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Month: May 2012

Growing Girls

Growing Girls

So the last time I showed pictures of the pigs they were pretty titchy, not so much now…

To give a little context those troughs that the pigs are happily snuffling in were too big for them just two months ago, they actually had to climb in for the first week.  They really are growing apace and we have a good few more months of their company before they are big enough for slaughter.  And they really are great company, everything about them is fun to watch.

Each morning I’m greeted by the impatient oinking coming from inside their little house, they can hear me coming with my bucket and, when I finally open the door, they burst out like stampeding cattle.  Luckily they don’t go very far, only to the trough where they chow down on breakfast.  I take the chance to fill up their water and maybe get in a few good morning scratches before I head off to sort the chickens and walk the dogs.

Early afternoon I head out again, I feed them around 3/4 pm each afternoon and again top up their water as they have inevitably tipped it over.  Today was a hot one so I spent some time refilling their wallows and spraying them with the hose.  They adored it and were jumping in their water like it was a bath, turning their faces up to the spray and jostling for postion in the now full muddy baths.

I’m so proud of the way my girls are growing, I’m sure it is a sign of the care we take to give them a good life.  Their days are spent in freedom on pasture, their natural behaviours of rooting and wallowing in full evidence.  At night they cosy up (after Stephen finally chases them in well after sunset), secure in the their little cottage.  It’s a pig’s life and it looks pretty good.

The Bees Knees

The Bees Knees

What can I tell you about bees?  Well I know more than I used to, but I also know that it’ll never be enough; they are complicated creatures with whims of their own, all we can hope for is to keep up.  I also know that bees don’t come easy, oh no indeed.  If you want bees you are going to have to work, you’re going to have to plan, you are going to have to call people many months in advance, chase around buying all sorts of weird equipment and you are going to have that nervous feeling, the whole time, that at the end of this process you are going to have a hell of a lot of bees.

And you’d be right.

There they are, two nucs (pronounced nukes) of bees living at the bottom of home field.  They are facing east so the very first light over the horizon hits them, this is good as too much shade makes the grumpy.  The hedge behind will shelter them a little from the winds and there is plenty of elderflower in blossom all around them to give them a good start in life.

The little yellow things are sugar water feeders, they are currently on a 2:1 ration to get them started and have been going through it at a remarkable rate.  Stephen has been replenishing them at regular intervals but I think really he just wants any excuse to spend time with his bees.

The man is smitten.

After quite a bit of bee related running around on Thursday and Friday I didn’t quite know what to expect of it all.  I was putting the boys to bed while Stephen quietly and calmly installed the two nucs.  By himself.  With no help. Just a youtube video and a glance at a fact sheet and off he went.

Now yes he has read the books and soaked up more bee info that the average human brain can cope with but I wondered (and worried) what it would really be like to be surrounded by all those, not to put too finer point on it, bees.  I’ll admit to some apprehension on my part as I donned my own bee kit and headed down the field as the sun began to dip beneath the horizon.

I stood a little way off, not wanting to get in the way, but a bee found be and stung me anyway.  Thanks bee, it’s nice to meet you too.  Luckily I have plenty of Apis on the go right now which sorted the sting out no problem but I wondered how Stephen had got on.  He wandered up the field, all beekeeper suited and wellington booted; as he pulled off the big hat and veil I saw it on his face.  Love.  Adoration.  Awe.  “They’re magical” he said and I knew I need worry no more.  This is his thing, these little flying creatures and their complicated lives, I’ll just be on the sidelines happily processing whatever goodies come our way.

When I started on all this I thought the point was to get honey and wax, I thought that was the only possible reason we would want to do something this mad.  But when I saw his face, lit up a little by the falling sun, his smile a mile wide, I knew it wasn’t even close to it.  Really, all of this, is just about joy; joy and wonder at how amazing this world and all the life within it, truly is.   If there is a better reason than that, I don’t know it.

Free and easy

Free and easy

OK people. It’s been forever since I wrote, so I’m merging two posts into one monstrously long one. You may need a comfort break around the paragraph about druidic rituals. Stretch your legs, that kind of thing. So, here goes:

Anyone that knows me will attest that I’m not a man to say no to something free. Especially when the freebie is 30 laying chickens, delivered in the back of a truck no questions asked and they’re able to pay for themselves in eggs. So when our neighbour said they are going to Scandinavia for a couple of months and offered us his flock of gently used Red Sexlinks, then obviously I said yes.

There are many occasions in my life when saying “Yes” too quickly has, quite frankly, bit me in the arse. For example, the time I said “Yes” to attempting a black diamond run on my first week in the Alps after being taught to ski for only a dozen or so hours on Sheffield’s rather embarrassing dry slopes. That didn’t work out too well. Hurtling uncontrollably downhill clipping endless mogul bumps like a scooter in a school zone while screaming “shit shit shit shit shit ohhhh shit!” is in no way elegant.

Or the time I said “Yes” to my school swimming instructor when he asked if anyone knew the Butterfly and I ended up competing in a race and coming in last by such a length that I got a standing ovation. I think everyone was just relieved to discover it only looked like I was drowning. Or when I said “Yes” to my CDT teacher when he braved my zeal to ask if I was really, really sure about the Expandable Foldable Portable Dog Basket. With hindsight, I now understand that his tone of awe was more incredulousness than amazement.

 

So it was no surprise when these thirty “free’ chickens ended up biting. The first problem was, we had no house and no fencing for them. The house was fairly easy to solve by evicting our four remaining original chicks from the ridiculously large Celestial Coop and relocating them into the newly dubbed “Retirement Condo”. That they’ve survived for nearly a year despite our best attempts to decapitate, strangle, freeze and scare them, I think more than earns an early retirement. Just like any other retirement village, we cordoned off a private pasture complete with stunning views of the pond, forest and fields. They seemed to like it and so the next job was to move the main coop into the field next to them (so they could see what they used to have).

That was a harder job since it was a bit damp for the tractor and the Celestial Coop doesn’t exactly have the natural poise and balance of Anna Pavlova. It’s more of a Barry White Lurve Abode, i.e. it’s meant to be kept horizontal at all times, has it’s own gravity well and plays merry hell with the bale spears on my tractor.

Yet despite the challenges, I managed to get it in place with only a couple of new holes in the walls. Then came the fencing. That stuff isn’t cheap! We were rushing because I had to leave for a conference in Las Vegas and so I opted for post spikes instead of digging the 3′ deep holes. Now, I don’t know how I manage it, but I have an unerring knack for finding subterranean boulders. Not just your average stones, I mean Stonehenge-esque dolmens handily located about 2 foot underground. Not deep enough to avoid the spikes, but just enough to make it an utter bitch to prize the things out again. I swear if there was ever a resurgence in the popularity of druidic ceremonies or a sudden demand for ritualistic sacrificial altars, my skill for finding boulders would make me a mint.

Anyway, so given our fields apparently have more boulders than the Andes, combined with the challenge of holding a 100′ roll of welded wire fencing steady while simultaneously trying to not hammer staples into my own hand, the finished fence isn’t exactly brilliant. It wobbles in a moderate breeze and certainly wouldn’t stop a determined Mexican at the US Border. But it does the job which at the end of the day, is good enough for now. The “free” chickens of course managed to escape almost immediately through the old fence I’d incorporated on one side to cut down on costs. Although I captured the rebel leader, the damage was done and her followers flapped merrily in ever increasing numbers into the adjacent pig pasture, tripping the electric fence and having great fun doing it.

Foolishly I decided to try leaving the fence switched off, thinking that the pigs had learned not to touch it and wouldn’t test it again at least until I managed to collapse Charlie Tunnel and prevent the Rebel Chickens from escaping. That apparently was the wrong decision. Pigs are clever beasts and quickly discovered that the lines weren’t live. They then decided to eat through the fence in order to make it that bit easier for the chickens to join them. However, having broken the barrier, they then realised how much fun it was to stomp about in the tilled field just outside their pasture.

But, channelling the farming equivalent of Greyskull, I invoked the power of The Bucket to save us. Two scoops of feed into it, a good rattle around and the pigs were back in the field. I repaired most of the fence and decided to take the lowest electric wire out since it’s deep into the weeds now anyway. Unfortunately, I made a discovery of my own: it’s best to turn off the power before working on the fence because 13,000 volts smarts when it goes through you. However on the bright side, my jolt shorted it again which eliminated the need to walk to the house to turn off the power which is probably just as well because I couldn’t feel my left foot for a while.

Eventually I got the fence repaired, Charlie Tunnel closed and decided to introduce the two flocks. Custard, our remaining rooster, thought Christmas had come early. With thirty new ladies to pounce on he was in Avian Nirvana. I swear he was playing the sympathy shag card because his limp got worse within moments of meeting his new harem. Unfortunately for Custard, the fun didn’t last. Like Kanye West, he got way too much swagger way too fast and attacked our 3 year old boy twice which earned him a rather messy beheading (the chicken, not Kanye, which would have been technically tricky to achieve with my little hatchet).

The loss of the remaining rooster has had a rather surprising effect on the ladies. I thought they’d be spending their days gossiping and fashioning rudimentary Prada handbags from straw and twigs. Instead, they’ve opted to get some hardcore hen-on-hen action going on. Like most blokes, I was naturally fascinated and took notes. After observing a few lesbian chicken sessions this week, my conclusion is that the mounting hen often looks confused with her position, but not half as startled as the one underneath. Inevitably they part with an uncomfortable shuffle and an agreement that it was just a college experiment, so let’s promise not to tell anyone. I’m still undecided who was more disappointed, them or me.

Sometime during all this fun I turned 40 years old, my parents and sister-not-in-law came for a visit and we took delivery of 2 new hives of bees! I’ll save that for the next post which I promise will be soon-ish. Suffice to say, my new name is Hive Master Funk, the Undisputed Lord of the Hive. Even after installing them, my lifetime absence of bee stings remains unbroken which must prove it.

Hello and Goodbye

Hello and Goodbye

Monday of this week was a bank holiday here in Canadaland and my how the sun shone!  It was a blistering day and we took full advantage of Nana and Grandad’s last day to get out and about.

We headed into town to explore the fun fair, it was Neirin’s first fun fair outing but he took to it like a pro.  Mummy and Daddy managed to suck up the horror of the prices and enjoy instead their offspring’s abundant excitement.

Once the coupons dried up we headed into the shade for a relax and a sweet treat.

Except for Daddy, he wasn’t allowed one…

After all that excitement we needed to cool off so we decamped to one of my favourite spots in Ottawa, the Arboretum.

Dinner at our favourite riverside pub rounded out the day perfectly, it is certainly one we won’t forget in a hurry.  All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Nana and Grandad, two weeks seem to have flown by but we’ll be seeing them again next spring when we visit the UK.  Hopefully we’ve made enough good memories to last us until then.

We’ll see you soon Nana and Grandad, thanks for visiting!

 

Montreal

Montreal

Last week my sister, mother-in-law and I took a trip to one of Canada’s most famous cities, Montreal.  I was excited to get out of province and see somewhere new; with a farm to run, a house to tend and a family to feed getting out and about can be tricky.  But with the help of Stephen and his Dad who took care of the boys, we were able to have a whole to day dedicated to outward bound fun.

I really enjoyed the city, the mix of old and new, modern and classic; it was a place that combined commerce and art, creating its own blend of chic.  Of course I felt right at home!  The architecture was a real pleasure, a mix of classic European (a lot of Montreal reminds me of Paris and bits of London) and North American, with buildings that remind me of films set in New York.

The weather did not smile on us but luckily there were plenty of cafes and restaurants to skip into if the rain got heavy or our tummies peckish.  We were also occasionally forced into shops for some serious browsing and even the occasional purchase.  Sigh, such is the burden the three of us carried together.

I truly adore where and how we live, but this day in the city was such a refreshing change.  Time to take photos, browse, chat, eat and drink; no wellingtons, or pig feedings, no mud or regular daytime chores.  It was just one day but for this Mama it was something of a mental holiday, a chance to remember that there is a world outside of our everyday chores and routines.  But of course even after a fabulous day of being chic and shopping till we dropped, there really is no place like home.

Kisses and Hugs Montreal, thanks for a great day out.  We’ll be seeing you again.

Surprise

Surprise

On Saturday last I was sitting on the sofa enjoying a  phone conversation with my Dad and a sit down after a 5 hour cleaning spree.  I was alone in the house as Stephen had taken the boys off for a hardware store shop and I’d opted to stay at home and finish cleaning the house in preparation for my in-laws arriving in a few days.

When the garage door banged I assumed it was one of the kids but when I called out and no one answered, I didn’t think much of it.  That is until my sister walked into the room.   That might not sound like a big deal if you are used to your family being nearby but I hadn’t seen my sister in the flesh for 3 years, not since she surprised me last time after Neirin’s birth!

According to my Dad (who was in on it and had timed his phone call so he could listen in on my surprise) the phone dropped and all he could hear was “Oh my god!” for about 15 minutes.  I did eventually remember that my Dad was on the phone but not before squeezing the life out of my sister and crying all over her a goodly amount.

There are some states of bliss that cannot be captured in words and having my sister here with me for a week was one of them.  Just knowing that she’d spent a year planning it, that she took a week off work and presumably sold a couple of cats into indentured slavery to pay for the tickets, warmed my old cockles.  It was lovely to share our life with her, in big and small ways.  Pointing out things during a car journey, knowing that she’ll remember and have a visual image when I’m describing our comings and goings during one of our mammoth phone calls.  Having her support during each day, making it all go a little lighter and smoother.

But we also had our big adventures, some special days that will live long in my memory.  A wonderfully relaxing day at the spa (courtesy of my parent’s in law who looked after the boys for the day) and a fantastic outing to Montreal were two major high points.  But even a trip to a book store or supermarket felt special with my sister along.  There is always something to find funny, or interesting, or both when she is around.

Despite the fact that she is younger, cooler, thinner, funnier, more artistic, sane and generally stylish than I am, I really enjoy having my sister around.  I think it is a testament to her winning personality that all of the above traits don’t put me off her completely, but somehow she manages to be one of my most favouritest people in the world.  And as the photos above testify I wasn’t the only one to enjoy her company.  The boys adored her patient attentiveness and couldn’t seem to show her enough, play with her enough, talk to her enough.  I know how they feel.

This last week seems to have gone by in fast forward and filmed in technicolour.  Each moment a bright highlight, too many to even list (though starting off Helen’s very own vintage pyrex collection was a proud and happy time for me), despite feeling that it went be far too quickly we seemed to manage to cram an enormous amount into a too short time.

After crying uncontrollably saying goodbye at the airport (for 45 minutes) I knew a piece of my heart was leaving.  There is no one in my life quite like my sister, nor will there ever be.  She is unique and occupies her own space within me, despite being teeny she really manages to elbow herself quite a lot of room in there.  But I know that the chilly, empty space left by her departing is somewhat filled by the little piece of herself that remains with me.  A piece I will hold tight for comfort until the next time we are together.  Too far away, but always anticipated.

We all miss you bean, we’ll see you soon xxx

Emerald Isle

Emerald Isle

On my morning walk about today I noticed two defining factors, everything is dripping wet and turning green.  Wherever I look there seems to be a carpet of emerald, bowed down by diamond jewels of moisture.  Today the air was heavy with humidity, the crisp breezes of April have died away (though the showers seem to be hanging around) while May is beginning to ripen into a lush carpet of soft grass and warm air.

As I squelched through the muddy pig and chicken fields on my morning chores and splashed through endless puddles while walking the dogs, I thanked my lucky stars for the neoprene wellington boots my sister bought me for christmas the year we bought this land.  They make my passage through our dripping wet landscape a pleasure rather than a bother.  For anyone contemplating a life on a farm I would say the first thing you need to buy is a good pair of wellingtons.

Of course I wasn’t the only one enjoying the waterlogged world outside,

Endless puddles, a full pond and overflowing stream are the stuff of dreams to a certain white floof.  She comes in dripping wet, soaked up to her chest and all the happier for it.  But then she isn’t the one cleaning the floors…

Even our house has sprouted some greenery!  We’ve added a green roof to the overhang on the first floor, it is made up of hardy sedums that will hopefully thrive in that sunny spot.  A few dandelions have even colonised one section, we’ll see how long they last!  As dandelions are one of my favourite flowers I really don’t mind seeing them out of a bedroom window, it’s like having a little mid air garden.

Sitting here writing this I am struck by the sounds of birds outside, each day adding more notes to this natural spring song.  It is punctuated by the strangled sound of our cockerel, the occasion child shout or pig snort; it is the sound track of my life and one that brings the world of green and mud to life with even more brilliance.

Peepers

Peepers

Two weeks ago we took delivery of a very special box.  Why so special?  Well it made peeping noises for a start!  Carefully we drove home, the box held firmly on Huwyl’s lap, rushing our precious cargo to safety.

30 Barred Plymouth Rock baby chicks were swiftly installed in their cosy digs, a small animal cage with a heat lamp for extra warmth.  Baby chicks need to be kept very cosy for the first weeks of their lives as they are meant to be snuggled under their mama!  These day olds cuddled together under the warmth of a red lamp and quickly settled in.

We shared this special occasion with friends who swung by to spend time with us and our growing menagerie of animals!  Is there anything sweeter than the happy face of a child holding a baby chick?

The children were all fascinated by the tiny balls of fluff and I was proud of how gentle they were.  Despite their excitement they understood that the littles couldn’t be away from the heat lamp for long and that we didn’t want to stress them.  These little balls of fluff will soon be full grown chickens, laying their eggs in the wood shavings and hay.  Looking at them now, so little, it seems impossible that they will be full grown birds in just a few months.

I think I’ll enjoy the fluffy stage while I can.