Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Dear Friends-

I've been away and now I'm back, but only to say farewell. I've been away getting some help with my rheumatoid arthritis and have come home with a renewed trust in my own intuitions, which have been telling me for some time that I need to regroup, and refocus my reflective and creative energies inward for a while. And so, after five years, one week and one day, I am going to say goodbye.

I have loved writing this blog. For quite a while I did it just to tell my family about our adventures as we moved to Mucky Boots and figured out how to grow vegetables and raise chickens. And tried to overcome perfectionism, and learned how to accept the miraculous gifts of Mother Nature. And then you began to find your way here and this blog became, for me, a small community of kind-hearted, adventurous, wise and inquisitive friends. You have given me a reason to look more carefully for the small and precious moments, and to think more deeply about my days here and what they mean to me, and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Goodbye, my friends, and remember: don't let the muck get higher than your boots!


Thursday, September 12, 2013


September is my favourite month. For me September is all about warm fleece on cool mornings, sunny afternoons that are a gift instead of a given, and the collective deep breath that comes as things slow down in the perennial garden. The demands of spring and summer have been met (or not) and the massive job of the fall clean up is still a month or two away. This is a time for sitting on the porch swing, enjoying some quiet and appreciating the beauty of the garden that is.

Much of the garden is showing its age, crispy and dry after the heat of the summer, or showing the effects of damage by pests. But there's still some colour to be found. The asters are just beginning to flower...

... and at the other end of their life cycle, the very last of the hosta flowers are hanging on for a few more days.

The wild and crazy dianthus is making a second showing...

... while the butterly weed I planted from seed this year is making its first bright orange showing.

The red valerian wins the longevity prize - it has been flowering non-stop since May, and shows no sign of calling it quits.

The fuschia, which for much of the year is so straggly I am always tempted to take it out, is looking like something from a Japanese block print. A graceful, gentle rebuke. 

I'll be taking a pause for the next month or so. Until I get back I wish you warm days, cool nights, and someone you love to share them with.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Growing up

Remember these fuzzy babies, the Buff and Welsummer chicks we hatched about 11 weeks ago? They don't look like that anymore. Say hello to our teenagers.

The Welsummers are a new breed for us, and it has been so interesting to see the differences between their growth and behaviour and that of the Buffs and Australorps. They're quite a bit smaller, for one thing, and are maturing much faster. The cockerels, who started crowing at about 9 weeks, are showing some spectacular colours...

...and even the pullets' more subtle colouring is just beautiful.

There's nothing like a new breed to show you all the ways in which you have been taking your old breeds for granted. Buffs and Australorps, being as big as they are, are not flyers. Sure, they'll flap their wings to soften a landing as they jump down from the roost, or to give some acceleration as they run, but they never fly. The Welsummers, on the other hand, have taught us all about verticality. Boop-booping is a whole different business with them: it's not enough to usher them along with a boop-boop stick, you have to factor in the likelihood that they will fly right over the stick, you, and anything else in the way.

Postscript: The Welsummers have matured into a much more dignified adulthood! They have lots of personality, curiosity and energy, are great talkers, have been consistently good layers, and the verticality issue is not a problem any longer. And they can boop boop like the best of 'em!

The baby Buffs, on the other hand, now that the feather picking issue has resolved itself, are a more predictable bunch. Kim has been away the last few days so I've been on Chicken Management duty, and I've appreciated their willingness to come, predictably, thankfully, back into their enclosures at the end of the day. No chasing them around the bushes, no fishing them off the rafters of the coop, no wings beating in my face.

Thank you, baby Buffs. What good chickie-chickies.

Thursday, September 5, 2013



This has been a bit of an odd summer here at Mucky Boots, at least for me. A taking stock kind of summer. I've been taking a close look, in as gentle a way as I can, at what I can realistically commit to on the garden front, given that my arthritis seems to be a more constant presence in my life. It's not only a question of  what I think I can do, but what I want to do. What am I good at growing? How much can we reasonably expect to eat? How can I cut back or adapt what I do to make it a joy instead of a constant game of catch-up?

Part of what's needed is a change in expectations, and I am happy to announce that I think, finally, I have graduated from the Remedial School for Perfectionist Gardeners. My garden hasn't been perfect for most of the year (so what else is new...) and I've been fine with that. Really.

After four growing seasons here, Kim and I are also taking a hard look at what's working and what's not, what we're good at and what we probably need to give up on. And first on that list, for both of us, is fruit.

We're pretty good at berries: strawberries, raspberries and especially blueberries. But we suck at growing tree fruit. We had big plans for our orchard, and added a number of trees when we first got here, but we have learned that growing fruit organically is tough: there's a disease and a pest for every season and every kind of fruit tree, and I think we've encountered them all. Throw in the demise of the grand dame of the orchard, our Pink Lady apple tree, and we're ready to throw in the towel. So we decided this summer that we would take out a few of the trees that are either dead or on their last legs and transition into more blueberries.

And then Mother Nature gave us this gift: plums.

We planted the Italian plum tree in the vegetable garden a couple of years ago. Last year it had one blossom. This year it had more, many of which transformed into fruit. And this afternoon, while seeing to the chickens, a lovely purplish-blue hue caught my eye and I realized the plums were ripe and ready to be picked. Not too many - about three pounds, I would guess. But they're everything a plum should be, the essence of plummy goodness.

All of which adds to my conviction that to be a Happy Gardener you should hope for the best, accept that this year's garden will be different from last year's, marvel in the miracles that present themselves every day, forgive yourself for the things that don't work, and be grateful for the gifts Mother Nature bestows.

Like a handful of plums.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Under cover

I scrubbed my running shoes the other day - they were a mess after a summer's worth of dust and dirt - and when I was done I turned them upside down on the veranda steps to drain and dry.

And who was hiding underneath when I retrieved them the next morning?

This little fellow.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Homesteading University

Kim has had her hands full this summer with all things chicken related, much of it good and some of it challenging. And then this weekend, something new: bumblefoot.

Bumblefoot is an infection in a chicken's foot, caused by anything from a cut or scrape to a splinter from a roost or damage done by jumping down from a roost that's too high. If the infected tissue is cut out and the foot treated with antibiotics the chicken can go on to lead a long and happy life, but if left untreated bumblefoot can eventually spread to bones and other tissues and be fatal. The surgery is usually an at-home affair because (1) it's easy, (2) most vets have no idea about chickens in general and bumblefoot specifically, and (3) even if they did the cost would be prohibitive.

Kim noticed one of her hens limping on Saturday, had a look at her foot and found the tell-tale black scab. As luck would have it our friends Toni and Steve had been telling us about treating their own chicken for bumblefoot just the week before, and even luckier, they were willing to come to Mucky Boots to give Kim a lesson.

Here's the process:

Step 1: Spa treatment. Ms. Bumblefoot was treated to a warm epsom salts soak. Yes, that's our kitchen sink. And yes, we disinfected the heck out of everything when we were done.

Step 2: Surgery. Steve used a small exacto knife to slice off the scab. This sounds gruesome but it was actually very straightforward. Ms. Bumblefoot, wrapped up in a towel and placed on her side, took it all in stride. Once the scab was gone the infected tissue was visible, and it was a matter of gently and carefully cutting it out while leaving the healthy tissue behind. This case of bumblefoot was caught quite early so there wasn't much infected tissue to remove, and Ms. Bumblefoot was good at letting us know when we were tinkering with healthy tissue instead by starting to struggle instead of lying quietly. Toni suggested we err on the side of removing too little tissue rather than too much; more can always be removed in the days following surgery.

Step 3: Bandaging. We daubed the wound with antibiotic ointment, covered it with a non-stick gauze pad cut down to size, then wrapped it up with stretchy self-sticking tape.

Step 4: Repeat. Every one or two days we will repeat the whole process, looking for and removing any more infected tissue until we've got it all and the wound can heal. In the meantime Ms. Bumblefoot is being housed in one of the brooder boxes, up high on saw horses so she's out of the dust of the chicken yard and can survey the goings on of her friends down below.

We were lucky to have had friends willing to share their expertise - expertise gained through a lot of internet surfing and YouTube watching, plus a large dose of bravery in being willing to translate that into practice. Operating on a case of bumblefoot is just one example of a skill that isn't generally known any more and people are needing to learn again. Wouldn't it be great to have an electronic bulletin board where people in a community could post a request ("Looking for someone who knows how to operate on bumblefoot") or make an offer ("I'm canning pickles on Tuesday between 2 and 5 if anyone wants to learn how"). Kind of like Craigslist, but for the free exchange of homesteading skills. An informal, locally based Homesteading University.

I know there are all kinds of reasons why this might not be practical, like liability, and the dangers of welcoming strangers into your home. But couldn't it be a way to spread knowledge, build resilience, and turn strangers into a community?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Garden Report

My post about magically appearing zucchinis made me think it's about time I reported on the progress of this year's vegetable garden.

Most crushing disappointment: the onions. I should never have boasted how well we grow alliums here at Mucky Boots, because this year the onions have been a disaster. Germination was about 15%, so I replaced all my seed and began again, and still only had a 50% germination rate. All of which put me a few weeks behind. And once the seedlings made it into the garden they went on strike, and have done very poorly. In past years I have been harvesting my onions by this time, enough to almost see us through the year, but this year we'll be lucky to get a dozen onions big enough to eat. It makes me want to cry, which I guess is appropriate given it's onions we're talking about. I'm just glad the garlic did fine.

Most frivolous success: nasturtiums. My companion planting book suggests planting nasturtiums among squash plants to attract pollinators. I took this advice to heart and now my wildly vining, sprawling squash plants are entwined with wildly vining, sprawling nasturtiums in vibrant reds and oranges.

Most practical success: Cucumbers. I grew some pretty good pickling cukes last year, but my heart belongs to long, elegant English cucumbers, with which I have had no success. But this year I have four lush, healthy plants flowering like mad and already producing fruit. Best of all, I ate the first one a few days ago and it was the juicy, tasty essence of cucumber-ness.

Most gloat-worthy success: The winter squash. Unlike the zucchini, which produced three and promptly quit (why am I the only person in the universe who can't grow enough zucchini?) the winter squash plants are pumping out more squash than ever before. I have squash growing in beds, between beds, up a strawberry tower, along the ground, and even up the middle of a stand of dried up daisies. There are still a few things that could go wrong before harvest time, but it's looking good, and given my past failures in this department I'm giving myself permission to gloat.

Winners of the "Never Again" Award: cilantro and parsley. I can't grow either. The cilantro bolts the instant I turn my back, before I have a chance to harvest any leaves, and the parsley just sits in the dirt and looks at me, refusing to grow past the seedling stage. I've tried, and I give up.

Winner of the S-L-O-W-E-S-T Growth Ever Award: the cabbages. I don't know what the heck they're doing - I planted early varieties and they're barely starting to form heads. Was it too cold? Then too hot? Too wet, then too dry? They're progressing, just very, very slowly.

Winner of the "I Like It After All" award: broccoli. Last year it was kale, my formerly favourite vegetable to revile. This year it's broccoli, which I had decided, once I regained my sense of smell, I didn't like. But that was supermarket broccoli. My own broccoli, right out of the garden, lightly sauteed so it's bright green but still with some crunch, with a squeeze of lemon overtop? That's an entirely different story.

How has your garden been faring?
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