25 May 2009

TRF is an EMR!

The Reluctant Farmer just got the results back ...

He passed his Emergency Medical Responder certification exams!

This is a huge deal: he studied like mad for a month prior to a two week long crash course, then studied hard for another month and then took his written and practical exams.

He was told right away that he'd passed the practical exam, but the written part had to be sent away for marking and you get those results in the mail. He was sure he'd failed ... but the letter came today and he passed!

Yippee for The Reluctant Farmer! He worked hard to earn this.

22 May 2009

At long last...

Despreaux, our black mostly-Icelandic ewe, born here last year, finally delivered her lamb!

Despreaux is a small one-winter ewe, not quite fully grown but she did a great job and is doing really well as a mother. Her own mother, Natalie, is a fabulous mama, and this is a trait you can breed for so ... good to see that coming through! Her lamb was born this evening, and was up and looking for milk within about 30 minutes, with mama doing a great job of cleaning him up and taking care of him. For a first-timer, Despreaux did awesome.

We've been waiting a long time it seems for these last couple of lambs - Despreaux started showing signs about a week back, so we knew she was close, but we still have no idea if Cherub's ever gonna decide to deliver hers ... and I don't *think* the other two possibles are pregnant, but ... who knows?

Farming's definitely an adventure. :)

18 May 2009

Independence Days

Once again, Sharon is running the Independence Days Challenge: the idea is to give ourselves a list of things we can do that help to move us towards independece, and then to celebrate the accomplishments each week - no matter how small they might seem. By taking a moment to look at what we have done, it helps us see that we really are making progress - even when the to-do list doesn't seem to get any shorter.

I heartily recommend reading Sharon's post about the challenge - it'll explain better than I possibly could.

Jumping right in, then ... here's where I'm at:

Planted Yup, it's planting time! The frost-hardy things can go in already, so the potatoes are out (well mulched), peas, beets, carrots, turnips, wheat (kamut wheat, it's an experiment), onions, and some chives. Oh yes, lettuce and spinach are out there, too, and several herbs in a new bed. Inside are a bunch of seedlings waiting for the weather to turn, and those are given a dose of water every day and left to soak up indoor sunshine for a bit longer.

Harvested Eggs, like always. Not much else is ready for harvest just yet, unless you count mucking the barnyard as harvesting compost!

Preserved I discovered, when clearing out the pantry, that we somehow managed to acquire four ten-kilogram bags of flour. We do use a lot of flour, as we bake our own bread quite often, as well as enjoying pancakes and waffles on a regular basis, but wow, that's a lotta flour. I got one of the large food grade plastic buckets from downstairs and transferred the contents of two of the flour bags into the bucket for safe keeping. That's about all the preservation at this point in time. Oh, I did take some soup that was aging in the fridge and put it into the freezer - if nobody's in a soup mood now, might as well freeze it for when someone is in a soup mood later.

Reduced Waste We have the usual tasks: composting, feeding scraps to the critters, and using cloth bags for shopping. No 'special tasks' in this category this past while, though. Still, the day to day stuff counts too, and is worth noting. Oh, I did replace the zipper on The Boy's winter parka - it'll possibly fit him for one more winter, depending on the timing of growth spurts and such, but it's been a great jacket, so even if it doesn't fit him come winter, it can go into the bin downstairs and await the next person in line. :) I consider "fixing instead of discarding" as reducing waste - although this job could also have gone in the next category ...

Preparation and Storage We had a 'preparation and storage' payoff this week! Dinosaur Boy's feet have grown and his rubber boots weren't fitting anymore. A trip to the basement turned up a set just about his size, stored correctly in the box marked "boots" no less!

Build Community Food Systems We are small scale food producers with a few local clients, so we're a tiny part of the community food system. We purchased grass-fed beef from a farm nearby this week, and we are selling eggs weekly to customers in the city and in our rural community. Requests for lamb are coming in already ... which is great!

Eat the Food We ate some eggs, of course, as they are a staple food here. When my stomach was churning earlier in the week a cup of yarrow/mullein/calendula/rose hip/clover blossom tea (all gathered here, last summer) settled things quite nicely. We routinely cook out of the pantry - today The Reluctant Farmer dug out a can of tomatoes with nice spices to add to the pot of chili we made. The meat for the chili was ground from a rooster that was butchered yesterday - the nicest chunks of meat from said rooster were skewered between slices of onion and cooked on the barbecue at a neighbour's place yesterday night!

The Boy's latest art project

The Boy is taking Art as one of his school options this year, and has done some neat projects so far.

The latest creation is a sculpture of a sheep:

Pretty cute, eh?

10 May 2009

Planted: 125 trees

On Saturday, my parents came and helped The Boy and I plant 125 trees. The Reluctant Farmer had commimtents already - it was Princess Girl's birthday party, and he couldn't miss that! Somehow, he doesn't seem all that disappointed that he didn't get to help with the treeplanting.

Anyway, the trees are your tax dollars at work: the Prairie Shelterbelt Tree Program is a Government of Canada Agroforestry project that provides seedlings free of charge (well, we paid $7 for shipping, but that's it) to individuals who hold more than 5 acres of rural land.

The seedlings provided are an incentive to producers adopting beneficial management practices and environmental stewardship. The aim of the Prairie Shelterbelt Program is to improve the performance and sustainability of the agricultural sector by helping to achieve the social, economic and environmental benefits of agroforestry.

Agroforestry systems such as shelterbelts conserve soil and water, manage snow and wind, improve air quality, protect yards and livestock, provide income for landowners, stabilize crops and enhance habitat for wildlife.

This year, we applied for and received 125 trees and shrubs to create a shelterbelt along the west border of our property. The winds howl through here from the west, and having a windbreak at that point should ease the force somewhat, as well as providing shade and shelter to the sheep in those pastures come summer. This is just the first step to properly protecting our little farm yard, but it's important to only order as many trees as you can plant and care for in a given year and one side seemed like more than enough work for starters. :)

The mix of trees we received is really quite interesting. Most of the shrubs have edible fruit, which provides food for birds and deer as well as fruit for our use. The tallest trees we received are green ash, which grow to 50 feet (15 metres). Of course, right now they are about twelve inches, but in time, they will provide a nice solid line of shelter along the west border. The ash trees are spaced out along the row with hedge plants in between: choke cherries (which make a lovely jelly), sea buckthorn (which is very thorny and has a strong tendency to sucker, so it should thicken up quickly), silver buffaloberry (also very thorny), and hawthorn (which has medicinal properties, apparently, it is used for high blood pressure and other cardiac ailments).

Many of the trees were planted with my sister's tree-planting shovel, a tool which walked with her through three summers of intensive silviculture work ... I'm still in absolute awe of my sister for taking this on as a summer job. She survived months of fascinating things like bears attacking her tent, daily mosquito and black fly barrages, trench foot (yes, the infections that soldiers got when their boots stayed wet too long), and nerve damage to her feet from slamming steel toed boots into shovels and dirt hundreds of times per day for months on end. She also managed to get a degree without any student loans. I am in awe.

So, of course, when planting my little Government of Canada seedlings, I used my sister's shovel. :) Dad used a spade, as there is only one Tree Planting Shovel, and some of the trees needed a fair bit of space so that their roots would not be squished.

Each tree was planted, watered, and mulched with almost-finished compost. They'll need to have water hauled out to them in the next day or two if we don't get a good soaking of rain (which we need very badly, and don't seem likely to receive), and we'll keep an eye on them and hope they grow up nice and strong.

Next year, we'll tackle the north fenceline!

The gift of The Four Season Harvest

The ever-inspiring Theresa, of Pondering the Myraid Things, had a Blogiversary book give-away ... and I won a wonderful book on gardening!

It arrived in the mail on Friday, and I've been poring over it since then. The book is The Four Season Harvest, one that's been recommended to me several times, and now that I've perused it, I can see why! The author's approach to gardening makes so much sense ... don't bust your backside doing things the hard way, and implement what you do in such a way that you extend your harvest well beyond what you might expect.

I've been contemplating making a cold frame for awhile now, to get a jump start on spring ... but it hadn't occurred to me that it might be possible to grow cold-hardy things in a cold frame even in the winter! The author of the book is in Maine, where it's awfully cold in winter, but with a bit of a different flavour from what we get here ... still, it's worth a try. There's a bit of a warm microclimate in front of the house, where a straw bale base with a cover might just work.

I'm inspired!

Thanks, Theresa. :)

03 May 2009

Compost ... before it's really compost

The compost we create around here begins it's life in a rather inelegant fashion: it starts out as a big stinky pile of disgustingly mucky hay and straw.

We use deep bedding during the winter - sometimes on purpose (like in the barn and the shelter), and sometimes it just kinda happens (as hay piles up in the feeding areas and such). In the spring, once everything thaws out, we have to dig down through the layers of bedding and waste until we find the dirt beneath, moving the mixture of soaked hay, straw and manure into a big pile so that it can compost into something fit to put on the garden.

Today we used the bobcat to get most of the muck scraped up - the space in front of the barn is almost entirely cleared, and the sheep's winter feed pen is now a foot deeper along one side. There's still a bit more to move, but The Reluctant Farmer was otherwise occupied this afternoon: there was a grass fire in the next county over, and our district was called to help. He's so much better than I am with the bobcat, I'll let him get the remainder of the muck.

I did use the pitchfork to clear out the barn (it has to be done by hand), which was a bigger job than I anticipated. Still, it's better to take a couple of hours in the spring and get it all cleared out at once than try to chip away at frozen chunks of straw and manure every day during the winter.

The barn windows are open to air out the ammonia, and a fresh layer of straw is down in the two main stalls. We'll be keeping the doors closed to keep the chickens out now, as they liked to roost on the stall barriers and they made a mess of things. The two infrequently used stalls still have to be mucked out, but that can wait.

The compost pile is huge - one long windrow just north of the barn. It will sit there until fall, when we'll move it over to a spot nearer the garden to finish cooking. By the end of summer, the pile will be about half the size it is now, and in another year, it'll be ready to go on the garden. The pile gets "turned" when we move it from point A to point B, which helps the composting process along, and we can assess the progress and see how much longer it'll need. With our long winters, we often need a bit more than a year to get nicely finished compost, although this year the ingredients of our pile are a bit richer (thanks to the cows) so it may cook down a little quicker. It'll be interesting to see what it does.