Friday, September 2, 2011

Apologies and an explanation

Hi, folks:

Just a quick note to let you know that we haven't been overrun or consumed by rose chafers. Life just got really busy since my last post on June 22.

The kids have been home for summer holidays, we've been dealing with a lot more predator issues this year (deer and foxes and bears, oh my!) and I got another job (in addition to the one(s) I already have). I also took a 10-day solo trip out to the east coast for some exploring, soul searching and recharging.

The kids go back to school next week and I'll start writing again then. In the meantime, I thought I'd share a few photos of the goodness that's been growing on the farm lately.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

They're rose chafers... I think!

I think I've finally figured it out -- these little beasties are rose chafers, or Macrodactylus subspinosus!

According to Jeffrey Hahn, Associate Professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota:

• An adult rose chafer is a moderate-sized insect, slender, pale green to tan in color with reddish‑brown or orangish spiny legs and short antennae.

• The larval stage, or grub, has a brown head and conspicuous legs and its body is bent into a ‘C’ shape. Fully grown, a rose chafer larva is about 3/4-inch long.

• Adult rose chafers feed primarily on flower blossoms, especially roses and peonies, causing large, irregular holes. They also damage fruits particularly grape, raspberry, and strawberry.

• Rose chafer also feed on the foliage of many trees, shrubs and other plants, such as rose, grape, apple, cherry, and birch. Rose chafers typically damage leaves by eating the leaf tissue between the large veins, a type of injury known as skeletonizing.

Now that I know what they are, I can figure out what to do about them! Stay tuned!

Help with pest ID.... please!

It was late May when I first noticed them in the sumac.

Then they moved onto my beloved roses and peonies.

But when they attacked the strawberries, they made this fight personal.

Just a few days ago Ella help me pick a small, but beautiful, harvest of strawberries.

Now the patch looks like this. Decimated.

I've been calling these pests Japanese Beetles, based on their behaviour, the damage they inflict and the kinds of plants they favour, but now I'm not so sure. According to some of my reading, the front of Japanese Beetles are dark metallic green while their wings are a metallic dark tan. Also, there are two small patches of short white hairs on the rear and five white hair tufts along each side.

These pests are neither metallic, nor do they have those distinctive white markings, which are key identification features.

However, I have found many of these -- or something that looks like these -- in the ground, which are the larvae of Japanese Beetles:

Photo source: Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada

So what are these? False Japanese Beetles? Mutant Japanese Beetles? Something else entirely?

Their bodies measure approximately 1 cm or 0.5 inches.

The photos are a bit dark but as these beasties are solar-powered -- they're sluggish when it's cloudy out and most active when it's sunny -- I had to photograph them in dim light.

I'm desperate to identify these as this year's infestation is much worse that last year's and I've got to take some action. I've read that there are a couple of treatments for Japanese Beetles, namely milky spore and/or beneficial nematodes, but if this is another kind of beetle, then that may prove ineffectual.

Any suggestions, advice or stories from your own garden/farm trenches would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Madcap Monday -- duck daycare

The ducklings are getting too big for their brood cage (and my office!) so I put them outside to acclimatize while I figure out where to move them to. No sooner had I turned my back to go into the house to get their water when I heard movement behind me -- it was Henry, the Mother Hen... or is that Mother Duck?

Henry wouldn't even look at me while I tried to take his picture (I used the zoom lens to capture the first photo). I think he's trying to maintain some sense of dignity and decorum after getting caught fraternizing with the ducklings.

I don't think it's working.

Am I supposed to herd these?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Purple bees!

On Wednesday I brought home three colonies of honeybees, and while I still want to write about that trip/adventure/travelling gong show involving a minivan, escaping bees and road construction, I was too excited about what I saw this morning not to share these photos now.

As I was checking the almost blooming peonies for signs of Japanese beetle damage, I heard a low humming sound coming from the Chinese poppies -- our beautiful Dancing Bees!

Our farm has been blessed with visitor bees before and this spring was rich with bumblebee activity, but there is something magical about seeing these creatures collecting pollen from our flowers to make the honey that we will one day enjoy.

I'm very, very new to bees but already I'm crazy excited about sharing this place with these amazing and industrious creatures. I'm fascinated by their biology, their social structures and hive hierarchies, their behaviour and their beauty.

I thought I'd be scared being this close to them, but I was in awe of their work as they dove into the heart of the flowers and swam through the stamens, slathering themselves with beautiful purple pollen.

As one emerged, I watch it sit on the edge of the flower petal, brushing the pollen off her head and thorax until the baskets on her legs were just bursting. Mesmerizing.

I still have so much to learn about managing the hives, working with the bees, protecting them from parasites and disease and even simply harvesting the honey.

But in the meantime, I'm grateful for this new insight on what it truly means to be "busy like a bee."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The aftermath

After passing four days in the company of beeswax candles and our generator, we got our power back. When one of the forestry workers from the hydro company came to our door late on Saturday with the news, I almost jumped up and kissed his weary cheek. (As he was leaving he said to Lucas that he always liked working in rural areas. When folks say, 'thank you' they really mean it!)

After that first storm (and subsequent power outage) in late April, this one seemed like a bad case of deja vu, just worse. Not only did our house grow quiet and dark, but our phone went down and then our well pump, albeit only for one morning. Not to mention that our truck had broken down earlier in the week.

We lost one of two beautiful basswoods; the larger one, which once stood like a sentry outside our barn.

As we first discovered the downed tree in the darkness, we had no idea how bad the damage was.

I'd say this is a textbook definition of a "close call."

The goats made the most of it, bellying up to the basswood buffet:

A maple that once stood in the corner of the kitchen garden was sheared almost in two, taking with it a few beautiful blooming honey locusts, as well as a whole corner section of fencing.

The outhouse didn't fare too well either, nor did a section of the roof on our driveshed.

We lost several trees on the perimeter of the hayfield and the woods look like Mother Nature threw one hell of a temper tantrum.

Dozens of trees were stripped of their boughs like a banana is peeled of its skin.

Despite the chaos and disorder, I've learned much from this latest storm, besides what foods to have in stock and how many gas cans to keep filled.

Many of these lessons I "knew" before, but it's always good to be reminded:

• Life is messy. No matter how much I try to control, prevent and avoid, stuff happens.

• It doesn't stop happening: Just because we had a bad storm last month (literally or figuratively), that doesn't excuse us from having another one this month, or the next.

• We're not "owed" any breaks and Mother Nature doesn't play by our rules, grant us our wishes or fulfill our needs. We can choose to resist or accept this -- go with the current or press upstream -- but regardless it doesn't make any difference; the river will continue to flow.

• Whatever happens isn't good or bad -- it just is. It's easy (really easy) for me to despair and stress and create all sorts of grief and anguish for myself and my family, but really, what good does that do?

• I can choose to focus on the loss or I can be grateful for the gains. Yes, it's challenging to be out of power and continue to function (work especially) but we're lucky to have a generator and I do love experiencing the night by the glow of candlelight. Sure, it's sad our favourite barnyard tree fell, but perhaps it'll give space for its twin to flourish. While the woods look like a battlefield, the great trees that fell have made room for the saplings to stretch their branches and grow. And while it's a huge amount of effort in an already time-strapped life to gather, cut and stack all these downed trees, it's good work that makes our bodies strong and the wood will provide heat for our family this winter. And the fencing that came down? We were looking to move that anyway. (I'm still looking for the silver lining on the driveshed roof...)

• As long as my family is safe, nothing else matters. Nothing.

Earlier this week, my yoga teacher said that living a joyful life means "doing what you love, and loving what you do." That doesn't mean life always goes according to plan or that I can always do the things that make my heart sing, but it does mean appreciating the good in that which I must do.

Translation: I can focus on all the never-ending, tiring work that this sometimes messy life creates or I can choose to savour its fullness and the amazing opportunities that I am so very blessed to experience. And as any teacher will tell you, practice makes perfect.

P.S. Re: my "Down and out, again" post -- Thanks for all your well wishes, good karma and kind thoughts. I appreciate it so very much.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

And the winner is...

... Josee!

Please email me at info [at] rowangarthfarm [dot] ca with your mailing address so Penguin Canada can mail out your "Whole Foods to Thrive" prize pack!

Thanks for all of your comments and I'm sorry for the delay in posting the winner.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Down and out, again

Amidst a sizzling day of record-setting temperatures, another wicked storm ripped through our farm yesterday; two, in fact. The first knocked out our power around 3 p.m. while the second touched down around 7:30 p.m., bringing with it hail, gale-force winds and intense lightning strikes.

We're safe, thankfully, but this time the damage is more widespread. I know I should be cultivating some sense of gratitude and appreciation for coming through unscathed but instead I'm feeling battered and raw, just like our downed trees. The incessant roar of our generator is making me agitated and grumpy. With over 110,000 people still without power, we're told it'll be Saturday before we're up and running again. I'll be back then, if I don't run away and join the circus first...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Growing under glass: a cold frame update

I realize it's been ages since I've written anything about what's growing in the cold frames.

My last post was in late April, when the spinach was in its just-sprouted stage and the parsley hadn't even germinated yet.

That was then:

And this is now:

And taking a peek in the leaf lettuce and mesclun mix box... then:

And now:

I still find the transformation extraordinary -- from seed to food in just seven weeks! I know the argument for shopping at the grocery store is the "convenience" but really -- growing greens this way isn't just convenient, it's easy and so much more delicious that soggy or wilted store-bought produce.

And given all the battles that I'm waging in the kitchen garden with the weeds and the grass and the bugs -- not to mention managing these wild weather swings -- this cold frame growing seems so much more civilized.

Even Jack and Ella have been a great help with harvesting greens...

... and making delicious salads for some zero-mile inspired dinners, such as this one featuring homegrown eggs, herbs and asparagus.

Ella especially has embraced visiting the cold frames and bringing in a basket for each meal -- "just like in the pioneer times, mama."

The one lesson we learned is this: the props that we use to hold the windows open need to be more secure.

This one was the victim of an unruly gust of wind that lifted the open window and dropped it on the frame base, smashing it and beheading the lettuce and onions beneath it. As the bed is completely contaminated with glass, I think I'll let everything go to seed (the mesclun mix is already there) before removing all the soil and starting again.

On the whole, growing under glass has been a hugely rewarding experience and as the weather heats up and these greens near the end of their growing season, I can't wait to see what grows next.

First strawberry!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Madcap Monday -- the "fresh" edition

This is can of my kids' apple juice.

Notice the band at the top:

If the "special edition" contains fresh Ontario apples,
dare I ask what's in the juice the rest of the time?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Rhubarb made three ways

One of the things I love about growing food is that my kids get to experience the full spectrum of local, in-season eating -- the waiting, the watching, the harvesting and the eating. Ever since we discovered the pleasures of rhubarb last year, Jack has been eyeing up rhubarb row, waiting for the time when we can once again pick some fresh 'barb.

While asking the children to help me dig up weeds is like pulling teeth, it was lovely to see them embrace the task of leafing through the rhubarb patch in search of the most tender and ruby-red stalks.

The is just the first of many, many baskets.

The kids asked if they could eat the stalks raw, to which I replied, "sure!" What I didn't tell them was just how tart and tongue twisting it tastes!

As they chewed, they scrunched up their faces like they'd been sucking lemons. It didn't take long before they spat out their mouthfuls and declared that while they both liked rhubarb baked "in things", raw was just "gross."

This easy-to-grow perennial can be quite prolific, so I've been on the lookout for recipes that will make the most of our delicious bounty.

I recently found one for rhubarb cinnamon muffins, made with whole wheat flour and two cups of diced rhubarb. They're a lovely not-too-sweet afternoon snack, tasting more bread-like than muffin-like, and studded with chunks of rhubarb that deliver its unmistakable tangy smack.

I also found a new recipe for rhubarb crisp (Jack's favourite); one that has the oatmeal crust on both the top and bottom. This recipe takes four cups of rhubarb and I'm going to try freezing several trays of it to enjoy later in the year.

But this season's greatest taste-tingling surprise was rhubarb juice -- a delicious twist on the traditional pie/crisp arrangement.

If you like the tartness of rhubarb, you'll love the puckery pleasure of this juice. It's a concentrate, with a 1:1 mix ratio, which we've added to water, orange juice and even ginger ale for a bubbly treat. I'm sure it would make a lovely addition to a tonic-based cocktail, too.

Here's the recipe for basic rhubarb juice concentrate:

• 12 cups sliced rhubarb (1" slices) (yes, 12 cups!)
• 4 cups water
• 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1.) In a large stainless steel pot, combine rhubarb and water.* Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, cover and boil gently until rhubarb is soft, about 10 minutes.**

2.) Transfer to a strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth over a deep bowl. If you don't have a strainer handy, raid your husband's workshop for clamps and attach the cheesecloth directly to the pot. We're really high tech around here. (Those clamps are cleaner than they look.)

Let drip undisturbed for about 2 to 3 hours, or until all the liquid has drained.

3.) In a clean stainless steel saucepan, combine rhubarb juice and sugar. Heat to dissolve sugar but do not boil. Remove from heat and skim off foam.

At this point, you can choose to can the juice (ed. update: via boiling-water canner), but I left one jar in the fridge and froze the second one in a few smaller plastic yogurt containers. It's a delicious, vitamin-packed way to capture one of spring's earliest seasonal pleasures. Enjoy!

* If you want to make "Sunshine" rhubarb juice, add the grated zest of one lemon and one orange.
** Once you remove from heat, add juice from one lemon and one orange.

P.S. No post would be complete without a new duckling photo. We're up to four now. Yep, four.

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