in the thaw

 

it’s been a really good couple of weeks. i don’t know if it’s the completion of our financial planning for the year (and our first year really using holistic resource management planning tools together, p. and i), the fact that we have a number of rad farm-based projects on the go, that i’ve been managing to spend more time with other adults, or that every family member just happens to be in a good place at the same time, but i’ll take it.

spring is coming and going. we’re making the most of it.

the hens have started venturing further from the barn, joining us in our work and play when we’re out in ‘the yard’.

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we’re making concrete plans to repair things we’ve been wanting to get to since moving here.

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and we’re soaking in our puddles. today we learned that old baking sheets make really excellent ferries.

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(in other news, while amortization and depreciation are fascinating concepts, thinking about them too much in your day to day is probably unnecessary and can make you go a bit bonkers.)

 

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the wrapping up.

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We’ve had a hell of a time trying to harvest and bale dry hay for winter feed for the herd since moving here. It’s meant spending a lot of money we don’t have on buying and transporting hay, the quality of which has sometimes been spotty, and having P. spend a lot of time raking and giving it multiple goes (thus making family time and the distribution of reproductive/caring labour more arduous). We explored our options and when it was all said and done, the making of silage–fermented grass forage crops–was our best bet. That said, we hate plastic. It sadly means that we’re now making those big white plastic marshmallow sausages you see on the side of highways. But it also means we’ll be able to ensure quality feed for the cows who’ll have wee nursling calves by their sides all winter, that we’re closer to ensuring our own food sovereignty on the farm, and that this whole farming thing might eventually be more than the debt- sentence it has been. Fingers crossed.

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The wrapper is working well and P. seems optimistic. Plus this system will mean less hauling of bales and bale wagons all winter, and thus less burning of diesel.

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Otherwise, things are growing and moving along. We might be ready for winter by the time it rolls around this year. I’m not proclaiming that winter will be « coffee and cards season » as I naïvely did this time last year, but we might not be scrambling, which is something.

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Our fab farm help, J. has been building ten of these windbreaks to have shields from our mighty northern winter winds for the cattle. They’re all about the yard now, which makes this place look like the staging area for some grand agricultural theater. The whimsy pleases me. And the look of all these wooden crafted things — the feeder, the pig shelters, the windbreaks, the grain bin frames and the walk-in freezer shelving — makes it feel like things are moving along, especially for this mostly house and yard bound mama of a wee babe.

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Despite being left to their own devices, some of the crops are producing. And I’m working on my ‘letting go’.

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With the crisp smell of autumn in the mornings, I’m grateful we ordered fire wood some time ago, and that kind visitors have started the stacking. With a wee kid in the house, we didn’t want to be as cold as we were last winter so we have sixteen cords this year. Fingers crossed we don’t run out again in February.

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Last week, I found out that a perk to agreeing to do early morning radio interviews is that I get to wake up before the kiddos and see what this farmstead looks like in all of its early morn misty glory. Comme quoi, malgré son look ‘old bachelor farm’ there’s some timeless charm to this place.

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on eggs and gardens.

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For the last week, my farm mornings have been slightly ruined by my being a ‘road rage’ sort of mess because of the barn cats. The (misguided? paralysing) compassion that has kept me from doing something about this terrible year-long ethical dilemma is running low. (Long story short : when we bought the farm, we inherited 8+ unsterilised feral barn cats to whom I’ve been feeding kibble but who are inbred, and predictably, procreating. Most of the kittens don’t make it, but they’ve been looking worse for wear, the lot of them, and we’re/I’m getting tired of all the cat faeces in the garden/barn/etc., amongst other woes. We’re allowing the breeding of cat misery : wrong. I don’t know how to euthanize or sterilize cats we can’t catch : problematic.) So with the hens free rangeing, and in the barn’s coop at night (as opposed to the chicken tractor I used last year), the cats have taken to hanging out in the coop — which I’m not down with, in part because I suspect they’re the culprits for some eaten eggs, and because, heck, they can’t own this whole place (plus I refuse to clean cat faeces out of a chicken coop, it’s too much and I’m too pregnant).

This morning, I opened the coop later in the day and I found one eaten egg (the hens have been doing this?! est-ce possible? why would they start doing this now, when they have such a luscious varied summer diet?!) and a white egg! These hens have been laying only brown eggs since they arrived over a year ago. Je n’en croyais pas mes oreilles. I need to solve this though — we only have 3 hens at this point, so already not a big egg surplus, and it seems like a poor use of limited funds to pay for organic layers mash (hen food) if we’re not going to get eggs this summer.

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Cela dit, the hens are well. They’re happy seeming, great company when I’m working in the garden and still missing feathers from their run-in with the neighbours dog last summer.

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P. harvested our garlic scapes tonight. (It would seem that I’m eager to plant, but not so to harvest.. the joy of seeing a bountiful garden trumps good eats, strangely). I felt like a real ‘foodie cool kid’ seeing our very own scapes in the kitchen.

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The beans are climbing !

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The beautiful Vermont Cranberry dry beans from la Ferme Tourne-Sol are looking like they’ll be plentiful encore this year. Cracking open those shells to find purplish-pink dry beans might be one of my fave Autumn garden activities.

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Some favourite leaved plants. I’m especially hopeful about the brussels sprouts (the second). I hear they don’t love the heat, but they’re one of my very favourite vegetables and I somehow managed to not eat a one last year. Plus those giant cones they grow on look pretty awesome.

The spinach u-pick idea is no more (to seed you go! down with blanching!) but replaced with a bok choi and lettuce mix u-pick. We sure know how to overdo it.

the beloved hens, greenery and the rains.

The hens are finally free rangeing! It took them a while to leave the barn, maybe because of the presence of our new dog friend Harvey, but they’ve made it to the compost heap and the garden and have been eating bugs and dust bathing just like in the old days. After seeing Harvey « play » with the tiny kittens and leave them quite unscathed, it occured to me that these hens would be able to hold their own. And they have. The hens and dog even share the space under the porch when the rains come.

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For some reason, it really does warm my heart to see the barn cats, the survivor kittens, Harvey and the hens share the yard and barn so well. If they can find a way to peacefully co-exist, to share kibble and compost, there might be hope yet for us humans. En tout cas, je l’espère.

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Our first glorious strawberry harvest !  A nice break from all the spinach and lettuces.

Speaking of spinach, I’m very tempted to put a « u-pick spinach » sign at the road. On the bright side, as of today, I have 33 pounds (and counting) of blanched spinach in our freezer.

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The beans now have some poles to climb and the snap peas have a net — which feels like the farm’s way of saying hats off to the FIFA women’s world cup soccer stars.

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They’ll be a while yet, but the sunflowers will grace the garden again this year.

To say that it’s been quite wet would be an understatement. And we’re all wearing sweaters again tonight. Not sure how this garden will fare this season. Hopefully better than the hay.

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After getting stuck in some hefty mud, P. finishes seeding grasses into the ‘old road’.

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And this discbine, parked close to the garden, totally smells like sileage (to my still-urban nose) and has been bringing a whole lot of memory lane my way as I’ve been weeding and harvesting this week. When I was in my seventh month of pregnancy with F., P and I went cycle-touring across his terre mère, the Netherlands. We pedalled our way across cities and through lovely rural landscapes and the smell of sileage was pretty salient, as it was so new to me. So here’s to farms and pregnancies and to the moving of bodies in ways that feel nourishing, albeit exhausting at times.

june on the farm : brassicas and bullcalves, swathers and spinach.

Summer has arrived and lovely green things have sprouted in the garden. I want to say « against all odds! » and realize that a) this was my anthem last year; and b) it’s a bit over the top. The garden is not growing against all odds. Seeds want to grow. Especially the ones that are direct seeded, I’ve found.

I got very excited reading Elliot Coleman during the winter months and convinced myself it was a great idea to seed a lot of crops in trays in the basement under lights to ensure both a better use of (near unlimited) space in the garden and to avoid excessive crouching and squatting. The seedlings didn’t fare very well at all. The lights were too high off the trays (which left us with spindly everythings) and either it was too cold, or they would have liked to be watered from the bottom or more regularly or something. Oh and the bulk of plants that made it to transplant day were then killed by a surprise frost a few days later. Ha! All this to say, I am not a market gardener and I don’t need early or exquisite crops. So I may skip the whole pre-planting thing next year.

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The bull calves + Ursula (our family dairy cow) left the barn area, ate away our side pasture to a nice manageable height, and were moved across the road, where they’re intensively rotationally grazing with glee.

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This is also, hopefully, the last year that yearlings need to be purchased. The plan is to grow our own herd. To overwinter animals and keep them on the farm for two years before sending them to the abattoir to be CSA beef shares. Here are those new yearlings, taking in their new summer home.

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Here’s P. posing with our new-to-us and very old swather ! Why a swather, you ask? To cut grain crops. P. has seeded barley and triticale which we’re planning to use as pig feed next year (to make the endeavour more financially viable as organic feed is pretty costly).

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One victory of the last weeks has been P. and J. removing all the rotten pressure treated forest green and orange fenceposts from around the barn pasture. The colour scheme of this place makes me sigh a mighty sigh almost daily and seeing those posts being harvested one by one and carried off brought great joy to my heart. Now we just need to finally host that great « Paint the Barn Red! » event and I will be one happy camper. (I’m serious, if you’re reading this and interested, let me know. We’ll make it a fun time, I promise.)

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And piglets ! Twenty-four piglets, who were around six weeks old, arrived late last week. They have been on pasture since Monday and have gotten the hang of it. Sadly, one little guy, lovingly nicknamed Pickle isn’t doing super well, but his buddies are happy and healthy as clams.

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The barn cat problem is far from resolved, sadly. The good folks at the SPCA can’t help (their feral barn cat pilot project starts after Christmas, turns out), so I’m at a bit of a loss, again, as to how to proceed. Perhaps the municipality has some solutions to offer, but in the meantime, our seven or so adult cats are looking very worse for wear, the kittens are not as numerous as they were (although at least they are no longer being hidden in barn walls and feed bags by their mothers as they were a month ago), and the sadness that comes with feeding these sad looking animals daily is wearing on me. If it is unethical to shoot them, (as rural/farm folk have suggested we do), then leaving them all to fight and procreate and lose the battle to whatever disease(s) seems equally heartless.

With research work winding down, the garden has been weeded and (some) tidy rows of growing things have been uncovered. The beans and peas, potatoes, rutabaga, kale, cauliflower, lettuces, spinach, sweet corn, popcorn, leeks and onions have so far really shone. There seems to be too few summer and winter squash plants, so I hope I haven’t swung the pendulum too far the other way (in an effort to not have to deal with the processing of wheelbarrowfuls of zucchini and Godiva pumpkins).

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The week’s personal victory (save for finding a doula for my upcoming birthing!) was the blanching and freezing of 18 pounds of spinach. Take that winter ! Saag paneer year round !

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And last but not least, and to confirm that « home ownership is not all it’s cracked up to be », a few of our appliances have decided to have a little race to the bottom as of late. The dishwasher now spews the occasional moat, the 85 gallon toilet sometimes thinks we’re interested in a nice continuous « babbling brook » soundtrack, and our old wall oven has gone and burnt its bottom element clear through. Luckily I have a wicked smart partner who can cook the best of quiches using a stock pot and a canning rack to create an « oven like » heat.

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The list of things to get done before birthing is too long. For those visiting this summer, our house may very well not be painted majestic blue by the time you arrive, and we may not have a deck or any outdoor seating that isn’t cement or a wagon. Please bear with us.

Stay tuned for my next post on the theme of : stress and precarity.

Thanks Danny ! Or : Why I still don’t care for lawns.

Today, in an effort to truly (and productively) procrastinate and to pull my (pregnant) weight, I took on the job that no one, since the farm departure of our dear friend Danny, cares for. I got on the ride-on mower and proceeded to butcher our field of dandelions and tall wild grasses.

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I’ve come to the conclusion that I am well served by my complete disregard for nice lawns. The first 15 minutes or so were entertaining (mostly because of our substantial terrain slopes and because the speeds on these mowers are indicated by turtles and hares) and then, I was brainstorming a business that would see me traveling about with a herd of small livestock to graze people’s lawns in lieu of mowing. (But I couldn’t come up with an animal that would be happy to graze, consistent enough in its grazing, and that produces small, sufficiently unobstructive poop. The cattle certainly won’t do on the poop front, the pigs would total the lawn (a blessing perhaps?), and the hens have a mind of their own and will always prefer seedlings and cherry tomato buds to lawn.)

It was a humbling experience though as I’ve chuckled at people on ride-on mowers more than once, and because apparently a very pregnant lady with a big sun hat on a mower, plowing through knee-high dandelions, is worth a good stare.

All this to say : big thanks to Danny for mowing and weed wacking all of last summer.

The lawn will surely be exponentially more uneven and unkempt this year.

our second farm spring

Today, I love this seeder as much as I love coffee.

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Contending with a third trimester belly, a toddler who’s most likely suffering a UTI, some solid sleeplessness and a long weekend (i.e. farmer spouse keeps farm working, daycare provider has holiday), this thing is as cherished as it is rickety.

In other news, the spinach has come up nicely, the garlic made it through the winter, and the strawberry plants are slowly but surely growing too.

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P. found a giant old culvert to replace the one that’s just not cutting it down in the valley, in part because we’re getting rid of the road soon.

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Take that erosion and boot mud cakes! Who needs roads when you can have more pasture.

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Also, our very handy summer farm help, J., has built three shade and shelter homes for the twenty-four piglets who’ll soon join our ménagerie.

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To say nothing of this gorgeous feeder.

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Sadly, our barn cat problem is alive and well. When moving the last of the hay bales, P. found three kitten nests (which he moved to prevent them being trampled by the bull calves). Not sure how many will make it, and not sure how to solve this ongoing problem. Predictably, my strategy of giving them kibble is not having the desired effect of encouraging them all to relocate (in my defense, it did solve the problem of the sad looking hungry cats all over the place).

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It would appear that the heyday of summer and farm work are upon us.

And ha!, juste comme ça, we’ve been living on this farm for a year now.

and the cars came marching in.

Yesterday was a bit of a heartache on the ideological front.

I drove a 6 hour commute to get to a research gig and we bought a second family car.

This time last year, I was commuting to work on a bicycle, I didn’t know how to drive, we owned a car for business purposes and hid it in the garage the rest of the time (in part because we were paying to rent the garage but not a ‘parking spot’ and didn’t want our landlord knowing we had a vehicle). And here we are. A two car family. A two car family who thinks about and worries about its environmental footprint and buys fuel efficient used cars, but a two car family nonetheless.

It all makes sense : we live quite rurally on a road without a proper shoulder (not at all bike-with-kids safe), we need the car for beef deliveries which means I’m stranded at the farm with a child two Saturdays out of four, we adults have a slew of solo summer engagements on the horizon, and with a percolating fœtus in my uterus, my comfort level with being here alone with kiddo sans car whole days is growing pretty thin.

 

I know our footprint as quasi-(alt)homesteaders is offset to some extent in some ways, but having spent decades demonizing car culture, it’s quite the switch. And even though it’s the right choice for us at this point in time, oi! is it ever uncomfortable.

 

And I wonder then, is it surprising that even the ‘bébés’ go for car and bus rides all the time?

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In lighter news, the snow is melting. The frozen, sleeping garden will soon be awake and blooming again. I’m starting to feel it.

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on winter and homesickness.

 

It is cold and desolate around these parts.

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I am looking forward to the season of holiday visitors. It’ll brighten this place for me, as I remember longingly all the summer friends who shared our home and broke bread with us. The workload has yet to lighten, and the promised winter farm « cards and coffee » season has yet to really make its appearance. The novelty of heating this home with our wood stove has worn off, as has wearing long johns all the time.

I took the day yesterday and drove myself to the city. No small feat as I’ve only been driving, and driving standard, for some eight months now. It was my second time going it without another adult, and the first time sans kiddo. There were no close calls, no missed highway exits, and no overwhelmed teary traffic moments. I parked on a residential street and went to sit in a busy café, ordered a hot organic beverage without feeling like a weirdo, and took in the very pleasant and very familiar feeling of being in a crowd, unconcerned about seeming friendly enough or welcoming enough. Being both mildly interesting and uninteresting to those around is a real treat. I hadn’t realized how exhausting small town shopping was for me until yesterday. (And this begs the question : have introverted people found ways of living rurally and happily without resorting to becoming hermits?) I took in the joy of jaywalking, the pleasure of having quick friendly conversations with acquaintances, and being able to walk to cross a number of errands off a to-do list.

I realize now I’m quite city-homesick.

I think living in a mighty and in many ways unforgiving landscape requires that you either muster that same feeling of might in yourself, or that you foster a great humility of your person (ideally both). I remember feeling this as I lived near the Atlantic some years ago. But both the might and humility require much resilience, and mine feels very frayed right now.

 

 

On another note, a hen died yesterday. I was pretty devasted. One of our original four. The one that had been badly injured by a neighbour’s dog. Her feathers hadn’t really grown back, as they have on the other who was mauled. I don’t know if it was the result of the injury or the cold. I can’t seem to find authoritative information on keeping hens warm enough in our Canadian winter. Some sources seem pretty cavalier, some very unpractical.

The hens are in the barn, with plenty of straw, out of wind’s way, and with a heated waterer, but I worry it isn’t enough. I’ll add a big wooden nesting box to facilitate cozying up and try to see if there’s a way of getting a heating lamp in there without it being high up on the ceiling (and thus useless). Up until now, I haven’t used a light, because they get all the daylight we do from the coop and from what I understand it’s to stimulate egg production moreso than for hen wellbeing and really, if they need a break from production to stay warm and keep their energies, that is more than fine by me.

What sucks about all of this is, because it hasn’t been financially viable for farmers to call veterinarians about hen care (as a vet averages at 65$ an hour and most hens cost around 20$), it is hard to find vets who know about hens. If we housed cats in that coop, we’d have no problem having them seen by professionals.

Perhaps I should just knit them all ponchos to assuage this feeling of guilt.