Saturday, 28 July 2012


Dear friends,

So much has happened here in the last week, my head is spinning!
Lots of good stuff and some not so good stuff too. One of those not so good things was our computer's untimely early demise. Between that and an exceptionally busy week in the garden, I'll be away from this space for a few more days...

Until then, friends!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The good and the bad

We've had our share of both around Little Home In The Country of late...

On the good side, we picked up some fantastic freeCycle finds recently!  A load of new white soffit material (perfect for the shed we hope to build), plus several brand new very large plant pots and a large stash of concrete blocks. We also were given some green foam underlayment that's meant for installing under laminate flooring, but it also works very well for insulating things, so I happily accepted it.  It was quite the hilarious sight to watch us loading this soffit into my Suburban...   The picture shows the view from the (dusty) rear door opening - the soffit ran up over 3 rows of seating and as it's VERY long (10' or 12' lengths?) it JUST fit when pushed right up to windshield! 

As mentioned yesterday, and in previous posts, I love the community of freeCycle.  Although bartering is not permitted, in a way, freeCycle is sort of like that.  We offer up things we are done with and ask for things we need (although not in the same post).  It's a truly brilliant way to help one another and build a sense of community, while not adding to the global waste problem.  I love the people connection as well - many people pop their heads out to "meet" you during a pick up which I really like.  That personal connection is important in building up the community.

  Recently, I posted to give away a large garbage bag of clothing that our 19 year old son, Ian had outgrown.  It's all perfectly usable clothing in good condition and the same woman who picked up 2 boxes of teen clothing from us 6 months ago, is coming once again for this lot.  The cycle of giving and receiving continues...


In other not so good news...

A failed batch of soap recently put a real damper on my enthusiasm for soap making.  Pride comes before a fall, it is said and I do believe that to be true, LOL.  I confidently mixed it all up just as my other successful batches, and was so discouraged at the results.  It reached trace, but it looked "odd" and somehow liquid-y in spite of reaching trace...   I've made this recipe quite a few times before and never had a moment's trouble with it, so I'm not sure what the problem is.  I suspect something along the lines of moisture in the lye (per a suggestion from a member on the Down To Earth Forum).   I'll have to give re-batching a go, but true to form, I'm procrastinating about dealing with it and both batches are STILL sitting on my laundry counter 2 weeks later. URGH!  Please chime in if you can advise me on re-batching :)


And on to the gorgeous turnips that taste HORRIBLE!

My inexperience in growing turnips has shone through this week.  The whole beautiful row is inedible due to extreme bitterness.  I tried boiling and roasting, and also peeling quite a lot of flesh off, but the verdict is in - they are chicken fodder!  I realize now that I should have grown this crop later in the season so that they would be subject to sweetening frosts...  There's no way I could leave them in the ground until then as they were so huge, they would have been woody monsters come frost!  


2 nights ago we were battered by a fierce summer storm, which on the prairie can be a devastating occurrence.   High winds forced torrential rain and hail (literally) sideways onto the front of our house - it sounded like the glass was going to shatter!  I had to quickly prepare our space under the stairs as we were under tornado watch.  Of course, all of this happened the evening that Kelly left to go back to work, so I was on my own trying to covertly prepare for a tornado while keeping an eye on the sky and the weather alerts without alarming the children!   We had enough time to batten down the hatches so to speak before the storm hit and fortunately, no damage was done to the house but the garden is battered.  It's alive, but it's battered and I need to get in there and clean up the mess. *sigh*  There are plants that need pulling up and some that need cutting back to rid them of damage.  The chickens will be feasting for the next week for certain!


Add in to the mix, a hefty and unavoidable repair/maintenance bill on our 8 year old vehicle (that sucked all the money we had tucked aside) and you'll know what I'm feeling a little battered at the moment.  Certainly none of these things are really important in the grand scheme of things, as we have each other and our health, but sometimes I wonder why things go sideways all at once!   The lesson learned is to get up and try again.   

I'm behind on a million things, but that is the season we are in...  the house isn't looking it's best, and our meals have been very spartan affairs indeed, but such is life in the throes of the growing season here on the prairie!

Monday, 23 July 2012


I must warm you - I'm coming off a busy week with my husband home...  it's been a whirlwind of fun, work, celebrating, a houseguest and lots of fun play, so my thoughts are perhaps a little disjointed.   Bear with me, dear readers :)


As I went about my daily tasks this week (amid the busyness described above), I spent a lot of time thinking about connections and how they have changed my thinking.  Not that long ago, I viewed many of my daily tasks as isolated, but I now know that not to be true.

While reading up on permaculture recently, I've learned so much about the deep connections that exist in ecology, and although I've been a gardener for a long time, I see now that I lacked the true vision of wholeness and connection that permaculture embraces.  That reading and the understanding that has come from it, has altered my view on so many tasks that we undertake here (in the garden and otherwise).

~ * ~
Take acquisition for example.

Spending any amount of time in stores lately has me seeing consumerism in a much different light.  So many goods that we see offered for sale (food and material things) are created by TAKING energy, materials and labour without giving back to the cycle of life.  Paying for things with money doesn't give back to that cycle.  Buying new mass produced items (whether food or material goods), for the most part, takes from that cycle.   Of course, there are MANY exceptions to that - handcrafted items, organically farmed food to name just a few... 

 Not that we don't buy new things - we do.... but we've figured out that most things we truly need can be made, bought used, found or even given to us by someone no longer needing it (used or handmade).  Acquiring things in this alternative way, connects us to our true real needs, the manufacturing process and most importantly, to people.  Connections.

  While I've enjoyed shopping at thrift stores for many years, previously, my motivation was to save a little money and find unique things.  Those reasons do still resonate with me, but on the whole, the bigger (and more important) reason (at this time) is recycling and reusing an item with useful life left in it.  The quality of older things is usually much better and we find that they last far longer than their new counterparts.  I LOVE to think about who owned the treasure I've bought and I think about how it was used and where it came from.  Connections....


I made these pot holders as a gift after becoming inspired recently while sewing another set for a swap I'm involved in at the Down To Earth Forum.  These potholders are made using 100% repurposed materials:

gingham cut from a thrift store "cherry" blouse in near new condition
linen backing cut from a thrift store blouse in near new condition
batting cut from 4 layers cut from a clean flannel blanket bought at the thrift store
thread from my Grandma's sewing stash that I inherited

I even left the button holes from the blouse on the piece of fabric that I cut out as a reminder that this fabric once was a shirt (albeit briefly due to it's mint condition!)



A Lemon Supreme Pie (upon request) was baked for our oldest son's 21st birthday using lard that I rendered from the hogs that were raised by friends, on their hobby farm, 15 minutes from our home.


Raspberry pie made with the first pickings of our own berries this year.  The canes were given to me by my Mother who generously brought splits from her canes a whole province away nearly 3 years ago.  It's taken those 3 years to see a bountiful harvest but it's here now and the connection is huge for me.


My dear husband has been busy siding the greenhouse using leftover material from our home renovation.  While vinyl siding is hardly eco friendly, it is making use of scraps that would otherwise be discarded.  The entire structure (save the roof) was made using second hand materials that were either free (like the windows from our mortgage rep. - yes, I'm serious), or bought *extremely* cheaply through Kelly's old job. 

The tomato plants that grow within this shelter were started from seed many months ago (they even sat at the family table with us for a while), and have been fed with manure from our chickens, watered with rain captured from our roof and tended with care by me.  They are now bearing fruit in abundance.



This healthy garden is here thanks to many people saving seed from organic plants all over Canada.  Think about that!  The soil has been "made" thanks to a complex dance of activity (both passive and active)...  our hens (who have eaten every scrap we have offered) have recycled those scraps into fertilizer and debugged and weeded for us, the worms (by the millions) have nourished and aerated, the rain has watered, the sun has given energy and I have given my sweat and my heart to it.  Connections.


This meal is literally grounded to our land.  I grew from seed and ultimately picked those veggies half an hour before cooking and serving them to my family.  Connections.

This lamb was raised naturally on lush, peaceful pasture close to our home by caring friends.  Connections...

Connection is a big word for me just now... as I dig deeper into this journey.  It seems the more I learn, the more I discover is still left to learn.  

A whole lifetime of learning and connecting is to come...

Monday, 16 July 2012

Rainwater and Nitrogen

We've had torrential rains for a few days with plenty of nitrogen fixing electrical storms. The combination of it all has stimulated the garden into stunning growth!  This is what I woke to this morning...

The brassicas quite literally outgrew the confines of the row covers *in 2 days*.  The covers won't fit over the rows!  

Ripe raspberries just washed with rain water


Crimson Sweet melon blossoms

the first sunny calendula 

toppled favas 

crisp chard

tender lettuce

succulent Red Russian Kale

It's a jungle out there now!

Hollyhock blooms are on their way

battered roses

drenched feeders

overgrown greenhouse

drips and drops

and misty air

 berries, too

makings for salve

lush squash and potato plants and a happy kitty...

sopping wet annuals

with droopy flowers

small wild tomatoes  (just a few)

and weeds gone WILD

I've got my work cut out for me this week...  If I'm not back in a few days, send help!


Friday, 13 July 2012

The Road Slowly Travelled

That's our house nestled behind the trees.

We back onto a working farmer's field and that golden happiness all around us is canola in full bloom.   How can one be in a foul mood with all that sunshiny yellow to look at every day?

The gravel road in the foreground is my sanity saver.

 On the highway from the city, the speed limit is 100, and I swear that my brain is going at least that, too....  

Once I hit the gravel, I slow down to stay out of the ditch.  Gravel is fickle like that.     

Slow and steady I drive, always (always!) impatient at first, but soon, my mind wanders and my shoulders fall back into their rightful place. My forehead and jaw let go soon after as I stare out at beauty all around me.

Nice and easy, we inch our way home with time to truly see ~ horses and foals, cows and calves, pastures, crops, beehives, trees and even tiny wildflowers at the side of the road.

Sometimes, we see deer ~ on occasion a fox.  Coyotes make their presence known, too.  Hawks rest on fence posts while geese, gulls and ducks gather at the ponds. Mice scurry across the road and rabbits bound to safety.  

We open the windows, letting the wind blow our hair wild while we inhale the sweet smell of country air.  Songbirds call out joyously to welcome us home.


Four distinct seasons and the beautiful cycle of life are all are showcased beautifully on this short, bumpy road that leads us home.  

I love my gravel road :)

Pea Perfection

The first peas of the season are such a treat!  I discovered a few ripe pods yesterday and promptly tore off my gloves to pick and eat them right then and there.  Standing in the garden, hot, sweaty and filthy with my mouth full of sweet, tender peas?


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

It's the small things...

A hazy hot sunset over acres of blooming canola

an upturned pot and saucer for the birds to drink from

my crazy old dresser in bloom and the birdcage in my greenhouse...

warm, juicy, sweet strawberries just picked from the garden.

Summer bliss!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Cold and Hot

Remember this?


Not that long ago, we saw temperatures between -20C and -30C for MONTHS on end.
Through those oh so long winter months, we welcomed the heat that the oven produced and we took full advantage of it, leaving the oven door open after cooking to extract every drop of heat that we could.

But now, with temperatures like this:

we look for ways to keep the heat out of the house!   Cooking outside
is a great way to keep the house cooler, but sometimes I want to fix supper early and not have to stand by the hot BBQ tending to a grilled meal right at the supper hour (with the sun in my face!).  I've been known to plug my crock pot in outside (or in the garage), but also, I like to use my BBQ like an oven.   

In just 5 minutes, I can assemble and layer our entire dinner into a casserole, then pop it onto a slow BBQ.  Several hours later, we have a great meal to eat with very little hands on time.  Oh, this is a VERY good thing!

A little bit of fresh herbs (in this case sage), goes a long way to making a basic meal extraordinary.  I'm so loving the fresh flavours of the season!

Seasoned grass fed beef short ribs piled atop some veggies, then drizzled in local cold pressed canola oil makes simple nosh fit for a King.  We serve a lot of cold meals at this time of year too, but once in a while something "cooked" is in order to change it up.

The house stays cool, tummies are fed and in this busy season of gardening, I'm minimizing my kitchen time (which is a very good thing).

Oh yeah :)

Friday, 6 July 2012

Growing Vegetables Under Row Covers

I have a love/hate relationship with row covers.  Without them, I could NOT grow brassicas so that fact certainly makes me love them BUT growing and maintaining plants under them is a royal pain!  It's very inconvenient and somewhat time consuming - it's much easier to have plants uncovered so that you can see them every day and keep a close eye on when they are ready for harvest, not to mention keep the weeds at bay before they get too large.

The cabbage moths are terrible here and the larvae can destroy a massive brassica crop in just a few days.  I've tried companion planting as repellant, delayed planting, early planting....  it doesn't matter what we do, they still come and we still lose everything if the brassicas are uncovered.   Row covers are the ONLY way short of a massive hoophouse/greenhouse.

Here's what the row covers look like with mature plants
under them (not very attractive, I know...).  Row covers are essentially a very lightweight fabric that is permeable to air and water. The come in different thicknesses which gives you greater degrees of frost protection if you are using them specifically to extend your season.   That certainly can be a great help to us as out here in the country, as we often get frost before the end of August.  You can buy them in different lengths - from 20' up to 250'.  We buy 100' lengths as that's about the length of our garden but I have cut them up before to accommodate different garden layouts.  They are re-usable from year to year if you take care of them to avoid tears and rips.  They are quite durable, but they will snag on sharp objects (duct tape seals the rips on both sides quite successfully if needed).

And here's what's underneath to row covers!  As you can see in the above picture, I use a collection of rebar, stakes and other poles to lay on top of the edges of the row covers.  To remove the row cover, it's easy to simply roll/slide the poles off onto the soil away from the edge of the cover.  You can barely see it, but the row cover is pulled back and tucked down to the left of the brassica rows.  I always remove just one side of poles, and I pull back the cover to the opposite side.  No sense removing both sides of poles - that's twice the work to get it all back in place.   Once the cover is off, I can weed, thin rows, pick produce, re-seed between plants, and inspect the plants for damage.  If we've had a lot of rain, mildew can grow on the leaves that are touching the soil, so I remove them if needed, but generally, things usually look pretty good under there.  Weeds are always the worst problem for me but this year I'm on top of it (so far).

 The timing of working under your row covers is crucial!  You must wait for when the moths are inactive.  VERY early morning and evening are good times.  I prefer the evening because everything is dry. In the morning, dew makes everything wet.  It's hard to work with the fabric when it's wet as it sticks to the plants and itself.   

Tonight was perfect to work the brassicas - the kids were in the pool for an evening swim and the mosquitoes weren't too bad, so I dove right in and got busy.  In 45 minutes, I had picked broccoli that was ready and checked on the plants that are close to harvest...

thinned out the snowball turnips and gave the greens to the chickens (I kept the turnips for us!),

checked on the succession plantings of broccoli seedlings that I put in a few weeks ago (they're coming along very nicely and will be producing soon),

and was mighty impressed with the purple top turnips!

I picked and thinned several pounds of them to bring in and gave those greens to the hens as well.

The Copenhagen cabbages looked fantastic!  I seeded more of them this evening to keep the harvest going - I'm aiming to do that every 2 weeks with all of my crops until the beginning of August.

Kohlrabi is coming along nicely and will be ready soon... so tasty cut up and eaten raw (especially just picked!).  The pac choi had all gone to seed, but we've been eating it for a few weeks...  I've got more plants to go in shortly.

I've been terribly disappointed with cauliflower this year...  my plants did NOTHING. Last year's crop was stellar.... so I'm going to try some fresh seed and see what happens.  I suppose we must learn to take the good with the bad - never get too confident - gardens have a way of humbling us...

So all in all a productive 45 minutes this evening :)  I have everything covered back up where it will stay for another 3 or 4 days.  Now is the time of year when I need to be checking under there a few times/week.  Early in the season, I can leave them for several weeks until the plants get established.

I bought my row covers online from Veseys and I've been very happy with their service.  I have ordered row covers twice now from them and both times my order arrived very quickly.

Do you use row covers?