Thursday, May 31, 2012


Close your eyes and cast your mind back a few thousand years. You're stirring a vat of milk over a fire, and someone walking by accidently drops in the stomach from a just-slaughtered calf. (I'm sure you could make up an interesting if implausible story to explain that.) And a miracle happens: cheese is born!

There were no calves or camp fires here this week, but I am happy to announce the birth (or coagulation?) of the first Mucky Boots cheese. Yes, we made cheese! Goat's milk feta, to be precise.

Our interest was piqued by our friend Rebecca who began making hard cheeses a few months ago. She has had us over for a couple of cheese-making experiences in the last few weeks, and we came out of them with the confidence to try it on our own.

So I ordered a couple of different cultures (one for feta and one for chevre) and some rennet from Glengarry Cheesemaking, and sourced some local goat's milk just in time for a visit from my dad. Put a Math teacher, a Science teacher and an engineer in the kitchen with pots and thermometers and bacterial cultures, and for sure something interesting will happen!

We followed a recipe from here, but basically this is what happens:

Step #1: Gently heat the milk, add the culture, and let it sit for an hour.

Step #2: Add the rennet, stir, and let it sit for 40 minutes. [Our rennet came as liquid in a dropper bottle, which made me wonder how folks a hundred years ago would have done it. If I remember Laura Ingalls Wilder's account correctly, her ma got a piece of calf's stomach from a neighbour. But does that mean people only had cheese when a calf was slaughtered? It turns out people would dry pieces of the stomach and reconstitute it when it was time for cheese making. Go figure...]

Step #3: Cut the curd and let rest for 10 minutes. During this time the curds will start to release the whey.

Step #4: Hold at a constant heat and stir gently for 45 minutes. This "cooks" the curds and makes them a bit tougher.

Step #5: Pour into a cheesecloth-lined colander and hang to drain for 24 hours. After a few hours we turned the cheese in the cloth, so we would get a more uniform ball.

Step #6: Cut the ball into manageable pieces and let sit covered at room temperature for 2-3 days. Then cover the pieces with brine and refrigerate for 1-4 weeks. 

Step #7: Eat!

We're in the middle of Step#6, so it will be a while before we know if the cheese is any good. Even if it's fabulous, this experiment isn't likely to be repeated soon, since we used about $28 worth of organic goat's milk to get a ball of cheese the size of a large grapefruit. Not so cost effective, but worth the experience. One time, anyway!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Something unheard-of happened on Sunday: Kim sold six cockerels at the local chicken swap.

You need to understand that this is the time of year when everyone is looking hard at the chicks they have bought or hatched, trying to figure out how many pullets and how many cockerels they have. We call it The Great Rooster Lottery, and the end result is always the same: everyone tries to unload their cockerels. Some people raise them to eating weight and then butcher them, as we did last year. But Kim was really proud of her boys: she has been breeding for size, and the six cockerels she brought to the swap were fine specimens - good enough to breed rather than eat. Kim was determined to find new homes, good homes, for these six youngsters.

She didn't have great hopes. Neither did I. When we unloaded the crates the folks beside us came to have a look. "Cockerels?" they asked, and then shook their heads sympathetically. We all know this sad dance.

But nobody factored in how compelling the combination of Chicken Mama and Science Teacher can be. People may have wandered over just for a look and maybe to ask "How much?" but they stayed because of Kim's passion and knowledge. And then they bought because of the healthy birds, and clean cages, and because Kim answered every single one of their questions - clearly and patiently like the teacher she is. She sold one cockerel, then another, and another, then two at once, and then the last one - all to people looking to start their own breeding programmes, or for a rooster to help protect an existing flock.

Woo hoo!

It was an interesting morning for me, too - a lovely woman named Kate came over to introduce herself and to tell me she had been reading the blog. How cool is that!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Older and wiser

I was pretty much new to gardening when we moved out here to Mucky Boots. There was one small vegetable garden a long time ago that my house mate was mostly responsible for, and I remember a few failed planters on decks and balconies. At our house before this one we had quite a bit of landscaping, but all it really needed was maintenance, and so I learned something about how to weed, cut things back, and spread mulch.

So I think I don't need to tell you what a steep learning curve I have been on in our three years here. I have learned a lot about growing vegetables, and a bit about growing perennials, but I think the best lessons, the most important ones, have been about the graceful embrace of imperfection and the ebb and flow of the seasons. And about the acceptance of enough. Enough food grown. Enough work done.

And so here are a few of the lessons about life and about gardening I have learned.

Don't push the season. When we first started I was determined to get as much food from the garden as I could, and that meant starting almost everything in the greenhouse. I have learned that a lot of time and energy - and money, for all those heat mats - go into all those early starts, and a lot of it can be saved by just paying attention to what the plants really need. By starting winter squash in the greenhouse, for example, I had it in the ground earlier than I would have if I had just seeded directly, but by the time the early birds had recovered from their transplant shock, their direct seeded cousins had caught up. Or take beans, as another example. They really need warm soil to germinate, so there is no point seeding them before the soil is ready - they will just rot, or at best sleep until the conditions are right. This can be applied to my life, too: sometimes, when I'm trying to force something to happen right now, what I really need to do is step back and wait. I'm not so good at that, but I'm learning.

Be satisfied with enough. Sometimes ten tomato plants are enough, and I don't really need twenty-four. Sometimes one bed of blueberries is enough - three would mean lots more blueberries, but also lots more work. Sometimes stopping to admire one gorgeous tulip is enough, without leaping to thinking I need to plant a whole bunch more. Sometimes it's enough to stop after two of three hours of work, even though it means leaving a lot undone. Being satisfied with enough is about getting off the treadmill of more, more, more, and sitting on the porch with a cup of tea and enjoying what is instead.

Enjoy the first blush of spring and don't be sad when it's gone. There is a magic week or two in May when tulips, and iris, and columbine, and perennial corn flowers, and lilacs, and wisteria are all flowering. Everything is lush and green, and all is right with the world. Then I notice that ants have got at the climbing hydrangea again and those corn flowers are looking slightly mildewy, and the tulips fall over and look blah. I've learned not to worry - the hydrangea will survive, and the hostas are already growing in leaps and bounds to fill in the empty spaces, and soon the poppies and lilies will steal the show, and then the glorious fall colours will start, and then the quiet of winter will come, and then it will be spring all over again.

Choose your battles. Creeping bellflower. Some of my beds are full of it. I briefly tried to eradicate it, but there's a reason it's classified as an invasive species in some districts: you can dig and dig and sift and think you've got every last root and rhizome, but an inch further down are some you missed that are already planning their comeback. Here's how I look at it now: in the early spring it forms a lovely, lush green ground cover. A few weeks later, once the stalks are about a foot high, they are easily pulled out to give the other plants more room. Of course that's just the stalk, and all the roots are left behind, but I wasn't ever going to be able to rid of those anyway (see above) so now I mostly don't bother unless I am planting something new and want to give it some breathing room. I see it as a perfect example of the 80-20 rule: in 20% of the time I can deal with 80% of the problem, but to finish off the remaining 20% would take 80% of the time. Get it?

Poppies growing in the thyme patch.

Give poppies special dispensation. Our first year here I spent a long afternoon ridding the rhubarb and blueberry bed of what I thought were dandelions. Turns out they were poppies. I love poppies. They are a perfect example of a beautiful thing that can't be controlled or owned: they grow anywhere and everywhere, and you have to appreciate them in situ because they make terrible cut flowers. Now poppies get a free ride here at Mucky Boots - I'll leave them in any bed they appear in except where I'm trying to grow carrots. It's good for me to have something in my life that doesn't follow rules or plans or schedules, something that can't and shouldn't be controlled. That's the gift poppies bring me.

What have you learned from your garden?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Yes, it's tulip season once again, and once again I have an obsessive compulsion to document every single gorgeous blossom. I did this last year, and the year before, so you'd think I'd know by heart every tulip here at Mucky Boots. But here's the thing: I am positively, absolutely sure that there are tulips flowering this year that I did not plant and have never seen before.

I've had that feeling before, and only half-jokingly suggested someone was sneaking onto the property in the fall to plant a few new bulbs, just to keep my life interesting. This year, if I said the same thing, I would be only one-quarter joking. What's going on?

Take these ones, for example: simple white with a demure fringe of purple near the edge of each petal. I know I would remember these. I'm sure I've never seen these before. I didn't plant them, and yet here they are.

Ditto with these: there are three of them in a bed where I don't remember seeing any tulips before. Am I going crazy? Am I overusing italics?

On the other hand, some old favourites have returned for another year. So enjoy: here is the Annual Mucky Boots Tulip Parade.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Did you miss me? I've been enjoying a wonderful week with my sister, who was visiting from Toronto. We went thrift store shopping, played with the chickens, planted potatoes, went to an auction, cooked and ate and talked and talked and talked. And we went to Tofino overnight, so she could get an ocean fix.

Since it was a special visit we spent a night at the Wickaninnish Inn. This was the view from our window. 

The Inn is on Chesterman Beach, which wasn't busy midweek, so there was lots of room for walking and thinking and listening to the surf.

And now my sister is back at home with her family and things seem awfully quiet here at Mucky Boots. Come back soon!
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