Tag Archives: nova scotia

Pig plowshares

“Pigs plow a field with their face.  If that doesn’t seem remarkable to you, try it sometime.” – Forrest Pritchard, Gaining Ground

It’s really laborious to move the pigs right now, at least a morning’s work.  It’s really three jobs at once: moving the pigs, clearing alders,  and cutting firewood.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

I’m trying to win back some of the field, and using the pigs to do it.  I’m moving them along the edge of the present field, which is a good 50´, maybe more, grown in from where the field used to spread.

I certainly wouldn’t be pegging away at it like I am unless I had these greedy little snouts pressuring me.  They LIVE to root.  They will wait to eat fruit, if there’s some fresh rooting to do.  They’re in the ZONE rooting, focused, concentrating, pretty quiet.  Trouble is, they turn over a patch so fast I feel like I’m constantly working for them, to give them new space.

To create a loop that the fence can be set up, that encloses some “trees” for pig shade, a swathe needs to be cut out for passage.  Then after the pigs have been through and killed every sprout and twig, their shade needs to be cut down and cut up, and then the nicely tilled, though lumpy, ground seeded.

Before
Fence corridor cut out
Pigs attack
After

The alders stretch out long arms before they grow up, but still, they’re easier to deal with than the buckthorn, which tangles, and tangles, and tangles, so you can cut loads of it, and it’s all still standing up, because it’s so tangled together.  Mix them together, the sideways swooping alder, and the straight, thick branched buckthorn- wow.

 

An amazing volume of material comes out of even a small space that didn’t seem so dense when it was all standing up.

The nightmare buckthorn at least burns nice; it’s a hardwood, dries fast, doesn’t need to be split.

 

Bats back

So many exciting things today!

Mama Silkie I completed hatching out her eggs for a grand total of seven little Silkie chicks, three white and four brown.  They are at liberty in the greenhouse but haven’t gone more than a couple feet from the box.

A restorative friend visit and blueberry pick- 10# of fat blueberries that the piglets and chickens will be ecstatic to have a little taste of.

The promise of rain!  The smell is light relief in the air.

Then the guineas decided to level up.

We win. We’re up higher!

While I was taking pictures of these clowns, a BAT! came flapping around.  100% bat!  It was flying right over my head to hoover up the bugs that I was attracting and I saw the whole bat silhouette against the sky (much clearer than my camera saw it).  It seems like the bats might be on their way back from the brink!

The tick horror show

Wood ticks lie in wait everywhere.

On the chickery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the handles of buckets and baskets

 

 

 

And especially near the garden

 

This picture is worth taking a really long, close look at. How many ticks?
This is a zoom in. Less than 35, you’re not seeing them all

 

This was a bad tick day.  I had ticks all over me all day, and I thought I should have kept count.  I probably had 30 ticks on me today. 

So the next day I did count.  It was not as bad a tick day as the previous day, but I carefully counted all the ticks I pulled off of my clothes and self:

Forty-four (!).

And on my garden gate. I’m going to have to touch that.
This is what happens when I pick up a bucket or basket like that. They swarm enthusiastically up my hand!  Gross.

 

The ticks came marching two by two

There are at least nine ticks in this picture.

I was out in the garden half the day, putting in some starts.  I go back to my pots of broccoli, and I find a mass of competing ticks playing king of the mountain on the popsicle stick (gross!).

Ticks climb up things, and then wait at the very tip of a branch or stick, reaching out their little legs like they want a hug, waiting for a mammal to walk by, and then they will drop  or grab as you go by.   The two on the right hand pot are in position.

Here, the popsicle stick must have been the highest point, so hot property.  They also like to sit in wait on the rim of buckets.  While I was taking the picture, and thinking how long is it going to take me to kill all these ticks?  a couple dropped and set off at a clip straight towards me.  They must have a great sense of smell.

We have lots of ticks.  Stand still anywhere, watch the ground, and you can find a  tick walking toward you.  This is not a fun feeling.

And where there are real ticks, there are phantom ticks.  There´s nothing like the first tick bite of the year to start up that feeling of ticks crawling all over you, all the time, even if it´s actually your hair or the tag in your shirt.  Less than ten percent of the time, it is a real tick, but ´tis the season to be on edge.

I need several platoons of guineas out here to mop them up.  Speaking of which, they all seem to be getting along.  This morning when I opened the greenhouse, the new ones led the charge out the door and flowed straight into the woods. 

I caught sight occasionally of the new ones in the woods, confused, squawking, but at the end of the day they were all together again, and standing around the greenhouse.  Hopefully the new ones will show them around.

 

First Real Garden Day

I´m going to be so sore!

We were attacking the garden today, replacing fence posts; the old ones were rotten and broken (“these should last for a year” – three years ago!).  Shaping garden beds out of the remaining areas of our fenced space.  These spots have been covered with waste silage plastic (as seen in background) for a year or more, and the earth is awesomely root-free.

In other words, digging shallow trenches.  Which immediately filled with water.  Digging that is like wet concrete, clumping and dragging on the boots and shovel and resisting being dumped out of the wheelbarrow.  Especially since I´m digging to the clay layer, which will be filled in with wood chips.  Getting that topsoil off to pile on the beds, instead of supporting weeds in the aisles.

This…
…will look like this after an infusion of wood chips

But the bugs aren’t out yet!  So it´s all glorious.  Any day now, the bugs, the peepers, and the tree buds will all pop out at once, so it´s time to enjoy the peaceful working conditions.

Can you tell I´m really into mulch?  So nice, though, to just peel off the mulch blanket and sow.

My first planting!  Spinach, two weeks late, according to my planting calendar. I felt like I should start gardening like I mean it, so I put some brain work in in the winter planning the planting schedule for starts and direct sowing, and it sure feels good now to have a simple schedule to follow.

I mapped the garden in seven areas, for crop rotation, estimated how much of X thing I want to grow, and then calc’ed back/forward from frost date and made a calendar.  Now all I have to do is follow it.  Far less thinking.  It´s nice to not be mapping each little bed for “what was in here last year/previous two?”  Tedium.

Provided my last frost date projection (guess) of May 21 is not wildly off (actual date fluctuates between Apr 30 and Jun 1 in the last five years), the planting calendar will be a wild success.

Inside, the starts are thriving.  Again with the calendar, I shouldn’t have too-leggy tomatoes and too-late celery when it´s time to transplant out, thanks to my planned and staggered starting.  Yes, I´m just now figuring this out. 

Atlas melon sprout is pushing up a huge chunk of dirt on that tiny stem
All of them like to lift up a little dirt, but not that much!

Seedy Saturday!

I got all the seeds I needed for the year (including tobacco!) at Seedy Saturday, hosted by Helping Nature Heal, in Bridgewater.

Nova Scotia’s  “big” organic seed companies were all there vending seeds – Hope Seeds, Annapolis Seed, Cochrane Family Seeds, plus more – Twisted Brook,  Yonder Hill, Storm Cast, and the South Shore Public Library’s Seed Library.

Then there was the free seed table, where attendees dropped off their surplus saved seeds for others to take- lots of flower seeds!

Since I was saving so much on shipping costs, I came home with a few “flights of fancy” seeds (peanuts?!) that will make this year’s experiments.

I met Nikki Jabbour, local celebrity author and year-round gardener, who gave the morning lecture, and there was a delicious soup or chili lunch with bread and popcorn, donations accepted for the food bank.

This was Helping Nature Heal‘s 11th Seedy Saturday, but the first time I made it.  It was packed, unsurprisingly.

 

Blizzard squirrel!

We’re getting a proper storm now, after a couple of “weather events” that I would call normal winter snowfall, but were hyped up out of proportion before hand (and got me all excited) but fizzled.img_5377

This is a real storm.  We had a foot of snow overnight and supposed to get another foot during the day today, with blistering winds.  2300 Nova Scotians are already out of power, and only emergency workers are allowed to drive (in some places, the plows aren’t even out-near us, one went off the road).  The snow is piled up on our windowsills and we had to push the door open through the snow.  Nicely corniced drifts curve around any structures.img_5373 img_5382

The chickens are cozy in the chicken dome.  The chickadees are at work.  Bunnies are taking refuge under our house (when we kick our boots off on the threshold it scares them and they come shooting out), and the squirrel is hungry.

Hungry enough to tackle the squirrel proof bird feeder.

This time, the pictures are fuzzy because of the blowing snow.img_5365

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The chickadees were waiting to get the feeder back

Frustrated by the feeder, he retreated to a branch to warm up his hands.  The wind was blowing his tail around.

Suddenly, he ran down the tree and disappeared into the snow at the base of the trunk!

A minute later, he popped up through the snow under the feeder like a gopher, having tunneled under.

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He spent a while burrowing around, finding all the spilled seeds from the last couple days in the snow.  img_5341 img_5344

When a big gust came up, he would vanish below the snow again for a moment.

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Squirrel “ventilation shafts” in the snow.

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And the one at the base of the tree.

I went out to cast more seed multiple times during the day, as the snow was gumming up the feeders and there were 11 chickadees here but having a hard time in the wind.  They were doing best staying low and eating off the snow, but the snow would cover seed rapidly, soooo, I essayed out to feed my dependents again and again.

This is where I keep the seed:

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There was a snow cave dug into the dome of snow on top of the can!img_5379

A proper snow cave, with a back door:)

Nor’easter

A proper storm’s blowing up.  The kind where snow swirls in the door when you open it and the wind is biting.  Sleet is skittering on the steel roof and the white stuff is starting to accumulate.

The hens are conserving their energy.  Only two eggs today – two!  Today was a nice days, but obviously their inner barometers consider the future, and said to hold on to their egg energy.

We’re supposed to get 30-40cm (1ft), which will be cool in ways- it will be normal; feel like a proper Canadian winter.  The winter so far has been weird as heck, with yoyo-ing temperatures, and not very much snow.  It might be a snow day!  It’s fun to be snowed in.  It would be nice for the ground to get a blanket on it.

Not so cool – it’s bound to knock half the province out of power again and make it dangerous and miserable for anyone who can’t have a fun snow day.  Plus it will be mad drifted with the wind.

Time for a nap!

We got snow today, and are now properly snowed in, which is the best.

We were both out in it for awhile too, as more than 15cm fell in a few hours, from 8ish to lunchtime.  It was kind of fun to be out in, in a creeping along an un-plowed rural highway in a blowing whiteout through snow deep enough to rub the belly of the vehicle kind of way.  Things that are funnest once you’ve made it home safe and warm.  Then for extra fun the temperature suddenly rose to change all that snow to heavy snowball snow in the afternoon.

Interestingly, it seems there was snow all across Canada today, including on Vancouver Island– how singular!

Gift wrapping the bees

It’s time to wrap up the bees for the winter – December 1st or before the snow flies.

This year my hive is much stronger, and larger, and they will be wintering in two supers, plus the Salon.

One 2×8´sheet of rigid styrofoam is perfect for a two-super hive – three 32″ pieces.img_4765

Three sides get wrapped with foam, tar paper only on the front, so the black helps them heat up inside on sunny days, maybe enough to go for a cleansing flight.  All this is what I learned from my “bee guru” at Bello Uccello.img_4766 I cut the foam very precise to use the overlap designed into the foam (which means the back piece is custom).  Otherwise the corners will leak cold.  Then a couple of pieces of Tuck tape to hold it all in place for the tar paper wrap.

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The white tarp stuff is actually the normal lid- built with scrap lumber and some tarp stapled over the flat top.

The 2″ thick foam sticks out farther than the outer cover/lid, so I also cut a step in the foam to nest the lid into.  I’m doing it a little different than last year.

Then the paper:img_4768

It wraps flat around the front of the hive, covering the doors and shutting the bees in completely for a few minutes.  They can’t love that.  img_4769

There’s a little artful paper slicing required to make everything fold flat and smooth around the alighting board.  Lots of staples on the front – no wrinkles.

Then it’s time to cut out the doors.img_4772

Oh!  There’s a bee!img_4775

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No one at the downstairs door.

The Salon, aka drone cafe – the empty/feeder box above the inner cover (I’ve called it the Salon since they started doing art installations in there) is already filled with straw (to help insulate and absorb moisture), and the bees just finished their second last jar of syrup for the year.  Now they will be closed in with their last jar.

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The Salon filled with straw
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Last jar full, situated directly over the inner cover hole

I did this thing last year with the lid/outer cover, and it worked quite well so I’m repeating it.  One piece of basic “pebble” styrofoam cut exactly to size, jammed into the underside of the lid.

Then a piece of corrugated cut to size as well, so the bees aren’t in direct contact with the styrofoam ever.  This gives them an inch of insulation on the ceiling.  When I took it apart last spring the cardboard was damp on the edges and I threw it away.

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Just after I closed the lid and was doing the final touches on the edges of the tar paper, the bees started buzzing outside in droves.

I thought I’d agitated them, but it may have been that time of the day, or the sunny day had warmed up enough right then to go for a fly, but they were on a group cleansing flight, which I realized when I noticed all the bright yellow poop dots on my hands and sleeves!

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This is what I’m doing differently this year.  My final step was taking another piece of tar paper over the top of the lid, folding gift corners and taping it down to the sides (instead of tacking the tar paper to the lid).  In theory, if I need to get a jar in there in the early spring, I can take off the lid by slitting the tape and tape it back up; it won’t be very disruptive.

Then I put a metal sheet (actually a piece of shelving that happens to be a perfect size) over top of the whole thing and ratchet-strapped it down.  The oversize temporary winter lid puts an extra 8-10″ of eave over the front doors.

Only two days late- that’s as close to on time as I get around here.  Seconds after finishing, while I was carrying tools away, snowflakes started to fall.

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Last year I was so worried about them.  They’d re-queened three times in the year, their first,  I got them late, and they didn’t have good numbers.  But they made it through.

This year I’m a little more confident.  It’s interesting to me, all the local former beekeepers (no one nearby currently has hives) never wintered their bees!  They bought nucs in the spring and they died in the winter.  Sounds expensive.

Having been told how to do it, it seems easy.

This Tiny House Life

We live in a tiny house.

House is a generous term. It’s much more of a cabin. This tiny house life closely resembles what most would call camping. Tiny is quite accurate, though.

12 x 16´, 192 square feet (“Tiny house” is generally 200 sq ft or less). It sort of has two stories- there’s an up”stairs” more spacious than the average tiny house loft, that holds a bed and clothes and things, but one can’t walk around with the sloping ceiling.

It is also off-grid. This means we have a couple solar panels on the front with a battery bank, and a wood stove that heats the place.  We cook with propane.

I’m really happy that our passive solar worked out as well as it did. A lot of math can be done to achieve the right angles of eave overhang so that the summer sun does not shine in the windows and the winter sun does. We did no math. We looked at the sun at noon, and pointed the house at it. I guessed at the overhang. Nailed it. At summer solstice the eave shadows the front windowsill. At winter solstice the sun hits the back wall.

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Space matters I – design

Considering space, and the premium it is at in a tiny house, we chose to give a LOT of that space to insulation. Many square feet of interior space went to a double deep quilt of insulating. R28 in the walls. I think I’ll be happy forever about that allocation of space. It keeps it warm, so warm. With just the sun, even on cold days, the big south windows collect enough rays that it gets comfortably warm. On sunny days, if someone also stirs up the fire in the morning, then windows must be opened.

The woodstove takes up a big chunk of space. To keep code tolerances from stove to flammables takes space, but it’s not negotiable. We have a small woodstove, and a fire very quickly heats the whole place. Often too effectively, and windows get opened again.

Heating the tiny house, we laugh all the way to the woodshed. One cord! One. Cord! A year. That is a massive savings in energy- in our case mostly time, doing firewood.

Mud room top left, hearth bottom right- big chunks of space
Mud room top left, hearth bottom right- big chunks of space (“kitchen” top right- wall to wall counter)

One of the best allocations of space we have is a mud room. I was dubious about it at first, but it serves so many functions now! It’s a division between the outdoor stuff (coats and boots), and the indoor life of slippers and tea. That’s where the dog sleeps (His choice. He can’t take off his fur coat). It’s a cooler room to put cooler things in, and it’s an airlock. In a house the size of a room, open the door on a -10C night and all the heat whooshes right out the door. I highly recommend the mudroom, even in a tiny house.  The odd shape of it, with the angled inside door, turned out to be genius.  It works extremely well on both sides of the walls.

Space matters II- Living with less of it

Space matters. Anyone buying or building a house is saying “ok, this is how much space we’re willing to build, maintain, and heat, and we’re going to take on the challenges that come with it”. If that’s a big house, then the challenges might be paying for it, decorating it, contracting out the Xmas lights and landscaping. If it’s a little house, then the challenges are:

1 The first major difference, and also motivation, for the whole tiny house “thing” is that it forces you to face your stuff. Stuff is a major feature of modern life. It means a lot. The stuff you have can enable or inhibit what you are able to do; announce, reinforce, or create identity; and absolutely determine your lifestyle.

To live in a tiny house, implicitly, you are choosing to pay more attention than usual to the stuff you have, and probably, do without a lot of it. If your house is big enough, there is enough room for stuff to come and go, sit and be forgotten, saved – there is slush room. Stuff can be ignored. There is space for that in a big house.

Tiny house? Not one bit. Not one. There is no space, for anything to be ignored. This is a pretty big challenge. It can be an existential one, if stuff defines your identity or enables you. Downsizing into a tiny house means a lot of things. Like: I can live with less. I trust that I can access what I need when I need it (from somewhere other than the garage or attic). I can be different, my identity can be based on other than what I own.

We have largely evaded these difficult questions by having other buildings on the property (a couple of also-small outbuildings). There is NO WAY that anyone can farm, even a little bit, without a great deal of stuff. Chiefly tools. We have a lot of tools. And feed, and seed, and fencing, and hoses, and buckets and barrows. This all just lives elsewhere, not attached to our house, not heated.

I still have quite a bit of stuff, especially things that I need in order to make, build, or create things. H.W. has a lot of bicycles. But we don’t get to forget about the space our stuff takes up anymore. Everything gets critically eyeballed, sifted. Analyses are made.

2 The second major difference that I notice, is that in a tiny house, you practically live outside. One is intimate with the outdoors. A tiny house is too small to “contain” a whole life. I am always aware of the weather, the season, the time of day, the temperature, because I’m always out in it. I’ve wondered how often the average exterior door gets opened and closed on a house. I figure it’s far greater in our house. From first thing in the morning to moments before sleep, we are out and in that door. The wood’s outside, the water’s outside, the tools are outside – everything other than the basics is somewhere else, so we are constantly scampering out.

I like it. There is no way to get disconnected from time, season and place.

3 Small things are desirable. Everything is little. Space is at a premium. It’s the opposite of the wild west  (unlimited promise of the frontier)- infinite expansion is not an option. Therefore, things that are compact, that cleverly use space efficiently, that have multiple uses, are valued and appreciated (smallness and efficiency are not always qualities that anyone cares about).

Then again, some things are valued out of proportion to the space they take up. We have two (!) manual typewriters in prime space.

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Different fonts, of course.

4 Privacy. Considering we lived together for over a year in the tiny camper, the tiny house is luxuriously capacious. Still, it’s essentially one room. Smells, sounds, temperatures are all shared. Often this sucks to negotiate, but on the other hand, there’s no distance. We do things together, even unintentionally.  We are always in earshot.

5 Oh yeah, money. Much, much, much, absurdly, cheaper. Even with a ridiculous amount of insulation and eleven windows, our tiny house cost less than $5000. It could have been even cheaper, but I didn’t ferret out the rock bottom price on every single thing. Commonly, a pre-built tiny house can run a lot more, but they can also be really fancy, with Scandinavian everything and sneakily hidden washing machines. Like everything, there’s a spectrum. We are nearer the primitive end of this one.  No plumbing. No laundry.

Similar to the off-grid life, tiny house life costs the currency of energy and time. Much less money to build, or to pay for, or pay the mortgage on, but there are non-monetary costs.  More time paying attention to stuff, moving it around…

One big thing about a tiny house is that it does not absorb “mess”, at all.  If you have a long marble countertop and at one end you have a pile of bills spread out that you were sorting, there is still the impression of “clean”, because it’s mostly clean, except for that pile, which is obviously temporary – a work station.  In a tiny house, one pile of bills, or a project spread out, or a batch of canning – any workstation takes up the whole counter, maybe the whole room, and no matter how temporary it might be, it gives the impression of MESS! All surfaces are covered therefore everything is a mess! A cataclysmic mess can happen as easy as bringing in the groceries etcetera from a town trip.  On the flip side, it can tidy up in about ten minutes.  A thorough, comprehensive total house cleaning, vacuuming included, is a two hour job.

As everyone knows, the world is filling up. Some people still do have “unlimited space”, some do with exceedingly little. Tiny house means a mindset that’s the opposite of sprawl. If there isn’t enough room for anything and everything, then you have to bring the energy and time of attention to choosing what to bring in and keep; you have to be conscious.

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For those considering tiny or just tiny-curious, I highly recommend the wonderful, thoughtful, funny, why-to and how-to book on going small, The Big Tiny, by the incomparable Dee Williams.

This Off-Grid Life

The beginning of bird dependency

The grosbeaks are back.  In fact, in larger numbers than I’ve seen before.

The first time (10 am, as always) I heard them outside and registered the familiar piercing cries vaguely in the background.

Then I opened the door to step out, and more than 50 burst up from the ground right in front of the door into the trees, like they’d been staging a grosbeak Occupy.  Wow, ok.  They looked down on me from the treetops, and I obediently went to get a bucket of sunflower seeds, and scattered them on the ground.  Obviously they remember this was a decent port-of-call last year, and they’re back.

They’ve been back every second day since.  They should be called Morning Grosbeaks, not Evening Grosbeaks, because they appear here only in the morning as reliable as clocks.  I always wonder where they spend their afternoons.  They must have a route.

I don’t have a feeder out yet – it hasn’t snowed or been very cold.  Besides, grosbeaks prefer to spread out on the ground and forage, with a couple sentries overlooking from the trees.  They only squawk and fight over the limited ports of a feeder.

One day the grosbeaks came, cluttering up the trees around the house, calling and literally looking in the windows at me (the trees are so close branches brush the house in wind).  Ok, ok! I got up and fed them.  That day there were over a hundred, amazing!

The chickadees come too, and the squirrels have territorial dispute chases.  Soon I’ll put up a feeder and then be as obliged to the wild birds all winter as I am to my chickens.

Experiments of the year: sweet potatoes and cucamelons

What fun is gardening without some wacky experiments?

  1. Sweet potatoes.

I got six vines from Vesey’s, which arrived in rather pathetic condition (the packaging disclaimed wretched looking vines as “normal” and claimed they would perk up.  To be fair, they did.  Five of them made it).  Since they supposedly like under-watering, I left them mostly alone after initial establishment, although the underwatering got a little extreme in this terribly dry summer.  The vines were small, but had lovely purpley-green leaves.

I dug ’em up in September.  No idea what to expect.

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Vine 1 – Uhoh.  Off to a bad start.

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Vine 2 – Oh, that’s more like it.

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Vine 3 – That’s actually a real sized potato.

Unfortunately, there were no more potatoes still in the ground from these vines.  One vine = one potato.  NOT an impressive yield.  No efficiency points for area:productivity.  That’s the gamble with experiments.

But they made one very tasty meal.

2.  Cucamelons

These took off in the greenhouse.  Three vines swarmed up their strings and headed across the cross-ties, producing loads of these weird little grape-sized melons.

cucamelons-intro2Aptly named!  It tastes like a cucumber, or a melon, or is it a cucumber?  Totally bizarre combination of tastes.  If you’re like me, you probably haven’t had cucumber and melon in the same bite before.  Crunchy skin, like a cuke.

I have no pictures of my own because the guineas in the greenhouse enjoyed many more than I did.  This pic is from James Wong, who waxes more enthusiastic about the cucamelon than I do.

I’ll grow them again next year, though; they grow so easily, and I’ll try to find more to do with them.

Fall is here

After a terribly dry summer, the temperature suddenly dropped and it seems fall is here; the hot days are gone.

Week after week this summer the weather reports have been tantalizingly forecasting possible showers, but those much-talked-about teasers always vanish the day before they happen into the blazing sun icon – again – a whole row of full suns, week after week.

The apples are small, the grass is dry, we’ve already had a frost, and now, the weather has shifted into the third season and is plotting a course of decreasing temperatures – signalling to all that the last push of work – the last chance to do it, is on.

It’s time for toques in the morning – wardrobe change!

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Finally rain!

Real rain.  45mm!  We’ve had a handful of sprinkles in August, just enough to dampen the crust, but scratch the surface and it’s dry dry dry for inches.  Our wells are dry, but our caught rainwater is keeping up with our drinking needs.  Nothing can be watered – only the greenhouse gets our grey water, and it is holding out surprisingly well.

But now, real rain!  All the barrels are full!

The upside of drought

We’ve had an epic atypical drought this year in Nova Scotia this year.  Especially inland where we are.  The coasts have had more rain. We have had about 25mm total from May through August.

Everything is parched.  Forest fires are raging in the area, wells are running dry, and the impact on agriculture is making the news.

The ground is dry, cracking, and powdery anywhere it doesn’t have a vegetal cover.  Wind blows skirls of dust across the ground.

However, these are ideal conditions for chicken bathing.

20160803_102807I come around the corner and find the rooster indulging.  He’s doesn’t usually get caught in the bath.20160803_102812

He just looked at me, and declined to lift his Henry VIII body out of his dust bowl.20160803_102944

 

 

And another turtle…

So soon after my first Blanding’s turtle sighting, here comes another!

 

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Let. GO. of me!
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Let GO!

 

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According to the plastron markings, this is actually the exact same turtle as the first (last) time.

1.4 km away from where we were last manhandling her, ten days ago.  She’s pretty over the shell modeling thing.

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Ok, are we done here? Can I go?
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I’m so outta here.

My first Blanding’s Turtle

I finally saw my first Blanding’s Turtle!  Blanding’s are an endangered species in Nova Scotia,  with only three small areas with known populations.  We just happen to live almost on top of one of those three areas.

Yet, I hadn’t seen one yet.  I’m always helping turtles cross the road, but they aren’t the special turtles.

This turtle, we saw passing through our neighbour’s yard, of all places.  We were just stopping by, and I noticed “Hey, a turtle”, as we parked.  It was marching past the garden.  I went and picked it up, and then we had to take pictures, to report the sighting.

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This turtle may appear to be smiling, but he/she was not happy about being picked up or diverted from his mission.   She may also appear to be limp, but he was very actively trying to push my fingers off.  She knew exactly what the problem was – my fingers on the side of his shell.  Let me go! They are strong.

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Also fast.  I don’t buy the tortoise and the hare thing.  Our rabbits loll around.  Turtles can move.  There’s a big snapping turtle that lives in the culvert at the end of our road that I’m dying to get a picture of (so tall, so armored dinosaur looking), but he/she’s way too fast, gone by the time I whip out my camera.

She did not stick around for canapés after the photo shoot.

 

 

 

Potatoes

This is one bed’s worth of potatoes (I’m miffed that foreshortening is distorting this picture.  It’s a five gallon bucket, 2/3 full).

Not bad for a bed that I didn’t plant any potatoes in!

Or rather, I did in 2014.  These are all volunteer potatoes, from spuds that escaped the harvest last fall.  They performed about the same as the potatoes I planted deliberately.

Thence rises the question: why not plant potatoes in the fall, like garlic?  Why is this not a thing?

I suppose that it is a matter of conditions.  Last year we had a massive snow blanket that stayed all winter, so the potatoes underground were well protected from freezing and thus rotting.

This year promises a similar hard, long winter with heavy snow.  Although personally, I don’t think heavy snow equates with “hard” winter. Hard only on us people that shovel.  The snow is a cozy soothing blanket that protects much.  The wild bees and bumblebees had an amazingly good year this summer after last year’s deep snow winter.

Anyways, I may try fall planting some potatoes, if I can manage it.  Everything is an experiment.

Right now we have a cycle, since we are still in a process of breaking ground/expanding the garden:  The first year, we break beds with the broadfork, and plant potatoes in most of the new beds.   In the fall, the potatoes come out and are followed by garlic.  This means the bed is churned up well 3x (initially, planting/hilling, and harvesting potatoes), heavily mulched  for both the spuds and garlic, and fed with hen litter, etc if we have some etc, for the garlic.  The garlic will be followed by a cover crop, or two, in the second fall.  So, the soil is is good shape by the time it comes around to other crops in the third year.  After all the initial disruption, it will not be tilled again.

It’s our cycle, and we’re sticking to it.   It has arisen because we’ve observed that potatoes thrive here in the un-amended soil.  Not that that’s a surprise, potatoes loving Nova Scotia? Also, I think potatoes are under-appreciated as soil aerators, and of course, there’s a heck of a lot of soil upheaval in the process of growing them.  Heavy work.

I think there may be two more years of garden expansion, before we have a site large enough for my desires of food production, so that means in the fifth year potatoes will go in where there were potatoes before.  Every five years the soil gets forked up dramatically?  I hope that’s enough rotation.

Uncovered this little guy while digging.  Smaller than the average worm.  And NOT happy about being manhandled.
Uncovered this little guy while digging. Smaller than the average worm. And NOT happy about being manhandled.

It’s practically a bird hospital around here.

We have another bird in a box.  The first box bird was a few weeks ago.

This one did not hit a window.  I was riding my bike home, two panniers heavily laden with cucumbers, when I overtook a bird limping and flapping along at the edge of the asphalt.

It was a little mourning dove.  Familiar to me; I’m used to seeing a pair of doves at this spot on the road.

She let me pick her up without setting my bike down.  Good thing, because it would be tough to lift up a loaded bike with one hand.

Her wing was almost detached, held on by the skin, with a little break in the skin on the wing, and her underside was bloody on the same side as injured wing and limpy leg.  This bird was hit by a car.

So there I was, a bird in the hand, scorching hot day, heavy bicycle, a kilometer from home.  What to do?

I rode home one handed, with the bird in the other hand.  I sort of displayed her in front of me, somehow hoping that a passing driver would stop and offer assistance.  Is that a bird?  Can I help?

In fact, even the couple that pulled over to take a snapshot of our local pastoral beauty, while I was standing right there on the other shoulder, did not even register the bird in my hand.

The bird sat peacefully folded in my hand the whole way home, facing interestedly into the wind. It must have been similar to flying for her.  Nothing new here.

Once I had to signal a left turn and letting go with either hand was not an option.  Uhh, what do do here?  Gesture with the bird.  No flipping.  That was the only time she wiggled a little, when I waved her out in space to point at my turn.

Phew!  Made it home.  Bird into box.

I was fully expecting her not to make it through the night.  I assumed I had picked her up right after her accident and that she may any minute succumb to internal injuries.

But no, in the morning she was alert, even made a couple bids for escape, although she could not be interested in food.

A friend picked her up to put her on the Hope for Wildlife underground railroad.  That is, connect her to the network of volunteer drivers of injured wildlife.

I don’t expect this bird could be saved with a wing injury that bad, but at least she got to the hospital.

 

Jailbird

We have a bird in a box! A little sparrow in a shoebox, for three days. On Saturday I was shocked awake by a bird smashing into a window with the force of a snowball.  It was sickening. It doesn’t feel good building in the woods and then installing a bunch of windows that birds don’t understand and will slam themselves against.  I’ve hung strings on most of the windows to help them see it, and it helps greatly.  We have only had one bird casualty, and one chickadee that got its bell rung but recovered. This bird hit the only window without strings:(  I ran outside and found the bird gasping and quivering on its back, scooped it up, and took it in, holding it for several minutes, with my whole hand wrapped in a towel for dark, soothing. When the bird started to perk up, aka try to escape, I took it outside and held it up to a branch.  It seemed just fine, standing up on my hand, and it stepped confidently onto the branch, spread its wings after a moment, and jumped off to plummet straight to the ground. Then I had to recapture it, as it scampered away in the underbrush. Gravely inform HW we now have a pet sparrow.  Quickly google what sparrows eat, rescue sparrows, etc.  Create a habitat shoebox. 2015-07-04 08.34.39This is a young adult sparrow.  It has vestiges of the clown lips that baby birds have (called gape flanges), and on the first day it would sometimes do the “feed me!” squat and gape when I was feeding it. It’s fully feathered, though, and had full capability of flying, before hitting the window.*  Now its right wing droops; the tips no longer meet over the tail where the wing should rest. In fact, it drags under his tail and sometimes he poops on the wing tip. *This is important because lots of fledglings get “rescued” because they can’t fly.  They can’t fly because they’re learning how. Right away, we found instructions to immobilize the wing in position of rest.  So together we held the bird and wrapped its tiny body, with the kind of medical tape that only sticks to itself, trying to leave its other wing free and legs free so it can stand up. Well, the bird lay there panting like it was gasping its last, flopping pathetically and apparently unable to stand.  After an hour or so, I was convinced that it was dying of internal injuries.  Although it was wrapped barely tight enough to hold the wing, I thought if the bird’s gonna die anyway, then at least I can take the wrap off him. I took the tape off and the bird immediately affected a miraculous recovery.  Hopping around, exploring the box, breathing normally.  Later, Hope would say sometimes you can wrap a bird, but “Birds hate to be wrapped.”  No kidding. So cute!  I fed and watered him with a popsicle stick.  The first day, I gave him flax seeds and sunflower seeds.  Nothing.  I offered a worm (alive).   The worm inquisitively poked her in the face, and got  no response.  Ants?  No way.  A mosquito? Why yes!  Hmm, I could spend all day mosquito hunting.  I gave her quinoa, because we had some cooked, and she gobbled it up.  Also quickly proved that beak wiping is a universal bird thing.  Then I ground up the flax and sun seeds with mortar and pestle and mixed it with the quinoa.  We have a winner. 2015-07-05 12.51.11 Every hour or two I would come back to the house and feed the bird.  Very time consuming, holding the popsicle stick while the bird picked and chewed one grain at a time.  I can see how baby bird care is a full time job, running the parents ragged. The first day, the bird seemed fine, not in pain at all or bothered by the wing, shaking it once in awhile.  Also content.  I covered the box in the early evening, and it fell asleep with its head tucked under the injured wing.  Adorable! 2015-07-04 19.21.02 The next day, there was no more crouching and begging, and I saw him help himself to water out of his tiny cup!  Also, she would pick up food that she dropped.  I started leaving food on the floor of the box, and also dabbing chunks on the side of the box for him to peck off, while I got something done. I added a strawberry to the mash and got rave reviews. I gave him a whole strawberry, and he demolished it. Soon she mostly fed herself, but I still offered tidbits on the stick. The second evening, she developed a tragic obsession with escape.  He’d bump his head on the grate, peck at the wires of the grate.  Very sad.   I covered her early to calm him down. Hopefully, the energy to make jailbreak attempts is a positive sign.2015-07-05 12.47.08The third day he was even more obsessed with escape – give me liberty or give me death! (unfortunately, each means the other in this case).  She’d never say no to a mosquito, but otherwise, when offered food, she’d kind of attack it momentarily,  like hunger itself was an irritating distraction, and then resume craning her neck at the grill ceiling. In the evening  we packed her off to Hope for Wildlife.  We passed her over to a volunteer animal delivery driver (!), to go to the animal hospital, and get a bird Xray (!), and hopefully rehabilitation. I had no idea something so awesome as Hope for Wildlife was here, in Nova Scotia, and on tv.  I’m more impressed with this province all the time.  The same day as calling Hope, my bird issue was “dispatched” and someone living near me called to arrange a pick-up and transportation (!) FOOD: The suggestion to feed a wild bird cat food is almost universal (high protein meat based).  I thought about it, but most cat foods I wouldn’t feed to a cat I liked, so I decided I’d dig up worms if I had to.  Luckily, I didn’t have to, because worms went over like a lead balloon.  The live offering was a complete fail, so I minced one. Let me tell you, mincing an earthworm is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever done.  First I dug, and picked out an inch of worm that was severed by the shovel’s slice.  Perfect, I thought, already dead.  Only the pieces of worm that have the smooth ring that holds their DNA can survive being cut.  Right?  Not necessarily so.  Every piece I cut, no matter how small, writhed and contracted and to all appearances, experienced pain and tried to escape it.  Not to mention excreted mud.  Uggghhh-willies!  They only stopped moving when they dried out a bit.  Death, finally, by dehydration.  Thinking about the circle of life and how everything I thought I knew about earthworms may be wrong, I managed to complete the mincing of that one segment of worm that may or may not have been doomed anyway. The bird ate it, but preferred quinoa, so I stuck with that.  Earthworms are manna for baby birds, but not such a big diet item for adult birds (thankfully for me, gagging over the mincing). Here’s what I fed the bird, that it liked:** Cooked quinoa (couldn’t get enough) Boiled egg, finely minced. Ground flax seed Ground sunflower seed (hulled) Hemp hearts Strawberries (big hit!) Mosquitoes A few  cereal and bread crumbs Some soaked, top-quality high protein dog food (for high performance dogs), that we had (because we have a high-performance dog)  It snacked on the dog food, but did not love it. **As Hope told me on the phone, birds need a big variety- they need protein, fruit, vegetables, grains, and seeds.  If I had the bird longer, I would have tried adding garden greens, meat, beef suet, cereal, and nuts.  And they need it all minced very small, at least the young adult bird I had did.  It would reject any chunks too big to chew, including a whole flax seed. Spoggy the sparrow is a wonderful time lapse of a house sparrow hand raised from blind, pink, transparent infancy.

Is your sap running? You’d better go catch it.

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Although we were late getting to it, the sap was late to run this year, due to this weather the Maritimes are having.  So, we are right on time. First warmish, sunny day, it’s about to begin..

2015-03-25 11.32.02We tapped six trees, just using little 1-2 gal food grade buckets.  Edit: Later we put aluminum foil hats on them (paranoid conspiracy buckets) with elastic bands.  Wasn’t pretty, but it worked, relatively.  Only lost two hats in the wind.

We don’t intend to boil down the sap to syrup, because we don’t have an outdoor cooking facility, so we’ll have to use it fresh.  We’ll just drink it, cook with it, drink it….

There’s nothing more divine than cold fresh maple sap. Perhaps it’s even healing.

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One of the very first drops, captured.

There is altogether too much snow around here still…

Mosquito mayhem

Lying in wait
Lying in wait

Out of nowhere, mosquitoes came to besiege us in the night in numbers we haven’t seen here before.  Clouds of them covered the screened windows and speckled the outside of the camper.  Mosquitoes have been around, but by no means a force worth noting.  We’ve had occasional lone skeeters find their way into the camper in the night; there must be a small breech we haven’t found, but this night they were nearly flowing in.   Kill one and a minute later, there’d be another.   We would clear the camper of culprits, turn the lights out, and just enough time would pass to become still when …eeeeeeEEEE!  Gack!  Finally we deployed a mosquito tent over the bed in order to finally sleep.  The sound of a mob of insects literally out for your blood is disturbing.  The pervasive hum was so loud, no longer background noise, but very foreground.  What the heck?  It must have something to do with the storm, but did they get blown here?

Tropical storm Arthur

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We had two trees fall near the old farmhouse in the morning, missing it, but we didn’t think much of the weather.  For all we knew, this was routine wind for Nova Scotia.  Only when we went out to “town” that we found the power was off everywhere, trees were hanging on power lines and the roads all over, and the storm was a big enough deal to have a name: Arthur.

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A third big poplar by the house had a dramatic diagonal split in the trunk, and was creaking in the wind.   I was really hoping it would come down on its own so that we wouldn’t have to fall it- danger tree.  The storm was not bad through the day, but later on picked up a bit.  I was outside watching, attempting and utterly failing to capture on video the drama of the young trees bending so impressively in the roaring wind.  I love storms, although the wind started to break plants in the garden, and tore the fresh first pair of leaves off half our bean plants.  The beans were doing so well, too.

The cracked tree held out all day, and finally, thankfully, came down just before dark.  It twisted around like unwinding and fell opposite the other two, also refusing to hit the house.  Apparently the house has a tree repelling force field around it and is determined to survive, so I guess we’ll have to save it.  Our camper  shelter came through unscathed too; the young trees it’s tied into bent plenty but held out without trouble.

It’s nice to be off-grid.  Every day is a power outage.

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Assessing, the next day