Tag Archives: Gardening

My book is finally complete!

Well it’s taken a long time for me to get this book finished but it’s finally done and out in the stores for sale! This is thanks to the hard work of the Caitlin Press Publishing crew. I am very happy with how it turned out. Vici (the owner of Caitlin Press) said she wanted to try to get it in color but was not sure it would be possible. But she managed the impossible and it looks great. There are many color photos inside that illustrate what I was up to. Some you will have seen on this blog and some are new.

It was a nice surprise to wake up to a box of my very own book on my front porch last week. Even funnier surprise to hear that my mum bought a copy for my dad for Father’s Day!


Filed under Books, Educational, Food preservation, Food Sovereignty, Hunting, Learning to Farm, personal food sovereignty, Politics of Food, Recipes, Uncategorized

Learning to dabble

It was exactly one year ago this week that I got home from Saskatchewan, having quit my job at the University. I wanted to come back to the farm and grow all our own food for the year. I fantasized that I would have so much time on my hands: to read a raft of books that I’d wanted to for years, to ride my horse every day, to do everything from making our own maple syrup, to milking the goats, to making our own mustard and other condiments–was I ever wrong!

The reality was that I rode my horse only three times last summer, read nary a book, didn’t even get the goats bred (mercifully realizing there was simply no time), and bought mustard and mayonnaise. I did manage to make maple and birch syrup!

While my ‘Year in Provisions’ project has been successful (I have learned a lot of useful skills along the way and I still am living off the bounty of the past summer’s labour), what I was unsuccessful at was letting go of my guilt. I felt guilty that I was no longer earning a wage, and I couldn’t let that go. I didn’t consciously realize it at the time, but I was driving myself overly hard in order to ‘make up’ for my lack of cash. I went at the project last year with such a guilty vengeance that I managed to seriously hurt myself.

Despite the fact that my husband was totally supportive of my project (and still is), I created this mindset all on my own. Because of this, I didn’t enjoy the work as much as I had envisioned enjoying it before I left Saskatchewan. Instead of biting off what I could actually manage sensibly, I took on too much. The final straw that broke the camel’s back was when I set to converting an extra 3000 square feet of grass into a vegetable plot, far too late in the season to be realistic. The result was I spent several weeks on crutches having blown both my knees out working up this new garden spot.

Fast forward to this summer, and the project is on again. In February we had about a ten day stretch of really nice weather. Suddenly I felt totally behind and stressed right out: I’m not ready, I haven’t gotten my seeds yet, I haven’t set up the tomato beds, I need to plant the green manure crop, sharpen the tools, clean the garage, make labels for the eggs, build a raised strawberry bed, and so on.

After a couple of days (and an exhausting reverie of unnecessary, self-inflicted mental anguish) the weather once again returned to its normally frosty late winter state, and I began to relax. As I felt my body unwind, I finally realized what I was doing to myself. I recalled what a friend said to me one day last summer when she looked at my crutches: “You’re too old to be that stupid.” Apparently you can work yourself nearly to death when you are younger than 40, but older than that and, well… she’s right. Getting older should mean getting wiser.

One year older and a bit wiser, I recognized that if I didn’t ‘get a grip’ I’d likely hurt myself again this summer. So I have vowed not to push myself to the brink of disaster. I am going to consciously enjoy the fact that I am living my dream: I’m developing a farm, growing my own food, learning useful skills, and  am surrounded by wilderness and animals.

I finally accept that I can’t do it all. This year my goal is to learn to balance these aspects of my life better, and realize that these moments of my life are fringed with joy. Instead of being obsessive about not being normal, I’m beginning to dabble.

My mobile napping unit.

A new found use for my wheelbarrow: it's my mobile napping unit.


Filed under Food Security, How to..., Just for fun, personal food sovereignty, To do lists

The end of composting…

as I know it!

September 21st, it was the last day of summer and I was down at my friend Clarence’s garden helping him harvest some potatoes. I had been by his place a few days before while he was harvesting some fingerling potatoes. He was unsure of whether or not he was going to bother with them. “I had these in my garden years ago but got rid of them,” he told me, “but now they’re back.” He shrugged, as if the potatoes had decided on their own to re-colonize his garden.

Some of Clarence's Ozette potatoes sitting on my porch; notice the knobbly one in the centre, that's all one potato!

Some of Clarence's Ozette potatoes. Note the one in the centre, that's all one potato!

Today I was back to help harvest the tasty little beauties. (I also wanted to ensure I would have the seed for next year.) After searching through various web sites and photos of potato varieties, I found not only the pedigree of Clarence’s ‘Indian’ potato but also the reason behind the name. The original seed was obtained from Anna Cheeka, a Makah Indian of the Neah Bay Tribe, and introduced to the market by David Ronniger, of Ronniger Potato Farm LLC, in the late 1980s. According to their web site:

The Ozette is one of the tastiest of all fingerlings. Classic in appearance with pale gold skin and creamy yellow flesh. The slightly earthy, nutty flavor comes through beautifully when lightly steamed or sautéed. Late variety.

See Potato party for one for more on the Ozette potato.

While in Clarence’s garden, I noticed he was doing something foreign to me: placing the potato tops and any rogue weeds back into the hole where the harvested potatoes had come from. Having just harvested all of my potatoes and carried the potato tops, along with the weeds, to a compost pile inside my garden, I asked him about it. “I’ve always done it this way” he said, and then shrugging, “It’s what my dad taught me.” By spring, it would be rich soil, while my compost may not be completely biodegraded. “It feeds the worms too” he added as an afterthought.

While digging potatoes, he uses the tops as back-fill to be composted directly into the soil

While digging potatoes, he uses the tops as back-fill to be composted directly into the soil.

I had thought that I was being clever by having the compost pile inside the garden, saving myself two steps: heaving the weeds and garden waste out to the pile, and then heaving it all back again in the spring as composted material. In the spring, I would simply spread it around the garden here and there and then turn the chickens in to do the rest of the spreading work. But what Clarence was doing eliminated both steps and produced a better result.

“You know, that soil scientist who was here last year? He told me I had the best soil in all the tests he’d done in the valley,” Clarence boasted while picking out a small rock as he continued to dig the potatoes.

one for keepers, one for rogues, one for rocks.

The three-bucket system: one for keepers, one for rogues, one for rocks.

This man has a system. A three-bucket system: One bucket for the ‘keepers’, one for the ‘rogues’, and one for the rocks. The keepers he stores enough for his family and sells the extras, the rogues he gives away to those who can’t afford to buy, and the rocks he disposes of. He’s been maintaining this system in this garden for longer than I’ve been alive. “You know, people say their gardens are too rocky for vegetables” he says while continuing to hoe, “So I ask them, Have you ever thought about digging them out?” He goes on to tell me about the thousands of rocks, small and large, that he’s taken out of here over the years. One of them was too large for removal he tells me, “So I spent nearly two hours digging a hole beside it …you know, and tipped it in” he stops hoeing long enough to give me a visual aid in gestures, and then nods towards an area in the garden, “It’s still in there, under the soil deep enough for my rototiller to pass over unscathed.”

Diligence with roguing out even small rocks has made the soil what it is today.

Diligence with rouging out even the smallest of rocks has helped make the soil what it is today.

Clarence is eighty-three. Originally from Pennsylvania, he is now a great-grandfather several times over. He has outlived his wife (but enjoyed a fiftieth wedding anniversary); survived the deaths of two children; endured 295 days as a POW “guest of Mr Hitler” as he likes to put it; lost his thumb end to a dynamite mishap at the tender age of 5; hunted countless troublesome cougars, and even got the better of one which attacked him on January 24th, 2000 (when he was seventy-four!). Luckily for me, he is also a master gardener keen to pass on his knowledge.

Like the Ozette potato, Clarence came north when young and flourished in a new climate. He too is a master survivor. No wonder he’s got the best soil in the valley!


Filed under How to..., Potatoes, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

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:


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!


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?


Filed under Food Sovereignty, Locavore, Sustainable Farming