Friday, December 31, 2010

Dark Days Challenge: Week 3 and 4

Well, Week 3 was a wash-out. We were the lucky recipients of a number of festive invitations and were eating totally non-local goodies like shrimp, smoked oysters, scallops wrapped in bacon, French Brie and other such decadent holiday treats. The night we were home we were too tired to cook and ordered Chinese.

Now, we do eat local for breakfast quite regularly. With our own fresh eggs and home grown bacon, it's easy. We're also fortunate to be in grain country and have local, organic oats and spelt for porridge, local flour for our pancakes and homemade bread (but where does baking powder and vital gluten come from?). It's such a regular part of our life that we frequently forget to take pictures!

In Week 4, we've been home a bit more. Farmer Man stocked up from the root cellar and we had a few meals made from similar ingredients. You know, once you cut into a winter squash you've got to use it up! So, 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin appears two nights in a row. And our meals revolve around pork, of course, 'cause our freezer is full of home grown Berkshire pork!

First up: roasted pork chops with steamed homegrown 'German Butterball' potatoes and carrots, and slices of roasted 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin topped with cheese when they came out of the oven. The 'German Butterball' potatoes are quickly becoming one of our favorite potatoes due to it's fabulous flavor and nice texture. We always steam way to many potatoes so that the next morning we've got some leftovers for hash browns with our bacon and eggs! The next night, a slow cooker stew of pork butt steaks, potatoes, carrots, pumpkins and home grown onions. A nice, easy meal for a quiet day before New Year's Eve! The butt steaks are marvelous in the slow cooker - they just fall apart into tender chunks on serving! The 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin got a bit mushy in the slow cooker but was tasty nonetheless. The onions left in the root cellar are all small sizes, so they're perfect for using whole in something like a stew. It's good to be getting back into a routine of home cooking!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter Chores and Sports!

First, Farmer Man works! After pushing a huge pile of snow off the roof, he had to dig out the office window which ended up under the pile. Then, Farmer Man gets to play! Our friends Joe and Calla brought out their quad, Farmer Man dusted off his old quad and some snowy racing ensued! All on a beautiful, late December day!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Peace and Joy!

Who ever you may be...
Where ever you may be...
What ever you may be celebrating...

Peace and Joy to You and Yours!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Coop Edition

Ok, it's not all that extreme, but I got your attention, didn't I? A wee reference to one of my fav TV shows. The Christmas tree lot is finished and Farmer Man has a bit more time, so a rather over-due cleaning and tidying of the chicken coop has been accomplished. He's trying something new: we've been using all wood shavings and we've gone to wood shavings under the roosts and straw in the rest. Straw in the laying boxes, too. The clean-up, and the addition of straw made it smell so clean and sweet! The chickens love scratching through the straw, although the first problem presenting itself seems to be that they are scratching straw right into the waterers and clogging things up! We'll have to raise them up a bit more. Next on Farmer Man's list: he's taking out the roosts made of willow branches from our shelterbelt and replacing them with some wooden ladders such as he has seen in Backyard Poultry Magazine (our fav chicken magazine). I got out shopping (I think that's my official job here) and found a great high-sided kitty litter box! Got a bag of potting soil without fertilizer or water retaining gel and voila - chicken bath! Peat moss, as recommended by Cynthia in a previous post, was harder to find than I might have imagined. I've been hanging around with the video camera a bit, but the girls are too shy to bath in front of me, it seems. Farmer Man also spread a little straw around the coop door, and some of The Hens ventured out for a while today; it was a balmy minus 12 Celsius, so a rather nice day!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thinking Spring!

This week our mail box has been full of not presents and holiday cards but seed catalogues! For us, it's rather like receiving presents, except they'll cost us money! We love getting the new catalogues, although we're a little busy to deal with them now. After Christmas, we'll curl up by the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate and make our plans for the coming Spring. A few of our favorites are here already: Johnny's Selected Seeds, who are really geared for the market gardener, with lots of organic selections. West Coast Seeds, with lots of organics and heirlooms, but we've got to be careful with our selections because they are rather focused on the cooler, moister climate of the West Coast. Veseys Seeds is here, a Canadian company with lots of selections and breeding for commercial growers - some great tools and growing aids as well (really craving some of their 'Snap & Grow' greenhouses!). We've also got Stokes, William Dam and T & T, a Winnipeg company with lots of great selections for short season gardeners. Still missing in action are Heritage Harvest Seeds, a great little Manitoba company preserving heirloom varieties. Prairie Garden Seeds, a Saskatchewan company also preserving heirloom seeds and looking for interesting stuff including grains. We got a lot of our basic seed from Brandon's own Lindenberg Seeds, who have really improved their selection of organic seed in the last few years. And we always look forward to Terra Edibles, with the most amazing lists of heirloom tomatoes and beans!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winter Interest in the Snowy Garden

It's always worthwhile to consider some winter interest in your garden - regardless of where you live. Here in Manitoba, we've got to count on a bunch of snow covering everything, so things with height are important. Evergreens are major, providing more substance than just naked branches. We're fortunate here to be surrounded by well-established spruce and some pines. I've added some dwarf Mugo Pine and upright juniper in the border in front of the house and along the driveway. There's are a few other things providing pleasure now. Sedum 'Autumn Joy' (Sedum), a joy in sooo many seasons! Red-twigged dogwood (Cornus), looking good against the brick wall around the front patio. The flower heads of coneflower (Echinacea), which little birdies are still visiting for a snack. And some of our favorite winter interest: local wildlife! This visit from a partridge, commonly called Prairie chicken around here, was rare, unexpected and fortunately happened while the camera was handy! They rarely come so close to the house and usually fly away at the least sound or movement.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dark Days Challenge: Week 2

So, it was a roast-o-rama at Aagaard Farms for our second meal in the annual eating local challenge, The Dark Days Challenge. Our homegrown pork chops glazed in a homemade strawberry-fresh rosemary-balsamic vinegar jam, Linzer Delicatese fingerling potatoes and Hubbard squash from our garden, both topped with rosemary and sage cut fresh in our sunroom. All roasted in the oven.

Now, I know balsamic vinegar is from far, far away, as was the sugar in the jam recipe, but the strawberries and rosemary were local, and I made the jam - so I decided it was could be used for our Dark Days meal. It was very good as a glaze on pork; we've already used it with Camembert cheese and crackers and it was very good for that, too! It's recipe is from the blog Notes From a Country Girl Living in the City. I came across it through the Can Jam. Now, if you are even slightly interested in canning, whether a newbie looking for tips or an experienced canner looking for new things, you've got to get to know the Tigress! Tigress in a Jam and Tigress in a Pickle are her two blogs: everything canning! The Can Jam is kind of like her Dark Days Challenge; canners/bloggers sign up and then are told the feature ingredient each month and can away! Some awesome recipes and techniques are posted, and the Tigress has links on her blogs to all the postings. This jam was the first time I've made a cooked jam - no pectin, just slow cooking until it's thick enough. I did cook it a little long and it's a bit thick and heavy, Country Girl warned that it could become like taffy if cooked too long!

Anyway, back to our meal. We just coated the Berkshire pork in the jam, and placed in a casserole. We peeled and cubed the fingerling potatoes and the Hubbard squash. Had to stop Farmer Man's hand when he reached for the virgin olive oil and hand him the canola oil, instead! Topped both the veggies with fresh cut, chopped rosemary and sage. No salt, no pepper. Half way through cooking, we pulled out the chops and turned them over, basting them in the juices and jam. Fingerling potatoes roast so well and we both love them with those little bits of brown, crispy edges! Very tasty - and something new for us!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Farmer Man Is A Big Softie!

Farmer Man has given me a bit of hassle about caring for the little wild kitties. He wonders what I'm going to do with them, how much our feed bill is going up and practical stuff like that. He shook his head when the little kitties started showing up in the garage, where Loud Cat already lived. The wild cats must have been following me back to the house, or following my trail and they've decided that the garage is better than the drafty old straw bale chicken coop. Loud Cat seems to have no problem with that, so they've all been hanging out in the rafters together. Makes feeding them soooo much easier. Farmer Man decided, with some really cold weather forecast, that we needed to replace the second, little heat lamp in the chicken coop. I thought the arrangement had worked well last year, but sure - a better heat lamp is always, well, better. Much to my surprise, the second little heater quickly re-appeared - as a warmer bed for the little kittens! Farmer Man has a bigger heart than he likes to let on! And just in time: we woke up yesterday to a morning temperature of minus 32 Celsius, which is about minus 32 Fahrenheit, too. Freak deaky cold; but we had the confidence that everybody in our little domain was warm and cozy!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Chicken Chores in Frigid Weather

Yes, that is a chicken waterer in my bathtub. Keeping chickens gets interesting once the temperature falls (and stays) well below freezing. We have no outdoor running water once freeze-up comes. I think for Christmas Farmer Man has asked for one of those water hoses that never freeze - we'll see...... In the meantime, cleaning and refilling goes on in the bathroom. I worry some about contamination, so we don't run the risk of bringing items from the coop, except eggs, into the kitchen. We're careful about clean-up, try not to set down the grungy waterers any where except in the foyer and we wash up well afterwards. We even try not to set down the egg basket in the coop! We think our chickens are pretty healthy, but lets get real: they poop on the floor, then walk through it, then clamber at the edge of a waterer or even get up on top of the waterer and then poop. It's not big or smelly or anything but it can still carry contaminants, so we can't be too careful.

Another winter chore that I have to get organized is bathing facilities for The Hens. I noticed yesterday that one of the girls was trying to have a bath in the wood shavings on the floor of the coop and it wasn't going that well. Chickens like to have dust baths, they 'throw' dust up through their feathers with their wings and feet. Last year I put a large kitty litter box of potting soil into the coop, and I've got to get that organized again. Thing is, that kitty litter box is in use with the little wild kitties so I've got to find or buy another container. With Christmas coming, I'm sure The Hens just want to look beautiful!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dark Days Challenge: Week 1

With Farmer Man working long hours and every day at the Christmas Tree Lot, we're not sitting down together for a lot of meals. But, we knew he'd get off early yesterday, so we planned our first Dark Days meal. We did good, too! Roasted organic lamb chops from our friends Duane and Shelley at Logan Farms in Nesbitt, Manitoba. Some of the nicest lamb we've every had, just yummy. A trip to our own root cellar yielded a spaghetti squash and some lovely 'Blue Mac' potatoes from our garden. 'Blue Mac' potatoes have a purple/blue skin that cooks up pale beige. It's kind of in between the smoothness of a red potato and the fluffiness of a white potato. We cooked up extra for some nice hash browns one of these mornings. The storage drawer in the fridge has some of our own garden carrots and some fresh rosemary came from the little bush in sun room. We roasted the squash and the lamb in the oven, steamed the potatoes and carrots. Simple but good!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Festive Farmer

What does a Farmer do when there's a foot of snow, no Farmers' Markets and just a few sales off the farm? When he still wants to download new jazz from iTunes? He sells Christmas trees! This is the sixth year that Farmer Man has worked the Christmas Tree Lot at Dairy Queen for Stream n' Wood. He's getting really, really good at it! I worked the busy weekend with him and he has lots of return customers that say he always picks out the perfect tree for them. He can just tell....even when the tree is still in the wrap. Since he started at the end of November, the weather has been not bad: only a couple of super cold, windy days. And it's not a bad gig; there are worse things than selling Christmas trees to excited families!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Feline Feeding Frenzy...

Are you ready? Ready for dinner? You betcha! The little wild cats are getting used to the routine. They're getting a bit more comfortable with me, and don't run away when I arrive. With the weather very chilly, I think they're now spending most of their time in the old straw bale chicken coop, although three of the seven have shown up in the garage - just exploring, I guess. I climb right into the coop to feed them, spreading the food out in five or six different piles to avoid competition and fights. They've come to appreciate fresh water, and just in the last week or so most of them go for a drink right away. The water, of course, freezes solid before the next time I'm in there, but they're drinking a good half of the container before it freezes.

Night time temperatures are already getting down to -20 C (-8 F or so), so I was a little worried about them at night. To give them a more cozy space, I put in some boxes with an entry door on two sides, straw inside on the bottom and piled them with straw on top. I don't know how much they are using them, but they are using them because a couple of the smallest are coming out of the boxes when I arrive with dinner. I've been looking everywhere for some sort of solar-powered solution for water, but there's just nothing that will keep up to our cold temperatures. We're just too far from power to do anything electric. Might be dangerous, too in a straw bale house. So far, the little cats seem to be faring quite well!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

It's Time For: Chicken Pinata!

Winter has set in early this year. With daytime highs currently around -10 C (12F) The Girls and Rocky will not be going outside much. We don't want them getting bored and pecking at each other, so we look for ways to keep them amused! We'll use various means, but because we had some stale bread, we started by installing the Chicken Pinata! It's a square holder for suet blocks, which we hang from the ceiling, filled with bread. I think they knew what was going on - can chickens remember things? They crowded around as I got it organized and some of them were jumping up to peck at it while it was still in my hand. Made attaching the string rather difficult! They immediately crowded around, pecking at it! A good time was had by all - hardly a crumb was left when I returned a couple of hours later. We'll fill it with various things throughout the winter, not just leftovers and stale food. During the summer, the chickens get lots of fresh garden vegetables, and the yolks of their eggs are a gorgeous, deep yellow. We always see the colour fade as the amount of fresh veggies decreases. So, we'll put carrot peelings, hunks of squash and such into the Pinata, and I'll start a flat of lettuce soon to use. As Cindy Lauper says: Girls Just Want To Have Fun!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

If You Build It....

Love this! From a link on eBrandon, if recycling if fun, people will do it! This is from, it's someplace in Europe and it's about making recycling work. This is such a fun, inventive idea - and it encouraged people to recycle their bottles way more than the conventional collection method. Check it out here!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Warm Winter Wishes

We've been saving our pennies for some time now. We wished to ensure that we could be warm all winter - no matter what. And today, we made it happen! We had installed a high efficiency wood stove. Now, winters are very, very cold here in Manitoba. We are outside of the city of Brandon and during storms, power can be a little unreliable here. We could, literally, freeze to death in some freaky, wild blizzard, worst-case-scenario. Did I mention that it can get really, really, really cold here?

There was a wood stove in the house when we took it over. It could not, however, be insured because it wasn't up to current code. It was big, had no windows, was leaking and wasn't very efficient. We may still have to increase the hearth around the new one a bit, but we will be able to insure it. And is this little stove ever beautiful: full glass door so you can see your fire, cook top so that we won't starve to death in our freaky scenario, awesome little ash drawer! It stands up on a pedestal so the fire is at eye-level when we're seated. We can supply a fair amount of our own firewood from our shelter belt: natural dead fall and some pruning of the willow and maple, mostly. We can purchase some oak and other woods quite readily. Of course, we could get into a whole, interesting discussion about burning wood and the environment, but our alternative here is existing electric base boards. Expensive to run and absolutely no good for anything during a power failure! What our little stove means to us: a little wintertime peace of mind!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Help Some Great Causes By Voting!

I'm not much of a pop drinker, and I must confess in a taste challenge I prefer C*** to P****, but I've got to give kudos to Pepsi. They've got a program called Refresh Everything Canada where they are offering grants to great causes. Check out the website here. Fun thing is: we the people get to vote! Voting is open until December 31st. You can vote for up to ten causes every day. There are grants available of $5,000, $10,000, $25,000 and $100,000. There are categories like Health, Arts & Culture, Food & Shelter, The Planet, Neighbourhoods and Education. What's near and dear to your heart? Animal welfare? Composting programs? Music? Internet training for seniors? There are soooo many great ideas vying for the grants. You can also search for organizations near you that are competing for grants, helping to support great projects in your area. My favourites? SIFE Brandon, whose looking to develop a community garden here in Brandon at the $25,000 level. And Craig Street Cats, in Winnipeg, who work to spay and neuter and care for feral cats at the $100,000 level. I came across the Refresh Everything Canada website through Craig Street Cats' website, which I've been using for some advice on my own little feral cat population. I'm also voting for 'Keep Eagle's Fire Running', a Portage la Prairie group looking to upgrade the youth centre there and Big Brothers Big Sisters Winnipeg. There's a few other animal welfare and composting programs I'm voting for, but I can too easily use up my ten votes a day on all the great causes. Check it out, sign up today and start voting!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Round Up Time!

It was time for the pigs to go to......well, Disneyland is the way my blogging friend Bill at 'Word....from Willow Garden' puts it. I kind of like that expression, yet I know it's no holiday for the Berkshires. Taking the pigs in is always a hard day. Even though they've been raised as livestock, always with the intention of filling the freezer, it's still hard to send them on their way. Pigs are really incredible creatures, each with his or her own personality. We've been their guardians and keepers for a number of months, their care and feeding a large part of the everyday routine.

Transportation proved a bit of a problem this year: our usual method was not available. After some phone calls we found a nice man named Dennis who would move them for us. Our pastured pigs proved a bit of a problem, as always. Pigs are often, of course, in pens which are connected to chutes or walkways that would lead to a loading dock. Without chutes and in an open field, our pigs were a little too free to run around; it was hard to herd the pigs into Dennis' trailer. Eventually, the deed was done and off they went. Soon, some beautiful Berkshire pork will fill the freezer; meat we know has no hormones, no antibiotics and is filled with the nutrition of our organically grown vegetables. And all just in time - as we're having a blizzard today!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Dark Days Challenge Is Back!

Yes, it's that time again! The 4th Annual Dark Days Challenge is set to begin early in December! If you're not familiar - the Dark Days Challenge is hosted by Laura, over at the Urban Hennery. It's a challenge to eat local food during the long, cold nights of winter, when Farmers' Markets are largely over and done. You source local ingredients, cook a meal, take some photos and then blog about it! If you don't have a blog, you can still participate by sharing your meal in the comments section of each of Laura's summary posts. Laura knows this is hard - all she asks is one meal a week! And she's extended the ingredient search area beyond the usual '100 Mile Diet' to 150 miles. Your ingredients should be SOLE: sustainable, organic, local and ethical.

This is going to be our second year participating. We can hardly wait! The weekly summaries were so much fun. You learn so much from people who are all over North America. The ingredient searches are fun, the recipe adjustments are amusing (salt and pepper, really, are not local for anybody!) and some fabulous recipes are shared. We learned a lot about how people are preparing to be more self-sufficient and are freezing, canning and storing. Should be some good eating! Hope you'll join us!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Christmas in November?

My Christmas cactus is, once again, a little ahead of schedule. It has done this ever since we moved to Manitoba. I believe I understand why: a zycocactus is triggered to bloom by short days and cool temperatures. Here in the North, in Canada, our days get short early in the fall so there is one trigger. Second, I keep this little cactus in the sun room, which is not very well insulated. We had some very cool, frosty nights early in September and the sun room is always cooler than the rest of the house. So, voila! Full bloom by the middle of November. I'm not really complaining - it's gorgeous any time of year. And if I was really uptight about it I could move the plant into the main house and keep it a little warmer a little longer. As is, we carry on and enjoy it whenever it does it's thing. And we know, we'll probably be able to enjoy a second set of blooms sometime in March!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

First Snow!

We've been away for a wee bit, and returned home last night to the first snow of the season! The drive from the Winnipeg Airport home to Brandon seemed to get more, ummmm, interesting with every passing mile. What started as a few wet flakes turned into a bit of a blowing, snowing mess! Now, this isn't an unusual time for the first snow; I'm not sure statistically when we get it but folks around here always think it's a good thing if it's not snowy for Halloween. Because we've been away, there are still a few things undone - like carrots and beets still in the field. They need to come out and go into proper storage before it freezes solid and there's three feet of snow covering them. Fortunately, the forecast looks pretty good the next few days and this snow should melt away and we'll have a window of three or four days to dig them! Everything else is pretty much done - except getting the pigs off to 'Disneyland', as blogger Bill Stearman would say over at 'Word...from Willow Gardens'. That's a chore that will probably be accomplished next week.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spooky Pumpkins

We grew some beautiful pumpkins this year: good sizes, nice deep colour, few blemishes or flaws. We've distributed a few - sales at the Farmers Market, some gifts to 'carving' friends (Happy Birthday, Mac!) We asked, when possible, for some pictures! Last night, the pictures started to arrive and boy, do we know some creative carvers, or what? The first picture is from our pals Calla and Joe, the second is from F.M. customers Connor and Jason, carving courtesy of Jason, apparently. Farmer Man hasn't carved his yet, and we're hoping from pictures from a few more pals, so we'll keep you posted! In the meantime, have a scary good Halloween!

Frank Horvat Blogs From The Road

A quick link to a blog muscian Frank Horvat posted for WWF. Frank continues to take his beautiful music across Canada, sharing a message of sustainable living! Check it out here!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Manitoba Sweet Potato Experiment

So, they said it couldn't be done, but the proof is in the picture! We grew sweet potatoes in Manitoba! Now, we didn't grow monster sweet potatoes, or even the sizes that you can buy at the super market. Our three, nice big ones are about five to six inches long and an inch and a half in diameter. More like a fingerling potato, really. We also got about ten that are pencil thin and five inches long, and about ten more even smaller. But, they grew! And we've got a stock to get planted next year. We're going to try really hard not to eat any this winter and save all for re-planting.

Now, I must confess to having nothing to do with harvesting. I'm feeling a little like a cold is coming on and went for a nap. In the meantime, Farmer Man got busy. If you remember from a previous post, we received rooted cuttings, late, in June. We planted them in large containers of garden soil and compost, and put them in a protected spot by the willow windbreak. Apparently, the hardest thing about harvest was breaking the containers away from the willow roots that had grown up through the drainage holes in the pots! Can you imagine: those pesky willows had grown right up into the pots in just four months! I didn't think I was over-watering the pots in such a big way that water would be draining into the ground and attracting the willows! I didn't have high hopes for a big harvest: we weren't as hot as usual this summer (something sweet potatoes like) and we received the cuttings quite late. So we're please with what we got, and we'll get them planted early next year!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Feral Felines Get Friendlier!

I've been feeding some (mostly) young cats for over three weeks now. They're living in our old, temporary chicken coop; it's made of straw bales with a truck cap. See them here. They'll now come running when I call at feeding time! They mostly still keep a wide berth, though. Two, of eight I see regularly, are a little older and they will come right up to me. The younger ones will do circles around me to get to the food. They spook and run off if I so much as sneeze. But, they're getting a bit more comfortable; three of the little ones have been creeping up to sniff at my feet. I put food out in a couple of piles and then sit about three or four feet away. Some have been bold enough to come up within a foot of me to eat from the food container I bring. They are all beautiful little cats, one is a gorgeous tan shade with white feet, two are seemingly twins of orange and white stripes, one is a little grey with a short tail. One of the little ones is a brown and black striped cat with a fluffy mane - so cute! Farmer Man keeps asking what I'm going to do and I can't fully answer. I'd love to tame them all and find them loving homes. Is that possible? I don't know. I hope to, at least, help keep them alive and comfortable through our frigid winter. I'll keep you updated!

Friday, October 22, 2010

We're In The Finals!

We've made it to the finals of the Canadian Blog Awards! Thanks sooooo much to all our readers for voting for us! And Family and Friends, some of whom don't even regularly read this blog (Hello, sister Cathy)!! Okay, okay, so I shamelessly emailed everybody to notify them! So, voting goes for another week, you can vote once a day, and if you care to: go here!

Say Goodbye to the Robins

We love our birds here at Aagaard Farms. We're not inclined to wear our iPods when working out in the field; we like listening to the sounds of nature. We've been taking down the hummingbird and oriole feeders and dusting off the suet holders! Yesterday, the robins came through, probably for the last time. The big old Dolgo crabapple tree is loaded with fruit; even though I made a couple batches of jelly and shared some crabapples with our friend Nancy, the tree still has tons of fruit! I look forward to different birds visiting it through the winter, we often get a flock of cedar waxwings sometime around Christmas - a thrill to watch! But, yesterday, a flock of robins descended! There must have been fifteen or twenty, something we don't often see. They were all over the tree and underneath the tree, feasting on fallen crabs. Much fluttering, tweeting and chirping for about an hour - and then they were gone! And we may not see them again until April!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Planting Garlic

We're late; a little late, anyway. In a perfect world, we would have planted the garlic at the beginning of the month, when the soil was a little warmer. But, that's life on a little farm; the potato harvest had to be finished, the tractor had to be changed over to the tiller and some maintenance done, then the garlic field had to be tilled. So, we're getting it done now! Will it ever be good to cross this one off the 'to-do' list! We needed an area where garlic and onions hadn't been planted for a few years; crop rotation, you know! We needed some room because we just haven't been able to keep up with the demand for our garlic, so we're planting almost double the amount this year. And, we are also going to plant some of the wee onions that we dug up during the onion harvest for tasty spring onions. We ordered our usual garlic, organic 'Magic' from Vesey's Seeds. What a treat when it all arrived already broken up into the cloves! And some absolutely gorgeous, monster cloves they were, too! We also ordered a couple of small parcels of organic specialty garlic from Botanus: French White Silverskin Softneck and Legacy Rocambole Hardneck. From CSA member Elaine, we received a bulb of Purple Mexican, so a nice variety for us to taste! Because we're a very cold climate, we're pushing in our cloves to 4 - 5 ", and we'll probably mulch the whole area with straw. I'm a little worried about soil erosion in the area we're planting, so the straw mulch will help. It's suppose to rain early next week, so that will be a good time to get down the straw. MMMmmm, all this talk about garlic, I think I'll roast some of this year's harvest for dinner tonight!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Couple of New Things For Me!

This is my first experience raising chickens. Farmer Man grew up with chickens as part of the farm, so he's seen it all. This was a first for me: a perfect egg - without a shell. Both membrane layers intact, the shape perfect, just soft and squishy! Isn't Mother Nature amazing? Farmer Man says they would get one or two of these a year when he was young, but it's new for me!

Also new for me is the notion of chickens molting. The Leghorns were a year old in May, the Isa Browns were one year old in June, and both have been laying just a little over a year. We didn't go through molting last year - they were too young, I assume. But, boy, are we molting this year! The chicken coop is layered with feathers, the pasture is dotted with them and all the chickens are looking a little, well......dishevelled. Even the usually majestic Rocky the Rooster is looking a little ragged: he's got a definite bald spot on the front of his neck and he's 'wispy' here and there around his neck and onto his shoulders. Hopefully, they'll all grow some new feathers before it gets too cold!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Finally......Sweet Peas

I can't explain it, can't rationalize it no matter how hard my little horticultural brain tries. Finally, at the middle of October, my sweet peas have started to bloom. Around us, all the signs of fall are very evident! The garden renters have largely cleaned their plots and no longer come. The leaves are falling off the trees, we've had at least a few frosts - but my sweet peas are starting to bloom. The seeds were planted at the usual time - first week of June. They were planted in three spots: an arbor in the front border, a trellis for tromboncino squash in the garden and in a pot at the front door. None have bloomed until now, all have buds! The pot at the front door probably had the most attention, and everything else in the pot, including a tomato, herbs and nasturtium have done quite well. The tromboncino squash did okay, probably planted a little too close to the willow windbreak. And the arbor in the front border got quite a bit of attention because my 'Blue Moon' wisteria is planted on the same side of the arbor and I've remembered to baby it a bit all summer. We had consistent rain, good but not too hot temperatures. There's just no explaining what Mother Nature does, some times! But, I'm certainly enjoying my little bouquet!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pumpkin for Everyone on Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Even if you're not Canadian and are not celebrating on this day! Pumpkins are a classic for Thanksgiving and we decided to share some around. The chickens like chunks of pumpkin - mostly for the seeds, although they will pick at the flesh. The pigs just out and out adore pumpkin, every last bit. Farmer Man chose some with damage and soft spots that weren't salable. A feast for everyone; well, except the dogs and cats who really have no use for pumpkin in any form. Maybe I'll slip some into the food that I make for them and see if they notice!

We're Nominated, Again!

Wow, this is the best year ever! We've been nominated for a Canadian Blog Award, in a couple of categories! How exciting! You can vote for us, if you'd like to here! Feel free! Go now!

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Garage Runneth Over!

Harvest is almost complete. Just a few rows of potatoes left in the field, as well as carrots and beets, which are fine for a while. The carrots and beets we will continue to dig fresh for the remaining few Farmers Markets at the Green Spot Garden Centre. It's feeling quite relaxed with only one Farmers Market a week, and knowing that harvest is almost done! In the meantime, we've totally lost our garage. It has become the 'curing' centre. it's piled with potatoes and winter squash drying and curing before we put them in the root cellar. Getting ready for the Farmers Markets involved 'shopping' in the garage right now! Easy access! In our perfect world we'd have everything in crates, but we just can't afford enough crates. So, potatoes had to get dumped in piles so that we could return the crates to the field to continue harvest. It means having to load the piles back into crates, carefully, to move then down to the root cellar. That will be a bit of an effort, not something we look forward to! But, when the root cellar is filled up in a couple of weeks - then we know we're done! We've invited some friends for dinner the night of the last Farmers' Market and maybe, just maybe, we'll break out the champagne!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hubbard Squash Soup!

'Tis the season for winter squash! We've had a great crop of Hubbard Squash this year; some of the best sizes we've ever gotten due to consistent rains. Farmer Man decided a nice soup was in order! Hubbard is an awesome winter squash; originating in South America, it is believed to have come to North America in the 1700's via the West Indies. It has dense, rich flesh, a little on the sweet side and somewhat nutty. It looks challenging, but is easier to deal with than you might think. Farmer Man's tip for cutting into any of the larger squash is to get a cleaver or large knife into the skin, than tap it down through the skin and flesh with a rolling pin. You could use a hammer or something, but your hits have to be a bit more precise: with something like a rolling pin you can't miss the knife. An elderly customer at the Farmers Markets' takes her large winter squashes and just throws them on the garage floor to break them up.

Farmer Man roasted the Hubbard first. Once cut in half, he scooped out the seeds and rubbed the exposed flesh with better. We roast ours facing up because we like the crispy edges to nibble on, and it's easier to tell when they are cooked! Roast until soft and the skin can be pierced with a fork. Our big squash took almost three hours to roast! We had some nice apples from Clayton Organic Orchards, and we roasted them, peeled, cored and quartered, with cinnamon until soft, about an hour for ours. Farmer Man removed the squash flesh from the skin, put it in a pot with cream and chicken stock and used the hand blender to puree it to a smooth consistency. Then he pureed in the apples, cooked bacon chopped fine, cinnamon, dried basil and oregano, salt. He added more stock and water to keep the consistency smooth. He simmered it until we were ready to eat. Yummy! So busy eating it I failed to get a picture (bad blogger, bad!) A nice dollop of sour cream was an excellent touch for serving - he used a chopstick to make a nice swirl design.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Frank Horvat and The Green Keys Tour Comes to Town!

Tonight was the Green Keys Tour stop in Brandon. Frank Horvat was a delight! What a wonderful concert! The setting was the lovely Knox United Church, which has good acoustics and beautiful light! The first part of the performance was a variety of Frank's original compositions. He chatted about each piece before playing it, giving us a very personal view of his inspiration and thought process. The second half of the performance was his hour-long composition inspired by Earth Hour. He shared his experience of performing at an Earth Hour event a few years ago, up on the fortieth floor of a building in Toronto and watching the lights go out at the appointed time. The piece was fantastic - moody and introspective at times, bright and vibrant at other points. All in all a fabulous evening; if you have a chance to catch Frank on his tour, please do! You can also download his music or purchase a CD from his website. Check it out here!

I find it so inspiring that Frank and his lovely wife Lisa have embarked on this cross Canada tour. Every concert is free and partial proceeds from the sales of all the new Cd's are being donated to the World Wildlife Federation. Frank and Lisa are travelling by Greyhound bus from city to city; just sharing the music and the inspiration across the nation! Frank's dialogue between songs revealed his composing 'juices' were motivated by things like a video on YouTube about solar power being brought to a remote school in South Africa, or the anti-poverty commercial where assorted celebrities were shown snapping their fingers every three second - each snap representing a child who had needlessly died in poverty. Frank and Lisa are on to Winnipeg next, Thunder Bay after that. Do try to find the time to attend the concert - and if you're in Eastern Canada and are in a position to help sponsor this great event, please do try to do so! It's a most worthwhile cause, on so many levels!

And Frank's way better looking than my picture indicates.......

Saturday, October 2, 2010

We're Nominated!

We're nominated for a Golden Carrot Award from Food Matters Manitoba! The annual event is 'acknowledging and celebrating the inspiring work of Manitoba's Community Food Champions'. Wow! What an honour! We're nominated in the category Rural Community Food Champion - kind of amusing because Brandon is Manitoba's second largest city. But, we'll take it! The award ceremony is in Winnipeg at the Legislature on October 15th - and we're not sure we can arrange to go. Check out more of what this great organization, Food Matters Manitoba, is doing here!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Rescue Mission May Be In Order!

Seems some little feline has had kittens in the old temporary chicken coop. No sign of any momma cat around now, but four young kittens seems to be living in the coop. Farmer Man has spotted them 'ghosting' around this summer, and we finally went looking for them. They seem to live in the coop, and hang around and play in the piles of old machinery and building materials not far away. They are extremely cute but very shy of humans! There is a short-haired blond with an amazing striped tail, looking rather like Loud Cat - a cat who has showed up in our garage on-and-off for a couple of years( hmmmm, maybe Loud Cat is a daddy). There's a short-haired gray and white, a fluffy brown, gray and white striped and an extremely adorable fluffy blond, who does look somewhat like our Blondie, who cannot be the daddy but could be an older brother. It's possible someone dumped the kittens out here - it happens, unfortunately, but we'll never know how they got here.

Thing is, within the next few months we're about to get cold - very, very cold. I worry about the little ones surviving. In the winter here in Manitoba, we can have temperatures of minus 35 Celsius - yes, that's MINUS 35 degrees! That's minus 30 something in Fahrenheit - killing cold no matter what scale you use! As frosty nights have already been happening, Farmer Man dumped a fresh bale of straw into the coop for the kittens to cuddle up in. We were bringing bales of straw for the pigs to burrow into, anyway - so what's one extra? I've started this week to feed and water them every day. I find the short-haired blond will come up to me, the gray will watch from close by and the two fluffy cats will scamper off and watch from far away. I have not tried to handle or pet them in any way yet. I'm just hoping they will get familiar and comfortable with me. I'm hoping eventually to get them so comfortable that I can entice them into a crate and get them over to our vet Dr. Sherry at Wheat City Vet Clinic. If anybody has experience with wild cats I'd appreciate any comments and info! In the meantime, I'll continue to sneak away from our dogs to go visit them everyday!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Last Outdoor Farmers Markets!

Friday and Saturday when by in a blur - a grey, sodden blur. However, the Markets were certainly better than Thursday night at Riverbank Discovery Centre! The Friday Night Farmers Market at Shoppers Mall was well attended by vendors and shoppers. Friday's weather held great promise, and it was actually nice for a while in the early afternoon while we were harvesting and packaging. But, on our way there it clouded over, and shortly after start time began to rain quite steadily. it only lasted a while, though, and the shoppers continued to pull up and jump the puddles to check out the wares. Saturday morning's final market at Riverbank Discovery Centre was very grey: solid, gloomy grey but no wind and no rain. We were a little shy on vendors and customers, but it was a fine day! Now, we look forward to going inside for Saturdays in October! We'll be at the delightful Green Spot Home and Garden Centre where it's too easy to spend as much money as we bring in! I'll have to be careful and stay out of their store! And away from the houseplants! And the pots! And the trees and shrubs, which are probably on sale big time! Hope to see you there in October: Saturdays from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Last Thursday Night Farmers Market!

This is the final weekend of outdoor markets, and with the weather the last little while - I can hardly wait for it to be over! Don't get me wrong; Farmer Man and I really love 'growing good food for our neighbours'. But I'm tired of getting rained on, frozen and blown over to the next province! I mean, really! The weather in September has been less than pleasant. And the perfect topper was the final Thursday night market at Riverbank Discovery Centre. It has been cloudy, cool and rainy for a few days, about noon it began to rain quite steadily. We proceeded undeterred: it has to be really awful for us to cancel a market. Besides, most of the time the weather clears before the market starts. But not Thursday! We went to Riverbank Discovery Centre to find we were the only ones who bothered to show up! Tent up first to protect from the rain, we set up and at start time, had a few of our hardy regulars and a couple of people just leaving some event at the Discovery Centre. And then nothing......for almost forty minutes! So, just before 7:00 PM we shut her down. I must confess we stopped to pick up the makings of a cocktail on our way back to the farm - for a wee celebration and to warm us up! Fortunately, the forecast is much better for the final Friday Night Farmers Market at Shoppers Mall and for the final Saturday Morning Market at Riverbank Discovery Centre! Hopefully, the work gloves have dried out as we get back to harvest and prep.........

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Girls Say It's Fall For Sure!

Finally, The Girls and Rocky are going to bed before us! It's kind of embarrassing when your chickens want to stay up later than you do. However, as the days get shorter, and cooler ( high of 7 Celsius today!!!), The Girls and Rocky are sleeping in a little later and going to bed a little earlier. They have also started to molt - a nice array of feathers decorates the coop every morning. And, egg production is down - way down. Now, commercial poultry people augment the light their chickens get to keep up production. They 'fool' the chickens into thinking it's still summer. We're letting ours go the natural way - although once it gets really cold we will put in a heat lamp, which will increase production somewhat. We've also noticed that the Leghorns (the white chickens) are laying smaller and smaller eggs. Now, we've always gotten the occasional tiny egg; we figured it was from Funky Butt, a chicken with a crooked tail. But all of a sudden, we've gotten two tiny eggs a day for a couple of days. We hope - and our loyal customers hope - that it's not the wave of the future!