Plum perfect

Our golden plum tree is providing a bumper crop this year.  We started picking quart baskets on Friday when it seemed as though just a few were ripe.  Our neighbours got a few quarts, I took one to work.  We ate one.  Tonight when we looked at the tree, we realized the majority of the crop was ready, so our younger daughter got busy.

She picked for about 45 minutes, and brought these in:

Now, what to do with this bounty?  We can only eat so many of these fresh, delicious though they are , so we’re hunting up things to do with them.  No one here is a plum jam fan (say that three times fast).  My dehydrator is broken.  My husband has plans for 12 pounds of them for a plum madeira recipe he’s always wanted to try.   There’ll be plenty left over when he takes his share out.  Any suggestions?

Extreme Makeover, Farm edition, part 2

Progress so far:  Brambles and thistles around door removed – check.  Old bedding (2 years old) removed – check.  Wasp nests removed – um, wasp nests?

Not pictured are several other small ones along the eaves on the south side of the house, one under the shingles on the roof, and another under the peak above the door.  Fun times!

Our usual method of wasp nest eradication is with the hose on jet, around dusk – while we can still see them, and they are slow and sleepy.  So we took the jet spray to them on Thursday night.  Friday morning I thought it looked all clear, so I got going with wheelbarrow and shovel, but my similarity to a little black raincloud (see Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne) was not apparent to the wasps who’d come back, and I had to abandon the wheelbarrow.  More water treatment.  Ditto on Saturday evening and again today.  In between, we did get the old bedding out and new bedding in, and did a couple of minor repairs.

Tonight, we checked, couldn’t see any wasp activity and decided we’d move the pullets anyway.  If the wasps show up, and I’m starting to have great faith in their persistence, we’ll just have to spray them with the birds in the house.  Fortunately, the nests inside the house were not active, so after the first night, all of our spraying has been on the exterior.

Tip for moving small flighty pullets – do it after dark, when they’re dopey with sleep.  They are MUCH easier to catch this way.  The actual transfer took about 15 minutes.  I hope they like their new home.

So, next phase of the challenge?  Beat my way through the jungle of brambles on the north side of the house which will be their future run, as it has some shade, and didn’t seem to have any wasp activity over the last couple of days.

Extreme Makeover, Farm edition, part 1

Remember we got 58 layer chicks about 5 weeks ago?  They outgrew their wading pool not long after they arrived, though we bought ourselves a little time by surrounding it with wire.  Once they started hopping out of that, it was time for something bigger.  The original plan before they arrived had us processing the old flock about a week ago, doing the renovation that we’ve planned on the hen house (should take about three days – that means a week), and then putting the young pullets in there.

We decided early in July that the layers were still giving far too many eggs to do them in just yet, so we created Plan B:  we’ll keep them till mid September, process them then, which should be about the time some of them begin moulting anyway, and then we’ll still have good weather for fixing the house, and a much shorter eggless period before the new pullets start laying (I estimate that should be about the end of October).

The only problem with Plan B is that the little pullets (aka little monsters, as we call them everytime we put all the escapees back in their run), have outgrown the temporary quarters we created for them – despite efforts with wire, boards, signs, curtains (we were desperate), they have a thirst for adventure and an aptitude for flying surprisingly high.  The broilers are using the pasture pen, so it’s not an option.  We considered for a brief moment resurrecting a truly elephantine structure that we called a field pen, which we put together years ago and takes about a dozen people to move more than 2 feet…by some miracle we got it into the middle of the hay barn to store it, and then surrounded it with bikes, kayaks, hay, swimming pool paraphernalia, etc.  We looked at what we call the “little house”, rejected it quickly and after having a go at the elephant in the barn, came back to it.

The little house is about half the size of our regular hen house.  I would not normally keep more than about 25 hens in it, but the pullets are still really small (I can hold one in one hand easily).  It was built by my Dad when I was about 11 for “my” small flock of Rhode Islands (about 10 of them I think) that were meant to be my moneymaking enterprise.  It’s on skids, and technically portable, but it’s quite heavy and being about 40 years old, also a bit fragile for trips across a field, so it came to rest when we arrive here 14 years ago in a corner behind the barn.  We put up three fenced runs around it, and in our first few years of having layer flocks, this is where they lived.  We eventually built a bigger house, when we increase our flock size up to 50.   We’ve used it sporadically since, but not for about 2 years.

The little pullets need to be moved ASAP, no question about it.  So here’s plan C: We will clean out, repair and prepare the little house for the pullets this week, and have them in it before Monday.  They will also need access to outdoors, so the little shelter off the back side will have to be cleared of blackberries as well.  Within the next week we will need to clear a run for them as well, and repair any holes in the fence.  We started on Wednesday.  We have till bedtime Sunday night.  Two of the three of us are working at our “other” jobs for two of the available days.  Can we do it?  Stay tuned!

Broiler chickens on pasture

I thought I’d share a couple of pictures of the state of the pasture after the broilers have spent a day in one place.

There are 65 birds in this pasture pen.  We move it late afternoon every day.  In Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin, he moves them in the morning.  That’s great if you don’t work off farm, but for us, it’s always worked better in late afternoon – right after work on work days, right before I start supper prep on the days I’m at home.  It takes about 20 minutes from start to finish.  It takes Polyface something like an hour to do 60 pens, which means my system is a “little” inefficient, or I don’t move fast, or both.  That’s OK, 15-20 minutes works for me.  If it’s just the actual moving of the pen, then I probably am up to speed, I think it takes me about 2 minutes…it’s all the other stuff – changing the water, topping up feed, putting the lids back on, that take time.

Why do we do it this way?  First off, to get some poop on the ground! We want the fertility for the soil.  Chicken manure packs a wallop of nitrogen.  Second, the birds actually eat a surprising amount of grass, given the chance.  For the first few minutes after a move, all you can hear is the chirruping noise they make when they’re happy, and the ripping sound of grass being torn off by 65 beaks.  Since you are what you eat, and chickens are no exception, this is good news for those who eat our chicken:  these chickens are getting fresh air, sunshine, protection from predators and a fresh patch of grass and bugs every day.  It absolutely makes a difference to the meat.  A good difference!

Take a look at how much of this they’ve actually eaten, not just trampled or pooped on:

They’ve been on pasture almost 2 weeks, you can see where they’ve been.  This will be a big strip of green about 3 weeks from now, right through to next year:

These birds are almost full grown.  They go up to the processor in just over a week.  It ain’t over till it’s over, but right now, they’re looking pretty good.

Happy Birthday Mum!

Today my Mum would be 81. She died in 1994, two days after her 64th birthday. I was 3 months pregnant with our first daughter, though I didn’t realize it at the time.  Have you ever noticed how often birth and death coincide?

My Mum would have been a fabulous grandmother, and she had been looking forward to it “someday” – she would have been no nonsense, but a ton of fun.  She could read all the characters in a book and sound like they were different voices, without really changing her own.  She was a great listener, made awesome pancakes, was definitely not huggy/kissy, was hospitable no matter what state the house was in.  She always started up camp songs when we were driving long distances, sung lustily and tunelessly.  She loved taking a pack of kids to the beach,  jug of juice for them, thermos of coffee for her.  She always had a coffee on the go, usually cold.  I never understood why, till I became a mother myself.  She had been a debutante in her teens and had the kind of manners that could be used in the Queen’s company, but tended to be dressed in the most odd combinations of clothes in her daily life.    She had a great sense of humour and loved a practical joke – she once sewed a thread through the legs of her cousins pyjamas on April 1st, so they wouldn’t be able to get them on.  She could be pretty gullible too – on their honeyoon trip, camping their way across Canada to Halifax, my Dad told her to cover her watch going under power lines because of the magnetic effect – she did it faithfully for a month, before riding with someone else in Halifax and learning that not everybody did that.

Born here on Vancouver Island, she was second generation Canadian, but spoke with a definite English accent.  She never left the Island until she was married (the day after her 21st birthday – Happy Anniversary, too!), and then, since my Dad was a naval officer, moved 12 times in 18 years.   She loved the adventure in those early years, but eventually yearned to put down roots.  When they bought this farm, she thought they’d never move again, but my Dad’s career changed after several years of farming, and though they kept the farm, they actually lived two other places between 1976 and 1987 before finally retiring to the farm for good.  Upon retirement, she set to digging up the old chicken run to become a perennial garden a la Penelope Hobhouse, with heritage varieties.  The roses are still there.  When the weather drove her indoors, she got to grips with computers so she could delve into genealogy, eventually compiling complete records for both of her parents families back to the 1400’s and for my father’s family before that.

She was a smoker.  She had been raised very strictly, and though she loved her parents all her life, I always felt she probably started smoking to bug them.  By the time I was old enough to understand, in the 1970s, she was trying to quit, but was never successful.  The habit was expensive, so for years she rolled her own; she had this tabletop gizmo that you loaded the tobacco into, stuck a pre-formed cylinder onto the end and pushed a handle to force the tobacco into the tube.  The year my Dad was in and out of hospital – a slipped disc, a ruptured ulcer that required surgery, a gall bladder that got removed – the hippies from next door (another story) used to help out with animal care so she could get time to go visit him in hospital, and she paid them in cigarettes.   It was probably due to smoking that she developed an inoperable brain tumour.

I have missed my Mum many times over the years, especially when I went into motherhood, without her there beside me, as I had fully expected that she would be.  I’m not sad anymore, though that took a while.  I’m blessed to live in the house she made into a home, and while I strive to make it a home for my family, there remains so much evidence of my mother all around me.  A trellis full of heritage climbing roses, all in honour of me and my wedding, by virtue of their names (one was Wedding Day).  A transplanted row of hawthorns that were waist height in her time and now tower over me.  Clearly labelled boxes of sewing material, special china etc.  A box of photo albums.  Knicknacks.  Silverware.  A wall of drywall she did when my Dad was away.  The piano.  Best of all, I am left with memories, happy and otherwise.  Life stuff.  Some of my best parenting comes from those memories – the need to follow through on what I say to the kids.  The need to listen actively.  The ability to be sympathetic and still not give in.  To know when to give in.  To push when they want to give up.  To have fun.  To read a lot.  Would I have wanted to lean on her more had she been here with me in those early years of parenting?  Possibly.  This way, I was forced to rely on God, myself, and my husband to figure things out and get stuff done.  My Dad, shy and awkward with babies, got way more time with our girls as babies than he might have had there been other arms to hold them.  I’m glad he got that chance.

Mum wasn’t one to waste time.  She was a doer.  I drove her crazy with my tendency to procrastinate and overthink things.  She was thrilled with my choice of husband, not least because he is so enthusiastic about everything and a doer himself.   I don’t believe she had much to regret about the way she lived her life.  But I do.  When we learned about her cancer, a cousin came over to talk to us; her adult daughter had died the year before of the same thing, and she took me to one side and told me that my Mum would soon be not able to understand what I said, nor would she be able to say what she wanted to me.  So it was important for both of us to say whatever we really needed to say as soon as possible, while we both could.

I meant to.  I was going to.  The right moment didn’t come up immediately.  Then there were no more right moments, and she was gone.  I’ve said it to her many times since then in my heart and in my prayers, and I know she knew I felt this way, but…

Mum, I love you.  You have been the best Mum I could ever have.  Happy Birthday.

To swim or not to swim

They set the pool up just over a week ago, while I was at work.  We had a week of warm weather, and were checking the temperature daily to see if it was warm enough to go in.  And then last night, for whatever reason, perhaps because of the cooler weather we’ve had the last couple of days, someone said at dinner, “Do you realize we got the pool set up in July and we might not even swim in it until August?”  This could not be allowed, so they all got into their swim togs and went to consider the situation:

And then they checked the thermometer:

I realize it’s a terrible picture, but even so, I’m sure you can tell that it says slightly less than 20 Celcius, perhaps about 18, and that would make it about 65 Fahrenheit.  Sane people would call it a day and go help their Mum with chicken chores, but we’re not entirely sane around here (or perhaps freezing your backside off is better than chores) and they did indeed go in.  For which I have no picture!  Not because the in/out was done at the speed of light (though that’s almost true) but because when people saw the pictures of themselves in bathing suits, they excercised their rights to edit what goes on the blog.  Sorry – you’ll just have to imagine the excruciating faces they made when they got in past their waists.

Oh dear, who have we here?

I know, you can’t see anything – click to enlarge

Saw these two early this morning when I was out doing feed and water for the birds on pasture.  Now I know who ate all my peas…

Q.  What do you call a deer with no eyes?  No idea.

Q  What do you call a deer with no eyes and no legs?  Still no idea…

Potluck dinner

“Bring your own chair and something yummy to share”.

If, like me, you have chickens and sell eggs, what do you take to parties like this?   Why, Devilled Eggs of course!

Now, I am not the best devilled egg maker in the family.  My big effort at making them special was to sprinkle chives on top.  My husband and older daughter each have “secret” ingredients – one uses anchovy paste, one uses tabasco, and I must say their devilled eggs do have that extra zip.  My simple recipe didn’t seem to matter, though.  I brought home an empty dish.

How about you?  What’s your standby for potlucks?  Secret ingredient?

The Ugly Tomato Contest

Two Barn Farm

You’ve grown them. You’ve saved them to show to friends. Or maybe you were somewhat put off and chucked into the woods to spare ridicule. Now, The Soulsby Farm gives you the “First Ever Ugly Tomato Contest” Submit your photo of the ugliest/mutated/ infected/conjoined/ tumor ridden monster and our panel will pick out favorites and post them for you to vote on. The winner  and runner-up will get some cool prizes and bragging rights.

To Enter:

  1. Contest Open to Followers of the Soulsby Blog (if you haven’t haven’t signed up for the email subscription do it before you enter) and Soulsby Farm Facebook friends (like Us and enter) You don’t have to be both but we like our FB Page too.
  2. You or a friend must have grown the tomato and taken the picture, so don’t be lame and search Google for ‘ugly tomato’ cause we’ll find you.
  3. Email your…

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Jam Session

The girls have been helping me with jam and canning the last couple of years, but this was the first year where I really stepped back and just kept an eye on things.  Which meant I got to take pictures of the process.

I follow the instructions from Bernardin, the Canadian answer to the Ball Company.  I use regular pectin and white sugar.  I know, I know.  But remember that I’m fulfilling two purposes today – I’m stocking my larder with homemade jam for the winter, but I’m also training my girls to be able to this themselves, someday for their own larders.  I want guaranteed success at this stage, not the up and down results of experimentation.  And some of what they learned today made them ask questions about the ingredients.  Hands on is the best way to learn.

Washed berries

taking turns mashing the berries

Really, they love each other

Wow Mum, there’s a lot of sugar in jam! Yup…

Rolling boil for a full minute, are you serious?

Does finger tight mean your fingers or mine?

Science at work, creating a vacuum

10 jars of jam, 1 didn’t seal, guess we’ll just have to eat it!