Saturday, 27 April 2013

Gearing UP!

We've survived the last of the nasty lingering winter temperatures.  At long last, the thermometer reads double digits ABOVE zero!  What a blessed relief THAT is :)   In the greenhouse, the recently seeded broccoli is sprouting up nicely and will hopefully be ready for transplant late May.

The greens that I overwintered (accidentally) have miraculously come back to life!  I am ABSOLUTELY going to do that this fall - ON PURPOSE!  What a good jump start on Spring picking...  won't be long before I can eat from these plants :)    The tiny seedlings below are lettuces that were seeded 2 weeks ago but due to the COLD nights, they really haven't taken off yet.

The tomatoes have all been seeded with the exception of a few more varieties.  All are heirlooms that we've either tried before and loved or come highly recommended by others.

Below are my irrigation buckets  :)  Yup, that's snow melting in there!  The greenhouse heats up really well during the day, so I place full buckets of snow inside when I open it up in the morning.   By late afternoon/evening, they are all melted and ready for me to irrigate with.  All that nutritive water from snow melt is GOOD for the soil.  

I've also been walking the land every day to discover what it's trying to tell me.  Can you see the faint horizontal line running across the dead looking grass (about 2/3 of the way up the picture)?  That is a debris deposit that was left following the snow melt.  The bold angled vertical line is from when we had to trench to bury a new phone line in the late fall.

In the next picture, you can see 2 other lines of debris that meet to form a Y intersection. This "meeting" of debris shows me where the water runs down to collect in a low lying area of our property.

Here's the long view... all those debris trails show me EXACTLY where the water likes to flow and as you can see, it collects in this one area and in another area a little closer to the house.

Instead of having the water run off and sit unproductively upon the grass, we plan to dig a pond in the low area to collect and store this water in a manner that will enhance the biodiversity on our land and provide water all summer for the future trees and gardens that will surround the pond.  I'm really excited about this project and I'm busy working on my design project to plan for the installation.

In other news, Jacques (our French Copper Maran rooster) is a very busy fellow these days... 

With the garden now mostly free of snow cover, he spends his days escorting his "harem" out and about so they can find the tasty morsels in the mulch and soil.  Because of the hen's increased insect/worm intake, their yolks are a vibrant orange once again.  

Jacques is a very protective roo!  He "cock-a-doodle-doos" constantly when we are close to his ladies lest we get any ideas of taking over his territory...  such a funny boy.  Isn't he handsome?  In spite of all that bravado, he is really very docile and has never charged at us.  For a rooster, he's very friendly :)

Thought I'd quickly update you on the state of the coop.  The level of bedding is now nearly up to the roosts!  I've layered straw, wood chips, alfalfa, shredded paper & shredded cardboard in various thicknesses depending on what I had on hand with the intention of alternating texture as much as possible (like the rough, looser texture of alfalfa before the application of fine textured wood chips and shredded paper).  The coop does NOT smell like ammonia in spite of the chickens being housed in here all winter!  We do have good ventilation to keep the moisture levels in check (important for poultry) and the action of the chickens scratching and pecking through the bedding has aerated it enough to mix the layers a bit, preventing (we hope) compaction.  The other added benefit of this deep bedding method, is that the FREE heat generated as it composts. This has kept our chickens toasty warm all winter.  We have NOT ONCE needed to turn on the heat lamp in spite of a long cold winter.  

Soon, it will be time to shovel this all out to let it fully compost and mature.  Because most of the material is fine, it's much easier to scoop out then previous years where I only used straw (which matted together something fierce!).   I don't plan to use this bedding in the garden until at least Fall, perhaps next Spring.  I'll keep you updated on it's journey into soil :)

Monday, 22 April 2013

It's almost gone...

The snow is nearly gone but the nights are still very cold with temperatures hovering somewhere in the vicinity of -10C each night.   Every morning, the ground is frozen rock solid.   Here's the view from my front door early this morning...  blue and cold, with a welcoming (warm - oh, please be warm today...) sunrise just peeking up over the horizon!

 I'm walking our property each day to learn more about the land from a permaculture design perspective (which is rather like wearing glasses for the very first time).  Funny how things I've seen a million times have such a different meaning when viewed from a solutions oriented perspective.  The area where water collects is not the problem we once believed ~ it is an opportunity to harvest and store that ever precious resource AND create a reflective microclimate to bump up the growing possibilities.  Instead of growing grass there, we need to put a pond in!

The massively overgrown, poorly pruned willows (a legacy of the previous owners) are not the removal burden we once believed...   they are an essential component of the windbreak, free building material (wattle fencing, trellising, furniture & baskets), fodder for the hens (Spring and Summer), effective protection from dust and pesticide drift (Spring and Summer), reliable protection from the hot afternoon sun, habitat for wildlife (all year), rapid carbon pathways (leaves and wood chips for mulch and soil building) and fuel for fire.  That's a lot of functions for one species!  An effective and intelligent permaculture design considers all the functions and possibilities of each element and carefully (thoughtfully, in honesty) arranges them in such a way as to maximize yield while minimizing work.  Heavy emphasis in placed on observing and thinking and minor emphasis is placed on designing (which is TOTALLY the opposite of how I am by nature).  Perhaps this course is more of a character building lesson than anything else?  Hmm...

While my mind wakes up to this new perspective, I'm busy reading, studying and thinking about my design assignment for our property.  I feel encouraged about the future of our property, but also, very much overwhelmed by the amount of work to do.  "Baby steps" will be our motto for 2013.

Meantime, amid all the learning, I'm tending my greenhouse seedlings which are very tentatively poking their heads up!  There's no supplementary heat in the greenhouse so it's rightly cold at night.  Brrrr....  Even these cold hardy greens are feeling it as they press the "pause" button until temperatures consistently warm up a bit. 

Here I sit in jeans a t-shirt (feeling chilly), enjoying the warmth of the morning sun as it streams through my (dirty) windows...  is it possible to be warm and cold at the same time? Hahahaha... apparently it is :)

Friday, 19 April 2013

Making Healthier Pastry

 We've been transitioning to a healthier diet over the last few years ~ one that includes organic, non-genetically modified food, loads more vegetables, true whole grains, healthier fats and far less sugar.  In an effort to totally ditch the conventional white all purpose flour (which we rarely used, but still kept on hand for occasional pastry and light cakes), we invested in a flour sifter attachment for our Bosch Mixer.   In seconds, I can place this attachment on top of my Bosch and have freshly milled organic whole wheat flour sifted to remove some of the germ.  While we generally strive (and WANT) to eat the entire grain in our flour on a daily basis, for certain delicate baked goods (such as pastry), a lighter flour is desirable.  The resulting sifted flour is a little lighter than 100% whole wheat, and still contains some of the germ.  It is NOT like "white" flour that you may be accustomed to buying.

First up was a chicken pot pie inspired by Rhonda's Chicken casserole post.  Our family LOVES chicken pot pie and I had 2 carcasses on hand to use up from a roast chicken dinner the other day.  On went the pressure cooker this morning to create a rich gelatinous broth which formed the base of this meal.  To that, I added plenty of veggies and seasoning plus some barley (I usually add diced cooked potatoes, but as we have used the last of our garden potatoes, I substituted barley).  Back up to pressure went the cooker and while it cooked for 20 more minutes, I salvaged lots of meat of the cooling chicken bones.   Soon, it was ready to be put into the baking dish and topped with pastry.

I follow the pastry recipe from the Tenderflake box because it was the recipe that my Grandma always used.  Now that we have leaf lard, I use that exclusively for pastry (in place of Tenderflake lard).  I am thrilled with the results!  If you look at the picture below, you can see the darker colour of the pastry ~ that's from the sifted wheat flour.  It has a lovely (almost) nutty flavour and is very flakey.  I bake my pot pies at 425F until the pastry is browned and the filling is bubbling in the centre.  

While the oven was on (and because I had leftover pastry), I decided to make use of some freezer burned strawberries.  They look pretty miserable don't they?  I found some chopped, frozen rhubarb and combined the two to make a delicious strawberry rhubarb pie for the weekend.

Both pies cooked together to make good use of the electricity and pastry... oh boy, did the house ever smell good!

And now for the leftover bits...  my Grandma always used to make cinnamon sugar pastry or jam roll ups with her leftover pastry so I've followed suit.  Today, it was a little overdone thanks to me vacuuming when it was cooking and not hearing the timer!  Doesn't matter, it will be devoured in short order anyway...  a little cinnamon, and a sprinkle of organic cane sugar makes for a yummy after school snack with a glass of milk (just like I used to enjoy as a girl).

***** Edited to add recipe for Rose :)

Tenderflake Pastry 
(taken from the box of Tenderflake lard)

5 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I use fresh milled whole wheat that has been sifted but I used to use white all purpose)
2 tsp salt
1 lb cold lard from the fridge (I use leaf lard but used to use Tenderflake)
1 Tbsp vinegar
1 egg
cold water

1) Put flour and salt into a large bowl and mix well.  Preheat oven NOW to 425F
2) Add lard that has been cut up into equal"ish" pieces for easier blending.
3) Blend with a pastry blender or "cut" with 2 knives until mixture roughly resembles course crumbs.  Don't use your hands or it warms up the dough too much.
4)  Crack an egg into a 2 cup liquid measuring cup
5)  Add 1 Tbsp vinegar to the egg.
6)  Fill cup to the one cup measurement with COLD water (which will include the egg and vinegar)
7)  Mix liquid well with a fork until evenly blended.
8) Pour liquid mixture over the flour mixture relatively evenly.  I am not too picky about this step I just dump it in all over.
9)  With a table FORK, begin to blend it all together until it sticks together to form a ball"ish" shape.  You may need to add a little bit more water but do it in small increments so as not to over wet.  When it gets close to the ball shape, I abandon the fork and use my hands for the last bit.
10) With your clean hands, gently manipulate the pastry until it is in a loose ball shape.  You will need to roll the ball around to get the dry bits off the bottom of the bowl.  It's ok if it's not totally blended and smooth.  That's good and it's what makes your pastry tender and flaky.  It should look really rough and NOT evenly blended.  You will see bits of unblended lard and clumps of flour.  That's ok!  Overworking pastry can cause it to be tough, so err on the side of NOT working it enough.
11)  I hear that you're supposed to put the pastry in the fridge before rolling but I'm rarely organized enough for that so I usually just roll it out right away on a floured surface.  Sprinkle a small amount of flour on the rolling pin to prevent sticking.  As you roll it out, it blends further but will still look a little rough.
12)  I like to seal the top and bottom of my pies with a tiny bit of milk run around the edge with my fingers.  When you crimp the bottom and top pieces together, it will seal nicely.  
13)  I also cut vents in the top of my pie to let steam out and also it's easy to tell if it's cooked all the way through as the filling will begin to bubble up in the centre.
14)  The last step is to brush a little bit of milk gently all over the top of the pie JUST before it goes in the oven.  Don't drown it!  Then sprinkle a little bit of sea salt on top if it is a savoury pie or a little bit of sugar if it is a sweet pie.  This step helps with browning and it makes a nice crust.

I bake my pastry at 425F so that it puffs up nicely and cooks all the way through.  It should be nice and brownish on top and a bit puffy looking.  I really like to use glass pie dishes because I can then see if the bottom is cooked and brownish.  If you have a convection oven you can place your pie in the middle of the middle rack, but if you have a NON convection oven, you should put your pie on a rack a little closer to the bottom of the oven so that the bottom crust cooks properly.  

You can tell if a pie is done when the vents start to show bubbly filling :)  Also, keep a close eye on the top of your pie.  If it's starting to over brown, place a sheet of foil loosely on top of the pie to reflect some heat.  Continue cooking until the filling bubbles in the centre.

Pies should rest before you serve them to partially cool and set up.  Let savoury ones sit for about 10 minutes and sweet ones should sit for longer (an hour or more).  Do not cover cooling pies or the crust will get soggy from the steam.

Hope this works for you :)  YOU CAN MAKE PASTRY!  Go, Rose!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

All Things Water

In my Permaculture Design course, the mantra that has been drilled into my head is:


Water is the VERY first thing we should be designing around ALWAYS, without exception. Water is a broad topic within the PDC curriculum and for very good reason.  Without water, life is simply not possible.

As with most Permaculture topics, by no means do I feel remotely confident yet in my abilities to harvest and manage water in all situations, but I certainly have had my eyes opened to a lot of different techniques.   By far however, the most efficient, inexpensive way to harvest and store water for use by plants and trees is by way of the soil.

The soil?   What?????   What about rain barrels, storage tanks, swales, ponds, dams and trenches?   Well, yes, those have a place (and very specific applications), but so very often, the simplest, most efficient, cost effective method to harvest and store water it is to improve your soil so that it can absorb and retain water all by itself.  Ahhhh... the simplicity of that is revolutionary! 

Feeding and nurturing your soil by adding lots of varied organic matter can improve the soil structure quickly, creating a spongey texture that will absorb and hold water.  When combined with planting fast carbon pathways (plants to chop and drop or cover crops to work in), the soil will make dramatic improvements in its ability to store water (not to mention boosting fertility exponentially at the same time).  Quite literally, THOUSANDS of litres of water can be stored in your soil without any collection or storage equipment, and if you have taken care to properly mulch your soil (to prevent evaporation), that captured water will be held in situ and released gradually to the plants as water is needed with absolutely NO involvement on your part.  In some circumstances (and in some climates), soil building alone won't be enough to meet water requirements.   However, improving your soil can go a surprisingly long way in dramatically reducing the amount of water required to collect, store and irrigate with.

I am slowly learning that by looking to the natural world, we can learn volumes about designing efficient systems.  A truly brilliant permaculture design literally designs the labour (and the working parts) right out the system.   Sustainable, intelligent design is patterned after nature and will function without your input (or at least with very little input on your behalf).  I've got a LONG way to go in my learning, but this revelation is a certainly the firm foundation of good design...

Friday, 12 April 2013

Mindful purchasing ~ buying the very best quality you can afford

We both hate shopping.   Frankly, I'd rather clean a dirty bathroom than shop for ANYTHING.   When we truly do need to buy something, the item that we ultimately purchase is very well researched, made as locally as possible, and is of the absolute best quality we can afford.   Generally speaking, good quality things last SO much longer and perform SO much better.  This keeps waste down, saves money over time and prevents future shopping trips (very important if you are like us and hate shopping!).   On Thursday, I discovered first hand another wonderful benefit of the "buy quality" mentality ~  customer service :)  At the risk of sounding like a paid infomercial, here's the story:

6 years ago, I bought a pair of Pajar winter boots hoping that I would get several years of use out of them.  My boots are hand made from high grade leather and shearling.  Not ONE stitch has come away even in high stress areas and the zippers still function as new after (literally) thousands of zips.  To add warmth and comfort, the soles have extra insulation from the ice and snow that blankets our region for 6 months of the year.  These boots keep my feet warm in temperatures all the way down to -70C (yes, that's MINUS 70C!).  Conversely, because the boots are made of natural materials, my feet don't get too hot even on a mild day when temperatures hover at 0C.  The grips on the outer soles are full of sticky tread and I've NEVER slipped in them (even on the slickest of ice).   I LOVE my Pajar boots and have recommended the brand to many people over the last 6 years...   Check out this link to Pajar's site where you can watch how these handmade boots are assembled by hand by REAL people IN Canada.

Today, I want to shout out from the rooftops just how GREAT this company is!  My boots are starting to wear after 6 years and as I've logged a lot of miles in them, the inner shearling soles are wearing thin.  On a whim, I contacted Pajar via email to inquire if I could purchase a new set of shearling insoles for my boots.  To my utter shock and amazement, my request was responded to the same day with the wonderful news that Pajar would like to send me a new set of shearling inserts AT NO COST TO ME.   After 6 years, I never expected to receive such a response and I'm in love with this company all over again!

I usually give my boots a little bit of TLC every few months to help them last as long as possible.  This was the most recent effort (a few weeks ago).  See how scuffed the toes were?  That's from me trudging through lots of deep snow and crunchy ice in the bush with the dog (not normal wear).  

After a few coats of shoe polish and some leather protector, my boots are ready to go again!   With my new insoles, I'm hoping that I can get another couple of years out of them.  That's usually the case with buying good quality things - you get a lot more use out of them.

I realize that it's now Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, but for those of you looking for a bargain, Pajar has a sale on their winter footwear NOW.  It's a great time to invest in a pair of high quality, Canadian made boots!  

* I've not been compensated for this voluntary review.  This post represents my own opinion based on my personal experience with this company.  It's high time that we share positive experiences about quality goods and services!

He's Back!

After 3 months of living barefoot in a swimsuit (either underwater or on the beach), Ian is back home in Alberta.  Little sister Megan (16) formed part of the airport welcoming committee late last night...

What was the first thing Ian did once home at midnight?  Prepare his famous "Manwich" (which trust me was a sight to behold).  Our home just isn't the same without Ian fixing an elaborate, mile high custom toasted sandwich each day...

Welcome home, Ian XO   We've missed you (and your kitchen capers).

More photos to come... we're hosting a big family bash today to welcome Ian home and celebrate his (belated) 20th birthday!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

They're set in the Brinsea!

I just set the Blue Orpington eggs!  I decided to let the incubator sit overnight and load the eggs this morning...  my foggy memory finally tweaked last night as last year, I loaded the eggs at night (after warming the incubator all day) and found that the temperature was not right in the morning.  By loading the eggs in the morning, I'm able to keep a closer eye on the temperature all through the day ensuring consistent accuracy by the time I go to bed.  A too hot incubator for 8 hours overnight can have a disastrous affect on the hatch rate.

Orpingtons are fantastic chickens.  They are winter hardy, docile and they lay well.  Additionally, they do brood well and make excellent mothers.  Hopefully, our hens will go broody this Spring and hatch out their own eggs.  We had a few "girls" go broody a number of weeks ago, but as we were still in the depths of winter (-25C) with 5 feet of snow AND we were going on holidays, we decided to continue collecting the eggs and not let them incubate.  Poor girls....  I feel so badly doing that but as the hens were in their toasty warm coop, they didn't really know that it was still winter outside!

Our incubator is a Brinsea Octogon Eco 20.  It's economical and easy to use but more importantly for us, it's quieter than other incubators.  This model can hold 24 chicken eggs depending on the size of the eggs.  I have 22 in here but there is room for 2 more eggs.  Eggs can rest laying down or upright as long as the large end of the egg is up (not the pointy end).  Angled sitting is fine, too.  As you can see, the black rails come out and can be inserted where needed to support the eggs and keep them from rolling around.  The eggs rest on the mesh basket ~ the weight of the egg is not actually supported by the rails.

I should also mention that there are 2 troughs in the bottom of the incubator (under the black mesh egg basket).  Those are for water to maintain humidity in the incubator.  I check those every few days and add more water if needed.  In the 2 days prior to hatch time, the troughs need to be VERY full as a higher humidity is require to facilitate a successful hatch.

Excuse the flash in the picture above - it's very early in the morning and still dark...   This is what it looks like all loaded up and closed.  Look below now...
See the octagon shape of the sides?  This is for turning.  Instead of lifting the lid and turning the eggs manually, we simply rotate the incubator forward and backward 3 times/day resting it on each side of the octagon base.  Easy and better for keeping the temperature stable and preventing accidental breakage.  I've left the cord cover off so you can see where it plugs in.  Note the tiny red temperature adjustment screw.

This screw adjusts the temperature by MICRO turns.  Literally, tiny, millimetre, micro  adjustments make a huge difference in the temperature...  

Once it's at the perfect temperature of 99.5F (and stays that way), I'll screw the cover back on to prevent tampering and keep any splashes and dust out.  The temperature goes down initially as the eggs are at room temp going in, but slowly, the temperature will rise today as the eggs warm up.  I'll check it every hour to make sure it's stabilizing well.

We should have chicks hatch out on or around the 30th of April!    

Monday, 8 April 2013

Up and Down

Up and down goes the thermometer.  The greenhouse was +27C yesterday afternoon and then all the way down to -14C overnight.  URGH.  Not sure that my newly planted seeds will like that steep variance!    I've planted only cool weather crops as of yet, but -14C is tough for even brassicas and greens to take (especially at the tender stage of sprouting).  Oh well, time will tell.  If I have to reseed, so be it.  We really need to get a larger heat sink in the greenhouse to hold and release some heat over the cold night temperatures.

Today is Monday and that means it's weekly list day.  I didn't get everything crossed off the list last week, but as usual, many other things were added and attended to.  A list is really only a jumping off point isn't it?  LOL!   My days all seem to unfold uniquely so I hold my plans loosely...    For instance, just this morning, I was able to suddenly secure some fertile Blue Orpington eggs which meant that I needed to drive the 2 hour round trip to pick them up.    I could have had them shipped, but I want them to hatch out close to when our live chick order arrives on the 25th.   That way, we don't have different batches of chicks at different stages/ages for weeks on end.  It's so much simpler to have them all together in the same brooder roughly at the same age.  The incubator is warming up now and I plan to put the eggs in shortly.  With any luck, we should have baby Blue Orpingtons hatch out on or around the 29th of April.

This week's list (so far):

buy chick feed and wood shavings
plant another round of seeds
finish all homework by end of Thursday
set up clipboards
touch up paint
swimming lesson registrations
plan celebratory supper for Friday night
arrange childcare for Saturday afternoon
orthodontist appt (Wednesday)
call for appt with mechanic (Tuesday?)
pick up freecycle sawhorses
shop for Grandma and deliver
coop maintenance
pick up library holds
pick up worms (Thursday?)
hang pictures in basement
pantry and fridge freezer inventory
Costco run (Thursday?)

In other exciting news, our son, Ian arrives home Thursday following a 3 month scuba diving course in Thailand.  He is now a Dive Master!   We miss him and can't wait to see him again.  He's happy to be coming home to see everyone and this weekend will be FULL of celebrating, I'm sure.

Here he is right before he left in early January...  He'll be tanned now after 3 months in a swimsuit - I'll post a picture when he's home :)

I'd better sign off - I've got LOTS to do before Thursday!

Saturday, 6 April 2013

An Evening With Ron Berezan, The Urban Farmer

Thursday night, it was my absolute pleasure to be in the company of Ron Berezan.   The Edmonton Permaculture Group hosted Ron as the guest speaker for the April meeting and I enjoyed every minute of his informal chat.  It was great to meet him in person and hear about his permaculture work both here in Canada and abroad.

Ron is off to Cuba  soon where he will continue his work on various food security projects.  He's been working for years on projects there and has been joined by many permaculture students.   Do take a minute to read about it on his site - it's truly inspiring!

Meanwhile, here in the Edmonton area, we are dealing with Spring Rain (aka: snow).  Boo hoo!  This happens every April....  just when we get excited about Spring's arrival and all the melting snow, we get hit again with more.  *sigh*

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Seeding in the greenhouse with snow outside!

Seeding the greenhouse was a very pleasant affair, completed a week ago with the help of my eager garden helper, Paige (10).   Considering that our main garden is still under several feet of snow, it felt surreal to be working the soil in the nice warm greenhouse!  In the fall, I mulched the greenhouse beds with a variety of organic materials (grass clippings, leaves, spent plants and compost) and I watered it all in deeply.  Some of that organic mulch has decomposed nicely over the winter and what remained was stirred up very gently into the top inch of soil in preparation for seeding.    

If you recall, a few weeks ago, I irrigated the greenhouse with SNOW several times.  It's all melted now and this is what remained...

It looks brown and bleak now, but soon you'll see GREEN!  We filled the beds with the seeds of many varieties of cool weather crops (peas, brassicas, greens of all sorts, carrots, beets, etc) and we giggled as we remembered how FULL of seedlings our house was last year at this time.  We were literally fighting to find places to sit at the table thanks to numerous seedling flats fighting for sunny positions in the kitchen.  I don't miss that frustrating plant shuffle and I'm SO thankful for the greenhouse! 

As our greenhouse is not insulated or heated, the night time temperatures inside are still hovering at or just below freezing.  It's FAR too early to be planting summer crops in there but with any luck, these cool crops will be at various stages of harvesting/transplanting in the main garden just as we plant the heat lovers IN the greenhouse...    

Once we finished seeding, we watered the soil with a combination of diluted organic fertilizers (Sea Crop and Molasses) and we added Activated Effective Micronutrients to inoculate the soil.  

I bought these products from The Organic Gardener's Pantry and highly recommend both their products and their service.  I found out about this company during the Organic Master Gardener Course that I took in the fall through Gaia College .  

My plan is to mulch the soil with wood chips once the seedling emerge which will boost the fungal populations in the soil and feed the soil microbes as the wood decomposes slowly over the season.  In a closed environment such as a greenhouse, we are at a huge disadvantage as the natural systems that evolve outdoors are excluded...  Hopefully, as I learn more about managing a greenhouse organically, I'll figure out some more tips and tricks and be able to share them here.

Next up is seeding flats in preparation for planting the main garden in about 6-8 weeks!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013


Rhonda posted about lists yesterday and I think this a great topic.  No matter what your life looks like on a daily basis, lists help most of us accomplish what we need to do.  I am a bit of a rebel at heart however, and I OFTEN abandon my list in favour of going with sudden creative inspiration.  I can't tell you how many times I've had project inspiration strike out of the blue sending me WAY off track from my daily list.  I LOVE that though, because the creative energy that inspires me to tackle a project needs to be harnessed!   I simply re-arrange my list to accommodate that productive "intrusion" and enjoy going with flow (which is yet another benefit of working at home).  I have no boss telling me I can't do something ~ I can manage my time how I like.  This makes me much happier and far more productive as a homemaker.

I'm accustomed to daily lists, but I'm going to try Rhonda's suggestion of starting with a weekly to do list.  From there, I'll break it down into a daily list, harvesting tasks from the weekly list as each day demands.  I never bother to include repetitive daily tasks such as laundry, vacuuming, bread making and cooking dinner as they are quite literally ingrained in my everyday routine.  I don't need those tasks written on a list - they happen daily without thinking about them too much.  I focus solely on listing the unique additional tasks that are NOT a part of my every day routines.

At the moment, my weekly list looks like this:

- look online for used water collection/storage vessels and pick up by Friday
- follow up email re: taxes
- call doctor and book appts.
- call homeopath
- call hatchery to confirm pick up date
- finish setting up brooder
- buy chick feed and wood shavings
- call to order prescription refill
- call client re: consulting work & set up meeting
- sow next round of seeds
- add another layer of carbon in the coop
- take paint in to be shaken
- bake lemon supreme pie (Friday?)
- buy beer for weekend
- complete 1/2 of homework assignment
- read assigned material
- find clipboards and set up seasonal records in greenhouse, garage and house
- milk run
- touch up paint in basement
- install raised water barrel IN greenhouse (Sat.)
- begin main production garden bed planting plan
- buy peat moss, vermiculite and castings
- order worms
- set up worm farm
- pick up prize basket at vet office
- order specialty seeds
- attend appt. on Friday
- email re: downsizing garbage pick up
- finalize Costco list for next week
- register for swimming lessons
- book dental appt.
- finish cleaning out the mechanical room and put tools/construction materials away

This list will be added to as I think of things through the week.  I already make my daily to do list each morning, but with this new method, I'll be choosing tasks from the master weekly list rather than thinking them up each day.  I think this new method is much more efficient and also allows for better advance planning.

Other than lists, another key component in my productivity is rising early.  I choose to get up with Kelly @ 4:45am so that we are on the same schedule which is good for our marriage, but also, for the benefit of quiet, uninterrupted early mornings.  I haven't always been in a season where I could do that (pregnancy insomnia, nursing babies & night waking youngsters), but I am now and I quite enjoy it.  I love feeling like I'm organized and ready to take on the day when my children wake.  I parent better and I perform my job as a homemaker better if I'm prepared for the day ahead.

In my days of working away from our home, I was most efficient and productive when I made daily lists.  I recall having to frequently edit them as the duties of my job changed through the day.  Occasionally, a crisis would hit and the list would be altogether abandoned in favour of attending to whatever urgent matter presented itself.  Once that was dealt with, the list remained to help me get back on track after the turmoil of an unexpected crisis/deadline.  Homemaking is like that, too.  Stuff comes up (often, actually), but those lists make all the difference in getting back on track.

With our busy season right around the corner, I'm going to be relying on my lists more than ever.  From seed planting to completing schoolwork and chores, I know I'll be leaning heavily on advance planning and my lists will play an integral part in that.

How about you?  Are you a list person or a fly by the seat of your pants person?  Maybe you're a go with the flow kind of person...  do tell!

Monday, 1 April 2013


I'm stretching myself just a little bit further this year into the realm of Uncomfortable.  As I age, I find myself (in general) far less inclined to try new things which certainly wasn't the case when I was younger.  In my 20's and 30's I was forever learning new things and changing up my everyday existence. I quite literally craved change and challenge then, but now, in my mid 40's, I crave peace, stability and predictability.  Welcome to middle age!   Is that just my experience or are any of my middle age readers prone to the same?

There's absolutely nothing wrong with peaceful stability (in fact, I'm grateful for such an existence), but I'm just a wee bit tired of putting off learning new skills.  To shake things up a little, I've signed up for a few workshops through Shovel and Fork to learn from local people just precisely how to keep bees and harvest honey, forage for wild mushrooms and cook with them, crush and ferment apple cider and berry wine as well as (wait for it).... butcher and process a chicken for the table.  Those are tasks that I've had on the back burner for far too long and it's time to learn them!

I'm also immersing myself in the teachings of Sally Fallon by re-reading the book Nourishing Traditions.  Another goal for this year is to perfect the art of sourdough.  I recently started a rye culture using fresh ground flour from our neighbour, John at Gold Forest Grains.

I've failed at culturing wild sourdough many times, but I'm not going to give up!  All those failures are simply teaching me how NOT to do it :)  If you have any recommendations/suggestions for me about culturing sourdough using wild yeast, please let me know :)

Once upon a time, in the not so distant past, everyday folk like me would have learned these skills from their elders, but sadly, that isn't the case today.  My parents (although wonderful people) don't know the slightest thing about such topics.  They buy their wine bottled, their chicken ready to cook and their bread baked and sliced.  Somewhere along the way, the industrial food system has swallowed up the art and skill of creating one's food. 

I have no desire to fight the conventional, industrial food system for it's far bigger than I. Not only that, but I refuse to marinate in negativity while fighting a life-long battle with a corrupt system.  Instead, I prefer a positive, pro-active approach so these precious hours of mine are slowly being funnelled into learning about and reviving the lost skills that we once all grew up to possess.  My permaculture design course is the framework for that plan and the upcoming workshops will help to fill in the knowledge gaps and round out the skill set.  This year, I'm fighting harder than ever to take back our food!

What are you doing these days to take back your food?