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.

She’s Here!

It’s been six days of wonder and awe for this lovestruck mama. Our sweet fourth baby, Gaia Claire, was born at home on March 28 in the early hours of the morning.

Since Wednesday, life has been a bit of a roller coaster, but we are well and happy and the kids are totally in love with their new baby sister. Read on for her full birth story, with photos.

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Spring Has Sprung

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny, warm and bright March day – a perfect day for Spring Equinox, and a perfect day for being outside.

The goats and sheep have REALLY been enjoying the fresh, young grass that is coming up all over the yard. They’ve spent the past few days grazing in front of the house, while Oddler seems to have made it his personal duty to keep an eye on them as he lazes in the sun.

Aren’t they so delightfully shaggy with their winter coats on? These ladies will soon be first-time mamas. I wonder who will give birth first, me or them?

We took advantage of the beautiful weather and spent the day together as a family at our local conservation area. The place was humming and buzzing with life! It was a noisy symphony of croaks and birdsong, chattering squirrels, honking geese, insects and more. What a glorious treat for the ears!

We were able to get very close to a pair of swans, who looked at us calmly and went about feeding on the bottom of the creek. The kids watched the swans for some time, then realised that there were bullfrogs croaking very loudly right behind them!

Lynden spotted dozens of very large – HUGE! – frogs sunbathing along the water’s edge. We photographed at least 14 of them within the span of a few feet. For a boy who loves amphibians almost as much as he loves dinosaurs, this was extremely exciting.

This is Echo’s first Spring, and her first time really experiencing the wonders of the wild world. She was as excited about the frogs as Lynden was, and tried repeatedly to catch one. Of course, before she got anywhere near close enough to grab a frog, every last one had jumped far out of reach into the water (which only served to make Echo even more excited!).

Frogs were not the only exciting creatures to be found. Lynden discovered many snakes along the way, some at the water’s edge who were obviously after the frogs, and some in sunny spots along the edge of the trail. Imagine his delight when he quietly approached a sun-bathing garter snake and got close enough to stroke his fingers down its back before it slid away!

We came across a tree growing some lovely fungi on its trunk, and the children decided that this must be a gnome’s ladder – perfect for a wee person to climb.

Indeed, it was a perfect day, a perfect Spring Equinox. We all felt so free, being outside without coats, without leggings, without hats & gloves. My heart soared as I watched my children run amongst the trees, laughing and discovering, slowing down to marvel over little miracles of Nature.

Somehow I didn’t end up with any photos of Robin, who is old enough this year to run and discover with the bigger kids, and to whom everything is so very fresh and new, never before experienced. He was totally amazed by everything he came across, and marched along with such purpose and pride. It was a joy to watch him, blossoming into a big kid.

Happy Spring to you, my dear readers. I hope you are enjoying your days as thoroughly as we are, for life is so very beautiful.

Awakening

Oh, dear! We’re almost in mid-February! It occurred to me this morning that it’s time to start planning the gardens for Spring, time to decide which seeds to order, time to plot out which plants will grow where. It’s time to start looking at incubators and decide how much we want to spend to hatch our own eggs again this year (last year’s homemade incubator, while it did give us chicks, didn’t have the hatch rate we had hoped for).

I love this part of Winter, when suddenly it feels like it’s time to come out of hibernation and start living again. It’s not quite Spring, we can’t feel Spring in the air just yet, but I do feel a restlessness and a tug to start preparing. It feels wonderful.

This year, Spring will be extra special. We’re only about seven weeks away from the birth of our newest family member, and my nesting instincts are hitting hard! I am driven to mop the floors every day, almost compulsively, though I only seem to manage mopping twice a week or so. I wash the dishes a few times a day. I am becoming neurotic about the laundry. My house is still a mess (my children have a funny way of creating chaos in a room I’ve just finished cleaning), but I’m busier than ever with chores and preparations. It’s funny what an impending birth will do to a mama.

Yes, mid-February. A glorious time of year, a time of renewal and awakening. Thank goodness it’s here.

Circle of Life

Some time ago, I mentioned that our vegetarian family was making some big decisions about eating more sustainably and providing for ourselves in an effort to reduce our dependency on the grocery store.  Our goal is to become self-sufficient, and let’s face it: eating grocery store food is not self-sufficient. It’s not Earth-friendly, it’s not wallet-friendly, and it’s not sustainable in the long term.

So we had to make some choices. Remain vegetarian and rely on the grocery store when the garden is out of season, or eat some of our birds & locally-caught fish and put a huge dent in the number of grocery trips we need to make.

We went with the latter.

Jae and I had many reasons for being vegetarian and raising vegetarian children, including a concern for the welfare of farm animals. We weren’t interested in sending our birds to the local abattoir, knowing that they’d be stressed out the entire drive there, stressed out moments before death, and killed by a stranger.  The only way to ensure that our birds were treated with respect and given a stress-free death was to do the killing here at home.

And so, with a sharpened ax and a friend to lend a hand, Jae slaughtered several of our birds.  He feathered them, gutted them, and put them in the freezer.  The kids and I said words of gratitude and respect to the birds, talked about the Circle of Life, and had a very lengthy discussion about why we had chosen to kill & eat some of our chickens.  Each time we have a chicken dinner, we say a few words of thanks for the life that was given to sustain our own lives.  We eat with consciousness and awareness.  We take nothing for granted.

I don’t really know what to say when people ask me why we’ve started eating our birds – the answer is too complex and emotional to sum up in a short conversation.  Our reasons for NOT eating meat were very long, and our reasons for eating our birds are just as many.  There are the issues of food security, animal rights, environmental degradation, industrial agriculture, economic freedom, health and well-being… and how each of those things ties into the next. The world we live in is so complicated and corrupted, and we’re trying to do the best we can for our family and our planet. A few years ago I wouldn’t have thought that would mean eating meat, but now I’m in a place where it just makes sense to do so. Life is funny like that – nothing is absolute, nothing is certain.

It was not easy to make the choice. It wasn’t easy to confront death, to become the bringers of death.  But once we made the leap, we knew we had made the right choice for our family.  In every ecosystem, there is a predator.  Our farm is an ecosystem in itself, and we are at the top of the chain.  That’s just life – everything in balance, everything a circle of birth and death.  The great Circle moves us all.

The Ebb and Flow

Life has fallen disgracefully out of rhythm since this pregnancy took hold.

Once upon a time, I found inspiration in Waldorf-inspired and Enki-esque rhythms.  My children and I would snuggle in the morning before rising to greet the day. I’d make breakfast in the kitchen, we’d eat together, and we’d start the day with some sort of song & activity, usually seasonal.  Then the kids would run off to do their thing, and I’d do mine – feed the animals, collect eggs, clean a bit, do some laundry, get some knitting done.  We’d reconvene for lunch, then perhaps do a floor puzzle together or read a book.  Our rhythm was very loose and fluid, with lots of room for impromptu trips to the park or library.

Now, dear readers, there is nothing of rhythm to speak of.  Jae is carrying the weight of the household on his shoulders while I spend far too many days in bed, throwing up or dealing with a migraine.  I have ceased all efforts at meal preparation (I can hardly stand to be in the kitchen), I rarely find the energy to play with my kids, and I haven’t done the animal care since the end of June. On days when I do get out of bed, I put in the bare minimum and spend a lot of time sitting on the couch.  I feel pathetic.

I’m sharing this because we are shifting into Autumn, and normally this time of year would consist of nature walks, art projects like leaf rubbings and acorn necklaces, and delicious hot meals cooked fresh.  Instead, Jae is stressed about having to take care of the farm, the house, the kids, AND a sick wife.  I just miss our usual Autumn escapades, I miss life as it was, I miss my days with my kids & household chores.  I know that the way I’m feeling will come to an end, sometime, because I won’t be pregnant forever – but in the meantime, I’m longing for the rhythm I used to find such comfort and joy in.

Thanks for bearing with me, faithful readers.  Hopefully I will have something of interest to post for you soon.

On Living with Less

You may recall that Jae quit his job over the course of the summer in order to be free, in order to live the life of our dreams.  What, exactly, does that mean?

It means we are living on a lot less money, but that we have a lot more time together as a family and a lot more time to do for ourselves on our farm.

It means we are making a casual income. I teach violin lessons a few hours per week. We sell eggs our hens have laid, I knit hats that folks have ordered, I spin yarn to sell. We are fortunate to live in a country that gives mamas a child tax benefit, and that helps to pay for our car.

Beyond that, being jobless means we have much more time to take care of life for ourselves instead of buying things. I’m knitting the kids some winter sweaters, instead of working to buy them, with yarn that I’ve spun instead of purchased. We’re preserving food from our garden, instead of working to buy groceries. We’re foraging for wild edibles, and even ate one of our chickens the other day – a decision that I was completely comfortable with after nearly an entire lifetime of vegetarianism (stay tuned for a post on slaughtering your own animals – it may not be what you think!). We are doing what we can for ourselves instead of paying corporations to do it for us.

Despite the cold and rainy weather, we’ve got produce coming out of the garden, ready to be canned and enjoyed on a cold winter’s day.

Hot peppers - salsa in waiting.

Tomatillos, soon to be salsa verde.

Living on less also means living with less – and we’re ok with that. In fact, a life with less is a freer life. It is liberating to free oneself from STUFF, to deny the urge to spend money, to appreciate what you have and find new uses for old things. We’ve also realised how much of what we do have, we don’t really need. A large-scale purge is in process, and soon bags full of things will be donated to the local thrift store.

Living on less means working with your friends and neighbours to get things done. It means exchanging a helping hand on a friend’s farm for some bales of hay to get your livestock through the winter. It means trading a hand-knit hat & mitts for some cloth diapers. It means giving some eggs for basket of produce. It means forming lasting bonds & friendships and creating community.

Living on less also means having plenty of time to enjoy life’s beauties and wonders. How amazing the little things can be! So much to marvel at in something as small as a bouquet of wildflowers.

For our family, living on less means more togetherness, and there’s nothing I cherish more than the time I have with my loved ones. These are the best days of our lives.

Preserving the Harvest

The last week has been cool and rainy, rainy, rainy, rainy.  I was lucky to have my sister home from Guelph on the weekend, and we decided to get some canning done.  It’s been a while since I’ve been in the garden – Jae has taken to the gardening while I lay in bed with some rotten pregnancy sickness – so I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw when sister and I went out to harvest tomatoes for canning.

Endless rainy days destroyed a LOT of my lovely heirloom tomatoes.  Many hadn’t ripened in the cool, sun-less weather, but those that had ripened too fast, split, and fell to the ground to rot. I had planned on making salsa verde with tomatillos, but the dreary weather meant that none of those sweet little fruits were ripened, either.

Still, we ended up with enough good tomatoes to make a batch of salsa.  We used all the good tomatoes we were able to find, ending up with about 6lbs after seeding and stemming. Not too bad.  I borrowed the basics from the book “Put ‘Em Up!“, but changed the recipe a little to suit my tastes.  Here’s what we did:

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Heirloom Tomato Salsa

Ingredients:

1 Cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
Splash of vinegar
1/4 Cup organic cane sugar
1 Tbsp salt
4 lbs heirloom tomatoes, seeded and diced
3/4 lbs onions, diced
2 hot peppers, finely diced
1 cup chopped cilantro

Directions:

Bring the lime juice, splash of vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil.  Add the tomatoes, onions and hot peppers.  Return to a boil for about five minutes.  Add the cilantro and remove from the heat.

Ladle into clean, hot canning jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace.  Release trapped air, wipe rims clean, add lids.  Process in boiling water bath for 15 mins.  Turn off heat, remove canner lid, let jars rest in water for 5 mins.  Remove jars, set aside for 24 hrs, check seals. Keep for up to one year.

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Our salsa was almost entirely local.  The only ingredients that weren’t locally sourced were the lime juice, sugar and salt.  The tomatoes and hot peppers were straight from our garden, picked that morning.  The onions were from a neighbouring farm (ours did poorly this year, unfortunately).  The cilantro was from my friend Lesley’s organic farm about 20 mins away. The vinegar was from our local Heinz factory (hey, that’s gotta count for something!).

My sister and I couldn’t resist – we had to eat some of the salsa fresh out of the pot.  There were no tortilla chips to be found in my cupboards, so we dipped pita bread instead.  The salsa was absolutely delicious! Amazing! The best salsa I’ve had yet.  I’m pretty thrilled to have plenty stored away to enjoy this winter.

Since I wasn’t able to do the salsa verde I had planned, I moved onto another project instead: wild grape jelly.  Again, I used a recipe from the book “Put ‘Em Up!”.  We had about 8lbs of wild grapes that Jae harvested on a recent foraging excursion.  I boiled them down, crushed them, and strained the juice through cheesecloth overnight.  The next morning, I boiled the juice with sugar and pectin, as per the recipe directions, and canned it.  Twenty-four hours later, I checked to see if it had set… and, it hadn’t.  I’m not sure what went wrong there, but I now have 8 jars of grape juice, NOT grape jelly.  I’m going to have to do some searching on the webz to find a solution.  Perhaps I can pop those jars open and use that juice to try again?  Or is that a no-no?  I have some learning to do…

It looks like we might have some clear days ahead of us, so I have my fingers crossed that my tomatillos will ripen, the last of the tomatoes will turn red, and I can get some more canning done.  We also have to pay a visit to my in-laws (about 15-mins away) to harvest the fruit hanging on their apple and pear trees.

There’s nothing more satisfying than opening the cupboards to see rows of homegrown food preserved for the winter!

 

(I wish I had photos of our lovely canning day and jars full of goodness to share with you, dear readers, but alas! My camera is lost and so is my cell phone.  Photos will have to wait for another day…)

Fruit of the Land

August has been a tumultuous month.  In the middle of horrible pregnancy sickness, I took the kids on a week-long camping adventure, while my dear husband stayed home and quit his job.  Yes, that’s right, he quit his job.  After years of working in an office, Jae and I decided it was time for him to break free so that we can live the life of our dreams.  No more schedules! Two adults to run the farm! Both parents home full-time with the kids! And, a lot less money.

I could write a very long essay on all the reasons Jae quit his job, but I’ll hold myself back.  The long and short of it is that having the majority of his daylight hours sucked away in an office has meant that Jae has not been able to do the things with his life that he truly wants to do.  His family time was limited to a few hours in the evening before putting the kids to bed, and we never seemed to have enough money anyway.  Why sell the hours of your life away when the money’s  not enough?  Now we are free and all of our options are wide open.  It’s the dawning of a new age for our family.

We’ve had to think long and hard about how our money gets spent, over these last few weeks.  Our feeling has been that being jobless is the kick we need to REALLY live off the land.  Sure, we’ve kept a garden and a flock of hens, we’ve eaten local food, we’ve tried to provide for ourselves, but at best it has been a practice round.  We still shop at the grocery store on a regular basis, eating food that has been trucked in from lands far away (yeah, so what if it’s organic? It still traveled far too long and gobbled up far too many resources getting to us!).  Our grocery store dependence needs to end.

Jae and I have been vegetarians for a great many years.  Our children were born vegetarians.  Now, our diets are changing.  In an effort to live off the land, we’ve decided to do some fishing in the local creeks, marshes and rivers.  We are blessed to live in an area with an abundance of waterways – why not make use of them?  Our goal is to fill the freezer with fish to eat throughout the winter.  So, today we set out with the kids in the canoe for our first attempt at fishing.


Our oldest son, Lynden, was very hesitant when we told him what our plans were.  Being a lifelong vegetarian, the idea of killing a fish was upsetting for him.  I had a good long talk with him, explaining that we are trying to have a small footprint on the Earth, and that after lots of thought and discussion, Daddy and I thought the Earth would be happier if we caught our own fish down the road than if we bought avocados from South America.  By the time we were out on the water, Lynden was brimming with enthusiasm.

We enjoyed the canoeing (as we always do!) and were treated to plenty of wildlife encounters – ducks, geese, Great Blue Herons, swans, egrets, water snakes, frogs, snails – and we felt so at home on the water that any doubts I had started out with simply vanished away.

Swans, keeping a safe distance.

American Egret doing some fishing of her own.

After a time, we realised how silly we had been to do our fishing from within the canoe, while trying to manage three small children and keep our lines from getting tangled.  When over an hour passed without anything more than snag after snag, our toddler screaming between my knees and trying to throw himself overboard, we decided to head back to shore and fish from the banks instead.

Instant success! Jae and I each caught a fish almost immediately.  Mine was a small sun fish, his, a small catfish.  They were both too small to eat, so we threw them back and kept trying.

Before long, Lynden caught a catfish.  He reeled it in all by himself, pulled it up out of the water, and started hollering to me that he had caught a fish.  His excitement was enormous!

Granted, the catfish wasn’t very big, but Lynden was so thrilled with himself and couldn’t wait to eat it.  A far cry from the nervous boy who didn’t want to kill a fish earlier this morning!

We took the fish back to Jae’s parents’ house, where “Papa” knew just what to do (Papa is an expert fisherman!).  Lynden got hands-on lessons on how to clean a fish.

Papa fried up the little catfish filets, and added a bit of pickerel that he had caught.  I never thought I’d enjoy fish as much as I did this evening.

There is much to say about sustaining a family of five (almost six!) on the land, divorcing the system we’ve been raised in and slave to for so long, living without regular employment, and having the life of our dreams.  There’s not room in one post for all the thoughts that are swirling through my head – you’ll have to bear with me as I sort through this new stretch of our life’s adventure!

Ramblings on Summer and Farm Life

Can we really be in August already?  These summer days seem to be slipping away from me much too quickly!  We get going from one day to the next, so busy and with such a long to-do list, and before we know it the days are getting shorter and I realise that Autumn is closer than I thought.

All my life I’ve struggled with this desire to slow down time, wanting to hold on to everything for just a little bit longer.  It’s only gotten worse since having children – they grow way too fast, change too fast, and throw too many curve balls.  We are approaching my first-born child’s fifth birthday, and I am certain there must be some kind of mistake, because there is no way nearly five years have passed since his birth.  It can’t be true!

So, where has the time gone, since I last updated this blog?  We’ve been busier than ever, mostly with errands and running around, market days and the preparation that precedes them.  The garden has not received as much attention as it deserves, but things are growing well and the Earth is bountiful.  Chickens are laying eggs, goats and sheep are grazing in the yard, Miss Molly is excelling in her training, and the children are growing like weeds.

Between the errands and farm chores and children and market, we had a very nice surprise here on the farm.  Baby number four is joining this family in the Spring!  Early pregnancy makes for a very tired and nauseous mama, but I’m determined to make the best of the rest of my summer and not let this ill-feeling bring me down.

There has been such joy in every day.  I’ve been totally wrapped up in love for my children and gratitude for this little farm we live on.