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.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sugar Pumpkin Seeds!

Well, well, well - look what just arrived on my desk! Thanks to the marvelous Jane, I am now snacking away on the most delicious roasted pumpkin seeds! Oh boy... if I'm not careful I won't be able to eat my dinner! Note to self: stay out of the kitchen because you know you will not be able to resist another handful... and another... and another...
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What's So Great About the Kale?

This has me truly baffled...
Here is what's left of some recently planted kale:

And in the adjacent bed, these lovely gourmet winter greens...

The astute observer will note that there is some kale mixed in with the mixed greens - and yet, bed A was decimated while bed B was virtually unscathed! The most likely suspects are raccoons... I blame them for everything these days as they were responsible for the wholesale massacre of our lovely Indian Runner ducks. Any ideas how best to protect our garden beds from future night raids by the masked bandits? Please post suggestions in the comments...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Garden Still Alive and Well and Happy

... as am I, when I'm out there in the garden. While planting garlic this afternoon (more on this on Thursday), I took a moment to marvel at the latest round of sweet pea blooms. There they are looking so fresh and cheerful as if they have all summer left to enjoy the sun even as the crispy seed pods adjacent are sending out another message altogether.  Meanwhile, not far from the sweet peas' feet, there is a MASSIVE parsnip calling out, "Take me to your Thanksgiving table!"

In other farm news, over the coming months Dinny will be spending some time working with riders in the Victoria Riding for the Disabled program. I'll still be riding him several times a week and keeping up with my lesson program, but he will also have another important job to keep him busy. Down in Washington, Bonny steadfastly refuses to get pregnant. This is terribly frustrating as we were all so excited at the prospect of the cross with North Forks Cardi. I know this is just the way it goes sometimes in the world of horse breeding, but sheesh... the last one was so easy!

The electric fence down the road where we are able to turn the horses out into a bigger field than we have here at home was destroyed the other night, perhaps by some marauding deer - fixed that today only to discover that we have no power down at our barn so our electric fence isn't working either! Will tackle that ASAP as it would be somewhat un-neighbourly of us to have the horses trotting through other people's gardens in their endless search for tasty stuff to eat.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Notes from the Test Kitchen

Victoria Carleton from the Slocan Valley (who also happens to be one of the gardeners featured in The Garden That You Are, by Katherine Gordon sent me this suggestion for using apples and cabbage:

Victoria's Oh-So-Tasty Cabbage and Apple Medley
2 cups of green cabbage, sliced
2 red apples, diced (not too small)
1 red onion, sliced

Saute all in a little olive oil and, when wilted, add a splash of good balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of maple syrup to taste (some like a little more vinegar, some a little more syrup). Saute a few minutes and enjoy.

Well, we did as we were told and cooked up some suitable German peasant food to go along with the cabbage dish - spiced sausages and new potatoes sauteed with caraway seeds all topped with a dollop of sour cream. Hearty and delicious, to be sure, though next time I would do two things differently. First, our apples were too big - I took Victoria's warning of 'not too small' too seriously! So, either more modest apples or more cabbage next time. I could also have added a tad more balsamic vinegar, but was being cautious on that front. The desire to tweak gives me a good excuse to have this again! Thanks, Victoria!
Just in case you want to go shopping...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Oh my... how many chicken coop designs!

Wow - who knew there were so many ways to house chickens?
And, yes... maybe there is a reason I'm conducting this very important research...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

An Apple a Day...

Orchard of Doom - by E. Colin Williams

Wouldn't it be great if someone would discover an apple variety that produced a modest amount of fruit year-round? Thankfully, help is available for people like us who have a fruit tree or two (or twelve) but not enough time to pick and preserve the harvest. I've mentioned the LifeCycles Fruit Tree Project on this blog before, but this group of hard-working volunteers now makes my list of urban heroes!

This past week, two cheerful volunteers came out to harvest as many apples as they could given the less than ideal working conditions in the jungle we fondly call the orchard. Alas, by the time they squeezed us into the schedule (I hasten to add that this, too, was my fault for not signing up through the website a little sooner...) most of our pears had succumbed to nighttime deer raids or leapt, ripe and juicy, into the grass! We did snag quite a few and dried them, but too many went into the bellies of local wildlife and our goats (though, the goats are not complaining).

Dan and Sonja were in and out quite quickly, filling a number of boxes with fresh apples that were then distributed to local foodbanks and other worthy organizations. The volunteers also took a bit of the fruit and we were left with a modest quantity for our own use. All this for a small donation!

If your community doesn't have a Fruit Tree project, consider starting one up. According to the LifeCycles website, there's a 'how to' manual available for anyone thinking of getting a program like this off the ground. And, if you ask me, anything that gets the fruit off the ground and into the hands of those who can use it is a good thing!

Here's the promised link to the Salt Spring Island Apple Festival. Sounds like a fabulous way to spend the day on Sunday, October 4th. 

One of our favourite preserving books here on the farm (the apple butter recipe is to die for!):

Our book giveaway this week is The Beginner's Guide to Preserving Food at Home:

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 way to enjoy apples and, if you have one, the name of your favourite apple variety. We'll post some of your responses here on the Dark Creek Blog.

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.

And, finally, for those who are curious about the rest of the Robert Frost poem, here it is in full:
After Apple-Picking (1914)

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

By Robert Frost

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