Tuesday, December 15, 2009


It snowed yesterday, as promised by the weather forecasters. It started about 2:00, and by the time I was driving home from a tutoring session, the roads were lightly snow covered. More snow through the evening and overnight, so we woke this morning to that lovely brightened light coming in through the bedroom windows that tells you there's lots of snow before you even look.

Snow is different this year than last. For one thing, there's a lot less of it - as least so far. Last winter the record breaking cold and snowfalls made our weekend trips here something of an adventure: driving over the Malahat at 5:00 a.m. in a blinding snowstorm (sorry, Mom), dealing with burst pipes in the pump house twice (the first time due to ignorance, the second to stupidity), being snowed in and unable to return to Victoria and having to borrow a can opener from the neighbours so we could eat a can of beans warmed on the wood stove, waiting anxiously to see if our road would be plowed, and making friends with Bruce the backhoe guy. It's different this year - other than getting William the cat to the vet this afternoon, we have no place other than home where we need to be, the power has stayed on, water is flowing through the pipes as it should, and we have our own can opener.

Three wonderful things from this morning: animal tracks in the snow (raccoon and rabbit, we think), Frankie forgetting his 9-year old doggy dignity and reverting to berserk puppyhood as he played in all the white stuff, and watching two red-headed woodpeckers chase each other around and around a snow-covered tree, creating the Mucky Boots version of a barber's pole.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Planning the garden

The first 2010 seed catalogue arrived today. Wowie! Many pages to pore over, and lots of planning to do.

Now I know that some of you reading this won't have much of an idea about what goes into planning a vegetable garden, so I'm going to explain as much as I know so far. Please believe me: I'm not making any of this up.

The first thing is to make a list of what you might like to grow. This list, I have learned, should more or less correspond to what you might like to eat. I learned this the hard way, when I didn't acknowledge the fact that I really don't like kale only after I had a bed full of it ready to harvest. When you make the list of what to grow, it's important to recognize that your space is probably limited, and you won't have room for everything. So, as well as thinking of what you might like to eat, think of things that are hard to get in the grocery store (like purple potatoes), or are expensive to buy (like basil). Some things, like onions, are dead cheap to buy, but the homegrown ones are so much better you should go ahead and plant some anyway. Also, especially for new gardeners like me, it's probably a good idea to stick to things that are easier to grow.

The next thing is to look at the space you have and see what you can fit in. This is more complicated than you think, because some crops (like garlic) will be harvested by July, leaving an empty bed ready for something else. You may be able to get three different crops from a single bed: early radishes and green onions, followed by beans, followed by Swiss Chard or (yuck) kale to harvest through the winter. This is especially true if you are starting seeds in soil blocks and then transplanting them when they are partly grown. So you need more than a plan with a space for each bed - you need a plan that takes into account time, too.

Which leads to the issue of crop rotations. It's important not to plant the same crop in the same bed two years running, because it gives pests and diseases a better chance to make a permanent home there. Also, some crops use lots of the nutrients in the soil, so you shouldn't plan two such crops in a row. So you can't really plan a garden for a year - you should really plan it at least 3 years ahead, to make sure you've accounted for all the crop rotations you'll need to do.

If you've followed all that, you'll have a plan for what vegetables are going to be planted in what beds when, for the next few years. The next thing is to choose the varieties - that's where the seed catalogues come in. For example, suppose you're thinking of carrots. There are lots of options, depending on what you want. Early carrots or late carrots? Carrots you plan to eat right away or store for future use? Orange carrots, red carrots, purple carrots or yellow carrots? Long, skinny carrots or short, fat carrots? Do you need a variety that is resistant to any particular disease or pest that is common in your area? Do you want a hybrid (often bred for resistance) or an open-pollinated variety (which means you can collect the seeds for planting the following year)? Although the choices will seem endless (especially if, like me, you are cross-referencing 3 or 4 different catalogues) you should probably stick to 2 varieties - more is just plain silly.

When all this is done you'll have a plan for your garden, and a list of what seeds to order. The last ingredient is a calendar of planting dates. After all, it would be a shame to realize in June that your peas should have been planted in April.

Your calendar of planting dates needs to take into account a few things. First, know the planting zone in which you are located. Gardening in Victoria is very different from gardening in Thunder Bay. Second, read the information given in the seed catalogues or any reference books you have, in order to get a rough idea of which weeks or months you should be planting in. Third, think about whether you want all your beans, for example, ready at the same time - say, if you wanted to pickle them. If so, plant them all at once. If not, be sure to stagger the planting across several weeks. Cross-reference that with all your other information and you'll have a good idea of what to plant when.

If you're really keen you can also consult a calendar to see when the moon is waxing and when it is waning. According to biodynamic farming principles, it's better to plant vegetables in which the desirable part is below the ground (like potatoes or radishes) when the moon is waning, and vegetables whose upper part you want to eat (like salad greens or peas) when the moon is waxing. (This is the time when I need to remind you I'm not making any of this up...)

Call me obsessive, call me anally-retentive. But I have a week-by-week calendar for what gets planted when that takes me from late January (when onions and leeks get started in the greenhouse) to mid-September when the last radishes and lettuce for eating through the winter are planted. I am a planner, and I am proud!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Our night visitor

We had a visitor last night at Mucky Boots. We're not entirely sure what it was, but all signs point to a bear. Now this shouldn't really surprise us, and maybe it's a sign of how quiet our lives have become, but this visit is the biggest excitement we've had in days!

Kim spotted the first evidence this morning when she went out to the workshop, and it wasn't hard to spot: a demolished compost heap. Our pile of finished compost was completely torn apart, the cement blocks around our in-progress compost pile were tossed hither and thither, and our wheelbarrow was tipped over and had a broken wheel. Kim called me out on the walkie-talkie and by the time I had bundled up and made my way to the workshop, she had scouted the perimeter and discovered two places where it looked like something big and heavy had made its way over the fence, lots of big footprints in the frost (pretty indistinct, but more circular than oblong), and a large area in the orchard where the frosty grass had all been melted and squashed flat - perhaps the place where the bear stopped to nap after its exertions at the compost pile?

Our neighbour Nick calmed us down a little. He said bears will occasionally pass through, and it's only worth worrying about if they hang around or come back. So for the next few days Kim will be extra careful coming back to the house from the workshop after dark, and we'll keep a closer eye on the pets when they're outside.

The cold weather is holding. It has been about 5 below at night for the last week or so, and warming up only to about freezing during the day. (Yes, call us wimps, but this is really unusual!) The salad greens in the garden are frozen solid, and even the tough ones like the mizuna, arugula and mache probably won't recover. It's a good learning experience for next year: the winter greens really need the protection of the greenhouse, not just cold frames and row covers. I'm not as sad about the demise of my winter garden as I thought I might be. This time of year my thoughts turn more to hot, homemade soup and roasted root vegetables, and salads strike me as awfully cold and damp.

The skim of crystals on the pond has frozen to an official layer of ice, which has interfered with Frankie, Petunia and William using it as a handy source of drinking water. Frankie has discovered how to pounce on the ice with stiff front legs in order to break it for a nice cold drink, but the cats are going to have to depend on their doggy brother while the pond remains frozen.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Puffy vests

My wardrobe has changed since we moved to the farm. Instead of choosing between fancy work clothes and regular clothes, now I choose between dirty work clothes and regular clothes. One of the staples of both work and regular wardrobes is the "puffy vest", so named by my friend Linda who is the queen of puffy vests.

My first acquisition was the light blue one you see here. I got it last fall when Kim and I were coming up on weekends to try to stay on top of the work in the garden. It is used exclusively in the garden because it is filthy - beautifully, gloriously filthy. It gets hosed down every once in a while, but even at its cleanest it's a dirty mess. But dirty or not, I quickly became sold on the fact it kept me warm without overheating, it left my arms free to work, and most of all that it kept my neck free of drafts. So I had to get another one, one that would stay (mostly) clean.

That led to my second vest, the navy blue one. It's different from the first one not only because it's clean, it's also smaller. It feels like a snuggly hug when I wear it, which is its greatest charm. but that means when it's really cold I can't layer a fleece underneath, which led to Puffy Vest #3, a larger version of #2.

At that point I admitted to a thing for puffy vests, and shamelessly bought #4, the fancy purple checked one, for formal occasions. Victorian gentlemen wore fancy embroidered vests when they wanted to make a statement, but when I'm going out and want to look spiffy, I choose Puffy Vest #4.

I am happy to have my puffy vests these days, because it has been really cold - below freezing! This morning we woke up to crispy, frosty everything. The water in the birdbath is frozen, and we're starting to wonder whether the pond might be good for skating...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Time, sleep and solitude

I've been thinking today about time, and sleep, and solitude, and friends. We had a busy weekend, starting with the Cowichan Consort concert on Friday night - this is the local choir and orchestra that Kim and I are part of, directed by a school colleague of ours named Duncan. We think Duncan is wonderful, and it has been fun for us to be part of a musical group together. The orchestra performed Mendelssohn's Hebrides overture and Ravel's Bolero (complete with trombone solo by Kim!) and then the choir joined them for Vaughan Williams's Dona Nobis Pacem, a dark and beautiful anti-war piece that was commissioned in the days leading up to World War II. Friends came from Victoria, Sooke and Duncan, which made us feel really special. We went for coffee and dessert afterwards, and it occurred to me halfway through my chocolate hazelnut torte that I couldn't remember the last time I went out with friends after something. In the past, by the time a concert or movie was finished it was already past my bedtime, which meant a rush home to cram in enough hours of sleep to keep me going the next day.

Life is different now, and so is my relationship to sleep. I didn't realize until a few months into our new life how nice going to bed is now, and, in contrast, how anxious I used to be about getting enough sleep. Before, a late night would mean a couple of bad days until I could recoup the lost hours, but now it just means the joy of an evening with good friends and the extra pleasure of a nap the next afternoon. I don't have to be afraid of being tired anymore.

The next day was our friend Linda's birthday, and we went into Victoria for a surprise party. Another wonderful event (and another late night!). This time, halfway through my piece of chocolate mousse cake, as I basked in the warmth of the evening with friends and listened to Kim talk and laugh as only she can, my realization was about how much time Kim and I are spending just the two of us, alone and together, and how different that is from the hectic rush and press of kids and colleagues and meetings of our previous life. Our work environment was noisy and busy and joyful and stressful, and moments of quiet or solitude didn't happen very often. Now they happen all the time, and even though it was really, really wonderful to have the time with friends we did this weekend, it was also nice to return to the peace of Mucky Boots.

When we quit our jobs, I worried a bit about Kim and I having too much time together, but it's interesting how things have worked themselves out. I get up an hour or so before Kim in the morning, and that hour is nice quiet time for me and a book (and Petunia who has memorized my routine and knows exactly when a lap is likely to be available). Throughout the day our activities bring us together and take us apart in a nice kind of flow. Sometimes Kim comes looking for me because she needs an extra pair of hands in the workshop, or we make time for a walk together. We always come together for supper, and usually spend at least part of the evening in each other's company. Somehow we seem to have found a pretty good balance - or it has found us.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


This is the bridge over the Cowichan River we have to cross to get to Duncan. Two weeks ago the water was turbulent and white-capped, but in the last week it has become something else: deep and fast and dangerous. Traffic over it is quite slow, as drivers stop to have a look at the flooding (and maybe have second thoughts about crossing).

It has been raining quite heavily today, and more flood warnings have been posted. But, according to the forecast, we might actually see the sun tomorrow afternoon. The ground is so saturated it's amazing that it can absorb any more water. We have paths on our property that are a few inches deep in water, but it's not flooding - it's just the earth saying "Enough already!"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


When we moved to Duncan, one of the first places we got to know was the Island Savings Centre, named after the Vancouver Island credit union. The centre is a complex of buildings including a swimming pool, a hockey arena, fitness facilities, the public library, a 700 seat theatre, a cafe and lots of meeting space. It's where the local hockey team practices and has Saturday night games that draw crowds in the hundreds. The students from the high school across the street come for swimming classes during the school day, and when school is done they come back to hang out in the library or on the benches in the foyer. People of all ages come for skating or swimming lessons, fitness or dance classes, and inexpensive classes on topics from drawing and languages to gardening and travel. It's the place where families evacuated during the recent flood were housed, and where people volunteered to help. It's where our public health nurses maintained organization and good cheer during day after day of line-ups for flu shots. It's even the site of the world's largest hockey stick (205 feet long, 61,000 pounds).

I knew it was a special place when I went to my first drawing class and was directed to what could have been called just the second floor, but was instead named the "Human Potential Floor." I'm there two or three times a week, to tutor Math students or to pick up a new batch of library books. And every time I walk into the foyer I'm struck by the number of people hanging out, or stopping to chat, or buying tickets to a show at the theatre, or registering for a class, or directing people through a flu shot line-up, or setting up a Christmas craft fair. It makes me feel like I'm part of a community, which I guess is what a community centre is supposed to do.

[Thanks to the World Records Academy for the photo, which I shamelessly copied.]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Update from the Ark

It's still raining. It has been raining without a significant break for days and days and days, and we're getting tired of it. We keep looking out the window and then wondering whether it usually rains this much and we've just forgotten, or if this is actually an unusual event. The latter, according to the weather office. So far this month we have had 266 mm of rain, which is more than twice the normal amount.

It's getting to be a problem. The Cowichan River, which is near enough to hear from the verandah, is starting to sound like Niagara Falls, and lately when we drive over it on our way into Duncan it is a white-capped, seething mass of dirty water. Yesterday we saw that the Koksilah River had overcome its banks and flooded a farmer's fields about a 10 minute drive from where we live. Last night on the way to a tutoring session I had to drive through about 6 inches of water on a flooded street. And then today we heard that a state of emergency has been declared in Duncan, 400 homes evacuated with some streets a metre under water, and sand-bagging begun.

We're fine where we are - even though the Cowichan River is just a couple of properties away, there is a big enough elevation difference that we're not in any danger. Our pond is at its maximum volume, but the culvert is still handling the overflow just fine. We have had some problems with leaking skylights over the verandah, but clearing out some of the moss and debris on the roof above them seems to have done the trick. Once again, we're lucky, lucky people with much to be grateful for.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

First Frost

We had our first hard frost last night. I could tell it was a cold night - I went to Victoria and when I came home about 11, the gate was coated in rime that melted in my hand. This morning everything is crispy and cold, and shrubs like the rhodos and butterfly bushes look like they're in shock. It will be interesting to see how the vegetables still in the garden will fare once they start to warm up.

With fall come bonfires, including one that caused a little excitement last night. We spent the afternoon cleaning the gutters. It was very cold and wet work, and when we were done we were glad to spend some time by the fire warming up. It was dusk, and I was getting ready to head into town when we heard (and felt) an enormous whump and and saw a bloom of light in the window. Please don't laugh (it's going to be hard) but my first thought was that the house had been struck by a meteorite. (Where did that come from? I thought I had a handle on all my disaster-related anxieties...) We rushed upstairs to look outside, and discovered that it was, in fact, our neighbours two lots over who had apparently used an explosively huge quantity of gasoline to start an enormous bonfire of the debris they had been clearing from their lot. When our pulses slowed and we were able to think more clearly, there was still cause for concern - it was a huge fire, and the ones in charge of it seemed to be a large group of partying young people. So we called the fire department who came out and got things under control.

The siding phase of our workshop project sputtered to an end this week. That was a hard job - the panels were awkward to position because they were so heavy and not very stiff, and it rained every single day. Oh, and the rented nailer stopped working when we had three panels to go. But it got fixed, and we got the final panels up, although neither of us is really happy with the last side we did. The next job is to attach fascia and gutters, but we have a few days' wait until the gutter order arrives, which gives us some time to catch up on the fall garden cleanup. Then we'll need to put cedar shakes on the gable ends and trim around the doors and windows, and in the spring we'll paint. What a job. But even though it's been a bit nasty, we saved a lot of money doing it ourselves, and there's a nice feeling of satisfaction that comes from persevering through the hard parts.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Beech tree

How gorgeous is this tree? Especially on what would otherwise be just another gloomy, rainy day...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Workshop project

This may not look like much, but for us it is a good day's work. For the last few days we have been siding our 24 by 24 workshop: first wrapping the whole building in sheathing paper, then nailing on flashing above doors and windows, and finally installing 4 by 8 sheets of a manufactured, fungicided, primed wood panelling made to look like board and batten. [Thanks, Jean and Jim, for the inspiration and advice!]

We started on the back, because it only had two windows to cut around and if we really screwed up, nobody would really see it. There was a somewhat grumpy learning curve, mostly to do with how to manoeuvre the heavy panels into position and keep them there while Kim nailed them in with the extra powerful construction-grade pneumatic nailer.

Today we got the next side done, the one in the picture. What I want you to notice is the door and, more impressively, the circular cutout for the light fixture above it, and the rectangular cutout for the electrical conduit coming out of the ground. We got the circular cutout in exactly the right position ON THE FIRST GO. Yay team! The very next panel along was the one that had to fit around the pipe, which unfortunately was not strictly vertical. That took some tricky measuring, the creation of a cardboard template and three tries at the shaping of the cutout. All in the pouring rain, with water dripping off the edge of the roof right down our necks. But we did it! Although it used up all our supply of patience with ourselves, each other and the weather, and so we had to retreat to the fireside with tea for the rest of the afternoon.

Kim and I make a good team for projects like this. She is best at jobs that require serious power tools (like the table saw and the nailer we're using for this project), gumption and heights. My speciality is fiddly tasks requiring lots of patience and (as our friend Jim calls it) "friggin' and jiggin'. I am also excellent with the jigsaw and good at reading instructions when things go wrong. My honey brings laughter and play to our work, and an infallible sense of when we really need to take a break, and I bring a good head for planning and thinking a few steps ahead.

It's hard work, but so satisfying. Sometimes when we stop for a cup of tea from the thermos, we look at each other, brush the sawdust from our clothes, shake the rain from our hats and are amazed at how lucky we are.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fall lessons

Between the cooler weather and the regular rain, the garden is looking very different than it did a couple of months ago. I have been stressing about the amount of cleanup that needs to happen this time of year - when 90% of the plants in the garden are perennials, there's an awful lot of chopping down to do. And the regular rain has caused the weeds that were dormant through the hot, dry summer to spring to life again. So everything feels disordered and messy.

I knew this adventure would have lessons to teach me about living with imperfection, but I feel like I'm in the middle of a remedial intensive. I keep remembering sister Kim's words this summer about enjoying all the life cycles of the plants in the garden, without rushing to clean things up at the first sign of decay, and as a result I've set myself some homework: to look hard for the beauty in what feels to me like an increasingly barren, weedy mess. And here is what I've found.

The loss of so many leaves has opened up views and vistas that are more cluttered in the spring and summer. We can see all the way up the steep rise to the back of our property now, which gives me a sense of being snuggled into the back of a hill I didn't have before. And what used to be a solid wall of vegetation on the far side of the pond now gives us peekaboo glimpses of the farm from the verandah. There's something about a long view that draws you in.

The other thing that opens up with the fall of the leaves is the architectural underpinning of the garden. We don't have much of that, given that so many of the plants are perennials. But that means the few garden anchors have even more of a dramatic impact. A few months ago the ornamental cherry that overlooks the pond simply merged with the surrounding vegetation, but now it's impossible not to look at it, it's so beautiful.

And even in the midst of many things dying, there is an occasional surprise. A blowzy, orange oriental poppy has decided, improbably, to bloom. And my favourite hydrangea, even as its leaves start to turn colour, has put forth a last few small, unexpected blossoms.

Am I ready to graduate from this make-up course on seeing the beauty in imperfection? Oh, I expect I've still got some work to do. But I'm feeling more content with the season, and the garden, and the lessons still to be learned.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

One more stove story

We had another wood stove, in the workshop. Just after we moved to the farm we had an inspector out to look at our stoves. Was this one certified, we wanted to know. He took one look at it and laughed. Certified? No. Jerry-rigged from various scraps of metal? Yes. He advised us to remove it immediately and never, ever think of burning anything in it.

It took until this week to actually remove it, because it weighs about 350 pounds. We may take pride in doing things ourselves, but there are limits. We had some other heavy metal to get rid of: a set of lockers also in the workshop and an old cast iron bathtub developing a lovely patina in the bushes. So we called the local metal recylers and they came yesterday to pick it all up. It would cost us $50, but they would pay us a nominal amount for the metal ($12 as it turned out), and it would be kept from the landfill. We figured they would crush it and sell it as scrap metal.

It was not hard to say goodbye to this stove. It was kind of entertaining watching the young fellow with the crane manoeuvre the junk onto his truck. When he was done we got in car and drove over to the metal place to pay the bill. It was a hive of activity, with forklifts and trucks and bins and crushers, but off to the side was an area designated the "Open Air Retail" area, with all kinds of metal odds and ends someone might think were good for something: retail shelving, old brass pots and ornaments, pumps, motors, cogs, chairs and fences. And there, resting demurely beside an old wheebarrow and a bin of metal parts was our stove, already unloaded and for sale. For sale! It may have a future after all.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

We love our new stove

I admit I felt a bit guilty about doing away with our ugly wood stove. After all, this new lifestyle is supposed to be, in part, about living with less of a footprint. Why replace a perfectly good stove just because it's homely? We do deserve some credit for shopping carefully. We did consider particle emissions and BTUs - but only after we were hooked by this stove's fabulous good looks. But now that we have been operating it for about 24 hours, we have many more reasons to think we got a great stove. It's zero degrees outside this morning and it's so toasty warm inside that we're in t-shirts. Our old stove blazed hot then cooled down, but the new stove puts out a lovely, moderate, steady heat. It kept coals hot all night long so all we had to do this morning was throw a couple of logs on and voila - instant inferno! And it does such an efficient and complete burn of the wood that we can't even see smoke coming from our chimney, so it's even more environmentally friendly than the old stove. What more could we ask for?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Doing it ourselves

Say bye-bye to this ugly old wood stove, because it's the last time you'll ever see it. It was a beautifully functioning unit that heated all three levels of our house. It started well, drew great, and served its past and current owners for 15 years. But it's (shut your ears, stove) ugly.

We thought long and hard about what to do with this stove. We shopped long and hard for its replacement. Finally Kim just got tired of looking at the ugly old stove and got on the phone and found us our dream stove - with a twist. It's a sleek, stainless steel version that would have cost us about $3600 to buy and install. We did it for less than $1900, thanks to Kim. She found a used one (1 year old) we could buy from Morris in Crofton (that's Morris on the left). Morris buys used wood stoves (even ugly ones), reconditions them and sells them again, creating happy customers who pay less and keeping stoves out of the landfill. He does such a good job reconditioning stoves that the folks at the local fireplace store said, when you buy a used stove from Morris, it's like buying it new. Morris would even take away our old stove, pay us $200 for it, recondition it and sell it to someone who will love it better than we could. What's not to like about that?

Not only did Morris sell us a great new stove, he convinced us we could install it ourselves by just replacing some of the stovepipe. Which we did. We did it ourselves. We are chuffed, can you tell?

It finally stopped raining enough for me to start chopping down the masses of perennials I spent all spring and summer growing. That's what fall is about: chopping things down. I have overused my clippers to such an extent my right hand has turned into a frozen claw that can't open or shut without the help of my other hand. The sheer volume of decaying vegetable matter has overwhelmed our recently rebuilt composting bins,and I have no idea where we're going to put it all. Today Frankie kept me company, and at the risk of having too many cute dog photos, here's another one. I was taking a picture of this amazing shrub that had green, yellow and red leaves all on the same shrub, when Frankie wandered into the photo for a dignified pose - complete with leaf on head.

We noticed yesterday that the big bed of potatoes we had left in the ground had begun to sprout. Actually, it probably began to sprout about three weeks ago, and we only noticed yesterday. We read somewhere that you could cut back the plants once they began to die in about August, and leave the potatoes underground where they would keep well through the winter. Our plan was to make an occasional foray out to the garden for a digging session, to replenish our potato supply in the house. Well, whoever wrote that handy tip must live in a different climate than we do, because the potatoes underground apparently thought it was spring and started to sprout.

Digging up potatoes is kind of fun - it's sort of like digging for treasure. You gently put a pitchfork in the soil and hopefully turn over a batch of potatoes. Sometimes you do, sometimes all you get is a forkful of dirt. It's like a treasure hunt. Actually, what it reminds me of is a kids' show I watched when we lived in Edmonton in the 70s, where birthday parties would go to the TV studio and the birthday boys and girls would get to dig up a shovel full of dirt which the host would then sift in a sieve, revealing pseudo gold coins. Same thing every weekday, and for some reason I thought it was fascinating every day. Maybe that's why I like digging potatoes, too.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cox Orange Pippins

We have two old apple trees, one a Pink Lady and the other a Cox Orange Pippin. Of course we wondered where the names came from. The Pink Lady apples ripened early, and when I peeled some for my first bowl of apple cereal and saw all the pink in the bowl, I figured that one out. The Cox Orange Pippins were a bit more of a puzzle, but only because we needed to wait until just this week. All of a sudden the previously green and mottled brown apples took on a beautiful red hue that added the last colour needed to produce a distinctly orange blend overall. Question answered.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Raining and Pouring

There's rain, and then there's rain. It's the second kind we've been having. Enough rain that our summer-dry pond filled up entirely in 24 hours. Enough rain to make working outside, which we have been doing, a bit of a challenge. Enough rain to make our boots and everything else mucky!

We have been putting fences around our youngest fruit trees, in a closing-the-barn-door-after-the-horse-is-gone attempt to protect them from the deer who have been visiting. Between his scent and his barking, Frankie was giving us some protection. But as we have found out, all it takes is one visit by one deer to really wreck your trees. So, armed with wire fencing, wooden stakes, a sledgehammer and a staple gun, we launched our defensive manoeuvres in the middle of a very rainy afternoon. Pretty quickly our hats were wet, our coats were wet, our pants were soaked and our dog was bedraggled. Our fruit trees were happy, though.

Probably because it has been about a year since Kim and I took possession of the farm, I've been thinking a lot about how different things feel from this time last year. The real test will be next June, which will mark the anniversary of when we left our jobs. But it's still interesting to look back to see what's changed, and what we've accomplished.

I think we have a more realistic idea, now, of the scope of the project we have taken on, and the work involved. When it comes to the garden (orchard, veggies and perennials) I think we've found it manageable - at least as long as all we're trying to do is feed ourselves, rather than growing for a market garden. When it comes to the house renovations, we're both feeling overwhelmed by all that is left to do. I keep reminding myself that we have accomplished a lot. We managed a difficult move in the midst of the snowiest winter for a long, long time. We painted. We learned how to lay slate tile and install baseboard. We managed a kitchen renovation. We have put on three new roofs - pumphouse, garden shed and wood shed - and built new raised beds for the vegetable garden. We had a great growing season, planted new fruit trees, and learned how to can tomatoes. That's pretty good, I think. We should try to remember that when what's left to do keeps us awake at 2:00 a.m.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Invader Identified

Thanks to a session with the binos and a little investigating on the web, our gutter-foraging birds have been identified: they are Varied Thrushes, noted for their sometimes aggressive defense of feeding territories and their preference for moss as a lining of their nests (hence the dumpster diving in our gutters). A group of these thrushes is known as a "hermitage," which doesn't seem to suit their in-your-face behaviour, or a "mutation," which better matches our feeling of being besieged in the middle of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bird Invasion

It turns out we got the woodshed roof done just in time, because it has rained every day since then. The sky is grey, the ground is soggy, but the diffused, cloudy light is making all the colours in the garden more beautiful than ever. The dying hostas are a mango-like orangey-yellow, the peony leaves are turning mottled mauve, pink and green, and the Japanese maples are various shades of hot red, cherry pink and fiery yellow. Best accompaniment to the rain: the frogs are back with their croaking versions of dueling banjos.

We've been feeling like we're living in a Hitchcock movie the last week or so, ever since a large flock of birds came to visit. They're smaller than crows, mostly black with orange on their bellies and orange and black striped throats, and for some reason they really, really like our place. They're all out on the lawn eating when we get up in the morning, and then through the day if we come out onto the porch they'll all fly up from the bushes and swoop away. We think some of them are trying to nest in the eaves, and apparently they like all the gunge that has built up in our gutters, because they are pulling it out, flinging it all over, and sorting through it for the choice bits for their nests, leaving the ickiest guck for us to clean up. I think it's kind of fascinating, but Kim is more concerned for the integrity of our eaves, and has taken to flying out of the house waving her arms and cawing like a crow to frighten them away. We'll see if it works.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Garlic planting

According to the wise folks at The Farmer's Almanac, yesterday was the last day for planting garlic. It has to do with moon cycles. So despite it being a designated "Rest Day," I toddled out to the garden in my pyjamas (at 2 in the afternoon) to plant the garlic. We used 6 beautiful heads of this year's garlic which, barring any winter snacking from resident wild creatures, should yield 36 heads of garlic next summer. Our first experience with growing new plants from our own produce!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The woodshed roof is finished!

Well, almost... There are a lot more rivets to go in to make it really secure, and we need to add a gutter at the back, but it's on and we managed to do it before the rainy season starts.

We learned there is a lot of Math involved in putting on a new roof. For example, we needed to know the difference between a rectangle (the roof that we thought we were putting on) and a parallelogram (the actual structure of the existing wood shed). We also needed to know how to add and subtract fractions. For example (if you have Math phobia you may not want to read further) what is 25 feet, 5 and 3/8 inches minus 22 feet, 7 and 3/4 inches? And we needed to understand proportions, as in "If we lose 1/2 an inch of overhang over three metal panels (because the shed was not square), how many inches will we lose over nine panels?" All I can say is it's a good thing we were both Math teachers...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The ladder family

How many ladders do two women need to put a new roof on a woodshed? Apparently the answer is "Five!" Two extension ladders, two regular ladders and one little step ladder that aspires to bigger things.

Today is Kim's 50th birthday, and it has been a perfect day. We have been replacing the roof on the woodshed, and that occupied most of our day. It took us two days to remove the old cedar shingles and rotten plywood and haul it all to the dump, and today we got to begin putting on the new. We have opted for metal roofing, partly for its durability but mostly because we couldn't figure out how to haul full sheets of plywood up that high, which would be necessary if we used asphalt shingles. Metal roofing is more expensive, and has to be specially ordered to fit, but it only requires 1x4 strapping, not plywood. By the time we lost the best light today and were ready to go in for some supper, the strapping was done and the first metal sheet had been attached.

How does that make a perfect day? For me it was because today was most like my dream of what our life would be like, of any day we have had so far: the air was crisp, the sun was shining, and my sweetie and I were working together on a challenging project that used our brains and our muscles. There were lots of smiles all around today.

The chief purpose of fall in the country seems to be getting ready for winter. All over the neighbourhood people are laying in their supply of winter wood - most homes around here use wood stoves as at least one of the sources of heat, if not the primary source.There has been a lot of competition for "The Log Boss," the hydraulic log splitter we rented in the spring. We did manage to snag it for a few days in the middle of last week - one of the benefits of not having Monday to Friday jobs! It took two days to finish splitting all the wood from the trees we had taken down in the spring. Not only is our woodshed now packed, we also have six-foot high cribs all over. We think we probably split a total of six or seven cords, far more than we will need this winter. It will be an adventure to see how long we can go without turning on the electric baseboard heaters!

Our summer vegetable garden has officially been laid to rest, with the last holdout (the Kentucky Wonder pole beans) being pulled up a few days ago. Our makeshift root cellar (really just an unheated storage room in the basement) is holding our potatoes, winter squash (spaghetti, butternut and buttercup), garlic, onions and the produce we canned. The freezer in the workshop is almost full with more produce, as well as apple crisps and pies we made from the Pink Lady apples. We still have almost a tree full of Cox Orange Pippin apples. Some branches hang so low Frankie can reach up to snag one with his teeth - they are his substitute ball when he can't find a real one.

The nice thing about growing food here in Lotus Land is that the end of summer doesn't have to mean the end of the garden. We are already eating our winter crops of carrots, beets, rutabagas, spinach, chard and salad greens. Some of those, especially the more delicate greens, have to be under cover as the nighttime temperatures are within a few degrees of freezing. We're using floating row covers (sort of like thin fabric that just gets laid over top), poly tunnels and cold frames that fit right overtop of the raised beds. We have also planted some flats of salad greens that can be moved into the greenhouse if it really gets cold.

Some of you may not know that we had a close call with Petunia on the Labour Day weekend. She was mauled by an unknown dog, and we didn't find her until she was already in shock. Fortunately our new vet met us at the clinic, even though it was past 11 pm, and took wonderful care of her. She had surgery the next day, and spent a few more days in the hospital, but is now fully mended - she still has a few shaved patches that haven't fully grown in, but that just means her belly is beautifully, peach-fuzzedly soft to rub. When she came home from the hospital we got her a special new cat bed, which we moved down to the family room once she was feeling well enough to want to be social. Unfortunately there seemed to be some confusion between her and Frankie about which bed was actually whose...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Monster veggies and a special visit

Before I started blogging about our adventures here at Mucky Boots, I was sending "Farm Updates" to family and friends via email. Here is one of them, from the end of August 2009.

Hello everyone!

Harvest time has arrived. We are wallowing in a bounty of tomatoes, potatoes, beets, carrots, kale, chard and apples, and we grow 'em big and we grow 'em strange out here at Mucky Boots. Here are pictures of a really big potato we grew, and the oddest 4-legged carrot we have ever seen. And a picture of my bowl of apple cereal illustrating why the apple variety we are currently harvesting is called "Pink Lady."

The best part of the last few weeks, unquestionably, was Kimystree's visit. What a special thing, to have my beloved sister here for almost a week - thanks, Dave, for getting the ball rolling and for holding down the fort at home so she could come. Sister Kim came determined to help with the harvest, so we bought the Rolls Royce of apple pickers and picked the first bushel basket of Pink Ladies. Then we got to work - we made and canned apple butter and applesauce and filled the dehydrator twice to make dried apples, and were we ever grateful for whoever invented the peeling-coring-slicing machine we used and grateful to Dad who gave it to us! With the addition of 15 jars of crabapple jelly made after Kim went home, our cold storage shelves are filling up!

Kimystree is Frankie's new favourite person, and he is moping now that she is gone. He followed her everywhere, and, most tellingly, stopped barking at her every time she moved (which is his normal procedure for house guests).

The other news of note is that Sweetie Kim has added to her stringed family with the purchase of her first (and undoubtedly not last) banjo, on-line from a dealer in North Carolina. When it arrived she looked inside and found "J. Romero Banjos, Cobble Hill, BC." Imagine that! She had been on the maker's website, but didn't realize he was in Cobble Hill, just down the road. Needless to say, she has already been in touch with him, to tell him his banjo (a special one featured on his website) came home to BC to roost. Also needless to say, she learned 3 songs within a day...

Lots of love to you all!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wildlife adventures

Before I started blogging about our adventures here at Mucky Boots, I was sending "Farm Updates" to family and friends via email. Here is one of them, from August 2009.

Hello everyone!

We have had lots of excitement here at Mucky Boots this week: a cougar was killed on either our property or our neighbour's on Monday night. Both our properties back onto Vaux Road, which was where the conservation officers killed the cougar - but our fences don't go that far, so we don't know which property it was on. Regardless, it was CLOSE! I got a call from Nick around suppertime - he had heard a bunch of dogs barking and went out to investigate, and it turned out he was hearing the five specially trained beagles (yes, beagles) that are used to track cougars. The conservation officers told him to go back home and put his chickens in the barn, which is when he called me to let me know. So I called in the cats and shortly after there was a shot and the cougar had been killed. I don't know why it was killed rather than tranquilized and relocated.

Much less dramatic was the wasps nest I accidentally discovered the day before - it turns out it was a specific species of wasp that build nests under things: decks, floors, and in my case, one of the wooden covers to the septic tank. There I was, cleaning up the dead bamboo leaves in the little flagstone patio, and all of a sudden I got bit, twice. Ouch!

We have just come through a wicked hot spell - 37-39 degrees in the shade every day for a week. Frankie, the smart dog that he is, has fully made the transition to farm dog, and now sleeps under the truck on hot days. The weather has been great for our tomatoes, which are ripening faster than we can eat them. We're using the dehydrator to make sun-dried tomatoes, and are accumulating enough ripe tomatoes to make a big batch of tomato sauce for canning.

It's fun learning how to can - so far I have made pickled beets and pickled beans. The beets were fun: some were golden and some were Chioggia beets, which are striped red and white when raw, but cook to red or pink or even white. So when they were all mixed up, they looked like jewels!

Our perennial garden is a mess - things have been so dry, and we've been unsure how much we can water before we run our well dry. The only things blooming right now are the echinacea and my absolute favourite the globe thistle. Everything else looks brown and ragged. I am remembering the moist, dewy, flower-filled days of May with longing!

Kim and I were out shopping today. New binders: $3.99. Package of pencils: $0.99. New lunch kit: $8.99. Not having to buy any of it: priceless!

Lots of love to you all-

P.S. (Next day) I should have waited until today to send yesterday's farm update! Here is a photo of this morning's encounter with wildlife. Note that the tape measure is in INCHES, not CENTIMETRES!

Monday, July 20, 2009

There's a reason they call it a farmer's tan

Before I started blogging about our adventures here at Mucky Boots, I was sending "Farm Updates" to family and friends via email. Here is one of them, from July 2009.

Hello everyone!

I always suspected this little venture into farming would have much to teach me: about the cyclical nature of growth and decay, and the futility of striving for perfection. Well, here's another one: you can't care what you look like when you spend several hours every day on your hands and knees digging in the dirt...

I wrote in an earlier update about the importance of having clothes that you work in, and clothes that you go out in public in, and that the two should never be confused or your public clothes will soon suffer irreparable harm and consequently become work clothes. My thinking on this critical issue has evolved in the last few months (or my level of dirtiness has increased, or the number of presentable clothes in my closet has reached a critical low). Now I start the day in work clothes, and if I have to go out in public sometime in the day, for example for an urgent trip to Rona for garden hose, or a run to Buckerfields for more alfalfa meal for my ailing squash plants, I just go dirty. Dirty knees, dirty fingernails, dirty face, sweaty hair under a ball cap. If they can't understand at Rona or Buckerfields, then there's something wrong. I've even gone into Tim's for coffee in all my dirty glory, and no one batted an eye. There's an advantage to living in Duncan!

The other lesson in vanity I am learning has to do with the fact that it has been blistering hot and sunny almost every day for the last couple of months. And despite being in daily contact with SPF 50, I have ended up with a brown face and neck, brown arms, and brown knees: a farmer's tan! My honey has one, too, so I don't need to feel embarrassed without my clothes in front of her. But I am going for my first massage in about 6 months tomorrow, and I am really, really hoping the massage therapist keeps her laughter to herself...

In the garden we have finished off the last of the peas, fennel (yes, the fennel I was saving for a special occasion) and strawberries, and are mostly through the raspberries. Our freezer is full of big bags of berries, which feels great! We are starting to eat the beets and carrots, and the lovely Dragon's Tongue beans.

The zucchini and pattypan squash plants suffered a bad bout of blossom-end-rot (the things I am learning...) but seem to have emerged in reasonably good health. It gave us a brief respite from the daily enforced eating of squash... We have planted the additional chard, beets, carrots, rutabagas and greens that we hope will give us crops through the fall and even, for some of them, through the winter.

We have just started eating blueberries, and our winter squash plants (buttercup, butternut and spaghetti) seem to be doing what they're supposed to (thank goodness, because we wouldn't know the difference). The tomatoes are going great guns in the greenhouse (the photo is of one of our heritage Green Zebra tomato plants), and our three big beds of potato plants are starting to keel over and dry up, which we DO know they're supposed to do).

On the flower front, everything is pretty much crispy dried - the poppies are all crunchy seed pods and brown leaves, just like the columbines. Everything else is just crispy from the heat. But the bee balm has just started to flower. We have a great patch of bright red bee balm in front of the house, which we're familiar with, but we were tickled pink (literally) with a batch of purple, pink and white bee balm in the vegetable garden. It's such a cheerful flower - it's impossible to be unhappy looking at bee balm. It is well named, because the bees love it, as you can see if you look closely!

Love to you all!
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