Tag Archives: homesteading

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!

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

Bears and fruit trees, part 4

Because of what I do and where I live, I am often talking with people about the human-wildlife conflict, and am continually surprised by what I hear. There are many misconceptions about our relationship with nature in general and with wildlife in particular. During these discussions, I notice there are several persistent, pervasive false beliefs about the human-bear relationship. Some of these beliefs are even enacted into public policies and laws, and contradictory policies at that. For example, there is a lot of talk in the media these days about local eating: the 100 Mile Diet, re-localization, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, and so on. There has even been some B.C. Ministry of Health interest in promoting the aforementioned with their recent ‘access to produce’ initiative. However, the Conservation Service (Ministry of Environment) seems to be at odds with this food security agenda by advising people to cut down their fruit trees whenever there is a bear-human conflict. This issue is the fuel that sparked this series of posts—when I found myself in conversation with some folks from the B.C. Food System Network who were alarmed by their Conservation Officer threatening them with fines if they did NOT cut down their fruit trees.

It’s a question of food security

While it may sound as if I would have all bears and wildlife destroyed, it is not the case. My position with respect to the human-wildlife conflict is rooted in terms of food security and community/rural survival: we cannot have food security when there are oppositional philosophies being enforced by different Ministries.

What I hope to do over the course of several posts is to examine these key themes and shed light on these common false beliefs. The other post of this series are:

1.How to make bears and fruit trees get along

2. Bears and fruit trees, part two

3. Bears and fruit trees, part three

As ever, I welcome your feedback and comments as they can add to the discussion and help me develop my position.

False belief #4: After all, you are in ‘their territory’

Some readers’ responses to one of my posts about the human-wildlife conflict provide a departure point for discussion of this false belief: “Any thoughts about the fact that you are placing tasty food morsels in the bear’s territory? 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”… “Well, you are in their territory so you just have to accept this” (my personal favourite). The very concept of ‘territory’ is the essential problem. It is a neat fiction which presumes a boundary between the bears’ ‘territory’ and ‘ours’, and a contractual agreement as to where that boundary-line is. If so, where is it? At the edge of cities? around all rural areas? or should we all move out of the countryside and back into cities… again, where is the edge of the city? At this field, or that fence-line? As with so many issues, this debate is over boundaries, borders, and margins, and yet there is no demarcated boundary to any natural creature’s territory—only constantly changing niches or ill-defined ranges, constantly fought for with tooth and claw. The idea of identifiable borders is a human invention (viz. Hadrian’s, China’s, Berlin’s, Peach Arch Park and the 49th parallel) and we have difficulty maintaining even those (look at Gaza, or the Mexico/US border, or China and Tibet, or the Northwest Territory now Nunavut, to name a fraction of the infractions). Animals like bears do understand territory and mark theirs distinctively, but that territory is a living, changing thing, depending on each bear’s niche, condition, and the state of the food supply. That food supply is intimately linked to the general bear population; if the food supply or population changes, the bear’s fight for territory becomes more competitive; the delineation and extent of that territory shift and morph under these pressures. With respect to our current bear problem, a poor summer with few fish or berries coupled with an increase in bear population means their food source is too scarce in their own food shed, so the fight for territory between bears has become more vicious. Consequently, the weaker and younger bears that are denied access to prime habitat are pushed out of what we think of as ‘their territory’ and into ‘ours.’ Easy pickings are chicken houses, fruit trees, gardens and garbage; combined with a policy of ‘non-attractants’ it’s not long before bears consider ‘our territory’ theirs. When we add the fact that people are no longer ‘fighting’ back as we once did against these carnivores, their assumption is understandable. Unlike the bears along the river fishing for salmon, who drive us and each other away in order to protect their food source, we humans didn’t even put up a fight when they came and ate all our chickens, turkeys and ducks; nor did we complain when they harvested all our carrots, parsley, plums and pears.

So how do I establish and maintain my border? A border, however loosely defined, only has existence if both sides acknowledge and maintain it. In contrast to predators’ shifting borders, humans have always grown gardens, had fruit trees, and raised domesticated animals in this valley. While the bears’ boundary is shifting, our human boundary has always been clearly delineated (mown lawns, driveways, and often a fence, etc.), and we have throughout history educated the animals by trapping and shooting. Everywhere in the world, people have marked their ‘territory’ by shooting and trapping offenders in this way, and thus they have trained predators not to intrude across the humans’ clearly delineated, and relatively unshifting borders. Like dogs, bears and cougars can be trained, and that is why we have a residual idea that those animals have a natural fear of humans. But there is nothing innate about it; it is a learned behaviour and a direct result of an ancient human-wildlife conflict in which we have always been engaged.

I have come to understand that the remaining predators need constantly to be ‘trained’ not to come where humans are. One of the reasons that the large predators are coming back into cities in broad daylight, 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. Contrary to the misconception that these animals are innately nocturnal, they have figured out that they can even get away with being out in the day time, so every year there are more reports of their daytime marauding on farms, and through garage bins in cities. The assertion of my blog respondent, that I am in their territory, creates the misconstrued dichotomy of ‘their territory’ versus ‘our territory’, as if humans only ‘belong’ in cities, and that those cities have always existed. However, all North America’s great cities (the same goes for Europe, India, China and so on, though with different predators) were once the bears’ ‘territory’ before ‘we’ decided to stop being hunter gatherers and develop human settlements, based on cultivating crops.

The ‘our territory/their territory’ theory arises from a flawed preservationist philosophy, which mistakenly presumes that bears have a ‘territory’ which we humans have encroached upon, and now drives policy and legislative decisions in British Columbia (and North American in general, as shown in their responses to my blog). Am I really ‘in the bears’ territory’ when I am in the confines of my property’? If so, isn’t all of the North American population? And most of the European (or Chinese, or Indian, or African, etc.) population too, for that matter? The reason we have the few agricultural areas we do, is that we’ve shot almost everything that once moved there (hence the European eradication of wolves and bears and the dearth of them in large parts of the USA that they formally occupied), and continue to let the survivors know they don’t belong there any more. Our food security depends on our making more enlightened land use policies based on historical and biological realities, not these neat, fantastical conspiracies of cartographers.

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Fruit Trees, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

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.

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

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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Filed under Food Security, Sustainable Farming

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