuck! Not good for drivers or people walking about either.

Today it's windy and apparently we're in for more snow this afternoon. So I'm guessing we'll be lighting the fire and staying home to watch movies and stay warm tonight. Sounds nice doesn't it? I was going to save my nice big roast for tomorrow but if we're going to be here for the afternoon then maybe today is a good day for a nice big family dinner.

This morning we have Kung Fu class at the church and Steve has a service call. The guys hockey game was cancelled due to icy conditions in the parking lot, so now they're just hanging around waiting for me to drive them over for Kung Fu. Class is usually about an hour long so Steve and I might be able to get the call done while they're in class and get back in time to pick them up. If we're a bit late it's ok because Chris and Jordan can watch them while they wait for us.

Anyways, I've got to get going out into the cold wind. I'm counting down the days until Spring gets here.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Happy Friday!

Yes I'm happy. My beloved husband comes home today! I know I'm sappy...I miss him after 1 day and by the end of the week I really really want him home. I know there are plenty of people who do this all the time, spend the week days away from their families, my father included. And I know that military wives sometimes won't see their husbands for months on end. I have the greatest respect for them because it's a hard thing, especially if you have children. But it's just a temporary phase in our lives and we'll appreciate each other more when we're together I think. Do you think it's true that you appreciate something more if you have to really work for it? What about appreciating a beautiful sunrise or the smile on a child's face? I guess it all comes down to what we find important. What we take the time to enjoy and where we find beauty are very personal things but if we slow life down and have the time, we can find beauty in many different places. So when making life altering changes such as moving across the country or even from one country to another, it's really important to understand the things that are important to you. It helps you to understand the sacrifices of leaving things behind and helps you plan for the future. When my parents moved to Canada in 1988 we had no family here, only one uncle who had moved here years before and never been heard from again..last name Purnell. Anyone know of him? In southern Alberta perhaps? Anyways, there are some things that we hold dear and other things that we can learn to live without. Lots of the material possessions can be left behind, some family keepsakes have to be kept, photographs kept or digitized, livestock re-homed, grown children left to fully unfurl their wings, and family relationships that will change due to long separation. Staying in touch has never been easier, from phone calls to video calls using skype, talking to our loved ones does not mean writing letters that may or may not get delivered. When the pioneers moved out west or from Europe to Canada the only real way to stay in contact was through letters and eventually the telegraph but that wasn't cheap and so it wasn't unusual to go for long stretches without hearing a single word. Sometimes only a letter announcing the safe arrival of a new baby or the wedding of a daughter, the really big important events. Now we can call to announce that the baby tried her first solid food or that they got a good report card. Or maybe we call for no real reason at all. That's good too.

Today I'm appreciating the simple pleasures in life. My family whom I love, a working vehicle, food on the pantry shelves, dry firewood, health, friends who love us, and the beauty and peace that comes from living in Canada.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

You Are What You Eat

You are what you eat...If that old saying was true I would be more tanned and I'd be very sweet. (I love chocolate) But there is some truth of course in the simple fact the the way we get nutrients into our bodies to be used in making cells, bones, hair etc is by eating them or drinking them. Same as the bad stuff we eat and drink...our bodies have to process that for garbage removal too. We can't expect to be healthy in the long term if we're not eating right. Some Doctors are very much in tune with helping their patients to regulate medical problem by diet first and drugs second. Some are not. And no matter how much we know about eating healthy, unless we actually do it then it doesn't profit us one bit. We all know that eating less refined sugar and more fresh fruits and vegetables is a good idea so why is it that so many people don't? Habit? The poorest of people in developed countries have the worst diets. It's a fact. People living on food stamps eat a ton of starch, salt, sugar and empty calories because that's the food they either can afford (pasta, noodles, packaged foods) or what they are familiar with. Same with people who get food from food banks. And despite all these calories they can still be under nourished because they aren't getting enough vitamins and minerals necessary for health. Taking a vitamin pill could be a start but really what they should be doing is looking at their diet and making better food choices. It can be hard though when convenience food is so fast and easy to prepare and when healthy foods aren't available or are really expensive. An apple can cost more than a chocolate bar in some places, and in remote areas the choices for grocery shopping can be limited to say the least. So what do people do then?

I say....Grow Your Own Garden! And learn to preserve your own food. Even if you had a small garden and ate more vegetables 3 times per week, you'd be doing your body a favour.

So I'm on a quest for some new healthy recipes to post on the website here. Do you have a favourite you'd be willing to share? I'll give you full credit.

Have you set any goals for changing what you eat in the coming year? We want to eat a lot more veggies and fruits from our own garden. I really missed that this past year with all the moving we did. It'll be nice to get back to normal. And maybe lose a few more pounds while feeling better.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

To Vitamin or Not To Vitamin?

Malnutrition sounds like something that would affect poor people living in third world countries in Africa or North Korea. Surely in the West it shouldn't be a problem, right? We know that having a balanced diet with the right amounts of calories, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals in essential to health both for ourselves and our unborn children. Yet so many people don't get all the nutrition they need despite eating more calories than necessary. How? Sugar and empty calories. Welcome to the world of junk food. A phenomenon that's increasing as countries become more wealthy and as people become busier and seek ways to save time.

Rickets is a disease that affected many European children in the Victorian Era and is caused by lack of vitamin D, calcium or phosphorous. This in turn leads to a softening of the bones and possibly permanent disfiguration if left untreated. It seems that this condition is making a come back in our modern society due to changes in diet (children not drinking milk) and lack of sunlight (playing indoors).

Our bodies can make our own vitamin D when our skin is exposed to bright sunlight and milk and many cereals are fortified with it. But breastfed babies don't get it in their diet and children who don't drink commercially processed milk (where they add vitamin D) can be seriously in need of supplementation.

Our children drink milk and also spend a lot of time outside so they get lots of sunlight on their pale exposed skin. So they're ok. But what would you do if your child needs a supplement? Vitamins? I'm just wondering how each of you, dear readers, would handle this. Please leave a comment.

Here's the story on the BBC.

I'm off soon to deliver Steve the stuff he forgot to take with him. I'll post again tomorrow.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Home Sweet Home

How wonderful it must have been for our ancestors to be born, marry and live out their lives in the same village. I'm sure there were some who went to seek adventure and their fortunes elsewhere. In my family tree for example, we've got people from Scotland in the 1700's who moved to the wilds of Canada. But many people were content to remain settled in their lives. I want that. To own my own little farm and have a place that I can grow old in with my wonderful husband at my side and the kids popping over for a visit. Give me a quiet simple life where I know all the nooks and crannies of my house and all the seasons in my garden.

Do you think that there aren't people like that anymore? Perhaps we're moving at such a fast speed in our modern society that homes are just where you're temporarily living. My god parents were neighbours as children so when they fell in love and got married about 35 years ago it was easy...she moved in nextdoor. Maybe it's an English thing because here's another English example. Meet Georgina Brown. She's been living in the same home for over 100 years in the little Hampshire valley she loves.

How glorious it must be to love a place so much and to have the chance to stay there forever.

Steve and I love Nova Scotia. It's home to us now. And while we still have a lot of settling to do, we know that this is the place we're meant to be. Would we recommend it to our friends? Yes, but only the not uptight ones. They'd hate the laid back attitudes that prevail here. Not a hectic city life at all and rush hour lasts for about 10 minutes from 4-4:10 at one traffic light in town beside CFB Greenwood when all the military personnel go home. Oh, and traffic on Commercial in New Minas is always horrible. Apart from that it's easy going, friendly, and we like it. It's a good lifestyle for retirees and people who want more quality of life and less quantity of dollars. You may not spend your life getting rich here but you'll have a good life nonetheless.

Traditional Wisdom From Our Parents and Grandparents

Most of us realize how important it is to share knowledge with others, right? By sharing we encourage the preservation of useful skills and increase our community's self-reliance. But what if we don't have grandparents that can teach us? We're now getting into generations that have never grown veggies or lived on a farm so it's creating a huge gap in the passing of traditional wisdom within families. Things like Grandma's cure for bug bites, or Grandpa's favourite 'no-fail' fishing technique. One thing we can do to stop this from happening to our kids is to learn as much as we can from others through books and also by taking lessons from people willing to teach. Our family histories and stories can be a source of knowledge too. Our family has roots in England, Scotland, and the Czech Republic. We grew up hearing about life in WWII, poaching rabbits, life as a bush pilot in northern Manitoba in the 30's and 40's, what life was like during the great depression and how people made do. Stories that give us the opportunity to know more about our family history and to learn the lessons that other people have learned so thereby avoiding them. I want my children and grandchildren to learn from my mistakes and to go make their own!

On Survivalblog this weekend (it's a great place for preppers and doomers) was an interesting letter that I thought I'd like to share with you to get you thinking about how self sufficient you are right at this minute. It gives some perspective about what people thought was important and also how our inter-personal relationships make a huge difference to the course of our lives. Enjoy!

Self-Sufficient Farming in East Prussia in the 1930s and 1940s, by Mrs. Icebear

Please keep in mind that English is not my mother tongue, and that these recollections are from the perspective of a young girl, now in advanced years.

My mother-in-law grew up in what was then called East Prussia (Ostpreussen) – now Poland. She was born 1929 – got twice evacuated – the first time at the age of 14. The beautiful area is called “die Mazurische Seenplatte” and “die Mazuren” and is today developed for tourism.

I´ve picked her brains to learn as much as I can, and here are some of the things she remembers of life on the farm back then:

Father, mother and 8 children lived abundantly – with spare produce to sell (and saving up money to buy more land) on 35 hectares (about 75 acres) of ground. 8 hectares was mixed forest, 27 hectares tilled land and meadow for grazing. A river ran near the farm, there the animals drank, the geese and the ducks swam (one child had to keep fox-watch), and net fishing for dinner was done. From the meadow and forest they got wood for building the houses, firewood, all kinds of berries, nuts and mushrooms, healing herbs like peppermint and chamomile, linden flowers and birch juice, rushes were collected from the river.
They all had a lot of work to do, schoolwork was done in between farm chores. In the evening there was singing and storytelling while spinning, knitting, shoemaking, horse tack making, basketry, small carpentry, sorting peas, shelling beans, feathering the ducks and geese was done by petroleum light. The children had almost no toys, but my mother in law got her first and only doll. She put the poor doll close to the oven so it wouldn´t feel so cold – and the doll melted.
The animals on the farm were: geese and ducks for down bedding, meat and eggs, chicken for eggs (own use and market sale), some sheep (less than 10) to make own wool, 6-7 pigs for sale and own use, around 20 cows strictly for sale of milk/ butter/cheese (i.e. not for slaughtering), three cats as mouse police living in the barn, a guard dog and 3-4 horses for traveling and farm work like plowing. The father was the exclusive handler of the horses, and even so he once got severely kicked by the most nervous horse and had to be hospitalized because he (in a tense market situation) forgot to talk to the horses before he came up to them! While the father was hospitalized the mother got (organized by the state) an inexperienced 15 year old “white Russian” forced labourer to help out on the farm – she had to teach him everything in sign language. He stayed on since both sons of the family had to go to war. Later, when the Red Army invaded East Prussia this boy saved the whole family by testifying that he had always been treated correctly, he even cried and begged to be allowed to stay. Families got shot to the last member if they had treated the forced labourers badly.

A doctor and hospital was 20 kilometers away in a bigger town, so the trip there was a big project. The school principal owned the only car in the village (a Volkswagen Beetle). The 3 kilometer trips to school and church were generally done on foot – the horses were spared for farm work apart from on very special holidays.

After the first evacuation to another village an “ordinary man” got the job of being local priest, grave digger and dentist. Dentistry meant getting a tooth pulled out without any ado and pain killers. Infections were completely avoided by rinsing with alcohol and chewing plantain leaves.

The children walked the three kilometers to school in summer barefoot or in “jesuslatschen”, (toe sandals) - in winter in wooden clogs the father made. Later he advanced to making leather shoes for the children – he bought the leather but the thread for rough sewing they grew on the farm: Linen/ flax was grown for the fiber and as animal fodder. The linen fibers got soaked in tar and were used to make tack for the horses and thread for sewing shoes.

Some things that the family bought: Petroleum oil for the lamps, linen fabric for sewing bedclothes, underwear and kitchen towels (dresses and such were made by the village seamstress), salted herrings, salt, sugar, pepper, cinnamon, feather pens, ink, schoolbooks (handed down to all the children in turn), small blackboards with chalk for individual writing, from the 5th class real schoolbooks for writing in. They also bought nails and carpentry tools of course, sewing notions and even a sewing machine. (The sewing machine got hidden in the earth cellar in the forest when they had to evacuate – sadly the family never came back to reclaim it.)
The family built their own house with relatives to help, they grew/ raised/ collected all their own food except the aforementioned herrings, for instance meat got cured by smoking with juniper.
They also made their own bedding (mattresses filled with straw, exchanged when necessary, counterpanes and pillows filled with down and feathers), spun their own wool, made all knitted clothes like socks, sweaters, mittens etc. The father made baskets of all sizes and shapes, also for animal feed (through shape), either from willow or split and watered tree roots, and he also made some of the simpler farming tools out of wood. Strangely enough none of this got sold, just the farm produce. (During the war years nobody wanted to get paid in money, so the family paid the seasonal farm workers in meat, butter, cheese and eggs.) They collected all their own seeds, made jam, pickles and “sauerkraut”. Peat and wood kept the “kachelofen” running, an enormous oven built into the house, including a built in water heater and a big bread baking oven that got used for eight sour dough loaves once a week (cakes were made afterwards since the oven was heated up.)

The horses got fed hay, clover and oats, the cows got hay, clover and thinly sliced turnips, and the aforementioned linen seed/flax mix if ill or having just calved.
The dishes were first rinsed with clear water so the pigs could drink the swills.
The crops were: Potatoes, red beets, turnips, beets, carrots, peas, beans (pinto beans), red cabbage (got stored with the complete root in sand in the cellar) white cabbage for sauerkraut, oats, wheat, rye, barley, cucumbers for pickles, and squash/ pumpkin plus garden herbs like chives and parsley. Flax and clover was grown for the animals.
Rushes of different kinds were cut up and put on the clay floor in the ”old house” – it smelled good and was easy to brush out again since it made no sense to wash a clay floor. This practice was discontinued after the new house was built with wooden floors.

My mother in law´s mother got struck dead by lightning during the years as a refugee. The sun was shining again after a thunderstorm , but she was leading a goat and a sheep in iron chains, one in each hand... The father died of pneumonia because of having to do forced labour in winter, one son barely survived Stalingrad (he “just” lost one and a half legs to frostbite) but all the children managed somehow to escape to the west and start their lives anew there.

The most sought-after barter goods in war time (after food) were: watches, cutlery (a fork could buy a piece of bread) and fur coats! Guns made zero sense in this situation, since that only would have gotten one killed faster. Being devious, hiding and/or keeping calm in the face of danger was the way – or simply appealing to the human side of war-traumatized soldiers: My mother-in-law had many narrow escapes – once she got found cowering behind the dresses by a Russian soldier rifling through the clothes cupboard with a bayonet, and he spared her life because mother cried and begged for her; once she came running to her father with Russian soldiers on her heels, so father fast dug her into the strawstack he was just making. He stood calmly still on the stack over the spot where she hid – the soldiers pushed bayonets through the stack but she thanks God they missed her every time. Her father did like the other farmers, they used coal “make up” to accentuate their wrinkles and thereby appear older and useless for other things than farming. The soldiers wanted to “take him” (i.e. to Siberia), but he insisted he had to feed the cows otherwise they (the cows) would starve – and food was the number one priority also for the Red Army, so he was spared.

My personal conclusion: Know when to keep your guns in the cupboard, get distilling equipment for making your own alcohol! In case your antibiotics get too old/ used up or you have a resistant strain of some bug or the culprit is a fungus or virus – get books on herbs now, grow Echinacea, stock up on tea tree oil and baking soda (for your teeth)! Thyme, sage and honey will fix almost everything. Grow paprika/ red peppers (window sill) and rose hips for vitamin C. Plantain chewed to a pulp heals cuts, sores, and acne; aspirin was originally synthesized from willow bark. If you have a chance, grow tons of nut trees, and maples for the syrup, and when your vitamin pills get used up remember that nettles, nuts and dandelions contain lots of important vitamins and minerals.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Small things can make a difference

So many of the things we see as pivotal in our lives, big decisions, big actions, are really the culmination of hundreds or perhaps thousands of small thoughts and acts that we barely notice. It's those small daily actions that define who we truly are and what is in our hearts. It's important to remember that who we are when nobody is looking...who we truly are on the inside...is the real measure of our character. Not just how we appear in public. It's the tiny little things that we should be working to improve, and the big things will then take care of themselves.

Life can be like this for many people. We see the big problems and fail to see all the little good things in our lives. I hope that this simple Sunday message has given you something to think about and that you will count your blessings, whatever they may be. Remember...you are the child of a Heavenly Father who loves you, and that makes YOU special.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Where does your food come from?

I know you've probably all seen the Hellman's video I've posted on here a couple of times. If not, let me know and I'll send it to you or re-post it. It's all about where in the world our food comes from. But surely buying our food from a big organic supplier should mean we can trust them...right? Right?

Not necessarily as it turns out. Big businesses are out to make profits...that's what businesses do.

Buying food from local producers that you know, that will let you look around the place (unless they're bio-secure as many animal operations are), that will tell you where, when and how all your foods are produced and marketed or delivered, is the only way, besides growing it yourself, that you can be guaranteed to know exactly what's in it. And that's important to many people. This is one of the reasons that local food sources are important. As consumers we think we're educated. That buying organic food is better for us. And that the word 'organic' means something special. But of course the regulations all over the world can vary widely. Say...between China and the US. So doing some investigation on what's in your food and where's it from can be interesting if you're really wanting to understand what you're eating.

Avery's Farm Markets (A big outfit in Nova Scotia) get a huge percentage of their produce from the regular wholesale supply chains. They don't grow or buy it all locally. Though a lot of regular shoppers believe that they do indeed grow it all. (Not sure about the bananas growing in Canada).

Whole Foods, a major chain in the US was just investigated by the local news team for selling improperly labelled certified organic foods from China. It seems they have all the correct logos in place without the paper trail and inspections from the certifying bodies. Here's the video.

Seed Companies In Canada

As you know (if you've read our blog for a while) we really concentrate on growing open pollinated and heirloom seeds. We try to use as few hybrids as possible, not because they are bad or because they don't have great characteristics...they do, that's the whole point of making a hybrid is to improve something. No, we don't use them much because we keep seed from one year to the next in many cases and that means using open pollinated seeds. If we keep seeds from a hydrid they never breed true and you can have some unexpected results or none at all. So for that reason we buy heirloom or heritage seeds where we can. Make sense?

Here's a beautiful picture of some varieties of tomato you can grow at home.

In Canada there are many many seed companies. Some better than others. It's one of those areas where you get what you pay for. Generally the more expensive the seed, the better the germination rate. Dollar store special seeds may germinate at a rate of less than 25% compared to many other seed companies guaranteeing nearly 95%. A lot depends on how seeds are gathered and stored. One area this 'get what you pay for' does NOT apply is boutique seeds. You know the ones...fancy packaging, fancy display stands, expensive signage and marketing. Often those seeds are no better than ones from a large reputable organic seed company like West Coast. But supporting local business is important too so if that's your goal then by all means may a little more. There are plenty of local companies who charge really reasonable rates for their seeds and have varieties not available commercially so you just have to decide what you want and then go find it. Do your research. Seed research in the cold winter months is a great way to pass the time.

In my experience, companies that have a focus on organic or heritage seeds deliver good consistent quality for a reasonable price. Yes my lettuce seed packet may cost $4 compared to a cheaper brand for $2.29, but the germination rate will be good and if you divide that $4 up between the 5,000 seeds that are inside, it works out to a fraction of a penny per plant. Why do I even worry? Well, I worry because all those little $'s add up! Especially when you only get 20 seeds in a packet for some varieties. I want value for my money. And I feel that I get it from some companies more than others. Companies that offer different size packages will often offer 25g for $4 and 100g for $5.25 just as an example. Now if it's a seed I use a lot of or if I know that it's storage life is 3 years I'll buy the larger package and save half of it for next year, or I'll concentrate on growing only one type of pea instead of two. That sort of thing. But each of you will garden differently than I do. I try to have a years seeds in advance and to save seeds where I can, particularly from rare or Heritage breeds that have grown well in my area and that I want to grow again. The other part of this money saving thing is this...even if I spend $2 per seed for let's say a rare and wild tomato that I really want to grow. It produces 10 lbs of delicious tomatoes. That still only works out to about 20 cents for a pound of tomatoes, plus a bit more for labour and watering. Suddenly growing your own stuff seems like a really good deal. It's all a matter of perspective.

Here's a list of seed companies that I've heard are good or that I have first hand experience with. I believe that they will all ship across Canada but I'm not sure what the rules are for exporting to other countries. All I know is that there are strict rules because the governments want to control the spread of diseases and pests.

West Coast Seeds located in British Columbia. Started out small but now growing under new ownership, they've been the mainstay of seed companies for organic growers for many years. An excellent selection of heritage and open pollinated seeds with many certified organic. They offer a catalogue, subscription newsletter and gardening guides and tips. Great for a novice to advanced gardener. Many seed package sizes available from single packet to commercial quantities. Excellent website and good customer service. A Medium sized commercial company.

Salt Spring Seeds. Located on Salt Spring Island, home of many organic and alternate lifestyles, this terrific company have an interesting and diverse line of seeds focusing on non-GMO and organic seeds from smaller suppliers that they know. Nice people, but not a visually stimulating website as it's all text. The descriptions are clear and accurate but there are no pics so you need to know what you're looking for. Fine if you're an experienced gardener but maybe less so for a novice.

Veseys located on PEI have been serving the market in the Maritimes since 1939. Their website has online ordering, growing tips and they also have a catalogue. I will be ordering a few packages from then this year and I've heard good things about them from our friends and neighbours here in Nova Scotia. They have lots of gadgets, tools and supplies listed.

OSC Ontario Seed Company. Good selection, catalogue, website and good quality seeds. They seem to be widely available in some of the big box stores but the racks will be limited to the most popular varieties and not necessarily the best seeds for your local region. I'm not sure about that though so don't take my word for it. They do have a good selection of native plants and grasses worth a look if you're landscaping.

Annapolis Seeds A new company in it's 4th year of business, this little company prides itself on providing good quality seed at a reasonable price. Located just a few miles from my home it's one place I definitely want to visit, along with Incredible Seeds listed below. They've taken our local farm model and branched off into seed growing...much the same way we branched off into vegetable deliveries. It'll be interesting to see where they're heading in the next few years. One thing I'm for sure going to buy are some of their amazing tomato seeds. They have some spectacular varieties of tomato bred by wild boar farms in the US. Sure to be a show piece in my tomato garden this year. I'm hoping to grow pink, striped, yellow and purples...you'll just have to wait for the pics of these babies! Tomatoes don't just come in red and green...and the differences in flavour vary as much as they do between types of apple. There are way more out there than are ever found on the grocers shelf. Just look at the photo above!

Incredible Seed Company This local to me company is a relative newcomer to the seed industry but they focus on open pollinated and heritage seeds so for a person like me, they're terrific. They sell many of the same seeds as the big companies but fewer selections. Not necessarily a bad thing to have 4 varieties of corn to choose from instead of 30. You'll also fine some weird and wonderful old heritage seeds such as their Shamrock winter squash. We'll be getting some seeds from them, particularly those we buy in small quantities like squash, melons and some tomatoes. I've got some more exploring on their website to do first. They are located in the Annapolis Valley, I'm hoping I can go and see their set-up and write more about them later.

Both of the smaller local companies, Incredible and Annapolis, have been wonderful to communicate with. I think that as the months go on we'll have to go for a visit, take a bunch of pictures, and show you what seed saving is really all about. But in the meantime I'm looking into getting all my seed starting supplies bought so I'm ready for my seeds when I get them. Woo Hoo! I'm so excited! Fuzzy pink tomatoes here we come!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Weird Weather in Canada

We woke up this morning at 6 to find the house toasty warm and all our blankets tossed off the bed. Outside it's a snow melting plus 8 degrees. Weird for mid January. So I went searching around for the weather forecasts in Alberta and BC where our family lives. Alberta is experiencing cold weather into the minus 30's. BRRR! And Vancouver Island, where our kids are hoping to have an early start to the growing season, is blanketed in snow and expecting more in the coming 24 hours apparently.

I realize that we'll return to seasonal weather soon, and knowing my luck we'll get a cold wet spring, so I'm enjoying this brief window of warm weather while I can. I've got my garden planned out in it's most basic form and some of the local seed companies have really different breeds of tomatoes available this year so we're going to experiment with tomatoes, peanuts and some other weird and wonderful things I'm sure. Budget allowing.

I'm hoping to be able to sell some tomato plants at the Farmers Market in the Mall this Spring so I'll need to have the seeds soon in time for early planting. Since I'm not sure that I can have a heated greenhouse set-up outside I'll probably need to get a grow light too and to set it up indoors for at least a part of the time. We'll cross that bridge in a few weeks, it's still too early to start them anyways but I can at least get the supplies ready.

Space for our garden isn't a problem...we've got room both at our house and at a friends acreage. Managing a garden that's in two locations can be a bit tricky so we've got main crops and large quantities at the big garden and our little home garden will have more flowers, salad greens and ornamentals. We've got plans to create some privacy fencing around the yard using tall sunflowers, pole beans, sweetpeas and even a heritage corn breed that can reach 11 feet tall. It should be an interesting year in the garden as we start to learn about growing a garden in a maritime climate on the east coast. We'll record it all for you of course so that you have an idea of what it's like to grow here. I think we might even get the kids to record the daily rainfall and weather in general during the summer.

Kate says her tummy feels weird...she can't say if it's a bad weird or a good weird but she doesn't feel right so she's staying home today. All she knows is that her tummy feels strange. That's part of our problem with Kate...you can ask her if she feels sick and is going to throw up, she'll say I don't know, and then a minute later she's sick. Poor kid. I hope she feels better soon. I sent her back to bed and I'll check on her in a little while.

Look for an interesting list of some of the seed companies in Canada later today.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Bees Knees - A Warre Hive

Keeping Bees in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Well, the bees are ordered and should be ready for us to pick up in May from a local supplier here in Nova Scotia. The province does not allow any importation of bees except for queens from Hawaii, NZ and Australia so all new hives here are started from locally raised nucs. Even bees and equipment from other areas of Canada are not allowed so as to help stop the spread of diseases and pests. A nuc (nucleus) is basically 4 frames of comb with brood (bee larvae) that are growing plus some honey stores, pollen and several hundred worker bees to look after it all. If a queen is not included in the nuc she'll be in a little cage attached to one side where the bees can smell her and are getting used to her. This is a good start for any hive. Bees will release the queen from her cage by eating her out (the cage has a candy plug) or if it's a plastic cage then the beekeeper lets her out. She quickly begins laying new eggs and the population of bees can take off like crazy. A young queen can lay upto 2000 eggs per day, that's an amazing number and usually happens during the spring build-up where a hive can increase in number from your nuc of several hundred to over 60,000 in the space of just 6 or 8 weeks. It does depend on the quality of your queen, availability of food and the available space within the hive, but you'll know as soon as the brood are hatching because your hive will suddenly get much busier. If the bees are hungry they'll raise less brood. If they're short of space then they'll likely think about swarming. So it's a delicate balance. This (top right) is a Warre hive with the 2 winter boxes and 2 summer boxes all stacked together to form a beautiful and practical hive.

Don't panic if this all seems like a foreign language to you. All this basic beekeeping wisdom can be learned from reading and there are some good books out there. And joining your local club can be terrific too. Once you've got your book knowledge, bought or made your equipment, registered as a beekeeper with your province, state or county, and ordered your first bees...there's nothing else to do but learn from hands on experience and from observing your bees. We've found that you can learn a lot about what's going on inside the hive just by watching the bees as they come and go from the entrance. But we're by no means experts...and I myself am particularly nosy, so when we built our hive last time we included an observation window. Then I can peek to my hearts content without really disturbing the bees or taking the hive apart.

If you've followed our blog for a while you know that In BC we used both Langstroth and top bar hives. But now we're in Nova Scotia where the weather is different, hotter in summer and much colder in winter. So we're re-evaluating the benefits of both styles. Personally I like the natural approach to beekeeping that's favoured by the top bar hive but a horizontal hive won't make it easy for the bees to cluster or get their honey stores when the weather is very cold. So we've decided on a compromise...the Warre hive. The Warre hive is pictured at the top of this post. At the left we can see a Langstroth hive super (box) containing the frames upon which the bees draw out the comb and store honey and raise brood. 10 Frames fit snugly in a super with enough room for the bees to climb around between and do their work. But if left alone to build naturally, bees will make their own combs without any help from humans and they'll make this same space called the 'bee space' between their combs whether built in a hive, a tree or a skep.

The Warre hive is a very low maintenance hive consisting of boxes that use top bars in place of frames. The basic principal is that since bees build new comb downwards, you place your new boxes on the bottom of the existing hive in the spring and then in the summer after the main honey flow you remove the top box or two that's full of honey. The advantages are that you are removing older comb from the top of the hive and so removing any build up of pesticides contained in the wax, the bees raise larvae on the newer comb near the bottom so the top boxes should not have any larvae in them at all, you don't have to move and jostle the brood combs so you disturb the bees far less, the hive maintains it's own smell and is in a more natural environment (simulating the inside of a hollow tree). I like this idea because it's easy to build but also, unlike a Kenyan (horizontal) top bar hive, the bees should be able to form a tight cluster and overwinter better due to easier access to their food and an insulated 'blanket' layer on the hive and the fact that heat rises and the bees can cluster in a smaller space at the top of the hive. I know that some beekeepers do wrap their hives in insulating blankets but that can cause problems with moisture building up in the hive so it's never fool proof. Ventilation is really important. In an ideal world Steve and I would move all our hives to a central location for the winter such as an unheated garage that would still allow the bees to be cool enough to hibernate but out of the wind and wet and away from marauding bears.

There are lots of free plans for making your own Warre hive including these ones. And while you're there at the Bee Space website, check out the original book written by Abbe Warre about his experimentation and study of different beekeeping hives and methods. There is a lot of good info about using Warre hives both as a hobbyist and commercially so be sure to follow our progress this coming year. We think that this allows for the bees to build their combs naturally and yet at the same time offers ease of management and a natural environment for them. After all ... mother nature never intended for bees to be making rectangular combs or eating white sugar syrup during the winter. Oh yes that's one good thing to point out...if you do have to feed a new or starving colony syrup, use only white granulated sugar. Don't use brown sugar.

Here's some basic info on how a top bar hive works, hope it's helpful. Please feel free to leave a message or comment with any questions you have about bees or keeping bees in Nova Scotia and I'll be happy to point you in the right direction. A lot of management styles are personal preference of course so whatever works for you is what you should stick with. Keeping bees is really interesting and can be very rewarding too, but we enjoy watching them pollinate our flowers and the neighbourhood trees and gardens so we know they are helping out our food security too. It's a win win situation. And if we're lucky, maybe this summer we can catch a swarm of bees and add to our apiary naturally. If you are in the Annapolis Valley and happen to see a big ball of bees hanging off a tree branch we'll be more than happy to come get the girls and give them a new home! Swarms may sound scary but they're docile and just looking for a new place to live. They won't hurt you if you just leave them alone.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Working Together

We all know, or have heard, that we can accomplish more by working together. And I think it's almost always true. That we are more than the sum of our parts. So how does that apply to people who are trying to live a self-sufficient sort of lifestyle? Well, by creating a community we become stronger. When one person struggles we can all pitch in to help and when someone has a great success we can all share in that too. It's like the analogy of the strings. One string can be cut or pulled apart fairly easily. Two strings also can be, it's harder but not impossible. But 20 strings together are strong and resistant, and so on. Having a community of growers, buyers, eaters, and workers that works together to keep the cycle going is important to any market, including Farmers Markets and produce stands. Even U-Picks rely on the same model. So how come there isn't more of this "community building" going on?

I believe that some people get scared off by the idea of the 60's style Hippie commune. Others value and want to keep their independence and privacy. Still others are so busy working that they simply don't have the time to join in. More and more intentional communities are springing up the world over. From farming in Russia to co-housing in Canada, the options are there.

Here's an example of working together:

Five People Play One Guitar - Watch MoreFunny Videos

Living a Contented Life in Nova Scotia

We get asked all the time why we moved from Vancouver Island to Nova Scotia. Afterall, we're the first to admit that BC is BEAUTIFUL!! One of the most beautiful places on Earth. And we miss the snow capped mountains and the pink cheeked faces of our grandchildren as they run around the yard holding fuzzy yellow chicks. Life was pretty good, but we just didn't seem to be getting anywhere. We didn't own the farm or the home we lived in and that made it hard because we planted crops only to be later told that we were being given 60 days to move. We were tired of being at the mercy of others in so many fundamental ways. And we still have 4 children to finish raising.

So we prayed about it and felt inspired to move to Nova Scotia, specifically the Annapolis Valley.

Things have really worked out well for us since we've been here. Financially we're getting stable and as of this month we'll be able to get ahead a little if we're lucky. Dreams of owning and paying off our own farm are more easily realized here. Whereas in BC we would have payed over $500,000 for a small acreage and home, here we can find one for under $100,000. That's partly because we're able to renovate ourselves and because we live rurally. Homes in the city are like anywhere else in Canada, more expensive.

We like living in the country. For now we're temporarily living in a small subdivision in the village of Greenwood but even here it's not too busy. We enjoy nature and being outside in the garden so the country life suits us. And I think it's a more contented life. We take pleasure in the simple things like a warm and cozy bed, a beautiful day, ripe strawberries or fresh corn from the garden, watching the daily drama of chickens as they go about their day and seeing the hard working bees pollinating my flowers while making honey too. It's all marvelous if you stop to appreciate it. Even in the winter there's so much beauty and so many things to look forward to.

Due to the cost of housing here we actually can afford to buy our own place, one that we can then change and develop as we see fit. To make the additions and build structures that suit our lives as small farmers. In essence, to benefit from the labour of our own hands. It's not some New Age concept, it's a basic fundamental right, or it should be, to benefit from your work either through pay or through ownership and the use of something. So many times before I felt like we were just slaving away for the benefit of other people...landlords, ex-wives etc and now I finally feel like we're in it for ourselves.

None of the lessons have been lost along the way, we've learned a lot about what's important in life and we've encouraged other people along the way to live a happy and fulfilled life too. After all, money is important but relationships are more important. The love you have for your husband or wife, the way you love and raise your children, the opportunities you have to serve your community, these are ways that we truly influence the world for good and make society better. And this is where we find true and lasting happiness, within the walls of our own homes and within ourselves.

Living a contented life doesn't mean we stop trying to improve and set goals. We most certainly do, it's just that the end results and the focus are different. It's not about money so much as having things that make our lives more pleasant. Having time for friends and the space to have extra children pop over because they just like our home are two of the things that bless our lives and allow us to bless others too. How many times have we walked into the kitchen to find a crowd of small children telling us how great our cookies are while they demolish the whole lot? Or walked into the basement to find teenagers all hanging out together having a good time? How often has someone said we should get together for a last minute party at their place and we could go because we weren't wrapped up in other things? These are some of the things that I love about my life...that I get to share it with other people I care about. Even strangers. If I can make someone's day brighter then why wouldn't I? What does it cost me to be friendly and to smile? To bandage a knee or find a lost dog? It costs me nothing and yet gives so much back to me in terms of happiness.

As I'm sitting here reading seed catalogues and making plans for the coming year I want you to all know that for me, there was never really any decision to make...I love living in the country. The city isn't for me with it's hustle and bustle. Give me the quiet life! Live it for a year and you'll realize it's not so quiet after all. Here's a photo of Kate last year at the Qualicum Beach Farmers Market learning about preserving natural habitats and making a flower press. She had a great time. We loved going on a Saturday morning to the market, it's a time for farmers to meet their customers, socialize, and share ideas.

In many European countries, Canada, the US and in Japan too, there are scores of younger people looking for a different way to live. They want something different from the daily commute and the hectic schedule of trying to balance work and a home life that they see their parents and their friends living. Here's a good article from the BBC focused on why some young Japanese people are moving back to the countryside. Here in Canada young people are experimenting with SPIN (Small Plot INtensive) gardening if they don't own land, or CSA's or other forms of small level market gardening if they have a little land that's arable. Steve and I are not alone, even within our family, in realizing that food security begins in your own backyard. Our eldest son and his wife are beginning their own market garden this year and their info can be found at www.fairesfarms.com If you're looking for vegetable boxes delivered fresh and delicious in the Oceanside/Nanaimo area, give them a call!

Here at Humblebee Farm in Nova Scotia we elder Faires are busy making plans, borrowing land, ordering bees and doing the other things necessary for the coming growing season. Firewood is getting re-stacked as the indoor pile dwindles, we're researching local livestock breeds that are suitable for what we want...and of course we're still looking to find a farm for sale in Annapolis County. But one thing at a time. First we've got to get the garden planted and have a down payment. Maybe one can help with the other.

Part of our growing program will be to propagate bushes and other plants for planting on a larger scale at our new home. For example we want raspberry bushes. Lots of them. If I go to Vasseys and get 3 plants it will cost me about $25. Ok, it's cheaper at somewhere like WalMart or Home Depot but they're not as good quality or the varieties I want. So I spend $25. In the fall I should be able to take at least 6 cuttings off each plant again for rooting. That means that I'll have the original 3 bushes ready to fruit the following year plus 18 new plants if they all root. At the end of the following year (next year) I'll have 21 fruiting bushes and possible another 120 new plants. So within 3 years I've got fruit producing bushes, bushes beginning to bear and more that are established and ready for the following year. Instead of waiting a year until we get a place and then buying 140 bushes for some huge amount of money and waiting for them to establish, we've saved perhaps a thousand dollars and had a little fruit one year earlier. And the same goes for many other types of things too. Buy the best seed you can and from then on save your own seeds. It works for almost any open pollinated plant but you have to remember that some plants are bi-annuals like carrots...they set the root the first year and then flower and produce seeds the following year.

We will have vegetables for sale this summer as well as preserves, salsa and pickles. Hopefully we'll have eggs too, but we'll see about that later. The first priority is to get our side yard ready for bees and the greenhouse up and going with some hot beds in March. Our main plantings won't be in until the middle of May or June for things like heat loving corn, and peppers but I can still get flowers and tomatoes started inside early to get a jump on the season and maybe get some lettuce and salad greens going along with peas and radishes. I'd love to be the envy of all my neighbours by eating fresh produce in May when they're just getting started gardening. Does that sound conceited? lol. It won't be long before I'm whining on here about how much work it is and how much I miss having WWOOF'ers around. Maybe we will anyways...just for fun.

These are just my musings and plans for the coming year. I realize that everyone has different goals and different things that make them happy, the real trick is to find out what leaves you feeling content and then to build your life in such a way that you can experience it all the time. It's a lifelong goal for most of us...one I'm still working on...but I'm glad that I've got such a supportive family and a husband who loves me and who I adore. I'm thankful for ordinary miracles. For love, and laughter, faith and friends.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Protein and Blueberries, why buying 'real' food is better for you.

It's a beautiful day here in Maritime Canada. Snow is gently falling, the roads are clear and the sun is shining. What more could we ask for? I'm going to the butcher shop, Frenchy's secondhand store, the bank and the Post office so I think I'll take Sarah the dog for a ride with me.

The local butcher shop in Wilmot (Sabeans) is nice and clean and they use a lot of locally raised meat so I like that. They also offer freezer packs and sides of pork so for those on a budget it's a good way to stock up when you have money for times when you don't. Unless of course you'll be tempted to just eat all the good stuff at once. The prices and quality are also better than the store so that's good too. Here are 2 differences between meats from a butcher and in the store. Pork looks bi-coloured at a butcher. You can clearly see the difference between the light and dark meats and the pork overall looks a much duskier pink colour than the light and uniformly coloured meat at the supermarket. Beef at the butchers does seem fattier than the ultra lean steaks at the grocery store. So you might be thinking that lean is the way to go, right? WRONG!! If you are trying to cut down on fatty red meat then eat less of the good stuff, not more of the lean stuff. When buying red meat you want to look and see that fat and gristle have been properly trimmed from the outside of the cut but all those little veins of fat you see...that's called marble. Marbling in meat means that it cooks up nice and juicy and it's the fat that contains the flavour. Now I'm not saying that you shouldn't eat leaner meats. Chicken, turkey, pork and even lamb can be good choices if you're getting grass raised meat from a local farmer. Make enquiries about what the animals are fed and see if they have access to pasture so that they can forage for themselves. Livestock raised naturally on pasture do take longer to grow than their commercially fed and raised counterparts. But the heritage breeds that are often raised by small farmers are chosen for their flavour and it's definitely worth it, in my opinion, to pay a little more for better meat that you know something about. Our family, through raising livestock, does eat meat at almost every dinner, but compared to most other people we eat a lot less. A steak is cut to make stew for 7, not eaten just eaten by 1 person. A chicken supplements roasted veggies, salads or maybe a breast is made into butter chicken curry or a pot pie. In North America in particular we are not starved for sources of protein. Most people eat way more than the recommended 1 gram of protein for every kg of weight. So if for example you're a moderately active male weighing 160 lbs you should eat :

160 divided by 2.2 to get kilos = 72.72 kg. Say 73 kg. Times 1 gram per kg = 73 grams of protein per day from all sources.

For people who are active, work hard physically, lift weights etc the number can almost double so that a 120 lb woman who runs, lifts weights and runs a small family farm can eat 109 grams of protein and remain totally healthy.

Here are some sources of protein:

1 large egg = 6 grams
1 cup milk = 8 grams
cheddar cheese 8 grams per oz.
6 oz can of tuna = 40 grams
Most beef or pork cuts are 7 grams of protein per ounce so if you're eating a 16 oz steak you're getting a whopping 112 grams of protein.
Chicken is about 8 grams of protein for every ounce of weight.
Tofu 1/2 cup = 20 grams
Most beans are 8-10 grams of protein per half cup.
2 Tbsp peanut butter = 8 grams of protein.

It's just a short list, but protein, like fat and calories, is something that we should be aware of when doing both meal planning and shopping. Read the labels folks, that's what they're there for.

On the subject of labeling...don't even get me started on truth and lies in advertising! Especially where supposed 'healthy' foods made commercially are concerned. Take blueberries for example. We all now know that blueberries offer health benefits, right? So eating blueberries is part of a healthy diet. And they're delicious. fresh picked or from the farmers market in the summer, locally grown berries of all kinds are nature's candy! Fresh berries truly are one of summers most delightful experiences.

But what about those cereals in the store with blueberries in them or those bagels at your favourite store? They're blueberry.....so they must have blueberries in them, right? Well...maybe not. Check out this article. http://www.naturalnews.tv/v.asp?v=7EC06D27B1A945BE85E7DA8483025962&fb_source=message

I have to get going and scrub the kitchen and bathrooms now, sure hope you're having lots of fun, I know I won't.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fresh Organic Veggie Delivery in Oceanside

Are you living in Nanaimo, Qualicum or Parksville and wondering where to buy fresh local produce? We've obviously moved too far away to deliver but don't worry, I have the perfect solution. Check out the farm our son and daughter-in-law have got planned for next year. They're working hard to get everything organized and soon I imagine they'll have seedlings galore on the grow. If you're interested in getting delicious veggies delivered then check out their website! Faires Farm or wait to meet them at the Qualicum Beach Farmers Market on Saturday mornings...just get there early for best selection.

Here's an older pic of them while they were converting a bus to a beautiful coach. I'll post a better pic soon.

Don't Drink Soda!

How's this for another reason to stop drinking soda. Pepsi is denying the claim of a man who says he found a dead mouse inside a can of soda by saying that their product would have dissolved the mouse into a jelly like substance. Oh yum! Liquid mouse! All I have to say is...Goodbye Mountain Dew!

Here's the article, biased source aside, it's a gross thought! And now reported in major newspapers and on tv around the globe. Not a good day to be a marketing exec. at Pepsi.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I've missed you!

Life is now back to normal. Sort of. I have lots of catching up to do now that the kids are back in school and Steve back to work. So for your reading pleasure and thought inducing brain stimulation, here's an article about WalMart and food that can lead to some serious evaluation of where you buy your own groceries. http://www.grist.org/food/2011-12-30-eaters-beware-walmart-is-taking-over-our-food-system#.TwQu1KZa-1Y.facebook

It's that time of year when the garden is quiet and sleeping under a light blanket of snow. But we gardeners are busy making mental plans, browsing seed catalogues or ordering in expectation of getting our seedlings off to an early start. I likely won't start a lot of stuff until March (if I can wait that long) because I'll plant under plastic in April and May. And it's better to not have your seedlings hanging around getting all long and leggy while waiting for good weather. Better to plan ahead for the right amount of time and use cover or protection as needed.

Some things like peas and lettuce I'll get in early in hopes of beating the bugs for a few weeks and because they like cooler weather. But tomatoes and eggplants, corn and melons will wait until the weather is thoroughly warmed around the May long weekend or even a couple of weeks later. Planning your garden is important both to maximize space by using successive plantings and to rotate your crops to avoid pest and disease losses. Crop rotation is a topic for another day but it's important for anyone who gardens to keep notes of what you planted, where, and how your yield was. Reviewing your notes during the winter helps in spring planning and planting.

So what are your plans for next year? Our daughter is doing a CSA in the Parksville, BC area if anyone is interested. Just let me know and I'll pass along your info.

Meanwhile it's snowing and cold here in Nova Scotia, so we're just staying by the fire dreaming about hoop greenhouses and remembering the smell of flats of tomato seedlings.