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Thursday 19 June 2014

Gargoyles and Roses

A friend of mine is a cement sculptor and carpenter. He built a beautiful house up on his hill, looking out at the ocean. It was beautiful and unique, full of stained glass windows, and it had an octagonal living room. The coolest part about this house was the cement lizards built into the foundation. They were sculpted to look as if they were holding up the house.


My dear friend lost his whole house and workshop in a fire. 

The stone lizards and cement stairway is all that survived.

And here is his new house! He has rebuilt. If you look closely you can see Bob in a red shirt up on the roof somewhere. David and I had fun trekking around his yard. All over the island, roses are blooming.

Here at home we are joined by Nemo the goat, who spent the last couple of months away. She is now without her kid, so I have been milking her twice a day.

Nemo is on the left, Gordon on the right. They are the same size even though Gordon was born this year!

Firefly has assumed the position of Queen while Ken's horn heals. Ken is healing very nicely but has taken the backseat.

Baby Lucy, Nemo, and Firefly resting in the dust.

David was in heaven as he drove this scooter through the park.

And here we are looking out at the Straight of Georgia.

Yesterday the motion to build an oil pipeline to the coast was approved by the government. This means 200 big tankers would be driving through these waters, full of toxic sludge. The route that these huge tanker ships would have to take to get here is treacherous and the project is up against a lot of opposition.

I was not surprised to hear that the pipeline has been approved, but will it really go through? Can enough money really buy what should be priceless? The proposed oil project will threaten the rare white Spirit Bear and the tankers will drive through Humpback feeding and birthing grounds. It is hard not to be depressed and disheartened by all of the crimes against nature and humanity that my own species is responsible for.

For the sake of myself, my child, all of us here on the coast and all of the precious wildlife that is already under enough stress from our human interference... I hope that this project is scrapped. Prime Minister Harper is the real gargoyle.

In the meantime I am going to try and appreciate the beauty around me as much as I can.

Thank you for reading and enjoy the gift of this day.

Monday 16 June 2014

The Easiest Food to Grow

I am a pretty ambitious gardener and every year by the end of the prep and planting season I tell myself "Next year I'm only going to grow potatoes, garlic, and beans!"

Back to front: garlic, potatoes, onions, kale, and red orach.
Then, after a long winter of eating home canned tomato sauce, pickles, strawberry jam, and drinking rhubarb and apple wine, I'm all enthusiastic again in the Spring to grow lots of food and put in a big garden. This year, though, I did succeed in limiting the variety of my spring planting. Instead of trying to plant many different vegetables I am going for maximum yield, concentrating on crops that make the most food for the amount of work they require to reach harvest. It all depends on what you want out of your garden.

Cabbage Patch

A little patch of parsnips and some dill
I may be sticking to fewer crops this year but enough variety is always important. If one crop fails, another may succeed. Parsnips take a while to germinate but they are hardy, tasty, and will keep for months after harvest.

Grass clippings make amazing mulch. Here, little potatoes are poking up through the mulch while the weeds are smothered and the perimeter is lined with flattened cardboard boxes to define the bed and suppress weeds.
I try hard to be as self-sufficient as possible. I considered, as an experiment, to try for one year to be totally self sustaining - and to keep a detailed journal of course - but the main things I'd have to do without are: grains (it takes about six acres to grow enough grains for one person) OIL (I'd have to cook with local animal fat. ew.) and chocolate, mangoes, bananas, avocados, and all of the other tropical foods that we have the luxury of incorporating into our diet.

In the long term, the real bang for your buck in terms of growing food with minimal effort is fruit trees.

You plant them. They flower. They fruit. You pick the fruit, you eat the fruit. Pruning can help maximize fruit production and occasionally pests can be a problem but generally speaking planting fruit trees and perennial berry bushes are a zero maintenance food source. Also they are beautiful specimen plants and I wholeheartedly believe in edible landscaping for beauty as well as establishing sustainable food sources.

Apple trees are my favorite because apples are one of the best homegrown fruits for their versatility and shelf life. Here, the first apples are ready in September and we eat stored apples into April. Every year I make a big batch of applesauce, can gallons of juice and use damaged windfall fruit for making wine. I'm not sure if Shel Silverstein's famous 'Giving Tree' was an apple, but it certainly could be. Pound for pound, apple trees are maximum yield for minimum effort. 

Black currants thrive in partial shade.
Shrubs like currant bushes, gooseberries, and blueberries also require very little maintenance. Climbing vines like kiwis and grapes can reliably produce fruit year after year. Grape leaves can be used to make homemade dolmas, and a grape leaf in the pickle jar will help pickles stay crunchy. I love the trend of suburban homeowners and urban landscapers doing more food gardening and planting edibles.

Keeping animals is added food security. I live in a remote place and it is a big trip to go grocery shopping. If I can't make it or I don't feel like going, at least I have eggs and milk and meat if I want it. Providing for myself makes me feel alive and happy about life. 

When I first came to the coast I stayed briefly at a small hobby farm with goats, chickens, and pigs. The women there were totally prepared for the collapse of civilization and were very well equipped to survive, and comfortably. At the time I thought it was all a bit much but now I'm right there with them in the crazy goat lady club.

Food is life! And this time of year the food is good.
 I almost forgot to mention the very easiest food to grow of all,

Wild Food.

These thimble berries will be ripe soon. I can't wait to go berry picking with my sweet little boy. Wild blackberries, huckleberries, mushrooms, nettles, even cattails are all delicious eats around here. Last weekend I had a meal of barbequed venison and tried some pickled maple blossoms.

I'm going to end this post with a toast. A glass of fresh milk and a handful of strawberries.

To life.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Unicorn's Mourning

This morning when David and I went down to milk our goaties, I noticed that our queen goat, Ken, was MISSING HER HORN. There is nothing super gory here on this post but there is a bit of blood so if you are squeamish, don't look.

This is Ken last spring with newborn baby Gordy. She was formerly a unicorn with one big, curly scur. A scur is a horn that grows after the goat is disbudded as a baby. Disbudding is a process where the horn buds are seared to prevent the horns from growing. If done improperly, gnarly horns called scurs can grow. This is what happened to Ken, and she had one big beautiful horn that we found on the floor of the barn.

David is quite concerned for Ken and we are keeping a close eye on her to make sure her wound is healing. Luckily it is dry and I am hoping that the other goats will leave her alone for a while. 

There was a smear of blood of Firefly's horn this morning. Firefly is very shy and submissive so I don't imagine there was a real confrontation but I feel so sorry for big Ken.

I talked to Ken's former owner, my friend on island who sold me most of my goats and runs a small business making divine goat's milk soap. She told me that this has happened before and that the horn will heal and even regrow. No wonder Ken has such an attitude about her. It must be hard being a goat with one horn that is likely to fall off!!

For the first time ever, Ken was sad and traumatized. She is tough as nails and will even stand up to big dogs to protect the herd. She has given me four beautiful babies and gallons and gallons of milk. She is a great queen and it is hard to see her so vulnerable.

Just yesterday I shoveled up three buckets of rich goat poop for the garden. Here's hoping that Ken has a speedy recovery and is back to her bossy self in no time.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Meet The Flockers

Chickens. Gardens. Cheap Promises.
(I'm going to post about crafts, I swear!)

Blondie the Hen

First, I owe you a little farm update. Brace yourself. In short, we had some chicken dinners. There were too many roosters. It was getting crazy in the yard with squawking and crowing and feathers flapping all day long. A dirty job, not my favorite part of homesteading, but it feels really good to know that they all had a happy life and died quickly. Its all part of the experience of knowing where our food comes from and appreciating what it means to eat meat.

RIP Cocky and Squawky. They were jerks anyway.
Everybody knows that you put the poor chicken on a chopping block and chop it's head off. Well now I know that if you want the feathers to all pull out easily, submerge the body in a pot of boiling water for 60 seconds.  Some vegetarian I turned out to be.

The final champion rooster is none other than Big Mac himself. You may remember Big Mac from my old posts about raising chicks, when Big Mac or "McNugget" was the little baby chick who was getting pecked at by the other birds. As the flock matured, Big Mac became the biggest and strongest bird, and when the roosters were all going at it he made it clear that this was HIS flock, and he was Big Daddy.

Our new silky is enjoying some sour goat's milk. The chickens love it.
Here is Big Mac with our new girl from last weekend's poultry swap. After the roosters were gone and the girls started laying, we wanted to increase the flock. There were mostly young birds and roosters at the swap but I scored this beautiful Partridge Silky who is already laying.

These chicks are 4 weeks old.
I also picked out six chicks, mostly Americaunas. They will grow to be full size birds.
 Apparently they lay blue eggs. Fun!

Little rooster and the elusive silkies.

Now we have six birds remaining of the original twelve chicks. Three of these are bantam silkies, who have their own little roost in the chicken tractor. The silky rooster and the two frizzly girls stick together, and the new silky nests with them.

Watching the chickens integrate and socialize is so entertaining. The girls were heinously jealous of the new arrival, and of course the roosters just wanted to mate with her right away. Because the other hens were bullying her and establishing the pecking order, she is still staying close to Big Daddy where it is safe. I can't help but compare them to humans.

Hey, get out of the garden!!!!

From left: Ken, Gordon, and Lucy. Firefly is hiding in the back.
The herd is down to four. It seems small but I like it that way right now. I give up on Lucy, the little brown doeling. She goes into her pen at night and doesn't make any trouble. She is shy like her mom, Firefly, and Firefly is a great milker, so you never know. The big tan billy goat on the other hand (Gordon) has become quite tame and will eat from my hand and let me scratch behind his ears and pet him. Which is funny, because I'm the one that castrated him! Sorry big guy!

He is so big, he is almost as big as his mama already. That must be the alpine genes coming through from Barney - though my Ken (the mom) is no tinkerbell either. I have high hopes of turning Gordon into a pack goat. First I have to train him to be led willingly. Then I will see if he'll carry a couple of side packs. If that works, I could hook him up to a cart and then we'd REALLY be in business.

Okay, crafts are happening, seriously, they are. I have been sewing and quilting and I've just been terrible about documenting and taking pictures, forgive me. Right now I'm making bags for the summer farmer's market, which starts next weekend! I'm hoping to flog some baked bread and maybe some veggies later on.

I took this shot of the back of the house today and I really like it. It makes it look like I live in a big funky shack. (Here is where I stop and ask myself - wait, DO I?) This pic is taken from the perspective of the goats, who have altered the landscape and eaten some of the paneling off of the back door.

We have had two weeks of solid sunshine. It feels like July already!

Happy Gardening and Happy Summer!

Thanks so much for reading.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Back To The Blog

What a whirlwind beginning to summer this has been. As it turns out, I had a break from goat tending after all when my parents came up for a visit last week and we rendezvoused for a vacation and some family time.

David was so excited to greet them and sad to return home. He had an amazing time with my family, who he doesn't get to see often, and was showered with love and presents and ice cream.

We went to a local farm and saw the cows getting milked, did the wine tasting tour and left with many bottles of delicious wine and fancy spiced cheeses.

At the farm there were a couple of baby goats, sheep, and this stunning llama, Karl. He was so sweet, he didn't even get up but he let us scratch his ears and pet him and even pose for photos as he sat there happily chewing his cud. How I wish I had the room in my yard for a llama!

The family trekked around through old growth forests and mountainous lakes, big beaches, and waterfalls. 

Only a light rain fell on us as we visited The Butchart Gardens, in Victoria on Vancouver Island.

Somehow the rain added a dreamy effect to the exquisite grounds and luckily we didn't get wet as the sun kept peeking out from behind the clouds.

The diversity of the flowers as Butchart Gardens is just amazing. So many different colors of iris were blooming, from blue to yellow to maroon and a deep purple that was almost black. The rhododendrons were in full flower, the roses were just beginning, and the japanese garden was full of blue poppies and gnarly bonsai.

The visit ended too soon, but we were cheered up by the discovery of our first eggs in the chicken coop when we returned home! The girls laid a beautiful clutch of little eggs while we were gone.

The eggs aren't full size yet but several of them have had double yolks!

The garden is full of greens and the strawberries are beginning to ripen, the onion crop is probably a write-off this year (they were neglected and planted out late) but the potatoes and garlic are looking good. With any luck we'll have some beets and tomatoes in a couple of months.

It is amazing how much more I'm able to do in the garden now that David is a little older. When he was a baby I remember kneeling in the garden, trying to plant onions with him at my breast, and raking leaves with him strapped to my back. Now he is three and he loves to help me out with his little shovel or the watering can. The radishes we planted are ready to be pulled out to make room for something else, maybe some "magic beans" (all beans are magic in David's world).

Purple peppermint in memory of Snowdrop.

The sadness of losing baby Snowdrop has ebbed somewhat, though I will never forget her and she will truly always have a special place in my heart. Life keeps moving on, and the other goats are growing. I have some new updates on the herd and I finished a quilt while I was on vacation. 

More photos and blogging to come! 

Thank you for reading and I promise to pay a visit to my blogroll friends.


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