Friday, June 29, 2012

Bringng Home a Cow

I'm trying to convince my loving husband Steve to let me build a barn and buy a cow. She's a lovely 3 year old Jersey and has calved before. But of course for the winter I'm going to need a dry place for her to sleep and plenty of good hay in the loft. She's living on PEI right now and so I'm thinking we will have a weekend away some time this summer and go meet her and check her over in person. What do you guys think? Her udder and conformation look good but I'll want to give her a rub down and make sure her teats are good. Price is $800 and she's bred to calve in March. I appreciate your opinions.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thursday Already

I'm heading out to get some work done in the garden today but thought I'd take a couple of minutes and let you know what's happening in the garden. I'm seriously starting to wonder if something's eaten all my seeds. Maybe it's the darn chickens. But then yesterday I noticed that plenty of our potatoes are coming up and so I have hope still, lol. Either way, I've got more planting to do today. The wind is blowing, the sun is shining, and I'm eager to get at it! We moved the meat birds off to a grassy patch beside the garden that gives them much more room to roam and they seem happy. That means I can now dig over their former stomping ground and plant lettuce and salad greens! Yay.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The World According to Monsanto

"There's nothing they are leaving untouched: the mustard, the okra, the bringe oil, the rice, the cauliflower. Once they have established the norm: that seed can be owned as their property, royalties can be collected. We will depend on them for every seed we grow of every crop we grow. If they control seed, they control food, they know it -- it's strategic. It's more powerful than bombs. It's more powerful than guns. This is the best way to control the populations of the world" -Vandana Shiva, Physicist, New Delhi India

Food Sovereignty, or the right to keep our seed for use as food, future crops, and to preserve the genetic diversity in our staple foods, should be a right granted to all persons in the world. Contamination from GMO crops is adversely affecting the World's poorest people and subsistence farmers from South America, to India to the USA. Yes, there are farms in the US where people are struggling to be self-reliant in food so I've included them too. Our right to have ancient seed varieties of peas, beans, corn be preserved genetically is becoming harder and harder due to cross-pollination from Monsanto's genetically modified crops. Pollution from pesticides and fertilizers is literally killing people the world over.

And people tell me I'm crazy for wanting to be an organic grower.

I think you're crazy for NOT supporting local organic farms. So I am re-posting this movie which I will note was funded in part by the National Film Board of Canada. And I will stop complaining about Monsanto. Infact I'll leave off this post by telling you something wonderful about Monsanto who really are a chemical company and not the agriculture company many people think of, and holders of more than 15,000 patents. Did you know that Monsanto was the company that developed LED technology? I love LED's and find them very useful.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Raw Milk

The debates over raw vs. pasteurized milk continue. For almost 80 years both camps have debated which was healthier for you citing study after study. Governments have waded into battle and unilaterally declared raw milk as the enemy, making it illegal to sell or buy raw milk in many areas of the world and in Canada even going as far in most provinces to make it illegal to trade or give raw milk away. Well, I have drunk a lot of raw milk and I'm still alive to tell the tale. Here's an interesting article about a study from Harvard School of Medicine about the safety and health benefits from raw milk.

If the government has it's way we will be able to raise genetically modified cows for their low lactose milk or their Omega 3 enriched milk, but we won't be able to trade raw milk with our neighbours. I've written about milk before so I won't go into the details but here's another interesting article

As for our farm, we have less of a worry now because the kids are leaving home one by one and we drink a lot less milk. But I'm still thinking maybe a little Jersey or Guernsey cow and some milking goats would be good for butter and cheese production. 

What A Wonderful World

Why should we work hard to live and grow organically and think about the ways we can protect the environment? Why? Because this little blue/green planet is the only one we've got.

Monday, June 25, 2012

First Weekend of Summer 2012

Well after some torrential rain, something crazy like 4 inches in 24 hours, my garden is thoroughly soaked. Yay! Of course, that's lousy weather for setting up a new beehive so we put them in the greenhouse at our main garden site in Wilmot. We'll probably give them a week to settle in at least before popping the lid and seeing how they are getting on. The bees at the house here are growing in number and activity in front of the hive is reassuring that they have a healthy population building.

Steve's been in bed for most of the weekend sick. He managed to get some energy to finish the wheel hoe blade for me and promptly went back to bed. Right now he's getting packed to go to the city for work but I'm still not convinced he'll make it. Poor guy came home on Friday not feeling great, I think he's got the flu. Fever and chills, achy, heavy feeling chest...hope I don't get it. I don't have time to spend 2 days sleeping. With this recent rain the weeds will be growing along with the veggies.

I'll include some pics of the wheel hoe in action. Next plan is to make some kind of a plow or ridging attachment that we can use for hilling potatoes. I'm going to take it out to the main garden this week and try it in the nice loose ground there. It worked very well in the flower garden at home but less well in the matted and rooty ground I'm using for veg beside my house. Once the hoe has passed it's easier to go over it a second time so I guess that means you know what we'll be doing this week.

Tiny Tim Tomatoes
Our Shed has Jubilee Tomatoes and Marigolds
Pots of Grapefruit Mint from cuttings 
Red oakleaf and romaine lettuces
Outwit poor soil by planting in pots and bags

The stirrup hoe attachment

Steve demonstrating the new wheel hoe

You can see the square shape of the blade

The wheel hoe runs along the ground with the stirrup part under the soil 1-2 inches, cutting off the weed tops. It does a good job of getting right up to the edges of a bed and now that we have a platform to bolt any tool to, we can get creative. The hoe blade is shaprened on both sides for an easy back and forth motion and seems to handle small rocks with no problem. This is going to be a very useful tool for the longer rows at the main garden.

As you can see, we are creative with space. Pots tucked away on a deck or bags of soil in a frame, you can grow things anywhere! Our Tiny Tim tomatoes are well suited to pots and are setting fruit and the bags may look ugly now but will soon be covered in foliage so they won't be as noticeable.

This week I have to get weeding, plant more spuds, peas and carrots, and babysit 30 hours or so , it's going to be fun! Chris gets to clean out gutters...Joy! And we fixed the leak in the downstairs bathroom so no more wet floor. Gotta run and get kids off to school, they have 2 days of school this week and then they are done for the summer.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Finding time for what's important

Just a quick little message in honour of my father who noticed that on my Fathers Day post I didn't say anything about him. Oops...I am in trouble now! Sorry Daddy (puppy dog eyes and cute grin). Sadly, the cute look only worked for me until my sister came along when I was 6. She's much cuter, lol. Anyways, I'm glad that my dad had time to spend with us kids when we were younger. We did trips to the Bluebell Railway, swimming in Haywards Heath, Amberley Chalk Pits Museum, Sandy Bay, visits to my Nan' name it. Definitely quality time. And I remember some odd things like my first non-homemade sandwich (it was egg salad at the tube station). Spending quality time with your family builds a store of memories and experiences that we value as we get older. So Dad, thanks for everything!

Where in the World are You? Write to Me!

Sometimes I wonder...who reads my blog? Do you find it funny? Informative and helpful? Interesting? I know that I tend to write about whatever I find interesting or things that affect my life and it might be boring to other people. I mean really...who wants to know that Chris wrote his last exam yesterday and got 1 answer wrong for a final score of 105/106?

I do know some of you personally and some by blog/e-mail. Some have been around since the beginning (Hi Nick!) and are faithful readers (Hi Helga). And some of you just pop by from time to time to see what we're up to. I appreciate when you send me a message or comment to give your opinions. The point of my blog is to share information and when you give me feedback it is greatly appreciated. I learn lots from you and hopefully you find my info helpful in return.

So, dear readers....I am wondering...where are you located? Is there anything you would like to see me write about? Would you like to write an entry for the blog? We're a global community here on the internet and so just because you live in Russia, or Australia, or Argentina or Germany...anywhere on our beautiful blue green planet, doesn't mean what you have to say won't be interesting or helpful to someone else. Leave a comment or send me a message to doulamum (at) hotmail (dot) com.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you. Even if it's just your name and location.

This afternoon I planted mystery squash (nursery didn't label them), edible pod peas and my last 2 loofah's into the garden at my house. I watered the greenhouse and main gardens out of town when I fed the chickens. Boy, it's sure been hot and dry this last couple of weeks so unlike most everyone, I'm hoping for a wet first weekend of summer. We don't pay for water where we have our main garden but we do have to pay in town here so it makes you wonder if a dry crispy lawn might not be such a bad way to go. Maybe just let it go dormant and paint it green. But right now I've got to go move the sprinkler and get some laundry started. Hope your day is more interesting than mine :) Don't worry, mine will be better once my husband returns tonight at 9:30 with my new bees.


Week 2 - Green fuzz and Potato/Tomato planting

Yes, along with the first seedlings poking through the soil surface, a fine haze of sprouted weed seeds have come up too. No matter, weeding is easy when they're little, also as long as we stay on top of it, it won't cause a problem. Keeping the crab grass down to tolerable levels is going to require more work and the use of a good sharp wheel hoe that Stephen should have finished this weekend. I also bought a new beet hoe that works like the one demonstrated below but by a different company. You don't hoe using a chopping method but by running it under the surface chopping the weed seeds off below ground. Much easier of the back but you must have the correct style of hoe. This one is good for weeding between plants and here's a video of Eliot Coleman demonstrating it's use.

The roof of the greenhouse is on and the end walls should be done in the next little while but for now the covered tunnel is a great place to get our warm weather crops off to a flying start. It provides a little protection from the sun because the plastic doesn't transmit all the UV rays, maybe only 90% but the warmth created by the tunnel is beneficial. We have planted some vine type (indeterminate) tomatoes, the same types we have at the house. A low acid yellow called Jubilee and some Early Girl. Now I always thought early girl was an indeterminate but when looking on the internet it says both vining and bush and my plants aren't marked either way. I'm thinking I will plant them and see for myself what these are, I'm hoping vine. We're growing Scotia tomatoes which are a hardy bush type as field tomatoes. We also planted 4 melons and 4 English cucumbers which may not sound like a lot but since each plant will make a dozen or more fruits then this seems like a reasonable number for our little greenhouse. We are going to grow them up strings or wires so the cucumbers should produce lovely straight fruit hanging down off their supports and I'll be using a foam rubber coated wire to attach the stems to their supports without damaging the stems. The plastic is held down by hay bales and yes, we're going to plant in those too once they're conditioned and cooled down from the composting process. We'll plant Scotia tomatoes and any leftover Early Girl and see how they do. I planted another couple of rows of potatoes and am hoping that we have a good yield. I know it's late in the season to be planting them so I planted Norland, a white fleshed red skinned early potato that matures in 60-70 days giving us an expected harvest date of Sept 1st. Well before our first frost. The biggest concern with the tomatoes, squashes, pumpkins and potatoes is late blight, a fungal disease that is responsible for causing the Irish Potato Famine. We now know it's preventable using copper sprays such as the time honoured Bordeaux Mix used originally on grapes and some other chemicals but they require frequent spraying as a preventative measure so many organic growers try to do the following to avoid loss to blight.

1. Use below foliage watering ie. drip hoses or buried water lines.
2. Grow blight resistant varieties. But do check an updated list because there were recently some changes in the fungus that causes blight and some resistant varieties are now not as resistant as they were previously. It changes from year to year but there is a list here ( that keeps it up to date.
3. Plant in an open and breezy location that allows the foliage to dry quickly after rain. The fungus can be blown in by the wind but will only start to spread on wet leaves or soil which is why farmers get nervous if there are 2 consecutive wet and warm days in the late summer or when humidity stays over 80%.
4. Buy good clean seed from a reputable grower to start with. Don't use any of your own seed if you've had blight as the spores can stay dormant on the seed potatoes and cause problems next year.
5. Pick off any infected leaves the first chance you get. Some organic growers will burn the potato tops to stop the spores traveling down into the soil and infecting the tubers but sometimes you will get lucky and catch it just in time to remove infected leaves and stop the spread.

The plastic on our greenhouse is currently weighted down by the hay bales I got to use for my bale garden. There's one truth about hay, that no matter if you move one bale or a thousand you will end up with itchy bits down your shirt. Why is that? I've got more hay to pick up this weekend along with another nuc of bees. We'll see if the weather stays ok and we can open our first hive but it's supposed to be rainy so I'll likely just let them be. I think we'll put our second hive in our veggie garden.

Anyways, enough about that, I have lots to do. Got a very late night and an early morning. Now have to make jam, bake for a friend who just had a baby, do laundry, clean the house, and go work in the garden after caring for the chickens. Busy Busy. No wonder I can't get my book finished...I'm too busy living it to write about it! I guess that's what winter is for.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Boycott Monsanto - Really? Is that the answer?

Here's a question for you and it's a simple one. Do you support Monsanto, the undisputed leader in the GMO world. Do you? If you don't know about Monsanto then consider yourself blessed and believe me when I say that ignorance is bliss. But if you do do we balance the need for greater food production to feed the world's growing population against the supposed evils of their 'Frankenseed'. That's my term, so don't get too upset.

We hear about boycotting companies and I'm not too sure how effective that actually is unless a large number of people are involved and talking about it on a daily basis to keep the idea in the general populations mind all the time. Besides, how would we know what companies to boycott? Most farmers in the US are now using Monsanto seed so does that mean you can't buy bread or flour? Or put gas in your tank containing ethanol from GMO corn? If you look through the list below you'll see that most breakfast cereal makers are there as are the big 2 soda makers Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Don't forget, it's corporations like those that own thousands of other restaurants and food labels. Almost every bite you eat in a day could come from one of these guys. So how would a boycott really work? Here's a list of non GMO foods.

I believe that it should be a basic human right to be able to grow food and save our own seeds to trade with others and to re-plant next year. That's the biggest beef I have with Monsanto at the moment...taking away peoples right to choose. Our heirloom, tried and tested varieties are vanishing at an alarming rate in favour of the mass produced and commercially grown. It's sad. What do you think we should do about this situation? I'm really interested to know.

UPDATE: See what Monsanto is up to now. Agent Orange resistant corn, oh boy! And they are losing the battle against the corn root worm that's becoming resistant very quickly. Check out the article on RT here. And if you have a little time you can watch this truly horrifying movie about Monsanto.

Uses for Old or Spoiled Hay

This time of year many farmers and horse lovers are faced with a dilemma. What to do with the old hay in their hay lofts. New hay is being cut and baled as we speak and they need the room for storing their good stuff so it's possible to get hay for free or very cheap ($1 per bale) and we recently got a whole load of unwanted bales for free that we simply had to load into the trailer and drive home. But what would you do with free hay? Well, here are a few ideas.

1. Build a hay or straw bale garden. The idea is place a bale on it's side so the cut ends of the hay (or straw) are up and the strings are horizontal on the bale sides. Next you water it thoroughly for several days and possibly wait a few more days if the bale starts to heat up due to decomposition. Following this you either spread topsoil or potting mix on top of the bale in a layer a few inches thick and plant things like lettuce with shallow roots, or you pry apart the bale a few inches, fill the hole with your soil mix and plant larger plants such as tomatoes and peppers. Leafy crops are best, root crops will not work well unless the bale is watered daily and the bale is loosely packed. Don't be disuaded by people who say you cannot use straw bales. You can...they just sometimes sprout weeds which you can pick out as usual.

2. Use the bales like bricks to build a compost pile. Leave the string on for now, stack the bales to make either a 3 sided enclosure or a square one and build your compost pile as usual. The bales will act as insulating walls, increasing the heat retention of a large pile and thereby killing more weed seeds and pathogens and also absorbing a lot of the runoff from the compost. I wonder if this would be good for a humanure compost? After the last turning just water everything thoroughly including the bales, cover and let the compost mature. The bales will break down and whatever isn't composted will make a good base for the inside of the next pile you build.

3. Mulch your garden. Hay isn't usually used for mulch for two's better used as animal food and it's full of grass seeds so it can sprout into weeds. But here is an idea we're going to try with our free hay. At our new place there's a good site for a greenhouse with one major drawback, the soil is gravel and sand so while it's well drained, there's no topsoil or humus to hold nutrients and moisture needed for plant growth. Even the hardiest of weeds can barely grow there. Obviously we have a couple of options with this land. Use it for something not requiring good soil such as a storage shed or greenhouse for starters grown in shallow pots on benches. Or we could mulch the heck out of it and gradually build up a good soil base over time through composting. It's easy for us because we have enough other arable land to not worry about the occasional patch of gravel but for other people who could really use more garden space I think amending the soil is the way to go. Lay a thick layer of hay mulch on the ground, several feet thick, tamp it down a bit and water it. It'll compost and rot in place. Just continue to add new layers periodically of other soil, grass clippings etc just like regular compost pile, water or leave open to the rain and it'll rot down. If weeds sprout then just cut them down with a scythe and consider them green manure or cover the pile with plastic, newspaper or weed blocker and kill them that way. This process takes time but can be really worth it and I know of people who have planted potatoes into such a pile and had really great crops.

4. Use the bales as seats for an outdoor event such as Calgary Stampede, a country wedding, picnic or BBQ.

5. Use them to weigh down tarps or the plastic on your greenhouse and when they rot they will release heat into your greenhouse and can be dug in to the soil at a later date.

6. Build a hot water heater using hose or water pipe inside a compost pile or hay bales that are decomposing. Lots of videos on YouTube from the good people at and here's a Mother Earth News article from the early 80's about compost heaters.

7. Use bales as the walls of a cold frame and place the plastic or glass over the top of them.

8. A wall of round bales can both act as a wind break and help a small garden retain heat.

9. You could make a rectangular low wall of bales, put some hoops or pipe into them and put a plastic greenhouse over top, using the bales as low walls for growing plants or raising chickens.

See, even a waste product like old hay can still be good for something, you just have to be creative and think about your individual needs. That's how successful homesteading takes place...we innovate with what we've got and consider everything as potentially useful. We try out new ideas and keep doing what works while chalking the failures up to experience.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day!

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and commented that sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince.

I'm very grateful for my wonderful husband whom I love truly and with all my heart. But do you know what I love about him the most? He is a good Dad to our kids and they all love him. What a legacy... to have 6 children who love you.And he teaches them by example about the value of honest work, that patience really is a virtue, and that expressing love for your family is a good thing. That there will be times we disagree and it's ok. And that no matter what happens we are family and we love each other. There are so many other lessons I've learned from him and one of them was this: that you never know your true worth until someone loves you. We've come a long way together, and I can't wait to see where the journey is going to take us next.

My wish for all our sons is that they find as much happiness and love with their families as we have, and for our daughters we wish the same with an added measure of love from their husbands. We hope they will be able to be honourable people who care about others and who aren't afraid to stand up for what's right.

So with all this sentimental writing done...I'd like to wish Stephen and John a very happy Father's Day!

Source: via Tracy on Pinterest

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bees : Just How Clever Are They?

Bees obviously have a complex social structure, but how much of that is instinct and how much is active intelligence that can learn, recognize, adapt and create? If this is something that you've ever wondered about or if it sounds interesting then I'd invite you to listen to this edition of Ideas from the CBC. It's the better part of an hour so make yourself comfy. It's called Dancing In The Dark: The Intelligence of Bees. You'll learn a lot about how bees perceive their world, and lots of other interesting things. Well worth a listen. If you weren't fascinated with bees before, I promise you will be after listening!

And if you wanted to learn about bee sting therapy there's another 6 minute report here. Ouch!

Inventions - Wheel Hoe

I think that farmers should invent tools for farming...don't you? Not engineers. It's only when you actually use something that you get to know all the little things that make it either an ok tool or a great one. Having said that, Steve and I are looking at getting a wheel hoe as you know. Prices vary from $130 to well over $700. And since we're farming on a budget, Steve did some internet research, asked me some questions, went to Canadian Tire for angle iron and now is happily making a prototype in the driveway. He's basically making a platform attached to a wheel and pushed along by 2 handles made of conduit bent in our pipe bender. Now he's making a cultivator blade that will attach to the bottom of the platform. I know it's hard to explain but I will get a couple of pics uploaded once he's finished it tomorrow. It may not be pretty...but it's cheap! Probably by the time all is said and done we'll have a working unit for under $50. I'll let you know. Here's a picture of a wheel hoe, ours won't be so pretty but it's a tool that's going to save us time and labour and will be very well used so I don't really care what it looks like. Steve jokingly said that if it turns out really well he'll make you all a kit that you just have to bolt together and you can buy your very own cultivator for $59 + shipping. Maybe he's on to something, but first we've got to try it out! We'll of course let you know how it goes.

Things in the garden are fine. Not much happening at the moment. The chickens are growing and hopefully we'll have some veggies growing soon. The lettuce and zucchini are taking their time but are putting a bit of growth in this warm weather, the loofah's are ready to go into the ground, and the Tiny Tim tomatoes we've got in pots at home have several flower clusters each which is great. The bees seem happy and that's about it for today. Gave everything a good soaking to tide it through the next few sunny and hot days. I just have to water a patch on the side of the house tomorrow morning and I'm done watering here at the house. I like to water very early in the morning if I can. It gives the roots time to suck up the water before the sun dries everything out, but the leaves don't stay wet for too long and encourage mould. Without the sun up it does mean less water evaporates so it's more efficient to conserving water too. But the biggest conserver has to be the soaker hoses because they only put the water where we want it and they work well on a low pressure system like a well.

Happy Father's Day to you all for tomorrow.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Our Gardens- Week 1. Nothing but dirt.

That's how a garden starts out...dirt. All the hours of tilling, raking, weeding, tilling and raking again and not much to show for it. Of course it's lovely to walk across it and sink in 4 inches to the cool moist fluffy soil below, but seeds have got to get planted! So here's a few pics of our garden as of today, June 15th 2012. Planted are potatoes, Provider green beans, Spanish Onions, Wisconsin pickling cukes, tomatoes, zucchini, Paris Island Cos (romaine lettuce), Detroit beets in the same row as french breakfast radishes (you pull out the radishes in 20 days and make room for the beets to grow, works well for carrot rows too), Laxton's progress peas and I think that's it so far. I'd have to check my map. Yes, I have to make a map so I remember planting dates and where everything is. While I'm planting I say to myself "Oh I'll remember that I planted beans here" and then I always forget. So having a map is good. It allows me to see what's going to be done where and to plan for fall plantings. But despite all the work the only things in the garden showing signs of growth are the chicks. It's taken a lot of work to get it all tilled but the planting of main crops should be finished this weekend. Then the greenhouse can be planted and the fun begins! Our first harvest of lettuces and radishes will be in 3 weeks and will be quickly followed by peas, beets and beans. I'll leave some row space for later plantings of all of these so that I get a continuous harvest but I did plant 2- 50ft rows of peas and beans just so that I could harvest lots at once for freezing.

At our home garden we've got smaller quantities of celery, lettuce, greens, peas, peppers, beans, corn and tomatoes growing. It's nice to walk outside and have fresh veggies and herbs for the table so I'll make sure I plant some new things each week. The 4 Jubilee (yellow) tomatoes I planted in manure by the garden shed are doing really well and are getting taller so I'm expecting good things from them. And the same for the small patio tomatoes that are in pots on my deck. The first flower clusters are out and if the bees do their magic we should get a good crop of tomatoes from them too. The biggest concern with them is keeping them watered as the small pots dry out easily. Sort of like the garden, it takes a lot of water to get it deeply watered. The main garden has soaker hose as seen in the pics and the home garden so far has overhead sprinklers. We'll see how that works as the garden grows.

I must say though that the petunias I grew have turned out to be fantastic so far! Definitely will try to keep seed and see if I can repeat them again next year.

The pics in this post are from top to bottom:

1. Our Main Garden with the soaker hoses along the rows.
2 & 3. Chris's bottom half and the meat birds, now 3 weeks old, enjoying some sunshine and a snack in their chicken yard.
4. The hen houses alongside the gardens(don't worry, we skipped planting potatoes right outside their door) are open for ventilation.
5. Some lettuces in the home garden.
6. Petunias on the front door step.

In pic 4. you'll notice that the hen houses have the sides open. The dryer the hen houses stay the healthier they are, so we open the side panels during good weather. They only need cleaning once a month because the hens are mostly outside and so the litter stays dry. You can see inside the hen house in the picture and it is still clean and fluffy after 2 weeks of use. We use wood shavings for the litter on the floor. To keep out the rain they are covered with a tarp and during the winter we'll be cleaning them out weekly to maintain a dry and healthy environment. I'm considering using peat for bedding too, it'll make great compost! We use diatomaceous earth in their litter and in their dust baths to prevent lice. The hens and Wyandottes go off into the woods for the day and return on their own at night. The meat chicks though are confined to an outdoor pen 25 feet by 25 feet with shade and grass. And if you're a chicken person you'll have noticed one buff orpington chicken with the meat birds. She's out chicken that got sick and is there to have a warmer and safer recuperation with higher protein feed and lots of fresh water.

Well that's the report on the garden for now. Hopefully it'll be looking a lot more green in the next few weeks with veggies and not weeds. Wish us luck! And yes...I remembered the sun screen today :)

Sunny Weather and uses for pallets

It looks like we're in for a hot week to come. Sunny, breezy and temps nearing the 30's. I'm going to give the garden a really good soaking today and this evening and after I've straightened out my house a little I will go and see about getting a couple more rows of peas and beans in the ground too.

My poor husband and sons are in for it this weekend...I've got quite a list of chores for them. Namely, getting the plastic top on my greenhouse, fencing my veggie plot to keep out the chickens, and taking the Pedersen's enormous grass clipping and compost pile and moving it beside the garden. The problem with the pile where it is now is that it's too huge to use. Maybe 5 feet high, 8 feet wide and 10 feet long. It's too big to mix so it's not composting properly. I'm going to take all the loose and partially decomposed materials and put them in a big wooden pallet series of bins so that it's easy to turn, keep moist, and use the finished compost in the garden. I'm also secretly hoping that near the bottom of this pile I'll find a few yards of compost I can use in the greenhouse. I may be getting a late start to the season but I intend to extend it as much as possible so getting the greenhouse up and running is a priority.

Here are some easy plans for making a pallet compost bin. It shows one with a door though we usually have a series of 3 bins side by side with open fronts. I also recommend using chicken wire inside if you have extra. It lets in air and keeps the particles together a bit better. we've always left the bottoms open to the ground but you can use a plastic sloped bottom to collect the compost tea if you want to. Frankly, I've never bothered. We do try to layer things brown-green-brown etc but find that it all composts eventually. We load up the first bin until it's 3/4 full or getting pretty tall, then we fork it over into the next bin. The forking aerates everything and mixes it up a bit. You may find it's pretty hot stuff and that's a good sign. We water it occasionally to keep it moist and I appreciate anyone who pees on it for me. It's tricky for a thanks to all the guys who help add nitrogen and water to my pile :) After about 3 weeks we fork it out again into the final bin. I screen out any large chucks and add then to the first bin and leave the almost completed compost to sit for another week or two. Temperature and time of year affect the speed of decomposition so this process takes a lot longer in the fall. By having this constant rotation it means we have 3 bins. The first of fresh trimmings and grass, the second of actively composting compost all nicely mixed together and starting to shrink in volume, and the final bin of nearly completed compost. The final bin has a smaller volume of compost than the first bin so you can in fact leave several batches in there at once to wait until you're ready to use them. There you go, another use for pallets. They're good for more than just stacking your firewood pile on :) While it may not win any beauty contests, it's useful and a good way to recycle pallets. Of course you could use lumber and build a beautiful one too :)

My friend Jennie is likely having her baby today so I'm trying to get all my stuff done here at the house and garden early in case I am called away. So far the day is zipping by too quickly. I apologize for making this such a short entry but will write more tomorrow. It's hard to write about gardening and raising livestock when you're busy doing it :)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Believe in your own Power!

It's a dull day here on Canada's east coast so it's perfect for getting some gardening done and getting things watered. It hasn't rained yet and doesn't look likely to do that today. Before I head outside I just wanted to post this little video. It's a VW commercial but since we don't have TV, this is the first time I've seen it. Never give up your dreams...believe in yourself...and be kind to others. That's my message for today.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Busy as a Bee: Todays Work in the Garden

Well, it's a hot sunny day with a light breeze blowing. Perfect for working on my sunburn! Actually I've got the worst of it covered up today in an effort to not look like a cooked lobster. And since it's the middle of the day, I'm inside having a glss of water and avoiding the sun altogether. Chris will be home from school in a half an hour and we'll head back out then to finish the tilling and rake out as much crab grass as we can so that we can begin planting.

We have a small garden at the house in Greenwood here. The soil's very sandy, ant ridden and dry at the moment but we've mixed in lots of manure and are hoping to at least be able to get some tomatoes, squash, beans, peas and salad veggies off it, especially if I can control the ants. Our main garden is at a friend's place in Wilmot, about 10 minutes away from our house, and the same place we keep our hens and chickens. We've got it tilled over several times but it's chock full of crab grass so we've cut it down and now we're pulling out endless roots. But the more we can get out now, the better it will be as far as weeding goes later in the season.'s never ending!

The plan for today is to finish tilling the main garden over once again, this will be the 7th or 8th time I think, pull out as much crab grass root as we can and then get some rows of peas, beans, tomatoes and corn into the ground as a main crop. The greenhouse will be planted with tomatoes and cucumbers to start and then a crop of peas and salad greens for the fall. We'll also be planting our winter veggies in there if all goes as planned. But for now the main thing to do is to get planting started for staples that we can freeze, can and store. The sooner we can get things in the ground the better. We're looking at having a cooler and maybe wet day tomorrow so that'll be my main planting day unless my friend Jennie goes on to have her baby that day.

The bees have settled in and are building new comb on the top bars. The main problem at this point is that the original 4 combs that came with our bees are spaced too far apart as seen above and so the bees have built bracing comb (like little bridges) between them, making them very difficult to remove. We can fix it but it would mean destroying some of the grubs and we want the hive to build up a nice healthy population and getting in supplies so they will overwinter well. Above is a pic of Meghan in my veil ($6 from eBay) and to the left is Steve is his gloves and veil (no bee suit this time) checking out the top bars. It's a strip of wood with a groove on the underside for the bees to start building comb on. Eventually it will be a full-sized rounded comb and there will be others beside it, all with the correct spacing. At this point we will let the bees do their thing and put a new box underneath this one in the Warre method so that this eventually becomes a honey box and we can remove the braced comb when it's not being used as a nursery. We're going to split the colony in the Spring and make our own nuc and set up a Warre hive then. I'm still hoping to get bees from Roger Morash this year too and Steve's built me a couple of other boxes ready for when that happens. I'm also going to get some lemongrass oil, set it inside a closed and empty hive and see if I can't attract a swarm of my own that way.

Well, I should get back out to the garden. I've had a break now. The girls have their youth group tonight too at church. Will write soon. Elizabeth

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Best Tools = Faster Weeding and Less Back Strain

With my recent back injury, I find it incredibly uncomfortable to be bending over all the time weeding, planting rows of seeds and weeding in general. This coming from a woman who does natural childbirth and had kidney stones removed without a general anesthetic. I'm not exactly sure what I did to my back but the pain has now changed from all over to a central point, hopefully if I can take it easy for another week it will feel stronger. I'm doing stretches and light work but no heavy lifting except moving the trailer occasionally. But hurting my back during spring planting was possibly the worst time of year for this. I could barely walk for several days and it drove me crazy with frustration. I finally got the garden tilled and now I couldn't do anything about it. Exasperating to say the least!!

Some of the tools that we're going to get for our new homestead are these: a broad fork, a row seeder, and a wheel hoe. So being laid up gave me plenty of time to see what's available and to see what tools work best. And now you can benefit from my research.

The benefits of having a broad fork, which is commonly used in Europe, are the ability to loosen soil to a depth of about 12 inches compared to 6 inches with a tiller. You also don't invert the soil, leaving the top few inches of microbial life happy and healthy and leave your worms in 1 piece instead of several pieces using a tiller. And no, cutting a worm in half doesn't make 2 worms...just a dead bit and a short worm called 'Stumpy' by his friends. Broad forks are easy to use despite their size because you can use your own weight to push them into the soil and having 2 handles makes them easier to lever back as you loosen the soil.

Next, actually second on my list of tool wishes, is a wheel cultivator. There are several available locally but the one I like best so far is this one by Valley Oak Tools in California. I like the adjustable handle height, ability to offset it, curve, and the attachment choices from a furrow plow to a 4 tine cultivator. This gives us the ability to dig, furrow, hill up and weed all our veggie beds while standing upright and walking.

In case you're wondering what tool is first on my list, it's a precision row seeder. But as my budget is limited at present, I will have to keep sitting to plant or using a regular hand hoe. I guess there's always teenage slave labour too. 

We live in an age when we know that fossil fuels are running out and becoming both increasingly environmentally destructive and expensive. Using fertilizers not derived from fossil fuels and looking for hand tools that make efficient use of human labour should be a priority for any small scale grower, especially for those of us trying to be as environmentally responsible as possible. Whether yo believe it or not, oil is running out.

Fuel Reserves Years left
Oil 1,386 billion barrels      46.2
Gas 187.1 trillion cubic metres 58.6
Coal 860,938 million tonnes 118

Source: BP. Reserves calculated at current price using current technologies as reported by BBC, 2012.

Well, I'll write more later but today I'm hoping to get both cucumber, potato and tomato plants in before I get more sunburned. I need to start early so I can come home and clean up before taking a friend to her Dr's appt.

2 Jays are having an argument outside my window, not sure what that's all about. But it's a good alarm that's for sure, they don't sound at all melodic!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Why Grow Your Own Food? My 10 Reasons

It's true, having a vegetable garden can be hard work. And for those of us who live where fruits and veggies are cheap and plentiful it hardly seems worth the cost. I've probably spent $200 on seeds this year and that money would buy a lot of produce from the local market. But I grow food for other reasons.

1. It's exercise. And I need more.
2. I get superior quality produce.
3. It's naturally grown without poisonous sprays.
4. I can control what varieties I grow and not be limited to the common dozen found in the store. 5. My produce is fresher. This means it gets picked when ripe and eaten quickly.
6. I have food security...there's always something to eat in the garden or the root cellar. If I lose my job, I'll still have food for the table and more time for gardening. That's why I think that everyone on a limited budget, social assistance, food stamps etc. should be able to get seeds to plant a garden. Healthier food than the food bank and it's better to work for it yourself.
7. Once planted, it doesn't cost me much else but water and labour to get food to harvest so I know my vegetable budget early. I'm not affected by shortages and price spikes. No $2 tomatoes for us! We can learn new techniques from library books and online for free also.
8. I can grow quantities of produce suitable for home storage, either bottling or cellaring.
9. I can grow produce to trade with my neighbours, to sell and make some money to pay for next years seeds, and to give as gifts.
10. Nothing is wasted. Weeds and veggie trimmings go to the chickens and livestock and in turn we eat the livestock or eggs. We also compost keep the manure and put it back into the soil to maintain fertility.

Another thing that's fun (though not during times of heavy work) is time together as a family. I will end up doing a lot of the initial planting myself as the kids are in school. But summer holidays are coming and they will be able to help me with weeding, harvesting and re-planting. Teaching them to grow food is an important life skill. Teaching them how to bottle, dry, store and keep seeds are also really important extensions of this learning process.

In a modern western country like Canada it may seem a bit odd or hippy-ish to be growing vegetables. Old-fashioned like your grandparents did. But I'll keep doing it anyways and next year we'll have a CSA subscription service available for people in Nova Scotia who want good wholesome veggies delivered each week. We can't do it in 2012, there's simply not time to set it up properly. Better to have things ready to go and get prepared for next spring.

We hear in the news about food scarcity and how prices are going up. It's true, and it's affecting everyone though the poor suffer most. If we all grew more of our produce and wasted less food then we wouldn't need to double agricultural production at the rates they're saying. If everyone who ever read my blog had a garden, that's about 60k of you, and produced 200 lbs of veggies a year...that's 12,00,000 lbs of veggies garden fresh and healthy. That my friends, is an awful lot of veg! 12 million pounds! And it all starts one pot of herbs or small patch of lettuce at a time! Never think your garden isn't worth while. And if you do wonder if it's all worth this article.

So there you have it. Some of the many reasons I grow a garden.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Celebrating Youth

Who says that there aren't any good young people in the world today? Sure, there are plenty of teenagers who give the rest a bad rap, but here's a story about someone who did something selfless. I appreciate the youth I know for their stand against racism, for being good friends, for caring about other people and for being decent human beings.

Monsanto vs. Brazillian Farmers

It seems that wherever you look these days, someone is getting a group together to sue Monsanto, the US based company responsible for unprecedented numbers of Genetically Modified Organisms or GMO's for short. The ones we're concerned with are the food crops that have traits built right into their DNA so that they can resist chemical weed killers. For example, roundup ready canola is a type of canola that's immune to the chemical herbicide Round-Up. Farmers spray the weed killer over their fields to kill every other plant but the canola is unaffected.  Just not natural, but handy for farmers who don't want to have to hoe each crop by hand.

Some people get upset to think that altering DNA is risky and could produce some unforeseen results. But what really irks me are the farmers who have to pay Monsanto for seeds each year and if they keep back a portion of their crop to be next years seed, they are either sued or charged a fee. Farmers who traditionally have kept back 10% of their crop to sow next year are now not allowed or have to pay a percentage of their income to Monsanto, even though they've paid it already on the initial batch of seed. So how long should they keep paying for? 1 year? 5 years? Should they pay at all? Do you think farmers should be allowed to keep their own seeds? Here's an interesting article about a group of farmers in Brazil who are fighting back against the monster corporation Monsanto.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Our Stove and Bees are Here!

It's been a very busy and stressful week. Trying to get things done as a family is tricky when Dad lives away from home during the week. Yes there's skype, but it's just not the same.

Having said that though, the weekend, while also crazy busy, was lovely from many viewpoints. The weather was good on Saturday. I had a great time and learned lots at my meetings in Dartmouth and back at home Steve got the tiller running and Jordan started digging. There's now a 25 foot 'L' dug along one corner :) It means I can get my corn into the ground and maybe some peas and beans too! Hooray! First I've got to dig in some manure and give it a good raking over. Then seeding before the rain comes. Sounds like fun doesn't it?

We also were able to pick up the cookstove from Huntington Point. And that was a real adventure! We learned an important lesson...don't follow google maps directions. The first road it told us to take looked like a 2 wheel cart track into the forest so we decided to go round on paved and gravel roads instead. The second road we had trouble with was Huntington Point Rd. It goes from a gravel road to a washed out stream bed with loads of rocks and deep ruts from other unsuspecting drivers for 5km before it connects to a lovely paved road that approaches from another direction. At the bottom end of Huntington Point Rd there's a sign that says the road is not drivable, but no sign at the top end. Very frustrating. And it made us really late after driving the van and trailer along the goat track at 5 km/h. But the people we got the stove from were very gracious and even helped us load it. We had a fast and uneventful drive home (due to taking the paved road) and now Steve's now got it all inside the garage for me to clean, scrub, weld and polish. I'll leave the actual welding up to my friend Danny and maybe some braising for Steve. The enamel looks to be in good shape but some of the firebox grates and internal pieces could use some help and the top plate rim is cracked near the flue. There's a gap around the oven that I suggested we could close off with regular woodstove gasket, you know, the flexible rope kind. Still, all the parts are there, it's not nearly as rusty as we'd thought it would be, and it'll be a good project for rainy days. I'll upload pics later today, I left my phone in the van with the pics on it so I'll go get it it a while. Gardening first.

This week should see the beginning of plowing at the new place and maybe some hay cutting if the weather dries up. I'll keep you posted.

Hope your weekend was interesting. Did you do anything homestead-ish?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Ticked Off!

Yes, it's time to talk about ticks. Icky as they are, they're actually quite common. Janet, my step mom, got one on her arm this week while she was visiting her friend's property here in the Annapolis Valley. Ticks are commonly picked up by pets and people walking in long grass and this years first reported bite was in mid April due to warm weather.

So let's start with basics. A tick is closely related to a spider and has 8 legs. Ticks suck blood from a host so it may start out quite small and swell to resemble a raisin, mole or lump on your skin. The most common ticks in North America I believe are dog ticks and deer ticks. You can learn more here. But what you probably came here to learn was:


Many tricks can be used such as smothering them with soap, alcohol, burning them off (dangerous because you can burn yourself) and removal using tweezers.

Doctors recommend a simple 4 step removal process.

1. Grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible, preferably near it's head.
2. Pull the tick out slowly and carefully until it lets go.
3. Check that there are no parts left in the wound site (they feel hard under the skin). If there is something it will grow out on it's own or you can try to remove it.
4. Swab with alcohol and/or use polysporin cream to kill any bacteria in the wound.

Don't panic. While ticks are capable of spreading some diseases, notably Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in the US and Canada, they usually have to remain attached for 24-36 hours for this to happen so if you're out hiking just make sure to give yourself a quick check over every evening. Wear pants tucked into socks, long sleeves, avoid sandals and use bug repellant because many brands (containing 10-30% DEET) also deter ticks from biting. Not every tick you get on you will bite right away so try brushing them off. If you are concerned about a tick bite, remove the tick and place it in a jar of alcohol and then take it and yourself to the doctors office for a visit. Chances are you'll be fine though.