Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Under Her Wing

Mama hen, at my parents' farm. She sat on her nest hidden deep in the long grass and hatched out 11 wee black chicks. When my mom moved her into the chicken house she slipped under the hen a guinea keet that had survived the briefly unplugged incubator. My boys inspect the hen house every chance they get and, yesterday, we saw the keet nestled up under mama's wing. 

A beautiful moment and a reminder to an often frustrated and frazzled mama to just set a spell and hold my babies tight up under my own wings. These days are passing by way too fast. 

Friday, 3 July 2015

The Garden That Didn't Grow

We are having a hot dry summer here along the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. Today we had temperatures around 30C and had a late afternoon thunderstorm which brought high winds and a bit of hail. Our yard received one inch plus two tenths or rainfall, while 4 miles away my parents had about half an inch. We are glad to have had the moisture and all my rain barrels are overflowing. 

The hot dry summer has had me asking, what would I do 100 years ago if it were this dry and my garden didn't grow? Surely it happened from time to time. Did families go hungry? Absolutely. Were some forced to town or onto the generosity of family? Undoubtedly. Back then if a person in the country could not or did not produce their own stores of food they could not last. Growing and storing enough food for one's family and one's livestock was the real difference between success and failure on the prairies. Nowadays, if you have a total crop failure such as I have had with carrots, peas, lettuce, spinach, kale, SIGH, you might trade with a neighbour for some of the things you have plenty of (so far, that would be onions), try the farmer's market, or you just say to heck with it and count on the grocery store for your missing produce. But this all has me thinking, 100 years ago on this piece of land I would be starting to feel a bit desperate.

There are some factors that would be different, of course. I would likely have quadrupled the amount of potatoes I had planted. I would have relied heavily on crops like turnip, pumpkin, squash and cabbage, and I would have a root cellar in which to keep them all. But here in my 2015 first-world-home, I have an entire area dedicated to water and heat loving tomatoes and peppers. I reserved one raised bed for my children to plant, and I have large spaces that are purely ornamental. My apple tree has 2 apples on it this year and the pear pollinator has died. I put in 10 raspberry canes last year but they immediately filled in with weeds and I have decided if they die it is probably a good thing. Something has eaten the strawberries before I can get to them, and I have 4 or 5 varieties of sunflowers planted for the birds and our pure enjoyment. It is obvious that this garden is not meant to sustain us through our cold 6-7 month long winter. But what if it had to?

Above, one raised bed that has produced nothing besides a couple sunflowers, some nasturtiums, and a couple bean plants. 

Below, sunflowers bent over from the driving wind and rain. I'm sure they will bounce back, but I must rethink how much of my garden is used to grow things not specifically meant to feed this family through the winter. 

I did plant carrots and greens and peas and I reseeded cucumbers, beets and peas when it didn't look good. The carrots and greens seem to be a write-off and there are so far only enough beets for a couple meals. The cucs are up but I am wondering what my yield will be, and I am thinking that this should be my last year of using the grocery store as my back up plan. Next year I hope to have space prepared to plant more and harvest more than I need, with the aim to get my family through the year on what we can grow ourselves. Of course this is not a revelation to many who garden. But for me it is time to step up and grow/harvest/preserve as though it is my only option. I am lucky enough to have the land, I am healthy enough to do the work, and I want to be able to make it happen in case the day ever comes where we must be totally self-reliant. Do you grow your annual supply of any one fruit or vegetable?

Monday, 29 June 2015

Air Quality, and Peony Love

We have had a beautiful stretch of very warm weather (for the Canadian prairies, at least). The trouble for most of us is the weather is a month early and has preceded any amount of seasonal rain. So although we've enjoyed some time at the beach, the 30C heat that we enjoyed all week is actually baking the crops in the fields and turning pastures to dust. If you're a farmer in these parts, you're probably getting worried.

I put the sprinkler on my garden every few days to keep things alive. I am lucky that I don't have to carry buckets of water. But most days I do. I run the sprinkler on the garden to cover more ground but water most of my flowers by pail. We have a couple large totes that I bought from the nearby Hutterite Colony (previously used for canola oil) that I use to catch rain. Then I also have my 3 rain barrels, and they have a bit of water left from the 8/10 rain we had a few weeks ago. Slowly I've used most of it to water my tomatoes and grape vines, and all the perennials near the house. Speaking of those, I'm having some serious love for the peony I planted last year. There are 3 new ones as well, but they haven't bloomed. I was so proud of the hot pink one by my shed....

Until I went to my mom's and saw her pale pink one in all its glory....

I do so love peonies!

It is a smokey, hazy day today--smoke arriving here from fires in northern Saskatchewan. My mind is on my friends there, hoping no homes are threatened and that the fires are soon under control.

It is smokey here, yes, and it is a reminder to treasure the clean air that we normally take for granted. To think of all the people that live in similar haze everyday of their lives...we are truly fortunate to live where we do. How is summer shaping up where you are?

Sunday, 21 June 2015

A Garden Update, of Sorts

For some reason I'm having a hard time believing we are halfway through June. I have the odd sensation that we somehow missed spring, but I think I know why. Last year in the spring we had no lawn to speak of, just topsoil, and our driveway had exposed clay in places. We got extra gravel and our lawn grew last year so the mud and mess being tracked in was so much more manageable this year. It felt like the season of mud didn't happen, in a way :) add to that the fact that May was unseasonably hot and dry, and it just feels like spring didn't happen. Thankfully, things are growing although we have had minimal rain. We have our big totes in place to use as rain barrels so we can catch every drop of rain possible for use in our yard. 

I got a 6 pack of dahlias at a greenhouse. They are among my favourites but I've had no luck buying and planting the tubers. We had a touch of frost after I planted them out so 5 of them in the apple tree bed look scraggly and forlorn. But this lovely is on my sittin' porch where I can enjoy it everyday. 

My mom has had some success with her incubator, despite power outages and other mishaps. Unfortunately the day after things started to hatch the cord wiggled out of the incubator and the rest of her eggs were lost, including guinea eggs that we were so excited about. 


Suzy. Our lambs are in our little pasture here and are a constant source of amusement. 

As for the garden, potatoes and onions are doing great and I planted 4 or 5 varieties of sunflowers that have all come up. It will be so much fun to watch them get taller than us, along with my first ever crop of corn. I started pumpkin plants early and managed to plant them out successfully. That is actually the first thing I've started indoors that survived hardening off and transplanting, so I'm excited to have grown our own jack o lanterns and pumpkin purée. 

My spinach, kale, lettuces and carrots are slow to appear and I dread a year without a fresh supply of beets. Our elderly neighbour plants a big garden and usually offers us part of his excess. This year we may be counting on his generosity:) likewise, I've replanted cucumbers which simply didn't germinate and my next crop has not come up either. It's a bit discouraging but I've had slow starters before, replanted, and ended up with everything coming up at once and being too crowded. So I guess I'll give things more time and concentrate on what is doing well. 

I also planted a row of asparagus and some tiny shoots have appeared in my straw mulch. I'm nervous to keep the weeds out of that row but we have really enjoyed the asparagus out of my brother's garden. It is definitely worth a try to grow my own. 

Last year I planted 5 grape vines and 3 survived the winter. I don't have a picture but I do need to come up with a trellis idea that works. Perhaps a post on grapes will be in order. I am never sure if I should jump the gun and blog about something before I know it will survive. But if I stuck to that around here I may never blog at all ;) how's your garden growing?

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Around the Yard

Things are getting going! Sunflowers, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, beans, corn and peas are up. A few laggers might be reseeded if they don't appear soon. How are things in your neck of the woods?

Sunday, 17 May 2015

My Stone Wishing Well

We are extremely lucky to have a good well. When you live in the country, your own source of water dictates the convenience of how many loads of laundry you can do, if you can use water for your yard, even the length of showers. Although we have a plentiful supply, we are careful to conserve and I talk to my kids daily about how precious water is.

Our well is directly out my kitchen window, smack in the middle of the only flat lawn space this yard offers. We are on a slope and having the well in the middle of everything might have posed a problem but my mom and I were excited to turn it into a feature in the yard.

Above and below: the water driller, before there was a house or a shed in the yard. 

Below: this is our well. We thought we could do better!

In progress: we used mortar between the rocks and tried to keep our stack level as we continued in a circle around the well (although this photo doesn't look level at all!)

We used some stakes and chicken wire to give our rock circle some stability. In hindsight, more stakes would have kept our circle more stable and round. If I do another project of this type I will also cut the stakes to the required length beforehand. Once we were done we were afraid to cut them incase it made any of the rock work come loose. Now it is simply one of those jobs that we forget needs doing and it has been that way a year and a half. Perhaps Husband's next days off? We will see ;)

I used some of that awkward black plastic edging around the base of the little flower bed we built around the well. I thought that once the grass grew in we wouldn't see it, but it has been visible all along and every time I do dishes I gaze out the window at it and wonder how to better hide the edging. The other option was to remove it, but for now I have moved it to the inside of the rock edging. 



Once we get those stakes trimmed back I want to put a large planter of trailing flowers atop the well. I'll be sure to update with some photos if we ever get that done!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Patience and Self-Control in the Springtime Garden

Ah, spring. There is so much possibility, so many plans...so much work!

When you begin from scratch in a new yard, it can be overwhelming to plan where things should go, or where to begin. Each job seems to rely on something else being completed first until you have turned in a 360 degree circle in your yard, done nothing, yet feel exhausted. This year is our third summer here and it is becoming easier to begin and finish jobs here and there, but plans for sheep and chickens and a greenhouse have me stumped at the moment. I can't decide on the best spot or most efficient system of pens and buildings. So I have focused instead on other pressing jobs and I know that the choice will become clear if I give it some time.

Some other jobs I am working on in the yard:
  • stack all remaining fire wood that was dumped by the garage all winter
  • water 120 spruce trees (almost finished!)
  • fish pond: mostly complete except for the pump and extension cord, and the fun part...plants! I have solar lights to put down the path and around the pond but fear the dog will break them off. So they may be put out for photos and the occasional BBQ, but kept safely in the garage until the playful pup has learned some manners!
  • path to the pond: I need to re-level many of my stone steps that have settled and tipped, and remove lawn grass that has encroached into my stepping stones. On the bright side, many of my ground cover plants between stones made it through the winter and I look forward to seeing how the perennials in the yard look with a full summer of growth. Most everything was planted last year and did not have time to completely flourish.
  • weedless garden: this is a big one. My dad came with their old garden tractor and roto-tilled an area for an expanded garden. We will likely have trouble with quack grass and encroaching lawn. I am working on a number of paths through the garden in hopes that the soil won't become compacted and I may never need the use of a tiller again. I am hoping I can control the grass problem with cardboard and straw mulch borders, and keep my weeding limited to the actual planted area of the garden. For a great illustration of what I am attempting with a series of mulched paths, enjoy this post by Sherri at Little Home in the Country.
  • turn one raised bed, build pea trellis out of saplings and plant peas
  • cover paths between raised beds with deep cardboard and mulch with straw to eradicate (hopefully) the grass
  • turn and amend soil in 2 remaining raised beds, prepare one for asparagus and the other for my 2 boys to share with their own choice of flowers and vegetables
  • tomato bed behind garage: I hope to get away with having my tomatoes in the same patch as I did last year. I need to dig out lawn and quack grass (do you sense a theme here?)  and empty the nearby compost into that space, roto-till and build paths for another no-till weedless system. 
I am considering fencing the garden area on the south side of our garage to keep the cats and dog out, and create a potager-type garden. As the title of the post indicates, though, there is a need for self-control when planning each spring. I can come up with unlimited projects but the fact is there are not enough hours in a day to complete them all. I must prioritize the jobs while considering time and money, of course. Right now, weed control is on the top of the list because I want to make our lives easier by doing things right the first time. If I can minimize the time I have to spend weeding it gives me time to do the other (long) list of jobs here at home. It might even free up some time to go camping and see friends;)

Spring is a time of much promise and enthusiasm after a long Canadian winter spent cooped up. We are enjoying our yard and the lambs and chickens at my parents' farm. We have a lot of planning and, yes, a  pile of work ahead of us. But I am determined to make it fun, as close to stress-free as possible, because we are building a lifestyle that we want to have last--not fizzle out with exhaustion and dashed hopes. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the amount of work you face in your springtime garden plans?