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Month: July 2014

In for a Duck Part 2

In for a Duck Part 2

So where did I leave you?  Why yes, with a lovely family of ducks that roam around our farm but are not exactly pond friendly.  Not a problem for a normal person, but that is a title I’ve never attempted to claim.  The lack of swimming seemed to me a problem, my pond remaining empty and unused; desolate if you will, a shimmering pool of duck-free sadness.

Of course there is really only one thing to do about that…on a Sunday morning with no previous planning taking place.  Ahem.  To contextualize I’d had a bit of a glum morning and so turned, quite naturally, to the livestock for sale ads on kijiji.  Everyone does that right?

I came, rather happily, upon an ad for rare breed ducks just south of us.  Even more happily the lovely chap was willing to meet in the middle making our pick up even easier, what could be more auspiscious? So, after breaking the news to my beloved that I may have, sort of, a bit, kind of bought 8 ducks and we needed to go pick them up now, we zipped south to a Tim Horton’s car park and what I will now forever think of as the Great Duck Pick-up.

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After a nice chat with the duck farmer chaps and a quick and easy duck transfer, we came home with 4 Welsh Harlequins (the only Welsh duck breed and an homage to my Welsh heritage) and 4 Magpies, a beautiful black and white bird that are among the top laying breeds.  Each group consists of 3 females and a drake, hopefully making it possible to breed some pure breed ducklings come spring time.

Upon our return, Stephen used state of the art transportation methods (a wheel barrow) to move the ducks down to the pond.  It was a hot day so we wanted to give them the chance to take a dip.  We moved a house down to the edge of the pond for them, exactly the same as the one that was working so well for our Muscovy family.  With great delight I opened the pet carrier, releasing our new ducks out onto the pond.

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Without hesitation they emerged and headed straight for the water, plunging in they were immediately at home, ducking their heads into the water as they waited for their compadres to join them.  Once they were all together they began swimming together, swimming and swimming and well, not to put too fine a point on it, swimming.  Swimming to the opposite side of the pond, about as far away from us as they could get and it became quickly evident that far away from us was where they intended to stay.

We quickly realized that these ducks, unlike the Muscovies, were unused to people and fled whenever we came near.  Fled into the middle of the pond.  The 15 foot deep pond.  And it suddenly occurred to me that if a duck doesn’t want to be caught, there’s no catching it.

IMG_0201 IMG_0202 IMG_0203IMG_0204  IMG_0205I’ll admit to being disappointed.  My lovely laying ducks wouldn’t come within a ponds width of the house we’d set up for them, they were basically living wild on our pond.  Luckily my lovely chap has a bit more patience than me and so began a programme of rehabilitation.  Though it’s taking time the ducks will now come and feed next to us, they are becoming used to where they are fed and coming onto shore regularly.  They are currently in moult and so they are not laying, we have a few weeks to gently train them to the safety of a night time house and, hopefully, the snuggly joys of a hay filled nesting box.

Oh and those non-swimming Muscovy ducks?  They are happy, growing well and, as you may expect, are now totally swimming on the pond.

In for a Duck. Part 1.

In for a Duck. Part 1.

Where to begin with this little story, I am struggling with that.  Should I begin with the offer from a neighbour?  The rainy night that brought the biggest rain of the summer? With the fact that I am, by birth and in my heart, an English girl and so have an achilles heel for things that remind me so powerfully of home?

I suppose, in truth, I should begin by saying we started the year committed to not bringing new animals onto the farm.  No way, no how.  We were done.  Exhausted.  Plates very very full thank you very much.  We now how 4 cows, nearly 90 meat chickens, 4 pigs, a bajillion laying chickens and 50 ickbillion bees.  Plus a vegetable garden, burgeoning fruit garden, trees to take care of, cow to milk, hay to bring in and on and on and on.  We are busy.  So while I coveted the idea of some ducks swimming around on our pond, I knew that this wasn’t going to be the year for it; I laid that idea firmly to bed and contented myself with a wistful look out over the pond every now and then.  This year we were being sensible.

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Of course that was never really going to go very well, sensible doesn’t land you on a small holding in Canada homeschooling 2 boys while trying homestead at the same time.  No it does not.  So when our neighbour casually mentioned to Stephen that a friend of his was giving away a bunch of ducks and did we want some, the answer, of course, was ‘sure!’.  Now if I can just explain, briefly, in an attempt to justify my lack of staying power, these were free ducks.  As in no money need change hands, no charge whatsoever.  I don’t know if you are familiar with the farm karma of free but basically the rule is, if you turn down free once it probably won’t come your way again.  So even if the timing isn’t right or it’s something you didn’t expect, you say ‘yes please’ and worry about the rest later.  That is the universal rule and you don’t want to mess with the universe, who knows what might become of it.

So when our neighbour offered to scoop Stephen off, one monsoon-like rainy night, to pick up these free ducks, away he went.  I grumblingly did the chores alone, feeling most sorry for myself with the rain pouring right through my coat as it beat down like someone had decided to follow me around with a hose on maximum blast.  When the ducks arrived in our large pet carrier, soaked through and looking quite bedraggled themselves, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to receive them.  But we carted them down to the polytunnel to give them somewhere nice to settle in for a bit and set them up with food and water.  The next couple of days were set to be rainy and while this is, as they say, nice weather for ducks (ha!) it is not nice weather for tractors and not good for house moving and general infrastructure setting up, so into the polytunnel they went.

As it turned out Stephen ended up in hospital the very next day so it was good that they had a comfy place to stay for a week.  In amongst the beans they went, immediately feasting on the little bugs they found there.  It seemed to take no time at all for them to be fully settled in.  Stephen was told that this was not likely a true family group, ducklings Mum and Dad had all just been scooped up together and sent on their way.  Apparently it doesn’t matter, Mama will adopt and ducklings around her as her own and the Daddy would settle to them all.  I was skeptical, I’ll admit, but in fact that is exactly what happened.

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After a week or so of free ranging up by the house, hanging out with they meat chickens each morning and avoiding the laying chickens each afternoon, we were ready to move them down to their true home, the pond.  We moved one of our mobile chicken palanquins down to the water’s edge where Stephen had mowed a nice area for them, and walked behind them, clapping gently to move them on their way.  The little family will all stick together when you do this, allowing you to herd them, sheep like, into their house.  After a couple of evening walks like this, they now head down to their house at dusk each evening, Mama and Papa now a true couple, chatting happily about their day as the growing ducklings rush on ahead, dashing in and out of the longer grass, jumping high to catch bugs and generally tiring themselves out with all the running around.

One thing we discovered, a little to my chagrin, is that this type of duck doesn’t like to swim.  These are Muscovy ducks, also known as Scoby ducks, and they are meat birds.  I don’t know if it is because they are heavier but swimming just isn’t their thing.  After some initial pond enthusiasm they’ve stayed firmly land side, with occasional forays into the kids paddling pool as it deflated, making it just perfect duckling height.  They seem happy with their summer house, the feed, the farm and even their mooing neighbours, but the pond is just for looking at as far as they are concerned.  A nice water feature and nothing more.

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It took about 2 minutes for these lovely creatures to fully win over my heart.  They are full of character and watching them form close family bonds has been a joy.  Though we know some of the ducklings are destined for the table, we enjoy them anyway, their antics giving us hours of entertainment.  Of course their lack of swimming left me feeling like something was missing, something really wasn’t quite right.  Which is why, dear reader, there is a Part 2 to this post.  And if you can’t guess what that involves, well then you really haven’t been paying attention at all.

Ok I’ll give you a hint.  It involves ducks.

Getting Medieval

Getting Medieval

In the Kingdom of Osgoode, once more it is medieval fair time!  We are so lucky to live within a few minutes of a great medieval fair that runs for a weekend each summer.  This year, like last year, we attended the fair’s education day with some of our homeschool pals. learning all about medieval life.  But unlike this year we didn’t attend the whole day as we were picking up Stephen from the hospital, so we just popped over for the afternoon.

To make up for it I took the boys to the actual fair over the weekend, something we’ve never quite managed to do.  It was fun to see all the stalls and hear the medieval music being played, and of course we had the chance to watch the jousting.  A hobbling Stephen came with us (he’s an injured chap and taking things slowly after a couple of days of being in the hospital) so we didn’t stay too long, but he did see live jousting for the first time!

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The boys loved the jousting, despite the hot sunshine, and cheering raucously for their favourite knights.  Huwyl was disappointed that none of the knights were unhorsed but other than that is was very enjoyable.  Given that the armour weighs upwards of 160lbs I think the knights were happy to stay where they were.

DSC_0804 DSC_0819 DSC_0823 DSC_0824As we wandered we saw a blacksmith working, tried out archery and castle storming.  Neirin even volunteered to go into the stocks, an excellent invention that I’m sure we could find a use for around the farm.  Ice creams were enjoyed and sword fights engaged in, generally a jolly good boys day out.

DSC_0829 DSC_0831 DSC_0832 DSC_0835Despite his brief interlude as a criminal, Neirin took the opportunity to be knighted by the King of Osgoode and Metcalfe, he took the honour seriously and I was proud of his confidence as he strode into the tent.  This boy of mine can by shy with strangers, but he knelt calmly and happily accepted this new honour.

DSC_0841 DSC_0842 DSC_0847 DSC_0848 DSC_0851 DSC_0853Trying on the armour was, of course, the absolute pinnacle for my two boys.  They spent more time in this tent than at the rest of the fair combined (though they lingered pretty heavily at the sword and dagger tent) and it was lovely to watch them trying to bear up under the weight of chain mail and helmet.  But bear up they did, with comments on how amazing the jousting knights are for carrying the weight of the armour and helmet while piling along the list.

Though only a brief interlude it felt good to get out as a family for a while.  The farm can dominate all of our time if we let it, so we are trying to take breaks and have some down time together.  That said I find myself reluctant to drive far and to leave behind the peace and green of our home.  I was glad to take part in celebrating the Kingdom of Osgoode, but just as glad to be home again afterwards.

Harvesting

Harvesting

As the summer is moving along we are certainly beginning to benefit from the bounty outside.  Partly from foraging the natural plants available to us (clover for tea and plantain for salves and tinctures) and partly from the garden we’ve planted this year.

Though this is our 3rd summer here, it feels like this is a first year of gardening properly.  The first year we planted in a ploughed area that was quickly overtaken by weeds.  Somehow we still managed to get some great crops (it was such a hot dry summer I think it was mostly fluke) including LOTS of tomatoes, but last year was a true washout.  Our soil is very depleted and lacking nutrients as well as being full of weeds and stones.  So this year we’ve created raised beds with sleepers and new soil, a fresh beginning for all of us.

IMG_0102IMG_0104Despite our new garden things have been slow to get going, partly because we were spending good planting time actually building the beds, partly because the chickens were still in the hoop house until well into April making it impossible to bring seeds on, but mainly  because it was such a slow and cool spring after the most brutal winter I’ve ever experienced.

Now, though, we really are starting to reap the rewards of our hard work.  We’re producing all our own salads (including some spring onions), are bringing in bright green peas that glow like jewels when cooked, we’re using our own eggs and, of course, making all our own dairy products with Wander’s lovely milk.  We’re far from self sufficiency, but we’re having many home grown and delicious meals as the season continues.

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My kitchen has felt extremely busy this last couple of days, and yet my to-do list doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter!  I need to make hummus, energy bar and bread tomorrow morning, all helpful staples for the summer time when hungry boys seem to want feeding about every 3 minutes.

On the plus side today I managed to make another round of yoghurt (we’ve gone through 3 litres in about 2 days!) with more milk earmarked for yoghurt making tomorrow.  I like to use milk I’ve skimmed pretty heavily for butter, I find the boys enjoy it more that way.  I made butter, set milk for soft cheese and made a hard cheese called Queso Fresco, it is supposed to be full flavoured within 3 days so I’m hoping to be enjoying it by the end of the week.

DSC_0770 DSC_0771DSC_0772DSC_0775In this time of swelling abundance it seems like there are not enough hours in the day to make the most of it.  While we have a fridge full of milk I hope to make butter and cheese to store for winter, while we have vegetables growing I aim to avoid the grocery store and include something in each meal.  I make mayonnaise with our free range eggs and stir fried rice with our own bacon and bright green peas; omelettes sprinkled with green fill our tummies with whipped cream and strawberries to follow.  We may be busier than ever, with more chores to do than we have time or energy for, but with such well fed bodies surely we will be able to manage it all.

Haying Time

Haying Time

For the last week we’ve been holding our breath, every day praying to the gods of sunshine and grass that the weather stay true; sunshine and warm breezes was what we needed, no rain for us thank you very much.

We’d held off as the weather forecast told us day after day there were risks of showers or thunder storms, showers and thunder storms that never came.  Day after day of beautiful sun came and went, wasted on us as we had not yet cut.  And so came the final day, the day we decided to go for it, last Wednesday Stephen went out with our newly acquired (and repaired) haybine to cut the hay.  The hay fell before it’s mighty blades (ahem), falling in swathes to the dry ground, beckoning the sun to dry it to perfection.

That night, up in town at my friends house, I watched in despair as the rain poured down, tipping off the edge of the roof to hit the ground hard, monsoon like it spilled in fat streaks, silhouetted against the lightening the heralded my doom.  Another friend there that night received a phone call from her husband telling her a tree had just fallen on their property, and that she shouldn’t attempt to drive in such bad weather.  Not a great omen.

After days of no rain it had arrived, on the very day we’d cut our hay, the hay we need to feed our cows through the many months of Canadian winter.  My heart was in my shoes as I drove home that night, but as I got further south and closer to home I noticed the roads drying up, no sign at all of the passing storm.  Somehow it had slipped north of us, leaving our field alone, leaving it dry and untouched.  I praised mightily whichever generous breezes had pushed that storm clouds away from our land, sending them to town where they could rain and thunder with impunity;  I woke with relief the next day to clear skies and dry ground, but continued to watch with worried eyes.

I watched each cloud that scudded by, even the friendly fluffy ones.  I watched each morning to see if the grey cumulus that crowded the skyline would depart, each day they did and each day I was grateful.  After 4 days on the field Stephen went out to rake it, but it is never as simple as that.  The rake broke repeatedly (apparently it needs a new gearbox) leaving us frustrated and worried.  But through the heat of the day my chap soldiered on, repairing what he could and, eventually, borrowing our neighbours rake to finish the job.  The next day our neighbour came in the late afternoon, after a long warm day had smiled down on our neatly(ish) raked hay and baled it into smooth, round discs of perfection.

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Last night we walked down to Bottom Field in the late evening sunshine, a ritual that is 3 summers old now.  We inspected the bales, looking at the quality of the hay (fabulous), counting out the bales (51) and generally high fived ourselves for producing such top notch hay for our cows this winter.  They will feast mightily on these tightly bound green bales, nourishing themselves with these slices of summer throughout the long monochrome months.

After waiting for what seems like an age for this day, I feel a huge sense of relief to have the hay harvest in.  It is such a crucial time in the calendar and such a vital crop if we are to continue raising cows.  I think back to that first year, the year our neighbour took the hay for us,producing bales full of thick branches, only fit for bedding; bedding for animals we didn’t own back then.  Only 3 summers later we have hay to rival any farm and four cows roaming our fields enjoying the green pasture and sunshine.  A lot has changed in these last 3 years, not least of all us.

So now the scary part is done, though there is work to follow.  Stephen has to move last years hay to a new spot and bring up the beautiful new bales.  They need to be stacked and covered over, ready for the cold months to come.  But for now I pretty much feel like this,

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The hay is in!

A Single Moment

A Single Moment

Joining in with Amanda this week to share a single moment captured, ordinary and every day yet special and extraordinary.  A moment to treasure.  If you’d like to join with me please do post a link in the comments.

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Happy Friday!

 

This Week In My Kitchen

This Week In My Kitchen

I’m once again joining in with Heather over at her blog to chronicle what’s going on in my kitchen this week.

I feel a bit like my kitchen has been neglected over the last few days, but when I look back over a few photos snapped in the early part of the week I can see there’s been plenty of activity.  It’s been really busy here on the farm this week, it seems like every day there is more to do than hours or energy allows.  The garden is coming on apace, but then so are the weeds.  Trees need attending, herb transplants need to go in and there is always the weeding..and the weeding…and, well you get the idea.

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Dinners are low key at the moment, we’ve had some of that really hot and humid July weather we get here in Ontario, the intense all consuming heat that makes activity five times more sweaty tiring than usual.  Light picnics are the order of the day, hummus and veggies with a good side order of honey-covered locally picked strawberries; just the ticket for a hot summer day.

Along with eating our body weight in hummus, I’m trying to use our own produce as much as I can.  Right now that means recipes using eggs and greens, there really is nothing like a feta and spinach omelette to fill the tummy without too much heaviness.  Light dinners notwithstanding I’m still finding plenty to do in the kitchen, but it is a different kind of work.  I’m trying to discipline myself to make more of my own basics, the kinds of staples we would usually buy.

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With a fridge full of milk from our lovely milking cow, Wander, I’m in cheese making mode. The photos above are of my feta, currently seasoning and waiting to go into brine and then the fridge for a 30 day cure.  My first batch of feta melted into the brine, so I’m hoping that the addition of calcium chloride will keep it firm enough to sprinkle on my omelettes later in the summer.

Later today I’m hoping to have tried a batch of peanut butter hummus, made a double batch of mayonnaise and attempted some Queso Fresco cheese, which I’m frankly very nervous about.  On top of that there is bread to make, strawberries to pick for jam, lettuce to sew, fruit bushes to mulch, trees to weed out, animals to feed…totally doable.  Totally.  Yep.  No problemo.