Archive for August, 2011

Welcome, Skye!

Well, Monday was an interesting day.  Our doeling, Silly, as you may remember, has a deformity called spur teat, which makes her impossible to milk, and might make it impossible for her to raise young.  The breeder has been fantastic about the whole situation, and immediately offered to replace her, though he indicated he did not want her back.  Well, Monday, the replacement came.


I got an e-mail late on Saturday night, informing me that the breeder was sending the new doeling back from Alberta with a fellow breeder who lives about an hour from our house.  He asked if we had big plans for Monday.  We said ‘no’.  The breeder sent a phone number for us to make pick-up arrangements.  Sunday, we called the number, and got the lady’s husband, who was completely unaware of the whole situation, though he did resignedly comment that, well, this happens a lot in his family.  However, he and his wife both worked Monday, so could we please come before 8 am?


Monday morning found us on the road a little later than we would have liked, though we still made it in plenty of time.  We were a little nervous about the whole deal, as we do not have any appropriate way to transport goats, whatsoever.  Not even a big dog crate, which is what the doeling came to Saskatchewan in.  We improvised, putting an extra-large rubbermaid container (open, no lid) in the back seat with a bit of hay in the bottom, and bringing along a leash and a small collar.  We braced ourselves for it to be quite the ride back home.


Actually, though, the new doeling, named Skye, was pretty calm about the whole thing.  Hubby sat in the back seat with her, holding the leash, while I drove, and he made sure she stayed in the container.  She hardly struggled or made any noise at all. In fact, she rode better in the car than Foxy the Dog does.


I expected a lot of funny looks, boogying down the highway in a Saturn sportscar with a goat in the back seat, but apparently the local commuters are not that aware first thing in the morning.  The only double-take came from the cashier at the drive-through when we stopped in town to get coffee on the last leg home.  Even she did not notice until we were pulling away, but then she stuck her head out the drive-through window to see if she had seen right.  I got the giggles right about then.  I think most people thought we had a dog in the back.


Skye was introduced to the rest of the barnyard with minimal fuss, though she is still pretty wary of the alpacas.   Silly seems to know that Skye was sent to take her place, though, and has been pretty mean when she thinks the Humans are not watching.


But of course, all you want is the cute goat picture…


Welcome, Skye!

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Last night, something was sitting under our bedroom window, making noises more suited to a late-’80’s alien-action-horror flick starring Arnold Swarchenegger or Sigourney Weaver than to a quiet northern acreage at 11:30 pm.  It was certainly loud enough to wake us up, and prompted yet another discussion that veered into imagination.  I’ll spare you the specifics, but it might have involved aliens scouting our turnabout as a landing pad for the mothership…Anyways, we could hear ‘it’ moving around the yard for several minutes, making those otherworldly sounds.  Creepy.

I went looking on youtube for some identification of the noise, as I have been suspecting foxes for the werewolf-harpy noises the other night, based mostly on the fact that they are the only small canines we’ve seen here, and we’re far enough from neighbors and civilization to effectively rule out a pack of rabid chihuahuas.  However, I had not found the specific sounds that we’d heard.

Until I was searching for the mini-Predator this morning, that is.  I never did find that one (no, it was not a crow, I know that one, and it was a different noise entirely).  Here are some of the werewolf and harpy noises:

At least now we know what woke us up on Thursday night…

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With the move to the acreage and the planting of trees and all the rest, I have been doing a lot of reading about permaculture.


The word permaculture is a contraction from ‘permanent agriculture’ and ‘permanent culture’, and although it is mostly applied fairly specifically to gardens and planting, the principles are broad enough to apply to homes, communities, and nations.  Permaculture is, in essence, both a philosophy and a design strategy of mimicking nature, through specific principles like catching and storing energy, producing no waste, and valuing diversity.


In my own case, I am looking to apply it to…well…gardens.  I have ten acres to ‘do something’ with, including a couple of acres of grass to mow (not including the pastures), and I felt that permaculture could offer an interesting way to tackle my hatred of lawns as well as my wish to do something a little different.   I also love the idea of ‘food forests’, which relate very closely to permaculture ideas, in which the gardener creates a multi-story ‘forest’ of trees, shrubs, and ground-hugging plants that produces food, fiber, and useful herbs for the gardener’s consumption.


With that in mind, I acquired a number of books about permaculture.  I thought it would be interesting to review a few of them:


Permaculture:  Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, David Holmgren, 2002.


David Holmgren was a co-originator of the original concepts of permaculture, and his book explores the twelve broad philosophical principles that inform more applied practical designs.  It is an interesting read, and is probably an appropriate introduction to someone wanting to understand the ideas behind the practice.  It does touch on some of the basics of actual design, but very generally, typically in a paragraph or two, as an example to illustrate the principle.   This book was well-written, and I enjoyed reading it, but it certainly is not a practical manual for how to design or create a permaculture planting.


The Basics of Permaculture Design, Ross Mars, 1996.


I had high hopes for this book, just based on the practical-application bent of the title.   It does address much more specific aspects of permaculture design, including the zone system (zone 1, closest to the house, is the best place to plant things that need a high level of care, or that are frequently used, like herbs or lettuce, whereas zone 3, further from the house, is a good place for, say, a fruit tree that really only needs attention a few times a year), water-capture techniques like swales (water-capture ditches) and directing drainage, and strategies for arranging plantings.  This book has something of a focus on big solutions more suited to larger properties, which was not an issue for us with our ten acres, but city dwellers with a small urban lot might find that a fair bit of the design information does not really apply to their situation.  There are a few pages addressing limited spaces, but they are not a primary focus of the book.  This book was still more of an overview of design, however, and did not get into specifics on guilds (groupings of various types of plants and trees that work well together) or soil building – it is a handy reference for someone who knows a bit about permaculture and wants to sit down and draw out a general plan for a large property, but not a detailed guide for how to actually decide what plants to put where.


Gaia’s Garden:  A Guide to Home Scale Permaculture, Second Edition, Toby Hemenway, 2009.


This was the most detailed of the three permaculture books I am reviewing.   There are chapters on how to build soil, specific home-scale strategies for catching and holding water in the landscape, and designing garden guilds through observation and understanding the functions of various plants.  It also addresses small properties, devoting an entire chapter to how to tailor solutions to limited spaces.  While this book does briefly discuss the principles of permaculture and permaculture design, the bulk of the writing is about the nuts and bolts of improving your soil and planning how to plant things in your yard.   This is what I had been looking for, and was therefore the most immediately useful book for me, right at this moment.   The writing was engaging, and the author went into enough theory for the reader to have a basic understanding of why you should do something a certain way, without bogging down on the philosophy or pedantic detail.


All three books were interesting, and each approached permaculture from a different perspective.  I know a lot more about permaculture now than when I started out, for sure.  If you were wanting to understand the philosophy of the movement, Holmgren’s book is a must, but if you just want to plant a few trees with berry bushes and insect-attracting flowers underneath, it is probably not the best choice.  Of the three, The Basics of Permaculture Design was probably the least-useful book, as it was too general to really use as a manual for how to plant your garden, but not broad enough to thoroughly cover the various philosophical aspects that inform permaculture, overall.  However, if you are buying a group of books on permaculture, this one is worth considering, as it fills in the intermediate details of how to pull together a larger plan, particularly for more rural properties with lots of space.


I was somewhat disappointed that neither of the practical manuals gave a detailed list of guilds.  Guilds are communities of plants, usually including at least one major tree, that support each other in various ways, including attracting beneficial insects for pollenation and pest control, fixing nitrogen in the soil, providing shade for plants that need it, and so on.  The expectation is that most, or all, of the plants used in a guild have multiple functions, including some that are useful to humans, like providing fruit, or beauty, or medicinal or culinary herbs.  Hemenway’s book took a stab at detailing a few guilds (particularly the apple and walnut guilds), and gave a detailed analysis of how to create a working guild from plants that are suitable to the specific conditions in your yard, but there was no clear indication of what plants are best with, say, a plum, or peach, or nut pine, or hickory.  Apparently, permaculture is new enough in the temperate zones that this information is still being worked out, but as a gal who has planted more than 200 trees (of several dozen varieties) in the last few years, I don’t really want (or have time) to go into the sort of research that would be necessary to create appropriate guilds for all of them.  My own situation is particularly unlikely to have a thorough and detailed analysis anytime soon, as I don’t think there are enough people living in zone 2 and 3 to make it a priority for permaculturists doing practical research.


At any rate, if you are considering re-designing your backyard, or planting a few trees, I would encourage you to look into permaculture as a tool in your gardening toolbox.  It is a radical re-thinking of gardening and orchard-keeping, but one that has a lot of potential, especially for lazy gardeners like me, since a central theme is to design your planting so that nature takes care of most of the watering, weeding, and pest control.


…and if anyone knows of a detailed list of zone 2 and 3 guild possibilities, or even a comprehensive plant list that details different functions (like nitrogen fixing, attracting pollenators, accumulating nutrients, etc), please point me in that direction…

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I woke up in the middle of the night again last night (this has been an on and off running theme for months), as my back was sore enough that I could not sleep.  I got up, went to the bathroom, looked out the window (clear, lots of stars, sliver of a moon rising over the northeast shelter belt), and took an ibuprofen.  I farted around on the computer for an hour, waiting for the painkillers to kick in, then headed back to bed.


Unfortunately, I bumped Hubby’s feet on the way, as they were hanging off the end of the bed and into the narrow corridor between bed and dresser, that I had to navigate in the dark to get to my own side.  “Huh?  What time is it?”  He grunted as he woke.


“About 4:30”.


I crawled into bed and tried to get comfortable.   I don’t think I had been laying there for more than a few minutes when there was this piercing shriek-y howl off in the distance.  Not coyote – we hear coyote most nights, and it sounds nothing like that.  Then, more shrieking, cackling voices joined the howl, getting closer and closer to the house.  Some sounded like they might be in the forest behind the house, even.  It was one of the creepiest noises I have ever heard, only slightly less hair-raising than a cougar cry.


“Can you hear that?” I asked Hubby, “Sure is freaky…”


“Werewolves.” He replied.


“Can’t be, the moon’s not full.  Sounds like harpies to me”.


“Too low – harpies fly”.


We debated for a minute about where we might have left the silver bullets, but the cacophony dropped off, back to one freaky voice in the distance, then died altogether.


I had some weird dreams after that.


Sure wish I knew what creatures had really made that noise…

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When we were picking chokecherries down by the river last week, we just about got ‘dusted’; a little yellow crop duster plane went right overhead, and released its cargo on the field that the car was parked next to.   A few days later, we saw the duster again, while we were picking berries again, on another canola field, closer to our house – the day we also saw the bear tracks.


Turns out, the air strip is a few miles west of our house, so when he’s spraying fields east of here, he flies right over our backyard.  The plane sounds just like something out of a WWII movie, and flies very low.  This has led to some interesting conversations.


Hubby has taken to adding sound effects when the plane goes overhead:  “Ratta-tat-tat“, he adds the imaginary gunfire, as the plane strafes the house.    “Okay, Calvin,” I respond, thinking of a certain cartoon boy who also happened to have an over-active imagination.


A couple of evenings ago, the duster was actually spraying a field right across the road from us.  After the initial “ratta-tat-tat“, there was a second pass, then a third.


They’re onto us,” Hubby cried, “Quick! Hide the Jews!


I was laughing so hard, I struggled to get my camera out of its case – I wanted a photo of that plane barely clearing our roof.  Meanwhile, dinner was on the stove; cornmeal biscuits, fresh out of the oven, and we were halfway through frying up bacon and southwestern eggs to go with them.  With both of us outside aiming cameras, there was nobody supervising dinner, which wound up being a little over-crisp.  Unfortunately, we did not get a picture, either, as the plane was on its second-last pass when we finally went out, and by the time we found an angle where a photo would have been possible, he was gone, on to strafe some other unfortunate farmhouse…

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This was less than a mile from the house.  We decided that another couple gallons of chokecherries was not worth a bear encounter, particularly since there was at least one set of little tracks to go with the big ones – I have no interest in disturbing a momma bear in the berry patch.  Might explain why the alpacas were going nuts the other night, too.  I think we’ll be picking up a bear banger or two…

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It has been a busy week, and one full of people, which is very unusual for us.


When we bought this place, there were a number of granaries on the land.  Some were designated to stay,  but two belonged to someone else, and were not sold with the land.  These granaries have been a bit of a curse – what is now the Goat Mahal started out holding several tons of canola, which we had to wait for the owners to remove.  Likewise, the strip of grass that was supposed to be buck pasture also happened to be the only access for emptying and removing the two granaries that were not staying on the property.  Unfortunately, they were not removed in time to fence the pasture for this year, but oh, well.


The three brothers who own the granaries grew up within five miles of here, and live and farm just a couple miles up the road.  They seem to be good folks – bluff fellows who have a real get-‘er-done sort of attitude. I have chatted a fair bit with the middle brother, and get a kick out of him.  He seems to understand how difficult it is to move into a community where everyone grew up with everyone else.


At any rate, the brothers were moving the granaries this week, which entailed three separate visits – they had to mow around them, then clean and partly dismantle them, then finally come with a crane to lift them onto trailers to move them out.    You just can’t not go out and say ‘hi’, though, so much time was spent in chatting on the front lawn, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, instead of cleaning and canning and building fences and such.  Oh, well, at least we’re getting to know those neighbors better.


Then, Hubby’s parents came for a weekend visit.  They drove I-don’t-know-how-many hours to stay for a day, which I think was crazy, but it sure was great to see them.  I miss my Alberta family.


Yesterday, the former owner of our place stopped by.  He has a habit of randomly showing up at about lunchtime, then staying until we pointedly ask him to leave.  He is not creepy or malicious or anything…I think he is lonely, mostly.  He is around our age, and most of the folks around our age either grew up and left, or have kids and such, so are not much into random drop-ins, I suspect.   He is single, and lives with his parents just up the road.  He is also a bit slow, I think, and does not always ‘get’ the more subtle social niceties.  He seems very kind, though, and I would not mind the visits so much, if they did not completely destroy whatever we had planned for the day he shows up.  Yesterday, it meant the beans and chokecherries did not get picked, nor did the buck yard get worked on.


In fact, we also skipped supper and showers, as the neighbor did not actually leave until it was pretty much bedtime.  I suggested that he should go at about 7, but he told me he would just finish up the coffee in the pot, first, as he poured himself another cup.  At 8, I told him point-blank that he had to leave.  By 8:30, he finally did.  Ugh.


Today, he showed up, unannounced, just as we were putting lunch on the table.   Hubby had to drop his fork and go help him unload a trailer – he had brought by more than a dozen bushels of wheat, flax, and barley that he had cleaned out of the harvesting equipment, and samples from testing last year’s crop that he had no further use for.  So, basically, our chicken feed should be covered for the foreseeable future.  Considering it costs $13 for a bushel-bag at the Co-op, that is a pretty significant savings for us.  Luckily (from our perspective, anyhow), he did not plant a garden this year, and we have extras of several things, so we’ll be paying that one back in bags of potatoes and onions, and later, when the chickens start laying, with some eggs, too.  At least we finally have something to give back to people.   We do really appreciate the generosity.  However, we also did not offer to make any coffee today…

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