Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Search for Tractor Tires

... or, why I love the Internet Part 4,267.

 I know our horses are not the only ones with the unfortunate habit of eying a fresh pile of hay, straddling same, and peeing. All over the hay. This, of course, renders the hay less than palatable. The horses then toss the soiled hay out of the way, dance on it a bit, and gaze over the paddock gates with pleading looks that say, "Please, could you throw us a bit more hay?"

After considerable investigation, I found what seems to be a good design for a hay feeder made of old tractor tires. The only problem? Where to get tractor tires? Turns out a 'Wanted - Used Tractor Tires' ad on is an excellent way to scare up enough used tractor tires to outfit all the paddocks. Thanks to the various farmers who responded so promptly!

Now I just have to figure out how on earth to throw the tires in the back of the truck, bring them home, make the feeders, and then move the feeders into the paddocks... Stay tuned. And speaking of staying tuned, on Thursday on All Points West with Jo-Ann Roberts, we'll be chatting about the fabulous service offered by the good folks at the Fruit Tree Project.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Black Gold

(Hold your emails! We DO know how to spell M-A-N-U-R-E!)

According to the website, in 1900 approximately 1,000 tonnes of horse manure was cleared from London’s streets every day. That's a lot of manure to haul away and put somewhere. Despite the obvious difference in scale, I can relate to the challenge faced by city engineers back in the day. 

Our manure pile (generated by five horses and occasional contributions from the goat pen) is modest in size by comparison. Though we don't aerate, turn, water, or do any of the various things one is supposed to do to a manure pile, eventually the underneath stuff composts anyway. The result is marvelous, rich compost, excellent in the garden and nearly perfect in terms of the Carbon:Nitrogen ratio (the ideal is about 30:1). 

Despite regular visits from our gardening friends and our best efforts to haul loads uphill to various places in the garden, we can't keep up with the impressive output our well-fed horses. Fortunately for us, we managed to get onto the Michell Excavating secret (not so secret any more, I guess) manure list. Our excess horse manure gets picked up a couple of times a year and is taken off to the Michell farm at 7473 East Saanich Road. There, the manure is lovingly tended for another 6-12 months. Large machines flip the piles on a regular basis and eventually the composted manure is mixed in various proportions with other materials to create several products used in gardens. It's a great recycling system and a win-win situation for all involved. (Unless, of course, you are a horse owner and have not managed to get onto the list and find yourself wondering just how massive that manure pile of yours could possibly grow... If this sounds like you, please don't harrass poor Karen in the office as they are at capacity when it comes to manure clients... and, heaven knows, I don't want to annoy one of my favourite people on the planet!) 

The good news is, if you are a Vancouver Island gardener looking for a steady supply of excellent enhancements for your flower or vegetable beds, you are in luck. Judging by the size of the manure mountain at Michell Excavating, they aren't likely to run out of quality stuff for the garden any time soon. And, of course, the folks at Michell aren't the only ones able to supply gardeners with black gold. Most horse owners are happy to share the bounty - just ask and see what kind of deal you can make in exchange for a piece of the pile. Over the years, we've been the happy recipients of plums, greens, beets, carrots, and tomatoes from town gardens that have been enhanced by liberal applications of our composted manure. I've even been lucky enough to find cash contributions and happy notes left by friends who've come by to collect a load destined for raised beds and containers. 

Looking for information about managing your manure pile? Check out the Manure Maiden website. It's refreshing to find someone else who gets as excited as I do about the destiny of horse poop. 

Horse manure is not the only great ingredient in a compost pile. Send your best composting tip to allpointswest[at] and we'll put your name in a draw for a copy of

Missed the broadcast? No fear, click here...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Great Tomato Recipes from Listeners!

Thanks to listeners for submitting their fabulous tomato recipes... Yum!
If you missed last week's broadcast, here's the link... CBC Radio All Points West...
Selection of listener emails below...
Hello, here is one of the most creative recipes I have ever seen for  dealing with green tomatoes. I found it in a cookbook of my
grandmother's, it was submitted by Emily Zachidniak to the St.Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Women's League Cook Book (1981) of Flin Flon.

Strawberry Jam

4c green tomatoes
6c sugar
1-6oz pkg strawberry Jello
3 boxes Certo crystals or 1 1/2 bottles Certo

Grind up the green tomatoes in the meat grinder or blender. Measure 4
c of tomatoes, add 6 c sugar. Boil it all for 4 1/2 min. Remove from
stove, add the strawberry Jello and the Certo. Stir in really well.
Put in jars and seal.

-Alison Sawyer

I only heard part of the interview relating to Tomato Recipes, but since you requested favourites here is ours.....and it is so easy!

Baked or Barbecued tomatoes.

We love to eat baked or barbecued tomatoes. First cut them in half, crosswise, then add a tiny piece of margarine or butter, some freshly ground pepper, and some snipped basil and/or rosemary. If fresh herbs are not available use a little dried basil and rosemary.

Put the tomato halves on an appropriate plate or foil dish for the barbecue or the oven. If baking in the oven allow about 20 minutes at 375 F. If barbecuing cook on the upper shelf, above the main grilling area, until tender and slightly soft - about 20 minutes or so. Tomatoes make such an attractive colour addition to almost any plate, and all of our friends seem to enjoy them. Allow one half of a medium tomato per plate. Experiment with the cooking time, and also with other herbs if you like.

(The butter is optional, and some people might like to add salt. Yes, of course you can broil or grill tomatoes too, but this way you don't have to be watching all the time and you can use your oven or barbecue to cook some of the rest of the meal! Yes you can use the microwave too, but the effect is not quite the same.)

Elizabeth Fleet

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes in Parmesan Cups
Parmesan is the key to this recipe; richer cheeses such as pecorino or Romano may have too much fat to hold a shape.

125 g Parmesan cheese, coarsely shredded
300 g cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup basil leaves, cut into thin strips
1.      Preheat oven to 375?F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place 3 tablespoons of cheese on the paper and, with a spoon, spread into a 6-inch circle. Repeat with the remaining cheese to make 4 circles. Bake until lightly browned around the edges, 6 minutes.
2.      Meanwhile, place 4 custard cups or small shallow bowls upside down on a countertop. Working one at a time, carefully remove the hot cheese circles from the baking sheet and place over the cups. Let stand to form cups and cool completely.
3.      Place the tomatoes in a roasting pan and drizzle with the oil. Roast until the tomatoes split, 10 minutes. Add the basil, tossing to blend.
4.      Place a Parmesan cup on each of 4 plates. Divide the roasted cherry tomatoes equally among the cups and serve immediately.

Sarah Houghton's Tomato Sauce
Hi there, I just made this today with tomatoes I grew in my

About 8 lbs roma tomatoes, cored and quartered
2 tbsp canola oil
1 small spanish white onion, finely diced
1 head of roasted garlic
2 oz bacon
2 hot italian sausages
kosher salt
fresh, rough ground pepper
fresh basil
fresh oregano
1 cup homemade beef broth

First of all, I softened the onion and garlic in the canola oil in a
moderately hot large saucepan (about 20 minutes). As the liquid evaporated I
added 1-2 tbsp of plain water.

Then I added the tomatoes and simmered them for about 2 hours.

At this point it was bedtime so I put the whole pan in the fridge.

This morning, I brought the sauce back to a simmer. Then I cooked the
sausage and bacon in a separate frying pan, took them out of the pan,
drained the fat, added the meat back in and cooked for another 10 minutes,
making sure they didn't get crispy. Then I added about 1 1/2 cups of the
tomates into the pan and simmered for about 1/2 hour.

I then added the meat sauce to the rest of the sauce, pureed it, added the
beef stock and simmered for about 2 hours. At the last minute I tasted it
for salt and pepper, added the fresh herbs and I think this is the best
tomato sauce I have ever made.

My family calls this Salsa, but it is really more like a chili sauce.  Regardless of the name, we eat all our tacos with this sauce.

Jacquie Ackerly

Jacquie's Sweet Salsa

3 stalks of celery, finely diced
2 medium onions, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
3 bell peppers, finely diced
6-20 jalapenos  (ribs and seeds removed), finely diced
32 medium tomatoes, chopped (or 2 - 696 ml cans diced tomatoes)
1 cup vinegar
5 tsp pickling salt (or kosher)
1 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup white sugar

Place all ingredients except sugar in heavy bottomed pot. Simmer until desired consistency has been reached,  (I often start out with 3 cans of tomatoes (24 fresh) and thern add the rest closer to the end.  Add sugar at the very end as the sauce with stick and burn very easily after sugar is added,  Put into sterile jars and process in a hot water bath.  Follow manufacturer's directions.  YUMMY!!!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dark Creek Chronicles: What To Do With All Those Tomatoes?

My love affair with tomatoes goes way, way back. When I was four we lived in Australia. We had a single tomato plant growing in a pot out on the front steps. When the first tomato was ripe (I have no idea what variety it was, but I do remember it was huge and a rich, deep red in colour) my mother asked me if I'd like to pick it. I did and held this massive fruit in my pudgy little hands.

"How are we going to eat this?" I asked.

"The best way to eat a tomato," Mom replied, "... is to sink your teeth into it and eat it like an apple."

I thought my mother was insane - everyone knows a tomato is not an apple. Being a good child, though, I did as I was told and took a big bite of the tomato. The taste was amazing - sweet and sharp - and the tomato, being very ripe, was so juicy I dribbled tomato juice everywhere.

That first experience with a fresh tomato spoiled me. Ever since I've been searching for another sublime tomato experience... Today on All Points West, Jo-Ann Roberts and I chat about how we are coping with the tomato harvest here on Dark Creek Farm. Visit the All Points West website to listen to the episode, if you missed it live. It takes a day or two for the link to appear, but meanwhile, send your favourite tomato recipe to allpointswest[at] and we'll put your name in the draw for a copy of Tomato, by Gail Harland and Sofia Larrinua-Craxton.

As promised, here are the books we mentioned on today's segment as well as Carolyn Herriot's fine recipe for Roasted Tomatoes. There are more where this came from in Carolyn's book, A Year on the Garden Path.

Roasted Tomatoes
Intensify the flavour of your homegrown tomatoes!

(1 to 2  hours roasting time)
Preheat oven to 350F (175C)

5 lbs. whole washed roma tomatoes
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Place tomatoes in a single layer in a large roasting pan, lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Put the pan, uncovered, in the oven and roast the tomatoes for 1 to 2 hours until they have reduced in size by one-third and are lightly browned on top. Let cool for 15 minutes. Add to a multiple of recipes, or just eat on a cracker or with nacho chips.

And, here's the list of other books mentioned on the program:

Tomato: A guide to the pleasures of choosing, growing, and cooking, by Gail Harland and Sofia Larrinua-Craxton

Enlightened Eating: Nourishment for Body and Soul, by Caroline Marie Dupont
(source of the salsa recipe... Said salsa is particularly tasty when consumed atop Lesley Stowe's Raincoast Crisps. They come in several flavours, but the ones we were munching on were the fig and olive crackers. Check out the Raincoast Crisps website for more information.)

Caprial's Cafe Favourites, by Caprial Spence
(source of Jane's fave roasted tomato sauce recipe)

Dark Creek Farm Journal

Living with an artist (E. Colin Williams) is never dull... Dad sees the tomato crop in a slightly different way to anyone else here on the farm. Here's a page from his sketchbook...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Too Much Information!

One of the perils of research is one tends to stumble upon vast amounts of information that is a) great and b) won't fit in the article/radio broadcast/book. Hooray for blogs! Here, for example, is a good article about putting up tomatoes courtesy of the good folks at Mother Earth News. Enjoy!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Buried in Tomatoes and Pears

Such bounty! The little pear tree (the one that Jane hacked to its knees earlier this spring in a rather exuberant pruning spree) is barely able to hold its branches up any more. When I work out in the vegetable boxes at the pear tree's feet I am pelted with falling fruit. I know this should elicit some clever 'ah... gravity' type of response, but instead I've been overwhelmed with panic. What are we going to do with all this fruit?

I've put in a request from the Life Cycles fruit-pickers to come out and harvest away, but the website indicates they are also overwhelmed - with way too many cries for help from panicky fruit tree owners.

Meanwhile, I gathered as many pears as I could carry and decided to try my hand at drying them... The oven is now full of pear bits. The irony of picking fruit from my backyard (oh, so very, very green of me) and attempting to preserve the spoils (also very noble) in an electric oven (12 hours, even at such a low temperature is not so very green) does not elude me. And so, I now begin my search for a solar-powered dehydrator. Surely such a thing must exist?

I must say that in the quest for information about preserving all things edible, The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest by Carol W. Costenbader is excellent, even if it doesn't specify whether I need to slice the pears before or after steam blanching.

Hey, before I started slicing up pears this morning, I had never even heard of steam blanching.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Washing Duck Bottoms

You can't take a dirty duck to the fair.... Which is how we found ourselves wrestling with Perfect Man and Dynamo last week before the Saanich Fair.

**Note the hooked talons at the end of Perfect Man's webbed feet.

What you can't see in the photo is how big his leg muscles are. Combine strong legs, wicked claws, and ill humour and you have a lethal weapon indignantly struggling in your arms...
Which is how I wound up with a nasty laceration on my thumb.
Said laceration bled a lot - and blood stains on snowy white ducks just don't look right.

Out came our heavy-duty industrial gloves. Waterproof and tough enough to withstand gouging by furious duck, they protected me well through the rest of the bathing ordeal.
All of this happened down at the barn, of course - so the only available first aid stuff was horse-sized. Here we're carrying the (spotless) ducks down to the truck, tender thumb well protected.
So, how did they do? Dynamo and Perfect Man were the only two Muscovies in the Junior Division (having been entered by the nieces) and were housed together in a large display cage. They won first and second place ribbons in their class, though we are not sure which duck came out on top (they don't wear nametags and the judge didn't make any sort of note on their entry cards re. who was the superior drake...)
The judging took ages and was a very serious business involving much scribbling on clipboards, leaning over cages, studying the birds from all angles, consultations with second and third judges so I didn't dare interrupt to ask what makes a great Muscovy. We were also busy with the horse show at the time, so when, eventually, I returned to the waterfowl area, the judges and other officials had completely disappeared. This means I'll have to arrange an interview with a fowl judge to see if I can get to the bottom of the mystery of which of the boys is the superior duck and why...
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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Welcome to Dark Creek Farm!

Welcome to the farm... Here are a  few of the residents we met in today's segment on All Points West.
Ringo - Welsh/Hackney Gelding
The bees... well, the hives... 

King (L) and Nosmo (R), the Kashmir goats
Molly - one of the two elderly pygmy goats

Dynamo - one of our handsome Muscovy ducks

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Small Children, Large Horses

Aly (niece) at the Saanich Fair, getting in a bit of practice time before the pee-wee handler class in the Draft Horse Show. The lead line on the other side of the horse (the green one on the left) is being held by me, a safety rule for the very young kids who are showing the big horses.
The horse is the Haflinger, Hollywood, owned by another niece, Cyd. A great time was had by all (and numerous ribbons won), but too exhausted to say much more than, "See you at the fair next year!"
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Friday, September 4, 2009

Away We Go!

To-Do List
  • Herd ducks into dog kennel, take to fairgrounds
  • Bath Dinny, load into horse trailer, take to fairgrounds
  • Herd children into truck, take to fairgrounds
  • Pick up load of hay
  • Clean tack
  • Laundry - horse
  • Laundry - human
  • Carefully take amazing birthday cake to fairgrounds
  • Find and pack... water bucket, manure rake, wheelbarrow, horse feed, bedding, clothes, toiletries, tack (after cleaning), flashlight, camera, audio equipment, laptop, book about tomatoes, tent to return to Cindy, grooming supplies (horse and human), unicorn costume, princess costume, claim tags for children's art and photo exhibits, video camera, power pack, hose, extension cord, geraniums, stand for geraniums, bunting, big stapler, hammer, nails, string, hook for water bucket, Spandex vaulting outfits, draft horse show bridle, sustenance...

Despite all our lists and the various people who are helping to pull everything together, chances are we will forget something vital...

See you at the fair!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Haflinger + Horn = Unicorn

It's not easy to trasnform a Haflinger into a unicorn! That, however, was one of the gazillion items on our 'Get Ready for the Fair' To-Do list. The horn-fitting was almost as tricky as creating the perfect cone-shaped princess hat big enough to fit over the top of a riding helmet. The end restult, though, should be a truly magical entry into the costume class at the Saanich Fair horse show.
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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sweet Peas and Winter Veggies

The sweet peas by the orchard fence added a glorious splash of colour behind the vegetable garden this summer. According to Carolyn Herriot, author of A Year on the Garden Path, this is when I should have been starting my winter vegetable crops in seed flats. Of course we were not that well organized around here (who the heck is thinking of planting seeds when the garden is bursting at the seams?) so that didn't happen. Fortunately, when I went to Carolyn's lovely farm yesterday to talk to her about tomatoes, I discovered I had arrived during her annual winter bedding plant sale!

I came home with a great selection of baby greens, kale, onions, and other goodies and rushed outside to plant them in the beds now empty of peas and summer salad greens. Carolyn assured me that in our mild climate here on the coast, these seedlings will survive just fine without much help and we will have fresh veggies for months to come!
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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Stay Tuned for Tons of Tomato Tips!

The first episode of Dark Creek Chronicles is scheduled to air on All Points West on CBC Radio on Thursday, September 10th (after the 4:30pm newscast). To listen live, visit the CBC website and click on the Victoria, BC live feed. The most recent episodes will be archived on the All Points West website. Alas, we won't be talking tomatoes on the 10th, but tune in again on the 17th when we talk about ripening, harvesting, preserving, and cooking up the tomatoes you've been lovingly  nurturing all through the summer.

The Great Pennant Race

Spent hours last night making enough large pennants to decorate the front of Dinny's stall at the Saanich Fair. Each pennant is about 12" wide by 16" tall. With the addition of carefully cut-out fabric letters in snazzy, contrasting white, said pennants (providing they are hung in the correct order) will spell H-A-F-L-I-N-G-E-R, Dinny's breed. Today, we'll be making the breed information posters that will decorate the front of our tack stall and provide endless minutes of informational pleasure to the thousands of fair visitors stopping by to gaze at the various draft horses in attendance. After speaking with the draft horse convener last night I learned that the draft breeds at the show this year will be: Gypsy Vanners, Shires, Belgians, Clydesdales, a Norwegian Fjord, and our Haflinger. Should be a good show with an interesting mix of heavy, medium, and light draft horses to see!