Friday, April 29, 2011

First harvest

I am one happy camper today. Today I harvested the first food of the Mucky Boots 2011 growing season: 3.5 kg of rhubarb, which translated into 1.5 kg of stalks.

There is rhubarb growing all over the property, and this year I'm going to do it justice. I'm going to make vanilla rhubarb jam, and rhubarb chutney, and rhubarb-strawberry-raspberry crisp with last year's berries still in the freezer. Maybe not today - we're still working on Chicken Coop #2. But I'll keep harvesting, and will stick it all in the freezer until I have a spare afternoon for some canning.


Thursday, April 28, 2011


I've had some interesting experiences since we moved to Mucky Boots, and I've done some things I never would have thought I'd do. Like picking rocks at a quarry, or making medicinal salve, or installing a toilet, or putting new roofs on outbuildings. Or looking more closely than I ever would have imagined at a chicken's butt. But yesterday - yesterday takes the cake.

Yesterday I jacked up a building.

Okay, a tool shed. But still, aren't you impressed?

We all knew this was coming: as soon as we had transferred the contents of our tool shed into the new improved wood shed, Kim's eyes fell on the emptied building and its transformation into Chicken Coop #2 began. But we also all know that nothing is too good for Kim's chickens, and so the sloping floor of the shed simply would not do. Part of the foundation had rotted and sunk, and Kim was insistent that we jack up the building and put in some cement blocks to make it secure and level. Nothing easier, she claimed.

I needed convincing. The words "jack up a building" conjured a vision of a collapsed shed with Kim underneath like the Wicked Witch of the West, and me frantically reading an instruction manual to figure out how to operate a jack so I could rescue her.

Turns out it really was easy. We used the jacks from the car and the truck, went really slowly, and were very careful to not leave any appendages lingering underneath parts that might fall down. The whole operation was much easier, and went much faster than either of us had anticipated. How many home improvement projects can you say that about?

It all made for an afternoon of entertainment for the chickens. It seems like Chicken TV works both ways...

Tonight I am thankful to be safe under a good roof and calm skies. I hope that wherever you are, you are, too.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Letter to self

To be opened on April 1 2012, and every year after that.

Dearest Miriam,

It's your self here, with a few words of wisdom and advice for the month ahead. April may be a month of cherry blossoms, sunshine and gentle spring showers - in some other universe, maybe, not yours. Honey, you need to hike up your pants and lace up your boots because the month ahead is going to test you.

The weeds in your garden will outnumber the flowers by two or three orders of magnitude. Don't worry. This is normal. It was the same last year and it will be the same next year. When you look at the whole garden it will seem overwhelming, but please remember that every time you get started on the weeding it goes much faster than you expected, and you end up thinking "That wasn't so bad..." If you're really desperate, you can remember the year you were so keen on the weeding you mistook baby poppies for dandelions and pulled them all out. That would be a good excuse for taking it easy.

The grass will grow 3-4 inches every night while you are sleeping, but it will keep raining so you won't be able to mow it. Don't worry. This is happening to everyone. Instead of fretting, think of the romance of lush green pastures and remember that as soon as the hot weather hits the grass will go back to sleep.

Your muscles will hurt. Don't worry. This is a normal by-product of a lazy winter. You will get stronger every day - just remember to take breaks and change tasks every so often so you use a different set of muscles. And please, please, pay attention to that little voice inside your head that whispers "Maybe you've done enough for today..."

There will probably be lots of jobs that just don't get done. For example, how does anyone in this climate find three consecutive rain-free days to apply dormant spray to fruit trees before they leaf out? Don't worry. This is normal. So maybe you didn't get to the pruning early enough, and maybe that ramshackle raised bed didn't get rebuilt before you had to fill it with onion seedlings. The onions will still grow, and the beautiful old apple trees will produce fruit like they have been doing for many years.

If you are still feeling overwhelmed, please make yourself a cup of tea and remember April only has 30 days.

May will be much better, and it has 31.

With much love-

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tool shed

The very first blog post I wrote, in October 2009, was about putting a new roof on the woodshed. Boy, were we proud of ourselves. Kim took this picture of me sitting on the roof. I had knee pads and callouses: I was a handywoman!

We've been working on the woodshed again this week. It's a very practical building, with our wood storage on one side and a catch-all of garbage cans, recycling bins and assorted junk on the other. It's a solid little structure, but not the most attractive sight when you first drive up to the house. So we decided to enclose the catch-all half and turn it into a proper tool shed to replace the existing one that is too small and too dark.

One new post, a few cross beams and lots of cedar boards and battens later, we have two new walls.

You may be wondering about the photo of the shovels. They go with the 3 tons of screening that are waiting to be raked in for the floor. Yes, you read that right: 3 tons. We calculated the volume we needed (really, really carefully, given the dirt pile that still adorns our front lawn) and the gravel people said it would work out to 2 tons. So weren't we surprised when they showed up with 3. Turns out they're about as bad at estimating as we were. No matter - we only had to pay for what we ordered, and the rest will be put to good use on paths.

Once the screening has been raked and settled in with a few soakings of water, Kim will build some doors to match her whimsical gates. But that might have to wait a bit: she's got her eye on the soon-to-be-vacated Tool Shed #1. She thinks it would make a great Chicken Coop #2. . .

Saturday, April 23, 2011


The sun was out today, and the fawn lilies said "Wheeeeee!"

The arrow-leaved coltsfoot said "Wheeeeee!" too, only not quite as loudly.

Spring has gone to our heads.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I think I was channeling my inner Georgia O'Keeffe yesterday. This is skunk cabbage, which really does smell like skunk - so I am told by people with a sense of smell. Which is to say it stinks.

But isn't it lovely?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hanging out

I haven't been talking very much about my vegetable garden (at least I don't think I have - have I?) but it has been poking along. Not in the actual garden. Oh, no - we have to stop having spontaneous hail storms and snow flurries (yes, there was one of those the other day) and the temperature needs to be a bit more consistent before I'll trust my precious seedlings to the ground.

But inside the cozy plastic protection of the greenhouse, warmed by more heat mats than I care to admit, spring is skipping along blithely. The tomato seedlings are too tall for the tray's dome covers, so I have had to rig up an indoor poly tunnel to cover them at night, when the temperature still approaches freezing.

The hardy greens - the chard, arugula, mizuna, spinach and bok choy - have been weaned off the heat mats and the covers at night, and are waiting patiently for me to resolve my trust issues with Mother Nature so they can finally go outside to live out their veggie destiny.

The cabbages will join them - my lovely cabbages. I grew them for the first time last year, and fell in love with the young plants. They look so fresh, so sprightly, so edible.

They're all just hanging out. Waiting.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Two dozen and one

Is there anything - anything - cuter than a Black Australorp chick?

Yes, we have more chicks! 25 more, to be exact. The second batch of Mucky Boots chicks hatched on Friday and Saturday: 7 Black Australorps and 18 Buff Orpingtons.

I should be a bit more precise: not all of the Orpingtons were Mucky Boots bred - some of the eggs came from our chicken mentor Ev. And if you are a careful counter you'll notice when you watch the obligatory cute-chick video below that five chicks are missing: they have already gone to their new home.

The chicks are in their own brooders set up over the toilet in what used to be the powder room and is now Chickie Central. That makes Brooder Number 3 and Brooder Number 4 - it's getting awfully crowded in there! In the next few days some of the chicks will be moved into the larger brooders still occupied at night by the older Red Rock Cross pullets, who spend their days in the chicken tractor outside but aren't quite ready to move into the chicken coop. Soon!

These big girls don't seem overly impressed by their new roommates...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mystery weed identified

(Photo from here.)

Thanks to my choir friend Elisabeth, the mystery weed has been identified: it's campanula, or creeping bellflower. Some people grow it on purpose, so I guess I shouldn't be calling it a weed. On the other hand, some jurisdictions have identified it as an invasive plant. For any of you non-gardeners, that's really, really bad. It's almost impossible to get rid of because of how well it spreads by way of its rhizomes. So I think I'll call it a weed after all.

In other words, the good news is that it's pretty, and the bad news is that it will smother my garden if I don't do something about it. Oh happy day...

There was some of this in the garden last year - quite a bit, if I remember correctly - and it is lovely, especially in masses when the blue flowers on the long stalks sway in the breeze. But do I want it everywhere?

So I have a decision to make. I think I'm going to end up going with a non-perfectionist compromise: root it out completely of the herb beds on either side of the verandah stairs, keep it to a dull roar in the big central perennial beds, and let it do whatever the heck it wants to in the beds along the property line.

There. Decision made. Sounds good to me.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Preparing for battle

I am preparing for battle. No, not the battle between me and the weeds - although there will be some of that, since the mystery weed is blanketing beds it hadn't been in previously. What is it? (It's not bindweed, and I'm pretty sure it's not echinacea, although if it is all my friends and in fact most of the population of Canada can expect to get tinctures for Christmas. But thanks for even trying, Paula and Jean!)

No, I'm speaking of the battle between my stubborn perfectionist streak and my desire to look at my life and my garden with more equanimity. Spring is the time when many weeds, not just my mystery plant, make their presence known. Instead of freaking out (which I am doing just a little - can you tell?) I want to engage in calm, measured, carefully paced measures to deal with the unwanted plants, all the while accepting with an open and peaceful heart the gifts that even the weeds in my garden bring me and the lessons they can teach me. Instead of looking out on my garden and thinking of the scores of items on my to-do list, I want to use it as an opportunity to embrace the world with all of its beautiful imperfections. Wabi-sabi and all that.

Ha! Who am I fooling?

In the meantime, while I work on the anally-retentive aspects of my personality, here are some of the things growing at Mucky Boots that don't fill me with the urge to dig up and rip out.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Does anyone know what this is? I spent an awful lot of time trying to eradicate it from the perennial beds last year - clearly to no effect, because suddenly, in the last week, it's everywhere.

Maybe it's something beautiful or useful and I've been battling it for no good reason. Or maybe (and this is my suspicion, since anything that spreads that quickly can't be good) it's a vile, invasive weed that I will be fighting until the day I put down my gardening tools.

It's about two inches high (and getting bigger every day) with pointed green leaves and purple stems.

Help! What is it?

Saturday, April 2, 2011


The other day I was trying to describe to my friend Margaret what I do every day, now that I don't have a 9-5 sort of job. I fumbled around a bit: "I get breakfast and read a make some some" My gosh, I thought, what do I do?

Then a flash of inspiration. "Of course things are different once the growing season starts," I declared. "Then I'm really busy."

So here's what I've been doing lately, just to show you I really am not a total slug.

Shopping: I bought two new rosemary plants (green in the photo) to replace the three that didn't make it through the winter (dead in the photo). I don't know why I didn't know that rosemary needs winter protection. Now I do. And just in case you thought I might be able to walk into a garden store and walk out with only two rosemary plants, you are sadly mistaken. I did manage to keep my extra purchases to four packages of lily and anemone bulbs. This time.

Weeding: This is my specialty. I may not be able to restore order and peace to the world, but I can manage my flower and vegetable beds pretty darn well. Just so you can appreciate the job I tackled today, it's a 40 foot long rhubarb and blueberry raised bed, with rotting wooden planks separating it from the orchard. So grass and morning glory and all kinds of other evil plants creep in through the rotting wood and make themselves at home in my vegetable garden. This is the before.

This is the after.

Whining: Weeding + sore shoulder muscles = ow, ow, ow. See "Weeding" above.

Basking in the sunshine: The sun was out today and it was heaven.

Watching Chicken TV: The six Red Rock Cross chicks are spending time outside in the tractor, learning all about bugs and grass and worms, so of course we spend almost as much time watching Chicken TV. It's just about the most entertainment that can be had without electricity.

Scolding Frankie: We did this a lot today. Frankie barks at the chicks. He barks at the chickens. He barks at our neighbour Nick. He even barks at us if we're on Nick's side of the fence. He barks at Nick's geese, but stopped barking when they charged the fence and hissed at him. Take that, Frankie. Bad boy.

Building new beds: We built two new 20 foot beds for strawberries. It's actually one bed, with the orchard fence running through the middle. We've built beds against the fence before, and then have had to deal with all the grass growing up between the fence and the bed. See "Weeding", above. This time Kim had the ingenious idea of building the bed through the fence. The cross pieces of cedar actually pass through the fence (we had to cut the wire just a bit), and the whole thing is lined with landscape cloth. I'll let you know how it works.

Planting strawberries: See "Building new beds" above.

Finally believing spring has arrived: Buds on the pear tree and little bluebell-like flowers (what are these? Does anyone know?) in the perennial beds convinced me.

Tending seedlings in the greenhouse: Red, yellow and green onions, leeks, shallots, fennel, nine different kinds of tomatoes (okay, I went a little overboard), lettuce, mache, mizuna, arugula, bok choy, brussel sprouts, broccoli, red and green cabbage, spinach, chard, ground cherries, marigolds, nasturtiums, hyssop, calendula, cilantro, mallow, borage, plantain, parsley, summer savory, and two kinds of basil. So far.

Running from the rain and hail: Sunshine one moment, deluge the next. Yup, it's spring.
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