Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Permaculture in Edmonton

The countdown is ON!  I'm registered to take the Edmonton PDC through Verge Permaculture  and I cannot wait to attend the first day of instruction on February 8th.  It's been many long months of reading and waiting for this course :)

Verge owners (Rob and Michelle Avis) also have an interesting talk coming up this week (in Edmonton) about the eco-transformation of their home.  Kelly and I are both attending and are really looking forward to learning specifics about their progress.  Taken from the invitation:

The Eco-transformation of Our Urban Home – FREE Presentations: January 24th & 25th
For the last three years Rob & Michelle Avis of Verge Permaculture have been working hard to convert their Calgary inner city home into a thriving permaculture project complete with a front yard food forest, water-harvesting features, abundant food production, compost-making, a solar greenhouse, low-maintenance veggie gardens, greywater, natural building material demonstrations, and energy retrofits on the house. They’ve learned a lot, had many successes (and a few failures), and more than anything else are excited to be sharing their story here in Edmonton.

We have huge plans for our property over the next few years... the education and training through Verge will be a critical element in our "tool belt" - let the learning begin!

Sunday, 13 January 2013


I am a procrastinator to my VERY core.   I have grand plans and inspiring ideas every day, but I usually don't end up implementing half of what I'd truly LIKE to do.  To tackle this weakness of mine, I declared 2012 to be the year where I got outside my comfort zone to actually do some hard things WITHOUT putting them off.  I'm happy to say that 2012 was fairly successful in that regard.  I overcame procrastination in quite a few areas of my life and I did do a lot of new things.  That year long push made me finish out 2012 feeling a little more capable and open to the possibility of doing MORE and procrastinating LESS.

 Ohhhh, self discipline is a tricky virtue....  it's terribly easy to talk yourself out of doing stuff.  Oh, I'm the Queen of it and I'm really, really good at it.  The only trouble is that I don't WANT to be good at that.  I WANT to be good at disciplining myself ~ not just to do the things that I HAVE to do, but to do the things that I WANT to do.  Those ideas, dreams and projects that are swirling in my head... those plans and possibilities for me, my family and our homestead ~ they're all gaining momentum creating a tidal wave inside me.   How truly unfortunate that my knee jerk response is to sit and do none of it.  

My journey through 2012 uncovered the real weakness inside of me.

 A distinct lack of self discipline.  

Hard to imagine that ONE weakness could be so pernicious.  I'm determined to grow out of it and overcome it, one task at a time.  

One of my goals for 2013 is to shave down our grocery bill by reducing the amount of meat that we eat.  We simply eat too much of it out of force of habit.  It's our largest annual food expense which means that it is an area of the budget where I have the most room to reduce spending.  We won't stop buying top quality pastured meats from local producers, we're just going to be buying a little less of it in 2013.  I'm planning to stretch the meat that we do buy in several ways.  One of them is to add more beans, lentils and other pulses to our meals in place of half the usual measure of meat.  Eating meatless suppers once/week will also help me meet my goal.  I've done that in the past and it works, but admittedly, I've not been self disciplined enough to keep at it.  Old habits die hard. 

In order to DO this successfully on a regular basis (and therefore meet my budget slashing goals), I needed to re-stock my freezer with cooked beans and lentils.

Enter: Self Discipline 

Exit:  Procrastination  

My friend, Rose is really good at this and I'm hoping to train myself to be more consistent at it, too.    

Here's the fruits of my labour today:

Thanks to 2 pressure cookers going simultaneously, I was able to get about 2 weeks worth of lentils and beans cooked and into the freezer.  As well, I cooked a Lentil Lemon Soup for supper which smells divine and will taste delicious with homemade bread.

While I was doing all of the above, my 15 year old daughter kept me company in the kitchen and whipped up 2 dozen pumpkin muffins for lunches during the week.  Score!

Well dear readers, it's time to log off the computer, face my demons and slay them.

Until we meet again,


Friday, 11 January 2013

This IS Life

Homemaking is challenging.  Each and every day unfolds differently than the day before it.  The daily, repetitive tasks of cooking, laundry and cleaning remain my anchors, but the flow of the day and the needs of my family are vastly different on any two days of the week, month and year.  Because our days change so rapidly (and often without notice), it's imperative that I develop routines that flow easily with change/unexpected events.  I've learned that with a bigger than average sized family, "normal" is defined a little differently.... "normal" tends to be a little chaotic.  As a consequence, it's critical that I hone my family/home management skills in 2013 to keep up with my ever expanding, rapidly changing home life.  What exactly am I referring to?  In no particular order:

1)  My folks stayed with us for nearly 3 weeks over Christmas and they left on Tuesday.  With all the excitement and busy fun of the season, our routine was blissfully non-existent.  We needed a break from the everyday and we enjoyed the wild ride that was our holiday season, but now, on the tail end of those three weeks, routine is once again needed, welcome and soothing.

2)  My 92 year old Grandma has been in and out of hospital over the past 2 weeks.  Juggling hospital visits (45 minutes away) with driving kids to school and my regular routine/chores was a challenging but important priority.

3)  On Tuesday, Ian left for 3 months in Thailand.  A long drive to the airport in the very early morning hours preceded the regular school day morning routine.

4)  Kelly is currently in transition, working half time at the old out of town job and half time at the new job.  Both jobs have different start and end times.  He is tired and a little stressed as he makes this transition and finds his new routine (which is nowhere near reliable and consistent yet).  Coming home to "calm and peaceful" amidst all this change is a gift for him.

5)  The 3 youngest children are back in school after nearly 3 weeks off over Christmas/New Years.  "Back to the routine" is the theme of the week.  I'm having to get used to once again keeping up with bread making and baking to keep the pantry and fridge stocked for healthy lunches.  I'm also back to making sure that supper gets started early before the busy homework/chores/activity time starts.  These tasks force me to be organized.

6)  The oven died (Christmas Eve I add, while roasting the turkey which took 9 hours to cook instead of the planned 5).  The ongoing challenge of winter cooking for a crowd without an oven has been just another wrench thrown into the mix.  I've been cooking for varying numbers of people over this past month - from 30-odd to just 4 (tonight).  The leaves in our big table have been in and out more times in the last month than most people manage in an entire YEAR.

7)  Grand-parenting!  I'm finishing this random list with the "funnest" and most enjoyable reason why my routine has been up-ended :)  Seeing our Granddaughter is important to us and we'll always choose that over housework and projects if we have the chance to see our son, his wife and baby Penny.

On top of the constant state of daily change around here, we have some very interesting homesteading/permaculture projects that we are planning for 2013:

- a new triple purpose outbuilding made with repurposed/second hand materials (greenhouse/chicken coop/compost)
- swales for capturing, holding and distributing rainwater naturally
- taking advantage of a natural depression by building a pond to attract wildlife and pollinating insects
- planting a food forest in the front yard (we did start this in the Fall of 2012) 
- tear down and rebuild of the rotting front deck/entrance (we still have no access to the front door after 3.5 years of living here)
- water capturing projects (from the existing coop, greenhouse and the house) for irrigating the greenhouse, veggie garden and trees via gravity
- raising meat birds in a moveable tractor pen (we're going to try our hand at raising them now that Kelly will be home for local work)

There's more in store but that's a good start!  I'll be sure to share our progress as we move along the list.  There's lots of research to do still and some drawings and planning to take care of - certainly enough to keep us busy until Spring when we pick up the tools to work on these dreams...

Life in our home is ever changing and always interesting with no two days the same.  Life IS and WILL CONTINUE TO BE "out of the normal range" for quite some time...  My daily routines must be magically accomplished in fits and starts all through the day, flowing in between the many spontaneous changes that get thrown our way.

I'm taking full advantage of the support available over at the Down To Earth Forum.  Join me as I learn more about honing my routines and my home keeping skills!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Feeding chickens organically for less

The nutritional prowess of a good egg is something to behold so securing top quality, consistent, sustainable egg production from our hens is a priority for us here at Little Home In The Country.  Since completing my Organic Master Gardner Course and researching more on the topic of genetically modified grains, it became an urgent priority to source local organic feed for our chickens.  

We already purchase our organic heritage wheat from him and LOVE it.  It makes nutritious, delicious bread and baked goods and we love that we are buying directly from his certified organic farm just a few miles down the road.  I emailed John a few months ago asking if he had any organic grains available for feeding our chickens and this tote was the result of that conversation:  

That tote pictured above contains a metric tonne of screenings.  It's collected when the wheat is "cleaned" and screened in preparation for sale.  Below is a peek at what it looks like inside the tote.

We also invested in a used 5HP feed mill (a few hundred dollars) to grind up the grains a bit to make more of the nutrition available to the hens.  That ensures the highest nutritional bang for our feed buck.  This Farm King mill is a workhorse that so far runs perfectly.  Thanks also to John for referring us to this beauty that he found listed on kijiji. 

Pictured below is the ground grain in the hen house hopper - quite fine compared to the original picture in the tote.  Our hens love it and are eating 1/3 the quantity of it compared to the previous grain feed we were using AND they are laying double the eggs to boot!  We have also made available a hopper of oyster shell for grit until Spring when our land defrosts and the snow melts.

If you keep chickens, I encourage you to find out who grows organic grain near you.  See if you can purchase some wheat screenings for your hens.  John apparently also uses screenings to feed his meat birds with equally excellent results.

I love how networking in our community can net such wonderful results. We'll be saving a good chunk of money on feed costs plus we no longer have to drive our suburban and trailer to pick up feed every few months, saving both fuel and time.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Cranking it out

I'm keeping busy today because my dear 92 year old Grandma is in hospital.   She's taken a terrible tumble and is in a lot of pain, the poor sweetheart.  My parents are thankfully still in town so they are with her in hospital while I "hold the fort down" here with the children.  I can't stand sitting about when there's a crisis afoot - I have to keep busy or I drive myself crazy with worry.

After a mysterious, lengthy stretch of soap failures (thanks to a faulty digital scale) today, I cranked out 4 batches of soap.


Orange calendula (with orange essential oil, calendula infused olive oil and dried calendula petals from our summer garden)

Lavender with organic flowers (not from my garden as it's too cold here to successfully overwinter lavender - which reminds me - I just may try to plant some in my greenhouse this year)

At the top - Rose (made with rose water and sprinkled with petals on top) 
On the bottom, Shea Butter and Cocoa Butter with Grapefruit essential oils (and a little bit of calendula on top)

Once the soap was put to rest and harden over the next 12 hours and the kitchen was cleaned up, I made Rhonda's laundry liquid.  I've been most unhappy with my homemade powdered detergent - our clothes smell absolutely DISGUSTING when I wash with it (even with the addition of vinegar and tea tree as a rinse aid).

I've used an old juice jug to store it in by the machine and the big pail will reside in the basement pantry.   My main floor laundry room is microscopically small so nothing non-essential can reside there.  I can simply fill this jug from the downstairs pail when needed.  Hmmmnnn... looks like I need to mark the lemonade label - the liquid looks a lot like lemonade and I don't want anyone drinking it!  I've added lavender and tea tree essential oils to the laundry liquid because I like the scent of it (although it's not needed, I hear).  I'm also filling my stain treatment spray bottle with it as Rhonda says it's excellent for treating stains - yeah for no more buying Shout.   I'll report back to you shortly about the laundry liquid...  Sure hope it works better than the powder! 

Keep my lovely Gran in your thoughts, would you?  Here she is just 2 weeks ago with baby Penny (her first GREAT, GREAT Grandchild).

Love you Grandma XO

****Edited to add - NO broken bones!  There are some other issues at play so we'll see how she fares over the coming 24 hours... 

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

It was a good year but I'm glad that 2013 is here

Forgive my lack of posting in December.  It's been a whirlwind of activity at our place of late.  Entertaining, house guests (and the musical beds that that entails), parties, celebrating, eldercare, babies, cooking and gifting galore!  Whew.

I can see that the calendar is clearing just like this photo (taken while peeking out at the farmer's field behind our back tree line).  Wide open white spaces...  ahhhh :)

2013 looks really good to me right now.  So much is planned for our homestead and we're knee deep in drawings and ideas for another greenhouse/chicken house and a new shed (for starters).  As we look to incorporate permaculture concepts on our land, we view things quite differently now.  No more single function structures ~ instead, well planned, multifunctional spaces reign.   Lots of work to climb this steep learning curve, though...

First up, however, is inside work while we are in winter's icy grip.  To start: a massive, month long re-organization and de-cluttering project that began today with me putting away Christmas decorations.   I inherited my Grandmother's china cabinet and I'm thrilled to be putting it to good use in our living room which will free up some cupboard space in the kitchen...  the domino effect has begun, LOL.

Kelly has been tackling the garage and it looks fantastic!  After 18 months of neglect while hubby worked out of town, it's finally looking really organized and functional out there.  So much better for working on the new projects this year.

Welcome 2013 - give us what you've got!