Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chick update

Charlie on watch, with the chicks nearby
There are still seven chicks living near the house.  Charlie has done a good job.  When the chicks were two months old, their mother abruptly abandoned them.  Usually, a mother hen will start roosting when her chicks are that age, but because they all live together in the barn, the little ones can still be near her.  This hen moved back into the barn, but her chicks stayed at their pen beside the house, so they are completely on their own.

Well, not quite on their own.  Obviously, they don't feel totally independent yet, because they've taken to sleeping in a huddle right beside Charlie's evening resting spot on the porch.  It's pretty cute to see him there with his chicks when I walk out the door.  We'll let them do this for a while more, because thate's still a danger from the ravens, but then we'll start herding them over to the barn.  We really don't enjoy having chicken shit around the porch.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Garlic scapes

The garlic plants in the garden are sending up flower stalks.  These are known as "scapes", and their thickness generally reflects the size of the bulb below the ground.

Luckily, the scapes should be removed so that the garlic plant puts its energy into bulb production.  I say, "luckily" because they are delicious.  You just snap off about of foot of the stems and cook them; they have a flavour similar to that of green beans cooked in garlic.  My favourite way of cooking them is this:

  • Remove the tips from the scapes.  Drop them into boiling water and cook them for 2 or 3 minutes, then drain them.
  • Heat a bit of oil in a frying pan and fry the scapes quickly for a few minutes.  Add a sprinkle of brown sugar, a splash of soy sauce, some chili pepper, and a drizzle of sesame oil.  If you like the flavour, add some Thai fish sauce, too, or a slice of fresh ginger.  Cook till they are nicely browned and serve hot or chilled.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sounds and smells

I just got home from a week in the big city, where I went to visit family and friends.  I enjoyed my trip.  I don't generally feel the need for a break, since my life is one long break, but once in a while, it is nice to experience the good things city life has to offer.  I went out for sushi and Indian food, for example, and I got to go to life drawing every day, which is a big treat for me!

When I returned, I found home to be as beautiful as it always is.  The wildflowers are at their peak, with the wild roses putting on a spectacular show along the roadsides (but not in front of our place, where the goats eat them all) and more tiger lillies than I've ever seen before.  The wild strawberries are ripe now, so I can eat handfuls while the goats are browsing.

I've been considering what I love most about the place I live and I've decided that there are two things that really stand out:  the sounds, and the smells.  In the city, there are good things to eat and fun things to do, but the sounds and smells are vastly inferior to what I have at home.

Here, when I step outside, there ae lots of noises, but hardly any are mechanical.  I hear the wind in the trees, the sound of running water, birdsong, the humming of insects, and the voices of everyone living on our farm: goats, sheep, chickens, dogs, husband.  Two or three times a day, a car drives by, and sometimes we listen to a radio, but mostly, I hear natural sounds.

The smells are even better.  Much of the time, we take the smells around us for granted, but I really notice them after suffering city smells for a while.  The air is so fresh here, and I've learned to use my nose more than I ever used to.  The flowers are fragrant, of course, but all the plant life, the earth, and the moisture in the air contribute something.  Even with eyes and ears closed, I can take a whiff of air and tell the time of day, the weather, and the season, as well as which animals are nearby.  It's the best part of rural life for me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mowing the lawn

We don't maintain a lot of lawn.  In general, a lawn seems like a lot of unnecessary work.  However, we do like to have short grass in a couple of areas.  Near the picnic table, for example, we keep the grass mowed to reduce the mosquito population.  For this, I use my Lee Valley push mower.  Our living mowers keep the grass on the rest of the property at a reasonable height.

Around the garden, inside the fence that keeps the living lawn mowers out, it's nice to be able to walk around easily.  Also, the garden vegetables seem menaced, as well as shaded, by six-foot high grass and weeds beside them.  To cut this, I need my favourite lawn mower of all:

Saturday, July 16, 2011


a small cilantro plant
 One of my favourite garden plants is cilantro.  It self-seeds freely and is one of the earliest volunteers up in the garden in spring.  Even the tiniest plants are full of flavour, so I add it to nearly every salad I make.  I don't cut the leaves, I pull out whole plants, otherwise, my garden would be one big cilantro patch.

When the plants get too big, I pull most of them so they don't crowd out the other vegetables.  If we could freeze them, they would retain their taste better, but we dry some instead.  In the winter, we can crumble them into soups, but they will be much more bland than frozen ones would have been.  I leave a few plants growing, for seeds.

the cilantro patch

When the seed pods are bright green, I pickle them for a wonderful addition to rice, stir-fry, hors d'oeuvres, fish dishes, etc.  I've never known anyone else to do this, but they should; these are so delicious.  I leave some seeds to dry into coriander.  After picking most of them, I pull the dry plants and shake them around to scatter next year's seeds.

ready to be dried

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July goatwalking - Leadership lessons

When I go goatwalking, I am the leader.  Before we start out, I plan a route that takes into account the amount of time we have, the weather, the insect and plant life of the season, and my mood.  Usually, we follow my planned route, but not always.  We might be distracted by something particularly pleasant or interesting along the way, or I might get a lesson in leadership.

Goats make excellent followers.  I try to be more like them when I am being a follower myself, and to let them train me to be a better leader.  They let me lead them from out in front or behind by keeping an eye on me and drifting in whichever direction I do.  They move along on my chosen route--unless I try to take them somewhere that they don't want to go.

If I have selected a bad route (too long, too difficult, boring, not enough food, too many bugs, etc.), they simply stop following and I suddenly find myself walking alone.  At that point, it's time to reevaluate my plans.  I determine what I've done wrong, bo back to where they're waiting, and head off in a new direction.  If I got it right, they'll follow again; otherwise, I have to try a third time.  I mustn't fail the third time.  They will abandon me and go their own way.

I can't help thinking that we'd have a better society and better leaders if we all practised being goatlike followers.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A note to readers

I don't have access to the internet at home; I have to borrow a neighbour's computer or go to town to get access.  This limits my internet time to an hour or two a week, barely enough to do my postings and not enough to look around very much.

That being said, I'm just fascinated by the lives of the people who are interested enough to read my blog.  Are you urbanites, or country people?  Do you like to dream about "back to the land" or are you living off-grid?  What is important to you, what are your passions, how do you spend your days?


I don't know how to use the internet very well, but I do try to look up everyone who follows my blog, as often as I can.  I just wanted to let you know.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cool nights in the garden

Our greenhouse
Our latitude here is 52 N and our altitude is 2750' above sea level.  We get lots of long, warm days but our nights stay cool.  A typical mid-summer day can start out at 5 C (note the Canadian way that I mix metric and imperial?), go up to 30 C or more, then end up back at 5 C.  This creates wonderful conditions for people and animals who are happy in the daytime heat yet sleep comfortably.  It's also great for cool-weather crops like peas and lettuce, but it makes the heat-loving crops a challenge to grow.

Peas in the garden
Tomatoes, for example, stop growing below 12 C.  In our brief, 90-day frost-free season, we might only get half a dozen nights above that temperature all summer.  Even in our greenhouse (which is unheated), the tomatoes grow so slowly that the fruit hardly starts to ripen before we're heading into the autumn's frosty nights.  I don't try to grow our full supply of tomatoes but just put in a few plants for treats to snack on.

This year, the weather has been so cool that I don't know if any tomatoes at all will ripen!

Knee-high tomatoes in the greenhouse

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Leaf Miners

A poplar leaf being eaten by a leaf miner

The poplar trees here have been suffering an epidemic of leaf miners for about 7 years.  These bugs are native to this area but a series of warmer-than-average winters has allowed their population to explode.  Every year seems to be worse than the last.

The leaf miner lays its eggs on poplar leaves and the larvae munch their way through them, creating tunnels that meander through the leaf until they end up at an edge, where they create a little coccoon.  A tiny moth eventually hatches out and goes on to lay the next generation's eggs.

Nearly every leaf on every tree is affected now.  The beautiful bright green of the poplars turns into a silvery grey earlier every year.  When the leaf-miner population explosion started, I remember hearing that the trees could only stand three or four years of it before they'd start dying.  They've done well, but we're starting to notice stands of dead poplars here and there, or trees with dead branches.

Lots of other deciduous trees, like the alders and birches, seem to be untouched by the infestation.  Maybe they'll move into the spaces that the dying poplars leave, or maybe the bugs will eat themselves out of existence and the millions of tiny new poplars that are popping up everywhere will be able to grow.  We'll just have to wait and see.

Silver poplars and green alders and willows

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cowbirds in the barn

Female cowbirds on Bree's back

The raven chicks have fledged.  We know from the way they talk.  Their cries are even harsher than their parents', and higher.  To me, they sound like screams from the soundtrack of a horror movie.  Of course, the babies are ravenous, and I noticed that my chicken feeder was being raided, picked clean every morning.  I tired of feeding the hooligans and moved it into the barn.

Now, the only wild birds I'm feeding are the cowbirds.  These little guys like to hang out with the horses and eat bugs.  Often, we'll see several of them lined up on a horse's back.  The males are a glossy blue-black, the females dark grey with brown heads.  I guess they enjoy corn as well as insects, because they are in the barn a lot now that the chicken feeder is in there.

Male cowbirds on a barn window ledge

If I walk in unexpectedly, one of the cowbirds will give its seriously high-pitched alarm whistle and the whole flock will lift away from the fence or the door where they'd been perched.  When they know I'm coming, though, they don't bother leaving unless I walk right up to them.  I can go in and out, hop into the sheep pen, or sit and milk, and the cowbirds will stay put, lined up somewhere, occasionally giving their sweet, liquid warble.  The whole bunch probably don't eat as much grain as one raven does.  My chicken feeder isn't being emptied any more.  I like having these birds around.