Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Spring Bulb Update

The parade of early spring flowers is continuing in my garden.  My favourite flower colour is blue, and this time of year gives me lots of it.

The miniature irises (Iris reticulata) are in full bloom now.  They are only about six inches tall.  These light blue ones are the variety "Cantab"; I don't know which varieties the others are.

Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa) started blooming a little after the irises.  They make a mass of colour close to the ground, and multiply fast.

The Scilla are just starting to bloom.  They also multiply fast, and they are a beautiful true blue.

Snowdrops were the first flowers in the garden and they're still going strong.

Dutch crocuses are starting as the snow crocuses fade away.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


After a week of cold weather, it finally warmed up on Friday, and we went for our first goatwalk of the year.  Later on, we'll be doing this nearly every day.  Today's walk was a short one, just to get the herd used to doing it again.  Not very many of the animals came along, just a few goats, none of the sheep.

The goats were a bit nervous.  They spent more time looking for danger than eating.  After a while, though, they started to relax and find stuff to munch on.  There isn't much growing yet.  They mostly ate the low-growing evergreen plants like kinnikinick and false box.  We also found a group of young pine trees to nibble.  I love the citrusy smell that fills the air when they eat pine.

Of course, the dogs had a great time.  They checked out the bush around us, hunted mice, and played in the patches of snow that haven't melted yet.  Tobias came with us, too, though he wasn't as happy about it.  He mostly followed behind, muttering to himself.

Goatwalking is at the very center of our life here.  It's a necessary chore, keeping the goats happy and healthy.  It's also entertainment for us, part of our food-gathering process, and a survival skill.  I once read a book, aptly named, "Goatwalking," that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in survival skills.  Unfortunately, I don't know the author's name.  Most of the book is a fairly heavy philosophical work, but the first chapters, dealing with goatwalking, were fascinating.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Farm Dogs

Hunting mice
I've mentioned the dogs often, but haven't properly introduced them yet.  We have two dogs, Floyd and Charlie.  Floyd is a handsome blue merle mutt.  Charlie is a Border Collie cross.  They're both great dogs, but in very different ways.

We got Floyd as a puppy.  His mother was an Australian Shepherd/Black Lab cross and his father a Rottweiler/Doberman.  Everyone loves him and he loves everyone.  He has us almost completely trained to take him along wherever we go.  In town, people will often greet him by name before greeting us, and he's welcome in quite a few businesses, because he's so polite.  He likes to show off his knowledge of the right way to behave, which makes up for the fact that he doesn't like to be told what to do.  he doesn't herd the animals, or do much guard work, or any work at all, really.  He's simply a companion.

Charlie only came to live with us last year, when a neighbour couldn't keep him because of illness.  Our farm is his fourth home (that we know of), and he was abused at some point in his youth.  He's shy, dislikes loud noises, and is afraid of enclosed spaces.  His Border Collie blood shows in his absolute devotion to the farm animals, and he's so happy to be living with us now.  Since we've had him, he's overcome his fears to a great extent and gained a lot of confidence.  Charles (my husband, not the dog--note the difference in their names) is always kind, but he's noisy and likes to rough-house with the animals; this has helped Charlie get over his nervousness.  Charlie takes care of the place while Floyd is off gallivanting with us.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Tobias Update

He made it through the winter!  Tobias is still hanging around, but he's changing.  Our friendly gosling has become a sullen teenager.  His voice has changed, for starters.  Instead of saying, "hee, hee, hee," he now growls a deep, "huh, huh, ho."  He has also become moody.  One time when I go outside, he'll come over wanting to talk.  The next time, he'll hiss at me and bite.  Sometimes, he'll even jump up and beat at me with his wings.  (Luckily, he's just trying out this technique and isn't very sure of himself yet.)  It's a bit sad, but he is supposed to be a wild animal, after all, not a house pet.

I can see pools of water out in our snowy field, so the geese should soon be landing there.  Right now, the flocks are still small, and they fly up and down the creek south of our property.  Tobias tilts his head and listens intently as they go honking past.  A few days ago, he started to call a response once in a while.

This morning, I heard more honking than usual outside the house, and looked out a window.  There were two wild geese on our pond, only fifty feet from the house, where no geese have ever landed before.  Tobias and Charlie stood on the bank nearby.  Soon, Tobias went into the pond and floated there a few feet away from the wild couple for about fifteen minutes.  When they left, he flew with them, but he only went as far as the bottom of our field, then landed, called once, and came back to the pond.  First Contact!!!

I couldn't figure out how to rotate this picture, but I like it, so just look sideways!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Crocuses in the Asparagus Bed

Crocus tomasinianus (Ruby Giant)

The predominant colour in April in the Cariboo is brown.  The patches of glowing colour made by the snow crocuses are so welcome in the garden.  These are little species crocuses, closer to the original wildflowers than the big Dutch crocuses that bloom a bit later. 

C. sieberi (Firefly)
I grow a mix of species and varieties and love them all.  I've started to tuck them into all kinds of spots in the garden.  They pop up between raspberry canes when these are just brown sticks and light up the ground under the apple tree.  They edge the flower bed, share space with strawberries, and line the vegetable garden, where I'll plant greens later in the spring.  By the time the other plants need space, the crocuses are finished.

The yellow are C. chrysanthus (Crean Beauty)

Last year, I planted a few bulbs in the asparagus bed.  Asparagus are planted deeply, while the little crocus bulbs are close to the soil surface, so there is no competition.  Again, the flowers have faded and the leaves are dying back before the asparagus starts to come up in May.  I'm pretty sure the plants will get along together even after the crocuses have multiplied.  At one end of the bed, there's a clump of irises.  I'm not sure how it came to be there, but the strongest, fattest asparagus spears I've ever seen come pushing through the mat of iris rhizomes every year. Each fall, I ease out some of the rhizomes, carefully, so as not to disturb the asparagus roots, but the crocus bulbs are so small that they couldn't hinder those strong asparagus shoots.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Chicken Story

A rooster crowing

The longer I live around animals, the more I'm convinced that people who believe that animals' abilities are limited just aren't looking carefully enough.  Recently, I've been hearing about scientists "discovering" that animals display empathy.  It only surprises me that they feel they need to prove it.

One winter, one of our hens started moulting late in the year.  There was a sudden, unexpected cold snap, and in the morning when we went out with a hot mash, we found her in a state of hypothermia.  We carefully put her down on the ground right in front of the warm food, but she didn't even seem to know it was there.

One of the roosters came and stood beside her and a hen stationed herself on the other side.  Both of them made little clucking sounds, the kind that mother hens use to call their chicks to food, while they deliberately pecked at the mash, obviously showing her that it was there.  Still, she made no move.  The healthy hen, to our amazement, then reached out with one wing and laid it over the back of her cold friend.

We picked up both hens and took them to the basement, where they lived until the moulting hen grew some feathers and the weather warmed up.

Beautiful rooster feathering

More gorgeous rooster feathers

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Signs of spring:  Our pond is full, so Tobias can finally swim a bit, though there's still lots of ice.  The robins and thrushes have been back for a while.

Tobacco seedlings, about 3 weeks old
 A friend of ours bought a little fan that sits on his woodstove and circulates the warm air.  He assumed that it operated simply because hot air rises.  In fact, it has a small thermoelectric generator running it.  I'd never heard of such a thing and started investigating.  What I found out surprised me.

In very basic terms, it works like this:  When a substance is heated unevenly, so that there is a difference of at least 60 degrees in temperature between one end of it and the other, an electric current is created.  A denser material or greater temperature difference will cause a stronger current. 

According to Collier's Encyclopaedia, thermoelectric systems are used on the moon, where the extreme temperatures make them very efficient.  On a more everyday level: in the 1950's, small units were distributed to people living in remote Siberia so that they could use the heat from their kerosene lamps to run their radios.

It's really free electricity.  I bet my cookstove could run a lightbulb and a radio through the winter if I had the knowledge to build a little generator.  Too bad the makers of that fan wouldn't produce something slightly more powerful and more useful.

Dulsa still likes to lie in a basket

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Baling Twine

My egg basket

One thing that exists in superabundance on most farms is baling twine.  Over the years, I've tried many different ways to use the stuff so that it doesn't have to go into the landfill.  I use it, of course, for all sorts of repairs.  Here are some other things I've done with it:

  • Made it into a rope.  For this, I braided strands together, then braided the braids.
  • Used it in fencing.  I've tied up rails rather than nailing them.  I've also tried tying it into squares to replace page wire, but this was just too time-consuming.
  • Wove it into a porch mat.
  • Tied up all sorts of plants in the garden.
The most successful item I've made from baling twine is my egg basket.  To make this, I turned a mixing bowl upside-down to use as a form, then I wove the twine around it and braided a handle.  This basket will hold 2 dozen eggs and has been in daily use for well over a decade.  Once, I dropped it and some animal carried it off into the bush, where it was lost for six months.  It has so much history that I can't bear to part with it, even though it's looking pretty disreputable these days.

Baling-twine rope

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Early gardening and late snowfall

Early-blooming pansy

Yesterday, I did my first serious weeding in the garden. I call it "serious" because I actually accomplished something, not because I got lots done or because it was hard work.  The snow had melted off part of a flower bed, so I cleared the edge of it.  Last week, I pulled some grass from the little, two-inch-wide strip of bare ground next to the house, but that was mostly symbolic.  When the first bit of earth appears in the spring, I just need to get my hands into it.

As the snow melts, all kinds of growing plants are revealed.  The first snowdrops emerge ready to bloom, and sometimes the pansies and johnny-jump-ups are actually flowering under the snow.  I wonder how they know it's spring?

Actually, I also wonder how I know it's spring, myself.  This morning, the ground was covered in snow again.  I stepped out the door into a world of white, but it still felt like spring.  Is it the smell of growing things that I unconsciously recognize, or something about the strength of the sun?  All I know is that it feels totally different from a similar snowy morning in October.

It's too wet now to continue weeding, so I'll do something different today and get back into the garden tomorrow.

Tulips emerging from a snowbank

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Living with the Seasons - Spring Fever

Living in the country, you pay more attention to the seasons of the year.  Off the grid, with livestock and a garden, it's impossible not to be in tune with the seasons.

The winter/spring transition is my favourite.  We're emerging from a quiet, dark, relaxed time.  All winter, I've been sleeping ten hours a night, reading lots of books, visiting friends, drinking wine, and my energy level has been quite low.  Now, as spring arrives, I realize that my energy hasn't deserted me, it's been dammed up, increasing, and the dam is about to burst.

As a society, we think of ourselves as something apart from nature.  We're fooling ourselves.  Look at the trees, with their sap starting to flow.  Look at the birds, migrating.  Look at the daffodil shoots, pushing their way up even under the snow.  They're all responding to the lengthening days.  Me, too.  Spring fever is about to hit!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bottle Feeding

I hope we don't have to bottle feed this year.  It's always so much better when the mothers can take care of everything on their own.  We have had to do it many times in the past, though.  Most often, it's when a set of triplets is born, and one of them is consistently left out.  The two bigger babes will rush together up to their mother and nurse greedily until she's tired of them and moves away.  The little one goes hungry.  Sometimes, the mother will refuse to accept a kid, though this hasn't happened to us much.  The most devastating is when the mother dies in birthing.  Thankfully, this is rare, but it's one of the things a farmer has to face, especially when living hours away from a vet.

Bottle feeding is fun, but terribly time-consuming.  Our first experience was with five kids (see my posts of January 19 and 23, 2011).  The next year, we had a different situation that modified our ideas considerably:

Sally had twins in 1993.  She gave birth easily and the kids were healthy and strong.  She had lots of milk, but her udder was so pendulous that the teats hung just inches from the ground.  The kids found the udder, but they kept standing under it, nuzzling upwards, trying to find teats above them where they expected them to be.  When they became frustrated and discouraged, we helped them by forcing them to kneel and putting the teats into their mouths.  The little doeling (Celeste), caught on fast.  After we'd helped her two or three times, she learned to nurse on her own.  The buckling, however, seemed a bit dim.  He just couldn't get the hang of it and could only nurse when we helped him.

Our books said that we should bottle feed five times a day, so five times a day, we'd go out and help our little dimwit find the teat.  Each time we went out, he would be looking hollow-sided and hungry, and we'd leave him happy and with a nice round tummy.  Celeste, however, always looked the same shape and always seemed satisfied.  By the end of a week, the difference in their growth was obvious.  Celeste was much bigger.  We increased the frequency of feedings for the buckling to six per day, but Celeste continued to gain on him.  This went on for two or three weeks, till he finally got it figured out and nursed on his own.  Then, his growth caught up with hers.

Since that time, whenever we need to bottle feed, we do it much more often.  (The total amount of milk per day doesn't change, we just divide it into more feedings.)  When I go out to spend a few hours with the herd, I take a clean bottle.  I catch a goat, milk her into the bottle, then tuck it inside my shirt, against my skin to keep it warm.  Whenever I see the other kids nursing, I'll let my bottle baby have a sip.  After the kids have begun to eat grain and grass, it becomes less important to give lots of feedings, and we thankfully switch back to three or four times a day.

I know that it's quite possible to raise healthy kids without going to so much trouble.  However, I like to do my best for them, to give them the closest approximation to a natural life that I can.  In the case of a dead mother, or one who has rejected them, I also give them as much cuddling as possible.  As my absolute favourite goat-keeping book states:

     "emotional deprivation in youth does not make for emotional stability in adult life in man or beast."  - Goat Husbandry, David Mackenzie