Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fantastic Seed-Starting Invention!

Yes, we have a greenhouse in the living room. Heated, no less. We stumbled across these most excellent mini-greenhouse-seed-starting racks at Home Depot when we were on our drip irrigation purchasing expedition.

We bought two - one for inside the house (we've erected it in the living room and positioned it over the heat vent) and one for the deck. We start the seeds inside, covering the trays with plastic covers so they are truly snug and warm but don't dry out too quickly. I've put the seed-heating mat on the bottom rack to give our most delicate seeds some additional encouragement. Once the seeds sprout, they are moved out into the balcony mini-greenhouse which is tucked into the sunniest corner of the deck. Well protected, these cool weather crops get as much sun as possible as they muscle up into vigorous little seedlings. Meanwhile, the space created inside is filled with new seeds, those that need a slightly later planting-out date.

To help keep everything ticking along in the right order, I've organized all the seeds (somehow we've managed to accumulate a fair few) in envelopes sorted by sowing date. All will be well as long as I don't fall ill or break a limb or some such. There, I've said it so it won't happen!

Friday, March 26, 2010

What to Do When Your 800-pound Teenager Acts Up!

After having enjoyed a blissful almost two years with Con Brio The Perfect, she has decided to test her limits and see if it's true that she actually has to do what the bipeds tell her. I suppose this is fairly normal horsey behaviour, but it's a tad annoying when the area up for discussion is in the region of her back feet. She has gone from being very patient about having her feet handled to being quite bratty. Remedial foot-picking-up-lessons are in progress. Sorry, beloved farrier!

Update: The remedial foot handling worked! Brio was back to her normal, basically perfect self for the farrier!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How Many People Does it Take to Prune an Old Orchard?

With the early onset of spring this year, the available time for pruning slipped away faster than you can say, "Last Frost Date!"

Taking advantage of a glorious afternoon and the help of Peter and Eric (two yoga buffs), we set to work implementing Phase One of Jane's three-year orchard restoration plan.

Old Trees
Jane's strategy in the orchard is to take out the "Three D's"branches (the three D's being DEAD, DAMAGED and DOWNWARD-FACING). Peter and Jane leaped into action (Peter happily leaping into the trees)

while Eric and I chopped down and then chopped up the last of the transparent trees that we're taking out.

We still have one left (it is home to the treehouse) but we really don't like the apples and needed room to plant other varieties of fruit and nut trees.

The goal was to take out about 20% of the volume of each of the rambling old trees, removing branches that are crossing over or sprouting upwards from previous pruning sites. The result of a good afternoon's work is that the orchard looks MUCH better - much lighter, airier, and home to happier (and, we hope, more productive and easier-to-pick) trees.

This is an ongoing project, so no doubt there will be future posts...
Tree in Tree
(or, what happens when you put 
a yoga boy out on a limb...)

Young Trees (the ones we planted last year) - don't have to do much at this point - the plan is to let the babies grow!

Espaliered Cherry Tree
Inadvertently planted in the middle of the orchard, we'll need to pound in stakes, stretch wires, and attach the delicate horizontal limbs. Said limbs have plenty of buds, btw. In fact, the four new babies we planted last year look very healthy as we head into deep spring.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Coolest Design EVER for a Goat Palace

Have I mentioned before how much I like Mother Earth News Magazine? I was reading through a back issue and came across this great design for a gravel-sack construction round-house. The photos practically screamed, "Goat House!" We are investigating local sources for feed sacks. Anybody feel like a sack-filling work bee?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Experiments in Seedlings

The photo on the seed box looks more like an alien creature (or, at the very least, some kind of black jellyfish), but in fact, the plant is actually called a Bat Plant (Tacca Chantrierei). Here's how they describe it on the back of the package: "A bizarre plant with malevolent dusky black blooms with bat-like long tentacles. Makes an unusual houseplant."

Yes, indeedy - I'd call malevolent bat-like tentacles unusual! This is supposed to be somewhat tricky to germinate and grow (the germination period is 1-9 MONTHS!!), but we are in seed mode at the moment, so it seemed like as good a time as any for a challenge! Photos to follow, should there ever be anything to photograph!

Meanwhile, if you are feeling daring, look what I found on Amazon! Why not order a packet and see how you make out? Shouldn't every household include a malevolent plant?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010



I never, ever, ever get tired of seeing this flowering plum as it greets the turn of the season...
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Duck Eggs! Who's Your Mommy?

The signs of spring are everywhere around here - blossoms festoon the flowering plum and cherry trees, the daffodils are smiling away, the tulips are pushing their way up through the leaf mulch... I've spotted my first hummingbirds and heard the first frog songs (on the earliest date yet - February 26). We've enjoyed trail rides sans sweaters or raincoats and are furiously starting seeds, prepping beds, and erecting deer fence as the gardening season gets rolling. And, finally, the sign of spring we've all been waiting for arrived: duck eggs!

Were they laid in the comfort of one of the roomy, shavings-lined dog kennels? Nope. About ten days ago, the first eggs were found in a dirt hollow behind the bag of fresh wood shavings. We assume the nest was made by an industrious duck and seems to be shared by at least two of the girls (we are routinely getting two a day at the moment). What we can't tell (because they aren't signing their eggs upon deposit) is which girls. None of them seem the least interested in the eggs or nest so it's impossible to tell who is responsible. Of this we are certain: the eggs are delicious! Duck omelettes are both hearty and tasty - the eggs are huge with massive, deeply coloured yolks and a rich flavour. We've also had fried egg sandwiches and hard-boiled egg-bits tossed with our salad greens. We are happy, happy, eggivores.

The only thing one must keep in mind is the size. These eggs are so hefty you only need about half the number of regular chicken eggs you'd usually use.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Seedy Saturday Yikes!

Seed addicts, beware! Stay away from your local Seedy Saturday! Ours was predictably dangerous. Here's a list of the seeds we procured:

Banana Squash
Blue Hubbard Squash
Brazilian Pole Beans
Haricot Long Beans
Hot Green Pepper
Lazy Housewife Beans
Mixed Marigolds
Pepper Squash
Various lettuces
Scarlet Runner Beans
Shelling Peas
Sweet Corn (Country Gentleman)
Sweet Red Pepper
Tomato  Costoluto Fiorentino
Tomato  Sugar Mandarin
Tomato  Oregon Spring
Tomato  Yellow Bell X

Plus seed potatoes (Desiree and Satina)

Add to this crazy list those we saved from last year (both from the garden and leftover from overgenerous seed packets) and you can see that we have WAY TOO MANY!!

I am doing my best to keep track of them all over at My Folia, but wow, we're going to be growing stuff in every nook and cranny of Dark Creek Farm!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why Do I Love Magazines So Much?

I don’t know, but I do. I’ve always loved them and can’t imagine not having print versions available. I always have one or two stuffed in my bag and always have a couple of subscriptions to current favourites. Those that I find most useful/inspiring/entertaining at the moment (at least when it comes to farm-y stuff) are Grit, Mother Earth NewsVegetarian Times, and Hobby Farm. I’m also enjoying the brand new magazine, Urban Farm (the second issue just came out). Occasionally I pick up a copy of the British publication Home Farmer. Always interesting to see what the Brits are up to in their gardens!

The current issue of Vegetarian Times has a good recipe for a German-style warm potato salad. Served over fresh spinach greens, this was oh-so-very tasty. I would add caraway seeds next time – and either serve as a side dish or add grilled sausages (vegetarian or local, grass-finished meat sausages of some sort… the Red Barn Market carries quite an assortment of hormone-free meats, though I’m not sure if they are also grass finished…) 

What are your favourite magazines? Do you think there’s a future for our glossy hard-copy friends? Or will the Internet and the Kindle (and the IPad and all their high-tech virtual friends) make the old-fashioned magazine obsolete? Oh I hope not.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Spud-tastic! what we found today at Integrity Feeds? We found what we were looking for, yes (horse pellets variety A, horse pellets variety B, duck and goose kibble, and salt blocks) but on our way out the door we tripped over bins of heirloom varieties of spuds! Given our fondness for potatoes in all their many incarnations, we had to stock up! We had already procured some Satina and Desiree seed potatoes (on Seedy Saturday) and today we added a few each of the following:
Russian Blue
French Fingerlings
German Butterball

I can hardly wait!!!!! Is it ridiculous to be so insanely excited about spuds?

(Here's a link to a great list of potato varieties... who knew there were so many options beyond Yukon Gold?)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Could We Sell Our Produuce?

I suspect that if we could get organized enough, we could grow a whole lot of stuff here on our teeny piece of land. I’ve been monitoring the phenomenal produce volumes harvested by various urban farmers – and, wow. I’m humbled, impressed, and inspired all at the same time. But how best to keep track of everything? In the past I’ve used a regular old pen and paper garden journal, but recently I discovered this cool online site that is kind of like Facebook for gardeners.

If you're a member of My Folia, come find me [DarkCreek] and we can compare garden notes. If I actually get organized enough to collect, weigh measure, etc., we can have a bit of a contest...

Garlic  February 27

As for the selling side of things, I’ve been investigating how one goes about planting, harvesting, packaging, and selling at local farmer’s markets. In the course of my online meanderings, I came across this wonderful website: The Sustainable Agriculture and Research program works by giving out grants to my American cousins (read about some of their initiatives online). But even those of us north of the 49th can benefit by downloading (or requesting by mail) some of their publications. I sent away for a couple of booklets: Marketing Strategies for Farmers and Ranchers and Profitable Poultry: Raising Birds on Pasture. Both are professionally produced and full of good basic information. I particularly like the way they’ve included quotes and figures from actual farmers who are using the techniques and tips described in the booklets. Will I be raising thousands of broiler chickens any time soon? Probably not. But internet sales of Kashmir fiber? Or, even better, value-added products like Kashmiri Baby Booties? You never know…

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing

After penning my note about springtime duck shenanigans, it turns out that ducks can suffer dire consequences as a result of overindulgence. Yesterday afternoon when Jane was herding the ducks into their secure anti-raccoon fortress, she noticed something dangling out of Perfect Man. Pink and fleshy, it resembled a bit of innard or a giant earthworm.

She wondered if it could possibly be his manly bit, swinging in the breeze. I confess I had stopped reading the duck books at the point when they say 'duck sex organs are internal in both males and females' and I never really thought about how, exactly, that all works in there in the dark place beyond the cloaca.  I certainly couldn't remember reading anything about the insides coming out.

After successfully avoiding any of the (many) questionable websites out there that pop up when one searches for terms like 'protruding drake penis', I discovered all kinds of fascinating things about duck and drake anatomy. The fact that any ducklings are ever conceived is nothing short of miraculous! Which doesn't stop them from trying, and this overexertion is one of the things that can cause a prolapsed phallus in a drake.

Further reading (and some of that was quite interesting as various worried homesteaders asked other homesteaders what to do about their ducks' dingly dicks...) revealed that if caught quickly (which was the case here) and if there isn't any damage to the member (there wasn't) you follow these steps to remedy the situation:

1. Catch and restrain the duck (remember, we have mighty large muscovy ducks with talons they know how to use). We donned body armor and long gloves and cornered our patient in the duck pen.

2. Wash the exposed member. (While restraining struggling duck and being very careful not to have an eye gouged out. This was probably a six person job, but Jane and I managed admirably well by using Jane's yoga-honed muscles to hold Perfect Man and a very clever device procured at Dig This. It's a perforated screw top that's meant to go on a 2-liter pop bottle, to be used for delicately watering seedlings. Having just started seedlings, I had that all ready to go. A little warm water and, voila, a perfect duck shower for delicate body parts.)

3. Liberally apply antibiotic ointment. (Unrepeatable lubrication quips accompanied this part of the procedure).

4. Gently push the phallus back inside. (You have GOT to be kidding!!) But, yes, indeed, that's what had to be done - which was a bit like pushing a slippery, floppy bit of limp spaghetti through a very narrow, wiggling opening while dodging knife blades flung by an angry toddler... or something... Let's just say that was not the most fun I have ever had on the farm.

5. Hold your breath and stare at your drake's back end and hope the wayward phallus doesn't pop out again.

6. Keep drake in isolation for several weeks so he isn't tempted to over-extend himself again. Watch for signs of infection.

Yikes! So, Perfect Man is in a temporary pen away from the rest of the flock while he heals up and we decide what the best course of action is from here. As of the late night feed last night, he seemed to be fine (this determined by me lying flat on the ground beside his cage in the orchard, pointing the beam of my flashlight up under his belly.) I shall report on any further developments...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Spring To Do List

Well, it’s a partial list – and, a moving target. Every day brings new tasks – but no extra hours in which to accomplish them! Add to that basic equation the fact the Olympics have been more than a little distracting (my various relatives, who are Olympics mad, are dragging me off to watch hockey – which is cool – and ice skating – which is cool – and para skiing – which is cool – and the torch run in Whistler where both my daughter and my brother will be carrying the flame – which is cool) and you just know I’m not going to get to the end of the list any time soon. This is why spring comes every year – to give me another chance to get everything ready and planted and organized for the coming exuberant growth of summer.

Finish Deer Fence Around Vegetable Garden
 – this is actually an essential item as it’s a bit pointless to plant anything at the moment as the deer stroll right in and gorge themselves. Good-bye leafy greens! Farewell onion tops! Fortunately, they don’t seem to like parsnips. Of those, we still have quite a few.

Move Existing Raised Beds
We were a bit haphazard in terms of bed placement last year. Jane had the very good idea of using some old bookcases for planting boxes, but in our haste to get things growing we didn't really make a plan, per se, but rather filled the book cases as quickly as possible without a whole lot of thought as to mowing between them or allowing enough room to get a wheelbarrow through the gate, around the pear tree, and past the last box. Anyway, we’re trying to decide on the best configuration for the garden as a whole and can re-use said book cases for another season or two. They will, however, need to be moved – in part to make wider paths between the beds so we can weed and mow a little more easily and also to make the best use of space when we build some new raised beds.

Build New Raised Beds
The existing beds will accommodate a fair bit, but we need more space. We want to double the amount of room given over to potatoes, for example (they were such a hit last year, we need more! And, we’d like to experiment with a couple of other varieties.) The planting wish lists are long and lovely, but we don’t have nearly enough square dirt footage. Yet. We may need to bring the lovely hot yoga Peter back to do a bit more heavy lifting.

Cut Back Flowering Crabapple
A great cross-pollinator, the crab apple blossoms early and feeds the pollinating insects while we wait for the rest of the fruit trees to bloom. The tree is a thousand years old, however (well, not quite, but it’s big and sprawling) and overhangs the beds at the back of the veggie garden plot. By cleaning out the lower branches, we’ll open up that area of the garden. We’ll also expose the terrible old bit of fencing back there. Somewhere under the tree my river kayak lies sleeping. I’m thinking I might dig that out and sell it as I can’t imagine having time to kayak any time soon. Not with so many horses to ride, goats to train (and shear…clip… comb… whatever Kashmir goat hair harvesting is called…), books to write, trips to take… Anyone wanna  buy a used kayak? Have a two-wheeled horse cart you’d like to trade? Seriously, I’m looking for one for Con Brio.

Replace Terrible Old Bit of Fencing
In the area behind the summer house, we’re thinking of putting up a small storage shed for lawnmowers, bicycles, garden tools, etc. This is a great spot for a storage shed as the space (surrounded by big trees) is unusable for much else.

Clean Out Area Behind Summer House
No small task. We haven’t hacked our way through the overgrowth for the nearly fourteen years we’ve lived in the house. Getting in and out of the area requires…

Build New Gate Into Area Behind Summer House
Make that two new gates. One from the top and one from the vegetable garden, down at the bottom end.

Build Dog-Proof Fence Behind Area Behind Summer House
Sigh. You see how this list-making goes? Once we get into the area behind the summer house and get it all cleaned out and start using it, we need to make sure the dogs can’t escape into the wild blue yonder. This item has actually been on the list since we moved into the house in 1996.

Set Up Drip Irrigation System for Vegetable Garden
This is all about water conservation and efficient use of our time in the garden. Setting it up will be a bit of a chore, but in the end should save us time and money (and water!). Loving relatives (thanks, Richmonders!) gave me a gift certificate to Home Depot for Christmas. HD has everything we need to set up our drip irrigation system. Very much looking forward to a very practical shopping excursion sometime soon…

I think I’ll continue the list in another post. Just thinking about the vegetable garden is making me weary! And I didn’t even get to the part about filling the raised beds with good compost and soil, making a succession planting plan, starting seeds, cleaning out the greenhouse, pruning the treehouse apple tree, building a new gate leading into the garden, building trellis, deciding on the best way to build the garden paths,  etc., etc., etc.  

VEGETABLE GARDEN is just one item on the master farm list – Oh boy. Must place head back in sand before I start to panic. I meant to take a few photos to post of the various projects in progress, but somehow the To Do list was full!

Duck Sex

There has been a lot of it going on recently. We are thinking we may need to procure a couple more ducks as our three drakes are a) lusty and b) tireless. So far, the girls (we have four – Coco Channel, Audrey Hepburn, Latte, and Mocha) are holding up okay, but we’re keeping close  watch to see if we need to do any separating. That said, we are hopeful that soon we will have more duck eggs. We’re also hoping that at least one of the ladies will be a broody sort. Here’s hoping I’ll be posting photos of Muscovy ducklings before too much longer.

(We've started an informal pool, trying to predict the date we'll discover the first egg. My guess is Easter Sunday  April 4th).