Monday, December 28, 2009

Building Fences - Hawaiian Style

There's nothing like a fencing project to make one feel right at home! Turns out Pete's lovely lab, Venus, was hopping over the stone wall at the bottom of the garden. Add to that the problem of the reddish volcanic dirt she was tracking into the swimming pool and, well, a fence was inevitable. Several shopping trips later, essential tools and equipment procured, we set to work.

Everybody - Dani, Pete, Dad, Hitomi, and two of the neighbours all chipped in and we not only got all the fencing done, the crew also managed to get the three new fruit trees planted (more on those in a future post).
Yes, it is a LOT hotter here than at home. Fortunately, there is a handy swimming pool close by to prevent labourers from dropping with heat stroke! And for those who can't wait to swim, there's always the hose...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Local Food Solution for Sinful Pleasures

I know I am not the only one caught on the horns of a dilemma when it comes to trying to eat locally. Where on Vancouver Island am I supposed to procure a steady (guilt free) supply of coffee? Chocolate? Bananas? Citrus fruits? Today at the KCC (Kapiolani Community College) Farmers Market,I discovered the obvious solution: move to Oahu!

Ka 'u coffee is, according to the sign, one of the top ten in the world. It was certainly the best cup of coffee I had today - so delicious, in fact, I went back for a second round. The rich flavour of the coffee was matched only by the superb mouthful of chocolate glory I enjoyed at the Malie Kai Chocolate stand! Oh my - was THAT ever good!

Thus fortified and fairly buzzing with cocoa flavonoids (or whatever it is in chocolate that produces that exquisite chocolate high), we shopped for locally produced butter, incredible bread, and fresh organic tomatoes.

Fresh grass-fed beef burgers (okay, okay - I know burgers do not eat grass) were available, though in the end we forgot to go back to the stand to buy some!

One of the great things (and there were many great things to note about strolling around in a market situated at the base of Diamond Head) was the fact the stands were exclusively selling food and other items that are GROWN here. Flowers, honey, beef, bakery goods, all manner of fresh produce, etc. and nary a bead earring or floral sun dress to be found! A real farmers' market, in fact.


Am I kidding about moving here? Not really... All I need now is a nice Hawaiian rancher with room for my horses...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Eat Wild - In Praise of Grass Fed Food

Looking for information about grass fed food, free range eggs, and more? The Eat Wild website has tons of useful resources... There are articles about the benefits for farmers, consumers, the environment and, of course, for the animals. The site also lists a number of reference books and includes links to some handy dandy kitchen gadgets.

Looking for a local source of pasture fed beef, chicken, pork, or lamb? Follow the links to find a farmer near you... Click on your state (or follow the link to Canadian producers) to find out who is producing the following:
  • beef
  • pork
  • lamb
  • veal
  • bison (buffalo)
  • rabbits
  • chevon (goat meat)
  • deer, elk, yak
  • wild-caught seafood
  • chicken
  • ducks
  • turkey
  • eggs
  • milk, butter, cheese
  • produce
  • honey
  • nuts

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Excellent Regional Winter Gardening Handbook

Want to extend your growing season and enjoy fresh produce from your garden pretty well year-round? Well, if you live on the coast of BC, here's the handbook for you...

This is not a flashy, full colour, luscious gardening book (it's black and white and spiral bound) but this down-to-earth format in no way diminishes the value of the information contained inside. I love the idea of being able to harvest things when the rest of the country is shivering under a blanket of snow (I know that's a bit mean, but winter bragging rights are counted among the many benefits of living here on the island...). At the moment I'm waiting to see if, indeed, my kale and winter greens mix will bounce back after the chilly few days we've had. This afternoon I was surprised to see the heart of a couple of the larger plants sort of fluffing up a bit (most of the rest look decidedly sad!). The onion tops look a bit droopy, but they are still green and I'm hoping that underground, things are still in good shape.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pollan on Food

  Another reading suggestion for those long, chilly winter nights...

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan (Penguin)
In a nutshell, here's Pollan's position on food: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

It's a simple enough premise - eat real, actual food (and not imitation food, food products, edible oil products, etc.) and not only will you be healthier, the planet will thank you, too. What is most astounding about this is not the premise (which falls into the 'well, duh' category) but the fact that we seem to need a whole book to remind us of some pretty basic principles.

Even more interesting is the fact that these simple ideas have got some industrial food producers' britches in a twist (here's an interesting blog post about Pollan speaking at Cal Poly SLO).

Want to introduce some of Pollan's ideas to younger readers? Check out this version of Pollan's earlier book, The Ominvore's Dilemma:

December rainbow!

Ah... sun showers. Much, much better than the way too frosty weather we've had recently. Took this shot as the sun was coming up this morning and we were about to commence the paddock mucking...
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sprout - Local Food Website

We're fortunate to live in a corner of the world blessed with a fabulous climate and lots going on in terms of urban agriculture/slow food/sustainable living initiatives. The Sprout website brings together the many organizations and individuals working on food-related projects in the area. From the website:

Sprout Victoria is a volunteer not-for-profit support network that acts as a hub connecting all urban agricultural activities in the Greater Victoria Region.  It enables people interested in urban agriculture to become involved by accessing current urban agricultural initiatives, workshops, events, projects and other relevant resources.

The community events calendar is an effective tool aimed at connecting all urban agricultural grassroots initiatives in Victoria for community members; public, university students and professors, governmental bodies and small to large-scale non-government organizations.  This will aid present and future generations in creating sustainable food sources on Vancouver Island.

The Sprout Victoria project has the following objectives;
  • To enable local and surrounding community members to become engaged in urban agricultural activities in Victoria and the Greater Region,
  • To spread a greater awareness of pertinent issues such as the island’s food security and accessibility,
  • To create a larger network of people now connected and talking about sustainable food sources on the island,
  • To provide resources and a support network for communities interested in urban agriculture.
 Check out the calendar, list of resources, and if you are an event/course organizer, local farmer, or are otherwise involved with local food issues, get in touch and get connected. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Good reading while the garden is frozen

I know there are plenty of places dealing with far worse than we are, but for us wimpy westcoasters, it's cold out there! My greens are looking rather unhappy - their row covers blew off in the big windstorm. They may well bounce back when things warm up again, but ewww...

Also annoying is the frozen water system... We rely on miles of buried water pipe which leads to various standpipes, attached in turn to more miles of hose that eventually winds up at the various animal shelters and paddocks. When things freeze we are reduced to hauling hot water in containers several times a day. It is during our rare cold snaps that I am reminded just how much horses drink every day!

Around here, cold snaps are usually accompanied by clear skies and glorious sunshine, and I must say that the break in the rain is nothing short of delightful. One cannot have everything all at the same time...

Being inside a bit more at the moment (another reality of the season is the short, short length of day - it's more or less dark by 4:30 in the afternoon) means more time to read, so I thought I'd post a few book reviews of titles I've particularly enjoyed.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Written with the help of her husband, Steven Hopp and one of her daughters (Camille Kingsolver), this is the story of her family's challenge to itself to eat food produced locally.

Living on a small acreage (or, at least, the amount of usable land is quite small), the family manages to grow quite the range of produce. Not only are they efficient in the gardening department, they throw themselves into tasks like canning tomatoes and coming up with creative ways to deal with excessive amounts of zucchini. Their adventures in everything from bread and cheese-making to farmers markets and travels abroad are related in a conversational, easy-to-digest style full of anecdotes and musings both practical and philosophical.

One of my favourite things about the book is the discussion of raising one's own chickens and turkeys. It has long seemed illogical to me that we are more squeamish about the idea of slaughtering our own meat than we are about purchasing packaged meat containing who-knows-what additives, raised in who-knows-what horrible conditions, and bereft of nutrients found in more traditionally raised animals.

As one would expect from a great spinner of yarns, the book is eminently readable. The addition of nutritional information, meal plans, and recipes (contributed by Camille) and a bit of scientific context and resources (pulled together by Steven) gives this book some serious heft in the practical/usefulness department. An index would have been handy, but the Kingsolvers have recognized this oversight and have provided one on their official website.

I'd love to hear what books you've found particularly inspiring. Drop me a note in the comments field and I'll compile a list of favourites.  

Friday, November 27, 2009

Even more uses for tarps...

Impressive! While I can imagine Conbrio embracing life with a tarp draped over her head, our other three horses would have a thousand fits if we even suggested such a crazy activity! I was actually looking for photos of interesting tarp and string constructions when I stumbled across this one posted by Shoshin Seishu on Flickr...

However, during my search I did find this very cool website about building gers with tarps and string and my other favourite building material, sticks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Our Good Friends: Tarps and Baling Twine

Just because the weather has been a tad uncooperative recently (rain, rain, rain – high winds – more rain) doesn't mean the To-Do list has shrunk. In fact, all that rain has revealed several leaks, all of which had to be fixed. Thank goodness for tarps and binder twine, two handy commodities of which we never seem to have too much.

Tack Room in the Unfinished Barn

Way back when Dad and I designed the barn, we decided on a 20X30' building with a tackroom, three stalls, each with a runout, and a wide covered alley-way so there would always be a dry place to tack up, trim feet, etc. There was nothing wrong with the design, but construction of the barn collided with some unfortunate life events (Dad breaking his hip, Mom falling critically ill) and the result was that Dad and I only finished half the barn. So we have a tack room, one stall, and a makeshift second stall where half the walkway should have been. This isn't actually a bad arrangement as we leave the stall doors open and just let the horses come and go. There's enough room to feed inside and they have access to a second shelter a little farther down the hill, but because the other half of the barn is missing, the roofline at what would have been the ridge running down the middle was never finished. Despite temporary patching, when it pours, water leaks in at the top, runs along the beams, and drips all over the tack room.

This week, wobbling on the tall ladder, fingers freezing as they clutched the chilly, wet aluminum rungs, we rigged up a huge tarp so the whole tack-room end of the barn is covered. Tied this way and that with binder twine, it looks like crazed spiders have been at work, but so far, things are much drier inside.

Tack Room in the New Old Trailer

We bought a bigger horse trailer this year, a used steel stock trailer from the interior of BC, which we've been tinkering with since its arrival at the farm earlier this summer. We installed a dividing wall forward of where the horses travel and have been keeping quite a bit of tack in there (due to leakage issues in the barn tackroom – see above). Alas, the gap just forward of the divider was big enough to allow the heavy rains to POUR into the tackroom, filling buckets and soaking everything in range. We fixed this issue by installing a clear plastic anti-rain panel in the gap, but we then discovered we had a slower leak, probably from the seam where the trailer roof meets the front wall (it's a bit hard to tell where the water is seeping in). More tarp and string to the rescue.

The trailer looks a bit silly with a bright blue 'cap' on the front, but things are much drier inside as a result. (I hasten to add that we don't leave the tarp on when we haul horses in the trailer!)

The Old Old Trailer

Before selling our old straight haul trailer, we wanted to re-paint it and reupholster the padded walls under the hay mangers (Ringo, in a fit of madness, or boredom, or petulance shredded them). This was a task we picked away at all summer until we had managed to paint ¾ of the trailer and take apart the padded walls. Then the rain started, leaving the back doors and one hay manger unfinished. Though I was able to take the wall panels up to the house and recover them (they look lovely now, I must say), there was no way to finish painting the back of the trailer until we built a temporary roof of – yes – tarp and binder twine. Actually, we had one of those handy dandy framing kits people use to build little shelters for lawn tractors and the like, so we whipped together a shorter (lengthwise) and taller (heightwise) version of the shelter frame, anchored it firmly to the trailer and several nearby trees and, voila, a primitive paint shop!

We now have no excuses (weather-related excuses, anyway) for not getting the painting finished and the old trailer sold.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Evidence - Muscovy Ducks Can Fly!

(#142) Feral, originally uploaded by tinyfishy.
They might seem heavy and ungainly, but trust me, these birds can fly! Just ask Audrey Hepburn...

Audrey - please, please come home!

Missing Duck!

Have you seen this duck?
If so, please call immediately as she is sadly missed by both her human and waterfowl friends.

Imagine my horror when, walking back from the neighbour's place the other morning (we're horse-sitting while they are off cruising in some warm, dry, lovely location...) I spotted Audrey Hepburn strolling down the road! Audrey has always had a mind of her own, apparent since the day we brought her home. She's always the first out of the duck gulag in the morning, and first back in at night. If the other ducks head for the orchard, she strolls off to the field. If the rest of the flock snuggles down to sleep inside the cozy dog crate duck hostel, she roosts in the rain on top. She eats when they bathe, bathes when they nap, and naps when they eat. She is a duck with a mind of her own. The fact that she was strolling along the road meant she had flown up and over the fence around the field and orchard  where she and the rest of the flock spend their days grazing and hunting for bugs and worms. Not good. What if some handsome mallard flew past, cocked his head, and quacked? Audrey Hepburn could sail off into the wild blue yonder, never to be seen again... (listen closely... do you hear that ominous music in the background?)

Unlike the other ducks, Audrey is also difficult to herd - she scoots and darts, dives between our legs and heads wherever it is we do not wish her to go. The other morning, our attempts to herd her back home took us into the immaculately groomed front yard of one neighbour and the private breakfast patio of another, Audrey always one step ahead and too clever to allow herself to be cornered. When we got too close, she flapped her trump card, lifted into the air and sailed away. She disappeard from sight into the farmlands of the Hunt Valley where, we feared, she would surely meet her end in the jaws of a hungry dog.

So began a day of searching, calling, fretting, hand-wringing, and self-beration - why, oh why had we not clipped her wings, as we had planned? In a flurry of feathers and indignant birds, we herded the rest of the flock back into the duck pen where we caught each one in turn and clipped their flight feathers. (Curious how to do this? Click here...) None of the other ducks were in the least impressed with our mud-wrestling, feather-snipping antics and, I confess, the whole exercise felt a bit like door-locking after the horse was long gone.

Several trips down the hill left us one beak short until dusk darkened the horizon and Audrey darkened the gate of the duck pen! Yes, our wandering waterfowl returned unscathed, strolling into the orchard as if it were the most normal thing in the world for a wander-lusting duck to meander back into town without explanation. Needless to say we hastily pruned her flight feathers and she remains safely grounded. 

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Beehive Woodpile

Beehive Woodpile, originally uploaded by noslopics.

Further to that last post... this woodpile is rather inspiring!


Alas, this is not my stack of firewood! (The photo comes to us thanks to our friends at Wikipedia)

In my dreams, I have such a stack. But first, wood must be split. Ever tried to split un-splittable wood? As in, the kind of wood so hard that a big, sharp axe bounces off and leaves nary a dent? After one of our neighbour's trees crashed into our yard during a wind storm two years ago, we had it cut into rounds with a big chainsaw (bigger than ours, wielded by someone bigger than I am). I'm not kidding when I say this stuff is un-splittable (the chainsaw wielder speculated the tree was something called ironwood, but that doesn't seem to match up with my best efforts at online identification). For nearly two years the rounds sat there getting nice and dry while we waited for more a more powerful tool than our axe.

Christmas elves last year delivered a lovely log-splitter, but then we got busy and realized we first needed to build a woodshed to keep the split wood dry, and then it was summer and we weren't really thinking about wood fires and the next thing we knew - November! Finally, yesterday we hauled all the rounds up to the new woodshed and started splitting. Whatever kind of wood it is - wow. Even the powerful splitter had trouble dealing with some of it. The innards of each log are stringy and tough and we had to put most of the logs through the torture treatment several times before we could pull or chop them apart! The bark runs horizontally in tough bands, so each log literally screamed when we put it in the splitter and the bark stretched until it snapped.
The logs aren't screaming now. They're burning slowly and evenly and throwing off a great deal of heat in the fireplace. Of course, the big logs (even split, they are hefty things) need some smaller stuff to keep them going, so we've been making our way through various brush piles that we've been accumulating since starting to prune the orchard way back in the spring. Slowly but surely, all those sticks and twigs and smaller branches we've been collecting all summer are disappearing into the fire and the brush piles are shrinking. My back is killing me, but my feet are warm!

Looking for motivation? Here are a link:
How to Stack Firewood (what, not everyone has random piles of sticks all over the place?)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Did someone say 95% certain we are NOT pregnant?

For an optimist, last week's vet check left a healthy 5% chance of Bonny actually being pregnant. I must confess that given our mare's history over the past several months, my usually unsinkable sense of the possible was floundering just a bit.

You can well imagine my utter shock and delight when, at the the 'just to be certain' vet check this afternoon we saw an actual EMBRYO!!!! The ultrasound image is now hanging on the fridge so we can admire Dark Creek Junior every time we reach for milk or cheese. Turns out the embryo is snugged up right beside Bonny's uterine cyst, which may or may not be a bad thing - only time will tell. So, once again we wait.

Bonny's daily doses of hormones will continue and then, after thirty days, we'll re-scan to make sure that this pregnancy is proceeding normally. Right at the moment it feels a bit like we're holding a lottery ticket festooned with lucky numbers - for the next thirty days, anyway, we can play the 'will the foal take after mom or dad? game .... and make plans for future dressage lessons... and driving clinics... and... and... and... Oh, could it be that we will have an actual foal ten months hence? Stay tuned...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Horseman's saying: Breed the best to the best and hope for the best...

Bonny and Conbrio - 2008

This year has been quite the adventure in breeding - or, rather, attempting to breed - our Welsh Cob mare, Bonny (her full registered name is actually Juglans Canvas Danver). Because the Welsh breed is listed as vulnerable on the Canadian Livestock Conservation list, we wanted to see if we could do our bit to preserve her excellent bloodlines by breeding her to one of the top Welsh cob stallions in North America.

It turns out that North Forks Brenin Cardi not only fits the bill but lives not that far away - near Olympia, WA. I had met Cardi in person at the Golden State Dressage Festival earlier in the year and fell hook, line, and sinker for this handsome, athletic, and gentle boy.

Cardi is a great example of the Welsh breed, which comes in four sizes (designated by letter according to size). Both Bonny and Cardi are in Section D, which means they are taller than 13.2hh. The cross would have been a great one, except that Bonny has  been decidedly uncooperative in the breeding department. Let me rephrase that - she has been quite cooperative in the breeding department, just not willing to conceive.

We've tried shipping semen from WA to our farm (THAT was an experience, let me tell you - Fed-Ex LOST our paperwork somewhere en route and the semen wound up sitting around for a very long time before it finally arrived here and could be inseminated by our vet...). Then we tried shipping Bonny to Cardi - where, on several heat cycles over several months she was inseminated at a vet clinic in WA not far from Cardi's farm. She even met him personally so the vet could try live cover. AI only has about a 50% success rate, whereas live cover produces a pregnancy about 70-80% of the time.

Anyway, after months of trying, Bonny was inseminated one last time and we brought her home last week. Yesterday, our vet (Dr. Danica Olenick of Elk Lake Veterinary Hospital) came out to do the ultrasound to check whether or not that last effort was successful.

In order to get close enough to the uterus to see anything, the ultrasound probe is inserted into the rectum... Alas, the results yesterday were inconclusive. Dr. Olenick is pretty sure that the bubble of fluid she detected was just a uterine cyst - but to be totally sure, she'll come back next week to see if there have been any changes. If the suspected cyst actually grows and develops, we'll know it's actually an embryo. Most likely, though, all our efforts at breeding this year will have been for nothing! Very frustrating. Very expensive. And, very disappointing.

As for the foal at the top of the page, that's Dark Creek Conbrio, Bonny's 2008 foal. She's half Welsh Cob and half Gypsy cob, sired by Fair Isle Gypsy Fiddler.

We are delighted to have her (even more so after the trials and tribulations of this past breeding season) and have high hopes for her as an all around riding pony.

In this photo she's three weeks old. Now 18 months old, she's quite full of herself, as many teenagers tend to be, and nearly as tall as her mother!

Each week we give away a copy of a book - this week our prize is a copy of Razor's Edge by Nikki Tate (yes, that would be me). This is my new one and is loosely related to the theme - it does revolve around horses! A mystery for teens set in the world of Standardbred racing, Razor's Edge was actually inspired by a bizarre crime that happened to Fiddler. In the middle of the night, thieves entered Fiddler's paddock and lopped off his tail! Horse tail thievery happens every now and then and to my mind seems such a strange crime, certainly worthy of inclusion in a novel. To have your name entered into the draw for the book prize all you have to do is send us an email at allpointswest[at]

Missed the segment live? No problem - give Amanda at the CBC a day or two and then check the All Points West website for a link to the archived segment.

Note: If you are reading this on Facebook, you can get back to the rest of the Dark Creek Blog by clicking here.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Who Knew?

So I was reading this article about the benefits of backyard duck-keeping over on the Mother Earth News website when I came across this fascinating gem of information:
Ducks provide valuable plant food via their manure and feathers (worms find molted feathers delicious, pulling them into their holes as they consume them).
I knew about the greatness of manure, but worms sucking the feathers down into their holes? Wow. I wonder if they line their nests with them... It boggles the mind to think about what's going on beneath our feet.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Remember the Tractor Tire?

Here's the biggest of the three we procured from helpful area farmers... Large anough for two people (Jane and Chloe, in this photo) to work inside! We added planks to the bottom so the hay won't fall through and then, carefully, carefully rolled it downhill (HEAVY!), flipped it into position, and filled it with hay. After some wary snorts, the horses overcame their terror of the scary new monster lying in their paddock and tucked in.

We also took out a section of fence between the two horse paddocks so all four can mix and mingle. Watching the herd dynamics around the new hay feeder was very intersting. Bonny and Diego are confidently at the top of the pile - they were first in, eating side by side. Brio is next in the pecking order... she is able to sneak in, her head low, her teeth clacking in submission. Ringo, though, has to wait a respectful distance away until the herd bosses decide to let him come anywhere near the food supply. We did put another pile of hay out for him, but his desire to be sociable and deal with his peers overrode his tummy and he preferred to wait patiently until he was given the signal to come in and join the party.

A great work day yesterday - not only did we finally get the horse hay feeder finished and opened up the two paddocks (which required some re-wiring of the electric fencing), we also retrofitted the goat hay rack with bigger, sturdier, feet - actually two pieces of a massive timber with huge spikes driven through and down into the ground. This, we hope, will stop them from knocking the whole stucture over when they floss their horns.
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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Forget Backyard Chickens: Try Ducks!


What a busy week we've had here on the farm. One of the highlights was a trip up-island to visit Smith Lake Farm. There, on a stunning 90 acre farm, Clea and Daniel raise Highland Cattle, Muscovy Ducks, and free range chickens. The farm also offers very comfortable accommodation in a completely private guest suite that looks out over Smith Lake. Even better, two horse stalls located immediately adjacent to the human quarters mean travelers can bring along their equine buddies to take advantage of the Williams Beach Community Forest trails. Next time, I won't be making the trip without a horse or two in tow!

What took me on a road trip? (other than the fact I love road trips...) After raccoons raided our flock of Indian Runner ducks, we needed to re-supply. We built a sturdy new duck enclosure so we can shut everyone in at night and then set off to choose the perfect new additions to the farm. We'd already found two handsome drakes to help ease the pain of our Runner Duck losses, but were looking for some breeding females so we could once again enjoy a steady supply of duck eggs. Despite raids by bears, raccoons, mink, rats, and crows, Smith Lake still had various lovely birds to choose from.

Here are the newest members of the Dark Creek gang...
From left to right: Latte, Coco Chanel, Mocha, Audrey, Brown Bomber (aka Joe)

The ducks have settled in beautifully and, so far, are getting along just fine with Perfect Man and Dynamo.

(Dynamo is the one in the front - you can tell by the few black feathers in his crest
and the fact he has a bit more white sprinkled across his back.)

 It's good to see all our ducks in a row, trimming the grass in our small field.

Brown Bomber
Muscovy ducks are a cool breed, not related to any other breed of domestic duck (all of which seem to be related to the good old mallard). In fact, if you breed a Muscovy to any other duck breed you wind up with mules, sterile birds that are useful as pets or on the dinner table.

Not that Muscovy ducks are exempt from appearing on a platter. The breed is a heavy bird, not as fatty as some other duck breeds, and is used mostly for the table, though we have yet to use ours for anything other than eggs and entertainment. However, if we (or, rather, the duck girls) manage to produce some ducklings next year, we may reconsider this. We are trying hard to be more self-sufficient in the food department and have been supporting local, organic, free range, meat producers, but it would be even better to raise our own protein right here in our back yard.

Each week we give away a copy of a book related to our theme, so this week our prize is a copy of Keeping Ducks and Geese by Chris and Mike Ashton. To have your name entered into the draw for the book prize, send us an email at allpointswest[at] and let us know why you'd be interested in a book about ducks.
Missed the segment live? No problem - give Amanda at the CBC a day or two and then check the All Points West website for a link to the archived segment.

Note: If you are reading this on Facebook, you can get back to the rest of the Dark Creek Blog by clicking here.  

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sometimes you wake up in paradise...

... or at Smith Lake Farm, as the case may be... And find a sweet little face like this greeting you! Stay tuned for more photos and more details about why Dark Creek Chronicles is on the road...
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

We Do Love Our Bamboo

When we moved to Dark Creek Farm thirteen years ago, one of the first things we planted was bamboo. Since then we've been experimenting with different varieties and have used our bamboo poles as garden stakes, fencing, supports for row covers, and treehouse railings. We've recently started to harvest and eat our bamboo shoots and can't wait for spring for a fresh crop.

There are many varieties of bamboo, plenty of which grow well even in most climate zones in Canada. If you're looking for some general information about various bamboo varieties check out this pocket guide:

Interested in making flutes? Have a look at this bamboo flute-making website.

We've cooked with bamboo shoots, those that arrive in our kitchen via a tin, for years. But it's only recently that we've started experimenting with harvesting and eating our own. Here's a link to some bamboo recipes.  This one sounds really good: Stir-fried Mushrooms with Bamboo Shoots Click here for the recipe. If you try any of these recipes, let me know how they turned out. And, if you already have a favourite recipe, pass it along and I'll post it here on the blog.

If you're the kind of cook who needs to know the nutritional value of anything you consume, here's some information about bamboo shoots.

Still looking for more bamboo info? Try these links:
Bamboo World - in Chilliwack

Golden bamboo
For the adventurous, a Thai recipe
Brochure (pdf) - Preparing and eating bamboo shoots

Interested in making things with bamboo? Have a look at this book:

Missed the segment live? No problem - give Amanda at the CBC a day or two and then check the All Points West website for a link to the archived segment.

Note: If you are reading this on Facebook, you can get back to the rest of the Dark Creek Blog by clicking here.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Recipe for Roast Pumpkin Seeds

In response to requests for the recipe, Jane (resident chef at Dark Creek) sent along this recipe for those delicious pumpkin seeds. Here it is:

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C
Remove pumpkin seeds from pumpkin innards--get them as clean as possible.
Now rinse them in a colander and drain -- you can also blot them in a clean dishtowel if you don't have time to drain them completely.
Toss seeds with extra virgin olive oil to coat (be careful here--you don't want them to be sodden with oil).
Spread seeds on baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt.
Roast 20-30 minutes or until a rich gold in colour--this intensifies the nutty flavour.
IMPORTANT: As soon as you take the seeds from the oven, loosen them from the pan with a spatula or similar tool--they can stick despite the olive oil.
Let cool slightly and enjoy.
Note: addictive.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend!

... for all you Canucks, that is...

Roasted Garlic and Butternut Soup

This just in from the Canary Islands (via Michelle of Mich's West Coast Journal fame). Sounds like the perfect addition to the Thanksgiving feast, if you ask me! Many thanks to Michelle's mom, Sharon (Canarybird) for sharing the recipe!

Roasted Garlic & Butternut Soup

6 - 8 servings  (My own recipe.  I always make too much!)
Sharon (Canarybird)

1 1/2 lbs butternut squash - after baking there should be about 2 cups of mashed squash
1 lg Spanish onion - peeled and cut into 8 chunks
1 medium leek - washed & chopped, including best-looking top green leaves
1 teasp cumin
1 head of garlic - sliced across top to expose cloves
2 - 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
200 ml (about 3/4 cup) light cream or half & half

olive oil
fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste
homemade garlic croutons (optional) & chopped flat leaf parsley

Utensils needed: oven or toaster oven and roasting pan or tray, frying pan & lid, blender or food processor, large heavy saucepan with lid.

1.  Preheat oven or toaster oven to 300F

2.  Split, quarter and seed butternut squash,  and arrange on roasting tray together with cut chunks of onion and head of garlic.  Drizzle with a little olive oil and roast 1 hr or until all is golden and tender, including garlic.

3.  Clean and chop leek, including top green leaves.  Sauté in a little oil for in frying pan 5 minutes.  
    Then add 2 cups of chicken broth, turn down to simmer with lid on until tender - about 12 - 15 minutes.

4.  When butternut etc is cooked, scrape it from skin and place in food processor along with the onion, cumin, and some pepper.
     Squeeze the garlic cloves  - which should be soft and buttery - from their skins and add to food processor.

5.  Add some of the rest of the chicken broth and process to a puré.  Gradually add the leek and liquid from pan.  Process until all is smooth, adding more of the chicken broth as needed. 

6.  Place the mixture in the saucepan and gently heat. Add the rest of the broth as needed for the desired consistency..
 Add the cream, reserving 2 TBS for swirling as a garnish when served.  Check the seasoning - adding salt and pepper as needed.

7.  Serve with a swirl of cream, chopped parsley and small homemade garlic-flavoured croutons.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

In Praise of the Stinking Rose

I surely do love garlic - so it is a bit odd that I've never grown any before. This week, I remedied this tragic oversight after picking up some Russian Porcelain hardneck garlic from the Dig This store in Oak Bay. This site does a good job of describing the differences between hardneck, softneck, and Elephant garlic...

Having procured an excellent variety for planting, I headed out to the garden to tweak one of the beds we'd used earlier in the season for mixed greens. I added a little well-rotted compost, dug a few holes, and pushed in the cloves, making sure their pointy ends were pointing up.

If you've never planted garlic before, now is the perfect time to do so. There are some good instructions to be found here.

Of course, the whole point of growing garlic is that you can use it in so many dishes (unless, of course you are a member of the British Royal Family or have a job in the castle, in which case - VERBOTEN!) These websites have some great culinary suggestions for the rest of us:

Gourmet Sleuth  has an interesting section on using garlic greens. The Not Without Salt blog has some interesting observations (and great photographs!) relating to garlic scapes.

The Garlicster blog has something to suit every garlic-lover's taste...  recipes and garlic lore galore.

If all this reading about garlic makes you want to rush out and plant some yourself, here are a couple of good suppliers:

West Coast Seeds

Salt Spring Seeds

We talked about a couple of garlic festivals during this week's show - here are the links to get you started on your garlic-themed holiday planning...
Hills Garlic Festival - New Denver, Slocan Valley in British Columbia
Another article here about the Hills Garlic Festival.

Information about the South Cariboo Garlic Festival can be found by clicking here.

This week we're giving away a copy of The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating by Alisa Smith and J. B. MacKinnon.

To have your name entered into the draw for the book prize, send us an email at allpointswest[at] and let us know your favourite locally grown food.

Missed the segment live? No problem - give Amanda at the CBC a day or two and then check the All Points West website for a link to the archived segment.