31 December 2009

Well, it does seem trivial now that you mention it.

It's not often you get a lesson in perspective from the business manager at a car dealership. Earlier this week, as we were driving to the dealership to finalize the purchase of the car we'd been leasing, the car was struck by a large piece of ice that had flown up from another vehicle on the highway. It was kind of scary and it made a loud noise when it hit, so we were worried that there was damage to the roof. Luc is very particular about the condition of the car so we were both relieved to find that the ice had struck the roof rack and there was no damage.

We spent a bit of time in the business manager's office while waiting for the paperwork to be completed. We went from discussing our respective Christmas's to learning about Ethiopian Christmas traditions to hearing about his experiences as a central banker in Ethiopia overseeing NGO activities, to his ultimate deportation to Eritrea when conflict broke out in 1998 for the crime of writing a report opposing foreign aid. He told us how he found himself in Eritrea, his father's homeland, with $20 in his pocket and the clothes on his back. He'd been forced to leave behind his house and all his belongings never to return.

When the talk returned to the business at hand, Luc mentioned the ice incident and how relieved we'd been that there'd been no damage. The business manager shrugged and said, "Meh. You can always fix man-made things". I thought to myself that this was not quite the response I would have expected at a car dealership, surrounded by perfect, shiny cars, but I didn't expect to be doing business there with an Ethiopian economist who'd lost everything and knew exactly how unimportant a scratch or dent actually is.

22 December 2009

By popular request.....the annual Christmas rant

I've been told by Madeleine that I must not abandon my traditional Christmas rant. I guess if you do something two years in a row it is a tradition. I didn't want to do one this year as I haven't been thinking about Christmas much, and it didn't seem particularly relevant to my life. I seem to have managed expectations well enough over the last couple of years so that I'm free to ignore Christmas much more this year.

Normally, I'd rail on about excessive consumption or teaching children a sense of entitlement, but I'm not really in a position to judge others given my own glass house. I might say something about the end of industrial civilization, but since Copenhagen, I think Christmas is the least of our worries.

So, I hope you enjoy your time off work and any meaning you may find in the season. Please don't steal too much from your grandchildren to provide for Christmas stuff this year. And by the way, your dog doesn't appreciate being decorated.

21 December 2009

Treehenge (stonehedge?) winter solstice sunrise

Meg and I watched the sun come up today through a gap in the trees. I'd been noticing for a while that the sun seemed to be rising closer and closer to this spot so I went out this morning and waited. Sure enough, I was rewarded with this view of the sun rising at its most southerly point of the year.

I feel such a relief on the shortest day. It doesn't get any darker than this. There are months of cold and snow ahead, but the days will get longer and the sun will rise higher in the sky. Welcome back, sun!

13 December 2009

Of chickens and carrots in the snow

I dropped in on the chickens this afternoon to give them some scratch and collect eggs (aren't they supposed to stop laying in the winter?). They were curious about the snow, which we've only had since Wednesday, but they refused to set foot outside the coop. They like to eat snow, but they don't like to walk in it.

I went to the garden to see if my carrots were still ok, and I'm happy to report they're fine. The soil was beautifully loose under the straw bale, and picking some carrots for dinner was hardly any more trouble than in August.

02 December 2009

The Story of Cap and Trade: this isn't going to end well...

Well, we all knew that there would be no action on climate change until the rich figured out how to get richer out of it. It seems they have now, so everything should be fine, right? Well, it looks like they might just be able to suck a few more dollars out of the world without actually making anything better at all. Watch The Story of Cap and Trade for some protection against the spin that will be coming your way soon.

24 November 2009

Undermining the economy to save the world

This video is a lecture titled "Arithmetic, Population, and Energy"given in 2000 by Dr. Albert A. Bartlett, a physicist at the University of Colorado. Apparently, he's given the talk something like 1500 times and although you may quibble with a couple of his assertions (mostly about assuming steady rates of population growth), it's hard to argue with his main point that continuous growth is not possible. He says, "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." You can be sure that any difficulty you may have with the arithmetic is being exploited by folks who are fairly certain you're not checking theirs. He spends quite a bit of time on poking holes in some pretty outrageous claims about coal reserves as just a few examples of "information" that gets into the public sphere without anyone bothering to check the basic math.

If you watch the entire hour or so, and I hope you do, I wonder if you will arrive at the same conclusion that I did; that the ravenous pursuit of economic growth above all else is the greatest risk to longterm wellbeing we face. It's the driver behind climate change, resource depletion, food insecurity and environmental devastation. And it's not open for discussion in polite company.

As there doesn't appear to be any polite company currently in the room, I'd like to point out that the current economic and political system is killing the planet and now would be a good time to stop being a good citizen and start subverting the status quo. First of all, stop working so hard! Work less, earn less, consume less, pollute less, and best of all – pay less tax. Don't vote for anyone who lies. This may eliminate all candidates. Too bad. Don't let your babies grow up to be MBAs. Get your kids out of cubicle training and let them unschool. Grow food. With your justice and environment hat on, start thinking about whether private land ownership even makes sense as a concept. Never take an economist seriously, unless he's showing you his garden. Boycott Christmas shopping.

Or else Dr. Bartlett and I have got it all wrong, in which case, carry on.

12 November 2009

Snug at the shack

One of my favourite things to do is to spend an evening in front of the woodstove at our old log cabin. The only light is candlelight and the only sound is us. We can't hear anything from outside except the train whistle a kilometre away and sometimes coyotes. We sit and talk and eat pie and drink warming beverages and that's about it.

Our everyday house (and we are not alone in this) suffers from a definite lack of snug. It's too bad because I think it requires extra energy to make up for the missing internal warmth you get at a place like our cabin. Or maybe it's just a warm frame of mind that is difficult to attain with dishwashers and fridges and LEDs all jangling our nerves.

11 November 2009

Winter coop

We moved the girls from their portable chicken tractor into an old goose-house turned shed turned chicken coop yesterday. They were curious about their new digs and spent lots of time exploring and trying to figure out how to get out the window. They'll live indoors for the winter where they'll have more room out of the weather. Of course, on nice days they can still free range outside if they want.
By this morning they had figured out the nest boxes and got right to work - five eggs! 

06 November 2009

Standard Time Blues

We're weeks away from the winter solstice and already the sun is setting before 5. It's the first week of November and the cold and darkness is weighing heavily on me. I feel like pulling the covers up over my head and staying in bed until spring, or at least February when the days become noticeably longer again. Or at an absolute minimum, until after New Year's. I can't even generate any enthusiasm for the annual Christmas rant, although I'm told it is as eagerly anticipated as The Simpsons' Halloween Special. 

Maybe I should just turn off the news and stop looking at gloomy websites and take up drinking or pot or high fructose corn syrup or buying lottery tickets or forwarding emails with stupid animated angels for the next few months. Ignorant bliss has never really been my style, but it might have merit for this dark time of year. I'd likely get it wrong, though, and end up in a state of ignorant despair. Probably I should just go for a walk.

02 November 2009

Happy garden helpers

I pulled some dried up bean and sunflower plants out of this bed today, then I spread a bale of rotting straw which grew Delicata squash all summer over the surface. We placed the chicken coop on top and the chickens are loving it. They've been scratching at the dirt and straw and finding all kinds of goodies. By the time they're done, this bed will be cleaned of weeds and bugs and fertilized. In a couple of days we'll move them to another bed for more cheap labour. This is only part-time employment for the girls as they spend time almost every day free ranging.

Carrot gone wild

This cheeky carrot tried to get away, but I caught him and we ate him for supper. No dispensation for being cute around here.

25 October 2009

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel queasy

This is the trailer for a new documentary called H2Oil, which has just been released. I'll be looking for it when it comes out on dvd or is screened locally, but I won't be looking forward to it. It's about the oil sands, water and our agreements with the US that lock us into giving them away.

The film highlights the environmental destruction caused by oil sands development which, on its own, even without any regard for climate change or peak oil, should have us pursuing radical conservation starting now. I think the path of aiming towards the same lifestyle only with more efficient lightbulbs is really a dead end. I say this while writing on a very new, large computer in a poorly insulated, nuclear-powered (and heated) house which is too far to walk to anything. Sadly, I don't think there are any vacant caves within walking distance of any place I ever go, so my conscience and my creativity are going to have to cooperate to find an arrangement we can live with.

05 October 2009

Bragging of socks and kid

A few days ago, I received a fabulous gift from my daughter. She handed me a hand-knit (by her, of course) pair of wool socks. I have never owned hand-knit socks in my life and I'm thrilled with these. They are soft and warm and the perfect thing to wear around the house or in rubber boots.

Have I mentioned that Madeleine is 13 and that I'm very proud of her accomplishments? She's published a couple of original patterns on Ravelry and is getting a lot of very good feedback from knitters around the world. She's also getting way more hits on her blog than I've ever gotten on mine.

I hope I haven't made anyone who doesn't have a beautiful hand-knit pair of wool socks knit by their kid feel jealous. I'm sure your kid is special too.

28 September 2009

Saying hard things out loud

Sharon Astyk has written another great post about how our lifestyle is going to change, like it or not, and how it should change, if we are to avert environmental catastrophe. I strongly recommend that you stop reading this post and go over to Sharon's right now. We'll continue when you get back. Go. Now.

Welcome back. I think she absolutely nails it here. Other folks have nibbled around the edges of the idea that there is no possibility of successfully maintaining western lifestyles, but very few have said it so plainly. Sharon makes a very good case in her books and blog that in fact, a very satisfying and rich life can be lived while consuming dramatically less, but I would suggest that she is preaching to the choir. The more mainstream writers and thinkers on the environment are very careful to conclude with something optimistic (meaning that there is something that can be done to keep things the way they are) or else they don't get heard. Madeleine and I went to a lecture recently about packaging and the environment given by an industrial design professor and his last slide, entitled "reasons for hope" was decidedly unhopeful, but I overheard him telling someone before his talk that he was told to include something positive by the talk's organizer. When I asked him during the Q and A why no one will say out loud how consumption must and will radically change, he said that the "suicide slide" (you know that picture of environmental devastation, somewhere else) had gone out of favour lately.

I think where Sharon succeeds is that she presents a vision that is not suicide and is not air conditioning powered by wind. Given the inevitability of less material wealth in the future, and the happy coincidence that beyond a minimum level, increased wealth is not associated with increased happiness, we might do ourselves a favour by dreaming a life for ourselves and our children that does not involve striving for more and in fact involves considerable striving for less.

Striving for less, it turns out, is hard. You are going against your internal wiring, your education, your religion, your spouse and kids, and the daily bombardment of messages from your culture. It's difficult to prepare for a different future when energy is cheap, food is plentiful, and the weather is fine. But change is coming and it's very possible that individuals making changes in how they live now won't make any difference in that, but it can't hurt to have people around who are prepared and content and comfortable with less, rather than angry and disappointed that they can't have more. We're heading into uncharted territory and I welcome hearing voices that go beyond protecting the status quo at all costs and offer realistic, if difficult visions of the future. And that remind us that it is quite possible to act in a way that is consistent with a reasonable life now and for our grandkids.

14 September 2009

You can't really blame this guy

If you're like me, you sometimes wonder who the heck these "ordinary Canadians" are, anyway? And how is it that they supposedly get to tell the government what they want and I don't? And why on earth do they expect so little? Given the imminent threat of an election, we're going to be hearing an awful lot about what these "ordinary Canadians" want so I decided to do a little research to see if I could find out more about them.

It wasn't easy to get this information, but with a bit of digging I found the following: "Ordinary Canadians" are actually just one fellow. You don't know his name, but you probably remember him. He's that guy that got whooped by the 60 year old Swede back in 1973 - Phil. He still hasn't quite gotten over the humiliation of that Participaction commercial (which showed the evenly matched jogging but not the double dutch or drunken bar fight which both ended badly) but he did eventually find some success selling cleaning supplies. He's got one adult son, who lives in the basement and still mourns his mother leaving when he was a child. He has 4 step children who seem to enjoy producing grandchildren for their mother, especially if she babysits them most of the time. His second wife, Frances, though her lessons were cut short as a child, is an enthusiastic accordian player. His first wife, Marcia, now lives in Stockholm with a charming and fit older gentleman.

Phil has been enjoying his retirement pretty much, but there is the problem of the pollsters who call everyday. Phil hasn't been able to hear right since Lars popped him back in '73 and that damned polka music playing in the background and all those kids tearing around don't help so he has developed a simple strategy for dealing with the telephone intrusion. He yells into the phone that he strongly agrees and please don't call me again. Somehow, all the political parties have gotten his number and he's considering changing it due to the continuous disruption, but he won't because he still holds out hope that Marcia might call and tell him that Lars had been hit by a Saab on one of his daily runs and she wants him to take her back.

08 September 2009

Unschool report

Last year, I blogged about unschooling from the hopeful and optimistic perspective of one who had read and thought quite a bit about it, but had no actual experience. This year, I write from the hopeful and optimistic perspective of one with one whole year of experience.

Much to my surprise, things have turned out much like I expected. I was disappointed last January when M decided to register at the local public school and pleased when six weeks later she decided that the academics weren't challenging enough and the middle school social dramas weren't worth it. I promised to be supportive of the whole exercise and I believe I was in spite of my misgivings. Ever since that foray back to school, M and I seem to have settled into our lives with more confidence that we are on the right track. It's M who wants to know she is keeping up with her peers in school and wants to do more "schooly" activities. I'm more content to have her pursue her own interests, whatever they are. Luckily, M is very interested in cell biology and physics and animals and paleontology and string theory and knitting and sewing and all kinds of music and not so much in video games or Jonas Brothers. This makes it easy for me to be supportive without much tooth grinding.

The questions I get about unschooling seem mostly concerned with whether I'm convinced that this approach will allow M to compete with conventionally schooled people for higher education and jobs. I question the assumption behind that question that life is some kind of race and we should all be in a hurry to get somewhere else. I do trust that by taking responsibility for her education from a young age, she will be in at least as good a position to do whatever she wants as someone who has just done as they were told for 15 or so years.

The thing that pleases me most about our unschooling adventure so far is how much easier our mother-daughter relationship is. I was kind of worried before we started about how we would get along while spending so much time together. It turns out that much of the conflict in our lives was around school - getting up for it, getting enough sleep for it, completing homework, and being cranky because of the stress of it. Without all that getting in the way, we get along just fine and have a lot of fun.

01 September 2009

Marge, we hardly knew ye

April 28, 2009 - September 1, 2009
Marge, our beautiful golden chicken was snatched from us this morning leaving only some feathers to mark the spot where she last foraged for bugs. Marge will be fondly remembered as the free-thinking chicken who found a spot in the centre of a rather large juniper bush to lay her eggs, much to our chagrin. The prime suspect is the rather bold coyote who has been previously described. Unfortunately, the daily routine of the remaining five hens has changed as a result of this daylight attack. It's tempting to confine them to their chicken tractor for their own protection, but they obviously get so much pleasure out of their unconfined chicken lives, we'll still let them free range in the afternoons. I'm sure the coyote will soon be on to our new schedule, but we'll be supervising activities in the yard very closely from here on.

29 August 2009

I'm doing nothing to save the world

I'm not known as a hard worker. I am known as an opinionated, argumentative, critical person, and it has been suggested to me on numerous occasions that I might have made something of myself if I had applied some hard work to those qualities and become a lawyer or politician or activist of some sort. I might have been able to change the world.

Work for me is generally preceded by a whole bunch of thinking which looks suspiciously like not-work from the outside. Work also ends when good-enough is achieved, usually well short of perfect. Then there is the period of admiration of said work, and the basking in the glow of having worked. This process takes a lot of time during which mostly nothing appears to be happening. Somehow, I managed to marry a workaholic perfectionist, who can be observed to be working at almost any moment of his waking hours. I like to think our relationship is mutually beneficial, as I have been spurred into more action than would otherwise be natural, and he has been conditioned to sit down to eat a family meal at least once a day.

I'm the child of Dutch immigrant parents and I endured an authentic Calvinist-brand upbringing. No generic protestant work ethic for me. In spite of that, I have a lazy streak and it goes beyond mere personal work-avoidance. I regard much of the work that goes on around me as trivial and wasteful of time and resources. I admire the publicly idle.

Most certainly, and like most people, the world is not a better place for my having been born. I hope that my footprint is not so large as to make it a whole lot worse. The fact is, though, that I am a physical being and I take up space and consume energy and materials just to stay alive, as do the other 7 billion or so other inhabitants of this planet. Some of us have a vague awareness of limits and the tendency of populations to crash when they are exceeded, unlike say, goldfish, who keep growing and eating and shitting in their dirtier and dirtier water with no anxiety whatsoever about the future (or perhaps they are anxious, but they hide it well). But goldfish, at least those with whom I have been acquainted, have at least some hope that a giant hand will occasionally emerge out of the murk and clean things up. Some religions offer a similar deal to their adherents, or at least the promise of a clean tank after death, but in exchange for lot of obeying, praying, paying, proselytizing or slaying infidels. In other words: a lot of work.

I don't have any solutions to the overcrowded aquarium problem. We humans seem hard-wired to consume as much as possible which makes a lot of sense evolution wise. Those of us descended from Adam and Eve I have no explanation for. I expect we'll consume and excrete and reproduce until we can't anymore, and then we'll stop. I'm trying to do less of all of that, but quite honestly, I haven't the energy to do more than chip away at the edges of my consumption and I am not certain it makes the slightest difference anyway. I know I have at times been preachy and prescriptive on this very blog, but it all seems a little much for a fat goldfish in the top of the bowl to be squawking about consumption at billions of other goldfish, most of whom are taking up much less space in the bottom of the bowl, and I regret any distress I may have caused.

This is why I'd make a poor politician, activist or clergyperson. In addition to all the hard work, there's that professional optimism I wouldn't be able to maintain. I wouldn't generate very many votes, or dollars or converts with my "why bother" message. Even though reducing consumption is hard work I'm not likely to abandon my efforts in that direction because earning money to support consumption is even harder and way less fun than my current subsistence activities.

25 August 2009

Our precocious chickens

Our 6 chickens are officially laying hens now, on their 17 week birthday! We were expecting to wait another month for eggs, but we found 4 eggs today. Two of them were broken, but two are absolutely perfect. Luckily, Madeleine had a hunch to look in the nest boxes today, because I wasn't thinking eggs yet at all. We saw Lisa, one of the white ones, in one box, and the other nest box was used as well. I have no idea how they know to lay in the nest boxes but I'm glad they do as I was worried they would leave eggs all over.

Back in May, Madeleine crocheted this little egg basket from twine. Cute, eh? She's precocious, too.

I love you, Dolly Freed

I've been a huge fan of Dolly Freed since reading Possum Living: How To Live Well Without A Job and With (almost) No Money a few years ago. Dolly wrote it when she was 18. She describes her life since dropping out of grade 7 and living with her dad on a half-acre lot outside of Philadelphia, raising and foraging much of their food. I knew there had been a documentary made about her but had not been able to find it at the library or online, until today (Oh, happy day). Unfortunately, the free download of her book is no longer available*, but there is a new updated version being released in January.

I was very interested to see what Dolly and her family and house look like, and I have to say they are all much more normal than I expected. She even looks like me (er, what I looked like when I was 19). I would love to know what became of Dolly, and I suppose I will have to read the updated book to find out.

Dolly and her dad don't quite live within the letter of the law, and certainly don't comply with modern building codes, and they have chosen to live without a lot of stuff, but appear to be more content than most with their lives. They're more hillbilly than hippie, but in full possession of their teeth, and with a very deliberate approach to living. Dolly was an unschooler before the term was even invented.

If you google Dolly Freed or Possum Living you'll find she has a lot of admirers and folks who see her approach as reasonable. I expect lots of people will be forced into a possum lifestyle over the next few years as we start really hitting limits and some might even enjoy it.

Update: I did find a video online which shows a much more recent Dolly giving some tongue-in-cheek outdoor tips. She doesn't look quite like I expected.

Update (2): I found the following paragraph from the new introduction to the updated version of her book, which is on the publisher's web site.
Following her success as an author, Dolly Freed grew up to be a NASA aerospace engineer. She put herself through college after she aced the SATs with an education she received from the public library. She has also been an environmental educator, business owner, and college professor. She lives in Texas with her husband and two children.
*Update (3): The older version of the book is actually still available at the Internet Archive online here and I've updated the link in the text above. Thanks to commenter Anonymous for the tip.

So now you know what became of Dolly Freed.

14 August 2009

Eastern Smooth Green Snake

This beautiful and aptly named little snake was hanging out in the driveway this afternoon. It had moved into the weeds by the time I fetched the camera, but moved slowly enough for me to capture a few shots. They are known to move quickly if they feel threatened. I don't recall ever seeing one before and I feel privileged to have seen this elegant fellow today.

Click on the picture to see his amazing forked tongue.

12 August 2009

It's a dog eat dog world (almost)

This morning Meg and I were looking for a ball to play with. Meg was looking at the edges of the mown area where the balls roll out of sight. I looked up to see Meg trotting towards the vegetable garden followed a few feet behind by what at first glance appeared to be a playful dog, but what I soon realized was a coyote stalking her. It was the size of a lanky German Shepherd and the colour of a dark Golden Lab. When it saw me, it stopped and looked for what seemed like quite a while, perhaps evaluating the threat I posed to it, before heading into the long grasses towards the woods. I had the distinct impression that it did not find me to be threatening, it just didn't feel like sticking around. When Meg realized what had been so close, she put on a short brave show of some weak barking and lots of sniffing, then came running to me.

I admit that I've not been terribly sympathetic to the people who are occasionally featured in the paper calling for the extermination of the local coyote population because their cat or small dog was killed by one. In fact, I always side with the coyote whenever they come into conflict with pets. Now I have to refine my opinion slightly. Now I side with the coyote, except if it's eyeing my pet for breakfast.

Update August 13: Meg was spayed today and when we picked her up we mentioned the coyote incident to the vet. Our vet is also a sheep farmer so I respect his opinion on coyotes. He said it is possible that the coyote wanted to play with Meg as this is not unheard of. Apparently, they will also mate with dogs, but that potential has been removed as of this morning. I think it is always safe to assume the coyote's intentions are not honourable.

Meg is recovering comfortably at home.

28 July 2009

We interrupt this chicken and puppy report to bring you an outbreak of middle age angst

Although it may seem as though I haven't been thinking about anything but chickens and puppies and vegetables for the last few months (which does cover most of it, certainly) I actually have been pondering my usual end-of-the-world stuff as well. Mostly, I've been an interested observer of the decline of industrial civilization with occasional spells of anger, sadness, fear and guilt.

I read Derrick Jensen's What We Leave Behind this summer. I agree with much of what he says about what a mess we're making of the world, but I got so turned off by his pining for some kind of pre-civilization eden and talking to trees and piously shitting in his backyard that I know I'm one of the kind of people he despises. The ones who aren't prepared to fight for every salmon and who don't actually mourn every fallen tree. I guess the problem is I can't generate a lot of enthusiasm for his vision of a post-collapse but prehistoric lifestyle in total harmony with all of nature. He advocates a resistance against those who would harm the natural world, like developers and industrialists and politicians but he makes a false distinction between us (presumably anyone reading his books is a victim) and them, the evil nature destroyers. No matter how much I side with the good guys, the fact is by participating in civilization to any degree, I'm contributing to the destruction of the natural world. Leaving aside the problem of unintended consequences, I don't think tearing down a cell tower or blowing up a dam is going to change a thing.

But I also know that my own utopian fantasy for the future, which looks strikingly like my present - where everyone gets to live in a modest house surrounded by beautiful food gardens and wild space not far away - is at best impractical and at worst greedy. I have no illusions that the world will be saved by my personal pursuit of an anachronistic idyll. Effectively, I'm trying to find a comfy seat from which to watch the economic, energy and environmental circus that's going on all around, because quite frankly, I can't think of anything better to do. And for that, I'm sure, Derrick Jensen would be very angry.

26 July 2009

Meg and Patty getting along

Buckwheat love

I'm starting to have an unseemly number of chicken pictures on my computer. They make much better models than kids or dogs because they aren't shy, hold still while their picture is being taken, and don't make silly faces (um, they always have silly faces). Edna and the gang have discovered the buckwheat cover crop and they love, love, love it.

25 July 2009

The rain is over*

I brought my camera out on my usual walk-about this morning to document the rain we've had over the past couple of days (well, all summer). The saturated soil on top of limestone bedrock in the alvar meadow is unable to absorb anymore rain, so we'll just have to wait until the water flows away or evaporates. This top picture is me standing in water to near the top of my boots in the labyrinth.

I think the garden will survive as everything but potatoes and buckwheat is in raised beds or straw bales, and the mosquitoes are certainly thriving. It is rather nice to see the sun peek through clouds from time to time as I write this. I am wishing for a few days of sun and heat to help ripen the tomatoes and peppers, but the forecast isn't very promising.

*I'm taking a lesson from the Bank of Canada's making-it-so by saying-it's-so book. Just like Mark Carney, I've had to make a few assumptions to arrive at my optimistic statement, but unlike Mr. Carney, I'm not depending on you to believe my wild assertion and go shopping, preferably with borrowed money, for it to actually be true.

05 July 2009

Kitchen Garden Tour

In the foreground is the first proper compost pile of the season. It's currently hosting a hill of Atlantic Giant pumpkins. The pile in the background was assembled the day before this picture was taken and already you can see that it has shrunk significantly from the top of the chicken wire. At the depth of my soil thermometer it was 50 C.

This picture shows the wooden raised beds filled with soil as well as the strawbale beds. I've planted strawberries, winter squash, peppers, tomatoes, salad greens and herbs in strawbales for the first time this year. I did this because there are only a few inches of sandy topsoil on top of limestone bedrock throughout most of the garden area, and I blew my wood and topsoil budget last fall while building the 9 raised beds. So far, most things are doing well, but I'm reserving judgement until I successfully harvest everything.

A closer look at the wooden raised beds. They're simple 4 ft. by 8 ft. rectangles the height of two 2 x 6's. The standard size makes it easy to move my portable 4 x 8 ft. hoophouse onto any bed in the fall. The chicken coop is also designed to fit on top of a bed so I can enlist the chickens' help to clean and fertilize.

My Delicata squash plants appear to be doing well in their strawbale. There are lots of male and female blossoms, as well as a couple of small fruits already.

The cabbages are just about ready to eat. I had carefully covered them with row covers to keep out cabbage moths, but I wasn't diligent about making sure the edges were securely fixed as they grew, so moths did find their way underneath. I removed the row covers to allow birds to find the tiny caterpillars and I picked a few myself. So far, it appears that only the outside leaves have holes, but I will wash them carefully.

I planted two hills of summer squash from a seed packet promising a mix of varieties. So far it looks like patty pan, crookneck and plain old zucchini.

I have one bed devoted to garlic as well as a couple of smaller plantings. We've been eating garlic scapes for the first time this year and I have a new favourite vegetable. Perhaps this fall I'll plant more, as garlic is something I can never get enough of, and the Chinese garlic in the grocery store pales in comparison to the locally grown stuff.

My tomatoes got off to a bit of a slow start in the very cool basement and still aren't the great leafy jungle plants I'm used to growing. However, they are loaded with blossoms and small fruit as are the peppers. I expect that this may be because my home mixed organic fertilizer which I've been using with manure tea may be particularly slow release in the nitrogen department. I started fertilizing and watering the strawbales about a month before planting anything in them to start them breaking down.

I'm growing Penta potatoes in straw mulch right on the ground. I flattened last year's weeds, sprinkled some organic fertilizer and tossed the seed potatoes on top. I covered the whole thing with straw and have added straw as the plants have grown. This is another experiment inspired by a lack of topsoil and aversion to hard work. So far I can report no major bug problems, but no major potatoes yet either.

The portable chicken coop is currently in the garden, but the chickens spend their days wherever they want. I occasionally shoo them out of a bed or the garage, but they generally occupy themselves foraging in the grass, or resting amongst the trees.

The bare looking bed has recent sowings of beets, chard and carrots. I had Asian greens and spinach, planted in mid April, there throughout the spring.

I've started a few cabbage plants which are waiting for a spot to open up somewhere for planting out.

I started everbearing strawberries (Temptation) from seed and I'm pleased to see that I have a few blossoms. They seem to be doing fine in the strawbales and are not bothered at all by weeds there.

Apparently you can get good help these days.

Lisa the chicken keeps an eye on things. I think of her as the spokeschicken as she is certainly the boldest and most vocal of the gang. They're almost 10 weeks old, so we have a few weeks to go before we see any eggs. I'm a little concerned that they're getting so comfortable all over the property that they'll lay their eggs everywhere, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

22 June 2009

Luna Moth

We found this Luna Moth under an outside light which we inadvertently left on overnight. This fellow is male, evidenced by his big antennae which are designed for detecting female pheromones. Adult Luna Moths have no mouth parts or digestive system so are solely in the business of mating. They live only a week or so.

I have never actually seen one before and in fact, they are not commonly seen because they fly only during the night and usually spend their days away from human eyes. I love the fact that I can reach 40 something years old and still have completely new experiences without leaving home.

17 June 2009

Stepping out

The chicks had their first free range experience the other day. They met Meg, who was promptly pecked on the nose and now avoids chickens, and ventured out for a little walk outside the coop. 

28 May 2009

Puppy class

Back in March when Meg first came to live with us, we knew that having a puppy would add an element of chaos to our lives. I think we were preparing ourselves to minimize the disruption by maintaining strict control over the situation. What I didn't anticipate was how much we actually enjoy having an out-of-control furball in residence. Meg is messier, faster, less obedient, goofier, smarter and loves us way more than any of us expected. She jumps on company, unravels yarn, catches birds, leaps on furniture and fails to demonstrate her tricks to visitors. She cries outside the bathroom door and wags her entire body when you emerge.

I've learned a lot from Meg. I've learned that nothing terrible happens when you relinquish a little control in your life. Meg's the perfect demonstration that you might as well enjoy the moment. And you can get away with almost anything as long as you convince folks that the best thing that ever happened to you was seeing them just now.

30 April 2009


This was the scene at the feed store yesterday. The hatchery delivered this week's orders and everyone received a phone call advising them their chicks had arrived. The smallest box contains our little gang.

We've got six different varieties of chicken making it easy for us to keep track of who's who. They've been christened Edna, Marge, Patty, Selma, Lisa and Maggie.

Meg was pretty interested in the new chicks. She promised not to catch any, but we don't believe her so she'll be supervised closely around chickens for a loooong time.

28 April 2009

The coop scoop

Construction on the portable chicken coop started last week. The project began a few weeks ago with ordering the plans and buying the materials. As is customary with this kind of thing, the initial measurements and cuts took a while as the builders settled into the groove.

The floor of the coop had lots of fiddly cutouts.

As a result of the cautious start and tricky cuts, this was the progress by late afternoon of day 1.

The construction crew at work on day 2. Progress went faster as the apprentice mastered her tools.

Another helper was never far away. Meg supervised and comfort tested.

The sides of the coop are removable for cleaning. This picture shows the finished coop with one side removed to show the interior. There is a nest box at each end, a roost in the middle and a ramp (shown in the up position) which is operated by a pulley arrangement from outside.

This is the completed coop with the sides on and ramp down. There are doors on each end to access the nest boxes on top and the run on the bottom.

The doors and sides are secured in place with carabiners and slide latches. The idea is to foil the local raccoons without foiling ourselves. We tested our security measures last night by leaving an empty but unwashed can of puppy food inside. So far so good.

Meg recruited another quality control tester to assist in the final inspection. Passed.

Today is hatch day for our six chicks. Tomorrow we'll wait for a call from the feed store to tell us they've arrived and we'll go and pick them up. We've got a brooder all set up in the basement (a cardboard box filled with pine shavings with a heat lamp suspended over top) where they'll spend the first few weeks of their lives. On nice days once they're a bit older we'll bring them out to free range in the safety of the coop's run. Once they've fully feathered out and the outside temperatures are consistently warm they'll move into the coop full time.


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