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.

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.

 

hen loss.

We lost two hens today.

I spotted a neighbour’s dog in our yard as I was going back to the shop from the pasture to get another styrofoam decagone to stuff into the culvert to get the winter water pumps installed. I thought it was our dairy calf Simon at first, but there was a meaner look to him. I ran towards him, saw piles of feathers and a hen run past me. I chased the dog back to his property, completely distraught and probably wailing.

At first, I couldn’t see any of the hens. I eventually found one, unscathed, held and hugged her, and put her safely in her coop. All alone. I found another in the shop later on, this one with half of her back feathers missing and a sad looking scar on her back. I made sure she could still get up to the roosts and nesting boxes and tucked them in for the night, heavy hearted.

 

 

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These hens are the closest thing I’ve had to a pet in over a decade. They follow me around the yard and in the garden, and are such a pleasure to have, free ranging about, eating the compost, holding their own with the barn cats, playing around the sand piles with kiddo. Along with our dairy duo, the hens make this place a farm to me. More than the cattle herds which are often too far from the house to hear or see them, or the farm machinery strewn about the yard.

I am so sadenned by this loss. I know this is a cattle farm and animals die for us to make a living. But these weren’t meat birds. They were friend birds.

 

Hopefully we’ll be able to get a few guest birds to share the coop this winter. Heating a chicken coop can be a bit of a fire hazard (straw + heat + closed coop), so the best thing to do, I’ve read, is to make sure you have enough birds to produce enough heat to keep themselves warm. A duo will surely be cold in there.

the end of october.

 

Colder times are upon us. We wake up to frost and bundle up before going out to work or play. We’re still in the midst of our big water works project, with more than half of the trench dug, pipe laid, and backfilled. it’s going to cost us more than we budgeted but we keep reminding ourselves that getting water to all the pastures is a really solid and important investment. Orchards, market gardens, etc. It opens up interesting opportunities for ourselves and the community we’re hoping to create here.

Speaking of community, some kind (feminist! food sovereign!) folks from town have lent us their dehydrator. It’s the perfect solution to my pumpkin seed drying woes. The first batch is dry as a fiddle and crispy as a chip. Time to roll up my sleeves and get the seeds out of the other 30 some pumpkins.

 

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In other news, D. got his bus out on Friday. He’s been a stapple here, one of the family. It was hard to see him go. Luckily kiddo loves to talk about the people he misses but in joyful ways. Telling us what the person would be doing, or yelling out their names so that we include them in our songs. The last thing D. did before we drove off  was to sit across the tractor’s forks to take a good aerial shot of the corral that he worked so hard on. It was quite a happy sight.

 

 

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I’m also quite grateful that I met these friendly town folks right before this departure. It gives me renewed hope that we won’t always be alone here, this nuclear family of mine.. that our home will again know the sounds of friendship and laughter like it did this summer.

 

We had one of our last family harvest days. Getting the chard, the beets, the beet greens, and the cabbage sorted, into the cooler or into buckets for processing.

 

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Récolter les choux avec mon chou. C’est beau quand même.

 

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And with the below freezing temperatures, I thought it wise to move the hens from their chicken tractor to the old coop in the barn. When I first saw the coop, I vowed that I’d build something new for the hens, convinced that they needed a cozier home than this. But time got away on me this summer and with a thick layer of straw, it doesn’t look so bad. plus the place is full of roosts, has light bulbs in it, and hooks to hang both the feeder and the waterer, which is super handy. And as much as I’d love to paint them a cheery mural, the paint will be pecked and the chips are quite toxic, so this is alright.

 

 

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As a previously urban person, though, it’s hard to move past this feeling (this conviction!) that all of these animals need to be indoors. I could appreciate that the dairy calf enjoyed frolicking in fields during the heat of June, but in the dead of a cold winter? Seems unlikely to me.

For all I know the conventional animals are itching to get outside, I guess.

 

Next up, packing a whole lot of beef into boxes and digging up the better part of the potato patch.

 

some things i’ve learned today.

this is why we (adults) haven’t been eating cherry tomatoes.

(fact : the hens peck and eat only the red ones. the child picks and squishes only the green ones.)

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no one needs 10 zucchini plants. no one. lesson learned.

(fabulous irony : i had just finished loading the zucchini into the wheelbarrow, as no other recipient would hold them all, when a neighbour drove into our yard to offer us a welcome zucchini loaf and some welcome zucchini relish.)

also, even if you vow to be very diligent about harvesting zucchini before they turn into monster zucchini, if you’re kinda zucchini-ed out (and too well aware of the mountain of blanched and grated zucchini already in your freezer), it’s hard to be disciplined about it.

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knowing when to harvest vegetables is as important as knowing when to plant them (especially if they’re under row cover and you don’t check on them for some time. but even then : some plants flower and they’re « going to seed » (and you should PANIC!) and some « are flowering » which is no cause for concern. ou encore, a nice plump vegetable is good, except if you’re a bean, and then slender is really best. etc.)

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No matter how much chard you think you have, once it’s blanched, the whole lot will almost fit in your pocket. immanquablement.

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A calf can do a number on a chicken coop. Some hoof holes in the coop meant some early comings and goings for the hens. Luckily all four are still with us. We patched up the tractor’s edge with plywood and voilà ! the coop will last until D. and I build a fancy roomy one with bike wheels.

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the cows and calves like watching these two buddies as much as the buddies like watching them, je pense.

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coop break : free run

 

simon, our beloved head butting dairy calf, took it upon himself this morning to do something that i couldn’t yet muster the courage to do : let the chickens run free and see if they would indeed, come home to roost at night. he nudged the coop door open and out they flocked. they’re still all accounted for a few hours later.

 

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in my hesitation to take the totally free range plunge, i thought that simon might be a menace for the hens. but simon has proved himself to be a benevolent liberator (he licks the hens).

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i also worried the ferral cats would attack them, but the cat-kitten trio that hangs around closest to the house seemed more puzzled and curious than aggressive. plus the birds are pretty meaty compared to the cats.

 

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also : the hens can now take dirt baths under the porch,

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and check out the bicycles.

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‘every year it dies on him’

 

what a day.

i’m glad i stumbled onto this article yesterday. reading these passages, i can come to terms with the fact that the chronic overwork here has nothing to do with our shoddy workpersonship, or lack of know-how.

I just wanted to get across how much you struggle, how much of yourself you pour into a farm. And ultimately the farm dies. Ultimately there’s only so much you can do. Because I’ve watched my dad my whole life completely invest all of his being into this farm, and every year it dies on him. And every time he’s sort of shocked, like ‘Oh my God, really? It didn’t all work out somehow?’

My experience of the farm was always like, ‘Shit, our backs are up against the wall, this farm is teetering, what are we going to do?’

 

maybe it’s just how it goes.

 

the potato beetles have invaded the tomato patch, a newborn calf isn’t doing well, the two herds ended up in the same pasture due to a busted fence (which will mean a good half day of work to get them back into separate fields), the electric garage door is jammed open (also a solid half day’s work to fix), and i have yet to stake the tomato plants. it’s also becoming clear that the laying hens want more space than our chicken tractor can afford. i’m not sure i’m sold on the tractor idea anymore. it’s nice to have different animals doing a rotation on the pasture, but not nice enough to justify cramped quarters for livestock who live on a roomy 270 acre farm.

also, we finished the shade structure i had started for Ursula Franklin, but she hasn’t set hoof under it. it might take a while (and some highly desirable edible being placed there at first), but it’s an underwhelming response, for sure.

 

the saving grace on days like these is really our toddler-adult rotation. i’m with kiddo in the morning, and he alternates one afternoon with p., one with our good friend d. who’s here working with us for the summer. because more than the sheer amount of work to do, the really taxing part for me is the lack of consecutive minutes and hours to do the work (outside of the 1.5 hour of nap, and post-bedtime, anywhere between 8pm and 9:30pm).

it’s quite stellar that this child gets to grow and play in the company of three adults who love and get a kick out of him. and while i worry and wish that he got to spend more time with other littles (we were SO well served in the city with drop ins and playgroups, library storytimes and public parks), i think this rotation at least provides some diversity (and time to regenerate patience for this mama).

 

 

because sometimes when you’re losing the weeding and potato beetle battle, spending a few afternoon hours rocking out and getting some filth off the old inherited ceiling fans makes you feel surprisingly productive.

 

and tomorrow is another day.

 

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here our star head butting calf, that p. affectionately calls ‘Simon’, poses with the laundry.