The Odd Uneven Time

“August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.”

―Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

I think Sylvia Plath said it best, referring to August as the odd uneven time, when the days of Summer begin to dwindle, the air changes, but we haven’t quite been graced by the presence of Fall. How even more true this rings with the days of pandemic surrounding us still, with the words and actions of change being spoken around the world. We are living in a new time.

I think this really hit me hard just this past week, as I spoke with my Mom on the phone (which I do almost every day). We broke into tears over a conversation we were having about Wallace. I was so fortunate to have my Mom and Dad here by my side after Wallace was born. But when they left in March I had no idea that would be the last time I got to see any of my family as the world went into lock down. It has been five months since my parents last saw their new (and first) grandbaby. My heart absolutely aches when I think about the time we are missing with them, the moments and milestones they see only through snapshots and videos. Thank goodness for technology I suppose.

And the worst part, there is no clear end in sight.

What if a year or two passes before the world is back to “normal”, before flights are safe again, before borders open. What if my parents miss out on the whole first year (heaven forbid two) of my daughters life. The thought makes me choke up typing and I hold back tears. It’s a thought I do not want to give life to.

As if being a new Mom wasn’t hard enough, being a new mom during a pandemic has brought a whole new ball game of struggles and emotions with it. The biggest one being the loneliness I feel being so far away from my family and loved ones but also the everyday loneliness of isolation. When I had imagined the first year of motherhood, I had imagined coffee dates and new friendships with new mothers just like me. I had envisioned play dates with friends and fun little day trips with my baby in tow. What I hadn’t anticipated was being stuck in my home (OK so I am a homebody for the most part but I still used to have the option of leaving), without even being able to make a trip to the grocery store or post office. I hadn’t thought that my brother would have to cancel his trip out at Easter, still not having met his niece, or that my parents wouldn’t be back to visit in the Summer.

If there is a silver lining to any of it, it is that my husband was also able to be home with me. That for the past six months we have been able to be a family and enjoy the first few months of our daughters life without the hustle and bustle and overwhelming need to make visits and play host to visitors. It’s been just us, the Burches, navigating the newborn stages, figuring out this parenting thing and watching our baby girl begin to take in the world around her. For this I will be forever grateful. Most Summers here on the farm we are hard at work and busy with chores, projects, tending to animals, visiting and day jobs. This year, we got to throw all that to the wind and just enjoy the TIME we had together.

That’s not to say we haven’t kept ourselves busy this season though.

That must be the thing about farm life, that even when we decided to not raise pigs and chickens for butcher this year to save ourselves some time and energy, we still manage to find other ways to use it up. Like building greenhouses, expanding chicken runs, planting new beds in the berry patch and installing solar panels. On top of the everyday tasks of tending to the animals, caring for what’s left of the garden and daily house chores. Perhaps we’ve needed to stay busy this Summer to keep our minds at ease about the world around us.

The greenhouse has been completed for the Summer. The addition of a brick herringbone floor made from repurposed brick from Old Strathcona district in Edmonton was the last of the big projects. It was the perfect finishing touch. Four black barrels line the back wall of the greenhouse, acting as solar batteries. They trap the heat from the day and release it back into the greenhouse during the cooler nights. Automatic vent louvers were installed as well, operating off of wax inside of the louver; when they heat up they expand and open the vents and when it cools down they retract, closing the vents. Dan also rigged me up a watering system, with eaves trough for catching and directing rainwater into a tote, and a watering hose that runs off of gravity flow. We must be doing something right, because inside the greenhouse the tomatoes we salvaged and planted are thriving and producing lots of fruit, just starting to ripen.

We’re heading into this Fall with five hives of honeybees, three of which have honey supers we will remove later this month for harvest. Each hive is looking really good as we head into the next season here on the farm. Honey will be harvested in late August, giving the hives ample time to build up storages and supplies for the Winter months ahead. We look forward to seeing how each hive has produced this season and seeing where we can make improvements for next year.

The chickens have had a great Summer as they free range in safety here in their newly expanded run. With lots of grasses, seeds and insects to forage on, they’ve been busy exploring and using their new space. Their happiness shines through in egg production as we continue to get almost a dozen eggs a day. With limited visits to town, we went looking for a way to use up our surplus eggs taking up space on the counter. Pickled eggs it was! You can find the recipe I use a few posts back.

The donkeys and alpacas have been passing away the Summer days out on pasture. The alpacas look a little less funny each day that passes as their hair slowly begins to fill back out and the donkeys are looking sleek all shed out for the season. The goats have also been enjoying their shady forest home, exploring out back and eating all the little poplar they can find. Some of the grass is almost taller than Mama Sue, letting her hide away from it all. Lastly, the three little pigs have wallowed away the days in their pen too. From little mud bogs, to forest shade and grassy sunshine lounging, they have a little bit of everything available to them.

The vegetable garden has been a labour of love this year, fighting off Mother Nature and keeping our fingers crossed for growth (other than the weeds taking over that is). We are finally seeing little backyard harvests after a week or so of heat and sunshine finding us. One little lone survivor pea plant has given us a handful of pods, the beans are just now flowering and should be making their appearance in the next couple of weeks, the potatoes have started to look a little lack luster and therefor need to be dug up, and we had the smallest bit of lettuce growing in rows. We had ourselves our first little garden salad last night for supper along with fresh garden potatoes on the BBQ. It’s the little things that count this year. I was able to get on my garden lady’s list for cucumbers this year and we pickled jars of sweet dill, dill and bread and butter pickles. Next year, cucumbers will be added to the list of things we grow in the greenhouse. It may not be our best garden year, but what we are really going to remember this year is our first Summer with our daughter, not the vegetable garden!

My flower beds seem to be in the same sad state as the garden, with so much moisture this year to start our season, much of my flowers have grown in quite stunted. My beautiful ring of sunflowers I plant each year around the bees has not grown much more than a foot tall if that, sporting the tiniest little sunflowers you ever did see. My borage which also usually gets quite tall, bloomed early at a very short stalk length as well. My perennial beds along the front of the house came in sporadic, but did eventually fill in. As we say our mantra for this Summer, there is always next year!

What has been most important this Summer, over the gardens and weeding and harvests, is the time we are getting to spend as a family. Having Dan home with us has given us the opportunity for adventures and outings as a family. It has given us many slow mornings, eating breakfast together at the table, wandering out to open the greenhouse sipping on our coffees and morning chores done at a leisurely pace. It has meant day trips to the lake, afternoons spent swimming at the pond down at the cabin and even Wallace’s first mountain adventure! I wouldn’t trade these slow summer days, watching my daughter grow and taking in the wide world around her. I just wish we could share them with my family too. For now, we wait, and give thanks for the blessings around us.

Summertime & Strawberry Wine

It was in the Spring of 2016 when Dan and I bought and bottled our first ever wine kit. We had been spending a lovely date day in St. Albert and ,while sipping margaritas at our favourite taco bar, noticed a little wine shop next door. We went in for “just a peek” and left with every thing we would need to start our very first wine! Since then, we have bottled over 30 different kits, equaling just over 900 bottles of wine. Reds to whites, ice wines to ports and fruity little numbers in between, we even bottled two separate varieties for our friend’s wedding reception a couple summers ago.

To say we were hooked would be an understatement.

The first time we played around with a fermentation all on our own was the Fall of 2016. I had met a local honey producer while working at the Farm Store and was able to buy a ten pound pail of honey from him. We had wanted to try making mead and this was the perfect opportunity. Unlike wine, where the grape juice provides your sugar content for the yeast to work, mead requires the fermentation of honey. We had done a little research, looked up some recipes and went to work. We bottled the mead in November 2016 and didn’t drink a sip for six months. A light taste, almost like a Pinot Grigio, we decided we liked mead and would need some bees of our own one day. Fast forward to today, we are working with five hives and hope to one day have enough honey to play around with more mead and fine tune our own recipes. We found our last bottle of mead just last month during a wine cupboard clean out. We are saving it for a hot Summer’s eve to enjoy around the fire!

After that we thought we should try a fruit fermentation, and what better to start with than some wild foraged berries and fruit right from our own farm. Summer 2017 we harvested rhubarb from the garden, picked wild raspberries out along the back cutline and collected Saskatoon berries from my Father in Law’s farm and made our first fruit wines. A little more on the dry side, these wines were pretty good for our first attempts. Unfortunately we didn’t get to taste these wines aged for very long as we had a bit of an accident mid winter with the heater in our garage. We lost most of our true home brew wines and almost half of our wine stock when the heater quit working and everything froze.

We started 2018 off by trying something completely new to us. After a roadtrip through Ontario in the fall, we came home with four gallons of pure Ontario maple syrup from the Martin’s sugar bush. We found a recipe for an alcohol called Acerglyn (or maple mead) and we bottled it at the end of January 2018. Comparable to a buttery Chardonnay, with a slight smokiness it aged well with time and I believe we only have a couple bottles lingering in our storages. We also made our first attempt at a cider, buying apples across Canada as we roadtripped home. Using a grape press we had purchased along the way, we cleaned, cut and crushed the apples for their juice and fermented it down to our Cross Canada Cider. Something we will definitely have to play around with again one day!

Last summer we played around again with a rhubarb and saskatoon wine, this time introducing some new techniques like back sweetening, adding sugar syrup at the end of fermentation before bottling for a sweeter finished wine. The saskatoons we used were frozen first and this gave the wine a syrupy finish, more like a dessert wine. We also used up the rest of the syrup we had and attempted another maple wine, this time using a different recipe and back sweetening at the end with a smoked maple bourbon to finish. We look forward to sampling this one this coming Winter as it was recommended to age for a whole year in the bottle before tasting!

So here we are, Summertime again and already in the thick of fermenting some new creations! Which got me thinking, I should share some of our adventures, tips, tricks and recipes!


What basic equipment do you need to get started?

  • 1 primary fermentor
  • 1 glass carboy ( a second one is always nice to have for transfers)
  • 1 siphoning j-tube and hose
  • hydrometer
  • bottling thief
  • 1 rubber bung with airlock
  • stirring spoon
  • corker/corks
  • 30 bottles (750ml)

If you’re starting out with wine kits, the kit itself has everything you need inside to complete your wine start to finish; from yeast to acids to stabilizers. However, if you’re looking to start into makng fruit wines of your own, the following is a basic list of the most popular ingredients you’ll need.

Basic Ingredients to Have On Hand

  • EC-1118 wine Yeast
  • Tannin
  • Campden tablets
  • Yeast nutrient & yeast energizer
  • Acid blend
  • Pectic enzyme
  • Potassium metabisulphate

SIDE NOTE:

We like to keep on hand cheese cloth or straining bags when doing fruit wines. This helps to keep pulp and solids out of your wine, giving your finished product more clarity.

Now for the good stuff, what are you fermenting? There are endless possibilities when it comes to fermenting. Fruits, vegetables, grapes or honey. Our little purple recipe book even has a recipe for onion wine! No we have not tried that one yet but I am intrigued.

I’m sharing with you this year’s recipe and process for our first batch of strawberry wine.

Strawberry Wine Recipe

What You Need

15 lbs of Strawberries
5 gallons of water
10 lb sugar
5 tsp acid blend
1 1/4 tsp tannin
2 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
5 tsp yeast nutrient
5 campden tablets, crushed
1 pkg yeast
straining bag or cheese cloth

Directions

1. It is best to use fully ripe berries. Remove stems or leaves and wash and drain your berries.
2. Using your straining bag, mash and strain out juice into your primary fermentor, making sure to keep all pulp and solids in your bag.
3. Add in all of your other ingredients, EXCEPT YEAST! Cover your primary loosely.
4. Let sit for 24 hours, then add yeast and cover again.
5. Stir daily, ensuring to press your strianing bag lightly to remove juices.
6. After about 5 days ( if using specific gravity you should be around 1.030), syphon off your wine into a glass secondary. Attach airlock.
7. After about 3 weeks ( or specific gravity of 1.000) syphon wine again into a clean secondary and reattach air lock.
8. For a clearer wine, rack again into clean secondary after two months and again before bottling.

NOTE:

This recipe is for a dry finished wine. If you would like a sweeter wine it can be backsweetened at bottling. To backsweeten, add 1/4 lb of dissolved sugar per gallon of wine prior to final transfer.

Our fruit wines usually sit in the glass secondary for about six months before we bottle and then we let them age for almost a year in the bottle before we drink them. For this particular batch, we added in dried elderflowers to change up the flavour profile.

I think one of the best parts about making your own wine is getting to create the labels for the finished product. We have a lot of fun building and creating our own labels for our wine creations.

Here are some samples of labels we’ve used recently:

Made your own batch of strawberry wine this Summer? We’d love to see your fermentation creations and share recipes! Tag us on Instagram or find some more of our wine ideas on Pinterest.

Grandma Mary’s Pickled Eggs

It seems that as of late we have found ourselves with a surplus of eggs here on the farm. With the world still a little guarded due to Covid and myself being on maternity leave, I have not been making my regular trips to town to sell our farm fresh eggs. Wanting for some space back on my counter tops meant I needed to get rid of some eggs…. and that could only mean one thing.

It was time for a batch of pickled eggs!

Off I went to the cookbook and pulled out my Grandma Mary’s trusted pickling recipe. Six jars of eggs and two jars of kolbasa later, now I’ve filled the fridge with jars and rid the counter of cartons.

A tangy treat that can be adjusted to suit your taste buds, I’m sharing our family recipe below!


Grandma Mary’s Pickled Eggs Recipe

Ingredients

2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp celery salt
1 tbsp mustard seed
6 whole cloves
1 bay leaf

Directions

Mix ingredients in large pot. Simmer for 10 minutes and let cool.
Pour over 12 hard boiled eggs and sliced onions.
Cover and refrigerate.
Let stand for at least two days before eating for best results.

Share with us your pickled creations by tagging us on Instagram or sharing on Pinterest!

Sun Tea for the Garden : A How to on Comfrey Tea Fertilizer

The first year we planted a garden here on the farm my husband had worked and worked to clear me a patch of land out of the old garden from the previous owners that had become over run. Tilling up the ground several times, he had it sitting waiting for me when I first moved in with him. Most of the plants we planted that season were pre-starts from local greenhouses and garden centers, but for my first ever vegetable garden, I sure was happy with the results!

Along the East side of the garden grew a large leafy plant with little purple bell flowers, which seemed to take over the entire side of the garden, and which I decided in the Fall needed to go. Had I known about this plant at all, I would not have been so quick to dig it up and dispose of it. Thankfully, the garden knew better than me and the following Spring, back came this plant like it had never been touched.

Symphytum; a flowering plant actually from the borage family, most commonly known as Comfrey. This is what I found out was growing along the edges of garden, and as I read more into this amazing plant, it all made sense why it was planted there and I was thankful it grew back! When we moved the garden last Summer I made sure to dig out several of the comfrey plants to move with it. There now sits one plant in each of the four corners of my vegetable garden, sporadic plants still left in the old garden which has been turned chicken run and a whole jungle of comfrey growing in and around our compost pile.

Comfrey has many amazing properties. It can be used in poultices or salves for healing ailments, aiding in pain therapy and inflammation reduction. The roots and leaves of the plant contain a property called allantoin which has shown to stimulate cell proliferation, promoting bone and wound healing. It’s medicinal use can be traced back as far as 400 BC, used by the Greeks and Romans, giving it the Latin name for “grow together”.

But, to me, where comfrey really shines is in the garden!

First off, the pretty little purple flowers are a big attractant for pollinators. While flowering, the comfrey is always busy with the biggest bumble bees and bustling honey bees. It also helps to provide shade and shelter for other pollinating insects under its large foliage, the plant growing to be as high as five feet tall.

Your soil will LOVE comfrey. This plant is considered to be a dynamic accumulator, meaning it’s deep taproots draw in both macro and micro nutrients from the soil, storing them within the plant, particularly in their large leaves. High in Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium, these three macro nutrients are the powerhouse for the perfect fertilizer ratio. It also contains levels of Calcium and Magnesium which your flowering vegetable plants will thank you for later! By keeping comfrey plants around the perimeter of our vegetable garden we ensure that each Fall when we till under the soil, the plants will be added in and given time to break down over winter. We also benefit from the plants growing around the compost pile, which die each year and break down into the matter decomposing. After several years of break down the compost is added to the garden soil as well.

Next year, one of our goals is to use a comfrey mulch for weed control in the garden. Mulching up the leaves and spreading them between the rows will act to keep weeds down by blocking out light and will benefit the soil as the leaves break down and are tilled into the ground each fall.

For the past three years one of the ways we use our comfrey for the garden is by making a tea fertilizer. We mix the tea half and half in a watering can with water and use it for watering the garden. This year it will be extra beneficial for all the tomatoes we have growing in our greenhouse. The tea is great for fruiting vegetables like tomatoes,cucumbers, peppers and potatoes and is most efficient when the plant has just started to flower and is setting fruit.

How to Make Your Own Sun Tea Fertilizer

  • Harvest the comfrey plant you will use. The leaves are what you want, so you can leave the plant in the ground and take just the outer leaves so the plant can continue to grow OR you can simply strip the leaves from the stem and compost the rest of the plant. If you’re feeling lazy, the whole plant can be soaked.
  • Fill a five gallon pail with your matter and top with water. We have a rain water system setup for the greenhouse, so we used rain water for this part. You may want to cover your bucket to prevent insects from getting in, prevent any dilution from rain water if storing outside and to reduce the smell. WARNING: this mixture gets stinky!
  • Let the soaking begin! We place the pails beside the greenhouse where they are still able to collect sunlight ( we use bla