Thursday, 27 June 2013

Grazing it down...

In between our perimeter windbreaks (mature willow and spruce) lies a golden opportunity.  

Grasses & "weeds" give a lush appearance to this area (and are doing some good in repairing the soil), but we have decided to put the area to much more productive use before any more seed setting occurs...


The Humble Chicken

We erected temporary fencing and set our hens free to graze the area down in hopes that they'd make a dent in the weeds before they all went to seed.  

(You know that when I say "we", I mean "he", right?  I can't take a lick of credit for that, Kelly did it all while I was away for the day on course last weekend - what a guy!)

Well by golly, those hens thought they took the Concorde to Utopia and set to work scratching and grazing in the woodland area like there was no tomorrow (after all, chickens are woodland creatures).

What was previously VERY "weedy", now looks like this after just one week:

Can you believe the power of "Chicken"?  

1) graze down "weeds"
2) eat insects
3) fertilize the trees
4) lightly till the area
5) produce nutritious orange yolked eggs

All of that in exchange for moving a fence over 30 feet.  To heck with horse power (HP), we harness chicken power (herein called: CP) at Little Home In The Country!

Tomorrow, we move the fence down the tree line and watch the magic unfold once again...

**  Of special note to anyone interested in Rhode Island Reds...  we have NEVER in our entire chicken keeping lives (going back some 20 years) had any breed of poultry that came even remotely close to the grazing efficiency of these Reds.  They reign supreme!  Our Rhode pullets won't be in lay until the Fall, but by golly, those birds are growing fast and are so robustly healthy.  They are a tad bit more skittish than our mature hens (of great breed diversity), but I highly recommend them for their ability to forage.  They are excellent dual purpose birds that are very winter hardy (which is a bonus in our clime).  

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Food Security

Over the last 5 years, I've done some hard thinking about food.  Not so much about recipes and cooking; more about where it comes from and how it's produced.  No longer content with feeding my family conventionally raised food of questionable nutritive value flown in from the other side of the globe, I began to seek wholesome, organic, non-genetically modified, locally and sustainably produced, FRESH food bought from real people that I could actually look in the eye and shake hands with.  Wow.  What a journey that has been!  Procuring food now takes up a very large portion of my days and although that might seem unappealing to you, I would encourage you to make sourcing GREAT food a priority in your life.  May I be bold enough to say that your life will be richer for it.  Richer in health, richer in relationships, richer in community and richer in food security.

There are many, many resources to help you get in touch with your own sources of local food (from Farmer's Markets to online help via or the Slow Food Movement), BUT let us not forget a VERY important, HYPER local, INEXPENSIVE food source:

 Your own backyard.  

Back in the Depression era, my Great Grandfather, Arthur, kept his family alive (in addition to the deserted mother with 6 starving children next door) through the steady labour of tending a vegetable garden that was the entire size of his backyard.  No square foot was left unsown.  No blade of grass was left to rob nutrients from that richly diverse food garden that nourished 10 people through those VERY lean years.  There were no chaises, no hammock, no fire pit, no pool, no trampoline, no outdoor kitchen, no hot tub, no outdoor fireplace with a TV mounted above, no fountains, no sound systems, no battery operated cars for the children, no outdoor heaters, no play structures with slides or umbrellas to lounge under...  there was nothing but FOOD (and PLENTY of it).  Food to eat, food to share and food to put by.  Well nourished those 10 people were, while so many literally starved.  A true testament to the power of a well tended, home scale vegetable garden... 

Fast forward to today and look in any newspaper flyer to see what backyards have become - an oasis of plastic!  Gone are the Victory Gardens and here to stay is a lot of "stuff" to help us play and relax.  While relaxing is good for the mind and the body, I'm not so sure we should be doing so much of that if we haven't got a stable food supply.   Aaaaannnnd we don't.   If you think we do, think again.  HARD.   Nearly every conventionally produced food item has oil, bio-tech and politics involved.   Nations are no longer producing their own food (far from it).   Welcome to our monoculture society that receives it's daily sustenance largely via aircraft.  Not very sustainable and in my opinion, a recipe for a disaster of the very largest kind.  

The population that can't feed itself is very weak, indeed...  

That last statement might feel overwhelming to contemplate, but it is VITAL that we do just that.  My Great Grandpa didn't live in the country on a farm.  He lived in the city of Edmonton with a very short growing season and -40C winters on an average sized lot.  If he was able to feed 10 people from that modest piece of land, I'm betting that most of us could at the very least, feed our families HALF of what they need by way of a garden.

Are you up for the challenge?  

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Precious girls

 A few weeks ago, I caught these two sharing a sweet moment at the window...

So precious XO

Sunday, 16 June 2013

A Bit Of A Jumble

I'm slowly emerging from all that has kept me from this space :)  Life has been amazingly full (for which I am tremendously thankful).  Through it all, I've been refined as a person, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a neighbour and a community member.   It's truly stunning how lack of time can totally change both your viewpoint and your perception (as if you were seeing your life through a new pair of glasses).  I think we all need that from time to time ~ a really busy spell to sort the flotsam from the jetsam :)

Through all of these busy weeks, my motto has been rock steady to help navigate me through:

People First, Things Second.  

That about covers it, doesn't it?  I can't remember where I first read that powerful statement, but I know that it has defined my actions for the last several years.  Whoever you are - thank you for your common sense, cut to the chase, powerful statement that helps me invest my time and energy in the right places.  For a girl who likes her fingers in a lot of pies (figuratively and literally), mottos like that are what keep me on the straight and narrow, true to my heart and our family vision.

Through all of the craziness, some really wonderful things have happened.  I'm eager to share with you all that's been going on here at Little Home In The Country.

First up?  Cover cropping.  This is new for me and I'm pretty pleased with how things worked out.  Sadly, we didn't get the rainfall needed to germinate these cover crops early enough (which put my planting schedule a few weeks behind).  Then there was that pesky case of pneumonia to contend with which also put me a few weeks behind.

I planted a combination of field pea, buckwheat & crimson clover which once germinated grew quickly.   

Then, I brought my hens in to graze it all down and gently stir up the mulch/remains.  Such hard workers those girls are!   The above photo shows them nearly finished "mowing" for me :)   I'm pleased to report that my soil is considerably improved this season after suffering from ignorant neglect last year.  My compaction problem is 50% better, and with continued effort, I hope it will continue to improve.  

The Rhode Island Red "chicks" went through their gawky teenage stage outside in a yard that was seeded with alfalfa and clover just for them :)  Spoiled pullets!  What fantastic grazers they are ~  absolutely every speck of green was devoured in the 2 weeks that they were housed there.  Fantastic stuff.  They are now with the "big girls" in the orchard (soon to be food forest) and I'm seeding their yard once again (today) to provide some good forage which will be available for grazing in a about 6 weeks.  

The greenhouse saw LOTS of action this Spring!  I seeded an enormous amount of veg, flowers and herbs this year (in pots up on makeshift tables) and also seeded the ground beds with early cool weather crops.  By the time the cool weather crops were ready to be harvested from the ground, the warm weather seedlings (tomatoes, peppers, cukes, etc.) were ready to go into the ground beds.

Things got a little crowded in there, with seedling flats tucked in between rows of in ground crops so as not to waste a drop of water.  

As to the outside gardens, things are really ramping up!  

Perennials are blooming everywhere (received from a generous freecycler last year) and my young white french lilac tree bloomed for the very first time!

Future growing spaces have been prepared and are cooking slowly in preparation for planting next Spring.  Never mind the hose, it was laid there so that the grass could be mowed :)

I've started a nursery of sorts which includes a diverse array of plants and saplings all in preparation for planting out a new food forest.   The generosity of a lovely woman who is a member of the Edmonton Naturalization Society helped me get this collection of native plants going.  Some are seedlings that I sowed this Spring but most are gifts :)

When you look at the picture below, you might think that we live in a jungle!  The previous owners of the property sprayed weed killer back in this tree line but we let it begin the successional return to it's natural state.  We plan to expand our hen run this sumer so that our hens can make good use of this wonderful fodder.  We've been here 4 years and with all the biomass that has been generated out here, I'm hopeful that the soil condition will have improved enough to lock up the chemical residues...   There is a tremendous amount of diverse wildlife out back in this tree line, so that tells me that the ecosystem is much healthier than it once was.

The willows are branching out beautifully and will help to buffer wind and capture blowing dust, not to mention provide habitat.  We've got lots of plans for this willow (furniture, fuel, logs for hugelkultur beds, arbors, trellises, etc....)

Due to the rains we've had, the agricultural field behind us is lush with new growth (pictured below).  Everywhere we look, verdant green growth is bursting forth!   The ponds and ditches are all full of water and the frogs are so very happy...      Speaking of frogs, I have a lovely plump fellow living in my greenhouse which is a very good thing in my books.

After we cleaned out the coop last month (OH, WHAT A BIG JOB THAT WAS), we layered the manured carbon into the compost bin and onto the areas that are being prepped for next year's new growing beds.  I invested in a thermometer which is helping me to get the carbon/nitrogen ratio and water content right. So far, it's cooking well and is hot but not TOO hot...

My permaculture design course is going extremely well.  I am very pleased with my instructor, Rob Avis of Verge Permaculture.  Being an engineer, he has a very detail oriented, technical mind which suits me well.  I wanted specifics and details I'm getting them!  I'm absolutely nearing my saturation point, and now need to follow my teacher's advice which is to "get out and DO what I've learned".  We hired Rob for a design consultancy on our land last week because I feel nowhere NEAR qualified yet to design and implement large scale earthworks for water harvesting.  Water is POWERFUL and if not managed properly can cause serious damage to land and structures so we decided to err on the side of caution and we hired Rob.  Avoiding very large Type 1 Errors is a good thing in my book!  In the end, the consultation went extremely well and I learned so much just talking with him as he walked with us and analyzed the land.  Now, my job is to get busy and put those fantastic ideas into place... day at at a time :)

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


I am filled with gratitude.  

So fortunate I am to lead a full and active life "IN REAL LIFE" as opposed to "in front of a screen".   Every single day is full to the brim with a gorgeous jumble of family, our home life, a burgeoning garden, our livestock, my permaculture class and new learning about all sorts of things from beekeeping to cob oven cooking.  Add in a little bit of volunteer work and the reality is that I've been so busy LIVING my life there's no time left to document this wonderful ride I'm on! 

My parents arrive today for a visit from out of province.  Come mid-June, the dust will have settled enough to carve some time out for posting on this woefully neglected blog :)

Until then, friends XO