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.

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.

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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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.

 

the cattle side of things.

 

in three weeks’ time, the farm stay of our beloved friend d. will sadly come to a close. it occured to me that i should take full advantage of having a third adult here to spend my afternoons (sans kid) working with p. learning more about the cattle side of things. i’m appreciating this time of out of doors problem solving. to walk through these late fall pastures along red hills. to get this very real sense of why p. does what he does and why he loves it.

as much as i claim to love the great outdoors, i spend an awful lot of time indoors.

and there is something to be said about songbirds and flocks of geese. muddy boots and the smell of these trees.

 

 

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here the yearlings are grazing in the fields that have recently been combined. we have about four tons of oats and a dozen bales of straw to show for it. some of those oats will be for ursula (our dairy cow) and the straw will be used mainly as bedding for her, for the hens, (and any other animal needing it), and for the garden (there will be no weeding between rows next year! and hopefully fewer potato beetles and no late blight).

 

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helping move fences to give the cattle fresh pasture. giving me an appreciation for the migration patterns that intensive rotational grazing seeks to mimick.

 

 

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i drove the quad for the first time (standard driving? no problem!). oftentimes when the cattle are moved to a new pasture, the pasture pumps need to be moved as well. p. used to do this with a wheelbarrow, but we’re taking advantage of the farm quad this year.

 

 

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in the spring, we signed up, p. and i, to take part in an organic plant breeding trial with the university of manitoba. we’re growing some wheat (including some red fife!) for them and ourselves. sadly, we seeded in fields that aren’t tiled drained, and that haven’t gotten enough love these past years to be able to absorb the rainfalls. we’re working on it, but in the meantime, i’m not sure we’ll get great yields. hélas.

 

 

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there are days and weeks when i still really wonder what i’m doing here and what will come of all of this. and there are others when i’m traipsing in wet fields with these two and feeling pretty grateful and content that we get to work together, to learn and to create this together. the rest just might sort itself out, j’me dis.

 

autumn harvests.

 

the harvests of this season too, have been good to us.

 

i don’t know if it’s quite a year’s worth of heirloom popcorn that has grown here, but it’s certainly a decent start.

 

 

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the chard and kale are somehow still thriving, the last of the apples are slowly getting picked, and our doorstep is full of goods to process. to avoid more unfortunate losses, i’ve vowed to process a crop a day. (and that zucchini is still the bane of my days)

 

 

 

 

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as we harvest the kale and make room under the top branches, the hens have taken to resting and taking dust baths under the foliage.

 

 

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(special thanks to leah stokes who thinned the carrot rows in the heat of summer. the transplanted seedlings didn’t make it, i’m afraid, but the row is full to the brim with large carrots now)

 

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the refrigeration and electrical people are working on our freezers and cooler so the potatoes, beets, onions, pumpkins, squash and carrots will have a second home soon enough.

 

and unless these days of rain haven’t gotten the last of the drying beans in the garden, the shelling of beans is done !

 

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