Archive for the ‘orchard’ Category

Not *quite* two years, but close enough – yikes!


It has been a somewhat…eventful…couple of years, too.  Hubby went back to school to get some education in web development, and we had to sell the goats in order to find the time for him to work school in around acreage maintenance and childcare, but he got his certificate with high honors, and we’re casually looking at goats again.  I’ve had some health challenges, and have been trying to keep my graphic design / illustration business afloat through the crazy time challenges we’ve had.


On the bright side, we’ve continued expanding our knowledge and refining our garden, and the orchard is coming along nicely – we harvested a 5-gallon bucket of apples last fall, as well as crabapples, chokecherries, black and red currants, highbush cranberries, sour cherries, grapes, strawberries, and raspberries; we’re expecting the plums and pears to start bearing in the next couple of years, too.  We end up drowning in squash every fall, and I’m getting pretty good at inventing ways to eat them.


We’ve kept the chickens, too, and have added a few breeds to the roster.  We got Cochins last year, and we’re hoping that we’ll get some broody hens out of the deal, who will raise our chicks for us, and save us all the fussing with heat lamps and such.


I’ve got (yet another) ambitious order of trees coming for spring, and we’re looking at plowing up another garden bed, as we’re running out of room in the smaller one by the barn; I ordered some roses, too, to prettify the place, now that we have most of the fruit trees we really wanted.  Perhaps I will find some time to post about our growing, picking, cooking, and preserving again this summer!  Meanwhile, here is a little photo of the kids, who are also growing like weeds:

The kids, reading

I can’t believe I’ve got a child old enough to read!



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I grew up in a city.  Not a huge city, but a city, nonetheless.  My father is a talented hobbyist wildlife photographer, and I grew up thinking of deer, foxes, moose, and the like as an opportunity to take photos.


red fox on the driveway

It’s a little different, now.   While the foxes and coyotes are still cute, they’re also a threat to my chickens.  We tolerate them, for now, on the principle that anything we managed to eliminate would probably be replaced within days, by some other predator that isn’t bright enough to stay out of the chicken coop.  Our last major chicken incident was almost two years age, despite the fact that there’s always a few chickens loose; apparently the coyote, raccoon, skunks, foxes, and other critters we don’t already know about are well-fed enough to leave the birds alone.  Probably because they’re all foraging in the compost pile, but I digress…


The other thing about the predators is that they do contribute to keeping down the bunny population.  I know, it’s Easter and all, but those blasted bunnies have managed to strip the bark off literally half of our orchard…


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They’re cute and all, but I still wish I were faster with the gun.



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…Yeah, what can I say.  The strawberry plants are up and filling out, but it will be a while yet before we have any strawberries.  Same deal with the rhubarb.  Our early peas are up, but only a couple of inches, so I won’t be snacking on them anytime soon, either.   The lettuce and spinach and radishes I planted a while back are growing, but are a long ways from being big enough to harvest.  Even the dandelions are just beginning to flower, now (I’ve been waiting – if I can find enough dandelions, and enough energy to pick a couple of gallons of them, I might make wine…)


The tomatoes and other plant starts are getting leggy in the window, but we’re still a couple of weeks from last frost date for this area.  We’re zone 2, and I believe June 1 is considered the “safe” date.  We may push that a bit, as the weather has been very nice, and really, we have lots of sheets to cover the tender stuff if we need to.  Having said that, though, we’re still just too early.   Hubby has been out turning garden beds and getting everything ready; with all that prep work out of the way, planting should be a breeze, once we decide it’s time.  Maybe, maybe, we can get away with it by the middle of next week, but not a whole lot sooner…


I got a call from one of the tree nurseries that one of our tree orders shipped yesterday.  If I remember correctly, that one was a couple of pear trees, plus a plum, I think, and maybe some raspberries.  I started out with the intention of getting a single pear tree to replace the pollenator that never did grow last summer…I should have known better!  I will have to figure out where to put the extras, and also I will have to run to town to pick the trees up from the bus station when they get in, which makes it hard to plan my day for today and maybe tomorrow.  We have another order coming sometime soon, from another place, that is mostly berry bushes; again, we will need to decide where to put everything.


Baby is due in just four weeks, now.  We had an ultrasound yesterday, and baby is in excellent health, though measuring quite large.  The doctor estimated he was just over 8 pounds already, even with a month left to go.  Now, I am not a little lady, and Hubby is also a tall guy, so I was not expecting a petite 5-pounder, but I was sort of hoping baby wouldn’t be too big…I may be completely out of luck with that.  We still have a lot to do before I will feel ‘ready’ for baby to arrive – finish the painting in the house, clean carpets, get all the furniture back into its designated rooms, assemble baby furniture, plant the garden and the trees, plus some routine stuff in the barn like trimming hooves and such; I don’t know if we’ll get it all done or not.   We might, if baby does not come early; I sure hope he sticks to his due date, though I know better than to hold my breath on that, too.


Between trees and seeds and things I’ve ordered and packages people are sending, I am checking for the mailman every hour, almost.  We only get mail twice a week – Tuesdays and Fridays – but our mailbox is big enough that the mailman often brings smaller packages right out, instead of just leaving us a pickup notice.  Hopefully he’ll be early today, but he usually does not get here until the afternoon.  It would be good if he came before I had to run into town for those trees – then I could collect any other packages that happen to arrive.  It’s a little early for the things I have ordered, but a girl can hope…


We have company coming all summer – new babies make a family popular, I guess, and a number of people were planning to come out and see the place anyhow, so now we’re doubly so.  Our first guests will be arriving in about three weeks – just before the baby does.  Hubby’s brother and sister in law are coming up from the States with their three kids, and we’re excited to see them.   The house is nowhere near ready for company, though, so we’ve got some work to do – the aforementioned painting and furniture re-arranging, in particular.  We’re working in the master bedroom, right now, so our bed is in the livingroom, while the dressers and shelves are in the nursery…certainly, there is no space for five extra people until we get that sorted out!  Hubby is working like a madman, though, and plans to have the bedroom done by the end of this weekend, so we can start getting organized after that, which should go fairly quickly.


With the plants and the trees and the packages and the baby, it feels a little like a waiting game, even though we’re plenty busy.  I do stop frequently to put my feet up and rest, which gives me entirely too much time to think and fuss, but if I open a book to distract myself, I tend to get a little too distracted, and finish the thing before I get up again.  This has led to yet another amazon order, as I started two different fiction series that I did not have all the books for, and they’ve both turned out to be very engaging, but they’re not available at the bookstore in town.  So now I’m waiting (impatiently) for books, too…



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So we had our TV – less home invaded by two adults and three kids (aged 4 to 10) for the weekend – Hubby’s brother and his family.  I say invaded, but really, we were absolutely delighted to have them.  They drove all day to come and help us dig holes and plant things and cut down trees and bushes.  They said they wanted to do some ‘real work’ for awhile.   And take pictures of their kids doing ‘country’ things like building forts and planting trees.   The kids were pretty disappointed that we did not have chickens or goats yet, but made do with the house pets.   One of our dogs outweighs any two of the kids put together, but by the end of the weekend, even the littlest one could boss her around – the pooches soaked up all the attention.  The cats were less impressed, and mostly hid out, but that just gave the kids a new thing to stave off boredom – cat stalking.

The weather co-operated, sort of.  It was clear and sunny, and sweltering – almost thirty degrees Celsius on Sunday.  Not ideal for yard work, but certainly better than cold and rainy.

On Saturday, I grabbed my hand pruners to cut a couple of eyeball – poking – height dead branches from the crab apple tree.  Five minutes later, I was searching for pruning shears for two kids to help.  Twenty minutes after that, their mom came out with the bow saw, and by the end of the morning, we had cleared a big, gorgeous area under a maple tree that had been completely obscured by caraganas and lilacs.   It took hours and hours, and our sister-in-law spent even more time cleaning up the ground and raking everything out.  It was not a job we had planned to tackle, but it is much appreciated – now we’ll have a shady spot to kick back with beverages on those thirty-degree days.  Sis says it is her housewarming gift to us, and I can’t think of anything I would have liked better!

Meanwhile, the boys (all three of them) dug post holes.  The little guy was really enthusiastic about digging, and motivated the adults to keep at it, which was an accomplishment all in itself.  While Hubby was digging by himself, one of the ground squirrels came by to tell him off, and was so busy watching Hubby while it ran that it fell in one of the post holes.   That one was good for a laugh!

The kids were fascinated by the hummingbirds at the feeder, and the littlest one would holler every time one came to have a drink.   “Hummingbird!  Hummingbird!  Hey. guys, come see the…oh, it’s gone now…”  It was pretty cute.

Somewhere along the way, I wanted to identify a couple of plants that I was wondering about.  I had my wild plant book and a ten year old shadow, and we wandered off into the woods beside the house.  it turned out that yes, in fact, we do have stinging nettles, and also tons of  chokecherries and possibly wild gooseberries or currants, though I will have to see them bloom to be sure.   We also disturbed a frog.  Instead of shrieking and being grossed out, my niece tried to catch it.  When she couldn’t, she asked me to help.  We dragged the poor little guy in and set him in a jar on the windowsill until suppertime, when we let him go again.

Having kids around really brought back memories of my own summers on my Auntie’s acreage when I was a kid.  I hope they had as much fun as I always did.

I was also very impressed at how little water an extra five people used.  Now, this family has been on missions to third world countries where water is precious, and know all about conservation, but really, the five of them used less water than the two of us usually do.  They did, however, eat more than we had accounted for.  After going through a loaf and a half of bread and a whole box of cereal by the end of the first day, we made a quick run into town for groceries.  It would have been less of a deal if the weather had been cool, and we could cook on the stove without heating the house too much, but in this weather, we were kind of down to sandwiches and cut veggies.

We accomplished a lot over the weekend.  The boys finished digging all of the post holes for the goat yard, and started putting the posts in, as well.   They also dug a bunch of holes for our latest delivery of trees and bushes, and my sister-in-law and I planted blueberries, currants, blackberries, hazelnuts, cherries, apricots, apples, pears, and a plum.   I now have four big circular flower beds in the front lawn, though they mostly won’t hold flowers this year – we never got around to building the raised beds for the strawberries, so they are living in the flower beds with the roses.  It will actually probably be quite pretty.   Brother-in-law figured out how to get one of the painted-shut windows open, and we took down storm windows and hung screens for the summer.  Hubby and I also put in fifty asparagus plants and a couple of rhubarb roots.  Those ones looked kind of dead, so we will see if they actually grow or not.   Sister-in-law and the kids moved most of the brush pile for the kids to build a fort with – ‘coincidentally’ in the spot where we had wanted to move the brush pile to.   Then there was a lot of pruning, and clearing the sitting area.  All in all, I am not sure if they will want to come back, with all the work we made them do, but it moved us forward by weeks on the digging, planting, and building, and we are very grateful for that.

Of course, now the forecast is for frost tonight, so it appears that planting out the peppers and tomatoes was, in fact, premature.  Oh, well – we’ll find some old sheets and towels, I guess…

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After a flying trip down south to plant the dozen new nut trees at the Farm, we came home to a nicely plowed garden bed, and a notice that the rest of the T&T trees are on their way.  This means we have to get our butts in gear on the garden, so that it is done, or mostly done, by the time the next batch of trees arrives.  On the bright side, all, or nearly all, of these trees and shrubs are for the Acreage, so at least we won’t spend another 6 or 7 hours driving  just to get them planted.

This morning, we slept in a bit, but we were still out in the garden by 8:30, measuring things out, planning planting plots, cutting stakes, and staking out paths.   We planted two long (85 – foot) rows of black oil sunflower seeds along the south edge of the plot, as an experiment – if they grow, they will slow the wind a little, and feed the chickens in the fall and winter.  We just used black oil sunflower bird seed that had been kicking around the house, after I read about someone else doing the same thing.

By the time we’d done all that, it was starting to get pretty hot.  We retired to the house for breakfast.  Home-made banana chocolate chip muffins – Hubby’s specialty breakfast, these days.  Then back out to plant 400 onion sets.  We still hope to at least get a start on the peas, potatoes, lettuce, and spinach today, as well as putting in short rows of beans and beets and carrots for early summer eating.  That may be a little optimistic, considering it’s 2:30 and we;’re lazing around on the computers, waiting out the heat.  We’re not out of the woods yet, as far as frost goes, either…traditional planting weekend for tender veggies here is after the May long weekend (Victoria day), which is next weekend.  However, it is certainly hot, and the garden is dry and plowed, and if we lose a 5-foot row of green beans to the frost, so be it.  The garden is 85  (ish) feet by 95 (ish) feet.  We have the room.  We are, however, going to run short on time…

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It’s gonna be busy around here for the next month or two.  Being the queen of biting off more than I can chew, I have ordered 50 chickens, 4 goats, and over a hundred trees.  Not to mention the vegetable garden, the herb garden, and the house renovations.  Then, of course, I wrecked my back, so Hubby is having to do all the actual work, and all I can do is supervise.  Poor guy.  I am unspeakably glad he is patient and easygoing – he just keeps repeating his mantra “you will get better soon”.  I hope he is right.  I am on three different medications, and none of them is working very well.   I only seem to get 4 hours of sleep at a stretch, and commuting to work is excruciating at the moment.  But I digress.

Last weekend, we (Hubby) planted 50 hazelnut trees at the Farm.  The University of Saskatchewan had a seedling variety trial on offer, and the trees were cheap cheap cheap.   Mom had commented that they needed a shelterbelt along the lane…so now they have one.  Or at least 150 feet of one (we planted in two rows).  We did not have enough spare cash to have someone else plow up the area, so we dug each hole by hand, then surrounded each tree with landscape fabric held down by rotten hay.  It was a loooonnngggg couple of days.

While we were at the Farm, we took a look at the orchard.  The temporary fence (long rebar stakes and plastic deer netting) did not hold up well, and the deer have nibbled off the tips of most of the apple trees.  Fortunately, they do not look too dead, so I guess we will just plan a better fence for next year…if we can afford it.  There was unfortunately a lot of damage to the apricot shrub, though – we did not wrap mouse / rabbit protector around the little shrubs, as we were afraid it would harm them.  It looks like the mice will harm them more.  I doubt the apricot will survive, as it is completely girdled on one side, for about three inches up the trunk.  That’s really too bad, as the tree would have been on its third year this year, and might have been bearing soon.   We had ordered another apricot for the acreage, and might just put it down at the Farm, instead.  We will see.

Our order from Grimo Nut Nursery (sorry, links don’t seem to be working today) arrived yesterday, and everything appeared to be there and in good shape. We ordered two types of black walnuts, a couple of butternuts, some shagbark hickories, and two Ultra Northern Pecans. All of them are questionable for our climate – there is some disagreement over whether they are zone 3 or zone 4, and the pecan could even be a zone 5. However, we decided we would plant them and see what happens – maybe they will be like the apricots, and grow just fine, but only bear nuts when it is a long summer. Even if they only bear one year in five, I would call them a good investment. If they survive the winter (and decades after), the walnuts and butternuts could also be used for lumber (I have heard of a good, straight tree being sold for ten grand, for furniture making), and the hickory wood can be used for smoking. So most of them have a purpose, even without the nuts.

We still have a ton of fruit, nut, and shelterbelt trees on order from Rhora’s Nut Farm and T & T Seeds. We have ordered from T & T before, and been pleased with the results. Rhora’s is new this year, so we will see how they do. Both Rhora’s and Grimo are in southern Ontario, so I am not so sure about how hardy their stock will be, but as they are the only reasonably-priced places I could find the nut trees I wanted, I will take the risk of losing some to winter kill.

In other news, the chickens will be coming in about two weeks. Fifty day-old chicks – some Plymouth Rocks, and some Silver-Laced Wyandottes. We have gotten the heat lamps, feeders, and waterers. We have not quite decided how we will contain them, or what to use for bedding. We actually don’t have a proper chicken coop, yet – it went on the back burner, as they have to be inside for the first few weeks, anyways. We have the choice of three different run-down former chicken coops here at the Acreage, or we might build their coop into the goat shed, so they can all help keep each other warm in the winter. We will need to decide soon, though!

We put a deposit down on four Toggenburg goats. The breed is the oldest registered, and although they don’t give the most milk, they are winter-hardy and calm. We will be getting an adult milking doe, a dry (not milking yet) adult doe, a baby doe, and a baby buck. I milked a goat a few times as a teenager, but Hubby has never been within five feet of a goat, so it will be a steep learning curve. They were supposed to be delivered this coming weekend, but the fellow had an emergency and had to change the delivery date. We were pretty relieved! Now, the goats are supposed to be coming in mid-June. That will give us more time to build the fence and renovate the former-granary / soon-to-be-goat-shed. We’ve already been in there cleaning, and that was a big job. Hubby has dug a couple of fencepost holes, but that job got interrupted when the hazelnuts arrived, and will be interrupted again to go plant the latest batch of nut trees this weekend. Too bad the Farm is so far – it is a 3 or 3.5 hour drive, so not really a day trip when you are doing heavy work in between. Oh, well, at least we have a bit of time on that, now…

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Hubby and I went to a dinner theatre, last night, as a last-chance date before I go out to Saskatchewan (he is staying behind until we get possession of the acreage).  Hubby got the last two tickets available, and we wound up sitting with another couple at a four-seat table.  There was quite a stretch of time between dinner being finished and the play beginning, so we struck up a conversation with our table mates.


Turns out, they were farmers, and had driven an hour into town to get a little culture.  I mentioned that we were moving on to an acreage soon, and that eventually we’d be moving out to a farm, ourselves.  They have been farming grain and cattle for 30 or 40 years, and seemed like real salt-of-the-earth folks.   The conversation revolved around water wells, cisterns, cows, and Mexico vs. Cuba for vacation destinations.


After, as we were pulling out of the parking lot, Hubby commented that our table mates were probably sitting in their truck right now, shaking their heads at us.  He commented that they probably think we’re completely crazy.  I mean, who would want to get into farming?  It is hard work, and the pay is the pits.  Around here, most farmers are in debt up to their eyeballs, and the vast majority of farmers I know have an off-farm job.


I told Hubby that we have a couple of advantages.  We don’t know what’s impossible.  And I already have a good off-farm job.


We’re never going to be wheat farmers.  The equipment costs so much, we would never be able to afford it, and still compete with the huge grain farms in our area.  But I think there is a market for local tree foods – the 100 mile diet is in the popular lexicon, and we’re within 100 miles of a couple of decent sized cities.  Wheat and chicken and potatoes and beef and lentils are easy – these are major Prairie crops, so they are common, and relatively cheap.  I bet folks would really love to be able to get their hands on 100-mile hazelnuts, though, or 100-mile apricots, and I would additionally bet that they would pay a premium in order to do so.   Especially if they were also organic.  There are lots of niche-market options, and we’ve half a mind to try several.   Planting and watering a few dozen trees is a far cry from farming wheat.  These are crops that don’t need a lot of space or machinery or money to get into…just some foresight and time.


Now, we’re never going to get rich selling locavore hazelnuts at the farmer’s market.  I do think, though, if we plan and market and manage well, we can make our income exceed our outgo.  And have our ideal lifestyle while we’re at it, with space to roam, good food that we grow ourselves, and a job for hubby that does not involve selling his soul to someone else for 40 hours a week.  If we can manage that, by our own accounting, we’ve won.


Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re not actually crazy, either…

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