Farm

Racing the Frost Giant

Racing the Frost Giant

It's been a crazy week. Next year, I'm going to look into growing a clone of myself in my garden. :-) Here's a few of the blessings that came with the crazy in the shape of a bountiful harvest.

7 Moments to Remember

7 Moments to Remember

A collection of my favourite daily moments in the last 1-2 weeks.

And she's gardening again...

I never considered myself to have a green thumb.

My gardening attempts were always clumsy guesses and hopes that often turned out to be terribly disappointing.

When we moved to this property, I was determined to have a vegetable garden that would provide food for the family for a good chunk of the year. (Until I get an actual root cellar built, storage until about December or January is the best I can hope for.*) So, I started collecting gardening books. Thanks to the ultra-craziness of my home-schooling lifestyle, I didn't read nearly as many as I collected, but a few were my "go-tos" every spring when it came time to put in the garden.

CDN$ 20.65
By Tanya Denckla Cobb

The Gardener's A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food: 765 varities of vegetables, herbs, fruits, and nuts was--and is--an indispensable reference each year when it comes to putting in my vegetables.

However, this year I have also discovered the benefits of Lois Hole's work, since she ran a farm and greenhouse in Edmonton area (only one gardening zone off of where I live) and has great wisdom to share when it comes to knowing what does and doesn't work in Alberta.

This year, I decided it was time to read a few of those books getting dusty on my shelf, and excitedly dove into about four volumes at once.

My oh-so-organized Spring Reading pile, decorated with seed packets and a crumpled garden plan on top.

I also excitedly started putting seeds into dirt, eeking out precious space in sunny windows where it could be found--next to my houseplants, on the ironing board, wherever.

I didn't start my indoor seeds until around May 1, as I was still a little disorganized. (And by "little", you can read "not really organized at all, just pretending I am, so don't spoil my delusions.) Fortunately, within about two weeks, the weather started warming up enough that I could bump some of those first starters out onto the deck during the day and make room in the windows for another batch.

Thank goodness I did, because although I was checking the weather diligently most nights, I forgot to one night when there was a very hard frost, and didn't bring in my tender tomatoes and pumpkins and squashes. I had to start new ones.

(Although that second batch of squash is now mostly planted out in the garden, last week there was another frost that took out the upper leaves and my marigolds, too. Apparently, my plastic vinegar/milk jug "cloches" were not sufficient protection against that typical early June hard frost. Noted for next year.)

This year is my most ambitious garden year yet. Not only do I have more raised beds in my vegetable patch than ever before, I am actually starting a few flower beds, and am putting in some of my favourite perennials. Shasta daisies, lavender, a hosta, bleeding hearts, lilies, and  California poppies will be sharing space with a few food crops to make use of the all-too-precious black dirt I had hauled here from Mom and Mike's place.

I'm a very impatient gardener, though--I check my seeds several times a day until they come up, barely restraining myself from the child's trick of digging up the seeds to see if they have sprouted. :-)

I took these photos last week, before I had completed my front flower bed (which now has the hosta, strawberries, and morning glories snug as a bug inside.)

Last Monday, I wandered around our yard, capturing all the beautiful signs of what it looks like in late spring:

Frost-tender plants and seedlings growing on the deck.

I've never tried growing hostas before. Oh, wait, I did. Try, I mean--unsuccessfully.

Cornish Giant Cross chicks at 13 days old.

Surplus roosters on the Green Mile.

The onions have sprouted! I have figured out a few vegetables, but onions have continually sucked grass in my garden. I am hoping that THIS is the Year of the Onion!

A giant rock Jason brought as an accent in the middle of our "orchard"--two saskatoon and two black currant bushes I planted last fall.

I thought that two dump truck loads of dirt would look bigger...

Our first two flowers of spring--dandelion and wild strawberry.

Jason has done a beautiful job of keeping our yard mowed so far, which is quite the feat considering his hay fever, and that he uses the push lawn mower. Yes, the older boys have helped, but it is just a lot of mowing. Jason did this patch last weekend, and it took him four hours:

That is only half the yard! (Actually, it's only the part of the half that I could fit into this picture!) However, it has been so wonderful to go out my door and be in a park.

As a "thank you", and to hopefully help maintain it, I am getting him a riding lawn mower for Father's Day. :-)

Levi peeking out of the tramp enclosure. We replaced the net and padding this spring, as Thunder (the dog) and the weather had pretty much destroyed them.

Look! The robin's back! He wasn't singing when I took the photo this year, though--apparently, he has good enough manners not to sing with his mouth full. :-)

Gardeners are pretty much the ultimate optimists, I think. No matter how bad your garden turned out the year before, THIS is the year it's going to be amazing! Caterpillars, craziness, and cold weather be darned!

 Perhaps because last year was such a gardening disaster for me, I really, really want to have the magnificent garden I am imagining this year. And honestly, this is the first year where I really feel like I am starting to "get" this gardening thing.

As they say--"Hope springs eternal within the gardener's breast." No, wait, that's not it. "Tomorrow is another day." Closer. How about, "The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies." (Gertrude Jekyll)

How true.

CDN$ 14.08
By Mike Bubel, Nancy Bubel

(*This year--after only three or so years of looking at the spine on my shelf--I plan to actually read  the book "Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables" by Mike and Nancy Bubel, so watch for what I am sure will be some rather amusing anecdotes as I think of ways to get creative with Vegetable Storage--and possibly a book review.)

A Random Series of Un/Fortunate Events

Last weekend, the clocks sprung forward an hour for Daylight Savings Time. Ever since, "springing" out of bed has been out of the question for me. I've felt tired all day, every day, and am really hoping that this weekend will help me make the final transition into the new schedule. The spring time change is always the worst for me, but seems worse than usual this year, not sure why. (Anyone else wish that the almighty "THEY" would pick one and stick to it, for-crying-out-loud?!)

Maybe the tiredness is accentuated because the weather simultaneously went from "warm and sunny" to "freeze-your-knackers-off and gloomy", which doesn't help at all.

Despite that, the week has plugged on at it's normal, relentless pace. The boys are in another round of swimming lessons for three days a week until the end of March. Unfortunately, it is in the morning this time around, which really messes up our school schedule on those days. By the time we get home, not only are we past their brains' peak operating times, but they are also tired from the swimming. Some days, my pokey middle child hasn't finished his "morning" subjects until 5 p.m.... or later. The other two are sometimes not far ahead of him. It can make for kind of a long day, not to mention that we are falling further and further behind in our "afternoon" subjects of history and science. Thank goodness we are not Alberta-government-aligned in those ones!

Last fall, I joined a ladies Bible study group to do a study on James by Beth Moore. We just finished it up this week (crammed an 8-week course into four months :-D), and I am so thankful for what I learned through it. It has helped me to become much more proactive in my faith, in the sense of not only seeing the need that surrounds me, but looking for ways that I can actually do something about it. It can still be frustrating to see so much wrong in the world and feel so inadequate for the task of making a difference--but I can still make a small difference. And the small things that I can do might just make a big difference in the life of somebody. We never know what long-term impact our small actions can make on the world, whether for good or for bad. The study also inspired my assignment for Week 2 of the songwriting course I am taking from Berklee professor Pat Pattison, which you can read about here.

Last weekend, I cajoled Jason into doing a renovation project that has been on the back-burner since moving into our current trailer. When we moved in, the linoleum throughout the house needed to be replaced. The addition was done before we even moved anything into it (by yours truly, I am proud to say), and at the same time as we purchase lino for that project we also bought laminate for the larger boys' bedroom to cover the disintegrating 35-year-old linoleum that was there. We got a great deal on the flooring through Spirit River Flooring (it really does cost less, there!), partly because we weren't being very picky about colour, partly because they had a sale on laminate at the time, and partly because the saleslady was very sympathetic to our situation of having to replace our home because of the mould issue, and did the best she could for us on the price.

Fortunately, when we purchased the first trailer, the previous owners had just put laminate into the smaller bedroom in that trailer, and they had three leftover boxes that they gave us. That bedroom is almost identical in size to the room Jude currently occupies, so we figured we would have more than enough laminate to do the floor in there without purchasing anymore, even if it meant lifting some out of the old trailer.

However, despite getting Noah's and Jabin's room done last spring, and having the best of intentions to get to Jude's "fairly soon," it didn't happen until this Sunday past. However, once we got started on the project, it only took a few hours to empty the room (including taking apart the bunk beds), lay the flooring, and move everything back in. Jude got to bed a little late, but since it was the first day of the time change, he probably wouldn't have fallen asleep earlier, anyway--night owl that he is. The three boxes of laminate were the perfect amount to cover the floor, so we didn't even have to lift the "used" stuff. :-)

It's nice to have that project out of the way. It seems that stuff like that doesn't happen in the summer, because it is way too hot indoors. Maybe we should look at getting a window-mounted air conditioner this summer, because frankly, I am kind of amazed we got through last July without my guitar cracking and without all of us turning into little pools of water and minerals in our beds.

At any rate, while Jason was cutting floorboards outside last Sunday, he let our Alaskan Malamute (who is now a 17-month-old "teenager," with all the grace of Goofy in a China shop, and the self-discipline of a two-year-old), Thunder, run free. During the warmer weather we were having last week, we had been tying him up to prevent untimely chicken deaths as we let the chickens out of the coop to enjoy the sun. The snow, at about three feet, is high enough that these excellent flyers don't feel that the run fence is a particular hindrance right now.

Jason was keeping an eye on him, but it doesn't take long for this speedy dog to be on top of any little thing that he thinks might entertain him, which was the case with one unfortunate hen who strayed outside the run. Jason interfered before she died, but since Thunder had been tossing her around like a football, she lost all but one scraggly little tail feather, nearly all the feathers on her back, and several square inches of hide, as well.

So, needless to say, "Rosie" (as we have now dubbed her) has been spending the last several days in the house in a large plastic storage tub that doubles as a brooder for small batches of chicks. She is past the critical stage--she didn't go into shock and die, and after several bouts with hydrogen peroxide and colloidal silver, the wounds have closed up and appear uninfected--and yesterday, she even started walking around in her little tub, eating stuff, and clucking gently at us when we checked on her. If it weren't for the missing flesh at a most inopportune location as far as roosterly "affection" is concerned, I'd actually send her back out today. As it is, I'm wondering, How long will it take for a chicken's hide to grow back?! I guess we'll see. The poor thing will have to be in "solitary" for another day or two, at least.

Well, you're pretty much caught up, and that's enough rambling for one post. Happy Thursday, friends!

Calling Beowulf

Further developments: the coyotes (or whatever they are) have started laying siege to the small "chick" tractor.

I know, because the Rubbermaid Roughneck container containing their food, which I keep snugged up to the side of the tractor to prevent the tarp from flying around, was not only flipped on its side, but the lid was off and the food spilled out. Further inspection revealed several tooth-mark punctures in the lid.

The tire used for tarp-anchor on the other side was also flipped over.

The huge, 6 cu. ft. bag of pine shavings that was also being used as tarp ballast/dog digging deterrent had been dragged several feet away, with puncture marks in numerous places through the plastic. (The bag weighs around 50 pounds or more, would be my guess.)

And the outer layer of poultry wire on the "front" of the chicken tractor was completely mangled. The inner layer was stretched, but had managed to hold.

So, that's why Sunshine was barking last night... Every time I stuck my head outside into the dark (we have no outside light right now) I could not hear any kerfuffle, so I figured she must have been barking at the fireflies. (Yes, fireflies. In my thirty-something years as an Alberta girl, that is the first time I have seen fireflies here.)

Tonight's plan: "Tether the dogs close enough to the chicken coops to actually fulfill their purpose as guard dogs, but not so close that they can molest the poultry themselves."

We'll see how it works. My only fear now is that I may find a mangled dog in the morning instead of a mangled coop. I'm not really sure what made all those teeth marks, after all.

By the way, that "tie the dead chicken around the dog's neck" thing? I'm giving up on that. It never works. They only eat the chicken. Lesson learned? I think not.

Epic Fail

Since I am only in my second year of chicken farming, and the monetary investment into the project far outweighs the benefits received from it, when I have a loss, I feel it. Not just in my pocketbook--I am still attached to the darn critters, because they are my responsibility.

Now granted, I no longer weep when I find a dead chick from confusing causes in amongst the healthy ones--an event that, thankfully, has been rare this year. And the only deaths of adult birds that I weep at are the ones I inflict myself.

In fact, I am emotionally hardened enough already that I don't really cry when the deaths are inflicted by another sentient being, either. But not so hardened as to feel nothing. Oh, no--there are definitely other emotions evoked.

Like anger.

This week has seen some serious losses to my flock. The flock that we spend money, time, and effort on so that WE can have the benefit of our labours, not some random passing coyote who realizes that these dumb, domesticated birds are much easier hunting than the other prey he might find in the trees.

I should have 20 adult birds. I only have 12. The numbers have been dwindling at the rate of about one a day.

Jason has been working on digging the post holes for a permanent, enclosed, fortified-against-wildlife chicken run, but it is slow going in our gravel-pit of a yard. Also, he is away on a work trip this week, so hasn't been able to take advantage of the ground softened by rain, and I have been too busy to do the same.

We can't get that thing finished fast enough. I managed to get a "temp" enclosure of orange snow fence and electric-fence-posts up around the coop the other night (the soft ground certainly helped with this project). It has, so far, mostly managed to fulfill its purpose of keeping the chickens inside, out of the trees where they are "sitting ducks", so to speak. At only three feet tall, the soft plastic wasn't animal-proof by any stretch, but I hoped it might be a deterrent for the coyote.

Nope. Two more today. I could see the remains of their struggle right on the border of the fence, little feathers scattered about as an enraging reminder that something else was profiting at my expense... and probably laughing at me, too.

You know, I know Roald Dahl has us all sympathizing with a chicken-stealing fox in his classic story, but in my heart, I am really with Boggus, Bunce, and Bean. Those darn foxes, coyotes, and other critters have no right to the fruits of my labour!!

However, despite the staggering losses to my adult flock, my chicks have been okay so far, as they are always completely enclosed in our other, smaller chicken tractor, within which they are warmed by a heat lamp, protected from the wind, and get to see fresh grass about once a day. When we first got the chicks, Sunshine (our golden retriever) proved that although she seemed to have overcome her need to chase adult chickens around, she had just as keen of an interest in these new little appetizers as Koda had with last year's newbies--at four days old, she managed to dig a hole under the chicken tractor and extract at least one chick before Jason caught her in the act, little brown body still in her mouth.

Koda had been spending a lot of time kennelled, unless we were outside, since he has a tendency to wander off to the neighbours' to visit his buddies if left alone outside for longer than ten minutes. However, Sunshine had been free to wander around (ideally, protecting the yard from thieving coyotes). Since that incident, they have both been on detention.

We make an effort to make sure the dogs get several hours of exercise a day, which is usually pretty easy. When we are outside doing our yard work in the evenings, we let them out, and they exercise each other. However, with the rain for the last several days, I haven't been outside that much at night. Since Koda seems to have been doing better (not running off), and Sunshine had seemed to be less interested in the chicks now that they are a little older, I thought I would just let them run around tonight and keep an eye on them. So, every now and then, I would look out the window and see Koda running around. It should have set off an alarm bell that Sunshine was not there wrestling with him. But it didn't--after all, she isn't the one who runs off.

When I went out to "put them to bed," I was very thankful it wasn't raining.

Because I got to fix holes in my little chicken tractor's poultry wire (she went through two layers!)

And Sunshine gets to spend the night with a dead chick around her neck. I don't know if she got more--the hole which she also dug in the ground under the rear edge (and dragged one through, I'm sure--the holes in the wire didn't seem big enough for her to get through, and the chicks were more interested in staying at the opposite end under the heat lamp) was certainly big enough!

Sunshine had an epic fail tonight. I'm just thankful that it wasn't quite as epic as Koda's--as far as I can tell, she only got a few, (a lot less than 40!) and maybe only the one I caught her with. It's really hard to count seventy-five portable little chicks!

Why do we have dogs again?

(On a more positive note--Koda seems to have either learned from last spring's experience, or has grown past that stage, as he has not attempted poultricide this year.)

The Great Gardening Experiment

Remember how I mentioned that I was going to try straw bale gardening this year?

A perfect way to get an "instant garden", while doing something with the ratty straw bales that I used to winterize my chicken coop with, thought I.

Well, it just keeps getting better.

As the plan evolved, Jason helped me set the bales up in a ring around an odd patch by the vegetable garden with a little dirt in it. The dirt was "left" from when I was first building my raised veggie garden beds, and I had needed a place to dump the dirt-in-waiting before moving it into the beds. That was two years ago, so mostly it had been taken over with quackgrass, dandelions, and a bit of the marshy weeds that had come with the dirt. (I got this dirt from our friends Greg and Robin, who had made a big pile of topsoil while digging a new dugout for their water source a couple of years ago.)

After circling up the bales, the boys covered the top with composted chicken litter from the winter (one more "waste item" getting put back into use!), and drenched the whole thing with water to kick-start the composting process. A week later I managed to dig and pull and chop most of the weeds out from the middle, and in between battling mosquitoes I had time to think what a waste it was to just be throwing that valuable greenery over the side to smother the wild strawberries.

Straw bale/

That night, while I was reviewing the ins and outs of straw bale gardening on this site, my eye was caught by another link called "lasagna gardening." (Wouldn't you be curious how pasta and meat sauce works into the garden?) Well, by the time I had read that page, I knew what I was going to do in the middle of that straw bale garden.

My original plan had been to dig out the weeds, throw in some sunflower seeds (which I have been collecting for years, because apparently I have many good intentions when it comes to flower gardening, and am a little short on follow-through) and see if any of them grow. I wanted to clean out my seed drawer and start fresh, and I knew most of them would likely not germinate anyway, due to their age, so what difference did it make?

Mixed sunflowers

However, I really liked the idea of sheet composting the middle section of the garden. For one, it would help the straw bales retain some moisture. For two, it would give me a good start on some nice, rich soil, and the beginnings of a permanent, rather than temporary, garden spot. For three, it would help me use up some stuff that was laying around the yard.

So, in went the layers. Ripped-up cardboard boxes, followed by all those weeds (and then some) that I had dug out the night before (Yes! I actually put weeds into my garden!), followed by a layer of composted chicken litter.

Several days passed before I was able to progress from there--days involving rain, and snow, and wind, and coldness. Sunday afternoon was bright and sunny, and I knew I had to finish the job before the growing season got any shorter.

More layering commenced: partially-decomposed compost from the bin (collecting since last summer, but some of it was pretty fresh); partially-decomposed straw from the dogs' winter bedding; extra bags of peat moss that were laying around, full of holes and ants (the peat moss and ants went in, not the bags); some potting soil in a thin layer on top.

Straw bale garden 2

After that, I mixed all my sunflower seeds--old and new--together for the official scattering. The boys and I each took a handful and threw them in--the result was covering a rather smaller area than I expected that many packets of seeds to handle. A bit anti-climactic, since I had been promising them they could help me plant sunflowers once I got the garden ready. Oh, well. I filled in the rest with daisy seeds.

Then I planted as many other flower seeds as I could around the straw bale edges, leaving a few spaces to insert tomatoes in a week or two when my plants indoors are ready to move out.

Will anything grow? I don't know. It would be nice if it ALL grew, but right now, I am just kinda excited to see what will happen.

I call it my "Anything Goes" garden. If no sunflowers grow, at least I might get a few more hills of potatoes out of the deal from the "extras" we threw in the compost pile last week! :-)

Potatoes sprouting in the veggie garden (wire to keep the chickens out)

Potato leaves

The peas and corn have sprouted! Yay! (Last year, my corn didn't grow at all. Also, I'm using last spring's pea seeds. I was a little relieved to see them start to peek out above the dirt.)

Peas and Corn shoots

Gardening assistants? Well, three out of four, anyway. The hairy one mostly likes eating the fertilizer!

Three sprouts and a dog

Spring Chickens

Hey! Boys...

DSC02690 for web.jpg

Open your peepers!

Peepers opened!

After initially thinking I would not get any chicks this spring, because I thought I might be travelling a lot (among other reasons), I changed my mind. However, I have made a few changes already from what I did last year to make it a little easier and more feasible for me. Learning is a wonderful thing!

First off: raise broilers for meat birds (as opposed to dual-purpose). That way, you can butcher in August--much better use of time and money per bird. Nicer meat. And none of this "having to feed them through the winter" nonsense.

So, we have 50 fluffy yellow little Cornish Giant chicks running around in the brooder. You'd never know they will be ready to butcher in only 8 weeks, would you? (The 25 auburn chicks are Rhode Island Reds. I will keep the hens for layers and butcher all but one of the roosters.)

Day-old peepers!

Secondly: Brood them in the chicken tractor. This idea was thanks to Robin B., my friend and local mentor in all things farming. She's not my only mentor, but I have leaned heavily on her as I have made my fledgling attempts at gardening (she grew up here and knows what grows best) and chicken farming, and we have also swapped ideas on homeschooling and diet. She said that her and her husband have found that if you just cover the chicken tractor with a tarp to keep the draughts out, and make sure the heat lamps keep it warm enough, the chicks do fine, and you don't have to worry about splay-leggedness or other issues that arise when brooding them in small confined spaces in wood chips. (Yay! I don't have to clean a brooder box every three days or listen to chirping, hungry chicks dragging me out of bed in the wee hours of the morning!)

Holding Chicks

I am also revving up to get my garden in this weekend, or at least most of it. I have been struggling with where to put the flowers I've started. I was going to make a flower bed right in front of the trailer, but now that we're moving the trailer, that's not going to work! So tonight, I looked out across my yard and surveyed the options. My eye espied the pile of straw bales no longer being used to insulate a coop, and I had the inspiration to try straw bale gardening this year! That way, it is only temporary, and I can move my flower bed back in front of the trailer in a year or two (where I'd really like it to be.) I'm so excited, now, and can't wait to get started!

Plus, the high-nitrogen composted chicken manure from the winter will give my new straw bale garden a great start--I was wondering where I was going to use that! :-)

Happy Spring, friends!

Oh, the Places I've Gone!

Okay, I haven't been that many places over the last few weeks, but I have been extremely busy--as usual, lots to blog about and no time to do it in. So, I will try to recap:

School

- We have been going strong for three weeks now, and have got to do such fun things as making the colour wheel out of frosting, hitting up the library, painting a giant sun on butcher paper, and doing a field trip to the Telus World of Science. Jabin comes home from kindergarten every day talking about a new friend, and enjoys his "home days", too. So far, so good.

Family

- We spent last weekend in S.L., the official reason being to attend my cousin Riley's wedding reception. It was great, but also a perfect excuse for a "mini family reunion" with my brother and dad. Logan had not been to Canada for almost exactly two years, as he was waiting for his Green Card paperwork to come through, which it finally did about a month ago. Thankfully, we have all managed to travel his direction a few times during the interim--well, all of us except Jason. We had a great weekend of hanging out, playing board games, and laughing--a LOT. I love my family.

"Farming"

- On the Labour Day weekend, our friends B. & L. came out to educate us on the ways of butchering a chicken. L. has plenty of experience from her childhood days on a farm. I had two roosters whose doom awaited them--one for the demo, and one for practice. I'll spare you the grisly details, but considering the fact that I used to have my friend Amanda do all the actual dissecting when we were in Biology together, I'd say I did pretty good. I only felt queasy once, and that was when my attempts at neck-breaking only stressed out my poor boy instead of achieving the "quick demise" I was going for. We ended up using the axe. Anyway, on Monday they looked like this:

And on Wednesday night, one of them looked like this:

(The other one is still in the freezer.)

Kinda scrawny, I know, but there were just too many roosters for my "girls", so they had to go.

I don't quite have the whole garden in, yet, but I managed to save the last of my potatoes from the ravages of my chickens today--the "turkeys" were digging them up and eating them! I still have two of my five raised beds to empty, but I'm not in a hurry to dig up my carrots--they'll keep much better in the ground, for now.

I'm sure there is much more that could be said, but my clock just informed me that the party's over, folks--it's after midnight. I need to get my rest, so Teacher Mommy will be reasonable tomorrow. I'll try not to stay away so long, this time!