Friday, April 29, 2011

Blown away

Yesterday was poised to be another productive day on the farm. The sky was a brilliant blue and the clouds were like white cotton candy -- a perfect day for working in the kitchen garden. As I sat at my desk, finishing up the day's editing work, I noticed the wind picking up. It started out gentle at first, playful, but as the dark clouds rolled in, it became menacing and then violent.

At first, small things were blown over -- a few bird houses, a chair, the kids' swing hanging from their favourite tree -- and then I began to worry about the tree itself as it whipped back and forth like it was made of rubber. The wind was unrelenting as it hammered away at our metal roof, screeching like a howling banshee. I took a step outside and from deep in the woods, I could hear the trees snapping like matchsticks. The power flickered on and off and then at 10:30 a.m. it went off for good. The house was eerily silent, save for the screaming of the wind.

By 11:30 a.m. the wind had died down enough that I thought it safe to venture outside. At the edge of the woods, I could see bud-tipped branches torn and lying on the ground, trees cut in two, and even one cedar knocked completely on its side, roots still clinging to the earth that once grounded it. I started walking down the hill towards the ponds and I noticed one of the hydro lines that bisect our property looked "wrong" -- it was sagging lower than its twin.

Returning to the house, I put Henry on a leash and walked out towards the road. It was covered with branches and the tops of several trees, but it was passable. I turned on to the main road and walked to the nearby power transformer. There was the other end of the saggy power line, severed and blowing in the wind.

What I didn't know at the time was that this windstorm, with 100 km/hour gusts, darkened hundreds of thousands of homes across Ontario. More than 65 utility poles were snapped and the damage was widespread. Of course, this was nothing compared to Wednesday's tornadoes that ravaged six southern states, killing hundreds of people.

I returned to a still and quiet house, put Henry inside and went back out to the road to clear away the debris. Even though the wind was but a breeze now, the creak and occasional snap of the trees made me nervous. It was humbling, that feeling. We have such hubris to think that humans can govern Nature, that we are "in control," when in an instant, all our structures, our brilliant engineering, our lives, can be taken away.

As the day progressed, I grew more impatient and agitated. We'd been without power before, but never for this long. While I'd reported the outage to the utility company, and subsequently my discovery of the severed lines, the hotline was no longer answering calls or providing any updates on when service would be restored. The generator, which is stored in the garage, is too heavy for me to move. I started worrying about the contents of the fridge, the absence of running water, the rising water levels in our basement sump.

I told myself that this really wasn't a big deal: Lucas would set up the generator when he got home, which would power the well pump, the fridge, the kitchen lights and one outlet that we could use to plug in the sump pump. It wasn't minus 30 degrees out, so we didn't need to worry about heat or frozen pipes -- and even if it did get chilly, we had the wood stove in the kitchen. When the kids got home, I planned on telling them that this would be an adventure -- just like in the pioneer days. It would be fun!

Instead, by the time they returned home, I was grumpy, stressed out and short tempered. There was nothing fun about this.

Because I work from home, I feel obliged to be accessible between the hours of 8:00 am and 6:00 pm. I felt like I needed to do "something" productive, so I trundled the kids into the van, dog in tow, and drove halfway to town where I could park at the side of the road and access the Internet via my phone. As we turned onto the main road, I noticed the line was still severed, with no utility vehicles in sight.

I responded to a number of work emails, read a few news releases that detailed the extent of the damage and then called Lucas. I'd asked him to bring home some food basics -- bread, yogurt, fruit, etc. -- because I hadn't done any baking or food prep before the power went out. He told me he hadn't yet had a chance to get to the grocery store but he'd be home in 10 minutes and we'd figure something out. I burst into tears.

I felt so ridiculously incompetent, powerless and unprepared -- something as minor as a power outage had thrown me into a major tailspin. I was embarrassed and disappointed by my reaction. I don’t think it was the power outage, per se, that affected me so much; it was one more stress on top of everything else -- we're low on wood, we're low on hay, I'm behind on the garden, gas prices are way up (along with everything else), and now this; or moreso, it was the reminder of how much we still have to learn that seemed like another bump along the road to "simpler living."

24 hours later and we're still without power. It could come back today, but mostly likely it'll be several days -- who knows. Given the amount of widespread damage (most recent update: 45,000 people restored, 130,000 still without), the utility company has to fix the areas that affect the greatest number of people first. I get that.

I also get that being without power offers opportunity. On my way home from yoga last night, I drove through pockets of the countryside that were still and quiet in absolute darkness. Such beauty! Then as I turned into our driveway, I could see tiny flickers of light in the windows and a lantern that Lucas had left me on the front step. Walking into the house, I was met with the rich smell of beeswax and the dance of dozens of candles -- a simple and loving gesture from a man who knew I needed some comfort.

In the light of the day, I can be pragmatic about this experience and the many lessons learned: that a power outage can happen at any time and it's not good enough to have an emergency preparedness plan in your head. While we were well stocked food-wise for the winter, I've let our reserves dwindle, which is a mistake. While I spend a lot of time learning about working towards greater self-reliance and sufficiency, there is much more that we can do. In the meantime, the generator is working well as a stop-gap measure, keeping our fridge humming and the (oh-so-cold!) water running. And compared to those people whose lives have been destroyed by violent acts of Nature, we're facing a minor inconvenience.

I know we'll be better prepared next time. I guess I just had a tough time embracing the "simple" life when right now it feels anything but simple.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Between the rains

We've had a lot of rain lately, and while the day started out clouded by a thick fog and the weatherman said to expect more heavy showers, we were pleasantly surprised by a large orb in the sky that resembled something called "the sun."

I took advantage of this calm between storms to capture some of the new life in the garden.

Even the lilac buds have started to sprout!

As I was clearing away last year's leafy debris from under the lilacs, I noticed this garden friend. Ever since reading Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows, I always think of toads as being "distinguished" -- like Mr. Toad Esq. of Toad Hall.

Isn't he handsome? OK, maybe handsome isn't the right word. Did I mention I got a bit too much sun today?

Back to the garden:

The rhubarb is filling in, which is exciting as the kids are already asking for fresh rhubarb crumble.

The garlic chives are also growing well, but the kids aren't nearly as excited about these.

Over in the cold frames, the spinach is still in its spikey stage...

... but the heirloom Mesclun mix is greening up nicely, though the leaf lettuce (not shown) isn't nearly as leafy yet.

Besides the cold frames, there isn't anything growing in the garden yet. I know, I'm late -- I was hoping to have my peas in by now, among other things, but there is so, so, so much tidying up to do in the kitchen garden. Then there's the rain.

It's been hard not to get overwhelmed with what needs to be done before any seeds or seedlings even touch dirt, but I decided to try on some patience and perseverance and simply take advantage of today's sunshine, while it lasted.

As I was pulling weeds and grass, I was thrilled to find loads of thick, juicy worms in the ground. Just three years ago, the soil was devoid of all life as the previous owners had used chemicals on this site. Today, it was teaming with it. Unfortunately, I also found lots of Japanese Beetle larvae. Talk about raining on my parade...

While gardening with hand tools is slow going, there's something delicious and satisfying about this kind of quiet and intentional work. Slowing down and working deliberately helps strengthen the connection to the land that grows your food, making the relationship that much more personal and intimate. That's what I find, at least.

I didn't get all that I wanted accomplished, but I got the root beds cleared and ready for the first outdoor planting of carrots, parsnips, onions and beets. (This is only the first section; I got the left-side done, as well as the next section down. And if you're wondering what that leafy clump is, it's a patch of perennial wormwood, good for repelling deer and carrot fly.)

I was hoping to get some veggies seeded, and perhaps transplant some beets, but just as I finished up, stretched my back and shook the dirt off my hands, the sky opened up and the rain began to fall. But this time, after several lovely hours playing in the newly-warmed dirt, I welcomed it.

Me, versatile?

Lori over at Little Scotia was kind enough to award me with the Versatile Blogger award -- how lovely!

I've never won a blog award before, but I guess there are some "rules" that go along with accepting this.

Rule #1. Link back to the person who gave you the award. See above.

Rule #2. Share seven things that folks may not know about you. I'll get to that in a minute.

Rule #3. Name other bloggers you would like to see win this award.

My seven things:

1.) I'm an only child. I always wanted brothers and sisters growing up but as an adult, I enjoy my alone time and get overwhelmed if I spend too much time with other people outside my immediate family.

2.) I love British mysteries. Love them. My fiction shelves are stacked with titles from Agatha Christie, PD James, Ruth Rendell, Colin Dexter, Caroline Graham, WJ Burley, etc. I'm a big fan of British mysteries movies, too -- I've got stacks of Rosemary & Thyme, Midsomer Murders, Morse, Sherlock Homes, Marple, etc. Lucas often jokes I have the viewing habits of an 80-year-old woman. He may have a point, especially as I often drink tea and knit while watching ones of these DVDs.

3.) I hate to buy things for myself, unless I'm shopping at a thrift store, which I find great fun. That said, I usually spend as much money on books that I do on clothes.

4.) I was given a guitar when I was 16 and I loved it. But back then I was more into the idea of playing the guitar than actually practicing. I sold it to a friend when I was 18. I still regret it.

5.) Some people say I laugh like Alan Alda. I like that. His laugh always makes me smile.

6.) When I was a teenager, I truly believed I was born into the wrong time. I wanted to be a sixties flower child, blissing out at Woodstock and writing bad poetry in Haight-Ashbury.

7.) I have an intense phobia of loose teeth.

Sharing the love:

While there are loads of blogs that I read -- and love -- I'd like to pass on this award to just two people who I've been following since I first started this madcap blogging adventure:

• Erin at Garden now - think later!

• Mama Pea at A Home Grown Journal

These ladies are always teaching me something new, they inspire me, make me laugh and both serve as wonderful and supportive sounding boards for my rants, ramblings and reflections.

Thank you again, Lori!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Forest walks and spring magic

We're not church-going folk, so Easter weekend is more of a secular holiday around here -- but it's a celebration just the same. For us, Easter is about honouring the earth's rebirth and all the green goodness that spring brings. (I just hope the green goodness stays, because if I see one more snowflake, I think I'm going to snap!)

While Ella was sick with a high fever for the first two days of a four-day long weekend, by Sunday morning she had her sparkle back. The kids and I had a serious case of cabin fever and felt in need of an adventure, so we went for a walk in the woods.

I spend a lot of time in the woods; I feel like I can breathe more deeply there. The forest grounds me, soothes my spirit -- it always has. When I was a child, I'd spend hours exploring the ravine behind my house and lose myself in make believe and pretend play. As I grew older, the forest became a place of solace; somewhere I could be alone, work stuff out and just be.

As a grownup, while I may be in the woods, I'm not always present or paying attention to what's around me -- I'm lost in thought about life, the universe and everything.

But children truly exist in the moment and their minds are free to see the wonders of Nature through such playful eyes. And as we walked, the kids shared with me all their magical discoveries.

Did I see:

: old tree roots or a hand with gnarled fingers? Or maybe a seaweed covered octopus...

: balancing on a fallen log or a crossing a treacherous drawbridge?

: a simple rock face or the walls of a great castle?

: a big mushroom or a stage for the forest fairies?

: an old saw or buried treasure?

: a dead stump or a magical ladder that transforms a "little 'un" into "big 'un"

: a little boy or monkey boy?

: tree bark or a mighty pirate ship?

: stinky wet dog or a swamp monster?

Every grownup can use a bit more magic in their life, don't you think?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

And the winner is...

... Sparkless!

"Oh wow a contest for us Canadians! How can I resist. I'd love to win this book."

Please email me with your address at:

fiona [at] rowangarthfarm [dot] ca


Thursday, April 21, 2011

A week with no poo

I've been a week without poo and I'm loving it! No, I don't need a gastroenterologist -- the kind of "poo" I'm talking about is "shampoo."

I'd heard about the "no poo" movement a while ago but I wasn't motivated enough to try it. I don't fuss much with my long hair -- it's often in a ponytail or tucked into a cap -- but a read through Deacon's book has stoked my interest in liberating myself from chemical-ridden hair care products and finding a more natural method of mane maintenance.

According to Deacon, most shampoos are made up of harsh, petroleum-derived detergents, like sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, that are both resource intensive to produce and risky for your health.

She writes, "Most shampoos are made by using sulfates, chemicals that are cheap to produce, readily available and very effective at dissolving dirt and oil. Sulfates generate the foaminess that we erroneously associate with thorough cleansing. Multiple animal studies show that the most commonly used sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) causes brain and nervous system effects at moderate doses, endocrine system disruption, and reproductive effects, and increases cancer risk. Strong evidence shows that SLS irritates the skin, eyes and lungs."

But if these products are for sale, they must be safe, right? Not necessarily, says Deacon.

Here are a few startling points:

• According to several researchers, between 85,000 and 100,000 chemicals are used in the marketplace today; 85% of those chemicals have never been tested for human health impacts
• The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) approval rating "safe for human use" simply means the product didn't give the test subjects a terrible rash five minutes after they smeared it on; it does not in any way reflect an understanding of that products impact on internal health or mean that the product will be safe over the long term
• Even if the ingredients in every one of your personal care products were tested for safe limits and long-term health effects, absolutely no research has been conducted on the synergistic effects of all these chemicals

From There’s Lead in Your Lipstick by Gillian Deacon (Penguin Canada). Copyright © Backbone Inc. FSO Gillian Deacon, 2011 (page 7 - 8)

Even products that are labelled as "natural" or "organic" can be chock full of chemical nasties. Case in point: I've got a bottle of "Naturals" shampoo in front of me that boasts "lower sulfates" and natural ingredients such as "organic aloe vera and avocado extracts". Sounds lovely, yes?

But read the fine print and there's a lengthy list of over 20 tongue-twisting chemicals, including: ammonium lauryl sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, cocamidoproply betaine, sodium cocoyl isethionate, and on and on and on. I've been greenwashed.

While there are some truly green products on the market, I decided to take up the "no poo" challenge. There is lots of info online about going "no poo" (try here, here or here, or simple Google "no poo") and while the recipes vary, the basic ingredients are the same: baking soda and cider vinegar.

The recipe that I've been playing with over the past week is simple:

• Use one tablespoon of baking soda per one cup of warm or hot water. Mix in a recycled shampoo bottle and apply with warm water. Note: the liquid mix shouldn't feel gritty (though I've read that if you have short or thick hair, you may find it easier to make a paste with a tablespoon of baking soda (or less) and sprinkle it over very wet hair and massage in.) Let it sit about a minute.

• To rinse, make up a solution of one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar per cup of water. Apply to wet hair, massage into scalp and rinse off with cold water.

Yes, that's it!

I thought I'd find the vinegar unpleasant or that my head would smell like fish & chips, but it's not strong at all. Blogger Melinda over at One Green Generation infuses her vinegar with a few drops of essential oils, vanilla beans and cinnamon, for a subtle spicy scent (I'm so trying this next!).

And the results? While my hair is going through a "transition" phase, which I expected -- it's a little bit greasy at the roots and the ends are a bit fly away --I'm loving how remarkably soft it feels; it's super shiny, too. What's more, one bottle of cider vinegar and a box of baking soda costs less than $5 and will last for months, compared to one bottle of no-so-good-for-you shampoo.

So what do you think, folks -- would you take up the "no poo" challenge? Have you tried this and loved it? Loathed it? Or do you use a different method?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Test driving an idea

I've written about my dreams of making this a working farm again; to grow food that nurtures others, as well as ourselves. I'm a long way from that dream as I still have so much to learn, but I think I'm coming closer to figuring out what comes next.

I've said that it's easy for me to come up with ideas, especially with all the reading and research I do. It's a trait/hobby/compulsion that members of my immediate family find both enamoring and infuriating, especially whenever I start a sentence with, "I've been thinking and..."

I've had an idea bouncing around my noggin for the past few weeks so I thought I'd give my family a break and "test drive" it with you folks instead, and humbly ask for your thoughts, suggestions and feedback.

One of the family farm models that is growing in popularity is the CSA, or community supported agriculture. Farms that use a CSA model sell shares before the growing season in return for delivering a set number of weeks of farm produce. As an example, one share, worth say $500, would give the consumer 18 weeks of in-season vegetables. The benefit to the farmer is obvious -- he or she can anticipate how much food to grow based on the number of shares sold, thereby reducing the risk.

The most successful CSAs grow a wide diversity of produce to keep the food baskets full throughout the entire season. Even if you collaborate with other farms in co-operative arrangement, this can be a lot of work and even more logistical juggling. It's also a big commitment, one that I'm not confident enough to make yet.

However, I recently read about a farm that in addition to its regular CSA program, offers a season-specific program; namely a Thanksgiving CSA share.

The way theirs works is that members receive a package of winter squash (5 - 10 lbs), potatoes (5 - 7), onions (3 - 4) and a pasture-raised heritage turkey, minimum weight of 8lbs at $5/lb, for a total base cost of $60.

What I liked about this model is that the farmer gets the benefit of a commitment from the share member, plus the upfront payment, and it's a one-shot delivery deal, versus 18 to 20 weeks, or more. One obvious downside is you have to sell a lot more shares at $60 a pop than you would for one full-season share.

So I started thinking, what if I offered two different sizes of shares: starting out with a basic share like this one, and then adding a second, larger share, that would offer the basics plus extras such as more root veggies, beans, a pumpkin, herbs, garlic, and perhaps other locally-sourced goods, for a true 100-mile/local Thanksgiving meal.

I'm crunching the numbers right now (yes, my brain is aching something fierce!), considering...

~ the cost of a turkey poult ($7.01 for a day old Orlopp Bronze, $11.38 for a three-week old started bird)
~ the feed costs (grower is approximately $17.50 for a 20 kg (I think) bag, and you need 2.5 lbs of feed for every 1 lb of live weight)
~ and the feed-to-weight conversion rates (Orlopps process at 75% of live weight, reaching 12 lbs at 12 weeks for hens (16 weeks for Toms) to a maximum of 22 lbs at 20 weeks for hens (35 lbs for Toms))
~ Ed update: Blogger Mama Pea reminded me that I'd need to consider the cost to process the birds to get them oven ready

... and then trying to figure out the per pound weight, plus profit, that I could charge, as well as the unit costs of all the veggie goodness.

For this season, I'm thinking of trying this for ourselves: raising a few turkeys and growing everything we'd need four our own homegrown Thanksgiving meal. Maybe I'll discover that I don't like raising turkeys (are they really as stupid at my reading suggests? Can they really lose track of where their feeders are, or drown in a rainstorm? I don't know how much more dysfunction this farm can take!) or that the numbers simply don't work out.

Or maybe this could be one way that our farm starts giving back and contributing to our local food economy. But for now, it's simply food for thought.

What do you think? Would you consider buying a Thanksgiving CSA share? What would you want in a basket? And what price would you consider paying?

Monday, April 18, 2011

"There's Lead in your Lipstick" giveaway!

Have you ever looked at the ingredient listing on your shampoo, deodorant or face cream? Chemicals such as diethanolamine, sodium lauryl (ether) sulfate or triclosan are common to many everyday body care products. Even when the product label reads "organic" or "natural" the ingredients are often anything but.

Confused? You're not alone.

The average woman uses a dozen personal care products each and every day, and by the time she heads out the front door, has spritzed, sudsed, and slathered herself in more than 127 different chemicals -- many of them more toxic than beautifying.

But there is another way. Best-selling author Gillian Deacon offers her latest book, There's Lead in your Lipstick, as a "guide for all those who want to be cautious and considered when choosing the products and ingredients they use in, on and around their bodies.".

Here's an excerpt on "The Real Cost of Cosmetics":

There’s a reason why these more healthful options are usually more expensive. Most conventional cosmetic manufacturers use parabens to preserve the ingredients, claiming it is a necessary evil. Parabens are estrogenic, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which means they mimic natural estrogen and can wreak havoc on your hormones. When your hormones are out of whack you can experience mood swings, irregular menstruation, skin irritations, and other troubling symptoms. Parabens are also potentially carcinogenic.

From There’s Lead in Your Lipstick by Gillian Deacon (Penguin Canada). Copyright © Backbone Inc. FSO Gillian Deacon, 2011

What's fabulous about this book is it not only educates the reader about what chemicals to avoid, but it provides alternatives -- both store-bought and DIY, everything from body scrub to moisturizers to sunscreen.

For example, Deacon offers up this recipe for a "Make It Yourself: Moisturizing Mask"

Greek yogourt is also very moisturizing and can be used as a base for this mask.

You need:
• 1/2 medium to large avocado
• 1 to 2 tbsp honey (5 to 15 mL)

1.) Puree ingredients together in a blender or whip by hand.
2.) For dry, sensitive skin, add one tablespoon of oatmeal and
on tablespoon of water.
3.) Mix together into a smooth paste and apply to the face and neck area, leaving on for about ten minutes.

That's it!

Want to learn more? As part of Gillian's exciting blog tour, Rowangarth Farm and Penguin Canada are offering a sweet giveaway: a copy of There’s Lead In Your Lipstick PLUS an Eco Kiss kit from Saffron Rouge. Retail value total is approx CDN $48.95.

Simply leave a comment as to why you'd like to win this prize pack. Please note: this Penguin Canada-sponsored contest is only open to Canadian residents. (Sorry, folks!)

The contest is open until midnight on April 22nd -- Earth Day. Good luck!

* - * - * THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED * - * - *

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Digging post holes, building dreams

When we left suburbia almost three years ago, a surprising number of people said to us something like, "I'd love to move to a farm! I'd make apple pies, knit by the fire -- it'd be so relaxing!"

While rural living offers those moments, there's also the less "glamorous" side to farming. Take fencing. With an old farm comes old fencing and many of our fences posts are on their last legs. The cedar posts above ground are still solid, save for some donkey chew scars, but they're rotting out below ground level. To keep the fences standing, we've been jimmying the failing posts with t-bars, tree stumps and wooden stakes. Yep, we're that kind of farm.

After a few false starts and several trips to the mechanic for pins, lubricant and the correct attachments, our 1975 Massey Ferguson 135 tractor (aka Rollin) is now outfitted with some bling -- a post hole auger.

We've already tried digging post holes manually -- we did over two dozen -- and given our geological proximity to the Canadian Shield, it's unbelievably slow, tedious and back-breaking work. We considered hiring someone to do the digging for us but the average quote was $3/post, with a minimum number of 30 posts, plus a float fee to cover gas, travel costs, etc. We did the math and given the number of fences we need to fix or build, we decided to invest in an auger. Besides, digging posts for others might even make us a few off-farm bucks eventually.

Our first plan of action was to move the wobbly barnyard fence back about 15 feet as we needed to create a larger space behind our woodshed for storing, cutting and splitting logs. This was to be the weekend to start digging as the ground was finally soft enough. It was also the frozen ground that had been keeping many posts in place, so we'd have to dig sooner rather than later or risk losing the equines to another barnyard escape.

It seems Mother Nature had other plans.

Undeterred, we fitted ourselves with woollies, rain suits and got to work collecting logs from our stash in the barn (that is one of two for the barnyard gate)...

Digging holes... and sinking posts.

While it was fussy getting the tractor, and thus the auger, lined up properly, once it made contact, it cut through our rocky soil like a corkscrew cuts through cork. Despite the ugly weather, which alternated between fits of rain, snow and then hail, with each post dug we became, strangely enough, deliriously happy. Or maybe we were just delirious.

It was like each new post brought us another step closer to bringing this place back to a productive and vibrant farm.

By mid-afternoon, we'd finished digging and sinking posts along the new fenceline, but left the fencing to another day; Lucas wanted to collect more wood - a good idea given this week's forecast of subzero nighttime temperatures and our near empty woodshed.

I went inside to check on the kids, help them make a late lunch and we ended up baking some cookies. It may not be apple pie but we've got the best of both worlds, I'd say.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Making homemade yogurt

Yogurt is a part of our family's daily diet and that's a good thing -- it's rich in calcium, high in protein and teaming with good-for-your-gut bacteria. But not all yogurt is created equal and many store-bought varieties are also loaded with sugar, artificial dyes, preservatives and stabilizers such as gelatin.

I'm always on the lookout for ways to buy less and make more, so I started making our own yogurt. It's deliciously tasty, wonderfully textured, less expensive and so easy too!

There are lots of low-tech ways to make yogurt using a cooler, insulated canister or even the pilot light of your oven, but I use a yogurt maker -- simply because my dad gave me his.

Regardless of the tools you use, the process is essentially the same: you heat milk to just below boiling, cool it to around 110 degrees Fahrenheit and then carefully add a starter culture of live bacteria. Nature does the rest. (For some fascinating reading on "how yogurt works," pop over this New York Times article by Harold McGee.)

The key is to keep the yogurt warm and draft-free during fermentation, which is where the yogurt maker comes in handy.

The recipe I use calls for:

• 3 1/2 cups of milk (I use whole cow's milk, though I'm going to experiment with goat's milk next)
• 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup instant milk powder (I use the greater amount for a thicker yogurt)
• 1/2 cup plain yogurt with live or active bacteria cultures (simply take this amount from your current batch and use it for the next)

Processing takes anywhere between four and 10 hours , depending on how mild or tart you want your yogurt.

This is after just four hours in the yogurt maker and two hours chilling in the fridge:

At this stage, the yogurt's taste is mild, milky and gentle on the palate. While it's lovely to eat on its own, we enjoy adding dried fruit, homemade jam and honey. But our hands-down favourite has to be locally-produced maple syrup.

Homemade yogurt makes the perfect compliment to our DIY granola, but it's more than that. As Salon author Francis Lam writes, "I don't know exactly how the tradition of eating yogurt for breakfast started, but it's a lovely symbol. Mornings are about renewing, and yogurt is a perfect symbol of rejuvenation -- of making old milk new again, living and breathing and good."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Yarn Along & announcing another giveaway!

Taking inspiration from Ginny over at Small Things, here's this week's Yarn Along update:

As we're almost halfway through April (does anyone else feel like time is just flying by?) I thought I should check in with the Year in Colour project -- and this month's colour is green. Perfect. This is the motivation I need to finally get Jack's second sock off the needles and on to his foot!

As for the book I'm reading: When Penguin Canada asked if I'd like to participate in a blog tour for Gillian Deacon's new book, There's Lead in Your Lipstick, I thought it'd be a great opportunity to educate myself -- and readers -- about how to reduce our chemical burden.

Even though I'm a low maintenance kinda girl and we use many natural and homemade body care products, I'm finding this book a fascinating read. Jam packed with loads of information, it helps readers identify what the dangerous ingredients are -- toxins such as phthalates, parabens, triclosan and lead -- and provides alternatives, both store-bought and DIY.

To learn more, check back next Monday, April 18th, for more information and the chance to win a fabulous giveaway!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I only have eyes for ewe

A few weeks ago, a farmer friend (the lovely and knowledgeable Montana Jones of Wholearth Farmstudio) put out a call for volunteers for her annual naked sheep party and spa day.

To say I jumped at the opportunity is something of an understatement. While I think I responded to her request with a perfectly respectable, composed and dignified reply (something like, "I'd love to help out on shearing day -- thanks!"), inside I felt like a crazed school girl, waving her arm in the air while squealing to the teacher, "Pick me, pick me!"

Pick me she did, along with a motley crew of experienced and wannabe farming folks who were all crazy keen to help with with chasing, catching, wrestling, vaccinating, drenching (that was my job, and by the look on my face, I take my job very seriously ) and more wrestling of over 60 Shropshire Sheep in need of their spring haircut.

Photo credit: Karen Caruana, Porcupine Creek Farm

I came home tired, sore, deliciously smelly -- and over-the-moon happy. One day I'll be wrestling my own woolies but in the meantime, I had a great time sharing today with these ones.

Monday, April 11, 2011

They're back!

The sights, smells and sounds of spring are a delightful assault on winter-weary senses. And for the last few weeks I've been noticing -- and savouring -- many of the classic signs: succulent daffodil tips poking their sunny crowns through the soil, red-breasted robins punch drunk on juicy worms and mild breezes kissed by the scent of rich earth. But tonight, it sounds like spring.

There is nothing like the profound depth of winter's silence, as the earth sleeps under its white batting-like comforter. While the snow has been slowly receding over the past week, and much of it is now melted under the lashing of last night's thunderstorms (save for a few pockets deep in the woods), this place felt like it was suspended in that in-between dream state -- when you're neither deeply asleep nor fully awake.

But tonight the spring peepers are back and the night is alive with their melodic chorus! Anyone who says that the country is a quiet place has never experienced the orchestral and incessant call of these diminutive frogs. Measuring only the size of a paperclip, the males serenade the lady frogs with a huge voice; a high pitched, ringing chirp that has been likened to sleigh bells.... that keep ringing, and ringing, and ringing.

While March 20 may have been the official first day of spring on the calendar, tonight it truly feels -- and sounds -- like spring.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Foto Friday -- Seedling update

I find this time of year to be both exciting and nerve-wracking. The seeds that I started last week are poking their way through the soil but each looks so delicate and fragile. This is my first year starting some of these seeds indoors and I'm in awe that when planted outside, they manage to survive the elements and mature into full-grown veggie goodness!

These are are a handful of leftover 2010 mixed heirloom beets that I broadcast in a medium-sized tray. The colours are already so rich and vibrant! I also have some 2011 seeds that I'll be direct seeding in the garden.

I wasn't going to grow eggplant this year but then I went to a Seedy Saturday event and caved when I found this Pingtung variety. This is the first year I'm growing it from seed (I purchased one Black Beauty last year and it only set one large fruit and one or two small ones, but that was without any supplemental heat by means of a cloche or low tunnel). I used my new heat mat (yes, I bought one; the store didn't have the coil lights and the tray was on sale!) and within a few days, three out of four cells had germinated. I'd only planned on growing about six or so plants this year, so I'm a bit short, but that means more room in the kitchen garden for something else!

I decided to try out a new sweet pepper variety this year; meet Bull Nose, one of the oldest peppers available. It's an early variety, sweet, mild and glossy red. I'd planted 2 seeds per cell, and these sprouted within the last three days.

These are my 2010 Jimmy Nardello pepper seeds. As you can see, they're quite a bit behind the Bull Nose. I also planted some Early Calwonder green pepper, but it's yet to make an appearance.

This is my first season starting onions inside (the front are 2010 Green Banner) and the first time growing leeks at all (the Scotland variety is struggling away at the back.) I'll also be starting some 2011 seeds outside in the cold frame this weekend (the kids asked me to wait to plant the first crop so they could help -- how could I say no?) so it'll be interesting to see how the indoor starts compare once I transplant them outside.

This weekend is going to be busy as I'll be starting all our tomato seeds, some more leeks, and some greens for the cold frames (I'm thinking lettuce, parsley, spinach and onions, oh my!) as well as our basil (I've got three varieties this year -- Italian large leaf, lime and cinnamon), and our marigolds and zinnias.

If the rain holds off (please, please, please wait until Monday!) and if I can get my trellises set up, I'd love to start some Sugar Snap peas, maybe a few carrots and radishes, too. I'm sure I'll find something else to start. So many vegetables, so little time!

What's growing in your early spring garden?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A rant

"Well-behaved women seldom make history."
~ Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

My brain is buzzing with about a thousand thoughts this morning. I'm often one to embellish, but today that figure actually seems like an underestimate. Last night I attended a lecture on the future of food and farms and while I was hoping to be inspired, turns out I was outraged.

While some of the information presented was interesting, too much of the nitty-gritty was platitudes, generalizations and even deflections, especially when the speakers were asked to address burning issues such as GMOs, international trade agreements, barriers to entry for the next generation of farmers (it costs a new farmer $1 million to buy a dairy quota, which simply gives him or her the authorization to sell milk -- you still need to buy the land, the cows, the equipment and so on!) and national policies (or the lack thereof) regarding farm succession, land access and the growing, processing and selling of food produced on small farms.

Outrage is a valid response, but hysterical over-reaction is not. That's where education comes in. Since moving to the farm, I've maintained that our lifestyle isn't for everyone: no one can or should be moving to the country to become more self-sufficient. But I think we're all responsible for educating ourselves about just how broken our industrial food system is -- then demanding that policy makers do something different. While I understand that not everyone cares as much as about small farms as I do, we should all care about our food and by extension, where it comes from.

I've always felt compelled to 'make a difference' and since the birth of my children, most of my energy has been directed fulfilling this purpose through them; simply by raising them in a loving and secure home that tries to tread lightly on this earth and maintain a reverence, respect and appreciation for the natural systems that sustain us. I still stand by that belief and it is the force that grounds and inspires me to do better, be better, for they are the ones who will inherit our planetary mistakes, as well as our triumphs.

But I also have a voice -- one that can perhaps incite or inspire change beyond the borders of our farm. Perhaps it's time to start using it.*

* I don't know if these are thoughts I will share on this blog or perhaps I'll start another one for my rants and revelations. I just had to get this one off my chest. Stay tuned...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Madcap Monday -- a homecoming

I don't have much farm news today as I'm just getting back into the groove after a weekend away with a great friend of mine. We passed three beautiful days exploring the nation's capital on foot, eating delicious food and talking non-stop. To top it all off, we spent Saturday night blissing out to amazing live music and kicking up our heels at a show by my favourite musicians.

Since our flight from the suburbs, I've become a total homebody. And while I truly believe the farm is where I'm meant to be -- this place gives me grounding, feeds my spirit and inspires me to be a better human being -- I've realized it's good to get away sometimes and just do something fun... for me. The trick is not feeling guilty about it -- especially when the kids are still young, finances are tight and our to-do list is years long.

I'm the kind of person who takes everything way too seriously -- growing food and raising chickens is a revolutionary act, mothering my children is an all-consuming higher calling and this "simpler living" lifestyle is nothing short of a political action. And that's fine and good and inspiring, but sometimes I've got to turn off (or tone down) this sense of uber-responsibility and simply release and just go with life's flow.

So while I'm thrilled to be home again, having left the concrete and noise and urban buzz behind, and feel so utterly grateful to have a loving family and this beautiful place to come back to, it felt great clearing my head and simply reconnecting -- briefly -- with my worry-free 20-year-old self who was silly and racy and spontaneous.

I'm not a big shopper, nor am I a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination, but I do love great thrift store finds. While I'm not one for souvenirs, these are my new-to-me shoes that I picked up for $6 on my way into Ottawa:

We live in a scary time filled with a host of seemingly insurmoutable problems and I often worry about the world my children will inherit. But you can't live your life in fear and sometimes you just need to kick up your heels once in a while. And how can you not when you're wearing shoes like these?
Related Posts with Thumbnails