Monthly Archives: September 2008

More politicking with predators

 I might have hung upside down for half a day, but I could still take you.

I might have hung upside down for half a day, but I could still take you.

Yesterday, on my way out of the farm I noticed a dead bird wrapped up in the fishing net we use to protect our chickens and ducks. ‘Aha,’ I thought, ‘there is the little beggar that has been feasting on my ducklings.’ From a hatch of twelve only one survived; the others were pecked off day by day. It was like  I was living through scenes from an Agatha Christie novel: and then there was one.

I didn’t have the time to cut the corpse out of the net at the moment, so I resolved to do it when I got back. Of course, by the time I returned, the builder was just on his way for the day and wanted to update me on his progress. We toured the barn and I oohed and aahed at the appropriate pauses in his descriptions. As I escorted him off the farm we stood over the gate discussing when he’d return to finalize some details, and a movement caught my eye. The little beggar in the net was staring at me as if to say, ‘I’ve got a bit of a situation here, would you mind?’

“My gosh, it’s alive,” I blurted mid-sentence and ran over to it. Elmer, seconds from a clean getaway, reluctantly said, “What’s alive?” I answered by updating him on my morning’s experience, as I ran over to see if I could untangle the bird. What I thought had been a small hawk turned out to be a small owl. The poor wee creature had been hanging there for hours. I went to get him untangled when Elmer leaped into action. “Watch yourself!” he hollered, launching himself through the gate and coming to my aid, “Them little buggers can really bite.” This he announces after I’ve wrapped my bare hands around the feathery little body.

Having been foolishly intimate with a long and distinguished list of wild animals during my life without protection,  I promptly let go and went to get my gloves. As Elmer and I worked to get the little fellow loose, he gnashed his beak like a ferocious little bear. It was quite hilarious, if not a bit unnerving. I always love the feistiness of little creatures when they are in full swing performing their best, ‘I could take you if I could’ repertoire. I mean, this little owl is maybe six inches tall if an inch, and was managing to make both of us jumpy through his efforts! Thankfully, he seemed more hell bent on biting Elmer than myself. Hmm, maybe he’s actually a she.

So she’s presently in my garage in a box. Later that day, a friend dropped by–the one who incubated our first batch of chickens and (we later found out) was also responsible for the sudden appearance of muscovy ducks on our pond. When I explained my planned release he queried, “So you’re going to liberate the animal which has been killing your stock?”

“Well, all the ducklings are gone now. And since we put up that netting after the first slaughter, I think he’s just learnt his lesson and won’t be back.” There was a just perceptible shaking of the head as he finished sipping his coffee in silence.

Now I have to go see if she’s OK, and release her!

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Fast ‘Slow Food’

These samosas will soon to become my fast slow food.

These samosas will soon become my fast slow food.

I know that some days, by the time dinnertime comes along I’m too bushed to bother. I decided yesterday that I need to have some ‘fast food’ on hand. For me, that means something that I can pretty much take out of the freezer, pop in the oven, and within a half hour or so be eating a satisfying meal. Now when I say satisfying, I don’t mean some tasteless slog that will ‘satisfy’ hunger, be incredibly nourishing and sit like a brick in my belly: the sort of food my grandmother would say ‘sticks to your ribs’.  That’s not appealing. In this regard, I am a bit like Goldilocks: I want things to be just right, and that means leaning towards nouveau haute cuisine type fare.

Since I have a nice potato harvest, yesterday I decided to make samosas for the freezer. Tomorrow, I may make perogies. Some time this week, I should make my cabbage rolls and freeze them, as I’ve got two more 5 gallon crocks of sauerkraut on the go and one of the crocks has a whole cabbage sunk into it. As I look at the above list, I realize some of you will be thinking, ‘That’s not stodgy fare?’ Well it’s not, and here’s why.

My sauerkraut crocks working their magic.

My sauerkraut crocks working their magic.

The food that I will prepare my ‘fast food’ from is actually ‘Slow Food’ fare: heritage vegetables, chickens and eggs, beyond organically grown veggies (by that I mean the original, unco-opted, non-industrial organic) that are all from open pollinated seed, and home fermented foods.

My friend digging the Ozette potatoes that became my samosas.

My friend digging the Ozette potatoes that became my samosas.

For example, the potatoes that I used for the samosas yesterday were Ozettes, an ancient variety of fingerling potato. The Ozette was brought to the new world by the Spanish exploreres in the 1700s and grown by the First Nations on the West Coast of North America. It is a really flavourful potato and won first prize in the personal potato party I had last week (possibly more on that in another post).

The elegant Ozette potato...

The elegant Ozette potato...

I’ll use the leaves of my embedded sauerkraut cabbage for the cabbage rolls (that’s the haute cuisine part of what could otherwise be quite stodgy fare). Using the fermented leaves makes a world of difference in the flavour of the cabbage rolls. Everyone who has ever tried my cabbage rolls claims they are the best they’ve ever had, and I’ve served them to some self proclaimed experts (we have a lot of Germans, Swiss, Austrians and Norwegians in this area of BC).

As for other fast ‘slow food’, I was hoping to have had tomatoes to make spaghetti sauce, but that’s just not going to happen–the lousy summer we had this year made sure of that.

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Politicking with predators

Even these two are in competition for their livelihood.
Even these two are in competition for their livelihood. Photo: Michael Wigle, Jumping Mouse Studio

Living in harmony: a false belief system

Until two years ago, I had thought that I could live ‘in harmony’ with nature and wildlife. I didn’t own a gun and didn’t want one. I had the ‘citified’ belief of a newbie to the area that if I didn’t bother the bears, then the bears wouldn’t bother me–ditto for cougars, foxes, etc. However, it is simply not true no matter how much you want to believe it. Everything out there is trying to make a living just as I am. Unfortunately, when you are trying to make a living by raising all your own food, you present a sumptuous smorgasbord to a host of predators.

Not only that: if you do as I was doing–let an area of the land or lawn ‘go back to nature’ (as gardening tips in magazines for city-slickers suggest, in order to create habitat and lessen one’s carbon footprint)–what you end up with is just that: habitat. This is a great idea for urban folk and for those living in less wild areas than rural/remote British Columbia. There are wonderful stories of people living ‘in harmony’ with nature in this way: ‘Isn’t it cute to see deer re-populating this valley’; ‘We now have a riot of bird calls in the morning,’ and the like. However, I have come to learn that this idea cannot be applied universally, and certainly not to the conditions in which I live, because what I have managed to do here is create a wonderfully rich and diverse cover for the large predators (one that camouflages a cougar, for instance, quite nicely) as they find their way to that ‘sumptuous smorgasbord’.

This is a big topic and one that engages and enrages people depending upon their view and experience, of and with, the subjects. So here’s my story.

Facing reality: a shift in beliefs

So there I was on a gorgeous, sunny day quietly minding my own business, head down planting my strawberry runners into a new patch–which happened to be quite close to the area I had set aside to let nature have her way with. I was taking care to build the beds up into raised beds so that next year they would come on early, when suddenly I got the feeling I was being watched. At first, I thought I was just being silly and tried to shake the feeling off. However, after several minutes the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, so I paid attention. ‘Cougar,’ I thought, ‘I’m being watched by a cougar.’

I took a look around to see if I could spot anything and when I didn’t, I thought, ‘This is just paranoia creeping in, because you are alone on the farm without a dog (aka my early warning system).’ I went back to what I was doing. A few minutes later when the feeling would not go away, I decided that I had better listen to my instincts and head inside. I put on a pot of coffee and began to make my lunch. While filling the kettle I stared out the kitchen window at the new strawberry patch, and out from the long grass came the cougar. It was a big, full grown cat easily outweighing me.

Calling for back-up

I called the Conservation officer right away and he came running, literally. I’m lucky to live right across the street from the office. He and a biologist came with the CO’s dog and tried to track the cougar, but to no avail. ‘Grass is too long,’ he said. That perfect cover for the cougar also meant he couldn’t be tracked!

After lunch, I abandoned my Martha Stewart aspirations and got out my power brush cutter. As I mowed down the beautiful mixed grasses, wildflowers and lilies, I again got the feeling of being watched. This time I immediately came inside the house. Again, within a minute of my getting inside, out jumped the cougar. This time, he was headed back towards the CO’s office. Sure enough, a few seconds later his dog was barking excitedly and moments later the chase was on.

Unfortunately, the CO and his one dog were not a match for the cougar and it got away.  I say unfortunately, not because I want to kill cougars, but because I wanted that cougar killed. It has kept coming back and consequently, I no longer feel very safe on the farm. After that incident, I felt violated and unsafe in my own home. The feeling was akin to the feelings evoked by a home robbery I experienced in the city. Now I felt my personal space once again violated, but this time on a much greater scale. This cougar could cost me my life, or at least the life of some of my animals, and therefore my livelihood.

Myths and Realities

There are many issues here, too many for me to deal with comprehensively in one post. For example, we should really have more than one Conservation Officer in this area. It is really dangerous work and they should  not have to face these predators alone. But this issue in itself is huge, so I’ll leave it at that.

Another is, and this will upset some readers, that this cougar should have been shot. These kinds of predators need to be ‘trained’ (or retrained, as the case may be) not to come where humans are. One of the reasons that the large predators are coming back into cities and generally to where humans are is that we are no longer shooting at them. Consequently, they no longer see us as an equal predator, or even as a threat. These animals have figured out that they can get away with being out in the day time, so every year there are more reports of them marauding on farms, and through garage bins in cities. If you don’t want to take my word for it, read the books by bear behaviour expert, Gary Shelton: Bear Attacks, Bear Attacks II, and Bear Attacks: Myth and Reality.

The bible on the realities of bear encounters.
The bible on the realities of bear encounters.

As for me, the issue of predators directly affect my livelihood: we have lost several chickens to hawks and foxes, baby ducks to eagles and ravens, and the Mallard drake to a fox. As for fruit trees, the bears have broken branches off the apples and the pears. Some people say, ‘Just go out and buy some more’; ‘Why are you keeping fruit trees in bear territory? If you have animals and fruit trees then you are just asking for predators to come’; or (my personal favourite), ‘Well, you are in their territory.’ Am I really ‘in their territory?’ If so, isn’t all of the North American population? The reason we have the agricultural areas we do is because we’ve shot everything that moved there, and let them know they don’t belong here any more. It was a matter of survival and economics. After all, we all need to eat.

A right to livelihood

This is a personal economic loss. I am trying to make my living at home by what I like to call ‘direct economics’. Instead of trading my time in an office for a wage and then going to the store and buying food, I want to close that loop. Not only do I feel this is personally important to me, but I believe it is the best way I can help the planet: my food miles are very short, I don’t have to travel to work, my animals are treated decently (some would say spoiled), and I’m not polluting the water table.

Should I not have the right to own land where I chose to? To grow my own food, and make my living directly in this way?  To own fruit trees and raise chickens and turkeys instead of making a wage and having to buy them? If so, then I also need the right to push back a predator in order to protect my livelihood. If not, I will be forced to move to an already over-populated area (but an area carefully depopulated of wildlife), get a job, and be once again rendered totally dependent upon an agricultural system that is ruining the  environment (erosion, aquifer draining, desertification, water poisoning), mistreating animals, creating numerous diseases and mortal dangers for human consumers, and so on.

All is not lost

When I sat down to write this morning, I actually didn’t intend to go off the way I did above. What I had intended to write about was a bit more of a good news story and I was surprised at the turn of the tenor. Now I know first hand how a story can take a life of its own (I used to be skeptical when writers would say things like, ‘I didn’t know the story would go like this, or like that’).

Anyway, the good news is that mostly I do politick with the predators. After the cougar incident, we built more housing for the goats: by more, I mean more expensive and thus safer. In addition, I learned that when the bear comes and breaks branches on my apple tree, it is time to go pick all the apples as a preventative measure.  I have also come to several agreements with the bears. When I do harvest all the apples, I make three piles: one for fresh eating, one for preserving and one for the bears. I take the last pile out to the spot where she enters the property and dump them there. I have found that over the course of a few nights, she will come and eat them all and not bother to re-enter the property.

Also, I have several well established grape vines climbing on a pergola at the edge of the property; two green, two red. Every year a grizzly bear comes and eats the grapes. She likes the red but leaves me the green. She wrote up the contract and I signed on. To date, it is working nicely.

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Conscious conscientious decision-making

A state of dependency:

Someone recently asked me if I plan to feed my dog with my farm produce, as well as ourselves. Another, whether or not I was going to make herbal teas and sachets. Still another, whether or not I would grow wheat, oats, and barley, and would I have a cow. Believe me, when I first committed to the ‘Year in Provisions’ project, those thoughts drifted through my head, as well as a host of others. Things like, whether I could feed the other animals on the farm–goats, ducks, chickens, horse. Could I use my horse for roto-tilling the garden. Quite apart from the question of whether or not I’ll continue to have the luxury items of modern day that I can’t grow myself, I had to work through these and a host of other ideas as well.

More importantly for me emotionally, I had to work through the attachment I had to a salary. I quit my job and came back to British Columbia to attempt the project. In order to do this, I need to be financially supported by my husband; something I have not been comfortable with until now. I have never not been self-supporting financially before. Not only that, I had a good paying job at a University, which afforded me certain luxuries I’ve had to give up, and which came with all the benefits of a government job: social security, medical, dental, a pension plan, and paid holidays. It was a big emotional trajectory that I had to work through in order to get here. Moreover it is a risk. I am no longer building up my pension, I don’t have social security, I don’t have a wage to save with for my future, and I am completely dependent upon not only, the generosity of my husband, but also his ability to continue bringing in a wage. Suddenly, these too become luxuries I cannot take for granted.

A matter of time:

Since taking on the challenge of the project, and beginning to let people know what I’m up to, there has been no end of suggestions about what I could do or should do. It is a daunting undertaking.  In particular, figuring out where to stop and what my limits are has been difficult. In fact, it is an almost daily negotiation: should I buy sugar so I can make jam with all my fruit, should I buy vinegar  to can relishes and pickles, should I make vinegar myself from my own apples, etc, etc.? I had to decide whether I would be a  ‘purist’ or simply accept that some foods are necessary to make other foods last. Ultimately, I acknowledged that even the pioneers and cowboys had sugar, flour and coffee!

In the beginning, we talked about cutting out foods we couldn’t produce ourselves, such as olive oil, coffee, wine, beer, etc., as Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon of the 100 Mile Diet fame did, but ultimately we decided not to–because of the time constraints. Smith and MacKinnon spent their time sourcing local foods whereas I’m spending time growing it. What’s more, they’ve already done it–and for that I am grateful. What they have achieved–getting local eating on the media agenda, locally, regionally and internationally–is a major accomplishment. My hat is off to them.

We also decided not to cut out all ‘off-farm’ luxuries for socio-cultural reasons. Food creates community. Food is culture. Food is a social binder. Once you decide to cut out this or that, you can find yourself suddenly sitting alone on the bench (If you’ve ever gone on a strict diet you will know this!). In addition, this year, we knew we would be hiring a bunch of people to help us get barns built and green-houses built. The compromise we have made instead is buy regionally roasted organic coffee and to brew our own beer and wine at the local U-brew. I just couldn’t see myself explaining to ‘the guys’ why I couldn’t make them a coffee to keep them going at mid-day, or offer them a beer after a hard day’s work!

Life is a compromise!

In the end, I let the idea of rigorous ‘Personal Food Sovereignty’ go. I had to. For one thing, it was just too unrealistic a goal: I don’t own enough land, the growing conditions here are not conducive to grain, and I am only one person (albeit with a helpful partner). Moreover, I don’t have the funds to buy not only  the necessary larger piece of land, but also the requisite equipment needed to accomplish the above.

It was a good mental exercise to work through these ideas (and others such as, “How many cauliflower plants should I grow? How often do we want to eat chicken or fish?”). It has been, to say the least, a thought provoking exercise and something I encourage anyone reading this to ponder in terms of their own life. When you sit and think about how you would feed yourself, your family, your animals should you ever have to, it certainly sharpens the mind and focuses your energies! Once you suddenly realize just how dependent you are on ‘the system’, you will be humbled, if not shocked and somewhat un-nerved as I was.

What’s important:

This deep dependency on a system is not a feeling I’m comfortable with. Consequently, that has become my focus: extracting myself as much as I can from ‘the system’. I have made a shift from the original goal–to grow all my own food for  a year, to creating interdependency within my community and social circle. This goal, like my garden, is growing, changing, and continuously evolving based on its relationship to the outside world and my innate limitations.

What is important and what I can manage ultimately comes down to time, my community, and my priorities and abilities for living a rich life. Through the blogging world I have found a community of like-minded others who, by their own writings, have mirrored with scintillating accuracy my own feelings about the day to day of a small-holding. As this fellow blogger, Stonehead, states so humorously:

As always, there are just two of us working the [farm], one full-time and one helping out as and when. It means we cannot possibly do all the things that everyone thinks we should be doing, whether it’s tanning rabbit skins, keeping a house cow, making our own paint brushes from pig bristle, keeping the place totally weed free, making our own soap, or dancing the fandango on the rooftoop every hour on the hour while playing the bagpipes. We have to decide and adjust our priorities constantly to ensure we get the important things done first…

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Feeding Goldilocks

To date we have produced and processed from our own garden the following:

canned, dried and fermented.

Some of this years preserved food: canned, dried and fermented.

PICKLES: Sauerkraut, Dilly beans, Beets, Dill pickles
RELISHES: Zucchini, Coney Island, Spicy gooseberry chutney, Chili piccalilli
JAMS: Raspberry, Lavender, Strawberry, Tayberry, Blackberry, Apricot butter
JELLIES: Red currant, Blackcurrant, Lavender, Grape
CANNING: Pears, Apricots, Peaches, Rhubarb, Apple pie filling, Apple sauce, Salmon, Chicken, Beef, Basil pesto
FROZEN: Cherries, Strawberries, Blueberries, Red currants, Blackberries, Cherry pie filling, Basil, Dill, Cilantro, Peas, Snow peas
SCHNAPPS: Red currant, Blackcurrant, Rhubarb /lemon juice concentrate
WILD Crafted: Red/blue huckleberries, Salmonberries, Stinging nettle, Fiddle head ferns.
DRYING: Dill, Zucchini, Carrots, Apples, Pears, Cherries, Mint, Oregano
DAIRY: Yoghurt, Ice cream, Sour cream, Cheese (Leicester, cheddar, cumin-gouda, gouda, parmesan,  ricotta, haloumi, mozzarella, feta), Whey bread (bread made from the whey left-over from cheese-making).

Cheese:

I have been making cheeses, but a day’s kitchen labour produces maybe 2 lb of cheese. It then has to be brined, salted, cured, flipped, for months—it’s like raising Goldilocks.

Protein:

Looking at our chicken shed, I wonder: “How many chickens/eggs do we two need for a year?” This, like all the other predictions about food consumption, was difficult to answer, and still is. At present, we are relying on the remnants of last year’s harvest. I managed to can a bunch of our chickens, and we’ve traded for quite a bit of fish this year. We need to make it till about Thanksgiving before we can butcher our own chickens.

I estimated I’d need at least 52 roosters for culling, and more hens to step up the egg sales. I also want new blood. My hens set regularly, and it’s certainly the easiest way to increase a flock, but the results are also fluctuating. So I incubated 36 but hatched only 5. From the second batch I had two live hatchings but only one survived. Clearly, my one darling rooster was not doing his job democratically. Third time round, I ordered 50 chickens from Rochester Hatchery in Alberta. At present, we have more people wanting our eggs than we can supply, so I often don’t have any for my needs. We tend to rely on the infrequency of the duck eggs to meet our needs.

I was contemplating milking the goats, which would require investment in milking equipment, not to mention a potent buck (all my males are wethers), not to mention the will to kill and eat the kids. Being new to this life-style, I’m not sure I could do in the baby goats. I’m not able to stay home when the turkeys get done in as it is. Over and above this problem, what has rapidly dawned on me is my lack of time: between expanding and maintaining the garden and animals, there is simply no time for regular milking. So I get cow’s milk from a local person; on my first visit he observed that he had no time to raise chickens, so the solution is obvious to us: he is happy to trade his milk for my eggs and value added products such as jams and jellies. It’s a huge time relief.

This list may seem exhaustive as well as exhausting. It is. This is partly because we in the pampered West have grown accustomed to a global diet. I enjoy cooking Mexican, Greek, and both east and west Indian foods, and I want things to taste just right.

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Chicken poop for the soul

The freshly cleaned out chicken coup. This coup is the original chicken coup, soon to house the turkeys.

The freshly cleaned out chicken coup. This coup is the original chicken coup, soon it will house the turkeys.

I’ve just come in from cleaning out the chicken coop. While doing this chore, I found myself pondering why it didn’t bother me–shoveling poop, that is. Well, chicken poop, I corrected myself quickly. Then I thought of all the kinds of poop I’ve had the pleasure of shoveling this year: horse, dog, cow, goat, duck, chicken and turkey. It’s a symphony of poop around here: it is on any farm. The only poop I seem to have an innate revulsion for in  that list is the dog’s.

What is it about the dog’s poop that is different from the other animals’ poop? As I pondered this question, I realized that I would be equally repulsed by human poop. Yet what also struck me at that moment was how un-bothered I was about handling the chicken poop: breathing it in as the dust rose while I scooped it up and moved it to the wheelbarrow, picking up bits and pieces that fell from the shovel, generally handling it in ways I would not dream of doing with human waste. It was quite a little reverie I was engaged in this morning.

Soon my mind wandered to the next task, of getting it to the compost pile, then to how it would make its way to the veggie patch come spring, then to how it would get turned into the soil. With sudden clarity, I realized that, ultimately, I would eat it. Of course, it will have composted down first, then have been turned  under into the soil, before being taken up by the plants as nutrient. Nevertheless, eventually, it will be consumed by yours truly. It will feed me, I thought.

Looking at it on the end of my shovel, it is simply chicken poop: something that needs to be dealt with, moved, composted. But now as I move it from the chicken coop, its immortal potential is catalyzed.  It has begun its sacred transformation through the cycle of nature. It’s going to nourish my body, feed my soul; it is, in fact, chicken poop for the soul.

Now, I have to get back out there and clean the other homes and pens as well.

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Will there be bread?

Seed fit for a King:

Bella Coola grown Seager Wheeler wheat. Dried cherries in foreground.

Before I came back from Saskatchewan, I went to visit the Seager Wheeler National Historic site. Why? Because I have always wanted to sow, grow, harvest, thresh and grind wheat–and then turn it into my own bread, using my own sourdough culture (which I caught in New Zealand, but more about that later). If I am to go to this effort, then why not do it with wheat that was developed by the most influential wheat grower of his day in North America?

Having done my research before leaving Saskatchewan, I discovered that Seager Wheeler is known as the ‘King of Wheat’ in Canada–though not many people have heard of him: (see http://www.seagerwheelerfarm.org/ for more information). But for those in the know, he’s tops. For many years running, he grew the best wheat in Canada and won international awards for his efforts: he was crowned World Wheat King an unsurpassed five times, from 1911 to 1918. He came to Canada in 1885 at age 17, walked from Moose Jaw, Sask., north across 180 miles of virtual desert country to live in a hole in the bank of the South Saskatchewan River–and taught himself to farm.

The wheat that he developed, Marquis 10B (a cross between Hard Red Calcutta and Red Fife), extended the growing area 100 miles farther north, and opened up Alberta’s Peace River Valley to farming. Farmers in northern U.S. states clamored for his wheat seed, which accounted for 80 per cent of the wheat grown on the continent. By the 1920’s, Marquis wheat accounted for nearly 90% of the wheat grown in North America. There is a growing interest in the Red Fife among the heritage seed savers and enthusiastic bakers, though I’m not sure why they’re overlooking the Marquis, a Canadian heirloom.

So I toured Wheeler’s farm north of Saskatoon, and bought some of his wheat seed: 750 precious grams!

The bucket list:

Growing wheat has been on my top-ten list of things I must do–aka my ‘Bucket List’–for years now. In fact, in 2003 while still living in New Zealand, I got so far as to source it, sow it, and get it growing. I had it timed so that I would be back from my ‘visit’ to Canada in time to harvest it.  Well, that was the idea. Needless to say, I never returned to NZ and someone else must have enjoyed the fruits of my labor.

Strikes against me:

So, this spring, once I’d gotten the new garden bed prepped, I sowed 500 grams of my precious Seager Wheeler wheat. Unfortunately, I got the garden developed far too late in the season and consequently the seed was sown much too late. In addition to this, the west coast of British Columbia is not exactly known for its wheat growing season! However, the eternal optimist in me forced me to sow those precious seeds when I did, and at least set the ball in motion.

Wheat growth twelve days after sowing!

Wheat growth twelve days after sowing!

Bringing in the harvest:

Yesterday, I decided to harvest some of the wheat. It is not at all ready, but the weather has turned sour  (well, it is September 23rd and snow is beginning to creep relentlessly down the nearby mountainside towards the river bottom and me) and rain was on the forecast: not something wheat likes in its later stages of development. Rather than risk it all to the rain, I thought I’d run a bit of an experiment: cut some of it down, and see if it would  ripen up and dry. I’m hoping that l if I hang the wheat stalks somewhere to dry, the seed heads will mature a bit more and form viable seeds, just as unripened tomatoes will if you uproot them and leave them on the vine.

Since the wheat patch was an experimental patch to begin with, there was not a vast field of wheat to harvest. Instead of a combine harvester the size of a small restaurant, I took my scissors and bucket out to the patch and began to cut. I decided to cut half the patch and let the rest go. Who knows? It might clear up next week. It is now lying (among a whole bunch of other items needing attention) across my kitchen seat bench, drying. Although this year’s experiment may not yield so much as one loaf of bread, I’ve learned a lot, am better prepared for next spring, and feel happily connected to another part of Canadian agricultural history, two provinces away. Mr Wheeler’s success was once used to lure immigrants to Canada; I feel I’ve inherited a precious family jewel and it’s satisfying to replicate it and carry on the tradition.

Part of yesterday's harvest.

A sample of yesterday's harvest.

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You asked for it: more garden photos.

Early morning on the farm.
Early morning on the farm.

I’ve had some people email and ask for more garden photos, so here goes. As it happens, I did take some nice photos of the garden yesterday. To quote one person, ‘so us city-folk can live vicariously’. How about video? was the next question. For now, that will have to wait.

Mama’s little helpers:

It is now time for the final harvesting and turning the chickens in to help with the clean-up. The plants are established enough that the chickens can’t really hurt them. This is certainly not the case all season: you have to pick your time.

Chickens love to help at weeding time.
Chickens love to help at weeding time.
Not just a pretty face, he's hard at work.
Not just a pretty face, he’s hard at work.

Overachievers anonymous:

The over-achiever red mustard lettuce.
The over-achiever red mustard lettuce.

Feeble attempts of creativity:

Here is my artistic attempt at photo taking which I learned from my friend, Rebecca Wellman, who is a professional photographer.  Check out her site if you want to see real talent:

http://rwellmanphotography.wordpress.com.

As for my attempts, don’t blame her for my lack of talent–I’ve worked hard to call that my own.

Where's my shovel?
Where’s my shovel?

The pre-harvest cabbage.
The pre-harvest cabbage.
Soon to be a salad ingredient...
Soon to be a salad ingredient…
The volunteer.
The volunteer.

That’s all for now!

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Filed under Chickens, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

More Peas Please?

Peas on the vine, soon to be harvested as dried shell out pease.

Peas on the vine, soon to be harvested as dried shell out peas.

I’ve been up since 3:30 am this morning. Why? Because it seems to be my new ‘witching’ hour. I’ve been getting up around 4:30 for ages now (with a brief hiatus of 6 am while on a trip out of town) and enjoying the quiet mornings alone. Well, with my dog at my heels. At this hour, not even the birds are awake. I’ve often joked that what I really need is a herd of milk cows. I mean, why else be up at this hour?

Yesterday, I spent the day harvesting things in the garden  and making compost piles for next year’s soil (it always seems to take longer to do things than I think it will). This year is my first time trying to grow dried peas so I wasn’t really sure when to harvest them. However, I realized it needed to be done when Stellar Jays arrived and began gobbling up the peas at an alarming rate. So, I finally decided yesterday that I’d better get at them if I am going to have any for myself this year. After all, how else will I make pea soup or dahl this winter?

I got as far as getting the stalks down, getting them picked clean, and  getting them heaped into the garden corner to form the beginning of my compost pile. I placed the pods in a bowl. By that time (and after having done the same for the last of my potato crop), I was too tired to then face shelling them out.  It was only 4: 30 pm and I wondered why I felt too tired to face the shelling out task until I realized that I  had been in the garden for more than 6 hours and had been up for more than 12.  Perhaps I should pace myself better next year.

Dried Alaska peas.

Dried Alaska peas.

So, this morning I have spent the first few hours catching up on emails and the last hour and a half shelling peas. I’ve been shelling peas since 5:15 am and have just walked away from the bowl to do something else. Yes, it is quite a dull and repetitive job, but someone has to do it. Earlier in the season, I was shocked to see over and over again that a big of a basket of pods would shell out into barely enough for the two of us for dinner. Well, it is even more of a shock with the drier peas! After a diligent hour and a half, I’ve only got a cookie tray full of dried peas for my efforts. Either the Stellar Jays got more than I thought, or next year I’ll have to plant more peas. The harvest is probably only enough for a few good meals!

Now, I wonder what kind of return I’ll get from the broad beans?

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Filed under Food Sovereignty, Locavore, Sustainable Farming

First Steps in Food Sovereignty: what you can do.

A friend of mine emailed me about yesterday’s post, Food Sovereignty: latest fad or total necessity. He liked it very much. He is a conscientious person and keenly interested in food. However, like many people, he is not about to move from the city and take up the hoe, although he will enthusiastically ride my lawnmower when visiting! He asked me: What can us city-folk do? Now, I know that not everyone can grow their own food as I am doing. There is a variety of limitations each of us face: no access to land, lack of knowledge about how to grow food, or physical limitations. So the answer I gave him, in a nut-shell, is the following: Get out of the grocery store and go meet a farmer.

You can make your dollars count: quit feeding the mega-corporations and the venture capitalists that run them. Instead, put your money into a local pocket. Go to the farmer’s market and talk to the farmers there. Build a relationship with some of them. Farmers love to talk about the food they grow. They love to have feedback about the food they grow. They like to know that the work they are doing is valuable and appreciated (unlike most corporations, whose only interest is the economic returns they give to their shareholders).

You will get great pleasure from handing your hard earned dollars straight in to the hands of the person who works hard to grow the food that nourishes you. Not only will it support Food Sovereignty, both politically and personally, but also it might be the easiest, most rewarding and most pleasureable thing you can do for yourself and your local farmer. The bonus is that the food will probably taste better than anything you find in the grocery store, and it most certainly will be fresher!

1 Comment

Filed under Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food