Friday, December 30, 2011

Goodbye William

William died yesterday - he was hit by a car. He was too old, and the damage was too great, for him to survive, so we had him put to sleep late last night. After a terrible day in which he managed to drag himself home through the rain on two legs, he ended his life peacefully, wrapped in warm blankets and surrounded by love.

He was 16, and had gone through more lives than two cats put together. When he was just a kitten he was found abandoned in an empty apartment in Toronto with his sister Arbus, and when they were about 6 months old they were adopted by Kim. Maybe memories of those early days trapped in the apartment stayed with him, because he much preferred an outdoor life - at his prime he would only come home to eat, spending his days roaming the neighbourhood and dining at a few homes other than ours. When we still lived in Ontario he loved to go camping with Kim at her property north of Toronto - he would sleep in the tent with her at night, and go canoeing with her during the day.

William was a charmer, a character, and a very handsome cat - he looked just like Sylvester from the Bugs Bunny cartoons, only grey and white instead of black and white. His long, silky fur was gorgeous, but a problem for a wild outdoor roamer like him. We always knew where to find him in the house because he would leave a trail of debris behind him -all the sticks, leaves and burrs he dragged in with him would gradually be deposited on floors, couches, counters and beds.

His closest call came about eight years ago, when a raccoon chomped out a good portion of his throat. As he recuperated he had a tube to drain the wound running right through his neck, so he looked like a very handsome and furry Frankenstein. We tried keeping him in after that, but he was miserable being confined, and so we decided to let him lead the life he wanted.

He started to slow down in the last year or two, and began spending his days on the rocking chair in the verandah and his nights in his special bed away from the pestering attention of Petunia.

And now we imagine him reunited with Arbus, young and strong, with all his teeth again, and fur without a single mat, roaming the bush in search of more adventures. Thank you, William, for making it home last night so we we had a chance to say goodbye. You were a good cat and we will miss you.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from Mucky Boots

Frankie is one happy dog today. His human grandparents don't only know what makes my heart sing (new ergonomic gardening hand tools in lime green so I don't lose them) and Kim's (a new book full of colour photos on guitars and guitar makers). They also remember the four-legged members of the family. And so Frankie is the ecstatic recipient of a knotted rope toy and a fabulous new B-A-L-L. What a lucky boy.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


After a run of bright, sunny and cold days, it looks like we're in for a warmer, foggy, wet Christmas. Which could just about match my mood (I am once again prevented from participating in a family Christmas by my don't-you-dare-get-on-a-plane-sinuses) were it not for my sweetie, who is full of enough Christmas spirit for the both of us. Thanks to Kim, we have fairy lights twinkling on the verandah, a beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the living room, and bouquets and garlands of salal, holly and cedar adorning the entire house - not to mention a turkey in the fridge waiting to go into its brine bath sometime today.

If I could name only one gift Kim gives me year round (and there are so many) it would be the gift of joy - her easy laughter and joyful heart blow clean, fresh, cedar-scented air through the thickest fog of sadness or worry. She finds the humour in any situation, can cheer up the glummest person with her funny voices and chicken imitations, and has magically turned what could have been a lonely Christmas into a magically special time for two.

Who needs a better gift than that?

Happy Holidays, everyone. I wish you joy in your hearts every day of the year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Line in the sand

Well, not sand exactly. More like dirt. And the line goes clear from one side of our long, skinny property to the other, cutting it in half. A half for me. And a half for the chickens.

The problem is that Gump and his flock of teenage pullets have been making themselves at home in the front half of the property, where the house and all the perennial gardens are, and they are making a mess. There's the issue of poop everywhere, which is bad enough, but the thing that is making me tear out my hair is the damage the chickens are doing to all my perennial beds.

I have a love/hate relationship with those beds. Actually, forget the love part of that equation: it's more like a lukewarm regard. We inherited them from the previous owners, and there are a few problems with them. There is way too much square footage. The beds are infested with mint and creeping bellflower. And practically everything in the beds that's supposed to be there is of the grow-in-the-spring-cut-down-in-the-fall variety - in other words, a perennial. There are very few shrubs or trees, which means the beds are splendiferous in the spring and summer, and a desolate wasteland in the winter.

But the biggest problem is they don't feel like mine. Unlike the vegetable garden and greenhouse, they aren't a source of joy - they're a place where I feel the pinch of my perfectionism most acutely, where I feel smothered in responsibility. These beds were someone else's dream - I didn't design the beds, or choose the plants. I'm just responsible for making sure they aren't overtaken completely. So I was floored when my friend Elisabeth, a passionate gardener herself, asked if I got pleasure from that part of my garden. All I could do was gape at her like an idiot while my brain tried furiously to compute some sense from that statement. Pleasure? Seriously?

I'm working on it. I've converted small portions back to what we like to call lawn (which really means an easy-to-care-for mix of grass, moss and mow-able weeds). Kim and I bought out the fall sale at our local garden centre and planted a small army of shrubs this year to try to lend some structure to the beds. I've been making liberal use of heavy-duty landscaping cloth in the areas most hopelessly infested with creeping bellflower. The current prohibition on gardening while my sore shoulder heals is teaching me how much effort I can save by sitting back and letting nature handle some of the yearly decay, instead of jumping in to clean up at the first sign of autumn.

I'm overstating this a bit (I've inherited a tiny tendency to exaggerate from my mom). There are times of satisfaction, moments when the primeval urge of all those plants to grow, to leaf out, to flower, to reproduce just amazes me, when I feel like I'm surrounded by living things working like mad to create a gorgeous panorama solely for my viewing pleasure, when the layers and layers of life, from the wind swaying the upper branches of the evergreens and the birds flying overhead right down to the worm I unearthed and the bug crawling across my hand all make my heart burst with joy and gratitude for this Mucky Boots time of my life. Those are moments to treasure.

But mostly the perennial gardens are a place full of my sweat and labour, my battles with myself and the weeds - a place where I feel the weight of obligation to be a caretaker and custodian of someone else's vision.

All that is bad enough. But try putting a stampeding, rampaging flock of chickens into the mix. They dig. They scratch. They demolish. They are masters at flicking the mulch I so carefully pitchforked, wheelbarrowed, dumped and spread on the beds all over the grass outside the beds. Yes, they are cultivating and aerating and fertilizing at the same time, but I had had enough.

Enter the new fence.

We are lucky that the previous owners had the same commitment to pasturing their chickens as we do, and the same wish to preserve the property around the house. Shortly before they put the house on the market they did the thankless work of sinking all the required fenceposts for a straight run of fencing from one side of the property to the other, delineating a house-half and a farming-half. All we would have to do was string the fencing material and build a couple of gates. Easy, right?

I should know by now that no construction project is as easy as you think it's going to be. Sure enough, when the third post we reached cracked and fell over when we tried to hammer in some staples, we knew we had a problem. It turns out a couple of the posts had already rotted below ground. So today we dug holes, invented ways to keep the posts vertical in the empty holes, mixed concrete, and got the new poles done. This week, if the weather holds, we'll finish attaching the fencing material and string a couple of extra lines of wire to raise the height. Next week, if all goes according to plan, Kim will build the two gates we'll need. And then the line in the sand will be well and truly drawn.

Get used to it, chickie-chickies!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Coat

You might remember reading about our poor hen Broken Feathers, so named because her position as Hector's favourite (amorously speaking) resulted in so many broken feathers on her back and wings she needed a coat (quite a stylish one, if we do say so) to help keep her warm.

That may have seemed bad enough, but things have worsened for our plucky little hen: winter arrived, and with it came unusually cold temperatures (below freezing most nights) and the usual damp, drizzling rain. So we came up with a waterproof version of the coat, with a top layer cut from an old shower curtain and a layer underneath made of soft fleece (modelled here by Broken Feather's friend Ginger, Hector's #2 go-to-girl).

And if that wasn't bad enough, Broken Feather's first molt (when chickens lose an awful lot of their feathers over a period of a few weeks, which are then replaced by brand new ones) took a dive from mild to wicked: that chicken was practically naked. She looked half plucked, the poor thing, and the saddest was her bare little pink butt. We were just grateful that she had the sense to start sleeping in a nest box at night to keep warm, since my modest sewing skills prevented me from covering all of her with fleece and shower curtain.

I am happy to announce that Broken Feathers has turned a corner: her new feathers are finally coming in - all at once, which means she is an itchy chickie. Her fleece coat became much too irritating for her, so she is back to being au naturel. She may look a bit funny right now, but in a couple of weeks she will be back to her original, fluffy, Buff Orpington glory.

We're going to have to give her a new name.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hide and seek

I'm always learning new things about chickens. For example, did you know that one of a chicken's eyes is used for looking at objects that are close, and the other for objects that are far away? That's why, when a chicken finds you interesting, it seems like she is turning her head and looking at you sideways. She's just using her close-up eye.

Here's another: once you find a chicken's hidden nest and take the eggs, she won't lay there anymore.

So when we found the secret mother lode of nine eggs laid by our teenage pullets (known as the Wild Bunch), and took away the eggs, we inadvertently launched a game of Chicken Hide and Seek.

Round 1: The Wild Ones laid their eggs in the nest in the woods. Kim took away the eggs. The pullets abandoned the nest.

Round 2: The pullets laid in the dry, warm spot underneath our external chimney. Kim took away the eggs and the pullets abandoned the nest.

Round 3: The pullets laid their eggs in the dry dirt near the bicycles under the verandah. Kim found the nest, took away the eggs, and the pullets abandoned the nest.

"Why can't they lay their eggs in the coop?!" said Kim.

Finally, in Round 4 the Wild Ones got smart. They didn't lay under the verandah. They didn't lay in the woods, or around the house, because they knew Kim the Chicken Sleuth would find the eggs and take them. We knew they were laying somewhere, but where?

Apparently they decided the principle of hiding in plain sight might apply, because after three days of missing eggs, and searching high and low, Kim found their new the coop, if not precisely in the coop.

Yes, that's right: under the coop.

What clever chickie-chickies. What exasperating chickie-chickies.

The upshot? The Wild Ones have been confined to quarters pending their successful completion of Egg Laying 101: How to Lay an Egg in a Nest Box.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mucky Boots Math

Here is the equation for the day:

Pullets who are just starting to lay + ranging ground that's a bit far from the coop + a daily egg count that seems a bit lower than it should be = ...

The other day Kim was putting the chickens to bed in the late afternoon (it's getting dark really early these days) and she couldn't find one of the pullets. We hunted high and low, tromping through the bush, pacing the fence lines. We even checked both neighbouring properties, and there was no sign of her. Kim was distraught, and dusk was falling. If a raccoon hadn't nabbed the pullet already, one certainly would if she was left outside overnight.

And then the bushes a little ways from the house erupted in the feathery, squawking buk-buk-bKAAAAW that is a chicken's announcement she has just laid an egg. Kim dove into the bushes and found a perfect, round, soft nest, with nine perfect, round, brown eggs. Nine, one of which was so fresh it made a lovely hand warmer as I carried it to the kitchen in my pocket.

Based on the colour, shape and size of the eggs, CSI Kim has determined there were probably three pullets laying their eggs in that nest. Which means three chickens that need some retraining.

The pullets are part of Gump's flock, and when they started to lay a few weeks ago they had to brave a gang of teenage cockerels (now starring on dinner tables across southern Vancouver Island) in order to get from their preferred ranging grounds near the house back to the nest boxes in their coop. Sensibly, they opted to start laying their eggs in the dry dirt under the verandah.

So Kim moved the portable next boxes to where they were laying, leaving a fake egg in one of the boxes to give the pullets the right idea, but they were having none of it. They haven't laid a single egg there. Now that the cockerels are gone some are heading to the coop for their egg laying, but Kim had a hunch there should be more eggs, and she was right. It just took us a while to find them.

"Just be grateful we're giving you eggs," Bertie says.

Here's another equation.

Bedroom temperature about 10 degrees + the world's most comfortable bed at the end of the day + flannel pyjamas + puffy feather duvet + sweetie beside me = cold nose, full heart, perfect happiness.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hello snow

Yes, the snow that last week was forecast to arrive tomorrow, then this week was forecast not to come at all, has arrived today. So much for forecasts. In fact, according to the weather network, right now it is 8 degrees and raining outside. Our thermometer is reading 0 degrees and I'm pretty sure that white stuff falling from the sky is not rain. That's a micro climate for you.

And if I'm not happy about this, the chickens seem entertained. Most of our flock have never seen snow before, and they're not sure what to make of it. Some, like the pullet in the photo above, are happy to explore . . .

. . . while others seem just as happy to watch it all from their dry spot under the verandah.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Goodbye sun

Usually we're knee-deep in puddles and mud by this time of year, but for some reason the weather has been really lovely: lots of bright sunshine which has more than made up for the colder than normal temperatures.

But today I looked at the weather forecast online and this is what I saw.

Saturday: rain.
Sunday: rain.
Tuesday: rain.
Wednesday: rain.
Thursday . . . Thursday . . .

I can't even bear to write it.


Can you hear me shrieking from where you are?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sauerkraut wine

Now doesn't that sound tasty?

Well, not really, but that's what I got.

I was so excited this spring when Kim bought me two old stoneware crocks: visions of fermented deli pickles and sauerkraut buoyed me through the planting season and long summer. The cucumbers I seeded did absolutely nothing, but the cabbages were happy and plump, once the bugs that were nibbling them went on to better things.

I was so excited when I started the first batch of sauerkraut in one of the crocks. I tended that batch lovingly, and if my plugged up nose meant I couldn't smell the fermentation process myself, Kim assured me (regularly) that it was, indeed, filling the kitchen with its distinctive aroma.

I was so excited when I had my first taste. My mom might have made a politely funny face, and Kim might have sworn the kraut was salty enough to fell a horse, but to someone like me with no sense of smell and consequently little sense of taste, kraut that packed a punch was right up my alley. I loved it, and ate a bowl every day. But it was a big crock, filled with a big batch, and in the heat of August I knew it wouldn't keep forever on the counter. So I canned it.

I was so excited when I viewed the quart jars of kraut lined up on the counter. I imagined opening them up in the doldrums of winter, jolting my taste buds awake with every crunchy bite. And then I washed up.

I washed the canning equipment. I washed the crock. It was when I washed the glass plate I had been using to weigh down the cabbage in the crock that I saw that a fair-sized piece of glass had been chipped from the edge, and now was nowhere to be found. Which meant there was glass somewhere in my lovingly canned sauerkraut.

Into the garbage it went. It didn't even make it into the compost - I didn't want to put the chickens at risk, since the compost pile is one of their favourite places to scratch for bugs. And I started again.

I wasn't quite so excited by it all the second time around, and maybe that meant an essential ingredient was missing. Or maybe the cooler weather meant a slower fermentation that I didn't manage properly. But I started noticing a different kind of scum on top of the crock's contents, something more thick and rubbery than the foamy scum I had been told to expect and had been skimming off every few days. And then Kim came into the kitchen one day and said "Phew!"

Since I don't have a functioning nose, Kim has to act as my smeller and taster of things. With the kraut she never got past the smelling part, which is probably just as well. "Smells like wine," she said. "Sauerkraut wine. It smells really bad - I think you should throw it out."

So into the garbage went the second batch. It didn't make it to the compost either - no sense giving the chickens botulism, or whatever that rubbery mold was.

I'll definitely try this again next year, because the first batch was so darn good - at least to me. And I didn't completely wash out in the fermentation department, because the crock of mini cucumbers (bought by the case at our local market) that lived on the counter through the late summer and early fall turned into really, really good kosher-style deli pickles. But the sauerkraut was a failure.

Unless you have a taste for sauerkraut wine, that is.

My crock, full of hope but empty of kraut...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Quinoa harvest

Quinoa providing a lovely backdrop for a stray poppy, in July.

I finally got around to dealing with the quinoa that has been patiently hanging around since I harvested it about 6 weeks ago. The reason for the delay has been puzzlement over exactly how I was supposed to separate the edible parts - the seeds - from the fluffy material surrounding them, not to mention all the dried leaves and stems.

I know how to Google as well as the next person, but I didn't find much to help me. There is general consensus that you need to bash the heck out of the seed heads to break apart the clusters of seeds and fluff, but past that all I could find were very brief references to "winnowing", which were contradicted in the next source by a statement that the seeds are too light for traditional grain winnowing to be of any use: the seeds would be blown away along with everything else. In the end I decided to just make it up as I went along...

The quinoa had been hanging in splendid colour outside under cover of the verandah, but once the rains started the ambient humidity was so great there was no chance they would dry. So a couple of weeks ago it got moved inside to a cozy corner of the wood-stove-heated family room. My first step was to strip the seed heads from the stalks into a big bucket. Because each stalk had numerous seed heads nestled in among all the dried leaves, this meant quite a lot of dried leaf and stem matter made it into the bucket along with the seed heads.

After a bit of experimenting, I settled on a two-step process: I would dump a big handful into a colander and gently mash it to separate out the smaller seed and fluff clusters from the bigger stems and leaves. Then I put the result into a finer sieve and rubbed and rubbed to separate out the fluff (which was fine and fell through into the bowl) from the seeds.

All of that took about an hour, and resulted in about two pounds of this: mostly seeds, but also small pieces of leaves and stems.

I figured I was most of the way there, but how the heck was I going to get the seed clean enough to eat? And then I realized that when I washed the quinoa (which has to be done before cooking because it is coated in a protective soap-tasting substance) the seed should sink but the chaff should float. So I tried it with a small amount and it worked perfectly.

I feel like this deserves a trumpet fanfare: I grew quinoa that I can actually eat in my garden!

Now for some math: 2 pounds from about 32 square feet is exactly the same yield per square foot as the Vermont Cranberry beans. How do they compare nutrient wise? After all, the purpose of growing both was to see how much protein I could produce from the garden. Since 100 g of (uncooked) dried beans provide about 23 grams of protein and the same amount of (uncooked) quinoa provides only 14 g, the beans win hands down. But since one is a legume and one is a seed, they would actually be very nice nutritive complements to each other.

Will I grow quinoa again next year? Yes, and in fact I'll grow more. It was a great crop for this part of the world: sturdy, drought tolerant and nutritious. I didn't have to fuss over it, it germinated well, it looked gorgeous in the garden all season long and, best of all, it's already part of my regular diet so I don't have to learn to like something I really can't stand (can you spell K-A-L-E?). What's not to like about that?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rotten chickens

Things are getting out of hand. Peeking in our family room and crowing on the front porch are one thing. Hanging out all day on our verandah, pooping on our shoes, eating the last of the petunias and sitting on the porch swing are a completely different matter.

Yes, the seven Australorp cockerels have decided the covered verandah gives them the perfect vantage point for basking in the sun and viewing their kingdom. But really - the porch swing? That's our porch swing.

The Boop Boop stick has taken on a new function. Now it's the "Get the #$%@!! off my verandah, you rotten chickens!" stick.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Peeping chickens

Peeping chickens not in a vocal sense, but in a peeking-in-the-window sense. The other day Kim was at the computer, heard a funny tapping noise and looked up to see a whole gaggle of chickens peering in the window of the family room.

Chicken #1: "Bawk-bkaaaaw! So this is where they roost."

Chicken #2: "Hey, they live in a pretty nice place. So what's up with our coop? We don't have TV."

Chicken #1: "No, dummy, we are the TV."

And then yesterday we heard crowing from the living room and opened the (never used) front door to see five cockerels on the front porch looking expectantly at the door, apparently waiting for an invitation to come in for tea.

Okay, we love our chickens, but really. Couldn't they have called first?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hungry bear

We've had a visitor in the neighbourhood the last week or so - a very hungry bear. We're used to bears passing through a couple of times a year, but this one is making himself at home and doing a lot of damage. A few of the small farms have lost some sheep, and many neighbours have had their garbage cans and compost piles raided.

Apparently the bear was feeling the need for some fruit in his diet, because one night last week he/she climbed our biggest apple tree to get the few apples left at the top, breaking many large branches in the process (and leaving some fairly disgusting piles of fresh fertilizer on the grass). So now our lovely tree looks like this...

...and our truck looks like this.

The Block Watch communication lines are humming and the local conservation officers are on the case. The farm down the road (which lost some sheep) played host to a bear trap for most of last week, but it was taken away yesterday as empty as it arrived.

I know this is just part of life in the country, but it makes me more than a bit nervous all the same.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The garden can wait

I've been having a little trouble with my shoulder. It started, I think, when I was painting the stair railings last winter: too much time holding up a paint brush, doing fiddly work. But I get massages regularly, and my massage therapist showed me some stretches that seemed to keep things down to a dull roar.

But it has been getting worse, bad enough that my shoulder doesn't seem to want to support even the weight of my arm. So on Friday, after weeks of not getting around to it, I finally went to see a physiotherapist. The verdict: a little problem with my rotator cuff, compounded by arthritis. The remedy: a few weeks of a thrice-daily heat, stretching, ice routine. A big safety pin, to fasten my sleeve to my waist so my upper arm never leaves my side. Oh - and no gardening.

So there I was, lying on the examining table while the physio poked and prodded.

"Does this hurt? Is this worse or better?" he asked.

"Wait," I interrupted. "Did you say no gardening?"

"Yes, for a few weeks anyway." And then he began to demonstrate the exercises I'm supposed to do.

"Wait, wait," I interrupted again. "Do you mean no gardening at all?"

"No gardening," he repeated,"for a few weeks until things in your shoulder settle down." And then he started explaining about heat, and ice, and using pillows to support the weight of my arm.

"Wait, wait. Wait! No gardening, at all, for a few weeks?"

"No gardening. At all. For a few weeks," he repeated patiently, and kindly, probably wondering about his new patient.

So I lay there on the table, listening to his careful instructions with only half a brain, using the other half to do a complete rearrangement of my life and priorities. At least this wasn't happening in the midst of the spring rush, I thought. The fall clean-up of the garden would have to wait. Kim would have to plant the last two shrubs by herself. The next round of stair rail painting, and the last remaining tiling project would have to be delayed.

And then, all of a sudden, all I wanted to do was laugh. Laugh - in a good way - at the universe, or Mother Nature, or whoever was sending me, the ever-struggling perfectionist, this timely and loving lesson. And, inexplicably, I felt free and peaceful. I can spend this fall taking care of my shoulder. The garden can wait.

(Today, after only a day of the new regime, my shoulder already feels better. It feels like it's resting, happily. But I discovered one thing that absolutely couldn't wait: planting the garlic. So Kim stepped forward to do it, happy to pitch in. And this is what she said on her way out the door with a bowlful of fat, plump cloves headed for the dirt: "I'm on my way outside to pretend to be Miriam.")

Friday, October 14, 2011


This is not a tree. It's not even a shrub. It's an asparagus plant covered in gorgeous red berries.

I'm used to the tall, frondy tree-like version of asparagus that develops over the summer, once you stop cutting the spears to eat. And I've read that mature asparagus plants develop red berries, but mine never have - until this year. Now the big long bed that borders the chicken yard and houses asparagus as the front row attraction is home to Christmas in October. A slightly drunken-looking, listing over sort of Christmas.

I wonder how these would look with some twinkly lights...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


You could consider this two shelves full of food's version of accessories (after all, you can't make a meal from pickles or jam), and it may not be much by serious preserving standards, but it still makes me feel rich and a little bit proud.

Bottom shelf, left to right: blackberry jelly, Victorian rhubarb BBQ sauce, pickled red and yellow beets, gooseberry and lavender jelly, gooseberry and rhubarb jam, blueberry chutney, rhubarb chutney, bumbleberry jam, lavender jelly, peach butter, tomato sauce.

Top shelf, left to right: applesauce, crabapple jelly, crabapple butter, more crabapple jelly, pickled zucchini, bread and butter pickles, pickled red cabbage, fermented deli pickles.

Monday, October 10, 2011


The first year I had a vegetable garden, I grew three kinds of beans: yellow beans, green beans, and some fancy speckled beans that were meant to be harvested as dried beans. When the growing season had finished and all the work was done, I ended up with a double handful of dried beans I then spent hours and hours turning into a single, modestly sized batch of baked beans. It seemed like an awful lot of work for a small quantity of beans, so the next year I didn't bother.

But what goes around, comes around. This year, my third as a vegetable gardener, I was interested to see how much protein I could get from the garden. As Carol Deppe says, all those salad greens are pretty, but they don't provide many calories or much protein for seeing a family through the winter. So I planted quinoa (more on that in another post) and three kinds of beans for drying: Kenearly Yellow-Eye, Vermont Cranberry, and (to my amazement even today) garbanzo beans. I didn't devote a lot of space to them - I really just wanted to see if I could grow them successfully. So each variety got about 16 square feet of space.

Germination was great for all three. The Vermont Cranberry beans were the most vigorous, with much fuller and more robust bushes than the wimpy Kenearly Yellow-Eye beans growing right next door, and the beautiful but spindly looking garbanzo plants. And the yield was much better. There were more pods per plant, and more beans per pod. I ended up with about a pound of Vermont Cranberry beans, and about half that for each of the other two varieties. Not much, but not bad for an experiment. According to John Jeavons, the average yield per 100 square feet for dried beans is about 6 pounds, which means when it comes to Vermont Cranberry beans, I am perfectly average. [Apparently my perfectionist tendencies are leaking through: I can't just be average, I have to be perfectly average. Oh boy...]

I spent yesterday afternoon - a lovely warm, sunny fall afternoon - sitting on the porch swing shelling the beans that had been drying on the verandah for a few weeks, deriving productivity and yield formulas for my bean crop. And I discovered I had neglected one important equation...

Dried up bean leaves + stocking feet = mess.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Did you miss me? I snuck away for a little visit with my parents in Jasper, Banff and Canmore. It was a wonderful trip, surrounded by the spectacular scenery of two national parks, but I will restrain myself and show you just a few of the highlights.

The day after I arrived on the train from Vancouver we took the Jasper Tramway up Whistlers Mountain. It's a gondola-style lift that carried us about 3200 feet up Whistlers Mountain (so named for the hoary marmots and their piercing whistles), depositing us in the midst of a moon-like landscape at an altitude of almost 7500 feet.

This photo was taken shortly after we began our elevation. Near the bottom of the photo you can see the greenish-coloured lower station where we boarded.

I took this photo a few days later from the patio of the Jasper Park Lodge. It shows Whistlers Mountain, with the tramway's upper station where we got off.

Here's what it looks like at the top. That's Jim, my dad, to give it some scale. What the photo doesn't show is the powerful wind and freezing temperatures. Maybe this one shows it better...

That's my mom, Yvonne, and I. She's trying to keep me from getting hypothermia, and I'm reflecting on those questions I used to give my Math students that went something like this: "If the temperature at the base of a mountain is 7 degrees, and the temperature drops 2 degrees every 300 metres, and the top of the mountain is 1000 m above the base, what is the temperature at the top of the mountain?" Answer: really, really cold.

We drove from Jasper to Banff along the Icefields Parkway, which National Geographic describes as one of the world's ultimate road trips. It gave us wonderful views of the many now shrunken but still spectacular glaciers.

On the way back to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway at the end of the trip, we stopped at Peyto Lake, which was just about the most beautiful thing I saw during my week away, but also the most frustrating: the small viewing platform was swamped with two busloads of tourists. Being a tourist myself, I probably shouldn't complain. . .

Once we got to Canmore, another highlight was the hike up to Grassi Lakes. A word of caution: "lake" is used somewhat loosely in this neck of the woods, and seems to be used to describe any body of water bigger than a bathtub. But what mountain lakes lack in size they make up for with beauty, and the most unearthly green-blue colour.

Grassi Lakes (there are two of them, the lower one barely visible through the trees) are named after Lawrence Grassi, a coal miner, climber and early resident of Canmore who constructed many of the area trails used by generations of hikers. Here is an example of his rock work.

Parts of the route are a steep climb, but these stairs make it much easier. And once you arrive there's that electric aquamarine colour typical of glacier-fed lakes.

And here's a view of the Bow River Valley, home to Canmore, and the town's reservoir, taken from the Grassi Lakes trail.

And another highlight - dinner in Canmore with favourite aunts and uncles.

Now I'm home again, up to my ears in apples that need processing, up to my ankles in dog hair because Frankie is shedding like mad, and up to my elbows in perennials that are doing their fall decay faster than I can keep up. But with a smile on my face, because however special a holiday (and this one was really, really special), there's no place like home.

(The photo at the top of the blog is of Lac Beauvert in Jasper.)
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