Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Keep calm and cuddle!

Meet "Tiger".  He's the newly appointed Jr. Executive Director at Little Home In The Country and his job is to ensure that NOBODY goes too long without a rest and a cuddle.  What a wonderful way to SLOW DOWN and enjoy the true pleasures in life - our loved ones :)

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

People first, things second

This is the time of year when people (generally speaking) get a little crazy about things that don't matter.  The further down the very windy road (intentional living) that we travel, the clearer our vision is about what really matters in life.  My favourite motto is said over and over in my head as we are bombarded with the festive season's (perceived) demands.  

People first, things second.

Brilliant and so clear, these 4 words recalibrate me instantly.   

We've been spending time with the people we care about, doing things like baking 

and sharing

and crafting

and cuddling

and generally rejoicing in the fact that we have each other in our lives.  We've been making gifts and the kids are wrapping up surprises.  The excitement builds as handmade decorations are being displayed indoors and out.

Soon, we will kick off the festive season with a sledding party.  Many cookies will be decorated and much hot chocolate will be poured.  I suspect a few rum and eggnogs will be supped, too ;)

However you celebrate, may it be with those you love XO

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Back to normal and FOOD!

Our darling grandson, Owen is doing incredibly well!  He had a fabulous check up with the Cardiologist on Friday and we are thrilled to report that he's not due back for 3 whole months.  After 6 months of frequent appointments (and tests) plus a 3 week hospital stay for his open heart surgery, this is VERY good news for our family :)    We are SO relieved that he is doing well and is thriving!

Now that the crisis is over, it's time to get back to normal life.   One never realizes the comfort of the familiar routine until it is gone...  For weeks we were in survival mode, just trying to get through the day with bare essentials done.   The full effect of my attention being elsewhere is evident in my home.   Every room is dirty and unorganized and I'm behind on a LOT of maintenance and food preparation tasks.  It's time to get organized and claim my home!

First order of business was to replace the fridge.  Our old fridge died and was falling apart (the motor literally burned out and many interior components had broken) so the search began to replace her.  In the end, we were able to make some inexpensive modifications to accommodate a larger fridge and I'm so GLAD we were able to do that.  I can't TELL you how much more functional it is to have more space!  When you cook from scratch and garden for food, the inside of your fridge looks very different.  There are many bottles, jars and containers of starters, stock and broth, homemade soup and all kinds of home grown goodness (which all need cold storage).   The freezer in my new fridge is much better organized with several drawer type shelves for various foods instead of a large "pit" like cavity.  

Living without a fridge in the kitchen for 10 days was interesting, but it's certainly a first world problem.  Let's just say that I was acutely aware of how we took refrigeration for granted!  We put 4 coolers outside the back door which served us well in the meantime (and that's much, much more than over half the population of the planet has).   To have a fridge full of healthy food (in my kitchen) is a luxury that I do not take for granted....

The next order of business was to refine my bread recipe to work with the is new batch of Park Wheat from John and Cindy Schneider at Gold Forest Grains.     Since every crop of wheat is a little different given different growing conditions from year to year (weather, precipitation, etc), I needed to "tweak" my bread recipe to suit the wheat.   I was getting the result below with my recipe from last year, but clearly that wasn't working...

After a little tweaking, success! Yesterday, I made 12 loaves for the freezer which made our home smell SO GOOD.   It's so handy to have fresh bread available at a moment's notice (a freezer to put it in is the ultimate in luxury).  The hot oven provided some additional heat for the house which was needed (thanks to a chilly day complete with snow).

On to the produce...   It was time to pick up our bulk storage vegetable order from our favourite organic vegetable grower, Graham Sparrow of Sparrow's Nest Organics.    This is only half of our order ~ the other half is being stored at the farm in commercial coolers until we've eaten through this first half.  Potatoes, onions, carrots, leeks, parsnips, beets, sweet meat pumpkins... all of it fragrant and delicious!

To round out the stockpile, we took delivery of a large order of meat (pastured chickens, turkeys and pork) from Jared and Julia of Serben Free Range.  Our freezers are now full of gorgeous and delicious meat to see us through the winter. 

We are tremendously grateful to all three farms (and the farmers) for providing our family with healthy, local food.  While we endeavour to grow much of our own produce, we also feel that it's VITAL to support local producers.  Each of these three farms is located within one hour from our home - you can't get any better!  Fresh, local, nutrient dense food, grown by farmers we KNOW and can shake hands with (and hug).  

Sunday, 26 October 2014

My New Assistant Through The Shift in Seasons

 We had the distinct pleasure of having our wee Grand-daughter, Penny live with us for nearly 3 weeks while her baby brother was in hospital having surgery.  I've raised 5 kids and am perfectly capable of handling toddlers (even unruly ones) but oh MY, I'm not as young as I used to be!  The days were busy and I was certainly tired at the end of them...  I'm a bit out of practice as to how long everything takes when you have a little "helper" (wink).   After I adjusted my expectations, everything turned out splendidly.

Penny helped me do all manner of chores here from harvesting veggies to caring for the chickens and even preserving food.     

It was quite amazing to see how capable she was - I would dig and she would bend over and collect carrots and potatoes, happily plopping them into the basket and bucket.  She could work for hours this way... slowly and carefully getting the job done.  At one point, she spontaneously said "Hard Working" with such pride - it was a fantastic moment for me.   I do believe that she felt a terrific sense of accomplishment in harvesting food for the table.  There's nothing like the pleasure of receiving thanks from everyone at the table for the delicious potatoes and carrots on their plate.  She positively GLOWED!  Children need meaningful work in their days and I can think of no other work  more rewarding than growing food for the table.

Of course we mustn't forget the honey...  oh, the HONEY!  We harvested quite a few bars of comb which has provided a wonderful sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for ALL of us.   We made some mistakes this year as new beekeepers, but that's okay.  I fully expected to make them and actually welcomed them as a chance to learn.  Thanks to frequent hive checks and lots of watching and reading, the bees are healthy and free of disease, the hives are in great shape going into winter, and we were able to harvest a little bit of honey.  I wish there were words to describe the taste - it's absolutely delicious! Everyone agrees that we all can taste peppermint and orange as well as lavender and liquorice.  The bees were incredibly busy gathering pollen and nectar from a a great diversity of species on our property (and beyond) this summer so I shouldn't be surprised by the taste, but gosh, the flavour is SO beautiful and complex compared to commercial honey.  I'm HOOKED on beekeeping!

Miss Penny had no idea what she was holding until we told her to push her finger in...  it came out covered in honey but her brow remained furrowed until she licked that sticky finger then oh BOY her face lit up like a Christmas tree and she dove in for more!  It was priceless...  "Like that honey, Grandma!  Bees make that!  Penny like it!"


In the end we have 7 quarts of honey plus some lovely wax to make candles from.  We chose to leave extra honey for the bees as "insurance" in case our winter is long...  I couldn't BEAR to take any more.   I have such a profound appreciation for every drop of that golden nectar and a tremendous respect for the honeybee.  If there's any honey leftover in Spring, we'll harvest then.

Finally, the last of our tomatoes ripened.  I canned sauce and fermented salsa for weeks and now the pleasure of eating it all is our reward for a season of hard work.  Frankly, I don't want to see another tomato for many months.

Our darling Grandson, Owen is finally home and is doing wonderfully following heart surgery.  It was a tough month for him but he fought hard and bounced back thanks to a terrific fight!   He is as his name suggests - a true warrior.  We are so proud of him and we love him dearly XO 

As I finish off this post, the first snow is falling...  I'm okay with that because I'm tired of working outdoors and I'm ready to be inside.  The sewing machine is calling name as is the basket of wool (currently under a sleeping cat).  It's time to turn inward and nest in preparation for a long winter...

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The September Glut

Not 10 days ago, we had an early snow with several consecutive nights of frost.  URGH, that meant working to cover plants and harvest tender crops.    The weather is glorious now (high 20's and even 30C the other day), which is bittersweet as the tender plants died during the frost and are now pulled out of the garden. 

The transition to autumn is always so varied.  Some days are cold so I work indoors ~ others are HOT and I sweat in the garden!

I recently made several batches of soap to use up some home rendered lard that was nearing the end of it's storage life.  I'm eager to try it but it's going to be 3 more weeks until I can do so!  Rendering of this year's pastured lard will follow when the perishable produce is stored.

The harvests are rolling in ~ such an abundant time of year!  Our apple trees are finally producing decent amounts of fruit whereas just 2 year ago, a bucket or two held all the pickings.

The squash, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, carrots - all are coming in in record quantities and we continue to trip over boxes, buckets and trays of produce.  The juggle to store it all appropriately isn't easy and I long for a properly vented cold room. 

Sauerkraut, fermented salsa, tomato sauce, pie filling, you name it, we're making it which is why I'm not posting much here.  There's just too much to do in the kitchen.  

Be back soon XO

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Bee Buffet

It's quite amazing to see the proliferation of bees feasting in our gardens.  I've worked to plant a lot of variety for them paying particular attention to late Summer and early Fall (which can be a time of dearth).  The bees are consequently very busy bringing in these late pollens and honey is being stored in large quantities for the long winter ahead.  

Canada Goldenrod is a favourite of bees and every year, our patch is LOADED with bees from the first flower opening until the blooms fade away...

Catmint has been a surprise!  I would have to say in terms of bee density, this has to be a honey bee's favourite meal.

Monarda (bee balm),

Crego asters,



and good ol' squash blossoms provide popular meals, too.

The most interesting sighting this year?   The ENORMOUS bees which came and feasted for several weeks on the nectar of the delphiniums.  They were over an inch long and were so loud, it was deafening!  Truly, it was comical to see them fly after a good long drink of nectar.... between their VERY large size and the weight of a full load of nectar, they actually struggled to fly away!

What do the bees like at your place?

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

New Life to Celebrate

We are DELIGHTED to announce that our second Grandchild (a dear wee boy) has made it safely into the world.

Meet Owen Robert
7lbs, 5oz

He's a bonnie lad, isn't he?

Big sister, Penny is quite enamoured so far and is spontaneously showing kind and gentle affection for him (so far).

Our son, Mitchell is VERY proud of his wife and little boy and we couldn't be prouder of him!

We had Penny here for a few days while the baby was being born and getting settled.  It was a loud and busy time with lots of fun :) The house seems very quiet now that Penny's back home.  I will miss my early morning tea with her while we watch the sun rise and eat egg on toast together.   My, how toddlers are busy from the moment they wake until they fall asleep is quite something.  Grandma's a little tired :)

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Hard Work + Benign Neglect = FOOD

Much of our work here this year has been about water and soil.   After taking a Permaculture Design Course and intensively studying permaculture for 2 years, I spent this past winter mapping out a detailed plan for our property.   As Spring approached, the fear of making a major mistake placing elements that couldn't be changed after the fact (a Type 1 Error) was building.  If I didn't get the water right, nothing else would be right!  Adding to that state of apprehension was the steep financial investment of major earthworks.   All of this combined, I just wasn't confident forging ahead with so little practical experience under my belt.   The scale of labour was ALL wrong...  I didn't need to hire an excavator - I needed to dig!

We wisely decided to slow our timeline to avoid making costly mistakes (due to lack of experience) and in the meantime, get our hands dirty messing around with water and soil.  We needed to TRY some techniques and get some feedback from the site which in hindsight, I'm SO GLAD that we did.

The biggest lessons I learned in all the research/study of permaculture were:

1)  Type 1 errors can't be easily fixed and in many cases, can't be fixed AT ALL

2)  Try small things first to see what works on your site

3)  Make many small mistakes and learn from them

Those tips were enough warning for me!  Instead of hiring out an excavator right off the bat to make permanent changes to our property (that we may regret in future), our goal for 2014 was to "do the least for the most benefit".   I wanted to see how little we could get away with doing (and spending) to successfully implement permaculture strategies on our property while I had my 'hands on, get dirty, learning year".

Designing around water harvesting/catchment is crucial.  It was drilled into my head to deal with water FIRST before anything else.  We have grand plans for an active water catchment system (complete with large above ground storage tanks and plans to fill our existing underground cistern with rainwater) but for now, in this year of learning, the passive system is working beautifully. 

The foundation of this passive water harvesting/catchment was some basic survey work to find the contour lines of the land.   True to permaculture ethics (use what you have), I scabbed together a makeshift bunyip water level using a 6' wooden stake and a bamboo pole.  I had to buy tubing, but this can be re-used for many years of work here and on consultations.  I marked the poles on both sides (metic and imperial), attached the tubing, filled it with water and within an hour had a functioning water level - HOT DANG!  For more information about making a water level check out THIS VIDEO.

I surveyed the entire area in front/beside the house which gave me a pretty good picture of how I needed to slow the water.  In the picture below, the curvy line where we cut out the grass is a contour line (it's completely level from the driveway around to the side of the house).  Further up, closer to the house (which is at a higher elevation), we marked another contour line which would become the wood chip filled water distribution swale/pathway.

Front of house after surveying and sod flipping - starting to mulch

Side of house, after surveying and sod flipping, starting to mulch

The brown downspout at the side of the house delivers water collected from half the roof right into the swale.  Once we install permanent (active) water catchment elements (tanks and distribution pipes), we can easily marry that into the work we've done to date.  The contour of the land dictates where those elements must go and so we proceeded with confidence.

We rented a sod cutter (a heavy, nasty beast!) and cut out all the grass from this area.  The KEY was to cut the sod ON CONTOUR (across the slope along the curvy contour lines, not up and down). By keeping the sod on contour, water running down the landscape would be further interrupted/slowed by the placement of the strips of flipped sod (one the soil improves, this won't be an issue as water will be much more easily absorbed).  We heavily mulched over the flipped sod and so began the soil building process.   What did I learn in all this work?  Grass is pernicious!  It will grow back unless VERY heavily mulched.   Heavy mulch smothers it and facilitates decomposition, so if you decide to undertake such a venture, use cardboard overtop the flipped grass and MULCH HEAVILY or you WILL have grass re-growing...

On to mulch... we already had a large supply of organic flax straw from our friend and local organic grain farmer, but we needed some diversity.  Once again guided by permaculture ethics, we continued to look for waste streams in our area.   We discovered that the power company is trimming/pruning under power lines in our area this summer and the result of that tree work is LOTS of wood chips (all from the surrounding area).  By having the chips dumped on our property, it saves the crew time and gas (avoiding the drive to a compost facility to dump) and the wood chips give us tremendous soil conditioning capabilities!  Additionally, wood chips are highly effective for passive water harvesting (wood holds a lot of water) and boosting the fungal content of the soil which in turn, boosts soil fertility.   All told, wood chips make excellent mulch (especially deciduous chips).  

I've lost count, but I know that we have taken delivery of approximately 17 loads of wood chips this summer (pictured above is 4 loads).   That shed wall is 16 feet (to give you perspective) and that's only 4 loads.  We've spread a LOT of wood chips this year and there's plenty more to do!

The decomposition process has already started in this fresh pile of ash chips.  It's heating up rapidly given the nitrogen/carbon ratio (leaves/wood).  See the steam?  We've been fortunate to receive a beautiful, diverse mix of willow, poplar and ash (and some coniferous trees as well) although the chips are largely deciduous.  We've given the tree pruners a small incentive (cash) to drop off the mostly deciduous loads.  Eggs have been thrown in as a barter as well :)  This is such a great deal for us as I had previously priced out having chips delivered from a city arborist and the cost was over $300 PER LOAD given our rural location. Taking full advantage of the pruning/chipping being done in our area this year has REALLY paid off.

As the area in front of the house was quite badly compacted, we knew that it would take some time to loosen it up without tilling.  To aid this process, we planted daikon radish and potatoes (great soil busters!).  A few recent test digs tell us that the heavy mulching is working - the soil is slowly loosening up thanks to a heavy earthworm population and the decomposition of the sod and mulch.   When using wood chips, it's important to ensure adequate nitrogen is added as it is depleted during the decomposition of the wood chips.   I can see that I need to add a bit more as the green growth is a bit light in colour.

Below (in the after picture) the strip of wood chips along the driveway in front of the house was planted to daikon radish.  Daikon did a great job of "drilling" holes into the heavy, compacted soil - it is a workhorse!   I recently mowed the tops down and heavily mulched over it all with wood chips.  The thick radishes will rot in place (aiding in soil building) and the holes left will help to aerate the compacted soil.  By Spring, this area should be much improved and the entire area in front and beside the house will be planted out into a perennial food forest.  I'm quite excited about that prospect. 



All summer, while we worked hard at these soil building and passive water harvesting measures (and tending to our large family) the rest of the gardens grew... and grew... and grew!   

The tomatoes in the annual garden are absolutely feral - I decided not to prune and baby them this year (other than mulching them well and keeping them from toppling over).  I simply decided to "let them be tomatoes" to see what happened.   In spite of suffering major early setbacks, VERY good things are happening (mice got into the greenhouse and ate the sown seed plus we had frost kill all the month old tomato seedlings).   I don't care if the plants look like a hot mess - they are producing well in spite of a being planted a full month late.  Fertile soil and long daylight hours can do wondrous things!

There is food in abundance everywhere we turn.   I have learned the valuable lesson that creating self sustaining systems is VITAL.  We have been very busy with the front yard this year and I haven't had as much time to tend the annual veg plot but as it's been heavily mulched and the soil has improved dramatically, it's largely fending for itself.  Although we are still in the heavy workload phase of property development (which is NOT sustainable from a personal energy and time perspective in the long term) I can see the big picture benefits of an established, self sustaining, mature permaculture site.  Less work and more harvesting :)  I'm SO up for that.