Sunday, April 29, 2012


The move to Mucky Boots was the start of a new life for us. We swapped heels for rubber boots, days filled with schedules and bells for days that unfold according to the seasons and evolving priorities. Instead of being teachers, and only teachers, now we call ourselves chicken wranglers, food growers, music makers. We have learned how to start seeds, bake bread, make soap, preserve food, hatch eggs, build gates and make compost. I've done things I never would have imagined: jacked up a chicken coop, picked rocks at a quarry, won ribbons at the country fair, and split cords and cords of wood with The Log Boss.

But there's one thing I haven't done, something missing from my country-girl credentials. Somehow, I've never been to an auction.

We fixed that by driving up to Coombs for their annual spring farm auction. I had no idea what to expect, but this being a farm auction, there's weren't any antiques or art. Instead, there was a plethora of chicken gear (cages, nest boxes, feeders, waterers), tools (garden tools, farrier tools, blacksmith tools, construction tools, logging tools), and kitchen paraphernalia, including boxes and boxes of canning jars that were the object of a fierce bidding war.

I didn't buy anything, but I did come home with something invaluable. I learned the secret for dealing with all those perennials that need dividing but that I don't have room for - I just need to plunk them in plastic pots or old feed bags and bring them to the auction, because people will buy them. Sellers brought rhubarb plants, and mint, and raspberry canes, and clumps of daisies, and people bought them - $7 a pot for some nice looking rhubarb. 

Do I need to remind you how much rhubarb I have? 

I could pay off our mortgage.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Camp Mucky Boots

There is a wonderful fire pit at Mucky Boots, right by the pond. It is made from brick and stone, about 15 feet across, with a nice, deep pit. Until now I have regarded it mostly as a weeding challenge, because of all the unwanted vegetation growing in the cracks between the bricks. But last night, for the first time in our three years here, we had a honest-to-goodness camp fire.

There was one other occasion when we burned brush in the pit, but it was a utilitarian event in the middle of the afternoon. Last night was different. Last night there was atmosphere: dusk, then dark, then a starlit sky; hot chocolate and snuggling; and a background chorus provided by the frogs calling our pond home. It was magical.

Here's a taste, just for you. Think of it as the Mucky Boots version of the fireplace channel.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Comfort Queen gives a lesson on priorities

Today felt like summer. It was warm, it was sunny, and all around us flowers sprang open and trees popped out leaves. It could - and maybe should - have been a day for weeding, and transplanting vegetable starts into the garden, and raking the winter's worth of pine cones littering the driveway. But Miss Petunia the Comfort Queen had another idea about the best way to spend the day.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Walk in the garden

April is half over, and just like clockwork, my annual spring arthritis flare-up has arrived - a not very welcome return guest. Fortunately I have learned a thing or two, like the importance of not giving into the urge to be in the garden all day every day because overdoing things only prolongs the misery. And that the worst feelings of self-pity can be alleviated by nothing more than a walk through the garden. There's enough there to make the most miserable person feel better.

The fawn lilies, for example. We're blessed with hundreds of them, in all the shady beds around the house. And this year it's a bumper crop, thanks (I think) to all that scratching and flicking and digging the chickens did before The Great Divide. These are spirit lifters nonpareil, with their gorgeous speckled leaves and the sheer whimsy of their slowly lid-flipping blooms.

The catkins of the curly hazel tree along the fence line have erupted, giving us a reason to stop and admire the berserk curly pandemonium. I have to wonder about what evolutionary advantage is at work here...

The huckleberry bushes growing near the coop are a favourite of the chickens - in the summer, once all the berries at chicken height have been eaten, Hector jumps up to grab more, then drops them on the ground for his hens to enjoy. And when even those berries are gone, Kim weighs down the taller branches with string and cinder blocks, so the chickens can enjoy every last berry.

Every time I visit our local nursery I'm captivated by the deep indigo hellebores they have. But I've been reluctant to fork out the money to buy a couple, especially since we have about half a dozen hellebores in the garden already. One, in particular, is blooming abundantly this year, working hard to show it can stand up to its showier cousins at the nursery.

I think this is a spirea. I love its colour, especially in the sea of green this time of year. We have a few shrubs in the woodland part of the garden, and they're letting us know they're feeling neglected and a bit crowded out by ferns and salal. Transplanting might be in order.

No, Frankie is not a plant in the garden, but he makes my heart happier than one. Unfortunately he's having a sore April, too, because of what might be a pinched nerve in his neck. So he and I are laying low together, content in the knowledge there will still be gardens to play in and balls to catch when we're feeling better.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A gardener's apology

This is our fourth spring here, and it has taken me that long to develop an understanding of how little I actually know about gardening.

For sure, I have been diligent in my attempts to figure out what the heck I am doing, and I am learning all the time. But I think I am only just now at the point where I have learned enough to know how little I know. And that realization has grown hand in hand with a heartfelt appreciation for the skill and passion of the gardeners who came before me here at Mucky Boots.

Let me give you an example. When we got here I was irritated by all the valuable real estate taken up with flowering plants (yarrow, bee balm, lavender, daisies, poppies) in the vegetable garden. I was a serious gardener, darn it, and I wanted to grow vegetables. I learned to appreciate the beauty pretty quick, but it wasn't until I read my first book on companion planting this winter that I really understood the beneficial role all those flowers were playing, in warding off bad bugs and attracting good ones. When I closed the cover of the book I wanted to say "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" for all the times I rolled my eyes at yet another yarrow plant tucked into the corner of a bed. Not to mention the medicinal value of many of those plants, which I am just starting to appreciate.

Here's another example: I have just recently learned that most perennials need regular dividing if they're going to stay healthy and productive. So I started to make a list of the ones I should think about dividing ASAP, given they haven't been done since we got here. What was on the list? Rhubarb, hostas and primulas, for a start. And then the penny dropped - that's why there's so much of all that stuff around here! We have rhubarb galore, way more than any two people can use - enough that the other day the father of our neighbour, looking over the fence, said in a voice full of awe, "That's a lot of rhubarb."

Some clever person, someone who knew about dividing perennials, divided those rhubarb plants faithfully until she ran out of room, then started putting it in the perennial beds, where it makes a colourful early show, with a nice coarse texture that complements all the finer stuff we seem to have. But there is no more room anywhere, and so I am going to have to be even cleverer: I am going to have to start giving it away.

And there are beautiful deep purple primulas everywhere, giving a wonderful spring boost of colour exactly when we most need it. I know darn well neither of the gardeners that came before me here would have spent all the money to buy that many plants - instead, they came for free through regular division.

Now, everywhere I look, I see echoes: Siberian irises here, and there, and there. Lilies by the house, by the pond, by the chicken coops. More astilbe plants than I can count. Globe thistle in every direction. I already feel surrounded by a chorus of plant life every time I walk down the verandah steps into the garden - now it's like a multiple exposure, where I'm seeing the fruit of all the work done by the gardeners that came before me, in each of the springs that came before this one.

Now it's my turn. Rhubarb, anyone?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The great outdoors

Yesterday was a big day for the chicks hatched by the two broody hens - they began their acquaintance with the great outdoors.

The sun was shining and the temperature was climbing, so Kim got the chicken tractor set up with a wind cover over half, a heat lamp, and one of her newly built double nest boxes. Then we transferred the two mamas and their chicks from the special coop enclosure where they have been living, to outside. We thought there might be at least a brief period of adjustment, but the mamas immediately began making their "come get some food" clucks and demonstrating how to peck at the ground for grass and bugs, and before we could even get the camera focused those chicks were busy at work.

The parenting instincts of our broody hens are an amazement to us. Without having been raised by a mama hen themselves, they somehow know just what to do. They sat on the eggs, hatched the chicks, kept them warm, showed them what to eat and how to drink, defended them even from Kim, who has the bloody pecks on her hands to prove it. They didn't have to take a course, or read a book. And the fact that they are doing it together, sharing the chicks and the chick-raising duties, is a continuing delight to us.

Hatching eggs in an incubator is really, really cool. But watching these hens and their chicks is magic.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Wake-up call

There are clock radio alarms, and Mickey Mouse windup alarms, and discretely beeping digital alarms.

This is a Mucky Boots alarm.

Good morning everyone!
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