Archive for the ‘garden’ Category

Garden update (finally)

The garden is very, very late this year. Due to a combination of having to dig by hand, illness, and bad weather. But this past weekend I finally starting getting some of the planting done.

In the first bed, which is approximately 7 feet wide by 20 feet long:


I planted:

Delicata squash – 6 transplants
Butternut squash – 2 transplants
Zucchini – 2 transplants
Leeks – 28 transplants
Garlic sets – 1 row
Onion sets – 3 rows
Carrot seed – 2 rows
Parsnip seed – 2 rows
Basil seed – 3 rows
Broccoli seed – 2 rows

Here is a closeup of the Delicata squash and the leeks:


The plan for the next week or so is to finish digging the 2 remaining beds, plant out the tomatoes and the seed potatoes, and sow some beans, and maybe sunflowers.

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Chick cuisine

It’s getting harder and harder to take pictures of the chicks, because now they peck relentlessly at my fingers, and the camera(!) whenever I try. Here’s the latest picture of the scruffy lot, taken yesterday at 33 days old:


They are very rapidly starting to look like miniature chickens, rather than baby chicks. A few seem to have “all” their feathers, while others still need a while to finish “feathering out”. The current plan is to build their outdoor coop next weekend, so that’s when they’re going out. I should start weaning them off the heatlamp soon in preparation for the big move. Oh, and because the universe is weird that way, it looks like I might be getting a contract to write a short manual on “Building a Chicken Coop” this month, as well.

They are voracious eaters. The 25kg sacks of organic “starter” feed I bought them are holding out well, it looks like the first sack will last 6 weeks, and hopefully the second will last another 4 weeks after that – then I’ll switch them onto regular adult feed, and start supplementing with minerals and grit. A woman I met at the Cornwall Eco-Farm Day event recommended giving them a separate supply of minerals and grit, even if the feed has the minerals mixed in, because if a chicken needs extra minerals, they will eat more feed than they need to get the extra minerals. Of course the ultimate plan is to let them free range and find their own extra minerals and protein in the form of bugs and worms.

For now, they are getting kitchen scraps, which they love, love, love. On the weekend I made a chick pea & potato curry. Since the information I’ve read  and found online is split 50/50 on whether or not chickens can eat raw potato peels, and my chicks are still very young, I figured cooking the potato peels for them wouldn’t hurt. So I peeled the potatoes and sweet potatoes into the two inches of liquid that was left in the bottom of the slow cooker after cooking the chick-peas in it, and let the whole lot simmer for half an hour. Later I let it cool, and added the extra brown rice left over from the curry. I ladled it into the little metal tins that were the bases of their baby feeders, before they graduated to the bigger metal trough, and set it down for them. They went NUTS. Watching a chick grab a piece of potato peel, then run around the enclosure with another chick chasing it – better than TV!

They must have been disappointed yesterday when all they got was a measly single tin of asparagus ends and yellow pepper seeds & innards from my dinner omelet. Oh, and a handful of grass clippings I tossed them while I was trying to mow our horribly overgrown lawn.

I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the scythe I ordered to deal with the aforementioned overgrown lawn, and also to keep the field cut around the fruit trees in the orchard. All of which are doing very well, by the way.

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Perennial plantings

On Saturday, May 9th, we planted the

Trees in the orchard:

Blenheim Orange
A very famous old apple in Britain originating in Woodstock, near Blenheim in Oxfordshire, England, 1740, near the residence of the Duke of Marlboro, and was well known through Europe and America by 1820-1840. An all purpose large variety yellowish with red and light russet covering. Ripens in October.

Duchess (of Oldenburg)
One of the pioneer Russian apples to America via England. It was known in Russia in the 1600’s or early 1700’s, reportedly introduced to England by the Royal Horticultural Society in 1824, and into America by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1835. Valued for its extreme winter hardiness. The fruit is medium to sometimes large, greenish yellow with red splashing and striping. A cooking apple that makes some of the best early season pies as it ripens in late August or early September.

Ribston Pippin
An old English variety, often used in English cider and good for baking, also good eaten fresh if not overripe. Discovered at Ribston Hall near Knaresborough, Yorkshire, England, early 1700’s, likely from French seeds, and a parent of many fine English varieties including Cox Orange. The original tree was blown over in 1810, but was rescued, propped up and staked and survived until 1928. The color is greenish yellow flushed and striped brownish orange to red, the red becoming more pronounced as it ripens, very high vitamin C. The fruit ripens in late August or early September.

One of the hardiest disease resistant apples, having survived the severe Quebec winter of 1980-81. From the Ag Canada breeding program at Ottawa, selected at Smithfield and named at Saint-Jean Quebec 1990. Parents include Melba, Mac, Jonathan, Rome. Medium red over light green, flesh white, juicy, crisp, very good flavour with high sugar and aroma. Ripens mid September.

Scott Winter
A winter hardy heritage cooking apple for the north, ripens late and stores very well. The fruit is small to medium sized, slightly conical, yellow skin striped, washed and splashed with red; yellow flesh that is fine grained, crisp, juicy, pleasant sprightly acid flavor. Okay for eating out of storage, great for baking. From the Scott farm, Newport , Vermont and introduced by Dr. Hoskins of Newport 1864. Ripens in October.

A direct descendant of the original tree found growing on the farm of John McIntosh, Dundela, Dundas County, Ontario. Ripens mid September.

History of the MacIntosh apple tree: John McIntosh came to Canada with the United Empire Loyalists. After spending some time along the frontier, he settled on his homestead in the county of Dundas in 1790 at a place later called McIntosh’s Corners, although that place has now become extinct, and Dundela has taken its place. In the year 1796 while clearing some land, he came upon a clump of young apple trees, about twenty in number. As apples were at that time a luxury, the apple trees were left unharmed, and a few days after were replanted in a clearing nearer his house. Most of the trees thrived for a few years but finally died. In 1830, only one tree out of the twenty remained. As this apple was unnamed, Mr. McIntosh combined his own name with the color of the apple and christened it “McIntosh Red”. From the time it was transplanted, it grew rapidly and in a few years bore an abundance of fruit the color and flavor of which attracted the attention of the earlier settlers. It was situated about fifteen feet from the house, and when in 1893 the house was burned, the tree also received its share of the fire and one side was badly burned. Nevertheless, the other side continued to bear until 1908; an impressive 112 years! The wide circulation of the McIntosh apple is due to John McIntosh’s son, Allen McIntosh, who, fully appreciating the fruit, wished others to enjoy it also and started propagating by grafting and budding from the original tree. (From LH Bailey’s “Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture,” 1927)

A very hardy, naturally semi-dwarf tree which grows just 10 feet tall. From Minnesota, 1952, a cross of English Morello and Serbian Pie Cherry. Produces a mouth-watering crop of plump, juicy fruit that ripens in mid- to late July. Dependably hardy, with huge harvests for pies and preserves. Self pollinating.

Cerise de l’Ile
This Morello-type cherry is a Quebec heirloom. Produces large, juicy, sweet-tart cherries that are great for fresh eating, pies, preserves, and juice.

Arctic Red
A wild Canadian plum. Hardy tree that grows to 4 meters tall. Fruit is medium large, red skin and red flesh. Ripens in late August. Good for fresh eating, canning and preserves.

Black Beauty
A cross between the Red Arctic wild Canadian plum and the Japanese plum. A tough tree that produces a sweet, juicy plum.

And two Rowan (Mountain Ash) trees.

The apple trees come from Siloam Orchards in Uxbridge, Ontario, which grows over 70 varieties of heritage apple trees.

The cherries, plums, and rowans (as well as some blueberry, cranberry, and blackcurrant bushes, see below) come from Green Barn Nursery, an offshoot of Windmill Point Farm, which is run by Ken Taylor, an expert in tree breeding and cold-climate permaculture. There is an interesting interview with Ken Taylor here.


And then on Sunday, Monday, and today, I planted

Berry bushes and other edible perennials:

Blueberries “Wild Blue” – 4 bushes
I planted these near the three big red pines in front of the house where the soil is acid and thin. The should thrive and eventually provide a bumper crop of the kind of blueberries I remember picking in on the hills in the Eastern Townships and Laurentians as a kid.

Cranberries “Big Bog” – 4 bushes
“Wild” or low-bush (aka lingonberries, aka partridgeberries), as opposed to high-bush cranberries. I hope to get high-bush cranberry seedlings from the conservation authority next spring. I planted these east of the driveway, south of the asparagus.

Blackcurrants “Ben Sarek” – 2 bushes
Once the bushes mature, they should keep us in jelly and wine!

Rhubarb – 1 crown
I picked this up at Cramer’s Nursery in Ile Perrot, along with some herbs, so I have no idea what variety it is – the pot wasn’t marked. I have a vague plan of getting a rhubarb crown from my mother’s plant, as well.

Asparagus “Mary Washington” – 20 crowns
Bought this at the Cornwall Home Depot, because it was there. Yes, this is a lot of asparagus. I love the stuff, and it costs up to $4/lb, so this is a good investment as far as I’m concerned. I planted this in 5 trenches of 4 plants each, to the east of the driveway where it slopes down from the road. Since asparagus needs really good drainage, I figured the slope would be the best place for it.

And the lovely little Siberian Elm tree that Rob and Kristie gave us, also to the east of the driveway, north of both the cranberries and the asparagus, but not too close to the road.

I still have to plant:

St. Croix – 3 plants
Red wine grapes from Ken Taylor’s cold-climate permaculture experiments. I bought 3 scions (or twigs) at Eco Farm Day and successfully rooted them. When I picked up my other trees last week, Ken was surprised and pleased to hear that all three had successfully rooted!

Concord – 2 plants
These were a gift from my uncle Alec, my mother’s eldest brother. Owning a bit of land and raising some livestock, doing a bit of homesteading and making one’s own wine runs in the family. All my mother’s brothers have at one point or other owned land and raised chickens, pigs, even pheasants. Alec also used to make mead.

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Rowan Tree Farm

On Saturday, in the pouring rain, a bunch of our pagan friends came out to our homestead and planted and blessed our fruit orchard with us. In the field to the east of the house, we planted 6 heritage apple trees, 2 cherry trees, 2 plum trees, and 2 rowan trees in a spiral. I planted the first tree, a rowan, and named our homestead: Rowan Tree Farm. Then everyone else took a turn planting a tree and blessing or dedicating it in whatever way they wanted to. I was incredibly touched by how very personal some of the dedications were.

Despite the rain it was a lovely ritual and a wonderful day. Thank you, all.

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Chickens: The chicks are doing really well. They’re eating and drinking and gaining weight and getting bigger and louder and trying to learn to fly. And they’re still incredibly cute. Yesterday I started them on green food in addition to the chick starter (which contains corn, roasted soybeans, wheat, flax meal and minerals). I carefully harvested (with scissors) a tempting selection of green grass, clover, and dandelion leaves from my back lawn, chopped it fine, and mixed it in with their regular food. They liked it just fine. No new picture because they still look exactly the same as they did 2 days ago.

Carter: While he was boarded at the vet’s over the weekend, they x-rayed his broken leg to see how it’s doing. Result: he needs to be in the cast for two more weeks. Then last night t! noticed that the cast looked wrong, and saw that it had ‘slipped’ down his leg about an inch. Where his toes used to stick out the bottom, now they are barely visible. And more importantly, the cast now sits below, rather than covering his elbow. So we’re back to the vet’s tonight to get the cast re-padded.

Field: While I was out walking the dog the other day, I noticed something that looked suspiciously like strawberry leaves. I thought that was silly, the back field couldn’t be full of strawberries, could it? Maybe there is some kind of weed that has strawberry-like leaves. Then I spotted some that had flowers:


They’re strawberries all right! And  they’re everywhere. So in a couple of month’s time, we’re going to be overrun with wild strawberries. I expect the birds will get most of them – in fact I’m guessing that’s how they got here in the first place. Maybe I’ll try to find a nice big patch and rig some bird netting up over them in the hopes of getting a few…

and Garden: I haven’t had a chance to do very much digging. Hopefully soon. I have, however been stockpiling perennials in the garage. Blackcurrant bushes. Rhubarb. Blueberry and cranberry bushes. Asparagus crowns. Grape vines. And herbs: lavender and thyme. Now if the rain will just stop so that I can get out there and plant!

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This will, hopefully, someday, be a bountifully fertile 40′ x 40′ (1/8 of an acre, approximately) vegetable patch: 


However, there has been a significant setback to the plan. On Saturday we stopped by the Fearsranch to borrow a rototiller. It’s a good, old, solidly built two-tine Troy-Bilt tiller. As predicted by my friend Alan at the market, it is unfortunately not up to the task of chewing through 25+ years of field grass root mass.

This is the result of almost 3 hours of tilling:


So I have to figure out what to try next. Options include stripping off the sod by hand, begging a local farmer to till for me with real equipment, renting a much larger, more powerful rototiller, or gardening in raised beds rather than digging. The eventual solution may well be a combination of these.

In other gardening news, yesterday I spent a Home Depot gift card we got for a housewarming gift on a wheelbarrow. It’s a lovely wheelbarrow – thanks Ceri & Scott!

In non-gardening news, I went to my first local quilting guild meeting last night. It seems like a really good group. It’s a relatively young guild – The Highland Quilt Guild (Maxville) was only formed a couple of years ago, but has approximately 25 members. I liked that the meeting was structured and well run, but informal enough that members were speaking up and making jokes throughout. I met Francis, who lives on my road (which now means I’ve met everyone who lives on the road except for one house, which I think is a “country cottage” rather than a full-time residence), and Brenda who lives one road over, and whose husband hays the field next to ours.

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I declare it spring in North Stormont county! Some of the crocuses (that were a lovely housewarming gift and that I planted around the well in the fall) are starting to come up. The tiny delicate pale blue ones are coming up first, which seems appropriate. The pussy willows are out, all soft and fuzzy and silver-white in the hedges and by the sides of the roads. There are fish in the spring streams that run through the roadside ditches. I thought that they were tadpoles, at first, because tadpoles are what you generally find in ditches, but these were much too fish-shaped. I presume that they  must migrate to the ponds and streams that the ditches flow into. A solitary female wild turkey was ambling across my back lawn when I got up this morning. And one of the previous owners planted these


at the back of the house where they get the morning sun, as I discovered yesterday when I hung the laundry out on the line for the first time this spring. Does anyone know what they are? The closest I can find by googling is something called Chionodoxa luciliae, or “Glory of the snow”.


And in Carter news:

Last Tuesday, he got a new, more sturdy cast to deal with the fact that he had re-broken his broken leg. On Thursday evening he chewed through the fiberglass cast. I called the vet’s emergency number, and on Friday morning she met us at the surgery when she was meant to be on holidays, with her two small sons (aged 5 and 3, I’m guessing) in tow. She opened up the cast and found that a swollen area on Carter’s leg had caused a small pressure sore, which was no doubt painful enough to make him gnaw through his cast. She cleaned the sore and fixed the bandages and padding inside the cast to relieve the pressure, and put his cast back together (they’re made in two halves), and patiently answered all our questions about how much he was allowed to move and walk (not much at all) while the leg healed. And told us a horror story about a previous patient that increased our determination to keep his cast clean and dry.

So now, in addition to the cast, he has to wear a cone to keep him from chewing the cast again (now that he knows he can chew through it if he tries, he’s much more likely to). And we have to watch carefully for any signs of irritation. And we have an appointment to get the cast checked again on Thursday.


I can’t begin to say how much we love Dr. Ingrid, our vet. She called me back within 5 minutes of me leaving a message on her emergency number at 10:30 on a Thursday night. She came in on the Good Friday holiday, with her kids, to check Carter’s cast for us. She reassured us (yet again) that we weren’t responsible for his injuries, and she answered all our questions. She chatted with us about her life and her work while she worked on re-bandaging Carter’s leg. 

We will be getting her something very nice as a “Thank You” gift for all the wonderful care she has given Carter.

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Here’s the latest shot of the seed rack, considerably more full than last time!


Bottom shelf, left side:

  • the grape vines I bought at Eco Farm Day, two of which are sprouting very nicely, and I have hopes for the third
  • a small pot of sage from seeds that I saved from the sage plant in the backyard at Hamilton, just starting to come up
  • a pot of hot peppers, no signs of life there yet
  • Bottom shelf, right side:

  • Brussels sprouts, just starting to come up
  • Carlton tomatoes (an early salad/slicing tomato), sprouting nicely
  • sweet bell peppers, not up yet – I’m starting to worry a little about the peppers, but if the tomatoes are warm enough the sprout, the peppers should be too, I hope
  • Isis candy tomatoes (cherry type, for fun and snacking as I garden), sprouting nicely
  • Middle shelf, left side:

  • parsley, coming along well
  • Middle shelf, right side:

  • leeks, coming along well
  • Top shelf, left side:

  • Amish paste tomatoes, sprouting nicely – lots and lots of them, for next winter’s canning
  • amish_paste

    Top shelf, right side:

  • Brandywine tomatoes, sprouting nicely – from seed that I saved last year, because you can’t have a homestead garden without Brandywines!

    I’ll be starting the seeds in the melon and squash families (including cucumbers, zucchini, and ) next week sometime.

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    Eco-Farm Day

    I spent Saturday in Cornwall at the Eastern Ontario’s Organic Farming conference. It was absolutely wonderful and I’m so glad I went. The attendance was over 400 people, far beyond the expectations of the organizers, and almost beyond the capacity of the venue.

    I listened to Eliot Coleman give the keynote address, in which he talked about Antaeus, son of Poseidon and Gaiahe and said, “All farmers have their own earth wisdom”.

    I went to a session on northern climate permaculture led by Ken Taylor of Windmill Point Farm, on N.D. de L’Ile Perrot. He had the most succinct definition of permaculture I’ve ever heard, and the first one I’ve heard that makes sense for this climate zone: Permaculture = Organic Farming + Trees. He had a lot of fascinating things to say about fruit and nut trees and how they fit into a farm or homestead.

    I went to a session on building log fences which was presented by Mr. Eugene Fytche who has made the study of log fences his life’s work. The best part of that presentation was when part way through, one of the audience members put up his hand and said, “Well, the way my grandfather taught me how to do it was…” Now I know how the old fences on the edges of my property were built, and why there were built that way, and how to build new ones.

    I went to a session led by members of Tourne-sol Co-operative Farm who took us through the economics of growing vegetables for a CSA and/or Farmer’s Market. I learned that Brussles sprouts aren’t profitable, but apparently purple carrots are. And that you can make a small but respectable living on very little acreage if you’re willing to work hard enough.

    And in the halls, and in the line-ups, and in the dining room, and in the trade show area, and in the sessions, I met and spoke to people about rearing chickens and planting trees and protecting watersheds and buying local and tilling the soil.

    Throughout, I felt like I belonged to a community of people who were not only trying to make a difference, but people who were actually out on the front lines making a difference every day, by choosing to farm differently.

    Now if it would just warm up so that I can actually get outside and start digging…

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    I met another one of our neighbors today, a dairy farmer named Peter Jack who lives up on Cumming Road. He saw me out in the yard with Carter and pulled his pickup truck into the driveway to introduce himself. We had a nice long chat about farming, and family, and work, and land, and local gossip. I love the fact that people around here make the effort to get to know their neighbors. I found out that there is a (mild) milk shortage in Quebec & Ontario, and that the topsoil on our land is very thin (which I already suspected was the case). It’s why there are so many houses (as opposed to farms) on our road – the land isn’t good enough for commercial farming, because the bedrock is too close to the surface. This means that digging the holes for the apple trees is going to be hard work indeed, and that I need to start looking into green manures and cover crops. And maybe consider the straw bed method for planting potatoes.

    On Saturday I started the first of my seeds. One flat (36 cells) each of leeks (because they need such a long season to reach a decent size) and parsley (because it takes 3 weeks to germinate), and one of St. John’s Wort. The leeks and parsley are on the big seed rack in the kitchen where they will get the most sun:


    The seed rack looks bare, but it won’t for long. I’ll be planting my pepper and tomato and all the other “8 weeks before the last frost” seeds in two week’s time, and then the rack will fill up nicely.

    The St. John’s Wort is in the basement. It has very particular germination requirements and ignoring them last year meant that none of the seeds germinated, so I’m being more diligent this year. St. John’s Wort needs light to germinate, so you have to carefully place the minuscule seeds on the surface of the seed starting mix, and they can’t be warmer than 15°C. Hence they are in the basement, sitting on the cool cement floor. Hopefully I’ll have more luck with them this year. St. John’s Wort is a perennial, so if I do manage to get it started this time, then at least I won’t have to go through this again next year!

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