14 May 2008

Watching the lambpede

I'm sitting on the couch, looking out the window and watching the lambpede. The little sheep suddenly decide to tear around the pasture, jumping and leaping and chasing each other ... a whole little herd of little sheep, moving as one. It's a cheering sight.

All winter, the sheep live in a small enclosed area, with straw spread out on the ground to keep them dry and warm. Unfortunately, the straw prevents grass from growing, and so in the spring they stand at the fence gazing longingly at the green grass on the other side.

It's important to let the pasture grass grow a bit before the sheep are turned out to eat it, as well, or they'll eat all the young shoots and the grass won't get a chance to grow at all. This makes the wait that much more painful for them, I'm sure, as they can see all that beautiful green tenderness just out of reach, while they are forced to eat dry old winter hay.

A few days ago, we finally opened up the pasture for them. We took a round bale over in the bobcat, up to the top of a hill. The bale strings were removed, and we pushed it down the incline, watching it unroll on its way down the slope. The sheep were so anxious to get at the fresh bale, they were trying to eat it while it was being driven through the pasture!

Once the bobcat was clear of the gate, I attempted to direct the sheep towards the opening. Being sheep, it took them awhile to figure all of this out, but once they did, they headed straight for the gate. Brownie, one of the purebred Icelandic ewes, actually leaped in the air, kicked her heels, and galloped into the pasture.

I keep reliving that moment in my mind: the sight of a full grown sheep (one who is normally very restrained and almost regal in her bearing) racing across the field, jumping with unbridled joy and excitement at the sheer pleasure of having fresh grass to eat ... now that is something to hold onto.

10 May 2008

Independence Days Update

My goodness, another week has gone by already!

Ok, what did I do on the Independence Days challenge this week?

Planted: I planted more pumpkin seeds. See, we had put the pumpkins outside as they were doing really well ... and then I forgot to check the weather forecast and a frost killed them. :( So, we have more planted and THOSE will go outside, after it warms up some more! I also planted some lettuce seeds, and those are coming up in their little starter pan by the window, and I planted more pepper seeds, but peppers don't seem to want to germinate for me. I wonder if they want to be warmer.

Harvested: Well, we harvested a lot of eggs this week, but I don't think I can say I harvested anything else. There is a bunch of wool out there wandering around on my sheep, and it is in dire need of harvesting ... it's a question of time and good weather. Perhaps tomorrow.

Preserved: Nothing this week.

Stored: I did sort out a couple of closets today, and was able to store some clothes for future use. I don't need to keep all this stuff in daily rotation, so if I put some of it away, then when I take it out in a year or two, it'll feel new! I also put away some things that will fit the next person in line in a year or two, so they are ready in anticipation of growth spurts.

Prepped: I did the usual 'once a month grocery store run' on the big 15% off day, and was able to add a few more things to the pantry. I didn't have as much time as I like, so I stuck mostly to the list, but I think that was a good thing too. Our pantry is looking pretty good, although it is in need of a few more tomatoes.

Managed: As mentioned above, I cleaned out some closets and took stock of some of our posessions, mostly in the clothing and kitchen gadgetry department. We brought a few useful items out of storage (we hadn't needed them for awhile, so they got stored ... now they are needed again, so out they come). One item was a coffee maker: we have found that we'd like to make a whole pot on some days, so in addition to our usual 'two cuppper', we have a full sized pot out now too. The other item was a 'juice strainer' - it is a device that fits over a pot and allows you to put liquidy stuff in the top and have it strain through a bag into a pot below (think 'making jelly'). I have wanted it a couple of times, but wasn't sure where it was ... so when I stumbled across it today, I put it in the pantry where I'll be able to find it!

Cook Something New: Hmm, not that I can think of. We are doing pretty well with not using too much pre-packaged stuff, but we still have a ways to go there.

Work on Local Food Systems: Does keeping an eye on the condition of the sheep count? They are in sorry condition ... we need to get them on pasture soon, but we are waiting on the grass.

Reduce Waste: I can't really think of any way we did this ... sorry to say.

Learned a Skill: Well, I transplanted seedlings for the first time, I think that's about all I can add in this category.

05 May 2008

Independence Days: our progress

One of my favourite writers, Sharon Astyk, has started an "Independence Days" challenge. The idea is to work towards creating food independence: the ability to meet the majority of your food needs without relying on "the store". This is one of the biggest reasons I love our land: we have the space to have chickens, sheep, and a big garden.

Even if one does not subscribe to the idea that our world is headed for some fairly large changes, being able to produce some of your own food is still a really good thing. For so many of us, it really isn't too far from "everything is fine" to checking the bank balance to see if you have enough money to buy groceries. When some of those groceries can come from your own backyard, that's one less trip to the store, and a few more dollars that stay home.

So ... what have we done towards Food Independece lately? I will follow Sharon's categories, so that I can "play along" with the challenge in at least a semi-official way. :)

1. Plant something: I did indeed plant something this past week! Last weekend I started several seedlings in various containers. The pumpkin seeds sprouted in an amazingly short period of time, in fact, this past weekend I transplanted them into pots outside on the deck (covered by a wire cage to keep the chickens from eating them). I had also started some apple trees from seed that I set outside to freeze during the winter, and these are growing nicely in tin cans on the window ledge.

2. Harvest something: Well it's not really harvest season in my part of the world ... does transplanting count?

3. Preserve something: Again, not quite time yet. Well ... perhaps the purchase of an entire pig, butchered, and frozen, would count. We have a whole pig stored in our freezer, and the cost per pound was much less than what we could get at the grocery store. Oh! I know! I took the leftover pork chops that we'd eaten and ground them in the stainless steel meat grinder. We were then able to use the ground pork in the next couple of meals. That meat grinder was an excellent investment: we have also used it to grind up leftover bits that are not quite fit for human consumption and freeze them for dog food supplements. In the winter our outside dogs need extra calories, and this is a great way to store them.

4. Cook something: The Reluctant Farmer actually does the majority of our cooking these days, which is great! This morning, though, he mentioned we had no bread, so instead of going to the store, I put the necessary ingredients in the breadmaker (including one of the eggs from our chickens for extra protein) and let it run. We had healthy, preservative-free bread for dinner, along with our pork chili.

5. Manage your reserves: I have been making a shopping list for the last couple of weeks as tomorrow is 15% off Tuesday at the store I frequent. By waiting until the 'discount day' to do the big shopping run, I am able to save money on our grocery bill, and stock up our pantry when things are on sale.

6. Work on local food systems: We already purchase our beef from a local family, and we are becoming a 'local provider' with our eggs. I took the extra two dozen to work today, and a coworker took some home.
Have you thought about growing some food in your own space? You don't need five acres to put a zucchini seed in a pot on the deck, or scatter some lettuce seeds over potting soil in a dish on the window ledge. Will your neighbourhood allow you to have chickens? If you have hens and no roosters, you'll still get eggs, and nobody will complain about the noise (hens make the silliest muttering noises, but they certainly don't crow!). There is absolutely nothing so wonderful as a steady supply of eggs. And chickens eat bugs! :)

My chiropractor defined health as the ability to react to change. Anything that improves our ability to be resilient to change is a good thing, whether that change is a big worldwide one, or a smaller personal change like unemployment. I figure a few eggs a day would make a big difference if I were unemployed: omelettes may be boring, but they're nutritious. A zucchini in a pot or a few pumpkins in the garden would add some variety. Sure, it might not be enough to make all the difference, but ... if every bit helps, why not start?

Yes, we are still here...

We are a bit on the weary side, but we are, indeed, still here.

One of my relatives was taken ill earlier last month. The diagnosis took a long time ... and now that it has arrived, we are adpating. It's not good news, but, it is a journey we must all take at some point so ... on we go.

The circle of life does keep turning: the winter storm that hit a couple of weeks ago left in its wake nothing but muddy puddles and green grass, thereby providing immense pleasure for small boys and happy chickens. The lambs continue to grow steadily, routinely escaping the pasture to nibble on the fresh grass shoots coming up in the ditches and beside the house. We finally cross-fenced the large pasture that they've been living in, locking them out of the majority of the pasture: the grass needs time to grow about an inch long before the sheep are turned in to eat, otherwise they'll nibble the tender seedlings down and the grass will die off. So far, our gates are holding, but the sheep do stand right next to them, looking longingly at the fresh grass on the other side.

The chickens have stepped up production with the increased daylight and the joy of free-range eating: they roam the yard pecking at bugs, seeds, and bits of grass and reward us with 8 or more eggs on a daily basis. It is wonderful to have such bounty in our own yard: we eat a lot of eggs, both as a food in their own right and in baking, wherever they might add some protein or improve texture. I haven't had to eat store eggs in a long time, and I am glad of it!

We are finalizing preparations for the wedding, getting the last few logistical details sorted out (making sure everyone has clean shoes to wear, matching socks, and that I have enough knitting projects to last a week). It's as low-key as you can make this sort of thing, but any time you pack up and head out you have to make lists and keep track of the details.

So ... off to look at the list!