Swinging into Summer

“Swinging” into Summer is hardly accurate. It feels more like we’re on a speeding train and Summer is a brick wall directly ahead of us! The days are passing way faster than I care for (but isn’t that always how it goes?). Life is bursting forth everywhere I turn, the baby is growing way too quickly, and my older children are more incredible with each passing day.

Summer on the farm is such a busy, hectic time. There are so many demands! At the end of the day, though, it’s all worth it, and there are an abundance of little rewards.

The chicks, who one month ago looked like this –

- now reside outside and look like this -
How quickly they change!

The rabbits are thriving on grass. They’ve escaped a couple of times, and so we’ve been playing around with various modifications to the rabbit tractor to prevent escape but still allow for grass-eating. (Stay tuned for an update on our rabbits!)

The farmers’ market opened on June 9th, and I was so happy to be back! We had a fabulous opening day, with way more sales than we anticipated and lots of folks from last year stopping by to say hello. The feelings of community and camaraderie that come out at the farmers’ market are so uplifting.

Here’s my market partner – her name is Juno. She’s a 12-week-old Border Collie, and absolutely fabulous!

We’ve also had a few births around this little farm over the past month -


Dinosaur finally birthed her kid, a beautiful little buckling whose name is Boots.


Platypus the duck went broody and sat on a rather large nest of eggs. Eight of them hatched last week, much to the delight of my children.

Yes, Summer is a busy time on this farm: chicks, bunnies, goat kids, ducklings, puppies, gardens, children…….. I feel as though I’m busy and working my butt off nearly every moment of the day. It’s good work, though, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Spring on the Farm

The weather has been incredible around here for the last several weeks and life is springing forth on the farm.

ImageThe chickens have been going crazy with the laying and we have more eggs than we know what to do with. Pickled eggs, scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, eggs over easy, omelets, casseroles, fritatas, eggs florentine, eggs for baking with… after eating eggs every day, there are still six dozen in the fridge!

 

ImageJeremy and Platypus are pretty thrilled with the sunshine and warm weather, and have been happily quacking about. Platypus has generously donated a few dozen duck eggs for our breakfasts over the last several weeks.

 

ImageDay Lily and Sunflower are pretty darned shaggy. Next month I will try my hand at shearing them (aside from my one attempt at shearing with fabric scissors, I am totally inexperienced in this department). Perhaps soon I will get to washing, carding and spinning the several bags of fleece that are hiding out in my mudroom. I need to find a good project for Sunflower’s lovely fleece.

 

ImageDaisy and Dinosaur are becoming quite large in the middle. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their kids, and the return of goat’s milk! (Since several of you have asked, Daisy – on the left – is an Alpine doe. Dinosaur – on the right – is a Toggenburg/Saanen cross.)

 

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Oddler is growing whiter with age, losing his hearing, and developing cataracts, but he is still filled with youthful energy and can outrun our sprightly Beagle puppy, Echo. Last week, Oddler taught Echo how to tree a raccoon and chased a coyote out of the yard in the dark of the night. Not bad for an old boy!

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Lynden has caught all manner of small creatures: frogs, toads, snakes. Last Spring and Summer, we had a hard time with Lynden wanting to keep all the creatures he had captured. He just didn’t understand that we have to leave Mother Nature’s children in peace where they belong. Now, he’s come a long way – he keeps each captured creature for one night only, and the next morning releases them where he found them. Progress!

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There’s been lots and lots of bike riding around here lately. Our very long driveway is perfect for this beloved activity, and the kids have been out there every chance they get.

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ImageGaia is wonderful and beautiful, and charming us all. Her older siblings grow deeper in love with her with every passing day. I am amazed by her – so calm, so peaceful, so content. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard her cry since her birth. Gaia is the brightest blessing and I am filled with gratitude at being her mother. How did I get so lucky FOUR TIMES!?

Yessir, Spring has definitely arrived. It’s my favourite time of year, when everything is bursting with the freshness and newness of life, renewed.

Saying Goodbye

Today we said goodbye to our beloved Border Collie, Miss Molly.  It was apparent to us that our farm is not the right place for her.  Our first indicator was an attack on a goat that happened in early Autumn.  We did some work with her, met a new trainer, upped the daily exercise, added a daily hour-long game of fetch, switched to a homemade diet and continued to strengthen her obedience work. All seemed to be going very well, and we were happy, until…

Over the past week, Molly decided it would be grand to kill a chicken.  Then, two days later, she decided it would be even grander to kill another one. The next day, under supervision, a third. And then, in one evening, right under my nose, she killed our two best laying ducks when I turned my back to see why our toddler was crying.

Now, our hens and ducks are free-ranging and it wasn’t often that Miss Molly was outside unsupervised.  Most days, her time outdoors was spent with us, walking on the trail or exploring the woods, playing fetch in the fields, etc. She spent much of her days at our sides. But let’s be realistic here – there are three small children living on this farm. There are times when a dog needs to pee and there are too many other demands for me to be hovering & supervising. Around here, we need our dogs to be trustworthy, to be able to go outside for a potty break without having to worry that our livestock are being harmed if we have other tasks pulling our attention away. Could we have gotten Molly to that point? Yes, I’m sure, with a lot more work. But how much work can I put into a dog before saying enough is enough?

Oh, I was heartbroken when Molly took that first beautiful white duck. Heartbroken for the duck, and heartbroken for Molly.  I read over homesteading websites, Border Collie websites, and any other resources I could find, absorbing all the information out there on how to break a dog of a chicken-killing habit. When I realised how much more work I would have to put forth, I cried.  I have been working with Molly since the end of June, when we first officially started obedience classes.  Every day we practiced for a minimum of a half-hour, usually closer to an hour. Every day we reviewed all the commands we had learned, until we had all the basics down pat. When the goat attack happened, I worked with Molly more than ever.  I got her working for everything – earning each bowl of food, earning her game of fetch, earning her raw meaty bones. It was getting to the point where Lynden would sometimes say with an exasperated sigh, “Mama! You spend all of your time with that dog!”

Life is busy around here. There are sheep and goats to tend to, a large flock of hens, the ducks, the children, the household chores, crafts and games and other things the kids need help with. And the dogs. My beloved, wonderful dogs. My dogs, who get a huge amount of my attention, but need to be able to function well without it sometimes. My dogs, who need to be able to pee without supervision sometimes.

So, the choice was made.  Miss Molly went on this afternoon to a new home, with a wonderful man who knows and loves Border Collies, who will be able to give to her what I can’t, and who lives only ten minutes away.  It was so hard to say goodbye.  The kids were upset with me for letting our beloved dog go. I shed many tears. But in the end, I’m certain that things will be better for everyone.

Tomato Woe

Remember the other day when I planted out plenty of lovely little things in one of our garden beds?  At the end of that day I felt so accomplished and satisfied.  There was some rain overnight to nourish everything I had put in the ground.  All was well.

And then…

The next morning, several of my chickens hopped the fence and feasted on everything in that fresh, new garden bed.  All that remained were the chives and two scrawny little tomato plants.  The rest, gone.

When I discovered the catastrophe, I sat down right there in the garden and cried.  You see, it had been a feat to get that garden bed planted.  The entire time I worked, I had a 27-lbs baby strapped to my back.  Squatting and standing, squatting and standing, bending over and digging with all of that extra weight on me, was a major workout.  My thigh muscles are still burning.  Spending all that time in the garden meant that my household chores were neglected, and I have some major catching-up to do.  I got only a portion of my laundry mountain chiseled away, and never mind the dishes.

All that work aside, the tomato starters I had planted were the salvaged remains that Henry the rabbit left behind.  The kids had let Henry out of his cage one afternoon (without telling me), and shortly afterward we left the house.  In our absence, Henry took it upon himself to feast on my flats of veggie starters that I had been carefully tending to for two months.  Heirloom tomato starters – 90% gone.  Cucumbers – gone.  Organic squash – gone.  Herbs – gone.  The few plants I was able to save went into the garden bed I planted on Monday, only to be promptly eaten by the chickens.

So, you see, after the work that was put into the garden and the tragedy of losing almost all of my starters to Henry the rabbit, those chickens dealt me a horrible blow.  I couldn’t help myself, the tears had to flow.

Now that I’ve regained my composure and have had some time to cool off a little, I’ve decided that we need to make some major changes to the way we do things around here.  Things are too chaotic, and I need to be able to put the bulk of my farm focus on the gardens.  The chickens can no longer be completely free-ranging – on Sunday I’ll be building a chicken tractor, in which those ladies will be enclosed.  I’ll also be selling most of the goats, keeping only Caprice and Daisy.   The ducks will have their own pen as well, at the ditch, and will no longer be able to hide their eggs from me.

As much as I love the idea of happy creatures roaming free, the reality is that it is just not working.  We don’t have enough space on this little farm, and I have to set some limits and structure things more effectively if I have any hope of making this work.  My ravaged garden held a message and a perfect opportunity to make changes and get things back on track.  Here we go!

So Many Eggs!

We sure did miss our farm fresh eggs all winter while the hens took their well-deserved break. We waited with anticipation for the girls to start laying again.

Last week I started finding the odd egg or two in the coop. The kids were so excited each time I brought an egg into the house, clapping their hands and then quickly settling into an argument over who would get to eat the egg.

Imagine our delight when I found 16 eggs in the coop one morning, and a beautiful duck egg nestled in the corner. My children managed to eat all 16 of those eggs in one day!

Now every day there is a multitude of eggs, far more than we can reasonably eat. I am filled with gratitude toward our fine feathered friends each time we enjoy a meal made with farm fresh eggs. What a blessing and a joy to have this bounty!

Keeping hens and ducks is one of my favourite aspects of country living. They provide so much – rich, beautiful manure for the gardens; insect control; companionship for the kids; and of course, those fine, glorious eggs.

Eating Sustainably: Week Three

I have to keep reminding myself that this is the Sustainable Diet Once-A-Day challenge – not the sustainable diet at every meal challenge!  The farther I get into this challenge, the less I want to eat the unsustainable foods that line my shelves and refrigerator.  This can only be a good thing – I am thinking about food choices at every meal, about where the meal’s ingredients have come from, how far they have travelled, how much they were sprayed, and how much the people who grew them were paid.  And you know, it’s such a tangled web we weave.  In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to worry about the impact my food choices are having on the planet, and the act of eating would be a plain and simple process of nourishing the body and soul.

I managed to add a bit more variety in terms of sustainable food choices this week, beyond eggs and maple syrup.  Saturday and Sunday I totally forgot to take note of what we ate, and can’t remember now for the life of me.  The rest of the week has been good, though!

Monday: We enjoyed some tea from dried herbs our friend Rashel gave us on the weekend.  Mmmmm!!

Tuesday: Our late morning snack of peanut butter on sprouted bread was sweetened with some local honey, and I put a dash of that same local honey in my afternoon tea.

Wednesday: Have I mentioned that our duck is finally laying eggs?  For lunch we had “eggs in the nest” – in which you cut a circle out of the centre of a slice of bread, lay the bread on the pan, crack the egg into the empty circle, fry and enjoy!  The centre piece that was removed from the slice of bread can be used for dipping into the hot yolk, which is our favourite part of the whole meal!  Nothing better than piping hot duck eggs.

Thursday: Our morning bowl of fermented oatmeal was sweetened with homemade maple syrup, and for dinner we enjoyed curried squash from last year’s garden harvest.  It sure is sweet to eat the bounty of the garden at this time of year when homegrown food is so scarce.

Friday: Heaping plates full of scrambled eggs fresh from the coop, at breakfast time.  The hens are laying multitudes of eggs!  Dozens per day!  I can hardly keep up with them, and had almost forgotten how much we love our farm fresh eggs while our hens were on their winter hiatus.  Good golly, do I ever appreciate those hens!

My fingers are crossed that those salad greens I planted a few days back will make an appearance.  It’s hard to say – it sure has been cold these last couple of days.  Time will tell!

How have you met the challenge this week?  I’d love to hear about your success – leave a comment or hop on over to Twitter where you can search #sustainablediet to see how others are faring!

Glorious Days!

Wow, we have been so blessed with amazing weather the past few days!  It lifts my heart and clears that lingering winter funk from the corners of my soul.

Thursday morning we went on a guided hike with some friends at Point Pelee National Park. It was the perfect way to start a perfect day.

So many signs of Spring around if one knows where to look!

We left Point Pelee earlier than we would have liked because poor Robin started throwing up and obviously didn’t feel too well.  Nevertheless, the rest of the day turned out to be pretty great.

A great day for sloshing through muck!  Lynden called out from the field, “Mama, I’m stuck in the mud, but it’s OK because I LOVE it!” (Behind him you see the home of our closest neighbour.)

A great day for splashing in the ditch (or the “pond”, as Raina calls it), which has gone from deep, gushing water to a mere gentle trickle.

A great day for communing with the goats!  Raina has gotten over her fear of the goats and now wants to spend lengthy periods of time talking to them and singing to them.  The lovely weather meant I could finally fix up the gate to keep Alice the escape artist contained in the goat yard.  See her there behind the fence?  That means she’s not head-butting her way into our house!

A great day for sitting up high in one’s favourite willow tree.  Raina loves this tree dearly and sits up there in that crook every chance she gets.  She sings to herself, talks to the wind, and leans back with her eyes closed in the sunshine.  Some days she has been known to sit up in that tree for over an hour with barely a peep, just watching the world around her.  Everyone should have a love affair with a special tree.

A great day for talking to chickens!  Lynden so loves his chickens and loves to tell them stories.  He will happily follow them around the place, picking them up and crooning to them.  Today he told them stories about his worm, “Journey”, who was gently cupped in the palm of his hand.

It was also a great day for thatching the roof of the chicken coop, fixing the odd spot along the goat fence, shovelling poop from the chicken coop, aerating garden beds, eating farm-fresh eggs, washing muck from hands and faces, and going to bed good and tired.

Oh, and guess what! Our female duck has finally started laying eggs!  They are huge and beautiful and delicious, nearly twice the size of our largest chicken eggs.  This lovely weather means our birds are giving us fresh eggs again, something we really missed all winter long.

Glorious spring!

ps. You can befriend me on facebook, dear readers! Just search for “Trinity Fibrecraft”

Busy Days

There have been so many things that I’ve wanted to write about lately, but being on agonizingly slow dial-up internet makes the task of updating the blog a little bit daunting.  It takes me over half an hour just to check my email!  Forget about uploading photos and videos – argh!  Unfortunately, there are not many other internet options around here, and the few options we DO have cost an arm and a leg, and require the installation of special equipment on the roof. 

We’ve been very busy around the farm these days.  Our chicken flock has grown in leaps and bounds as friends have decided they no longer want to keep chickens and have brought them our way.  Some of the new chickens are not so quiet and out-of-the-way as the ones we started with – several of the new girls think they should help themselves to the children’s food, and attempt to peck food right from the kids’ hands as they are eating!  Raina got pecked in the face the other day as a chicken attempted to steal food right from her mouth.  These chickens also prefer our house to being outdoors, and swarm around the door waiting for someone to open it so they can run inside.  The other day I got out of the shower to find a chicken staring up at me!  Needless to say, I’m not very happy to have chickens running into my home every time the door is opened, or pecking at my children.  I’m also not very happy about the idea of keeping the chickens penned, as I really believe they should be totally free-ranging and left to their own devices all day.  So I’m stuck with this dilemma – keep the chickens penned, or sell them?  We would only sell the “problem” chickens, none of whom were raised by us; we have no emotional attachments to them the way we do with the girls we raised from day-olds. 

I’m also contemplating selling the ducks.  As the ducklings are feathering out and maturing, we’ve come to realise that at least three of them are males.  NOT what we want!  Our sole purpose for keeping ducks is for the eggs, and as far as I’m aware, no drake has ever laid an egg.  The ducks are loud, messy, and large.  They follow us everywhere, all day long, which gets annoying pretty quickly.  I don’t like having ducks crowding around me on all sides when I’m trying to weed the garden or hang the laundry, and their poop is stinky and EVERYWHERE.  Their pool water needs to be changed every other day or so, which adds up to a very large amount of water that gets splashed in and pooped in, then dumped.  I’m really not enjoying having the ducks around like I enjoy the chickens.  I wish I could say this weren’t the case, but there you have it.

We’ve started building a fence around one of the barns so that we can get our sheep and goat.  I need to build a couple of stalls inside the barn as well, and then we’ll be good to go.  Hopefully this time next year, I’ll be spinning yarn from our very own wooly sheep! 

Our wee, late veggie garden is starting to yeild some food.  I was treated to one single cherry tomato a few days ago, and we’ve got lots of Chinese lantern fruits that are nearly ripe.  I had no idea what these were until my brother brought me the plants – and I LOVE them!  They are so delicious, sweet and juicy and the perfect size for snacking on.  I’d like to find a recipe for lantern fruit jam or pie.  We’ve also got lots of basil ready to be picked; I pulled out my Spice & Herb Bible and found a very yummy-looking pesto recipe.  A few tiny little hot peppers have been coming in, one at a time, but I haven’t been wanting to use them yet so I’ve been passing them on to my dad.  Lots of heirloom tomatoes that are starting to ripen, though the plants were a gift from my brother and he couldn’t remember what variety they were, so we’ll have to wait and see.  Always love a surprise!

So, life is good – full, busy, and yet still relaxing.  There’s a lovely ebb and flow to our days and I don’t remember a happier time for our wee little family.  These are good days.

Home Sweet Home

Here we are, on our farm at last, and more or less settling in. The kids are in heaven. Today, while driving in the car with Daddy, Lynden asked, “Are we still in the country?” Daddy replied, “Yes, we are,” to which Lynden said, “Good, I’m still happy then.” Within a week-and-a-half, my 3.5 yr old son has come to equate country living with happiness. This pleases me greatly.

One of the first things I did upon beginning to unpack was laundry. How to put into words the joy I felt at hanging my wash on the line for the first time? I’ve been longing to do this for years – in the little apartment we started out in, we were without the space; in our city house, I was unwilling to have my nosy neighbours examining all our garments and bedding hung out to dry, and the only good spot for hanging laundry was directly below a mulberry tree that loved to stain everything in the yard a brilliant shade of purple. And now, here I am, hanging my laundry at last. I find myself amazed when I pull the clothes down off the line, amazed at how quickly they dry, amazed at how fresh everything smells, amazed at how crisp and clean my laundry is. To think I missed out on this for so long! Simple pleasures, simple joys.

The weekend we moved to the farm, my sister and her partner came down from Toronto, my brother came down from the farm he is currently working on, and my aunt & cousins came down from their sweet little town as well. We gave the place a proper breaking-in – a fire on a hot, still night. Silly campfire songs shouted out into the dark sky. Laughter, companionship, crazy dancing by firelight. A circle of family, loved ones, gathered in the night in a place still so unfamiliar and new to us all.

I left the circle of chairs around the fire pit for days, letting the feeling of that first fire linger a while.

There is a nest of baby bunnies near the back of the yard. We have not seen the mother, but we’ve seen plenty of the babies! Our fourth evening here, while the kids were playing in the grass, the whole nest full of bunnies decided to come hopping out to say hello. They were so curious, and several of them hopped right up to the kids, less than an inch away from their outstretched hands. Lynden reached out and scooped one up, cradling the tiny little critter in his palms for a mere moment before I asked him to put it down and keep his human smell off of it. So there we sat, my babes and I, sharing the grass with tiny little bunnies in the late afternoon sun while I marveled at the beauty and wonder of it all.

This place is just full of fur and feathers! Our chicks are in the coop full-time now, and seem to be perfectly happy with that. They are still getting used to their quackie companions and would prefer not to have to share space with such lowly water-loving fowl, but on the whole all of the birds are getting along. I’m loving the beautiful feathers the chicks have grown, the colours and patterns that have come out on them. They’re almost out of the awkward, gawky phase and are fast becoming real beauties! The ducklings are not feathering out nearly as fast, and hold on to their baby cuteness a lot longer. These birds have all made excellent playmates for the kiddos, who will happily spend hours at a time crawling around in the coop, following the ducks, holding the chickies, refilling water dishes and running in circles flapping their arms wildly.

We’re at a grand total of 17 birds right now: the 3 nearly-grown chicks, 5 ducklings, 3 adult ducks, and:

The new chicks! They are so wee and sweet and wonderful. I forgot how small day-olds are – the cuteness of them makes me want to never stop holding them. Two ISA Browns, two black sex-links, two barred rocks. Unfortunately, our white leghorns won’t be here until August, as the hatchery had one of its hatch barns burn to the ground. I won’t mind going through the tiny chick stage again, having a daily dose of cuteness and cheepy love. Slowly but surely, our little flock is growing.

So, although we’re only a week-and-a-half into this, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this farm life suits us just fine. Already I feel free, relaxed, peaceful, happy. This is where I was meant to be. Home.