Archive for the ‘country scenes’ Category

My Daily Endorphins

Pretty much every morning I take the dog out for exercise. We used to run, but recently I’ve traded in my running shoes for a mountain bike. After easing into my riding muscles on the flat Trans Canada Trail that runs past the bottom of our property, I’m now ready for the hilly trails through the 160 acre forest next door. We go out the west gate of our property and head onto the power line trail. This photo shows a section of the trail that I call “our road”, a wide stretch that leads from our gate (where I’m standing to take the photo) to a four-way trail intersection (up where the power pole is in the photo). This stretch of road is therefore only used by us, which is why I call it “our road”.

The power line trail is wide; BC Hydro (our power company) maintains a 20 metre wide cleared area. At first it is surrounded on both sides by a forest of mostly Douglas fir, with thick low-lying vegetation in the undergrowth and open spaces between the bare tree trunks (Douglas firs need sunlight; as they grow they shed their lower branches). I love to look into the woods as I go by; the sunlight is dappled and plays along the tree trunks as I pass.

Farther along the trail, one side opens up to a field with a small road leading to the cemetery. It’s my favorite viewpoint.

The cemetery was established by the local Chinese community and holds the remains of Chinese workers who helped build the railway during the end of the 19th century. Where the few grave markers can still be seen, the daisies have bloomed in abundance.

The cemetery lies on a hill that provides a lovely view of the valley and the mountains beyond.

Invariably, as I’m walking or riding along I develop a deep sense of calm and happiness. For me, being out in Nature is the closest thing I can get to a spiritual experience. I feel myself lightening, as though weights were lifting off me. My mood improves, often to the point of being positively glowing. I’m generally not exerting myself the way I used to when I was running, and yet I feel the same endorphin high. My senses seem to be particularly alive: I hear the birds singing and the wind rustling through the trees and grasses, when I enter the forest trails the cool humidity dances across my skin, I smell earth and greenness and fresh air. I look at the plants, noting how tall they are growing, which are bearing flowers, and seeing the first fruits (huckleberries, salmonberries, and wild strawberries). I use this time to practice being present, letting go of any worries or anxieties that may be distracting me from fully being in the moment. To be honest, it’s hard to hang on to a bad mood when I’m out walking or riding. I can’t help but appreciate how lucky we are to be here, in this time and place, with these quiet and beautiful natural surroundings. I feel in my heart that I have finally found Home.


Signs of Summer

I don’t have a clothesline yet and not even sure where to put it as the layout of the house and yard is unusual. So for now I’m using my wooden clothes horse. The family cloth, however, doesn’t dry well over thick round wooden rails and tends to get blown off easily. So I rigged up this hemp twine across a corner of the deck:

I mentioned in my last post that the strawberries were ripening. We’re in full-on strawberry mode now, and have been enjoying regular bowls of sweet goodness all week. Thank heavens at least one of my children partakes in our harvesting!

Green Fields and Happy Pigs

It has been a while since I posted, and things around here have been busy but not rushed. There’s a big difference and I think I’ve only really started to appreciate that since we moved out to the country. But I digress…

The biggest project and first priority around here has been the new field. It had to be raked and seeded, and yours truly did all the raking herself (I’ll take a bow). Sure we could have hired a tractor, bought a fancy attachment for the ATV, or just built one ourselves like the neighbour did (he attached a long rectangle of chicken wire to a heavy log and dragged it around his property). But it just seemed easier to go out and do it by hand. It was a learning experience to be sure, and it also allowed me to get a feel for the soil in the field and which spots had better soil than others. I was very pleased with the final result, especially how I ended up piling the last bits of debris along the field border, which saved me having to toss it all into the trailer and then dump it. It was dusty work during the dry summer weather spell we were having, but right when I finished the skies opened up and it has rained pretty much every day for the last week. Soon there was green coming up everywhere and Husband and I were running around pointing and shouting in excitement. The photo below is taken from the “test patch” we seeded when we first started raking. The rest of the field is sprouting little cotyledons of grass and clover and I can’t wait to see what it all looks like when grown.

By the way, the fenced-off area in the topmost photo is Husband’s heritage wheat project. It’s pretty cool and I’ve been bugging him to write some posts on the subject. Stay tuned!

The field project was briefly interrupted by the arrival of the pigs, who quickly outgrew their little paddock. Husband expanded the area and they are very happy as there’s a nice muddy wallow they like to hang out in. I am amazed at how strong those pig noses are and what they are able to root out of the ground, even at their relatively small size. I am, however, getting tired of hauling feed to them 2 or 3 times a day so I’m wanting to get a pig feeder. We are also hauling water to them, which they are drinking out of a bucket. This is less than ideal, and if they weren’t the only livestock we’re caring for it would probably be intolerable. First, they love to turn their bucket upside down which means we are refilling it at least once a day and often more than that. We really need to get a proper water trough that they can’t tip over. Second, there is only one outside tap on the property; it’s on the side of our trailer. So to water the pigs we need to go get the bucket, bring it up to the house, rinse and fill it, and bring it back down. This is fine for now but eventually we’ll have more animals, hopefully a barn, and we’ll need a water source further down the property. We have several options we’re looking at; the one I’m most excited about is rainwater harvesting. But more on that later…Meanwhile the pigs seem very happy and they are doing a great job of clearing the land under their hooves. (sorry for the blurred photo, but they didn’t want to sit still for me that day!)

With the field done I quickly moved on to my next project: getting plants into the ground. I was given some leeks, chives, and oregano by my neighbour. Then a friend came to visit and brought me raspberries and some inedible plants. And then Husband went to a local farm for their annual heritage tomato seedling sale and came home with a bunch of vine and bush varieties. These had all been sitting in pots for too long, so I got to work making a bed for them.

I still haven’t figured out exactly where my eventual garden will be. It will be a thing of beauty, with several raised beds in rotation, pretty pathways, and all surrounded by deer-proof fencing. But that will have to wait until fall. Meanwhile, I picked a spot in the field where I knew from raking that the soil was nice. I measured out a 4 x 12.5 square and began digging. If I hadn’t suspected it already, digging confirmed that underneath the thin layer of nice topsoil is heavy and rocky clay. I added four bags of Sea Soil to the bed to build it up a bit, as well as lime and complete organic fertilizer (I’m using Steve Solomon’s method; more in a later post).

After much digging and raking I was able to put the tomatoes, raspberry, and leeks into the ground. I’ll put the inedible plants in the flower garden near the house, and I’ll put the oregano and chives in a pot on the deck. I have no idea how well the tomatoes will grow; this was as slapdash as they come. Right after I got the plants in I came down with a rotten cold, and the first one in a year that has landed me in bed. For the last three days I’ve been wholly unproductive, but am finally starting to get my energy back. Between that and some visitors it’s been a slow two weeks but I’m looking forward to tackling the next job…whatever that is, I haven’t decided what to do next!

We have Livestock!

It’s been an exciting week. We got the call on Monday that our piglets were ready. Husband frantically worked at finishing Casa Porcina, while I prepared for my Mother’s first visit to our new place. The electric fencing was up, but the shelter was not complete.

Originally I wanted to just lay some straw bales in a U-shape and use the plastic corrugated sheeting from the old greenhouse as a roof. But Husband had other ideas. He bought four of those concrete support blocks with grooves in them (usually used for decks). He stood 2×4’s up in them and screwed them together to make a 4 ft high “corner”, then put up particle board walls that were secured to the 2×4’s. Daughter got to pick out the paint colour (which was selected from the “oops” cans at the local hardware store: custom mixes that had been rejected by the customer).

When he got to the ratty old greenhouse to salvage the sheeting he was struck by an idea: he took the whole roof off and put it on the pig house.

He then supported the front with two slim logs (drawn from our massive pile: it is helpful having lots of logs around!). They are dug down into the ground and there were already nails poking down from the support beams on the roof so he just pounded those into the tops of the logs. We think it looks very “rustic chic”!

Finally the big day arrived. Turns out we were the first people they had ever sold piglets too – they generally keep them all for their thriving pasture-raised, drug-free, free-range pork business. But they’d had a surplus of piglets and Husband had convinced them the pigs would have a good home at our farm. It was great that the owners were so concerned the pigs be well cared-for, and not shut up in a barn or fed hormones, etc. They asked us if we wanted black or brown piglets and we said “one of each”, so the guy brought them out in a pig box which was basically a wooden crate carried on the front bucket of his tractor. He then plucked them out by the hind legs and into our dog crate they went.

Every now and then on the drive home they would let out an oink, which sounds remarkably like a loud burp. This would elicit peals of laughter from the kids and then the adults. It was only about an hour’s drive home and soon the pigs were exploring their new home.

They started rooting in the ground right away and soon had a nice wallow dug for themselves in which they rested. We feed them three times a day with a combination of fresh kitchen scraps and commercial pig feed, the latter watered down into a mash. We’re still experimenting with how much to feed: it’s supposed to be enough that they can clean it up in about 20 minutes, but so far we are giving them too much. Better that then underfeeding them which, at this stage in their lives, can stunt their growth. Watching their snouts in action there’s no doubt they will make great land-clearers; the soil where they are is very nice and loaded with worms and bugs – they seem to be enjoying the feast! We will soon be expanding their paddock to make it bigger, but for now they seem content. There is lots of straw in their shelter and last night I saw they had made a nice bed for themselves and hunkered down together. The dog is very curious but apparently doesn’t view them as prey (they weigh as much as she does right now, about 40 lbs) so she isn’t trying to go after them. She also gave us all a live demonstration that the electric fence works, so she stays clear of the pig paddock now!

It’s time for me to go feed the piggies their breakfast. There’s more going on here, but it will have to wait for another post. Meanwhile I’ll leave you with this cute shot:

Meet the Neighbourhood Residents

Every morning after I wake up I slip into some sweats, pull on my rubber boots, and take the dog for a walk. Sometimes we meander through the property before heading onto the Trans Canada Trail, a section of which runs alongside the bottom edge of our property. Other times we head to the forest next door. I’ve taken a keen interest in learning about the native plants and trees in this region, and on my walks I mentally identify those I’ve come to recognize, while taking samples of those I haven’t. In winter, when we first arrived, it was harder to identify those without leaves. But now that spring is in full force they are making themselves known. I also like watching the cycle of the seasons begin anew – it’s my first time, too, in this place.

I enjoy reading about the plants and animals other would-be farmers are dealing with on their new properties. Chile chews about life in Arizona, a climate vastly different from my own temperate rainforest. While she is dealing with foxtail on her new acre, Jenna and Jer at No Name Farm have been tackling mesquite and cactus since they bought their 15 acre plot. So I thought some of you might be interested to see what lives in my neighbourhood.

One of the first plants to rear its head in early spring were the Stinging Nettles, which I soon harvested. Next came these interesting subjects:

These are Vanilla Leaf, also known as Deer Foot. Each cluster of three leaves grows on a single tall stalk that rises about 1.5 ft above the ground. They are a lovely pale green and grow in carpets-like patches. When dried, they smell somewhat of vanilla and apparently will repel flies if hung in doorways, etc. I have dried a clump of them, to me they smell not half as lovely as real vanilla, and we’ll see how well they keep the flies away when it’s warm enough for open doors and windows. But they do look very pretty in the ground.

Around this time I also began to notice some flowering plants. This is a Western Trillium, so named because of its three leaves topped by a three-petal flower. They are quite large and, I think, have a primordial look about them:

Another flowering plant that showed itself at this time is Pacific Bleeding Heart. The flowers are interesting in that they form a sort of bubble (the petals spread apart then come together at the tip) which is heart shaped. This specimen is growing up against the skirt of our home, but it is abundant in our woods as well:

We have lots of ferns here. Many are evergreen species but lately I’ve noticed a different kind of fern sprouting from the ground. Here’s a shot of two different species:

The one on the right is a Sword Fern, an evergreen. The fronds grow from ground level. On the left is a Bracken Fern, a deciduous plant. These begin growth as a single stalk that reaches upward from the ground while side branches begin to unfurl. I’ve noticed these for a couple of weeks now and they are getting taller and taller. I read they can reach upwards of 3 – 5 metres!

Also in the last couple of weeks, the Pacific Dogwoods have begun blooming. It is strange to me to see flowering trees here even though I know they are native (the dogwood is the official flower of British Columbia); I’m used to evergreens. They are gorgeous trees when in bloom; we have several in our yard but they are also growing abundantly in our woods. I snapped this photo from a tree that was growing sideways, presumably to catch the sun, but they can grow quite tall:

I’ll finish up with a picture of some of the more mobile residents of our neighbourhood. The elk have returned and are staying longer to feast on the new grass. I snapped this photo yesterday from the end of our driveway:

Big Changes

I haven’t had much time to post lately, but there have been some huge changes going on here. The tree fallers came on Tuesday and took down about 15 trees, all over 100 feet tall. The excavator has been here two days and is coming for one more half day tomorrow. I will fill you in with the details and more photos, but for now I’ll leave you with this before and after comparison:

My first harvest: Nettles!

I only recently discovered that Stinging Nettles grow in Southwestern British Columbia (not that I’d honestly given it any thought before). Last summer while visiting a friend’s farm in Fort Langley they spied some on the side of their country road and pointed them out to us. My friend explained that they make an excellent and nutritious tea when dried, and you can prepare them as you would spinach or kale (they lose their potent sting when cooked). Apparently they are packed with vitamins and other good stuff.

Recently, a discussion on my fave parenting board included the harvesting and preparation of Nettles. It was around that time that I happened to go on a walk through our property and noticed some plants growing in abundance in a certain section of the woods. Could it be?…I went home, did a Google Image search, and then went back out to that spot. Yup, we’ve got Nettles. Quite a large crop of them, in fact. It’s a good thing we bought this place during the colder season – I can only imagine how painful the discovery would have been were we not clad in long pants and high rubber boots!

And so, very excited, I perused my favorite Soup Book to find a recipe. They had one for traditional nettle soup but I was out of potatoes and hoping not to have to go into town before lunchtime. Instead I found a recipe for Spinach and Rice soup that uses arborio rice. I had all the ingredients and so I excitedly headed out to collect them (after watching this YouTube video for instructions). I didn’t have a paper grocery bag so I used an empty Club Pack box of cereal.

It took me only about 5 minutes to fill the box. I started harvesting the smaller plants (about 6″ tall) and then did some bigger ones thinking I would hang them to dry as I’d seen on this YouTube video. When I got back I began to trim the leaves off the stems and place them in my weighing bowl. The recipe called for 1.5 pounds of spinach, which translates to 680 grams. As the pile grew higher I was dismayed to see that I wasn’t getting close to this amount. I ended up using my tall plants and still only had about 250 grams when done. But wow, it sure seemed like a lot of greens, even though I knew they shrink when cooked down.

Well, I wasn’t going to go back out and it sure seemed like plenty so I kept going. I rinsed the leaves then placed them in a pan with some salt and cooked over medium heat until they wilted. I needed to do two batches there were so many, but they did shrink down just like spinach does. I noticed the smell was interesting, sort of reminded me of the smell of the forest after it rains. I was curious to know what they would taste like, and fascinated that something which I had to handle with rubber gloves was going to become a tasty dish.

I chopped the cooked greens and continued with the simple recipe. When it came time to add the greens I realized that yes, indeed, I had waaaaay too much! I thought about this afterwards and wondered if maybe I should have included the stalks in the weight. Regardless, I’ve made a note to halve the amount next time. Despite this, the soup was tasty and I decided it was true what I’d read, that they taste like a milder version of spinach. Sometimes when spinach is cooked (especially when overcooked) it gets a strong smell/flavour that turns me off. That flavour was absent in this dish. I have to say that the thrill of eating something I had just picked less than an hour ago really added to the dining experience. I didn’t expect to be harvesting vegetables just yet – and I didn’t even have to plant or weed them! I plan to go out and harvest some more and dry them so I can use them after they are no longer in season. Apparently they are only good when young, in the Spring. Once they have flowers they are no good to eat (some sites say they are mildly hepatotoxic at this stage). Since they are so prolific I might as well “make hay while the sun shines”, then I’ll have a jar of dried nettles to add to soups and other recipes when I am out of fresh greens, or when winter comes. Hooray for Nettles!