Day 2: Filler Post for a Busy Saturday

Okay, I guess I never said every post had to be fascinating in this challenge, right?!

Today was a busy Saturday.  We try to hoard our weekends at home for all the projects we’re working on, but every six weeks or so we stack a bunch of errands that can only be done in the city.  But the day just disappears with all the running around we do!  And it always amazes me that we used to spend just about every weekend like this.  We’d go out to do one thing, and end up spending all day driving around to various stores, then get hungry and have to find somewhere to eat out.  We would spend a bunch of money we hadn’t intended to and come home exhausted.  Which still happened a little today. 🙂  But at least it isn’t nearly as often!

We started the day with our first step in integrating our Blue-Laced Red Wyandotte chicks (now 5 weeks old) with the rest of our flock (now 9-11 weeks, and considerably larger!).  We decided to take the 4 chicks down in their brooder and set the whole cage in the larger run outside.  It was all a big adventure, but it seemed to go reasonably well.  The idea is to get the two groups used to each other being around, without being able to peck at each other and do any damage.  We’ll do the same thing again tomorrow, and hope to gradually integrate them over the course of the week.  We’re pushing the timeline a little, as some folks advise spending many weeks with this process, but we’re off on a trip in a few weeks, and we want everyone happy together in the same home when our friend is housesitting.

Part of the plan is to get the orchard area fenced and ready for the bigger birds to start free ranging in a wider territory.  We picked up fencing materials today and Skipper will try and get things secure tomorrow.  We’re hoping that the next step in integration might be the big birds in the wider world and the little birds free in the coop and run, to get used to the space on their own.  And we also know that if everything is unfamiliar all at the same time for all the birds, they will integrate more easily.  So the more new things we can expose them all to now, the better.

In our big shopping trip, we also picked up his and her trowels (we are so hip and sexy 🙂 ), so we don’t keep fighting for and losing the 1 we have now; I got some schmancy work gloves so that I don’t have to keep wearing through semi-disposable ones, and we picked up a roll of floating row cover at Lee Valley.  Now I had been looking forward to this.  Lee Valley advertises that they sell a 7′ x50′ roll of row cover for about $25.  A steal!  I had planned to get 2-3 rolls so that we can cold frame two of the raised beds and I can put my tomato seedlings out covered before we leave.  This would mean I don’t have to pot up 4 dozen baby tomatoes!  (No, that’s not all of them.  Another story.  I do have fewer than the more than 80 I started last year though.)

Unfortunately, the row cover Lee Valley sells turned out to be the really light stuff that’s great for pest protection over carrots and brassicas (and I still got some to use that way), but it’s not the heavier frost protection type that I’m using at the moment.  We have one bed set up thanks to a big roll we got at Costco last year, and it’s been 25-30 degrees (C) in there most days!  Which is why I wanted to get more and put the tomatoes out.  And all the other garden stores we checked only sold smaller rolls, sometimes for a lot more money.  So on my to do list for Monday is phoning around a bit–there’s an agricultural supply store in town in particular that I’m hoping can get me more for less.  If anyone local has any tips, let me know!

Unfortunately, when we got home, the monkey butlers hadn’t cleaned the house and done the laundry for us. 😦  Don’t you hate it when that happens? (it’s a Simpsons’ joke)  So the day’s not over yet.   But the chicks are curled up asleep upstairs, and the house is warm and quiet, and tomorrow will be a sunny workday outside.  So all’s well in the world for tonight at least.

Pics of all the projects to come tomorrow!

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Day One: I’m a Versatile Blogger!

Thanks to Stacey at YarnSalad, who tagged me with the pay-it-forward

Versatile Blogger Award!

I’m supposed to reveal 7 things about myself that readers of my blog wouldn’t know, and then tag 5-15 other Versatile Bloggers to share the good vibes.

So here goes nothing!

1. I’m a No-Poo Girl.  I have curly, fine, fluffy hair, and several years ago I read the revolutionary The Curly Girl Book.  In it, the author writes that the best thing curly girls can do is skip the shampoo. Curly hair doesn’t move the scalp’s natural oils down the hair shaft very well, and using shampoo that strips those oils away just makes things worse.  So rinse often, use a fair bit of conditioner to detangle, and then use a bit of gel on wet hair, air dry, and curls will stay in place and look good all day.  It’s brilliant!  My hair is no longer the bane of my existence, and feels completely predictable.  Even on my wedding day.

On the down side, this system means that I look like a wet rat every morning for a while until my hair dries.  And camping and sailing is a hair nightmare that I have yet to sort out (beyond threatening to cut it all off!).

2. I am addicted to the idea that moving house will solve all problems.  Careful readers of the blog may have figured this one out already, and those who know me will only be surprised that I am admitting to this problem in public.  I can’t help it!  We moved every few years as I was growing up, and my father, from whom I get this deficiency, even once moved us a few blocks away just because he liked the next house better.  Then I went to university and started moving every 4-10 months.  Then I travelled for a year.  Then I came back to BC and moved every year for another several years.  Even after I met my husband, he stayed in one place for several years while I bounced around every 8 months doing my PhD in another city and coming back to be with him for a few months in between.  The Skipper gets nauseous at the thought of packing a box.  I compulsively read the real estate flyers.  I’m working on it.

3.  I’m afraid of heights.  Some heights more than others.  Specifically, I get irrationally terrified when I’m on structures that are very high, but that I can see through the bottom of.  Trestle bridges, ferris wheels, roller coasters, even metal staircases that use grids (?) instead of full steps.  Don’t even get me started on gondolas.  I haven’t tested this one in a while, so I don’t know if I’ve gotten any better.  I should check.

4.  I LOVE stinky, peaty, full-strength single malt scotch.  I got hooked while living in Scotland.  I love dark beer, and drank a lot of it in Scotland.  In fact, I drank so much of it, that after a while my tolerance was getting ridiculous (ahh to be 23 again!), and I was tired of getting dehydrated on my way to getting tipsy.  Someone suggested I switch to whiskey (water of life), and I’ve never looked back.  Skipper and I made a pilgrimmage a few years ago to our favourite distilleries on the Isle of Islay, and we have photographs of said distilleries on our walls as our art.  Islay is a small island off the West Coast of Scotland.  It has distilleries, oysters, and cheesemakers.  We thought it was heaven! 🙂

5.  Red Wine Used to Make Me Sick.  Thank goodness I grew out of that one!  I don’t quite know how that happened, actually.  On said trip to Scotland, another reason I switched to whiskey was that every time I drank a couple of glasses of red wine, I ended up bent over the toilet.  Even at parties where I was trying to impress people with my coolness.  Sigh.  Thank god I’m not 23 anymore!

6.  I used to be a pretty decent knitter.  Taught a few folks, knit some nice garments, formed some knit groups; knitting was a real passion.  I’ve let it go and come back to it before, and I expect to again.  I love wool, love colour and texture, love working with my hands, love following a pattern.  But in the last couple of years of my PhD I dropped it, and I just haven’t picked it up again.  I have a beautiful stash upstairs that calls my name, though.

7.  I am descended from illegitimate children on both sides.  I grew up knowing that my dad’s father was born in England to a well-to-do unwed mother who sent him to live with another family.  (A long story that I will tell another time)  But we found out more recently that on my mother’s side, the ancestor who had come from Scotland (4 generations back?) came to Canada alone, with a small son.  The full story may never be known, but illegitimacy seems likely.  In fact, I’ve come to recognize that this history must describe a large percentage of us who are descended from colonials, or indeed from immigrants of any kind, especially from those who immigrated before say the 1970s.  Moving overseas was a convenient (and sometimes the only) option available to wipe the slate clean and start again.

So there you go!  Something new about me.  And now for the tag…who do I read who amazes me with their versatility, and who might be willing to share a little about themselves?

How about:

Miriam at Mucky Boots Farm.  Not only did she used to be a teacher and now is a farmer, but according to her blog, she is also now capable of jacking up a building!  Tell us more about your many talents, Miriam!

Amanda at As A Bee.  I don’t know if she’ll have time to participate, but Amanda is as resourceful and multi-talented as they come.  She knits, she makes honey, and she and her husband are currently raising a new baby while they liveaboard their sailboat.  Amazing!

Maeve at Life in the Cowichan Valley.  Again, I hope she has time to participate!  Maeve is a local writer and editor, and she’s currently participating in a very cool re-skilling group with women who are learning to do everything from sew to make sourdough bread to…well, go look at the list!

Another local blogger I’ve been reading recently is Rural Aspirations.  This writer is a new homesteader/farmer who is (I think) also homeschooling and designing their permaculture property.  Lots of interesting things going on over there!

Hmmm.  Well, I hadn’t intended to go with all local bloggers, but now that I have, I don’t want to break the pattern!  Unfortunately, I think those are all the bloggers I know about around here.  So I’ll throw out a wild card:

Neysa at Dissertation to Dirt.  Neysa’s is one of my favorite blogs, perhaps unsurprisingly, because she’s another academic who has switched to farming.  But Neysa’s put her money where her mouth is: she and her husband left school in the big city, farmed as apprentices for a couple of years, and are now in Austin, getting ready for their first season selling produce and flowers from their own farm!  Neysa doesn’t sugar-coat the reality of being a young farmer in the US, and I’ve learned a lot from her.  Even if she doesn’t have time to participate, she’s worth reading.

I’ll be contacting these talented–hey, they’re all women, too!–bloggers to invite them to continue the chain.  But even if they don’t, I hope you’ll check them out.  And I will just mention that the other blogs I read regularly are so brilliant they are intimidating.  But I’m a big fan of all listed in my blogroll…

Spring Blogging Goals

Well, I can’t quite belive it, but I am getting close to my one year blog-iversary!  May 13, 2010 I posted my first entry, creatively entitled, “Spring!” (or was it “May!”).  Incidentally, it will be interesting to compare garden notes with those May entries–the local garden expert was on the radio today confirming that we are 3 weeks behind average because of cold temps this spring.

At any rate, stats-wise, I’m pretty happy with how this blogging year has gone.  But a month or so back, I realized that I was creeping up to 100 posts.  And I thought, “Wouldn’t it be good to have done 100 posts in a year?”  Somehow, this would average out to blogging once every 3-4 days, which seems admirable, and might mitigate my long absences lately!  Now, with just a couple of weeks to go, my total posts (which I’m cheating a little, because I think that number includes drafts that I never posted, but there aren’t many of those) sit at 86.

I taught my last class of the semester this morning, and for the next 2 weeks, I’ll be marking, gardening, and getting ready for an upcoming trip.  If I’m going to attempt the 100 post mark by my anniversary, then this is as good a time as any.  So that means I’m setting myself a wee spring blogging goal: 14 posts (13 after this one!) in 15 days!

Now that’s asking a lot from someone who’s barely been posting once a week.  But I’m up for the challenge!  As it happens, there’s lots going on to blog about.  We’ve got a cold frame up over our new raised beds, seedlings ready to be transplanted, chicks about to be integrated with the older flock outside, a new flower bed just created, a herb bed in need of creating, morning glory threatening to take over our back 40 once again.  And, perhaps most fruitful, I’m reading Sharon Astyk’s thought-provoking book, Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front.  So stay tuned for more posts on wrestling with living in the present while preparing for an uncertain future (is there any other kind?).

And thanks to my friend Stacey, over at YarnSalad, for tagging me with the “Versatile Blogger Award” meme–you’ve given me something to get me started with tomorrow!

What’s in a Farm?

Naming is a powerful thing. I’m an English prof, so I pay a lot of attention to language and semantics, for better and for worse. As this year’s gone by, and as I’ve found myself struggling with an internal compulsion that seemed to be driving me to farm, I have continued to ask myself what this word means.

I wrote in my last post that it has become clear to me that I don’t want to garden, or to “yarden”, or to homestead. I want to farm. But I also know that I am the last person on earth who should be driving tractors, getting up before dawn to tend to herds of livestock, and all the other stereotypical images that usually come up when urbanites think of farmers.

Farming, in this era of social movements, anxiety about food security, and rapid innovation, is actually a rather contentious word. It’s an identity (farmer), a job, a career, a calling. We use the same word to describe a thousand acres of Round-up Ready canola or a hellish hog production facility as we do a small, family-run operation that sells in the local market square. To distinguish between all these vastly different types of farming, we add adjectives: conventional, industrial, small, organic, permaculture, market, family, corporate, industrial-organic, hobby, etc.

So what, despite all their differences, makes all of these farms?

There are many folks more experienced than me coming up with answers to these questions, but after lots of reflection this year, this is what I’ve come up with: farming–in my definition–means that a crop is developed to sell.

Here are some of the other distinctions that I’ve come up with; let me know what you think.

Gardening: growing for pleasure, ornamental and food
Yardening: Rob at OneStraw defines his terms…

Victory Gardening: growing a substantial amount of one’s own produce

Homesteading (Urban or otherwise): producing as many of the products (beyond just produce, and potentially beyond just food) consumed by the residents as possible.

Hobby Farming: small-scale farming in terms of the diversity of the activities performed: livestock, produce, etc, but the production is intended for fun, interest, passion, and/or sustenance. Some income may be produced, but is not the goal.  In these parts, hobby farmers usually have 2 full-time professional incomes, and the farm produces enough money to potentially gain “farm status” (which means a large reduction in property taxes), to maintain the agricultural status of the property (BC has Agricultural Land Reserve zoning that can make this important), and/or to break even with the costs of the farm (feed, etc).

Market Gardening: small-scale commercial production of produce for market

And, finally, what farming means in my world, and to me as I intend to approach it, means that I will have an integrated system of livestock, plant, and other food production designed to meet our own needs, but also designed as a income-producing venture. In other words, I don’t want to hobby farm not because of size or scale, but because I want to eventually make a living from farming as a commercial enterprise.

Now, I don’t expect to be able to make a living for some years yet, and perhaps we’ll farm on such a small-scale that we will never be able to replace one full-time income. But that’s the long-term goal.  I’ve realized that my compulsion is not just to grow to sustain my family, but to contribute food to the community.

This is a big leap, obviously, and there are a million details to work out.  And I will post another day about the actual vision that I’m working on.  But taking on the word farming to describe my vision, for me, brings a responsibility to my shoulders.  A responsibility to take my labour and costs seriously and to think about what sustainability in agriculture really means–and not just in my own backyard.

What’s in a Name?

As I follow the stories of others as excited as I am about growing food, I’ve often wondered if we qualify as a movement yet.  Actually, I’ve been wondering this for a few years, and the media coverage of a “growing movement” of folks rediscovering the joys and value of growing food at home has definitely increased in the last year.  But I’ve been wondering lately if the reason that this movement remains so grassroots (or feels like it to me, anyway) is that like many upswells in the environmental movement, it doesn’t have a name.

Or rather, everyone who comes to this place in their lives seems to be giving what they do their own name!  Over the last year or two, I’ve seen and heard folks describe what they are doing as gardening, victory gardening, yardening, backyard farming, urban homesteading (although apparently that name is now trademarked and I shouldn’t use it without permission!), homesteading, self-sufficient gardening, backyard homesteading, mini-farming, micro-farming, sub-acre agriculture… and that’s not even including the different variations on the names for the methods chosen: organic, beyond organic, biodynamic, biointensive, permaculture, food forestry, synergistic gardening, … what have I left out?!

In my own journey, I started by just wanting to grow some food and to have a garden at all.  For whatever reason, I’ve never been an urban gardener.  Even when I knew that I desperately wanted to do this, I couldn’t bring myself to do containers on the patio or take advantage of the rooftop raised beds in our last condo.  I equated gardening with–literally–roots.  And until I felt emotionally settled–rooted myself–I couldn’t plant anything.

When we were househunting, it became clear that I wasn’t looking for a garden.  I was looking for a GARDEN.  I didn’t want to just enjoy growing a few tomatoes or some fresh salad greens.  I wanted to grow everything we ate.  I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to do that in my first year (especially given some pretty limited experience!), but I would have argued with you if you had tried to convince me I couldn’t!  Go big or go home, apparently, is my personality (this will not be a surprise for anyone who has known me for any length of time).

I wanted to garden for self-sufficiency.  And I wanted to do it in the most ecologically harmonious way possible.  Along the way, I began to feel uncomfortable with the idea of vegetables and fruit as commodities at all.  I felt drawn and connected to my homesteading ancestors, and got interested in heirloom vegetables and heritage breeds of livestock.  More importantly, I felt drawn to the way a homestead was once an ecological system, with complex, four-dimensional (time being very much a factor) integrated relationships between every aspect: plants, pasture, livestock, water, humans (women, men, children, teenagers), weather, labour…

But I realized over this past winter that the problem with the homestead model, for me, is that it feels isolated.  I’ve been through this cycle before, feeling independent and wanting to go off and do my own thing apart from everyone else, and then realizing that there is no way to do anything apart from everyone else!  The homestead model existed only when the first wave of pioneers/colonial settlers in North America headed out to impose their ancestral farming knowledge on “new” lands. They did this, in many cases, with almost no supporting infrastructure, and many, many failed because it was so difficult.  But those who succeeded are icons of North American culture, and the model of the independent, hard-working, resilient individual who relied only on themselves for their success has been held up by our Protestant civilization for generations.

But now I’m on another stage in this journey, and the independent homesteader name with all the individualism it connotes just isn’t working for me.  And in fact, it’s another model that’s taken hold of my dreams: the small farm.

Now the definition of “small” has changed a lot, too, over these generations.  The traditional small family farm was still comprised of tens of acres, if not hundreds, and it was a synergistic fit with other aspects of the culture of its time: the large family and the tight-knit community.  In our industrial culture, we idealize those days and romanticize those who keep them alive, like the Amish and the Mennonites.

As I’ve dreamed about making my own property along these traditional lines, though, I’ve run into all kinds of problems because that synergy just isn’t in my current variables.  We are two people with no children who have other full-time jobs (much as we’re willing to downsize those!).  Our small property has no pasture (no lawn!) and few flat spaces.  Our garden beds (apart from the raised beds we just built) are not flat, laid out in any kind of grid or even in the ground (!), so many of the tools that are designed to help with production on a small farm are not viable here.   And according to some calculations, there’s no way we would ever produce enough income from the land size we have to make our labour at it worthwhile (except as a hobby).

At the same time, it’s become clear to me that I have an unbridled passion that longs to be let loose as farming.  I cannot relate to those who putter and grow a few things for fun.  I want to provide food and relationships for my community, not just for my husband and me.  I had an epiphany a few weeks ago when I realized that other people, even those invested in food security issues etc, do not necessarily want to talk for hours about planting peas (shocking, but true!).  I have finally clued in that I have the heart of a (small) farmer and it’s time to embrace my secret passion.

Now I’ve struggled this year with this compulsion taking hold.  I knew that I wanted to name myself a farmer and my property a farm.  But so much seemed to stand in the way!  The word “farm” is a significant one, with many implications–social, historical, commercial, legal.  And a farmer is someone who gets up before dawn, milks cows, works insane hours physically, barely makes a living, is in mountains of debt, and is too busy with farming to do anything else.  Right?

Well I hope not.  Because I don’t want to move house, I don’t like to get up before daylight, and I have no upper body strength.  But I still want to farm.  And the amazing thing is, once I stopped fighting how impossible it was for me to farm here and started thinking about how I might be able to make it work, the possibilities seemed to open up dramatically.  So stay tuned… Backyard Feast is becoming something old and something new all at once.  And I have a name already picked out.  I’m just not quite ready to share it yet.

Future Fruit!

The spring progress continues!  Over the weekend, we finally picked up some more fruit trees to expand our mini-orchard.  The property came with myriad berries, currants, and apple trees, but no other tree fruit.  Last spring we planted 2 cherry trees, one Lapin, and one 4-way combo (brilliant invention, these!).  This year we knew we wanted plums.

Our local nursery sells about a dozen types of plums, so it’s taken a while to figure out what to get!  We knew we wanted an Italian Prune, for fresh eating, jam, and possibly prunes (which the Skipper LOVES).  But what else?  We looked at all the possibilities: goldens, red hearts, Santa Rosa, a variety of Asian options, Damsons and Green Gages.  There were even combo options.  But in the end, we ended up with a Seneca, which reportedly produces large, juicy, sweet fruit and also makes excellent jam and prunes.  In the end it may not be much different than the prune plum, but as long as it’s tasty, that’s ok!

Here’s the expanding orchard, all mulched and ready for the growing season.

The combo cherry is in the front here, the two plums behind.  There’s also a medlar tree in the middle, and another cherry in the back corner.  Around the base of each tree is some cardboard over the weeds (to smother and keep new ones from coming up, and the weeds decomposing under the cardboard provide a nitrogen source), then a layer of manure and soil mix, then the straw to keep the moisture in and the weeds down (and easy to pull).  We did get some sawflies on the cherries last year, and I’m also hoping I’ve buried them with this process so that they won’t return this spring.

In other fruit news, I had done the stupendous job of creating a new, orderly strawberry bed out of a hugely overgrown one located where we were putting in the new raised beds.  Over the weekend, I decided it had rained enough (!) to mulch them well.  I’m so happy to have this bed ready!  Here’s hoping it produces well, even though I think a new bed doesn’t hit its fruit peak until the second year.  We are willing to U-Pick for strawberries if necessary this year.

Lastly, the raspberries are starting to come up, but it doing so, they are demonstrating the unbelievable power of the cold frame.  We had a cold frame (poly over a light wood frame) that fit over one of the old raised beds that we didn’t have anywhere to put away a couple of months ago.  So we put it temporarily over the pruned back raspberry canes, where it only fit over about 2/3rds of the bed.

Well here we are a couple of months later:

Growing Berries Outside the Box

These are everbearing raspberries, which means that 2 types of growth happen at once.  The green shoots you can see growing out of the pruned canes will produce a spring crop of berries, and the shoots you see coming out of the ground will become canes that produce fruit in the late summer until frost.  Genius!

So, umm, here’s what it looks like under the poly:

Hothouse Berries

All of which leaves me with only one question:  Can we put poly over the WHOLE garden?!

A Taste of Freedom

Well, we had another busy and productive weekend.  I love spring! (and I look forward to seeing it sometime soon–will the rain ever stop?!).

The Skipper spent the days working on the chicken run.  The chicks have been enjoying their roomy coop, and I’ve been regularly bringing them weeds, bugs, and dirt for treats, but we do want them to be able to experience the adventure of finding these on their own as soon as possible!  There have been a few issues standing in the way: the temperatures are still pretty low, unless the sun comes out for a little while; I seeded the run with some rye and clover and they haven’t quite filled in yet; and last, there has been no fenced area to contain the chicks if we were to let them out–not sure we’d be able to get them back in again!

We can’t control the weather or the growing speed, but Skipper went to work on the pen.

The run is 8 ft wide at the coop, 4 ft wide at the other end, and about 18ft long.  Should be lots of room for the eventual 8 max hens that will be our laying flock.  The birds also have access to the space under the coop, which you can see has also been covered in raccoon-proof wire (hardware cloth).  The fencing around the pen will also get a 2 ft wrap of hardware cloth around the bottom, buried apron-style about 6″ outside the pen (to prevent digging critters.  The top will also get fencing to prevent raptors from getting in.  We have a spectacular pair of eagles nesting in the trees next door.  Beautiful to watch, but we’re trying to feed us, not them!

Once the main fencing was up, Skipper wanted to take the chickies for a test run.  So we opened the access (pop) door, put the ramp in place, and I went into the run to entice the birdies into the big wide world.

The brave Buffs were the first to venture out, followed closely by the Wyandottes, who always want to prove they are the head of the pack–even when they are nervous!  Soon all the Buffs, the two big-girl Wyandottes, and the Australorp roo were all happily exploring the fresh grounds.  They gobbled up the rye and clover sprouts, scratched through the weeds, and hunted through the dirt.  They didn’t at all seem to mind the cool temps (as evidenced by my thick wool hat!), but the 3 Australorp girls were having none of it.  They got to the door and peered out, but could not be lured beyond the top of the ramp.

Scaredy 'Lorps!

Now, Australorps are literally Australian-Orpingtons, so maybe they are just waiting for more sunshine.  Hopefully we’ll be able to tempt them out next time!  It was a pleasure to see the little ‘lorp roo out in the daylight, though–the iridescence green in the dark black feathers was clearly visible.  Gorgeous!

After several minutes, we were ready to go eat dinner and thought that was enough time for the chickies to be out in the cool evening.  Some of the birds managed to get the hint and walked contentedly back up the ramp to the heat lamp.  But the Buffs were loving the taste of the outdoors and needed more convincing before they willingly walked (up) the plank, beaks covered with dirt. 🙂

Too fun!