What’s Happening?

A bedtime favourite in this family used to be a wonderful series of children’s picture books by Helen Lester, revolving around a character called Tacky the Penguin, usually dressed in an Hawaiian shirt, who always greets his prim friends (Goodly, Neatly, Perfect, et al) with a rollicking “What’s Happening?”

You might be wondering the same thing….it’s been at least two months since I posted anything here on the blog. Stuff has been happening, but somehow nothing that seemed picture worthy or at least worth going back to the house to fetch the camera for. So the pictures you’ll be seeing in this post are not necessarily exciting or even representative of the whole season, just the times that the camera was around.

We had a relentlessly hot summer up here in the usually mild Pacific Northwest. That sounds a bit whiny, and maybe it is, considering the kind of heat so many places experience as “normal”. For us, 36 C is not normal, at least not for more than a day, and certainly not for days in a row. We’re used to dry summers, just not all that heat.  I’m not a hot climate person, I’ve decided.  Too bad for me if this turns out to be the new normal, which I fear might be true, as they’re predicting another warm winter and hot summer.   I felt like I didn’t get a lot done in the summer, beyond working myself into a really negative thought spiral as my energy was zapped by working at my day job and trying to pack everything else into the 30-32 C average days around that.  All my efforts to get ahead during the spring foundered when I began full time hours and it was all I could do to keep up with just the day to day stuff.  There was even a point in June when I wondered if I should just chuck it all in and convince the family that town life was the way to go.

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But somehow, despite the heat and my negative headspace, and due in large part to the willing help of the rest of the family and especially our younger daughter, all the things that usually happen in the summer on this small farm – happened.  Chicks, piglets, broiler chickens, garden, family time – even a mini-vacation.

Most Saturday mornings from June through to mid-October (Thanksgiving), my husband and I were able to get up to the fairgrounds across the road for the farmers market – we’d buy greens and fruit for the week, sometimes some pasture raised beef or some honey or chutney.   We’d finish up with a coffee and a scone, listening to the folk music and chatting to neighbours.  It’s the first time since 2006 that I haven’t been working most Saturdays, so it was a real treat to go back to being a “regular”.  A civilized break from the chaotic scramble that was our lives this summer.

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The three Large Black pigs (and large is a more accurate description now), which arrived at the beginning of July as very small Large Black piglets,  are heading to the processor at the end of November.  The 145 broilers came at the beginning of August, 141 went out onto the field exactly 13 days later (the youngest I’ve ever put birds out) and at the end of September, 139 went to the processor and subsequently into people’s freezers.  One of the broody hens from the layer flock was allowed to set a dozen eggs, and she successfully raised 9 chicks – 5 of whom were roosters of course.  All 9 are currently in the layer flock – the roosters destined for the freezer any minute, I swear.  The pullets are laying regularly now, as I get 4 small eggs in with all the jumbo eggs from the old hens.  The veg garden started well, and I had big plans which most definitely “gang aft aglay”, but we did get a huge crop of tomatoes, which nearly all got dried or made into tomato sauce for the freezer. We grew basil successfully for the first time in years, and between what we grew and what I bought from the farmer I always buy basil from, we made enough pesto for the freezer for the whole year. The pears did well this year – I canned some and dried some, and we managed to pick 100 lbs of apples on the rainiest day in late September to send to the guy with a juicing operation, so now we have  24 litres of the most excellent unfiltered apple juice in our freezer, ready for hot apple cider in the winter, or as a yummy adjunct to breakfast on the run.

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Younger daughter created and maintained a small flower bed, which is still holding it’s own at the end of October.  She also handled the afternoon water check and supper chores throughout the entire summer, for broilers and pigs, including three days in August, when she had sole responsibility for pigs, hens and broilers – 200+lives – while my husband and I went up to the north end of the Island to cool off in the rain and spot grizzly bears and orca whales – a trip which was extremely hard to rationalize at the time, but in retrospect was vitally necessary to allow us to reconnect after a summer of seldom seeing each other thanks to impossible schedules, and which restored my equilibrium and allowed the family to have the less cranky version of myself back again.

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We had our usual Labour Day weekend barbeque, with 55 guests and tons of food – rain was forecast but held off till late that night.  It was our chance to socialize with people we’ve known for years, but seldom get to touch base with over the summer and wonderful to see that almost half our numbers were teenagers or young adults – every time I suggest that maybe this tradition has had it’s day (preparing for 55 guests is not difficult exactly, but it is work), there is an outcry, and this year I really did very little beyond getting the invites out – the rest of the family pulled all the details together.  One of the bitter-sweet aspects of the barbeque, and the Fair which happens the same weekend, is that school starts up again right afterwards.  The younger daughter has just begun her grad year – her final year of high school, while the older daughter has begun her second year of university – the first year of her three year degree programme in Elementary Education.

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The broilers went to the processor at the end of September, and suddenly the days started to seem possible again, as chore time suddenly got reduced to 15-20 minutes at each end of the day, as opposed to the extra thirty minutes every morning, moving cages, hauling feed down the field, etc. and an extra 15 every evening.   I suddenly went from just managing to get chores work and dinner fitted into the day, to a place where I could fit chores, work and dinner in and still have time and energy for other things – which was a good thing, because the timing with the tomato crop was impeccable.  Between tomatoes and pears, freezing, canning and drying became the order of the day.

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Thanksgiving a couple of weeks ago saw us eating the first of our broilers, roasting freshly dug potatoes, making our first pumpkin pie of the season and entertaining hubby’s sister and brother-in-law who have just retired here from Ontario, swelling the numbers of our local extended family dramatically, which for years has consisted only of myself and my brother and our families.  The girls are enjoying being doted on by their aunt and uncle, and have enjoyed several weekend outings to local parks for hiking, nearly always followed by sumptuous teas that obviate the need for supper.

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Halloween looms, and the weather has been cooler now for a month or so.  My list of things that need doing is still relentlessly long, but my optimism is back and I’m willing to give it another kick, like Charlie when Lucy holds the ball ready.  Maybe this time…  Unlike Charlie though, I’m aware that I need a better plan – flying by the seat of my pants wasn’t the best way to get through the summer for me, nor the rest of my family,  so as I spend time catching up on repairs and fence moves and the like, I’m starting to mull over my farming goals and how they relate to our family goals and ambitions.  Stay tuned.

 

Summer growth

Piglets, chicks, flowers – all growing like crazy.  I may not be saying much on the blog, but there is stuff happening here.

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An hour after they arrived, 6 July. Abut 6 weeks old.

The piglets arrived two weeks ago, they’re around 8 weeks now. Their mama is a Large Black, called Olivia and the boar is a Berkshire.  They are sturdy, energetic little things, growing fast.  They also move as a unit, like a well trained platoon. It’s easy to think of them as the Three Musketeers, except that being pigs, they’re all over the concept of “all for one” and not at all interested in the more altruistic ideal of “one for all”.

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3 Musketeers, aged 8 weeks.

While they respect electric fence to a point, it apparently has to be an electric fence worthy of their respect, and ours was not up to snuff when they came.  To be fair they came a week earlier than expected, and we had to really scramble to get the fence set up in time, but I was aware that there wasn’t much of a charge on the line, and vowed to troubleshoot it at the earliest opportunity.  I was not prepared for their robustness or their confidence.  The pigs we’ve had the previous two years were far more timid in their early days.  I think this trio has the advantage that they were born on a farm very near here, and they are siblings, so that they have always done everything together, and have moreover been doing that in a wooded acreage with a pond at one end, where, as I learned later, they also considered the electric fence to be more of a guideline than an actual rule.

So long story longer, they got out on Friday, five days after we got them.  I was at work when I got the call:  “The pigs got out”.  Fortunately this isn’t our first experience with pigs, and even more fortunately, pigs are highly food motivated.  Turns out their bid for freedom was more to do with the fact that one of the kids had opened the gate to come in with dinner, and the pigs simply pushed through in their eagerness to ambush her.  We have a wire across the gate entrance to discourage this kind of behaviour, so that we humans can deliver dinner without becoming part of it, and the piglets, being quite small, and the fence not giving much charge, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that this particular scenario would happen.  In normal circumstances, I’d have been home in an hour, and able to roll up my sleeves and start troubleshooting the fence but that night I was meant to be in town after work to meet hubby to sign some papers with him (new car).  I whipped home from work, sussed the situation with the pigs, and decided I’d go to town to sign the papers quickly then come home again (quick is relative – that would have been about 90 minutes minimum), rather than staying in town to have dinner with hubby as originally planned.  While we were in our meeting, the girls texted to say “pigs are safe in fort knocks, stay for dinner”. They’re French Immersion kids, hence the creative English spelling, but the gist of it was clear from the picture they attached.  The pigs were indeed contained in a version of Fort Knox – with boards at pig height all the way around their paddock, so that they couldn’t push through the hog wire fence that is behind the electric most of the way around. We had dinner.

That weekend, we did some troubleshooting and ended up sinking a second grounding rod (earthing rod for those in the Antipodes), bought a new extension cord, and ultimately have also recently purchased a new energizer – I gasped slightly at the price, but it’s a Sta-fix, which have to be special ordered here, as we don’t have a dealer.  The feed store had ordered it for someone who changed their mind, and it was just sitting there the day I went in to get a new one.  It seems like it was meant to be for me, and though it’s more powerful than I really need right now, there are plans to take electric fence out to the fields for chickens and sheep, and this charger is good enough for that.  Sta-fix is a brand out of NZ, who are the world leaders in electric fence.   According to the instructions that come with it, it will keep in pigs, sheep, cattle, goats, bulls and kangaroos. Can’t wait to get the kangaroos.

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Mama Hen and family, 3 days old

Mama Hen hatched nine chicks from a clutch of 12 eggs a month ago, and she’s still got all nine, so we’re very impressed.  We’re not quite sure if it’s 4 pullets and 5 roosters, or 3 and 6, but we’ll find out eventually.  The eggs were from different hens, hence the different colours of chicks.  At this point we’re working on integrating Mama and the brood with the rest of the flock – the roosters are proving pretty contemptuous of the chicks and pretty vicious towards Mama, so I’m trying to do it gradually.  Mama herself however is keen to get back into the hen house, so I hope things smooth out soon.

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Mama hen and family, 6 weeks old

On the topic of chicks, we have 140 broiler chicks coming in a few weeks, and hopefully one good thing about this sweltering heat wave we’re in will be that brooding them will be a snap, though I’ll need it to cool off a couple of weeks later when they go out on pasture.

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The flower bed is the work of our younger daughter, who has also been my right hand while I’ve been at work managing water for all the critters in the heat, and feeding pigs on the evenings that I work.  The trellis has been there for years, legacy from an old clematis that never did well on it, and has been gone for eons.  She built and filled the bed,raised all the flowers from seed and transplanted them – et, voila!  My grandmother and my father’s sister both had that sort of knack – making it look so easy, and having things come up so lushly.  That’s sweet peas in the far back, zinnias, cosmos and nasturtiums, with some calendula she rescued from the veg garden in the box to one side.  She’s got her sights set on developing a perennial bed next year.  My veg garden also looks quite lush right now, but not from my efforts – it’s mostly weeds.  There are veggies in there and we’ve done quite well with some things – quite a lot of basil for a couple of batches of pesto for example.

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Annual family pesto assembly line, we made 7 batches in the end.

Tomatoes and potatoes, cukes and pumpkins also look pretty good.  But my good intentions to do succession planting came to nothing and unless I get cracking right now to get some more seeds in, I won’t have much of a fall garden.  But it’s so darn hot out these days, that I just wilt out there, so about the only garden job I really get done on a regular basis involves standing in the garden at dusk with the hose, thinking about nothing in particular while I soak everything, including weeds, and if it’s been really hot, even myself.

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cooling off

Mundane Monday

The title is borrowed from my friends at Union Homestead, and suits the day perfectly.  Mondays are often my catch up day, as my official work shifts at the library are Thu/Fri/Sat.  I usually have at least one other work day as well, so even my “weekend” is not always 2 days together,  It can make it hard to stay focussed on larger projects, hence my marathon 5 day challenge with the chicken house a while back.

So, how did my mundane Monday shape up?

The morning was not too bad for outside work – the sky was looming a bit, and there was the odd spatter of rain, but by and large it was not unpleasant working outside.

My current project is taking out the fence that is between run 1 and 2 of the hen house.  If you were around for my 5 day challenge, I repaired the fence between run 4 and run 3.  After the challenge, I just kept going on fences, and managed to get the fence between 3 and 2 repaired fairly easily.  The one I’m working on now is a different matter – the wire was down in one or two places and grass, thistles and brambles were growing through, making it difficult to remove.  All the posts but one have to come out as they’re leaning so badly, and part of that fence is actually part of an old “temporary” cattle chute put in about 20 years ago by the guy who used to do our hay before Hay Guy took it over – the other guy used to put his dry cows on our field after the hay season was over.  The posts for the cattle chute have rotted underground and the whole thing wobbles when chickens land on the top bar before flying over – clearly a piece of fence that is not doing it’s job.  I’ve done about 2 mornings on this fence so far, and this proved to not be the final day.  The wire is off as far as the cattle chute, and the T posts are all out.  I’ve started hacking the blackberries away from the wooden part of the fence, and there I’ve had to stop. I still have to remove the cattle chute and quite a bit of blackberry before I can start putting fence up again.

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Fence 1/2 before I started work this morning.

 

Mid-morning, a customer came to get the last three of the point of lays hens I’d advertised last month.  She had come a few weeks ago, and asked me to reserve some for her, as she wasn’t ready to receive them at her end – she has an existing flock, and was worried that one or two of them might have an infection, and didn’t want to bring home new birds till she knew her birds were clear.  Last week, she made contact to come and fetch the three I’d held back for her.  Gillian and her husband have a small acreage in a community just north of me, and have a cottage bakery business called Willowtree Bread, from which they make and sell artisanal breads, veggies and plant starts, and honey…and probably, if my hens are up to scratch, eggs as well!  We had a good chat while catching the birds and stowing them in their dog crate in the car, and later, when I’d had glanced at her website, I realized my chickens don’t know how lucky they are to have landed up there – they will be free ranging, and living out their days to a ripe old age with a great deal of TLC.

Lunch with a book was blissful – melted cheese on bread with the scrag ends of some pancetta left over from some fancy hors d’oeuvres the high school teen had made a couple of days ago as her contribution to the finger food at the fundraiser for her Global Perspectives class.  I don’t mind leftovers like that one bit.  I could see it was doing a bit more than spattering out, so I had a second cup of tea while I turned a few more pages in my book (Restorative Agriculture – Mark Shepard), and when I looked up again, it had settled down to a steady rain, so I got out my duster and started on house work.  An hour of that was more than enough, and I was rescued around 430 by the arrival home from school of the 16 yr old.  A cup of tea and a chat later, she disappeared to do homework, while I nipped out to get the last of the eggs and shut the hens in.  Have I mentioned we’re finally back in eggs?  About 13/day, all tiny pullet eggs – it’s a bit like russian roulette cracking them open – some are mini double yolkers, some are yolkless altogether.  We did our first egg sales on Saturday in fact, and hubby took a couple of dozen to work today.

Thanks to hubby’s cooking effort yesterday (a magnificent crockpot meal of smoked pork hocks in cabbage and ale, with roast veg and mashed potatoes on the side), there were tons of leftovers, so  today’s supper was a no-brainer – hash. While I was slaving over that, I remembered belatedly that I was supposed to be contributing baked goods to a staff bake sale tomorrow, a fundraiser for United Way.  So I got going on some cranberry muffins and swotted up a recipe that would make a lot of cookies with the ingredients I actually had on hand, so I could dig into that after supper.  Only two of us home, so it  was a casual meal and some convivial washing up. She stuck around till the first batch came out of the oven and then settled into more homework, warm cookie in hand.

The cookie factory wound down around 9 pm, and the kitchen looks normal again.  Hubby and the university girl (he was with clients, she was studying late) are finally on their way home, so we’ve packaged up the ones for the bake sale, stashed the remainder in a cookie jar and kept one or two out for the latecomers.

And that’s the kind of day it’s been here at gloomy, wet, Sailors Small Farm. Definitely a good day to be in a farm house kitchen baking cookies instead of out at sea, with frozen fingers, water dripping off my nose, and damp coming through the seams of the wet weather gear. I don’t miss some of the good old days at all.

Give or take a little

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According to the string method, the largest of my two pigs is currently weighing around 158 lbs. The other pig is slightly smaller, and I didn’t measure her*, but I’m guessing she’s maybe 140 or so. Of course the string method has a little give or take with it, and I only had one piece of string in my pocket (from a feed sack) when I thought of doing this, so I tied a knot for each measurement, which is more or less where the actual measurement point was (you know how a knot never tightens exactly where you want, right?). So with two layers of give and take to this measurement, that 158 is pretty approximate. Still and all, it beats loading the pigs up on someone’s trailer and heading up to the fairgrounds to use the 4-H scale, and then loading up again to come home. It is just way too hot to be chasing pigs around.

*Actually, I finally did measure her, a week later (today in fact), and little pig measured up at around 136 lbs. 

I’m trying out the new butcher in our local village this year- Carnivore Meats and More – for our cut and wrap. He already does custom work for hunters, and he’s getting pork and beef from a farm up-Island that he’s cut and wrapping for his shop, but doing custom cut and wrap for a small producer like me with my own customers is new for him. We’re both pretty excited about it, and hoping it works out. Every time he and I have discussed our arrangements, he’s asked how big the pigs are and I’m always pretty vague …”well, you know, they’re only 3 months – maybe 100 lbs? I dunno”, and I’ve told him how big last year’s pigs got. And every time I make a mental note to measure the pigs so I have a better answer.  Mental notes aren’t working too well for me these days.

Since my production model hasn’t really changed much (I’m managing pasture slightly better than last year, but that’s the only difference), and they’re getting processed a couple weeks earlier than last year’s pigs were done, I’m expecting them to come in at around 250 lbs. Last year’s pigs were in the region of 285 lbs. Of course, there’s some give and take at work here too – I used the string method last year as well, thinking the slaughter guy would give me an accurate weight measurement when he invoiced me, since he was going to be doing the cut and wrap as well. But it didn’t work out that way. He did the slaughter, and sent the carcasses to a different butcher, who gave me the hanging weight on the 4 sides after they’d received them. Since I don’t really know which two sides went together, I just added the pairs based on how closely they matched, and came out with one pig at 204 and one at 220. If we say that the innards that didn’t come with the carcasses amounted to 50 lbs (give or take), then that puts my string guess right in the ball park – give or take a few pounds.

All of which is to say, these pigs seem to be pretty much on target for growth.  They look pretty happy ’bout that, don’t they?

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The Real Food Media Contest

Michael Pollan posted a link to this contest on Facebook recently, and I thought I would share it here as well.

When you watch the 10 films (all short, don’t worry!), consider that one of the guidelines for the contest included these words:

“Bring to life the concept:  The hands that feed us”.

Good luck voting for just one.  I can’t decide.

Real Food Media Contest

Smokin’ Bacon

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I might have mentioned in a previous post that hubby got a Bradley Smoker for his Father’s Day present back in June.  Well deserved, I might add.  One reason he got it was so that we could try smoking our own pork – hocks, bacon, etc.  but the pigs were still pretty small back in June, and in the meantime, it turned out to be very handy at our larger barbeque gatherings, since it is also an oven – not only did he cook the sausages in it for the barbeque we had on Labor Day weekend, but it is was also great entertainment, because most people thought it was a weird kind of beer fridge and kept opening it and getting a surprise.

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See the guy looking inside the fridge…er, smoker?

I have to tell you, Bradley Smokers are like the microwaves of the smoker world.  You punch buttons on the digital face to set how long you’re smoking your meat, you can set the oven temperature if you want heat with the smoke, you drop a stack of little round wood chip pucks into the wood chip puck holder thingy, fill the bowl that sits inside with water (there’s a little tray at the bottom of the stack that moves the pucks along inside while they’re burning/smoking – they fall of the end of it into the little bowl of water and stop burning). That’s it.  No further involvement required from you, the cook.  On the other hand, you can sit and watch it if you like – it has a digital flame display to liven things up :).  The little pucks look remarkably like small rice cakes, and come in boxes that look much like cracker boxes, not helped by the fact that they also come in flavours – apple wood, cherry, hickory etc – I was tempted to leave them casually lying around at the barbeque, but hubby didn’t want them wasted…

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the inner workings

I poke a lot of fun at this toy of his, but I shouldn’t, because I sure appreciate the wonderful things he’s produced so far:  smoked gouda, smoked cheddar, smoked salmon, salmon candy, and now –  smoked pork hocks and bacon!

Because, yes – our pork is ready at the processor.  We got some belly, a jowl and a couple of hocks fresh last week when they started the cutting, and brought them home to brine or cure ourselves prior to smoking them.  We followed the instructions in “Charcuterie” by Michael Ruhlman, our favourite choice from a wide selection of books on smoking and curing available from our library.

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The pork hocks took about 3 and 4 hours (one was bigger than the other).  The bacon (belly and jowl)took about the same length of time, and he did it on a separate day. He had brined the pork hocks for a week, and the bacon was cured for a week.  We have cut the finished bacon slabs into 1 lb pieces to freeze, and look forward to doing a taste test when the bacon from the processor arrives tomorrow.    I don’t know if I can wait that long!

Flickering Flames

We’ve been so busy all summer, it’s been hard to fit relaxing moments in, and even harder to fit in time to share with neighbours and friends.  Thank goodness for the changing seasons, allowing us to change our pace, slow it down a little.

Thanks FOR having us over!   Great FIRE… FOOD …and FELLOWSHIP with  FRIENDS on a FALL…FRIDAY nite

That was the message a friend sent after we had a couple of neighbouring families over to share a campfire this weekend.  We cooked most of the food in or on the fire:  baked potatoes, veggie kebabs, corn, baked apples and s’mores.  We also had sausage dogs, hot apple cider and hot chocolate.  Everyone was so stuffed we just sat peacefully around the fire, chatting, telling stories, and flame gazing.

In fact, it was so relaxing, I think one person almost fell asleep.

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