Tuesday, July 31, 2012

CSA for 2013

We want to announce that we've not fallen off the face of the planet, but been very very busy working on some plans for next year. As such, we're going to re-start a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or food share project and will be making weekly deliveries to the Valley and Dartmouth/Halifax. We'll have a very limited number of shares available in order to better serve our customers and to build our infrastructure as time and money allow. More shares may become available over the winter, but for now we're wondering if anyone is interested in participating in this program with us? More details to follow.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Yogurt Making

I've got to get some pics up on here to show you the progress of or garden and the work our family and friends did on Saturday morning to make a track through the bush to the river and across it. Armed with chainsaws and brush cutters (and our scythe of course) we got a path chopped through the bush on both sides in about 2 hours, felled some trees that were in the way for firewood, made a massive burn pile on the gravel beside the stream bed and built some small bridges that a person can walk across to keep your feet dry while crossing through the marshy part. I need to get pics from Steve :)

It's a sunny Monday morning and the birds are singing. Time to get out and water the garden before it heats up today. I made yogurt last night and it's nicely set. I've got to transfer it to containers now and let it chill and thicken some more in the fridge, then it's ready to eat! Yum!

Do you know how to make yogurt? It's really quite easy. And unlike making cheese of butter you don't get left with whey to figure out what to do with. 2 litres of milk makes 2 litres of yogurt.

How To Make Yogurt

Ingredients: 2 l (half gallon) milk, 3 Tbsp live culture yogurt. Some people also add a cup of milk powder but I don't, I'm just using raw jersey milk lightly skimmed.

Tools: Double boiler or a thick bottomed pot, lid, sterile spoon, thermometer, clock. Oven with a light that works.

Sterilize all equipment before beginning and warm your yogurt and milk to room temp for at least an hour.

Either in a pot over a water bath (double boiler) or in a saucepan over very low heat, raise the temperature of the milk slowly and without scorching to 185 degrees f.
Stir frequently. It'll start to look foamy like a latte.
Hold it at that temp for 30 minutes if you can.

Cool in a sink of cold water to 110, stirring to make sure the temperature is even. Add the yogurt and stir to thoroughly mix it in.

Let sit with a lid on or a cover for 7-8 hours in a warm place. Some people use a heating pad but I simply put them into an oven that's slightly warm and has the light on. You basically want to encourage the bacterial cultures to multiply and the 110 temp. is perfect.

Once set, spoon the yogurt into containers, close the lids and refrigerate for 24 hours. This allows the bacteria to stop working and the yogurt to set. Stir together. It won't be thick stuff, it's lacking in the gum and thickening agents the stores use.

Then eat and enjoy! You can sweeten to taste or leave it plain for cooking. And don't forget to save some to use when making your next batch. This should keep a week or more in the fridge.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Best Place To Retire In The World - Canada

If you are getting close to retirement and looking at your options, you may be considering a move to a different area of your country or a different country altogether with tropical weather or a low cost of living. Online searches and polls will show so many varied opinions that it's almost impossible to know for sure what life is really like in any one given location and the criteria they use for judging a place is highly subjective. But to jump into the fray, I'd like to tell you about Canada.

Our climate in Canada varies from permafrost in the North, to temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island, to the wine growing regions of southern Ontario and the cool and green Maritime Provinces on the East Coast. As you can imagine in a country that spans 5 time zones, there's a little bit of something for everyone weather wise. For gardeners, our zones range from 8 (Victoria, BC) to 1 (the Arctic) and if you're moving from Europe you'll find many areas of our beautiful country not unlike areas you are used to. While we joke about being the 'Great White North' we're actually on the same latitude as places like Paris, Florence, London, Rome and the south of France. Our climate varies due to the air currents over land and the oceans which accounts for either our maritime or continental temperatures but lots of information about historical weather is available online for you to look at.

The Cost of Living is another important factor, as is the exchange rate if you are drawing a pension from the UK for example. Since these vary it pays to check it out regularly. But the cost of living also varies greatly from one place to another and from store to store. It's easy to check out the local papers of any places you're considering and have a look at their grocery store ads. Here's my opinion of the various places in Canada...

Victoria, Vancouver, and BC (British Columbia) in general. The most beautiful place on Earth. And it comes with a price tag. The housing market in the major metropolitan areas is second in the world only to Hong Kong as far as being an unaffordable English speaking housing market. The median home price in 2011 in the Vancouver area was almost $700,000 but having said that, if you want a multi-cultural and vibrant city with good weather and a good arts scene, it's a great choice. If though, you wanted a quiet country life near to the sea and an easy flight to Europe then you'd look at Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia is a lovely small Maritime province steeped in English and French history since the 1600's. The people are friendly, the real estate is unbelievably cheap in rural areas, and the winters are not too long, though we do get plenty of snow. So why are houses so cheap? Due to the nature of the local fishing industry and it's falling on hard times, unemployment is fairly high and so there are less people in a position to buy homes. Many people here already own their own home, even those receiving Social Assistance can manage the $300-$500 typical mortgage for a small rural house. Having said that, if you are a skilled worker you'll find plenty of work in and around the metro areas of Halifax and Dartmouth and the house prices rise accordingly. Here in the Annapolis Valley a decent home will range in price from $75,000 to well over $300,000 for the fanciest models with large acreages. The typical price for a hobby farm of 5 acres in the country is probably somewhere closer to $130,000 if you are an hour or more outside of town. We bought just 42 acres of bare land and it cost us $35,000. Nova Scotia reminds me a lot of Scotland and Ireland as far as climate goes and the population is under 1 million people. Many young people move away from the Maritime provinces seeking adventure and employment in busier places such as Alberta and Ontario. But on the reverse side, many people retire here for the slower pace of life and the cheaper cost of living. A great tourist destination, as my Dad is demonstrating (that's him in the pic) and a large British ex-pat population.

Ontario varies from city to city but it's the largest population centre of the country with large cities like Toronto, Ottawa and really too many others to list. This province is bigger than many countries in the world so topography varies as you'd expect. The southern part of the province has the best weather and also the largest population centres and these are home to many people who choose to make Canada their home as refugees, immigrants and those who have been in Canada for generations. The population is approximately 12 million.

Alberta, located on the western side of Canada it's separated from BC by the glorious Rocky Mountains and then stretches eastward onto the rolling prairies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Alberta is home to Edmonton and Calgary both of which offer ethnically diverse populations and arts and culture despite the region being known as the home of cowboys. Oil and gas make this a resource rich province boasting high wages and low unemployment so many younger Canadians live and work here in the hustle and bustle of the boom towns and cities. Being  conservative area, it's home to many different religions and people are generally friendly and welcoming. There's a marked difference between the rural life and the big city life on the Prairie Provinces, but no matter where you go you're sure to find a warm welcome as this lovely couple found out. The white hats are gift given from the City of Calgary to visiting dignitaries and are especially prevalent during the world famous 'Calgary Stampede' held every year in July over a 10 day period. Billed as the Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth, it's got something for the whole family to enjoy.

The northern territories offer opportunities for a slower pace of life and the thrill of living away from large centres. Yellowknife, the only major city has a population of 20,000 and boasts a varied cultural heritage with 20% or more people identifying themselves as aboriginal. Located just 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle, it's cold in the winter and the winters are long and dark. Transportation of goods can be tricky in the summer months when the ice roads begin to thaw but that doesn't stop tourists from flying in and workers who use Yellowknife as a hub on their way to the many mines that lie withing a 500 mile radius of the city. Diamonds are particularly plentiful. Tourism is another industry that's flourishing among the adventure providing outfitters up north and they offer a once in a lifetime vacation for anyone looking for something different.

Moving to Canada is a big step so if you're considering it, I'd urge you to come and visit a different province for vacation each year and see what you like best. You should have a good idea of your budget and your priorities so that you can make a decision that you will be happy to live with. And if you're moving within Canada, enjoy the drive! Our family moved to Nova Scotia with the idea that we could have our own land, home and finish raising our family here before settling down into a semi-retirement. It's a dream that's slowly becoming reality, and I wish you all the very best success and happiness too!

Please feel free to comment and ask questions.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Weed, Harvest & Re-Plant

Today it's a little cloudy though it promises to brighten up and be 26 C this afternoon. With this weather it seems like a good time to be out weeding the rows and moving drip hoses. With having to re-plant the rows (thanks to the chickens eating the seedlings) we've not got lovely green stripes in the garden of weeds but at least they're straight so getting them out with a hoe, rake and wheel hoe should be easier. We're going to make the transition from overhead watering with a sprinkler, we used this to help the seeds germinate, to drip hoses now that we can see where the rows are. And despite a few forays beyond the fence, the chickens have stayed out and let the seeds come up with just a few beans missing here and there.

Planting isn't done for the year either. We'll be getting ready to start our fall and winter crops soon and then once the main crops are done in the garden in August we'll be putting out all our started seeds plus more cool weather crops like peas and carrots, spinach and lettuce that can be directly seeded.

Another chore for this week is to build a trellis at the house for the beans and peas to climb up and a pea fence in the veggie garden, so I'd better get going and work!

...............................Later That Day...........

Hi Yes I"m back again. We've had a couple of good rain showers which is fantastic for the garden. A nice deep soaking is always a blessing. I got some weeding and hoeing done today plus a few more things planted and the stakes in place for the pea fence. Now I just need to attach the wire. I also had my friend Theo drop by to borrow something and he grabbed me a whole load of pallets on his way over. Like 15 of them or something, so the boys have no excuse for not stacking more firewood because they needed some way of keeping it off the ground and a pallet is great for that because it allows air to circulate under the bottom layer.  I'm also going to move all the hen houses and place them up on pallets so the floors stay drier which will help them last longer. Plus as an added bonus now I can make a better looking compost pile surrounded with pallets to keep the pile from spreading out as it gets piled higher. The rain today will have helped the pile enormously and I'm going to layer in some chicken house shavings and some tall green weeds. Should make for a nice hot pile and hopefully soon some lovely compost I can use in the greenhouse. There are some useful things any gardener can have that other people consider junk, and pallets and used tyres are two of them.

Monday, July 16, 2012

What Happens to Little Girls Who Don't Brush Their Hair?

They get the chop!

 Meghan's admiring her reflection in the living room window.

                   Making funny faces


                             Still looks cute.

She"ll get a nice haircut in time for school but for now it's fine the way it is, don't you think? We're going to curl it tomorrow and see how it looks all flippy.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Chicken Days (Or the End of Days)

 Butchering Chickens. Yes, that's what we spent the day doing in the sweltering heat which went well above 30 again today. Well not the whole day because of course we had church this morning. But we met with our chicken guy Tim at 3pm and he quickly got set up. 2 big tanks of cold water for cooling the finished birds, a burner and pot for heating water to dip the birds prior to plucking (it loosens the feathers), a plucker and his work table. He did a good job and was pleasant to hang out with.The finished birds are clean and bagged ready for the freezer. Here's some of the equipment he brought with him. 2 barrels which were very clean inside, for filling with cold water and placing the cleaned chickens in to cool quickly. I promise, there are no graphic pics to follow. All the chickens had a good life outdoors until moments before they died and are now resting comfortably.

 This nifty little device turns and the black rubber 'fingers' pluck the feathers out of a scalded chicken in a minute or so. A very great labour saving device and this one just plugs in to an electrical cord.

This is Tim being thoughtful.  Or taking a rest after doing all out chickens, we're not sure which.  It's hard work in such hot weather! His contact info is listed below, just say Elizabeth Faires sent you and that you were reading the blog.

 These are our 8-9 week old chickens


 And these are some chickens...3 roosters we culled,


Here's My faithful assistants (aka. chicken wranglers) waiting for their turn to get to work, Pete our friend who is letting us use his yard and of course Stephen my husband in the blue shirt. The process is quite quick. The chicken is killed quickly and then left to bleed out for a minute or two. It's dunked into hot water to loosen the feathers and then plucked using the plucking machine.It could also be done by hand. After that it's cleaned and trimmed and put into a big barrel of cold water to cool down. Then it's bagged up and ready for the freezer! Easy! Well Tim makes it look easy. He charges $3.50 per bird and does all the work. He'll take care of all the killing we need from lambs, to cows and pigs at what we think are good prices. And he's conscientious. He keeps a clean work area (not that you can tell from the pics) and gave us some nice table ready chickens. I'll add his contact details later on as I know he'd appreciate the business. In the end we had 14 meat birds, 3 roosters, and  nice pile of feathers and left over bits for the compost pile.

 Chris was helping out with the bees in the early evening. Well, actually he was hanging out learning to tell the difference between grubs, workers and drones and he's brave, not at all afraid of bees. We had some of our comb collapse last week, I don't know if it's the heat or what. But Steve salvaged what he could and let the bees clean up most of the mess. However it looks like we'll be having a new queen as there are lots of queen cells all of a sudden so we wondered if she was a squashing victim when a comb collapsed. Either way, it looks like the bees are happily re-queening their hive. We took advantage of this and removed 4 frames of brood and honey to make our own nuc and start a new hive. The parent hive is building up nicely and with so many queen cells I'm sure they'll have a new queen up and running in no time, and removing this nuc should stop them getting any ideas about swarming too. Here's a beautiful piece of natural comb our bees made this week and it's already being filled with capped brood and honey. The beeshere in town certainly seem to be doing well and storing lots of honey while still increasing their numbers.
I'm hoping that is we get some rain this week the weeds and grass will all flower and we'll have some more happy bees. My friends Sarah, Russ and Gail said I can put a hive out at their lake side cottage so maybe that's a good place for this new hive. Steve better get building, or I'll make a Warre hive this week.

Here's the Info for butchering:

Tim's Mobile Butchering 902 765-4016

He serves a large part of the Annapolis Valley and does poultry, game and livestock. All you have to do is take your sides to your favourite butcher for cutting.

FYI, Chickens are $3.50 each complete and he'll charge $1 for cutting a whole chicken up into parts.Now that we have a much better idea what we're doing we might do our own butchering in the fall.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fun Stair Design

Found the perfect design for our new staircase. Think Steve will let me build it?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Weekly Report July 13th 2012

The weeds are taking over! And it's been really hot (30+C) so I just don't feel like working out in the baking sun. But as soon as it cools down we'll be back at it.

Actually, we're very pleased that the rows we planted again are up and growing well so this weekend we're going to hoe out all the weeds, hill up the potatoes and move the drip hoses so that they're along side the plants we want to water. That's something good.

On a bad note, 2 more chickens died today. It's the heat, they just can't take it. Time to butcher them for sure! I miss my hybrid meat birds, way hardier! Still, it's good to work with what's local. Our birds are for the chop on Sunday afternoon (that's a polite way of saying we're going to butcher them) and then they'll be resting comfortably in the cool of our deep freeze. I'll give some to the Pedersens for their help looking after them and keep the rest.

The home garden is growing well. We're picking red oakleaf lettuce to eat already and things are growing! More beans are going in tomorrow so that'll be great and I'm planting beans in the flower bed too for some visual interest as well as a practical harvest. Things like coloured lettuces, beans, kale, tomatoes and peppers can thrive in flower beds that are usually close to a warm house. So why not add some variety and something colourful to your flower beds?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Syrup making days

We've been so busy with summer activities and gardening that we've hardly had time to write. Sorry about that.

With the chickens now fenced out of the garden for the most part (they still sneak in occasionally) the rows are growing nicely. I will have to take the wheel hoe and go over the original rows which are not a green fuzz of small weeds and then move the drip hoses into place. It's not too late to be planting some beans and other crops that like the warmth of summer and to be thinking ahead to fall plantings and the coming winter. Peas will wait to be planted for a few weeks so that they mature in the cooler fall weather. I've cleaned out the weeds in the front flower beds so I think I'm going to plant some scarlet runner beans beside the house which will look beautiful when they're mature.

In the garden we're eating lettuce and harvesting radishes before they bolt or split in this hot weather. More lettuce is planted to replace the ones we're eating. Having a continuous supply replanted is great because you always have a choice of baby leaves or mature lettuce. I prefer to grow it fast and eat it fast so it never becomes overly mature and bitter.

The peas need a fence to grow up so I'll try and get that done today and in the greenhouse I'll finish tying up the supports for the tomatoes and cucumbers so that they are ready for the growing plants. The melons are trained up their strings and there are pretty yellow flowers on the plants already. The zucchini are blooming too so I'd imagine that we'll be inundated with the wonderful green things soon. Thank goodness we love zucchini!

It's 6:15 and a refreshing 13 degrees C (55 f) which is nice because we're heading for another 30+ C (86 f) day again. It's easier to take the heat now that the humidity is lower and the house can cool off at night. Before going to bed I opened all the windows and the house feels fresh and cool this morning with the thermometer on my wall reading 20 C (68 f) and the girls snuggled up happily in a light blanket. The house temperature will likely drop a degree or two further until we close up the windows in a couple of hours. With the good insulation in this house it will stay cool in here for a while, at least until we start making syrup!

Yes, that's the plan for today. We're bottling fruit syrup. Strawberries are starting to slow down production so we're taking advantage of them while we can and he wild blueberries are starting to come ripe. I got a deal on bottles from the feed store as long as I bought them all so I'm now the proud owner of 55 glass syrup bottles and about 35 lids. Some are the 375ml size and some are 500ml so they're good for various uses and gift giving. The idea is to use wax as a sealing agent on those bottles we don't have lids for. It worked for Grandma most of the time so why not me? I'll thoroughly clean and heat the bottles first to be sure there are no surprise bacteria on them before filling them with hot syrup and sealing with paraffin wax. But first I've got screw on lids so I'm all set.

Fruit syrups are easy to make and involve about the same amount of time as making jelly. You start with clean sterilized bottles or jars and keep them hot until ready to use.

Pick your fruit (or buy) and wash it in cool water, picking out any mushy fruit or stems and leaves. Hull strawberries if using them. Place 7 cups of fruit in a pot and thoroughly mash or use a food processor too. Add 2 tbsp lemon juice and bring fruit to a rapid boil then simmer until soft for 5-10 minutes without scorching so keep stirring if you have to.

Now you can either sift through a seive and into your big pot, or you can hang the fruit mush in a jelly bag or cheese cloth. The seive gives a cloudy syrup and the jelly bag juice makes a clear syrup, your choice. You'll end up with about 4 1/2 - 5 cups of juice.

Add sweetener (7 cups sugar or another substitution*) to the juice in the pot and boil for 1 minute.

Bottle the syrup in the usual manner (use a funnel, fill jars, add hot lids and seal) then process for 10 mins at sea level adding 5 minutes for every 5000 feet increase in sea level. Remove jars from the water bath canner, cool overnight, remove rings, check that they've sealed and the lids are curved down then label and store.

For my bottles I won't be able to process this way because the lids are plastic so I'll seal them immediately upon filling and store them in a cool place. The syrup won't last long with my pancake eating horde.

That's my day in a nutshell.

* Sugar Substitutions. You can use 4 1/2 cups sugar, 2 cups stevia, 4 cups splenda or a combination according to your taste.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Re-planting The Garden

The garden is now fenced and with the chickens out and the rows planted again I'm hoping that we'll have some lovely rows to show you soon. The promised rain hasn't appeared so I turned the sprinkler on for a little while yesterday and gave the garden a soak to keep the seeds moist while they sprout (fingers crossed). The bees are doing well, and Steve's thinking of splitting our large hive this weekend before they get it into their head to swarm. He's also got to build some more boxes. The wheel hoe he made me is working out very well and we're running that up the rows before raking to remove more crab grass and weeds.

My Dad and his friend Russ just drove into the Valley in their U-Haul truck. They drove Calgary to Middleton, NS in 5 easy days of driving with a few stops along the way, leaving Sunday and arriving Thursday early afternoon. They said the roads weren't at all bad and they followed the same route as we did with the exception in Ontario where they took the northerly route and we went around Lake Superior and Saulte Ste Marie.

We're excited to see Russ's new place and to try catching some fish out of their lake. With Jordan's recent losing of his rod into the clear waters of Butler Lake (long story) he needs to redeem himself today and catch me some good trout! All the kids are coming up there and taking their swim gear so we'll have a lovely picnic lunch and BBQ. Steve will be home today so it's going to be a great day! I can't write for long, I've got to get going and get new tires installed on my van and potatoes done for salad later.

I have some good posts almost ready to go. But for now, here's a great 3 minute clip of a politician I really like, not because I always agree with what he says, but because he tells it like it is and actually worked for a living prior to being a politician unlike many of the other European Parliament members who come from lives of priviledge. He's like the 'Don Cherry' of the EP. Anyways, this little 3 minute rant is a year old, but makes some good points, and always makes me chuckle. Oh, and the pension amount he mentions of '98 quid a week' is approximately $155 dollars (US or CDN).

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Higgs Boson

Now I'm the first to admit that understanding particle physics is not my forte, I'm a gardener after all, but with the announcement from CERN about their discovery of the Higgs Boson it's a pivotal moment in our understanding of how the universe works. So what does that mean to us every day people? Well, we'll have to wait and see. Like all discoveries and advances in understanding, the effects will be felt over time from new inventions to increased understanding, to scientists asking new questions.

To understand what the Higgs Boson actually is, watch this video.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Busy Week

Here at our place we're keeping VERY busy. We celebrated Canada Day on July 1st which is our countries birthday and got to watch fireworks without the massive crowd we're used to in Parksville. Also had activities around the neighbourhood so the girls and Steve went while I looked after chickens.

Out at the garden we've just completed perimeter fencing because the darn chickems were eating everything as soon as it sprouted. Everything except the potatoes that is. Now I am re-planting everything and hoping that it'll have a chance no the chickens are kept out. Today I planted radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, white onions and some garlic. It's really too late to plant garlic, or too early depending on the variety, but if I don't get it planted now it'll just die anyways. I'm going to do beets, cukes and carrots later and maybe also peas.

It might seem like we're planting late, and we are. But at the same time consider this:
-the weather will still be nice for 2+ months and most veggies mature in that time
-we can easily cover crops with a row cover if frost threatens
-we are just getting our winter veggies ready to go so they won't even be planted for a month or more yet
- and some veggies do better if they mature in cooler weather

The greenhouse is going to be watered tonight and it's supposed to rain so the gardens won't need any more moisture than that. I'm keeping the top couple of inches damp just because we're sprouting seeds but once they are established we'll only water deeply occasionally. It helps keep down the weeds also if we use drip or soaker hoses.

Got to run. Have a great day.