Tuesday, August 24, 2010

End of summer

It feels like fall at Mucky Boots. There's still a full week of August left and it continues to be hot and dry, but there's something different about the sun light - the angle? the intensity? - that speaks of autumn. I need a fleece when I go out to the verandah with my early morning coffee now, and dusk is signalling bedtime for the chickies earlier than it used to. But the biggest sign is the irresistible urge I have to buy new school supplies. I'm about to turn 48, and this is only the third time since I was 5 that I haven't returned to school in September, either as a student or a teacher. That kind of ingrained patterning is hard to change - and why would I want to? Why give up the hopeful imagining that comes with embarking on a new year, the feeling that anything is possible provided I have enough sharp new pencils and different colours of sticky notes?

I'll be absent for the next while: I'm heading here with my mom for this. How lucky can I be? I wish you all a peaceful and happy end-of-summer, and I'll see you here again in September.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I feel very ambivalent about our artichoke plants. Almost as ambivalent as my feelings about our gooseberries, now successfully overcome thanks to this delicious jelly.

The problem with the gooseberries was that they tasted awful and stabbed me with their wicked thorns every time I got near. The problem with the artichokes is they take up an enormous amount of space for relatively little food pay-off.

When we came to Mucky Boots we inherited a bed of about twenty mature plants, each needing six to eight square feet and producing (if we're lucky) two or three artichokes. I confess I'm something of a neophyte, so beyond steaming the artichoke, pulling off the leaves and dipping them in aioli or garlic butter, I wasn't quite sure what to do with them. Our neighbour Nick is a chef, so once I asked him to show me how to take an artichoke in its entirety to an artichoke heart. We began with a nice big artichoke and ended up with a single heart about an inch-and-a-half in diameter. Six or eight square feet of garden space for an inch-and-a-half artichoke heart. In my head, it just didn't add up.

But all that math just went out the window. Because this morning, on a day that feels like the start of fall with hazy sunlight filtering through the trees and the air crisp and cool, the unharvested and now flowering artichokes are looking magical.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hangin' out in the dirt

Remember the pile 'o dirt? Apparently these former Math and Science teachers aren't very good at estimating volume, because we ordered too much soil for our landscaping project - way too much. So for the last number of weeks we've had a slightly smaller pile o' dirt sitting in our front yard waiting for us to think of some other use to put it to.

Our neighbour Nick gave us a good idea. As he predicted, our chickies quickly decimated the vegetation in their enclosed yard, and he suggested we section part of it off and grow some fall rye for them. But the existing soil is poor and rocky and needs some help, so this morning Kim got shoveling, with a little help from me. Nine wheelbarrows of soil and three of compost later, we called it quits: too darn hot. It will take a few more mornings of wheelbarrowing before there's enough good soil to plant the rye, but in the meantime the chickens have the perfect use for it: dirt baths.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The case of the missing zucchini

This is a misleading photo. These are not our squash - at least not this year's squash. This was a typical every-other-day harvest last summer.

Now picture the colander empty. Absolutely empty. We haven't had a single zucchini or patty pan squash yet this year, and we have no idea what's wrong.

The plants are stunted. They are producing flowers like mad, and some small fruit that either get stuck at the size of a dime and don't get any bigger, or die and fall off. We have applied compost and fish fertilizer. We have checked for bugs, and can't find any. The neighbouring winter squash plants are doing great: growing vigorously and setting fruit.

I never would have imagined saying this, but I don't have enough zucchini!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Growing in the light

After the dark, here is the light.

"Ten Mile Stilts" by the Wailin' Jennys.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Changes at the chicken corral

Meet Red Toe. He is one of what has turned out to be five roosters. (Yep, that's right. After all that hemming and hawing about how many roosters and how many hens our gender-mysterious chicks would turn into, we ended up with five and five. As a former math teacher I find this hilarious.)

Red Toe is so named because of the lovely red nail polish he sports on one toenail - Flartus's suggestion for how to tell our chickies apart. We wanted to distinguish this particular rooster from the rest because he's so darn friendly. He's a keeper. He's the one who comes a-running as soon as he sees one of us near the chicken yard, and who used to climb onto Kim's lap for a snuggle when she settled in for a session of Chicken TV. (She can't do this anymore since the chickies started using her chair as a roost in her absence. Poop. Enough said.) Since our plan is to keep only one rooster and send the rest to the stew pot, we don't want any cases of mistaken identity - hence the toenail polish.

There were big changes at the chicken corral today. Shortly after this nap time photo was taken, the roosters were separated from the hens and will remain that way until the fateful trip to the slaughterhouse for four of them. They have their own enclosure in the coop, and their own fenced-in and disco-dance-themed outdoor area. We knew this was going to have to be done eventually, but we decided to do it now because the roosters are repeatedly chasing two of the smaller hens away from the food.

We have been busy painting and otherwise sprucing up our guest room in preparation for a visit from my dear, dear sister next week. I can't wait. Sister Kim (it gets a little confusing when the two Kims are in the same room...) is keen to have a repeat of our canning and preserving sessions last summer, so I've got my eye on what's ready to harvest from the garden. There are lots of beets we can pickle, but I think that's about it. Definitely none of the tomatoes or apples we canned last year - it will be a couple of weeks before there are sufficient quantities of those ready.

Onions, though. We've got lots of onions. Yellow onions, red onions, shallots and leeks. Mucky Boots is a fragrant place these days...

Saturday, August 7, 2010


After an endless spell of hot and dry weather: finally, rain - all day today and probably tomorrow. We are saying "Aaahhh," the plants are saying "aaahhh." The chickens are a little confused.

We have all the windows open, letting the cool air flow through the house, and I have just gone for a walk around the garden in nothing but a t-shirt and shorts, feeling the rain on my skin and the damp grass under my bare feet. Heaven.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Turning a corner

Something interesting happened yesterday. I didn't even notice at the time. I was busy transplanting pots of double-decker echinacea I grew from seed this year into one of the beds beside the verandah, and when I'd finished with the job, I grabbed a clay pot of little pink annuals and plunked it in the middle of the birdbath, just because it looked nice.

As the afternoon wore on, I found myself coming back to the birdbath. It made me feel happy to look at. It was pretty. I spent all afternoon returning for another look, trying to figure out why it made me so happy. And then I understood: it was the first thing I've done here at Mucky Boots just because it's beautiful.

You can probably guess how hard I've worked since we moved here a year and a half ago. A lot of it, inside the house and outside in the garden, has resulted in things looking better than they did. But all of it has felt like work that needed to be done, to fix things that were broken, or water plants that were dry, or weed beds that were overgrown. It's all been interesting and satisfying, but all of it has been for a purpose. None of it has been just for beauty, just because. There hasn't been the time, or energy, to do things just because.

There's so much that's beautiful here: the bee balm waving above the vegetable garden. The gladiolas that have just begun to flower. The perfect canopy of the Japanese maple by the pond. I am not responsible for putting any of it there - all I've been doing is maintaining it as best as I can. But yesterday, feeling pretty much on top of the garden for the first time since we got here, there was enough space to do something non-essential, just because it was pretty.

It's like the song Bread and Roses. Small art and love and beauty. My heart needs beauty-just-because.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Globe thistle

I just love this plant, and we have masses of it here at Mucky Boots. It reminds me of some people I know: so emphatically and unapologetically prickly you just have to stop and admire.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Growing on the dark side

Enough of all these pretty flowers. Sure, they're nice enough. But most of my time in the garden isn't spent interacting with pretty flowers - it's spent battling the weeds. So here's what's growing on the dark side at Mucky Boots.

Dandelions, in every stage of development from bud to fluff.

Thistles, though I usually catch them before they reach this stage.

I know oregano is technically not a weed, and I really do appreciate the first 27 clumps of it. After that, it's a weed.

Horsetail ferns, which are a permanent fixture around the pond and at the back of the property where it's wet. There is absolutely no way ever discovered or invented to get rid of horsetail fern. It will grow through landscape cloth. It will grow through plastic. It will grow through six inches of gravel, plastic and landscape cloth. You have to admire that kind of persistence.

And I have no idea what this is, but it keeps growing in the beds along the perimeter of the pond. It starts off in a nondescript weed-like way. Then it erupts like a party favour in a giggly mass of tendrils and tiny pink flowers. It's so good-natured it usually wins a reprieve.

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